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Archive for July, 2013

Life Lessons from my Uncle and Waiting Tables

In my late teens I worked my way through college by waiting tables. Part of that work was with my uncle. In the lulls between customers, we often got a chance to talk and catch up. He hated waiting tables, but helped me to learn the ropes.

Of all the things he said, two have always stuck out for me.

(1) If you’re carrying a tray and you feel something slipping off, let it go. It’s bad to crash a plate on the floor. But even worse to lose the whole tray in trying to catch it.

(2) As soon as you serve coffee and desert, present the customer with the check. This is not to rush them, but to make sure they don’t have to wait for the check. If they do, the experience could be sour regardless of how well everything else has gone. Make sure to ask them if there’s anything else they’d like and let them know you’ll be available if they need you. If they stay for a while, drop by and ask them if they’d card for a refill of coffee. But make sure they have the check to they can leave the moment they’re ready.

WaiterPlatesThinking of these two subjects over the years, I realized they were also great life lessons.

When I’m taking on too much, it’s hard for me to let anything “go”. I juggle and try to keep everything in motion. The frequent result is “losing the whole tray”. I screw up parts of everything I’m working on. Or finally become fatigued and lose interest in everything, not just an item or two. I have to consciously say to myself, “You know, I really want to do ‘x’, but fact is I just don’t have bandwidth for ‘x’ right now. I’d rather put ‘x’ on the back burner and make sure I can pull off ‘y’.”

And when I finish a project, I try to remind myself to really finish it. The length of the project, fairly or unfairly, will be determined by the last item delivered. If you finish everything but one key feature, the user will feel “it took months and months to get what we requested”. If you finish everything but the documentation the project manager will feel “it took months and months to finally close that project”. So I try to look for anything that might prevent the project from feeling “done”, to be able to “present the check”.

–Al-

Categories: Personal

The Death Joke

ImageIn looking over recent posts I realize I’ve been a bit morbid. Just one of those life stages, I guess. So I want to move over to lighter material again, but let me talk one last time about death before moving on.

I’ll tell you a joke (it’s a groaner).

A piece of string walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The bartender tells him “Sorry, we don’t serve strings here”.

The string walks away dejectedly. But after thinking about it, he decides that’s just not right. So he disguises himself. He ties a knot towards one end. Then he unravels the rest into a punk hairstyle.

He walks back into the bar and again tries to order a drink. This time the bartender greets him cordially and serves up his drink with a smile. But about halfway through the drink, he notices the bartender eyeing him suspiciously.

The bartender asks, “Hey, wait. Aren’t you that piece of string I sent away just a little while ago?”

The string answers “No, I’m a frayed knot.”

So, bear with me. I loved this joke. It was me. And for some reason when I told it to my sister, I said that’s what she should say for my eulogy. She looked at me in that tolerant “you’re crazy but I still love you” way she often does.

But it stuck. I would often say not to forget the joke lest my eulogy be blank. I told it to other family members. Even told it at one of those rare Christmas dinners where our whole wide-flung family was able to come into town and be together. The eulogy became a joke onto itself.

It became so real that my sister experienced a certain level of angst. One day she tells me “I can’t tell a joke at your wake!”. I told her she didn’t have to, she just needed to remember it me telling it.

And with that I realized why the idea appealed to me so much. I had loved telling her the joke. It was one of those simple moments when everything is right with the world and you’re with a loved one and the entire world is filled with laughter that can only be understood by those involved. I don’t know what dark events may lead up to my final demise, but I know that when she thinks of me, I’d rather have her remember how much we enjoyed the telling of that joke.

And so I do think it would be a good eulogy. When I’m gone, remember me for the fun times when all was right with the world.

–Al-

Categories: Personal