Does One Bad Apple Really Spoil the Whole Bunch?

I’m currently fascinated by Bad Apples. Bad Apples the metaphor for people, not so much the fruit. But of course there are corollaries. So the first question at hand is, “does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? For fruit, the answer is yes. Because ethylene. But what about people? From my experience, the answer is also a resounding yes. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this University of Washington study overview, which defined Bad Apples as “negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.” They found that Bad Apples elicited coping mechanisms in other employees such as “denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear.”

I know, I know, this is not really new. The saying exists for a reason. However, it does set the stage for some further inquiries I’ve been making around Bad Apples. So stay tuned for the Bad Apple series as we explore Bad Apples in Sports, how to deal with Bad Apples in your circles, and how to avoid becoming a Bad Apple.

What Is Your Legacy?

Father’s Day. At this point in my life, it is admittedly a little bittersweet. My children are mostly grown. I have two younger and very dear to me step-sons, but their top-notch biological father is very much in their lives. My own two “kids” are 22 and 18 and are rightfully moving on to their own lives. My father and grandfathers have all passed away. In fact, today marks the two-year anniversary of my father’s passing. For this Father’s Day, I’m going to focus on legacy. What is the legacy we’re leaving behind as it stands right now?

Stephen Covey made this concept very popular. One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he called it “Begin with the End in Mind.” Covey’s concept doesn’t have to pertain to the finality of life, it could simply mean “think about what this project will look like at the end” or similar. But today I’m focused on the legacy we leave behind. I also want to be very clear that this has nothing to do with money or accomplishment. I know the word can get tied up in “legacy funds” or buildings with people’s names on them to commemorate their legacy. Rather, the legacy that I’m considering here is, “what mark are you leaving on those around you?”

As I remember my father today, I think of what his legacy is for me. While a few bullets would never do it justice, here’s what I’ve got:

  • My dad taught me about politics. I don’t mean the silly show that plays out 24-7 on the hyper-media loop and twitter-sphere. I mean real life working with people. I still need reminders from time-to-time, but Dad helped me understand the imperfections of the world around me.
  • He taught me about the merits of hard work. Dad finished his college degree while working as a janitor in an office building. After he got the degree, he got hired on at GTE (later became Verizon) and had a long successful career. As our major bread-winner, he worked to give my sister and me a nice home and a great start to life.
  • Dad also inspired me to fight my own demons. Dad helped me see that we’re often our own worst enemies and that the single best thing to do in life is to come up with a method that works for us. For that, I couldn’t thank him enough.

Unexpectedly, I was blessed with a rare quiet moment with my 22-year-old son this morning. He lives at home and commutes to college, but he also works almost full time and has his own set of friends so I don’t get to see him that much. I warned him that I was going to put him on the spot with a deep question. He inhaled as if to say, “Oh crap.” I then asked him what is my legacy for him? I also asked him to not sugar coat it; give me the bad with the good. As a people, we’re capable of being very direct, and that’s what I am looking for. However, things have been quite smooth for a while and we’re sitting in the same room, so I readily recognize that there will be a positive bias. But alas, I’ll take what he gives. Here’s what he offered up:

  • You are always available when I need help
  • You taught me determination
  • You taught me how to think for myself
  • You taught me how to find my own happiness

As my family woke up or stopped by home, I continued to ask the cringe-worthy questions. Here are the subsequent answers proffered. In all cases, I asked for the “yeah but” or the “what should I be working on?” Again, I recognize the unlikelihood that a younger person would be so bold. But it honestly is how I parent. Give it to me straight gov’na.

From my 18-year-old daughter:

  • Fantastic Dad
  • Funny; you consistently spread the joy
  • Wise; really good at framing life lessons
  • Supportive
  • You taught me the importance of finding my people

From my 12-year-old step-son:

  • Good guitar player
  • Understanding

From my 10-year-old step-son:

  • Good soccer player
  • Pretty great person

From my better half, wife, life coach and zen master:

  • You’re my favorite person to spend time with
  • You embody Continuous Improvement – as in, you’re always trying to get better. And I don’t mean that you’re trying to grapple for what’s next; I mean you’re always trying to be a better person, a better role model and help others get better too.
  • However, your attitude toward Continuous Improvement can make you come off as judgy. You do great with people who are striving to get better, but you can be impatient with people who feel stuck or trapped.

Obviously, I’m flattered. Given that I get to run around in my own head all day, I wouldn’t be so universally positive. I also think my wife was spot on. I need to work on my ability to be patient with people who aren’t ready to develop. But instead of focusing on that at the moment, I’m taking what I’m given because that’s what people offered up.

As I wrap up this post, I’ll ask you some of some of these same questions.

What is your legacy as it stands today? What would the people close to you say about you?

Or if you’re more inclined, please let me know what my blog says about me? What impressions has it made on you? And please, feel free to give me the goods, gov’na. I won’t get better unless I hear it straight.

I close with gratitude and a genuine wish for a Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!


In Search of a Tribe: Know When to Move On

Find your tribe. It was practically the mantra of 2015. Blog posts, lifestyle columns, magazines, podcasts, and books have been advising us to find our tribe for several years now. I think it is sage advice. Finding a group of like-minded individuals to connect with allows one to have a sense of belonging. The antithesis of which, frankly, sucks.

The Training that Wasn’t

I completed a two-day training class at work today. I could drone on and on about what went right and what went wrong, but the net effect is that it fell short of my expectations and – even worse – left me feeling disconnected. The training was blandly titled, so I learned on day one that it was covering a series of topics of which – as a result of taking classes at past employers and through my own self-study – I have a deep understanding. As I learned throughout the course, I have a deeper understanding than the instructors. It happens. I’m a nerd. However, my disconnected feeling came from the fact that I was surrounded by people who are my peers or elders and they simply weren’t connecting with the material. I realized after a couple of attempts that while I could have helped move the class forward by supplementing the materials with my practical examples at nearly every turn, the room wasn’t up for it. So I just sat there quietly and watched it all move slowly forward like a car driving on a flat tire. After work, I attempted to communicate this to my better half, who did what any loving wife who is pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychology would do: she challenged me on it.

I’m paraphrasing here, but my wife told me that as long as she’s known me, I’ve expressed these feelings about training classes. They’re a waste of my time and such. She added that, with love of course, I’m being arrogant about knowing the material better than others. I had considered it. I considered it carefully before offering up the feedback at the end of class that I would have appreciated the opportunity to test out. I also don’t think that my wife is entirely wrong. In the past, I have been downright haughty over the fact that I knew the materials better than an instructor who was attempting to move the class forward. I mean, I’d like to get something out of my time investment. But… and I’d like to believe this isn’t my ego talking here, I think there might be something different going on now. I think this is the latest in a very long string of events in which I get excited to find my tribe only to realize it is a village of people wearing the hand-me-down shirts of my tribe because they left town a couple of years ago.

The Consummate Outsider

I was born and mostly raised in the economically depressed, Appalachian foot hills of the Ohio River Valley. Now famous for being the epicenter of America’s opioid crisis, Portsmouth, Ohio and the neighboring tri-state areas have been featured in books (Dreamland by Sam Quinones) and TV series (Heroin(e) on Netflix) for all the wrong reasons. This is small town, middle America where the oblong football is king and the schools effectively shut down for the first week of deer hunting season in the fall. As one might imagine, a naturally curious, rather slight framed, near-sighted and bookish kid from this area had some trouble fitting in. But by middle school, I had found a “crew” and we were all groping our way through the haze into high school. But then… two weeks before high school started, my father took a job transfer and moved us 350 miles away to the then extremely prosperous Northwestern Ohio town of Bryan.

With my southern accent, bad haircut, and not exactly impressive frame, I was among the first kids cut from the freshman basketball team because, and I quote, “You’re not from around here, we don’t know your parents and you didn’t go to our basketball camp.” Now, I want to pause here and tell my dear readers that this is not a pity party. Far from it. That move to Bryan, Ohio immeasurably changed my trajectory for the better and I frequently thank my lucky stars that it happened. At the time, however… not so much. I had finagled my way onto the eighth grade basketball team in my home town and I thought I was on to something. Having been rejected by my new town, I eventually found a spot floating between and among the real jocks, the stoners, the rockers (most of whom eventually turned into stoners), the gear heads, the comedians, and an on-again, off-again girlfriend in a relationship that would have fit nicely into a daytime soap opera.

Look, I get it. We’re all outsiders in some way shape or form. But let’s fast forward to today, shall we? As I sit here and write this… I am 43 years old. I am once divorced and twice married – the second time to my better half in every way. I have a 22 year-old son, an 18 year-old daughter, a 12 year-old step son, a 9 year-old step son, 2 dogs and a house that somehow fits us all. I gobble up books, but my all time favorite is Ulysses (think, cult following), I play guitar – but mostly songs you’ve never heard; I eat a plant-based diet and I love to cook. I run marathons, I am fascinated by Zen Buddhism and have a fledgling mindfulness practice. I work in a gigantic multinational corporation, which has exactly zero to do with my degree in Plastics Engineering Technology. I have additional college degrees and professional certifications that take me deeper into nerd-dom. I am an amateur photographer, but I could probably make some money at it. I am a former soccer player and coach, and an FC Barcelona FANATIC (we’re called culés). I enjoy traveling and practicing my two underdeveloped secondary languages – Spanish and French. Clearly, I’m a blogger. Camping and kayaking – yep; Wine? I bet I could help you find one you like. I am also an art lover and occasionally pick up a pencil or paintbrush to make my own. I hope I am painting something here.

I have nearly boundless energy for pursuing hobbies and interests. Now for the real inquiry: how on earth did a hillbilly kid of very modest means from an area known for its homogeneous distaste for anything outside or different turn out to be so… well, weird? That – I honestly cannot answer. What I can say is that it is VERY difficult to find a tribe and that will leave one feeling a good bit like an outsider. I have friends aplenty, and I love them dearly. But – for instance – it took a trip to Dublin, Ireland for me to find a group of people willing to sit in a pub and read James Joyce aloud. And that gentle readers, gets to my final point.

Know When to Move On

Judging from various social media forums and circles, I am not the only one who is occasionally frustrated by not having a tribe. I see people routinely standing on their digital soapboxes taking issue with everything from a neighbor’s words spoken behind the back to international ethical topics. I know, I know, freedom of speech and all. I sometimes think of what life would have been like if I had never made it out of West Portsmouth, Ohio. With all my energy and a very short list of opportunities, I would at best be a raving lunatic on social media. I was lucky that I got a chance to physically move on from there and many times since. Even though I still haven’t quite caught up with my tribe, I think I have found a village that’s wearing the shirts from last fall. If you’re struggling to be happy in your surroundings and feel like others don’t get you, it might be time to try a new village – either real or virtual.