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.

Going Home

“Going home and spending time with your family and your real friends keeps you grounded.” – Jennifer Ellison

This weekend, my wife and I went “home” to the greater Portsmouth, Ohio area. She and I were both born and (as for me, mostly) raised there. Her parents are still there. Mine moved on when I was 14, but I still have plenty of roots. We were without kids this weekend and owed her Mom some “we” time, so made the 2+ hour drive from our house to my wife’s childhood home. I think I can speak for my wife to say that going home for both of us this weekend was bittersweet.

Life in Portsmouth is completely different from our life in Columbus, Ohio. Portsmouth is the epitome of small-town middle America with a population of less than 30,000. Columbus is a major metropolitan city where the population approaches 2 million. In Columbus, we have something going on every night of the week; dinner with friends, kids’ sporting activities, organized after-work events, and so on. In Portsmouth, there might be one event per week in addition to Wednesday evening church service. When we go “home,” we experience the life of our childhood. The life that we couldn’t wait to escape. The slower, sleepy life that would drive us nuts from boredom on the long-term, but that we honestly relish in bits and pieces on these brief weekend treks down memory lane.

This weekend, I went hiking  for four hours with my cousin’s husband. From start to finish, neither of us could get cell service among our three mobile phones. Not that we wanted it, I’m just offering a sense of how remote things are in the greater Portsmouth area. My wife and I also attended a car show, which is where people from all around the local Tri-State area (Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia) drive their always polished, often restored, sometimes cobbled together hotrods and put them on display for eager gawkers and some serious bragging rights. The night usually wraps up when the hotrods begin to file out onto the main road and leave a good bit of rubber behind in a plume of blue-grey smoke. It is like a scene out of the movie American Graffiti. We spent a good bit of time with family sharing food and catching up on stories and events. My wife and I also squeezed in a 3 mile training run in the downtown area and on the campus of my first alma mater, Shawnee State University. During our travels around the county, I drove past every house I lived in until I moved away from the area. All of this brings me back to the bittersweet point.

A part of me – a very small part indeed – misses that life. Sure, we couldn’t live in the house we live in now. Our kids wouldn’t have had the opportunities that they’ve had in the Columbus area. No, we couldn’t travel like we do. Yes, I find myself getting cranky at the painfully slow drivers while I’m down there. On and on. But. BUT, a small part of me misses that simpler, small town life. A part of me misses the time when the big event of the day was putting two bare feet into the water and casting a fishing pole. That same part of me misses the house I grew up in, the friends with whom I learned about life, and the roads on which I learned to drive. Judging by my wife’s eagerness to show me the artifacts of her past, I think she share’s the sentiment.

I’m sure this is just the nostalgia of the trip taking hold. If you moved us back to Portsmouth today, my wife and I would go stir crazy in 3 days – or less. I think the important thing here is to revisit memory lane with vulnerability every now and again. With vulnerability, I mean to be open to the trip, to slow down and walk the paths of the memory, to revisit events and consider their impact on you. We can so easily get caught up in planning the next big trip or office politics or whatever. But there’s nothing like a trip to your childhood home to ground you in the terra firma of who you are and what in life is important. It offers a whole new perspective to the impending work week.

The house featured in this post is the current state of my parent’s home when I was brought home from the hospital more than 43 years ago. I remember it as a quaint red brick and red siding house in good repair surrounded by a chain link fence to keep me and our small dog in the yard. But that was a long time ago. Times change.

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!