If You’re a Cat and You’ve Used up Eight of Your Lives, Please Don’t Hang Around My Yard

There are some people in my life who are of the mindset that I ask far too many crying people what is wrong. They have said that this habit of interacting with strangers involving strange circumstances will be my eventual downfall and that I will never learn my lesson. (However, I think the “sex trafficking incident” in Toledo may have scared me straight.) Tonight, I successfully proved all of those people wrong. The problem with the story I’m about to tell you is that it is sad, disturbing, and I’m not really sure which details to share first. I guess I will just start with what most of you already know, which is that I have a lot of random cats who like to hang out in my yard. These cats always seem to come from the house behind me. I have never seen the owners of this house, but I constantly hear an electric saw and hammering coming from their side of the fence, even though I have NEVER seen anything being built or repaired in the three years that I have lived here.

Back to the point. Today I took some trash to the curb and literally gasped when I saw a very dead cat lying just on the other side of the curb.  He had the same markings as my Ducky and it took my brain a few seconds to realize that I had just walked past my Ducky on the way out of my house to take out the trash, so this poor soul obviously wasn’t my Ducky.  Once I accepted that it was not my Ducky I was still left with a few problems to resolve.  One, I had a feeling (though no actual knowledge) that this cat may belong to the people behind me. Two, if it was their cat shouldn’t “someone” tell them that their cat had died? Three, if people let their cats out during the day, do they expect to know if something happens to said cats? Four, it was 85 degrees here today and a dead cat in the street is bad news for everybody. Five, how do you tell a complete stranger that a cat, which may or may not belong to them, is dead?

I used my “phone a friend” option to call my sister, L., and ask her opinion.  She thought it was best to just dispose of the cat and move on with my life.  I was about to, and then I got in my car and drove around the block.  I pulled up in front of the house behind me and immediately thought, “Yeah, I’m probably not getting out of my car.” There were four totally beat up vehicles parked in the driveway.  There was an enclosed front porch which is awkward because, would I knock on the door to the front porch, or walk in and knock on the actual front door?  That question became irrelevant when I realized that every square inch of the porch, from floor to ceiling, was completely covered with random crap.  So! Much! Stuff!  I am not exaggerating when I say that you will likely see this house one day…. on an episode of Hoarders. I decided that, if I did knock on either door, I would probably never be heard from again and the dead cat would have just been a ploy to kidnap me.

I returned home and waited for the sun to set before I went about the business of disposing of the poor departed feline.  When I finally went outside I took an empty pizza box, a garbage bag, and some rubber yard gloves with me.  I was pleased to see that the street was empty of onlookers and the passers-by in cars wouldn’t pay me much attention. ****The following details may be disturbing to some readers, so feel free to stop reading now.**** My idea was to shimmy the cat on to the pizza box and just put it all in the trash bag. That was my idea.  That is not what actually happened.  I started to shimmy the box under the cat and promptly went into a gagging fit.  I had not accounted for the fact that rigor mortis had set in and that this was, apparently, the best fed street cat and weighed in close to 15 pounds.  My one pizza box coupled with my gagging was not going to get the job done.  So I went back inside and found another piece of heavier cardboard to use.   I returned to the task at hand with the previous gastrointestinal threat of vomiting still looming close on the horizon and slung a string of expletives in to the night air. “I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry that this happened to you, but please just get in the fucking bag!” *Huet, huet!!* “Holy hell!  Why are you so heavy??!! Please just work with me here!”  *More gagging sounds*  At this point I stood upright and realized that a neighbor a few doors down was taking out his trash and had become interested in whatever it was that I was doing. Instead of going back inside, he actually sat down on his stoop to watch the rest of the show.

I re positioned myself so that I could wiggle the cardboard from both sides, like they do with the spatula things at a hibachi grill when they are moving your food from the grill to your plate. As I was completely engrossed in what I was doing, I did not hear the shirtless gentleman who was running down the sidewalk until he was directly behind me.  As soon as I noticed him, I let out an unintentional yelp, suspiciously dropped the bag I was holding that now had a dead cat halfway inside it, and spun around. He appeared to be just as startled as I was and apologized for frightening me.  I laughed it off and told him that it was no problem and secretly hoped that he didn’t know what I was attempting to do. I quickly finished with this ridiculous endeavor, tied the bag as quickly as I could, ignored the fact that part of his tail was coming out of the top of the bag, and ran inside to forget that any of this ever happened.

If I had any doubts before about being the “Crazy Neighborhood Cat Lady”, all of those doubts dissolved after this experience. Anyone who was watching had to have though that I was a total nut job. Tonight I will say a prayer for the kitty and hope that I don’t get ticketed or arrested for disposing of a dead animal in my trash.

Book Four of 94: Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment

Book 4 of 94: Zapp! – The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham, Ph.D. with Jeff Cox

My mother was a corporate trainer by trade so her house is filled to the brim with leadership and management books.  She may have the same book hoarding problem that I have.  In fact, she is likely responsible for the book hoarding problem that I have.  I went to school for business management and I am always intrigued by new ways to lead people and to help them reach their potential.  So, my bookshelves have always been weighted down by leadership and management books over the years.  This particular book sat on my mother’s shelves for the last twenty years.  (Side note: if you ever sell used books, don’t expect to get much for management books that are older than a year!)

Summary:  Zapp!  Is a fable about Normal Company and it tells the tale of difficult management and how people can work together to overcome the pitfalls of short-sighted managers.  The book was written as a fable to help the concepts seem more applicable to the reader.  I, however, found the fable to be somewhat distracting and would have preferred if the book just used a real world situation, but that’s just my humble opinion.

My Three Takeaways from Zapp!

Number 1:

The company I work for is not unique in its challenges.  It is easy to sit and daydream about how much better life would be if I worked for a different company with group of managers who knew how to lead people.  How harmonious it would be to work on a team that actually functioned as a team.  But, the truth is, there are good managers and bad managers at every organization.  And, no matter how good a team may be, everyone still knows who the top performer is and who the weakest link is. So in that regard, I guess it is comforting to know that every organization struggles with these same issues.

Number 2:

Teams need to have their voices heard and to feel like they have a say in their own success or failure.  I worked closely with my manager last year to develop the plan for the upcoming fiscal year.  We spent hours and hours going over reports, redoing presentation slides, and creating goals for each of the team members that were greater than last year, but still achievable.  During our many, many discussions I presented what I thought was the best way to hold people accountable for meeting their quotas.  My system would automatically increase goals after a lower performing week or decrease goals after a higher performing week.  The goals were in constant flux so that each team member could directly see how their performance impacted the goals for the year.  This system would also give the team members an opportunity to celebrate their success when they exceeded their goals by showing them how the weekly goals for the remainder of the year would decrease as a result of their efforts.  On the opposite side of that coin, if the team members did not have a stellar week, the weekly goals for the remainder of the year would increase accordingly so that they would know what they would need to do to stay on track to reach their annual goal.

My system was immediately rejected and I was told that people wouldn’t work as hard because their mentality would become, “I exceeded my goal by five last week, so I don’t have to work as hard this week.”  I found this assessment to be utterly insulting.  If that were the case, it would stand to reason that team members would not bring in additional numbers once they achieved their goal for the week.  As proof to the contrary: Last week I produced the highest numbers in one week that I have ever produced.  I produced the highest numbers for one period in two weeks than I have ever produced (and I still have two weeks left in the period).  I have exceeded my annual goal (there are still three and a half months left in our fiscal year). And I will likely hit my stretch goal for the year.  Most managers reading this would immediately say that either my goals were too low to begin with, or that I outgrew my goals and it is time to increase them.  However, the truth of the matter is that I worked at a different location for a month and learned some new tricks of the trade, collaborated with people who do my specific job, and was completely reinvigorated by a change in my routine.  My managers don’t want to know that though.  And just like that, I feel Sapped instead of Zapped!

Number 3:

I used to be of the mindset that “doing was learning”.  Of course, I believe in training, mentoring and follow up but I also believed that the best way to learn a job was to do a job.  After reading Zapp!  I learned the problem with this method of teaching.  When you are training someone how to do a job by having them do the job, your next step is to correct everything they did wrong, which is likely to be a lot of errors since they are just learning the job.  So, right off the bat, you have inadvertently made them feel like they don’t know what they’re doing… even though they don’t… because you haven’t taught them anything yet.

Byham suggests the following steps to effective train and coach someone:

  1. Explain purpose and importance of what you are trying to teach.
  2. Explain the process to be used.
  3. Show how it’s done.
  4. Observe while the person practices the process.
  5. Provide immediate and specific feedback (coach again or reinforce success).
  6. Express confidence in the person’s ability to be successful.
  7. Agree on follow-up action.

(Byham & Cox, 1988)

I think a lot of people overlook the importance of the first step.  In fact, I think overlooking the first step is why I always struggled so much with math in school.  But why??!!  Why must I use Pythagorean’s theorem?  The constant response to any of my questions was always, “because that’s just what you do”.  Never once did I have a teacher who could/would explain it any better than that.  When training someone in a new role or function, it is important for them to understand why they are doing what they are doing and how it impacts the greater picture.  Many managers make the mistake of thinking that if the following task is not in a person’s job description they don’t need to know about it.  In truth, when people understand what the next step is in the process, even if they are not the ones who will complete that step, it creates a great sense of ownership over their specific task.

The other major mistake that I see a lot of managers make is that they do not provide follow up.  If they do provide follow up, it is in the form of an annual review, which is neither immediate nor entirely accurate.  If managers made follow up a priority, they would make time to follow up and they would find that they actually had MORE time to complete on other tasks because they would spend LESS time correcting mistakes.

Who should read this book?

  • Anyone who wants something quick to read on a plane ride from Detroit to Chicago (or on another trip of similar distance).
  • Anyone who wants to quickly brush up on their management, training, and team developing skills.

Who should not read this book?

  • Dictators, they don’t have much need for teamwork.
  • Managers who already know the best ways to manage people and therefore have nothing else they could possible ever learn about management and leadership. (Said in a sarcastic tone.)

Four books down, 90 to go!

Byham, W. C., & Cox, J. (1988). Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. New York : Ballantine Books.

Book 3 of 94: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

I purchased this book at a Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale back in November and I just got around to reading it.  I was halfway through when I thought, “I have to be missing something.”  As it turns out, this book is the second book in a three part young adult series.  Of course it is.

Summary: Part love story, part werewolf mystery this is the tantalizing tale of one person struggling to not be who they are, and another struggling to be who they are meant to become.  Of course there is the constant undercurrent of teenage angst that accompanies a book of this genre, but honestly it wasn’t distracting from the story at all.

My Three Main Takeaways From Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Number 1:

When a werewolf transforms back into a human they are always naked, thus I will never be a werewolf.  Seriously, who wants to keep waking up in the nude in public places?  That would be awful.  I am good at using humor to diffuse an awkward situation, but I’m sure I would run out of material after the tenth or eleventh time of appearing naked in front of my friends.

Number 2:

I am not unique in my struggle.  I have always felt like there was something bigger, better and more powerful deep within me struggling to surface.  Like there is a life that I am supposed to be living that is just outside my reach.  Like there is a person inside me that I am meant to become, but I fight that person because I’m too afraid to leave who I am right now behind so that I may become this better version of myself.  I wonder if I will have the strength to meet my inner wolf one day.

Number 3:

I will always love a love story.

Who should read this book?

  • Young adults whose parents “just don’t understand”.
  • Anyone who thinks they might have been bit by a werewolf and are curious about the symptoms.

Who should not read this book?

  • Vampires; they would probably be annoyed by the sappy werewolf story line.
  • Hypochondriacs as they will likely be convinced that their next fever is actually a sign that they are turning into a werewolf.

Three books down, 91 to go!

Stiefvater, M. (2011). Linger. Scholastic, Inc.