Room For Improvement

Lumberjacking: Still not an easy job. (Photo credit: Traumrune via Wikimedia Commons)
Lumberjacking: Still not an easy job. (Photo credit: Traumrune via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I found an old news story about Stjepan Lizacic, who was 56 at the time, who was suing his local health authority because he says he’s become a laughing stock.

Lizacic, a lumberjack, (or since he’s Croatian, a lumberStjack) claimed he started ‘enjoying housework and knitting’ after he was given a female kidney in a transplant operation.

I don’t know about you, but I think our friend Lizacic was fibbing. Why? Because he went on to say that he now finds housework both relaxing and fulfilling. Quick, all you women out there who find housework fulfilling, please clap your hands.

[crickets chirping]

So why did he make this claim and sue? I can think of two reasons:

1) He’s was always interested in knitting and housework, but really didn’t want to say so to his axe-wielding, hard-drinking, male friends.
2) He’s was fifty-six-year-old who makes his living cutting down trees. I’d be looking at an early retirement plan too.

In any case, if all it took was a simple kidney transplant operation to get men to do their share of the housework, you’d have heard about it by now… from the long line-up of female kidney donors standing outside your local hospital.

No, swapping organs with someone would not give you a personality makeover. What does strike me as interesting about this story though, is how routine organ transplants have become. It makes me wonder what we might be able to do to change or improve our bodies in the future. There’s a lot we could borrow from the animal kingdom.

For example, I wonder how long it will take us to learn how to give gills to humans, so that we could breathe underwater. This would be cool — I might actually be able to pick up that coin my swim teacher was forever chucking into the deep end of the pool. To say nothing of what it would do for the Summer Olympics.

Wings would be darned handy, although I’m sure that it would take some getting used to. Not the flying, I mean, but what to do with the wings when you’re not in flight. The fashion industry would have to be completely rejigged. And if you slept beside someone who tossed and turned a lot, you’d risk getting thwacked by both wings and elbows.

Perhaps an exoskeleton would be the next best upgrade. We humans are awfully soft and squishy in our natural states, as anyone who has ever fallen down a flight of stairs can attest. And just think of the body checks you could throw in hockey, or the tackles you could take in football, if you had the same body armour as a … common cockroach.

Personally I think the single greatest improvement we could make would be in the area of childbirth. The kangaroos have it right: none of this morning sickness stuff, no stretch marks, and forget the hours of agonizing labour and delivery. A joey shows up in the pouch when it’s just a few inches long and does all it’s growing *outside* of mother’s body. Okay, so maybe the pouch does get a bit saggy by the time the mini-roo is able to climb out, but it’d be a small price to pay to avoid the stitches.

And I wonder if we’ll ever be advanced enough to be able to adopt animal attitudes? I’m not sure which I’d have installed: cat disdain, so that nothing ever bothered me, or dog enthusiasm, so that I was always in a good mood?

Actually either one would be good, as long as I didn’t also find myself compelled to chase mice, fetch balls, or worst of all, have a sudden passion for housework and knitting.


Please Don’t Have A Cow

A bitty bovine animal. (Photo credit: Justin Baeder via Wikimedia Commons)
A bitty bovine animal. (Photo credit: Justin Baeder via Wikimedia Commons)

Once, pot-bellied pigs were all the rage. After that craze died down, iguanas became extremely trendy. And of course, black and white dogs always become popular when Disney revives the 101 Dalmatians franchise.

This year, the hot new pet might be: the mini-cow.

No, it’s not a new toy robot out of Japan, it’s a real cow, standing about 42 inches at the shoulder. Where a full grown steer can weigh up to 1500 lbs, mini-cattle only weigh up to 500 lbs.

Proponents of the bitty bulls say that you can pasture one of them on a reasonably small patch of land, they’re easy to handle, and they’re better “feed converters” — that is, it costs less to raise them and turn them into steaks.

So far, however, mini-moo buyers seem more interested in keeping them as pets. I can see why, as there would be several advantages:

Snob Appeal — You need about an acre of land to keep one properly, which means apartment dwellers and suburbanites with postage stamps for lawns can’t own any. And nothing says you’ve arrived like, um, your very own cow. Or something.

Free Lawn Mowing — Cattle really know how to keep the grass short. Side benefit: Since lawn mowers vibrate so much, once your cow has finished cutting the lawn, you’ll be able to serve milkshakes.

Very Green Grass — No more nasty lawn chemicals. Cattle provide lots of free, um, fertilizer.

Easier To Motivate Than A Teenager — Even if they didn’t naturally munch grass, you wouldn’t have to beg your cow to trim the backyard. Just say: “Hey, hamburger butt! How’s that lawn coming?”

Minimal Damage — As compared to a full-sized steer, if a mini-cow steps on your foot, it will only break and not, you know, crush it.

Dog Vs. Cat — A pet cow will not chase the cat or bark at the neighbours. A cow will not bring you dead mice, or spend all night singing on the fence post. (Well it might, but you’d have to get it very drunk first.)

On the other hand, keeping cattle for pets would also have some disadvantages:

A Guard Cow? — Cows are generally too docile to be good guard animals, although I suppose you could train yours to chew its cud in a threatening manner. A mini-bull would probably be *too* aggressive, as it would probably suffer from short bull’s syndrome.

Pass (on) the Milk — Wanna be ranchers will think having fresh milk daily is great until 1) They have to help the cow give birth in order to get her to start producing the stuff and 2) They have to go out twice daily to milk her.

Very VERY Green Grass — Cattle produce a lot of, um, fertilizer. If you plan to use your lawn for anything other than pasture, you’re either going to have to get a sturdy (and washable) pair of boots, or buy an industrial scooper.

Bo-ring — Cattle do not play fetch. They do not chase toy mice. Indeed, for play and companionship value, cattle rank only marginally higher than fish and lower than hamsters. (A hamster will at least look cute while running through a Habitrail. And if you tried building one of those big enough for your pet cow, it would be your neighbours that laughed so hard that milk came out of their noses).

Walkies? Ha! — You could not take a cow for a walk. Oh sure, you could put it on a leash, whistle, clap, and shout, but when 500 lbs of anything decides to stay still, you ain’t movin’ it.

Guilt Trip — Cattle don’t have many talents, but one thing they excel at is staring. Just try eating that steak dinner with Betsy peering in through the kitchen window for hours at a time.

So please, dear readers, think twice before purchasing any mini-cattle as pets for your kids, or to fulfill those latent rancher aspirations of yours. It would be a bigger cowmittment than you’d be willing to make.

Stop being a martyr

It doesn’t have to feel this way. (Photo credit: Dave-F via Wikimedia Commons)

I recently had the good fortune to have lunch with some very successful women. We talked business and politics, and inevitably, as we all warmed up to one another, the conversation turned to romantic partners, family, and kids.

I didn’t say so at the time, but the conversation really surprised me. Here I was with a group of business women at the absolute top of their game—people who were killing it in their respective industries. And yet, to a woman, they were completely drained by their personal lives.

I can’t leave the grocery shopping to Bob. He never gets the right stuff.

Ugh, my [eight-year-old] daughter’s bedroom is always such a mess. It takes me ages to get it cleaned up.

Michael has saxophone, skating, and basketball. Sarah has soccer, chess club, and choir. And I also do the parents’ association every Friday….

This weekend I have two weddings to attend, and next weekend three barbecues. I don’t know how I’ll fit it all in.

I know it’s hip to claim to be super busy right now, but these women weren’t bragging. They were genuinely exhausted and severely overscheduled.

My question is: why?

As entrepreneurs, we don’t think twice about applying terms like “optimizing” or “efficiencies” or “best practices” or even “outsourcing” at work. Why don’t we do this more often at home?

No, I don’t mean you should conduct annual performance reviews on your partner, nor should you outsource your teenagers (although you might be tempted to!) But there are a lot of things you can do to make your life easier.

Let’s start with the mundane: house-related care. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to seriously consider offloading all of those routine jobs as quickly as possible. Getting a house-cleaning service is a no-brainer. Lawn and garden care can be handed off, and grocery purchasing and delivery is available in most urban centers in North America. And unless you regard shopping for other things as a way to relax, then online is your friend here too.

Those of you in the start-up or early phases of your business might be cringing at the out-of-pocket costs. It’s a valid concern, and if cash is tight, it might not be an option. But if there’s any way you can manage it, do it. Consider the opportunity cost here: two hours a week dedicated to grocery shopping adds up to nearly two and half weeks a year—time you could be using to pitch new clients.

Moving on to kids, I am always surprised by the number of mothers who feel they must do everything for their children. It can be room cleaning, cooking, laundry, deliveries—even job applications and finishing homework. I’m not sure if this happens because old habits die hard (kids come to us as helpless, completely dependent babies), because of perfectionism (“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself”), or if it’s personal (feeling needed is pretty awesome).

Obviously, you shouldn’t expect your toddler to be able to cook for himself or herself, but the average two-year-old can pick up clothes. By age 10, kids should be looking after their own rooms and doing things like laundry or dishes, and learning to cook (with supervision, of course!)

Finally, there’s that schedule to consider. Most of us enjoy contributing to our communities, but how effective are you being right now, with everything else on your plate? Why are you doing what you do?

Likewise, there’s a lot to be said for providing your children with extracurricular activities to help them learn and grow. But a lot of our thinking on providing opportunities for kids still assumes that learning (both formal and experiential) will stop when they finish school. That simply isn’t so anymore. Lifelong learning is the norm, not the exception now, so how much of what you’re doing needs to be crammed into the years between ages 6 and 18?

Which is truly better for our children and our spouses: packing everyone off for another class, event, or obligation, or just sitting down for a cup of coffee and a chocolate milk together?

There’s a woman I quite admire who has an exceptionally successful career, has raised three kids and obtained her PhD, and is still quite sane. I asked her once what her secret was. She said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

She might have heard that from Oprah. But it’s good advice. It implies a certain amount of patience and pacing.

There’s no good reason that you have to do everything. Doing so only makes you feel overworked and underappreciated. You’re not doing your kids (or their future partners or employers) any favors, and that undercurrent of partner resentment won’t do your relationship any good either.

Remember: by definition, no martyr ever came to a good end.