25 May 2009

Walking Uphill

It seems like I am always walking uphill, and I am beginning to think this is not my imagination; maybe I really am always going uphill. I start in the morning in Kirribilli, across the Harbour from downtown Sydney, take the ferry or train, and walk up hill to my office in the CBD. At night I usually walk uphill to the Harbour Bridge and walk across the bridge to Kirribilli.

Sometimes I even walk down to walk up. Take the Cahill elevated walk from Macquarie Street to the Harbour Bridge. It is uphill all the way until you reach the bridge. Then you are required to walk down steps in order to walk uphill back to the Bridge walkway. Who would design something like this?

Sometimes I have to climb stairs instead of walking up hill. From Argyle Street, there are 69 stairs to reach Cumberland Street and then another 64 stairs to the Harbour Bridge walkway. I think I would rather walk uphill than climb so many stairs.

I know theoretically if I end where I started; the uphill walks should be balanced by downhill walks. But I don’t remember walking downhill; only the uphill hikes. Maybe it is an Australian thing. Perhaps the earth rotates in such a way that it is uphill to the CBD in the morning, but cosmic changes make the return journey uphill in the evening.

Sound crazy? If you’re from North America everything else in this country is crazy. The sun comes up in the wrong place; Christmas is in the summer, and the country celebrates the Queen of England's birthday in the wrong month. By contrast, always walking uphill would not come as a surprise.

My life seems like a metaphor with one uphill journey after another. Let me count the hills I have walked recently.

• Managing a company through an economic downturn. How do you grow when the surrounding world is shrinking? You don’t; you just try to shrink less.

• Banks. Lately, I have been dealing a lot with banks. Getting them to agree is more like climbing a mountain.

• Saving money. It is really challenging to save money here. The Government takes the first 45% of my salary. Then they take 10% every time I buy anything. If I were to buy a house in the suburbs, the State Government requires an infrastructure charge that can add $100,000 to the cost of a home. I see the charge but what happened to the infrastructure?

When I started working in Sydney, the Aussie dollar was almost at parity with the U.S. dollar. Since then, it has averaged about 2/3 the value. So I am paid in discounted dollars, taxed at 45% and then taxed again in the U.S. My soon to be ex-wife wants the rest. No wonder saving money is a challenge.

• Gaining weight. At first I lost weight in Sydney, probably due to all the walking – in the U.S. I drive a car everywhere. But I am regaining weight in response to high calorie coffee (I drink uncontaminated black in the States), too many business lunches and dinners, an Aussie beer now and then, too much Aussie wine, working too many hours, eating snacks to compensate for insufficient sleep, etc.

• Exercising. Everyone says exercise is good but who has the time? I typically work 12 hours a day and am tired the other 12. Last week I went swimming for the first time in years; I almost drowned in the slow lane.

• Dealing with my soon to be ex-wife. This may be more like jumping off a cliff.

• Dating single women after being married (and faithful) for 30 years. Aren’t I too old for this?

• Communicating with my youngest son; “I don’t need your advice Dad. I only graduated a year ago and am working on a finding a job.”

• Sleeping after reading the latest missive from my divorce attorney outlining my wife’s latest demands and my limited options

• Sleeping after receiving the latest invoice from my divorce attorney.

• Sleeping after meeting with the banks.

• Sleeping after meeting with the investors explaining what happened to their investment.

So lately my life has included a lot of walking up hill. But one thing about hills; there is always a top. I sense I am getting closer to the top and when I do reach the top of the hill, it should be all downhill from there …. unless there is another taller hill blocking my path.

10 May 2009


In 1977, Mel Brooks released the movie, High Anxiety, and introduced the Psychoneurotic Institute for the very very nervous. I would not qualify for the Institute but lately I seem to be suffering from an occasional bout of anxiety. As I talk to others, I am finding anxiety is pretty common; I have lots of company. So what are the causes of such widespread anxiety? There are so many causes and events it is a wonder we all do not suffer permanent anxiety.

Here are a few examples I have encountered.

Flying Anywhere

• Getting There. Anxiety starts even before you get to the airport. Did you forget anything? Do you have the flight time correct? Do you have your ticket? Does your bag weigh too much? What did you forget?

Driving to the airport or taking a taxi knowing that the plane is leaving whether you are there in time or not causes concern. Add some traffic congestion and a late start and suffer all the way to the airport.

I used to fly occasionally from Tijuana Mexico. Aero Mexico had a rule; the plane departed when the captain wanted to. If the captain had a hot date waiting in Mexico City, the plane left early. Passengers arrived very early; no one knew what the captain’s plans were that day.

• Long Lines. Okay, so you arrive early; why is the line so long? If there is more than one line, the odds always dictate you will pick the slowest moving line. Should you switch to the back of a faster moving line? No, as soon as you switch, the old line will pick up and the new line will slow. Always happens. Maybe a mathematician will figure out why this is and win a Nobel Price someday.

• Security. I always feel guilty when I approach the presence of so many uniformed security officers, even though I would never bring anything that raised questions (sorry but my son must have put the scissors in the bag officer…). In India, there must be 10 security checks just to reach the gate. India is not for people who worry.

• Taking Off. Planes taxi on the runway for a couple days before they actually take off. This is just the suspenseful build up to the take off; it is the airline’s equivalent of foreplay. Taking off is a game to see if 1 million kilos of metal and flesh can lift off the ground before the runway ends.

I have a friend who formerly did business in one of the remote areas of Russia. Occasionally a Russian flight would crash taking off or landing at the local airfield. The Russians just left the debris of the crashed plane at the end of the runway and scavenged the downed planes for parts when needed. Imagine how secure you would feel seeing other planes that previously crashed on the same runway. Maybe you can take comfort that the parts in the crashed planes have been reused and possibly are in your plane.

Late for a meeting or an appointment

• I hate being late for a meeting. Driving in traffic always raises the worry I will be late. Driving in traffic, running late, and having to go to the bathroom are the perfect storm for anxiety sufferers.

• I suspect driving to a job interview, stuck in traffic, in need of a bathroom probably surpasses even the perfect storm. It is not comforting to know that there are a few hundred other qualified candidates who want the same job and you are about to show up late for the interview.

• I can become anxious even walking across town to a meeting if I am late, the crowd is moving too slowly, and the crossing lights seem synchronized to delay my progress.


• My blood pressure rises as soon as I enter a doctor’s office. Just being there adds stress. If I do not feel ill when I go (for a check up for example), I feel ill by the time I leave. There have been studies that people who go to a hospital for treatment have a greater chance of getting sick than those who do not go.

• Dentist offices are even worse. The sound of the drill sends chills – too many memories of childhood cavities. The American CIA really did not need water-boarding to make terror suspects talk; they just needed to let a dentist drill’s shrill sound to emanate from the room next door.

Public Restrooms

• It is bad enough to use a public restroom (or airplane bathroom) not knowing how disgusting or diseased the person was who used the toilet before you did. But if there is only one or two usable toilets and you cannot go right away, you struggle knowing the line to use the facility is probably growing longer and the queue impatient.


• Everyone I know seems to have trouble sleeping. For me, it is too much on my mind after a long day dealing with problems. As I slow down, the problems linger longer. I often solve issues lying in bed; but I would prefer not to solve so many issues at 3 AM.

Other Anxious Moments

• Dealing with my soon to be ex-wife. The stress level spikes just seeing her name on the email or seeing her number on the ringing telephone.

• Dealing with a divorce attorney or receiving an invoice from one.

• Entering the dating scene after being married and faithful for 100 years

• Being married in general

• Being single

• Borrowing money when the banks do not want to loan. I met with one banker who said, “my first answer is No; my second answer is No; my third answer is No. What else can I tell you?” I replied “The first three answers don’t work so let’s discuss answer number 4.”

• Having the guy next to you retrenched

• Being retrenched instead of the guy next to you.

• Being the boss and having to retrench both guys

• Having a cockroach run across the dressing area or bathroom countertop as you ready for bed and disappear before you kill him.

• Going to Mexico in the midst of the Swine Flu epidemic. Mexico can be a tough place to visit even without the flu. Now you can get robbed and contaminated at the same time.

The environment in which we live is filled with anxious moments and events. I am unsure of the best solutions to deal with these moments but here are a few recommendations I have encountered.

• Drink 4 glasses of red wine a day. This was the philosophy of a guy I worked for. He never seemed too stressed so it seemed to work; but the company did eventually fail.

• Take sleeping pills. These things seem to work for a short time and then stop working. According to one warning label I read, they cease to be effective after a few days and will then actually cause insomnia. I guess this means you have to switch to other pills every few days. Sounds like a marketing plan from the pharmaceutical industry based on addiction.

• Find a low stress job. I do not believe they exist but if they do, most people I know will find a way to introduce stressful conditions into an otherwise unstressed situation.

• Arrange to meet God and work out a deal. The devout seem to be less stressed (unless they signed on as a suicide bomber but are not fully convinced about the 21 virgins waiting for them in the afterlife).

• Exercise to the point of exhaustion. You may be too tired to be stressed.

• Read a book or The Economist Magazine – it takes longer to read than most books.

• Pretend you’re a writer and author columns on such current topics like “Anxiety.”

I do not think anxiety can be avoided; but the recognition of its widespread presence seems to lead to a less anxious feeling. Misery does like company. So encountering and recognizing more anxiety can lead to less anxiety. If the ‘more is less’ argument does not appeal, talk to your doc and get drugs.