The Trim Tab

“Call me Trim Tab”

This simple phrase is etched on the gravestone of Buckminster Fuller, one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. He loved the metaphor of “trim tabs” for understanding and communicating the powerful influence of the individual.

Famous for inventing the geodesic dome and coining the word “synergy,” Fuller once said:“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all.”

He goes on to say that individuals should never underestimate the ability they possess to leverage change. And while Fuller was speaking more about “change” as it pertains to a larger establishment, I couldn’t help but think about this concept on a more personal level. My thought being… the power we possess to change ourselves.

Years ago, when I first read about this tiny, little thing being responsible for the change in direction of an entire ship—I relished the idea that such a small, seemingly insignificant part of a massive vessel was actually key to deciding where it would ultimately go. This led me to realize that minor, personal changes, made over time, could yield MASSIVE results!

We all have things we want to change about ourselves… from being a better spouse, parent, friend or employee to shedding those ever-looming unwanted pounds. I think a person would be hard-pressed to find another who is 100% satisfied with their own status quo. Often, when we set out to change these things that we don’t like about ourselves, we set our sights too high, our goals too lofty… and we fail. And we stop trying.

There are a lot of things that I would like to change about myself. I can’t stand my lack of discipline in seeing that I get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Consequently, I hate my morning rush-around and the resulting guilt that I feel if I walk in the door to my office 10 minutes late. I want to eliminate my debt. I wish I had more patience. I’d like to be a better daughter, aunt, girlfriend and friend. I’d love to learn contentment and how to live fully “in the moment” — every moment.

Just compiling “the list” is overwhelming to me. Were I to try and achieve or even “work on” all of these things at once, I would surely fail. It’s too much to attain immediately. Feeling defeated, I would probably just give up. So consider for a moment, that if a tiny piece of material can ultimately turn a giant ship simply by making little adjustments, then maybe we’re capable of changing our own direction in much the same manner. Perhaps we need to take smaller steps toward our larger goals.

In the course of one year, I lost nearly 50 pounds and people are always asking me how I did it and what my secret was. They are surprised when I say that I did it without exercising or putting myself on some ridiculously rigid diet. I tell them that I made a handful of minor changes and in the span of one year (52 weeks) it came off a pound at a time. Ultimately these minor changes yielded some major results. Not overnight… but eventually.

The other day when someone asked about the goal I had achieved, I suddenly remembered reading about the concept of the trim-tab. At the time, I didn’t realize that “trim-tabbing” was what I had been doing all along with the weight loss, but now that I know, I am going to start applying this principle to the other areas of my life that I wish to change… one small adjustment at a time.

What am I doing right now? Well, tonight I think I’ll start by going to bed early.

The Post-Vacation Funk

post vacay funkI just returned from a glorious, much-needed, 8-day vacay up and down the New England coast with my man… and yes, it was A-MAZ-ING. However… it is now official. I am in the midst of a full-fledged, hard-core, post-vacation funk. And I am here to tell you that the fabled funk is very real and I would argue that it is an inevitable occurrence in the life of any vacationer.

All the fun you’ve been planning for, saving for and laid awake with great night-before-Christmas anticipation for … is over. The photos are now in your camera instead of the brochure and the t-shirt is hanging in the closet.

Mind you, the funk does not occur overnight. Rather it seeps into your conscience slowly and before you know it you are completely mired in it. Suddenly you find yourself knee-deep in the reality that you are neither: A. Independently wealthy, or B. Free from the obscenity that is Responsibility … with a capital “R.”

When you first arrive home—a weary traveler surrounded by the familiar sights, scents and sounds of your “stuff”—you can’t help but experience Dorothy’s “There’s No Place Like Home”  feeling and sleeping in your own bed (on the memory foam that still remembers you) is blissful.

The next day comes and whether at home or the office, it is a flurry of activity. You’re answering emails, returning calls and taking care of household chores with that rested, happy glow that only a true getaway can provide. You’re still sportin’ the chilled attitude that comes from spending 7 days in flip-flops and you are recounting the details of your adventure to anyone who will listen. People expect that you will not exactly be “at the top of your game” since your head is most likely still in the clouds (or on the beach, or in the mountains, or by the pool, or at that really cool bar you found) and minor errors and gaffs are swiftly forgiven.

Day three brings with it the bi!@# that is reality. The alarm sounds for the second time since you’ve been back and you suddenly remember that this was why you went on vacation in the first place … to escape that d@mn alarm and the daily grind that follows it.

Day four is the same as the third only worse. The alarm clock hits you like a punch in the face reminding you that yesterday was not a fluke or a joke or a drill or even a bad dream. YOU. ARE. NOW. HOME. And it is only Wednesday. This is when you begin to play a sadistic little game with yourself that I like to call: “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago Today?” And a word to the wise about playing this game: The non-vacation version of you will always wind up the loser.

By the way… exactly ONE week ago today… I was still in bed… but whatever. I’m not playing.

By day five you understand your fate, but you do not necessarily like it. Anger builds. You can’t stop playing the “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago Today?” game every time you open the empty refrigerator, notice a heaping pile of laundry, encounter a pair of sad and sandy flip-flops lying lifeless on the floor or walk past the growing stacks of mail and dwindling supply of saltwater taffy on your dining room table.

It is at this point that you begin to entertain wild imaginings about how you might achieve the life of a full-time vacationer. What if I just disappeared?  What might the consequences of that be?  How much DO they pay those people who change sheets and fold towels at all those charming, little B&B’s? Is it hard to learn how to make saltwater taffy like the guy in the window at that quaint candy shop on the pier? Is it too late to get a degree in Recreation or Hospitality and Tourism Management? Am I too old to become a deck hand?

They say that there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. They are not necessarily experienced in order. The bereaved might vacillate between the five for several weeks or months languishing for a time at one stage or another. So far I think I have experienced all of them and it has yet to be one week.

Hopefully by the time I unwrap and consume the last piece of taffy, I will have quietly accepted my life just the way it is. It’s either that or you will likely find me behind a glass storefront in a hairnet and white gloves, pulling taffy for tourists.