On being ... summer's sting

By Ingrid Sapona

I usually choose topics for On being… based on an experience or thought I’ve found myself preoccupied with that week. But, I do try to make sure there’s something in it – some underlying commonality (if not universality) – that I think many readers will be able to relate to.

Well, when I told a friend what I was going to writing about this week, I was stung by his question: “How are you going to spin THAT into something others can relate to?” Well, I can’t believe I’m the only one who’d enjoy summer more if it didn’t come with things that buzz, creep, crawl, bite, and sting. Those of you who don’t feel the same – by all means – put this down and just go back to enjoying your summer. I’ll catch up with you again in a couple weeks…

Those of you still reading have probably figured out that I don’t like bugs. Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual. As (bad) luck would have it, bugs have always liked me. I’m a mosquito magnet, for example. I take all the precautions possible: I don’t use perfume or scented shampoo or deodorant, I wear light colours, long sleeves, long pants, socks, and mosquito repellant, but still they find me a tasty treat. I try my best not to complain – preferring, instead, to scratch in silence. But don’t you dare snicker if you see a can of Off in bag – getting West Nile doesn’t sound like fun to me!

 I’m fairly tolerant of spiders, but that’s only because you can’t sail and be photic about them. It’s impossible to take a sail cover off or move a line on board without sending them scurrying. Mind you, though I’m used to them, that doesn’t mean I like them. My grudging acceptance goes so far as to basically let them be, unless they get too close. I figure, once they’re within arm’s reach, they’re fair game. Yes, I read Charlotte’s web, but honestly. Whether they’re big and hairy (as so many on board are), or small and compact, if they’re coming my way, they’re asking for it.

But wasps are a whole other matter. I don’t know why, but mud wasps seem to be very much at home at my sail club. Historically, my boat has been especially attractive to them. There’s an opening that’s about a finger’s width wide at the top corners of my front hatch – it’s more than enough for an agile wasp to fly through. And, once they find their way in, they clearly feel quite at home.

The first year I had the boat I noticed a wasp fly into the cabin. Me or someone else on board just shooed it away. But, a few minutes later it returned. This time, I watched as it headed far into the V-birth – my favourite place to sleep. Sure enough, it had started building a nest in the corner. Ugh…

Later that day I bought some wasp spray and I doused the nest with it. Then, for good measure, when I closed up the boat I sprayed all around the front hatch, leaving a thick layer of foam. I figured the wasp(s) probably wouldn’t like the foam, and I hoped it left a residual smell or something that might stop them from going in. For the rest of the season I sprayed the hatch every time I closed the boat. (Thankfully the foam didn’t hurt the wood or fibreglass, though that was a price I was prepared to pay to keep the wasps away.)

A sailor friend teases me about my “wasp paranoia”. Whenever there’s a wasp nearby we end up in a Laurel and Hardy-like exchange that goes something like this: He says, “if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” I reply: “But what if you’re stung and you have an allergic reaction? And what if it happens in the middle of Lake Ontario? By the time you got back in, it could be too late.” He then poses what he thinks is the winner-take-all question: “Are you allergic?” Of course, he knows my answer, which is that I don’t know, since I’ve never been stung. Thinking I must feel pretty silly, he breaks into a wry smile. But I don’t feel silly. After all, what’s irrational about a “better safe than sorry” approach?

Anyway, after routinely foaming the front hatch before I left, I enjoyed many blissful, wasp-free years on the boat. This year, however, I was assigned a new slip and it seems the wasps have rediscovered my boat. Last week I watched as a wasp made its way into a new nest inside the cabin. This nest was larger than previous ones I’ve had on board, and I kind of panicked. Too afraid to deal with the nest myself, one of my dock neighbors got rid of it. (It was on a box he removed from the cabin.) Taking no chances, I sprayed when I closed up.

Saturday, when I opened the boat I checked every nook and cranny. (Alright, I’ll admit my search bordered on obsessive, so what.) When I didn’t find anything, I breathed easy and set out. A few minutes after raising the sails, however, I saw a large wasp nest on the boom! After calming down, I grabbed the spray and foamed it mercilessly. After I was sure nothing was stirring, I knocked the nest off with a heavy winch handle. The dead, foamed larva (or whatever it was in there) made a mess, but better that result, if you know what I mean.

I know my reaction – or over reaction, as some see it – to wasps and bugs is irrational. And yes, with a nod to the adage about what you fear most you attract, I deal with them when I must. But right about now, I’d gladly trade a few snow flurries for bugs…

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... advised

By Ingrid Sapona

Two very different stories related to advice came to mind this week as a result of a discussion I had with Terry, a long-time friend and fellow consultant. (As usual, Terry’s not her real name.) The first story relates to something a physician said at an ethics symposium I attended in law school. I don’t remember how the topic of giving patients advice came up, but I’ll never forget the doctor’s comments. He said he absolutely dreads the question: “Doctor, what would you do?”

Given it’s something I could see myself asking, I was interested in his reasoning. He said he believes there’s a moral obligation to not answer that type of question because you can never be sure your answer isn’t coloured by some bias. To explain, he gave what might seem like a convoluted example, but it’s one that’s stuck with me.

He said, “Suppose a husband and wife came to me to learn about the wife’s diagnosis. After thoroughly explaining the various courses of treatment, the husband asks: ‘Doc, what would you do if it was your wife?’” He explained that he could not answer because he worried he might recommend a riskier course of action because of animosity he didn’t even realize he had toward his own wife.

The second story relates to something a career counsellor said at a seminar I attended in the mid-1990s. Again, I don’t remember the context, but I remember her advice. She said, “Never – NEVER – take a cut in pay in a subsequent job.” I found that advice unsettling because, at the time, it so happened I was leaving a well-paying job to begin a low-paying, mandatory internship to qualify as a lawyer in Ontario. After the speech I spoke with her in private. I explained my situation and she moderated her stance somewhat, but I still left feeling like a big loser. I couldn’t help think that if she’d been in my position, she somehow would’ve managed to negotiate a higher salary for the internship.

Both these stories came to mind after my conversation with Terry. I had called her for business advice. We have quite a lot in common professionally. We have almost identical educational backgrounds and experience, and our consulting businesses are very similar. One important professional difference, however, is that Terry’s been in business about four years longer than me. In terms of our home lives, they are quite different. Terry has a spouse who works and they have three teenage kids; I fly solo.

Over the years Terry and I have often discussed billing rates. Her rate has always been about 25% higher than mine, which I figure is appropriate since she’s been in business longer. One thing I’ve especially admired about Terry is her seemingly unshakable belief that there are clients out there who are willing to pay for our expertise and talent and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short. Many times I’ve cried on her shoulder, wondering if I should lower my rate in hopes of attracting more clients. She has steadfastly advised against it.

So, last week when a potential client proposed a project and they were offering a rate that’s 1/3 less than my normal rate, I was upset. Though it was a decent size project, I told the client I thought the fee was quite low and I needed to think about it. After cooling off, I phoned Terry to get her take on it. To be honest, I was expecting her to support me in my outrage over the rate.

After I told her about the project, I was surprised when she said she didn’t think it was a bad rate. OK, I was flabbergasted – and she could tell. She quickly explained why she thought it was respectable (it has to do with the scope of the project and future work that may flow from it). While I could understand her rationale, given her previous stance on rates, I was shocked.

Feeling uncomfortable, more than once during the conversation Terry said “I’m sorry”. I assured her I wanted her view on the whole thing and she shouldn’t be sorry. But, all-the-same, I was unsettled by it. By the time I spoke with Terry, I know that career counsellor’s words were ringing loudly in my ears and I desperately wanted my friend to agree that I shouldn’t accept the low rate.

Indeed, part of me wanted to ask Terry if she’d accept that rate, but I didn’t. When I hung up, I thought about why I hadn’t asked her that point blank. I soon realized that whether Terry would accept the rate isn’t the issue. The issue is whether I’ll accept that rate for the project – and the truth is, she can’t answer that for me. That’s when I thought about that physician’s comment about being asked: “what would you do”?

See, though Terry knows the “facts” of my situation (how slow work has been for me, etc.), I know that decisions – even business decisions – aren’t based on facts alone. Emotions also come into play. In this case, for example, I’ve got emotional issues based on the fact that years ago I did a small project for this company and they were demanding and difficult to please. Do I want to risk going through that again? Or, have I matured so that I’d handle it differently if problems arise? These things clearly weigh in my decision and, though Terry is aware of some of them, how she’d factor them in is bound to differ.

I’m really happy I phoned Terry, but not because of what she said about the rate. I’m glad we chatted because the conversation helped me remember that advice is helpful, but decisions are personal and they’re not something you should let – or expect – anyone to make for you. Thanks Terry…

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona