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Master the Basics

February 1, 2006
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Master the Basics by Gary Tetz
    I've always had a thing for maxims. So profound. So pithy. So handy to have around. And I don't think I'm alone. Many otherwise normal folks seem to take great comfort and guidance from succinct and simplified expressions of fundamental truths.

My wife, for instance. She loves a well-timed aphorism. "You could have willpower if you just put your mind to it," she once told me in a moment of gentle reproof. I puzzled over those words for quite some time, stopping just before my brain exploded.

To more fully maxim-ize my life philosophies, I've been working quietly over the past several years to create the Tao of Tetz, trying for the betterment of mankind to capture and distill some of the ultimate principles of the universe as I have experienced it. So far, these include:

    Life is uncertain.
    Marriage is tricky.
    It's one thing after another.
    You have to wonder about people.
    Women are just that way.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't dispense at least one of these kernels of wisdom to any number of grateful people. I'm convinced my words will soon be replacing those of poet/philosopher Kahlil Gibran at weddings, lending a fresh intellectual heft to the proceedings.

Whatever you choose to call them-mottoes, axioms, adages, annoying clichTs-the search for easily digestible truth nuggets seems to be a continuous human quest. Ever since an anonymous Neanderthal scratched "Heavy club work good" on a cave wall, mankind has used these terse but meaningful phrases to educate and inspire.

This is especially true in the world of business. Who among us hasn't worked in an office festooned with posters pairing motivational phrases with pictures of landscapes, children, or pets? Who among us hasn't secretly desired to pummel whoever put them there? But still, they work, proving the old maxim that "Truth is best conveyed with typography and kittens."

It should be no surprise, then, that this motivational technique is alive and well within the long-term care profession. And sure enough, while visiting the world headquarters of a Northwest provider recently, I happened upon a colorful printed piece containing eight essential maxims designed to keep staff focused on the mission and goals of the company. One particularly caught my eye: Master the Basics.

That's a good thought, I quietly mused-a helpful reminder to concentrate on core strengths, not to flail wildly in all directions, to focus on what you do well rather than attempting many things poorly. In a nursing home, the Basics would clearly be the care-from assisting with ADLs and following care plans to making beds and keeping a smile on your face.

But then, as it is wont to do, my mind took an unexpected, even unwelcome, side trip, and I caught myself staring into space, pondering what it means to Master the Basics in one's daily existence. Since the maxim itself yielded no additional information or guidance-its author evidently assumed that we were bright enough to figure it out-I had to tackle the question of personal meaning on my own. After much soul-searching (and maybe a Fresca or two), I identified nine Basics that I believe hold the key to the successful life application of this critical precept for anyone, including LTC providers (and melancholy writers working from home in their bathrobes):