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mercury retrogradeRecently there have been a series of strange behaviors observed by myself and those around me.  Levels of patience seem to be down and levels of open hostility seem to be up.  Calm people seem annoyed while normally patient people give you the look.  You know, “the look.”  Ever the student, I wanted to know why.  Believing that sometimes I can be annoying and test people’s patience, I quickly deduced that I might actually be the problem.  The questions I asked to get this feedback quickly generated “the look” again so I decided to pursue my answers more academically.

My friend, Faye Tibbetts, who works at the Maine State CU, tells me that Mercury is in retrograde. Faye and I are pretty good friends so I would never doubt Faye. That said, really? Continuing to ask I got a host a planetary type responses from a variety of pretty smart people. This created a conundrum. You see, I don't really prescribe a lot to the astrological stuff, however in this case it seems pretty compelling. Here is what the internet say...

When Mercury is Retrograde (

Sometimes the other planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac; this is an illusion. We call this illusion retrograde motion. Three times a year, it appears as if Mercury is going backwards for about three weeks. This time was traditionally associated with confusions, delay, and frustration. Perhaps Mercury's retrograde periods can cause our plans to go awry. However, this is an excellent time to reflect on the past. Intuition is high during these periods, and coincidences can be extraordinary.


Now what? 

Maybe I should go back and see if events like this have happened before to me and what happened then.  I tried that and found myself attempting to align stars and events and collapsed under the weight of my woefully inadequate memory and intellect. 

Plan B... another contributor to our little newsletter this month (Deb Sparrow) focused her ideas on the theme, “Personal Mastery.”  That got me thinking.  Maybe this is about the end of summer, the beginning of school for the kids, the push for the last push of a pretty productive year, upcoming holidays and that sort of thing and the impact on people simply getting on each other’s nerves and in each other’s way. Maybe, just maybe, we are using the planets too conveniently to disguise our own stressors and maybe we are a little bit more susceptible because there is a little cosmic something going on. 

Those who know me well might tell you that this is just a ‘Ralphism’ designed to say things like “rub some dirt on it” or “suck it up” or, the more familiar “put on your adult pants.”  Seriously, maybe the answer is in our own personal behavior and less in the stars but who really knows?  

The problem – we are impatient, treating each other shabbily, quickly jumping on little annoyances and simply not being very nice.

The solution – each of us need to be more aware of our own behavior and its impact and as the title says, breathe.

How – awareness.  Long ago as a young leader I learned that simple awareness of a problem, concern or behavior changes that problem, concern or behavior by at least 25%. 

Example; a long time ago as a young supervisor I was placed in charge of reducing the cost of returning damaged product from the supermarkets we were servicing. While that is much more complicated than it sounds, the solution (at least short term) was really simple when I stumbled onto it.  Several thousand dollars were being lost and spent as piles of bottles of ketchup, pickles, fruit juice, cat food and, get the picture, gathered in an area about half big enough.  

When you tried to get to who was breaking what and why, the fingers always pointed at the other person.  Warehouse people said it happened because careless truck drivers were breaking things.  Truck drivers said that stores were breaking things and sneaking them back onto the truck and the store folks said that warehouse just crashed around without concern for their needs and the product was delivered broken.  There were not going to be a lot of answers there. 

Lucky vs. Good

Sometimes you get lucky.  I decided that I was going to make damage a theme at my nightly crew meetings with the idea that maybe education was a start to solving the problem.  Something amazing happened. After my first five days of crew meetings the amount of damage started to fall off.  Dramatically fall off. Was it me?  Was I a leader so compelling that people just wanted to do what I asked?  I started to see myself as the new William Deming’s with a staff of followers and book publishing rights, a home in the Caribbean Islands and another in the Himalayas where I could sit like a yogi and receive the masses, and... 

Ok, back to reality.  I wasn’t at all sure what happened but it did have me intrigued so I stopped talking about damaged products for two weeks.  Guess what happened?  You guessed it, they returned to normal.  My conclusion was that focused, passionate awareness can create at least temporary change.  You have all experienced this when you give feedback to your kids or your spouse and the behavior you describe goes away for a while.  While not a lasting solution it was a pretty handy method to get things temporarily under control. 

Back to Faye’s Mercury in retrograde.  Maybe the solution while the planets get their act together is copious amounts of kindness, patience, and care. The knowledge that planetary anomalies come and go and that relationships last is at least a good start.  We all get colds and we persevere because we know from experience that the cold will get better eventually, we will return to health. 

Maybe armed with Faye’s insight, understanding that it is temporary and counting off the days until October 9th we can harden ourselves to not lose relationships.   My understanding, after extensive research, is that this whole backward planet thing happens routinely.  Holding onto our sense of humor, civility, humanity and learning to breathe through these recurring events seems much more important.

Have a great October and warmest regards,


5 (4)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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