Category Archives: Appreciation

Before the Law

What can Franz Kafka’s parable, written in 1915, tell us?

Before the Law

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

What exactly is “the law?”  I’m sure it’s something real, but it doesn’t matter.  Alfred Hitchcock once said that every movie is a search for the MacGuffin.  Every character in the story lives or dies in relation to quest for the MacGuffin.

How often have you confronted a gatekeeper?  That mysterious person with unknown power.  They appear to hold the key you need.  Their power emanates from the knowledge you need.  Knowledge they often don’t possess.  Their greatest power comes from your insecurity.  The gatekeeper represents your desire to stay safe, risk nothing, step back.  Thank God that gatekeeper’s there!  Otherwise, I’d have to actually step through that gate, without any obstacle to block me.

The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.

The gatekeeper isn’t there to grant permission.  Access isn’t his to grant.  Our hero focuses so intently on every last detail of the gatekeeper that he gets to avoid thinking about what lies beyond the gate.  The biggest challenges in life aren’t delivered in the first step but in the thousandth.

The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end, he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

Status quo is warm and comfy.  Pursuing the mundane is safe.  Busying ourselves with the day-to-day tasks gives us something to do, but doesn’t move us any closer to what lies beyond the next gate.

The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.”

All the preparation in the world is meaningless without the desire to put that preparation to work.  To take what you’ve learned and test it in the real world.  To learn the real lessons that come from experience.  To make the mistakes that can cost you everything…and nothing.  To risk real failure, and real triumph is what makes life most interesting.

During the many years, the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.

How long have you waited for someone to pick you?  How long have you waited for your stars to align?  Stars are part of a perfectly ordered and yet totally chaotic system.  Their alignment is rare and temporary at best.

There are about 6 billion of us on this planet.  The law of averages (and large numbers) works against us being picked.  More likely, our small piece of the world is waiting for us to choose, and run in that direction.

The gatekeeper isn’t good or evil.  He has only one function.  To guard the gate, and warn us about the challenges that may lie ahead.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

We don’t have to grow old for our vision to fail.  That can happen at any age.  It’s easy to lose focus.  It’s easy to find darkness in the midst of all the light.  We each have beacons of light to guide us if we choose to look in their direction.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it. 

Woe is me!  I’m the only person in pain.  I’m the only person with these challenges.  I’m the only person struggling.  The world is so unfair.  The deck is stacked against me.  Get over yourself!

Never assume you’re the only one struggling.  I saw a quote from That Gratitude Guy (look him up) recently that said, “Never compare your inside to their outside.”  Excellent advice.

Each of us has a path to follow.  Sometimes it’s smooth.  Sometimes not.  We will encounter obstacles on our journey and even more gatekeepers.

The most powerful gatekeeper of all is fear and the stories we tell to hide it.

No one else can overcome your fear.  That task is assigned only to you.

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Joshua Earle.  Why this photo?  Why not a photo of a gate, a bureaucrat, darkness, or fear itself?  This photo reflects a beacon of light and an “impossible” next step.  Here’s hoping he finds his way past fear and towards the light.

 

Wishing Well

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What’s the first thing you think of when you see a stranger?

How about your competition?

Or, the jerk that just cut you off in his Porsche?

What’s your default setting when it comes to others?

How critical are you?

How many stories have you made up about that stranger—stories that only you hear—based on nothing more than appearance?

It’s easy to be critical.  It’s easy to look for the worst, and even easier to find it.  Defaulting to fear and distrust is the safest play.

What if you defaulted to wishing others well?  Even strangers?

What if the stories you tell in your head give that stranger the benefit of the doubt?

What if you looked for the best, instead of the worst?

What if you had no opinion about that guy who just cut you off?

What would happen if you helped your competitor improve?

Starting with a mindset of wishing well, looking to give instead of take, understanding rather than responding, reveals our best self.

Our best self hides behind walls of criticism, doubt, distrust, fear, and ill will.

Take away its hiding places and get to know your best self…default to wishing well.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Brandi Redd

More Than a Few Lessons…

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I turned 50 a while back.  Although it’s just a number, it’s a big milestone.  Hopefully, it’s a halfway point.  During my first 50 years, I’ve learned some things and here they are in no particular order:

  • The quest for the Holy Grail is all about the quest, and less about the Grail.
  • Soft tissue injuries are much harder to get over than you think.
  • Execution is all about preparation. Prepare well, and you’ll be able to execute when called upon.  Wing it and your execution will be a crap shoot.
  • Preparation is difficult and requires discipline. Building and maintaining discipline is one of the greatest challenges in life.
  • No matter how smart, strong, tough, fast, or independent you think you are. You aren’t.
  • Nearly everything is easier said than done.
  • Just because you can watch someone do something doesn’t mean you know anything about what it takes to actually do that thing.
  • Doing is the key to enjoying. Stop talking about it.  Stop thinking about it.  Stop procrastinating.  Stop making excuses.  As Nike said so well, Just Do It!  You’ll probably suck at it at first, but so does everyone else.
  • The real “99% and 1%?” Ninety-nine percent of people will try something, suck at it, and quit.  One percent will continue the struggle (see discipline above), and incrementally improve.  They may even continue long enough to become a master at it.  Another variant:  only one percent will try something, and the other ninety-nine percent will focus on explaining why they can’t or won’t.
  • Whenever I’ve become the most anxious in life, I usually realize that I’ve skipped exercise or going outside to play for more than a week (it happens more often than I care to admit!). Exercising and playing are the best ways to build a foundation of clarity and calm.
  • Another thing I’ve noticed when I’m most anxious is that I’ve probably pushed gratitude out of my mind. When your mind is filled with gratitude, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for other things like anger, frustration, or negativity (this also happens more often than I’d like).
  • Vacations are nice. Travel is nice.  Seeing exotic places is nice.  But, there’s nothing like creating a life at home that doesn’t require a vacation for happiness.  Vacations should be icing on the cake.
  • Every person who lives in the US should spend at least two weeks in a foreign country…preferably when they’re young. That way, the lessons they take away from the experience can be applied early in their life.  Something I’ve found from traveling to at least 10 (maybe more) foreign countries is that the US is like Disneyland.  Even compared to modern and thriving countries, the standard of living in the US is noticeably higher.  It is easy to take all these differences for granted, or to be truly ignorant of them…until you spend time in a foreign country.
  • Tom Petty had it right: The waiting is the hardest part.  Everything in life takes longer than you plan in your head.  That’s probably because we plan and think in our head for a long time before we spring our thoughts on the “world.”  Or, things just really do take a lot longer than we think they should.
  • Jobs become obsolete (and so do certain companies). People don’t (and neither do companies) unless they allow it.
  • The best way to avoid obsolescence?  Continuous learning.  Continuous exploration.  Saying yes more.
  • Save early and often in your life. Those savings will yield a huge amount of freedom later in your life.
  • In the struggle between service and earnings, choose service every time.
  • The most beautiful sound in Nature is uncontrolled laughter.
  • The most beautiful sight in Nature is the smiling eyes of someone you love.

 

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Massimo Mancini

 

I Should’ve Laughed More

A photo by frank mckenna. unsplash.com/photos/EgB1uSU5tRA

Grandpa Clyde used to say, “You had to laugh!” whenever he told stories about something that had happened.

I’m not sure he was laughing when the thing was actually happening, but he knew you had to laugh when he looked back on it.

How many tough situations, crises, or plain old everyday events do you experience in a day, a week, a month…a lifetime?

What if we could pull ourselves out of these situations just long enough to hear the story we would tell?  It won’t get us out of the situation, but might help us find the reason to laugh.

 

 

Photo:  www.unsplash.com, Frank McKenna

 

The Questions We Ask When Someone Dies Are the Wrong Ones!

  • How old was he?
  • How did he die?
  • Did he suffer at the end?
  • Was his family with him?
  • Various versions of:  Who is he leaving behind?  How are they doing?

These are all worthwhile questions.  They show how much we care.

They also provide a small glimpse into our future, and the future of the people we love and care about.  We will each take our final breath someday.  It’s just a question of when and how.

These questions do more to quench the morbid curiosity we have about our own future than to learn about the life of the person who just died.

We used to receive a local monthly newspaper.  I was always fascinated by the stories in the obituary section.  Each person had a story.  An arc through time.  Milestones.  Achievements.  Lives they touched.  But, these were merely stories someone else had written to encapsulate an entire lifetime into a few paragraphs of highlights.

It’s impossible to capture someone’s life in a few paragraphs or even an entire book.

Our lives aren’t just a series of events and milestones.  They’re an almost infinite collection of moments.

Moments that often seem trivial when they happen, but are anything but trivial.  These moments would probably never make the “highlight reel.”  These are the moments that (with the benefit of hindsight) are turning points in our life, and the lives of the people we touch.

Our lives are also a feeling.  An energy.  An impression we leave behind.  It’s not tangible, and it can’t be seen or touched.  But, it touches everyone around us.  It’s something they can only describe with a far-away look in their eyes when we’re gone.

The questions we ask when someone dies miss what really matters.

I’d like to add some new ones:

  • What are the moments you shared with him that you remember most?
  • What stories did he tell you?
  • Which stories had the most impact on you?
  • How did he make you feel when you were around him?
  • How did he impact the direction your life is going?
  • What did you learn from him and the way he lived his life?
  • What type of energy did he bring to your life?
  • What impression did he make on you?
  • What comes to your mind whenever you think about him, now that he’s gone?

And, one final question to consider while we’re still here:

How will those that you love and care about answer these questions after you’re gone?

 

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

The Puzzles We Build

 

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When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

Speedometers Steal Speed

“The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth.  It can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour as it pursues its prey.  Just look at its awesome speed, as it chases down that gazelle!” – Every Nature Program about Cheetahs

Do you think the cheetah has any idea how fast he’s going?

What about an eagle as it dives through the air to reach its prey?

Does the pelican think about his speed as he dives into the water to catch dinner?

Does the pole vaulter know how fast she’s running just before her jump?

What about the downhill mountain bike racer?

The answers to these questions are obvious.  For each to be effective, none are looking at a speedometer to determine their next move.  They aren’t referring to some magical heads-up-display to tell them how they’re doing.

In their critical moment, no measurements or brilliant strategic insights will impact the outcome.  They will succeed or fail based solely on how they perform, in the next moment.

The moment is all that matters.

Speedometers don’t make speed.  They provide external feedback and nothing else.

How often are you slowing down to check your speedometer, instead of focusing on your next critical moment?

Truth is, your moment is all that matters.  There’s plenty of time for feedback later when it’s not stealing your speed.

Beware of the Edge

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I recently heard about a sign at the top of Mount Vesuvius.  It reads, “Beware of the edge.”

That’s the only safety precaution in the area.  No guardrails.  Just a sign.

I can hear it now:

“Your honor, I submit that my client had no idea he could plummet to his death by stepping over the edge of that volcano.  If only there’d been a guardrail to prevent his untimely death.”

Or,

“Your honor, we acknowledge that there was a sign that said, “Beware of the edge,” but my client must have thought he was safe as long as he stayed inside the guardrails.  Since there were no guardrails on the mountain, he was clearly misled into a false sense of safety and security…just before his fall.”

How many of us really need a sign, or a guardrail, to tell us to stay away from the edge?  Can’t we see the danger on our own, without the sign?

The truth is, probably not.

Why not?

Simple.  The edge is where the action is.  We know it’s dangerous.  We know our mind will play an imaginary leap that only our subconscious sees when we look over the edge.  We secretly like the butterflies we get in our stomach.

The edge brings sharp focus.  It’s where our imagination is most alive!

Sometimes, the edge represents the end of a long journey.  A challenging climb.  Our view over the edge reminds us of the distance we’ve traveled.  The work we’ve put in to get there.

The edge is like the proverbial flame that draws the moth.  The edge reminds us of how fragile our life is.  One step away from real danger.

How do we approach the edge, and take in its energy, while avoiding the danger that lurks just one step beyond?

It’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves.

But, here’s hoping we don’t discover the answer as we tumble over the edge.

Relax, You’re Doing Fine

I saw this on a license plate frame.  When I first saw it, I didn’t give it much attention.  Then, as I sat at the red light, staring at those four simple words, I realized how freeing they are.

Relax, you’re doing fine.

You aren’t as far behind as you thought in the “race” of life.  In fact, life isn’t a race at all.  There’s no prize at the end for getting to the finish line faster than the other people.

You’re living in a great time.  Why is it so great?  Because it’s your time.  It doesn’t matter what else is happening.  The fact that things are actually happening, and you are here to see, participate, and have an impact is all that matters.  What impact?  That’s up to you.

What you do, how you do it, and the pace you choose are up to you.  I recommend you take advantage of your limited time on the planet.  Start moving, stay moving, always learn, and never stop teaching.  But, that’s just me.  It’s up to you and no one else.

Not as happy as you’d like to be?  Not as fulfilled as you’d like to be?  Worried that life is passing you by?  Worried that you aren’t as rich, pretty, strong, tall, smart, stylish, successful, or any other measure society places on us, as you’d like to be?

We all have the same seconds, minutes, and hours every day.  Our ability to define our time by the people we help, and the smiles we coax into the world are the only things we control.  The rest is going to happen with or without our involvement.

Enjoy your time.  Let someone else worry about all that other comparison stuff.

And, never forget:  Relax, you’re doing fine.