Category Archives: Awesomeness

Time for a Lens Change?

Way back in junior high (in the last century), I learned about photography with 35mm SLR cameras.  These were the “real thing.”  They were a far cry from the cheap Instamatics that everyone I knew used at the time.

We learned about shutter speeds, f-stops, light meters, focus points, passive and active lighting, shadows, framing, composition, film types, and lenses.

Did we want to capture the action close-up, or in the distance?  Blur the action, or stop it?  Shadow the subject, or light it?  Black and white, or color?  Grainy or smooth?  Focus on the foreground or the background?  Capture the subject from the left, or right?

It didn’t matter if we were photographing a mountain, a flower, a person, or a can of tomatoes.  Using all the tools at our disposal, we controlled what happened in each photo.

Don’t even get me started on developing film in a darkroom.  We learned about that too.  More ways to control the image that appears in the photo.  For younger readers, darkrooms are the place where the exposed film was transformed into photos.  Using various methods, we could edit an image like you can today in your phone’s photo editor or Photoshop.

The main lesson about all this wasn’t the tools and techniques of photography. It was the realization that the camera was only a tool to capture a moment.  That moment, with all its beauty, drama, imperfections, and emotions.

More specifically, the camera captures a feeling that comes from the image and our memory of that feeling.  The image is merely a pathway to our feelings about the subject.

We capture moments and feelings every day.  Usually without a camera.  We control how these moments and feelings appear on the canvas that matters the most.  In our heart and in our mind.

If the world seems to be against you, and all you see is ugliness and despair, that’s probably because of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

If everything is amazing and perfect, that’s also a result of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

Neither view is 100% accurate.  Reality has its ups and downs.  We face challenges and triumphs, victories and defeats, every day.

The key is to understand that we have way more to do with the way these moments are captured and interpreted than anyone or anything in our world.

We control our settings.  We control our lenses.  We choose where we focus.

Ultimately, we choose how to frame our moments.  Not the other way around.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Letting Go

“If there are pieces of your past that are weighing you down, it’s time to leave them behind.  You are not what has happened to you.  You are someone unimaginably greater than you have ever considered, and maybe it’s time to consider all the possibilities that are within you.”  –Matthew Kelly

How much baggage are you carrying from your past?

The mistakes you’ve made.  The opportunities you missed.  The disappointments.  The tragedies.  The could’ve beens and the should’ve beens.  The people you still won’t forgive.

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting your past.  It doesn’t mean ignoring the lessons you’ve learned.

It means forgiving yourself and forgiving others.  It means loving the amazing person you’ve become and letting go of the person you or anyone else thought you should have become.

Each of us is a work-in-progress.  We have an opportunity every day to define our future.  But, it’s impossible to choose our future while burdened with all the weight of our past.

It’s time to let go.  Drop the weight.  Drop the guilt.  Drop the anger.  Drop the regrets that quietly gnaw at your core.

Let go and prepare yourself for the awesome future that you choose.

As Matthew Kelly says, “You are someone unimaginably greater than you have ever considered.”

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

 

Desire and Appreciation

“…people are programmed to desire, not to appreciate.” –Matt Ridley

Imagine if we had the ability to appreciate as much as we desire.

Imagine if the things we appreciated were all that we desire.

We might not get as much accomplished, but we’d probably be a little happier.  Maybe, a little more content.

As infants, we’re 99.99% desire.  It’s the only way we can survive, connect, learn, and thrive.

As we grow, our desires get more advanced.  We visualize, fantasize, dream, and hope.  We talk about the things we’re going to do, the places we’ll see, the people we’ll meet, the mountains we’ll climb.

In all of this, there’s little time for appreciation.  We don’t have time to reflect.  We’re too busy fulfilling our dreams, finding the next challenge, quenching our desire.

When was the last time you purposely spent time appreciating your life and the people you love?

When was the last time you purposely spent time appreciating yourself and the positive impact you have on the world?

Maybe it’s time.

Desire, with all its motivation and energy, is critical to our success.

But appreciation brings meaning to that success.  It makes our success (however we define it) matter.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Grandma’s Hot Chocolate

There’s something special about grandma’s hot chocolate.

It doesn’t matter that she boils water and pours in the envelope of instant powder like the rest of us.

It’s what she does while the water’s boiling.  The questions she asks while stirring-in the powder.  The way she stops stirring to listen to your answers.

Grandmas have that way of listening, even to the stuff we’re not saying.

It’s the way she adds the right amount of milk to “thicken it up a bit.”  Nobody else gets it exactly right like grandma.  She knows just the way you like it.  In fact, she’s the only one who does.

It’s counting out the right number of baby marshmallows.  Enough to sweeten things, but not so many that they get in the way.

It’s the way she squeezes your shoulder as she places the cup on your placemat.

It’s the way she sits to enjoy it with you.

That first sip is such a treat.  Is it the taste of the chocolate, or seeing grandma’s warm smile across the table that makes it so good?

It doesn’t matter.  Your loving journey to the bottom of this cup of wonder is just beginning.

Funny how the simplest things in life are transformed when they’re mixed with grandma’s love.

A love she teaches us to bring to the simple things in our own lives each and every day.

Photo by Salome Alexa on Unsplash

Begin with I Don’t Know

It’s easy to assume we know everything, or everything that matters.

If not, we can comfort ourselves that at least we know enough.

“Been there, done that,” is our unspoken mantra.

When we know, we feel the need to tell others.

When we know, there’s nothing more to learn.

When we know, listening is optional.

When we know, questions waste our time.

Curiosity and exploration are irrelevant.

A powerful thing happens when we begin with I don’t know.

We listen to others more than ourselves.

We open our mind.

We embrace the potential for change.

Curiosity and questions fuel our journey.

We become interested.

And, interesting.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Always Better

We’re taught at an early age to do our best.  That we should strive to be the best.

Being the best is a great accomplishment.

Best student.  Best musician.  Best cook.  Best athlete.  Best employee.  Best boss.  Best entrepreneur.  Best leader.  Best parent.  Best friend.

There are at least three problems with best:

  1. Best is often a subjective comparison to the subset that’s around you. There’s a phrase, “big fish in a small pond,” that represents this well.  You’re the best runner in your school.  But, when it comes time to run against another school, your best isn’t good enough.  You finish second in the race.  Every time the subset gets larger, best gets redefined.
  1. Best is a fleeting moment in time. You might be the best today, but what about tomorrow?  Next week?  Next year?
  1. The value of best goes down quickly. Does it matter to your 48-year-old self that you were the best student (however that was measured) back in high school?  Sure, it’s a proud accomplishment from your past, but does it really impact your life 30 years later?

I propose an alternative to being the best:  being always better.

Consider the challenge and reward of always better:

  • No matter what measuring stick you use, if the goal is to always be better than yesterday, the challenge is clear, and the improvement is measurable.
  • There’s no place to hide when the goal is always better. No excuses for not improving, even just a little bit, from yesterday, last year, ten years ago.
  • Always better pits you against your past self. The subset never changes.  It’s you.
  • If the definition of success is to always be better than before, you get to celebrate success every day that you improve.

What if you don’t improve today?  That’s okay, we all have setbacks.  Setbacks remind us not to take our improvements for granted.  We get to see how great it is to come back to where we were, and then take another step toward our better self after that.

Seeking better every day yields a compounding effect that far surpasses the value of merely being best for one day.

Ask these questions of yourself:

  • What am I doing to improve today?
  • Am I focused on learning from my mistakes, or imagining a new way, and charting an improved course today?
  • Do I realize that each day is an opportunity to be better than yesterday?
  • Am I willing to challenge my own status quo, my comfort zone, today?
  • Am I a better student, musician, cook, athlete, employee, boss, entrepreneur, leader, parent, friend, or whatever else you find most important, than I was yesterday? If not, why not?

Ironically, if you work on always being better, there’s a good chance you’ll become the best.  But you won’t care, because the reward you seek comes from the never-ending quest to be always better.

God gave us all weaknesses.  It’s a blessing to find out what they are so we get a chance to turn them into our strengths.

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

 

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

How Do You Measure Success?

Ask ten people how they measure success, and you’ll get ten different answers.

Your own answer to this question today is probably different than your answer was ten years ago…or will be ten years from now.

Not happy at work?

Not happy in your relationships?

Not happy with your current situation in life?

It’s at least partially due to not knowing how you and those around you are measuring success.  If you don’t know what success looks like, how can you ever hope to achieve it?

If you’re working for an organization that measures success differently than you do, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll become unhappy in that organization.

As you consider how you measure success, avoid the comparative happiness trap.  The trap that says you can’t be happy or consider yourself successful until you have as much or more than someone else.

Ultimately, it all comes down to your own perception of what success is, how you define it, and what you’re willing to do to achieve it.

Your personal definition of success is about you and no one else.

Hint—it usually requires a lot of hard work to achieve any meaningful success, no matter how it’s measured.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Advice for College Graduates

It’s graduation season.  An exciting time!  For the college graduate, this is an especially challenging time (whether the graduate realizes it or not).  With other graduations that led up to this one (kindergarten, sixth grade, eighth grade, even twelfth grade), there wasn’t much of an expectation placed on the graduate to have things figured out.

Those prior graduations were mostly about celebrating the achievement and passing a milestone on the way to adulthood.

College graduation is different.  The college graduate is supposed to know “what they’ll be doing with their life,” or “where they’re going after graduation.”  The real world is out there waiting for them to take it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground!

Everyone assumes that since the college graduate spent most of their life getting an education, now’s the time when they should be ready to leap into the next stage of their life.  Ready to go forth and conquer…following their dream and delivering on all that potential they’ve been gathering.

Listen to almost any commencement speech (there are some excellent ones on YouTube).  The speeches often contain solid advice, encouragement, and usually a bit of a life story of the person giving the speech.

I’ve never delivered a commencement speech.  I’m not sure how I’d approach such a talk, or what personal stories I’d tell.  But, I know that my commencement speech would, at a minimum, cover this short list of items:

Life doesn’t come with an answer key.

The answer key is the Holy Grail of any textbook.  Put simply, it contains all the answers.  It can quickly tell us if we’re right or wrong.  Of course, life doesn’t come with an answer key.  In fact, many of the toughest problems you’ll face don’t have specific right or wrong answers.

To make it even more challenging, something that’s right for one person or situation is wrong for another.

How will you know when you’re right?  You won’t get that luxury very often in life.  But, I’ve found that when I narrow my focus on a problem or question down to its impact solely on me, I usually make the wrong choice.  When I consider how the outcome of a problem or question will impact the people I love, the people I work with, and the people that rely on me, I usually make far better decisions.

Nobody will tell you if this or that will be on the exam.

This is sort of related to number one.  The reality is that there are very few final exams in life, and nobody will tell you what’s on the exam.  It’s up to you to determine what’s most important, not only to yourself but to your audience.  In this case, your audience is anyone that matters to you.  This could be a boss, a loved one, a work associate, or all of the above at the same time.

The project, assignment, or paper that’s due at the end of the semester doesn’t exist in the real world.

Sure, there will be deadlines, but the semester doesn’t end. Even if you’re working on a project at work, the work doesn’t end when you turn in that project.  That project is probably part of an even larger project or set of projects that are all part of some larger strategy.

The project isn’t the goal, even when it’s consuming all your time and attention.  Understanding how this project fits into the overall mission is what matters.  When you learn to think about the bigger-picture goals, while focusing on the specifics of the project at hand, you’ll leap ahead of most people.

But, what if your work doesn’t seem to be part of anything larger.  Maybe it isn’t, but that still doesn’t mean that it ends when you turn it in.  Chances are that the work you’ve completed will take on a life of its own, and you’ll get to see that happen.  You’ll also be called to defend it, especially when things go wrong.  And, if you stay around long enough, you may be the person who works to replace the result of your prior work with a new and improved version.

To be successful, you must be willing to seek out the best solutions to problems and new challenges, even when those new solutions make something you did in the past obsolete.

Get used to the concept of constructive destruction, because it’s with you all the time.  There’s a quote about the caterpillar thinking everything was over just before turning into a butterfly.  For the butterfly to emerge, the caterpillar must cease to exist.  In fact, the caterpillar works its entire life to fulfill the goal of destroying itself so it can become the butterfly.

When you create something or become part of something that’s successful, always be on the lookout for ways to improve upon that success.  Celebrate the success, but never be satisfied.  Always look for ways to tear down what you’ve built to make room for a new way of achieving that success.  Trust me, if you’re not looking for, and embracing new possibilities, your competition will.

Life doesn’t divide itself into perfectly scheduled segments like school does.

This isn’t entirely true.  Life has years, and each year has four quarters.  When each year ends, you’ll be asked to look back (if only briefly) and tell Uncle Sam about how you did, financially.  And, Uncle Sam will want to share in whatever you did in the prior year.

Most companies, whether privately- or publicly-held (or governmental agencies) operate on an annual financial reporting calendar.  They look at their performance monthly, quarterly, and annually.  This cycle will become a constant for you in almost any line of work.  It’s a cycle that will have even greater importance to you as your level of responsibility within an organization grows.

What did you do this year?  How does that compare to last year?  How does this quarter compare to the same quarter last year?  What are you expecting to happen in the next quarter, the next year?

Ironically, one thing most people are missing when they graduate is a working knowledge of how income taxes, property taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, and the IRS operate.

Always think of your accounting systems (whether personal or business) as a conversation between you and the IRS.  Be prepared for a conversation with an IRS auditor, always maintain copious records of your financial activities, and take an active role in planning your financial strategies with their tax implications in mind.  The day may never come where you’re asked to defend yourself in an audit, but if you’re purposely and actively preparing for that day, it won’t be a problem.

This reminds me to mention that as smart as you are, you will need some expert advisors in your lifetime.  Examples are CPA’s, financial planners, insurance agents, and attorneys.  Don’t be afraid of these folks.  In fact, seek them out as early in your life as possible.  They will help you understand a complex web of rules and strategies that are best to learn when you’re young.  Don’t wait twenty years to find these people.  By then, you’ve probably caused a bunch of financial damage for yourself without even knowing it.  On all things financial, start early, be consistent, and understand that you aren’t as smart as you think you are when it comes to finance.  None of us are.

Mentors matter more than money. 

Hopefully, by now you’ve had at least one teacher, coach, or professor who you can call a mentor.  They pushed you farther than you thought you could go.  They asked all the tough questions…and then they took the time to listen to you and challenge some of the nonsense you gave as your answers.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of mentors in your life.  Find them, listen to them, and let them elevate you beyond anything you can imagine.

One thing most of us need is a little more humility, and openness to new ideas.  A good mentor is great for tearing down the barriers we erect around ourselves to shield us from our humility.

Mentors tell you what just happened in that meeting where you thought everything went great, but the opposite is true.

They tell you the “why” when you’re only thinking about the “what” of a situation.

Building lasting relationships is more important than money.

This is a cousin to the one about mentors.  Friends and loved ones bring beauty to our lives.  If you’re presented with a set of career options that force you to sacrifice your friends and loved ones along the way, find new options.  It’s as simple as that.

I’ve heard that if you have a friend for 10 years, they become a family member to you on a subconscious level.  I buy this theory, wholeheartedly.

Lasting relationships are built.  They take time.  They take effort.  They take patience.  They require you to care about someone else at least as much as you care about yourself.

By the way, it’s much easier to get a job when you’re referred or recommended by a friend.  It’s also an awesome feeling to know that you helped one of your friends find a rewarding career.

Okay, we’re running out of time, so here are some rapid-fire things to remember (in no particular order):

  • The popular kids aren’t always the ones with the answers or the ones having the best time. Seek out the quiet ones, the ones who spend their time listening more than speaking.

 

  • Be sure to attend as many weddings as possible. As a college graduate, you’ll get your fill of weddings for the next 5-7 years.  Enjoy them.  Let the positive vibes energize you.

 

  • Listening is the key to your success. Always be ready to listen.  You’ll find a lot more correct answers in your life when you listen.

 

  • Resist the temptation to panic. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or perceive yourself as being overwhelmed, and then to panic. Panic is a fight-or-flight mechanism and usually doesn’t have any use in our daily lives. This may sound easy to you now, but you’ll face more than your share of “panic-worthy” moments in your life.  Don’t panic!

 

  • If you’ve made a bad decision, make another decision and undo the bad one. Don’t just live with your bad decision. This also sounds easy, but this is a tricky one.  Things like pride, sunk costs, and pride (yep, it deserves to be repeated) will get in your way (if you allow them).

 

  • Don’t waste time second-guessing your choices. “Wait!?” you’re saying.  “What about the one above that talks about having the courage to change a bad decision?”  You’ll make lots of decisions that aren’t bad, and still, you’ll be tempted to second-guess them.  The challenge with most decisions is that the other alternative has its attraction.  This means you may be tempted to look back and let your mind imagine how things could be if only you’d chosen that other good alternative.  This is a fool’s errand.  It’s a form of self-torture and most of us are experts at it.

 

  • You are the most powerful enemy you’ll ever face. You know all the right buttons to push.  You know all your weaknesses, all your fears.  You know how to discredit your strengths.  You have the most unfair advantage against yourself of anyone.  That’s what makes you such a powerful enemy.

 

Last but not least.  Your life is a journey, not a destination.  If my daughters are reading this, I bet they’re rolling their eyes because they heard this a lot when they were kids.  It’s so simple that it’s become a cliché.

Understand that with each finish line you cross (and you’ve just crossed a big one by graduating from college), there’s an infinite number of new starting lines waiting for you.  I don’t mention this to overwhelm you, but as a reminder that your journey is continuous and it’s where you’ll find the most happiness.

Find joy in each day…even the hard days when everything seems to be going against you.  Enjoy the mundane chores of life.  Embrace the quiet but don’t be afraid to make lots of noise.  After all, shouldn’t this journey we’re on be filled with fun?

Enjoy the small pleasures that come from being present in the moment, present for the people you love, and aware of just how fortunate you are to be alive each and every day.

 

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

 

 

 

A Gentle Reminder

I recently witnessed a mom with her newborn.  It was feeding time.  Mom was ready with the bottle and within a minute her baby was content and eating.

Slowly but surely, the bottle was drained, and the effort seemed to exhaust the new baby.  She lay on her mom’s lap with a little dribble of milk around her mouth.

The neat freak in me said, “Hey, it’s time to wipe that kid’s mouth,” and my next move would have been to reach for a wipe.

This mom had the same idea but wasn’t in a hurry.  She remained still and put the empty bottle away.  She moved with a grace and fluidity that didn’t disturb her nearly-sleeping baby.

She then grabbed the edge of a soft towel and delicately wiped the milk.  She purposely took her time and continued to move with smoothness and grace.

The gentleness was amazing.  Her focus was complete.  The moment was silent.  This mother’s love and caring approach were there for anyone to see.  She took the time to be gentle and her reward was a moment of grace for her baby and herself.

When was the last time you purposely chose gentle as your first response?  To anything?

It’s easy for our lives to become a series of tasks, goals, deadlines, rules, disruptions and shiny objects that are anything but gentle.

Only our conscious choice to be gentle will make it happen.  Our desire to experience moments of grace and peace will bring them to us.

We control the gentleness we give to those around us…and to ourselves.

I, for one, am glad I got to see my daughter being so gentle with her new daughter.

It was a gentle reminder that I will not soon forget.