Category Archives: Change

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.

 

Mistakes Were Made

Uncle Lou, our March Madness Bracket Master and Chief Referee, sent an email to our group with “Mistakes Were Made” in his subject line.

What a great subject line, especially from our referee!

It let us all know right up front that things aren’t perfect, and it revealed the one thing many of us avoid admitting at all costs:  mistakes.

Mistakes can be the first step toward that other really bad thing in life:  FAILURE!

Mistakes and failures.  Even more powerful in our lives is the fear of making mistakes, and experiencing failures.

Fear is a good thing.  It keeps us alive.  But, it can also stop us from taking action, changing course, making corrections, or dumping one idea in exchange for another (possibly better, but maybe worse) idea.

Imagine if you wrote an email every day, or maybe just once a week with the subject:  Mistakes Were Made.  In this magical email, you’d describe the areas where you made mistakes, describe the failures that had happened that day or that week, and spell out what you learned.

As challenging as writing this email might be, once it’s written, send it to your boss.  And then send it to the people who report to you.

Does this little challenge strike fear in your heart?  That’s natural.  You should do it anyway.  By admitting your mistakes, you’re letting your boss and those who report to you know that you are human.  You are vulnerable.  You don’t have all the answers.

None of us likes to admit to our mistakes or our failures.  But, the act of admission frees us from the fear and other emotional baggage that we often carry when we make mistakes.

Acknowledging our mistakes and failures is the first step toward forgiving ourselves.  Forgiveness lies on the opposite side of our fear.  Its power against fear cannot be underestimated.  A forgiving mindset, especially toward ourselves, opens us up to real learning and improvement.

I remember learning to water ski.  After a while, my brother and I were pretty good skiers.  We could go for miles and miles slaloming, jumping across the wake, and throwing up huge rooster tails without falling.  That was nice, but our dad had a different view.  He used to say that if we weren’t falling, at least occasionally, we weren’t trying to get better.

The trying was always as important (maybe more important) than the result.  Dad wanted us to always be improving, so in his way, he was asking us to welcome the mistakes that led to better performance.

It’s clear that mistakes will happen.  They come with the territory if we’re pushing our limits and getting better.

Embracing our mistakes is much better than fearing them.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Nathan Shively

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…

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

Are You Willing?

“I know this now.  Every man gives his life for what he believes.  Every woman gives her life for what she believes.  Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing.  One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone.  But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying—even more terrible than dying young.”  –Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc lived less than twenty years.  Yet she fought for her beliefs and made a huge impact on history.  She died for her beliefs at an age when many are just beginning their life’s journey.

She knew what she believed in.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice for her beliefs.  Ask anyone who serves or served in the military, a first responder who runs into a burning building to save others, or a newly formed priest who has answered God’s call.  These are just a few examples.  Each of them know what it means to sacrifice for their beliefs.

Sometimes our beliefs emerge quietly without our knowledge.  We go through life, making seemingly inconsequential decisions about what we will and won’t do.  We decide who our friends are, and how much we will let them into our lives.  We decide when to listen.  We decide how honest we will be with the world around us.

We establish habits for living our life, and we go on our merry way.

Do you know what you believe in?  Really?  Do you know what you believe to be true?  Do you know what is important in your life?

Have you made the quiet time in your life that’s necessary to consider these questions?

What if it turns out that the things you believe in aren’t manifested in the way you live?  Are you willing to change your habits?  Are you willing to eliminate the things that don’t support your beliefs?  Will you support your beliefs in the way you live, and the way you work with others?  Are you willing to make your beliefs the centerpiece of your actions in everything you do?

Joan of Arc was right.  One life is all we have, and then it’s gone.

Where are you in that one life?  Is it too late to examine your beliefs and change the way you live?

The answer is clear  But, it won’t become obvious until we make quiet time in our lives to reflect.  When we do, we find it’s never too late to examine our beliefs and change our life.

Every day is a new beginning if we choose to make it so.  It doesn’t matter what happened in the past.  It doesn’t matter who wronged you.  It doesn’t matter if you had a terrible childhood.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve missed opportunities in the past.  It certainly doesn’t matter if you failed in the past.

All that matters is learning what you believe in.  Then, deciding what to do with that new knowledge, starting today.

The only question is:  Are you willing to find out?

 

Beliefs and Values

h/t:  Matthew Kelly

What’s it Gonna Take?

Questions that (should) open our thinking to new possibilities:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • How might we?
  • Why don’t we?

Questions that point us toward solutions:

  • Which strategy fits best?
  • What if we…?
  • How do we get started?
  • How can we make this work?

The real question to be answered before anything actually happens:

What’s it gonna take?

What’s it gonna take to:

  • Start?
  • Find the girl (or boy) of my dreams?
  • Buy this house?
  • Get the job I want?
  • Forgive?
  • Get this project moving?
  • Get this person hired?
  • Run a marathon?
  • Find the real meaning in life?
  • See the Eiffel Tower?  Iceland?  The Northern Lights?
  • Stop pretending we have it all figured out?

Each decision, each action, and each direction you choose carries a cost.

That cost will be in dollars, time, energy, commitment, pride, comfort, or a combination of these.  There’s also the opportunity cost associated with choosing one direction over another.

The biggest cost often isn’t in dollars.  It’s in our pride and comfort.

How much time will you give to an idea?  What if you’re wrong?  Are you willing to risk embarrassment?  Is it worth thousands of dollars to see the Eiffel Tower?  Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone to try something new?

There’s no such thing as a free decision.  And, the decision not to decide carries its own costs.

The challenge is understanding what it’s gonna take, and having the willingness to pay.

The Next Version

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Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.  ~English Proverb

There’s always a next version.  The latest update.  The new and improved model.  That is, if you sell a product (or service) and hope to remain relevant.

The first version may dramatically change, or create new markets.  But, it can’t stop there.

When Microsoft came out with its first version of MS-DOS (Microsoft disc operating system for those of you born after 1983 or so), they didn’t stop developing what they had.  There was always a new version just around the corner, and then all the versions of Windows after that.

Consider how quickly Apple’s iPod improved, shrank, morphed, and spawned new products and categories (like the iPhone).  The first iPhone was awesome and changed everything.  But, Apple didn’t stop there.  They couldn’t.

Dr. Athey (one of my favorite professors) used to talk about the “ratchet effect” in technology.  With each successive improvement in speed, features, or capability, the expectation level is ratcheted-up, at least one notch.  Each improvement creates a new floor.  A platform for the next leap.

Stop improving, stop inventing, stop pushing, stop creating, stop leaping, and guess what.  Your product begins to wither and die.  What was once amazing becomes the norm.  The markets you created start to shrink.

The same ratchet effect applies to each of us.

I will never forget a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde.  He was about 90 years old at the time.  He had just started using email, and asked me how he could send an email to more than one recipient.  I gave him some email pointers, but I got a whole lot more in return.  His questions demonstrated a key secret to a happy life:  Continuous exploration…seeking the next version.

What are you curious about?  What scares you?  What seems impossible?  These are the first things to explore.  Choose to take your first step.  Once you take the first step, the next one is easier.

What features will be in your next version?

 

 

Photo Credit:  ARS Technica

 

 

Beyond the No Wake Zone

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I get seasick easily, especially on sailboats (and fighter jets).  I’ve been on a few sailing trips.  They all had one thing in common.  Once we’re outside the no wake zone, my nausea starts.  Things go downhill from there until my head is buried under a towel and I try to sleep until we get to dry land.  Needless to say, I avoid sailing trips.

I don’t have a problem on cruise ships, except in rough seas.  Cruise ships are engineered to deliver a smooth ride for their passengers.  Most swells go unnoticed.  Passengers wake up in a new port almost every day, and the food and entertainment are usually spectacular.

Harbor cruises work for me.  I can handle cruising around inside the no wake zone, looking at all of the boats in their slips, the nice homes on the shoreline, and passing other boats as they make their way out to sea.  Christmas time, with all the lights and decorations is the best.  It’s relaxing and safe.  There are no swells to cause nausea and seasickness.

Every sailor knows the opportunity for new discovery lies beyond the no wake zone.  True adventure happens out past the buoys, past the breakwater, and out in the wind and waves.  Riding around in the harbor, or lazily enjoying a multi-course dinner on a cruise ship are fun and sometimes exotic.  But, neither compare to the adventure of plying the seas in a forty-foot sailboat, with your hand on the tiller.

What about the risks?  Staying on shore has risks.  Cruise ships certainly carry risk (and sometimes, viruses).  We may take comfort that others are managing our risks for us, but nothing is risk free.  Storms and rough seas will hit, no matter who drives the boat.  Understanding the risks, planning and preparing for them, and facing our challenges head-on is the only consistent winning strategy…at sea, and in life.

What about seasickness?  I remember talking with a sailor in Tahiti.  We had flown in for a vacation, and met my mother-, and father-in-law, who were sailing their boat across the South Pacific.  The sailor was a friend of theirs.  I mentioned my problem with seasickness, and how it would prevent me from making such a voyage.

He laughed and said, “The seasickness usually passes after three days at sea.  After that, it’s an adventure of a lifetime.”

He was right.

What the Flock is Going on Here!?!?

Lots of animals live and move in groups.  Cows, sheep, wildebeest, mackerel, geese, humans…just to name some examples.  We’ve come up with lots of names for these groupings:  herd, flock, school, gaggle, gang, company, industry trade group, union, political party.

Each of these groupings have one primary purpose:  defense.  There is safety in numbers, or so the saying goes.  Groups moving in unison appear larger to predators.  Their coordinated movements confuse and intimidate those who would otherwise do harm to the individuals in the group.

When predators attack, they pick the weakest and most vulnerable in the group to attack first.  That’s okay with the group, since protection of the group as a whole is paramount.  Any particular individual is less important than the survival of the entire group.

Predators often travel alone.  Eagles, bears, cheetahs, sharks, jaguars, Tesla…all loners.  Sure, some predators travel in groups.  Lions have their pride.  Wolves have their pack.  Orcas and dolphins have their pods.  The primary goal of a predator, whether alone or in a group, is offense.  They work in a coordinated effort to maximize return on their energy investment…capturing the most prey with the least amount of energy output.

Nothing is safe in the animal kingdom.  The food chain takes no prisoners.  The hunter often becomes the hunted.  The same is true in human enterprises.  In the (hopefully) never ending capitalist cycle of invention, construction, destruction, re-invention, and reconstruction, the roles of predator and prey can switch on a moment’s notice.

An instinctive drive for safety leads to new alliances.  Predators who would never think of joining a defensive flock are drawn in by the promise of safety from some new, common enemy.  Defense against the enemy becomes the rule of the day.  Thoughts of maximizing return on investment, or re-inventing the future, are replaced by a focus on defending the status quo of the flock.

In a uniquely human twist, the defensive flock may even take on a new mission.  The defensive flock goes on offense.  This flock actively seeks out the lone predators, the re-inventors.  They marshal all of their creative energy toward destroying predators before their new ideas wreak havoc on the flock.  Protection of the group is all that matters.  The individual is less important.

Which are you?  Predator or prey?  Loner, or flock member?  Are you a former predator, now seeking the safety of a new flock?  Are you defending the status quo, or throwing in with the crazies who are re-inventing the future?  Are you on offense, or defense?

Are you making this choice for yourself, or are you allowing the flock to make the decision for you?

The First Question People Ask About Any Change

There’s one question above all others that people ask when a change comes into their life. It doesn’t matter if the change comes in their personal or professional life. The change can be mundane or momentous. Gas prices went up. Your company is acquired by another company. You get a new boss. Road construction blocks your favorite way to the office. Your wife is pregnant. Your daughter just introduced you to her new boyfriend. Your dad was just diagnosed with cancer.

It doesn’t matter whether the change is good or bad (whatever the definitions of “good” or “bad” are to you). It doesn’t matter if the change impacts someone else more than you. Whether people admit it or not, the first question that comes into their head when confronted with a change is:

How will this change affect me?

Does this mean we are instinctively selfish or self-centered? Maybe. More on that later.

People making a change that impacts others have the luxury of getting to answer this question, long before their change is sprung on anyone else. This fact is often forgotten by people driving changes in an organization. People need time to understand the answer to this question, before they can move beyond and start to answer all of the other questions that your change may bring.

About the selfishness question…Your dad was just diagnosed with cancer and your first question (to yourself) is, “How will this affect me?” Does this make you selfish? That all depends on your second question (the one you say out loud).