Category Archives: Courage

The Bobbin Effect

The thing about sewing isn’t the patterns.  It isn’t the precise cutting, the pins that hold the fabric pieces together, or even the stitches.

It’s all about the bobbin.

That little spool of thread that sits underneath the needle and somehow makes the stitches possible.  I say “somehow,” since I’ve never spent the time required to either load a bobbin or to make one work.

I know from watching others that sewing requires a ton of time loading the bobbin, untangling the bobbin, and generally managing the health and welfare of that hidden spool of thread.  A healthy bobbin is the key to any successful sewing project.

Watch a good painter and you may notice that they spend far more time preparing and sanding the surfaces to be painted, masking off the unpainted areas, mixing the paint, and then cleaning up the area after painting…than they spend painting.

The same is true for a musician.  Watch a musician perform.  It’s easy to forget how much time was spent learning to play their instrument, selecting or creating material, rehearsing, and then setting up for the show.  As an audience member, we get to see the final product and that’s all that matters.

How about your favorite mechanic?

That person who can diagnose and fix anything that’s wrong with your car…usually the same day you bring it to their shop.  How much time has he (or she) spent working under the hood of countless cars, learning and honing their craft, studying the specifications of all the new vehicles that arrive each year, and finding the best way to finesse those hard-to-reach bolts?  Your mechanic has spent years, maybe decades, preparing to fix your car today.  That’s all great, but your main question is, “Can I pick up my car by 5pm?”

It’s easy to forget or ignore all the preparation, expertise, and hard work that goes into creating just about any product, any service, and any organization that we value.  We allow most of it to be hidden from our consideration.

At the same time, we’re disappointed when others forget or don’t appreciate all the hard work and preparation we’ve put into being the best “fill-in-the-blank” that we want to be.

We wonder why our contributions, our dedication, and our work aren’t appreciated, and yet we’re probably unwittingly doing the same thing to other people.

Each of us is a bobbin for someone.  A hidden key to happiness and success for someone else, whether we realize it or not.  Maybe not today, but someday.

We’ve prepared, we’ve practiced, we’ve toiled in silence.  We’ve cared for ourselves, knowing without fully understanding that we make things possible, and maybe even tolerable for others.  Our efforts, our dedication, our emotional commitment may seem invisible, but they matter.  They are important.

It’s time to give that little bobbin some attention.

Photo by LAIS on Unsplash

 

Five Stages of Problem Solving

I could write how problems are opportunities in disguise (many are).

Or, I could describe all the ways we can work together to find solutions to the problems we face.

But, I think it’s most useful to describe the five-stage problem-solving model that most of us follow in our day-to-day lives.  It doesn’t matter if these problems are personal or professional…the same stages are usually in play:

1. Ignore the Problem

Ignoring a problem doesn’t mean not knowing about it.  We know it’s there, but we purposely choose to ignore it.  This gives us plausible deniability.  There’s a lot of hope involved in ignoring a problem.  Our hope is that if ignored long enough, the problem will solve itself, or someone else will take ownership and find a solution.

2. Deny the Problem

This is a bit more active than ignoring the problem.  We acknowledge that something is wrong, but it isn’t really a problem.  By consciously changing our perceptions, and the perceptions of those around us, we can plausibly deny (there’s that phrase again) that a problem exists.  And, if it really is a problem, it’s not a problem for “us” to solve.

3. Blame Someone (Else)

When denial stops working, the focus shifts to ensuring we aren’t held responsible for the problem.  We aren’t ignoring or denying the problem.  But, we know we aren’t the cause, for sure. Therefore, we shouldn’t be expected to provide a solution.

The most advanced version of this stage is to not only blame someone else.  But, make sure the world knows we warned everyone that this type of problem could happen…if only someone had listened to us in the first place.  I call this person the omnipotent blame shifter.

4. Accept the Problem

We finally accept that this is a real problem.  It’s our problem, whether we caused it or not.  We own it. We also own the task of finding the best solution.  This is the trickiest stage of all…

If we caused this problem, we must now admit our weakness, our mistake, our error in judgment, our previous lack of attention or understanding.  We may even have to admit that something happened that was out of our control.

If we didn’t cause this problem, our challenge is to put aside blame, and focus on solving the problem.  We don’t have time to teach lessons at this point.  Our focus must be finding solutions to the problem we’ve just accepted.

5. Address (Fix) the Problem

Ah…we finally arrive at the solution stage.  We’ve accepted the problem.  It’s real.  It’s ours.  And, now we (and possibly a large team we’ve assembled) will fix the problem.

Ironically, this may be the easiest stage of all, even if it’s the one we’ve worked so hard to avoid. It sits patiently, waiting for us to arrive.  To focus our attention, our effort and our creativity on delivering ideas and solutions to the problem.

Imagine the energy we’d have available to solve (and prevent) problems if we didn’t waste our time ignoring them, denying them, and finding others to blame.

 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

 

The Freedom of Humiliation

Consider how much time and energy we devote to avoiding humiliation.  We’re taught early in life to strive for being right.  Quickly understanding, and then knowing the answer…especially to the questions that’ll be on the test.

Think back to your first job, your second job, in fact, every job you’ve ever had.  How was your first day?  What about your first month?  How comfortable were you?  What type of impression did you want to make on your new boss?  Your new co-workers?

I bet your main goal was to avoid screwing up, learn what it takes to be successful, and by all means, don’t embarrass yourself.

It’s the same in just about any new environment.  Meet a new group of people and one of the first things in your mind is how to present the best image of yourself to this group.  Don’t let them see your flaws, your fears, your anxieties.  Don’t let them know you’re completely uncomfortable.  For now, your goal is to fit in, get to know who’s who in the group and, don’t embarrass yourself.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”   ― Rick Warren

What if you approached all these situations and nearly every other in your life without fear of humiliation or embarrassment.  In fact, imagine if you sought situations where humiliation was a distinct possibility.

What if you approached that new software tool, or the new sales program with the confidence of knowing that you’ll be learning something new…rather than worrying about arguments against them, or how they’ll push you out of your comfort zone?

We usually think of humiliation in its negative context, since we’ve allowed it to matter.  But, humiliation is closely related to humility, and humility is the first step toward real learning.

Once you approach a subject with the humility of a beginner, regardless of your tenure or experience, only then will you be fully prepared to learn.

The humble learner doesn’t allow themselves or their ego to come between new ideas and their pre-conceived notions of the truth.  They allow these new ideas to penetrate the veneer of pride and self-righteousness where many of us hide.  Then, they can truly assess and make a judgment about the new ideas.

Too often, we don’t even allow the new idea to enter.  We’re too busy coming up with reasons that our own ideas are correct, the only direction, the only way.  The new idea is like a foreign invader to be repelled at the gate.

A new and potentially rewarding relationship is placed behind a well-crafted wall of pride and imagery that hides our fears of humiliation or of letting this new person visit the deepest parts of ourselves.

All these walls and anxieties have their root in our fear of humiliation.  We can’t face the risk of being wrong, of being weak, of being vulnerable.  We are right, and our focus is on ensuring we reinforce this “fact” to anyone or anything we encounter…especially to ourselves.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”   ― Ernest Hemingway    

The freedom of humiliation is a freedom to be open:  to new ideas, new people, new directions, new beliefs, and even new perceptions of truth.  When we’re free from the fear of humiliation, we don’t have to defend ourselves from new situations.  We turn the threat of the new into an opportunity.

This doesn’t mean giving up on our definitions of right and wrong, our definitions of how to live a virtuous life or our core beliefs.

It means dropping that wall of protection we place around ourselves and our ideas and allowing them to roam freely and interact with others.

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  ― Albert Einstein

 

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

I Can’t Wait!

Why do so many people avoid making a “mid-career” course change, avoid switching companies, jumping to new industries, starting their own company, or even avoid moving to a new department within the same company?

Fear.

They probably won’t admit it, but the fear shows in their “I can’t” phrases (excuses):

  • “I can’t afford to start at the bottom at this stage of my career.”
  • “The only thing I recognized at that company was the restroom sign. Everything else was foreign.  I’ll never survive over there.”
  • “The learning curve is way too steep! I’m not a technical person anyway, so I’ll just stick it out in this department.”
  • “I may not like what I’m doing, but at least I know everything there is to know about this job. I’d have to start at ground zero over there.”
  • “I was surrounded by a bunch of kids just out of college. I can’t relate to them.  I definitely don’t understand what they’re saying.”

What if the “I can’t” phrases were replaced with “I can’t wait!” phrases:

  • “I can’t wait to dig into a new industry!”
  • “I can’t wait to learn how these new machines work!”
  • “I can’t wait to exercise my curiosity again!”
  • “I can’t wait to forgive myself for not knowing everything!”
  • “I can’t wait to understand the perspectives of a new generation!”
  • “I can’t wait to grow and stretch!”
  • “I can’t wait to give myself permission to fail…every day!”
  • “I can’t wait to bring my experience and talents into this new arena!”
  • “I can’t wait to make a profound difference in a new field!”
  • “I can’t wait to surprise myself!”

I don’t remember who said it first:  “Hire the attitude, train for skill.”

Who would you rather hire?  The candidate who seems scared, confused, and overwhelmed…or the candidate who CAN’T WAIT to learn, who CAN’T WAIT to start, who CAN’T WAIT to become a valued contributor in your company?

I’ll take the “I can’t wait” candidate every time.

Fear is a normal part of life.  But, courage…  Courage is what happens when you decide to act in the face of that fear.

When you can’t wait to explore, can’t wait to challenge, and can’t wait to learn, you’ll be one step closer to harnessing your fear and embracing your courage.

By the way, adopting the “I can’t wait” mantra is a good idea at any stage of your life.

 

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The Pebble

As in the small rock that somehow slipped into your hiking boot.

Can you give your boot a quick wiggle and move that pebble out from under your foot?  Maybe, but guess what.  It’ll find it’s way back under your heal in no time.  They always do.

Does it matter that you’re making great time up the mountain, and have lots of momentum on your side?  Nope.  That little pebble demands attention.

That’s the way of the small irritant.  It’s there and it won’t be leaving on its own.  It will start to cause damage, become more distracting, and take more of your attention.  Try as you might, there’s no way to ignore it.

The only thing you can do is stop and take off your pack, then take off your boot and dump that little pebble out.

Eliminate the irritant and get refocused on the trail ahead.

Sure, it’s annoying to stop.  But, the alternative is far worse.

Photo by Aneta Ivanova on Unsplash

 

The Sally Method Trap

Q: “What’s our approach for this year’s audit?”

A: “Sally Method.”

And that’s how an auditor can shortcut their work.  It’s a tried and true method for getting a quick start, ensuring consistency with the prior year’s audit, and making sure that’s nothing obvious gets missed.

 

Q: “What’s our big goal for the new year?”

A: “Let’s see if we can beat last year’s growth by a few percentage points.” (Sally Method)

Nobody can argue against growth, especially if it beats what we did last year.

 

“We can’t change the rules of the game.  It’s tradition to play it this way.” (Sally Method)

Tradition usually wins.

 

Sally…Same As Last Year (the second L is silent).

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s safe.

Life outside the box that Sally creates is scary.  It’s filled with uncertainty.  It can lead to failure.  It can lead to embarrassment (something we fear more than failure).

But, it’s also the best place to find new ideas, opportunities for new exploration, and new growth.

What if we start with Sally (the easy starting point), and then opt for more?  Not only something more but something different?  Something radical, and maybe even a little nonsensical?

When we give ourselves permission to explore and fail, we unleash a power that Sally can’t imagine or contain.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

No Surprises…the Secret to Managing Up

“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.”  –Says nearly everyone in business

Surprises can be great.

We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.

Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:

  • Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
  • Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
  • Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
  • Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
  • Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
  • Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
  • Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.

Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.

In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product.  Great news!  But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.

How does all of this connect with managing up?

The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.

Does this mean you should keep information away from them?  Of course not!

It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.

It means anticipating surprises before they happen.  Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it.  I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.

Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.

Your boss needs you to be honest.  Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.

If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it.  Now.  More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.

If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you.  Now.

The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else.  This does two things:

  1. Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
  2. Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.

When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house.  We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut.  Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going.  I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.

Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it.  It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.

Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.

Lesson One:  expect the unexpected.

Lesson Two:  make sure your boss knows what’s coming.

Lesson Three:  don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

The Right People

List some of the “usual” milestones in life:

  • Birth (obviously)
  • First day of school
  • First kiss
  • Prom
  • Driver’s license
  • First job
  • Graduating from high school
  • Leaving for college (if you leave home)
  • Graduating from college
  • Getting your first “real job”
  • Getting married
  • Buying your first house
  • Having kids
  • Getting promoted
  • Starting your own business
  • Getting your first boat (or other big toy)
  • Selling that big toy
  • Seeing your kids graduate from high school, college, etc.
  • Retirement

The list is unending and varies for each individual.

There’s another list that matters even more.  Your list of power moments.  Moments that happen, usually out of nowhere, that change the direction of your life.  These moments make your milestones possible.

Here are just a few of mine (there are many more):

  • Meeting a lifelong friend while microwaving a frozen burrito at work.
  • Playing bingo for the first time in my life and meeting the woman I would marry a few years later.
  • Accidentally taking an introduction to computers class that convinced me to change my major and never look back.
  • Running a warm-up lap and finding myself on the pole vault squad at the end of that lap.
  • Out of curiosity, attending the first HOA Board meeting after buying our house and getting elected to serve with someone I would never have met otherwise…and having him as a friend for nearly 28 years (and counting).
  • Getting a phone call from that lifelong frozen burrito friend, asking if I know anything about the notary business. My answer was, “No.”  I took the job anyway and began an awesome thirteen-year odyssey at that company.

It turns out that most of the power moments in our lives are chance encounters with the right people at the right time.

What makes them the right people?  What makes it the right time?

I doubt we will ever know, but I bet it has more to do with openness than anything else.  Our openness to this new person, their ideas, their strengths, their weaknesses.  Our openness to letting these people impact our lives more than they will ever know, and without even trying.

I’ve heard it said that we’re less than five degrees of separation from everyone else on the planet.  While that may be true, I believe we’re only one person away from the next bold chapter in our journey through life…if we’re open to the possibilities.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Treza Trisnandhy

Starting Line Quiet

“On your marks!”

“Get set!”

Most starters wait about 1.4 seconds after the “Get set” command to fire the start gun.

The silence freezes us in time.  We listen for the first hint of sound from the gun.  Breath relaxed but held.  The faint sound of a heartbeat in our ears.

We visualize our next move even as that second moves slowly in the distance.

Everything has led to this moment.  Everything is this moment.  All the training.  All the drills.  The intervals.  The stretching.  My coach’s advice.  All my doubts.  All my hopes.

What will the next second bring?  Will I exit the blocks cleanly?  Will I stay within myself to the finish line?  Will I run my own race?  Am I good enough?  Can I dominate?

I love starting lines.  A quiet eternity of 1.4 seconds plays out for all to see.

You can learn a lot about yourself in 1.4 seconds.  What you say to yourself is critical.  Are you asking questions or making declarations?

Imagine asking what the next second will bring and giving yourself nothing but answers.  I will exit the blocks cleanly.  I will stay within myself to the finish line.  This is MY race to win.  I’m definitely good enough, in fact, I’m amazing!  I will dominate!

It’s okay to question yourself as the race approaches.  Questions prioritize preparation.

When it’s time to deliver, time to start your race, time to show what you’ve got…that’s when the questions must exit your mind.

Questions at the starting line raise doubt and inspire needless fear.

The gun fires!

Go run your race.

 

Photo Credit–Unsplash.com, Braden Collum—why this photo?

I looked for photos of a bunch of sprinters in the “set” stance.  I found a few, but none grabbed me.  This one gets to the heart of the matter.  It’s just you in the blocks, alone with your thoughts.  I also focused on the baton.  Although we run alone, most great things are created by a team.  We must be prepared to make a smooth hand-off when the time comes.

 

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.