Category Archives: Fear

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

 

 

 

Momma’s Song

I have a friend.  I haven’t seen him in at least 40 years.  Though all these years have passed, I have nothing but fond memories of our childhood together…usually in the desert, climbing on rocks, playing in the dirt, getting too close to the campfire.

His name is Jack now, but he’ll always be Jackie to me.  Just like I’m Bob now, but I’ll always be Bobby to him.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Jackie’s wife had died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  There he was, facing this tragedy, trying to tell their daughter where her mom had gone.  I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak.

For some reason, each time I thought about Jackie and his daughter, I couldn’t help thinking about playing momma’s song and singing along.  I had no idea what any of it meant, but still, this refrain continued…singing along to momma’s song.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting in an airport (as I often do nowadays) waiting for a delayed flight to take me home.  I decided to pull out a yellow pad and see where this refrain about momma’s song would take me.

Here’s what was on that yellow pad when they finally called us for our flight:

Momma’s Song

Looking back…

We were so complete

Everything was sweet until that day

we heard the news.

Our silence grew

How could this be?

 

We never knew until that day

The doctor said it was too late

Her momma was gone, all too fast

There was nothing the doc could do

He shook my hand and held me close.

 

My only thought was of her song

That one I used to sing along

It was our Endless Summer

It had just begun

And now, alone, I faced her setting sun.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

I only want to sing along

You know the one I need, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And there she was, our sweet Lorraine

I could see through all her tears

All she felt was numbness and pain

Who would ever play her song?

Especially now that momma’s gone.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

She only wants to sing along

You know the one she needs—won’t you help her sing along!

 

We sat and cried

I held her close

I felt so weak, but it was our sweet Lorraine

Who gave me strength.

There we sat, I had no plan

What should we do now that momma’s gone?

And there it was, her words so sweet

The melody we knew complete

She was singing to us once again

The sun was rising, her new day was born

We could feel her in those words

We couldn’t help but sing along.

 

It’s been many years since that day

It’s our sweet Lorraine’s wedding day.

As we started to dance the Father’s dance, my daughter cried

Oh Daddy please won’t you sing her song

The one momma used to sing

I only want to sing along

You know the one, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And so we danced, and her momma sang

Her words so clear, she’s singing now and that’s all we can hear

Oh, momma, we can hear your song

We’ll always sing along!

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

Innovators and Incrementors

Which are you?  Innovator or incrementor?

It’s cool to call ourselves innovators.  But, I bet most of us are actually “incrementors,” trying to pass ourselves off as innovators.

What’s an incrementor?  That’s the person who looks for incremental improvements, minor adjustments to what we’re doing today.  Incrementors thrive in most corporate settings where steadiness and incremental (there’s that word) growth are celebrated.

True innovation is risky.  It’s hard.  Hard to describe.  Hard to plan.  Hard to justify.  It requires a belief in the power of the unknown.  It requires independence of thought and creativity that most of us don’t have.

Innovators are the ones we rely on to bring us the crazy new idea, the new perspective, the new paradigm.  Innovators make connections we’ve never thought of.  They extrapolate ideas in directions we can’t imagine.

Innovators are also the ones incrementors fear the most.

Consider typical questions innovators receive within most organizations:

  • Don’t you realize we’ve always done things this way and it’s worked?
  • What if your new idea doesn’t work?
  • What if it fails? How are we measuring success and failure?
  • Is this worth the risk? Can we afford to invest in this research?
  • Why are we spending money on something that’s not even guaranteed to work?
  • What do you mean, the first attempt failed? And now you’re asking to fund a second attempt?  How can we justify the second attempt when the first attempt failed?
  • Can we have a couple more people take a look at this thing before we commit to funding it?
  • What does the committee think we should do?
  • Can you define the dollars we’re going to generate in new revenue or reduced expenses from this innovation? What is the payback period going to be?
  • How will the market respond to this new innovation? How can we be sure?  Who do you have researching that for us?
  • Will you deliver the same results we’ve seen in prior years, at the same time you’re diverting some of your resources to creating this new innovation?
  • What are our competitors doing? Aren’t we already light years ahead of them?  Why should we push so hard?
  • Who are we trying to attract with this new innovation that we don’t already have?
  • Will this new innovation create a fundamental change in our core business model? What will that mean to our company?
  • Do we have the right people working on this new innovation? Shouldn’t we wait until we have the right people?
  • I’m sure the “big guys” are already working on something like this. How can we expect to make any headway in the market if they’re going after the same thing we are?

Are you the one asking, or receiving these questions?  Your answer says a lot about whether you’re an incrementor or an innovator.

It’s always easier to seek out the incremental improvement…and then try to convince everyone that your incremental improvement is innovative.  In some organizations, this mindset will fly, and that’s a victory of sorts.

Unfortunately, it may be a hollow victory if your organization doesn’t make at least some space for innovators to shake things up and point the bumpy way toward new opportunities.

Photo by SpaceX 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 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

 

Takeoff Speed

“Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff.”

The flight plan is filed.  Safety checks are complete.  The long taxi to the runway is over.

Time to strap in.  This plane is about to fly!

Lifting tons of airplane, passengers, and luggage into the air is no small feat.

It’s full-throttle all the way.

We’re pressed back in our seats as the plane speeds down the runway and (hopefully) lifts off.

What if the pilots only use half-throttle?  What if they try to ease into the flight?  What if they “sneak” down the runway so nobody notices their plane trying to lift off?

Without full-throttle commitment, nothing good happens.  There’s no way that plane lifts off.

What type of commitment are you bringing to your life?  That runway you’re playing on ends before you know it.

It’s full-throttle time!

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Jon Flobrant

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

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.