Category Archives: Fear

Overcoming the Weed-Out

They’re called weed-out classes.  The classes in every major designed to weed-out the pretenders, the students who can’t hack it, the ones who just don’t have what it takes.

They usually come around the third year…just when you think you’re pretty good at this stuff, and after you’ve committed two-plus years of your life to this major.

There were a couple of doozies in my major, Computer Information Systems.  But, none compared to CIS 324—Database Programming.  On the first day of class, Dr. Stumpf said he wouldn’t be surprised if we’d be in the computer lab 40-60 hours per week, just to complete the four main programming projects.  We’d also have a mid-term and a final that covered all the database theory we were supposed to be learning while completing the projects.

To make things tougher, each project picked up where the last one left off.  So, if you stumbled on the first project, you were setting yourself up for a potentially unrecoverable torture test in the second, third, and fourth projects.

It didn’t matter that you had other classes, or that you had a life that included working 30-40 hours per week.  This was CIS 324.  The weed-out class.

There were 26 of us in class that first day.  I remember the number because two people wanted to add the class, and Dr. Stumpf was concerned because we only had 24 chairs in the classroom.  That wouldn’t be a problem for long.

Five weeks and two projects later, there were 18 of us in class.  The others had dropped.

Seven weeks and three projects later, we were down to 11.  This was long before Survivor, but students voted themselves off the island nearly every week.

Dr. Stumpf took it all in stride.  This type of attrition was normal.  The students who didn’t make it would try again next quarter, or they’d re-evaluate their choice of major and never be back.

In the tenth week as we handed-in our last project and prepared to take the final exam, there were only 9 of us.  By now, we knew each other well.  We had spent many hours together in one of the computer labs (this was a bit before the days when you could use your PC to connect remotely).  We were in every class, pulling for each other.

We were part of this small band of students about to make it through Dr. Stumpf’s CIS 324 class.

Looking back at those ten weeks, I don’t remember much detail about the projects.  I remember the long nights in the computer lab, the endless diagrams, and lines of code.  There was an amazing vending machine just outside the lab that dispensed ice cream bars for 30 cents apiece.  I lived on ice cream bars and Mountain Dew that quarter.

I remember coming to each class, especially on the days our projects were due, wondering who’d be there and who’d be gone.  I remember Dr. Stumpf congratulating each of us when we handed in our final exams on the last day of class.

Since CIS 324, I’ve faced lots of “weed-out” tests, whether I knew it or not.  I’ve taken on projects that were way over my head.  I’ve asked myself to deliver “the impossible” more than a few times.

Were these real-life weed-out situations harder than my CIS 324 experience?  Definitely.  And, many lasted a lot longer than ten weeks.

But, the experience of overcoming my first weed-out test made it easier to pass the next one.  And, passing the second weed-out made it easier to pass the third.

Overcoming all these weed-out tests had five things in common:

  1. If I focused on the ultimate and final deliverable on the first day, I would have given up. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  It’s the same with overwhelming challenges.  Break them down to their next indicated step and take that step with confidence and an open mind. That will lead to the next step…
  1. It’s easy to feel alone in these weed-out tests. But, I was never alone, even when it felt that way.  I found allies, sounding boards, mentors, people willing to join my cause, people I could trust.  These people made all the difference.
  1. Related to the above: Never forget the people who helped when you needed it most.  Make sure they know how grateful you are for their help.  Be there for them.  They’re facing weed-out tests of their own and can use your help.
  1. No matter how unique you think your weed-out situation is, it isn’t. Someone else has probably faced a similar challenge and lived to tell about it.  Take the time to review what others have learned and apply it to the test you’re facing.
  1. Don’t let your success on this test go to your head. Sure, it’s a great achievement.  Have a nice dinner to celebrate.  Enjoy the accomplishment.  But, stay humble.  Humility is the foundation for overcoming your next big, scary weed-out test.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

When we take the time to temper that strength with humility, we’re preparing ourselves to take on the next weed-out challenge that’s surely coming our way.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

 

Never Hit on 13!

“Son, I’d just stay on that if I were you.  Your job is to make the dealer bust.  We’re countin’ on you to get this right.”

My new “mentor” spoke with a confidence borne of the many decades of experience showing on his weathered face.

I didn’t realize it, but the open seat I filled at the Blackjack table was the third-base seat.  That meant I was the last player to get cards before the dealer.

He continued, since he must have figured this young fella sitting next to him could use some more of his wisdom.  He could tell this was my first time playing Blackjack in Vegas.  “If the dealer has a six or less, you make sure she gets the 10 card that’s sittin’ in that shoe.  Do you realize how many 10 cards there are in that thing?  Each one is a bust card for her.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way until he mentioned it.  There are a ton of 10 cards in each deck…16 to be exact.  And, if you add in the 8’s and 9’s, which are also bust cards for the dealer if she has a 14 or higher, that’s 24 cards out of 52 that are bust cards (nearly half).

I couldn’t believe I should stay on 13.  The dealer was showing a 2 of clubs.

Two people had already hit and busted.  My mentor’s wife stayed with her 18.  My mentor stayed with his 20.  Now all eyes were on me and my 13.

My $5 chip wasn’t the only money at risk.  My mentor and his wife each had $25 chips up and they were counting on me to make the right choice.

Sure, there’s a bunch of 10 cards in there, but there’s also a bunch of non-10 cards.  And, the dealer may have a 9 facing down, so that’s 11.  A sure path to 21 and a rousing defeat for everyone at the table.

13 seemed a long way from 21 and not a very powerful way to win.  It sure would be great if I drew a 7 or an 8 and could defend against the dealer’s next hit card.

What to do?

My new mentor could sense my quandary.  He could see that this newbie had no idea how this game was played.  “Son, remember your job. Make her bust.”

I decided to stay on my 13.  The dealer turned over her down card.  It was a King.  She had 12.  She hit and pulled a 10.  Bust!

“Are you gonna let that $10 ride?  Seems like you have the hang of that seat.  Time to see what it can do for ya.”

Another decision.  I looked at the other players and saw them putting up their new chips.  My mentor and his wife were letting their $50 ride.

I left my chips up and waited for my cards.  This time, the cards were in my favor and I had 20.  My mentor had 12, and his wife had 17.  The dealer was showing a 6.

“Looks like I’m in the third-base seat for this hand, since you’ve got a 20,” he said as he motioned that he’d be staying.  I followed suit and stayed with my 20.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a Queen.  She had 16 and was required to hit.  Another Queen showed up.  Dealer bust, again!

This “13 strategy” was showing some strength.

“Are you gonna let that ride again?”

Feeling a bit more comfortable with my situation, it was an easy decision to let my $20 ride for the next hand.  Mr. Mentor and his wife let their $100 ride.  They were on a roll!

This was more than I’d ever bet in Vegas.  A whole $20!  And my new friends each had $100 on the line!  I could feel my heartbeat racing as the cards were dealt.

My mentor’s wife received a pair of Aces. My mentor had 17.  I had 12.  The dealer was showing a 4.  This was a perfect setup for my new-found strategy.

The first two players each hit on their hands and received low cards.  Both were still in and stayed.  My mentor’s wife split her Aces and placed a new $100 chip on the table.  The next card was an 8.  She stayed with that hand.  Her other Ace received a 10.  Blackjack!  The dealer paid her $150 in chips for that hand and moved on to Mr. Mentor.  He stayed with his 17.

It was all up to me.  That’s when things went sideways.

I started obsessing on the number 7.  What if I stay and the dealer pulls a 7 out of the shoe?  That would give her 21 (this all assumes that her down card is a 10, of course).  If she gets a 21, she’d beat me and everyone else at the table.

But, if I got that 7, I’d have 19 and be sitting pretty against whatever she had.

Somehow, in the heat of that moment, I forgot about holding on 13 (or 12) if the dealer is showing a 6 or less.  I just knew that the next card was a 7.  That 7 was mine to take and I’d be saving the entire table from oblivion.

“Hit me!”

The dealer slid the card from the shoe.  The world started moving in slow-motion.  She slid the card over to my hand and turned it over.  It was a 10!  I busted.  There went my $20!

It gets worse.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a King.  She had 14 and was required to hit.  You guessed it.  That 7 card came up for her.  She now had 21.

I had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for myself and my fellow players.  That 10 that I took should have busted the dealer, but it busted me and then everyone else at the table.

Ashamed, I looked at my fellow players, shaking my head and saying I was sorry for blowing it for them.  Here was a group of strangers I’d only met a few minutes earlier and I’d let each of them down.

My mentor didn’t miss a beat.  He tossed another $25 chip on the table and said, “Those cards don’t care about you.  They don’t get nervous.  They don’t care what happens.  They play by their rules and that’s it.  You knew your rules and ignored them…and that’s how this casino was built.  You’re not the only one who forgets his rules when it matters most.”

I learned the importance of knowing my rules and playing by them.  Every time.  In every situation.

I don’t go to Vegas often.  Whenever I go, I find time to play Blackjack, always from the third-base seat.

 

Note:  The preceding may or may not have happened exactly as described.  Either way, the lesson is clear.  Rules matter…especially your rules.  Know your rules before you play.  Play by your rules when you play.  Don’t lose sight of your rules when things get rough or when things look hopeless.  If you stay true to your rules, you’ll win far more often than you lose.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

 

 

 

Advice for College Graduates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life doesn’t come with an answer key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mentors matter more than money. 

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

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

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

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

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

Building lasting relationships is more important than money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

 

 

 

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.