Category Archives: Future

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.

 

The Questions We Ask When Someone Dies Are the Wrong Ones!

  • How old was he?
  • How did he die?
  • Did he suffer at the end?
  • Was his family with him?
  • Various versions of:  Who is he leaving behind?  How are they doing?

These are all worthwhile questions.  They show how much we care.

They also provide a small glimpse into our future, and the future of the people we love and care about.  We will each take our final breath someday.  It’s just a question of when and how.

These questions do more to quench the morbid curiosity we have about our own future than to learn about the life of the person who just died.

We used to receive a local monthly newspaper.  I was always fascinated by the stories in the obituary section.  Each person had a story.  An arc through time.  Milestones.  Achievements.  Lives they touched.  But, these were merely stories someone else had written to encapsulate an entire lifetime into a few paragraphs of highlights.

It’s impossible to capture someone’s life in a few paragraphs or even an entire book.

Our lives aren’t just a series of events and milestones.  They’re an almost infinite collection of moments.

Moments that often seem trivial when they happen, but are anything but trivial.  These moments would probably never make the “highlight reel.”  These are the moments that (with the benefit of hindsight) are turning points in our life, and the lives of the people we touch.

Our lives are also a feeling.  An energy.  An impression we leave behind.  It’s not tangible, and it can’t be seen or touched.  But, it touches everyone around us.  It’s something they can only describe with a far-away look in their eyes when we’re gone.

The questions we ask when someone dies miss what really matters.

I’d like to add some new ones:

  • What are the moments you shared with him that you remember most?
  • What stories did he tell you?
  • Which stories had the most impact on you?
  • How did he make you feel when you were around him?
  • How did he impact the direction your life is going?
  • What did you learn from him and the way he lived his life?
  • What type of energy did he bring to your life?
  • What impression did he make on you?
  • What comes to your mind whenever you think about him, now that he’s gone?

And, one final question to consider while we’re still here:

How will those that you love and care about answer these questions after you’re gone?

 

Note to Self

Maybe it’s all the close calls, existential threats, newly-invented liabilities, newly-minted regulations, new competitors, old competitors, angry customers, happy customers, former customers, new customers, potential opportunities, new ideas, new methods, better mouse traps, and everything else that comes our way in business (no matter the size).

Maybe it’s the fight-or-flight instinct that gets honed to a fine edge through years of experience.  Knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em…but always allowing room for doubt.  Knowing when the silent customer is more important than the loudest one.  Knowing that the employee you don’t see is just as important as the one you do see.  Knowing we always have a competitor, whether we realize it or not.

Maybe it’s that standard defensive posture that every business assumes at times, even when it knows that only a strong offense will win the day.  Understanding that this isn’t a game we get to win every day.

Maybe it’s just fear of failure, or more likely, fear of success.

Whatever it is that stops me from getting the most enjoyment from this business…now is the time to let it go.

Life is way too short to let the small stuff get in the way.

Here’s my promise to myself:

  • I will go on offense, every day
  • I will acknowledge my fears, but only if it helps create a stronger offense
  • I will focus on the next step forward, and let the past remain there
  • I will create opportunities for those around me
  • I will love and serve
  • I will let go
  • I will enjoy each day as the gift that it is.

I will do these things as a promise to myself, knowing that I’m not the One who is in control.

Relax, You’re Doing Fine

I saw this on a license plate frame.  When I first saw it, I didn’t give it much attention.  Then, as I sat at the red light, staring at those four simple words, I realized how freeing they are.

Relax, you’re doing fine.

You aren’t as far behind as you thought in the “race” of life.  In fact, life isn’t a race at all.  There’s no prize at the end for getting to the finish line faster than the other people.

You’re living in a great time.  Why is it so great?  Because it’s your time.  It doesn’t matter what else is happening.  The fact that things are actually happening, and you are here to see, participate, and have an impact is all that matters.  What impact?  That’s up to you.

What you do, how you do it, and the pace you choose are up to you.  I recommend you take advantage of your limited time on the planet.  Start moving, stay moving, always learn, and never stop teaching.  But, that’s just me.  It’s up to you and no one else.

Not as happy as you’d like to be?  Not as fulfilled as you’d like to be?  Worried that life is passing you by?  Worried that you aren’t as rich, pretty, strong, tall, smart, stylish, successful, or any other measure society places on us, as you’d like to be?

We all have the same seconds, minutes, and hours every day.  Our ability to define our time by the people we help, and the smiles we coax into the world are the only things we control.  The rest is going to happen with or without our involvement.

Enjoy your time.  Let someone else worry about all that other comparison stuff.

And, never forget:  Relax, you’re doing fine.

Are You Willing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beliefs and Values

h/t:  Matthew Kelly

The Rear-View Mirror

For years, I seemed to pick cars that were too short.  The rear-view mirrors were always right at my eye level.  At first, that sounds about right.  But, the mirrors actually blocked my view out the front windshield.

I had two choices:

Duck down and look under the mirror to see the road ahead,

or,

Remove the mirror.

Not wanting to scrunch down, or have to remember that what I could see was actually the view out the back window, I decided to remove the mirror from my view.

A bit drastic, but I was okay with it.  I could always use the side mirrors to see behind me.  Besides, I mostly used the rear-view mirror to scan for cops (it’s easier to spot their profile, or their lights, using the rear-view mirror).  Since I wasn’t in the habit of breaking laws, it wasn’t a big sacrifice to lose that wide-angle backward view.

Most of what I was interested in was in front of me anyway.  Removing the mirror let me stay focused on what was coming, rather than where I’d been.  Occasionally, I’d glance to the empty spot where the mirror used to be, mostly out of habit.

A habit born of the desire to glean value from where I’d been, but mostly to know if something was about to catch me.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing anything worthy of being caught.  But, still, it was there.  The unknown pursuer.  The quick glance to the rear-view would help me see when it was coming.  It never was.

Fast-forward twenty years or so, and my car (actually a truck) is bigger.  The rear-view mirror doesn’t block my view out the front.  It provides a nice panorama out the back.  I don’t use it much (the side mirrors are still my go-to).  When I do use it, I’m not interested in seeing my pursuer.  I’m not as concerned about who may be back there (unless it’s a knucklehead weaving through traffic, ignoring everyone’s safety).

My rear-view mirror lets me quickly see where I’ve been, and that’s enough.  The real action is still in front of me, so I’m glad my mirror doesn’t block that view.

Otherwise, it would have to go.

Rear_View

Where are You Aiming?

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”  -Zig Ziglar

Ready.  Aim.  Fire.

That’s the standard way to shoot at a target.  How many people actually follow these steps?

How many have you seen following other sequences:

Ready.  Fire.  Aim.

Fire.  Fire.  Fire.

Aim.  Aim.  Aim.  Aim.

Ready…  Ready…  Ready… (now what?)

Ready.  Aim.  Aim.  Aim.  Aim.  Aim.  Fire?  Fire?

Life is a series of choices.  A series of challenges.  A series of what if’s.

It’s impossible to know the true definition of “ready” in a life of endless possibility.  One can spend a lifetime “getting ready” for an outcome that may, or may not, happen.  The truth is, we are never fully ready.

What if getting ready isn’t the first step?  What if pursuing excellence is?

Excellence in whatever we do.  Excellence in the way we look at life.  Excellence in our contribution.  Excellence in the way we treat others.  Excellence in our expectations of ourselves and others.  When excellence is the target, the other steps become clear.

Pursue excellence.  Ready.  Aim.  Fire.  Adjust.  Pursue excellence.  Repeat.

Does excellence mean perfection?  No.  Pursuing perfection is a fool’s errand.  The good news is that by pursuing excellence we get a glimpse of perfection from time to time.

The target isn’t the real reward anyway.  That comes from the pursuit itself.

 

The Obstacles You Think You Know…Don’t Matter

Polynomial Function

I used to hear one question a lot when I was a kid.

Whether an adult was asking me, or another kid my age, it was always the same:

What are you going to be when you grow up?

In second grade, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.  My friend wanted to be a fireman.  Another friend wanted to be a professional skateboarder.

By high school, I was still thinking doctor, or maybe veterinarian.  One of my friends planned to be an engineer, another wanted to teach, and one planned to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot (he just retired from the Air Force a few years ago).

In my senior year in high school I ran into Algebra 2.  More specifically, factoring polynomials.  FOIL method.  Up to that point, math had made sense.  Plug the numbers into the formulas, and get your answer.  X equals 11, Y equals 9.  Pythagorean Theorem?  Piece of cake.  Word problems?  Easy.

But, polynomials made no sense.  The magic of the FOIL method didn’t help.  First, Outside, Inside, Last?  Solving for multiple variables that cancel each other out in some mysterious way?  Arriving at an answer that looks as cryptic as the original question?  What does a polynomial look like if you draw one?  When will we ever use this in real life?  I’d say it was all Greek to me, but I didn’t know Greek either, or Latin.

I hadn’t even reached Calculus (the math all the other brainiacs were taking in their senior year), and I’d hit a wall.

Polynomial Example

I could see the handwriting on the chalkboard (teachers used to write on them before whiteboards were invented).  To become a doctor would require a science degree of some kind.  That science degree would require a ton of math well beyond polynomials…maybe even Calculus.  What comes after Calculus?!  And, what about Latin?  Doctors all seemed to use Latin.  How would I learn that?  It wasn’t even offered at my high school.  And, what about getting into medical school?  Did I have eight years to give up?  How would I pay for all of it?  This was going to be hard!

We each have a strategic thinking instinct.  The ability to prioritize, make deductions, create connections, and map out a direction.  Or, multiple directions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we either ignore our strategic thinking capability, or we use it to map out why something is impossible.  We visualize all the obstacles while ignoring the path around, over, or through them.  We neatly stack all the obstacles into an impenetrable wall, rather than a series of hurdles to be taken one-at-a-time.

My doctor plans went down in flames…but, I was the one pointing the metaphorical plane into the ground.

Could I have found a way to understand polynomials?  Yes.  Could I have dealt with Calculus?  Yes.  What about Latin?  Yes.  What about getting into medical school?  Yes.  Did I have what it took to become a doctor?  Probably (we will never know).

Did I allow myself to realize any of this at the time?  No.  I was too busy jumping toward another goal that had fewer obstacles, or so I thought.  One that didn’t require Calculus.  One that I could get my head around, and see more clearly.

I now understand something I didn’t back when I was a high school senior.  I’m not sure I understood it by the time I was a college senior either.  Our biggest obstacle, the one that matters more than any of the obstacles we can see, the obstacle that trumps all others, is staring back at us in the mirror.  Find your way around, over, or through yourself, and you are well on your way to overcoming almost any other obstacle in your path…maybe even polynomials.

Want the answer to the crazy equation?  This might (or might not) be it

 

 

Photo Credits:  Here and Here

 

Your Life’s Mission

I don’t remember the exact year, but it was probably around 2003. My boss invited a couple of us to attend a leadership meeting that he attended monthly. Each meeting had a keynote speaker, and he thought we’d like to hear the talk.

The speaker’s topic was how our life’s mission impacts our leadership style, and ultimately what we’ll drive ourselves to accomplish professionally. He made a compelling case, and then asked each of us to state what our life’s mission was…on the spot.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I was pretty focused on the day-to-day challenges of making a living, trying to save money for our daughters’ college education, trying to find time to run and exercise, maybe finally furnish a couple of the empty rooms in our house.

Luckily I was toward the end of the line, so I got to listen to everyone else’s. There were lots of lofty and admirable missions mentioned. Most were brief. A couple of the missions took some time to explain.

A mission is a promise to yourself. A mission is a set of principles that guide your actions. We may not always fulfill our mission, but it’s always there, pointing the way.

As each person stated their missions, I faced the reality that I didn’t really have one.

My good friend and co-worker went just before me, and he said that his life’s mission could be summed up in two words. He smiled and said, “Have fun!” An awkward silence came over the group. They were probably wondering if this guy was serious, or was he just mocking the exercise.

The awkwardly silent room’s attention shifted to me.

I said something about creating opportunities for personal growth, challenging myself to push past my limits (whatever that meant), and I summed it up with, “Have fun.” Given the fact that I didn’t have a life’s mission when I arrived, it was a decent start.

Definitely not my final answer.

Over the years since that day, I’ve had this question about my life’s mission rolling around in my head. Now that I’m about halfway through life (that is, if I’m lucky enough to live until I’m 94), I think I’ve finally figured it out. I can sum it up with nine words:

Serve God.

Bring joy.

Help others.

Explore.

Have fun!

The room is looking at you now.  What’s your life’s mission?

Your Future Called…Here’s 10 Things You Should Know

Not_Judging

  1. The future will start, as always, with ideas.  The ideas that become reality will be those that capture the imagination of strangers, most never knowing the origin of the ideas they now “own” emotionally.
  2.  

  3. People will dictate the future.  It won’t be a poll, the Internet, social media, or some secret government agency.  People, acting in the pursuit of their own self-interest, will decide with their votes at the ballot box, and the way they choose to spend their dollars.
  4.  

  5. Nothing predicts your future better than your own attitude and expectations.
  6.  

  7. The future belongs to those with personal motivation, determination, and a willingness to fail in pursuit of success.
  8.  

  9. Your future is finite, just like everyone else’s.  Enjoy today as your prepare to greet tomorrow.
  10.  

  11. 99.9999% of your success will happen when you open yourself to helping others succeed first.  Of course, you already know that since you listen to Zig Ziglar.
  12.  

  13. The mark you leave on the world starts and ends with those closest to you.  Everything else is a bonus.
  14.  

  15. Learn to teach and you will never stop learning, or helping others.  This is closely related to number 6.
  16.  

  17. You are the only arbiter and defender of your core values.  Think about your core values, understand why you have them, and live them to the fullest, every day.
  18.  

  19. History continues to find its way into the future.  Study history.  Study the people who drove history.  Learn the lessons history provides like your future depends on it…because it does.
  20.