I’m not afraid of heights…

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground…

…but I am afraid of ladders.

When I heard someone at the gym saying this to his workout buddy, he was referring to the reason he doesn’t put up Christmas lights.  He hates climbing on ladders.

For the record, I’m not too keen on climbing ladders either.

My immediate thought was how easy it is to dream of and visualize reaching the heights of our chosen field.  The hard part is the ladder.

Choosing the right ladder, or series of ladders.

Our ladder needs to be sturdy enough to take our weight and the weight of everyone else making the same climb.

It’s easy to pick the nearest ladder or the one where we can see the top.  But that’s not always the right one.

And, once we choose, how long should we climb before jumping to another ladder?

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground.  Your definition of success.  The “why” for your climb.

Are these easy questions to answer?  Definitely, not.

Here’s the tricky part:  your answers to these fundamental questions of why will morph over time.  Something you thought was important in high school isn’t important when you’re 25, or 30.  Similarly, something that’s important when you’re 30 isn’t so important when you’re 50, or 65.

Our answers also adapt to our surroundings, to the people we see the most.  It’s human nature.  We adapt to survive.  We compromise to fit with those around us.  Our perceptions are shaped by what’s closest.

The good news is that with the internet, blog sites, news sites, books, videos, and podcasts, the definition of “closest” has changed.  While it’s true that we still work closely with the ten people that are near us, we have access to a universe of ideas and perspectives far beyond our “local” reach.  All we have to do is choose to look.

What about heights and climbing ladders?  They matter.  But not as much as why you’re climbing in the first place.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  –Stephen Covey

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The Ultimate Quest

We don’t just want more time…

Listen to just about anyone discussing their life’s goals, their “bucket list,” and you might hear things like:

“I want enough money so I never have to work on someone else’s schedule again.”

“I wanna see the Pyramids of Egypt, the Antarctic, and sample all the fine barbecue establishments in Kansas City before I die.”

“I want to hold my grandkids’ kids.”

“I hope to help at least 100 homeless people find a permanent home.”

“I want to explore Machu Picchu.”

“If I play my cards right, I can find a nice little scuba class in Bali that needs an instructor.  That would be my dream job.”

“I want to see a game at every professional baseball stadium in the US.”

“Skydiving sounds like a kick in the pants.”

“I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“I want to go on pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.”

“I want to see the Northern Lights.”

Each of us is on a journey.  We share our journey with a select few.

Even as we share our journey, our goals are rarely the same as anyone else’s.  That’s what makes us unique, like everyone else.

But, there’s one thing that links all our journeys; a common theme in every bucket list.  The ultimate quest.

The quest for time.

We want quality time, special time, alone time, together time, family time, me time, kid time, game time.  We want to spend our time as we choose.  Time to explore.  Time to give.  Time to waste when we want.  How we spend our time defines who we are.

We don’t just want more time.  We want time on our terms.

Defining the “deal terms” for using our most precious resource is where the real challenge begins.

Are you the one setting your terms?


My favorite things in life don’t cost any money.  It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.  –Steve Jobs

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Kyle Szegedi

The Puzzles We Build

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair…



When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!



The Obstacles You Think You Know…Don’t Matter

Polynomials suck, but they aren’t the obstacle that matters most…

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


Mountains, Elephants, and Steps (they have more in common than you’d think)

Don’t worry about the mountain…worry about the next turn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently read an interview with James Doti, president of Chapman University. He’s a runner, triathlete, and mountain climber…in addition to his day job.

He mentioned a discussion he had with his mountain guide at the beginning of a big climb (I think it was Kilimanjaro) that went something like this:

Doti: That mountain is going to be tough!

Mountain Guide: Don’t worry about the mountain. Worry about the next turn.

Excellent advice. It made me think of two more quotes:

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.


The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…and then another.

The sentiments in each of these quotes is the same. Every journey, every project, every career path, every big achievement, and every lifetime are made up of small and seemingly insignificant steps along the way.

I haven’t climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (yet), but I’ve climbed Mt. Whitney twice. There’s a famous section of that climb called The 99 Switchbacks. It begins at about 12,000 feet. Each turn gets you one step closer to the summit.  After 99 turns, you reach the Trail Crest at about 13,600 feet.

Then the mountain plays a dirty trick and descends down the back side about 800-1,000 feet before turning back up toward the summit at 14,500 feet. That small descent may sound trivial. It’s not! At that altitude, and after making it through the switchbacks, descending on the way to the summit is quite a mind bender. The only response to the mountain’s challenge is to take the next step, and the one after that.    

Funny thing about the triumphant photo at the top of the mountain (or graduation, retirement, etc.) is that it doesn’t show all the small steps that made the photo possible. Those are for the climber (or graduate, or retiree) to remember and appreciate.

The small steps represent our decision to start. To continue. To change direction, or ask for help. To persevere. To achieve.


Photo:  Our crew on the summit of Mt. Whitney, 2009 (time flies!).  I’m the guy on the far right, trying to catch his breath.  I never would have reached the summit without help from everyone in that picture. 

Seven Steps to Creating Your Goalprint

People who buy shovels don’t want shovels…

There’s a classic quote in business:

People who buy shovels don’t want shovels.  They want to make holes, or fill in holes as quickly and easily as possible.

Chances are pretty good that you’re selling shovels to someone.  Or, maybe you dig the holes?

Either way, the planning, the shovel, the digging, and the hole itself are all merely steps along the way to achieving someone’s goals.

Your goals?  Maybe…that all depends on whether you know what your goals are.

The funny thing about goals is that no one has the same goals.  They may share some, or agree on goals to pursue together.  But, no two people have the exact same goals.

Each of us has a goalprint as unique as our fingerprint.  It captures our passions, our dreams, and the specific goals we’ve laid out for our lives.  Partially-developed goalprints live in our subconscious mind, until we take the time to bring them into our conscious mind and fully define them.

Consciously defining our unique goalprint isn’t easy.  Nothing worthwhile ever is.

Here are the seven steps for creating and living your personal goalprint:

1.  Define five things you are most passionate about, and how you plan to center your life around these passions over the next five years.  Not willing to focus your life on this list of passions?  Maybe these aren’t really your passions.

2.  Define at least seven things you plan to experience over the next ten years.  A quasi-bucket list, only with a ten-year horizon.  Notice this isn’t a list of seven things you want to experience, rather a list of the seven things you plan to experience.  How many of these involve the things you are most passionate about?

3.  Money isn’t everything, but it does make the world go around.  With this in mind, write down how much money or assets you plan to have set aside for big ticket expenditures (i.e., home purchases, kids’ college, retirement, something you were passionate about in item 1, etc.) in one year, five years, ten years, and twenty years.  What income do you need to hit these targets?  Start saving now, if you haven’t already.

4.  Define what you plan to be in one year, five years, ten years, and twenty years.  This can be personal, professional, or anything else you define as what you plan to be.  Keep working until your “what” supports what you’ve listed in the first three steps.

5.  If you’re blessed with a spouse, or a soon-to-be-spouse, compare and discuss your answers in the first four steps above.  What do you have in common?  Are your goalprints compatible?  How will you each accommodate and support your spouse’s goalprint in the coming years?

6.  Hold yourself accountable for fulfilling what you’ve laid out in your goalprint as you make decisions in your life.  Enjoy defining success on your own terms.

7.  Repeat this exercise once a year.

Unlike fingerprints, our goalprint will change and grow over time.  That is, if we have the courage to let it.


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