Category Archives: Life Planning

I’m not afraid of heights…

…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

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

Advice to My 25-Year-Old Self

I regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  In fact, it’s the only podcast I listen to.

A question he asks nearly every guest is:

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self (or whatever age is about half your current age)? 

For me, that was late-1992.  I’d been married for four years.  We had a two-year-old daughter, and our newest daughter had just arrived.  We’d purchased our first home in 1990 (at the high-point in the market before a 5-year down cycle).  I was about two years into my first management job, working in the healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things I’d like my 25-year-old self to know (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t change a thing! You’re about to be blessed with 25 years of awesomeness.  You may not realize it while it’s happening, but trust me, it’s going to be amazing!  You will face triumph and tragedy, hardship and happiness.  Take lots of photos and videos so you can remember just how small your kids were and the things they used to say.  You’ll get a kick out of the photos of yourself when you actually had hair and it wasn’t all gray.
  1. Take time to write about the things you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking about, and what’s motivating you. These things will probably change as you get older and you might appreciate seeing where your thinking started compared to where it is in 25 years.
  1. Be sure that you include the words, “Have Fun” in as many of your mission statements and plans as possible. These words are easy to forget while focusing on the day-to-day dramas that you will inevitably let drive your life.
  1. Seek out mentors, and be a mentor to others. Find ways to serve others while never thinking of how you’ll be “paid back.”  You’ll do a pretty good job at this, but it’ll take you many years to get started, and those are years you’ll never get back.
  1. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t know everything. “Knowing everything” and getting the highest score in all your classes may have brought you straight A’s, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.  You never will.  Here’s a corollary:  when you think you’ve thought about every angle of a problem, or come up with every contingency in considering a new strategy or idea, you haven’t.  The only way you’ll ever approach a full understanding of a new strategy or idea is to get lots of other people involved.  Have the patience and humility to do this on a regular basis.
  1. You are surrounded by the love of God. You need to take the time I didn’t take at your age to realize it.  The signs of His love are all around you.  Stop and listen.  Stop and look.  Just stop.  What are you running from?  It’s going to take you another 20-plus years to realize this unless you follow my advice today.
  1. When you look at starting that new home automation business (it’s a long story), remember that the most important question in any business, especially small businesses, is who is your customer and how will they find you? The next most important question is why should this elusive customer come to you for your service or product?  Until you can answer these questions, you’re wasting time (and money) on everything else.
  1. Realize that just about everything takes longer than planned. As you make progress in your career, initiatives that you think should take 3-6 months to complete will actually take years to fully bear fruit.  Practice looking at things on a longer horizon.
  1. Read more fiction, especially science fiction. It’s a great way to declutter your mind.  Of course, books come on paper in your time and we have these new devices that make reading so convenient.  Don’t let that deter you.
  1. I recently heard this, and it’s something you should consider…you can always go back to the museum. What do I mean?  Most people go to places like museums, theme parks, other states, or other countries only once.  At least, that’s their plan.  With that in mind, they try to cram everything into their “one and only” visit.  Their visit becomes a long checklist of things to do and things to see.  Instead, approach your visits with a plan to return again someday.  Focus on the few and leave the rest for your next visit.  Be present and let go of the checklist.

Bonus advice:  You’ll have trouble with that patience and humility thing, but embracing these will be your key to happiness.  There is no checklist.  Life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a destination.  It’s a journey and an infinite opportunity for experience.

Realize that you aren’t the one holding the compass and you’ll find more joy than you ever thought possible.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Justin Tietsworth

The Ultimate Quest

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

It’s Only a Hundred Years

“I’m 15 for a moment
Caught in between 10 and 20
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are”

I’ve come to realize that life can be divided into quarters, each (hopefully) lasting 25 years.  Every quarter has its own unique challenges, and opportunities.  Some things we care deeply about in one quarter don’t matter as much in the next.  Each quarter carries mystery, and revelation.

“I’m 33 for a moment
Still the man, but you see I’m a ‘they’
A kid on the way, babe.
A family on my mind”

Experience reveals the nature of our mysteries.  A total mystery in one quarter often becomes a given in the next.  I have a good friend who likes to say, “I’m gonna be one smart mutha, just before I die.”  I suppose that’s the irony of life.  Just as you’re totally prepared to live it, it’s over.

“I’m 45 for a moment
The sea is high
And I’m heading into a crisis
Chasing the years of my life”

It may be a revelation to some that we are never totally prepared.  We never know everything (and don’t remember it even if we do).  We rarely understand all that is happening around us.  The life we build is rarely planned, and only takes shape in retrospect.

“Half time goes by
Suddenly you’re wise
Another blink of an eye
67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We’re moving on…”

This doesn’t mean that we throw all caution to the wind, ignoring what others have learned, bouncing from one experience to another.  Life carries a ton of mysteries, but we can (and should) learn from those who have gone before us.  Those who faced similar mysteries, similar challenges.

“15 there’s still time for you
22 I feel her too
33 you’re on your way
Everyday’s a new day…”

Each of us has something to share with our fellow travelers.  We can shed light on their mystery.  Show a way.  Lead by example.  Reveal truths that we can clearly see.

“I’m 99 for a moment
And dying for just another moment
And I’m just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are”

In the process, we reveal new truths for ourselves, see with new eyes, and listen with new attention.  That’s the journey.  Enjoy every minute of it.

“When you only got a hundred years to live.”  -John Ondrasik, Five for Fighting

 

 

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?

If I knew then what I know now…

How often have you heard this phrase, or uttered it yourself?

Imagine if you could attain all of your life’s accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and experience in one day. All of life’s hard lessons in the blink of an eye. You wouldn’t know the future. But, you’d have the wisdom from that future, today.

Imagine knowing the mistakes to avoid, the real questions to ask, how to recognize the best path, the secret about how green the grass really is “over there.”    

Hindsight is 20/20, but the clarity of the past doesn’t always point to the future. Many of history’s greatest triumphs came from someone taking the “wrong path,” or exploring the idea that conventional wisdom says can’t work.

Failures will happen along the way. Having all of life’s wisdom won’t prevent them. Some of our greatest lessons come from failure…ours or someone else’s. Life’s wisdom is valuable, but having it all at once takes away the drive to chase the crazy idea, or make the big hairy mistakes that lead to new discoveries.    

The truth about life is that its truths reveal themselves one at a time. The best path to take is the one that continually seeks these truths, and welcomes their arrival.

Is the Treadmill You’re on Taking You Where You Want to Go?

Go in any gym and you’ll see a bunch of treadmills, elliptical steppers, and a few stair machines.

Treadmills can be set on a pre-programmed workout so speeds and inclines vary automatically.  Or, you can manually set the pace with the click of a button. Maybe you have a distance in mind, or you only have twenty minutes. The distance you run, and ultimately the time you spend on the treadmill are yours to decide.

Ellipticals simulate running without impact. You may remember those Gazelle Runner infomercials with the pony-tailed guy who always seemed so happy gliding along. I don’t get ellipticals. I see tons of people using them, sometimes for thirty minutes at a time. They never seem to be sweating. It looks like they are just going through the motions. I suppose it’s better than nothing, but just barely.

Stair machines do a decent job of simulating real stair climbing. It’s a high-intensity workout. I’ve never seen anyone spend ten minutes or more (male or female) on a stair machine and not be sweating profusely when they step off that machine.

These machines all have one thing in common. They simulate the real thing. I suppose the same can be said about weight machines, kettle bells, and TRX straps.  For many of us, these simulations are the real thing.  Hitting the gym for a workout is what we do for exercise. We spend the rest of our time doing whatever it is that we do between workouts.

I had a conversation recently that got me thinking about this topic. My friend said his life is like a treadmill every day. The speed and incline aren’t in his control. He’s running about as hard as he can, just to stay on the machine. To hear him describe things, he can’t get off.

We’ve all had times where we’re stuck on the treadmill. Working hard, hanging on, and focusing on the energy needed to take that next step. It’s all we can do to stay on the machine. We tell ourselves that if we can get control over the speed and incline settings, we’ll be alright. For a time, that works. We get to set the pace. We have some control, but we’re still on the machine, not going anywhere.

The question isn’t how to avoid being “trapped” on a treadmill, or wasting time on an elliptical machine. It is knowing that our time on these machines can prepare us for something bigger and more challenging. They can prepare us to reach for our real goals, and not just achieve the goal of staying on the machine.

We gain experience, endurance, and strength from our time on these machines. How we put these to use is up to us.

Our goals in life can only be achieved if we think about them, even when we feel stuck on the treadmill. Use the treadmill to get in shape, but remember you always control the stop button. The time will come for you to step off the treadmill. You choose the timing.

The treadmill prepares you, but won’t lead you where you want to go. That happens when you step off the machine.

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.
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  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.
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  5. Nothing predicts your future better than your own attitude and expectations.
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  7. The future belongs to those with personal motivation, determination, and a willingness to fail in pursuit of success.
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  9. Your future is finite, just like everyone else’s.  Enjoy today as your prepare to greet tomorrow.
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  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.
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  13. The mark you leave on the world starts and ends with those closest to you.  Everything else is a bonus.
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  15. Learn to teach and you will never stop learning, or helping others.  This is closely related to number 6.
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  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.
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  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.
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What’s Your Personal Net Promoter Score?

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.  He is not dependent on us.  We are dependent on him.  He is not an interruption to our work.  He is the purpose of it.  He is not an outsider to our business.  He is a part of it.  We are not doing him a favour by serving him.  He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.

–Mahatma Gandhi

By now, you’ve probably heard the term Net Promoter Score (NPS).  It’s a system that focuses on the answer to one simple question:

On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is not likely and 10 is very likely, would you recommend this company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

That’s it.  One question that sums up a customer’s entire experience…and also measures their loyalty.  A person who responds with a 9 or 10 is a promoter, 7’s and 8’s are passive, and 1-6 is a detractor.

Promoters are not only loyal buyers, but they go out of their way to spread the good news about a company they like.

Passives are just that, passive.  Their loyalty is weak…a fair-weather friend.  They can be swayed easily to switch to another company if an alternative presents itself.

Detractors will go out of their way to spread bad news about a company.  They’ve had a bad experience, and are happy to tell everyone about it.

Thousands of companies monitor their NPS.  Perennially high NPS companies include Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom, USAA, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s.  Each invests time, energy, and money to deliver excellence, above all else, to their customers.

Consistent excellence (awesomeness) drives higher NPS.

How much time are you investing in your personal NPS?  Are you paying attention to the impact you have on those around you?  Are you consistently delivering excellence to those you care about the most?

How would the people you serve (family, friends, co-workers, employees, managers, strangers) answer this question about you:

On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is not likely, and 10 is very likely, would you recommend ______your name here_______ to a friend or colleague?

More importantly, how do you answer this question about yourself?