Category Archives: Personal Responsibility

Strategic Rebellion

I’ve had a few chances recently to watch my grandkids coloring.

It was a bit torturous for me, watching as they scribbled around the patterns, with no regard for the lines.  Was that a horse, or maybe a flower?  It didn’t matter to them.  Color selection was random.  A green horse?  Perfect.  Blue?  Even better.

Faced with this onslaught of coloring chaos, what’s the first piece of grandfatherly advice I wanted to give?  You guessed it:  Try staying inside the lines, which would inevitably be followed by advice on color choice and coloring patterns.

Most of us were taught from an early age to color inside the lines, follow the rules, avoid poking the bear, err on the side of caution, measure twice and cut once.

These are all good guidelines…most of the time.

However, I’ve found that a sprinkling of “strategic rebellion” from time to time can be quite useful.  Poke that bear, make a few waves, dare to color outside the lines.  In fact, who needs lines?  Just bring some color and see what happens.

Thankfully, I caught my advice before giving it.  It remained safely in my head.  They have plenty of time to learn about staying inside the lines.  Here’s hoping they also get a nice dose of strategic rebellion along the way.

In the meantime, purple is a perfect color for grass.

 

Wishing Well

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What’s the first thing you think of when you see a stranger?

How about your competition?

Or, the jerk that just cut you off in his Porsche?

What’s your default setting when it comes to others?

How critical are you?

How many stories have you made up about that stranger—stories that only you hear—based on nothing more than appearance?

It’s easy to be critical.  It’s easy to look for the worst, and even easier to find it.  Defaulting to fear and distrust is the safest play.

What if you defaulted to wishing others well?  Even strangers?

What if the stories you tell in your head give that stranger the benefit of the doubt?

What if you looked for the best, instead of the worst?

What if you had no opinion about that guy who just cut you off?

What would happen if you helped your competitor improve?

Starting with a mindset of wishing well, looking to give instead of take, understanding rather than responding, reveals our best self.

Our best self hides behind walls of criticism, doubt, distrust, fear, and ill will.

Take away its hiding places and get to know your best self…default to wishing well.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Brandi Redd

More Than a Few Lessons…

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I turned 50 a while back.  Although it’s just a number, it’s a big milestone.  Hopefully, it’s a halfway point.  During my first 50 years, I’ve learned some things and here they are in no particular order:

  • The quest for the Holy Grail is all about the quest, and less about the Grail.
  • Soft tissue injuries are much harder to get over than you think.
  • Execution is all about preparation. Prepare well, and you’ll be able to execute when called upon.  Wing it and your execution will be a crap shoot.
  • Preparation is difficult and requires discipline. Building and maintaining discipline is one of the greatest challenges in life.
  • No matter how smart, strong, tough, fast, or independent you think you are. You aren’t.
  • Nearly everything is easier said than done.
  • Just because you can watch someone do something doesn’t mean you know anything about what it takes to actually do that thing.
  • Doing is the key to enjoying. Stop talking about it.  Stop thinking about it.  Stop procrastinating.  Stop making excuses.  As Nike said so well, Just Do It!  You’ll probably suck at it at first, but so does everyone else.
  • The real “99% and 1%?” Ninety-nine percent of people will try something, suck at it, and quit.  One percent will continue the struggle (see discipline above), and incrementally improve.  They may even continue long enough to become a master at it.  Another variant:  only one percent will try something, and the other ninety-nine percent will focus on explaining why they can’t or won’t.
  • Whenever I’ve become the most anxious in life, I usually realize that I’ve skipped exercise or going outside to play for more than a week (it happens more often than I care to admit!). Exercising and playing are the best ways to build a foundation of clarity and calm.
  • Another thing I’ve noticed when I’m most anxious is that I’ve probably pushed gratitude out of my mind. When your mind is filled with gratitude, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for other things like anger, frustration, or negativity (this also happens more often than I’d like).
  • Vacations are nice. Travel is nice.  Seeing exotic places is nice.  But, there’s nothing like creating a life at home that doesn’t require a vacation for happiness.  Vacations should be icing on the cake.
  • Every person who lives in the US should spend at least two weeks in a foreign country…preferably when they’re young. That way, the lessons they take away from the experience can be applied early in their life.  Something I’ve found from traveling to at least 10 (maybe more) foreign countries is that the US is like Disneyland.  Even compared to modern and thriving countries, the standard of living in the US is noticeably higher.  It is easy to take all these differences for granted, or to be truly ignorant of them…until you spend time in a foreign country.
  • Tom Petty had it right: The waiting is the hardest part.  Everything in life takes longer than you plan in your head.  That’s probably because we plan and think in our head for a long time before we spring our thoughts on the “world.”  Or, things just really do take a lot longer than we think they should.
  • Jobs become obsolete (and so do certain companies). People don’t (and neither do companies) unless they allow it.
  • The best way to avoid obsolescence?  Continuous learning.  Continuous exploration.  Saying yes more.
  • Save early and often in your life. Those savings will yield a huge amount of freedom later in your life.
  • In the struggle between service and earnings, choose service every time.
  • The most beautiful sound in Nature is uncontrolled laughter.
  • The most beautiful sight in Nature is the smiling eyes of someone you love.

 

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Massimo Mancini

 

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

There are no self-driving…

Airplanes have auto-pilot.  Cars are getting closer to self-driving.  In fact, I just saw a headline about a police officer pulling over a self-driving Google car (not sure who gets the ticket in that situation).

As Aldous Huxley said in his 1931 book, it’s a brave new world.

Auto-pilot and self-driving systems have one thing in common:  they know where they’re going.  Actually, the systems don’t know.  The operator who is (ostensibly) in control knows the starting point, and the destination.

Real life doesn’t work that way.

There are no self-driving:

Friendships.  We don’t know when a new friendship will start, we surely don’t know where it’s going, and we hope it never ends.  The journey is what makes it so good.  Have you put any of your friendships in self-drive mode?  It’s a conscious decision, even when you act like you didn’t notice.  Here’s the good news.  In most friendships, you can switch out of self-drive mode and restart the journey.  Your only decision is when to flip that switch.

Projects.  We usually know when a project starts, and when it’s supposed to end.  We have plans, resources, and our schedules.  We (should) know what defines success in a project, and what the end result needs to be.  That’s all the ingredients a project needs to switch to auto-pilot.  Right?  Not so fast!  Show me a project that’s out of control, off schedule, costing more than expected, and I’ll show you a project that went on auto-pilot while nobody was looking.

Parenting.  We know when parenting starts, and that’s about it.  Parents understand that every day with their kids is an adventure.  It’s an adventure they hope never ends.  There are days when they’d like to go on auto-pilot, but those are the days when they should be most engaged.

Companies.  It doesn’t matter what size they are, or how long they’ve been around.  If people inside a company start to “mail it in,” stop caring, assume someone else is asking the tough questions, assume someone else is making the hard choices; that’s the beginning of the end.  It may take some time, but the end is baked-in the moment self-drive mode is engaged.  It’s just a question of when, and it’s never pretty when the end arrives.

Marriages.  We certainly know when marriages begin.  Sadly, some marriages have ended, yet the people involved don’t even realize it.  Why?  Self-drive.  One or both have engaged the self-drive button and decided that they’re just along for the ride.  Only together can a married couple steer, accelerate, hit the brakes, seek out new routes, find shortcuts, or just enjoy the scenery.  It takes constant work, endless attention, and unending love to share this most important steering wheel.  There’s no room for self-drive in the front seat of a marriage.

Self-drive may seem easier, but its sole focus is the start and the end.  These are only two points on the journey.

The part in the middle is the real reward.  Engage self-drive and you will miss it.

 

The Most Powerful Words of All

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Why do parents teach this little quote to their kids?  Simple.  It’s a one-sentence philosophy that arms each of us against the words others may use to describe us, or worse, to tear us down.  We learn from this one sentence that words can’t hurt us.

As a philosophy, it works.  But, in practice, it misses a few points.

Words do matter.  They inspire, motivate, comfort, and create.  They also discourage, disappoint, frustrate, and destroy.

Certain words wield more power than all others.  The words we say to ourselves.

We can tell ourselves almost anything, and we will believe it.  If we don’t believe at first, we can relentlessly work to convince ourselves.  Remember, we’re in our head all the time…unfiltered!

We each have a personal stream of consciousness that narrates our perspective of what’s “really” happening around us, and to us.  It’s this continuous chatter of self-talk in our head that drives everything we feel, and everything we do.

The words in our self-talk carry all the power, regardless of what’s happening around us.  Imagine you’re a golfer.  A professional golfer.  Maybe the best golfer in the world.  You’ve won major tournaments this season.  You’ve outclassed the entire field.  And yet, you aren’t satisfied with your results, because they should have been better.  You finished second a few too many times this season to let yourself really celebrate your success.

Why?  Negative self-talk.  Your self-talk is telling you that you aren’t good enough.  You don’t deserve all the accolades coming your way.  You tell yourself that your short game needs to get a little better if you expect to win again.  Each mistake you make is amplified in your head as yet another reason you shouldn’t win.  So you stop winning.

Negative self-talk has nothing to do with reality.  It only robs energy and happiness.  Positive self-talk has nothing to do with reality.  It only brings energy and happiness.  The reality you perceive, the reality you create, and the way you will ultimately live your life are each dictated by your self-talk.

The words we say to ourselves can and will hurt us.  Or…they can lift us, propel us, and bring us happiness.

We get to choose.

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t.  You’re right.”  –Henry Ford

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

 

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.

Start Anywhere!

According to Wikipedia, Nike’s Just Do It™ slogan was born in an advertising agency meeting in 1988.

For Nike, these words helped propel the company from $877 million in revenue in 1988 to $9.2 billion by 1998.  In 2013, Nike’s revenue was $25.3 billion.

Three simple words.

Of course, it isn’t the words alone.  It’s the call to action implied in these words:

  • Want to run a marathon?  Just do it!
  • Want to run a triathlon?  Just do it!
  • Want to play tennis?  Just do it!
  • Want to learn to oil paint?  Just do it!
  • Want to write?  Just do it!
  • Want to race motorcycles?  Just do it!
  • Want to develop an iPhone app?  Just do it!
  • Want to explore the world?  How about China (where I am this week)?  Just do it!
  • Want to hike the Appalachian Trail?  Just do it!
  • Want to own your own business?  Just do it!
  • Want to try living in New York City (in the winter!)?  Just do it!
  • Want to start a charity to help wounded veterans?  Just do it!
  • Want to build your own house?  How about a tree house?  Just do it!

Three simple words.

Not to be outdone, and to inspire not only Apple employees, but customers they didn’t yet have, Apple came up with a two-word slogan in 1997:  Think Different™.

Two words, grammar error notwithstanding.  Again, it isn’t the words, but the call to action.  If you want to create a new and interesting future, Think Different today.

Think Different.  Just Do It.

To these, I’d add two more words:

Start Anywhere!

Think Different.  Just Do It.  Start Anywhere!

How about two more:  Start today!

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

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  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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