Category Archives: Status Quo

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.

 

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.

Are You Really Outside Your Comfort Zone?

ComfortZone

In the 80’s, the message was, “Dress for Success.”  Dress at least one level up, make a great impression, get promoted.  The concept focused on impressing the gatekeeper (your boss, or your boss’s boss), moving up, achieving success.  “Upwardly mobile” was a phrase people used to describe themselves.  Inherent in this approach was the thought that your success was dictated by how far up you climbed in one organization.

In the 90’s, the message was, “Be nimble, move fast, deliver quality.”  Tom Peters really came into focus in the 90’s with his thoughts on the “nanosecond” 90’s.  Big companies needed to find ways to “bob and weave,” to adjust to the ever-changing market dynamics.  We all searched for ways to shift paradigms, boost quality, and invent new ways of streamlining processes.

One by-product of this nimble and fast-moving behavior was rapid employee movement.  Corporate downsizing, upsizing, and reorganizations, along with an even faster corporate merger and acquisition pace, made remaining in one organization for a lifetime as remote as winning the lottery.

Dress for Success was out.  Upward mobility was out.  The era of the entrepreneur was upon us (even though it had been with us since the dawn of civilization).  The corporate version, the “intrapreneur,” became a big thing.  This was the person in the meeting who was slightly quirky, a bit edgy and imaginative, and didn’t mind “poking the bear” a bit.  He or she operated with a flair that the corporate mindset both embraced and slightly feared.  This was the person that would help the corporation remain relevant in the face of fast-moving competition, but might upset the apple cart along the way.

Somewhere in the late 90’s or early 2,000’s I started hearing that we should “think outside the box.”  “Think Different” became Apple’s calling card.  It was only that type of thinking that would yield meaningful results.  Anything else was just window dressing, or “lipstick on a pig.”  Look at the top 10 companies in terms of market value (both public and private) and it’s hard to argue with this sentiment.

But, even those “renegade” companies struggle to stay “different” over the long term.  What once seemed new, even revolutionary, becomes the new norm.  Soon, there’s a clamor for the next version, the new invention, the new product, the next “thing.”

What’s the answer to all of this?  Organizations and entrepreneurs try to operate “outside of their comfort zone.”  Yeah!  That’s the ticket.  If we can get everyone pushing outside their comfort zone, maybe that will result in something different, and cajole some new ideas into fruition.

But, the truth is that none of us like it outside our comfort zone.  Most companies and shareholders prefer their comfort zone as well.

We constantly seek our comfort zone, even as we talk about pushing ourselves outside of it.  If we happen to venture out and actually operate for a while in the hinterlands, our deep subconscious goal is to regain our footing, by seeking approval or acceptance of our crazy ideas back in the comfort zone.

We may get used to operating in a new zone and call that our new comfort zone…but, it’s still our (new) comfort zone.  This is one definition of progress.

People have varying perspectives on what’s comfortable.  The free climber is happiest and most “alive” when climbing a 3,000-foot rock face without ropes.  Another person’s comfort zone is speaking in front of a large audience.  Still another person’s idea of comfort is analyzing reams of financial data about the performance of their company.

What is your comfort zone?  When are you the most at ease?

What are you doing to operate outside that zone?

When you find yourself outside your comfort zone, what’s your goal?  To return to the safety of the comfort zone, or to extend your reach to an even more uncomfortable spot?

Look closely and be honest with yourself.  You’re probably spending most of your time inside your comfort zone or trying to find your way back there.

It’s up to you to determine whether this is okay, or not.

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

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 Power of Excuses

“If you really want to do something, you will find a way.  If you don’t, you will find an excuse.”  -Jim Rohn

Excuses have the power to stop almost anything.

Excuses are what we say to ourselves long before we use them on anyone else.

Excuses offer protection from responsibility.

Excuses help us cling to the status quo.

Excuses eliminate the need to take a risk.

Excuses stop us from reaching out to others when they need us most.

Excuses rob us of our potential.

A well-crafted excuse can justify a lifetime of inaction, with only one sentence.

Excuses are easy to find, and even easier to use.

The sad irony about excuses is that their power only impacts the person giving the excuse.

Everyone else knows the truth about your excuse, even if they have their own excuse for ignoring it.

Inspiration is great, but…

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When was the last time you were truly inspired?

Maybe you saw an inspirational movie, an awesome TED talk, or read an inspiring book. Maybe you had a great meeting with your boss. Maybe you have a brilliant idea that will change the world.

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere.

Inspiration is great, but is it enough? Does inspiration alone drive us to take action, to move toward our new future? Maybe, but probably not.

Inspiring thoughts quickly fade. Without action, inspiration is just another passing thought…soon forgotten.

Remaining in the status quo usually seems safer than taking action.

It’s almost a cliché: The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Inspiration is nothing until it’s coupled with your willingness to take action. To take the first step, and then the next.

Action is the fulfillment of inspiration, and often inspires others in the process.

What action are you taking today to pursue the things that inspire you?

Beyond the No Wake Zone

nowakezonebuoy_keaalliance

I get seasick easily, especially on sailboats (and fighter jets).  I’ve been on a few sailing trips.  They all had one thing in common.  Once we’re outside the no wake zone, my nausea starts.  Things go downhill from there until my head is buried under a towel and I try to sleep until we get to dry land.  Needless to say, I avoid sailing trips.

I don’t have a problem on cruise ships, except in rough seas.  Cruise ships are engineered to deliver a smooth ride for their passengers.  Most swells go unnoticed.  Passengers wake up in a new port almost every day, and the food and entertainment are usually spectacular.

Harbor cruises work for me.  I can handle cruising around inside the no wake zone, looking at all of the boats in their slips, the nice homes on the shoreline, and passing other boats as they make their way out to sea.  Christmas time, with all the lights and decorations is the best.  It’s relaxing and safe.  There are no swells to cause nausea and seasickness.

Every sailor knows the opportunity for new discovery lies beyond the no wake zone.  True adventure happens out past the buoys, past the breakwater, and out in the wind and waves.  Riding around in the harbor, or lazily enjoying a multi-course dinner on a cruise ship are fun and sometimes exotic.  But, neither compare to the adventure of plying the seas in a forty-foot sailboat, with your hand on the tiller.

What about the risks?  Staying on shore has risks.  Cruise ships certainly carry risk (and sometimes, viruses).  We may take comfort that others are managing our risks for us, but nothing is risk free.  Storms and rough seas will hit, no matter who drives the boat.  Understanding the risks, planning and preparing for them, and facing our challenges head-on is the only consistent winning strategy…at sea, and in life.

What about seasickness?  I remember talking with a sailor in Tahiti.  We had flown in for a vacation, and met my mother-, and father-in-law, who were sailing their boat across the South Pacific.  The sailor was a friend of theirs.  I mentioned my problem with seasickness, and how it would prevent me from making such a voyage.

He laughed and said, “The seasickness usually passes after three days at sea.  After that, it’s an adventure of a lifetime.”

He was right.

What the Flock is Going on Here!?!?

Lots of animals live and move in groups.  Cows, sheep, wildebeest, mackerel, geese, humans…just to name some examples.  We’ve come up with lots of names for these groupings:  herd, flock, school, gaggle, gang, company, industry trade group, union, political party.

Each of these groupings have one primary purpose:  defense.  There is safety in numbers, or so the saying goes.  Groups moving in unison appear larger to predators.  Their coordinated movements confuse and intimidate those who would otherwise do harm to the individuals in the group.

When predators attack, they pick the weakest and most vulnerable in the group to attack first.  That’s okay with the group, since protection of the group as a whole is paramount.  Any particular individual is less important than the survival of the entire group.

Predators often travel alone.  Eagles, bears, cheetahs, sharks, jaguars, Tesla…all loners.  Sure, some predators travel in groups.  Lions have their pride.  Wolves have their pack.  Orcas and dolphins have their pods.  The primary goal of a predator, whether alone or in a group, is offense.  They work in a coordinated effort to maximize return on their energy investment…capturing the most prey with the least amount of energy output.

Nothing is safe in the animal kingdom.  The food chain takes no prisoners.  The hunter often becomes the hunted.  The same is true in human enterprises.  In the (hopefully) never ending capitalist cycle of invention, construction, destruction, re-invention, and reconstruction, the roles of predator and prey can switch on a moment’s notice.

An instinctive drive for safety leads to new alliances.  Predators who would never think of joining a defensive flock are drawn in by the promise of safety from some new, common enemy.  Defense against the enemy becomes the rule of the day.  Thoughts of maximizing return on investment, or re-inventing the future, are replaced by a focus on defending the status quo of the flock.

In a uniquely human twist, the defensive flock may even take on a new mission.  The defensive flock goes on offense.  This flock actively seeks out the lone predators, the re-inventors.  They marshal all of their creative energy toward destroying predators before their new ideas wreak havoc on the flock.  Protection of the group is all that matters.  The individual is less important.

Which are you?  Predator or prey?  Loner, or flock member?  Are you a former predator, now seeking the safety of a new flock?  Are you defending the status quo, or throwing in with the crazies who are re-inventing the future?  Are you on offense, or defense?

Are you making this choice for yourself, or are you allowing the flock to make the decision for you?