The Mystery of the Dots

Our lives can seem like a collection of random experiences, decisions, non-decisions, near-misses, lucky chances, chance encounters, crazy ideas…


I recently participated in my first Church retreat.  It opened with an exercise where each participant drew a seashell out of a pile of seashells.  Written inside each shell was one word.  The facilitator then asked each of us to say how this one word connects with our lives.

My word was Mystery.

As I sat pondering the word, I couldn’t help thinking about all the dots in my life that have connected to bring me here.

Connect-the-dot puzzles are a great way to teach kids how to count, and see that there can be order in the apparent chaos of a bunch of dots on a page.

Our lives can seem like a collection of random experiences, decisions, non-decisions, near-misses, lucky chances, chance encounters, crazy ideas, mundane thoughts, risky ventures, explorations, challenges, victories, losses, successes, failures, limitations, beliefs, non-beliefs, triumphs, heartbreaks, new directions, people, places and things.

These are our dots.

We create some of the dots, but most of them are already there, waiting for us to connect.

Which dot comes next?  Do we choose, or is it chosen for us?  Is there a pattern, or at least some path, in all these dots?  I like to think we have something to do with deciding which dot comes next, but certainly not everything.

Nearly every major turning point in my life (good and bad, but mostly good) was unplanned.  Sure, I may have been prepared to capitalize, but the actual “dot” came out of nowhere, often by chance.

To paraphrase a quote from The Way (a movie I highly recommend, by the way), “You don’t choose a life, you live it.”  We all make plans, and try to map out where we’re headed.  The truth is, we don’t have as much control over things as we’d like to think.

Letting go of the illusion of control is a big step toward happiness.

The happiest people I know live their lives as a verb, rather than something to be controlled, or pondered in the past tense.  They are always seeking, always learning, always renewing.  They usually spend a lot of time serving others.  They don’t know which dot comes next, but they’re open to the possibilities.

I can see some big dots in my future, but I know there are a bunch I don’t see.  That’s the great mystery that makes life so awesome.

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


The Next Version

The first version may dramatically change, or create new markets. But, it can’t stop there.


Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.  ~English Proverb

There’s always a next version.  The latest update.  The new and improved model.  That is, if you sell a product (or service) and hope to remain relevant.

The first version may dramatically change, or create new markets.  But, it can’t stop there.

When Microsoft came out with its first version of MS-DOS (Microsoft disc operating system for those of you born after 1983 or so), they didn’t stop developing what they had.  There was always a new version just around the corner, and then all the versions of Windows after that.

Consider how quickly Apple’s iPod improved, shrank, morphed, and spawned new products and categories (like the iPhone).  The first iPhone was awesome and changed everything.  But, Apple didn’t stop there.  They couldn’t.

Dr. Athey (one of my favorite professors) used to talk about the “ratchet effect” in technology.  With each successive improvement in speed, features, or capability, the expectation level is ratcheted-up, at least one notch.  Each improvement creates a new floor.  A platform for the next leap.

Stop improving, stop inventing, stop pushing, stop creating, stop leaping, and guess what.  Your product begins to wither and die.  What was once amazing becomes the norm.  The markets you created start to shrink.

The same ratchet effect applies to each of us.

I will never forget a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde.  He was about 90 years old at the time.  He had just started using email, and asked me how he could send an email to more than one recipient.  I gave him some email pointers, but I got a whole lot more in return.  His questions demonstrated a key secret to a happy life:  Continuous exploration…seeking the next version.

What are you curious about?  What scares you?  What seems impossible?  These are the first things to explore.  Choose to take your first step.  Once you take the first step, the next one is easier.

What features will be in your next version?



Photo Credit:  ARS Technica



#tbt – Throwback Thursdays

Each #tbt post gives us a glimpse of potential yet to be fulfilled…

It’s fun to see how long (and not grey) our friend’s hair was twenty or thirty years ago…especially if that person has little or no hair now (like me).  It’s neat to see our faces before years of experience (and sun damage) have made their mark.  The clothing styles are always good for a laugh…nice OP shorts, Magnum!

#tbt posts provide a window into who we were, and the things we thought were important.  As we look at a #tbt photo, we know how things turn out for this “stranger” in the picture.  The person in that old photo has years of decisions to make, countless lessons to learn, and many hearts to touch.  Each #tbt post gives us a glimpse of potential yet to be fulfilled.

Look in the mirror.  You get to see your future #tbt photo every day.

What potential do you have that has yet to be fulfilled?  Whose hearts will you touch?  Will you make sound decisions?  What will you learn along the way?  None of us know for certain.

One thing is certain.  Many of the things that seem important today won’t be so important in twenty or thirty years.


Your humble writer, on his wedding day in July, 1988.

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

People will dictate the future. It won’t be a poll, the Internet, social media, or some secret government agency.


  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.

  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.

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

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

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

  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.

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

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

  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.

  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.

Everyday is a Surprise

It all started with an earache…

 “Bobby (what anyone who knew me before I was about 13 calls me), it all started with an earache.  The doctor gave me some ear drops.  The pain didn’t stop and seemed to get worse, so he gave me stronger drops.  That still didn’t work.  He ran some tests and told me it’s cancer, and I’m gonna die.  It was an earache, and then I was dying.  He says that I will probably just die in my sleep, so each time I wake up, it’s a surprise.”


In Pete’s case, it took about four months for the cancer specialists to identify the type of cancer that is killing him.  He told me the name, and said it is very rare, untreatable, and fast moving.  I made a mental note to look up the cancer and learn more about it.  As I type this post, I have forgotten its name.

The fact that each of us will die is no surprise.  The timing is the surprising part.  That, and the name of the thing that ultimately causes our death.  There’s always a name.

I remember a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde (my wife’s grandfather) at least ten years ago.  He was in his late-80’s at the time, showing me how to cook ribs properly on a barbeque.  I asked him what it was like to have lived as long as he had.  I will never forget his response.  “If you live long enough, you say goodbye to a lot of friends and family.  Most of the people I grew up with are dead and gone.  I stopped going to funerals a long time ago.  I spend my time making new friends, and enjoying this time I’ve been given with my family.”

Growing up, Pete was one of my role models for a life worth living.  A firefighter, motorcycle tuner, racer, helmet painter, wheelie king, runner, water skier, speeding ticket magnet, traveler, and a Bluegrass fan.  Although I never actually saw it, he used to say that he also jumped rope, attended three world fairs, and a few other things that are probably better left unmentioned.  Pete never stopped making new friends, or appreciating his old friends.  He grabbed all that life has to offer, and then some.


Pete wears a patch over his right eye now.  The tumor has grown and prevents that eye from blinking.  He is in a lot of pain, and the pain medications cloud the passage of time.  This hasn’t stopped Pete from grabbing what life has left for him.  He is living each remaining day as a surprise.

In truth, each day is a surprise for all of us.  An opportunity to appreciate our family and friends.  An opportunity to make new friends, and enjoy what little time we’ve been given.

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