What You Don’t Know Can Lead to Success

What if you didn’t know your limitations?

Cliff Young was a potato farmer in Australia.  That’s all he had ever done his whole life.  He worked the family farm, which was huge – about 2000 acres.  They also had about 2000 sheep on the farm.

Life with no limitsHis main job growing up was to herd the sheep.  Since they didn’t have sheepdogs, he had to do it himself.  So he would round up the sheep on foot – running – because it was just the easiest way.

Sometimes he ran constantly from dawn until dusk to get the job done.  On a number of occasions, he ran for 24 hours – all night long – to prove to himself that he could do it.

He knew he was good at running.  It was in his blood.  But one day, he heard about a race taking place in his area.  It was called an UltraMarathon, which covered 544 miles from Sydney to Melbourne.

He knew he could cover the distance, but he was really slow, and had an unusual way of running – almost loping or limping.  He had never even seen a professional race – but decided to try anyway.

The good news?  There were only 6 other participants in the race – but people who had been racing for years.

The bad news? He was 61 years old – decades older than the others.

On the day of the race, he showed up wearing overalls and rubber boots.  Everyone made fun of him.  But that’s what he had always worn to run, and that’s how he would run this race.

After the starting gun, he was immediately in last place.  But he managed to keep the other runners in sight.  As the first day progressed, they pulled away and he found himself running alone.

Jump to the finish line.  Five days, 15 hours and 4 minutes after he started, he finally crossed the finish line.  He was sure he was in last place.

But he was wrong.

He came in first place.  And he beat the other runners by two full days.

Later, he found out why.  Since he didn’t know anything about racing, he didn’t know you were supposed to stop and sleep at night.  So he kept running with that slow pace and awkward gait – and unknowingly shuffled past his faster, younger competitors — while they were sleeping.

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What would happen if we took our life challenges, watched how other people handled the same challenges — and did the opposite?

Speaker Jim Rohn used to say that we should find someone who had great success — but blew it.  Then offer them cash and say, “Here’s some money.  Please teach me everything you did to mess up your life so I can avoid doing it.”

I like that.

Watching others could be a great resource for moving in some real positive directions.

  • Everybody has areas in life that they struggle with, and they’re not finding success.  What if we did the opposite?
  • Everybody has dreams, but many have given up because those dreams seem too hard.  What if we did the opposite?
  • Everybody has a challenging relationship that’s important to them, but avoid communication.  What if we took the risk and did the opposite?

Here’s my thinking:

If we do what most people do, we’ll get the results that most people get.

If we do the opposite of what most people do, we might get the opposite of what most people get.

The late motivational speaker Earl Nightingale said, “If you want to be successful in life, simply watch what most people would do in a given situation, and then do the total opposite.  Nine times out of ten, you’ll receive greater rewards.”

Hmmm . . .

I’d love to know your thoughts.  How about if we try it for a couple of days — doing the opposite — and see how it goes?  Then we can bounce it around in the comments section, and learn from each other.  Send this to friends to get their input, too.

 

You Can’t Rush Change

When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a tiny, old cottage in Redondo Beach, California. We painted the house, put in a lawn, and planted flowers. The soil was rich and loamy, and everything we planted flourished.

We assumed it was because we were such good gardeners.

Two years later, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. We moved into a new home in the desert and assumed our gardening skills would transfer there. But the clay soil was like concrete. I had to buy a pick just to break up the ground enough to plant snapdragons (they died).

Our intentions were good, but we knew nothing about growing things in the desert.

We needed help.

“Citrus,” the nurseryman said, “grows great in Arizona.” So we bought an orange tree, a lemon tree, and a grapefruit tree. We dug the holes, added the mulch and nutrients, and planted the trees. We watered them and waited, anticipating the day when we would serve fresh-picked fruit to friends on our patio for breakfast.

The trees grew well, but there wasn’t any fruit. The same thing happened the next year. We had lush foliage but nothing to show for all our work. So we went back to the nursery for advice.

“Time,” the nurseryman said. “It can take three years for fruit to appear on newly planted citrus trees in Arizona.” That wasn’t the answer I was hoping for, but it gave me hope. That second year, we had one small orange, a couple of anorexic lemons, and one Texas-sized grapefruit. But the third year, the sweet smell of citrus blossoms gave way to dozens of fruit on each tree.

During those initial years, I really wanted the fruit and it was hard to wait. I could have gone to the grocery store and purchased a bag of oranges, a bag of lemons, some grapefruit, and a roll of tape, and just taped the fruit onto the trees. Then I could honestly say there was fruit on my trees.

But I would be rushing the end result, which would have defeated the purpose of the tree.

Trees aren’t supposed to display fruit; they’re supposed to produce it.

As much as I wanted to see results, I knew that I had to wait. The tree had to become healthy and mature before it could produce the fruit, and that takes time.

That’s true in our relationships as well. We would love to see people “shape up” and fix the problems in their lives right away. But it takes time for real change to take place, if it happens at all.

To keep from being emotionally trapped and frustrated by other people’s lack of progress, we need to accept the reality that growth and healing often take time.

Comedian Bob Newhart once did a classic routine where he played the part of a psychologist. Every time the woman in his office began describing her symptoms and phobias, Newhart would yell, “Stop it!” That was his solution to every problem: “Just stop it!”

We love watching that in a comedy routine, but it’s probably because we recognize that tendency in our own lives. We see someone trapped in a behavior that’s causing pain for themselves and everyone around them, and we think, “Why can’t they just see what they’re doing and STOP IT?”

But we also know from personal experience that it’s almost impossible to just stop something that has been a pattern in our lives for years. Once a pattern has taken root in our lives, it’s like yanking a fifty-year-old oak tree out of the ground. It’s possible, but it takes time and usually involves dealing with one root at a time.

Got someone in your life that bugs you, and you just wish they could get their act together?

Give ‘em time. Give ‘em grace.  Don’t let your happiness depend on them changing, because there’s a good chance it won’t happen.

Instead, work on changing the one person you have control over:

You.

Give yourself time. Give yourself grace.

Work on the inside, and the outside will take care of itself.

“And the Winner is . . . “

Wow.

I didn’t expect that many people to respond.

But I discovered that a lot of people are passionate about the books they read, and they want to share that passion with others.

Three weeks ago, I asked for your help. I read a ton of nonfiction books each year, but realized that I wasn’t applying a lot of it.  They were interesting, but it wasn’t changing my life.  So I decided to pick one book and read it twelve times – and I asked for your suggestions.

I got a few comments on the blog itself, a few through Twitter or Facebook, but most came through email or personal conversations. That tells me that I have a lot of introverts in my tribe who have great ideas, but prefer not to put them out there for the whole world to see.  That’s OK – I’m one of those.  I rarely leave comments, preferring to have a direct conversation.

I observed something interesting during this process:

I have two groups of readers: those who are more “”business-oriented, and those who are more “faith-oriented.” I started the blog originally as a way of staying in touch with people who have attended my seminars (which are usually in business settings) or read my books.  That’s the majority.  So we’re mostly talking about living an intentional life, no matter what the setting.

There are others who know me personally, and understand that my faith is my worldview that forms the foundation of my life. They can read between the lines and see the spiritual overtones.

Because of my primary audience, my purpose is to converse – not to convert. A blog is an opportunity to have real conversations with real people.

I believe that truth is truth, no matter where it comes from. That’s why I read widely, including both faith-based books and others on a variety of topics.

I suggest you do the same. Rich dialogue only comes when we converse with people who have different perspectives.  We don’t have to agree with everyone.  But as one person said, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”

So, I received a ton of recommendations from both perspectives. I wish I had room to list them all, but here are a few that stood out (I’ve added Amazon links if you want to see the descriptions):

The Bible was the most suggested book. I read through that one last year.  Great choice.  I know the author.  Highly recommended.

The Compound Effect (Darren Hardy) was also mentioned often. I had already been considering that one, because I’ve read it in the past and was impacted by its message – the choices we make have a compounding effect over time, and direct the entire course of our life.  A very practical choice from Hardy, the former publisher of Success Magazine.

Rising Strong was mentioned several times. Brene Brown wrote the bestselling Daring Greatly, and her TED talk is in the top 10 based on millions of views.  Watch her talk to see if it might be a fit.

I found it interesting that most of the secular books recommended had more to do with character than performance – an inside-out approach to living. Those included Credibility by Kouzes, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey.

The top suggestions for faith-based books included Left to Tell by Imaculee Ilibiganza (based on the Rwandan Holocaust), The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (I love C.S. Lewis) and the biblical book of Proverbs (a great choice, because it has 31 chapters – one for each day of the month).

An interesting crossover choice was Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year Old Company that Changed the World (business principles learned from the Jesuits).

So, which one did I pick?

I mentioned my friend Craig in the earlier blog, and how he reads about 60 books a year. I asked him if he could share his top recommendations.

His response gave me a new perspective on recommending books. He said that when someone recommends a book, it’s because the book spoke to them in their current situation so strongly that it had an emotional impact on them.  It touched them, and they want other people to have that same experience.

But everyone is at a different place. A book that impacts me deeply might be great, but it won’t have the same effect on you if you’re at a different place.  Maybe in six months, it will apply.  But we’re all looking for help with our current situation.

The book recommendations of others narrows the field for us. Then we need to pick what’s appropriate from there.

So I’ve actually made a list of all of your recommendations, and will probably be reading through all of them over time. I’m grateful to have your input, and that you took the time to make those suggestions.  That’ll be the basis for my reading list.

51i0QG0W8KL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The one book I’ve landed on for myself for this year, based on where I am in my life, is Primary Greatness: The 12 Levers of Success by the late Stephen R. Covey.

Here’s why I picked it:

Dr. Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which is one of the courses I teach in various organizations). After his death, his family and colleagues found some of his original writings and notes that he used in preparation for writing the 7 Habits back in the mid-80’s, but they were never published.  So they collected his thoughts and put them together in this book.

Dr. Covey believed that there were only two ways to live: a life of primary greatness or a life of secondary greatness. The rewards of primary greatness – integrity, responsibility and meaningful contribution – far outweigh the superficial rewards of secondary greatness – money, popularity, and the self-absorbed, pleasure-ridden life that some people consider “success.”

Seems like that would be some interesting food for thought – and discussion. It’s that “inside-out” approach to living a life of integrity.

I’ll spend time on it this year, and write occasionally about what I’m learning. Will it be an awesome read? I don’t know, but I’m going to give it a shot.  You can join me if you’d like – or just stay tuned for insights over the rest of the year.  (I picked up the hardback edition so I could focus differently than other books.)

So, thanks for your help. If you pick a book to focus on this year, I’d love to know what it is – and what you learn during the process.  I so appreciate the conversations we’re able to have, and what I learn from you.

Let’s get started!

Do you have a book you’re going to focus on this year?  Share your choice in the comments below . . .


The Marriage Investment

I sat in the front row last Saturday at my son’s wedding.  Tim and Lucy stood before us, promising to love each other no matter what.

Lucy’s parents sat across from us on the other side.  I wondered what was going through their minds as they gave their daughter to this young man.  I couldn’t ask because of the language barrier.

But I could see in their eyes the trust they had built in Tim during a six-year, long-distance courtship.

He had flown to Guadalajara to ask for their permission to marry her.  It’s not common for a 33-year old man to do that, but he wanted to do it right.  He respected them enough to ask.

As I looked across the courtyard at her dad, I’m pretty sure I knew what he was feeling.

It was the same feeling I had years ago when Brian asked me if he could marry my daughter.

Wedding silhouetteWhen Brian took me out for coffee, I knew it was coming.  We sat outdoors on metal chairs next to the noisy parking lot, and he talked more than usual.  He played with his coffee cup, but didn’t drink anything – so I knew he was nervous.  It was a warm evening, but I sensed that he was sweating more than I was.

I loved that boy.  Still do.  And I’ll have to admit, it was fun watching him squirm a bit.

Finally he asked.

I don’t remember exactly how he asked, but I remember how I responded.

“Brian,” I said, “I just want you to know what you’re asking for.”

He got really quiet.

“Let’s say I started investing my money.  I studied how it worked, and learned about the market.  I invested a little bit every day, and was always careful to make the wisest investments possible.  I kept track of my portfolio, and kept adding to it for the next 20 years or so.  I wanted to get the greatest possible return on my investment, so I followed it carefully.  The economy would go up and down, and I never knew what would happen – but I made adjustments during those times to make sure it would pay off.”

I continued: “And let’s say it worked.  After all that time, my portfolio had grown to be worth a fortune.  The value to me was great, because I had put so much energy into it.  I had become wealthy.”

Brian kept listening, and wasn’t playing with his cup anymore.

“Now, you come along and say, “Hey!  I really like what you’ve done with your money.  Can I have it?  I’ll take good care of it!”

I asked, “What do you think I’d be feeling?”

He knew where this was going.  He said, “You’d have to really trust me enough to handle it, and care about me enough to give it away.”

“Exactly,” I responded.

“I don’t have that kind of financial portfolio.  I’m not wealthy.  But I’m rich, because I’ve invested in my daughter for two decades.  The payoff has been huge.  She’s my portfolio, and she’s worth more to me than you can imagine.”

“That’s what you’re asking for.  You’re not just marrying my daughter because you love her.  You’re asking me to trust you with my investment and hand it over to you.”

We talked for a while longer.

I said “yes.”  Brian started breathing again.

Almost fourteen years later, I’ve seen that it was my best investment move ever.

That’s what I saw in the eyes of Lucy’s dad last weekend.  He’s poured his life into his daughter, and he’s rich because of it.  Now, he’s trusting my son to manage his portfolio.

It won’t be perfect.  It won’t be easy.  But my son is a good manager of emotional investments.  This is the first time he’s had a chance to use those investing skills in a marriage relationship.  He and Lucy will work on that portfolio together.

He’s keenly aware of the value he’s been trusted with.  And he’s shown himself to be trustworthy.

It’s a reminder to me of the portfolio I was given 37 years ago by my father-in-law.  He trusted me, and I’ve worked hard on his investment.

When the payoff comes, everyone wins.

I love this type of investing.

How’s your portfolio?

Is it Better to be “Nice” or “Kind?”

“Do you want to get to the end of your life and have people just say, “He was NICE?” the speaker said.  “Is that what you want on your tombstone?”

“NO!” he continued.  “You want to make a difference!  You need to be strong and confident!  You want to be forceful about making change! You don’t want to just be NICE!”

I was probably about 10 years old at the time.  But I remember thinking, “What’s so bad about nice?”

Even at that young age, I had met a lot of forceful, confident people.  I admired them, but I wasn’t drawn to them.

The people I looked up to the most were nice.

My dad was nice.

I wanted to be like my dad.

Drinking fountainAs the years passed, I realized that you could still make a difference and be nice.  In fact, it was one of the most powerful ways.  The most influential people I knew were some of the nicest people.

But I also realized that it went further than that.  “Nice” was a foundation, but there’s a deeper dimension.  It had to turn into “kind” before it started making a difference.

Some people get stuck at “nice.”  They focus mostly on getting people to like them, trying to get validation from others.  They don’t express negative emotions, because people might not think they’re “nice” anymore.  It’s a needy, self-focused perspective that focuses on how they come across to others.

They want to make sure people like them.

“Kind” comes from confidence, giving to others just because they care – not because of what they get in return.  They don’t stuff their feelings, because they want to be real with others.  They’re not afraid to tackle the tough issues that lead others to become their best selves.

Kind people are nice, but nice people aren’t always kind.

Last year I had surgery for a hernia.  I was still experiencing severe pain after a few weeks, so I told the surgeon – who was a very nice man

He said, “Well, of course it hurts.  I knocked you out and cut you with a knife.  You think that’s not going to hurt?  And you paid me a lot of money to do it!”

He cut me because it would heal me.  That’s kindness.

Niceness wouldn’t make the cut.

My dad was nice.  But he was also kind.  He was always uncomfortable when he had to steer me in better directions, and didn’t do it very often.  But he did it anyway – and always in the nicest way possible.

Everybody’s going through something tough. Niceness is pleasant, but kindness helps them get through it.

Be nice to them.  Really nice.

But not at the expense of being kind.

“Nice” gets people to like you.  “Kind” makes a difference.

Are You Addicted to Technology?

I love technology.  I’m not a techie, but I love all the cool things technology brings into our lives.  It makes our lives easier, and opens up the world to us in ways we never could have imagined 20 years ago.

Because technology is never-endingly cool, it’s exciting to spend more time with it.  Five more minutes surfing the web can bring us more coolness.

But it’s also easy to get trapped. 

Here’s the thing: Technology is supposed to be a tool. A tool helps us do something better than we can do it ourselves.  If we’re going to work and live in this world, we need to understand how to use it well.

Sometimes, it’s a tool for work.  Other times, it’s a tool for our personal lives.  It can also be a legitimate tool for entertainment and relaxation.

The problem comes when that tool gets in the way of other important things – like relationships.

We’ve all experienced it:

– Using phones or technology at the dinner table.

– Having more screen time than face time.

– Texting but never talking.

– Having to fight for someone’s attention, and they’re irritated that you’ve interrupted them.

– Being accessible to one’s employer 24/7.

– Keeping your phone next to your bed, and checking it when you’re awake for a couple of minutes in the night.

Phone sunsetSo, is it possible to become addicted to technology?

I don’t want to make technology the bad guy.  It can be a great guy.  But when it moves beyond being a tool, it’s time to evaluate.

If you want to see if you’re addicted, try turning your phone off during your lunch hour and see how you feel.  Try shutting it off when you come home at night for the whole evening and see what happens to your nerves.

A lot of people go through three stages with their technology:

1.   They use it a lot and it takes over their life.

2.   They realize it’s damaging their relationships, so they teach themselves to ignore it when other people are around. 

3.   Even though they’ve mastered #2, they turn to their technology anytime they’re alone and have a spare moment.

Sound familiar?  #3 is like a smoker who finds himself constantly reaching for a pack of cigarettes.  It becomes a default setting, where they do it without thinking.  They’re also doing it when no one is watching.

The solution? Well, that’s a tough one.  I don’t know if technology can be a full-fledged addiction.  But if it has those characteristics, it’s like any addiction.  It’s tough to just say, “OK, I won’t do it anymore.”

We’ll explore some options in the future.  But for now, here’s a goal to shoot for:

Our Goal is to always use technology as a conscious choice, not as a reflex.

Try being intentional today.  Every time you want to look at your technology, stop and ask yourself, “Why?” 

It’ll help you discover if you’re controlling your technology, or if your technology is controlling you.

A Case for Wrinkles

A young boy is watching his grandma at the bathroom sink, getting ready for the day.  “What’s that goop you’re putting on your face, Gramma?” he says.

“Wrinkle cream,” she replies.

“Wrinkle cream?”  He studies her face carefully in the mirror.  “Wow – that stuff really works.”

Probably not the perspective she was hoping for.  But it makes sense.  From a kid’s point of view, the only people they see using wrinkle cream are people with wrinkles.

As people age, their skin tends to . . . well, ‘relax.’  In a society that’s obsessed with looking young, that’s a problem.  Having wrinkles makes it obvious that we’re not as young as we used to be.  So people try to get rid of the wrinkles.

If we believe that people have less value as they get older, it makes sense to try to hang on to looking young.

But what if we saw those wrinkles accurately?  What if we focused on the truth about wrinkles?

Wrinkled dogWrinkles means someone has a lifetime of experience. 

It means they have stories to tell, if we’ll just listen. 

It means we could avoid a lot of pain by observing the path they’ve taken, the mistakes they’ve made and the wisdom they’ve gained.

That doesn’t mean they’re always right, or that we need to do exactly what they say. It just means they’ve walked the same road we’re on, and are a little further ahead.  They know the potholes and hazards they encountered, and are usually willing to point them out. 

We won’t follow exactly in their footsteps, because we’re not them. 

But we can learn from their journey.

Who do you know that has wrinkles?  What could they bring into your life?

Pick someone.  Sit with them.  Look them in the eyes and listen to their heart.

And if you’re the one with wrinkles – congratulations.  You have the opportunity to leave a legacy.

 

 

How To Steal $80,000

Several years ago, I did some consulting for a large metropolitan gas utility.  We were talking about how tiny, little choices lead to huge results.

It didn’t take long for this group to get the concept, because they had just gone through a real-life example in their own company.

Once upon a time, there was a computer guy in the IT department.  His job was behind the scenes, working with software and writing programs. In fact it was so behind the scenes, nobody ever thought to check up on what he was doing.

He wasn’t really a dishonest person – just unappreciated.  That led to him feeling like a cog in a wheel – just doing a job that nobody noticed.

One of the programs he developed took the payments that were sent in by residents of the area and applied them to their accounts.

But he noticed that when the billing was done, the exact charges often ended with a fraction of a penny (rather than a whole number).  So if the calculations said that they owed $38.45-1/2 cents, the computer rounded it up to 46 cents.  So, the company got an extra half-cent on the bills of hundreds of thousands of customers each month.

That didn’t seem fair.  Why should the gas company get the profit instead of the public?

Pile of penniesSo he tweaked the program so that instead of the company getting that fraction of a cent, it would be diverted into a hidden account that only he had access to.  The money was now his.

The company got exactly what they should from the customer, so he rationalized that he wasn’t stealing from the company.  The customers never asked for their fraction of a cent, so there was no sense giving it to them. The program pretty much ran itself, and there were no safeguards to keep it from happening.

It was foolproof.  Nobody could find out, since he was in charge of the program.

The mistake he made was bragging about it to a trusted friend, who in turn reported him.

I don’t know how long he carried out his project.  But at the time of his arrest, his hidden account was valued at $80,000.

I think there’s a lot we can learn from that (other than not stealing from the gas company):

– Tiny choices, repeated often, yield huge results.

– Bad little choices turn into bad big habits.

– Good little choices turn into good big habits.

– Want to accomplish something huge? Take tiny steps and never stop.

– Want to avoid major pain in your life? Tiny choices count, so choose wisely with each one.

We are what we do repeatedly and over time.

Every choice counts.

Every day.

What choices will you make today that will shape your future?

Advice From 100-Year Olds

Most people don’t value the elderly as much as other cultures.  We’re too busy trying to make ends meet and get ahead, so we don’t have (or take) the time to glean the richness that comes from those who have lived a lot longer.

That’s unfortunate.  Older people are filled with life experiences. They’ve been where we want to go, and know the route and the potholes to avoid.  If we don’t ask, we miss out.

We end up making avoidable mistakes.

Several publications have interviewed people that have made it to 100, then captured their advice.  Here are some gems:

Happy old“Don’t look at the calendar.  Just keep celebrating every day.”

“Vitamins? Forget it. And I don’t encourage going to a lot of doctors, either.” (said by a doctor)

“Make time to cry.”

“Travel – don’t worry about the money, just make it work.  Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be.”

“Do one thing each day that is just for you.”

“Choose the right parents.”

“I drink the faucet water.”

“Be satisfied.  You don’t have to be happy all the time, you need to be satisfied.”

“Love people. Find something to like about the person – it’s there – because we’re all just people.”

“Don’t give up and die just because you feel like it.”

“Be positive.  When you think negatively, you’re putting poison on your body.”

“There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65.”

“When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure . . . I think music and animal therapy can help more than most doctors imagine.”

“Take the stairs and carry your own stuff.”

“Find a role model and strive to achieve more than they could ever do.”

“Pay off your mortgage.  Then never get into debt again. Ever.”

“Listen. You learn a lot more listening to others than telling them what you know.”

“Never run out of responsibility.”

Next time you’re with an older person, slow down and listen.  Make eye contact.  Hear their heart – it might change yours.

Good advice? Comment below . . .

 

An Original is More Valuable Than a Copy

When Michael Jordan was at the top of his basketball career, every young boy in America wanted to “be like Mike.”  They would practice his shots, floating down driveways across the country to make the classic dunk shot seemed so effortless.

It’s a great way to start.  Whenever we learn something new, it’s good to watch somebody who’s doing it and learn the basics.

But at some point, it becomes a detriment.

Only one person in the world can play like Michael Jordan:

Michael Jordan.

Only one person in the world can be you:

You.

MJShaquille O’Neill never tried to play basketball like Michael Jordan.  If he did, he would have failed.  He needed to be the best Shaq he could be.  If he tried to copy anybody else, he would rob the world of the unique contribution that only he could make.

That’s true for you as well.

There’s only one of you. 

Anytime you compare your skill, talent, personality, looks or technique with someone else, you tend to end up on the losing end.  You watch somebody’s success and assume that if you’re going to be successful, you need to do it like them.

Stop it.

It’s the key to failure and frustration.

John Ortberg, author of “The Me I Want To Be,” says that we do ourselves and others a disservice when we try to be like someone else.  He suggests the need to become “youier” – more like ourselves and less like others.

As John Mason said, “You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.”

You are a gift to the rest of us – just the way you are. 

Originals have more value than copies.

So do you.

Pond Scum

I’ve written before about the park behind my house – one of my favorite places in California.  It’s where I walk my Schnauzer on the days I’m not traveling.  Winding streams feed into a central lake that empties into more winding streams.  It’s beautiful, and a great place for refreshment when life gets crazy.

There’s fish.  There are squirrels. There is every imaginable kind of bird, flitting among every imaginable kind of tree.

And there’s pond scum.

Not all the time.  But fairly often.

Pond scumIt’s a green, foamy sludge that floats on the surface of the lake.  It’s only in one spot – about the first ten feet from the shoreline next to a road.  There’s a stream that enters right there.  But it enters through an inlet that goes under the road.  That means the stream comes in at the bottom of the lake rather than the top.

That means the water doesn’t get stirred up from the stream’s movement.  It’s quiet and still.

And it grows pond scum.

I did a little online research to find out about pond scum.  It forms when still water is warmed by direct sunlight.  It’s the perfect storm for growing green stuff.

The green stuff isn’t all bad.  In fact, there’s some serious talk in government circles about using it as fuel.  Seriously.

But it doesn’t look nice.  It could ruin my walk if I let it.  A beautiful landscape, tainted with pond scum.

I’ve learned a simple truth about life from observing pond scum:

Scum grows in my life when I’m disengaged and still, and spend too much time being warm and comfortable.

I’m not talking about relaxation.  I’m all for “restoring my soul” as often as possible. 

But when I disengage and lose a sense of purpose, I get too “still.”  If I forget that I was designed to “make a difference” and lose my focus, I stop moving.  When I stay in my comfort zone too long, it becomes all about me instead of others.

And I start growing scum.  I lose my keen edge.  I don’t make an impact. 

We’re made to move.  We need times of rest, but as a means rather than an end.  We can make a significant difference in the lives of others if we stay engaged.

Catch your breath today.  Refresh.  Restore.

Then start moving.  Impact the world, one life at a time.

It’s time to commit to a scum-free life.

Agreed?

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Need Mr. T

Years ago, I bought a portable GPS system to put in my car.  I loved the idea: Put in the address where you want to end up, and the GPS will tell you how to get there – turn by turn.

It wasn’t very sophisticated back then, but it worked.

The best part was that the one I bought provided two weeks of free celebrity voices.  Instead of listening to someone that sounded like my 7th grade algebra teacher saying, “Turn right in 400 feet,” I could pick someone I was familiar with from TV or movies. 

I picked Mr. T.

Mr. TIt was a little unnerving at first – but it was awesome.

I’d make a wrong turn, and he would shout, “HEY! TURN AROUND, FOOL!”

If I didn’t get back on course soon enough, he would say, “I PITY YOU, FOOL, IF YOU DON’T DO WHAT I SAY.”

I knew it was only a recorded voice.  But somehow, I found myself doing exactly what he said because I didn’t want him to be upset with me.

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone like Mr. T in our personal life?

We set goals, and commit ourselves to great purposes. We want to make an impact on the world.  We want to make a difference.

But we get distracted.

Imagine what it would be like if Mr. T showed up every time we lost our focus:

We want to move ahead in our career:

“What’cha doin’ watching that stupid show?  Turn off that TV, Fool – and read something to make yourself better.”

We want to lose weight:

“Get your hand off that refrigerator door – NOW!  Drop and give me 20 . . . “

We want to rebuild a strained relationship:

Why you talking ABOUT them to some other fool?  Go talk TO them.”

We want to get out of debt:

“Calvin Klein doesn’t wear clothes with your name on it – why should you wear their name?”

People loved Mr. T because he was a “straight-shooter.”  He never allowed excuses.  He might frighten them, but they knew he was telling the truth.  They also knew he wasn’t being mean; they knew he did it because he cared.

So let’s try it today.  Whenever we find ourselves feeling out of control, or distracted from our goals, or wavering on our commitments – let’s ask ourselves this question:

What would Mr. T say?

We already know the answer. 

We just have to face up to the truth.

Ready for a new voice in your personal GPS?

How To Fake Character

My wife, Diane and I spent 11 years living in Arizona.  Our first little house was brand new, and we had to do the landscaping ourselves.  So we headed to the nursery for advice.

“Citrus,” the nurseryman said.  “Grows great in Arizona.

So we bought an orange tree.

Orange treeWe planted it, watered it, and waited.  It began to grow, and new leaves appeared.  The tree became lush with greenery.

But no fruit.

The second year, the tree grew bigger.  The leaves grew lusher.

But no fruit.

We really wanted oranges – that’s why we planted the tree.  So we went back to the nursery for advice.

“Time,” the nurseryman said.  “Takes three years for fruit to appear on a citrus tree in Arizona after it’s been planted.  Make sure you fertilize it well and water it in the meantime.”

OK, that was disappointing.  We really wanted fruit, and we didn’t want to wait another year.

If we wanted fruit on the tree, we had two options:

1.  We could go to the grocery store and buy a bag of oranges and a roll of Scotch tape.  Then we could tape the fruit onto the tree.  We could legitimately say, “There’s fruit on our tree.”

2.  We could fertilize the tree, water it properly and prune it, making sure that it was healthy.  As a result, the fruit would appear automatically – when it was ready.

There are two parts to the tree – what’s above ground (the part that we see), and what’s below ground (the part we don’t see).  What happens below ground determines what happens above ground.

That’s true with people as well.  We want people to think highly of us, seeing us as people of high character and integrity.  We want to be seen as someone who really cares.

So there are two ways to do that:

1.  We can do the things high-character, caring people do – hoping that people will think we have high character.  (That’s like taping oranges onto a tree).

2.  We could work on our character in the dark, where nobody sees.  We can become people of true character, on the inside. Over time, that character will begin to blossom and bloom on the outside.

Years ago, the Zenith television had the motto, “The quality goes in before the name goes on.”

Love it.

We can’t fake character.  If we’re unhealthy on the inside, it’ll begin to show on the outside over time.  Plus, it’s an awful lot of work.

Real character is an inside job.  If done well, people will see it on the outside.

And we’ll save money on Scotch tape.

Agree?  Leave a comment . . .

 

 

The Myth of Self-Help Books

I’m a sucker for self-help books.

It’s my favorite section at Barnes & Noble.  Maybe it’s because they all promise solutions to everything I struggle with.  Fitness, relationships, communication, success – according to the titles, everything I need is right there.

I shouldn’t complain – that’s usually the section where my books are found.

But there sure are a lot of them.

That leads to some logical question:

  • If the self-help books worked, why are there so many of them on the same topic?
  • If one worked, would we need others?

Asleep in bookstoreEvidently, people buy a book because of the promise on the cover.  But when it doesn’t work, they’ll try the next one.  And the next – and the next.

Even if those books don’t work, we keep buying them like lottery tickets, hoping the next one will be a big winner.

If the self-help books on weight-loss worked, everybody who bought those books would be skinny.  If the self-help books on marriage worked, everybody who bought those books would stay married.

But what if the problem isn’t the books?

What if the problem is the reader?

The problem is that we’re an independent bunch, us humans.  We want quick solutions, and we want to do it ourselves.  We don’t want to admit that we need assistance; we’re proud.

Thus, the rise of “self-help” books.

There’s a problem: We’re designed to need others.

I don’t know everything, and don’t have all the answers or resources.  Neither do you.  But I know a few things that you don’t.  You know a few things that I don’t.  When we work together, we get stronger by drawing from each other.

We need more human moments, where we look each other in the eye and do life together.

Haven’t you ever been totally bummed out about something, and you feel stuck in your emotions?  Then you have a conversation with someone else who’s been struggling.  All you say is, “Wow – I’m so stressed.”  The other person says, “Yeah, me too.”

And you both feel better.

Maybe we should swallow our pride and ask for help.  That’s tough for me – and I’m guessing it’s tough for you, too.

But when two people work together, the results aren’t doubled.  They’re multiplied.

What if, instead of buying self-help books to help ourselves, we used them as a curriculum for growing with others?

Barnes & Noble should change the name of the section from “Self-Help” to “Together-Help.”  Or something like that.  While there’s value in independence, there’s much greater value in interdependence.

So, should we buy self-help books?  Absolutely (especially mine . . . )

But we can’t view them as “the answer.”  We need to see them as a “resource.”

Maybe we need more “help” and less “self.”

If we want to change our lives, let’s do it together.

Have you had a time when “together” worked better than “alone?” Comment below . . .

A Perspective On National Pain

A bomb explodes.  Then another.  People die.  Others are injured.

And the nation is riveted to their televisions for non-stop coverage of the tragedy.

People die every day for all the wrong reasons.  Drunk drivers veer into someone’s path; family violence kills children; poor decisions take innocent lives.

But when it happens at a historic event like the Boston Marathon, it captures our hearts in a different way.

We don’t know the victims, but it somehow feels personal.

There’s a dissonance between an event that celebrates at the starting line, and grieves at the finish line.

We might be thousands of miles away, but we feel violated.

We need perspective.  And surprisingly, I found that perspective on the evening news.

Boston Marathod helpersIt’s natural to focus on the person(s) who could commit such a crime, realizing the impact that person has on a nation.  It’s true.  We see what that one person did.

But watch the video again of the moment of the blast, and we see another perspective.  One person might have set off the bomb, but the video shows hundreds of people turning around and rushing to help.

Volunteers, doctors, ordinary people and strangers all ran to help.  People around the city looked for ways to bring comfort to people they’ve never met.  Social media became a network for opening homes for strangers, and restaurants offered meals to locals for “pay if you can.”   The media showed stories of people around the country offering prayers and support for the victims and their families.

One person sets a bomb, then goes into hiding.

That’s what cowards do.

Thousands of people respond, rushing to help.

That’s what heroes do.

One vs. thousands.

That’s perspective. 

How To Become a Great Follower

I was wandering through a bookstore the other day, noticing which sections were the largest.  There were tons of books about finances, computer programs, self-help and business.

Penguin leadership

I assumed that these sections were large because people were buying those kinds of books.  Bookstores don’t try to dictate people’s tastes; they find out what those tastes are, then satisfy the need.

Penguin leadershipOne of the biggest sections was about leadership.

I looked through shelf after shelf of leadership books, and realized how much great stuff has been written about how to become a world-class leader.  “If you have influence, you’re a leader,” the book jackets stated.

So the implication is that we all need to become leaders.

The problem with that message is that if we don’t strive to become a leader, we must be settling for average.

We’re mediocre.

We’re a non-leader.

But is non-leadership always a bad thing?  If everyone were a leader, there wouldn’t be anyone to lead.

What about becoming a world-class follower?

I’m thinking that if people became effective followers, the leaders would be much more effective.  They wouldn’t have to spend so much time managing, so they would have more time to lead.

So, what does it take to be a world-class follower?

  • Become a student of your leader.  Learn how they think, where their strengths and passion are, and what they want and need from you.
  • Encourage your leader.  Never flatter them – but catch them doing something right and acknowledge their success.
  • Keep your leader informed before they ask, whether the news is good or bad.  Admit mistakes immediately, bring bad news as soon as it happens, and keep them posted on everything going on.  Information you provide before it’s asked for has more credibility than afterwards.
  • Be loyal to your leader behind their back.  Never go over their head to their boss unless it’s praise.
  • Do what you promise, no matter how small.  Your leader needs to know they can count on you, and little oversights don’t go unnoticed.  Consistency builds trust.
  • Be there for support when they go through tough times.  They’re human.
  • See them as a mentor – learn from them.  Read the books they read so you can have common ground for interaction.
  • Take initiative.  Don’t wait to be told what to do; anticipate what is needed and do it.
  • Provide solutions along with problems.

It seems like these suggestions apply, not just to followers, but to leaders as well.  Great followers might not become leaders, but there are no great leaders who are not great followers.

How would you apply these principles in your job?  Your marriage? Your family? Your church?

Growing Marijuana By Accident

Recently, I wrote about growing popcorn in our driveway at our little house in Redondo Beach, California. An accidental spill of kernels turned into a mini-crop of popcorn stalks.  Somehow, those kernels took root in the worst possible dirt.

That’s not all we grew at that house by accident:

We grew marijuana.

I never did drugs, so I was pretty naïve.  When this interesting young plant sprouted in the side yard of our house, I was impressed.  I didn’t know what it was, but it grew quickly.  So I took really good care of it – watering it and fertilizing it just like all the flowers and shrubs in our yard.

It was a pretty little plant – bright green serrated leaves that looked like someone’s fingers spread from their palm.  It had an interesting scent, too – different from the other plants in our yard.

It grew really well.  Soon, it was one of the nicest-looking shrubs in our landscape.

Makes a gardener proud . . .

Sometime later, we had friends over for dinner.  They were people from our church – good friends that we would often hang out with.

One of them was a cop.

We had worked hard on our house, and were proud of our landscaping.  So we took them on a tour.

We showed them the popcorn. We showed them the flowers and shrubs.  We told stories of tearing up the lawn, adding sprinklers and perfecting the thick, lush lawn they were standing on.

Then we took them around to the side yard to continue the tour.

“So, what’cha got here?” our policeman friend said as he approached our accidental plant.

“I don’t know – but it’s really pretty, isn’t it?”

“Yep.  Real pretty.  Did you plant it?” he said.

“No, it just sprouted one day.  It looked cool, so I’ve been taking care of it.”

“You know,” he said, “maybe it would be better if you didn’t take such good care of it.”

“Why not?”

“It’s pot.”

Marijuana plantHe did a little research, and found out that the neighbor had been busted a few months earlier.  The yard was absolutely full of the illegal plant.  Authorities cleared his yard, but some seeds were still in the ground.

We thought we were great gardeners.  Everything we planted grew well; even the things that grew accidently grew well.  Just like the popcorn, the marijuana just appeared.  We hadn’t questioned it; we just assumed it was OK with the rest of the plants.

A lot of things “just appear” in our lives. A lot of them are thoughts, habits or attitudes that we didn’t plant.  The people around us had a yard full of them, and they snuck in when we weren’t looking.  We assumed they were harmless, so we let them stay – and watered and nurtured them.

Over time, they’ve grown into full-grown plants.

They look pretty. But they’re dangerous – and damaging our lives.

They need to go.

We need to quit watering them.  We need to dig them out.

The only way we can grow is by focusing on the things that help us thrive, while intentionally eliminating the things that hold us back.

What’s in your garden?

 

Ingredients for Life

“Five years from now, you will pretty much be the same as you are today except for two things: the books you read and the people you get close to.” (Quote from the late motivational speaker, Charlie Tremendous Jones)

Fried doughnuts

I’m not sure how instrumental that quote was in developing my perspective about life.  But hearing quotes like that while growing up shaped my current love of reading and conversation.

I think it goes like this:

  • We become what we think about.
  • What we think about comes from our inputs.
  • Our inputs come through our senses – especially what we hear and what we watch.
  • We can choose what we hear and watch.

Hmmm . . .

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, the ingredients that form my thoughts are:

  • The conversations I have
  • The things I read
  • The things I watch

The logical conclusion?

If I want to be better than I am, I need to be choosy about those ingredients.

There are a lot of things trying to get my attention.  Advertisers yell at me from billboards when I’m driving.  They interrupt storylines of my favorite shows with commercials I didn’t request.  They talk to me through little screens at the gas pump, trying to convince me that I need their credit card.

Hundreds of thousands of new books are published every year.  My inbox is filled with requests from people who want something from me.  Flyers are tossed onto my doorstep, stuck under my windshield or handed to me in a crowd, trying to find creative ways to get me to look.

They’re not all bad.  In fact, there are great things to read, watch and observe.

But there are too many to choose from.  I simply can’t take them all in.

If I’m not intentional about those inputs, I’ll end up selecting the shiny ones.

And those ingredients will begin to shape my thinking – which will shape my life.

You can’t prepare a healthy snack if the only ingredients you have in your cupboards are sugar, butter and chocolate.  It might be a tasty snack, but not a healthy one.  I need different ingredients to get different results.

So, how do I sort through the inputs to make sure I get the best ones?

  1. I need to determine who I want to be.
  2. Then I need to determine what ingredients will get me there.
  3. Then I need to intentionally select the best ingredients.

Mound of butterHigh-quality ingredients produce high-quality results.

Good-ingredients produce good-quality results.

Low-quality ingredients produce low-quality results.

It doesn’t happen any other way.

 

If I want a high-quality life, I need to be more choosy about my choosing.

You, too?

 

Better Than New Year’s Resolutions

January 17.

Willpower around cookies

That’s the most common day for people to give up their New Year’s resolutions.

January 1 feels like a new start.  We think, “OK, this year is going to be different.  I’ll lose weight, save money, spend time with my family, watch less TV . . . “

We’re motivated.  We’re working from a clean slate.

It’s easy to make that list of resolutions.  All we have to do is grab last year’s list and dust it off.  It’s the same one we’ve had for years, so it’s still fresh.

The dictionary says that a “resolution” is “a serious decision to do something.”  That sounds easy enough.

All it takes is willpower, right?

Willpower around cookiesSo we do well for a few days.  Then it gets tough, but we hang in there.  Then we slip a little – then a little more.  We beat ourselves up for slipping — and finally, on January 17, we give up.

Here’s the problem: Willpower is limited.

According to research, it’s like we have a “willpower” tank.  When it’s full, we can resist temptation.  But when it’s empty, we can’t.  That’s why we resist the box of doughnuts someone brought into work all day, then stop at Baskin-Robbins on the way home.

In Dan and Chip Heath’s book “Switch,” they use the analogy of riding an elephant.  The rider represents logic, making specific decisions about where he wants to go.

But the elephant represents emotions.  The rider might be able to yank on the reins and move the elephant by logic for a while, but he soon becomes tired from the effort.  Then the elephant simply goes wherever he wants.

Most of the time, the elephant trumps the rider – emotions trump logic. For us, the only time the rider wins is when we have a crystal-clear picture of who we want to be and make conscious, deliberate choices in that direction.

So, what if, instead of making resolutions, we carefully thought through this one question:

What one thing could I do this year — that I’m not doing now – that would make the biggest difference in my life?

The answer would help us make decisions throughout the year.  That “one thing” would be so impactful, that we can clearly see the value of achieving it.

It takes more than a casual response like “get in shape.” (There are lots of shapes . . .)  It needs to be carefully crafted – something that’s specific, measurable and motivating.

A better answer might be, “I want to walk 1,000 miles by December 31, 2013.”  That’s about three miles each day.  So we would make a chart and put it in a place we would see it daily and mark off the miles.

If we normally watch two hours of television each night, we realize that by skipping one program, we could knock out three miles.  Or we could make a commitment to only watch TV while walking on a treadmill.

A year from now, a lot of stuff will be unchanged (probably the things we were going to make resolutions about).

But how would you – and your world – be different if this one thing came to pass?

It could genuinely give us a “new” year – instead of another edition of the “old” one.

So, what one thing would make the greatest difference for you?

Getting Used To the Train

I had a friend once who bought a house in Torrance, CA with a railroad track literally outside his back fence.  The train would come barreling through about 5 or 6 times each night — and for the first few months, he barely slept (but realized why the house was so cheap).  But within about 6 months, he didn’t even notice it.

Train close to house

He’d have friends over for dinner, and they would ask, “How can you stand it?”

He’d say, “Stand what?”

Every time we’ve purchased a house over the years, we did a walk-through before signing the final paperwork.  We see so many things that are wrong that we’re committed to changing:

  • “That baseboard is so dated – we need to replace that right away.”
  • “Those hinges are rusty – they have to go.”
  • “The garage door opener barely works – it could be dangerous, so we need to replace it.”

We move in, and it takes forever to get settled.  Then we have to go back to work, and life takes over. All those things we were so anxious to take care of don’t seem quite as pressing anymore, and soon we forget about them.

They’re still there.  But we’ve gotten used to them.  We don’t notice them anymore.

Train close to houseThat happens in life, too.

We have those inspirational times when we’re excited about a new direction in our life, and we’re committed to making changes.  Maybe it was a book we read, a sermon we heard, or a conversation that motivated us.  Maybe it was a specific event, like a significant birthday or New Year’s Eve where we’re ready to clean up our act.  Maybe it was standing at the altar saying our wedding vows, convinced we could make this thing work.

Then life takes over.  We get distracted, and the things that need work don’t bother us as much.  Maybe they do, but we’ve chosen to ignore them and put them in the background.

But they’re still there.  We’ve gotten used to them.  We don’t notice them anymore.

As we approach 2013, maybe it’s time for a walk-through of our lives.  Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, maybe we should take time to evaluate the things we’ve gotten used to that are getting in the way of our progress.  If we try to fix them all, we’ll get overwhelmed.  But if we pick one big one and put all our energy there, it could change everything.

It’s about progress, not perfection.

For the next three weeks, let’s ponder this question: What one thing could I do in 2013 that would make the most significant difference in my life? Then, design a blueprint to make it happen.

Three weeks to make the plan.  January 1 will be launch day.

We’ll talk about this more in the coming weeks.  But for now . . .

. . . are you in?