The journey is often better than the destination

 

Last Saturday, my wife and I visited the largest nursery I have ever seen. This place (Countryside Nursery in Allendale, MI) has over 10 acres under one roof of flowers, plants, trees, and everything you could ever need to nourish and grow these to ultimate perfection. This place was so busy that they had three police officers directing traffic around the place! This nursery certainly fulfilled all our expectations… and then some!

Our visit to the nursery included two other couples that have been the best of friends with us for around 35 years. The day was filled with catching up with family stories, laughs, and unending needling. These couples are among the most wonderful people I have ever known and my life is richer because of them. I wish everyone had such friends in their life!

Our day made me think (again) that often, the journey is better than the destination. Despite the amazing nursery we visited, our day was a terrific one because we spent the day with good friends. We could have been driving 2-3 hours each way to visit a grocery store and it would have been a good day because of our time together.

How often do we get so caught up in trying to reach a life destination (graduation, marriage, promotion, debt elimination, retirement, etc.) that we simply keep our head down and try to get through the day? You have probably heard many versions of this… “If I can just get that promotion, my life will be better.” Or… “Once my mortgage is paid, everything else will fall into place.” Or… “I can’t wait until my kids graduate and get out on their own.” However, when you look too intently on the destination, you often fail to enjoy the blessings and fun that come with the journey.

Hopefully, I am enjoying the journey, though I have certainly entertained my share of goals and objectives throughout my life. When my days are finished, I want to truthfully say that my regrets were few. I want to be able to say that I enjoyed those days changing diapers, helping with algebra homework, and trying to juggle our finances. I want to fondly remember the good and tough times at work, the deadlines, and thriving despite bad bosses. I want to smile when I think of all the good times along the way. I want to cherish every day I have had with my wonderful wife.

Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day routine that you fail to savor those good times that, once gone, will never return. As I have said before (check out this link:someday, the last time):

“Some day the last time really will be the last time.”

Take a pause today and look out the window as you travel along a road that you’ll never travel again.

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Dear healthcare company: Do these things really benefit the patient?

hospital-sign copy

At this stage in my life and health, I think I can speak very competently about being a patient or end user of your pharmaceutical or medical device products. I have had multiple surgeries, take daily pharmaceutical products, have metal medical devices in my knee and back, sleep with your products, and, in short, am an experienced user of your products. In addition, I worked in your industry for 40 years, so I have that perspective, as well.

Today, I want to talk about things that REALLY matter to patients (used synonymously with end user). I know that many healthcare companies talk about their commitment to patients being first and foremost.  In fact, one large, old, established company has this first line in their corporate values statement:

“We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”

However, do you really take this seriously? When you are creating your mission statement, crafting goals and objectives, and training your employees, is your first and primary focus really on patients?

I think I am speaking for many/most/all patients when I urge you to consider anew your true first priority. When you are contemplating key business decisions, do you really include patients as a key stakeholder before shareholders, the community, or employees? Do you believe that if you take care of your patients, every other aspect of your business will take care of itself?

Many healthcare companies have been criticized in recent months in the media for exorbitant pricing, supply problems, excessive executive salaries, inappropriate influence of physicians, and the pursuit of profits above all else. Most of these criticisms would have been tempered if those same companies were diligent in ensuring that the value of their products to the patient was unquestioned. When your products have unquestioned value, benefit, and quality, many of these other criticisms can be dispelled.

Let me discuss a few things to consider before you answer this question. I want to list a few activities that patients DO NOT CARE that you do. These things mean NOTHING to us when we are talking about our health, our lifestyle, and our ability to live a full and meaningful life. When a patient is in pain, all they really care about is getting relief. Certainly, we understand that you need to have satisfied, engaged, and involved employees. Of course, we understand that you are in business to make a profit. By all means, you have a responsibility to the communities in which you operate. Yes, we agree that you need to ensure that every employee has equal opportunities. However, we believe that some of you have drifted from your commitment to the patient. In your zeal to be all things to all people, you have forgotten your core purpose. Have you made an effort to tie these things (each of which has merits) to the patient experience? Let’s look at the “things that mean nothing” list, then I will talk about things that really DO matter to us.

Things you do that patients do not care that you do (keep in mind that these are just examples – there are probably other things you do, when carefully considered, could be added to this list):

  1. Political activism – Many of you seem to spend more time advocating for a particular political view or candidate than you do advocating for patients. We have political action committees, but do any of you have a “patient action committee”?
  2. Diversity and inclusion programs – Yes, we understand the intent with these programs. However, have you taken the time to determine if the value of these efforts in money and resources yields any benefit to patients? We appreciate your concern and effort on behalf of unmet needs, but please ensure that these efforts (which, for most of you, includes the staffing of entire departments and corporate structure) are yielding value that includes benefits for patients. From a patient perspective, we don’t care who you hire, as long as it is the best person for that particular job function. Just find a way to hire the best people, keep them motivated, and help them facilitate value and quality in the products we use. If these programs do have value, just ensure that the benefits to the organization also flows to the patient.
  3. Employee engagement activities – Again, we understand the arguments FOR these programs… happy employees are more productive, more innovative, and yield better results. However, when do you go too far? When do go so far trying to engage employees that you forget to engage patients?
  4. Sustainability – Most of you, by now, have very active sustainability programs (e.g., green, recycle, reduced carbon footprint, etc.). We applaud the intent. However, when it comes to relieving pain, curing disease, or improving our lifestyle, we don’t really care. Do what you can in the area of sustainability, but please ensure that these efforts enhance, not detract from the overall patient experience or impact.
  5. Non-value added packaging – We don’t need packaging with 7-color glossy print. Honestly, we throw out the packaging immediately after receiving our products. This is an area that you should work to differentiate yourself from others with value, not “bells and whistles” that do nothing, but add cost.
  6. Corporate branding and marketing – How many healthcare firms change their corporate branding each year? And, when they do, how many $millions are spent doing so. Sure, this may matter to other stakeholders (such as shareholders, investors, and industry watchdogs), but it does nothing to improve our experience.

There are a number of things you do that we truly do value and appreciate. Let’s look at a few of these (some of you should transfer some of your spending from activities listed above to these areas).

Things that really do matter to patients:

  1. Cost control – Finding ways to improve the cost for us is always appreciated. We do understand the need to recoup your R&D investments and turn a reasonable profit. However, it is always just as important to ensure that everything you do provides value and will ultimately benefit your primary stakeholders, especially the patient.
  2. Innovation – We appreciate your efforts toward continuous improvement. We appreciate pharmaceuticals that can be taken orally rather than injection. We appreciate the ability to spend less time in the hospital. We appreciate less invasive procedures. Innovation that improves the patient experience is always appreciated.
  3. Employee development – We understand the need to help your employees stay current, stay motivated, and continue making positive improvements to your products. Efforts spend to advance the capabilities of your valued employees ultimately will benefit us.
  4. Customer service – The availability of needed products and having individuals that can answer our questions is important. When you enhance the interface between company and patient, our experience is improved.
  5. Product quality – We expect your products to be of high quality and to do for us what you promise. Please ensure that you remain diligent in these areas. When cost cutting is needed, please look elsewhere before you jeopardize the quality of your products.
  6. Business continuity/compliance – Because we count on you and your products, your efforts to remain in business and viable are important. We have read too many accounts of products that had to be recalled or market shortages simply because companies failed to remain diligent or compliant. Efforts in these areas are important for us.

Please understand that the intent of this message is simple… it is important to occasionally ask the question, “If patients are important to our business, will this activity/program/project/objective provide a benefit to the patient. If not, is it really that important to do? Would our patients pay more because we do this?”

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to advocate for patients. After all, probably everyone reading this is also a patient or loves someone that is a patient. When you improve the overall experience for patients, everyone benefits.

The real meaning of success

success

How do you define success? Are you successful when you’ve reached your career goals? Financial goals? Are you successful when you have raised your kids, given them an education, and paid for their weddings? How about when you can retire with no financial worries? Others define success when they change their last diaper, break 100 in golf, or achieve a personal best time in the 5K.

Everyone has a different way to define success. Yet, why do so many individuals feel that their life is a failure? I just read that the suicide rate for adults is skyrocketing, especially for white, seemingly successful males.

I would like today to share my thoughts on the real definition of success. Here is my definition of success:

“Success in life is not determined by what you gain, but by what you give. When you live your life dedicated to loving and serving others, you are, indeed, successful.”

As you’ll read, success has nothing to do with hitting a dollar number, receiving a promotion, or any other typical definition of the word. But, first, let me pose three scenarios and you decide if each individual is a success:

  1. Diane has been serving full-time as project manager for a major new initiative in her firm. All project objectives have been hit on time and under budget. Yet, after two years, the company decided to cancel the project and cease all activities on it. Is Diane a success?
  2. Bob has been working his entire career to become Vice-President, Sales at a major company. Finally, after 22 years, he has achieved that goal. He is now making more money than he ever imagined possible, but the job requires that he travel extensively and work over 70 hours per week. As a result, Bob’s wife has filed for divorce and his two kids barely know him. Is Bob a success?
  3. Alan just lost his job due to “restructuring”. He does not have strong leads for a new position and will be dipping into his savings within three months if he cannot find new work. Yet, his family is very supportive and he has a strong network of friends and others helping him. Many of his ex-colleagues have even provided job leads and letters of recommendation to assist him. Alan has realized that he may need to change careers to find good employment in the future. Despite losing his job, is Alan successful?

I’m sure that one could argue for each of Diane, Bob, and Alan that they are successful. On the other hand, you could probably make a case that each has not been successful for a variety of reasons.

Let’s explore the meaning of success from three key perspectives… from our own viewpoint, from the viewpoint of others, and from God’s perspective. Each is important in one way or another, but each represents an important aspect of our life that cannot be ignored when we look at these key questions: Am I successful now? What needs to change for me to become successful? At the end of my life, what will determine if my life was a successful life?

Success from our own viewpoint

I often read obituaries from my hometown newspaper. I once read this life highlight from an individual’s story, “Was a member of his District championship 8th grade basketball team in 1952.” Sometimes I wonder if this individual, when looking back over his life, felt that his role on that basketball team so many decades ago was the highlight of his life. Did he consider his life a success because of that one highlight back in the 1950’s?

When I look at my own life and attempt to determine attributes of success, I think there are only three questions to ask:

  1. → Did I do the best I could in the times and circumstances of my life?
  2. → Did I make a positive difference in the lives of my family, my friends, my coworkers, and others I didn’t even really know?
  3. → Did I leave behind a legacy of peace, happiness, love, and encouragement?

You’ll notice that my three “markers” for success have nothing to do with the size of my house, the vacations I took, the car I drove, or my job title when I retired. The way I measure success in my own life is whether I made the most of the opportunities I was given, how I served and influenced others, and whether I left behind positive or negative. Certainly, even most of this is subjective. But, you can see success in these areas by whether friends and family enjoy your company and seek to be with you. You can know for sure whether you helped advance the careers or life of others.

For sure, one aspect of this viewpoint is whether you did your best for your family. Providing a stable and good lifestyle is important. Providing opportunities for education, recreation, and fulfillment is needed. Enjoying life and feeling a sense of accomplishment should be key goals of all of us. However, too many make this their primary objective in life. Pursuing self-happiness, at the expense of all others and all other activities, is often the root of depression and lack of fulfillment. Finding a balance that meets your basic personal responsibilities, yet allows ample opportunities to enhance the lives of others is that puzzle piece that we all seek to find.

Success from the viewpoint of others

Too many of us live our lives trying too much to please or impress others. In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether you left the world a better place. Though you can never know for sure how others view success in your life, these three questions might help guide your thoughts and actions regarding true success in their eyes:

  1. → When others think of me, does it make them smile?
  2. → When others think of me, do they think that their life is better because they knew me?
  3. → When others think of me, are they motivated to make a difference for someone else because of the example I left behind?

I have been with many families during their time of losing a loved one. I have NEVER heard anyone talk of that person’s material success. The conversations are always of fun times, loving memories, and what they did (or didn’t do) for others. You see, in the end, we all judge a successful life by how life was lived, not by what was collected.

When I think of the most successful people I have ever known, a common factor in each is how they made me feel being around them. These individuals always cared more about what I had to say or what was going on in my life than by impressing me with their own accomplishments. They always gave more than they got from me in return. And, they each exhibited a sense of joy because they were confident in who they were rather than a sense of agitation because of who they were not. You see, success exudes a sense of contentment and confidence that attracts others, not repels them.

Success from God’s perspective

The most important area of success in life is from the perspective of God. After all, if you believe in God, you know that our relationship with Him in the end determines our eternal fate. According to the Bible, what marks a successful life according to God:

  1. → Did I make peace with God by accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior?
  2. → Did I express my love for God by sharing my love with others?
  3. → Was my life marked by steady and consistent growth in knowledge, love, service, and dedication to God?

To be clear, we cannot work our way to peace with God. We are utterly helpless to restore the relationship with Him that was broken by our sin. However, God send His Son Jesus to redeem us. Jesus’ death on the cross, in our place, paid our debt and provides our bridge back to God. Success in God’s eyes is accepting the gift of eternal life bought by Jesus’ death on that cross. And, as a result of accepting Him, our life becomes a living expression of God’s love for us by the love we share with others. No life can be deemed truly successful unless we have made this peace with God.

 

So, have you been looking at success incorrectly? Have you been viewing success as something to be gained rather than something to be given. A life well lived is one dedicated, not to the pursuit of others’ admiration, but to the enhancement of their lives.

What’s the most important thing you can do today?

Legos

I am fortunate to be able to spend time with my 5 year old grandson two days each week. I realize the time is precious because he begins full-time kindergarten next fall, so the days are numbered. We have a routine… after breakfast every day, we go to our basement to build cities, worlds, and other imaginary creations with an assortment of Legos and Lincoln Logs. Just a little boy playing in the floor in a make-believe world with his Grandpa. Yesterday, my wife (Grandma) came downstairs to ask me something to which our grandson stated, “Can you go back upstairs, Grandma, because you’re breaking the mood of our game when you talk to Grandpa.”

He says a lot of funny things. However, this one made me think again about priorities and what is truly important. It is tempting, occasionally, when you have retired from 40 years in the corporate world to wonder if you are just wasting your time. After all, you spend 40 years driving hard every day to add value. Then, suddenly, every day is Saturday (except Sunday). If you don’t want to accomplish anything today, no problem, there is always tomorrow. Yesterday, my grandson reminded me again that sometimes, the most important thing I can ever do is something small. Pouring your life into that of another is never wasted time, whether it is your grandson, coworker, spouse, or someone you’ve never met. I’m sure that someday, my grandson will think back to those days that he and Grandpa built the most remarkable buildings with those Lego blocks. But, more importantly, I hope he remembers that his Grandpa loved him enough to spend that time just with him.

What is the most important thing you can do today? It is easy to get caught up in the hundred things you have to do. It is easy to let the routine of the day to obscure that “most important thing” that you know you need to do. Perhaps, we need to develop the habit of asking ourselves early each new day, “What is that one thing, above all else, that I need to do this day?” Sometimes, that “most important thing” is completing a project at work, making a new business contact, or taking that evening call. When it is, don’t feel guilty and just get it done. However, when the most important thing you can do is to pour your life into that of someone else, don’t neglect it.

So, what is today’s most important thing for you? Is it breaking away early to attend that special event at school? Is it calling your aging parents just to say hello? Is it doing that little project that your spouse has been asking about for the last six months? Or, could it be that someone just needs you to get on the floor to help build a castle? Whatever it is, don’t let life become so busy that you miss the things that are most important.

And, don’t forget that today could be your best day yet!

Patience: “It’s not how long you wait, but how WELL you wait”

Waiting is hard! I remember, as a child, the long wait until Christmas. If you have children, I’m sure you’ve heard, “How many more days till Christmas?” many times. In my teen years, the time dragged on forever until I was old enough to drive a car. Learning – and teaching – patience is a challenge.

Developing patience seems especially difficult in today’s world. With the scan of a credit card, you can avoid waiting for anything you want to purchase. A few decades ago, you actually had to save 10-20% of the cost of a house in cash before you could qualify for a loan. So, most home buyers started small and eventually worked toward their forever home. Today, loans can be obtained for zero down and more than 30 years to pay. Thus, buyers can immediately move into their dream home despite having a tenuous cashflow situation.

Let me provide a couple more examples of a lack of patience I have observed in life and during my time in the workplace:

  • In one of my positions, our group hired many individuals with 1-2 years of prior experience. I recall more than once when one of these individuals might say something like, “I’ve been here now for over 6 months and I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do. What does a person have to do around here to get promoted?” Rather than taking the time to learn as much as possible about the position, these individuals are more concerned with a rapid climb up the ladder. Credibility and value are often garnered over the course of time and having a long-term career view can often make a difference. In many cases, an individual that has developed depth rather than breadth is more valuable to the company.
  • I have observed some individuals with great potential change positions too frequently. I recall more than one coworker that was recruited from one position to another, often lasting less than a year in any position. It appears that such an individual is a rising star in the organization. However, this individual cannot possibly develop the depth of knowledge or experience that will facilitate expertise in any one area. In addition, this individual usually has no time to create any work product that can make a difference to the company. What “accomplishments” or new skills can you accumulate in such a short time that will make you a more valuable asset in future positions?

OK, so let’s say we all understand that patience is good and something we should strive to develop and perfect in our lives and careers. Easier said than done, right? So, what are some steps we can take to build patience in our own lives or to help teach the skill of patience to others? What does waiting well look like?

When you wait well, you do these six things:

  1. You develop depth (e.g., more and better skills) – You can choose to either waste your waiting time or use it to become better at what you’re doing. Waiting gives you time to gain depth in what you do, expand your knowledge, and become an expert. Instead of spending waiting time complaining about the delay, use it as an opportunity to become a better and more productive individual.
  2. You actually produce a work product – These days, hiring managers seek individuals that have demonstrated experience or have created value in previous positions. Waiting periods actually give you the opportunity to do just that. When waiting, take the initiative to do something new, volunteer for a project, or create new value.
  3. You enhance your network – One of the biggest drivers to career success is the network of individuals you develop and maintain throughout your career. When you are in a waiting pattern, use that opportunity to get to know others. Seek out individuals that are successful. Enhance your network in width (new individuals) and depth (knowing individuals better).
  4. You have the opportunity to positively influence others – The older (or more experienced) you get, the more you will learn that pouring your life into the success of others provides gratification and fulfillment. You become more focused on others and less on yourself. A period of waiting is the perfect time to invest in others. Whether you are a mother raising preschool children or a career professional on the brink of a promotion, using this time to help others thrive, grow, and develop will pay long-term dividends.
  5. You build character by serving others – You’ve probably heard this many times… “patience builds character.” This is true IF you use the time to grow, learn, and serve. Shifting your focus on serving others will automatically help you grow personally and, in the process, you will learn from those you serve.
  6. You allow pieces of the puzzle to fit together naturally, rather than in a forced manner – Many times in life, the pieces of our puzzle don’t fit together with the timing and in the order we might personally desire. When we demonstrate patience during our waiting periods, we may be allowing time for other events to occur that make real success for us possible. Yes, there are some times when we need to exhibit initiative and drive, but, there are other times when we need to wait to allow things to develop in the right way at the right time. Many times in my life, I was able to look back, after the fact, to see just how things occurred in the perfect timing. And, if I had tried to rush things, I would have missed out on blessings I never knew were coming.

So, do you find yourself in a waiting pattern today? Are you struggling to be patient? Well, you certainly are not alone. However, when you are able to exhibit the patience to wait well, you may avoid rushing decisions that have dire circumstances. Waiting well can often mean more to you personally or to your career than if events had moved faster in the first place. Think about what you can do to make your wait better and more productive.

 

I was just kidding about my “just kidding” comment

creepy doll

I am blessed with the chance to spend a couple days each week with my 5-year old grandson. It is amazing how young kids learn to attempt to get their way. Recently, he said all he wanted for breakfast was some cookies and milk. I’m not normally one to judge the “goodness” of a breakfast of cookies and milk. However, for a 5-year old, I try to set a good example. I told him, “No, the milk is fine, but you need to have something else good for you for breakfast.” He said, “Just kidding.” He really had meant that he would prefer the cookies for breakfast, but used the “just kidding” statement to smooth it over with his Grandpa.

Later, I was thinking about the “just kidding” comment and realized that we almost never really mean it when we say it… even as adults. We often twist our words to justify our actions or to create our own version of the facts. For example:

  • Politicians and business leaders often create a “narrative” to minimize or shift negative news (see Who needs a “narrative” when you can just as easily tell the truth?)
  • Commentators (or business communicators) often “spin” the news to alter the truth
  • We often alter the truth in the form of “white lies” to avoid hurting feelings
  • Some leave out important details to ensure their own viewpoint is heard
  • Individuals often stay silent rather than “become the bearer of bad news”
  • Tragedies have occurred because individuals with critical information allowed themselves to support the prevailing opinions (e.g., group think)
  • We frequently see negative consequences because an individual hesitated to “create waves by raising a concern”

Certainly, there are times when our words and actions must be filtered. For example, we typically prefer our doctors to remain positive (“This is serious, but we have a number of options that we can try”) rather than blunt (“You have no chance… you’ll probably die a miserable death”). Some balance is needed. However, what keeps us from being more open, honest, and transparent in our business dealings?

I have to admit that during my last few years working, my “filter” became much thinner than earlier in my career. During those last few years, I became much more outspoken. I sought opportunities to provide alternative ideas and raise issues. I was once termed “the King of Candor” during this time. However, rather than create problems with my own management team and others, this approach was appreciated. In fact, individuals frequently sought my thoughts in meetings and privately because they knew I would provide unfiltered thoughts. I gave up trying to appease others and the result was a greater sense of appreciation for my opinions and perspective. In retrospect, I wish I had adopted this approach much earlier in my career.

Managers need candid individuals to provide balance. All too often, we make poor decisions because we unconsciously solicit only concurrence, not the truth. We need individuals that will disagree with us and will provide alternative approaches. I am not saying that we need to become disruptive or tolerate individuals that are destructive. However, seeking (or providing) alternative opinions will only strengthen the team, the decisions made, and the ultimate performance of the organization.

So, as an individual, seeks ways to enhance your courage to be more candid. Speak up when needed. Always ensure that others have the complete story. When you disagree, respectfully say so and why. Be professional, but be honest. Seek ways to make positive things happen, not to simply identify obstacles.

As a leader, seek individuals that will provide that contrarian viewpoint. Reward open and honest dialogue. Encourage dissenters to speak up, but encourage them to also provide their rationale and potential solutions to problems. Proactively, avoid group think or individuals that merely go along to avoid waves.

So, the next time you are tempted to say, “Just kidding,” remember the words of one of the most trusted and important journalists of the 20th century:

“To be persuasive we must be believable;
to be believable we must be creditable;
to be credible we must be truthful.” 
― Edward R. Murrow

Have a great day!

Why some give up, check out, or lose heart… and what we can do about it

check out

You can see it wherever you look… people that have given up on life, their jobs, or on themselves. Often, at the least, this might be manifested as poor performance in the workplace. At it worst, it can result in physical harm to an individual or others.

Many have written about the reasons individuals give up, check out, or lose heart. Today, I would like to add my thoughts and, hopefully, provide some practical steps we can take to either help ourselves or others keep dig out or prevent these “valleys” from becoming something permanent. Additionally, understanding the reasons why some give up can help us as leaders, family members, or friends take proactive action to keep ourselves and others motivated.

Reasons why some give up, check out, or lose heart

  1. The pain becomes too great to withstand – Pain, either physical or emotional, can become debilitating. When someone experiences pain day-after-day without a pause, they can begin feeling things spiral downward… Will it ever get better? Will I ever have another good day? I can’t even get out of bed, much less function. How can I thrive when it is doubtful I will even survive? Pain can also lead to the abuse of alternatives that might become addictive or more harmful. Even the most positive, enthusiastic person can lose that edge when pummeled by pain for an extended time. It is important that we understand the impact of pain in an individual’s life and be sensitive when we see it in others… or ourselves.
  2. What I do doesn’t matter – Everyone has an innate desire to be productive. We all want what we do to matter or count for something. Most desire to make a difference in their work, in their family, or in their neighborhood. When an individual starts feeling that their life doesn’t really matter, they lose heart. When we start feeling that our work is meaningless, our effort diminishes. It is important that we find our real purpose and understand that, because we were created by the God of the universe, we have value.
  3. No one cares what I do – During my time in the workplace, I heard many individuals explain to me that because they felt that no one really cared what they did or how they did their work, it became meaningless to them, as well. When you feel that no one else cares, you lose heart. Finding meaning, even if only in your own eyes, in what you do makes a great difference in how you feel about your work and your value.
  4. This is no longer fun – People often check out when the things they do no longer brings the enjoyment or fulfillment that they expected or that it once did. When our work or life becomes difficult without gratification, we can slip downward. Finding some enjoyment is essential to happiness and when it cannot be found, we become demotivated.
  5. I am all alone – Loneliness can become a truly difficult life challenge. When an individual feels alone in the world, they can slowly slip into thinking that “it doesn’t matter anymore” which often leads to something worse. Finding a way to stay connected with others is essential to happiness and self-worth.
  6. I am overwhelmed – That feeling that life is throwing more at you than you can handle will often take an individual into a valley of despair. Being overwhelmed with work or time deadlines or fatigue can all hamper your well-being. Finding ways to manage the load, or at least recognizing that “all you can do is all you can do” is important to maintaining a proper balance.
  7. No matter what I do, it is wrong – When you believe that you are not successful and never will be, it is tempting to give up, or at least slack off. Finding ways to be successful, even at little things, can help one reclaim that feeling of worth and value that failures tend to diminish.
  8. There is no hope that things will get better – When an individual loses hope, despair is sure to follow. Have hope in the future is critical to finding meaning today.

Warning signs that someone is or has given up

Here are a few things to look for in others or yourself to determine when someone has given up or is losing heart”

  • They have lost their sense of humor
  • Their work performance has gotten worse
  • They spend more time alone
  • They laugh less
  • They avoid others
  • They blame others more
  • They don’t seem to care about things they used to love
  • They stop hobbies that were formerly important to them
  • They begin doing just what it takes to get by
  • A sense of sadness is evident
  • They begin spending less time taking care of themselves
  • Screen-time becomes more important than people-time
  • They begin abusing food, alcohol, drugs, or anything else
  • They begin talking about self-destructive actions, dreams, or thoughts
  • They become less reliable

When you see an individual exhibiting these behaviors (or, you find yourself experience them), it is time to take some productive action to help a complete slide. A few suggestions are offered below, though you may need to be aware that professional help could be needed, as well.

Actions for keeping others motivated

What can you do to help restore someone else that has or is showing signs of giving up, checking out, or losing heart? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Be an encourager – Verbalize positive thoughts, comments, or accolades when merited. Be intentional about positive feedback.
  2. Provide a future event –  Plan something that the individual can look forward to. Speak about the future. Create a positive goal to strive for.
  3. Provide a new assignment, new challenge, or new opportunity – Be intentional about creating variety in the life/work of the individual. Be creative.
  4. Be a friend – Have a meal together. Do something with the individual. Share your own life. Be vulnerable. Ask about things in the individual’s life.
  5. Help them see the value and purpose in what they do – Be specific about how the individual’s work/life matters. Show them the result of their work. Show them how much they mean to your and others.
  6. Introduce something fun – Schedule something fun that is unexpected. Do something light. Make smiling important and routine.
  7. In the workplace, avoid micro-managing – Do not (repeat, do not) demotivate an individual by micro-managing their life and work in the workplace. There is, perhaps, nothing that will demotivate an individual more or faster.
  8. At home, be more positive – Find something positive to say. Do it often. Do it sincerely.
  9. Spend time with the individual – Nothing says, “I care” more than spending time with an individual.
  10. Encourage more life balance – A proper balance in life (work, family, self, hobbies, etc.) is important. It helps to distract when things in one area become difficult.
  11. Introduce the ultimate “hope” – We all need hope. You can find my ultimate “hope” at this link (What is your hope?).

Keeping myself motivated

What if you find yourself giving up? What if you don’t really care as much anymore? What if you’ve lost the enthusiasm you once had? Well, the list above is a good one for you, too. However, let me add a few additional things that I know can help:

  1. Find a way to serve someone else – There is no way to take your focus off yourself than to find a way to serve someone else. Someone once said, “You can’t call a day a good day unless you’ve done something for someone else that could never repay you.” When you serve someone else, the greater benefit is always for yourself, not the one you served.
  2. Make a change – Sometimes, we just need to do something different. Re-arrange the furniture. Drive a different way to work. Find a new job. Go outside your comfort zone. Sometimes, a single change can kickstart other areas of our lives.
  3. Visit a Children’s Hospital or Eldercare Home – Seeing the challenges and strength in someone weaker than ourselves can often motivate us to be different in our own lives.
  4. Make a new friend – Really, when was the last time you made the effort to nurture a new friendship? Give it a try.
  5. Initiate something fun with someone else – Be intentional about scheduling something fun. Go to a ballgame. Play golf. Take a class together. It is likely that this would be good for both you and the other individual.
  6. Start a journal, blog, or notebook – Sometimes, taking the time to write down your thoughts and aspirations can be motivating.
  7. Learn a new hobby – Getting into a rut can often be broken when we decide to learn something new. Consider learning something new than you can do for a lifetime.
  8. Start with small steps – Make a goal that is very achievable. Celebrate that success, then do it again. Small victories can encourage us and motivate us to take bigger and bigger steps.
  9. Be the light in someone else’s darkness – Find someone that you know that needs to see something positive in their own life. When you become a light for them, your own world becomes a bit brighter.

 

Today, as we stand on the brink of another new year, is a great time to look for ways to rekindle that spark of encouragement in the lives of others… or, our own lives. Finding ways to both recognize and do something to help those that have given up, those checking out, or that friend that has lost heart can make the difference not only for them, but for us, as well.

 

Finding happiness… even when the sun doesn’t shine

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One of my nephews married a Norwegian girl and their family now resides in Norway. It seems the Norwegians believe it is important for children to be taken outside every day, even as infants. Despite the cold, Norwegians feel it is necessary to expose their children to all types of weather rather than protect them by keeping them inside except for clear and warm days.

My initial thought was they believed the cold helped build a tolerance for extremes in weather. I didn’t really understand there was a more important reason until I read the following quote:

“Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly, it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the ‘bad’ days in favor of a handful of ‘good’ ones – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.”                                                    – Nicolette Sowder –

I recall that, as a child, I rarely stayed inside because of the cold or bad weather. My siblings and I walked to school (I can’t recall a single day through elementary school that I was driven to school) and played outdoors nearly every day of the year. When it was cold, we bundled up. When it rained, we enjoyed the puddles and mud. When it was hot, we removed our shirts and wore shorts. I’m not sure my childhood built resilience, but it certainly did not give us easy excuses.

Today, it seems, children suffer from overexposure of a different kind. Over-protection by parents, grandparents, teachers, and others promotes a view that we can take a mulligan when the conditions aren’t perfect. If we don’t like our boss, we don’t have to do our best on the job. If we don’t like the work, we can simply quit and stay at home. If my teacher is unreasonable, my parents will fix it. If we aren’t promoted within the first year, we quit and find a new job. We have become individuals that thrive in sunshine, but avoid bad weather. Our happiness has become dependent upon how much sunshine we experience in life.

Someone once said:

“A good day is not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to the events of the day.”                                   – Unknown –

 

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is toughness. How much toughness do you exhibit? Are you one that can quickly move on from disappointments? Are you known as someone that will get the job done regardless of the barriers or challenges you face? We can’t allow the amount of “sunshine in our lives” to define whether we are a good employee, a good parent, a good spouse, or a good friend. We must develop the skill (or whatever attribute or ability you want to call it) to be focused and not easily distracted by challenges or inconveniences.

In Oslo, the average number of hours annually with sunshine is 1668. That number is undoubtedly impacted by Norway’s latitude. Marseille, France experiences 2858 hours per year of sunshine. In the USA, Phoenix leads the way with 3872 hours of sunshine per year…nearly 2.5 times that of Oslo. Where I live, the average is 2594 hours annually… well below Phoenix, but still over 60% more than Oslo. So, do you think the people of Norway allow the lack of sunshine to impact their happiness? In fact, studies year-after-year rank Norwegians as some of the happiest people on earth. They are unaffected by their lack of sunshine. Perhaps, Sowder is right. Perhaps, we need to learn that attitude is a choice nurtured by how well we have learned to tolerate adversity. Things might not always go our way, but we can choose to thrive in any circumstance, not merely stay inside to avoid discomfort.

 

Succeeding at things that don’t really matter

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What is success? Really, what does it mean to succeed at something? The dictionary definition talks about accomplishing a target or purpose. Some define success as attaining a personal achievement, such as a promotion or financial goal. Others would define success in more general terms, such as contentment, happiness, or a sense of fulfillment.

Today, I would like to talk about misconceptions about success. During my 40 plus years in the workplace, I saw countless individuals that achieved a lifelong goal, yet they felt unfulfilled, disappointed, or empty. They believed that life would magically get better when they achieved the goal or target they had relentlessly pursued. In fact, many individuals actually felt LESS fulfilled when an important “life target” was achieved. It seems that it was the journey that brought the motivation and fulfillment more than actually achieving the target.

William Carey spoke of the true meaning of success early in the 19th century when he said

“I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

Carey’s insight dating back nearly 200 years is still meaningful for us today. Success has more to do with achieving a purpose than a target. I have worked with many individuals in my life and career that did not understand this difference. I recall many times at year-end reviews when an individual argued for a higher rating because they achieved all their goals without realizing that goals alone might not equal success.

When I mentor individuals, I often say to them, “If I would ask you to bring everything of value that you have produced for the company in the last year, or five years – in other words, your work product – and place it on the table, how big would the pile be? What would you bring? And, how can you be certain that it was really achieving the purpose you are intended to achieve?” Some individuals would answer in terms of reports written, projects completed, or a checklist of things directly associated with their jobs. It is the rare individual that would answer in terms of value provided to the company, its customers, or the ultimate user. Too few of us think of our work, or our efforts, in terms of what is really important.

Carey’s quote recognized that individuals need to be occupied with activities. We need to feel some sense of accomplishment. However, we should all routinely ask ourselves, “Would I rather fail doing something truly significant and meaningful than to succeed at something that has no meaningful impact. Is it more important that I achieve 10% of things that truly make a difference in the lives of those I love, or to achieve 100% of things that are meaningless.” Yet, how much of our time is spend on the trivial or meaningless? Then, we beat ourselves up over things that won’t even be remembered a year from now.

So, to sum this up, let’s ponder a few questions today that can help us drive toward true success:

  1. Will the things I do today truly make life better for anyone else? Will it make my own life better?
  2. Do I know my real purpose? Are my activities today helping to fulfill that purpose?
  3. Am I looking at the bigger, broader picture or just focusing on the trivial matters of today?
  4. What do I need to change that can help me, or someone else, achieve true success?
  5. What is the most important thing I need to do today? How can I make sure that I get this done?

Finally, I believe that achieve success, or fulfilling our purpose, is not an endpoint, but a process. There should never be a time when we say, “I’m done. Mission accomplished.” No matter how old we get or what we accomplish in life, we can still impact others. We may not even see the impact of our life’s work during our lifetime. So, keep going and keep looking for ways to pour your life and your efforts into others. Our ultimate purpose may have been the impact we had on someone else.

 

“Ask” is not a noun!

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Don’t do it! Don’t get caught up in the “ask movement”! How many of you have heard someone say, “What is the ask?” in the last couple of years? Well, I have had it up to my ears and have to speak out. “Ask” is not a noun!

Why do people do it? Why do people continue emasculating the language with made up words or made up uses? Well, there are three pieces of advice I would give any of you that must deal with the world of corporate jargon:

  1. Stop trying to be cute! – Most individuals desire to be and feel modern… to be with all the new thoughts, approaches, and terminology. To do so, some feel it necessary to create new ways to say the same things we’ve been saying for decades. Converting the word “ask” from a verb to a noun simply is not that cute. Is it too hard to use two syllables (as in “request”) or must we conserve our breath and use only one syllable? I think most individuals, especially employees involved in actually doing the work day-by-day, appreciate openness and honesty more than cute derivations of perfectly good words like “request.”
  2. Stop dumbing things down! – These same people that say we need to simplify things will turn right around and say to shareholders something like, “…by retaining a nominal level of fungibility, we sustain the durability of our assets…” Are you kidding me? Straight talk always promotes credibility and trustworthiness. Manipulating our language in such a way appears to be an attempt to hide the truth or mask reality or spin bad news. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  3. Stop perpetuating the preposterous! – Those that feel the same way I do about such abuses of our language need to take a stand and stop doing it! I remember a time when someone used “ask” in front of me as a noun. I looked at that individual and said, “Do you mean ‘request’? I’m not sure I know what you mean using ‘ask’ that way.” That seemed to stop the nonsense, at least for a time.

That’s it for today. I am merely urging all of us to speak clearly, speak the truth, and remember that ‘form’ only beats ‘content’ when you have no value to add otherwise.

Have a great day!