You are braver than you believe

Today, we feature one of my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh quotes (actually, A.A. Milne, the author) today:

There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”               

                                                                 – A.A. Milne (from Winnie the Pooh) –

This quote speaks to self-confidence and belief in yourself.  Too many of us struggle simply because we are aren’t brave enough or don’t think we have the strength or intelligence to accomplish all that we’re capable.  Certainly, there are some with the opposite problem… over-confidence.  Both problems (lack of confidence and over-confidence) often result from a lack of self-awareness.  However, for today, let’s focus on the former… those with a lack of confidence.

I have witnessed many individuals in my nearly 61 years on earth that failed to achieve significant things in their life for one reason… they did not have the confidence in their own abilities to make it happen.  The chief difference in two individuals with the exact same education, background, abilities, and experience – where one becomes President of the company and the other remains a team member in a functional unit –  is often one thing… self-confidence.  There are several reasons why one individual lacks self-confidence and another does not.  Here are a few reasons I have seen:

  • Previous failures – “I messed up once and will never let that happen again.” – If Thomas Edison or Abraham Lincoln had felt that way, we would have never heard of them or their ultimate achievements!
  • Fear of failure – “I don’t want to let anyone down by messing up.” – You are more likely to let someone down by NOT taking a risk and going outside your comfort zone at least occasionally.
  • Low risk tolerance – “I will step out, but I want to be 100% sure before I do… of course, I’ll probably never be that confident.” – Why not be adventuresome and “go for it” when you get to 80% sure?
  • Comfort in “the rut” – “I like it right where I am, doing just what I’m doing.” – Some individuals will never be coaxed out of the rut.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but the fact is, many have that fear of stepping outside their comfort zone.  Thus, they keep some or much of their full potential hidden.  Back to Winnie-the-Pooh…

So, what is A.A. Milne saying to us today about confidence?  There are three key points to this quote:

  1. Braver than you believe – Most individuals have an innate fearlessness that can be developed.  For example, an individual with a fear of heights might have to crawl to the edge of the Grand Canyon on their first visit.  But, as they do it more and more, they can eventually walk to the edge and, perhaps, eventually run to the edge with confidence.  Courage in everyday life is much the same.  Consider public speaking (the more you do, the better you get) or changing a baby’s diaper (on second thought, maybe that never gets easy…).  Once we take that first step of courage, the next one becomes just a little bit easier.  Eventually, you become more comfortable taking a risk, speaking up, volunteering, using candor in a discussion, or making an important decision.  Most individuals have more courage (bravery) than they ever believed, but they must take that first step to exercise it.
  2. Stronger than you seem – Many individuals seem to have a challenge making their point, having their opinion heard, or having others believe in their abilities.  Others have not yet discovered the inner strength they have.  But, for others to see that strength, we must believe it exists and feel confident in our abilities to use it.  In short, we must believe that we can do more than we have ever shown before.  We must know that our opinion is important and our skills are sufficient.  We need to exhibit that inner strength that we know we possess.
  3. Smarter than you think – Why do many individuals continually feel that everyone else is smarter than them?  It is amazing what we are capable of accomplishing is we will simply know that we have the intelligence to make it happen.  You don’t have to always think you are the smartest person in the room, but you can believe that you have the same potential to contribute that anyone else in the room has.

Past failures are not a predictor of future successes.  It is time that we move forward out of our comfort zone and do what we know we are capable of doing.  Be brave, be strong, and be smart today.

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Investing in the careers of others

Whether you realize it or not, there are a number of other individuals that can have a positive impact on your career development.  We can choose to go through our careers alone, but finding others willing to invest in your career can be the difference between a mediocre career and a fantastic one.  Additionally, for those farther along in their careers, serving others can make your own career more fulfilling and enjoyable.  So, take a look at these to see whether any might make a difference to you:

  1. Mentor
    • Individual that dedicates time to a mentee to provide perspective, honest feedback, suggestions, experiences, guidance, etc. on an ongoing basis
    • A mentor can be part of a formal program or informal
    • One that helps guide an individual on career choices, alternatives, etc. in a confidential manner

Example: Senior individual assigned to a junior individual to meet twice/month to share experiences and work to advance the career of the junior member

  1. Coach
    • Individual that provides specific feedback on a given situation or activity
    • Individual that guides an individual in a specific area or targeted behavior improvement
    • Individual that consistently provides feedback to give behavioral or performance improvement

Example: Supervisor or co-worker that provides feedback to you after a meeting you led providing constructive criticism on things to do differently the next time

  1. Sunshine (opposite of Shadow)
    • Individual that allows another individual to follow or observe what you do or how you do your job
    • Individual that shares insight on a particular job or activity

Example: Individual willing to let you follow them around for a day to learn what your job is about and how you perform under normal circumstances (e.g., you might shadow someone involved in project management to learn whether you might like to work toward a career in that area)

  1. Advocate
    • Individual that frequently speaks up for or advocates for a specific individual or an individual’s talents/skills/abilities
    • One that will “go to bat” for another

Example:  Your former supervisor consistently speaks up for your during annual talent review discussions or directly works with others to advance your career

  1. Sponsor
    • An advocate that will potentially put their own career on the line to support another individual
    • Strong, vocal supporter that diligently seeks the advancement of another individual

Example: Individual that independently works to advance an individual by seeking new opportunities, creating opportunities, etc.

Do you have or are you serving in any of these roles?  Can you see how your own career might benefit if you became involved in one of these career enhancement relationships?  Please find someone that can and is willing to speak with you about these roles and how you might benefit.  Without these individuals involved in your career, you can be successful, but your odds of career acceleration are greatly improved when you ask someone else to invest in your career.  And, by personally investing in the career of others, you enhance your own gratification as you watch them benefit from your experience.  Have a great day!

 

Valuing the opinions of others

Previously on The Porch, we looked at other elemental skills for great leaders.  Today, we look at the element:

Decisiveness without Diversity of Opinions leads to disengagement”

No question, decisiveness in a leader is important. How many of us have seen leaders that simply could not make a decision in a timely fashion? A lack of decisiveness is frustrating and costly in time and resources. So, decisiveness is good, right? It is unless that decisiveness occurs without facts or the reasoned opinions of others.

Let’s look at a simplistic example… You decide to make soup this coming Saturday because the weather forecast calls for cold and snow. Hot soup sounds terrific! You decide to invite some friends and neighbors over to your house to share the soup. You decide that you’ll make corn soup… because that is the only kind of vegetable you have in the house and you don’t want to make a special run to the grocery store. You start making calls to invite others to your house for soup. You make the first call. “John, would you and Mary like to come to our house on Saturday for some hot soup?” John says, “Sure, what kind of soup are we having?” You say, “We’re having vegetable soup, but the only vegetable will be corn, so I guess it will really just be corn soup.” John offers, “Hey, we have some carrots. Can I bring those to add to the soup?” You agree and make the second call. Before you are finished making calls, your guess have offered to bring beef, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, celery, and onions. Now, your soup will be true vegetable soup! Someone even offers to bring some cheese and crackers to round out the meal.

This scenario plays out in our lives and workplace, as well. Sure, we can be decisive. But, our decisions may be based only on what we have to offer… the facts we have been provided, our own experience, and our own perspective. However, when we allow the input and opinions of others, we begin to see how the diversity and totality of all our combined facts, experiences, and perspectives can result in a much better, more informed decision. In fact, some may even offer completely different perspectives (e.g., cheese and crackers) that make the result even better and more complete than if we had limited the input.

So, hopefully, you can see from this example that, though we value decisiveness from our leaders, it is equally important to create an environment where we value the diversity of opinions and perspectives that can make our overall decisions more complete and better. Bottom line… great leaders are decisive, but they solicit and incorporate the varied viewpoints of everyone on the team. And, everyone on the team feels free to share their opinions whether or not they are in agreement with others.

Have a great day! Ah, vegetable soup does sound inviting this late January day.

 

The Abilene Paradox: Going along without expressing your opinion

Have you ever heard the term “group think?”  Group think is the concept that you and others decline the opportunity to express your opinion on a subject resulting in a very poor final decision being made.  An investigation into the NASA Challenger disaster (the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 resulting in the death of all seven crew members) revealed that group think was largely responsible for o-ring failure which was assigned as the root cause).  Group think is also illustrated by the Abilene Paradox, a short story about four individuals contemplating what to do on a hot summer day:

                                    The Road to Abilene (aka The Abilene Paradox)

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family (husband, wife, father-in-law, and mother-in-law) is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon

Group think can be a dangerous trap.  Despite the opportunity for several individuals to voice their opinion and, perhaps, collectively reach a better decision, they quietly go together “down the road” to a poor result.  Does group think happen in our work environment?  Sure, I think most or all of us would say that there have been times when you knew that the group was headed toward a poor decision, but no one would speak up to challenge it.

So, if we know that group think happens and we agree that it does not lead to the best decisions, what should we do to prevent it?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Individuals  – We all need other people in their lives that will speak up and honestly say when we are headed down the wrong road.  Having an accountability partners (e.g., a strand of three cords) or someone else that we have specifically given permission to hold us accountable is a critical step to ensure we don’t “go to Abilene.”
  2. Leaders – Anyone that has a responsibility to lead others must take special steps to ensure that the opinions of others are important.  Several steps can be taken:
    • Repeatedly state that all opinions count – give permission to disagree with you
    • Reward or recognize those that do offer differing opinions
    • Never, ever denigrate anyone that offers a differing opinion or disagrees (respectfully, of course) with you
    • Create a safe haven for opposing viewpoints, even encouraging it (for example, before any final decision is made, you can state, “OK, if we were on the other side of this issue, what arguments or comments would we have to support the other viewpoint?”  In other words, intentionally raise and discuss opposing viewpoints before making that final decision.)
  3. Everyone – Resolve’ to exercise more candor.  We need to be bold or courageous when we have an opposing viewpoint.

Let’s resolve to avoid that “road to Abilene” that can hamper our success and overall satisfaction.  Thanks for all you do!  Have a “top ten” day!

 

A Strand of Three Cords: Getting Honest Feedback

You have probably heard it said,

“A single cord is easily broken; two cords together are stronger, though still easily broken; but, a strand of three cords is not easily broken and can withstand much.”

The reference here is targeted toward relationships with others.  Though we might have a preference or desire to “go it alone,” one person may not easily withstand the challenges we face.  Having a relationship with one other is better, but having a partnership with two others is better yet.

Let me illustrate…  I have often seen an individual react in disbelief when provided with honest feedback on their performance, behaviors, or the overall value they provide to the organization.  It is very easy for us to fool ourselves into believing what we want to believe about ourselves, not the actual truth.  We do not easily give ourselves honest feedback.  My observations over many years at multiple companies with hundreds of year-end self-appraisals reveals that the percentage of individuals that rate themselves as “exceeds” would be >50%.  Yet, the final percentage of “exceeds” is a third or less than that.

Why do individuals struggle to have “self-awareness?”  How can we become better at understanding our gaps… thus, having the opportunity to improve?  That is where the three strands of cord come in.  If we each had two other individuals that we trust and that would provide that unbiased, honest feedback (and, do the same for each other), that strand of three cords would become stronger.  Each individual cord would become stronger and the combined strand of three cords would be much more able to withstand the challenges of the job or difficulties in your personal life.

Let’s look at some specific examples of how a “strand of three cords” can be beneficial:

  1. Regular feedback on how you handle specific situations  (“Did I handle that situation with him well?  What should I have done?”)
  2. Individuals to bounce ideas off without fear of criticism  (in effect, try out the idea before doing so in public)
  3. Help embellishing or rounding out thoughts or ideas  (thought partners that can help answer “Am I missing something here?”)
  4. Pre-review your year-end self-appraisal to ensure it is accurate
  5. Individuals you trust that can share the load when it becomes too heavy
  6. Help ensuring that you remain objective versus emotional
  7. Individuals that can help you prepare for important presentations, meetings, or events
  8. Accountability partners to help you stay focused and on-track to achieving goals, objectives, or personal targets

In short, when you ask two other individuals to partner with you* as a “strand of three cords”, you are admitting that the benefits of honest feedback and accountability from two others will help you become a stronger person individually and that your team of three can better withstand the trials that come to us all.  So, what do you think?  Is it worth a try?

Thanks for making this a great place to work.  Have an outstanding “best day yet!”

 

*It is best to find a regular, re-occurring time to meet (e.g., lunch once/week or a couple times/mo, for example) and make a significant effort to keep that time free.  Block it out on your calendar and keep it unavailable for anything else.

 

“Quailty” service for over 50 years

There is a saying that is meaningful to me, “Excuse me, but your actions are so loud that I can barely hear your words.”

My father-in-law owned a heating and air-conditioning business.  The business is still operating today and has been in the family since the 1920’s.  Often in the earlier days, an important supplier would provide business signs to be placed on their building.  Once, a supplier provided and hung on the business a sign that said, “Quailty service for over 50 years.”  Someone remarked to my father-in-law that the word “Quality” was mis-spelled on the sign on their building and he said, “Yes, I know, but our customers around town care more about the work we have done for them through the years than what is written on that sign.”  Sure, one could argue that excellence says we should be precise in what we do, even with the little things.  However, my father-in-law was making a great point… words are cheap.  It is our actions that really matter.

So, we can talk all we want about our standards for quality, its importance to our customers, our passion for compliance and excellence and first-time right, but if our actions say otherwise, we will have no credibility with those around us.  We can talk all day about how much we want to serve others, or how much we care, or our plans for next month, or what we’ll do for you.  However, if our actions say otherwise, we have no credibility.   Do we talk about our high standards, then act as one with low standards and little integrity?

So often, I see examples of words versus actions in life that speak very loudly.  For example, is it surprising to a parent that freely and openly consumes alcohol to get a call about their teenager who was caught drinking at a school dance?  Should we be surprised what our kids drive fast and recklessly if the only example they have ever seen from us is something similar?  Should we expect our employees to treat others fairly and honestly when we don’t treat them with respect and dignity?  Let’s never forget that the actions we take day-by-day are much more important and make a greater impact to those around us than the words we say.

Have an outstanding day!

Servant leadership: showing how much you care

   “Self-advancement without service to others leads to resentment and lack of trust

I think each of us, when pressed, could name at least one individual whose primary purpose is to advance their own agenda, career, position, etc. with complete and utter disregard for anyone else.  How do you feel when you think of that person?  Do you trust that person?  Do you want to follow him/her?  Do you lay awake at night dreaming of the day when that person achieves his/her next promotion?  Of course, the answer to this is “no”.  None of us feels valued or motivated when we feel used.

However, there is a more subtle version of this type of leadership.  It is not blatant, but does exist.  Do you know anyone that comes to you only when they need your help?  Do you know individuals that frequently fail to return phone calls, answer e-mails, or acknowledge your presence until there is something they need from you or when they expect your support?  Eventually, continued treatment like this can also lead to resentment and lack of trust.

So, how important is it to establish or recognize service to others as a critical leadership skill?  One of my favorite quotes (and, one that I think about almost every single work day) is by Teddy Roosevelt:

      “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

How much you care matters!  And, you show how much you care by serving others.  Certainly, we all must manage our own careers.  But, when you manage your career without regard for others, you are doomed to fail as a leader.  Your team members will resent you and, eventually, their trust for you will diminish or disappear.  When you demonstrate that service to others is part of who you are and what you do, it is amazing how others will embrace you as someone that can be trusted.  When you are trusted, your team members are more likely to share their views, take more calculated risks, think outside the box, and, overall, strive harder for excellence.  When you are not trusted as a leader, members tend to withhold information and effort.  When you demonstrate that your own career is more important than that of your teammates, resentment soon follows.

If you sense resentment and lack of trust on your team, could it be that you have elevated your own interests above those of your team members?  Are you someone that serves others?  Can you remember the last time you did something for someone else that you knew could never repay you?  Here are some helpful hints that you might consider that could enhance your “servant leadership”:

  • Ensure that you are not asking members of your team to do something that you would not personally do yourself
  • Make a personal sacrifice to serve one or more members of your team
  • Allow a member of your team to assume responsibility for a major project, make a presentation, or get exposure that you might normally desire for yourself
  • Bring in donuts or pizza for your team
  • Help your team accomplish a mundane task or help someone finish an activity that they might have to do after hours or on a weekend
  • Praise your team members publicly for some accomplishment or activity they completed
  • Take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen — do something unexpected that someone else might normally do
  • Begin conversations with team members about how you can help advance their career aspirations
  • Go to a play, ballgame, or other event for a niece or nephew just to show you care about them and what is important to them
  • Write a personal love letter to your spouse or loved one – or, do something else unexpected or impromptu

Show your team or someone else how much you care today.  Do something!  Have a great, wonderful, terrific, swell day!  Thanks for all you do!

Do you plan to do anything big today?

Lou Holtz is a former college football coach and current television color commentator.  He is also a motivational speaker and has spoken to many audiences on what it takes to lead and be successful in life and business.  Today on The Porch, we look at some of Lou’s most famous quotes and how these relate to what we do.

  1. Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. – Holtz is highlighting here that ability and motivation together are not enough.  Our attitude is a key factor in how we live our lives day-by-day.
  2. Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. – Holtz is saying that we cannot control what happens in our day, but we CAN control our response.  As I have said before, “A good day is defined not by what happens to us, but by how we respond to what does happens.”  We can totally control whether today is a good day!
  3. I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care. – Some quotes need no further embellishment.  Enough said!
  4. If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today. – It is OK to look back, but only briefly.  We cannot alter what happened yesterday and today carries its own challenges.  Do you plan to just coast through today or do you have plans to accomplish something important?  Perhaps, if this is a lazy Sunday, you might be happy to just coast.  However, living with intentionality is the best way to make a difference… at least for the other six days a week.
  5. Successful people will always tell you that you can do something. It’s the people who have never accomplished anything who will always discourage you from trying to achieve excellent things. – Don’t let others deter you from that excellent thing you are in the process of doing.  Don’t you just hate it when someone belittles what you do simply because they are jealous?  They can only deter you, if you let them.  Don’t give them that permission!

What “big thing” are you destined to do today?  Chances are, if you don’t plan for something big or if you’re not ready for it when it does come, that “big thing” will pass you by.  Someone reading this will have a great day today.  Will it be you?  Let’s all plan to have a super day!

Characteristics of an Excellent Life

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How do you define excellence?  What describes an excellent life?  Many have tried to describe what is best seen, felt, and observed over time.  For example:

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.  Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” – Colin Powell

Excellence is often assigned to both what we do and how we do it.  As Aristotle said, it is also a habit.  And, it is important for both little and big things, says Powell.  So, how can we describe excellence?  What describes an excellent life?

I believe there are 10 key elements or characteristics that describe an excellent life.  This applies to excellence associated with both “people performance” and “how we live.”  I have tried to describe an excellent life by what characteristics always accompany it.  So, take a look and see if you agree:

10 Key Characteristics that Describe an Excellent Life

  1. Intentional – Excellence is an act of the will or personal desire to excel – it is not accidental.  An individual acting with excellence has the express intent to perform at a level higher that is expected or than others would aspire.
  2. Attitude – Excellence is not a single act, but an ongoing high standard of personal performance.  Many attempt to ascribe excellence to a single event or action by an individual.  However, excellence is define more by attitude (purpose) than any single result.
  3. Improvement – Excellence is the result of a constant push to do better.  It is a dissatisfaction with the status quo.  Excellence is the result of this ongoing desire to improve.  A person of excellence is always working to raise the bar of their performance or treatment of others.
  4. Value – Excellence imparts value to yourself and others.  It is visible, uncommon, and desired.  Excellence makes things, people, and time better.  A person living an excellent life is constantly striving to add value to the lives of others.
  5. Discipline – Excellence is the habit resulting from doing small things well over and over again (e.g., See quotes above by Aristotle and Powell).  Excellence is not the result of a doing one thing well on one day.  It is typified by ongoing, focused effort.
  6. Integrity – Excellence is typified not just by what you do, but by how you do it.  Excellence is not defined by results, but by how those results were obtained, how people were treated, and how you feel by being with and around that individual.
  7. Sustained – Excellence is not a “flash in the pan.”  It is a high standard of performance exhibited over time.  Excellence is typically ascribed to a lifetime of effort, not one “excellent” day or event.
  8. Urgent – Excellence is typified by action.  A person living an excellent life is one that not only seek to do well, but does it.  An excellent personal realizes that “talk is cheap” and is usually the first to initiate or take needed actions.
  9. Service – Excellence is not confined to one individual.  A person living an excellent life will, to a very large extend, be dedicated to others.  An excellent life is one that is poured into making a difference to others.
  10. Godly – Is it really possible to live an excellent life as described in the 9 characteristics above in our own human effort?  I would argue that one might achieve several of most of these with typical human effort.  However, I would contend that no human life is truly excellent without a focus, dedication, commitment, and dependence on God.  When we place our lives in the hands of His Son, Jesus, we are empowered to live our lives in ways that impact others.  An excellent life will also be marked by a life dedicated to serving others and God.

 

So, how does my list of Excellence Attributes work for you?  When you consider excellence in how we live, would you always find these 10 characteristics.  Think of that one person in your life that you would say most closely typifies “an excellent person” or “an excellent life.”  Would you find these elements in their life?

So, the question for us is this, “If we agree that these characteristics define an excellent life, how do I measure up?”  What do I need to change in my life?  How can I raise the bar on how I live and how I treat others?

My hope today is that my description of an excellent life would make a difference to you or someone else in your life.  If any of these 10 elements is missing in your life, what can you do to seek it for your own.  Things to consider.  Have a great day!

 

 

Quit making excuses and find a way

No, I am not becoming a LinkedIn addict!  However, I do find some information on it a bit entertaining.  Below are some of the comments and statements I observed recently:

  1. “To achieve the INCREDIBLE, you have to attempt the IMPOSSIBLE.” – Darren Hardy
  2. “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong.  The amount of work is the same.” – Unknown
  3. “Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” – Sheryl Sandberg
  4. “Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.” – Unknown
  5. “If you really want to do something, you will find a way.  If you don’t, you will find an excuse.” – Jim Rohn

What is the common theme of these five statements?  Each talks about that motivation for action that can only come from within us.  Attempting the impossible… make ourselves strong… being bold… setting big goals… finding a way…  These statements are a call to action for us to achieve more than we ever believed was possible.  Have you reached a point that you think you cannot achieve anything greater?  Then, try harder.  Are your achievements too small or seemingly insignificant?  Then, dream bigger.  Are you finding reasons why you never get the break or that no one ever takes a chance on you?  Then, make your own break.  We need to quit making excuses and find our own way forward.  That’s the message from these statements.

So, as long as you have breath to breathe; as long as the sun continues to rise; and as long as your badge still blinks green when you come to work; there is something great that each of us can accomplish.  Don’t give up hope and don’t stop striving.

This could be our best day yet… there is still a chance.