The test of sincere friendship

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Today, we look at another of Aesop’s Fables. This one is relates to friendship:

The Bear and the Travelers (by Aesop)

Two Travelers were on the road together, when a Bear suddenly appeared on the scene. Before he observed them, one made for a tree at the side of the road, and climbed up into the branches and hid there.  The other was not so nimble as his companion; and, as he could not escape, he threw himself on the ground and pretended to be dead.  The Bear came up and sniffed all round him, but he kept perfectly still and held his breath; for they say that a bear will not touch a dead body.  The Bear took him for a corpse, and went away.  When the coast was clear, the Traveler in the tree came down, and asked the other what it was the Bear had whispered to him when he put his mouth to his ear.  The other replied, “He told me never again to travel with a friend who deserts you and the first sign of danger.”

The moral of this story, according to Aesop, is: Misfortune tests the sincerity of friendship.

Misfortune, or life’s challenges, truly do test the sincerity of friendship. Perhaps, in this story, the Traveler that ran for the tree was simply being practical.  “At least save yourself,” he might have thought.  On the other hand, adversity frequently exposes a true friend from merely a “Facebook” friend.  I have seen this clearly in my own life.  Over the last year in which I experienced a few health issues, I witness friends doing remarkable things for me and my family!  Though no one wants to experience adversity, seeing the reaction of others and how much they care warms the heart in a way that you may not have experienced without the adversity.

Seeing others experience adversity also tests us. When you see a bear threaten your friend, how do you react?  Do you head for the nearest tree or do you stand with your friend to fight together?  What have you done lately for a friend experiencing one of life’s challenges?  How have you supported a friend that has lost a job?  What have you done to comfort a friend experiencing a family crisis?  Who would count you as a friend that would never leave you when adversity strikes?

Have a fabulous day today! Let’s hope no bears come our way; but, if they do, let’s fight with our friends.

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In search of Cinderella

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Shel Silverstein an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children’s books. In one of these books (“A Light in the Attic”), Silverstein included this poem:

In Search of Cinderella (by Shel Silverstein)

From dawn to dusk,
From town to town,
Without a single clue,
I seek the tender, slender foot
To fit this crystal shoe.
From dusk to dawn,
I try it on
Each damsel that I meet.
And I still love her so, but oh,
I’ve started hating feet.

Though this poem is certainly written for children, I think it can have meaning for us, as well. The Prince in Silverstein’s poem has a definitely goal that he seeks with diligence.  He spends all day every day work to achieve this goal.  Certainly, it is an admirable goal… to find his one true love.  However, he has allowed this effort to so consume him that he finds drudgery and comes to hate the journey.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself thinking that someday in the future you’ll be happy, or set, or satisfied, or able to do what you want?  Have you ever thought, “When my kids finish college and leave home, we’ll be able to do what we’ve dreamed?”  Or, “when I finish this degree…” Or, “when we pay off the house…”  Or, “when I get that next promotion…”  Or, “when I finish that last chemo treatment…”  It is so easy to get so caught up in believing that that ‘goal’ down the road will bring happiness that we come to hate the journey.  Then, that day comes when you have ‘achieved the goal’ you learn that it wasn’t the ultimate happiness you had hoped.  Don’t get me wrong, it is great to have life goals… almost essential.  It is noble to be focused, dedicated, and on a specific pathway to achieve something big.  However, we should work to avoid allowing this to become so important that we come to hate the process or hate the journey because you may wake up one day and wonder where the time has gone.

I think “Searching for Cinderella” was Silverstein’s way of saying, “We need to stop and smell the roses along the way.” Life is too precious, too wonderful, and too filled with large and small joys that it is simply wrong to miss it.  So, don’t let today go by without experiencing the smell of a rose along the way!

Thanks for all you do! Have a fabulous day!

 

(By the way, I attached a link to my favorite Cinderella-theme song this morning, as well. Enjoy!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrWMBC6yoME

 

 

What problem are you trying to solve?

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Recently, a colleague sent me a cartoon showing three scenes: 1) what we dream of – this scene showed a rocket ship with a titanium-plated nose cone, long-range supersonic antenna, custom artwork, one-way viewport mirror, etc. – it was a very elaborate product, 2) what we settle for at launch – this scene showed a smaller rocket ship with plain antenna, plain nose cone, simple finishes, etc. – a very simple version of the rocket, and 3) what the user needs – a simple bike with small ramp. The point was that we often dream of a finished product that embodies all of the bells and whistles we can imagine, but settle for less – and even that doesn’t really meet the ultimate requirement.

That also reminds me of the question, “What problem are we trying to solve?” This is a great question to ask at the start of a meeting, when putting together a presentation, when forming a team, when beginning an initiative, when creating a process, or when resolving a conflict.  By pausing at the beginning to simply ask, “What do we want to solve?”, we might avoid significant time, expense, and complexity that, in the end, is not needed or even not wanted.

Perhaps you have heard someone mention “Rube Goldberg” or say “that is a Rube Goldberg approach” when speaking of a process or system. Rube Goldberg was a real person (a cartoonist) that created overly complex, over-engineered systems to solve simple problems.  You might also remember the game “Mousetrap” whereby a very complex arrangements of pulleys, levers, and devices used to simply lower a cage over a trapped mouse.  We do similar things in our lives.  In our work processes, we often create a form to request a form.  Or, we design a process with 8 steps that could just as easily be done with 3 steps.  At home, we often concoct an elaborate series of steps and activities simply to get dinner on the table on time.

Before we set about developing the steps needed or the process to be used, it is always a good first step to ask, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Then, “What is the most simple way to solve that particular problem?”  By pausing long enough to clearly articulate the problem and confine our solution to that one problem, we can avoid the over-design or over-engineering that made Rube Goldberg famous.  Give it a try!

Thanks to my colleague for sharing the cartoon! And, let’s all have a well-planned, but spontaneously happy day!  Remember, you never know when you might just have a “top ten” day!

‘Reforestation’ in your own life

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I recently was able to visit Yellowstone National Park in the western US. Yellowstone is a beautiful place full of wildlife, stunning views, and amazing things to see!  While we were there, we actually saw an ongoing forest fire and the apparent destruction left behind.  Hills and valleys were literally black and still smoldering in some areas.  We also saw evidence of past significant forest fires in the park.  However, in these areas, we also saw something else… we saw the new growth coming to life in these areas.  You could see many new small trees and undergrowth occurring in these areas in the midst of tall remnants of the pine trees previously present.  This new growth was vibrant and had a beauty all their own.  You can see some of this in the photo above.  I read an interesting commentary about a previous forest fire in Yellowstone that captures this natural reforestation:

 

As quickly as they burned, Yellowstone’s forests also quickly came back to life. Even while fires were actively being fought in some parts of the park, other areas that had been burned were bursting with vegetation. Lodgepole pine cones are sealed with a sticky resin and actually need flames to open them so they can drop their seeds. So as the flames spread through areas, seemingly leaving them blackened and barren, they actually were reseeding the areas as they went. The result were tens of thousands of replacement trees that would sprout in the ensuing years.

 

So, as destructive and damaging as a forest fire might be, nature is able to use them for good… to create new growth and replenishment in the life of a forest.

It seems that life can bring about its own ‘forest fires’ — family problems, financial struggles, health issues, challenges with children, career disappointments, etc. We have probably all experienced a ‘forest fire’ of one type or another along our life or career journey.  Though it might seem to be pure devastation during the crisis, just like the forest, it is possible and likely that your own ‘reforestation’ process will occur.  Time seems to make things better.  It is difficult to think of reforestation in the midst of the burning hillsides and forests, but in the aftermath, you can often experience some comfort knowing that, in time, plant life will return, trees will begin to grow, and the wild life will return.  Though your forest may never be the same as it was, it can still achieve a new ‘normal’ that includes things better, perhaps, than they ever were before.  Trust that time will heal.  Lean on those around you.  And, begin looking for that new green undergrowth that is sure to reappear in time.

Thanks for all you do for those around you. And, if you know that a friend, neighbor, or coworker has recently experienced a forest fire, help them in their own reforestation process.  Have a “best day yet” — you never know when it might show up!

Having a “YOLO” day

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My wife and I just returned from a road trip covering nine states and over 3600 miles. One of our stops was to see the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.  South Dakota is a beautiful state.  It is also one of those states that you can drive hours without a change of scenery.  However, in South Dakota, you do see a sign every two miles advertising “Wall Drug” – a tourist “destination” (e.g., tourist trap) in the town of Wall, SD.  See the photo shown above.  You can buy anything needed by a tourist in Wall from coonskin hats to Mt. Rushmore in a snow globe.  I was struck, however, by one of their roadside signs that simply said “YOLO”.  I later learned that this meant “you only live once.”  Well, one trip to Wall Drug is fascinating and fun, but probably enough.

Anyway, the YOLO term stuck in my head. You only live once!  That is so true.  My wife and I had talked about such a trip for years and finally did it.  How many things have you included on your “bucket list” that you may actually never get to do?  To me, YOLO does not mean doing risky activities without thought of consequences, but it does mean that we need to occasionally stop saying, “We’ll do that someday” and just do it!  It means knowing that you may only get one chance in life to say something, do something, or be something to someone else.  It means you might come to that crossroads only one time.  It means you may need to exert a dose of courage to make a point.  Someone once said:

“Most people regret more those things they didn’t do or say than those things they did do and say.”

So, today, you are encouraged to think about doing or saying those things that you may later regret if you keep delaying or putting it off. Be courageous and just go for it!

Thanks for all you do! Have one of those “best days yet!”

 

The gift of responsibility

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Today, we look at the ninth of The 10 Greatest Gifts principles outlined by Steven W. Vannoy in his 1994 book.  You will recall that we examined “integrity” the last time.  These principles also apply very well to adults working in the business world and can help us work better with others and understand, for ourselves, how we can be most productive and effective in every walk of life.

What is the principle of responsibility?  Vannoy defines it like this as he discussed the importance of this gift to our children:

“With the gift of responsibility our children learn to take charge of their own lives; along with integrity, they learn to help others work through the circumstances they face. With these qualities and values, we take full responsibility for our circumstances and our future.  We make intelligent decisions.  We live our lives with pride, fairness, and dignity.”

Being responsible…. I remember my parents talking about how we needed to be responsible for our own things, our own schoolwork, our own problems, etc.  It was clear to me at an early age that there were certain things in life that only I could manage or control and if I didn’t do it, it likely would not get done.  I’m thankful my parents taught me responsibility.  It prevents me from being the “victim” or the innocent bystander.  Let’s look at a few examples of responsibility:

  1. Clean up your room to a child results in an organized adult that plans and executes well
  2. Finish your homework before you go outside to play to a child results in an adult that knows how to prioritize their work and focus on the important things first
  3. Share your toys with your brother to a child results in an adult that is a giver; one that focuses not on him/herself, but wants to make the world better for others, as well
  4. You have to do that report yourself to a child results in an adult that understands that they must take responsibility for their own work
  5. You kids need to work together to a child results in an adult that believes that a team can accomplish much more than any one individual
  6. Now, tell me the truth, did you do that?” to a child results in an adult that is honest and trustworthy
  7. Remember, taking care of your kitty is your job to a child results in an adult that values life and others; that understands the needs of others and will do whatever is needed to meet those needs
  8. Please help your little sister with that to a child results in an adult that understands the value of serving others and helping others through difficult times
  9. How do you feel when someone does that to you?” to a child results in an adult that is kind, has compassion, and can put her/himself in the shoes of others
  10. Let’s go outside and play to a child results in an adult that knows the importance of leisure, fun, and activity and will make that a priority in life
  11. Sorry, but you’ll have to tell your teacher what happened to a child results in an adult that admits their mistakes, seeks forgiveness, and wants to do better in the future

As an adult, it is not too late to develop the gift of responsibility in our own lives. How can you begin that journey today?

Let’s all have a terrific day! It might even be our very best yet!

 

Making yourself mentally stronger

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If you are like me, when faced with stress, you might be tempted to ask, “Am I as mentally strong as I need to be?” Or, you might ask, “Why do everyday things seem to affect me worse that others that I respect?”  Being mentally strong can help you face and defeat stress that might otherwise distract or battle you.  So, why are some able to fend off these issues better than others?

Kathryn Stanley, Chair, Organizational and Leadership Psychology Department at William James College has created a list of “18 Things Mentally Strong People Do.” Take a look at Stanley’s list:

  1. They move on
  2. They keep control
  3. They embrace change
  4. They stay happy
  5. They are kind
  6. They are willing to take calculated risks
  7. They invest their energy in the present
  8. They accept full responsibility for their past behavior
  9. They celebrate other people’s success
  10. They are willing to fail
  11. They enjoy their time alone
  12. They are prepared to work and succeed on their own merits
  13. They have staying power
  14. They evaluate their core beliefs
  15. They expend their mental energy wisely
  16. They think productively
  17. They tolerate discomfort
  18. They reflect on their progress

So, did any of these stand out to you as hurdles that you face? Which of these ranks as the most challenging for you?  I think this list serves as a great checklist for us to provide a self-assessment of our mental strength.  For example, if you have a tendency to be mentally exhausted and unable to concentrate during important meetings, you might consider whether spending more time alone to help focus your mental energy might benefit you.  Or, there might be others of these that could represent individual opportunities for growth over the next few months or year.  The premise is that we can all become mentally stronger if we focus on improvement in areas that hinder us.

Think about your own mental toughness today as you face whatever battles that might be occurring in your life. While you are at it, consider items from the list that you can intentionally influence today (e.g., kindness, personal attitude, diligence, etc.).  Perhaps, just a few tweaks in your attitude and some intentionality in your approach might make a huge difference for you.

Have a fabulous day!

 

Early morning on The Porch

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I was up early the other morning. OK, earlier than my normal 4am time.  As is usual, I wondered out onto the porch to see what the new day might bring.  On this morning, the stars were brilliant…perhaps more so than I can recall.  They were big, bright, and the sky was full of them.  It reminded me that the amazing light that I was seeing actually began centuries earlier and the light was just now reaching me.  Perhaps, great historical events were occurring on the night that the light I was seeing began its journey to my eyes.  Nonetheless, it was also a reminder that we may not actually see the good that comes from our efforts for years, if ever in our lifetime.  For example, individuals that plant small trees rarely live to see the day that their shade covers the yard in the hot summer sun.  Or, we may never truly witness the good that our words or deeds might have on the lives of others.  Or, the projects that consume our day today might not bear fruit for years.  We merely do what we know is right and trust that it will bring good someday.

I have run across some quotes about stars that may bring you fresh insight today. Just read each and think about what it might mean to you or how it might influence what you do today:

  • “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt 
  • “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman 
  • “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare 
  • “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino 

 

It is good to look and dream at the stars. It is good to ponder their origin and their meaning.  It is good to merely enjoy their beauty.  But, it is even better to allow them to inspire us to act on behalf of someone else.

Have an absolutely brilliant day!

 

We all have a choice

choices

Today, we look at the tenth and final of The 10 Greatest Gifts principles outlined by Steven W. Vannoy in his 1994 book.  You will recall that we examined “responsibility” the last time.  These principles also apply very well to adults working in the business world and can help us work better with others and understand, for ourselves, how we can be most productive and effective in every walk of life.   Here is the full list of these Greatest Gifts:

  1. Feeling fully
  2. Self-esteem
  3. Compassion
  4. Balance
  5. Humor
  6. Communication
  7. Abundance
  8. Integrity
  9. Responsibility
  10. Conscious choice

What is the principle of conscious choice?  Vannoy defines it like this as he discussed the importance of this gift to our children:

“Once you know that you have the gift of choice in your life, there is no more powerful tool. It allows you to figure out how to make things happen and how not to be a victim, no matter what the circumstances.”

Choices…. Being able to shape our own life and destiny is truly a powerful tool.  We are not necessarily confined to the destiny others envision for us, but by the choices we consciously make for ourselves.  There are many others that have described this much better than I ever could.  Let’s take a look at some of these quotes:

  • “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” – Kevyn Aucoin
  • “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “When you wake up every day, you have two choices. You can either be positive or negative; an optimist or a pessimist. I choose to be an optimist. It’s all a matter of perspective.” – Harvey Mackay
  • “I don’t condemn anyone for making their choices. If someone chooses those roles, fine. But not for me. When someone stops me and says, You’re the reason I became an actress, that lets me know I made the right decision.” – Cicely Tyson
  • “Wise choices can put us in control of situations where we might otherwise be tempted to compromise our principles. We cannot control all that happens to us; however, we can choose to be in control of our responses.” – L. Lionel Kendrick
  • “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” – Denis Waitley
  • “I’m a big believer that your life is basically a sum of all the choices you make. The better your choices, the better opportunity to lead a happy life.” – Karen Salmansohn
  • “Ideas matter. The world matters. Our lives matter, and the choices we make as we navigate our lives perhaps matter most of all.” – Lauren Myracle
  • “Eighty percent of all choices are based on fear. Most people don’t choose what they want; they choose what they think is safe.” – Phil McGraw
  • “I believe without a single shadow of a doubt that it is necessary for young people to learn to make choices. Learning to make right choices is the only way they will survive in an increasingly frightening world.” – Lois Lowry

 

The key themes from these quotes are: a) our choices define who we are, b) we must accept responsibility for our choices, both good and bad, and c) our own choices determine our happiness. Learning to make appropriate choices, then, is a critical tool in our arsenal of life.  How have your choices altered your life?  Can you narrow down the critical choices in your life to 2 or 3 that made the most difference?  Would you do anything different if you could do it all over again?

We can’t go back, but we can make better, more informed decisions in the future. The rest of our lives may depend upon it.  So, go do it… be bold, be informed, and be prepared for adventure!  Have a fabulous day!

 

Inspiration for leaders

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Each of us is a leader. Some lead people at work.  Some lead our neighborhood association.  Some lead children or youth teams or groups.  Some lead families.  Almost everyone has an opportunity to lead either every day or on occasion.  So, we should all desire to become better or more effective leaders.  And, sometimes, being a leader becomes challenging, results in undue stress, or might even drag us down.

Today, I hope to encourage you as a leader. What you do is important.  My challenge today is to consider the impact you are making on those you lead.  Whether you know it or not, you are making a difference to those you lead.  You could even make a lifetime difference.  So, today I have summarized a few ACTUAL comments I have heard from individuals I have known over my 38 years in industry.  All of these comments were made to express honor or admiration for an individual that once served as their leader.  Some of these I have even said myself to leaders that made a difference to me.  When you realize that you are making this kind of impact in the lives of others, it should inspire you as a leader and motivate you to keep pressing on.  Take a look:

  • Because of you, I didn’t give up
  • Because of you, I learned that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible
  • Because of you, I decided to go into your field or line of work
  • Because of you, I want to be a leader, too
  • You inspire me to do more and do it better
  • You make work fun and worth my best effort
  • I wouldn’t be where I am today without you
  • You made the hard work worth it
  • I keep coming back because of you
  • This would not have been possible without your help and leadership
  • You inspire me to reach my potential
  • You never gave up on me

Hearing someone say something like this to you can make it all worthwhile. So, leaders, realize that you are making a difference in the lives of others.  And, for all of us, if there is someone in your life now or in the past that has made a difference to you, tell them!  They may be at a low point and wondering if they should keep going.  Make a huge difference to them by saying something… today, if possible.

Thanks to you all for making a difference in the lives of those you care about. Have a great day!