Retirement is underrated!

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Well, it has been exactly six months since I made one of those critical, life-changing decisions. After working for about 40 years in the corporate world, I walked away to that “retirement” chapter of my life (see my blog post from that last day in the office: My last workday!) I had been warned about finding enough to keep busy, losing that daily social interaction, forfeiting the workplace identity that took four decades to develop, and, simply, the possibility of losing some self-worth. I had read many articles about preparing for retirement and the anxieties and worries that unexpectedly come with it. Well, after this first half year of this new chapter, I have come to a very important conclusion… Retirement is underrated!

So, what has made my experience, thus far, so positive? Let me just list a few reasons (I do have to admit that I have been surprised that I have experienced so many of these so soon in this chapter):

  1. I am now able to savor those special moments, not rush to the next thing – The clock is now my friend, not my enemy. In the old days, there were many times when I needed to move from activity-to-activity to get everything done. Now, I find myself slowing down and enjoying the little things more. It is enjoyable sitting on the deck watching the sun rise without having to watch the clock. If something doesn’t get done today, no worry… tomorrow is another day. I have enjoyed thoroughly spending more time with my grandchildren and like the freedom of staying up late, if I want, or sleeping in, which is still hard to do.
  2. What’s important has changed… for the better! – A year ago, I was still spending much too much of my time thinking that work projects were too important. In reality, my focus has changed to “things that matter for people” rather than “things that matter for my employer.” Doing little things, just because I want to, now brings me joy that I didn’t have before. Let me give one example… my wife and I recently made an impromptu decision to drive from St. Louis to visit friends in Michigan. When I was working, the weekends were so cherished that making a rush trip like that would have detracted from the fun of the trip. Not now… doing these kinds of unplanned things now brings a sense of adventure, not dread.
  3. I’m doing more of what I want to do, less of what I have to do – It is amazing how your sense of direction can change in such a short time. It seems I am more driven now by “what would be fun” than doing things just because they are expected or part of the routine. Dressing up for me now is dragging out a pair of khaki pants and polo shirt rather than my standard shorts, tee shirt, and flip flops. We have really enjoyed spending time with our grandkids at the pool this summer… just for fun! (Don’t ask about the time I dunked my three-year-old in the lazy river.)
  4. My wife and I really enjoy our added time together – Before I retired, I had heard many stories of more time resulting in more friction between couples. However, I think we have experienced just the opposite! I am in awe of my wife and all the things she does to run our household and care for our children and grandchildren. It is honestly fun to spend all day with her! We have many common interests and sharing them every day is a joy. She is amazing!
  5. My morning rush hour has become my favorite time of day – For many years, my commute was through urban traffic for up to 44 miles each way. This tends to wear on you after a while. I don’t miss that drive, for sure. Now, that same time period of the day has become my favorite. I enjoy drinking coffee on our deck and watching the sunrise in good weather. That time of day has shifted from the most hectic to the most relaxing. I still get up early, but I think the reason is that I don’t want to miss any of that early morning time. On the other hand….
  6. I’m sleeping more, and better – During my working days, I probably averaged about six hours of sleep a day. That is too little for a healthy lifestyle. Now, I probably get more like 7 – 8 hours, counting naps. Have I mentioned yet how comfortable the hammock on my deck is? And, I might add that the quality of sleep is amazingly better. I have said may times, “Stress is self-inflicted.” But, it is impossible to turn off stress while in the work world like you can when you are retired.
  7. The future has become much less important than today – It seems that life is often a series of chapters with each one in some way pointing to some time in the future. We tend to focus so much on tomorrow that we forget to enjoy today. Well, I have certainly experienced that in my short time as a retiree. The future is now! I admit that I still go to bed almost giddy that I don’t have to battle rush hour traffic and corporate life the next morning. The present has too many positives that I don’t want to waste any of it anxious about tomorrow.
  8. I have more time for others – I have enjoyed doing some things these last six months that I probably never would have or could have when I was working. Spending more time and getting to know my neighbors has been good. Being available to do things spontaneously is nice. Feeling that I could work with a room full of third graders during evening Vacation Bible School at our church was truly fulfilling. Just being free to say “yes” is something I didn’t really anticipate.
  9. I’m really glad I took the plunge instead of over-analyzing it – Knowing when to retire is a significant decision for most of us. Someone once told me, “It is hard to say when you should retire, but when the time comes, you’ll know it.” That simple piece of advice has served me well. It is possible to analyze every possibility in life worrying about your financial situation that you can never get comfortable taking the plunge. I have seen it with a number of individuals. There comes a point when you just have to say you have studied the numbers, have mentally prepared, have the support of your family, and are just ready to go for it!

Certainly, I recognize that I have been blessed by God throughout my life with supportive parents, a good education, great companies to serve, and many wonderful opportunities to financially prosper. Not everyone has the same story. However, when you are finally faced with that decision and are trying to decide whether now is the right time or whether you should stay in your work routine, think about what things might be on your own “my favorite things about my first six months of retirement” list.

I do admit that I enjoy staying in touch with my colleagues and friends from work. I do miss you! However, I wouldn’t change my decision to move to this chapter at all. No regrets! After all, these days, I often have to check the calendar to remember what day it is…

Have a terrific day! Remember, it might just be one of your best yet!

 

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Yes, there are limits to “inclusion”

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Inclusion has become a stand-alone business in our world today. Many companies have added a title similar to Chief Inclusion Officer or Vice-President, Inclusion to combat what many believe is lack of inclusion in our corporate culture. Inclusion has become almost synonymous with motherhood, apple pie, and the Fourth of July.

Many individuals have also adopted the “inclusion” mindset. It has become highly negative and corrosive to be anything other than an inclusive person. No manager can be successful that does not publicly embrace inclusion.

I believe that “inclusion” has become a brand or mindset, rather than a set of behaviors or actions. We can simply state that we are inclusive as corporations or individuals and, magically, we are embraced as inclusive. However, our actions don’t always align with our words.

Inclusion has a very specific meaning that has somehow become lost in today’s politically correct or sensitive world. Inclusion, simply stated, should mean that everyone has an equal OPPORTUNITY to participate. There are no limits to this opportunity. Inclusion, however, is NOT something that means equal results, or equal rewards, or equal standing. It merely means that everyone has a chance to achieve success, participate, have a say, and enjoy the same benefits as everyone else on the team.

Somehow, inclusion has come to mean that we accommodate every type of behavior that might arise. Yes, there are limits to inclusion. Here a few:

  1. Bad behavior should not be tolerated in the name of “inclusion” – When individuals behave unprofessionally or in a way to harms the team or other individuals, this bad behavior must be excluded.
  2. Not everyone gets a trophy or participation award; performance still matters – Too many organizations want recognized or rewarded simply because they have created a “world-class” inclusion organization. Without results, this does not add value. Unless this effort produces a measurably better result, it is either ineffective or lacks proper focus.
  3. Offensive, abusive, and disruptive individuals must be excluded – No one should be subjected to these offenses. When this occurs, a good leader takes decisive action. Additionally, those that try to bully others must either be controlled or changed.
  4. Those that fail to provide equal opportunity for all should be excluded – Likewise, we should not tolerate individuals that do not provide equal opportunities to others. For example, a team may claim that it is “inclusive” just because it has more than 50% women or minority team members. However, if these individuals then don’t have an opportunity to fully participate, this “inclusive” claim is irrelevant.
  5. Inclusion is important, but there are no free rides for non-participants – The companion to equal opportunity is equal effort or equal sacrifice or equal participation. Ensure that all team members are equally accountable for results.

I am a strong advocate for inclusion. I strived through my entire 40 year career to ensure that barriers to inclusion were eliminated. I am very proud to count many individuals advancing in their careers because I helped provide an opportunity that might not have come otherwise. But, I do not believe in promoting inclusion to the detriment of the team. Inclusion is intended to ensure that we ultimately obtain the best result possible; that we add as much value as we can; that our customers are delighted; and that we do the right things well. When we do irresponsible things in the name of inclusion to the detriment of those results, we do no one a favor.

Thanks for all you do to include everyone! Have a great day! Remember, this could be your very best day yet!

What would you say to your Dad if you had only one more chance?

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This coming Sunday is Father’s Day… the day we celebrate all the great things our Dads do for us. It is a day set aside for BBQ’s, outings with families, gifts, and fun. I remember as a kid celebrating Father’s Day doing the things we kids liked to do, not so much what our Dad really would like to do. But, he seemed to just enjoy being with us and doing what we wanted to do… that was just who he was.

However, for many, Father’s Day is a day spent caught up only in memories… thinking about those good times… and bad… with our Dad. Mine has been gone for almost exactly 25 years and I still miss him.

So, for today on The Porch, let’s reminisce about our Dads. Let’s consider what are those things we might say to our Dad if you had one more chance. I also solicited feedback on this question from a few friends to get a broader perspective.

I think the things we might say if you had one more chance fall into a few categories:

  1. “Thanks, Dad, for all that you taught me, especially ________.” I find myself wishing I could thank my Dad for all he taught me. He taught me how to treat and love a wife. He taught me responsibility, diligence, and to pursue excellence. He taught me to play baseball and to love the game. He taught me how to fish, hunt, and appreciate the outdoors. He taught me the importance of family and just “being there” for key events and activities. One of my friends said he would thank his Dad for teaching him how to fix old junk cars. That same friend is now passing that down to his own grandchildren. You may not realize it, but your own children and grandchildren are learning from you… good or bad.
  2. “Dad, I never really told you what I thought of you.” Many individuals I have encountered wish that they would have taken the time to tell their Dad what they really thought of them before they were gone. One of my friends does not have that regret. As part of her Dad’s honor flight trip to Washington DC, family members were asked to write a letter expressing their love and thanks to their Fathers. She had the chance to say exactly those things we all might wish we would have said. How fortunate she was… especially since her father passed away just one month later! Another of my friends mentioned how her Dad gave her the ability to take care of herself. He taught her how to hunt and fish and do things herself without depending upon someone else to do it for her. Being independent has been a blessing to her.
  3. “Dad, you were an amazing example to me, especially when you _________.” Several of the friends I asked to contribute to this talked about the example their father was… of kindness… of patience. One talked about how her father cared for her mother (his wife) tenderly for 14 years after her first stroke. Another mentioned how his father always encouraged him to look forward, not backward. I saw from my father the importance of hard work and of doing what you say you’ll do. I saw him dedicate his precious free time to children, helping to begin a little league baseball organization in my home town. He was a giver that lived an amazing life of service to others.
  4. “Dad, I wish you would have ________ before you died.” We often look back on the lives of our parents regretting what we did or didn’t do. One of my friends mentioned that she wished her father had done a better job preparing her mother to be a widow. He lived his life dedicated to her to the point that she was not ready to live alone after he was gone. She also said that his dedication to her occurred at the expense of relationships with other family members. Sometimes, being honest with our legacy and the brevity of life needs to be recognized, whether we like it or not. Another friend’s Dad died at a very early age. My friend wishes he had taken better care of himself. Several of my friends mentioned that they had never talked about God much with their Dads. The express that they wish they had that chance to ensure that they were ready when they crossed over that river of death.
  5. “I hope you are proud of me, Dad. I never would have accomplished _______ without your _______________ (sacrifice, encouragement, or support).” Several of those contributing to this mentioned the influence their Dad had on their own life. Finishing school, developing skills, learning self-reliance all things Fathers help encourage for us. For others, the sacrifices made by Fathers would be part of those “one more time” conversations. I often catch myself wondering and hoping that my own life reflects the dreams my parents had for me as I was growing up in my small home town.
  6. “I have tried to be just like you, Dad, especially __________.” My own father was a great example of integrity. He worked in the oilfield with men hardened by weather, adversity, and years of hard labor. Yet, to a man, they talked to me privately during my summer work there about how much they respected my father. Hearing that made me to be just like him! One of my friends commented that she always admired her Dad’s “giant personality”… love for people, friendliness, thoughtfulness… that she tried to adopt and emulate. Another friend said his own life has been much better because of the honor and integrity his father displayed over his entire life.
  7. “I wish you could have met your _________ (grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.). You would be so proud. In many ways, they are a lot like you.” My Father died when my children were all young. He would be so proud of them now! And, he would have truly enjoyed his seven grandchildren! Each of them has some element of him in their look, actions, or personality. How fun it would be to watch my parents meet them today! A friend mentioned that her son wished that he could have gotten to know his Grandfather better. He wishes they could take that camping trip together that they had been planning. That same friend wishes her Dad could have met her current husband. She said she thought he would really like him and be proud she had such a wonderful man in her life.
  8. “Dad, just in case there was ever any doubt, I just want you to know that I always loved you.” My friend mentioned that she was whispering her love for her own Father the very moment he died. How wonderful knowing that he never had to doubt it! I would love having the chance to just say it one more time!
  9. “I still smile every time I think about you, Dad. Do you remember the time we __________.” My Dad was fun! He had a great sense of humor and was constantly playing practical jokes on people. I have so many memories of him having fun. He made everything more fun just by being there. My wife and I still talk about his jokes and the pranks he pulled on us.
  10. “Dad, I miss doing __________ with you!” – One of my friends mentioned that he missed being able to go bowling or play golf with his Dad. Those of us that have lost our parents, often just wish we could spend more time doing the things we enjoyed with them. I remember fishing with my Dad while listening to the baseball game on the radio. One of my friends said he would say, “Thank you Dad for all the countless summer days of fishing together, I sure do miss you!”
  11. “Well done, Dad.” I would love the chance just to tell my Dad, “well done.” His life was too short, but full. He served in the military, enjoyed many hobbies, worked hard, raised three successful kids, was respected by others, and sacrificed his own interests for others. He loved his wife of 40 years and told me shortly before his death that he knew his eternal destiny was heaven. How could you ask for more?

 

I’m sure that every person would add their own item to this list. Sometimes, it is good just to pause to reflect on the wonderful life and wonderful parents we were blessed to experience.

For those fortunate enough to still have your Dad living, what is it from this list that you need to tell him? The rest of us would give anything for just one more chance to say what we need to say or neglected to say. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Someone once said,

“Never ignore a person who loves you, cares for you, and misses you. Because one day, you might wake up from your sleep and realize you lost the moon while counting the stars.” – Unknown

Father’s Day is also a good day to consider our own legacy. Are we doing everything we can today to leave behind those memories that will bring smiles years or decades from now? Are there changes you need to make to restore relationships that need mended? Let this time of reflection on your own life serve as a wake-up call, if needed.

Finally, to all you Dads reading this… thanks for what you do; thanks for the sacrifices you make; thanks for the example you provide; thanks for your unending support; and thanks for the love you show. It may not seem like much, but it means the world to some. Keep it up and finish strong!

Happy Father’s Day!

Things you will probably hear at a T-ball game for three year olds… and what we can learn from it

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Today, I attended my second T-ball baseball game for my three-year-old grandson. Needless to say, the games are hilarious. When the ball is hit, everyone on the field – except those fully consumed with playing in the dirt, watching butterflies, or sitting down – chases after the ball at once. It is almost like the scramble when a foul ball is hit into the stands at a major league baseball game. Half the time, runners either run in the wrong direction or not at all. No one keeps score and the parent/player ratio is about 1:2 in the field. It is all fun, though, and the kids are beginning to learn the basics of the best game ever invented (at least that is my opinion).

You hear some interesting comments at one of these games. I thought it might be helpful to list a few of these and provide the lesson for all the adults reading. So, here we go (honestly, these are actual quotes from today’s two inning game):

  • “Don’t fight over the ball!” – This is heard frequently when the kids create a rugby-style mass when trying to emerge from the pile with the ball when hit. Lesson for adults: We need to collaborate with each other to accomplish the goal. Fighting for the credit is selfless and hurts the whole team.
  • “I are hot!” – Though the temperature today was pleasant, a three-year-old isn’t used to standing in the sun with little to do. The “hot” excuse is probably just a way of saying, “Enough of this. What’s next?” Lesson for adults: Finish what you start, even if it is not pleasant. If you make a commitment, fulfill it. 
  • “Can we go to the pool yet?” – The ball diamond for these kids is immediately next to a swimming pool. The kids can see others their age going down the slide, splashing, and enjoying the cool water, while they are standing on a dusty field in the sun doing something that they can’t quite understand. Lesson for adults: Learning something new is not always easy. We have to experience some pain and frustration before we really start to enjoy it. 
  • “Stand up. You can’t catch the ball if you are sitting down!” – Three-year-olds do not understand the concept of being prepared. Soon, if they continue learning the game, they will know how to prepare and be ready for action. Lesson for adults: We can’t always do our best by reacting to things. Preparedness and anticipation are necessary to ensure that we perform at our best when the unexpected occurs.
  • “I got to go potty!” – A three-year-old doesn’t yet understand how important it is to take care of necessary business before a big event. Lesson for adults: No one can think straight, perform at their best, or be patient when you need to use the restroom. Anticipate… and, take needed breaks often to keep everyone sharp.
  • “Quit playing in the dirt!” – There is a lot to learn about playing in the dirt. You can make things, draw, and make things happen with the right kind of dirt. Plus, it is fun to carry some home on your clothes. Lesson for adults: We need to major on the majors. Staying focused on the most important things is hard, especially when something more fun is in the way. First things first!
  • “No, stop! You’re running in the wrong direction!” – When a three-year-old hits the ball, they know they need to run, but they often don’t have any idea where they need to run. So, they just run! Know the right direction to run will come next. Lesson for adults: Running just to be running might be healthful, but it might not get you where you want or need to be. Having a goal or vision is important. Leaders, the lack of a direction is frequently the reason your own team is not performing at the level you hope or expect. Check the direction you have outlined!
  • “Good job, Buddy, you ran the right direction that time!” – Part of the benefit for a three-year-old T-ball star is learning from mistakes. They all make many mistakes. However, how the coaches, parents, and grandparents handle those mistakes can make all the difference in whether they even want to come back next week. Lesson for adults: We need to encourage each other. No one intentionally fails! So, when something wrong does happen, we need to help them learn from it and encourage them to get up, dust off their pants, and try again. That is just what a good leader and a good friend does.

Baseball for a three-year-old should be a fun introduction to a terrific game. Watching the kids progress week-to-week is enjoyable as they learn to do things the right way. No one is an expert the first time they try something. We need to learn from the mistakes we make, be patient with each other, and encourage each other. After all, that’s what keeps us coming back.

Have a great day!

The truth about motivation

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There is much said about motivation. Why do you think that is the case? Why do we need someone else telling us how to stir up our own initiative to do what we should be doing anyway (or more that is expected)?

There are three key principles of motivation that we need to consider:

Motivation Principle #1: To be motivated, you must want to be motivated

Motivation is self-induced. Sure, what others say and do will influence that, but true motivation comes from within. A person that simply does not want to be motivated will not be. So, even when you don’t think you can be influenced to do something you do not want to do, most of us have an internal desire to achieve, to please, or to fulfill. So, we need to stop sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to motivate us to do what is right. That starts with us… right now!

Motivation Principle #2: Things that motivate us define our character

Let’s face it… sometimes we are motivated for the right reason and sometimes for very selfish reasons. Young children often must be motivated to tangible things, such as popsicles, candy, or fun activities. As people mature, motivation should come more from those intrinsic, more noble reasons, such as a desire to help others. Eventually, our motivation defines our character. A person of character is motivated by:

  • Compassion, not expectations
  • Excellence, not expediency
  • Kindness, not threats
  • Service, not mandates
  • Collaboration, not narcissism
  • Truth, not “narratives”
  • Honesty, not compromise
  • Inspiration, not desperation
  • Loyalty, not money
  • Commitment, not demands
  • Opportunities, not obstacles
  • Honor, not platitudes
  • Love, not riches

We need to examine our own motivations… why do we do what we do? Are we doing it for the right reasons?

Motivation Principle #3: Motivation without action is merely emotional stimulation

Anyone can be motivated! Just take a look at Facebook. You won’t have to look long until you find a “motivational quote” or story or video or photo to stir you emotionally. As good as many of these make you feel, unless they move you to action, they are just entertainment. Motivation only becomes valuable if it results in positive action. Being motivated, by definition, drives a different result… a different direction… a different response. Unless we are moved in such a way to achieve something we otherwise would not have achieved, we are not truly motivated. Motivation always results in an observable result. So, when you seek to be motivated to do more than you might otherwise achieve, you must get off the couch and take action.

 

So, to sum it up, motivation is within all of us; it defines our character; and it results in positive action. I recently ran across a quote that says it better:

“Stop doing what is easy. Start doing what is right.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Today is a great day to start doing what we know we need to do!

For a moment like this

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Have you ever felt like you were in a rut with nothing really to show for your efforts? Do you ever wonder “what’s next”? I understand. I think we have all been there. You think that you are doing all those things you should be doing… you follow the rules… you comply… you stay within the limits. Yet, it is hard to imagine how your best efforts are making sense or helping anyone.

I am a believer that nothing happens by accident. I think that things have a way of working out in a way we cannot understand or comprehend. Sure, things occur every day that we don’t plan, wouldn’t plan, and can’t control. Yet, when you look at the big picture, things seem to work out in the end.

There is a story in the Bible about a young immigrant named Esther that becomes Queen through a series of unexpected events. Finally, she is posed with a choice to confront her husband, the King, and risk her life or say nothing and allow her countrymen to be destroyed. Her mentor says to her at one point (paraphrased from the book of Esther 4:14):

“Perhaps it was for a moment like this for which you were created.”

She decides to confront the King and save her people, as a result.

I think there are several things we can learn from this that apply to us at whatever station in our career or life we find ourselves today:

  1. Each of us is unique – We have been equipped with a set of education, background, experience, and ideas like no one else on earth. No one else has the same talents, abilities, and heart that you have. It is that unique combination that defines you that makes you uniquely prepared for your own “big moment.” What is it today that you need to do? Is there a decision you need to make? Has your life intersected with something no one but you can do? What is it that you have been created to do at this exact point in your career or life?
  2. Our destiny or purpose may be defined by a single decision we make in life – Think about some of the great individuals in history. Many of them are remembered by a single event or decision they made. Despite many other contributions to early American history, Eli Whitney is singly known for inventing the cotton gin. John Wilkes Booth is known for assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Albert Einstein is known for his theory of relativity, despite numerous contributions to science. And, just like them, our life may be remembered for one decision we make. We could be remembered for a kindness shown to someone else. We may be remembered for mentoring a co-worker that eventually makes a significant contribution. We might change a life because of an act of service to someone else. We must be aware that we can have a significant impact on others. Don’t forget the story about the boy and the starfish… he walked the beach throwing as many starfish back into the sea as he could. Someone told him that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t change the fact that most would dry out and die on the beach as the tide subsided. He responded, “I know I can’t change the world for all the starfish, but I can for a few.” We have that same power within us to make a difference for those individuals around us.
  3. We need to anticipate that single event in our life that could define us – We need to be ready for our “big moment.” That moment could come any day in any interaction with another. We need to begin each day asking ourselves, “Could this be the day? Am I ready if it is? Can I do what needs to be done when it happens?”
  4. When we view our life in this way, it can help keep us focused and on task – When we live our lives in anticipation of our “big moment”, it can help keeps us out of that rut that plagues so many. When we think that our ultimate purpose could come at any time, it can help keep us attuned to what is occurring around us and what issues impact those individuals in our lives.

Possibly, we will learn today the ultimate purpose for which we were created. Perhaps the circumstances we now face are merely preparation for our “big moment.” Maybe, the challenges in our lives are simply the training we needed to prepare us for that moment in time that will eventually define our lives. Today could be the day! Are you ready to make a difference?

Have a great day! This could be the one!