Overcoming ‘first day’ fears

first day

The coming end of summer brings the return to school. Over the last week or so, I’ve already seen dozens of ‘first day of school’ pictures. Most of these photos have children standing on the front steps holding their new, freshly stocked backpacks or a sign indicating that this is the day of firsts. I have also seen photos of teachers proclaiming their joy to return to the classroom.

For every ‘first day’, there is also a ‘last day.’ The first day of kindergarten, for example, signifies the end of a key phase of life for both the child and the parents.. a phase in which they had grown comfortable and confident. It means that the child is leaving behind something precious and special for something else that promises to be new and exciting, though, perhaps, a bit intimidating. In these ‘first day of school’ photos, you can almost see a sense of anxiety mixed with the anticipation. Starting something new is like that… anticipation, anxiety, excitement with a dash of fear or hesitation mixed in.

We experience many ‘first days’ throughout our lives… first day in a new job, first day in a new city, first day married, first day alone, first day as a parent, first day retired… Most of us just go with the flow regarding firsts. However, there are times when some forethought and planning would help us cope or prosper during these times of transition.

There are also times when individuals work feverishly to avoid a ‘first day.’ They either fear the unknown of a new chapter or they have become so comfortable where they are that they simply would rather take the risk of settling for their current situation than taking a step into the unknown. For example, I have known many individuals that have clearly reached a dead end in their career. Yet, they can’t or won’t take a step to explore new possibilities or new opportunities. By staying “comfortable”, they forfeit challenges, new relationships, and career advancement (including financial gain).

As a parent, we tell our fearful kindergartner that school will be fun and exciting and they will make new friends and learn so many new things. But, often, those same parents will continue going to the same dreadful job, doing the same things, because they are afraid to look at new opportunities themselves.

I have learned that there are three primary questions that you need to ask whenever you face or are contemplating a new ‘first day.’ By spending some time asking – and answering – these questions you can be better prepared for that next chapter that you face.

  1. What are you leaving behind? – When contemplating a next chapter, it is often good to take an inventory of what you have today. By objectively looking at your current situation, you can often identify whether a new start or next step is needed. From a career or life perspective, you should ask:
    • Will I reach my potential if I do not make a change?
    • Am I learning?
    • Am I having fun?
    • Will I reach my life goals (financial, work\life) if I stay?
    • What will I be doing in 5 years?
  2. What are the risks and benefits of your own ‘first day’? – Whether you know it or admit it or not, we all are risk managers. We mitigate an automobile accident by buckling our seat belts. We exercise caution when cleaning the gutters. We protect our children. In the same way, we exercise caution around ‘big changes’ in our lives. When faced with a big decision about your next potential ‘first day’, do a formal risk\benefit analysis… write it down! Often, this activity can make it clear what you need to do next.
    • What happens if you don’t make a change?
    • What is the best case and worst case scenario if you do make a change?
    • How will your life be different a year from now if you do make a change? Or, if you don’t?
    • Is you fear or hesitancy based on facts or emotions?
  3. What will I need to help me take that step toward a ‘first day’? – If you think a new direction or ‘first day’ is needed for you, what steps should you take now?
    • Be brave – Just like you might tell your new kindergartner, be courageous. There is nothing to fear. This is a new adventure. Good things are coming.
    • Get prepared – For a career change, do your research. What is your logical next career step? What skills do you want to highlight? What are your target companies? Who, in your network, do you need to speak with?
    • Focus on the facts – Eliminate the emotions that can drive your anxiety and give rise to second thoughts. Focus on where you want to be, what you want to do, and what steps are needed today. Don’t linger too much on the past and the good times you’ve experienced. Keep things in balance.
    • Remember other ‘first days’ in your life – You have done this before. You’ve gone through other ‘first days’ and they have been blessings in your life.

Sometimes in life, we just need to charge ahead with something new, something different. But at other times, we are not given a choice. The questions outlined above can even help with ‘forced transitions.’ Though it may be very difficult looking ahead in challenging times, we need to think about what’s next. How can you make the very best of the days, weeks, and months ahead? Recognize that leaving some things behind is very difficult, but that you can make the best of what lies ahead.

Enjoy this new school year. Watch the excitement of the kids as they become more comfortable with new teachers, new friends, and new surroundings. And, watch them grow in the process. With their growth, comes more confidence and more comfort. Let’s learn from the children as we contemplate our own next ‘first day.’

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A meeting survival guide

meeting room

Who likes meetings? I dare say that none of us awakens in the morning excited about the meetings we get to attend that day. Thomas Sowell once said, “The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings. I would estimate that in my 40 years of work life, I probably attended more than 50,000 business meetings! At that rate, how many more do you have to look forward to?

So, what is the secret to surviving so many meetings? What tips can I pass along to help those that still have 20 or 30,000 meetings to attend in their career?

Here are a few suggestions I have for helping you survive your next thousand meetings. I’m sure there are others you can suggest, but these few cover some of the basic concepts that I have learned:

  1. Start and end on time – Few things drive me nuts more than wasting the time of everyone else to recap “what we’ve covered so far” for someone that is late for a meeting. To combat this, I always made it a point to start meetings on time. And, when someone comes in late, I simply tell them they can get with someone after the meeting to catch up on what they missed. After a time or two, every those chronically late begin showing up on time. Don’t allow one or two individuals to waste the time of others that made the effort to be on time. And, don’t allow meetings to extend beyond the time scheduled. This forces you to work efficiently and effectively to accomplish, at a minimum, the key objectives of that specific meeting.
  2. Have a purpose for every meeting – You should never organize a meeting without having (and communicating) its purpose. What are you trying to accomplish? What information needs shared? What decisions are needed? By clearly and carefully constructing the purpose statement, you can help ensure that everyone gets what is needed and that time is not wasted. I remember countless meetings where the organizer had waited weeks or months to get the key individuals in the room at the same time. However, due to a lack of organization, the ultimate goal of the meeting was not accomplished because the objectives were not outlined and articulated beforehand or at the beginning of the meeting. (Side note: If you have to entice individuals to attend your meeting with donuts or cookies, you might consider whether the meeting is that valuable. Though donuts at morning meetings is nice, it is preferred that participants attend because of the value of the meeting rather than the hope of getting that chocolate covered delight.)
  3. End every meeting as quickly as you can – How many meetings have you attended in which it seems the purpose was achieved in the first 15 minutes, but the meeting dragged on for another 45 minutes during which nothing new was accomplished? I remember a Senior VP once saying during a meeting, “I’m buying, so you can stop selling now.” He was referring to the meeting organizer continuing to pitch a recommendation longer than needed. When the purpose of the meeting is accomplished, adjourn… simple as that. If you demonstrate that YOUR meetings will be efficient and purposeful, you are likely to get attendance of needed participants in the future. If you know your time will not be wasted, you are likely to feel a meeting is important. Get it done, then move on!
  4. Stay focused on the meeting purpose – Another key reason you should clearly establish a goal or meeting purpose is to ensure that you stay focused on the task at hand. If you are the organizer, prevent participants from deviating into other subjects. Bring it back by saying something like, “That is an interesting subject, but let’s stay focused on our problem. We can possibly address that in another forum.” Too many meetings are hijacked by individuals that hope to use the group to address their own issue or situation. As the meeting organizer, it is your responsibility to keep the meeting on target.
  5. Take notes and summarize (especially if there are action items) – For every meeting, someone needs to take notes and summarize the results for all participants. This summary can be short and to the point or long and comprehensive, if needed. But, a summary sent to all participants is essential for ensuring the success of the meeting. A summary is essential if action items were assigned. Don’t assume that everyone left the meeting with the same understanding as you. Make sure by providing a summary.
  6. Handouts and PowerPoint presentations are OK, but there are rules – There are some individuals that will state that handouts and PowerPoint presentations are not acceptable in meetings. I disagree. These can be essential for keeping individuals focused, summarizing key background information, or directing the discussion. However, keep the following in mind when creating these:
    • Economize on words – only state what is essential
    • Don’t be cute – fancy graphics and automation can be a distraction
    • State the takeaway point on every page, slide, or document – state clearly in the header or banner what the reader needs to know (eliminate their need to study the slide and interpret its importance)
    • Keep it simple and easy to read – enough said
    • Minimize pages – when in doubt, leave it out
    • Include a summary or list of key takeaways – this is your opportunity to ensure that the reader “gets” your key points
  7. Everyone that attends a meeting should add or gain value – for some, the value obtained is information that can guide future actions. For others, the value is a decision or direction. For others, it might be sharing insight that participants might not have gained otherwise. Some individuals never participate or comment during meetings. A good practice is that before attending any meeting, commit to adding value by asking a question, making a comment, or volunteering for an action. I have found that participating in meetings, especially with senior management members present, is a good opportunity to demonstrate your own value to the organization. And, if you are the meeting organizer, don’t invite individuals that will not contribute or add value to the meeting.
  8. Come to meetings prepared – Many times I observed individuals coming to meetings unprepared to participate, unprepared to provide an update on prior actions, or unprepared to make needed decisions at the meeting.  Take a few minutes to get up-to-speed on the meeting purpose and come ready to add value to the discussion. 
  9. Pay attention – Do not attend a meeting simply to show your face. Do not attend a meeting, yet spend the entire time reading email. If you go, go prepared to focus on the subject and the discussion occurring.
  10. Only have a meeting if it is needed – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t schedule a meeting unless it is necessary. Many of my 50,000 lifetime meetings could have been avoided if individuals had simply talked with each other beforehand. Things typically get done better and faster when the affected parties talk together in small groups… not in meetings at which individual egos and territorial protection comes into play. When at all possible, avoid having meetings that are not essential or purposeful.

I’m sure each of you could add a few additional items to this list. However, I have found that by following these ten tips, meetings can be shorter, more effective, and produce greater results.

Good luck with your meetings today! I hope they are shorter, better, and more enjoyable than you could have expected.

Yes, you can change your circumstances

contrarian

There are times in everyone’s life when you feel that your current circumstances are less than desired. You have a job that is not fulfilling. You have an unreasonable boss. Your marriage is struggling. You need financial assistance. You have family problems. You have legal problems. The list could go on and on. Sometimes, we just feel that things are not right and a change is needed, but we don’t know how to go about making the change.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” We don’t have to live a desperate life.

Today, I would like to offer some practical assistance for those than need a life change, but are not sure of what to do next.

The first step in make a change is to recognize and take action on things that might be causing our current unsatisfactory circumstances.

Things to stop doing

  1. Stop feeling hopeless and helpless – Negative situations, especially if they seem to go on for too long, can make us feel that our situation is hopeless… that there is no way things will ever get better. This can deteriorate further to the point that we feel helpless to do anything about it. This attitude, unless stopped, can prevent us from ever escaping our difficult situation. The first step in make a life change is to believe that things can change and that they will get better.
  2. Stop blaming someone else or being the victim – When in a difficult situation, a natural tendency is to blame someone else for our problems. Or worse, we begin assuming that everything bad that happens to us is intentional and targeted. We must take charge of our lives and reverse the belief that anyone else can do what is needed to improve our situation.
  3. Stop feeling like it is too late to make a change – Regardless of our age or the length of time we have been staggered by our situation, it is never too late to reverse it. There are many stories of individuals in their 70’s or 80’s that have made significant life changes to made a difference in their happiness and well-being.
  4. Stop waiting for someone else or something else to happen – We must stop thinking that someone else will solve our problems. Taking charge of our own situation… our own happiness… our own career… must be personal and something we cannot delegate to anyone else.
  5. Stop continuing to make the same bad decisions – We typically cannot expect things to change as long as we continue making the same bad decisions or same poor choices. Recognizing this is essential to making a life change.

Now, let’s turn to some practical steps that we can take that can help us change our path or direction. Perhaps, you cannot try all of these, but possibly, you’ll find one thing that can make a difference and get you out of the rut you find yourself in today.

Things to start doing

  1. Serve someone else – I have found several times in my life when I face a difficult or challenging situation that serving someone else takes the focus off my own negative situation. When you can shift your focus, you often see things in a new light or gain new perspective. By serving someone else, you often find that making a difference for someone else is ultimately more gratifying that anything you are striving so diligently to attain.
  2. Chase your passion, not a title or position – Individuals typically spend around 40 years of their lives striving to climb the corporate ladder. This may be important for a number of reasons (e.g., financial stability, the corner office, etc.). However, when you change a title or position of status, you often miss out on things that can provide more satisfaction, enjoyment, and contentment. When you find that thing that drives you… your passion… your work responsibilities cease being “work” and become more something that you embrace and enjoy. If you are not satisfied in your work, it may very well be that your work is not aligned with your passions. In that case, it might be time to consider a change in career or direction.
  3. Be bold, courageous, and confident – Individuals often stay in difficult or unsatisfying situations because they fear doing anything else. When nurtured, this fear can become paralyzing and prevent us from being effective even in positions that we are fully capable of doing well. There comes a time when you need to be bold. There comes a time when you need to muster that courage that you’ve buried. Be confident that things will change for the better.
  4. Find a mentor or someone you trust – When you find yourself in a desperate or challenging situation, don’t think that you have to do it alone. Having someone that can offer unbiased advice or provide a different perspective is often an important step in extracting yourself from a deep rut. A mentor can often help, but we need to have one first. If you don’t have one, find one. Or, just find an individual that you trust who will NOT just agree with you, but offer clear thinking and options.
  5. Focus on the facts, not your emotions – The reason we find ourselves hopeless and helpless sometimes is because we become emotionally connected to the situation. When/If we are able to focus more on facts than emotion, our vision improves and we may be better able to see the next step we should take. Emotions are good, but can often make good decision-making more difficult.
  6. Practice active patience – “Patience is a virtue.” However, patience without action can result in malaise. Often, we need to connect action to our patience in the form of active patience. Active patience means that we are willing to wait, but, in the meantime, we are exploring options, researching the pros and cons, evaluating possibilities, and preparing for our next chapter. Just sitting back and waiting for things to happen if one way to ensure that you fall deeper and deeper into a rut that may be impossible to escape.
  7. Do something different (or learn something new) – Sometimes, doing something… anything within reason… can help lead us to our next chapter. Learning a new skill can help our career. Learning to play a musical instrument can create a new passion or new escape that can motivate us in a new way. Making a change can often stimulate a new direction in our life. So, just do something! Do something different!
  8. Adopt an attitude of gratitude – Our lives often become stale because we have forgotten how much we have or how much we have been blessed. If you need a change of attitude in your life, become a more grateful person. Be more thankful for what you have, for the opportunities you have that others don’t have, for the people in your life, and for your health and wealth. When we become more aware of our blessings, it becomes more difficult to feel sorry for what we don’t have or the situation we find so troublesome.
  9. Reinforce your marriage, your relationships, and your friendships – Great things often happen when we take the time to nourish the relationships we already have. When is the last time you did something special to enhance your marriage? Finding time to spend time with a family member, friend, or colleague can provide a new, fresh perspective to the problems plaguing you today. It might also inspire you to make the change you need to make.
  10. Expect something good – Being optimistic may be the most important element of changing your current situation. When you expect something good to happen, it usually does. When you expect something bad to happen, your worry drags you down, even if nothing bad does happen. Looking at the glass as half full can help inspire you to make the change needed, especially if you couple it with courage and boldness.

Many of you may find today that your life has no meaning or that what you do doesn’t matter. Finding hope can completely change your life. You might find help in this previous post (What is your hope?).

So, if you are in a situation today that needs to change or if you need to be motivated to take a step you know is needed, consider this your push… Stop doing things that keep you stuck in the rut and find something that can make change happen. Hopefully, something you’ve read here might help.

Have a great day!

A new twist on ‘wants versus needs’

Heritage Golf Links, Tucker, Georgia

We have all heard the discussions on ‘wants versus needs.’ Usually, these discussions are in the context of financial responsibility. That is, do I really ‘need’ that new ____ (fill in the blank) or do I just ‘want’ it? However, today I would like to talk briefly about ‘wants versus needs’ in a different context… one that is, arguably, much more important that whether you should buy that new car or TV with 4G technology.

Before I was married, I played golf every chance I had. Even after we started having kids, I played once a week in a league after work with others from my company. However, as our family began to grow, it became more and more difficult both time-wise and guilt-wise carving out so much time to play golf just for myself. So, I essentially put my clubs away for a couple of decades continuing to play only a few times a year. It was much more enjoyable and valuable for me to spend that time with my family or helping my wife at home than going to the golf course alone for a few hours every week. I knew that a day would come later in life when I could play golf any time I wanted, but for those short and precious years, my golf clubs ‘needed’ to be stored in the basement because I ‘wanted’ to spend that time with my family. (Note: it is important that we all have hobbies – I’m not at all advocating that we put those away, including golf – however, as with all things in life, balance is important. I could have used any number of other examples of things in life that, when out of balance, can become a problem.)

There are times in our life or in our work that we need to place needs ahead of wants. There are times when you need to place the needs of others ahead of what it seems you want for today. Let’s explore a few examples:

  1. Career choices – Most individuals in the workplace have desires, dreams, and goals for what they hope to achieve during their career. During your career journey, it may appear that you must take every step forward that comes your way. However, there are times when you are in a certain position, company, or group for reasons that go beyond your own career. For example, you may be where you are simply because you will gain a specific knowledge that you could never get doing anything else. Or, you may be in your current position simply because you have an opportunity to perform a special task or influence someone else in an important way. It could be that you are in the place you are in “for such a time as this” meaning you have a specific calling to fulfill. In any event, before moving on to another company or another position, it is helpful to ask yourself, “Do I need to stay in this position for the benefit of my own knowledge or to influence another? Is this new opportunity something I simply want to take or something I need to do? Will this help me achieve my ultimate career goal? Will there be collateral impacts to others if I make this career change?”
  2. Relationships – Have you ever been in a situation where you just knew or had the feeling that you needed to call someone or reconnect with a former colleague? Or, have you ever been in a relationship in which you knew that you needed to move on? Relationships can have a significant impact on our well-being. Likewise, we can have a tremendous impact on others (mentoring, coaching, supporting, sponsoring, etc.). There are times, however, when we need to ask the question, “What do I need to do?” Not, “What do I want to do?” Let me illustrate… A few months ago, my neighbor mentioned that a former colleague in another state had died. This individual was the father to his daughter’s best friend from high school. His daughter had asked, “Should I take a day off from work to drive 3 hours to attend his funeral?” The advice my neighbor gave was, “I’ve been faced with this question many times, but I’ve never been sorry for attending a wake or funeral for someone. It just always seems that when I go, I made the right decision.” There is a time when you need to do something even if it is not something that is convenient for you or something you want to do.
  3. Day-by-day choices – Every day, we are faced with choices or decisions about what to do, how to do it, when to do something, etc. For some individuals, these choices are easy, but not so for others. Many individuals are guided by the philosophy ‘what is best for me’? As a result, these individuals often struggle with relationships, success at work/home/community, and personal satisfaction. By changing your viewpoint to ‘what do I need to do’ or ‘what is the right choice’, your perspective changes. When you begin to consider the impact of your choices on the bigger picture – and others – you make better decisions for yourself. It is amazing how your own life gets better when you begin live more to serve others.

So, what is your approach for making decisions? Is your default, “What do I want to do?” Or, is it, “What do I need to do?” Is it possible that by doing what you need to do, you’ll actually be doing what you want to do?

Non-value added, feel-good GXP activities that do nothing to advance compliance

FDA 2

If you are like me, you may have been frustrated from time-to-time expending significant resources to accomplish something that you know will not improve compliance or product quality. Yet, you continue doing it, you continue hiring individuals to do it, and you continue feeling as though you could be spending your time and money much more effectively elsewhere.

On top of this, regulated industries have been under increasing pressure to control costs, eliminate waste, and enhance efficiency. Is it even possible to eliminate some of these seemingly “untouchable” non-value-added GXP activities?

Today, I would like to list a few of my pet-peeve GXP activities and suggest possible alternatives that might add more value. I’m sure each of us in this industry could add activities to this list, but I will cover only 6 that come to my mind for this session:

  1. 25-Page SOPs – It is time to eliminate the notion that it is more important to include every possible detail in a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) than creating a document that individuals will actually use to do the job. Certainly, you need to fulfill the need to have detailed procedures to ensure operators cannot ad lib. But, in the course of fulfilling normal duties, it is expecting too much to believe that operators will read the SOP line-by-line each time an action is performed when the SOP is dozens of pages. Instead, it is far better to consider one of these alternatives:
    • Break long SOPs into shorter, more simple procedures
    • Create simple work instructions that include only the details needed by operators to accomplish necessary tasks
    • Include imperative requirements in batch records with associated documentation of critical steps
    • Create graphical representation of steps that can be referenced at the work station or that can be used with computers, tablets, or smart phones
  2. Read and sign training documentation – Does anyone still believe today that asking someone to “read” and provide a signature/date is adequate training to ensure adequate understanding of documentation requirements? I have seen situations in which an employee will read/sign 50 SOPs in one day to document that they were “trained” on the procedure. Then, the firm will proudly present that it has a thorough and comprehensive training program knowing that these signatures do not represent comprehension or competence. Even a shift to require a quiz to demonstrate competency is not necessarily proof that the individual has the understanding today or, better yet, a year from now, to do the job properly or correctly. Possible alternatives include:
    • Shifting the focus from read/sign to more comprehensive use of the written procedure when the action is actually performed. It is more important to actually use the procedure today than to attempt to recall what you read months ago.
    • Use of presenter-led training to ensure that key elements of procedures are articulated and understood. In many cases, helping individuals understand the “why” for a requirement will promote better compliance than simply reading that an action is required.
    • Shift to a master/apprentice training relationship. This will ensure that the “apprentice” is training one-on-one by someone that is an expert on the procedure or activity.
    • A combination of all of these suggested approaches. Relying simply on one approach is not likely to be an approach best suited to every individual.
  3. Boilerplate IQ/OQ/PQ documentation – Somewhere along the line, I think we fooled ourselves into thinking that if we have enough pages in our IQ/OQ/PQ documents and do it every time, we have fulfilled the original intent of equipment or process validation. I have seen numerous examples of using standard protocol documentation to the extent that critical factors are forgotten or omitted. I believe taking the time to think through and apply good science is better than simply generating protocols that offer no value.
  4. Ignoring science simply because no action was required– Speaking of science… I frequently see examples where good science is ignored because there was no specification or requirement to document or explain events. We can become so focused on the requirements that we stop being a scientist. Using our training and experience is needed…. and, it is expected by FDA and global regulators.
  5. Retraining as a CAPA response – When retraining is our primary response to an event, my first response is that you didn’t truly identify the root cause. Overusing retraining as our default response offers no value and will only lead to a recurrence. Be more thorough to ascertain the real “why”. Then, apply actions that have a greater opportunity to remedy the failure.
  6. Reacting to every environmental excursion in low risk areas– Most firms with aseptic operations struggle with environmental failures. Reacting with due diligence is necessary for failures or excursions in critical, high-risk areas. However, continuing to conduct an investigation and react to every individual excursion in low risk areas is not adding value. It is better to formulate a system that uses these data as a monitor of how well the overall system is performing (e.g., cleaning, operator competence, training, engineering systems, etc.). Finding a way to monitor, but not overreact is needed. One question to ask is, “Is our facility/system designed to prevent every potential excursion in low-risk areas? If not, how can I extract meaning from individual results? Should I use individual results in a control manner (e.g., control charting) versus individual excursion/investigation/reaction?”

Avoiding these non-value added activities can free up resources to focus on more urgent compliance and product quality issues. Don’t be afraid to think outside-the-box to improve your operations. Don’t keep doing these activities simply because you have always done them. Apply good science to enhance what you do and how you do it. We can no longer afford to waste critical resources on these activities that do nothing to enhance compliance or product quality. Think about it!

When it is all said and done…

jefferson

I have visited a number of “homes” of famous individuals in my time. I am always fascinated by the home office that, for the most part, has been left or restored to look as it did in that individual’s day. In many cases, most or all of the items in the office are the exact items owned by the individual. For example, in Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello, VA, you can see the actual desk and chair Jefferson used along with his writing materials, books, and other articles that reflected his interest in politics, science, and mathematics. In Thomas Edison’s home office at his Ft. Myers, FL winter home, you can see electronic devices, chemicals, and other artifacts that he actually used for his experimentation and work. Both of these offices reflect the men, their work, and their legacy.

When it is all said and done, we still remember Thomas Jefferson as an inventor, author, statesman, politician, and president. He was not a perfect man, but his legacy lives on nearly 200 years after his death. Thomas Edison is credited with 2,332 worldwide patents in his lifetime (1,093 US Patents covering a period of nearly 60 years). He is credited with inventing the light bulb, perhaps his most famous invention. When it is all said and done, Edison is remembered as possibly the most prolific inventor the world has ever known!

The phrase “when it is all said and done” is an interesting one. It infers a final accounting or final summary or final story associated with a person or an activity. For our purposes now, let’s allow it to refer to each of us and the final accounting credited to us. Today, I would merely like to pose 7 questions that, hopefully, will help you consider the impact you are making in the lives of those around you:

  1. When it is all said and done, how do you want to be remembered by your family? Will your legacy be one of integrity, honor, fun, and love, or will you be remembered in some other way?
  2. When it is all said and done, how do you want to be remembered in the workplace? Did you do things the right way? Did you serve others? Were you a person of character and integrity even when things didn’t go well?
  3. When it is all said and done, will you be remembered as a kind, loving person? Did you treat others fairly? Did you seek to make a positive difference to others?
  4. When it is all said and done, what did you leave behind for others? Did you focus your life on things that truly mattered or were your contributions cheap and easily blown away with the wind?
  5. When it is all said and done, will others remember you as a person of integrity? Did you keep your promises and vows? Did you give more than you took? Did you leave the world a better place because you were in it?
  6. When it is all said and done, will your memory bring a smile to others? Did you enhance the lives of others? Did you leave fun memories?
  7. When it is all said and done, what did you do with God? Did you accept Him or reject Him? Did you live with an eternal perspective or with a “what’s in it for me” philosophy? Did you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?

When your life story is “all said and done”, will it be one that made a positive impact on others or will it be something else? Is there something you are doing today that needs to change?

Have a great day! Remember, this could be your very best day yet! You never know when that day will come.

 

Our scars can give others hope

scar

I had total knee replacement surgery last September. My knee did fine and the surgery was a total success. I do have a scar, however. I don’t notice it much anymore, but the scar is about 7-8 inches long and is clearly visible when I wear short pants. I often see others notice it and, occasionally, someone will ask about it. For instance, those that have experienced the same thing will frequently ask, “So, how long ago was your knee surgery?” For other individuals that are nearing the same point with their own knees, they might ask, “I see that you have had knee replacement surgery. My surgeon has told me that mine is ready, but I haven’t decided yet. Can I ask you a few questions?”

I also have scars on both shoulders and my back. It seems that my scars, when noticed by others, provides a sense of kinship or connection to those that have experienced a similar event. And, for those that are approaching a similar surgery, my own scars become a source of information, comfort, and hope. It is amazing the number of times that I have spoken with others about my surgical experiences after which they express a sense of relief or appreciation to hear it from someone that has already successfully gone through it. Sometimes, talking through my scars gives others the hope that their own surgery will end their pain or problem.

Emotional scars can also help give hope to others. When you have experienced emotional pain in your own life, for example, the loss of a job, you have instant credibility with others when you talk with them about how they can best manage the interim period until their next job. When others experience the loss of a loved one, they can relate to you as you speak of your own loss and how you dealt with it.

The thing about emotional scars is that they are usually impossible for others to see… that is, unless you are willing to allow them to be seen. For others to benefit from your experiences (e.g., your emotional scars), you have to be vulnerable and allow it. Only then can you relate experiences, suggestions, and solutions that can provide hope to others. Too often, we try to quietly deal with our own pain and scars, but knowing that others might benefit should motivate us to be more open and trusting.

Sharing your own pain and frustrations can be beneficial to you, as well. It is sad to learn, all too frequently these days, of individuals that commit suicide despite seemingly having everything good life has to offer. Many of these individuals have wealth, fame, friends, and a future that make it appear that their lives are perfect. However, many of these individuals suffer emotional scars that they never share. Allowing others to understand and feel your own pain is often the first step to healing and attaining that hope we all need.

Think about your own scars today. Can you use them to make a difference for someone else? Or, are you experiencing a wound that may never properly heal unless you share it with someone else? This is a great day to begin sharing that hope with others… or yourself.

Have a great day!

You look just like your Dad

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My friend Randy recently walked into a room with several individuals that had not seen him for several years. Numerous of these individuals commented on how much he looked like his late father, Chuck. Later, one told me, “I couldn’t believe my eyes when Randy walked in. He looks exactly like his Dad.” You could tell by their comments that they had admired Chuck and respected him as a man and as a friend. And, they could see many of these positive attributes in Randy.

As I thought about this man’s comments about Randy, I concluded there are three key ways we can model someone else and how, when we pause to consider them, this understanding can help us become a better person:

Look like your Dad

I have heard the same things many times in my life about looking like my Dad*. It seems that, as we age, genetics take over and we assume the physical appearance of our parents. We tend to have a similar size, shape, and structure as others in our genealogical line. However, people often assume that, just because you look like your Dad, you have the same personality, actions, and character that he possessed. Not necessarily true! It is often a burden to become that unique individual that you are.

I am always flattered when someone says that I look like my Dad. He was a handsome man. I have come to realize, though, that your physical resemblance to someone is much less important that other attributes.

Act like your Dad

I am blessed with seven grandchildren. And, there are times when I see their parents in each of them. Their expressions, mannerisms, and actions often remind me of one or both of their parents. Children often mimic their parents even without trying. They see how their parents act and copy them. For a grandparent, this is funny to watch.

However, our prisons are full of people that, unfortunately, have continued the negative actions modeled by their parents. Finding and copying a role model is not always positive. If your Dad was a man of character, findings ways to act like him is something we often do throughout our lifetime.

Be like your Dad

The greatest honor you can bestow someone that you look like is to “be” like them. I have always wanted to be the man of character modeled by my Dad. I can look like him and even act like him, but the best I can do is to be like him in the ways I live, by how I treat others, and by how I contribute to society.

An individual may be given a measure of respect simply because he/she looks so much like someone that had integrity and was respected. But, your own life – what you do, say, give, and express – defines your own measure of integrity and character.

There is also another aspect of this that impacts me. I know that, whether I choose it or not, my children and grandchildren will likely copy some of what I model in my own life. They see me for who I really am, so living a life that is worthy to be copied is a daunting task.

So, at the end of it all, I would rather be a man of character than merely look like one. Though I am proud that some say I look like my Dad, one of my hopes in life is that my actions and my life might reflect the wonderful man of character that epitomized him.

Today, someone is copying you. What kind of man or woman will they be if they become just like you?

* For the sake of this discussion, I am using my likeness with my Dad as an example. Many women look exactly like their mothers. Some even look like their Dads. The point is the same… it is good to look like someone that you love and respect, but it is much better if your life reflects their character and honor.

Building bridges with those that disagree with you

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Today’s edition of The Porch is number 400 since the beginning back in December 2015. Many different topics have been covered in these 30 months, but today I wanted to talk specifically about the importance of relationships and how they impact our ability to work together:

“Rarely would any two individuals have the exact same beliefs, ideas, motivations, backgrounds, and approaches to life. Thus, we have differences with almost everyone we meet. Some of these differences are deep and wide. Others might be less significant, but they are differences, nonetheless. The ability to bridge these differences – or at least understand and respect them – can make or break our ability to work together. I have found that when you take the time to nourish and grow a relationship with the other individual, these differences diminish… often to the point that they become invisible to either party.”

The quote above has been a central guiding principle of my lifetime of working with others. I can tell you for certain that differences exist. Yet, when you take the time to build a relationship… get to really know the other person and understand why they believe what they believe… you can almost always develop a way of working effectively together.

I can give several examples in my life or career in which initial differences were overcome because of the development of a growing relationship. When you build a relationship, you build a bridge comprised of trust, understanding, integrity, common life goals, experiential similarities, and mutual caring. You eventually want the other individual to succeed and will sacrifice to make that happen.

So, how do you build these growing relationships based on trust? How can you learn to work better together? Following are 7 recommendations or approaches for developing relationships that build these bridges:

  1. Be intentional about spending time togetherThe best way to develop or enhance a relationship is to spend time together. When you do, you get to know the other person… what they care about, what motivates them, why they think the way they do. You begin seeing life through their eyes and understanding their perspective. Eventually, you begin caring about them as a person and start seeing less of your differences and more of what makes you the same. Being intentional means that you must initiate time spent together. Schedule times and meetings. Send notes. Provide update calls. When you get to know someone well, you begin seeking ways to align, not perpetuate things that divide.
  2. Be vulnerable by sharing your lifeTrust is critical component of any solid relationship. You build trust by sharing aspects of your life or beliefs that might be considered risky. By sharing things that are personally meaningful to you (such as items about your family, hobbies, aspirations, fears, etc.), you expose a part of yourself that can connect in a special way with the other individual. When you show that you are willing to share things more personal, you begin building a sense of trust that will encourage the other individual to share similarly. Being open means that, though we may not agree on everything, I do trust you enough to share an important part of my life with you.
  3. Eat togetherNothing goes farther than building a bridge than sharing a meal together. When you invite another to lunch or breakfast, you are really inviting them to a time to casually get to know you better. Spending time sharing food is a great way to enhance the relationship in ways that minimize your differences.
  4. Ask for opinions or adviceBuilding a relationship often has to occur bit-by-bit, day-by-day. One way you demonstrate trust is to seek the advice or opinion of the other individual. By showing that you value what the other person has to say, you are saying that you accept them… that you accept their thoughts. It is just the opposite of rejection. When an individual feels their views are important, they are more likely to engage productively.
  5. Serve each other Everyone has needs. When you meet the needs of another person, you are effectively earning the right to be heard. When you serve someone else, you are proving to that person that you care about them. Taking the time to make life better, even in a small way, adds structure to the bridge you are building through the relationship.
  6. Listen to each other, then act on what you hearWhen individuals have differences, they often stop listening for content. Instead, they are listening simply to formulate what they will say next. Building relationships REQUIRES that you care about the other person and what they say. When you truly listen, you demonstrate that what they say has value and that they have value as a person. Then, when you act upon what you hear, you provide living proof that you heard that individual. For example, if the other person mentions casually that they have a birthday party to attend that evening, you show you heard them and care when you ask about it the next day. Hearing/listening is nice, but acting on what you hear is proof that you care.
  7. Give up your desire to BE right – strive instead to DO what’s right – Most of the time, the reason relationships fail to flourish is because one individual always insists on being right. Their pride forces them to “one up” the other individual or to dominate every discussion. Relationships grow when you demonstrate the maturity that says, “I’m more interested in doing the right thing that I am in being the person that was right.” Doing what is right demonstrates that you care about results and that you care about others more than you care about yourself.

Great leaders understand that as relationships grow, differences diminish. And, this principle applies to every aspect of life… marriage, family, friendships, neighborhoods… not just the work environment. When you show someone that you care about them, not just what they can do for you, you build a bridge that can last a lifetime.

 

Unfinished Business

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One of my good friends, “Mike”, recently told a story. In the past, Mike and “Charlie” had become very good friends. They had much in common and their families enjoyed activities together. Mike and Charlie often met for meals and, essentially, shared life’s ups-and-downs with each other. That all ended when Mike and Charlie found themselves on opposite sides of a community issue. Both were passionate about their position and, eventually, they drifted apart until they rarely spoke or saw each other except at community events. About a year ago after Mike had moved to another city, he just felt compelled one day to reconcile with Charlie. Mike was visiting from out-of-town and intentionally sought Charlie at an event they were both attending. Mike spoke with Charlie, they shook hands, and both admitted that they missed their friendship. Sadly, Charlie recently died. Mike said that had he not sought to reconcile with Charlie, he would have lived the rest of his life feeling as though there was “unfinished business” between him and Charlie.

Unfinished business… I have always been a list-maker. I create a “to do” list and work through the list until I can check off every item… typically, the same day. At the end of a day when something was not checked off the list, I feel as though something is undone. However, at the end of each day, you can be pretty confident that tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to clean the slate.

There are times, however, when you might never have that chance to finish a task that you know you wanted to complete or needed to complete. Had Mike not made a special effort to reconcile with Charlie, the opportunity would have been lost forever.

Unfinished business can exist in a year, in a career, or in a life. I remember a former colleague named David. David was very good at his job, but had decided early in his career that he was not open to relocation, even for a significant promotion. David did well in his career, but always wondered how things might have been different had he and his family been open to relocation. I remember David seeing others, with less ability and potential, pass him by in his career simply because they were willing to relocate. Though David made the decision he felt was best in his career, he always wondered if his career was limited… if there was unfinished business.

Life open poses opportunities to make new friendships, restore broken ones, or to express unspoken thoughts and feelings. Then, when we look back, we feel that somewhere along the line, we had business to do that we left undone.

So, think about any unfinished business in your life today. This might be a good day to begin checking those things off your list. In case you aren’t immediately thinking of any unfinished business in your life, let me list a few possibilities in the hope that you might become motivated to finish today, what you should have done weeks, months, or years ago. Losing the opportunity you have today may remain one of your life’s great regrets.

Which of these do you need to do today:

  1. Call or send a note to your aging parents or grandparents. How I wish I could speak to mine just one more time!
  2. Spend some quality time with your spouse, son, daughter, grandchild, or other loved one. Don’t forget to tell them what they mean to you!
  3. Make that overdue call or send that note to a friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Don’t assume that you’ll have another chance next week because those chances rarely come. Tell that person what they mean to you and thank them for being a part of your life. There is someone in your life that needs to hear from you today.
  4. Organize your life. Don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up!
  5. Volunteer to meet a need for someone else or an organization that does good work. If you wait until the timing is perfect, you’ll never do it.
  6. Don’t assume that your spouse knows how much you love them. Make sure that there is never any doubt that you do! Tell them… and do it often!
  7. Find a way to serve someone else in a special way. It might be someone that has gone above-and-beyond for you. It might be someone that could never repay you. Don’t ignore or waste a chance to make life better for someone else.
  8. Do that special project you have been promising to do. Why wait when you know you can and should get it done!
  9. Thank a teacher, police officer, military veteran, mentor, or emergency personnel for their service.
  10. Take time to do something you’ve been wanting to do for yourself. If you had started taking guitar lessons five years ago when you wanted to, you would be pretty accomplished by now. Don’t let another five years go by without adding a new skill, experiencing something new, or gaining that new knowledge you’ve have had on your own list.

Consider the unfinished business that exists in your life today and challenge yourself to get it completed soon. Today might be the only chance you’ll ever have to make it happen.