1 Way to Get a Grip by Letting Go

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love the Back to the Future trilogy. There is something fascinating about being able to travel into the future.  It’s captivating because of its unreality.  We know life doesn’t work that way.

The unpredictability and brevity of our lives has its benefits. There was higher wisdom at work when God designed life this way.

Do we REALLY want to know the future?

How would knowledge of the future benefit us?

Gerald Sittser in his book, The Will of God as a Way of Life says,

How would it (knowing the future) help any of us?  On the one hand, if we foresaw that our future was going to be hard and painful, full of suffering, we would recoil, fretfully awaiting its awful reality and wishing we could change it.  But at the same time we would miss the wisdom and character that suffering engenders.  And if, on the other hand, we learned that our future was going to be easy and pleasant, we would become dull and complacent, which would only diminish our capacity to enjoy the pleasant future that was going to be ours (Page 29).

The irony is that we get a grip on life by letting go of our desire to know exactly what is going to happen in the future.

The uncertainty of our future allows us to value and celebrate the present moment.

 

The only measure of time we have is the present moment.  The past is gone and can’t be changed.  The future is not here yet and can’t be controlled.  All we are assured of is now.

We can become so preoccupied with the yesterdays and the tomorrows of our life that we neglect the here and now.  We can get distracted by the “if onlys” of yesterday or the “what ifs” of tomorrow that we miss the good things of today.

Our life consists of precious unplanned moments.  Spontaneous encounters with God and the world.  So we learn to embrace the moment.

  • Ÿ  We pause to watch the lightning in the distance.
  • Ÿ  We listen to the rain as it gently patters on our roof.
  • Ÿ  We linger over the dinner table with friends, lost in conversation.
  • Ÿ  We gaze lovingly at a sleeping child.
  • Ÿ  We read a good book over a cup of coffee on a lazy morning.
  • Ÿ  We stroll unhurriedly through a park on an autumn day.

Music, books, conversations with people we love, good movies, and quiet times of reflection open the door for being present in the moment.

Finding these moments varies from person to person and from one season of life to another.  But no matter where we are we can cultivate an appreciation of where we are at the time.

Watching children at play reminds me to enjoy the moments.  Their life is all about fun.  One of the best things kids have going for them is they don’t know how to tell time.  Parental commands to, “Hurry up,” fall on deaf ears.  Adult concepts of time don’t compute to a child.  They are completely in the present.

Today is the “good old days” we will be talking about in 10 years. Today IS “back in the day.”

We make the most of today.

We enjoy the moment.

We don’t know if we have tomorrow.

We don’t know if we have next week.

We live one moment at a time.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for tomorrow.  As Annie said, “tomorrow is only a day away.”  We plan for the future and leave it in God’s hands.

Writer Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s good advice for today… and tomorrow.

How will you enjoy the “moments” that come your way today?

Are You Running the Dash or Living the Dash?

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I’m sure you have figured out that we don’t have control over many things in life.

The price of gasoline, who loves us and the winner of next year’s Super Bowl, for example.

Where and when we were born and who are parents are was not a decision we made.

We are born then we die.  We don’t get to decide the dates on our gravestone.  We don’t know when our time on this earth will be up.  It could be tonight, next week, next year or decades away.

But there is one thing we can control.

We get to decide how we’re going to use the dash between our birth and death.  Our date of birth and date of death are just markers.  What matters is what happens in between our birth and our death.

What are we spending our life on? Are we living the dash, knowing fully who we are and why we’re here?  Are we treating life like a dash that we are mindlessly sprinting through?

2 facts of life:

1.     Our life is unpredictable. 

We don’t know how tomorrow is going to go.  We have no guarantees.  We have no assurance.

The other day I was in an electronics store and there was a guy in front of me at the register buying a Nintendo DS for his grandson.  The clerk behind the counter was saying, “Sir, we offer an extended warranty on this product.  If you buy the warranty, and the DS breaks, we will replace it for free, no questions asked.”  The guy doesn’t want an upset grandson on his hands, so he says, “OK, I’ll take it.”

Maybe we buy extended warranties because we want some guarantees in life. We want assurance.  If something breaks we want a guaranteed replacement.

But life itself does not come with an extended warranty.  There are no guarantees.  There is no assurance.  Life doesn’t play by our rules.  It doesn’t follow our plan.

  • You had great investments, but a recession kicked in and kicked you out.
  • You were in the middle of college–but your first child came along.
  • You were never going to be in debt–but who knew there would be so many bills.
  • You have always taken care of yourself physically–but suddenly a tumor shows up.
  • You always drive so carefully–but that drunk driver came out of nowhere.

Our lives will never move along in measured, managed steps without a hitch.  Our life is unpredictable.

2.     Our life is short, no matter how long we live.

There is a fascinating website called http://www.death-clock.org/.  If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How long am I going to live?” this is the site for you.  There is a form to enter your birth date, gender, etc. and it will spit out the date when you will kick the bucket. It also includes a running clock that is counting down by the second.

According to the site, I have 8700 days left to live.  Seems like a lot but when I compare it to the number of days I’ve already lived, I realize that time is running out.

Our life is slipping away by the second.

Life is too short no matter how long we live.  My great-grandmother lived to be 99.  She was 6 weeks away from her 100th birthday.  She didn’t live long enough. I wanted to see her one more time before she died.

Life is too short, no matter how long we live.

Here’s a video from The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin that puts it all in perspective.

http://www.theyearsareshort.com/

Live your dash!

What are some ways you have found helpful to live your life with joy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Fall is for Dying

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There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. ~ Ecclesiates 3:1, 2

While listening to Amy Grant’s new recording, How Mercy Looks From Here, I came to the  song, “Better Not to Know.” The lyrics, written by Amy and Cindy Morgan, caused me to stop and think.

We sowed our seeds
Watered with tears
Waiting for signs of growth
Took months of days
And then took years.

We took our steps
We took our falls
Somewhere along the way
We just got lost
And we lost it all.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained
The risk of living is the pain
And what will be will be anyway

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Those tiny stems became these trees
With dirt and storm
And sun and air to breathe
Like you and me.

And some fell down
And some grew tall
And those surviving twenty winter thaws
Have the sweetest fruit of all.

But innocence and planting day
Are both long gone
So much has changed
And if we had to do it all again

Oh, it’s better not to know
The way it’s gonna go
What will die and what will grow.
Oh, nothing stays the same
Life flickers like a flame,
As the seasons come and go
Goodbye more than hello
It’s better not to know

Is it better, better not to know?
Is it better, (is it better), is it better?

The song’s backstory features 75 fruit trees that Amy had planted years ago on her previous farm in memory of her grandmother.  Many years later, some of the fruit trees are bearing sweet fruit that Amy finally got to pick from the trees.

The line “as seasons come and go” reminded me of the season of fall here in North America.  Autumn is associated with the leaves changing color and falling off the tree in order to prepare for future growth.

Nature has its own process of pruning and dying to make way for new growth.

I remember a graduate class where the professor had us write journal entries as part of our ongoing assignments.  One entry had us answer the question: What is dying in your life right now?

Up to that point, I had never thought of my life in those terms.  As I’ve grown older and lost loved ones who were dear to me, jobs, opportunities and time, I’ve seen the relevance of the question.

Here are some things that may be dying in our life right now:

Relationships

Loved ones

Methods of doing things

Passions

Responsibilities

Practices

Activities

Technology

Debts

Unhealthy habits

Unhelpful attitudes

What is dying in your life?

Let them go.  Relinquish.  Get out of our own way.

What has to die before you can experience new growth?

Now is the time.

Guard Your Heart

This is a guest post from Mark Miller.  Mark’s latest book is, The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow.

Originally Posted on greatleadersserve.org on Wednesday, September 4, 2013

GUARD YOUR HEART!

The Heart of Leadership is built upon a simple premise: unless your heart is right, no one cares about your skills. This may sound harsh, but it’s true. If people don’t trust our heart, they don’t trust us. If they don’t trust us – they won’t follow our leadership.

That’s the idea the book is built upon, and when we demonstrate leadership character, others see it. They see it as leadership character in action. They see it when we…

HUNGER FOR WISDOM

EXPECT THE BEST

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

RESPOND WITH COURAGE

THINK OTHERS FIRST

But why does this matter? Aren’t we just supposed to get results? If you’ve been leading long, you know you can get results without creating follow-ship. Results can be the byproduct of a very toxic workplace and poor relationships with those you lead. The irony of this approach is two-fold. It is not the way to maximize results. And, it is not sustainable over the long haul.

There is a vast reservoir of untapped potential in most people and in turn, most organizations — potential that goes unused and wasted. It resides in the discretionary efforts of our people. The day of the hired hands is dead. Leaders operating from that perspective are the dinosaurs of our day. As Peter Drucker said, “We are all knowledge workers.” The implications for leaders…

For every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain.

Our challenge is to create the context and the work environment to mine that potential, to capitalize on that FREE brain. It starts with us. People don’t leave organizations, they leave their supervisor. Are we becoming leaders people want to follow? Or, are we driving talent away from our team?

Yes, we need the skills of leadership. I’ve devoted decades of my life to helping leaders acquire the requisite skills to lead well, but skills alone are not the answer. I’ll go back to where I started this post and to the premise of the book. If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills. You and I will be dismissed as a leader if all we bring to the table are skills.

Leaders rarely fail for lack of skills. Certainly you can find examples of this, but in my experience, for every leader who fails because she can’t build a team or cast vision, countless others disqualify themselves for issues of the heart. The good news, we can change the condition of our heart. If we couldn’t, I wouldn’t have written the book.

So, what’s my point? I want to encourage you to be vigilant and diligent – give adequate attention to matters of the heart. It is much more important than most leaders think – it is critical. These are not soft issues; these are issues that ultimately determine our impact on the world!

There is an ancient proverb that summarizes why the matters of the heart matter so much – it captures my thoughts as well as I could ever hope to…

ABOVE ALL ELSE, GUARD YOUR HEART. EVERYTHING YOU DO FLOWS FROM IT.

Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow with those who are ready to take the next step. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this post (http://wp.me/p3E32E-8z), I offered two qualities that our safe people demonstrate.  This post presents two more qualities.

We celebrate the people in our life that we can trust and with whom we can drop our guard.  We will probably have only 2 or 3 of these people present in our life at any given time.  As the song, Doubly Good to You, made popular by Amy Grant says, “If you find someone who’s true, thank the Lord, He’s been doubly good to you.

We need these safe people to help us cope with the realities of life.

S. A. F. E. People:

F = are Free to treat us as an equal.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book, Safe People, say the unsafe people in our life stay in their parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals.  Our safe people don’t act like our parent.  Nor do they want or expect us to be their parent.  They don’t try to control us or tell us what to do.

Safe people respect our right to make decisions and adult choices.  They treat us as an equal, not their personal reformation project.  They don’t talk down to us.

When unsafe people try to parent us they act as if we can’t make any decisions for ourselves about values, money, etc.  They give us advice when we don’t ask for it.  They are critical and disapproving.  They withdraw when we make a decision that they disagree with.  The relationship feels like there is this power struggle going on.

By contrast, safe people are not threatened by our differences.  They have their own standards, values and convictions.

Most important, they want us to grow in love and fulfill our destiny.

At its core, a safe relationship is about love.  When love controls our relationships we are set free to be ourselves.

E = Engage their empathy in action.

Empathy for its own sake doesn’t accomplish much.  We can feel empathetic towards another’s situation, but do nothing to help them.  Safe people shine when they combine feelings with positive actions.

They know that love is something you do.  It’s taking friendship to the highest level.  We see and feel the pain in our friend’s life and want to do something to mend it.

Author and psychologist, Alan Loy McGinnis says, “The best relationships are built up, like a fine lacquer finish, with the accumulated layers of many acts of kindness” (The Friendship Factor).

Gestures of love and acts of kindness bond us to another person.  They confirm that we have not taken the other person for granted.  Rather, we took time to think about what would bring them a moment of happiness.  And we acted on it.

Who are the safe people in your life?

Are you a safe person for someone else?

I’d love to hear your experiences with safe people.  You can leave a comment below.

Who Are Your S.A.F.E. People? (Part 1)

The way we meet friends has changed in the last 15 to 20 years.  We used to build our relational circles of friends from those we encountered at work or school.  These days we can just as easily discover a friend online.  We form virtual communities that may consist of people we know from school or work, but also people we met online.  Increasingly, we are calling on our cyber friends for emotional support.

Video games are a big entry point for finding new friends. NBC’s Today Show aired a story about the “Big Fish Babes.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/36033819)  These ladies formed a “safe community” using the connection of online gaming.

Who is your safe person?

In our relationships, we are continually sizing up people to see who is safe and who is not.  We learn this through trial and error.  We’ve all been emotionally hurt in a relationship at some point in our life.  We’ve all been burned by being in an emotionally unsafe relationship.

On the positive side, we have some safe people in our lives.  We’ve learned that we can trust them with our thoughts and feelings.  We share our thoughts and opinions with them.  Then we risk a little more and share our feelings.  Over time, the relationship deepens.  We find the freedom to be ourselves in their presence.  We don’t have to pretend to be something that we are not.  We’re accepted as we are.  The genuine sharing of ourselves happens between us and our hearts are joined in friendship.  They are God’s gifts to us.

These kinds of people are very rare.  We may only have one or two during any given season or time in our life.

Here are two qualities of the safe people in our life.  In my next post, I’ll describe two more.

S. A. F. E. People:

S = Speak with their ears and eyes first.

One quality that sets the safe person apart for us is their willingness and ability to listen to us.  Really listen to us.  They give us the gift of their attention.

This is where communicating with friends only by text or email has its limitations.  We can’t always interpret the tone of the words correctly and it can lead to miscommunication.

It is difficult to become close friends with someone who talks too much and listens too little.

We’re not looking for world-class talkers as friends.  Someone who can talk a lot but who can’t shut up long enough to listen is a person we’ll have a hard time being close friends with.

Most of us are looking for a world-class listener.  We are hungry to be listened to.

People spend huge sums of money every week to have someone listen to them.  Why?  Because being listened to feels great.

World class listeners speak with their eyes and ears.  You can always tell a good listener.  They look at you when you are talking to them.  They are not staring off into space.  They are not looking over your shoulder, scanning the room.  Their focus is on you and you alone. Their listening sends a message that you are important and that you have something worth saying.

Eye contact and ear contact are two of the most important ways we connect with people.

A = are Attuned to our feelings before they speak.

Safe people are able to connect with us in such a way that they know what we are thinking and feeling.  They don’t judge us. They don’t advise us yet. They tune in to our world.

It’s all about empathy.  It’s the ability to sense how another feels.  Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, says, “People’s emotions are rarely put into words; far more often they are expressed through other cues.  The key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels: tone of voice, gesture, facial expression and the like.” (Page 96)  Our safe people are able to tune in to our channels.

Acceptance.  Understanding. Empathy. These are rare and valuable qualities of the safe people in our life. We are blessed if we have friends like this.

As with most relational situations, the Golden Rule applies: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

What have safe people meant to you?

1 Question That Always Moves Us Forward

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One question we naturally ask when we experience heartache or tragedy is, “Why me?”  I’ve discovered that question can drain our energy and cause us to lose focus from the most important matter at hand which is to resolve the issue.

A better, more productive question to ask is, “What can I learn from this?”

Another way of saying it is, “How can I gain wisdom from this experience?”

Asking “what” instead of “why” offers a few benefits:

  • We won’t waste the opportunity to grow.
  • We will know where to focus our limited energy.
  • We exercise creativity to solve our problems.
  • We will not become bitter in the midst of the problem.

Late Hall of Fame baseball coach Sparky Anderson is one of only two managers in history to win World Series titles in both the National and American Leagues.  (Tony La Russa is the other.)  Anderson led the Cincinnati Reds to the top in 1975 and 1976 and the Detroit Tigers in 1984.

But even Sparky couldn’t win them all.  In 1989, the Tigers finished a miserable 59-103.  Sparky said, “I never dreamed I could be part of a team that couldn’t at least play .500 ball.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.”

Sparky suffered mental and physical exhaustion early in the season and had to leave the team for 17 days.

Looking back on it he said, “For my first 19 years as a manager I was blessed by so much good fortune I thought maybe the devil had forgotten where I lived.  In 1989, I found out that Sparky Anderson has to pay his dues, too….  I never got over the point of bleeding a little bit after every loss, but I finally learned to let go.  I can’t say I’m happy with the pain I went through in 1989.  But I’m grateful for what it taught me.”  (Sparky Anderson and Dan Ewald; They Call Me Sparky; Sleeping Bear Press, 1998, pages 194-197)

Here is someone who learned to ask the “what” question.

There is a difference between experience and maturity.

Experience is the ability to recognize a mistake when we make it again.

Maturity is the ability to recognize a mistake before we make it again.

Asking, “What can I learn from this?” helps us make mature decisions in the midst of problems.

All of us have problems and trials in our life.  As writer and speaker Andy Andrews says, “We are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or headed for a crisis.”

Think of your greatest problem facing you today.

What are you learning from it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the space below.

How Wise People Handle Problems

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It is the smartest of times and the dumbest of times.

We live in a time when a lot of smart people are making astounding advances in medicine, business, science and technology.  A Newsweek article from several years ago said IQ scores rose steadily in the 20th Century, 24 points in the US.  “The rise is so sharp that the average child today is as bright as the near genius of yesteryear.”  (Read the full article here.)

It is also the dumbest of times.

Books with dummies in the title have become best sellers.  There is a book for every kind of dummy under the sun.

Have you heard of the Darwin Awards?  The Darwin Awards have their own website where they celebrate the theory of evolution by commemorating the remains of those who improved our gene pool by removing themselves from it in really stupid ways.

We know people who have done some really dumb stuff.

I look in the mirror and I see a person who has done some really stupid things.  All of us have done some boneheaded things.

We’re all in need of some wisdom for living, especially when we encounter problems and struggles.  I have lost count of how many times I’ve made a problem worse because I took an unwise course of action.  We can be our own worst enemy at times.

Problems are our ever present companions.  They are here to stay.  The issue is how we treat them when we meet them.

How do we treat our troubles, as intruders or friends?

We may try to treat them the way we treat an intruder in our home.  We build homes with the maximum amount of protection possible.  We have locks on the doors and windows, security systems, surveillance cameras and hurricane shutters.  We have protection systems that arm us against intruders to give us peace of mind.  We have 911 and emergency panic buttons so that we can respond to trouble fast.

This approach transfers to the way we try to deal with problems in our life.  Deal with them as you would an intruder.  Protect yourself, maintain your level of comfort, and deal with them quickly.  Intruders are not there for our good, right?

We can try to live as if problems are not there, but one day they come knocking on our door.  So what do we do when they come knocking?   How do we handle it when the doorbell rings and problems are standing there, refusing to leave?

One response is to slam the door quickly, hoping they will go away.  They hardly ever just go away.

There is a better approach.

Wise people learn to see the benefits in problems.  It may take them awhile.  They learn to throw open the door and say, “Come on in!”  They thrust out their arms and embrace the problem.

Wise people welcome problems as their friends.  This is so hard to do!  Yet, it is an essential part of wise living.

Troubles are opportunities for joy.

Struggles give us an opportunity to see what we are made of.

Much of our success in life depends on our attitude. I need to be reminded that I have a choice when problems come.  I strive for an attitude that says, “What can I learn from this?  What opportunities for growth can come from this trouble?”

When we seek wisdom in the midst of our struggles, we are not a dummy.

Live Full to Die Empty

My Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

Why Words Alone are Useless

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I’ve been thinking about what I say and wondering if people really believe it.

In the past couple months I’ve been on the receiving end of promises by potential employers saying, “We’ll call you either way within two weeks.”  It’s been four weeks and I’m still waiting.  A friend said, “We’ll get together soon for lunch!”  That was 3 years ago.

Do I do the same thing?

The cynical part of me asks, “Have we come to the point where we can’t really believe what people say?”

I’ve turned that question on myself.  Do I call when I say I am going to call?  Do I do what I say I’m going to do?

Can I count on others to be straight up with me? Does their yes mean yes or does it really mean maybe?  Does their maybe really mean no?

In my nonprofit work, where recruiting volunteers is part of the role, I’ve asked people to help with a project. Sometimes, I when I ask, I can sense they really don’t want to do it, but they say yes anyway.  And, I’ve had people say yes when I ask them initially but when it comes time to actually show up for the project, they are an intentional no show.  They said yes, but they really meant no.

Here’s another example.  Let’s say we have a bossy, controlling person in our life.  We all have them.  It could be a friend or a family member.  They want us to do something, but we really don’t want to do it so we say no.  But they persist.  They don’t take our no for an answer.  They ask again and again.  What do we do in that moment?  Do we cave in and finally say yes?  If we do give in, we have just taught them that our no really means maybe.  Soon they are back asking for something else, in the back of their mind thinking, “Their no doesn’t really mean no.”  If people in our relational world sense that we have weak boundaries, we allow them to take advantage of us.

There is truth to the saying, “You get what you tolerate.”

That doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t change our mind.  We know that a woman’s prerogative is to change her mind.  But, men do it too!  Our yes and no are genuine reflections of our intention at that moment.  What matters is backing up our words with actions.

I want to be a “put up or shut up” person.  I want my yes to mean yes and my no to mean no.

Our actions will back up our words.

Better yet, let our actions do the talking instead of our words.

I’d love to hear your comments below.

What Siri Teaches Us About Listening

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Apple is once again in the news with its release of a brand new iPhone.  I remember when the last “new” one was launched.  One of the touted features was Siri, the computer voice built in to the phone that answered your questions and was a techno equivalent of the imaginary friend.

Much of the time, Siri is fun to play with but not all that useful.  She’s like the younger sister that you mercilessly tease just for kicks.

Siri gets revenge

Alas, like the now grown sister or the jilted lover, Siri exacted revenge.

On a recent trip to the unfamiliar city of Minneapolis, we were using the built-in GPS feature with Siri providing the voice direction.  We used one map to get us to our destination.  When we left that destination, we plugged in a new address for the next destination.  This sent Siri into a tizzy.  Two map apps open means two voices talking over each other at the same time.

“In 200 feet take a right.”

“In 300 feet take a left.”

Which is it: 200 feet or 300 feet?

A right or a left?

Make up your mind, Siri!  (Oh wait, Siri doesn’t have a mind.)

Do you know how hard it is to listen to two voices telling you to go in two different directions at the same time?  It’s just downright annoying and confusing.

We finally figured out what was going on and closed the first map application.  Siri was happy again and we were too.  One voice to follow is much easier.

We have voice choice.

Every day we get to choose which voice we listen to and when.  Our choice is between the voice of negativity or the voice of hope.  Friends and family can be either of those voices in our life.  The voice of experience can too.

Our outlook on life helps decide which voice we follow.

The voice of negativity will try to convince us of how bad things are and how much worse they are going to get.  We all need a reality check from time to time to help us see things as they really are.

But, if we follow the negative voice we can find ourselves in a downward spiral, making it even harder to get on the right path to happiness.

Instead, we can choose to listen to the voice of hope.

It’s the voice that keeps us on the forward moving path.

It’s the voice that calls out the best in us.

It’s the voice that challenges us to take action.

Take a lesson from Siri.  When the voice of negativity tries to talk over hope, choose the voice of hope.

You will be glad you did.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us…” (Romans 5:5, New Living Translation)

You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be Happy

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Several years ago I went to a local wholesale club to buy dessert for a dinner party.  I knew that my guests liked cheesecake, so I made it my mission to find the best one possible.  I was looking for the special kind with cherries or strawberries on top.  Instead, I found a variety pack of mini-cheesecakes that would allow my guests a choice.  They had an assortment of toppings like Hershey chocolate chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and Heath Bar chips. Perfect!

I got to the checkout where I saw the man in front of me put a large block of greenish blue cheese on the counter.  He also had about 10 packages of something with fancy gold lids on them.  I didn’t know what they were, but the packaging was exquisite.

Just then a woman got in line behind me.  She was a snooper.  I saw her out of the corner of my eye, scoping out my cheesecakes.  But that didn’t last long because the gold lids caught her eye too.  She craned her neck further and blurted out to the guy in front of me, “How much is that caviar?”

He grunts back, “$56.00.”

Whoa! That made my $14.00 cheesecake look like a $2.00 bottle of wine. I’m a cheesecake cheapskate.  I did the math in my head and calculated that I was looking at more than $500 worth of fish eggs.

I gave him the once over.  He was wearing a refined shirt logoed with a little guy on a horse playing a game.  Initials stitched on the pocket.  Pants tailored to the top of his first-rate leather shoes.

He took his platinum American Express out his expensive leather wallet to swipe it.  In a moment, a receipt appeared.  With a flick of his arm he grabbed the coiled pen to sign it.  “This pen doesn’t work!” he yelled.

The young girl behind the counter said calmly, “I have another one right here.”

The guy grabbed it from her with gusto and scribbled his name hard as if carving out a marble monument.  When he finished, he didn’t hand the pen back to the clerk, instead he threw it down on the counter with more force than necessary.  He blew the air out of his lungs with disgust.  She handed him the receipt and he jerked the cart toward the exit.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to several multi-millionaires.  No doubt about it, having money takes away some of life’s worries and makes it a little more secure.  As one of my friends said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve had money.  I like having money better.”  Those of us without a lot of it would probably agree.

But if being financially rich makes us prideful, arrogant, ungrateful and cranky, is it worth it?

I’d rather be a happy cheesecake cheapskate than a grumpy rich guy.

How about you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Remember the Heroes Today

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Have you ever had the opportunity to meet one of your heroes in person?

I’ve been able to meet two of my leadership heroes, John Maxwell and Zig Ziglar.  For more years than I can remember, I have read their books, listened to their audio recordings and heard them speak in person. I’ve learned much from the teaching of these two encouraging giants. Here’s how the two meetings came about.

I went to a local church to hear John Maxwell speak about leadership principles from the life of a man in the Bible named Paul.  Following his excellent talk, he invited people to come forward to meet him and offered to sign books. I was the first in line!  John was gracious, warm and kind.  I asked him to sign his book Today Matters, one of my personal favorites. When John handed the book back to me, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Todd, this is the most life changing book I’ve ever written.”  I agreed that it is.  I thanked him and went on my way with renewed purpose to make today matter.

Meeting Zig Ziglar was more indirect, but no less uplifting. I was a monthly subscriber to Zig’s fantastic online learning and personal growth site, Success 2.0.  Due to a job change, I had to end my subscription so I contacted customer service to ask that it be cancelled right away.  I got a gracious note back from Cindy Oates saying that it would be done by the end of the day.  A couple weeks later, when I checked my credit card statement I saw that the monthly charge remained.  I contacted Cindy and asked again.  She removed the charge immediately.  In Cindy’s email reply, she said she’d like to make it up to me by getting “Dad” to sign one of his books of my choice.  I had no idea that Cindy was related to Zig, but thankful that she went the extra mile to make my week.  True to her word, about two days later, I got an autographed copy of the Zig Ziglar classic, See You at the Top.

Our personal heroes are heroes because they don’t disappoint. They come through for us in the clutch. They struggle with fears and doubts just like everyone else, but in the end, their actions match their message. Heroes seize daily opportunities to put someone else’s needs before their own.

We don’t need to be famous to be a hero. Heroes come in every shape and size and from every circumstance in life. Heroes act while others just talk.

We can all be a hero to someone. We may not know who is watching or waiting for us to respond. But when we do, we make someone’s journey a little bit easier and their burden a little bit lighter.

Today matters because are remembering the 9/11 attack on America.  A day that called out heroes like no other day in recent memory.  Thank God, that day in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania there were ordinary people who became heroes. First responders who said, “today matters to someone.”  Rescuers who entered the World Trade Center towers saying, “I will see you at the top.”  They came through for us in the clutch and we are forever in their debt.

Remember the heroes today.

Be a hero to someone today.

15 Questions to Help You Discover Your Mission

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Several years ago I came across the leadership teaching and books of Bobb Biehl.  He is a leader known for asking questions.  He says, “If you ask profound questions you get profound answers!  If you ask shallow questions you get shallow answers!  If you ask no questions you get no answers at all!”  I’ve found that once I start asking the right questions, solutions emerge.

Here are 15 questions that help pinpoint our personal mission:

1. What makes you smile? (Activities, people, events, hobbies, projects, etc.)

2. What were your favorite things to do in the past?  What about now?

3. What activities make you lose track of time?

4. What makes you feel great about yourself?

5. Who inspires you most?  (Family, friends, authors, artists, leaders, etc.) Which qualities inspire you in each person?

6. What are you naturally good at?  (Skills, abilities, gifts, etc.)

7. In what area or task do people typically ask for your help?

8. If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

9. What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?

10. You are now 90 years old, sitting on a rocking chair outside your porch; you can feel the spring breeze gently brushing against your face. You are blissful and happy, and are pleased with the wonderful life you’ve been blessed with. Looking back at your life what matters to you most?

11. What are your deepest values? Select 3 to 6 and prioritize the words in order of importance to you.

12. What were some challenges, difficulties and hardships you’ve overcome or are in the process of overcoming?  How did you do it?

13. What causes do you strongly believe in? Connect with?

14. If you could get a message across to a large group of people, who would those people be?  What would your message be?

15. Given your talents, passions and values, how could you use these resources to serve, to help, or to contribute to others?

These questions take time to answer.  They take some periods of reflection and solitude to get to the heart of the matter.  But, the time spent thinking through these questions could be life changing for someone else who is touched by your mission.

What questions have caused you to stop, think and change direction?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Getting Back Up When Life Knocks Us Down

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Life has a way of messing up our plans.  We can go through painstaking effort to figure out our mission, only to have life smack us around.

In those moments, the challenge is being able to get back up and stay on mission or figure out if there is a new mission that arises from the ashes of the tragedy.

One life challenge is being able to stay on mission.

I was inspired by Art Daily’s story of getting back up when life dealt him a horrible blow.

Art Daily and his wife of 12 years, Kathy and their two sons Tanner, age 10 and Shea age 6, were coming back from a youth hockey game, traveling west towards Aspen, Colorado on Interstate 70.  The road winds through Glenwood Canyon, one of the most spectacular roads in the United States.  Cliffs line both sides of the highway.

Suddenly, a boulder breaks loose and comes hurdling towards their Chevy Suburban. It smashes into the passenger side and rolls over the top of the SUV taking part of the roof with it.  Art, who is driving brings the car to a screeching halt.  He looks over at Kathy who was sleeping in the front seat.  He knows she is dead.  He turns back to check on his sons who were watching a movie on the car DVD system. They are motionless and their eyes are closed.

Other passersby stop to try to help. Two doctors from Oregon take charge of trying to save the boys while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.  Shea, the youngest is already gone. They rush both boys to the hospital but neither of them can be saved.

In an instant Art Daily loses his wife and two sons.  How does anyone deal with such a tragedy?  He wrote about his experience in Out of the Canyon: A True Story of Loss and Love.

A few years after the horrific event, he is having dinner with his firstborn daughter from his first marriage to celebrate her birthday.  It’s just the two of them.  She leans across the table and says, “Dad, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you.  How did you survive that awful time in your life?  What made you keep going?”

He tries his best to answer her question and reflects out loud on what he has learned. At one point he says,

“In any case, I understood early on that I had a choice.  I could stay the course and embrace life, or I could take some lesser path.  Ultimately, there are really only two directions that we can choose – toward life or toward death.  Since I felt like I had some sort of job to do, something not yet finished, the natural course was to keep going, to make the best of things.  The moment I started down that road, with my head up and love in my aching heart, I knew that I had chosen well, and the blessings of the passing years have surely confirmed it” (Page 216).

That’s the challenge we all face.

Staying on mission, no matter what life throws our way.

It’s getting back up when we are knocked down.

It’s getting our inner compass reoriented in the right direction and finding the strength and courage to keep moving.

How do you stay on mission when life knocks you down?

 

3 Benefits of Having a Life Mission

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It is:

Bigger than our job.

Grander than our role

More valuable than our bank account.

Larger than our To Do List

Greater than our failures

What is it? Our mission in life.  The words of Tom Cruise’s boss in the Mission Impossible movies: “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it” apply to all of us.

Our mission is the reason we are on this earth and why we are still living.

A mission statement is: “A written-down reason for being.”

Here’s why having a mission matters.

1. It helps us be “fully alive.”

Zig Ziglar talked often about being a “wandering generality or meaningful specific.”

Having a mission makes us a meaningful specific.  We know what we are about and we  connect with the things that help us feel fully alive.  When we have no sense of mission, we go through life weighed down by routine.  We’re moving through life with no passion or feeling.

Someone wrote the following mission statement where they took a few key words and wrote their mission statement around the words that sparked life in them.

Care

About the world
About life
About people
About myself

Love

Myself
My family
My world
Knowledge
Learning
LIFE

Fight

For my beliefs
For my passions
To accomplish
To do good
To be true to myself
Against apathy

Rock

The boat, don’t
let the boat rock me
Be a rock

Be Remembered

2.  It gives us the guard rails that help us initiate, evaluate and refine our life’s activities.

Thanks to Laurie Beth Jones for pointing out in her excellent book, The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and Life, decision making becomes easier when we know what we are about.

When our values are clear, we can make wise decisions about how we spend our time.

Mahatma Gandhi’s mission is captured in a short list of active statements. We can craft our mission in this style, starting each sentence with “I shall” or “I will.”

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

  • I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
  • I shall fear only God.
  • I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
  • I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
  • I shall conquer untruth by truth.
  • And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

Consider Gandhi’s impact on the world.  He knew what he was about each day.

Decisions about what we do and won’t do flow out of a strong sense of our mission.

3.  It helps us be good stewards of our one and only life.

I want to be the kind of person my dog already thinks I am. — Anonymous

We only get one shot at this life. It’s said often that “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Life is moving quickly.  My oldest daughter turned 21 the very same day my youngest daughter got her driver learner’s permit. I thought, “How did this happen so fast?”

We don’t have much time on this earth in the grand scheme of things. A mission helps us get focused so we can be good stewards of our life.

Here’s another sample mission statement, written anonymously:

To be humble.

To say thanks to God in some way, every day.

To never react to abuse by passing it on.

To find the self within that does and can look at all sides without loss.

I believe in treating all people with kindness and respect.

I believe by knowing what I value, I truly know what I want.

To be driven by values and beliefs.

I want to experience life’s passions with the newness of a child’s love, the sweetness and joy of young love, and the respect and reverence of mature love.

Finally, to go through life with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye.

The best missions are simple yet profound.  They impact the world and make it a better place for all of us.

This IS your mission… live it.

Enjoy this simple yet profound expression of a mission in action.

The Invisible Reward of Self-Control

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Every day, for close to seven years, Walter “Buck” Swords cursed and stomped his feet in his favorite restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria, demanding that he get his food exactly as he wanted it. Every day, for close to seven years, his preferred waitress, Melina Salazar, offered a patient smile and did whatever she could to help her most stubborn customer.  After years of thankless service, Salazar was rewarded.  When Swords died at 89 years old, just days before Christmas (2007), he left Salazar $50,000 and a 2000 Buick.

Ms. Salazar says, “I still can’t believe it.  He was always kind of mean.”  (Read about it here: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-12-30-waitress_N.htm).

There are rewards for demonstrating self-control.  Not just occasional tangible ones like $50,000 and a Buick.  There is an invisible reward too.

I read a fascinating article this week in Psychology Today about the asset that CEO’s need most. (Check it out here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201306/can-one-man-save-american-business)  As the article points out, external rewards only motivate us to a certain point.  We have a need to be inner directed rather than outwardly controlled by incentives and external rewards.

As I wrote in an earlier post: Self-control is the essence of true power.

Self-control is one of the fundamental character strengths that we need to successfully navigate through life.

We can’t control circumstances, but we can control ourselves.  We can’t always control what other people do to us.  We can’t control what they request of us.  We can control our response to them and to their requests.

Maturity is about our ability to be in control of ourselves.

We’re trying to gain control over the various fragments that we feel pulling at us in our lives. The solution to an out of control, fragmented life is building good boundaries or structures into our lives.

Demonstrating self-control means that we live our lives within certain invisible boundaries.

Boundaries are property lines.  They define where we end and someone else begins.  In the physical world, they are easy to see. If we own a piece of land we can go to the courthouse and see exactly where our property begins and ends.

There are also boundaries in the invisible world.  They influence our interpersonal relationships and our sense of wellbeing.  People with good personal and interpersonal boundaries feel as if their lives belong to them and no one else.  They have a central inner core from which they operate and function in this world.

For the spiritually inclined, we call it our spiritual center that allows us to take responsibility for our own feelings and behaviors.

The two most common invisible boundaries are our emotions and our relationships.  If we have emotional boundaries we are able to “own” our feelings.  We are aware when we are mad, glad, sad or anxious and not blame someone else for our emotions.

If we have good relational boundaries we are able to separate ourselves from other people’s problems and emotions.  Self-control allows us to help them without becoming too enmeshed in their issues.

Having good boundaries allows us to be healthy and to operate from our spiritual center.

The invisible reward of self-control is that we are more focused and less distracted. We are able to move through life with a sense of mission and purpose.

There are tools available to help us gain focus. It seems with mounting distractions in our lives there has been an increase in the popularity of yoga, meditation and prayer.  We can find the tools that work for us.

Use the tools available and you’ll find more power to live out your mission.

What tools have been helpful for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Who is Controlling You? ~ 5 Questions to Ask

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We are all led by something.

I’d like to think I’m led by a higher calling or purpose.  I’d like to think that my character informs and forms my decisions.  But most of the time my desire for comfort or my fascination with technology leads my life.

For me, the issue is one of self-control.  Who or what am I allowing to control me?

Self-control is one key to living a well-functioning life.

Self-control is the ability to exercise control over feelings, desires, behaviors and impulses.

The reality: We feel fragmented and pulled in many different directions.

The boundaries that we once had in our lives are gone.  We used to “go to work.”  Today, technology allows work to come to us.

There used to be “work hours” and a “work week.”  Today, work can be 24/7.  The lines between work and home are blurred.

There are more things competing for our time and attention, making it more difficult to practice self-control.  It can get confusing to figure out whom or what is leading us.

Here are 5 questions I ask myself to figure out if I’m in control of me:

1. Can I turn off notifications (email, Facebook, Twitter, text) without feeling like I’m missing something?

Today’s technology and social media distract us and fragment our focus.  If I can’t turn it off, then it is in charge of me. The wonderful thing about today’s technology is that every single gadget comes with an On/Off switch.  Control of the device lies with the user.  Turning off the bells and whistles of my technology prevents my Pavlovian response to them.  I don’t like thinking of myself as a salivating dog drooling all over my BlackBerry. (Yes, there are still people who use BlackBerrys.)

2. Am I scheduling my day or is my day scheduling me?

Setting aside a designated time to do specific tasks increases my focus and commitment to the completion of the task.  I’ve learned to build margins in my schedule for the unexpected to occur, but I schedule time for my top two priorities I must get done that day, regardless.

3. Can I say “no” to new things that I don’t really need?

Not every new device or feature is a must have.  Feature creep is alive and well.  We add new features because we can, not because we really need them.

When I worked for General Electric, whose appliances are fantastic and cutting edge, I admired my consumers who said, “I don’t need vegetable drawers in my refrigerator that change colors.  I just want it to keep the vegetables fresh.”  They were in control of their technology and its features.  I try to critically consider what it offers and ask, “How does this new technology best serve me and do I really need (not just want) it?”

4. Do I have designated quiet hours?

This is a simple yet difficult to apply life skill I started learning in college when I lived in the “study dorm.”  There were certain times of the day we could blast the stereo, but there were also designated times for quiet.  No stereos, TV’s, or noise.  I’ve tried to maintain that practice.

Silence in today’s noisy world is a discipline.  If I can’t turn off my iPod or TV, then noise is controlling me.  Why do we feel it necessary to have constant noise in the background?  Is it to avoid thinking about what is really going on in our lives?

For me, there are certain times in my day when I have quiet so that I can focus on important matters that require my best thought and creativity.

5. Can I purge my gadgets and/or usage plans and email newsletters without missing them?

A new movement of Zero TV-ers is gaining momentum.  Read about them here: http://www.tesh.com/story/money-and-finance-category/why-so-many-people-are-giving-up-tv/cc/12/id/25500.

This summer, I’ve been on a self-enforced decrease in the amount of television I watch.  I’ve enjoyed having more time to read and write.  I’m not ready to become a Zero TV-er yet (it is football season, after all) but when the Fall TV season rolls around, I won’t be allowing TV to control my time the way it used to.

I have a periodic review of my minutes used and texts sent. Is paying for extra minutes or extra channels really worth it?  I have also found it helpful to review my social media feeds, email newsletters and magazine subscriptions to see if they still benefit me.  If not, I get rid of them to create space for more meaningful things.

The bottom line is: Self-control is the essence of true power.

We get to choose who leads us. Power up.

What tips have helped you to control your time and your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to be Remembered by Others

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It’s a basic human longing that we are remembered by other people.

We get to choose how we are remembered.

Some of the saddest experiences of life happen when we feel forgotten by those we love.  Even if we are not with another person for very long (in the grand scheme of things), we want them to remember us.  We want them to not forget the good times we’ve had and the things we’ve experienced together.

To be forgotten is to be devalued.  We want to know that our life mattered to someone.

Beyond photographs, the words we’ve heard and spoken, stick in our memories.

Ever heard some spoken words that have been preserved in your memory?

Can you point to a conversation that was a defining moment for you?

We’ve all had memorable exchanges that changed our life for the better.

Former President Jimmy Carter had one.  In his autobiography, Why Not the Best?, he tells of being in the United States Navy.  He graduated from the Naval Academy and applied for an assignment in the nuclear submarine program under Admiral Hyman Rickover.  One day he encounters Admiral Rickover himself.

Rickover says, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?”

Carter replies, “Sir, I stood 59th in my class of 820.”

Expecting to be congratulated, Carter was surprised to hear Rickover say, “Did you do your best?”

At first Carter was going to say yes, but then he remembers the times when he had not learned all he could have in a class.  So he answers, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”

Rickover then hits him with a stinger that lodges in Carter’s memory and changes Carter’s life, “Why not?”

Carter walks out of the meeting that day with a new resolve to be the best he can possibly be.

It was a memorable conversation that brought life.  You’ve had them, haven’t you?

We can use our words to encourage others

A well-placed and well-timed word encourages, builds up and brings life to another person.  It helps us reach for our best.

We’ve are blessed if we’ve had conversations that have challenged us to be better and to do better.

When we use our words to build others it strengthens our relationships.  It brings us closer to those in our life.  It helps others reach their God given potential.

Are you a builder with your words?  If you are, you will be remembered for the good that you brought to another person’s life.

It is wonderful when someone tells us how much our words meant to them.  We are humbled to the point where we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe God used the words I said to help someone else.”

Build on.

You’ll always be remembered.

Who was an encourager in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

I Can’t Believe I Said That!

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But I did.  Sometimes I say things without really thinking.  You probably do too.  We’ve all been there.

As soon as the words take flight from our lips we think, “I can’t believe I said that!”  We wish we could take it back but we can’t.  The toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube.  The egg can’t return to a broken shell.

We live in a world of words.  It’s the information age where we are drowning in a sea of sentences.

We are bombarded with so many words they lose their meaning unless they are directed at us.

Think of the fun games we play with words:  Words with Friends, Scrabble, Crosswords and Word Search.

We live in a world of words.  All kinds of words.  Good words.  Bad words.  Words that matter and words that don’t.  Helpful words and destructive words.  We remember words.

See if you can complete the sentence:

  • Our Father, who…
  • Four score….
  • Once upon…
  • We, the people…

How did you do? I’m sure you got all of them correct. such is the power of words.

We can hurt people and damage relationships with our words.

Words can become the poison that sours a relationship until it dies.  We can do irreparable damage to another person by accusations, innuendos, and gossip.

We were told as kids that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Then a sharp word flew our way and lodged in our soul and we realized that was a lie. Words can and do hurt.

Careless words tossed out in the direction of loved ones can result in permanent injury to our relationships.The ancient proverb writer was right when he said, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).

Our words make a difference in other’s lives.  Think about your own life. Think about how words have affected you:

  • When we were called ugly or stupid.
  • When someone said we were incompetent and could never do anything right.
  • When someone said that what we do doesn’t matter.
  • When we were falsely accused of something.
  • When we found out someone made fun of us behind our back.

It seems we don’t need any training or instruction on how to wound people with our words.  We realize how powerful words can be.

Two powerful words

It’s true that we can’t take it back.  But we can try to make it right.

We can offer two powerful words, that when said with sincerity, begin the process of building the relationship again.

“I’m sorry.”

Sometimes we need to wait a while to say them.  What matters is that we say them.

We can go from, “I can’t believe I said that” to “I’m sorry I said that.”  Try it.

Our words can build or break.

Let’s get building.

 

Comments always welcome! You can leave yours below.

A Lesson on Slowing Down for Impatient People (Like Me)

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This week I’ve been participating in Jeff Goins’ Slow Down Challenge in which he dared readers to be intentional about reducing the pace of our lives. Each day we received an email prompt that focused on an aspect of slowing down.  You can read them here: www.goinswriter.com.  I’ve also started reading Jeff’s new book, The In-Between, which digs deeper into the benefits of waiting in life.  It’s a message an impatient person like me needs to hear and liberally apply.

Forced to stop

Now that the week is over, my biggest takeaway is that waiting has given me more time to reflect. I find that I can become so focused on a task that I get blinders on that don’t allow me to see where I’m going.  Waiting forces me to stop, reflect and make course corrections if needed.

There is an old, well-traveled story about a husband and wife on a road trip across the country.  The wife was admonishing her husband about his driving.

“You are going too fast. You’re gonna get us killed, slow down!”

So he speeds up (unconsciously, of course).

They are flying down the road. She keeps reminding him, “Honey you are going too fast! It is dangerous.”

They are going down the road about 90 miles per hour, she is nagging him at about 80 when he is about to lose his self-control.

He gets so distracted with his wife yelling at him that he misses the right hand turn they were supposed to take.

She notices that he went past it which gets her started again, “Oh great, not only are you going too fast, you don’t know where you are going!  We’re lost!”

You know how men are, we’re not the type to stop and ask directions.  He keeps driving.

She persists, “Come on, you are wasting gas, get off at this exit and ask for directions.”

Finally, he has all he can take. His face is turning various shades of red, veins are popping out of his neck, and his knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so tight. He slams on the brakes. They screech to a halt on the side of the road.

He says, “Okay, okay, you are right, we are lost. But you gotta admit, we are making great time!”

Slowing down allows us impatient people to reflect on our lives so that we make sure we are going in the right direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about ways you have benefited from slowing down.

You’re Fired! Lessons I’m Learning from Being Let Go

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Let’s face it, getting fired hurts. From first-hand experience I can tell you that it is embarrassing, humiliating and makes you feel like a loser.

The day I was terminated, I was handed a box with my personal things already packed.  Since I was no longer an employee, I was forbidden from using the employee’s entrance in the back.  I had to walk out of the building through the front lobby where people were waiting for their appointments.  Talk about a walk of shame.

I related to Job in the Bible when he said, “What I have feared, has come upon me.”

I knew that my life was forever changed. A new potential landmine was buried for discovery by my next employer when asked, “Why did you leave your last job?”  As if getting a job isn’t hard enough.

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

As I think back on the experience, I’ve realized that I’ve been enrolled in a graduate level course in the school of hard knocks. It is an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But, it has been valuable.  Funny how the traumatic experiences of life can turn out to be blessings in disguise.  A mentor of mine calls these events “love letters in black envelopes.”

Here are a few lessons I’m learning as I deal with getting axed.

Yes, it IS me.

We try to prop ourselves up by saying, it is our employer’s fault. They didn’t like me or the boss had it in for me. I came to realize that it was me.  The fact is that if I had the talents necessary to add value to the company, I would still be employed there.  My skills, experiences, insights and abilities were not enough to make it in this job. It did me no good to whitewash it or sugarcoat it. I didn’t measure up, for THIS job. That doesn’t mean I don’t have skills and abilities for other jobs.

I am not alone.

I realized that people like underdogs and when you tell someone you were fired they find kindness within themselves to offer a word of encouragement or try to help you.  When I told my gym manager that I couldn’t afford the monthly membership fees because I’d been fired, he understood and offered words that helped me look at it positively.  I’ve found support from family and friends who have stepped up to provide.

When I joined the ranks of people who’d been fired my mother (as only a mother can) reminded me that even successful people get fired. She mentioned Lee Iacocca who was fired from the Ford Motor Company before turning around Chrysler in the 1980’s. There are other famous people who were fired. Hugh Jackman, once named The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine was let go from his job at 7-Eleven before becoming a movie star.

I gotta keep moving

Our natural tendency is to wallow in self-pity, but ultimately that does us no good. It drains our energy. As much as we’d like to sit around all day watching Oprah reruns and eating Cheetos, we realize that we have to keep active.

I discovered that the magical job fairy doesn’t exist and isn’t coming to my door to hand me my next job. Finding a new job is hard work.

As an introvert I don’t have a mile long list of contacts in my “network.”  The bills keep coming whether I’m working or not.  Like most people who are fired, I don’t have a huge savings account, so I gotta keep actively searching.

I’ve found fellow firee (I know, that’s not a real word.), Amy Shouse’s advice to “adopt a five actions each day rule” (See http://lifehacker.com/5983909/how-i-found-happiness-after-being-fired) to be very helpful in keeping me off of the sofa.  She suggests doing 5 things each day that feel momentum-creating as we move toward the future.  What matters is that these are “actions which keep new energy flowing.”

I’ve realized that my future is being built with the building blocks of today.

New opportunities will arise

I’ve written about this before (https://www.ignitinghopetoday.com/opportunities-come-in-threes), but as time has passed, I’ve become grateful for the opportunities that this season of my life brings.  I’ve been able to experience new things that I would not have been able to had I been at my previous job. I’ve had more opportunities to write, explore, spend time with people I love, and give to others in an unhurried way.

I’m confident that new opportunities will come.  I’ve grown through this experience.  I’m focused on the future and not hung up on the past.

So take note People Magazine, if World’s Sexiest Man is not taken this year, I’m available.

What tips would you give to those who’ve been let go?

Why Faster is Not Always Better

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For the past week my local radio station has issued the daily reminder to “slow down and watch for bikers.”  I live in near Sturgis, South Dakota, home to the exceedingly popular Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/). This year crowds have swelled to more than a half-million bikers.  Yesterday, while running errands, we came upon a “just happened” accident involving an SUV and a biker. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Besides being a good reminder for when I get behind the wheel, the radio station reminders have been a positive “life reminder.”

Think about it. Has the pace of our daily life gotten faster or slower over the past 10 years?  Most of us would say faster.  We live by the belief that faster is better.

Is faster always better?

Over the last 15 years we have gone from having no computers in our homes to having one or more computers.  When we first got a computer it took forever to boot up.  We couldn’t stand to wait so we made better chips to make them faster.  Today they turn on and boot up almost instantly.  We came up with high speed internet.  I have to admit, in that case, faster is definitely better!

In our day, snail mail is bad, instant messaging is good.  Life is getting faster.

Is faster always better?

We want things turbocharged.  So we go through life at warp speed.  We try to live our lives at a speed of light pace.

We can’t keep up the pace for very long.  We can’t keep constant motion going for very long.  Here’s the catch: Warp speed warps the soul.  We can’t grow our souls when we are traveling at the speed of light.

Slowing down benefits us in two soul saving ways.

Slowing down allows us to be aware of sacred moments.

By moments I mean experiencing the wonder of everyday events.  We get moving so fast we miss the beauty found in the ordinary.

This gets played out most often with the people we love.  We miss the moments because we’re focused on the next thing we have to do.  We are in the room but we are not really in the room.  We are sitting there physically, but in our mind we are a million miles away.

Slowing down gives the opportunity to be present and attentive to the people who matter to us.  We are able to give our loved ones the gift of our genuine attention.  We are empowered to appreciate the moment.

Iris Krasnow in her book, Surrendering to Motherhood, says it beautifully when she writes, “It’s about being where you are, when you are….   It’s about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax while he is yelling for your attention.  And you distractedly say over your shoulder, ‘Oh, honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.’  It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine, so you can make your eyes shine back.”

Slowing down helps us tune in to the moment enough to notice a smile or a wink or a hug. There is a sense of the sacred that comes in these moments.

Slowing down gives us time to dream about the future.

Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “The future?  I have to work in the present!  I have no time to think about the future.”  The irony is that in our fast paced world, the future arrives before we are ready for it.

When we slow down long enough, our mind takes us to the days ahead.  We see the meaning in a well-travelled poem from an unknown writer of many years ago:

I wasted an hour one morning beside a mountain stream.

I seized a cloud from the sky above and fashioned myself a dream,

In the hush of the early twilight, far from the haunts of men,

I wasted a summer evening, and fashioned my dream again.

Wasted? Perhaps.

Folks say so who never have walked with God…

When lanes are purple with lilacs or yellow with goldenrod.

But I have found strength for my labors

in that one short evening hour.

I have found joy and contentment,

I have found peace and power.

My dreaming has left me a treasure,

a hope that is strong and true.

From wasted hours I have built my life and found my faith anew.

Waste some time today and watch out for fast paced things that will warp your soul.

Faster is not always better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment space below.

 

How to Gain When You Lose

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Life is a succession of losses and gains.  The color and texture of our life is constantly changing because at any given moment, we may be experiencing loss of one kind or another.  We may have lost a partner, spouse or friend.  We may have lost a marriage through death or divorce.  We may have lost a job.  We may have lost a treasured possession.  We may have lost a dream we held dear.

Loss can trigger discouragement.

All of us experience loss, so it’s not a matter of if but when.  What we do with it when it happens, matters.  Loss brings us to an emotional crossroad.  The direction of our life is determined by the choices we make at the point of loss.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the pain of the loss, but we can use the loss to shape our future.

The pull when we lose something meaningful, is to become discouraged and just go through the motions of life.  The other option is to find the life lessons and make them a part of who we are.

What we thought was a loss can turn out to be a gain.

Here are some ways to G–A-I-N when you lose:

G – Get your day off to a good start.

What we do with the time after we awaken in the morning sets the tone for the day.  Some of us like to exercise first thing.  Others of us find prayer, journaling, meditation, or yoga helpful. Others of us listen to music as we get ready to face the day. Still others of us read stimulating books.

Whatever inspires you in the morning, make it a habit that you can use to draw strength from during the day ahead.  This is the time of day we reward ourselves with meaningful activities that lift our spirit.

When our mornings get off to a good start, our energy is renewed and the pull of discouragement is weakened.

A – Adjust your plan.

Loss messes up our best laid plans. Loss demands that we adjust our focus and figure out our next steps.

What does this loss mean for you now?

When loss happens, we can’t go through life pretending that it didn’t happen.  What are the adjustments that need to be made in your schedule, routine and lifestyle?

What will your new plan entail?

I – Identify your resources.

Once our new plan begins to take shape, we look to see what resources we have that will enable us to carry out the plan.

What people do we need to contact?

What sources of inspiration do we have?

What financial resources do we have?

Take a look around to see the skills, talents, and tools within yourself and others that can help you move in your new direction.

There are resources that are in our life at this very moment that can make a difference in our future. Find them and maximize them.

N – Never allow inactivity to win.

Inactivity wins when we quit taking steps to move ourselves forward. Discouragement is victorious when we give up trying.

Even if we take a step in the wrong direction, at least we are moving. As the well-worn saying says, “It is easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is standing still.”

We can figure out where we want to go and then plan our steps accordingly. We don’t just plan to take them, we take them.

What one step do you need to take today that will be a death blow to the discouragement that is trying to pull you away from your purpose?  Take it.

There is an ancient story about a guy who has been to a bar.  He’s slightly tipsy.  He loses his house key.  He gets down on his hands and knees and starts looking for it.  A friend of his comes along and sees him down there so he says, “Sam, what in the world are you doing down there?”

“I lost my house key.”

His friend says, “Show me where you lost it so I can help you.”

Sam points in the other direction and replies, “Oh, I lost it over there in the grass.”

“Then why in the world are you looking for it over here by the sidewalk?” his friend says.

“Because, this is where the light is.”

When we experience loss, discouragement masquerades as light.  We know better and even if it means we will be in darkness for a little while, in the end, we will find what we are looking for. We will gain from our loss.

How are you growing from your losses? I’d love to hear your comments below.

3 Tips for Mastering Our Emotions

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Our emotions influence everything we do. We know the right thing to do in our head, but our feelings may tell us something else. We may feel all alone in the midst of a crowd of people or sad at a party.

Feelings are a part of who we are as human beings.  They help us experience life in living color.

Sometimes, however, our emotions can control us. When they do, they become obstacles to our personal and professional growth.

We can become stuck in an unhealthy emotional state only to miss out on the best that life has to offer.  Growing, emotionally healthy people have learned how to balance their emotions with the realities of life.

There is no one right way to process our feelings.  Each of us is different.  We experience life in our unique context.  For example, everyone grieves or handles anger differently.  With that in mind, here are a few ideas I’ve found helpful when trying to master my emotions.

1. Acknowledge and allow yourself to feel the feeling.

Dr. Phil is right when he says, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

The first step to mastery is acknowledging that you have the feeling so that you can feel it.  This seems obvious, yet it is the toughest part and takes the most courage to complete. We’d rather just stuff it, deny it, try to forget it and move on. But emotions have a way of making themselves known. (See The Skill that Improves Our Emotional Health) So, we need to “sit with” our emotions for a while.

Self-awareness of what is going on in our inner life is a critical life skill.

I’m horrified when well-meaning people say to us, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”  The reality is that we do feel that way. Our feelings are ours and it’s a sign of health to acknowledge the emotions we are feeling.

When we’re grieving over a loss we allow ourselves time and space to grieve.  When we are afraid for our safety, we take steps to protect ourselves. We don’t pretend that the fear isn’t there.

We allow ourselves to experience the emotion because when we do it can become a catalyst for change.

Emotionally healthy people acknowledge their emotions, allowing themselves to experience the feeling.  They don’t deny or stuff or tell themselves they shouldn’t feel that way.  They understand that left unchecked and unexamined, emotions can be explosive.

2. Express your feelings to your Higher Power.

For some of us this means telling God our struggles. For others, it means talking to our Higher Power or the Universe.  God can handle our feelings.  God is not threatened or afraid of our feelings.

Whoever it is for you, there is a spiritual component to our emotions that helps us gain perspective.

Perspective is critically important when we’re overwhelmed by our feelings. Perspective allows us to seek and find a wise response. Taking time to express our feelings to our Higher Power won’t necessarily make the feeling go away, but it does give us strength to face reality.

3. Connect with your safe person.

It can be a challenge to find an emotional safe person, but well worth the risk.  This is a person we can trust when we share our deepest emotions.  Our safe people are necessary to our emotional health.  Our safe person may come in the form of a partner, spouse, friend, advisor or counselor.

Our safe people hear our feelings then offer us what we need.  Sometimes we need a listening ear.  Sometimes, we need them to cry with us.  Other times we need a good kick in the rear.  When the situation calls for it, they give us the straight up truth about ourselves.  Treasure your safe people.

“We live in the shelter of each other.”  – Celtic saying

No doubt about it, life is tough. It takes effort to master our emotions, but when we do, we can face whatever comes our way with a resilient strength that moves us forward in fulfilling our mission in this world.