it’s a dog’s life: another post on gratitude

Photo: Sound asleep and snoring.

Sound asleep and snoring. It’s a dog’s life.

Watching my kids’ puppies gnawing away on their chew toys last night, I wondered if they spend any time in wonderment of their good fortune. Do they ever think, “Woohoo, I won the doggy lottery! How did I get so lucky”?

Both were rescued, saved from neglect and starvation, and then adopted by my kids. They have the love of children, other dogs to play with, a big yard, a house to sleep in, and full bellies. It is such a different situation from where they came from that I found myself pondering whether they remember and think about the contrast.

Of course, then I immediately thought, “Do I fully appreciate my situation? Do I think about what could have been or spend any time wondering, “How did I get so lucky?”  Sure, I like to think I work hard and make reasonably good choices, but I had nothing to do with when and where I was born and raised. Being born into a stable family, in a wealthy country, during a time of little conflict and good medical care, having access to education, and never worrying about having enough to eat kinda gives a person a running head start at life. An enormous part of the world’s population spends far too much of their day just trying to survive until the next. Too many don’t enjoy basic human rights or rule of law to protect them. Too many go without education, food, or even just clean water.

I don’t know how to ease suffering or create prosperity for billions of people. I can’t fix anarchy and tyranny. I’m unable to prevent brutal attacks on people caught in the crossfire of long running conflicts. I can’t erase envy, greed, and corruption from human nature. I don’t know how to correct the world’s problems or balance out inequality or make sure that children don’t go hungry.

Thinking about that contrast, I feel – I believe – I owe the world something in return for my good fortune. There’s so much I can’t do, but I can put love back into the world. I can raise my kids to understand that ethics and personal responsibility are far more important than short-term happiness and instant gratification. I can do work that is meaningful to me and has a positive impact on others. I can try to find ways to bring out the best in myself and those around me. I can be grateful for my situation and remember that no matter how bad my day gets, it’s not really all that bad – there are several billion people who would trade places in a heartbeat.

Most important, I can make sure I’m not squandering the advantages and blessings I’ve been handed.

What thinks you?




flashback friday: committed? are you sure?

How committed are you? To your job? To your personal mission? To the things you must accomplish in this life? How committed are you really?

We’re told we should choose a career that we love so much we’d do it even if we didn’t get paid. That’s a pretty high level of commitment and passion right there. We all want to do something we love, something that has meaning for us. But what if what you loved required you to risk incarceration? Death? That necessitated carrying firearms just to get to the job? That still paid almost nothing, if anything at all? That was so outside the norm that you were the only one in the entire country doing it and you were blazing the trail with almost every action?

That’s pretty rough. Let’s up it a little: would you go into exile for your passion? Would you leave friends, family, and everything you knew behind to go be a second-class citizen in another country just so you could “follow your bliss”?

This weekend I watched the 2007 documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad about Iraq’s first (only?) metal band Acrassicauda and saw a glimpse into what relentless obsession looks like. The movie is a fascinating look at Baghdad in 2005/06. It’s not about soldiers, politicians, ideologies, right, or wrong. It’s not even really about heavy metal. It’s about the struggle of a group of 20-somethings just trying to have a band and make some music against the backdrop of daily life in Baghdad. What would be a normal – mundane, even – activity for college-aged youth in the US becomes a hero’s quest where hopes and dreams wrestle against the hopelessness of daily violence and chaos. They suffer more for their dreams than I could ever go through here.

After watching, I came away wondering how I could up my passion to that level. How can I tap into the human need that’s fueling them to carry on? How can I bring the noise like they do? How can I play that big with the things that are important in my life? How much would I, could I, truly risk?

[This was originally posted July 30, 2012. I just watched the movie again last night and was affected even more strongly than the first time. It’s easy to talk about following my dreams when I am my own biggest roadblock and easy to complain about all my problems and setbacks when I don’t really have any. Time to play bigger.]

don’t wish it were easier

It seems like every time we start to get caught up, something happens. If only we could get a good year or two, then we could get ahead.” I’ve heard statements like this from several leaders recently. Although I understand and empathize with the uncertainty and pain and fear they are wrestling with, I am left thinking, “so what?”

Worrying about all the outside factors causing me to lose will ultimately cause me to lose for several reasons:

1. “If onlys…” are a distraction. It’s a drain to put time, emotion, and energy into worrying about things I can’t control, or even influence. The economy, conflicts around the world, the government, the weather, changing social norms, shifting demographics, etc. are what they are. If I can change it, change it. If I can influence it, influence it. Otherwise, I can only accept it and move on OR focus on what I need to change about myself to better deal with the circumstances.

2. Regardless of where I am today, this is the only starting point I have. Things are not going to suddenly be different and the world doesn’t owe me anything. That said, I have easy access to clean water, food, shelter, medical care, and transportation. I can call up an aeon’s worth of information instantly and communicate globally on my computer. There is due process of law, minimal corruption, free education, guaranteed human rights and individual freedoms, and a democratic system that seems to work ok. People tell me how miserable the economy is, but someone is buying all those smart phones and tablet computers. Perfect? Not a bit. But I don’t have to look back too far in time or too far across a map to realize just how good I (and anyone reading this) have it. Life may get scary, uncertain, and overwhelming, but if I had to choose a place and time to be at today, I could do much, much worse.

3. If the world were easier for me it would also be easier for my competition so I wouldn’t be any further ahead. Sure, it’s easier to run downhill, but if we’re all running downhill, so what?. If you’ve ever been an endurance athlete, there is a state of mind where you take solace in knowing that if it’s difficult for you and you’re hurting, it’s at least as bad for your competition. Some even see the difficulty as a source of competitive advantage and look forward to the brutal courses and bad weather. They know that many of their competition will have mentally given up even before the start. So, as I look at my life, career, and business today, I can join in all the worry and complaining or I can accept that it’s difficult, appreciate the challenge, and smile every time I hear leaders from other companies complain because I know they are believing their own excuses and mentally handing the race to me. The worse they think they have it, the easier they make it for me.

4. I can complain about the challenges, situations, and general state of life OR I can figure out who I need to be and the skills I need to develop to get where I want to go GIVEN the challenges, situations, and general state of life.

I’m going to wrap up today with my favorite quote from Jim Rohn:

Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom. 

Your thoughts?

if you want something done, give it to a busy person

Years ago as a consultant I noticed a trend so prevalent it borders on a Truth of the human psyche: everyone thinks they are hard workers; everyone thinks they are busy. Even the people who aren’t hard workers – who obviously and clearly aren’t busy – think they are.

Observation also shows that the most productive people are also the most eager (or at least willing) to take on new projects. On the flip side, those who spend all their time telling you how busy they are and complain about the burden of new assignments never seem to get much done.

I’d write more about this important subject, if only I weren’t so busy…

flashback friday: playing it safe is too risky

[Flashback Friday: this was originally posted on June 29, 2012. Enjoy!]

Beige sells. Average sells. Vanilla sells. The comfort of conformity sells. Meeting most of the needs of most people builds big businesses.

All the marketing books tell us we need to differentiate our products and stand out. Build that brand image. And then 95% of businesses try to stand out by fitting in. The word “innovation” is thrown around these days as the holy grail of business success, yet from the customers’ point of view it often just means:we’re as leading edge as all our competitors.

Similarly, there’s a lot of talk of authenticity lately. We’re told we need to be authentic leaders keepin’ it real while we bring out the authentic best in our teams so we can sell authentic products to our authentic customers. A nice thought, but a hard sell. There are very real social and business costs to being authentic. The biggest is that some people will not like you, some people will reject you. So we try to be “authentic” in a way that everyone likes. (hint: that doesn’t work)

Being all things to all people is the fastest, most direct route to mediocrity. Vanilla products sell because they fit the needs of the most people, but no one is passionate about vanilla. It becomes a commodity. They buy your vanilla product today, but there’s nothing to keep them from replacing it with a competitor’s vanilla product. When you have a commodity you are only competing on price.

Being all things to all people creates a bigger customer pool. But we forget that it also attracts more competitors. I recall an interview with an actress years ago. She had some acting success as a teenager, but her appearance was non-Hollywood so she was only considered for a few parts. Wanting more parts, she had plastic surgery done, bleached her hair, and voilà  she now looked just like every other wannabe actress. She blended in and faded away.

Here’s my test for authenticity: Are you willing to turn down business because what’s being asked is not what you’re best at? Are you willing to turn down 1,000 potential customers who are kind of interested in your product or service so that you can focus on the 100 customers that are deeply interested?

As an individual are you willing to turn down or leave a job that doesn’t fit who you are and how you want to affect the world? Are you willing to be known for your uniqueness? Are you willing to be known for who you are? Are you willing to define yourself and bring every ounce of greatness, passion, and soul to your work?

You don’t have to, you know. And I don’t fault anyone who doesn’t. Authentic has risks. Different has risks. Standing out has risks.

But so does blending in. So does being average, beige, mediocre. No person or business will ever attain greatness by being one of a million. It’s only done by being one in a million.



The BBC recently posted an article about John Taylor, the bass player from the ‘80s group Duran Duran, and how his perspective has changed from 1985 to now. He had one comment in particular that really hit home:

“I made a very definite decision a couple of years ago [when he was 50 – ed] that I was now middle aged. And it was actually a really good decision to make, because I’d been feeling like a very tired young man for quite a few years, and making that acknowledgement, suddenly I felt like a very sprightly and hip middle aged guy. [emphasis added]

Here’s what I really appreciate about this: he’s the same guy. Nothing has changed, except how he views himself and his corresponding expectations of himself. He’s not doing wishful thinking and clinging to the past and he hasn’t turned himself into an old man before his time. He got rid of his delusions of youth and was able to look at his reality and define it in a way that really works for him.

The great and incomparable Zig Ziglar also spoke of a similar transformation. He grew up poor in a small town in Mississippi and talked about thinking about himself as a little guy from a little town when he started out as a salesman. Then, after encouraging words from a hero/mentor, he saw himself differently. He shifted his perspective and began thinking of himself as a salesman with the potential to be one of the greats. Same guy, same skill set, different perspective, different attitude, different approach, and different results.

Our perspectives and beliefs can inspire us to grow or turn us into our own worst enemies by shrinking, confining, and crushing our potential. There’s a lot in this world we can’t control, but one of the things we have full power over is how we look at ourselves.

What perspectives are you choosing?

the not-so-secret secret to achieving more

I was recently chatting with another fellow at the gym and he was telling me about his daughter’s experience with cross-country track. “My daughter normally finishes 3rd or 4th from last in her cross-country practices. Yesterday, she finished 4th from the front. I asked her how she got so much better. She said she decided to run faster.”

Deep wisdom from a 12 year old.

That’s really the secret, isn’t it? Decide what we want, decide we’re going to get it, and then give more effort.

We generally operate far below our true, focused capacity. We tell ourselves we’re going all out, but often we’re going too fast on the wrong things and too far below our potential on the things that truly matter. We go hard but we often hold back from our absolute best, replacing too much scattered activity for too few focused results.

We can decide to better use the knowledge and skills we already have. Decide to fulfil that potential. And, once we reach the edge, our capacities will grow and expand. We can gain more knowledge, more skill, and make even better use of our abilities.

We can be better, but we have to decide to.

At least, that’s what I see in my own life. Your mileage may vary.

we like to talk

We like to talk about innovation, but hate to talk about change.

We like to talk about taking risks, but hate to talk about failing.

We like to talk about learning from mistakes, but hate to talk about making mistakes.

We like to talk about learning and growing, but hate to talk about what we can do better.

We like to talk about diversity, but hate to talk about differing ideas and perspectives.

We like to talk about shareholders, but hate to talk about the connection to stakeholders.

We like to talk about today’s stock prices, but hate to talk about sustainability.

We like to talk about the bad economy, but hate to talk about budgets and opportunity costs.

We like to talk about all that’s wrong, but hate to talk about everything we can be grateful for.

We like to talk about what others should do, but hate to talk about what we will do.

We like to talk about what went wrong in the past, but hate to talk about what we’ll make right in the future.

We like to talk about blame, but hate to talk about our personal responsibility.

We like to talk about all the differences between those we disagree with and ourselves, but hate to talk about all the similarities we share with them.

We like to talk about the things we can’t control, but hate to talk about the things within our control that we have let slide.

We like to talk about what we would do, but hate to take the actions that would back those words.

destined for greatness?

The tattoo sweeping along the convenience store clerk’s neckline above her shirt collar caught my eye. In a pretty cursive script it stated, “Destined for Greatness”.

The store was in a barren part of the Southwest in the kind of town where people leave from but no one moves to. It would be easy to snigger and make cynical jokes about her destiny not kicking in yet. It would be simple to sell her short based on her surroundings. That was my initial reaction. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I don’t know her story. I don’t know if she was a part-time clerk, a manager, or the owner. I don’t know if the business was struggling or if she had built it up from nothing. I don’t know if her role was a landing point or a stepping stone. I don’t know her backstory, situation, or dreams. I don’t know how she defines “greatness”.

All I do know is that it is so easy to sell our selves short. To pretend settling for mediocrity is being humble and modest. It is so easy to look down from the stars, stare at our shoes, and choose life goals that are “realistic”. To set the bar so low we have to be careful not to trip over it. To give up before we’ve even gotten started. And to taunt and derail anyone who thinks there’s more and wants to seek their own path.

And it’s so rare to find someone willing to take a stand for who they are and who they want to be. To announce it to the universe, regardless of what the universe thinks.

Is she destined for greatness? Absolutely. Why shouldn’t she be? We all are – if we choose it.