Today is a free form show about some critical elements of life that we can all control: forgiveness, hatred and bitterness. Along the way we’ll talk about a few other things, too.
Today is a free form show about some critical elements of life that we can all control: forgiveness, hatred and bitterness. Along the way we’ll talk about a few other things, too.
Strawberry? Vanilla? Chocolate?
I love ’em all. I’ll take one of each, please.
Wait a minute, what?
They’re 2700 calories each. I’ve been on a restricted calorie diet now for weeks. I don’t even allot myself 2700 calories a day.
That means I could decide to take a bite of each. Three bites. How many calories would that be? Couldn’t be more than 500. Might be worth 25% of my calories for today. Three bites? I don’t know. That’s a tough decision. What if I took three bites of one flavor? Or two bites of one flavor and one bite of another?
Or there’s another obvious decision – just don’t take any bites. Save the calories. I could eat an entire bowl of oatmeal for 500 calories. Boy, there’s a terrific choice – oatmeal or a shake?
Through the years I’ve read considerable stuff (that’s the official word for it) about decision-making. I’ve seen the 3-second rule where you take action within the first 3 seconds because if you don’t, you’re liable to get stuck. I’ve seen all sorts of game theory kind of advice on how to analyze the pros and cons of a thing. I’ve what-if’d things til I was as blue in the face as Tobias on Arrested Development.
You’d think decision-making would get easier over time. That we’d become adept at it with practice. And we might if every decision was the same. But they’re not. Hit me with the choice of three ice cream shakes after I’ve stuffed myself with tacos and I’ll have no problem making a decision. NO. But ask me when I’m craving something sweet and my stomach is empty and I’ll be tempted to devour every single one of them. Circumstances change. And with them, so do our decisions.
As a long time retailer I’ve studied people’s behavior for as long as I can remember. Especially when people shop. Those impulse items at the grocery store have long held my fascination. I’ve watched as those items have changed through the years. Years ago nearly all grocery shopping was done by mom. Mom had the kids in tow. Kids pay attention to crap hanging on a peg no higher than they are. They grab things like little junkie brightly colored toys hanging mere inches off the ground on a display. They hold those up to mom and plead, “Can I have this?”
Over time those items on the impulse display became increasingly more practical and generic as both men and women, with or without children went through the checkout aisle. Things like batteries, lighters, cough drops, eye drops, aspirin, batteries – those things began to keep the staple things like gum, mints and candy company.
The items changes because people were making different decisions.
I still watch as people survey all those items scanning for the prospect of picking something up. You can almost hear them talking to themselves inside their own head, “Do I need AA batteries? Hey, look TWIX. Boy, I love TWIX, but I don’t need those. But man, they’re awfully good.”
We can be vexed by the smallest decisions. A $5 shake (yep, if I’m doing a shake I’m going for the super jumbo deluxe size). A $2 pack of batteries. Or a $2 candy bar.
Which leads to numerous thoughts about pricing decisions. How we price things as business people, or as sellers…and how we view prices as consumers or buyers. Those are serious decision points where companies spend millions attempting to get it just right. Price it too high, and you lose business. Price it too low and you leave money on that proverbial table where all the money goes! On the table. I’d be good with that if I owned the table, but I always seem to be stuck only with a chair. No table.
I’ve been guilty of under pricing way more than I’ve been guilty of over pricing. In fact, just recently I lost some business because I was too low. I knew it when I did it, but given the scope of the work – it just seemed right to me. Fair. The prospect wasn’t wanting anything that I found tremendously challenging. But I blew it. I came in at a fair price based on how I value my time. In fact, it was ample. About $600 an hour, even though I never charge by the hour.
Well, there were a couple of issues. And I knew them both. Well.
One, there’s the budget. What has the person allocated to spend. Go to the grocery store with your budget and if you save a few bucks you may be tempted to spend some money on those TWIX bars. A wise investment if you ask me. But go to the grocery store with a budget and discover there’s something you forgot on your shopping list. Something you really need like eggs or milks and suddenly you’re now over budget, but you do it anyway. Those TWIX bars in the checkout aisle don’t even get a glance from you. Businesses work a bit different in that they have a budget, but that budget is often based on the second thing.
Expectation. What they expect to pay. This is largely the result of the market. In business we often talk about “what the market will bear,” which simply means “how much you really get for it.” A thing – product or service – is only worth what people will pay. It doesn’t matter what you think it’s worth. What matters is what people will pay you.
I blew it in both areas…and I knew it when I priced it. This is where being a contrarian hurt my chances to get the client. Was it a tough decision for me? Not at all. But it should have been. I should have likely given it more thought, but it felt right, seemed more than fair and the service I was proposing – the one the prospect needed and requested – wasn’t complex or deep. This is where my anti-guruism never serves me. People will make a decision to buy, sometimes based on the perceived value of getting higher end service. The kicker is I don’t know who I lost to, but it doesn’t matter. They’re not better than me (at this particular chore). And I’m going to guess they proposed a charge at least 3 times what I did. THREE TIMES!
Yep, I should have spent more time in the valley of indecision ruminating the strategy. Lesson learned.
So, as you can see decisions are everywhere and they impact everything in our life. Because the sum of our life really is nothing more than collection of our decisions. People can argue saying it’s our actions that count, and that’s true. But you’re actions are mostly congruent with your decisions. I’m not likely going to decide to do one thing, then do something different. If I do, then it really means I changed my choice. I made a different decision.
There’s a paradox in decision-making. And finding our way to that point where we actually make the decision. It’s hard to go it alone. We sometimes need to include other people to help us make sure we’re seeing things clearly. The paradox is knowing we need to make the choice and knowing we could use wise counsel, then being tempted to care too much what others think and making a choice that isn’t our own.
We need to care. Just not that much. And I’m talking about what others think and feel.
I care deeply what one other person thinks. My wife. But I don’t always care deeply even what she thinks because I have to make what I think is the best decision. I didn’t ask my wife what she thought of my now rejected proposal. She would have said, “I don’t know.” Because I’ve had that conversation many times with her in the past. And sometimes she doesn’t care. She’s indifferent because she feels it’s outside the scope of her expertise or knowledge. It’d be like her asking me what I thought about some doll outfit she was sewing. She knows better than to ask me. I have no opinion about it because I know nothing about it. Nor am I terribly interested in it. She’s not terribly interested in my business pricing strategy.
Indifference isn’t much help when you’re trying to decide. Or when you’re trying to reach a point where you can decide.
And the more you care, the harder it can be to decide…depending on the choices. Which is why car buying advice for years has included the wisdom of not falling in love with a specific car. Always be prepared to walk away if you can’t get the most favorable price. Otherwise, you’ll over pay. The car retailing industry has been built on hoping you’ll fall in love with THAT car so they can influence you to pay whatever it’ll take to drive it off the lot. They’re not the only ones. Real estate works exactly the same way. Fall in love with THIS house. When you do, you’ll pay asking price (maybe more). Care less and realize there’s another car and another house that would be equally (maybe more) satisfying, and you’ll have the leverage to make a wiser choice. But it can be hard because we like (and love) what we like.
I love TWIX bars. And Dr. Pepper. They’re tempting.
Stick a Pepsi and a Three Musketeers bar in my face…and it’s an easy decision to walk away.
Such is the delicate high wire act of decision-making.
By now I should tell you what prompted today’s topic. My professional life. BIG choices. BIG decisions. What do I want to do? What should I do? Where can I provide the highest value?
Not easy decisions. Not for me. I’m not one of those people who always wanted to “fill in the blank.” And there are other considerations, too. There’s my marriage, and my wife. There’s my kids and grandkids. There’s my biggest work – non-paying moneywise – at church. There’s my schedule and how available I need to be for the various roles I’m serving. Important roles. I didn’t always have to consider the things I now have to factor into a decision. That makes it harder.
Months ago I decided to was going to work toward creating some virtual, online peer advisory groups of small business owners. Many people in my life couldn’t see what I could see. No matter. They were tasked to make the decision. I was. It’s my career. My occupation. My life. Not theirs. And that’s where I want to end today’s show. Focusing all of us on our responsibility to own our choices.
It’s not that other people don’t matter. They do. Very much. But the choices you make have to belong to you. Decide something solely because you think it’s what somebody else wants you do to do. And you’ll likely fail miserably. Largely because it’s not your choice. You don’t own it. You need a greater investment in your decisions if you’re going to make them stick, and make them successful.
One of the worst things we do to each other is we nay say when somebody makes a choice that may be different from the one we would have made. And I’m not talking about a choice necessarily between wisdom and foolishness. I’m talking about really subjective choices. Isn’t it funny how such a choice can be labeled wise or foolish depending on how much it matches our opinion. If I think dropping out of college to start a business is a smart thing I won’t likely think it’s foolish for somebody to do that. But if I think education is the path to all that right and profitable, then I’ll think you’re an idiot for dropping out. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that.
Vision is a big deal. Your vision. But also the vision of the people around you. You’ve heard it said that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, but not necessarily. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man can also be a freak. Abnormal. The guy made fun of because he’s not like everybody else. Why, if he was smart he’d poke out that eye and be like the rest of us. There’s something to that and we all know it’s true.
Just because others can’t see what I see doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It doesn’t mean I’m right either. It just is what it is.
According to various sources – and it’s based on the quantifiable number of peer advisory companies that serve CEOs – less than 1% of all CEOs take advantage of sitting at the same table with other CEOs so they can learn, grow and improve. There are many reasons for this, none of the least of which is that so few CEOs even know about it. But this isn’t about the reasons it’s so rare. It’s about my decision to play in that arena, even though it’s a crazy small arena globally. It’s about what I see in myself, in the market opportunity and in the work itself.
I’m using myself as an example to help you in whatever decisions you’re currently facing. Or the ones you may soon face.
It starts with YOU. For me, I had to acknowledge that I wanted mostly to be myself. I wanted to leverage my natural aptitude and personality traits. Other people tell me all time, “You should…” It’s helpful to know what others see in me, but they’re not me. I have to live with me 24-7-365. They don’t. And almost 100% of the time they’ll use that phrase, then end it with something that really interests THEM. But it doesn’t interest me. Just because others see some capability doesn’t mean I’m going to care about making that choice.
Know thyself, said Socrates. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. It requires honesty and bravery. Honesty to know what you’re not so you can better understand what you are. Bravery to face it. And bravery to tell other people to shove off because you see something they may not. And bravery to own it, even if you fail.
The point of the decision comes when you must do it. It can arrive before that, but not usually. That’s why deadlines work. We universally delay until we’re forced to make a choice. I wish I had some easy, quick tip of wisdom about this, but I don’t. I think we should take whatever time we need, and no more. That sounds smart, but it’s really stupid because how do we know we’ve had enough time?
Here’s what I’ve come to understand. There is a priceless value of time. And the high price of delay is that you’re doing nothing while you’re deciding. The best outcome is to make the RIGHT choice quickly. The worst outcome is to make the WORST choice slowly. I want to make the right choice as quickly as possible.
There’s a rub. There’s always a rub.
You can do it over. More often than not, we can fix it.
I see an enormous opportunity to impact the lives of just 14 business owners with my new venture – ThePeerAdvantage.com. Will it work? I don’t know. I won’t know until I’ve exhausted myself trying. But at some point I’ll have either succeeded or I’ll have failed. I’ve got some barometers and people in my life who will help me gauge it. Mostly, I’ve got a strong desire to do the work. Yes, I hate the client acquisition part of it because hawking myself is crazy hard. My humility hurts me. Just like my humility with pricing cost me a recent engagement. I priced it too humbly. I’m like you and many other people – I can easily undervalue myself. Give me an hour and I’ll be spot on in helping you establish your market value and in developing a strategy that will take your business forward. I’ve been doing it for decades. But not for me, the personal me! That’s a whole different ball game involving a completely different decision-making process. Because there’s a different level of involvement. It’s personal. Very personal.
So about a week ago I made a new decision. One I’ve made before, but had a hard time sticking with. The decision was to view what I’m doing professionally through the lens of service rendered and value provided. Is the service I’ll render through THE PEER ADVANTAGE valuable to those I seek to serve? No question. In fact, I believe it’s so highly valuable that it’ll change not a few lives, but every life that is involved. I believe every member of THE PEER ADVANTAGE will be positively changed by being part of it. In a word, I believe it’ll be transformational.
Is it valuable? I think it’s grossly underpriced. The details don’t matter for this conversation, but I’ll tell you it’s ridiculously low priced and now I’m worried about that. I’m fearful that I’m not thinking clearly based on how I know prospects can set an expectation. Give something very valuable to people without cost and they won’t value it – no matter how valuable it may truly be. Charge them an arm and leg and they’ll think it’s far more valuable. I think for a business owner operating a multi-million dollar business charging tens of thousands of dollars is a bargain, but I also know value has to be established and proven. So the decision to charge more is a difficult one. This is where my practical, business approach doesn’t always help me. And I’m aware of that. So I lean on others to give me feedback. Knowing that I alone have to decide. But there’s something else in play in my decision. Return on investment. I’m intent on delivering at least a 10 time return. That is, for every dollar a client pays me, I want them to get 10 back. Or more.
My choices reflect who I am and how I feel. Not just how I think and what the strategies tell me is smart. And it’s that thinking that will kill us sometimes. We are what we think. All of us. If I think my value tops out at $600 an hour and I price myself accordingly, then I guarantee I’ll earn no more than that. Shifting that thinking upwards is hard. Quick, right now, name an annual income amount that you think would represent the top of the mountain amount for YOU. Got it?
Was it $65,000? Was it $150,000? Was it $10 million?
If you’re like most of us you mentioned something you felt was realistic, but a stretch. Likely an amount you’ve never earned before but an amount you could see yourself making. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day. It’s that “some day” dream we all hold.
Now, I want you to realize that that proverbial 1% of people often lambasted is comprised of people who earn about $400,000 a year or more. It’s not the people who make millions. Yes, those folks skew the numbers for sure, but $400,00 puts you in the top 1% worldwide. That’s $1,096 a day. For most of you, that’s a number you can’t imagine. That’s almost $33,000 a month.
How many people earn that much? I don’t know but it’s millions of people. It’s not a handful. Millions of people earn that much or more. And no, they’re not all surgeons and professionally skilled people. In fact, I’d venture to guess that most of them aren’t those things. Most are in a variety of pursuits and businesses. But what matters is what you see. What matters is what you believe.
If you believe that the top of the mountain for you is $65,000, then that’s your top. That’s your limitation. And your decisions will mirror that vision and belief. If I believe that $600 an hour is a fair price for my time, no matter what — then there’s my limitation. I lost out to a person who likely charged $1000 more an hour (based on an hourly rate, but that’s not these things were proposed – I’m just using that to give you a reference point for my argument). Am I really less valuable at what I proposed? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Fact is, I think I’m better than whoever likely got the gig for a much higher rate. But they made the decision to charge what they knew they could get. I made a different decision.
And it cost me. Your decisions are costing you, too.
Let’s learn from them and do better in the future!
Concentrate on 2 words during today’s show: gratitude and neglect. Well, there are gonna be other important words, too, but those are upfront in today’s episode.
Two Bible stories illustrate both words well. The first is found 2 Kings chapter 5 and centers around a commander of the ancient Syrian army named Naaman. He was well-respected and honorable. His army had gone out and raided nearby areas. In the process they had captured a girl from Israel. Israelites were people acquainted with God. The Syrians weren’t. The girl was a servant to the commander’s wife. In spite of his greatness, this commander had a serious problem. He was a leper.
The little girl from Israel said to her mistress one day, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” Naaman tells the King of Syria what the girl said. Hopeful that his commander might be healed the King dispatches him to go visit this prophet in Samaria.
Off goes the commander with his entourage to Samaria, taking with him clothes, money and a letter from the King of Syria explaining how he wants his commander to be healed by God’s prophet Elisha. He’s making this trip with high hopes and pride befitting a commander of an army.
Eventually he arrives at the prophet’s house. Verse 10 says, And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” Well, that takes the cake. He’s a commander of the Syrian army, a valiant man of renown. He’s come quite a distance. And this prophet won’t even come to the door! Instead he sends out a messenger. And if that’s not insulting enough, he tells Naaman to go dip 7 times in the muddiest river around, the filthy Jordan.
The scripture says Naaman is furious. He expected it to go much differently. Because it didn’t go as expected, he’s irate. Insulted.
The story takes a turn in verse 13. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
It hits Naaman and causes him to rethink things. Better yet, it causes him to take action and do exactly what the prophet’s messenger told him. He goes to the River Jordan and dips 7 times and is healed of his leprosy, just as the prophet promised.
The second story is a parable that Jesus taught in Matthew 25. A boss is taking a journey. Before he leaves he calls his 3 managers together and doles out some money and responsibility based on their abilities. The man with the greatest capacity is given 5 talents – a talent was a weight of measurement of something like gold or silver. It was an amount of money. We also tend to think of it as we use the word, a talent – a natural ability. The boss gave the second manager 2 talents and finally he gave 1 talent to the last manager.
While the boss was away the man given 5 talents increased them with 5 more. The man given 2 talents did the same thing, he doubled what the boss had given him. But the man who got a single talent had buried his in the ground for safekeeping.
The boss comes back home and all three men have to give an account for what they’ve done with what the boss gave them. Naturally, the boss brags on the two men who doubled what he had given them. But he scolds the man who buried the one talent that he had. And all in spite of the excuses the man offered. Truth was, the man given one talent hadn’t done anything.
Remember the 2 words? Gratitude and neglect.
We’ve all heard people talk about being in a dark place. Or describing how they feel like they’re going through some darkness. Sometimes we visit dark places (or darkness visits us) and wonder if the light will ever shine again.
Sometimes the darkness isn’t quite as dark as we think. Naaman the leper was already in a dark place with this health. When the healing didn’t happen as he expected, he went to a dark place emotionally and mentally. He couldn’t help his leprosy, but he was in complete control of his emotions and thoughts. Pride, arrogance and a wrong-headed expectation prevented him from being healed of his leprosy…at first. It took the intervention of his servants to get him to see the light of his own hubris.
The one talent man acted out of fear and laziness. It was easier to do nothing, than to do something profitable. It always is. Darkness visited him because it. He incurred the wrath of his master, making matters worse because he did nothing!
Today I’m focused on these 2 terms because one is positive and the other negative. I could have made them both negative by changing gratitude to ingratitude. But I thought it was more helpful to contrast the message. Good vs. bad. Wise vs. foolish. Gratitude vs. neglect.
They’re more connected than you may think. Neglecting gratitude is too common for all of us so let’s begin there.
It’s too easy because we’re more prone to focus on our lack than our abundance. I can more quickly tell you what I lack – things I want or wish I had – than I can I catalog what I’ve got. When we examine our drive – the things that motivate us – it’s mostly for things we don’t yet have. Largely we’re driven by the pursuit of stuff. More money. Newer cars. Bigger or newer houses. Better careers. Different places to live. More exciting places to visit. Cooler places to eat. Love we don’t have. Music we don’t yet own. 😉
During dark times I know of no better antidote than gratitude — thanksgiving. Without it I’m not sure we can ever find our way back toward the light. As difficult as it can be to be naturally grateful, it’s easy once you concentrate on it. We all quickly think of the many blessings in our life, usually going straight to the people in our life – the people who have made the difference for us.
Vulnerability. That’s consider that word in context with both gratitude and neglect. Being open, honest and candid are true means of deeper connection. I get that we temper those things depending on who we’re around – and the situation we’re in. We should. Otherwise, we’d likely repel people whose first impression of us would rob us (and them) of any opportunity to better know each other.
Putting on the Ritz. Trying to appear classier, fancier than we really are.
We all do it. Some more than others. But it’s a pretty universal behavior driven by a universal need, pride. Ego. Call it what you want. We want folks to think highly of us. Maybe even more highly of us than we know we deserve.
Pretenses. Hypocrisy. Every knows how to employ and practice them. If we’re not careful they become our way of life. They morph from being verbs that occasionally find their way into our behavior to nouns that define us. Or adjectives that accurately describe us.
Legacy. There’s another word. Reputation. That’s a good one. And there’s a flood of words that pop into our heads – genuine, true, real.
Legacy is tough to fake. I’m tempted to say it’s impossible, but that’s not true. Plenty of people created a fake legacy that lasted for awhile, even after their death. But it seems the truth always comes out. How they genuinely were is ultimately revealed.
That’s why gratitude and neglect are the 2 words I choose for today’s conversation. It’s the push/pull that we could all likely embrace to move forward in our choices, and our behavior. The path to creating a good, even great, legacy is to behave in the ways that will generate the legacy we most want. In other words, be the person you want to be known as, and remembered for.
Jerks are known as jerks because they act like jerks. Pompous, vain people – the same. Humble and helpful people, ditto. We measure each other based on the behavior we see, hear and feel.
I started thinking the other day about a phrase I hear over and over from people, particularly from leaders who have just had an employee review from their superior. “You should be _______________.” Quite a few leaders will praise an employee only to tell them, “You should be more assertive in meetings,” or “You should be more (fill in the blank).” We are how we act. We are our performance. Our choices, actions, words – it all sums us up accurately. There’s no denying it.
When an employer has a stellar performer who lacks one ingredient they think might be useful – or something they’d just like to see based on whatever bias they hold – they’re failing to understand another word – congruency! People act and behave in ways that are congruent with who they really are. It’s ridiculous to me for an employer to have a high performing worker, who gets praised during a review, only to be encouraged to be something they’re not. That humble, high performing employee can told by the boss all day, “You should be more of a self-promoter.” But if that person were more of a self-promoter she might not be as highly regarded for the humility she exhibits daily.
We are what we are. We are who we are.
Sure, we can, and we should, grow and improve. That’s why gratitude and neglect are the words of the day here. Few things can fuel growth and determination to improve more than gratitude. Which is a contrasting action of complaining, whining and dwelling on what we lack. It’s much easier to gripe gut around, complaining about how things aren’t working as we’d hoped, or how our day sucked. That puts us in a place where we drop more deeply into neglect. We neglect to DO the things that will help us. Instead, we embrace what we think is our pathetic life, feel increasingly sorry for ourselves and drop deeper into a mindset that feels we deserve better even though we’re not behaving in ways to earn better.
We sometimes lose because we act like losers. Failing to do what needs to be done. Neglect! See how this works?
Wilmer Valderrama, who played FEZ on That 70’s Show and is now a character on NCIS, asked Robin Williams for some advice. Williams gave him a few pieces of advice, one of which was to remember that when he encounters fans…remember it’ll be 2-3 minutes they’ll remember the rest of their life. Ask yourself, “What do you want them to remember?” It drives Wilmer’s actions and behaviors whenever he encounters fans today, almost 20 years after he was given that advice.
Let’s think about that in context of our lives, and our interaction with everybody. Can Wilmer or any celebrity do that without gratitude? No, and it’s why many celebrities don’t behave that way. I’m empathetic that many celebrities can’t get a moment of peace when they go out in public. Some can’t even get it in the privacy of their own yards or homes. And there’s no doubt that people can behave poorly by intruding on people. But generally speaking, we’re all prone to grow increasingly selfish when we neglect to let gratitude lead us. We begin to expect things from others, and from life. We feel we’re owed. Deserving.
Maybe so, but it doesn’t serve us or our legacy. Pride goeth before a fall and being ungrateful elevates our pride.
Think about those 2-3 minutes fans get with their favorite celebrities. It’s the same experience we get as fans of musicians. We go to a concert and logically know that Tom Petty has played American Girl more times than he can count. But the band hits the stage to end their set as they’ve done many times before. They play “You Wreck Me” for the umpteenth time, but it’s the first time perhaps you’ve seen them play it live. They’ve been succeeding for 40 years because they’re ridiculously talented, because they’re professionals who take their craft seriously, and because they’re grateful that all these fans have paid big money to fill this arena on this night. Their energy is elevated in spite of whatever else is going on in their lives because they think the fan deserve their best. So they play that opening riff as though it’s their freshest song. Then they end the night with their first big hit, American Girl. And you’d think that hit was brand new by the vigor they display. Their gratitude for being among the elite in rock ‘n roll for 40 years is evident. They’re not going to neglect the opportunity to cement their legacy in the minds of all these fans. Many of whom – like me – who have supported them for 4 decades.
This is how it works. Or it doesn’t. And we see many displays where it doesn’t work. Where people – famous or otherwise – are ingrates who expect life to bow at their every whim.
You decide. How you’re going to think. What you’re going to say. How you’ll say it. How you’ll respond. How you’re going to react. What you’ll decide. How you’ll act. What will be your habits. They’re all up to you to figure out and employ. Consciously or subconsciously.
Let me spend enough time with you and I’ll figure out. Spend time with me and you’ll get it. And depending on what I show you, you’ll see the real me, or the fake me.
When we decide we’re going to bet all our chips on our strengths and be who we are by being the best version of ourselves, then we begin to let a little light shine through. It makes us the unique people we are. It begins to create our real, true, honest legacy.
It doesn’t mean we use the excuse so many do about their weaknesses or failures – “that’s just who I am.” No. That’s not accurate. Self-control or temperance is incorporated in the life of a person filled with gratitude. A person who refuses to neglect the work that must be done to restrain himself from poor choices and behavior. We don’t always get it right. And when we don’t, we have to fix it. Make it right.
A little light is breaking through whenever we make up our minds that gratitude will be a dominant characteristic of our life. When we commit ourselves to not let neglect or hiding from what must be done. That’s when we light is breaking through for us to be who we truly are.
It demands a vulnerability that scares some, but when we’re willing to go there we’ll willing to really go home. To be who we really are. And to let folks see it for what it is.
I’m not fancy. Or rich. Or overly successful by how many people measure it. But I know who and what I am. Over the past decade I’ve worked to lean more into it and let go of what I know I’m not – and what I’ll never be. That light that some think is the spotlight of adoration or praise based on a fictionalized version of themselves (either because they’ve got a fake or false self-awareness, or because they’ve succeeded in helping people think they’re something they’re not) is not the light we want to break through. It’s not real. Or worthwhile.
The light light that breaks through must first break through in our minds and hearts as we come to grips with what we should do to get busy so we can lean toward wisdom. Foolishness dominates too many lives, and sometimes too much of our own.
I know I told you – over the Facebook group – that I was working on a different show, but that was before the death of Chris Cornell. I never got my mojo back on the episode I was working on when that news broke. So I’m “parking it” as they say. For now.
I started mulling today’s show over some weeks ago when I heard the title track to Dan Auerbach’s new record, Waiting On A Song. It’s a better title than the one I used for this episode, but a guy has to be careful these days, you know? Besides, I’m always waiting on more than just a single song. I’m usually waiting on a series of songs, but that’s how I roll. Back in the days of 45 records where lots of kids would rush out to purchase the new hit song and not care about anything else, I was always interested in those other songs! They were called B-side songs.
One of the more famous B-side songs was one by Stevie Nicks, “Silver Springs.” She tried to get the band to include it on the famous Rumors record, but instead it got stuck on the B-side of the hit “Go Your Own Way.” That was in 1977. Two decades later it would appear on Fleetwood Mac’s live record “The Dance.” It won a Grammy, proof that good stuff isn’t always on the A-side.
I was always an album guy. Still am. And I’ve never been much of a mix tape guy – compilations of favorite songs. Songs are always in context of albums for me. I can listen to a song and if it’s a longtime favorite, I can anticipate the next song because the album is the story I hear in my head. Waiting on a song – the next song – is a fun anticipation of what you know is coming next. You don’t get that when you just go straight to the big hit, or your favorite track.
Falling In And Out Of Love precedes the hit Amie on Pure Prairie League’s Bustin’ Out album. It was released in 1972, the year I got my first brand new car – a gift from my grandfather who was about to die from cancer. I turned 15 that year. In Louisiana at the time you could get your fullblown driver’s license at 15. And I did.
I was in my alt-country phase of music listening at the time so this duo of songs was big on my play list.
Well, this new record by one half of The Black Keys has a title track that was co-written by another all-time favorite of mine, John Prine. Prine just released a new book entitled, Beyond Words. I don’t have it and haven’t read it, but I’m on John’s email list so I’ve known about it for awhile. It includes photos, hand written lyrics and his notes on how the songs happened. He strikes me as a guy who has lived his whole life waiting on a song. Thankfully, they’ve come to him frequently and been mostly terrific.
Few artists epitomize waiting on a song for me like Prine. Every song is a story. Well crafted, clever and stirring. Life’s up’s and down’s. John has been able to capture the range of emotions common to all of us. And while I’ve often wondered what prompted the songs…it’s not necessary when you listen to them. You go in your own head wherever the songs take YOU. That makes them personal and deep. Songs like this one.
Well, let’s get to the point here because you already know I’m using the show title as a metaphor. It’s not just about waiting on the music, although I do often wait for the music. Or a song. I wait for Friday to roll around when new releases hit. I wait for Amie to follow Falling In And Out Of Love. And I wait for Fountain of Sorrow to follow Late For The Sky by Jackson Brown. But you know I listen to a lot of music so there is that!
But there are two important elements I think for all of us, even if you’re not as into music as I am. First, there’s the waiting. Tom Petty sings “it’s the hardest part.” That’s true enough, but it’s also some of the most exhilarating parts. The anticipation is pretty wonderful.
You’ve been in love before. I hope you are right now. And if you’re not, I hope you find love soon. Nothing beats the anticipation of seeing somebody you love. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Taking people and circumstances for granted does. Familiarity fosters deeper understanding, connection and admiration. Those fuel our desire to keep pushing the relationship forward. When it’s love, we crave the nearness. And since we can’t be near 100% of the time, we anticipate the next occasion for it. Proximity matters.
Comfort. Waiting to get back to the place where we have it. We have it with people we love.
Lyrics matter. Words. Stories.
Songs and the stories they tell resonate with us. It’s an individual thing. Things that move one person may have little or no impact on somebody else.
I envy singer/songwriters for their ability to make those intimate connections. How else can you explain how a 14-year-old kid can hear a new record by John Prine and the song, Sam Stone – a song about a Vietnam vet who returns home damaged – and get it? Partly because I was fascinated by the Vietnam war. It was daily in front of us when we tuned in Walter Cronkite each evening. It seemed like something happening on another planet. Nothing about it was relatable to me, but when Prine sung about a drug addicted ex-soldier with a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back I was touched.
As I grew up and older, more and more of John’s lyrics touched me. But I’m sentimental like he seems to be. And I can go to dark places of gloominess and being blue. So I’ve always considered myself a kindred spirit to Prine.
I’ve always been waiting on the music. The words. The melody. The rhythm.
There’s never enough. The quest is never completed. And I confess that a new track by Jason Isbell, another crafty wordsmithing story-teller, resonates with me because I often feel like a dinosaur, the last of a kind – if there ever was another. Looking for a place to fit. A crowd in which to fit.
Waiting gets a bad rep. Partly because we mostly hate to wait.
Lines. Traffic. People. They all hold us up causing us to wait.
Waiting has value though. Hence the cliché, “Some things are worth waiting for.” Indeed they are. Good music is worth the wait. That’s why so many musicians produce terrific first records. They’ve been playing and writing for years waiting to get that first record done. It also explains why there are also quite a few sophomore slumps. The time between that first record and the second record is ridiculously short.
A lifetime of music – at least up to that point – explodes in the first record. But for those who can push through and keep trudging forward in their musicianship and craft, and find a place of higher excellence through intense practice and increased devotion the music can get better, more consistent. Worth the wait.
And that speaks to another reason why waiting gets a bad rep. People suppose it means we’re doing nothing. That waiting is just some passive thing. Not necessarily true.
Artists might wait while living life so they can gain greater context for their work, and so they can have time to grow and improve. I love the story of Dan Tyminski, madolin and guitar player for Union Station, Alison Krauss’ band. He also sings harmony for her. You know him as the voice of the song, Man of Constant Sorrow, from the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? He grew up being carted to bluegrass concerts by his parents. The banjo was his passion. He added the mandolin to his skillset. By the time he got tapped to replace Tim Stafford who left Union Station in 1992, he was an accomplished bluegrass player, but he wasn’t a guitarist. I remember reading somewhere that he spent months in a work shed in his backyard in his home state of Vermont (that bluegrass intensive state 😉 ) teaching himself to play the guitar. True or not, there are plenty of stories like that of musicians spending hours, days, weeks, months and years practicing their craft so they can become proficient.
You don’t really want that comfort zone as a musician, do you?
You want to feel like you’re proficient. You want to feel like you can get around the neck. But no, I think to feel like you’re challenged is a great place to hang out because it keeps you in the mindset that I think you need to maintain while you play.
Waiting to get good, proficient…takes work. So waiting isn’t passive at all for the people making the music. Waiting means they keep playing and singing.
Boy would I love to sing like Al Green. Or Marvin Gaye. But I’m honored to listen and wait for the next record that touches my heart. Stirs my emotions. Takes my mind to feelings that resonate through me like a good bass line, or a good stretch of 4-part harmony.
I’ve spent my life waiting on a song, on the music. Thankfully in the immortal words of Casey Kasem, “The hits just keep on rolling.” Fueling my envy of those people who can write and perform music. Thankful that somebody can do it though…and that many of them can do it so well.
Waiting on the music might imply just sitting around doing nothing, but that’s wrong. Like Dan Tyminski’s pursuit of playing, waiting on the music is an active pursuit. And by now you know me – waiting on the music isn’t just literal. It’s also an allegory. A metaphor.
Pursuit. Practice. Putting in the work. Not merely sitting idly hoping. But working, optimistic that tomorrow, or sometime sooner than later, the music – or whatever else you’re chasing – will arrive. It’s a life of hope. Anticipation.
It’s the opposite of despair, dread and hopelessness. Even a sad song is still a song.
Just because we wait for the music doesn’t mean we have no response, or that we’re inactive. Accepting what happens while taking action is quite different than laying down, being totally compliant with whatever. Literally, when it comes to waiting on actual music I go searching. I actually listen to terrestrial radio when I’m in the car, and sometimes when I’m working. It’s a non-commercial public FM station that plays adult album alternative music, KXT 91.7. You can scan the playlist to get a sense of what they play. Sometimes the music I’m waiting for arrives through them.
But I pursue literal music elsewhere, too. Like a business searching for customers, I don’t rely on a single source. Music is everywhere if you just listen closely. Remember, this is about the pursuit of waiting…the practice, the work.
The noon-day sun is as bright as it gets. It’s almost July. Here in Texas the sun is bright and hot in July. If clouds and darkness represent hopelessness, then clear skies and sunshine represent hope.
For a guy like me – a guy who can enjoy a rainy, dark day – gratitude drives me. I simply have too much to be thankful for. Too many people in my life. Including those who were once here, but are now gone on. The culmination of lifelong pursuing, chasing, climbing, overcoming, being knocked-down-dragged-out, suffering more disappointments than I can count, enduring hardships I’d rather not count – and knowing that the process, the pursuit…that’s the point of it all. It’s not whether or not the music gets exhausted, but it’s about whether or not I’m willing to exhaust myself to pursue it.
These are the days. Days of sunshine. Days of rain. July days. December days. Young. Old. Man. Woman. Boy. Girl. It doesn’t matter! It never matters. Time is time. It’s not unique to me, or you.
What will you do right now? You’ve got today. This moment.
That means you’ve got choices. The more free you are, the richer you are – the more choices you’ve got. But even suppressed, poor people have choices. Fewer for sure, but still choices. Mostly because in our head – our mind – we’ve got unlimited choices. If we can think it…if we can dream it…it’s possible. If not, why?
I’ve heard music for as long as I can remember. Lots and lots of songs. From Tommy James and the Shondells singing Crimson and Clover in 1969 (one of the earliest albums I remember playing over and over) to Crystal Blue Persuasion off the same record.
To the most recent records I’ve purchased by Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and The Head And The Heart. Thousands and thousands of songs I’ve heard. The quest isn’t about completion because the work is never complete. The process continues just like anything worthwhile. A work may be completed, but THE work continues. A painter finishes one painting only so another can be begun. A software engineer completes the development of an app only so work can begin on a new idea. An architect finishes the plans on a structure, then pursues creating a new set of plans for something different. Something new. Always the pursuit of more…something new…something even better!
At times I know the ideal seems far away, but today’s music – these notes we’re currently playing – are carrying us closer and closer.
The best music is personal hitting us right where we live. Speaking to who we are – or who we feel like we are. Or maybe speaking to who we would most likely to be. I like to think the music helps us create that ideal version of who we most want to be. It inspires us. Moves us. Helps us take action in a direction that serves us. Not just waiting for life to happen, or for a song to enter our ears…but diligently chasing a great song, great music.
What are YOU chasing? Something that when you catch it, you feel energy. That’s the deal. Like when you hear a song you really like…happy you found it. Happy you heard it. Your life is enriched because of it.
Let’s get real clear about all this. Waiting for the music is about being so enthused in the pursuit that it never grows old. Just hearing Crimson and Clover and Crystal Blue Persuasion take me back to days before I was even a teenager. Pretty exciting. Did you know that if I knew what songs mattered most to you I could play those for you and immediately take you back to whenever that song first resonated with you? Like a smell that hits you, taking you to a time and place long, long ago – music heightens our senses and memory.
Here’s the thing — it never stops. And you don’t want it to stop. I don’t want the music to stop, or my pursuit of it. Musicians are entering the field for the first time. Some are still enduring the daily struggle to “make it” (whatever that means). Over at my private Facebook group (what? you’re not in there. shame on you.) I regularly post videos of a young man from Indiana who now lives in NYC trying to make it. Over 7 years ago I talked on Skype with a young man from Chattanooga who had just moved to Nashville to make it as a singer/songwriter. Garth Brooks recorded one of his songs and has taken him on tour as an opening act. Some days the bear eats you…some days you eat the bear. Mitch Rossell ate the bear, but only after grinding it out for over 7 years.
The point is it never stops because we don’t want it to. The musicians don’t want to stop making music. I don’t want to stop listening. I don’t want to stop discovering.
The pure joy of discovering doesn’t remove the ambition to find more. It’s learning, pursuing, consuming, enjoying all rolled up into one big pile of what-I-most-want-to-do. Waiting for the music is the metaphor for you making the most meaningful contribution to the world by doing what do best…what you most love…what is most valuable to others.
Too many folks are waiting for lightning to strike and miraculously change their lives, but it never happens. It’s not going to happen either. We only catch what we chase. Fools chase empty things like fame, fortune – the things that only fuel our vanity. The wise chase optimism and the belief they can make a difference. Not the world…just make a difference. For somebody. Anybody. Maybe if they’re especially talented and blessed with opportunities, they can make a difference for many somebody’s. Most of us will impact fewer than 100 people, but that’s okay. In fact, that’s more than okay. It’s spectacular really. Because without you in their life, where would the music come from?
We’re not waiting for the sky to fall. No, we’re waiting for the music by exhausting ourselves to find it and give it a listen.
An abbreviated episode about a recent epiphany. Actually, it’s an awareness that should have hit me long ago. But better late than never, right?
It’s about the value of sharing our experiences with one another and why it matters.