Podcast

Caffeine, Cares, Clutter & Chattel (Season 2021, Episode 13)

3 am whispered. A lamp in the corner normally illuminates a daylight LED bulb. But that’s only in the daytime. During the quietness of the night, the daylight bulb gives way to a red bulb. Like a photographer’s darkroom. Except I’m developing ideas, not film.

Headphones are on. My Apple iTunes library is launched. I scroll through “Recently Added.” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers “Angel Dream” was released just days ago. I miss Tom. And the Heartbreakers. The ringtone on my phone is “You Wreck Me,” proving my fondness for Tom’s music. Hours are spent in the darkness of night with headphones on, listening to music.

Track 3 of “Angel Dreams” fires up, Change The Locks.

I can relate to this song. More now than ever.

I changed the lock on my front door
So you can’t see me anymore
And you can’t come inside my house
And you can’t lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door

And I changed the number on my phone
So you can’t call me up at home
And you can’t say those things to me
That make me fall down on my knees
I changed the number on my phone

’Cause I changed the kind of car I drive
So you can’t see me when I go by
And you can’t chase me up the street
And you can’t knock me off of my feet
I changed the kind of car I drive

I changed the kind of clothes I wear
So you can’t find me anywhere
You can’t spot me in a crowd
And you can’t call my name out loud
I changed the kind of clothes I wear

It’s 3:22 am when I begin to wonder – for the umpteenth time – whether or not my caffeinated drink mixes are contributing to my insomnia. I’ve been down this rabbit hole before. Many times. I consume about 120 milligrams daily. According to the FDA website that’s not excessive.

For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that’s about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects. However, there is wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).

Doing some basic math with the help of a calculator that sits right by my mouse, I figure it’s been many years since I consumed 400 milligrams or more. Dr. Pepper was once my drug of choice. Then Diet Dr. Pepper. Then Dr. Pepper Zero. I’ve got a handful of liter bottles in the pantry right now that have been there for months. Rarely do I venture away from a 38-ounce bottle of water with a single Crystal Light Strawberry drink mix inserted. I’m not sure caffeine is much of a player anymore, but here I am wide awake at 3:40 am wondering about it.

Should I give it up completely? I wonder. But of all the things that might be keeping me up, I rather doubt caffeine is much of a contributor. It’s more substantial than that I figure.

As the clock approaches 4 am I’m on track 10 listening to Tom sing, “Climb That Hill.”

You got to get up and climb that hill
Get up and climb that hill
You got to get up and climb that hill again

Cares. It’s an interesting term for life’s problems. Cares.

We ascribe caring to things positive.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”  ― Theodore Roosevelt

“He’s a loser. He just doesn’t care.”

“He could not care less.”

So the anti-sentiment is careless. Care. Less. We sure don’t want to be that.

Then modern culture admonishes us to stop caring what others think. Selfishness and self-centeredness are considered acts of courage. Disregard the voices in your life who attempt to help you. Don’t listen to anybody other than yourself. Sure, you can do that, but it’s a high-risk proposition.

I’m all for tuning out people who aren’t there to help us. People who simply want to throw rocks at our parade so they can feel better about themselves. People who are filled with only harsh, unjustified judgment. But these aren’t the people who love us and want our very best. We really need to give an ear to these people and carefully (there’s a derivative of that word) consider their feedback. They may save us from being foolish. Or from being more foolish.

Just the right amount of care – and caring. Good luck with that, I think. Does anybody have that figured out? I sure don’t.

I start thinking about doctors and bedside manners. Displays of caring. 

Do you judge a doctor’s competence based on how personable they are? Yep, me, too. You realize they could be a complete buffoon medically, but if they’re believable and they have a great bedside manner, then we love them. Logic doesn’t always dictate our actions.

Mark Cuban was on local radio talking about the new people leading the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, particularly the new GM who is some hotshot from Nike. Mark said about him, “Lots of people know basketball, but not many people know people. He knows people.”

That ability to relate and connect to others is powerful. Powerful enough to lure a high-end guy from Nike. Powerful enough to keep us going to the same dentists and doctors. Powerful enough for us to change insurance agents. To hire new real estate agents. Or anybody else we need to do things for us.

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SideBar, Your Honor!

Today on my social media feed this appeared, The Vacation You Should Take, Based on Your Introverted Myers-Briggs Type. Being an INFJ, I had a moderate interest so I clicked to see what the article suggested might be ideal for me. I already knew. This is close. But if you’ve been paying attention you already know I started a hyper-local podcast about a place I love, Hot Springs Village Inside Out.

INFJ: Have “creative space” at an Airbnb in a new town

INFJs love learning and being creative, but are often employed or find themselves in situations where they are giving advice, helping people in need, or managing relationships. Being the empathetic one in the room who understands both sides of an issue can really help bring harmony to workplaces and families. However, it can be exhausting as the one in the middle. During the pandemic, with families face-to-face more often, and with a lot of drama happening over social media, INFJs may have found themselves caught up in a lot of situations where they’re needed.

If you’re an INFJ, a good vacation idea may be to get away to an Airbnb rental in a quiet town where you can take some time for yourself. Unplug from social media, tell your friends and family you’re not available, and just spend time in your mind. Write down those stories that you keep wanting to create but can’t find the right time, let yourself daydream, or just get back in tune with your own feelings instead of worrying about everyone else’s. A creative space is important for many introverts. Let yourself be spontaneously creative just for the joy of it, without worrying what others will think, whether that means drawing, painting, or picking up that guitar you’ve neglected for far too long. Hopefully, your retreat will inspire you with new insights that will recharge you to go back to normal life afterward.

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We want to care, but not too much. We want others to view us favorably, but at the same time, we don’t want to care about what others think of us.

And in the context of cares, as in the cares of our life, these aren’t joys, but burdens. They’re cares because we care about them. We worry about them, fret over them, and wrestle with them.

It seems to me that one of our shared challenges is figuring out how to care enough about some things and how to care a bit less about other things. Getting just the right amount of caring seems like an impossible task.

“I don’t care what anybody thinks,” she says. But that’s a lie. I’ve seen folks jump on social media and strongly preach that message as if they’re trying to convince themselves they don’t care what others think. So I wonder why are they constantly talking about it? Makes no sense. They clearly do care a great deal about what people think. Culture presupposes that’s a bad thing, but we all grew up knowing how important it was to avoid having idiots for friends. People who might try to influence us to be morons and do stupid, foolish stuff. It never works out when you care what those people think, but it can matter a great deal what good people think – people who are devoted to helping us become better.

It translates to our cares, too. A person can describe one of their cares as being able to buy an $85,000 luxury car. I don’t share that care, but I’m not minimizing it for somebody else. We care about what we care about. I’ve had neighbors who invested tens of thousands of dollars in home renovation. Some hundreds of thousands. We once had a neighbor who spent the better part of 2 years redoing the inside and outside of their house, including landscaping, pool area, and the construction of a detached garage workshop. Only to put the house on the market within a year of completion. During the renovation, they cared about it. It was a major care! The husband would regularly remark how it was adding 5 years onto his working life to pay for all that work. A five-year delay in retirement in order to fund something that was so important they were willing to live with constant construction, and a spigot that constantly released cash. Then, when it was over they no longer cared at all. Not enough to hang onto the house they had so carefully built to be exactly as they wanted. Sometimes our cares are irrational. Foolish even!

But it is what it is.

It Is What It Is
A sign on a shelf inside The Yellow Studio

Tom Petty continues to sing and I continue to think. To ponder. About my cares.

Largely, my cares are unchanged. Faith is foremost. Family is next. Then providing for my family, my career. The specifics of my cares aren’t static. For example, there have been times where the faith focus on pretty solely on increasing and improving my Bible knowledge. That’s always important, but sometimes the focus has shifted a bit as I’ve worked to help somebody through some extremely challenging situation. My cares shift within the context of faith.

Family focus shifts, too. My wife is always top-of-mind, but there have been times where the kids were the focus. Now there may be times when the grandkids are the focus. Not to the exclusion of others in the family. It just changes as circumstances and situations change. Same goes for career and professional pursuits.

It’s now well past 4 am and I’m remembering our young family and buying our first new house. Talk about cares! I’m thinking of how life has changed. A lot! Perspective. Circumstances. Situations. Ups. Downs. Blindsided by some things. Watching other things unfold over time. It’s your life. My life. Everybody’s life.

I care about some things that weren’t quite on my radar a few years ago. I’m more focused on my spiritual and mental health – in some new ways – than ever before. I’m far more aware of how negatively I’m impacted by some things. It first came home a few years when after an hour-long phone call, holding my phone up to my ear, I enjoyed an indescribable pain in my right shoulder. Within 6 hours Rhonda had taken me to the emergency room where a battery of tests revealed no known reason for the pain my shoulder, but perhaps I had a cholesterol level that was too high. Turns out I had some severe shoulder arthritis thanks to a football injury when I separated my shoulder as a 20-something playing recreational tackle football in the dead of winter on a frozen field. The chickens had come home to roost many years later. But it also turns out my bad cholesterol was about 145, which was entirely too high to suit my doctor who promptly put me on a statin after telling me how statins should be in our water supply, like fluoride. As a heart patient himself, this thin, wiry internal medicine specialist had a very strong feeling in favor of statins. I’ve been on a statin ever since, maintaining a cholesterol level of about 70. But the years of higher cholesterol take a toll I learned.

Like stress. Or weight.

We don’t think it’ll catch up with us. Until it does. Things change. That thing we didn’t think about before suddenly becomes our number 1 care!

Sometimes a life event knocks us to our knees and changes everything.

Mat Kearney is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter originally from Oregon. In 2009 he released a song, Closer To Love. Here’s the first verse:

She got the call today, one out of the grey
And when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away
She said she didn’t believe it could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon
If every building falls, and all the stars fade
We’ll still be singin’ this song, the one they can’t take away
Gonna get there soon, she’s gonna be there too
Cryin’ in her room, prayin’ “Lord come through”
We’re gonna get there soon
Oh it’s your light, oh it’s your way
Pull me out of the dark, just to shoulder the weight
Cryin’ out now, from so far away
You pull me closer to love, closer to love

It happens. To all of us. Out of the blue. Or grey. We’re blindsided with a gut punch when we weren’t protecting ourselves.

I first experienced having the wind knocked out of my lungs playing on a junior high football field during a kickoff. I never saw who hit me because it came from slightly behind on my left side. I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t breathe. For about 5 seconds. Not a great feeling, but I recovered quickly enough. Not all recoveries are that fast. Most aren’t.

The death of a family member or close friend takes much, much longer. Elongated illnesses and similar events that don’t have a definite conclusion (yet), those drag on for however long they drag on. Some cares are so significant you don’t recover. You just adapt so you can cope. Ideally, we adapt so we can cope better, but that’s rarely easy. Especially when the care is so significant it seems to define or identify us. Ask any cancer patient and they can likely explain that better.

God is a vital component for me. Jesus warned in Mark and Luke that the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word and make it unfruitful. Not all cares are bad, but not all of them are important either. God asks us to cast our burdens on Him, but that doesn’t mean He has promised to remove them. They may go away. They may not. But our devotion to God enables us to have His help to shoulder them. Some cares, we must endure. Others we may be able to overcome.

As the wee hours of the morning keep on rolling I’m thinking about my cares and realize the biggest one is beyond my control. It involves somebody I love very much, but somebody with whom I’m powerless to influence. People are able to do as they please, even if it’s destructive. We can’t live somebody else’s life. Those of you who are troubled over the life of people you love understand what I’m feeling. There are lots of us out here…more than not, in fact.

My second biggest care is associated with the first one. In a similar fashion, I’m not able to influence it very much. Mostly, for me, acceptance has been the work. Coming to terms with the reality so I can figure out a way forward. Casting the cares on God and leaning on faith have been not just critical, but central. There’s no miraculous solutions though. It’s still arduous work, made worse because some of us have trouble pushing thoughts of these things out of our mind. It’s the destructive power of cares. They have the power to consume us if we allow it. We have to do everything possible to avoid that. Else, we make matters worse.

When I was a young leader an employee entered my office requesting some time. He sat down and I could tell this needed to be a closed-door meeting. After closing the door, we both took a seat, him across from me sitting at my desk. With eyes watering he told me he and his wife appeared headed for divorce. He wanted me to know.

I sat quietly fighting off the waterworks in my own eyes as this young husband, not unlike myself, told me of the weeks leading up to this. Along the way, he explained how this had impacted his work performance. He apologized. I listened.

When he finished I told him I was sorry for he and his wife. I asked if they were certain it was over. I was hopeful they might be able to recover, but it seemed apparent they were long past any hope of that. Couples counseling had proven unsuccessful. She wanted a very different life than the one they had built together. He wanted a home. She wanted a party.

As we talked I told him I’d do my best to serve him at work any way I could. Before we adjourned, I felt the urge to challenge him – in a positive way. I was thinking, “This man needs a positive challenge in his life.” I was hoping I was right, but I figured given the circumstance, I had very little to lose.

“Best I can tell, you doing great work may be the best you can do. I know this, letting your career follow suit with this area of your life would just make matters worse. Can we agree that much of this is beyond your control – and certainly my control? And can we agree to unite to help you find as much success here at work as possible? I know it won’t make things with her okay, but it seems to me you need some positive success and I know you’re capable of that.”

My intuition was that if his man allowed this to cripple his career, that would make matters worse. Much worse. Sometimes we do make matters worse because we just can’t find a way to separate what’s happening with us from other things that are important. Nobody should dare compare marriage to a career, but these aren’t mutually exclusive things. We figure ways to manage both. Simultaneously.

The point is, how are we going to make matters better? What can we do to avoid making matters worse? Else cares will consume us.

Part of my concerns or cares focus on clutter.

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”     ― Albert Einstein

I often joke that I’m just one good house fire away from becoming the minimalist that I’d like to be.

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”   ― Wendell Berry, Farming: a hand book

No, I don’t want a house fire, but it does express the emotional drag that clutter can bring to bear on our lives. At least, for those of us who don’t want it.

Have you wondered what clutter is hiding? Or what uncluttering might reveal?

I suspect it’s quite a lot. In both directions.

I know this because there have been numerous times in my life when going through some box I’d remark, “Look at this. I wondered where this thing had gone!” In the midst of all the clutter, some things we once valued are lost. Maybe we’d like to reconnect with them. Maybe not. Maybe we have a quick trip down Memory Lane, then we junk it. Maybe we dust it off and find it a new home – one we can remember.

Clutter and chattel are two edges of the same knife. I’m using a knife instead of a coin because coins aren’t dangerous. Clutter and chattel can both be dangerous. We know through shows like Hoarders that clutter can be both physically and mentally dangerous. For me, both can be dangerous because of the distraction they deliver. And the negative impact on my mental health, something I’m more closely attuned to now than any other time in my life.

Chattel is a term you don’t hear much. Okay, ever!

Simply, chattel is personal property that can be moved. It would be all that stuff that a moving truck would take if you were to move. All clutter is chattel but not all chattel is clutter.

As the clock nears 5 am I climb back into bed knowing that within the hour I’ll be up for the day. Tonight, my mind doesn’t want to tackle any more thoughts of clutter and chattel. Besides, yawning has grown to epidemic proportions.

Six o’clock arrives and my wife gets up. I’m awake, but barely. I lay in bed for another 20 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness, but all the while remembering where my thoughts left off. Clutter and chattel. I’m laying there wondering what it might be like to have a very different Yellow Studio. A place where there might be 2 bookcases. Or one large one. A filing cabinet. My broadcasting table, which is a modified conference table. And all my technology of course. But what if everything was cleared out? How would that feel?

Great. That’s what I think. I know I’d miss looking at the spines of books I’ve owned for decades. They’re often a great muse. But what’s their real value? Hard to say because it’s even harder to determine that.

Rise and shine. Okay, forget the shine part. But I’m up. It’s 6:20 am and I’m no worse for the wear of the night.

By 7 am I’m jotting down notes and ideas. I’m thinking of strategy, full well knowing it’ll be some time before I take action. Mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to. And it’s not because the payoff isn’t sufficient. It’s because it’s going to be a LOT of work and I hate starting something that takes forever to finish. I don’t mind beginnings. I don’t mind the end. It’s the in-between that can drive me crazy on projects like this. Experience has taught me that thinking of strategy doesn’t often help. Diving in, then figuring it out in progress works MUCH better.

Which makes sense to me because I tell coaching clients to take action. Don’t overthink it. Be thoughtful. Be aware of others and how your influence impacts them. But don’t aim, aim and aim. Our reluctance to fire spoils success. I’ve found that everybody has their own individual tolerance or barometer for how much aiming to do before firing. Some shoot from the hip constantly, never aiming at anything. I wouldn’t suggest it. Others, aim, aim, aim, aim then fire. That delay in taking action delays the necessary adjustments required to hit the target more accurately. Get the first shot off, then adjust. If we put in the work, we can all improve wherever we’re at on the speed/over-thinking spectrum. For some, it means being less impulsive and more conscious of consequences. For others, it means managing our thoughts that everything will go wrong.

I begin the morning jumping on a Zoom coaching call. At some point the conversation turns toward how we view possible outcomes. Will it work? Will it fail? Glass half full? Glass half empty?

Some days earlier in my journal I’d recorded some thoughts about the power of naivete. It seems to me that it’s a big part of curiosity. And bravery.

For instance, I’m having a conversation with a couple of clients and a phrase enters the conversation that I’ve never heard. It’s particular to their industry. Every industry has terms and a vocabulary all its own. Rather than act like I understand – which I don’t – I pause the conversation and ask, “What is that?” They explain it to me. Good to know. I’m not bashful to ask. I lean into my naivete because I’d rather understand and look stupid than not understand and appear smart. I have no interest in faking smartness (knowledge) and understanding.

Naivete is a contributing factor to optimism. There is something to knowing too much. Like knowing how hard it is to succeed at something. So much so, you don’t try. Or you don’t try as hard as you could. The coaching call ends with me challenging the client to figure out a strategy that can improve optimism and more positive thoughts. This client, like some, leans into a focus on what will likely go wrong rather than what will likely go right!

These four C’s represent the array of things in our life. From the trivial, like caffeine. To the really important, like cares. And all the stuff in the middle – our stuff. Consumerism is alive and well. Just look at all the Amazon deliveries to your house and your neighbors.

The self-storage industry is approaching $40 billion annually with almost 50,000 facilities that represent almost 2 billion square feet. The average monthly expense is about $90 for 14 months.

Over the past 42 years, the average new house built in America has increased by more than 1,000 square feet from the 1973 average of 1,660 feet. Today, the average new home being built is about 2,300 square feet, down from the peak size from 2015 when houses were almost 2,700 square feet.

In spite of the tiny home trend and interest in minimalism, people are still quite interested in more and more square footage. Never mind that almost everybody I know reports living in a percentage of their house. And now, as empty-nesters, we know that feeling. We live in about a third of our house. Guest bedroom suit, dining room, den, another extra bedroom – go largely unused week after week after week. It’s a lot of square footage. And the space we do fully occupy has way too much stuff. The Yellow Studio is a perfect illustration. Seven bookcases filled from top to bottom. An almost six feet tall CD fixture that holds about 3,000 CDs – with every space filled and stacks of CDs on top. A 2-drawer lateral file filled to the brim. A six cube cloth basket fixture sits on top of the file cabinet. One corner with hundreds of baseballs collected on morning walks.

TOO-MUCH-STUFF

Impacting life negatively. Elevating stress. And anxiety.

After I end this client Zoom session I have an hour to do some other work, but I don’t – well, not if you count Leaning Toward Wisdom as not working! I think about this episode and how I’m likely not being nearly as naive as I should be when it comes to all this stuff – these things I’m thinking of changing.

Like less caffeine.

Fewer cares. More precisely fewer less important cares.

Eliminating clutter. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Less chattel. Just the things I use daily, weekly, monthly or annually. That’ll cover seasonal clothing. Why do I have it if I don’t use it at least annually?

I have no good answers for any of this. Only one thing remains. A mind made up!

How do you make up your mind? You just do. You commit by taking meaningful action.

I’m working on it. But mostly I feel like I’m stuck in aim mode. Time to find the trigger and pull it.

Stay tuned…

Being Honest With Yourself: How Is It Really Going? (Season 2021, Episode 12)

If things stay as they are, you’ll stay as you are. It’s just how life and entropy work.

I’m sitting across from a new client. Ninety-nine percent of the time within 15 minutes I’m hearing a person’s life story. A gift I have, among very, very few. And one I’m thankful for – the ability to connect quickly with “most” people and gain their trust. It’s not magic. It’s because I’m genuinely interested. And I care. The single group of people who are an exception are arrogant, “I’m-the-smartest-person-in-this-room” types. I do not connect with them. And don’t want to. But I’ve never had such a person as a coaching client in the dozen or more years I’ve been doing this work. So there’s that!

This person isn’t arrogant. Just reserved. Better said, guarded. Extremely guarded. I respect it.

Until the 3rd session when I ask about how life is going and I’m told for the third time, “Fine.” That’s it. One word. “Fine.” No details are ever offered. Nothing. Probing has proven unsuccessful. I feel like a CIA interrogator trying to extract information from a professionally trained enemy spy. Okay, I actually feel like a very poor-performing CIA interrogator because I’m getting nothing.

In the middle of the 3rd session, I finally ask, “Okay, how is it REALLY going?”

“Fine.”

I never said I had a perfect record. 😉

Self-deception has been a lifelong curiosity for me. I’d love to tell you that I have it all figured out, but I don’t. It’s like one of those magical worms that you cut in half and it grows a new head forming two worms. Sometimes the more we focus on killing self-deception the more self-deception we’re prone to have. Somebody with a bigger brain than mine is going to have help us with this. I’ve read plenty, but so far I’ve concluded that one of the best defenses of self-deception is having trusted advisors willing to challenge us. Easier said than done…finding such people.

Trusted advisors willing and able to help us avoid self-delusion aren’t easily captured. They are out there, but very difficult to spot. It’s much easier to find people who don’t fit the bill because they’re in the majority. That’s not a harsh judgment, it’s just the truth. People are busy. They have their own problems. They also have their own inner circle of people they’re already serving. Most lack the bandwidth to add you to the mix so I don’t blame people for being unavailable.

Others just aren’t fit for the task. For anybody. This is a rather large chunk of the population I suspect. Kind of like the people who live their entire life without telling anybody, “I love you.” We may not understand such people – I struggle to understand how that can be problematic for people, but I know it truly is. Others don’t find any way to ever say, “I’m sorry.” Such folks aren’t likely going to be great trusted advisors unless it pertains to some area in which they’re experts. For example, I people who have terrific financial expertise, but lack empathy or the ability to really connect at a personal level (have you seen the movie, The Accountant? 😉 ). They’d be great at telling you what to do with your money, but they’d likely be awful at sharing why you want to do something with your money.

Maybe it’ll help you if I share my lifelong journey with my own trusted advisors. I understand that my context is uniquely my own. But I hope you’ll be able to apply it to your own situation.

Like most kids, my folks were my very first trusted advisors. And my maternal grandmother. Three people. That was it. A really tight circle. I’m talking as a little kid through elementary school.

I always had friends, but as a little kid – even in elementary school – I didn’t rely on friends as trusted advisors about anything outside of school or playing together. Things like assignments, homework or what we might be planning to do for fun. Hardly the kind of advisors to help me know if I was being honest with myself. After all, being honest with myself meant telling my friends I’d rather play tennis than mini-golf.

Just here let’s make a distinction between trusted advisors and influencers. I had plenty of influencers. They were the adults in my life whom I admired. Many of them were gospel preachers because going to church and being Christians was the priority for my family. And in time, for me, too. When I was about 14 one of these men, in particular, became increasingly interesting to me. I saw him frequently and he had been a friend of my parents since he was about 16. He was younger than both of my parents. They esteemed him highly. I did, too. Mostly, I admired his Bible knowledge. My pursuit to make him a trusted advisor was in that context. He was, quite simply, a subject matter expert for me. The best Bible scholar I knew. But that was just the beginning.

By the time I was married, about 7 years later, he had grown into much, much more for me. Our time together had shown me I could trust him completely. He was, in a word, one of the safest people on the planet for me. That is, he was somebody who wouldn’t refrain from telling me what he felt I most needed to hear. He would listen to me, hear me and accept any confessions I might make with helpful counsel instead of critical judgments. One hundred percent of the time he always helped me, not by agreeing with me, but by pushing me to question things I may have otherwise not questioned. He challenged, pushed, cajoled and nudged – or anything else he felt necessary – to get me to move forward and grow stronger. He pushed me constantly to be better and refuse to accept the status quo. He saw my ambitions early – in my teen years – and he fueled them for good. I wanted to be a good husband. A wise dad. A faithful friend. A person capable of influencing others with the kind of service he had given me.

About 20 years separated us. It was ideal for me. Somebody a couple of decades ahead of me in the journey of life. Somebody who could point out the pitfalls. Somebody who had seen far more than me. Before his death, I recorded an episode about old friends. Ronny Wade died on January 7, 2020. He was 83. I was devastated. He was my last trusted advisor. The last of a handful of old men who had surrounded me since I was a boy. The man with whom I was closest. The man who had been only a phone call away every week for as long as I could remember. Gone. My most trusted, expert, safest advisor.

I circled the wagons as much as I could. I leaned into a few people but realized I was unfairly looking for strengths they simply lacked. I’ve found the ability to be that deeply trusted advisor is rare. I’d hoped somebody could step up and step in. But in time I faced the reality that I was wrong to seek that where I was looking. I was 63 and it was time to circle the wagons more tightly. So I did. Family. Mostly, two people – my wife and my son. By the time January 2021 rolled around – the one-year anniversary of Ronny’s passing – I was deeply committed to these two people as my most trusted advisors.

So began my journey and quest to figure out how we can best avoid self-deception.

Thanks for listening,

Spend Your Time Figuring Out How To Make The Biggest Difference (Season 2021, Episode 11)

That’s what is currently written across the top of the whiteboard in my office, The Yellow Studio. In parenthesis, I wrote: (Don’t Be Afraid Of Scaling). A friend uttered that challenge to me months ago. The context? Professional pursuits. Namely, trying to figure out how to effectively serve more clients. Shortly after that, I spent some quiet time as I am wont to do. Pondering time.

Don’t fret if you have no interest in hearing about professional or work pursuits. The lessons here transcend that. I think we’ll be able to make a solid application to just about any endeavor. In fact, I’ll be sharing my own insights in a variety of personal and professional pursuits. Because they universally share that whole “make the biggest difference” idea. I mean, who wants to pursue something that makes a minuscule difference? 😉

The Biggest Difference?

First things first, we have to define the biggest difference. It’s ridiculously individual.

You’ve heard me talk about “the ideal outcome.” In fact, I own that domain because it has become such a staple in my coaching practice. Few things are more powerful than each of us coming to terms with – and seeing clearly – our ideal outcome. While others may try to persuade us that the journey is the thing, I’m always challenging clients to gain a clear focus on what they most would like to achieve – “the ideal outcome.”

Here’s the thing about the biggest difference or the ideal outcome – they’re subject to change. In fact, they should change when we’re armed with new insights, information, and experiences. Things change! We change! So should our ideal outcome.

About a month or so ago I released a podcast episode at my work podcast, GrowGreat.com. It was a podcast born from these ideas. It was my first mention of all this stuff that currently is being figured out. I titled it, Traction & Momentum: Pursuing The Things That Work After Killing The Things That Don’t.

Prior to recording that show I had a few conversations with people about “irons in the fire.” We all have irons in the fire, a metaphor for pursuing a variety of things that we hope will succeed. Some of us have lots of irons in the fire, and we keep putting more irons in the fire. Others of us are more selective and careful about the irons we’re willing to place into the flame. Me? I ebb and flow. Sometimes I’m selective. Sometimes I’m more willing to say, “Yes.”

Experience has taught me that what we say “NO” to can be as important, or more important, than what we say “YES” to. In the past decade, I’ve been more of a say YES guy.

On my whiteboard below the stuff you see in that picture above, I drew some flames to represent the fire. Then I drew a number of lines to represent the various pursuits that are irons in the fire. I drew everything I do. Professional. Personal. All the activities I engage in daily or weekly. Then I drew two cross-diagonal lines through the “irons” I wanted to kill. I’m still working on it, but right now there are 7 irons in the fire. I have the kill lines across 2 of them. I have a question mark on 1 of the others. That leaves 4 irons I currently think I’d like to keep in the fire. I’m not sure this is how it’ll end up because I’m still figuring it out.

The point is, not every iron in our fire is going to get hot enough to be productive. Some will. Some won’t. There are two challenges: a) figuring out which irons you care most about and b) figuring out which irons have the greatest opportunity to get hot (gain traction and momentum). Neither of those is necessarily easy.

Think of a time when you felt stretched thin. Maybe it’s now. Maybe it once was. Maybe it feels like it’s always been that way.

Try writing down – on paper or a whiteboard – the activities. Get them all down. In full disclosure, I didn’t write down all of mine because some of them are non-negotiable. That is, they’re just so important they’re a given. It’s not about whether or not I can make the biggest difference in them or not. It’s more a matter of having to do them as well as I can because they matter that much! Like being a Christian. And a husband. And a dad. And a grandfather. Those irons are in the fire and they’ll be there until I die. I simply have to get each of them as right as I possibly can. There is never going to be a time in my life when I can take any of them for granted, or remove any of them. They’re the most critical irons in my fire. What are yours?

The other irons I did write down include all the podcasts, including this one. When it comes to traction or momentum, I don’t much care. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about you, the folks who give me their time and attention. I care deeply. But you’re really a cherry on top of a world-class sundae for me. I’m doing this because I want to. Maybe better said, because I have to. To record some things as they’re happening, or as I’m thinking of them. It’s important to me to speak for myself and chronicle some things. I’ve always been honest and transparent that this podcast is mostly a legacy project. That’s how it began and likely that’s how’ll it’ll end. So keeping this iron in the fire is an easy decision for me. Not because it’s high value for you (which I hope it is), but because it’s high value for me.

How can you determine what makes the biggest difference? I’ll share with you how I’m going about it. Keep in mind, I don’t claim to have this figured out yet. I’m in the throes of trying to figure it out. Here’s the thing about figuring it out…do you ever really know when you’ve achieved it? Do you ever really achieve it? Or do you just get closer and closer? I don’t know the answers. So we just keep pushing forward, right?

First of all, I can pretty easily figure out what isn’t making the biggest difference. I mean, I know the things that aren’t moving forward. I know when things have stopped working. Or they’ve stopped working so well. But here’s the thing. Sometimes we’re tempted to hang onto those things in hopes we can figure out how to recapture the magic. If it was working before – but now it’s not – we can spend way too much time trying to get the momentum back. I’m doing my best to learn how to turn the page and let go. That has never been easy for me. My wife can do it well. She does it instinctively. Which is great for her, but it makes her ability to teach me cumbersome. Because she doesn’t really know how she does it. She just does.

One of the best tools that has helped me combat this is the realization that I’m wasting time that would be better spent in pursuing a different course and the understanding that that was then, this is now. Everything has a time. If the time is past when I once had traction in something that was making a big difference, but now that traction is completely gone — then I’m faced with the reality to spin my wheels going nowhere, or working to find traction in something new. It’s far more invigorating to search for new traction. So I’m learning to turn loose and move on. It’s not easy, but it is doable.

Next, I gauge my interest or passion. If something worked well before, but now it’s not working then I know I need to get in really good touch with my energy level for something. Some years ago I had a life-altering event and it disrupted some things that had become second nature for me – making the biggest difference I could. Circumstances changed. Opinions, too. Suddenly, through no fault of my own, I was seen by some as less than I was prior. Even though I had done nothing – and my oldest mentors urged me to deal with the question, “How have YOU changed?” (the answer to which was, “I haven’t!”) – dealing with the harsh judgments of others wasn’t comfortable. But pride being what it is, I understood what was happening. When life punches you in the gut you need a moment or two to get back on your feet. I needed a moment or two.

During those moments I saw the clamoring that goes on when people enjoy looking down on others. When ambitious people want to be seen in greater glory. It’s just how life works.

It wasn’t long until I gauged my own passion for work I’d been doing most of my adult life. And I realized I’d lost the energy for it. Was it because of the events and circumstances? Absolutely, but mostly it was the result of a few people who enjoyed seeing the sorrow happen to somebody else. You know people like that. People whose lives are made better by the suffering of others.

Initially, I resisted my change in energy because I didn’t want a few people to overshine what I felt was the majority opinion. You see, my personal tragedy wasn’t celebrated by most. Only by a few. But in such times the racquet of the few drowns out the majority. Like on social media! 😀

What I discovered over time is that I had always (ALWAYS) behaved and gone about my work quietly, operating mostly below the radar. Out of sight, out of mind. Right where I mostly enjoyed operating. But I’m a vocal and communicative introvert. So I made a conscious decision to get very quiet, which was surprisingly easy. And easier. Better yet, I grew silent in this one arena of my life. I’m still silent in that arena and have been for almost 3 years. And I’m good with it. Don’t see it changing. Because I’ve learned what was always true for me – the one person matters more to me because I can best serve the one person!

It’s important to understand exactly what drains your energy and what increases it. I had known this all along, but had forgotten during the sorrow and sadness. So I reclaimed it and it made not only a difference to the one, but it made a difference to me.

These are the 2 big ways I’ve found I can push forward to figuring out how to make the biggest difference. It’s still a work in progress, but I know I’m making progress.

Where Can You Make The Biggest Difference?

It’s not likely just one area. But what if it is? Who cares? A big difference is a big difference. Some of us can have a bigger impact than others. Some of us are more talented. More ambitious. Harder working. Know and are known by more people. Others of us, like me, are far more comfortable working the spotlight to aim it toward those who do their best work under the lights. Rather than judge it, let’s just lean into being more of what we really are – albeit, the best version of ourselves – and let it ride.

This is what I’ve learned – especially over the past 3 years or so. My proactivity is still intact, but it has changed. I’m not a passive person. I don’t wait for the cavalry to come. Sometimes I wish they would, but life has taught me they never do.

That proactive nature is something I’ve tried to leverage for good, but sometimes it can frustrate me. In one big area of my life I’ve let that go by submitting to what others in the group want. It’s that same area where I’ve grown quiet. Today, I’m satisfied doing whatever the group would most want. And if the group isn’t able to figure that out, I’m not inclined to contribute or nudge forward in the least. Rather, I’m more contented to shrink back even further giving the group the opportunity to wrestle with the struggle themselves. It’s how we all grow and improve. My nature is to help the group figure it out more quickly – it’s why I’m a professional coach for leaders and executives. I don’t want to figure it out for others because that’s not helpful to them. I want to be proactive though in helping them figure it out. But sometimes, I’ve learned, the biggest difference you can make is to realize you can no longer make any difference at all. So you let things ride.

Professionally, clients don’t pay you to let things ride. They pay you hoping you can help them in ways nobody else can. This works well for me. While in one area of my life I’m resigned, I’m anything but resigned in another area. In fact, my ambitions have gone up exponentially, likely due to the shift in my life caused by some personal sorrow. Struggles, sadness, and sorrow are some of our greatest instructors. That’s absolutely been the case in my life. All of my life! I wish it were different. I wish the biggest positive difference in my life had come from wild success, but it’s not so. Colossal failure, heartache, and sorrow have been my very best teachers!

Where You Are Matters!

I turned 64 in May. Come January, Lord willing, Rhonda and I will have been married for 44 years. We’ve been a couple since July 1975, 46 years. We’ve been together 2.5 times longer than we haven’t. That’s one perspective. A big one.

We have 5 grandkids ranging in age from 14 to 6.

We’re less than a year away from qualifying for Medicare.

We have new goals we’ve established in the past year or two. Personal goals. Professional goals. Quite a lot has changed. Things haven’t worked out ideally in every area of life as we’d hoped. But you stand in the batter’s box looking at life’s pitches and deciding what you’ll swing at and what you’ll let go by.

At this stage of life, you worry about different things. Like being left alone. Like some serious illness overtaking one or both of you. Like the grandkids. Like the curveballs you know are coming…just hoping you recognize them quickly enough so you can adjust and deal with them.

Context. It’s your context. Where you are right now in life. That’s your context and it’s subject to change. It will change. Just give it a moment. Or two.

What may be your ideal outcome at this very moment may not be your ideal outcome 30 days from now. But it may remain unchanged. We’ll both just have to wait and see.

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a lot of the tragic circumstances others have faced and some continue to face. The death of a mate. A bad diagnosis. The loss of a job or an entire career. The negative impact of a foolish, poor behaving adult child – or grandchild. The stories of suffering are comprehensive and widespread. We’ve all got our share. Some more than others.

I look at where people once were and where they are now. I watch as they attempt to navigate unchartered waters in their lives, knowing they’re not unchartered at all really because countless millions have enduring similar things. Each perhaps handling it in their own unique ways. Some better than others. Some able to make things better by leaning toward wisdom in their crisis. Others making things worse by leaning toward more foolishness. It’s largely the difference between being victimized by life or being energized by a refusal to be victimized.

I’m largely a victim of my own doing. Nothing more. Nothing less. So are you. But I admittedly choose that perspective.

Where I currently am is very different than where I’ve been before. Contextually. But it’s not much different at all really. Not when I consider the perspective of my own responsibility and accountability.

Life owes me nothing. Absolutely nothing. Random chance has happened. And along the way the realization that I, like everybody who has ever lived, or will ever live, have been blessed. Blessed by God above who set in motion things like air to breathe, rain to fall and sunshine to shine. Blessed mostly that God provided all of us a Savior so we could avoid dying in our sins, separated from God’s great favor. Like a forgiving friend who offers us a way to be redeemed from our betrayal, God has given every human a path forward. Never mind that we don’t all see it or want to see it. Never mind that we don’t all obey Him or even acknowledge He exists. It doesn’t remove the fact that He does indeed exist and that He did indeed do for us what we could never do for ourselves – give us a way to be redeemed from our sins.

Maybe you’ve had the perfect, most ideal life. I doubt it. I rather suspect you endured parents who weren’t perfect. Bosses who may have been tyrannical. A career that’s been up and down. Finances that have ebbed and flowed, with more of one than the other. In short, I think I’m on rather safe ground to assume that your life has been anything but perfect or ideal. I’m betting your life has had as many or more days of crying than laughing. More days of gloom than joy. Not because I’m a pessimist, but because I’m now more than ever, experienced at life. And it’s just how life works!

That doesn’t negate or minimize the joy. Or the laughter. Or the good times. I’m betting you’ve had many. But not enough. Because there’s never enough. But for a moment or two let’s consider where you are right now. Because that’s what matters. If we’re going to move toward making the biggest difference.

I have an appointment at a local city hall. I know the way, but here in DFW we have traffic. And with every destination, there are multiple routes. A great way to go at 8 am may be the least ideal path forward at 9 am. So I fire up Waze, an app on my iPhone that routes the quickest path between where I am and where I want to go. Waze uses location recognition to know where I am currently. Without that bit of information, Waze can’t possibly function. At all!

Where you currently are matters. So we’d best be coming to terms with where we are.

Something has occurred to me as I’ve grown older. People hate growing older. Men and women alike. For some reason, my newsfeed using Yahoo News! (don’t ask; it’s an old, old habit to have that has a home page ever since Excite bit the dust) I’m fed way too many older women pretending to still be young. To be fair, I get a reasonable amount of older men, too. Like Kevin Cosner. Or Gordon Ramsey. I hardly ever click on these, but clearly Yahoo knows how old I am so I guess they suppose I’m interested in all the Instagram pics of the likes of Elizabeth Hurley who seem intent on posting bikini pics. She’s 56. I Googled it. Ut oh, that means I’m now really gonna get picture suggestions with her.

Listen, I don’t care how hot Elizabeth Hurley is. Or if her abs are awesome. Good for her. But if she posts as many Instagram pics as Yahoo News claims – like multiple times weekly, I just wonder what that’s all about. It’s kinda odd, don’t you think? I mean if she’s 56 as Google reports I wonder where she’s currently at in her life. Other than maybe thinking she’s 26. But what do I know? Clearly not enough.

I’m not bemoaning somebody who can maintain some degree of hotness into their 50’s or 60s or beyond. But as somebody in their 60s I don’t much understand why the world has to know about it. Or why it would matter to me, as a Yahoo News home page guy. But I’m not trying to hang onto something that is long past. Like my youth. Truth is, I wasn’t hanging onto my youth back when I had it ’cause I was the kid who couldn’t wait to grow up. And even if you’re a hot 26-year old I don’t much understand why the whole world needs to see it. I have much to learn it seems.

But I digress, it seems. The point is knowing where you currently are. For instance, I know I’m not Instagram hot. 😉 I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s my reality. Well, actually, it’s the truth which makes it universally the reality!

So before you fire up whatever Waze app that you use to live your life, figure out where you are. That likely matters more than where you want to go although both matter. Remember, we’re working toward figuring out how to make the biggest difference. Okay, I can hear some of you guys saying Elizabeth Hurley’s Instagram pics are making the biggest difference. 😀 Come on, we can surely do better than a vanity metric, can’t we?

It’s been years since I was at Six Flags Over Texas, but they’d always have these big maps behind glass so patrons could figure out how to get to some other place in the park. First, you’d look for some “X” that would be marked, “You are here!” Until you located that, it didn’t matter where you wanted to go. Same thing in your life.

Where’s the X in your life marked, “You are here!”?

Lately, I’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos of private pilots. I do this every now and again. It’s not the first time that niche has captured my attention.

You can listen and watch these pilots as they shift from channel to channel, from one direction setting to another, from one altitude to another. Constantly shifting. Constantly adjusting. As their position changes they’re being told by air traffic controllers to adjust so they can eventually get to their desired destination. With flying, you’d think the straight line would always be in play, but sometimes things happen. Like increased air traffic. Or weather. Or some mechanical problem with the aircraft. Lots of things can happen. And even if the direction seems mostly in a straight line if you consider the adjustment in height…it’s very up and down. Up 1,000 feet. Down 1,000 feet. I’m always amazed at the focus required and the steady adjustments needed to take a small private aircraft from one airport to another. All because the location isn’t static. The plane is on the move. Just like your life.

Where Is Air Traffic Control When You Need Them?

I’ve already shared with you where mine is. God. Not in some “God spoke to me last night and told me to take that job” kind of a way, but in the Bible, God speaks to everybody. In Acts 10:34 the scripture says, “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.” (NKJV) The old KJV says “…God is no respecter of persons.” That is, God isn’t doing something uniquely special for you that He won’t do for somebody else. I know people enjoy thinking they’re God’s special person, but that’s contrary to what the Bible teaches. So I don’t mean it in that way.

The Bible clearly shows me that God cares about Eternity. Salvation in Heaven. Avoiding going to Hell. God wants every single person to be saved in Eternity. Well, that changes everything. Knowing that no matter what happens here, my Eternity destiny can be secured by following and obeying God…that’s a game-changer. And it’s demonstrated in how the early disciples in the 1st century were able to endure such persecutions and hardships in this life. And why the apostles mostly suffered being murdered for their faith. These were not happy outcomes in this life. But no matter, Eternity is where the biggest rewards are found. And those rewards don’t have to be impacted negatively by what happens to us here. Unless we let them.

But day to day we sometimes wish a person would just tell us the path correction to make, like those air traffic controllers directing all those planes. If only somebody would just tell me to adjust my course a few degrees in this direction or that direction. We’re having to fly our own planes and serve as our own air traffic controllers. It’s not easy. But it’s what’s required as we navigate our life.

We do need something from which to measure. I’ve shared with you what my true north is, God. But God’s Word doesn’t speak to what I do for a living, as long as I do something honorable, legal, and within the bounds of what God requires of anybody. That gives me a ton of latitude (and altitude) from which to choose. So I must deploy wisdom. My own and the wisdom others are willing to share. I alone must make my choices though. And then work to figure out if I got it mostly right, mostly wrong or somewhere in between. Because this much is sure – adjustments will be required.

The Realization That You’re A Finite Resource

There’s only so much of you to go around. That’s a fact.

We enjoy thinking we’re some limitless powerhouse, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Maybe two. But at some point, hopefully sooner than later (meaning hopefully younger not older) we learn we have capacity limits. And in just about every area of our life except our ability to learn, grow and improve. We can always get better!

There are people limits. No, there aren’t any limits to the number of people you can meet, be introduced to, or know. But there are limits to the number of people who you can be close enough to, safe enough with, to serve in the deepest way possible. Rather than lament that, you should be grateful that for some you are just the right person. That gives other people the opportunity to serve the folks who feel most comfortable with them. Nobody – this includes you and me – are the right person for everybody. It’s not possible. Let it go.

There are time limits. We mostly know this even if we don’t live as though we know it. We squander time more than any other thing I think. Mostly, I guess, because yesterday was much like the day before. And we expect today to go pretty much as yesterday did. So tomorrow…well, it’s gonna pretty much go like all the other days have. Until they don’t. Life shakes us and suddenly we’re facing an unknown. But as soon as we endure that crisis or celebration, things largely return to normal. Routine. The routine keeps us sane, but it lulls us into thinking we’ve got more time. Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t.

You have to say “no” before you can say “yes.” This can be hard. Harder still when you’re upping the stakes as I have in today’s show by challenging us to spend our time figuring out how to make the BIGGEST difference.

What are gonna kill today so something else can live – and more abundantly?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking everything you’re doing can survive and thrive. That may be possible if you’re narrowly focused, but almost everybody I know has far more irons in the fire than the fire can heat up. So what happens is our irons never get quite hot enough to do much with. Sure, we could build a bigger fire, but most of us lack the talent or know-how to do that. And most of us don’t yet understand how that all works. We see successful people who are into this, that and the other. Problem. We didn’t see them before their success. Back when they had a single focus because their fire looked an awful lot like ours does now. It’s fairly small.

Success – financial success – stoked their fire and made it much, much bigger. Today, they can easily accommodate irons the rest of us can’t. Being rich has clear advantages. 😉

I’ve seen it for decades. People see rich folks who have multiple streams of income and conclude, “That’s what I need to do.” Only to fail because nothing gains enough traction to really matter.

The reality is nearly all rich folks got rich in some in some singular arena. Real estate. Oil. Technology. Something specific and singular. Depending on the degree of financial reward sparked by that thing, other avenues opened up. Connections. Opportunities. They open up as the wealth increases. For good reason. Wealthy folks have the sought-after resource. Money. Influence. Power. The rich aren’t getting richer because of anything sinister. It’s the law of resource opportunity.

But we’re not watching them closely as they ascend. We don’t even know who they are. Until they’ve made it – and now they’re rich. And now we pay attention to them, but they’re into real estate, stocks, bitcoin, professional sports team ownership, and more. They didn’t start out that way. They started out being what In Search Of Excellence called, “monomaniacs on a mission.”

If you’re going to get an iron hot enough to do something productive, then you have to narrow the focus. That means, jettison the stuff that isn’t moving you forward. The stuff that isn’t working out. The things that take time away from the stuff that matters more. Your big impact is hampered by being too diluted. Chasing too many things.

I’ve Always Been A Media Company

Not a successful one, mind you. 😉

That’s why when you look at that photo of my whiteboard you see the things I know are necessary when I create content. High value to my audience. That’s the objective.

I do it by being myself. Rather than chase people who want to be “thought leaders” I do it by incorporating my whole self. Not as a guru, because I’m not one. Not as a thought leader, because I don’t even know what they do exactly. Not as a book author, because I’ve not yet written a book. And honestly don’t figure I ever will. But you never know. What I do know is that it’s not in the plans.

I do what I do the way I do it because I know we’re just a bunch of humans trying to figure things out. If a guy sitting inside a home studio dubbed The Yellow Studio can share some insights, experience and wisdom, then that may have some value. Will it make a big difference? That’s for each of you to decide. For me, I have to figure out how I can make the biggest difference. That doesn’t mean it’ll be enormous. Or even big by anybody’s standards other than what I’m most capable of. If it helped YOU, then I consider it a success. Because I’m still the little boy answering the questioning old man with, “It made a difference to that one!”

The Distance From Hope To Help (Season 2021, Episode 10)

I was in the fourth grade when I first developed a passion for piney woods. I was a pre-schooler when the woods first called out though. So by the time 4th grade arrived I’d spent half my life fascinated by and in love with — trees. Woods.

Woods.

A forest is woods, but not all woods are forests. I think woods are thought of as smaller than forests. Small groups of trees, but how small is small? It depends. On how big you are. When you’re a little kid one undeveloped lot in the neighborhood thick with trees will suffice. When you’re an adult, something larger is required.

I love woods. There’s something special about them. Being in them. For extended time. Day after day is even better. Because you get to know them better.

Traipsing through woods every now and again is great, but not nearly as great as getting to know them. Well.

There is something therapeutic about woods, especially piney woods. A feeling. A sensation. There’s a psychology to them for me.

My best description? They’re a big exhale for me.

They help. I embrace it. I’m not imposing on them. They welcome me. Any time. I don’t disturb their schedule. I don’t ask them to do anything. Just be there. Just be what they naturally are. Let me stay. Stick around a bit. Then come back again tomorrow and notice more. Spot any changes. Be friendly.

Unlike most people, I trust piney woods. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not. They don’t judge me or anybody else. They don’t lie. Cheat. Or steal. They’re just there existing for the pleasure of the wildlife and not-so-wildlife. As a 4th grader, I may have added to the population of wildlife, what with all the fort building, pine straw stacking, path clearing, and whatever else we did as kids.

But that’s all behind me.

And even then I had moments of not-so-wildlife where we’d just sit on the pine needles and talk about what might come next. “What’da ya’ll wanna do now?” somebody would ask. That might spark a 30-minute discussion of various ideas that somebody might invariably shoot down until we figured out something we could all agree on.

I hope kids today have those conversations, but something tells me they don’t. A shallow investigation into social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat indicates that our attention span is down to something like 8 seconds. Eight seconds? Isn’t that the time bull riders need to complete a successful ride?

We were often bored as kids. It didn’t always result in trouble either. It gave us time to talk, interact, argue, debate, and work things out. Eight seconds? Man alive, we spent hours collectively trying to figure out what we might do that would bring us our next adventure. But this isn’t about “good ‘ol days” syndrome. Honestly, it’s not. I’m just trying to paint context for you of how we worked to close the distance from hope to help. The gap between whatever was in our heads and what we could make real.

Like the unmotorized go-carts, we’d make out of spare parts laying around in all our carports and garages. Or the homemade skateboards out of those old metal-wheeled rollerskates. Or the countless forts and treehouses we’d cobble together out of anything we could find. And how we’d decorate the insides without any help or influence from the likes of Chip and Joanna. By the way, does anybody else wonder why Chip thinks his long hair looks good? I’ve got a neighbor who is older than I am and he decided a ponytail would look good. No, it doesn’t. You look ridiculous. So does Chip. Somebody help these people understand how unflattering it is to grow older and attempt to hang onto youthful fashion or hairdos. #JustSaying

Hope should dominate the life of every kid. I know the world is cruel and there are dangers galore, but every child deserves to be filled with hope about the future.

Hope should dominate the life of every adult. It’s harder for us because we’ve experienced sorrow, sadness, and struggle.

It helps if you’ve got a compelling story of redemption to tell. For years I’ve noticed how many book authors and speakers tell a rags to riches story. It’s a long list of celebrity authors/speakers. They lived in their car. They lived under bridges. They suffered abuse. They suffered addiction. They dove into dumpsters. They figured things out and became wildly – W-I-L-D-L-Y – successful. They found the key to success and they’ll happily teach it to you because they desperately want you to learn what they learned. Just buy their book. Or attend their seminar. Or buy their product or course.

It seems the distance from hope to help is devasting loss caused largely by your own idiocy. Until your idiocy morphs into extraordinary wisdom.

It’s like evolution though. Nobody has ever seen it. I sure haven’t.

I suppose those of us who have lived practical, responsible lives devoid of homelessness, addiction, or abuse are destined to be lifelong failures. We’re just living a story that’s too boring to achieve much else it seems. And I admit I’ve invested some bucks along the way to see if these previously homeless people had indeed figured out something unique. Not so much.

Have you ever been tempted to create a narrative that might help you get attention? Yeah, me neither. 😉

Actually, I have worked on a narrative like that, but for a fictional character – which I assume might apply to a large number of these self-help gurus. I’m still trying to come up with a believable scenario where some hobo under a bridge has the key to unlock the wisdom of success. My latest creation has me encountering a small forest gnome who lives in this tree (pictured). His name is Bjorn. Which is really weird since his home is in Arkansas. Even weirder, he’s Norwegian but he’s never lived anywhere other than that tree. Which creates a deeper mystery as to how he has so many things figured out. But such is the stuff of books, speeches, presentations, workshops, seminars, and other forms of fantasy. I rather like Bjorn so I’m planning to make his brilliance shine just as bright as possible. And he’s very snarky. So I trust him.

In the case of finding (or creating) Bjorn, the distance from hope to help is about 5 hours. That’s how long it takes to get from my house to his. So there’s that.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes

Hope is based in the future. Maybe in the immediate future. Maybe not.

We’ve been told hope is not a strategy, but I think it is. Or could be. Try forming an effective strategy without it.

Picture a conference room with 12 chairs around a big table. A person sits in every chair. You’re at the head of the table leading the meeting. You’ve got an idea, a strategy. This meeting is your opportunity to share it with the team, the team which you lead.

“This idea came to me over the past few days. It’s not likely going to work. There are many flaws in it. But we’re going to fully commit to it. And I hope you’ll all be as excited as I am to see it come out of the gate slowly, then eventually peter out.”

I’d love to lead a meeting like that. Just to see how the room would react.

Hope is always part of our best strategies. Because belief and confidence are required if we’re going to give our best efforts.

Every startup entrepreneur has it. Every competitive athlete has it. The hope and belief that their efforts will pay off. That the results they most desire will happen. Sustainable behaviors we think will move us closer to the goal are more easily employed when we believe in them. Why else follow a particular course?

Let’s see where this conversation takes us, huh? My hope? That’ll it’ll take you from hopelessness to hope to help!

Blind Optimism, Not-Too-Much Practicality & A Plan That So Boxes You In There’s No Escape (Season 2021, Episode 9)

On Saturday, May 29, 2021, I watched a suggested YouTube video. It was a 2014 award-winning documentary entitled, RESTRUNG. I guess I watch so many guitar videos that the YouTube algorithm had no problem suggesting I watch this video. Here’s the YouTube description of the video:

He had always considered making guitars a passion, not an occupation. In 2007, Randall Wyn Fullmer, an ordinary guy with a cat, decided to turn his life-long hobby into a full-out obsession. To launch his adventure he did what anyone else would do — he quit his high paying dream job at Disney, leaving behind a successful 20 year career of creating major motion pictures such as “Chicken Little” and “The Emperor’s New Groove”. It seemed to make so much sense at the time! With Disney in the rear-view, he launched his self-proclaimed “Mad Plan”, crafting small-batch bass guitars full time. From a beginner’s electrifying success to near break-down, this is a beautiful, honest and inspirational portrait of a passionate craftsperson who walked headlong into a foolhardy dream … a true tale of a life unwound and restrung.

You can check out Randall’s website, Wyn Guitars. Watch the documentary and you’ll be motivated to cheer for his continued success. And more.

A little over one minute into the documentary Randall says this…

Blind Optimism, Not-Too-Much Practicality & A Plan That So Boxes You In There’s No Escape

Randall had figured out what he believed were the ingredients for success. I won’t spoil the documentary for you, but I will tell you that it’s not a story of a man who ditched a successful career at Disney only to experience hockey stick growth curve success. Mr. Fullmer has ups and downs. Like all the rest of us. Watching his journey made his quote even more powerful for me.

Besides, only days earlier I had shared a graphic on social media.

I suppose the earliest observers of success and achievement figured out how important it is to refuse to quit. One of the best quotes is from Babe Ruth.

You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.

Well, maybe you can, but it’s extremely tough. Angela Duckworth is a Wharton professor at the University of Pennsylvania who wrote a book entitled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

From an old-time baseball player to a modern-day researching university professor, there’s plenty of evidence that sticking with it can pay off. This much is sure, if you quit, you’ll never achieve whatever you’re chasing.

Randall, the guitar maker, stated it differently. And I was immediately taken by how he voiced his beliefs about the requirements of achievement, especially when you’re pursuing something creative. Like building guitars. I wonder how his Disney career influenced his wording – and his point of view. He had experience in collaborating with extraordinarily creative people. That’s why I listened to his insight more intently. He was credible. And humbly vulnerable sharing things he didn’t have to share, but in doing so helping us learn and better understand his journey.

Based on the volume of books and courses copywriters learned decades ago that people are attracted to formulas, secrets, and blueprints for success. While chasing success we’re tempted to think the people already on top of the mountain of success know something the rest of us don’t. Surely they’ve got the secret, formula, or blueprint. Then all the charlatans emerge posing as gurus. We don’t know who is genuine and who isn’t. Desperate to find the path toward the life of our dreams, we read, follow, consume and buy whatever it is they’re selling. Only to be disappointed that the secrets they share with us – for a fee – aren’t moving us any closer to our dreams.

Just before hitting record, I got an email invitation to attend a free webinar, The Secret Formula for Success. 😀

Randall knows why that’s what’s being sold. So do we.

Listen to what he said – the ingredients he determined were most needed for him to reach his goal of building a successful guitar building business.

Blind Optimism, Not-Too-Much Practicality & A Plan That So Boxes You In There’s No Escape

Ain’t nobody gonna line up to buy that book. Or course. People aren’t going to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for an online course about those things. Because those things sound hard. Secrets, formulas, and blueprints don’t sound hard. They sound like something people just hand over to us. As one female marketer says about her multi-thousand dollar course – “it’s literally a business in a box.” That inspires buyers to invest thousands – I’m told it’s about $6,000 – because they desperately want somebody to make it easy. This attractive female marketer makes the promise people willingly buy.

But this isn’t about Internet marketing ploys and fake promises. It’s about Randall’s brilliant insight. His beliefs about what it would take for him to embark on this brand new business-building adventure. And it’s not his secret, formula, or blueprint. It’s a lot of hard work. Arduous. It requires that grit, determination, and stamina that so many observers and professional researchers have concluded are required to become a high-achiever.

You may be inclined to critique or edit Randall’s wording, but let’s avoid being ticky-tacky. For instance, blind optimism isn’t really blind. It’s not without some evidence or purposeful viewpoint. And it’s not just random. We choose our optimism based on something. Maybe mostly on what we want. But there is a basis so let’s just go with it knowing how Randall likely meant it. That’ll be easier for you to do after you watch the documentary and you see the man’s devotion to his craft.

Blind Optimism

Choosing to think the best rather than the worst is hard work. Harder for some than others.

You’re called to the boss’s office. What are you thinking?

“Oh great, I’m getting a raise!” ?

“Oh no, what have I done?” ?

Yeah, it’s that last one.

Reminds me of that old joke.

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.

“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

When it comes to your own achievement – pursuing your own success – what’s the downside of optimism? Overall, I don’t see much of a downside in being an optimistic person. For years the only kickback I’ve gotten is, “You’ll be disappointed.” My retort is simple, “You’re gonna be disappointed anyway, so where’s the risk?”

But there are some downsides when it comes to personal optimism – that is, optimism about yourself and your own abilities. That’s a bit more precise than an overall optimism.

We all know people who aren’t nearly as terrific as they think they are. Full of themselves. They’re overly optimistic (yes, I think there is such a thing) about themselves. They think more highly of themselves than they should. Self-centered. Self-focused. Self-absorbed. Life is all about them.

The downside? Well, this podcast has no time limits, but I really don’t want to spend a ton of time talking about why that’s a bad way to live. Mostly, because I live and work with one notion and point-of-view. It’s one that I don’t always get right, but I know I should. And when I slip, I know I need to give it greater effort. I use one phrase to express it: a focus on others!

Yes, it’s a personal philosophy that I choose to embrace. Yes, it has caused me – at a variety of moments in my life  – to question myself and think less of myself than may be healthy. I also have to sometimes wrangle that to the ground, admitting that many times it wins pinning me to the dirt, making me cry, “Uncle!”

But is optimism, even if it’s self-focused, a bad thing? Yes, when it makes us delusional about the reality of our limitations and weaknesses. And sadly, some folks think optimism is literally blind because we ignore reality or evidence. Well, that’s foolishness.

Over the weekend, singer B.J. Thomas died of stage four lung cancer. He lived here in DFW. He was 78. Optimism wouldn’t prevent him – it couldn’t prevent him – from dying of lung cancer. Sadly, B.J.’s reality was that he had stage four lung cancer. It killed him. Believing the best. Thinking he’d overcome it. Those wouldn’t help. But I rather choose to think he embraced a different kind of optimism during his final days. An optimism that helped him make the most of whatever time he had.

You see the delusion people experience when they think more highly of themselves than they should. You see it in the older man who tries to be physically alongside folks 20 years younger. Whether it’s a game of backyard football. Or climbing on the roof to clean the gutters (Google how many stories you see of older, aging men who die that way). Accepting the reality of our limitations can be tough – but wise!

No matter how hard or harsh the reality, knowing it and accepting it is vastly better than not knowing or not accepting the truth.

The truth. There’s the rub.

Just the other day this video was published on YouTube. It’s produced by The Art Of Improvement and is entitled, To Have The Great Life You Deserve, Do These 6 Things. It’s 4:30 minutes long and typifies the messages we hear daily.

  1. Believe you are worthy.
  2. The Universe is your ATM. (but only if you make great deposits often)
  3. Create time to think and dream.
  4. Minimize the toxic input.
  5. Get off the couch and act.
  6. Know who the real judge is. (don’t worry about what others think)

  1. Believe you’re worthy would be better replaced with “be worthy.” Be a good human. Behave wisely. Not selfishly.
  2. The Universe is not your ATM. It’s much less about making deposits and withdrawals as it is “you reap what you sow.” See the first point of being a good human. Act in ways that are honorable and right. It’s a better route to go, but it won’t guarantee you’ll never be mistreated. The Universe is never going to bend to your will. But your mind will. And that’ll drive how you act and behave. You’re responsible for your actions, not the Universe.
  3. Creating time to think and dream is necessary because “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We tend to be what we think about because our thoughts determine our choices and actions. Again, it’s all “reap what you sow” in full effect. And it’s always true.
  4. Minimize the toxic input. Agreed. That includes people and situations. Toxic is defined as things harmful to your growth and improvement. Things, circumstances, and people who don’t help you be your very best. It’s not about people who disagree with you. If you want to be a drunk, drug addict and think the toxic people are those who would help you get and stay sober — well, you’re not seeing reality. You are the problem!
  5. Get off the couch and act. True enough. Thinking and dreaming are terrific activities, but the world is filled with good intentions. The power is in the doing. Do something.
  6. Know who the real judge implies (and the video states) is YOU. Well, kinda sorta. You get to make up your own mind. God is the final Judge. I’d suggest you not leave Him out of things, but you can if you want. The context of the video is dealing with critics. We all have to silence the unfair, unsafe critics – those who don’t want or care about our best. WE all live in glass houses, but some of us walk around with our bags of rocks looking to throw.

This kind of advice permeates our culture today. In short, it’s always got a similar theme. Be your own god. Forget everybody else. Expect the world to bend to your strongest desires so you can get what you deserve. Let me tell you – it’s likely a great thing that most of us don’t get what we deserve. Mostly, we get much better than what we likely deserve. 😉 #JustSaying

Take Control Of Your Own Success

This is another social media headline I saw just on Sunday (yesterday). Those of you who blog or podcast or write…do you ever take off in pursuit of a particular idea or line of thought and suddenly it’s like you bought a yellow car and now you notice all the yellow cars on the road? Within the last 24 hours – which honestly I don’t think are much different than any other 24-hour period – I’ve noticed a barrage of cultural notions about success is (a) designed to market or sell something and (b) which extol the idea that you are in full control. “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Don’t get me wrong. We must do all we can. And yes, that means we should pursue improvement, growth – and where necessary, transformation. And I’m all in favor of chasing the ideal outcome. I urge clients every week to get intentional about what they want and why. No, the ideal outcome is never “win-the-Powerball-lottery” kind of a thing. We don’t want to rely on random chance. Else we’re all just sitting around waiting for that Publisher’s Clearing House crew to arrive at our house with a bouquet of flowers and a six-foot-long check. It’s not a productive way to spend your days.

Usefulness. Value. Benefiting others. Making a positive difference.

Those are the things that matter. That’s how to spend a good day! Doing something worthwhile.

After that, of course, we hope serendipity, time, and chance work to our advantage. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, we’re doing something of value to ourselves and others.

Not Too Much Practicality

There’s something to this. Figuring out the balance between practical and not too practical may be one of the tougher challenges. If you’re too practical then you’re not likely pushing or challenging yourself enough. If you’re too impractical then you risk being deluded. And there’s the reality that innovation, growth and change happen when we let go of being too practical. It’s also why the critics come out of the woodwork when we’re working to create something new – including a newer and better version of ourselves.

Years ago I laughed at a cartoon that showed two gorillas, one on all fours and the other walking upright. His buddy on all fours remarked, “Stop that, you’ll hurt yourself.” So it goes with our efforts to do something different – something that might be creative or innovative.

“Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember – the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.”
– Zig Ziglar

 

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”
– Dale Carnegie

The past dozen years of coaching executives, business owners and city government leaders has proven to me that high-achievers crave being challenged to grow and improve. Sadly, many of them just haven’t found somebody capable of doing that while simultaneously making them feel safe. That’s where I come in. My clients know that I only want their very best. Nothing more. I have no hidden agenda. No secret goals. They’re in control of their own lives – to the degree any of us are. They establish their objectives. I just work to help them figure it out more quickly, then to help them navigate life so they can make it happen! Much of the work is helping them see beyond the merely practical to see – and believe in – the things they couldn’t see earlier.

At some point, I began to use the graphic below with clients. “Look at this and tell me what you see.” Most say they see a young woman. “Do you see anything else?” Most say no. I tell them to keep looking. Then, rather than let them languish, I’ll give them a hint. For instance, I may say, “Look at the young woman’s jawline. That’s the nose of an old woman. Do you see her?” Some see it instantly. Many don’t. They stare at it for a few more seconds before they see it.

Now that they see both the young woman and the old woman, they can’t unsee it. What was impossible to see before is now easy. Hence my favorite quote…

Everything is hard…until it’s easy.

Seeing the young woman, in this instance, is practical. Seeing the old woman is less practical. You may need to be less practical when it comes to your own pursuits and accomplishments. Note that I’m not talking about being impractical in life affairs – like finances, or marriage. We’re not talking about leaning into selfish foolishness. We’re leaning toward wisdom when it comes to challenging ourselves to achieve never-before-realized accomplishments.

A Plan That So Boxes You In There’s No Escape

Some describe this as a “burn the boats” strategy, which is taken from a mythical story (we don’t know if it’s true or not; I’m highly suspicious).

In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he reportedly gave an order to his men to burn the ships in which they arrived in.

The point was to avoid giving the men an opportunity to go back. He wanted to move forward. To make the conquest. It’s certainly not very practical. I’d argue if he did do it, it was stupid and foolish. Like the decision that goes well and makes one a hero versus the decision that goes poorly and makes one an idiot. I don’t much like those odds or potential payoffs. The gap between winning and losing seems too wide to me. But what do I know. I’ve never adventure to far away strange lands. And don’t plan on it. So there’s that! Plans.

I follow a guitar player on YouTube who ends each video with the saying, “No plan B.” It’s another common phrase that means the same thing as “burn the boats” but it just sounds less foolish to me. Besides, I happen to know success is often found not in plan B, but in plan M. Or R. Or V. Or Z.

In 2009 a book was written illustrating the truth of such, Getting To Plan B: Breaking Through To A Better Business Model by John Mullins and Randy Komisar. Many businesses have found big success not with plan A, but with some plans more fully developed after plan A didn’t work out.

At some point in venture capital-driven entrepreneurship, the term pivot entered. Tons of extremely successful companies pivoted into something they never intended to be. They chased success with plan A only to find it never happened. Forced to consider ways to change, alter, grow, innovate, be more creative – they figured out something else that worked like a champ.

So how can you know when to give up on plan A? I know of no hard and fast rules. It’s personal. It’s individual. We each have to find our way forward. Nobody could learn to talk for you. Or walk for you. You had to do it for yourself. So it is with this.

But the guitar maker, Randall Wyn Fullmer is onto something with his quote.

A Plan That So Boxes You In There’s No Escape – it’s an important idea because it means if we’re going to make progress we have to have a starting point. One that we’re willing to stick with for some period of time in order to give success a chance. It means we make a plan knowing it’s going to take some time. That’s where it gets very personal.

A guy works in construction. He’s newly married. He plays music and writes songs when he’s not swinging a hammer. He loves it. His wife, friends and family think he’s pretty good. But he’s not sure they count. He’s right, but not entirely. The encouragement is valuable. He dreams of moving to Nashville to see if music might be something he could be paid to do. With his wife’s encouragement, they develop a plan to move to Nashville. The plan is a pretty nice box. They agree to take the money they’ve saved, go to Nashville where he has a construction job lined up that will afford them to support themselves. His wife has a job lined up, too. A job that pays enough to allow him to take a job working fewer hours so he can concentrate more on music. “Five years,” they agree. “We’ll give ourselves 5 years to see if we can make music for a living.” Off they go with their plans. Time will tell if he can make it within 5 years. Will he achieve any traction during the 5 years? What if he’s feeling close as he enters year 5…will he give it an extra year? That’s for him to figure out, along with his wife.

The reality for him – and for Randall – is that there’s always an escape. The sentiment is to not give yourself an easy out. Randall and others who are pursuing a dream know you can’t quit every time you have to do something uncomfortable. Or something you’d rather not do. Everybody has to endure doing things we’d rather not do. We need to be boxed in enough to push through such things. For Randall, in his guitar making efforts, it’s sanding. He hates sanding. But guess what guitar making – high-quality guitar making requires lots of? Yep, sanding. So if Randall wants to be a successful guitar maker, then he’s got to push through days of sanding.

The Olympic games are getting closer. They were postponed last year due to the Pandemic. Every single athlete competing in the games, regardless of the country they represent, endure things they hate in order to get to the things they love. Maybe it’s different for some, but I dare say they all enjoy the competition more than the training. And there’s some training they hate versus some training they enjoy. They do what they do because overall they love it. It doesn’t require them to love every single minute detail of the pursuit. That’s unreasonable. It’s just not how things work.

People who travel a lot – albeit the Pandemic curbed it last year – will tell you they’re not paid for what they do so much as they’re paid for the inconvenience of traveling. Speakers who appear on a stage for an hour and get five figures aren’t paid because their insights in that hour are so remarkably invaluable. They’re paid because they have to give up an entire day to travel to and from. It’s a hassle requiring hours just to get on that stage for one (hour).

But I know some who love the travel. And the stage time. That’s a real win when there’s nothing you hate, even if there are things you may love more. Most everybody I know have certain things they must do – in order to do what they love – and they hate doing those things. But they love what they love so much it makes what they loathe less offensive. Randall hates sanding, but he loves plugging in a finished guitar to test it by playing it. The sanding doesn’t matter in that moment. And when he’s sanding he’s reminded of how great it feels to plug the instrument into an amp for testing.

“Don’t make a mistake from which you can’t – or may not be able to recover.”

Not all mistakes result in equal consequences. Some choices and decisions have higher risks. That’s why the failure of plan A may not be so bad if it helps us form a successful plan B. Is it giving yourself an escape? Not really because we don’t embark on a high-speed chase of plan A thinking it won’t work out. Or thinking we’ll have to hit the eject button. But if a time comes demanding we make a different decision – some adjustment – then we have to be open and courageous enough to make a better decision.

What’s holding you back? Right now. Today. At this moment.

But first, let’s think about what we’re pursuing. Happiness is a common answer. In fact, it may be the number one answer. But what is happiness? Answers I’ve heard include “being able to do what I want when I want,” and “the freedom to control my schedule.” That sentiment seems to be at the heart of how we view happiness. Being the curious type I am, I wonder who on the planet has that? Think of the most powerful people on the planet. Like the richest. Or country rulers, including the President of the United States, arguably labeled the most powerful person on the planet. None of them have what people feel like they need to be happy! Rather, they each likely endure impositions few of us can relate to.

So is happiness really the ideal outcome?

Think back over your life. Think about your moments of sadness and sorrow. Think about the times you’ve suffered.

Keep thinking. Now think about the times of relief. The times the news was good. Even great.

If you were to plot the events and emotions of your life would the graph look like a roller coaster or would it look like a straight line with an upward trajectory? Delusion causes us to think there are real humans who don’t suffer. Or experience the sorrows we’ve endured. But they have. All of them.

Delusion also causes us to think happiness is the pinnacle of achievement, but nobody knows how to capture it to make it a long-term sustainable experience. For a simple reason. It’s not possible. We’re pursuing an impossibility – not an impractical goal.

Let me end by challenging us to consider other pursuits. Like peace. Contentment. Purpose. Valued.

It’s like sanding for Randall. In that moment, he’s not happy. But he’s contented and at peace. The purpose of sanding matters more to him than the act. It results in a value that’s hard to measure because guitarists appreciate the feel and quality of a properly sanded instrument. Randall himself appreciates the outcome of his own arduous chore. It’s not about happiness – being to do what you when you want. Rather, it’s about doing what is necessary because your pursuit is beyond yourself. Because in the end, it’s not about you. It’s about others.

Breakthrough. That’s what most of us need. Some of us want it.

We can get it. Likely by being humble, vulnerable and open. Less likely by trying to tighten our grip. Or by attempting to control everything in our lives.

Turn loose. Hit pause. Sprint. Catch your breath. Sprint some more. Jog a bit to let your heart rate catch up. And to let your lungs relax. Then take off zigging and zagging as if you’re dodging bullets. Pick a spot ahead and now run straight toward it. Stop and heave if you must. But don’t quit.

Decide. Do. Rest. Recover. Go again. Think. Ponder. Adjust. Go some more. Recover again. Persist. Figure it out. ‘Cause that’s the point.

Epilogue

Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” All of us are going through things. Some of us are enduring things nobody truly knows or understands. Today I’m thinking of some folks who are enduring the suffering of death in their family. Others I know are going through family trauma due to betrayals and abandonment. Some are in the middle of a career or financial crisis struggling to find some path forward. Any path.

I think of the suffering and struggling that I know about, then I quickly ponder all the suffering going on among people I know personally – suffering I know nothing about. Not that I should know. Or that I need to know. Some things are confidential and private. And even if I did know, I’m not the right person for every service. I know my lane and consciously try to stay in it.

Like you, I know my own struggles. My wife knows most of them, too. But not all of them. Some are unknown by anybody else. Don’t we all operate that way?

Then proceed to understand you don’t know all the sorrows and suffering of others. Step carefully. Be gracious. Practice empathy. Display compassion. It may help you figure out your own stuff better. It sure can’t hurt.

“Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.”
― Emma Goldman

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