Wouldn’t It Be Great If…? (Season 2021, Episode 5)

I stare out the window. The trees have dropped all their leaves. Fall fell. Now it’s winter. But I’m in north-central Texas so that isn’t quite what it is to you guys who live in Canada or Minnesota or Maine. I’m craving a change of scenery. Not just the kind nature provides, but the kind that puts your head into a clearer space. 

So away we go to a spot we often frequent. About half-a-day away by car. Not bad.

Piney woods. They affect me in the most positive way.

Here I am sitting on the covered back porch with an overhead radiant heater. It’s chilly, but I’m comfortable. I’m staring at a golf course, the 6th hole. I’ve got a clear shot of the tee boxes and the green. Almost a straight-on view, which allows me to track the balls the golfers hit from the tee.

I’ve been here before. Back in the summer when I didn’t need a heater. Or flannel shirts.

It was then, during the summer, when I told my wife, “I could spend quite a lot of time here.” She immediately responded, “Yeah, I could, too.”

Then we engaged those dreaming wheels in our heads. They’re not really just dreaming wheels though. They’re more like pondering wheels looking for a path forward, working out a way to make it happen!

You daydream. Imagining what it might be like to be in your favorite place. Maybe a beach. Maybe mountains. Maybe lakeside. Your mind drifts to your life and where you’re at versus where you’d most like to be. Some success that isn’t reality. Yet. Some achievement that’s unrealized. Some lifestyles you don’t currently enjoy. You ask yourself the same question you’ve asked most of your life.

Wouldn’t it be great if…?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a lake house?

Wouldn’t it be great if our business were twice as big?

Wouldn’t it be great if we got a new car?

Wouldn’t it be great if we got married?

It’s a question we ask ourselves about anything and everything. Like a can of lighter fluid on our wildest dreams, we engage parts of our brain that feel like we’ve neglected for too long. We easily embrace it and go with the flow of imagining what life might be like if our hypothetical were real.

Wouldn’t it be great if…? 

You’ll never say, “No, it wouldn’t be great.”

Your mind will always think, “Yes. Yes, it would be great.”

Because during such times, in our head we work things out so everything works out beautifully. No snags. No problems. No downsides.

We do the same thing with the choices we didn’t make but wish we would have. We assume the choice we didn’t make would have worked out marvelously. We never think, “Good thing I didn’t take that other path ’cause that would have been a disaster!”

In our heads, the choice we didn’t make would have worked out fine. Or perfectly fine. Or terrifically.

We look back and think, “What if we’d made that other choice?” Again, in our heads, we iron out all the outcomes so they’re better than the ones we now enjoy.

The reality is we only know the outcomes of the choices we made. Had we made a different choice…we think we know how it would have worked out, but we don’t really know. We project a successful outcome in our minds. It feels real prompting us to regret the choice we made. Maybe. Or at the least, wondering if the other choices might have been better!

Fact is – maybe it would be great. Maybe it would be a disaster. Maybe it wouldn’t matter. We’ll only know if we pursue it.

So it makes sense that our brains would gravitate to the best-case-scenario. Why not think the best? Why not think, “Wouldn’t it be great if (fill in the blank)?” That’s better than thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awful if (fill in the blank)?”

I’m still sitting there looking out over a golf course with piney woods across the way. Chipmunks, squirrels and small birds are scurrying about in the morning cold foraging for food. I’m pondering life and they’re trying to sustain life. No thought about tomorrow. They’re not even bothered by later today. Talk about a lesson of being present…in the present!

Here’s what I’m not thinking or saying, “Wouldn’t it be awful if we had a place like this?”

People would think I’m the King of Pessimism if that were the case. I realize some people have such a dour outlook on life they may lean toward always thinking the worst, but I suspect even the most pessimistic people dream about the ideal outcome. I sure hope they do.

It’s a real gift and blessing that we’re able to see and feel what great success might be like. No guarantees we’ll achieve it, but those thoughts surely inspire us, don’t they?

For the past few years, I’ve regularly watched this video of a Scottish busker named Natasha Cook Jenkins. She began busking – playing music on the street – when she was 12. She’s now 20, but when she was 17 a record producer noticed her. Her persistence got her into the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, where she lives today. I watch this video more regularly than many busking videos because the camera shows us what she sees while performing. Not many people. Other busking videos most frequently show folks just going about their daily lives oblivious to the craft happening as they pass by. Having never done it myself, I can only imagine the emotional roller coaster of doing what you love only to be ignored. Or worse. I think one reason I so love busking – and have since I was a teen – is because of the courage and determination it requires. And the optimism of the performers. Optimism that they’ll make a few bucks. Optimism that people will notice. Optimism that they’ll get some positive attention that may lead to something more stable and better.

The most famous busker has to be Ed Sheeran. And doesn’t it show when you watch him perform? He confesses that he learned showmanship by busking, trying to get people’s attention and keep it.

From the streets and subways to Wembly Stadium, he’s proof that extraordinary talent and stone-cold determination can result in something insanely successful. Now, I just need extraordinary talent and stone-cold determination. 😀

Wouldn’t that be great? OF COURSE.

In a documentary, Ed Sheeran: In My Own Words, he puts a focus where you may not expect.

Indeed you have to work at it. Persistence. “You give yourself no choice but to get better.”

Let’s focus on what Ed said about getting better! I’m thinking about that because the other day I heard a girl say she most wanted to be “social media famous.” It sparked the “what if” question. “What if you were social media famous?”

Would that be you getting better? Maybe. Maybe not.

Hulu has an ABC News documentary on Only Fans, a social media website made famous by porn stars. It’s touted as the X rated version of Instagram. Some of us think quite a lot of Instagram is already pornographic. But no matter your point of view about such things, “better” is too subjective and relative for many people. Better for whom? That’s often asked.

Maybe you get up at 5 am every morning to go grind away at a very physically hard job for modest pay. In 2019 the median income for an American worker was just over $31,000. In 2020 the majority of American households earned less than $70,000. Mostly people putting in the time to earn their paychecks. Doing work worth being paid for, but not likely too glamorous. Mostly mundane. Average. In every way.

A woman desiring to be an “influencer” can focus on the fame and money and wonder, “What if I were a major Instagram influencer?”

Nobody knows her name. Or face. Or body. So enter Only Fans, a platform where she can become a “sex worker,” by taking off her clothes and having ordinary “fans” subscribe by paying a monthly amount. She’ll get to keep 80% of the money while the platform keeps the remaining 20%. So she begins to take nude photos of herself. And some videos, too. She’s gonna be a big star. Make lots of money.

Is she getting better?

No. She’s giving herself options other than making herself better.

She’s contributing to the worse of humanity. The selfish, vanity that can carry any of us into a pit from which we may never recover. Worse yet, she’s contributing to helping others fall into the same pit of despair and disgrace. And she’ll argue – like modern culture always does – that it’s her right and she’s not going to hear anybody who dares make a judgment about her chosen path. Indeed, she has the right – I dare say the OPPORTUNITY – to either contribute to the good of herself and the world or to contribute to the damage to herself and the world. She’s choosing the latter, not the former. The more she argues about the good she’s doing the more I’m made to realize and understand how low humans can go in self-delusion. Sad.

Sadder still is the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if porn didn’t exist?”

Wouldn’t it be great if humanity behaved with more pride, dignity, and moral goodness?

Wouldn’t it be great if we collectively – and individually – did our very best every single day?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could trust each other for help, support, and encouragement?

Wouldn’t it be great if hubris weren’t so prevalent in the world?

Wouldn’t it be great?

Wouldn’t it be great if we realized God is God and we’re not?

Wouldn’t it be great if broken people could be put back together?

Wouldn’t it be great if we found joy in the help we provided others today?

Wouldn’t it be great if the pursuit of usefulness was more important than the pursuit of money or fame?

As I was preparing today’s show my headphones were playing lots of tunes. Mostly, Tom Petty’s Wildflowers & All The Rest. We lost Tom back in October 2017. Years ago when I was in the record business I remember his 1979 big breakthrough with the album, Damn The Torpedos. He and the Heartbreakers became synonymous with guitar-based storytelling. And I think, “Wouldn’t it be great if Tom was still alive making music?”

I hit play on The Caution Horses by Cowboy Junkies.

Listening to Margo Timmins, the lead female singer, makes me feel…warm. And it’s cold outside. In fact, we may be setting records here in DFW. Just days ago we had a horrible 100 car pile-up that killed 6 due to black ice on the roads. The kind of ice you can’t see. Single-digit temps aren’t common ’round here.

And I think, “Wouldn’t it be great if that wreck hadn’t happened?” It wrecked more than cars and trucks. This weekend lots of families were wrecked by a thin sheet of ice on the highway.

Some “wouldn’t it be great if” questions have obvious answers. Others, not so much.

Wouldn’t it be great if that were true?

Oh, wait a minute. It is.

And that’s worth considering more deeply. Wouldn’t it be great if you were just one decision away from fixing something? Forget trying to fix everything. How ’bout we focus on fixing something – maybe THE most important something?

The day job is helping leaders at the most personal level. It’s not just professional. It’s personal, often delving into their private lives as they confide challenges and obstacles they’d like help figuring out. The work is therapeutic. Always. Because it’s safe, supportive, and encouraging. It’s common for the process to involve many discussions about decisions because the work is transformational. My clients are high performers. Slackards don’t invest in this kind of work. Neither do bosses invest in slackards. Funny how that works.

Well, in work that transforms, people want to fix what ails them. It starts with one thing. I don’t think any client has ever said to me, “I’d like to fix this, and that, then this other thing, and oh yeah, then these 5 other things.” High achievers are more focused than that. They’re capable of being preoccupied with a single thing at a time and usually the most important thing – at least, the most important thing to them.

What if a single decision – one decision – could make a GREAT difference?

You already know that it’s possible because it’s already happened to you. You’ve made a decision that had a great impact on your life. You’ve likely made a number of them. I know I have.

Just shortly after I turned 18 I asked a girl out on a date. I never dated another girl. Not quite 3 years later we married. But it didn’t last.

Our youth.

Our marriage has lasted over 43 years. We’re still very in love.

Who knew that a single decision to ask a girl on a date would completely change my life? Who knew that decision would be among the single greatest decisions I ever made?

What decisions have you made that changed one thing…or everything?

Wouldn’t it be great if we knew in advance? Maybe not. The weight of the decision might paralyze us.

Wouldn’t it be great if – in just 3 months – people outside our inner circle noticed improvements (changes) in our appearance, behavior, and performance?

It would be great if we could find the path forward. A path to becoming better. And I don’t mean better looking, or more fit, or more well-off financially – although all of those would be pretty terrific. I mean, we really became better people. I mean wouldn’t it be great if we behaved better? But of course, that’s only possible if we can somehow find a path forward to thinking better. I’m not talking about improving our smartness. Or elevating our IQ. I mean wouldn’t it be great if we thought it was worthwhile to behave with greater moral integrity, enough humility to recognize God, enough dedication to put in the work to improve our character.

I know, I know. Dream on, right?

Jordan Peterson (I’m a longtime fan) observes and admonishes, You need to think through how your life could be properly arranged IF you had abilities you may now lack?

Peterson is a smart, studied, insightful man. He declares that if we make that our goal and move toward it, then we’ll move closer to it. Things inevitably get better when we do that. And it’s not about happiness. It’s about meaning. It’s about transforming into a better person. And it’s difficult. Hard. But we mostly love it because we’re wired for it.

Why then do people chase happiness or security in sameness? Why are some people so resistant to change? Fear. We get scared. Even in our difficulties. It’s that “devil we know” versus the one we don’t. We probably too often presume the devil we know must be better than the one we don’t. I suspect we’re mostly wrong about that though. We may be guilty of making an invalid comparison between two devils without considering that we could choose an angel over a devil.

What I love about the “wouldn’t it be great if” question is the optimism.

Nobody says, “Wouldn’t it be great if things didn’t work out?” The fact that we’re considering something that would be great means we’re thinking of an ideal outcome. And you know how fond I am of the ideal outcome!

Nobody answers, “No, that wouldn’t be great.” At least not to ourselves if we’re asking the question. Others might. They may not share our view or our ideal outcome. Stands to reason. It’s OUR ideal outcome, not theirs.

What are you thinking right now? What are your “wouldn’t it be great if” questions?

This past week was quite typical for me in that I had a number of conversations with people who were facing difficulties and challenges. It wasn’t unusual in that regard, nor was it unusual for them to share those with me. After all, it’s what I do. More accurately, it’s who I am. But in preparing for this episode I reflected on the nature of the challenges.

Health.

Family.

Relationships.

Teams.

Superiors.

Subordinates.

Schedules.

Productivity.

Problems from A to Z. Problems in their own lives. Problems in making choices about what they should do. Problems in helping others figure out choices.

Sometimes in my professional coaching practice, I’ll ask a client to craft a “wouldn’t it be great if” question – a question aimed squarely at their challenge. There’s power in the singularity of the question, but what comes next is where the real power is found. Answer the “how” of the question. I assume the direct answer to the question is, “Yes, it would be great” or else we wouldn’t be asking the question.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we won $1 million dollars?”

Sure. But we’re powerless to influence how. So it’s just a dream-like, fantasy-filled question. Meaningless. Well, not exactly. It’s quite meaningful actually because it fosters covetousness, which always damages us when the aim of it is self-indulgence. Let’s covet wisdom, compassion, integrity, and other qualities that can make us better.

So we answer, “Yes, it would be great” if our ideal outcome were achieved. But how?

There’s the rub.

General George Patton lived by one motto:

Always take the offensive. Never dig in.

In war and life, he always pursued forward progress. Standing still was unacceptable. The pursuit of the ideal outcome meant a degree of constant dissatisfaction. Complacency was his enemy. It should be ours, too.

What if we were to take the offensive in achieving our “wouldn’t it be great if” dreams? What if we figured out how? Then committed ourselves to it?

Experience has taught me the power of sticking with it long enough in order to figure it out more clearly. Almost never is success fast. Certainly hardly ever instant. Frequently our first “how” strategies prove incorrect. Maybe only slightly. Maybe a lot. So we adjust. We keep aiming at our ideal outcome, but our first few steps don’t end up taking us exactly where we planned. So we move a bit. And see what happens. If we see, feel, or sense progress – advancement, forward movement – then we’re encouraged to continue to push on. Maybe to push even harder now that we know things are improving.

Setting the noble goal and pushing toward it makes things – makes us – better!

Boring is digging in. Not advancing. Taking no chances. Pursuing nothing difficult.

“Wouldn’t it be great if…?”

The moment. The power of the moment.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

That quote by William Hutchison Murray was a longtime favorite of mine for years. No more. Mostly because I learned people were viewing those words through a very different lens than mine. As a Christian, I never viewed the quote as meaning we – mere mortals – have the power to bend the universe to our will. Belief in God forbids any person from seeing these words as human power to attract whatever we want. The law of attraction and the “secret” are rubbish. Delusions of mankind thinking he’s his own god, able to do as he pleases. As though the path forward is through our self-centered hubris.

No wonder Dr. Peterson speaks so frequently against our malevolence.

ill will, hatred, spite; pleasure in the suffering or injury of others

The principles spoken of in the quote are powerful. More so when the context is our human capacity to influence our own lives, which is completely congruent with God’s divine Word.

Commitment.

Hesitancy. 

Drawing back.

Ineffectiveness.

Initiative.

Creation.

Ignorance.

Ideas.

Plans. 

Providence.

Decision.

Favor.

Unforeseen incidents.

Meetings.

Material assistance.

Dreams.

Begin.

Boldness.

Genius.

Power.

Magic.

Now. 

Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe it’s our first time. Maybe not. But it’s progress if we’re internalizing the quest when we ask and answer the questions of “wouldn’t it be great if” followed by the pronoun I, followed still by an action verb or some outcome nobler than a selfish desire.

Wouldn’t it be great if I were a millionaire?

Or…

Wouldn’t it be great if I were so valuable my work was deemed worth a million dollars by others?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a vacation home here?

Or…

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to have a place here so others could enjoy this as much as we do? Maybe more?

Once in a while, I have a conversation with people about podcasting because I do so much of it. People clamor for an audience. Greater numbers. More subscribers. More listeners. More shares on social media. More acknowledgments on a job well done. They’re mostly disappointed when I tell them I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years and I have very little idea about such things. And I currently produce 3 podcasts regularly – two of which are business-oriented with the desired outcome being greater exposure to business services. More plainly, the quest is to get more clients. To differentiate ourselves from the pack who isn’t out there giving away information, ideas, insights, and sharing experiences.

But I certainly want to expand the reach of this and my other podcasts. Because I’m so important? Because what I have to say, or what I think carries more weight than anybody else? No. A thousand times, no!

Because I’m confident that a word fitly spoken at the right time might just resonate with somebody – maybe YOU.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could help you in a moment where you needed it most?

I live my life like the little boy combing the beach to save the washed ashore starfish,  trying to make a difference to just one. For me, that’s enough. And if that starfish happens to you, then it makes all the difference in the world.

Frank Watkinson: A Beginner With Confidence (Season 2021, Episode 4)

I’m battling my chronic insomnia. Again.

3 am brings out my best. Sometimes.

Headphones are on and I’m watching buskers on YouTube. YouTube has some suggestions for me. One is a video of a man holding an acoustic guitar. The title indicates he’s covering a Radiohead song, No Surprises. Well, I have to click on that. Not because I love Radiohead ’cause I don’t even like them. But this man does not look like he’d like them either. I can’t imagine what this cover might be like so I have to find out.

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Who is this old guy? He’s been in my life all of the 3 minutes it took him to play this song and I’m smitten. I like this guy. Instantly. A lot.

This video has over 300,000 views. How have I never seen this man play before? Must be an outlier, but I’m thankful YouTube made the suggestion. I click on his name, below which I see 176K subscribers, which takes me to his YouTube channel’s main page. A hundred seventy-six thousand subscribers? WHOA!

I look at the many videos he’s produced and click on another one, a John Prine cover, “I Remember Everything.” I do love John Prine. I’m still sad that John is gone. I click on that video and I’m fully smitten by this guy now. I click play who knows how many times before I finally stumble into bed.

About 90 minutes later I’m up for the day. I go to Frank’s YouTube channel, to the about section. No details. No website. Just a place to click for an email address for business requests. I click it and shoot him an email.

Frank,

I have no idea what to even say. Except that stumbling onto your channel made me – yes, MADE ME – devote hours watching video after video.

I’m a business guy who began to podcast before it was even called PODCASTING. My passion project is a podcast called Leaning Toward Wisdom (https://LeaningTowardWisdom.com – tagline is “modern tales of an ancient pursuit”).

Would you be open to having a recorded conversation with me for that show? A Zoom video call. Not an interview, but a conversation with a guy from Dallas, Texas who loves what you’re doing. True confession: I’ve had a passion and love for the guitar for as long as I can remember, but I never learned to play. I learned that what I love most is watching/listening to others play. You’re now added to the list. Thank you.

Think about it and let me know. I promise it’ll be fun. More fun than that stunt of your daughter slapping you about the vegan remark. 😀

Randy

Frank replied the same day.

Randy ,

Thank you for getting in touch, i don’t mind having a conversation with you i’m not sure if you know i am in the UK, so we would have to get the times right, i would probably have to take a laptop upstairs or something depending on whether anyone else is at home, my wife and grandson can get pretty noisy at times lol, you mentioned that vegan joke, funny how humour doesn’t always translate as quite a few people didn’t like the idea of a daughter doing that to her dad, but then you can’t please everyone, oh and i have family in Texas (San Antonio), never met them but still family lol, if i’m right i think you are 6 hours behind us, you mentioned you like guitars but never learned to play ……i didn’t either lol!

Frank.

Having watched the 2 videos with his daughter I was not surprised at the snarkiness of his reply. And the bromance continued. 😀

Listen, when you get to be the age of me and Frank you rather enjoy seeing and connecting with people who have some notion of how you grew up in the days before the Internet.

Here’s the original of a cover done by Frank. This will give you an idea of just how much Frank makes these covers his own.

Here’s Frank’s version of that same song.

The video that blew up his YouTube channel was this cover by a heavy metal band, Slipknot.

Frank has a 7 song EP available, My Life Unplugged. Here’s the Amazon link. Here’s the Spotify link. Here’s the iTunes store link.

Frank also has – because people wanted to support him – a PayPal link over on his about page at YouTube.

The edited video of our conversation is below. I hope you enjoy the conversation. I sure did.

The Loudest Horn Blowers Never Are The Best Players (Season 2021, Episode 3)

I contacted about half a dozen business owners expressing interest in hiring them for a future project. Yes, they were all in the same space. I was hoping to figure out the best one to do what I wanted to be done. I sent cold emails explaining what I was hoping to accomplish. I contacted 7 companies. Literally, I contacted 7 business owners.

Right away I heard back from one who offered to schedule a phone call within the next 2 weeks. A few back and forth emails resulted in him wanting a 9 am appointment. I offered to send a calendar invitation, which would include a note that he was to call me on my cell phone, which I listed in the invitation. He accepted the invitation. Now we’d wait.

The morning arrived. My wife joined me here inside the Yellow Studio as we awaited the business owner’s phone call. I was going to run the call through my podcasting gear so my wife and I both had mics in front of us and each of us donned a pair of headphones. Nine o’clock arrived. Then 9:05 am. Then 9:10 am. Then 9:15 am. I told my wife, “He’s not going to call.” At 9:22 am I called him. No answer. Voice mail. I left him a voicemail saying, “I apologize if I got our time slot wrong, but you offered and accepted the calendar invitation for 9 am. Perhaps I misunderstand. I guess we can reschedule. Thank you.”

At 9:33 am he called. I was in another meeting so my phone went straight to voicemail. He left a message that he was calling, acting as though he was showing up on time. When I got out of my meeting I returned his call. Rang and rang, then went to voicemail. I left another message, similar to the first one.

And I never heard from him again.

Let’s get one thing out here upfront. Business requires marketing – getting the word out. Elevating visibility as much as possible. Being top of mind and all that. Nobody will have a successful business without customers. And to attract customers, you need not only a good or viable product or service, but you need to make sure folks know about your good or viable product or service. That’s just the start. You also have to have your act together. Whenever I’m dealing with business owners or leaders over at the day job (GrowGreat.com) I’m focused on the trifecta of business building: a) getting new customers, b) serving existing customers better and c) not going crazy in the process!

So I’d love to tell you about the differences between a business and YOU, but then I realized that may be the foundation of the issue I’m talking about today. Maybe there is NO difference. Maybe we are all in business. Perhaps we’re not selling products or services (or art, podcasts, or music) for money, but we’re certainly vying for attention. And attention may be more difficult to get than money. As a business guy, I know this much – until you get their attention you won’t get their money. So maybe there’s no difference between your personal life and a business. For some reason, that notion depresses me though. And I’m a business kinda guy.

Why Don’t The Best Blow Their Own Horn The Loudest? That was my original title, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. So I changed it to what eventually was the published title – The Loudest Horn Blowers Never Are The Best Players.

The real point today is probably best summed up in the statement, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

Let’s take it a step further. If it’s worth doing well, then it’s worth doing it as well as you possibly can. It’s worth being great, remarkable, dazzling — and if you’ve got the talent, it’s worth being world-class.

So why don’t those considered “world-class” toot their own horn the loudest? Well, there are exceptions. Muhammad Ali was an exception. Michael Jordan maybe. Tiger Woods in his prime. Maybe. What about a non-sports example? Can you think of one? Yes, me neither. I suppose there are some though. Outliers. There are always outliers.

Then I got to thinking – I’m able to do that every now and again, on good days – “Maybe their being so world-class doesn’t require them to shout at the top of their lungs how terrific they are. Maybe their performance or accomplish speak loudly enough so they don’t have to.”

That thought quickly gave way to wondering if the folks who are doing it really well are so focused on improving and getting better, they don’t have time or take the time to brag about it so others will know.

Which sent me down the path of wondering how people can reach that level of performance where you’re so good you stand out. I know Steve Martin said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” But there are plenty of people who are good – very good – who go unnoticed all the time.

Many years ago I attended a five-day training. Part of that training was on selling. The primary point of the training was what’s called “call reluctance.” Call reluctance is the reluctance people have to sell. Mostly, as an art or science, it’s about the reluctance to cold call. That is, to reach out to somebody you don’t know and attempt to get an appointment or to make a pitch. But this training was deeper than just that. It was focused on how we’ve all got head trash that can get in our way of being as good as we might otherwise be. And there was considerable (as I remember it) time spent talking about how the real key to success is VISIBILITY.

During the training, a number of cultural examples were offered. These examples were relevant at the time. Names like Lee Iacocca, who was the head of Chrysler at the time. His face was all over the TV. Chrysler’s advertising was dominant at the time. The question was asked, “Do you think Lee Iacocca is the world’s best CEO?” I don’t think anybody raised their hand.  Not likely, but he’s absolutely winning the visibility war. Nobody is more visible. There were other examples offered, enough to convince me they were probably right. Visibility is a big determining factor of success.

Keep in mind, this training was years ago and it happened pre-Internet. When the Internet arrived folks thought visibility would be easier. After all, Seth Godin taught us that we were no longer living in a permission society. We could now write what we wanted and publish online ourselves. On our own website. We could start a podcast. Gone were the days of thinking we had to earn the right – and get permission – to be on the radio. It was a new day.

The problem that we didn’t see early on was that if nobody needed permission…if nobody had to earn the right…then it was like the Sooner land rush. Anybody could join and give it a go. Which meant the sheer volume of people clamoring for visibility would skyrocket.

Sure enough, it did.

In 1992 I had no clue about building websites. It would take me a few years of learning enough HTML to mangle together some hideous website by 1994. I had no clue about this Internet thing. I saw no money-making opportunity. I was running a retail company. A brick and mortar operation. With legal agreements that prohibited us from even selling mail order. We were restricted by various “franchise” agreements from selling outside our local market area. Never mind that our local market area was Dallas/Ft. Worth. Still, to think of leveraging something like the world wide web was beyond my ability to compute.  And I certainly didn’t see how it would improve visibility. There didn’t seem to be too much going on frankly, other than email. Remember? That’s when you were as thrilled to get an email as you were as a kid to get a piece of mail in the mailbox. 😀

By the time the Internet was wide-spread, literally becoming the WORLDWIDE web, I still couldn’t see it because it seemed to me the people getting noticed were geeks. Brainiacs. I sure didn’t fit into that group.

More and more people were going “online” every day until the Internet was commonplace in everybody’s home. Which meant more and more people were “surfing” the net (a phrase that began around 1992). But…

Not everybody had an online presence though. Being online then was mostly viewing. Chat rooms and forums didn’t much count. Neither did chat. Individual people didn’t have their own websites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram weren’t yet invented. Social media wasn’t even a phrase until Ted Leonsis, an AOL executive mentioned it as a need. He said people needed someplace, “social media,” where they could gather and be entertained.

Before long Blogger and other technologies made it easier for individuals to be online on their platform. Journaling became blogging. Audio journaling became podcasting. Smartphones changed the game thanks to built-in cameras and video. Now, every ninnie on the planet has a digital footprint. Some of us are BigFoot. Others are more petite. A few odd ducks are digital hermits who can’t be found. And the noise is deafening.

Blow your horn as loud as you’d like. Somewhere there’s a far more famous hornblower who is louder. That whole “be seen everywhere” works when you have the drawing power to actually BE seen everywhere. Most of us lack that power. No matter how hard we blow our horn.

And then we have to introduce the notion that it doesn’t work. “People hate it when others blow their own horn,” we’re told. Tell that to the Kardashians. Or just about every other cultural icon. Or just about every best selling author. Or every highly paid keynote speaker. Or every billionaire. Or every popular pro athlete.

We hate it when it works so we enjoy fooling ourselves into thinking, “That doesn’t work.” 😀

Some of us hate the fact that it works! I know I hate it. But I also admit that’s partly because I’m awful at it. It feels yucky to me. And I don’t think that highly of myself anyway, so there’s that! I’ve always figured that I needed to spend all my time focused on doing a good job or producing something of value. I lack the talent or brainpower to do something really great and have time left over to shout about it. This brings up a good point…

Time. Specifically, how we spend it.

Business-minded folks often lean on many cliches.

“Always be selling.”

“Always be closing.”

“Always be marketing.”

“Always be prospecting.”

I don’t have that many “always” hours, do you? I mean, if I’m ALWAYS doing one of those, then I’m necessarily not doing anything else. But like I said, my talent and brainpower are limited.

I understand that visibility is a big deal. Not only for making money but for getting noticed. Duh. Visibility is all about being noticed. Whether you’re the owner of a company, a C-suite occupant, or a cubicle dweller – you want others to favorably notice you. We’ll come back to that adverb, “favorably.”

I also understand how everybody enjoys a good story. And our story – the story of our life, or this particular chapter of our life, or this page of our life – is not just the one we’re writing (or living), but it’s also the one we’re sharing when we tell others.

So it seems to me it’s about living (or doing, performing, achieving) and sharing (telling our story). This reminds me of the song written by John Sebastian, “Stories We Could Tell.”

Unless we do something we’ve got no stories. By doing more – and better – we have more (and better) stories, right? It makes sense to me that’d be true.

Donald Miller wrote a book entitled, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: How I Learned To Live A Better Story.

Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into meaningful narrative.

Miller goes from sleeping all day to riding his bike across America, from living in romantic daydreams to fearful encounters with love, from wasting his money to founding a nonprofit with a passionate cause. Guided by a host of outlandish but very real characters, Miller shows us how to get a second chance at life the first time around. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a rare celebration of the beauty of life.

Many people, including me, found the book quite enlightening and provocative, in all the best ways. I can highly recommend it. Miller speaks to the doing. And he’s a storyteller. But the book – and today’s show – is first about our performance. What we do. And how well we do it.

By the way, Donald Miller figured out he could follow Michael Hyatt and make a lot more money by teaching business practices than he could by writing. So off to Nashville he goes and forms Business Made Simple, an online learning platform that he’s been promoting for a few years now. From creative “faith-based” kind of writing to marketing and sales. Miller found the path to financial enlightenment.

I’m not judging. Truth is, I’m rather impressed. It was a major pivot that would have evaded most people. But after attracting the attention of lots of readers, Miller was convinced there was something more to do with that attention. Namely, sell them something. I love capitalism at work…especially when it works well.

Doesn’t a big part of you wish you had it in you? Yeah, me, too!

I learned a long time ago about myself that I have little trouble promoting or marketing somebody else or something else. But ME? Well, that just doesn’t feel very right, you know?

I lean toward the belief that I’d prefer to do it (whatever “it” is) and do it really well (at least as well as I’m able) and not fret too much about who knows about it. I’m not telling you that that’s a recipe for success because I know it’s not. We need others to know about it if we want to have a bigger impact. If we want to have a positive influence!

Let me backtrack and revisit that whole notion of being “favorably” noticed. Lots of people make daily headlines because of poor choices and poor behavior! We don’t want that kind of notoriety. We want people to admire us and the product of our efforts.

Whether we create art, podcasts, writing, goods, or services – we need others to notice. Some of us need others to notice because we earn our living by selling something. Some of us need others to notice because we want to educate or train people. Some of us need others to notice because we want to be popular. Some of us need others to notice because we enjoy showing off. We need others to notice us because we all need a degree of affirmation that what we’re doing is worthwhile. Yes, we all crave encouragement and acknowledgment. Everybody needs to know they matter! The attention of others is a major barometer for all of us.

I prefer to think the work will speak for itself, but I know that’s not true. I’ve spent too many hours watching unknown musicians play great music on YouTube or Facebook. They’re putting their music out there or I’d have no way to find it or hear them. But many of them aren’t making money playing music. They’ve got day or night jobs to pay the bills and they play music because they love it. A common refrain among even successful musicians is, “I’m thankful I can do this for a living.” Countless others wish they could.

Just because I notice some unknown musician doesn’t mean millions of others will. I regularly watch a YouTube video by a really good musician with incredible skills and the video has only a few thousand views. Ridiculously small by any standard of popularity. Then I grow disgusted when I can go watch some inane video of nonsense that has hundreds of thousands or millions of views. Depressing, isn’t it?

I’ll get really personal and tell you that as limited as I know my natural aptitude may be I often listen to podcasts or watch presentations or speeches that get rave reviews and think, “I’ve got many episodes that have more value than that!” Do you ever feel that way? If you’re a podcaster I guarantee you’ve felt it before.

The business guy in me knows, from years of experience, that we must get the word out. My Christian background knows the truth of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We strive to live righteous lives and be a good example and influence on others, but still we share the story of Jesus. And the gospel itself tells us the fact of our influence.

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Gospel means “good news.” What do you do with good news? You share it, of course. Well, even the introverts among us (like myself) have to learn to share and to do it more effectively.

I know modern culture demonstrates that the loudest horn blowers appear to be the best. But mostly, I believe modern culture shows us the majority of people care most about the loudest horn blower more than they care whether he or she is the best. Most popular seems to matter more than best.

While that can sometimes depress me, I’m growing to accept it. Mostly because there’s little I can do about it. Except as I’m writing and telling my own story. I can more highly prize those who first focus on doing great work, not those who focus on just playing the loudest. It’s not about being a contrarian. It’s more about respecting and appreciating people and their work, especially when it’s well done (and I don’t mean like a steak).

“You owe it to the world to share your brilliance.”

Or something to that effect. We hear it all the time. A sentiment designed to help folks blow their horn more loudly. Why? Because you’re so special the world must know about it.

Randy’s Horn

And now Houston, I think I’ve found my problem! I don’t think I’m so special. No, better said – I know I’m not so special. Which is why my horn has one of those mufflers in the end of it. 😀

“Well, you need more confidence,” somebody may say. Perhaps. But what I think I may need – in order to be a bigger horn player – is more arrogance.

I need to think I’m special. So special that I shouldn’t hesitate to blow my horn. And loudly.

So the conclusion is that folks who don’t blow their horn loudly must lack pride or performance. After all, if they produced superior work, then it’d be worth shouting about. Or if they had confidence in their work, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell others. At every opportunity.

Maybe that’s true. I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Maybe if I had more confidence I could be certain.

Or maybe I have little or no talent.

Or maybe my performance, accomplishments, and achievements are ordinary. Average. Or even sub-par.

I mean, the odds are very high that I’m average. Stop laughing. You’re facing the same odds.

I don’t care if you’ve taken your horn out of the case and you’ve been polishing it for days. That doesn’t mean you can play it. And it sure doesn’t mean it’ll play louder. Because you know the main ingredient for playing a louder horn? Air!

Air. From your lungs.

The term blowhard describes people who boast about themselves too much, and who often don’t have the great qualities they claim to have.

That’s from Writing Explained.

How much confidence do you have to have to exhale more air?

Clearly more confidence than me! 😉

I realize I didn’t answer the question, “Why Don’t The Best Blow Their Own Horn The Loudest?”

Fact is, I don’t think we even established whether it’s true or not. I may be more confused than I was before. But I’m still pretty clear about myself.

I’m not a great hornblower. Maybe it’s because I don’t think enough about it. And maybe I don’t think enough about it because knowing that it works doesn’t change the fact that I don’t believe in it for myself. I don’t think I’m deluded about it, but I might be. I just honestly think I’m no more special – defined any way you’d like to – than anybody else. It seems to me that our special-ness is mostly determined by the few people who benefit the most from having us in their life. And the people who benefit us most, they’re the special people to us.

I follow lots of people in social media who are accomplished. Even brilliant. But they’re not terribly special to my life – not in the grand scheme of things. I mean, none of them have changed my life. They’re not there to walk with me through thick and thin.

That whole inner circle thing seems to have quite a lot to do with it. And my inner circle is as small as it’s ever been. Largely because some key figures have died. So it goes as we grow older.

There are nine people who comprise my most immediate family. That number grows to eleven when I include my parents. Beyond that, there’s honestly not that many more. So maybe part of the answer – at least for me – is that my crowd (my audience) is so small…I don’t have to play loudly. The quality of my impact on them isn’t determined by how loudly I blow, but by how present I am. And I realize that of all the crowds to which I’m a part – the one that matters most is very, very small. So I’m not listening for loud. I’m focused on benefit, value and impact.

Scope and scale. That’s the focus of modern culture. Bigger is better. But bigger is also less intimate and that doesn’t work for me. But that’s my problem.

I wish I had a bottom line to all this. Or some really clever ending. But I rather think this is a never-ending story. I suspect we’d all go farther if we gave ourselves more wholly to doing the very best work of our lives, then like little boys who run to tell mom, “Hey, look at me” – we’d rush out to the world proud to show it off without any embarrassment or shame. And when they watched us doing some magical feat of our best we’d shout, “Hey watch me do it again!”

OK, We’re Good, Right? – Season 2021, Episode 2

“Are we good?” I ask.

There hadn’t been any tension. No drama. No strife. But there had been a bit of quiet. And how could you know if it was caused by the pandemic or something else? Well, you couldn’t. Unless you ask. So I did.

“Yes, of course,” was the reply. A 15-minute phone conversation followed, catching up on a few things. Each of us reinforced to the other that we’d just not been in touch like either of us desired because the pandemic had completely thrown us off our rhythm. One last time, before we hung up, I said, “OK, we’re good, right?” Confirmation came immediately. “Of course, we’re better than good.”

I hung up the phone and wrote the phrase, “OK, we’re good, right?” Truth is I had already been thinking quite a lot about how people – all of us – are prone to surmising.

supposing that something is true without having evidence to confirm it

When I was pretty young I became keenly aware of people’s obsessions with other people. Maybe something prompted it, but I don’t remember anything specific. Just a bunch of things – various situations where I’d observe people who’d make assertions about people without having any facts or evidence. It was likely the language that got my attention because I’ve always had this weird fascination with words. Especially the words people use. “I’ll bet he…(fill in the blank on what they were thinking).” Lots of people would say that about somebody.

During my early teen years, I was particularly irked with what we now call “fronting.” People pretending. I naturally found pretentious people unpleasant. Mostly, I was intrigued by why people would so desperately care what other people thought about them that they’d be fake.

Couple these two colliding youthful observations about people and I grew increasingly perplexed by why people weren’t just forthright with each other – and why people wouldn’t behave more honestly with each other. Besides, I’d grown up hating strife and tension. Unlike what I saw in many adults – avoiding facing it or confronting it – I was naturally wired to find out the problem because it seemed to me you couldn’t fix something without first knowing what was wrong. Making peace seemed to demand to get to the crux of the matter so you could find some common ground so everybody could move on.

I’ve learned through the years that sometimes people may think I’m insecure about whatever relationship we’ve got. “Are we good?” likely smacks of “he’s feeling insecure about our relationship” to some. I don’t always word it that way, but in spite of knowing how it may sound to some, I’ve also learned that the same people who may feel I’m taking aim at my own insecurity about our relationship feel that way no matter how I make the inquiry. I know because I’ve asked. 😀

Then, there are those of us who ask a lot of questions because of our desire to know. Some of us are more naturally curious than others. It’s why for decades I’ve often told people, “I know what I know, but I don’t know what you know.” The only conversations that I hate – after the fact – are those where I feel like I’ve talked too much. It happens more frequently than I’d like and I’m constantly reminding myself to be quieter.

I’m genuinely interested. Well, let’s be completely honest. I’m genuinely interested when I’m talking to somebody I really want to talk with. There’s only a small percentage of people in whom I’m not that interested. Self-absorbed, full of themselves types. Know-it-all, smartest-person-in-the-room types. I find myself lacking even a small amount of curiosity about such types, but I’m fairly interested in most people. I’m the guy who will not likely give up on the conversation until after 2 or 3 uncomfortable questions – made only uncomfortable by the person’s not being forthright to answer. NOT, by my asking some uncomfortable questions. Before I got out of high school I had learned some people are just uncomfortable talking about themselves. So I’d press on in hopes they’d grow more comfortable. Most do. Some don’t.

One point of today’s show is that surmising we do. 

The stories we tell ourselves about others. Last time we talked a bit about self-delusion and our ability to lie to ourselves. But today it’s about our ability to tell ourselves lies about others. Well, to be fair, things that might be lies. We just don’t know. And mostly, we don’t take the time or trouble to find out.

Evidence-based leadership wasn’t known by that term when it first dawned on me that in business I needed to follow evidence coupled with my intuition. I’m intuitive. Very much so. Subtle cues don’t go unnoticed. I wasn’t yet 30. I was running a retail company and had a direct report who I had a good intuition about. Months into hiring him something happened. I caught him at work with some marijuana. It was the early 1980s. I wasn’t naive to marijuana, but this man was a number of years older than me and I remember being so disappointed not just in him, but in myself. For failing to know I had hired a guy with such a lack of character to be that irresponsible at work. And he was part of my leadership team, making it all the more dreadful. At that moment, I remember looking for books and advice from mentors on how I could incorporate evidence more in my own leadership. It was my first real “gotcha” moment where my intuition had let me down. So I felt.

The Internet wasn’t around yet so I remember looking for books, magazine articles, or anything else I could on how to improve how I was seeing things. And people.

People hadn’t been a real problem because of my habit of asking lots of questions and doing my best to figure people out. But, as I had now learned, people can fool you.

I had thought better of him. Not worse.

Things Aren’t Always What We Think

I used to say, “Things aren’t always as they appear” until I realized that appearances vary. Some things are exactly as they appear or seem. Some aren’t. But we all form opinions and judgments – the things we decide to think.

The evidence can range from non-existent to flimsy to rock-solid.

Maybe this year we can collectively do better at avoiding surmising things about each other. Maybe we can extend more grace, compassion and understanding to one another.

Let’s at least try.

Everything Is Hard, Until It’s Easy – Season 2021, Episode 1

Today’s show was prompted by an email from a new listener who asked if I had any episodes giving “my story.” Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell him this entire podcast is pretty much “my story,” but I know what he meant.

Hopefully, this is my not-so-boring effort to provide him, and YOU, a bit more context about me. But as always, this isn’t about me, but it’s about US. All of us, who have an interest in leaning more and more toward wisdom…while simultaneously leaning further and further away from our own foolishness.

Mentioned in today’s show, as a resource for those who care to learn more, is RandyCantrell.com.

I hope you enjoy this show. And I hope collectively and individually we devote ourselves to making 2021 a year where we live better lives.

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