Having All The Answers

Each weekday, I share a lesson I have learned in life (no easy feat). Today’s lesson is about having all the answers. Hint: I don’t, and neither do you. 

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If I had all the answers about Leadership, then my blog would shut everyone else’s down. If Dale Carnegie had all the answers about Sales, then “How to Win Friends and Influence People” would have been the last book written about winning people over. If Gandhi had all the answers about Peace, then that would have been the end to war.

It is easy, even tempting, to believe Ayn Rand had it perfect with Objectivism (but then why are there still books written about Philosophy?) or that Vince Lombardi knew all there is to know about Coaching (but then why are there still coaches doing it differently?).

Nobody has all the answers.

If you think you do, the overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong. If you think a celebrity does, overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong. If you think your favorite book does, overwhelming likelihood is that you are wrong.

That’s okay, though. No one has to have or be the definitive resource for anything. The goal is not to define the world. The goal is just to make it better.

Start by accepting your way, though it might seem logical, is still not the best or only way… but if other people support your point of view, then you at least you can feel good about being on the right track (probably).

 

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Instinct Vs Programming

I share a lesson I have learned in life every weekday. Today’s lesson is about following your gut or following your habits.

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Instinct is that thing that happens when you are startled by a spider. There is no thought involved. You jump back from a shockwave of nerves tingling.

Programming is what happens after that. If you were taught to punish things for scaring you, you grab a shoe and smash it. If you were taught that all life is valuable, you grab a box and escort it away.

Both instinct and programming are useful in life, such as when dealing with surprise eight-legged visitors. They are important also in completely unrelated contexts, such as when hiring people.

When you interview an applicant (or if you are the applicant interviewing a potential employer), you have an instinct about the person sitting across from you. Trustworthy. Shady. Honest. Hiding Something. Charming. Tired. Happy.

Sometimes Programming gets in the way of Instinct, though. You have a bad feeling about someone but your parents taught you to “never judge a book by its cover” so you give someone the benefit of the doubt when you maybe shouldn’t. Instinct counters Programming, too. You read someone’s dating profile and they seem like a perfect match but when you meet in person, you just have a gut feeling this is not someone you want to know…

The trick, of course, is to know when to listen to your Instinct and when to follow your Programming. It is tough, though, because neither one is perfect.

But that’s okay. I have a gut feeling none of us are.

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Some People Don’t Like You

I share a life-lesson I have learned each weekday. Today’s lesson is about being liked by others. Hint: not everybody likes you.

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A long-time employee of the company met me for the first time. I don’t know why but I had the instant impression that he didn’t like me. It was so strange because, of course, we had never spoken before. He might have heard of me from other employees but we had never communicated, not even through email.

Still, we exchanged brief pleasantries and each of us went on our way. He seemed quite gregarious around everyone else. I could have taken it personally but I learned long ago some people don’t like me.

Some people don’t like you, either. When a highly successful salesperson on my team would occasionally meet a sale they could not make, despite their flawless execution, I would tell them, “Don’t sweat it. You don’t know where that person came from. You might remind them of their ex. You might look like a terrorist to them. Their dog might have died yesterday. They might be racist, sexist, or judgmental. You might have said the one thing that they can’t stand to hear. Whatever it is, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.”

It is almost never about you. Some people won’t like you because if we were all the same, then we would not be human.

 

 

 

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Broken Glass

On weekdays, I share a lesson learned in life. Today’s lesson is about our reaction to inconvenience.

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Nicole has a super-power. She has the power of “No-Freak-Outs”. It might not sound as cool as “flight” or “invisibility” but let me tell you, it can be more powerful than either in the right moment.

Last night, just before bed, I was putting away dishes when one of our (over-priced, hard-to-replace) glasses slipped from my hand and shattered on the counter. “Shattered” is an understatement. This supposedly super-tough Italian fire-folded tempered something-something glass exploded like a Molotov cocktail.

Anger swelled in me immediately. I don’t know what Nicole was thinking or feeling in that moment, but I do know two things: what she did do and what she did not do.

Here is what she did not do: freak out. She didn’t shout, yell, cry, scream, curse, sigh, roll her eyes, or look at me or the glass with disappointment, fear, spite, or malice. We were both tired. This was not the nightcap she was hoping for, I am sure. Rather than give in to any of that, she exercised her super-power.

Here is what she did do: she asked, “What do you need?”, which snapped me from my oncoming emotional outburst and into action. “Um, I need the mini-vac and a broom.” Within seconds, she showed up with the hand-held vacuum, a tiny broom and dustpan, and slippers to protect my feet (have to give her props for going the extra mile there).

Times of crisis often bring out the best in people. We rise above our emotions and feelings and do what is necessary and helpful (think, 9/11). This was not a time of crisis, though. This was a moment of inconvenience. Moments of inconvenience demand the worst from people. A moment of inconvenience is an excuse to be petty, angry, spiteful, or self-immolating (think, ruining dinner).

When little things do not go your way, you can choose to blow your top, like I almost did, or you can dig into your super-power of “no freak outs” and make yourself useful.

Also, it’s pretty cool to live with a super hero.

 

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Winter In Paradise

I share a life-lesson learned every weekday. Today’s lesson is about living where you love to live.

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December 7 , Tampa

 

This picture is from December 7th, 2015. Nicole and I were at Clearwater Beach in Florida, enjoying the sun and sand. We weren’t on vacation. We live in Tampa Bay.

For most of my adult life, I have lived in places like Michigan and Indiana, where cold weather encompasses nearly 8 months of the year. We moved to Tampa at the beginning of 2015. This is our first full winter in Florida, and I have to tell you… I should have done it sooner.

I never liked winter. Sure, the leaves are pretty in the Fall, for a week, and then I am ready for Summer again. I always figured the trade-offs for living in Grand Rapids and Detroit were mostly worth it (MUCH better vegan food, more art and culture, nothing in the water wants to eat you, etc.). I was wrong.

Looking at a tent full of Christmas Trees for sale next to a bunch of palm trees is both jarring and satisfying.  Having one wardrobe is great. Being able to be physically active all year round is great. Maybe most of all, having weekly moments of zen while sitting on white sand or paddling blue surf is great.

I lived up north for the last 23 years. The only thing I wish I had done differently is move south sooner. The ironic part is, it was not my idea. In fact, I resisted it. I wanted to move to Portland or Chicago, and I am sure I would have been happy in either of those places, but only for a third of the year.

If you know where you want to live, go. Don’t wait to live there–waiting is the enemy of success. Living is about living, not waiting to live.

 

 

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Practice Makes… More Practice

On weekdays, I share a lesson learned in life. Today’s lesson is about consistency…

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I was re-reading last Thursday’s post, “A Buddhist Monk Walks Into a Bar…” and I realized later that very day I completely bombed at taking my advice. Like total, miserable, utter failure. Rather than dispassionately observe my emotions and move on, I blew my top when I come home to find our new puppy had gone number two, rolled in it, traipsed it around the house, and buried his toys in it.

Ugh. Bad Puppy Daddy!

Once I regained my composure and reflected on the event, I realized how, well… ashamed I am of my behavior there. Of course, the puppy was just being a puppy, doing what puppies do. Yet, I handed over complete control of my life and emotions to the equivalent of a mildly retarded toddler. It is a bit embarrassing to share about it, actually.

The lesson, I could say, is to remember to practice what I preach, but there is more to it than that. I do practice what I preach. However, I do not practice what I preach all the time. After writing a lesson every day for nearly two years, I can not remember to apply every lesson every day. Besides, no doubt some of my lessons conflict with each other because… human.

The real lesson today, I think, is to remember we have access to every lesson we have learned at any time and if we just stop for one second and think, “Where have I seen this before?”, I bet we can remember a life-lesson that applies.

Or, put another way, practice does not make perfect. Emotions, situations, and circumstances remove “perfect” by default. Practice only generates more practice.

Never stop practicing. It’s the only sure way to become better.

 

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4 Weeks as a Puppy Daddy

On weekdays, I share a lesson I have learned in life. Today, let’s talk about the joys and pains of (puppy) parenting…

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Oliver, Hiding Rope (flipped)- 151118

I have been the proud parent of Oliver for about a month now.  I don’t have (human) kids so this is my first time really caring for a “child” from infancy to adulthood.

I am only a month in but I am already feeling the turmoil of parenting. It is like volunteering to be manic-depressive. I go from bouts of joy (“Yay! He peed on the lawn instead of the carpet!”) to rounds of utter despair (“I can’t believe it is 3 in the morning. I’m a forty-year old man who is paid to lead teams and write prolific articles and my contribution to the world right now is cleaning poop prints from every conceivable spot in the bathroom. How did he even reach the shower head?!?”).

There are times when I can not believe this little creature trusts and loves me so much and there are times when I feel completely incompetent as a (puppy) father. I can not imagine what the turmoil must be like for a parent raising a teen.

I would like to say I have learned something profound from being a Puppy Daddy in my first month, like “Being a Puppy Daddy has taught me the value of patience and being kind to all animals” or something. That is not true, though.

So far, being a Puppy Daddy has taught me that fathers must always wonder if they are good fathers and there is no objective way to tell if they are. My job as Puppy Daddy is simply to provide routine and stability, teach cause and effect, and express happiness and anger (but not too much of either).

The rest is up to the puppy, and Puppy Mommy.

 

 

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You Have To Die Of Something…

Each weekday I write about a lesson I have learned in life and share it with you, so you don’t have to.

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“Well, you have to die of something,” or “When it’s my time to go then it’s my time to go,” or “You never know when your time is up,” and other variations are all ways of making excuses for poor decisions.

It is true that we do not know exactly when or how we might die, but hiding behind that fact as justification for being an alcoholic, or smoker, or junk food addict, or (insert bad life decision here) is tantamount to saying you want to kill yourself but you want to do it slowly and torture everyone you love before you go.

There are anecdotal stories (stories, mind you) of some distant relative who smoked their whole life and died when they were a hundred twenty. Or somebody who followed the perfect diet every day and died of a heart attack when they were twenty. Aside from those stories almost certainly not being true (or at least not accurate in the loosest sense of the word), if those people existed then they were clearly the exceptions, not the rule.

When my friends or family offer poorly constructed rationalizations for bad life choices, I think, “Why tempt fate to prove you are unexceptional?”

Instead, live exceptionally and make exceptional the rule instead of being ruled by your exceptions.

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I’m a Jerk.

Each weekday I share a lesson I have learned in life. Here is today’s lesson.

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I do not like to have my work interrupted. I do not like to be told I “need” to do something (as in, “You need to listen when I talk…”). I love my pets but I am quickly frustrated by their bad behavior (like barfing up a hairball on my bed or having a potty accident on the carpet). Anyone transferring their emotions to me is infuriating (i.e. blaming me for how you feel). I have been known to “drop” my phone (against the wall at about 40 miles per hour) for being irritated that it will not perform some simple task correctly (probably due to an app not being updated or general user error).

The point is, most people know me as generally cool, calm, and collected most of the time, but I have buttons. And when they are pressed, I see red. I can go from being a nice guy to a jerk in no time. Luckily, I have enough tricks up my sleeve to keep me from doing any real damage to myself or life and these days, even most electronic products. I am also quite resilient and tend to get over things (including myself) fast. I can be authentically smiling and calm again within minutes.

The secret, I think, to getting over frustration is three-fold. Here is what works for me.

1.  Context and Self-Respect. By putting a situation in perspective and reminding myself who I am, I can almost always regain self-control. For example, when my puppy has an accident, it resets our potty training and makes me feel guilty, angry, and generally like a “bad parent” (I totally understand the irony of the emotional transference complaint I listed at the top). My anger jumps from zero to about thirteen in less than a heartbeat. Sometimes I am able to catch it by quickly reminding myself the dog is a dog. It has a hundred times less brain power and emotional content and is only doing what a dog does (context–can’t be mad at a dog for being a dog). I have to remind myself I can not let a puppy take control of my life since he is relying on me to be in control (self-respect–my job is to lead “the pack” and what kind of leader demoralizes his followers by yelling or throwing a tantrum?).

 2.  Chase the goal, not the emotions. As new puppy parents, sometimes Nicole and I disagree on how to approach a situation we haven’t encountered before. For example, the dog care books say you have to take your puppy out and socialize to acclimate it to other dogs and people quickly. Our puppy is behind schedule on his vaccinations, though, due to being sick, and the general advice is to keep him away from other dogs and dog areas. What do we do? Regardless of the answer, you can imagine the conversation can quickly become emotionally charged. To defuse my misaligned passion, I remind myself our goal is the same: we want what is best for the puppy. I may not agree on the approach but just knowing the destination is the same will often help us find a good landing spot, even if the landing is bumpy.

3.  Remember who you are dealing with.  Whether it is your boss, a friend, a sibling, or even a brand, I find an easy way to wrangle my would-be emotional outbursts is to remind myself of the importance of this (person, product, place) in my life. When I am snippy with Nicole (and I know it), I remind myself she is the love of my life. There is no reason to be short-tempered with her because she is the best thing about waking up each day. Why tarnish that because I am feeling snotty? Same with other people, places, and things. My emotions are on me. The situation might be our problem but my emotional approach is my problem and mine alone. That means there are often two problems to solve at the same time, so better take the one I have immediate control over out of the mix as quickly as I can.

 

Of course, I’m not perfect. Sometimes my mouth out runs my brain or sometimes I have just “had enough” and take a firm stand on something stupid (“I will NOT put the cap back on the toothpaste because I LIKE the mess it leaves!”). More often than not, I am glad to say, remembering those 3 tips help me minimize those moments and maximize my relationships in the world.

Hope they help you too!

 

 

 

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Just My Luck.

Each weekday I share a life-lesson learned. Today’s lesson is about having “bad” luck…

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“That’s just my luck,” I thought. “I’m spending my vacation going back and forth to Orlando to take the dog to the vet. Just figures. Not the vacation I wanted…”

Then I remembered a few things…
I live where I choose to live, not where I happened to grow up or simply ended up.

I have a job, an apartment that more than meets my needs, a car of my choosing, and lots of toys like a smartphone, tablet, paddle board, and bicycle. I have a great partner in life, an old loyal cat, and a new lovable puppy.

I’m surrounded by things and people I love, I have the means and will to live a life I choose (not everybody has the luxury of being able to be vegan and spend almost every weekend at the beach).

Basically, I live a charmed life. A few unexpected trips to Orlando and the inconvenience of not having the perfect vacation is pretty minor compared to the joy of being somebody I love and living my life (mostly) on my terms.

It is definitely a better deal than I could have asked for and, my guess is, if you have the means to read this blog then your deal is also pretty damn good.

Our luck is not relative to our current situation. It is relative to our lives as a whole.

Or, put another way… stop whining. You don’t have it that bad.

 

 

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