When To Ask For Help

Most people ask for help when they know they are in the middle of a problem they can not solve alone.

Employees wait until they know they will miss a deadline before reaching out to a supervisor. Couples wait until they are on the edge of separation before seeing a counselor. Drivers wait until they are lost before asking for directions.

Top professionals, however, ask for help BEFORE they encounter a problem, trying to anticipate problems likely to rise in their path.

Hopeful athletes find a coach long before they try out for the Olympics. The best actors find help by studying at Julliard before becoming renowned for their art. Great chess players spend years reading and learning likely outcomes for moves, anticipating plays brought on by opponents.

Whether your intention is to have a great date, be the next Kasparov, or just finish a project on time and on budget… don’t wait until you are in the problem to seek help.

Think like a pro and beat the problem to the problem. And then… no problem!


Invest In Something Worthwhile

If you are chasing a career, passion, or hobby, the best way to succeed is to spend your money and time improving your skills.

The folly of many professionals is they do not understand this simple fact. They think training is something the company handles because it is in the company’s best interest, not something the employee should handle because it is in his or her own best interest.

Over the weekend I attended a Leadership course hosted by Seth Godin. The company I work for did not pay for it. I didn’t ask or tell anybody I was doing it. I ponied up for it on my time with my money because I am passionate about leadership and I want to further my skills.

I buy and read books about writing and marketing for the same reason.

There are lots of places and ways to invest your time and money: television shows, video games, car accessories, drinks with friends, etc. The thing is, all of those things do not give anything back to help develop you. There is nothing wrong with investing in those things but recognize most of the time they will not provide a good return on your investment.

The best investment you can make is in yourself. If you want a better future, invest in yourself now.




She Makes Life Easier

Today’s Lesson: Find the person who makes living itself a pleasure.


I tried to run my own business a long time ago, and failed. Miserably. I was unable to do it alone and that is a lesson I never forgot.

When I needed a tax accountant earlier this year, Nicole was on it. I didn’t ask. I didn’t whine about not having one. She just anticipated my needs, and acted.

When I hurt my foot, suddenly a book about foot health showed up and Nicole massaged my aching tendon while reading to me. I never miss an appointment because Nicole knows my calendar better than I do and she lets me know when I should show emotion and ask about my friends (I tend to forget social grace stuff), or she reminds me to call my family, or be patient with stop lights. Nicole keeps me on track and focused and she supports nearly any effort I make to improve, often jumping in with me.

I asked my dad one time, what was it about Mom, that kept them together for so long? He thought about it and said, “She just makes life easier. She makes living easier. She sees what I miss and takes care of it.”

It is not a burden to remember to ask a waitress something the next time she visits our table, but Nicole will already know the question and ask for me before the waitress is too far away. The big things, the little things. Those are the moments where she just makes life easier.

It is a two-way street, by the way, but it doesn’t feel that way. Making life easier feels more powerful than taking out the trash or remembering to open doors.

I don’t want to run my own business now but if I did, I know I would have a rock-star partner. Even better, though, I know I have a powerful ally in life–and living is just easier.


Ears, Hands, or Brains?

Today’s Lesson: What type of conversation are you having? Listening, Fixing, or Advising?


I see problems and solutions everywhere I look. When you spend years as a trainer, leader, or coach, you train yourself to quickly identify holes in the game and think through possible solutions.

Most of the time this is a strength but it can also backfire. Sometimes people share problems with me, because they want someone to listen. They are not seeking my advice or any solution. They just want to vent. Sometimes I just want to vent with no expectation of resolving something. I understand where they are coming from.

Still, when most conversations in your life are centered around providing answers or advice, it becomes incredibly difficult to know when someone only wants to be heard (and to listen while withholding advice).

I thought this was one of my personal challenges until today. I was in a meeting where two other peers and I were offering several solutions to an issue a coworker just shared. One of my peers said to the frustrated coworker, “I bet you are upset because you just wanted to be heard but you offered a problem to us three and we can’t help but try to solve it! It’s the hero complex. We want to come to the rescue. My wife has the same issue with me.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Exactly. Maybe I need to tell you before we start a conversation if I want you to listen with your ears, hands, or brains.”

I love that. It would be so helpful if, when starting a conversation, the person speaking simply prompted, “Ears”–indicating all I want you to do is listen. Or, “Hands”–I’m not looking for conversation, I just want you to fix this. Or “Brains”–will you think through this with me and offer your advice or thoughts about it?

Ears, Hands, or Brains. What kind of conversation are we having?


Remember When We Met Tomorrow?

Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.


You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.

A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.

Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).

We assume past performance indicates future probability.  

As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.

The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.

Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.

The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?

I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.

One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!

Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!

I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.

Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.



No, Thank YOU.

Today’s Lesson: Practice what you preach, and keep practicing.


One of my lessons from last week (and one of the most clicked on) was my post called, “Just Say Thank You.”

Since writing it, I have been caught violating my principle on an almost daily basis! It probably should be no surprise when I post advice publicly, the public also expects me to follow my advice…

Nicole praised me for being patient with her one day and, instead of responding properly, I debated whether the duties of a good boyfriend include being patient (I dismissed her compliment by saying I was just doing what anyone would do). I should have said, “Thank you.”

At work, my boss let me know he was going to pay mileage for me to travel to another site. Instead of being grateful for the reimbursement, I pointed out the mileage and time were the same I would have driven to work anyway, just in another direction. He said, “That’s not the point.” What I meant to say, of course, was “Thank you.”

My trainees offered to pay for my lunch to show appreciation for training them. I declined the offer twice before accepting. Rather than turn them into bullies about giving me food, I should have just said, “Thank you!”


I can go on but you get the idea. When you set the standard for something, be sure to hold yourself accountable first. Otherwise, get used to the taste of crow.



You Don’t Know Jack (But You Should if You Are Buying a Mattress)

Want to sleep better? I know a guy who can help…


I rarely make a plug for another person or business on my blog but I had an experience so good, I wanted to share it with you and make it today’s lesson.

Jack has a unique business. He runs a site called The Mattress Nerd. The site itself is a detailed review site to help mattress shoppers cut through marketing jargon and sales obfuscation and do legitimate mattress comparisons. There are many sites like that and although The Mattress Nerd is very good that is not what sets it apart that prompted my blog post.

I have been shopping for a mattress since Nicole and I moved to Tampa and have been bludgeoned into stupidity by the misdirection and intentional deceit rampant in the industry. I tripped across The Mattress Nerd while trying to decide if purchasing a mattress I have been hearing about on podcasts is a good idea. While reading Jack’s review of the mattress I noticed a link to a Comparison Shopping service (and this is where it gets good–I promise!)…

For FREE, Jack took the information I had already and I offered a little about my history with mattresses and shopping for them, and he actually comparison shopped my 3 leading choices plus looked at the box spring I had in mind, and broke down the jargon, his experience with each based on my needs, and found even lower prices than I was able to (and I am a savvy internet shopper!)!

His turn around time, by the way, was less than 12 hours from when I sent my questions! If you are shopping for a mattress, I encourage you to check out http://www.mattressnerd.com and take advantage of the Comparison Shopping Service.


There are three lessons I learned from Jack today: 

1. You can quit your job and make a living blogging. Jack makes a buck by using affiliate links. When I decided to buy my mattress and box springs, all I had to do was click on the links he sent me and I got them at lower prices than I otherwise would have plus Jack got a tiny kickback from the actual vendors. I feel it is important here to note he never pushed any one product over another. He gave me a straight up comparison and let me know his opinion based on his experience only. If he did not have experience with an item, he let me know as well.

2. You do not have to charge your customer directly. I did not pay a cent to Jack or The Mattress Nerd site for his help. He very cleverly has a personal business set-up like Google (who offers email for free, for example, but makes a tiny profit every time you click a sponsored link). This means Jack’s income depends entirely on the level of value for service that he provided me. If I could have found it cheaper elsewhere or if he did not provide insightful, relevant information, I would have just thanked him for his time and moved on.

3. If you are not an expert at something (like, say, climate change or politics), then do research to form an opinion, but rely on actual experts when it comes to making a decision. Mattress shopping is absurdly complicated with ambiguous jargon and deceptive marketing. I knew after my first two visits to mattress stores that I was out of my depth. I am in no way being asked or paid to endorse Jack’s service or The Mattress Nerd website, but I appreciated the help and insight so much, I had to share. Businesses like that deserve to thrive and if you know someone looking for a new mattress… you should give The Mattress Nerd a try.


Today’s Lessons (recap): There are infinitely clever ways to reach a goal (like starting and running an online business without charging your customers directly). Provide great value and insight without asking or expecting anything in return and you will be rewarded. If you are not an expert, don’t play one on TV. Just ask a real one for help.



Don’t Be Yourself.

6 weeks into a modern relationship, you have probably “sealed the deal” but are still on your best behavior to impress each other. It is just the time when things are getting adventurous…


I was listening to a story about a husband who blows his nose at the kitchen table during dinner. The wife was grossed out about it but unsure how to address it tactfully. He never did it outside of the home but didn’t mind doing it at their dinners because it was just him and his wife.

There are many couples who are comfortable “letting go” in front of each other and that is something I have never understood. I think the guidelines of tact, diplomacy, and etiquette are MORE important at home, with your romantic life partner, than anywhere else.

Your relationship with the person you have chosen as a mate is the most important relationship you have. Presumably, you spent your time courting this person, putting your best face forward, sharing your highest values and being on your best behavior to win him or her over. Now that you have them, you want to be your grossest self? That is not okay, in my book.

I cherish the formality Nicole and I have. It provides a foundation for respect and maintains courtship. We have a running joke between us that we have only been dating for six weeks. Some of that is probably to assuage our slight fear of commitment but it also serves as reminder that the relationship is always “new” and we should keep putting our best forward to romance each other and win each other over.

In my view, it is not cool or cute for couples to leave the bathroom door open. It is not okay to belch when it’s just the two of you there. Dutch ovens are not funny (well… okay they are, but only between brothers or friends you do not like that much).


Today’s lesson: What would your relationship look like if it was only 6 weeks old again? OR… Don’t be yourself. Instead, be your BEST self, even when no one is looking. 



How to Live With (Emotional) Scars

During a bad break up, try not to cut off your nose to spite your face.


I saw that a friend’s marriage ended because her spouse cheated on her a short time after their wedding. Part of her revenge was to excise everything to do with him from her life, including deleting all their pictures together.

This seems to be standard protocol when good relationships have bitter ends, but it saddens me to think someone would invalidate a huge, important swath of their life to trade it off for being bitter about that part of their past for the REST of their life.

I have been in relationships that ended badly (including a marriage that ended very badly) but I do not begrudge any of my partners their faults or mine (and I certainly have plenty).

None of us were handed a manual titled, “This is How to be the Perfect Human Being”. I am not absolving anyone of their bad choices, only saying it is not worth spending my life pretending their bad choices were mine or that mine were theirs. When we take emotional revenge on a partner who cheated, for example, then we also damage our own well-being by invalidating any part of the relationship that was good. The good memories happened. Why would we be so quick to destroy them yet still cling to the bad? We are clinging to the bad, of course, by taking revenge on the good.

I am happy for the happy parts of my past relationships. I would not want to lose those parts of my life and secretly or publicly hold onto the bad parts. It is foolish to pretend part of my life did not happen just as it would be foolish to pretend there is no scar on my left hand from when I cut it when I was twelve. Everyone can see the scar, even if I deny it. The scar is part of my past, part of my story, and part of what makes me who I am today, even though I regret that moment! Our emotional scars are the same way. People see them even if we pretend they never happened. We just look silly for pretending.

Of course, I understand the need for catharsis when we have been emotionally wounded, but I would rather find that in a positive, healthful way, like therapy or exercise or writing my feelings out or just taking time out of my life to sort through those feelings and heal for a while.

I can understand keeping your past out of sight as a matter of being respectful of both your ex and your current partner, but we do not yet live long enough, I think, to delete years of our lives because we are pouting.


Today’s lesson: Emotional pain works like physical pain. When you are hurt, take time to heal and when you are better, move forward. Do not, though, take revenge on your own past and spend the rest of your life living there while pretending you are not. It is okay to acknowledge both happy and bad times in your life. As humans that did not come with instructions, we all have happy, sad, and bad times. Until we can live forever… we do not live long enough to live bitter.



Today’s Lesson: Let The Music Play [140918]

I gave up listening to music for about 6 months. The following 6 months I listened only to instrumental music. It was a fascinating experiment and I was reminded of it today when a friend shared one of their favorite songs.


The music was great but when I heard the lyrics, I immediately remembered what I learned from my experiment. Popular musicians are crazy.


So many of us find comfort, solace, or worldly wisdom from pop songs. The only problem is pop musicians do not live in the same world as most of us. People like Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z, Prince, or Tim McGraw are so far removed from normal relationships, social and political struggles, or common hardships that they are simply not qualified to have a relevant opinion on these matters. Do you think Prince has ever had any dating/living situation that even remotely resembles any relationship you or I have had? Yet, people flock to these performers in fantasy worlds for guidance. We learn about love from Sting and Van Halen before we ever read a book about it or turn to actual professionals.


If you are getting advice on love, sex, religion, society, or politics from complete nutters like Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Shania Twain, Elton John, Lil’ John, or even John Mayer… just consider the source.


You would be better off taking advice on Quantum Mechanics from your actual car mechanic. I am not a total curmudgeon. I like music. You should enjoy music… I just think you should also remember you are listening to, at best, talented crazy people.