That’s Life

Today’s Lesson: Life is coming at you and it will never let up. Who are you going to be about it?


Maybe the best advice I have ever received came from a quirky French guy named Alan. He was a Landmark Forum leader (basically a high-end Life Coach) and, among many nuggets of wisdom he shared, was a gem that has never left me.

It serves as a regular reminder for me whenever I face what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. When I do not know what to do or where to turn, I hear Alan’s accent sharing what sets heroes apart in the world. I don’t remember if he said it exactly like this, but it is pretty close. Alan said:

“You know the saying, ‘Shit happens’, yes? Well… that’s it. Shit happens. Life happens. There is nothing you can do about that. Life is going to happen no matter what. It’s not going to stop happening until you are dead. It’s not going to be easy on you today because it knows you are having a bad day. Life is not going to spare you bad news until tomorrow because you are having such a good day and it does not want to ruin it. No, it doesn’t care. It’s Life.

Life happens. What can you do? You can’t stop it, can’t pause it so you can catch your breath and think through it. It’s happening now. Always now. It’s happening, happening, happening. That’s it.

Life happens.

The only power you have–this is very important, listen–the only power you have is in choosing who you are going to be in the face of that.”

Life happens. The only power we have is in choosing who we will be when faced with the tough parts. 

Thanks, Alan.



Today’s Lesson: The Cause of Half Your Suffering [141012]

My feet ache.

I feel tired and groggy.

I don’t have enough money to fix my car.

I hate looking at the scale each morning.

The house is a mess.

Work sucks.

My girlfriend is not talking to me.


We all have complaints. What we do not realize is they are usually only half-complaints. We like to focus on the effect but avoid the cause. I think that is because the source of our suffering is almost always the same: it’s us. At times, we all wait (or wish) for some superhero to swoop in and save the day and we forget that we are responsible for being the hero in our own lives.

If your life were a story (and by the way, it is–it is the story you tell other people every day)… would you wish to be the hero of the story of your life, or the villain, or the damsel-in-distress on the train tracks, helpless and crying for someone to rescue her? When we take responsibility for our lives and actions, we have access to knowledge and power to help us succeed. We see the other half of the complaint and accept the responsibility of our actions and our lives.


My feet achebecause I never stretch them or wear comfortable shoes.

I feel tired and groggybecause I stayed up too late and drank more than I should.

I don’t have enough money to fix my carbecause I spent it on clothes, put it on credit cards, and never save enough.

I hate looking at the scale each morningbecause exercising and eating right is harder than not exercising and taking control of my diet!

The house is a messbecause I put cleaning off until I absolutely have to do it.

Work sucksbecause I do not want to read books on how to be more effective, or I don’t want to ask for help, or I do not want to find value in my team, or finding a better fit somewhere else is too much… work.

My girlfriend is not talking to me because I am too stubborn to say I am sorry first.



If you are tied to the train tracks and hoping for someone to rescue you, are you going to wait for the train or start working on those knots?



Today’s Lesson: There Are Not Enough Garbagemen [140830]

Almost every day when I walk the apartment parking lot to check the mail, I see litter strewn on the ground (usually fast food wrappers, empty soda cups, crushed cigarette boxes, or beer bottles). I pick it up and place it in the big trash bins by the carports. I don’t know if other people pick up the trash as they walk by it, but I have never seen anyone else do it.

I have sometimes, out of frustration or because I was in a hurry, walked by a piece of trash only to find it waiting for me a day or two later, right where I left it.

This may seem silly, but today, as I picked up a straw and soda cup top (no cup to be found), and walked them to the bin, I thought of my favorite superheroes.

Perhaps Superman and others don’t do what’s right because they have super powers and they can. Perhaps they just do what is right because no one else will.



The Lesson I Learned Today… 140630

A team member gave me a great compliment today, after a very trying week for the team. She said, “You put together a great team, sir, and you always find a way to keep us on the right track to move forward when things get tough. Thank you.”

As a leader, you are in a constant struggle because at some point you fall in love with your team, in a way. They become more than workers or helpers. You can miss the results they deliver because you start seeing the potential they can live up to and you coach to that instead.

I don’t know if it is right or wrong to expect your team to do what they think is impossible (but you know is achievable), but I do know that if you do, then when the chips are down, they will pull together and do extraordinary things.

A team of soccer moms and college dropouts become super-heroes of a sort, whose accomplishments go largely unnoticed by their families and friends. Only their coach/ manager/ mentor sees the emotional struggle and personal challenges they overcome to achieve things bigger than themselves, bigger than almost anyone in their life knows they are capable of.


The Heroic Leader

I think of Leadership in terms of heroes and villains.

Villains are free to do whatever they want and pretty much get away with it, until a hero steps in. Villains can slack off, cheat, be dishonest, act recklessly, and never consider consequences for their actions.

Heroes must win while playing by the rules, doing the right thing the right way, and considering actions before taking them.

The burden of leadership is that leaders must be heroes–role models for others to look up to. We do not get to take the easy way out; we must live and act according to our own values (which is the very reason people are willing to follow us). We must understand the people we are leading may not have the same fortitude or character they expect a leader to always exhibit.

It can be frustrating when you feel the weight of leadership bearing down on you while others seem to get away with everything… but nobody promised being a leader would be easy or that every day would be rewarding.

The key is to remember who you are and why you choose to step up and stand for something more than the workday or the status quo.  We have the choice to be average at any time, just as heroes always have the choice to put away the cape and mask. The number one performer in a company can always choose to be the number 15 performer–skating just under the radar, doing enough to stay out of trouble but never taking on the burden of moving forward.

For better or worse, that is just not who we are as leaders. It is not within us to stand back and hide our greatness in times of crisis, despair, or a competition of values. It is not within us to allow people on our team to hide their greatness either. We take on the burden of being coaches, mentors, counselors, teachers, friends, and drill sergeants as needed.

The funny thing is, heroes never give up on villains; they always hope to bring them back to the light, to help them back to the path of being heroic or standing for something (more). Villains, on the other hand, may or may not be conflicted, may or may not be willing to change, may or may not be willing to be something more than they are.

The difference between heroes and villains, between leaders and stragglers, is that villains never remember what they stand for or why they should want to be something greater… and heroes never forget.



Who Is Your Favorite Superhero?


Some heroes are better than others.

Iron Man, as portrayed in the movies with Robert Downey, Jr (except Iron Man 2–I pretend that one never happened), is my favorite depiction of a superhero. Batman comes in second. When I was growing up, I only read a few Iron Man comics. He seemed like a fake superhero to me; he really had no magical super-powers. Iron Man was just a guy in a metal suit. Spider-man was my favorite then–bitten by a radioactive spider and with all kinds of abilities. Plus, when Spider-man was out of costume, he was just a geeky high-school student, bullied and shy. What adolescent boy could not relate to that?

As an adult, though, it is the reverse. Spider-man, although entertaining, I think is one of the worst superheroes portrayed and Iron Man is an icon of what a hero should be.

The problem with Spider-man, as I see it, is there is nothing heroic about his character. He happens across super powers, fails to use them to stop a crime and save his uncle, and has the worst run of luck of all the big name heroes. Peter Parker is always miserable. He is a hack photographer for a tabloid newspaper–a job that barely pays his rent; he never has the money, the girl, and the car at the same time. He allows himself to be timid and intimidated by others unless he is wearing the Spider-man costume. On top of that, Peter Parker is riddled with guilt… over his uncle’s death, over his Aunt May’s health, over his relationships, etc. As Spider-man, he is the consummate Socialist hero–burdened with trying to save the world for the sake of everyone around him, rather than doing anything for himself. He is the perfect John C. Maxwell leader; he exists to serve others. The tragedy of Spider-man is he becomes a superhero in spite of himself, not because of himself.

Contrast that to the Iron Man movie character. Tony Stark did not magically gain super-powers. He worked for his wealth as an inventor and thought leader and relied on his personal intellect not only to create solutions to challenges but also to make moral decisions. He became Iron Man when he realized his view of the world was misaligned and the technology he created was being used for purposes reprehensible to his own moral code.

Batman is similar. Among the DC Comics superheroes, he is one of the few without super-powers. Instead, he is a self-made and well-trained detective, martial artist, and businessman, often using more of his mind than his body to solve crimes and bring powerful, often maniacal, criminals to justice. I like Batman, too, because he operates within clear moral boundaries that he created. He chooses not to recognize the flaws of the judicial system and politics and he expects to pay the price for that one day. More importantly, though, he has clear ethical boundaries. Batman famously does not kill. It is his primary moral imperative. Some of his enemies know Batman will not kill, and sometimes try to use that against him, but still he stands by his own choices. He relies on his wits and abilities to outsmart his enemies–no happenstance magical powers.

You might wonder why I would spend so much time pondering over comic book superheroes?

I think heroes are important, both real and imaginary, and I think we should spend more time considering who and what we look up to and wish to emulate in our personal lives.

I don’t want to live my life like Spider-man–apologetic for nearly every mistake and riddled with regret–a superhero by chance in a low-rent apartment and never comfortable filling the role. I would rather trade up for Iron Man’s charismatic arrogance (and notice when it counts, he drops the arrogance and focuses on the task at hand), or Batman’s self-confident individualism, and be something rarely seen these days, either in film or in life… a self-made man. Now that’s someone I can look up to.


Who is your favorite superhero and what is the characteristic that seems most heroic or most significant to you?