Learn It to Teach It

Today’s Lesson: To be an effective teacher, you must first be an effective learner.


As a trainer, I believe there is tremendous value in learning and experiencing the thing I am expected to teach. I see many coaches or organizational trainers who think they can enter a business blind and somehow magically command respect and disseminate knowledge.

Before I could teach people how to sell, I had to learn how to sell and experience both rejection and success in that field. I had to become at least marginally proficient at sales (I happen to be better than marginally proficient at sales but that was all I needed to be an effective trainer). It is important to note I did not have to learn to be the best salesperson in the world. If I had learned that, then I would have gone into sales and made a great deal of money as the world’s best salesperson instead of working to help salespeople become better salespeople.

Many trainees have the opposite folly of their trainers–they believe the trainer should be better than anyone else at the skill being taught. That is illogical. If Michael Jordan’s coach was better than Michael Jordan at basketball, for example, then his coach would be on the court enjoying Jordan’s fortune and fame instead of Michael Jordan. The coach’s (or trainer’s) job is not to be better than the people they are teaching. The coach’s job is to find the holes in the game and help the team overcome obstacles as they arise.

Trainers provide the skills we need to improve but to do that, trainers must also learn the basics to earn credibility.

I was reminded of this in a meeting. The person formerly in charge of a team had been recently let go and one of the main reasons why, it turned out, was because he did not understand the duties and responsibilities of the people he was in charge of. He had not gone out into the field and learned or experienced their day-to-day environment and challenges. How could he ever have led them?

One of my first duties, by contrast, was to meet as many team members as possible and spend as much time learning the company’s products, history, and team member roles as I could. In fact, most employees who chatted with me seemed surprised that I could speak to the company’s roots and history better than many of them could, even though they had been with the company longer.

In the meeting, someone pointed out how refreshing it was to hear that I wanted to travel to wherever the teams were and learn what they did. “How can I train them,” I asked, “If I have no idea what they do or how they do it?”



Change The Tune

Today’s Lesson: If you can’t stick to your schedule, change your schedule.


Every day this week, I have an appointment at 8:00am. Both yesterday and today I have been 10 minutes late, which is a problem for me because I am known for being on time as a matter of integrity. Keeping my word is something I pride myself on and it means I can be relied on to start meetings on time, to show up when I say I will show up, and to do what I say I will do by the time I say I will do it (hat tip to Landmark Education for the definition).

I am still becoming used to Tampa roads and traffic and leave with what I think is ample time but, of course, that is an excuse. An excuse for not having integrity is not the same thing as having integrity.

Realizing my dilemma today, I did what any reasonable person of great integrity would (with the knowledge that setting my alarm clock even earlier has no effect on my timeliness). I moved the rest of the week’s meetings to 8:10.

If you can’t beat ’em… just find another way to beat ’em.



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.



Who Is That Handsome Guy in the Mirror?

Haters gonna’ hate so I don’t need to relate.


I never tolerate negative self-talk. When I hear somebody putting themselves down (and not solely out of self-deprecating humor to put others at ease), I feel a surge of anger, even if I am just catching part of a conversation as I pass by strangers.

In my view, there are plenty of people who think I am stupid, vain, arrogant, ugly, overweight, annoying, over-confident, egotistical, self-centered, or whatever. I do not have to worry about tearing myself down because there are plenty of people eager to do it for me (and probably are already doing it).

When I have a thought that is insulting or spiteful toward myself, I like to remind the little negative voice in my head not to worry. I tell him, “No reason to put me down. I already have my best people working on that.”


Today’s Lesson: We all have negative thoughts sometimes and that little voice in the back of your head that wants to call you stupid or say you suck or you are too fat or lazy, or… whatever, but you never have to listen to that voice. That voice is a stranger you have never met that has no idea who you are and has no legitimate opinion of you. That voice is not you. It is not even part of you. The reason I know that is simple… because who is it talking to???


(Hat tip to Alain at Landmark Education for teaching me that a long time ago; it is still a lesson I learn now and then…) 


Dealing With Anxiety

You are not talented and, frankly, you are boring. Just throw in the towel already.


There is a website I have been turned onto that has become so popular so fast that it is currently broken. You should still check it out, though, and consider signing up when it is fixed. The site is called Anxiety Box and its pitch is simple: they will take over your anxieties so you do not have to worry about it.

I love this idea. When you are focused on creating something big or trying to improve your life, you feel anxious. Anxiety Box twists that around and feels anxious for you. The site will send you multiple messages per day letting you know that you are a failure, or that people don’t like you, or that your life is garbage, etc.

This sounds like something only a masochist would desire but it has a profound effect. First, since you are going to waste a ton of time and energy on self-doubt, you might as well let the site do it for you. That way you can refocus that energy to the goal you are trying to achieve. Secondly, by hearing the deep, dark thoughts in your head coming from an outside source–especially one as innocuous as spam email, suddenly brings light to the absurdity of those thoughts. You are in a meeting and your phone goes off. When you check it, you see an email that says something like, “Your parents think you are ugly” and you can not help but laugh and move on. Let somebody else be that voice of dissent in your mind so you don’t have to.

I have that little voice in the back of my head, too, by the way (and sometimes it is a real life person standing in front of me) often telling me I can not do something. I feel like a failure sometimes. Sometimes I feel fat, or ugly, or depressed, or self-pitying… sometimes all of those at once. That voice in the back of my head lets me know I am not good enough or that people like me do not deserve to succeed.

A life coach once shared something profound about that little voice in the back of my head. He said, “You know that voice is not you, right? You don’t have to listen to it. It’s not your voice.”

I said (miffed that this guy presumed to know anything about my inner voice), “How would you know if the voice in the back of my head is me or not?”

He smiled, winked knowingly, and said, “Because who is it talking to?”


Today’s Lesson: That little voice in the back of your head that tells you, “no”? That’s not your voice and you don’t have to listen to it. Even better, there is technology that will even help that voice do its job so you don’t have to. You can worry about other, more important things.



All roads lead to success…


When you are driving on your way to work and you get a flat tire, you never say, “Awesome! Here is an obvious opportunity for me to overcome adversity while leveraging my skills and ingenuity to conquer an obstacle in my life!” More likely, you say, “SH*T!”

After you have repaired the flat tire, you probably do not drive off feeling heroic and successful but rather are cursing about being late for work and upset about your day starting.

The funny thing is, every problem, trial, argument, challenge, or obstacle we survive is a win. The very act of living against a world and universe that are, frankly, ambivalent about you being alive is a success story. Even famous people today will not matter in 200 million years but the universe will still be around, still caring as much or as little for what is going on around that very average-looking star in the Milky Way galaxy as it ever has. But that is the point. EVERY life is a success story against imminent death and entropy. EVERY time you take a breath, it is a win.

We each have an idea of what success looks like, but it is usually more about how we perceive luck than actual success (which is about how we perceive life). whether you have survived a fire, are going through a bad break-up, starting a new job, moving out-of-state, dealing with a leaky faucet, climbing a mountain, coming out to your family, or just cooking dinner… no matter what challenge or obstacle you are facing, no matter how great or small, success has nothing to do with the outcome. It has everything to do with being there at the end. There is ultimately only one breakdown we are unable to overcome, and thankfully, it is the last breakdown we have to deal with in life… dying, but we have people working on that, too.


Today’s Lesson: Do not let anyone (or anything) else control your idea of success or let you feel like a failure. The fact is, if you are here, you are winning. 




How To Be Happy

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 


Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”


Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!





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: “Overwhelmed” is an Adjective, Not a Verb [140929]


We all feel overwhelmed at times.


Work, family, and personal stress can mount and sometimes many events cascade and need resolution at the same time.


No matter how much you have planned for a day, no matter how much pressure you accept from others (and any pressure placed on you must be accepted by you), and no matter how stressed or powerful you feel… you can only accomplish in a single day whatever you accomplished that day.


Obviously, you can’t go back and add another three tasks to yesterday. If you do not get something done today, then it simply was unable to fit in today. You chose other priorities.


Never stress about what did not happen. You are always doing the thing that is most important to you in a given moment (or else you would be doing something else, right?).


The word “overwhelmed” is a verb in the dictionary, but I think that is wrong. “Overwhelmed” is not an action or a state of being. Rather, it is a descriptive word like “green” or “clever”. The distinction is important. By removing “overwhelmed” from your list of verbs (action words) and transferring it to your list of adjectives (descriptive words), you essentially transform it from an inherent state of being to a choice of descriptors.


“Overwhelmed” is a choice, not a fact. We demonstrate this all the time, too. If your boss tells you she needs the TPS report by 9 am, you might drop everything to do it, rearranging your priorities. You accept the pressure. If a stranger walks up to you and demands you wash her car, you might laugh at her. No pressure because you would never accept it as a priority in your life.


So… the next time you feel overwhelmed, drop the façade. You accepted the pressure. Either embrace the challenge or choose other priorities (of course, that also means you accept the consequences of your choices but that is a different lesson…).





Today’s Lesson: Who’s Your Buddy? [140928]


My boss said something last week that resonated with me today. He said his wife is his favorite drinking buddy and talked about how much fun they have together.


Today, as Nicole and I walked around town, she said, “I love the spending the day with you,” and we talked about how much fun we have being together.


I remember one of my first bosses taught me the same lesson many years ago. He asked if I was single, and, looking at an attractive young woman nearby, I quipped, “No… unfortunately.”


I was joking because I thought that’s what men do–you know, the “old ball and chain” and “being whipped”, and other men versus women jokes. He set me straight, though, with two simple sentences. “Huh,” he said, “I love my wife. She’s my best friend.”


From then, I never looked at relationships the same and, to my regret, I never told my boss about the impact he had on me and we lost touch over the years.


I love spending the day with Nicole and for sure, she is my best friend and favorite ally.


The obvious lesson here is to be with someone who adds value to your life and makes you feel good about who you are when you are together.


The deeper lesson, though, is to be aware of how you portray the people you love to others. Your jokes about your relationship are the reality of your relationship to people who have not met you both or do not know you both well.


Put another way, choose your words carefully. They create the tapestry of your life.