What Are You Doing Today?

Maybe the most important thing we do in life is change.

If you are here and not growing, not learning, not transforming the world around you, then what will be left of you when you are gone? Fame, fortune, and history are all eventually washed from the shores of Time. There will be a day when those who seem to have surpassed history–Aristotle, Beethoven, Jesus, for example–when even those names are no longer familiar to anyone’s tongue.

If, in time, Time cleans the slate of all marks, all contribution… then the only time that matters for any of us is Now. The marks we leave on the world may be fleeting in the future but now they matter. Now.

The question you are left with, then, is: What are you doing today?

What are you doing today to matter in your own life?

What are you doing today to matter to somebody, even if that somebody is you?

What are you doing today to make your world a little better?

What are you doing today… that you will remember tomorrow… if you are lucky enough to see it?

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Is the Promise of Technology Broken?

We create cars with the promise of ubiquitous and unlimited travel. Then we tax gas, add license fees, mandate expensive insurance, set speed limits and otherwise make owning a car as much a punishment as a privilege.

We create computers with the promise of ubiquitous and instantaneous access to information, media, and communication. Then we tax the actual data transmission, inhibit download and upload speeds, force consumers to pay for network expansions rather than compete for consumers, and pretend there are dichotomies between computers you carry in your pocket and computers you set on a desk.

We create debit cards and electronic banking with the promise of ubiquitous access to our hard-earned money in a cashless world with unlimited shopping options. Then we tax access to our money, add fees for fake convenience, and subscribe to an absurdly convoluted system of credit punishment.

The best I can hope is that one day a future generation (maybe the children of your children’s children) will be so over-taxed, over-burdened, and over-tired of being punished for enjoying the fruits of their labor that they are forced to live by candlelight, walk everywhere, and read text on an archaic medium nostalgically referred to as “books”.

Only then, will there be hope that enough of them will trip across stories like “Atlas Shrugged”, “Animal Farm”, and “Starship Troopers”. Maybe then, forced to read and communicate with each other face-to-face in conversation… maybe then, they will be fed up enough to say “NO!” and create a better world rather than accept the one they have is the best they can “afford”.

Maybe when the promise of technology and innovation is once again a promise instead of a broken, limp excuse to take more… maybe then the world will be full of unlimited potential instead of filled with nothing but potential.

Just my two cents. Please don’t tax that.

 

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Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

 

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The Difference Between Right and Wrong

I share a life-lesson each weekday. Today’s lesson is how to tell if you are doing right or wrong things in your life, how to tell if what you are doing is good.

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I am lucky enough to have people look up to me for advice and answers (which means I was unlucky enough to have gained wisdom through many bad choices and have made enough mistakes to warrant giving advice).

A question I have been asked many times is a variation of, “How do I know if I am a good person? How can I tell if I am making the right choices or the wrong ones?”

I have never felt satisfied enough with an answer to pretend there is an absolute correct response to those types of questions. Of course, in the broadest, universal sense, there is no right or wrong, or good or bad. There is not even life and death (because matter can neither be created nor destroyed). There is only Order and Entropy. So, bringing it back down to socially navigating the world, here is what I have so far, and how I generally answer when I hear a question like that:

 

RIGHT: contributes value to your life without taking value from someone else’s. Doing what is right contributes to, grows, or enhances your happiness and self-esteem without hurting or taking away happiness or self-esteem from you or others. Drinking alcohol is an easy example. I am ambivalent about alcohol but I recognize some people enjoy a drink. I see no problem with that, until you enjoy a drink so much you keep drinking until you reach a point where you rob others of the value you contribute to their lives. In other words, if you drink so much you are damaging your health or the relationship you have with someone you care about, then you have a problem. You are no longer doing right by you or anyone else.

WRONG: Hurting yourself or others intentionally or through willful ignorance. Pretending there is no problem by consciously avoiding it or refusing to admit it… is a problem. The only wrong or bad there is in the universe is that which takes away from life, happiness, or self-esteem. The only time it is permissible to intentionally hurt another (person, animal, bug, tree, whatever) is in the act of self-defense, meaning when a rational value of yours is in danger of being removed (such as your life, property, or self-esteem).

 

In other words, if what you are doing or saying does not contribute to your life, make your life better, improve you as a person, or protect you from harm, then you probably shouldn’t be doing or saying it. Instead, ask what you can do or say instead that makes you proud to be living and drives you toward your happiness.

 

 

 

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These Are The Most Important Things In The World

Know your priorities.

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Here are four things I never worry about:

1. What might happen to me after I die.

2. Why Lime-flavored candy does not taste anything like a lime.

3. How molecules feel about global warming.

4. When the word “boogie” will make a comeback.

I am not saying none of those things are important. I am just saying they are not important to me. Now here are 4 things that are more important than nearly anything else to me (in order of importance):

1. Philosophy. Without philosophy, I have no sense of values, ethics, moral character, or what it actually means to be human. In other words, without knowing how to think, I am of no value to myself or anyone else. This is paramount in my life–it is, to me, the essential element of being alive, of living.

2. Physical Health. After learning to be human, the next most important thing to me is to protect and value my life as a human. Understanding that my body is a bioelectrical machine means understanding it requires care and maintenance like any machine. If I am neglectful of that, I can not enjoy my life fully and, worse, I rob others of theirs by forcing them to have to care for me and worry about me.

3. Family. If know I am a decent human being and I have taken care of myself, then I know I can take care of Family and be of value to others. “Family”, to me, is not just people with the same bloodline. My family are the very close circle of people who contribute value to me, align with my goals, challenge my shortcomings, and make me want to be a better person according to my ethics and standards. My family, bloodline or not, are the people I know I can trust with the most important thing I have… my life.

4. Freedom. Once Philosophy, Physical Health, and Family are taken care of, I can turn my attention to personal freedom. Who owns my life? If it is not me, then am I okay with whoever is behind the wheel, making decisions on my behalf over the relationships, finances, and beliefs in my life? More importantly, why is it not me in any of those areas?

 

Knowing my priorities are important. These are always my priorities, by the way. I never “finish” one. They are all in flux, progressing at different speeds at different times. The point is these are the things I worry about before all else.

If I am strong in these four areas, then maybe I can start worrying why turtles try to cross highways. Don’t they know how slow they are?!?

 

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You Don’t Know Me (And Neither Do I)

Today’s Lesson: It’s tough to see I to I.

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“…And that is why I am who I am.” Our friend finished sharing some very moving and important details about his childhood. It was the kind of story people write books about, that later become screenplays, and eventually turn into inspiring and uplifting academy award-winning movies.

I do not know many people who do not have amazing life stories that could become movies. In fact, just think about how often you hear the phrase, “My life could be a great movie…”. Everyone’s life could be a great movie, and I believe all those movies would be great. We all have struggles, challenges, trials and tribulation to overcome (often as children) because there is no manual for life. We each have to figure it out the hard way.

When we hear a close friend’s intimately protected back story, we are often surprised. Sometimes that friend is no longer who we thought they were, in the light of new details. It is like we don’t even know them.

Here is the real kicker, though. We don’t know ourselves, either.

When I look back at my life, I remember (and this is being very generous) maybe one-fourth of my own history–you know, the history that I lived.

I do not remember most of yesterday. I remember waking up, going to work, coming home, and going out to dinner but I do not remember every word of every conversation or every visual input that affected my attitude, or each billboard that subtly coerced me into trusting a brand name, or even every detail of my friend’s story. I remember the highlights but, as they say, the devil can be in the details. It is the minutiae and messy morass between the big plot turns that build character, that make me who I am.

In essence, I am missing most of who I am. Sometimes an old friend will share a story about me that I do not remember. I can not scroll back through my entire history. Truly, I only know the highlights–bits and pieces of stories I have heard and told over and over.

In other words, we are, at best, only the Cliffs Notes version of ourselves.

We should not fret, therefore, when we think we know someone because we remember a few major dots in their life but have forgotten most of the lines that connected them.

In the end, isn’t it better to be surprised once in a while… even when we surprise ourselves?

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Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

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“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

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((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

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3 Ways Leaders Sabotage Companies

Today’s Lesson: Know what you want. Know how you will get there. Treat your best people best.

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There are 3 ways I see leaders sabotage the success of their company:

1. Leaders want results, but do not know what “results” are (and do not have a legitimate path or plan to achieve them). Every company I know of has a goal, that trickles down as a never-ending demand, to “increase profits”. There is nothing wrong with making more profit except “make more profits” is a wish, not a goal. Cutting expenses, for example, would seem to help increase profit for a company but if the line-items being shaved are at the expense of employee morale, saving those pennies can actually undermine the goal of  profitability.

I once worked for a company that required a request form be completed when employees wanted office supplies, including standard disposable pens. Employees, of course, began bringing their own pens and other supplies to avoid the rigamarole. The policy worked. The company did save a few bucks, but also many employees eventually left for better companies that valued team members more than they valued disposable pens. No one cited the request form as a reason for leaving but former employees still bring the story up when they get together.

Results drive profitability; pens do not.

Leaders can fail at understanding which results are being driven or even how to identify a result. A result, I say, is the outcome (positive or negative) of actions taken to reach an objective. Knowing the results a company or team is striving to bring to life helps your team know if they are winning the game. So the first rule to defining a result is, there must be an end in sight or a way to know the game is over.

A desired result must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal. Imagine if marathon runners were told to run faster and faster (the desired result being to reach the finish line) but were never told where the finish line is or what path to take. They would lose steam quickly, not knowing when to tap their energy reserves to push forward. Some would run the wrong direction. Some would stop too often while others would never know if they should ever take a break. Many would quit after a short time. Team members need to know how to win, and what winning looks like.

A result must also be actionable. Running a marathon is obviously actionable. You strap your shoes on and run. But what about selling more widgets? The obvious action is not always present. A good leader reduces the workload and narrows the vision of the goal until the next action is so clear it seems stupid to do anything else. Telling your marathoners to “run that way really fast until I tell you to stop” is not clear. Pointing out the fastest, most direct route to the finish line, noting where a team should be at what point in the race, and encouraging them to move forward when they are tired (keeping updates on where the goal is, how far they have come, and how close they are) creates an actionable map to success.

The criteria for a result, then, is: it must have an end; it must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal, and you must be able to take clear action to achieve it.

What kind of map does your organization provide when asking for (or demanding) results?

 

2. Leaders have goals that are not actually goals. I have yet to come across a high-performing team that has met its primary objective. As my ROWE friends will tell you, many leaders and business owners operate under an archaic notion that the appropriate reward for work done well… is more work.

If you do not have a resting spot or reward zone for your high performers when they achieve results (which presumes the results are defined, reachable, and actionable), then your team is in jeopardy. Your true goal as a leader at that point has become simply to burn out your best people–to drain every ounce of effort from your top team members until they finally give up (and become middle or bottom performers), move up (being promoted so they can start the cycle over) or move on (to another career altogether). If that is where you are headed, then that is a goal worth re-thinking.

Many leaders I meet believe that “More” is itself a goal. “Our goal this year,” they say, “is to do even More sales than last year”. I challenge this by asking, “When is ‘more’… ‘enough’?”. Rather than create a goal for your team of “increase profit and reduce expenses”, define the terms. Set a profit goal of 30 million dollars and provide regular updates on which team members are helping most and how close you are to the goal as a team. Even better, add a clear incentive: “If we reach 30 million dollars in revenue by September 1st, the top 10% of our employees as judged by (X metric–widget sales, maybe, or customer return rate, etc.) will receive a one-time bonus check of $4,080 (or a two dollar-per-hour raise paid out in October if the goal is hit by September 1st). Does your team know what the stakes are and what the payoff for winning is? Perhaps most importantly, are the stakes and payoff commensurate to the effort you are asking of your team?

 

3. Leaders force top performers to work in the same cookie-cutter rule set as bottom performers, but continue to expect top performance. One of the biggest fallacies in work culture is that everything has to be fair. All workers have to follow the same rules, the same way, or you will be making exceptions all the time. The problem with this should be blatantly obvious, yet nearly every company institutes this erroneous idea to a fault. If every employee were the same and every work rule and practice were always the same, then results would always be the same… but they never are. Some weeks or months are more profitable than others; some employees are better at some tasks than others.

Leaders often refuse to acknowledge the reason “fair” does not work is because some employees are better than others. Go ahead and pick your cup off the floor–I said it and it is true. Some employees are better than others. If you prefer more politically correct phrasing, you can trade that for, “some employees provide greater value to the organization”.

I remember my first day working for a consulting firm that hired me for my innovative ideas on how to achieve the company’s vision and bring their mission statement and values to life. I watched the leaders of the company give a 3-hour power-point presentation to a large group. Afterwards they asked what I thought. I said, “I would get rid of the Power-point presentation or reduce the number of slides to 10 or less and remove most of the bullet points in favor of eye-catching pictures.” I was told the power-point has to stay as it is and I needed to learn their way instead of create my own. Although I gained invaluable experience, I did not last long with that employer because I was not a good fit for their cookie-cutter role. Within only a few months, they realized they did not know what to do with me. In the end, I lost a great team and they lost one of their greatest advocates and a committed employee… that might have become a great employee.

Effective leaders, I think, are effective because they know the distinction between a goal, a result, and a wish (a result, as stated previously, must exist in time and space–that is, a result is the measurable end of a cause/effect relationship in reality). A goal, on the other hand, is the desired end sum of results. It is what the results amount to. Great leaders understand that “More, Better, Different” are not goals (if your goal starts with any variation of those terms–“We need to make more widgets this year… we need better materials… we need a different approach…”, then you can stop there because you do not have a goal).

Goals set the end-point of results just as the finish line sets the end point of a marathon. The reward for meeting results and achieving goals should not be a never-ending raising of the bar. Top performers want a moment to enjoy their victory and look proudly over their kingdom–they need rest and a comfortable spot from which to observe their achievements once in a while.

Finally, great leaders throw out the cookie-cutter. Just because a company has done something the same way for 40 years is no justification to keep doing things the same way (“old” does not mean “effective”). Allowing your team the freedom to experiment and fail, and rewarding top-performers by treating them differently, with ever more freedom to do things their way, is a sure path to victory. Even if it seems crazy and no other person or team is doing it like your top performer… if he or she is producing the agreed-upon results and moving you toward your goal, don’t knock it; find a way to leverage it and improve it. Not forcing others to follow suit creates a little chaos, but it is exactly the right recipe for growth and innovation.

But don’t take my word for any of this. Ask your top performers what they think. Then listen, and step to the side of these 3 pitfalls.

Define results. Remember, the sum of defined results should lead to a goal. Reward your top performers with more freedom instead of more assignments.

 

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The Change Store

This would be an interesting shopping experience…

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What if you could visit a store that sold change? Not like pocket change but real world change–transformations in your life? You pay money and you receive a change in your life. There is no way for you to know what the change will be. It would be like gambling. You pull the lever, the slot machine spins the wheels and… maybe a new dining experience at a restaurant you have never visited or a recommendation for a Tony Robbins book or a new relationship or change in career or an unforgettable vacation or a move to a new city or who knows?

All you are promised when you enter the store is if you buy something, you will not leave the same and, almost always, the change will be for the better. How often would you frequent this store? How much change would you become addicted to? Would you be a frequent shopper?

Can you imagine walking into every mall and seeing, amid the stale, predictable shopping mall staples (JC Penney, Sears, Express, Macy’s, Forever 21, Yankee Candle, etc.) a store that always promises a new experience–a life changing experience–The Change Store?

 

Today’s Lesson: Guess what?  You probably knew this was coming, but The Change Store actually exists! The owners do not actually call it The Change Store, though. We just call it “life” and the best part is you do not actually have to pay any money to walk out with a positive change! Depending how much change you really want, all it costs is a little Courage (sometimes a lot of courage), Patience, and Persistence. Ready to go shopping?

 

 

 

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Am I Angry At You?

Words are powerful. It is fun to take a close look at how we use them.

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I find it interesting that we say things like, “I am angry at you!” AT you? We feel angry at a person or towards something. We are in love with somebody.

Our relationship to emotions is curious. We expel them from our bodies as if they are projectiles that we can throw at other people like baseballs. I am mad at you! The thing is, we let emotions live in our language in such a way that we are absolved of our responsibility for feeling them. We never say, “I am Anger now!”. Yet, curiously, we do say, “I am happy.” Perhaps we find it easier to accept we are present and in sync with a positive feeling but negative emotions happen to us.

Either way, think about how you use language to convey both the feelings you expel to others and accept from them, and listen to the language you use when defining your own emotions.

 

Today’s lesson: It is okay to feel emotions. Do not let yourself off the hook, however, for feeling them. Be conscious of the words you use to share your feelings. The onus is on you to take responsibility for who you are, not on others to accept you for who you feel like being.

 

 

 

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