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There Is Much To Learn From Saint Patrick

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland.  He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background.  Saint Patrick himself was known to enjoy a drink or two.  However the celebratory aspect of the day should not overshadow the remarkable life and good works of the man.

As a teenager of wealth and privilege he was kidnapped and taken from his adopted home of Scotland (his parents were originally from Rome) bought to Ireland and sold into slavery.  At the age of 20 he escaped his bondage and found his way back home only to volunteer to return again to Ireland in his 30s as an ordained priest on a missionary quest. He spent the remainder of his life spreading his beliefs throughout the country and converting people from all walks of life.  It’s worth noting that his journey was not an easy one and he was often imprisoned and beaten because of the courage of his convictions and success of his work.

There is much to learn from the life of Saint Patrick including the following:

  • No matter what happens to you don’t forsake hope or allow yourself to be fully defined by your adverse circumstances;
  • A life of privilege is meaningless unless you can anchor it to something more profound and “bigger” than yourself;
  • Committing yourself to a cause you believe in is not for the feint of heart and requires courage and persistence;
  • You can accomplish great things in life if you truly believe in what you are doing and your values align with your work;
  • Confront your fears head on and grow because of (not in spite of)  your bad experiences;
  • Speak out when you see and injustice and help others whenever you can (even if there is a price to pay for this behavior);
  • A life of significance is the result of diligent daily effort.

To my knowledge Saint Patrick was never officially canonized by the Vatican but he is still on the list of saints.  Sometimes a life’s work stands on its own.  If and when you raise a glass in toast this weekend, I encourage to consider toasting Saint Patrick.  He was a special man who accomplished great things despite many difficulties and hardships.  He put the welfare of others ahead of his own and literally was the spark that transformed the religious faith of a nation.

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Leadership Thought #464 – Embrace What Makes You Special

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not.  There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well.  It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others.  Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?

I firmly believe that each one of us is born with gifts and unique talents we can share with others and excel at. Unfortunately, at an early age we are thrust into an educational/social system that pushes us to conform and defines what success within this system should look like.  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serving the purpose of prior generations. Very early on life we are taught that there are winners and losers and that winning requires certain characteristics and attributes that only a select few possess.  Moreover, the path towards achievement is narrowly defined and more often than not materialistic in nature.  I believe this partially explains our dysfunctional societal obsession with celebrity and wealth.  Don’t buy into it!

One of things I marvel at in life is how different we all are from one another.  Sure, there are obvious physical similarities, but in the course of any given day I meet people who blow me away with their individuality.  Some people can fix anything with little guidance; others can solve complex mathematical problems in their head, while others are quick on their feet and handle any social situation.  I’ve witnessed creative minds that operate on a level I can’t even fathom.  Some people thrive under stress while others fall apart.  Science is fun for some people and a bore for others.  There are people who are so physically gifted they make any athletic activity look smooth and easy while others stumble attempting the most basic physical task.  There are people who look for the spotlight and others who run from it.  Some people like to lead while many more want nothing to do with it.  Our differences are vast and wonderful. None of the above is good or bad; it just makes you who you are.  And, the more we try and put ourselves in situations where we are pre-programmed to thrive, the happier we will be.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about a state of being called “flow” where you feel perfectly aligned with what you are doing.  Time seems to stand still, you feel an innate sense of joy and your efforts feel almost effortless.  At this moment you are one with nature and your own being.  We’ve all experienced these moments, but sadly they are usually few and far between.  Reality quickly returns and we are back on the treadmill of life, trying to survive our own existence by doing what we feel we should be doing.  I’ve never like the word “should.”  Of course there are family and civic responsibilities we must attend to, however, this is only part of who we are, not all of it.  I’ve been privileged to experience a number of people who have followed what Joseph Campbell termed their “bliss” and lived wonderful lives doing unique things that an objective outside person couldn’t imagine would lead to any level of success, but it did. Never forget that true success is an individual definition.   Happy people make better spouses, parents, siblings, friends and bosses.

Shakespeare stated it perfectly centuries ago, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  To be of maximum service and value to others we must first be true to ourselves.  Please don’t spend a lifetime trying to be someone you are not.  Instead, celebrate and tap into what is great about you already.  Pay attention to the positive signals the world is giving you.  Look for and be open to the “flow” of life and it will find you…

Leadership Thought #461 – Success Must Be Earned

I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend lately amongst many entrepreneurs.  They want to work the hours of a successful person without yet attaining actual business success.  I think all this talk of work-life balance has people a bit confused.  It you want to run a business that supports a flexible lifestyle, you can certainly choose working for yourself as an option, but financial success usually requires very hard work especially at the beginning.  You can’t enjoy the experience of having climbed the mountain without having done the hard work to climb it in the first place. You can’t be all things to all people including yourself; you must make some tough choices about how you spend your time.

You can’t have a business fraught with cash flow and sales problems and leave work early to coach soccer practice. You can’t volunteer for multiple boards if your own company is lacking direction itself.  You can’t give yourself a raise or distribution to cover increased living expenses if you can already barely make payroll.  You can’t have a policy of not working weekends or being home for dinner every night when you can barely keep the doors open.  You can’t regularly show up to work late when your customers typically arrive early.   You can’t limit your client geography because of commuting headaches if your clients exist beyond your travel comfort boundaries. You can’t take long vacations if your business requires you to have an active daily presence.  You have to be honest with your spouse about networking responsibilities and pressing deadlines rather than attempting to meet unrealistic family expectations during the work week.

There is a big difference between starting a lifestyle business and running real business.  The former is more of a personal job program where you prioritize quality of life over economic benefits.   Many people do this and are happy, but they know their economic limitations and do their best to live with in them.    Most of these businesses at best only employ a handful of people.  The latter has the potential for great economic benefit but more often than not requires significant personal sacrifice, significant risk taking and delayed gratification.  You are building something over time and as with most construction projects there is a lot of design and build work at the front end.  Delays and problems will inevitably happen, but if you stay focused, follow the plan and work hard, the rewards can be great at the back-end.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but they are few are far between, this is why we call them exceptions. I am very worried that our society is becoming addicted to short cuts, personal convenience and unrealistic expectations. We want what we want and we want it now with minimal sacrifice on our end.  America was not built on this mindset. We got to where we are by hard work and personal sacrifice.  We outworked our competition and did our best to consistently grow our capabilities and network of contacts.  We pushed economic boundaries and raised the bar on what was possible through sheer determination and effort.  We prioritized progress and success over personal self-exploration and leisure time.  We did what was necessary to get the job done and didn’t complain about how hard this was to accomplish.  You can’t have it all despite what some supposed experts try to tell you – no one can, but you can always prioritize what’s most important at a given point and time and then live with the consequences.  Success must be earned and you can never take for granted what it takes to get there.

Leadership Thought #459 – 7 Tips You Ensure You Hit Your Goals/Resolutions for 2014

goal

goal (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Most of us will start the New Year with a list of goals we would like to achieve over the course of the next year.  Making New Years‘ Resolutions has become an American pastime.  Unfortunately, a majority of us will end up falling far below our initial expectations.  For some reason we either lose interest, become distracted by other things, or find the goals end up requiring more than we are willing to give to get there.   Over the years I’ve observed a much smaller number of people who actually achieve what they set out to do each and every year.  From this experience, I’ve developed the following tips to help you become one of these lucky few:

1) First and foremost, pick a goal you genuinely want to achieve not something you think you should be focused on or feel pressured by others to get done.  When our will is tested our real level of commitment typically becomes apparent.  People who aren’t committed to stopping smoking won’t do it; however, they may start eating healthier and/or start doing exercises that increase their lung capacity;

2) Be very specific about what you want to achieve.  Saying I want to lose weight or save more money is too vague.  Making it something more concrete like I want to lose 15 pounds by Memorial Day Weekend or have my resting heartbeat drop to 60 beats per minute by softball season or I will finish the first draft of my book by Halloween;

3) Push yourself but be somewhat realistic.  If you make $75K a year, saving $25K probably isn’t doable, but $7,500 may be.  If you want to still aim high, create a stretch goal above and beyond your desired outcome, but make sure there is some level of success that is initially achievable and worth celebrating;

4) Be transparent about your goals with close friends/and or loved ones and make your progress highly visible.  Put this information on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, as your screen saver, tape it to your desk, etc. – the more places the better. In addition, start and end each day by reading them out loud;

5) Break your goal down into smaller increments so that you build up positive momentum throughout the course of the year.  Reducing personal debt by 25% sounds great, but how will this happen, e.g., increasing monthly payments by 5% each successive month, paying off highest interest credit cards  first (1 at a time), etc.;

6) Have a goal buddy who has a similar mindset that you check in with on a regular basis, at least once per quarter, but preferably every month. You’d be surprised how just talking with someone regularly increases individual accountability.  You’ll also both get goal fatigue at some point in the year and the other person will help you stay focused;

7) Establish an additional attractive payoff once you have achieved the goal like buying new summer clothes if you lose weight, or going on a more active fun vacation if you get more fit, or starting a regular fun/entertainment budget once you are out of debt.  We tend to stay focused on not just what we measure but also what we reward.

I have been fortunate to have a pretty good track record of achieving my own goals on an annual basis although I do plan on pushing myself a bit more this year.  I honestly believe that most of our limitations in life are self-imposed and we are all capable of achieving whatever we want when we put our minds to it.   I sincerely hope that 2014 is a banner year for you and that you use the following seven tips to help get you there.  Happy New Year!

Excerpts From The Road Less Traveled

Cover of "The Road Less Traveled"

Cover of The Road Less Traveled

A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.  I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later.  I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:

“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”

“…when children know they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valuable…the feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline…when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self discipline is self-caring.”

“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”

“…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”

“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”

“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”

“The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map makers.”

“The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.”

“Mature mental health demands, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.  The essence of this discipline of balancing is giving up… the giving up of personality traits, well established patterns of behavior, ideologies, and even whole life systems.”

“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”

“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined. It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.”

“Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.”

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”

“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”

“Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship.  Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through relationship of constancy.”

“Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.”

“Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other  but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss…”sacrifices” on behalf of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.”

“.. all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.”

“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”

“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”

“Many scientists simply do not look at the evidence of the reality of God.  They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”

“…one of the reasons we fail to take full advantage of grace is that we are not fully aware of its presence – that is, we don’t find valuable things not sought for, because we fail to appreciate the value of the gift when it is given us…we consider such events unremarkable, and consequently we fail to take full advantage of them.”

“An individual’s body may undergo changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve.  New physical patterns are not forged.  Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability.  Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age.  Our lifetime offers unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.”

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

“If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome.  If we don’t overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled.”

“A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

“Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves.  They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness.  They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.”

“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”

“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

“We attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychiatrists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.”

“The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent to mankind…”

“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”

Happy Holidays 2013!

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of t...

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of this Christmas display with over 3.5 million lights. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year I have fun reading through holiday books looking for excerpts from writings that reflect my feelings about the season.  This is an especially poignant year for me given my father’s recent passing.  His birthday was actually Christmas day and it will be the first time we haven’t spoken on this day in my lifetime.  He always loved Christmastime and it has definitely worn off on me.  

My house has and always will always be decorated with lights in honor of my dad. It may be my imagination, but I feel that this has been the best year yet for decorations as I drive around and appreciate the individual creativity of so many homeowners.  It appears that people are in an especially festive mood this year and I know that dad is looking down and smiling on all of it.

Since 1944, “Ideals Christmas” has been a tradition in thousands of homes across the USA.  The book contains traditional poems that explore the meaning of the holiday and recall special times with family and friends.  I came across the following poem which resonated with me (Thanks Mable!):

The Message of Christmas Bells
By Mable Clare Thomas

Once more the bells of Christmas
Are ringing sweet and clear;
Once more our hearts are lifted up
And filled with hope and cheer,
For friendship knows no barriers
Of distance, time or space,
And loving thoughts can wing their way
To any clime or place.

Each year the message of the bells,
Over mountain, plain, or sea,
Reminds us love is born anew,
Steadfast, tender, strong, and true,
Wherever we may be.

I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones have a great week of celebration and friendship this year.  And, may the New Year bring you many blessings and much happiness!

Leadership Thought #457 – Eight Things You Can Do To End The Year On A High Note

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights (Photo credit: ImageMD)

As we wind down another year, I thought it would be useful to share some best practices I have observed over the years by leaders who tend to end every year on a high note:

  1. Close as many big deals as you can before the Christmas vacation.  Redouble your efforts and offer incentives to get the deal done.  Put off tinkering with internal operational issues.  Nothing launches a new year better than a flurry of sales at the end of the previous one.  As a leader it makes you feel confident and secure;
  2. Personally reach out to your top 10 (or more) customers and thank them for their business.  Holiday cards and emails are a poor substitute for genuine relationship building;
  3. Say no to last minute unreasonable customer demands or at least negotiate more agreeable terms.  And, always walk away from a bad deal.  Some people, especially those who have somewhat one-dimensional lives will push just because they can.  It’s important to have professional boundaries and stick to them;
  4. Instead of procrastinating, have whatever difficult conversations you need to have and get them over with.  Don’t let the challenges of managing difficult people issues linger – they only get worse with time and occupy much needed mental bandwidth;
  5. Ensure you have a strong handle on your financial situation and make smart tax and cash flow decisions.  Don’t spend what you don’t have.  Do your best to avoid self-created financial crises;
  6. Spend the majority of your management time with your top performers making them feel appreciated and supported. No leader ever led an organization to greatness by getting distracted by his/her weakest links;
  7. Make sure there is an actual business/operational plan in place for the next year.  Hint: You shouldn’t be starting this just now.  It should have been months in the making.  Hit the ground running on January 2 and don’t look back;
  8. When you are spending time with family and friends during the holidays, be fully present in those moments.  Work will always be there when you get back.  If you execute on the previous seven actions and avoid unnecessary distractions, you should be in a good place personally to unwind, tend to close relationships, recharge your batteries, and count your blessings.

I have watched many a leader get stressed out in December and run around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Instead of focusing on the few things that actually matter, they try to get too much done in too little time.  There is too much stress and not enough enjoyment.  There are no business problems that took eleven months to create that will get resolved in one short month of work.  Do what you should doing to close out the year  in the most effective and efficient way possible and then focus on what truly is most important – your loved ones!

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