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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  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serving the purpose of prior generations.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…

Thought Provoking Quotes From Dr. Gordon Livingston

I have always been a fan of Dr. Gordon Livingston and his four books:  Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart; And Don’t Forget to Dance; How To Love; and The Thing You Think You Cannot Do.  I highly recommend all of them.  I often refer to each of these books for inspiration and guidance. Today,  I thought I would share some excerpts from his first book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, to help launch the week on a positive and thoughtful note:

“We are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel.  We are what we do.”

“The three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.”

“We are entitled to receive only that which we are prepared to give.”

“If we wish, as most of us do, to be treated with kindness and forbearance, we need to cultivate those qualities in ourselves.”

“Some ignorance is invincible.  People can become so wedded to their particular view of how things should work that they ignore all evidence that suggest change is necessary.”

“We do not control how we feel or what we think.  Efforts to do so are uniformly frustrating as we struggle against unwanted thoughts and emotions in ways that only exacerbate them.”

“…there is a fine line between expressing empathy and solidarity for those who suffer and endorsing a passive dependency.”

‘In some settings notably our intimate relationships, we gain control only by relinquishing it.”

“There are certain personality characteristics that are highly correlated with academic and professional success:  dedication to work, attention to detail. ability to manage time, conscientiousness…”

“Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have.  The intensity of our connections to those we love is a function of our knowledge that everything and everyone is evanescent.”

“Usually it is fear and its close cousin, anxiety, that keep us from doing those things that would make us happy.  So much of our live consists of broken promises to ourselves.”

“The disconnect between what we say and what we do is not merely a measure of hypocrisy, since we usually believe our statements are of good intent.  We simply pay too much attention to words–ours and others’- and not enough to the actions that really define us.  The walls of our self-constructed prisons are made up in equal parts of our fear of risk and our dream that the world and the people in it will conform to our fondest wishes.  It is hard to let go of a comforting illusion, but harder still to construct a happy life out of perceptions and beliefs that do not correspond to the world around us.” 

“Whatever obligations we have to our children, a conviction that we can achieve happiness amid the losses and uncertainties that life contains is the greatest gift that we can pass from one generation to the next.  Like all the values we wish to teach our children–honesty, commitment, empathy, respect, hard work–the supreme importance of hope is taught by example.”

“All significant accomplishments involve taking risks: the risk of failure in invention, in exploration, or in love.”

“Our feelings depend mainly on our interpretation of what is happening to us and around us—our attitudes.  It is not so much what occurs, but how we define events and respond that determines how we feel.”

“The traits that we display toward other people are major determinants of how successful we are in forming and sustaining relationships.”

“Virtually all happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children.  This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.”

“…it is the act that defines us, not the cause we use as rationale…If we believe it is better to build than destroy, better to live and let live, better to be than be seen, then we might have a chance, slowly, to find a satisfying way through life, this flicker of consciousness between two great silences.”

“Nearly every human action is in some way and expression of how we think about ourselves.  There are few behaviors that are self-esteem neutral.”

“We routinely invoke theories of accident, coincidence, and forgetfulness to explain behaviors that we do not wish to examine closely.”

“It is always easier to keep doing what we are used to, even if it’s evidently not working for us.”

“To know someone fully and love them in spite of, even because of, their imperfections is an act that requires us to recognize and forgive, two very important indicators of emotional maturity.”

“It is our fallibility and uncertainty that make us human.  Our constant challenge is not to seek perfection in ourselves and others, but to find ways to be happy in an imperfect world.  We are impeded in this effort if we cling to an idealized vision of the past that insures dissatisfaction with the present.”

“To be able to fully experience the sadness and absurdity that life so often presents and still find reasons to go on is an act of courage abetted by our ability to both love and laugh.  Above all, to tolerate the uncertainty we must feel in the face of the large questions of existence requires that we cultivate and ability to experience moments of pleasure.”

Mental health is a function of choice.  The more choices we are able to exercise, the happier we are likely to be…We are never out of choices, no matter how desperate the circumstances.”

“If we can relinquish the preoccupations and pseudo-explanations that are rooted in the past, we are free to choose the attitudes with which we confront the present and future.”

“If we approach others in a suspicious or hostile way, they are more likely to respond accordingly, thereby confirming our low expectations. Fortunately, the opposite is likewise true.”

“Coming to terms with our past is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors.  It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender.  And it often seems impossible until the moment you do it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Friendship

English: Image of American philosopher/poet Ra...

English: Image of American philosopher/poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, dated 1859. Scanned from Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Lothrop Motley: Two Memoirs by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1904. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I felt like doing something different with this blog.  I am a huge fan of the literary works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and was recently revisiting and discussing his essay on friendship as part of a class I am teaching.  I’ve always believed that a life is defined by the quality of one’s relationships.  We all want the same thing: some level of connectedness with other individuals that that both allows and encourages us to live the best life we can live.   While at its very beginning and final end, life may be a solo journey, the rest of it is full of human interaction.  Our level of happiness during the balance of our existence is most often dictated by how we navigate the dense forest of interpersonal relationships.  As usual, Emerson is much more eloquent than I am on this topic and here are a few excerpts from the essay:

“We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken.  Maugre all the selfishness that chills like east winds the world, the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether…”

“Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection…”

“…The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed; there is no winter, and no night; all tragedies, all ennuis, vanish, — all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons…”

“…Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of the tough fibre of the human heart. The laws of friendship are austere and eternal, of one web with the laws of nature and of morals. But we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit in the whole garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen…”

“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest thing we know. For now, after so many ages of experience, what do we know of nature, or of ourselves? Not one step has man taken toward the solution of the problem of his destiny. In one condemnation of folly stand the whole universe of men. But the sweet sincerity of joy and peace, which I draw from this alliance with my brother’s soul, is the nut itself, whereof all nature and all thought is but the husk and shell…”

“There are two elements that go to the composition of friendship, each so sovereign that I can detect no superiority in either, no reason why either should be first named. One is Truth. A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere…The other element of friendship is tenderness…”

“…I wish that friendship should have feet, as well as eyes and eloquence. It must plant itself on the ground, before it vaults over the moon…”

“…We are to dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of one’s life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom, and unity. It should never fall into something usual and settled, but should be alert and inventive, and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery.”

“…Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort. In good company there is never such discourse between two, across the table, as takes place when you leave them alone. In good company, the individuals merge their egotism into a social soul exactly co-extensive with the several consciousnesses there present…”

“…Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his/her echo. The condition which high friendship demands is ability to do without it. That high office requires great and sublime parts. There must be very two, before there can be very one. Let it be an alliance of two large, formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which beneath these disparities unites them.”

“…We must be our own before we can be another’s…”

“…The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one…”

“…In the last analysis, love is only the reflection of a person’s own worthiness from others…”

“The higher the style we demand of friendship, of course the less easy to establish it with flesh and blood. We walk alone in the world. Friends, such as we desire, are dreams and fables. But a sublime hope cheers ever the faithful heart, that elsewhere, in other regions of the universal power, souls are now acting, enduring, and daring, which can love us, and which we can love…”

“…Only be admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be. Our impatience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which no God attends…”

“The essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity and trust. It must not surmise or provide for infirmity…”

“It has seemed to me lately more possible than I knew, to carry a friendship greatly, on one side, without due correspondence on the other. Why should I cumber myself with regrets that the receiver is not capacious? It never troubles the sun that some of his rays fall wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small part on the reflecting planet…”

Leadership Thought #352 – What I Learned From My Mom

As we celebrate another Mother’s Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts on my mom and how she has influenced my life.  Sadly, my mother is in a nursing home now, but she still has that sparkle behind here eyes when she sees me and my kids. You always know that when you are with her you have entered a space of love.

A mother is a very special person in a child’s life and if you are lucky, a lingering positive presence throughout your adult life.   Much of what we first learn comes from our mom.  She is often the calm in the midst of the many storms we encounter.  She is there for you no matter what.  I am blessed that my mom had so much to offer.  The following lessons are just a small sampling of her overall impact on my life:

  • Love your children fully and unconditionally – I never once doubted my mother’s love for me;
  • Be your kid’s biggest defender – life can be hard at times even for a kid and it’s nice to know there is someone who will always have your back;
  • Be your kids biggest fan – take pleasure  in the little accomplishments;
  • Make the effort to make the special moments truly special – holidays and birthdays were always fun in our house;
  • Sing and laugh loudly – have fun, who cares who’s listening;
  • Indulge your creative side – it is an important part of who you are;
  • Reading IS fundamental – always have a good book by your side;
  • Offer affection regularly – the people you love should be reminded often;
  • Having faith makes life easier to navigate and helps you to never lose sight of what’s most important;
  • Stay in touch with the people closest to you – my mom wrote me just about every other week I was in college and it made a big difference;
  • Sadly, pain is part of life but don’t get mired in it –  offer it up and move on with your day;
  • When someone is sick, take care of them and be a source of comfort – you will both feel better in the end;
  • It’s okay to get angry every once in awhile, but don’t hold on to it too tightly – always forgive those you love;
  • Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face – know when to pick your battles and when to relent;
  • Never get caught in a lie – honesty is an essential part of your character;
  • If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, then say nothing – my mom never badmouthed anyone to me;
  • Never worry to much about what others think about you – be true to yourself;
  • A robust family life leads to a fuller and happier life.

If you are fortunate to have your mom still with you please treat her special this weekend – she deserves it.  If she is no longer with us, then spend some time in quite reflection remembering the happy times and positive memories.  We only get one mother.  Never forget that without her we wouldn’t be here.  She sacrificed and gave up many things to have and be with you.  She wasn’t perfect (no one is) but I’m sure she tried her best.  She brought us into this world, took care of us, and made sure we could find our own way.  She taught us how to love and be loved – the most important gift of all.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Birthday Greetings – Thoughts on Life

I typically ask my friends and clients to share some wisdom about life when it is their birthday.  I am always impressed by what they come up with.  The following is my own humble attempt to offer ten thoughts on the same topic:

A life is defined by the quality of your relationships.

The highest quality relationship we can have is unconditional love – endeavor to give it and aspire to achieve it.

What you decide to do for a living is choice and don’t be afraid to make changes if it isn’t bringing out the best parts of you.

You can often get a true sense of someone’s character by how they treat those who are more vulnerable than themselves especially pets, children and the elderly.

Everyone needs things that ground them in life and reminds them they are part of something bigger than themselves.

People are multidimensional and shouldn’t be viewed in singular terms.  We all have reasons for doing what we do.

Be wary of becoming too judgmental. More often than not you don’t have all the information necessary to make an accurate determination and life has a way of eventually altering your perspective.

The issues we have with other people often say more about us than them.

Start each day by looking in the mirror and asking yourself, “am I becoming the person I want to become?” If not, explore why and make the necessary changes.

End each day by counting your blessings and expressing gratitude to those who helped make your journey easier that day.

I feel fortunate to have made it this far in life.  Not everyone gets to live this long.  As we age it becomes more obvious that time is finite.  I wish you well on your own journey and that the time you have left is well spent.

Leadership Thought #417 – Monday Mornings Shouldn’t Bum You Out

I know quite a few people who actually start feeling depressed on Sunday night because work is the next day. Sadly, for many of them, this has been a feeling that has existed for years.  I honestly cannot comprehend this state of mind at this point in my life.  Sure when I was fresh out of college and new to my professional work life I didn’t always get thrilled about Monday mornings, but as I have progressed in my career and thinking, that is a long distant memory.  If what you are doing makes you that unhappy either change how you think about it or choose to do something else.  Life is too short for habitual Sunday night misery.

There are very few real victims in life.  Outside of violent crime, your victimhood is usually a personal choice.  Plenty of people have accomplished great things in their life and come from humble or disadvantaged beginnings.   You are the architect of your own life: good, bad or otherwise.  A large percentage of your time as an adult will be spent in some level of employment.  Simply putting in your time and waiting for retirement is a “soul-sucking” way to live.  There are no real guarantees for your future so make the most of now.

Here are a few points to possibly help you rethink your attitude towards your job if you regularly deal with the Sunday night blues:

  • Take your career seriously – create a plan for advancement;
  • Show up with a positive attitude and treat your colleagues courteously and most will respond in kind – even the most cynical will eventually come around to the positive vibe you are creating if you stick to it;
  • All work is done in service to someone, try to think about who your are helping and the difference you are making in their life;
  • Consider where you feel especially competent and take pride in striving for personal excellence in these areas;
  • If you are feeling incompetent or overwhelmed in certain areas, be honest and ask for help – most people will step up and help/teach when asked;
  • Try to partner with other people at work who complement your strengths and weakness;
  • Treat problems as opportunities to demonstrate your skills and abilities rather than petty annoyances or burdens;
  • Try to get to know your boss better and fully understand what makes him/her tick – be a positive resource for them rather than someone who regularly snipes behind their back;
  • If you are the boss, take pride in the growth and development of your direct reports – make it your mission to convince people (in a constructive way) that they are capable of much more than they imagine is possible;
  • Don’t be a clock watcher, instead create a daily “to do list” and have a plan of accomplishment for each day;
  • Allow enough time for commuting difficulties and budget some thinking/getting settled time for the start of each day;
  • Count your many blessing at the end of every day to reinforce what is good in your life.

Leadership Thought #410 – 22 Things You Could Do Wrong Today

Life is about habits and behaviors.  All time represents is a series of moments and actions stitched together that seemingly always exist in the present.  We can reflect on what we have done in the past, think about what we may do in the future, but we can really only ever control now.  Part of my job is observation.  Sadly, my best case study is often myself when it comes to areas of needed improvement.  I never cease to amaze myself with what I consciously do wrong and regret later although I am getting better.  I am also certain my human experience isn’t unique.  You may catch your self doing some of the following things over the course of any given day that inhibit rather than promote feelings of self-satisfaction and happiness:

  1. Eating something you know isn’t good for you;
  2. Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol;
  3. Not exercising enough or at all;
  4. Not allowing enough time for sleep;
  5. Doing something dangerous or reckless behind the wheel of a car;
  6. Attempting to multi-task and prioritizing your tasks badly;
  7. Not really listening to what someone else has to say;
  8. Missing a deadline at work or home that you agreed to and/or set yourself;
  9. Not allowing yourself enough time to do something well;
  10. Avoiding doing something necessary that you just don’t like doing;
  11. Spend too much time in front of the TV watching something of no real discernible value;
  12. Getting annoyed at something inconsequential;
  13. Being impolite or exhibiting bad manners;
  14. Closing your mind to an alternative point of view;
  15. Rushing to judgment about someone or something you don’t know well enough to judge;
  16. Making a decision without enough facts or understanding of the situation;
  17. Treating attractive people better than everyone else just because of the way they look;
  18. Buying something you really don’t need;
  19. Lying or not telling someone how you honestly feel;
  20. Saying yes when you should say no;
  21. Being unaware of or unthoughtful about your body language and tone of voice;
  22. Blaming a mistake or misstep on someone or something else.

As with all things, awareness is the first step.  I encourage you to print out and take this list with you and put it in your briefcase, purse or wallet.  I also like to tape it to my desk and put it in my glove compartment.  Briefly review it several times throughout the course of the day.    When you knowingly do something on the list put a check mark next to it as close to the occurrence as possible.  At the end of the week see how many check marks you have and which items are you biggest weaknesses.  Rethink how you could have handled the situations differently.  No rationalizations are allowed.  Over time you will notice that the number of check marks will go down markedly.  Don’t strive for perfection just incremental daily improvement.  After a month I guarantee you will notice a big difference in how you feel and how others are responding to you.

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