Attitude

bold

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

Boldness does not come easily or naturally. Although we admire boldness, we humans struggle against it. We weave boldness into myth and legend, make a virtue of it, then actively discourage it. We celebrate boldness while striving to blend in out of fear of standing out.

One of the biggest societal sins we can commit is simply non-conformity. Standing out. Being different. We humans are wary of differences and look for anything telling that’s out of the norm. It creates a division, a wedge, an “us vs them” schism with those around us. It announces, “I am not one of you.”

Even those who rebel against the majority tend to conform to the rules and norms of their own group. The most rebellious are sometimes the most conservative of all. The biker or punk rocker or hipster programmer has just as many unspoken rules about what to wear, where to live, and what to drive as the banker or lawyer or accountant.

The penalties for standing out range from being ignored with the cold shoulder to being discredited and marginalized to being cast out, ostracized. The instinct to punish or reject anyone different persists so well and so strong we’ve had to create laws to prevent discrimination on the can’t-be-helped differences.

But what about the can-be-helped differences? Those who choose the non-conformity of being bold? Those heretics who bring different perspectives or dare to argue against the Truths of Best Practices? For those who aren’t doing as well as we are we point, criticize, and judge their non-conformity as evidence of inferiority. If they are doing better than us, we complain, resent, and discredit.

Yet, no person or organization ever stood out by being the same. No one ever got ahead by holding back. The world has never been changed by those wrapped in the warm, safe blanket of average. The joke is on use as we laugh when they go against the conventional wisdom that no longer works and we continue to predict their failure as they go about succeeding.

Boldness exists as a virtue in myth and legend, but in the everyday it’s easier and safer to say “no” than “yes”. More prudent to replicate the past than create the future. We seek to offend no one and become offensively inoffensive. Our businesses, our actions, our lives look like everyone else’s around us. We choose safe over meaningful, stable over fulfilling, secure over interesting, known over bold. And it’s keeping us trapped.

Bold fails. Bold succeeds. Bold is colorful. Bold is never boring. Bold is courageous. Bold risks. Bold leaps. Bold opens itself up to failure for the freedom and joy of the opportunity. Bold creates. Bold is a spark, a moment, a conviction, an inspiration. Bold is tenacious persistence. Bold is meaningful. Bold is unique. Bold is crazyscaryjoyful.

We need more bold.

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best practices for playing the victim

As one year ends and another begins it’s a time of reflection and renewal for many people. They assess what they accomplished in their lives the previous year and begin planning the results they want to create in the New Year. Sure, there are those who will prattle on about the advantages of goal setting and action plans and blah, blah, blah. So what? That requires discipline and effort and focus and inconvenience and change and who has time for that? What if you could just short cut the process by playing the victim?

Ever played the victim? I sure have. I don’t mean being a victim of a crime or suffering for someone else’s actions. I mean wanting my life to be different, taking no actions to make it different, and then stockpiling an exhaustive list of reasons and excuses as to why it’s not different. I don’t want to brag, but I do believe I can use my experience to help you be a better victim.

If you’ve never played the victim, there are a few key strategies and best practices that are important to know as you start out. As with any skill, the masters can get away with things that amateurs can’t and I’ve tried to note some of those exceptions.

1. To justify your lack of progress ALWAYS compare yourself to others and NEVER compare yourself to yourself. Sure, some would say you can only measure success by the progress you’ve made given what you have and where you started, but there’s no place in victimhood for measuring your progress against your efforts. [NOTE: an expert level victim can use their own past failures as justification for not making any progress today, but it’s a tricky thing because even a casual observer might make the rational argument that yesterday is not today. Leave this one for the pros.]

2. It’s also important to compare yourself to people with completely different circumstances, skills, strengths, and gifts and use that as proof that you can’t create the difference you want in your life. BUT it’s very important to only look at those who had advantages over you, NEVER compare yourself to those who had more to overcome. For example, if I was creating excuses for not being wealthier I’d only want to compare myself to those born into money and never ever compare myself to a first generation refugee struggling with new culture and language who became a millionaire by working three jobs, foregoing all luxury, saving every dime, and investing prudently for thirty years. [NOTE: A truly masterful victim can compare themselves to those who have it worse by twisting that hardship into an “unfair advantage.” But, don’t try that the first time you play the victim as you’ll end up looking petty and silly.]

3. When you compare yourself to others who have been more successful at what you’re not accomplishing, be sure to minimize their efforts by writing it all off as being “lucky”. Sure there is always going to be an element of location, timing, help, and unexpectedness to any success story, but being a good victim means focusing only on the advantages that were outside the other person’s control. If I wanted to justify, say, my lack of success as a musician, I’d look at person who was an “overnight success” ten years in the making and complain that it all comes down to who you know. [NOTE: never try to apply logic to your victimhood. You want to create rationalizations, not be rational. There’s a difference.]

4. A key part of being a really great victim is to choose reasons that you have absolutely no control over and then use that as justification for never changing the things over which you do have control. For example, if I wanted to justify why I’m a poor swimmer, I might say, “The best swimmers are much taller and have longer arm spans than me. There’s nothing I can do about being short, so I’ll never be a better swimmer.” You might be thinking that I might never be a gold medalist but I could – maybe – improve my swimming by taking lessons and actually getting into the pool occasionally. And you’d be right, BUT you’ll never be a good victim with that kind of reasoning.

5. Memorize this phrase and use it a lot: “I tried that, but….” This phrase does wonders for giving legitimacy for half-hearted efforts. Forget persistence, never mind actual results, simply dismiss any lack of progress by saying, “I tried.”

6. Seek help from others, but never from anyone who might be able to help you. Actually, seek “help” by only finding people with whom you can commiserate and complain. Ideally, you’ll want to find someone who will not only believe you excuses but will enthusiastically support and build on them.

There’s just a few tips to get you started. Of course, you’ll find and develop your own victimhood style as you go. The really nice thing about playing the victim – if you do it well – is that your lack results and progress will never be your fault. Sure, you won’t create the life or career you actually want but at least you’ll sleep soundly knowing it wasn’t you that got in your own way.

it’s a dog’s life: another post on gratitude

Photo: Sound asleep and snoring.

Sound asleep and snoring. It’s a dog’s life.

Watching my kids’ puppies gnawing away on their chew toys last night, I wondered if they spend any time in wonderment of their good fortune. Do they ever think, “Woohoo, I won the doggy lottery! How did I get so lucky”?

Both were rescued, saved from neglect and starvation, and then adopted by my kids. They have the love of children, other dogs to play with, a big yard, a house to sleep in, and full bellies. It is such a different situation from where they came from that I found myself pondering whether they remember and think about the contrast.

Of course, then I immediately thought, “Do I fully appreciate my situation? Do I think about what could have been or spend any time wondering, “How did I get so lucky?”  Sure, I like to think I work hard and make reasonably good choices, but I had nothing to do with when and where I was born and raised. Being born into a stable family, in a wealthy country, during a time of little conflict and good medical care, having access to education, and never worrying about having enough to eat kinda gives a person a running head start at life. An enormous part of the world’s population spends far too much of their day just trying to survive until the next. Too many don’t enjoy basic human rights or rule of law to protect them. Too many go without education, food, or even just clean water.

I don’t know how to ease suffering or create prosperity for billions of people. I can’t fix anarchy and tyranny. I’m unable to prevent brutal attacks on people caught in the crossfire of long running conflicts. I can’t erase envy, greed, and corruption from human nature. I don’t know how to correct the world’s problems or balance out inequality or make sure that children don’t go hungry.

Thinking about that contrast, I feel – I believe – I owe the world something in return for my good fortune. There’s so much I can’t do, but I can put love back into the world. I can raise my kids to understand that ethics and personal responsibility are far more important than short-term happiness and instant gratification. I can do work that is meaningful to me and has a positive impact on others. I can try to find ways to bring out the best in myself and those around me. I can be grateful for my situation and remember that no matter how bad my day gets, it’s not really all that bad – there are several billion people who would trade places in a heartbeat.

Most important, I can make sure I’m not squandering the advantages and blessings I’ve been handed.

What thinks you?

 

 

 

will it have mattered?

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.” ~ Richard Bach

 

Will it have mattered that I was here? Mattered in my life, my work, in my family, in the world? When I move on to whatever’s next, will anyone notice? Have I made full use of talents given? Have I developed other talents? Is the world better for my being here; am I better for having been in the world?

Have I loved, been loved, created more love in the world than was here when I arrived? Were my relationships strong or just people I knew and “liked” (thumbs up)? Did the people in my life know just how important they were to me? How far did I influence and how strong was my presence and what difference did it have?

Did I move humanity and humanness forward or hold it back? Have my thoughts and actions enlightened or darkened? Did I live with purpose or just get through another day? Did I contract or expand? Was every day a fuller day of life or just one day closer to death?

Did it matter? Did I matter? Have I eased pain and suffering, created ways for others to do better, helped at all? Was it all about me or all about them or all about us? If I had to account for privilege of living and show my results and justify the blessings given, could I? Did I care? Did anyone care?

Have I made excuses and justifications or owned every decision and action? Are the outcomes in my life mine or did I give those choices to others? Did I anchor myself to my limitations or set off to find new boundaries? Will others look past my life or will they find inspiration and possibility and hope for their own?

The clock ticks, the second hand moves, the days slide past. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day and forget to live; so easy to get it done while neglecting to make it matter.

Will I pass with the satisfaction of giving it all or the agony of wondering if it were a mistake? Will it have mattered?

swagger, baby!

Us humans are a walking, talking paradoxical, subjective mass of biases, prejudice, and self-delusion. And that’s ok. Except that one of the side-effects of our subjective mass of biases, prejudice, and self-delusion is that we believe that we are rational, reasonable, objective, and impartial.

I find these biases fascinating because us humans are making decisions every day yet rarely understand how we decide. Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) recently had a post on Fistful of Talent that included video discussing the processing fluency bias. Watch the video, but the gist is we have a bias for ideas that are easier to process or understand even when they are inferior. (I suspect this explains 90% of marketing and political debate. Maybe 100%.)

Now let’s stack on my favorite bias: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  In short, this is when the unskilled and incompetent grossly overestimate their own skill and believe they have above average ability (you’ve worked for this person, haven’t you?).  The flip side of this is that the truly skilled tend to underestimate their own abilities. Or as, Bertrand Russell put it: “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Examples abound in both the business world and in our personal lives.

  • Who do you hire, the job candidate with confidence/bravado/swagger or the one who seems hesitant or uncomfortable talking about themselves?
  • Which book title would you buy? “The ONE Proven Way to Riches!” or “One Method to Wealth That’s Worked for Several People and Just Might Work for You, Too”?
  • Which consultant would you feel more comfortable working with: the one who matter-of-factly states they have the solution for hiring better people or the one who tells you that there are several potential solutions, but never a guarantee because no selection system can predict the future performance of individuals – it can only improve the overall chances of making better hires?
  • How many people do you know who consider themselves above average drivers? What’s the mathematical possibility of that? From your own experience, how many people do you see on the road who are above average? Exactly.

Our brains are wired to prefer pithy soundbites over complex reasoning and the untalented often believe they truly have skills.

Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

what’s stopping you?

What’s Stopping You?

In the late ‘90s, Fox Racing put out a poster and magazine ad of legendary motocrosser Doug Henry removing his jersey after a ride. The centerpiece is an ugly scar running down and around his side, a visible reminder of a nasty crash where his back broke on impact from an 80-foot fall. While still coming back from that injury, another crash broke both wrists (think about that for a second). Yet, he persevered to win a historical championship. Grit, toughness, and determination don’t even begin to describe what it took. The simple caption to the ad and poster was, “What’s stopping you?”

This was a hugely inspiring poster for me. Every sport has its share of similar stories of athletes pushing far beyond what we think the body is capable of and gutting out wins against the odds. And so what? The further along life I get, the more I’m inspired by the amazing spirit and determination of ordinary people. People without multi-million dollar contracts to fight for, people who don’t have the one and only career they are qualified for on the line, people whose grit goes unnoticed by ESPN or CNN.

I love public speaking and joke that, as an introvert, it’s my version of bungee jumping. But I get that I’m kind of weird and most people hate, hate, hate even the idea of being in front of a group. People fear speaking more than death so, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most people would rather be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy. Few want to be the scrutinized center of attention. Fewer still enjoy it and seek it out.

My kids recently tried out for a school play along with 150 other students. They all had to do a short monologue and sing part of a song. One of those trying out was a 7th grade girl who stutters. Her name starts with “S” so she was struggling to introduce herself before she even attempted her monologue. Imagine that. Really put yourself in her shoes. She didn’t have to be there, she chose it. Putting yourself out in front of peers and risking rejection is tough enough when you’re an adult. What she did? Courage. Pure courage.

I know you have some things you want to attempt, some things to be accomplished. Unfulfilled personal and career goals. What’s stopping you?

rock and roll presentation skills, pt 2

I see many, many parallels between musicians and presenters. Both groups are faced with the challenges of building connection with large groups, of creating interaction, of sharing messages, of standing apart from their competition and creating their own unique identity. Both are in the spotlight and build and create energy from the crowd, and both can be very uncomfortable if the crowd isn’t on their side. So, as I try to sharpen my presentation skills I look to live music performances for inspiration and ideas. A few months back I wrote Rock and Roll Presentation Skills after attending a live show. Today I want to learn from two specific video clips that really resonate for me as a presenter.

The first is from AC/DC playing on a British music show in about 1977. This is before they were global stars and they are on a musical variety show so it’s unlikely that more than a few in the audience had heard of them or were excited to see them play. This is very clear in the expressions of the crowd. Some look horrified, some bored, some confused, and only a few look interested, let alone enthused.

So, it’s a semi-interested crowd at best. You’ve got a sound (message) that won’t connect or resonate with many in the audience. In fact, you’ve got a sound (message) that’s different than everything else that’s popular at the time. You have a small time slot and then you’re done. What do you do?

The “safe” way would be to play it safe, tone down the sound (message), do a song that most would be familiar with, and try not to turn anyone off. OR… you can turn the amps up to 11 and play like you’re trying to blow the roof off of the place. Unapologetic full force rock and roll. Do the unexpected. Send the strong message that this is who you are, take it or leave it. Don’t let the crowd bring you down, just play bigger than ever and leave everything on the stage. Don’t even acknowledge the doubters and haters, just build love with those who are interested. This has been Seth Godin’s message for years – ignore the masses, build your tribe.

 

The second video is Arch Enemy playing at the Download Festival a few years back. A warning: they are not for everyone. The vocalist has a style practically all her own and is one of the very few women to bring that sound. And, no apologies, she doesn’t care if you don’t like it. The band has a style full of paradox that brings out the haters, even among those who like heavy metal, but they aren’t trying to please everyone. Again, this is playing to the tribe, not to the masses. But what really stands out for me as a presenter is her stage presence. Turn the sound off and watch her body language. Her presence is huge and she owns the stage like few others. Yet, she also clearly has a connection with the audience which is tens of thousands of people strong. That is a deep certainty about who she is and what she’s doing. There is no hesitation, no “I hope you like me”, just full ownership of the message and performance.

(Second warning: there is one brief bit of swearing at the end, but if you make it that far, I doubt it’s an issue for you.)

What’s my lesson as a presenter? Learn from the best but be myself. Play to my strengths. Trying to please everyone is counterproductive and actually pleases no one. Bring myself 100% and don’t hold back – never finish a presentation thinking I could have done more. No matter the size or interest of the audience, present like it’s the most important presentation of my career. Push myself and the presentation to 11. Preparation matters. It’s impossible to give my full self without knowing the presentation at the sub-conscious level because thinking about it builds barriers between me and the audience. Oh, and go where the moment takes you.

What have I missed? What other lessons are there for us presenters?

 

authenticity and vulnerability

On my mind this morning:

  • Is there a difference between authenticity and vulnerability?
  • What’s the line between the two? Can you have one without the other? Can you be authentic without being vulnerable? Can you be vulnerable, but not authentic?
  • Why are both considered so important, yet both seemingly so rare (or did I just answer that question?)?
  • If they are rare, does that mean we are operating most of the time from a point of defensive falseness?
  • How does this fit in with the concepts of honesty and integrity? Few would define themselves as liars, but how many can say they are fully authentic? How do we account for that gap?

What thinks you?

 

real world champion

What I do today matters. What I do every day matters more. Our reputations, our relationships, our lives are the sum total reflection of every decision, action, and event.

Observation shows it’s pretty easy to live an OK life. Get to work on time, pay your bills around the due date, say “please” and “thank you”, give other people the respect and courtesy you’d like to receive, don’t commit felonies, etc. Nail the basics and an average life is yours without too much effort. You probably won’t have a fulfilling life but you won’t be too miserable either.

The jump from OK to fantastic appears much more difficult. When we look at those we admire, words like “focus”, “discipline”, “integrity”, “unique”, “dedication”, “enthusiasm”, “responsibility”, “honor”, “vision”, and “purpose” start coming to mind. No one creates excellent results in any aspect of their lives with a mediocre mindset or average actions.

Interestingly, few people declare that what they want most in the world is to be mediocre. Few dream of average. Seldom do children hope to grow up and become dull normal. What if we stopped thinking about just getting through life and started thinking about becoming champions in our lives?

It probably feels weird to even answer. Seriously though, what does “champion” mean in the areas of life most important to you? What would it take to be a champion parent, spouse, or friend? What does being a champion salesperson, manager, HR pro, teacher, etc. look like? How does becoming a champion change how you think about your day?

Moving beyond ordinary requires asking better questions of ourselves. “How can I find a job I like?” is a much different question than “How can I become one of the best in my field?” “How can I argue less with my kids?” is not the same as “How can I build a close and enduring relationship with my kids?” Likewise, “Why am I fat?” produces different answers than “What do I need to do to get fit?”

Being champion requires applying what we already know (and learning all we can as we go along) with consistent, focused effort. It means risking failure – oddly if we give it our all and it doesn’t work out we tend to think of that as more of a failure than if we don’t try at all (LIE!) It means breaking free of the herd and finding our own vision and our own destiny. And that probably doesn’t fit in well with those content with marginal.

Champions design their lives so every aspect supports what they are creating. One of the biggest challenges you will face in being a champion is simply that most of the effort isn’t very sexy or fun. In the movies we see a cool three minute montage with an upbeat song when the hero takes control of their lives and turns thing around. In real life, it requires continual, unceasing effort. It means getting up when you don’t want to get up, taking action when it would be easier not to, having uncomfortable conversations that you’d really rather avoid, and standing out when you’d rather fit in.

So we try in fits and starts, but one effort, one time, one day doesn’t do much for us. Johny Hendricks, one of the very best mixed martial artists summed it up: “If I’m going to be a champion, I’ve got to act like a champion every day.”

Starting today.