Success

note to self: play bigger

It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.

First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.

Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.

My most important lesson has been simply this:…

Read the whole post over at Performance I Create.

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permission to be great

asking for permissionOver the past couple of years I’ve attended several conferences aimed at innovating, evolving, or just plain reinventing the field of Human Resources. There is one theme speakers and participants have highlighted over and over again: Quit waiting for permission. Figure out what needs to be done and just go do it.

At first I nodded along, thinking, “Yeah! HR needs to get its act together. Stand up and make some noise. C’mon people!” Then I was surprised when the message really hit home. They were talking about me! I resisted it, of course, but it was true. Like everyone else on the planet, I like to believe I do a good job. No, that’s not quite right. I like to believe I do an outstanding job. How could it be? Maybe you can relate.

Read the rest over at Performance I Create.

Everything you think you know about success is wrong (a book review)

Success is how you define it and mediocrity is one of my biggest fears. We all have different definitions of what success means to us in all aspects of our lives. I have some big ideas about the contribution I need to make before I leave this planet and the thought of not living up to those ideals terrifies me.

The challenge is that “pretty good” is a reasonably easy target while “extraordinary” requires a completely different level of choices and commitment. And those actions have to exist in a life where there’s a job, family, friends, pets, house chores, hobbies, etc., etc. No surprise that comfortable distractions are a lot more attractive than committed actions.

As one who enjoys anything that will help me be at my best, I have a love/hate approach to personal development books. Much of it is syrupy feel-good nonsense, but some is very legit and useful. The problem is, even the good stuff is usually just repackaged ideas that have been around for the last 50-100+ years.

Some very large names in the field have done quite well rehashing ideas from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. Tony Robbins summarized the wisdom of the ages best with his Ultimate Success Formula which goes something like: 1) Know what you want; 2) Know why you want it; 3) Take massive action; 4) Notice what’s working or not; and 5) Change your approach until you get your results. Simple, straightforward, and intuitive, but perhaps not sufficient. No one who’s made it to adulthood should be surprised by any of those steps, yet most of us are still stuck in ordinary.

The title for this review comes from the back cover of Dan Waldschmidt’s (@danwaldo) book EDGY Conversations: Get Beyond the Nonsense in Your Life and Do What Really Matters. He takes a different approach and asserts that goals, hard work, and tenacity are not enough because we are our own worst roadblock. Our beliefs and behaviors, excuses and justifications keep us in comfortable mediocrity. Truly rising above, standing out, and making a difference requires a completely different level of commitment, thought, belief, and action.

“Because success isn’t about knowing more, It’s about being more… The reality is that you already know what to do… The real question is, what will you do about it? Who will you choose to become.” – Dan Waldschmidt

Contrary to what the infomercial experts and hope pushers tell us, Dan wholeheartedly acknowledges that the whole being extraordinary thing is really freakin’ hard. Knowing what to do is easy; actually doing it is miserably difficult. The movies make it look simple, right? A three minute montage with some upbeat music in the background and suddenly the underdog is a martial arts winning, freestyle rapping, marathon running, dance champion with a Harvard degree and a thriving side business bootstrapped into a global powerhouse. But in real life it comes down to who we are choosing to be and the decisions we are making every day.

The author reminds us that outrageous success comes as much from what we say “no” to as it does what we say “yes” to. And in our instant gratification you-deserve-to-have-it-all marketing saturated world, saying “no” is weird. And painful. And miserable. And necessary.

This book is the author’s approach to breaking past ordinary. His formula is based on the acronym EDGY: Extreme behavior, Disciplined activity, Giving mindset, and Y(h)uman strategy. The last letter’s a stretch, but the writing is spot on. Actually, I could have shortened this review to: If you like his blog, buy the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with his blog, check it out here. Dan’s not into business or life as usual and has a contrarian approach written in direct one and two sentence paragraphs with brilliant turn of phrase and a deep belief that the reader has it in them to be amazing. If you don’t like his blog, you really won’t like his book. If you like the blog, you’ll find he brings powerful examples and a very human vulnerability beyond his normal writing to the book.

So here’s the ugly secret truth: life is so much easier when you have excuses or others to blame for not creating the results you want. Sure, you don’t accomplish what you want, but you get to be comfortable in your mediocrity. This book is aimed at stripping those illusions away and challenging you to set that comfort aside to pursue your intentions with the ferocious, relentless tenacity of a Spartan warrior. It’s not wondering what to do, it’s not creating a 10 point success checklist, it’s being the person you need to be.

All day, every day.

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.

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?

 

 

 

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?

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.

delusions of inferiority

Hold back, keep it muted, don’t stretch, stay safe. We tell ourselves we don’t deserve it. Bigger, better, faster, louder, that’s all for someone else. If we don’t try, we’ll never fail. Never have to regret the misstep, only what might have been.

Funhouse distortions. Twisting, obscuring, cloaking, masking, blurring what we really are. We buy the myth we can be anything and then choose so much less. We can’t be anything we want, but we can be so much more than we are today.

The internal light is strong, it’s bright. We turn away, look down, shield our eyes. Cling to the hope of life’s lottery. Don’t believe we can do it on our own. The internal dialogue thrums and numbs and drowns out the genesis of dreams.

We create the identity early on of who we are, what we can expect, and what we deserve. Then we leave it forever unchanging. No matter how outdated, inaccurate, or irrelevant it becomes, that identity keeps us locked in. We’re free to roam within the boarders, but not allowed to cross. We’re so used to the walls, we don’t even see them anymore. But we’ll argue with anyone (including ourselves) to keep them there. “Don’t you know, that’s just how things are?”

We look at others and dismiss their dreams as fantasy, their actions as overkill, and their results as luck. Interesting, how our mediocrity is hard won – we believe we’ve worked and worked to be all that we are (and all that we are not). We look down on those striving to our level as ignorant and lazy. We look down on those doing, having, being more than us as enjoying the whims of fate.

We put our faith in “experts” and their glossyslick 10-step plans. We trick ourselves into thinking that there is one perfect answer and a straightline path.

It’s so much more comforting to think that we don’t know enough instead of we don’t dream enough, think big enough, strive enough, put forth enough. Instead, we delude ourselves into believing we’re inferior. Not worthy. Never enough, never enough.

So we wait for permission, never realizing we already have it.