Never forget…

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”

Sandy Dahl, wife of pilot Jason Dahl, who was flying United 93 (2002)

It is hard to believe it has been seventeen years since the world as we know it changed forever.  9/11 has been called the “Pearl Harbor of our generation” and even now, years later, it invokes an emotional response.

What I love about this quote is that it is timeless.  “Life is short and there is no time for hate.” It applies no matter the day, no matter the season, no matter the challenge you are facing in life.

 Life is short.

Wrestle with that in your mind for a few minutes.  Life is short.  Has it sunk in yet?  It’s been seventeen years since we were so violently reminded that life is short.  It has flown by in the blink of an eye.  The next seventeen years will fly by too.  How do you want to remember them?

“Life is short there is not time for hate.”

 

 

 

Give the gift…

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

William Arthur Ward

For some reason this reminds me of the age old philosophical question of, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound?”  If you feel grateful to another person, but don’t share it, does it have the impact it could? I am HUGE proponent of daily journaling and specifically of keeping a gratitude journal.  Writing down the 3-5 things each day that I am grateful for, and why, has really been impactful in my life over the past 3-4 years.  To learn more check out this article on The Transformative Power of Gratitude.

As I read this quote it makes me think that perhaps I have been stuck in first gear regarding my gratitude habit. I journal daily about what I am grateful for, but I haven’t made sharing that gratitude a daily priority.  There are so many incredible gifts that we receive in life, isn’t the best and most appropriate response to simply say thank you?

The most powerful human freedom…

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor E. Frankl

Last year I had the incredible chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Words cannot describe this place, nor the pervasive sense of sadness that emanates from every corner. It wasn’t a place where you could laugh or smile, it was hard enough to find the words to simply talk to another person while there.  I vividly remember walking into the “Auschwitz 2” portion of the camp (the purpose built death camp) and there was a group of high school or college age students  walking out talking and laughing and I wanted to yell at them to be quiet to have some respect and appreciation for this place and the evil that had happened there less than 75 years before.  It was just not a place for laughter.

 

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A view through the wire to the gatehouse at Auschwitz-Birkenau

I first read Viktor Frank’s book Man’s Search For Meaning over 25 years ago and have long considered it to be one of the top ten, or perhaps top five, books that I have read in my lifetime.  Until I visited Auschwitz I don’t think I truly understood the depth of meaning that was captured in these pages.  The difference that happens to a person when they have a purpose, a meaning, a reason for living is simply astounding.  If you haven’t read this book I highly encourage you to do so.  I recently picked it back up and find the words  even more powerful now than in my previous readings.  If you ever have the chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau it is an experience that you will never forget.  No one should ever forget what happened there…  

We have the power to choose our attitude.  We have the choice of being a victim or an owner of our own situation and how we react to it.  This is incredibly powerful.  It is what separates those with purpose from those who are simply existing through life.  It might be the “last human freedom” as Viktor states it but I believe it is the most powerful and impactful freedom we have as mankind.  God gave us this gift of choice, the freedom to choose how we react, what we choose to focus on, how we choose to respond.  It is an incredible gift and blessing, one not to be overlooked or swept away.  

I hope and pray that no one that I love will ever have to endure anything remotely close to what Viktor, and millions of others, experienced during the Holocaust.  It is important to realize that the powerful lesson in this message doesn’t apply only in the most extreme circumstances, it applies every single day.  How we frame our lives and the intentional purpose that we are seeking to fulfill, is what I pray for myself, and those that I love to find on a daily basis.  It is a choice.  One that we all have…  

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Auschwitz Guardhouse

 

 

Practice gratitude…

“Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”

Earl Nightingale

Every minute matters.  Either we are being intentional with how we spend our time or we are choosing to let it slip through our fingers.  I know that I have been guilty far too often in life of living in, and for, the future instead of enjoying the moment at hand.  

It is easy to talk about but how do you really do it?  Where do you start?  One practice that I started following just over four years ago was the habit of a keeping a daily gratitude journal.  I found that simply writing down the things that happened during the day for which I was most grateful for helped me connect to the moment.  Looking back through those journals I have much more appreciation for how precious life is.  

I still struggle with this, and I probably always will.  Having a daily focus point is one way I have found to stay grounded in the power of being present?  What has worked for you?

 

 

 

Who do you serve?

“If you can’t serve, you can’t lead.”

Unknown

I was blessed very early in my work life to have been mentored by some incredible people.  Several amazing people took me under their wings and taught me some of most important lessons I have ever learned in my life.  One of those folks introduced me to the concept and philosophy of Servant Leadership. This resonated deeply with me and learning how to become a better servant leader has been my  lifelong quest.  

Col. Greg Camp was that mentor and is a person to whom I owe so very much.  Greg had retired from the Army a year or two before I met him after an exceptional career.  He  was working at Columbus Bank & Trust when I joined the company back in 1997.  Greg was one of those people who was an exceptional teacher and had a knack for pulling out a persons hidden talents and gifts.  From day one I knew he was different because he told me that “his job was to ensure that I had everything that I needed to be successful and that when I was successful, that we as a team, division and company would be successful.  That in no uncertain terms he worked for me.” (Reflecting back on what I learned from Greg I realize that I could write countess posts about his leadership influence and impact.  Maybe I’ll do that one day in other relevant messages.)

One of the practices that Greg introduced to me was the idea of having a “leadership book club” at work so that we could learn and grow from each other.  We would become much better leaders by having heard what others think about particular topics. This practice is something I still use today for the very same reason.

I vividly remember our first “book club” meeting even though it was well over 20 years ago now.  Those meetings were held once a week before work, at “0-dark-thirty,” or to be more precise, at 6:30 AM on Friday mornings.  I was very excited to be part of the leadership team and to learn from some truly amazing and very seasoned team members.  The book we started with that morning was Leadership By The Book (which is still a personal favorite) and it opened my eyes to the philosophy of leading others by first serving them.  

Servant Leadership requires inverting the traditional hierarchal leadership pyramid and understanding that in order to create success one must first serve those you work with and ensure that they have the things that they need to be successful.  It requires a willingness to really lean in and understand your team and ensure that you are giving them the vision, direction, skills, talents, resources, accountability, etc that they need to excel at their jobs.  It requires that you are continually focused on having the right people on the team and in the right seats on the bus (to borrow from Jim Collins).  The team must know that you serve them in their success AND that they OWN the results of their efforts.  A very wise person once told me that “servant leadership is like being a great parent, it comes from your servant heart and you have to know when to praise and know when to spank, and your team has to know that you serve them by doing both.” 

I can’t possibly begin to explain all the nuances and impacts of servant leadership.  Many great books have already done this but the bottom line for me is this.  Over twenty years ago I was given one of my greatest gifts of my life when I learned that “leadership is not about self, but it is instead about those whom you serve.”

 

Kill the can’t…

Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed imagination.”

William Arthur Ward

Can’t” is such a powerful word. It is the creator of small thinking and I believe it’s usage is the key indicator of our own limiting beliefs. How often do you use “can’t” in your day to day thinking and speaking? How are you governing your potential?

Here’s a challenge.  Actively keep track today of how many times you use “can’t” today in your thoughts, your conversations, your leadership.  Where and when are you using it and what is being limited because of a “can’t” belief?  

If you want to unleash imagination, you have to kill “can’t.”  

The sun always rises…

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

Aristotle Onassis

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Sunrise at Kill Devil Hills, NC

It is so easy to focus on the current situation, our current pains and challenges.  During our times of greatest challenge and strife it always seems like there is no end in sight.  That we are doomed to stay in the darkness, that the sun will never rise.  

 

Sometimes it feels easier to stay there in the dark. To climb out towards the light is just too much work and effort.  But that isn’t why we were created.  That isn’t how we grow and learn and become better selves.  We are surrendering our ability to become who we were born to be when we lose focus on the light. The darkest moments form us, they create in us the will, the desire, the ability to rise above and become a new and better person.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 ESV

No matter how dark the night the sun always rises.  Where do you turn your focus during the dark moments?  How do you refresh and refocus yourself?

Refresh and reboot…

“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.”

Ralph Marston

How do you know when you need to rest?  Do you know the signs?  Sometimes it is hard to recognize in ourselves, but the people  around us certainly know, and will tell us if we are willing to listen.  

Similarly, how do you know that you need to reboot your computer?  For me (as an Apple guy) I will go a week or two at a time and then perhaps things start to slow down.  It will take just a bit longer for the computer to respond when I click something.  Then perhaps I can’t change applications as quickly.  Whenever this happens I know I need to simply close my apps and click restart and within a minute or so I am back in business.

The principle is the same with people though I sometimes, okay all the time,  wish that my reboot process was as simple and fast as my computer.  But it isn’t because our operating system is a lot more complicated and the demands on our lives a lot more severe.  Taking the time do an appropriate system reset is what allows our minds and bodies to start fresh, and get back to work.    

Don’t shortchange your reboot cycle, you won’t be nearly as effective and impactful. If you want to make a difference and serve others you have to take of yourself as well. 

FREEDOM!!

“Being proactive is more than taking initiative. It is recognizing that we are responsible for our own choices and have the freedom to choose based on principles and values rather than on moods or condition. Proactive people are agents of change and choose not to be victims, to be reactive, or to blame others.”

Stephen Covey

Today in the United States we are celebrating our Independence Day.  The day where our Founding Fathers made a conscious choice to be responsible for the course of our independent nation. They chose the direction and were responsible for the creation of the principles and values that would set our path as a republic for centuries to come.

The freedom to choose is one of our greatest gifts in life. I love this particular quote because it sums up so neatly the importance of living a life of active choices.  Once you have clearly identified your values and principles one can live a life of freedom.  It isn’t always easy to make the choices that align to your values.  In fact, sometime they are the hardest ones to make.  However, when we have a framework we aren’t relegated to being the product of other’s choices, we are freely choosing our path in life.  

As we celebrate freedom today take a moment to reflect on what freedom to choose means in your life.  

Who do you want on your bus?

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”Oprah Winfrey

It is easy to find people that will make you a priority when it is to their benefit, but what about when you really need them to help you? Do you have a list of people that you know would answer the phone and help no matter what?  

I am a person that struggles to reach out to others at times “because I don’t want to be a burden” and because I was taught growing up to be incredibly self-reliant. That doesn’t get it done when life and leadership gets tough.

You need to have people there that will support you and know that you will support them, no matter what.  I am reminded of one of my favorite verses in scripture when I read this quote.  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Hebrews 17:17 ESV  Having that friend and brother (or sister) to rely upon is critical in life.  

I challenge you to think about these two questions and cultivate that list of folks that you know will get on the bus with you when the limo breaks down.

  1. Who is on your short list to call when you are challenged and need help fighting a battle?
  2. Whose list are YOU on?  Who knows that they can call on you anytime for anything?

Attitude of gratitude…

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I began a daily “gratitude journal” several years ago where I would write down the 3-5 things that happened within the past 24 hours that I was especially grateful for.  It started as a 21-day challenge that was nothing more than a simple bullet list of specific items. Over time this became an exercise of deeper and more reflective journalling.  Invariably “life” would take over and I’d miss a day, then a week because of the time it took to write all the pages that I now expected myself to produce.  So I stopped.  Why? Because I created an expectation of myself that missed the point of the exercise entirely. I made it formulaic instead of remaining connected with the essence of the exercise.  It was a religion versus a spiritual connection.

Why do we humans do this?  Why do we take the simple and make it complicated and overwhelming?  Maybe I am the only one who does this but I don’t think so.  I see it happen at work, I see it happen in my personal life.  I see it happen when I am not taking time to be grateful for the good things that are there and instead focus on all the ways I think things should be. Make no mistake, it is okay to be discontent with the status quo.  In fact, I think it is AWESOME to be relentlessly discontent with the status quo. But don’t sacrifice thoughtful gratitude in an effort to get better.  Gratitude is a launching pad for even greater things…

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