The definition of a wasted day…

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

Henry Ford

One of my favorite questions to ask my kids is “what did you learn today?”  At age nine and almost seven it isn’t always well-received.  Sometimes the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know” but a lot of the time I am surprised by what they are learning each and every day. One of the traits that I want to instill in them is a deep thirst for learning.  That every day is an opportunity to learn something new and grow, even if just a little bit.  I want them to lean into every day looking for opportunities to learn.

A spirit of learning and growth is very intentional.  It’s not the same as looking back and realizing you learned something.  That happens by on a daily basis almost by accident for everyone.  Practicing active reflection and considering what has been learned is really important, and something we should all do.  But what I am talking about is starting the day with the specific goal to learn something.  The deliberate practice of seeking out new knowledge and information.  

I have found that when I do good at framing my mind for learning (and I certainly don’t do it well all the time) I will discover far more than when I am in a transactional “get it done” mode of thinking.  A simple conversation in the hall at work, an article read, a conversation with a friend.  Those can all be platforms for new learning if you made the active choice to live every day with a goal to be able to answer the question “what can I learn today?”

A day where nothing new is learned, or perhaps even more importantly, where there is no attempt to learn something new, is my definition of a wasted day.  

Why limit yourself?

“If you don’t have the information you need to make wise choices, find someone who does.”

Lori Hil

“Why” is the most powerful word in the English language.  Well, I guess that is a fairly broad statement, but I will certainly make the statement that “why” is the most important word in English as it regards to leadership.  What on earth does that have to do with today’s quote?  Glad you asked. 

Far too often we bog down and spend so much of our time talking about “what” we are going to do without understanding “why” something has happened.  Digging deeply into the why, and getting input and perspective from others, is critical to making good decisions in life and leadership.  To seek information, to make good choices, to lead, one must understand whatever situation or challenge is in front of you.  To be able to do this you either must have all the information yourself, or you have to go out and get it.  If you don’t have all the information, and who ever really does, you have to be willing to admit that fact and actively seek to gain it from others. 

So why don’t people do this more often?  Why is this such a challenge in life and leadership?  Asking for input and perspective from others takes self-awareness.  It takes humility.  It means understanding that you don’t have all the information, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the knowledge.  Asking “why” takes courage and a willingness to learn without having a bias towards your own self-beliefs.  In today’s world admitting that you don’t know something is challenging for many people and leaders.  Of course the flip side side far worse, if you don’t seek perspective then you are stuck with whatever you have been able to learn on your own.  The more we rely on what we already know, the less likely we are to make wise choices.  Find someone who knows more than you do, and ask lots of questions.  Why limit yourself to only what you already know?

This magic moment…

“Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So, don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.”

Jessica Lange

Full disclosure.  I really struggle with being able to follow the wisdom provided in this quote.  I don’t disagree with it at all, I just have a harding time actually following it.  As a person that is deeply wired to be goal driven and future oriented I miss being in the current moment far too often.  Being present is hard.  It is easier to live in the future or get lost while revisiting the past. 

20 years ago someone told me that if I “spent all my effort focused on the goal I would miss out on the learning and joy that comes from the journey itself.”  This is so very true, and yet still so hard to do.  But to be present is where the future is created.  The moments we are in today are creating the future we want to have.  The moments can be magic…

 

Be water, my friend…

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Over, under, around or through…  Water always adjusts to its environment. It’s too bad it isn’t as easy for us humans.  When I first read this quote I admit that I thought it was a cool one because it was Bruce Lee. But then I really started to think about each sentence and what it can mean from a life and leadership perspective.  The more I reflected, the more I realized that the wisdom expressed here is simply incredible.

How much time and energy do we waste trying to get the world to conform to us, to our wants and needs?  Why is it often so hard to sit back, surrender our ego and simply be as water? The learning and knowledge that dances just out of reach until we humble ourselves and adjust to the world and become aware of the outward things that disclose themselves to us. You can learn so much when you sit back and observe, when you take the time to “Empty your mind, be formless.”

The lesson I take today is just how important it is to just let go of your ego, be humble, be willing to adjust and learn and always flexible in your approach.  Look what grand things happen when the way of water is followed…

arizona canyon deserted geological

 

The power of taking action…

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.”

Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo-vitruvian-man-bI have just finished a fascinating book titled “The Leading Brain” which delves into how our brain works and the reason why we make the decisions we do.  Understanding the neuroscience behind our behavior as humans and particularly as leaders is really really interesting and has given me much greater insight to my own behaviors and how to change them for the better.  

One of the things I learned was how precisely how powerful small habits can be and the science behind why breaking the big things down into reasonable and attainable actions creates long term and sustainable success.  I thought I used to do this fairly well but now  knowing the importance of “doing” as this quote from Leonardo points out, I recognize how critical these actions are to rewire your brain.  By breaking things down, starting with small actions, creating wins that give you brain the dopamine boost it craves you literally rewire your neural paths and reinforce the way you want your brain to work.  Incredible!  (yes, I recognize that I am a geek for this stuff…)

Find your big thing, break it down, start with an action that matters.  Today…

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?

There are just two types of people…

“We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world. ”

Heidi Wills

For as long as I can remember one of the driving principles of my life has been the belief that there are just two types of people in the world.  Those who the world happens to, and those who happen to the world.  I have always focused on being in the latter category.

Today’s quote says basically the same thing but with a  slight different perspective. Is it overly simplistic and generalizing?  Probably.  But just maybe it isn’t.  Happiness is a choice. Determination is a choice. Focus is a choice. Everything we do is a choice we have the freedom to make.  

I think many people, myself most certainly included, get lost in the “big picture.” Because we can’t control what happens at the macro level we choose not to manage ourselves at the micro level. But we have to choose to affect the world at the micro level, taking ownership of our decisions and behaviors daily.  When we do this we have much more influence on the world around us.

When you wake up in the morning are you going to define your day, or be defined by the day that happens to you? Ask yourself tonight which person you were today.  Did you affect your world?

Embrace the suck…

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”

Seneca

How easily we understand the need to change our body by challenging it with difficulty.  We get up early, we go to the gym, we push out just one more repetition on the bench press.  We know that by challenging the body we become stronger.  Embracing the suck is what we do to get stronger physically.  It’s easy to do because we have a goal we are striving to accomplish.

It works the same way with mental difficulties of course, but those aren’t as easy to embrace.  I’m not talking about learning new things and seeking new knowledge, that’s different.  I mean the times when life is challenging us, when things aren’t going our way.  Those difficulties aren’t as easy to embrace as strengthening opportunities, until you set aside emotions and personal pride and truly seek to learn from whatever challenge life has thrown your way.  That’s when the breakthroughs happen.  That’s when we get stronger…

Start. Stop. Continue.

“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”

Oswald Chambers

This might be the biggest challenge a leader faces. For that matter it might be the biggest challenge any person faces.  Saying “yes” to something means that you are saying “no” to something else.  

Do you have a crystal clear understanding of your priorities?  I’d like to think that I do, but honestly I struggle at times to say “no.” There is always more than can be done than should be done. For me it helps to break the question into two parts.  

  1. Should I do this?  Does it align with my priorities and goals?
  2. If yes, then can I do it?  If I say yes will I be able to complete it at an acceptable level without impacting my previous commitments?  

Sounds easy right.  If only that were the case.  

Less is more…

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

This is our society today isn’t it?  There is so much information available that we can only consume it in 140 character soundbites.  Or so much information available that we never want to make a decision because we can always find “just a bit more information” to ensure our decision is the right one.  What if we had less information, but more focus?  Is the old adage that “less is more” more appropriate now than ever before?  

I have been spending a ton of time lately reading everything I can get my hands on regarding focus and intentionality. I am actively seeking out secret tips and special tactics to be more productive with my time. I found myself reflecting back to the “good old days” when there wasn’t a constant barrage of information coming at us 24/7.  But then I picked up my copy of “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker (a gift from a very wise friend) and challenges back then were the same challenges we face today.  (By the way, that book was written 50 years ago)  How do you make the best and biggest impact with the time that you have?  As much as we’d (me especially) like to make it a modern problem, it isn’t.  I’d say it’s a human problem.  Why do you think that is?

One step forward…

“You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.”

Abraham Maslow

Growth is uncomfortable if you are stretching yourself.  It’s fun right?!  It’s exciting and it’s scary.  But in a good scary kind of way.  The kind of scary that makes your heart beat fast and your palms sweat.  Like the first day you drove a car by yourself.  Or the first time you had the courage to pick up the phone and call your crush and ask her out.  But what if we never did?  What if we were always safe? Safety scares me more than growth.  Because “safe” means stagnant, or complacent or perhaps death. I mean, what if we still thought the world was flat?  That would have been the “safe” choice back in the day…

What do you think?

 

Though I Walk Through the Valley…

“Mountaintops inspire leaders but valleys mature them.”

Winston Churchill

This quote made me sit back and think and ask myself some tough questions.  Would I rather be on the mountain or in the valley?  Where am I now?  Which experiences have given me the greatest growth?  Well the obvious answer is that I want to be ON the mountain.  I mean we all would right?  But that is surface level and as I really challenged myself to think through this and what the implications were for me personally I realized that the pursuit of the mountain, while motivational and inspiring, haven’t been as personally or professionally impactful on me as my times in the valley.  I need the valley to push me out of my comfort zones, to get real and raw with myself and make the necessary changes to grow as a leader.

But the valley experience alone doesn’t create growth or maturity.  Upon more reflection  it dawned on me that even during tough times, even during periods of real challenge it is so important to always keep an eye on the horizon to the mountain in the distance.  It might seem so far away but it is critical to look up, check that it is still there and remind yourself of why you are pushing through the hard stuff to get out of the valley.

Rick Warren has one of my favorite quotes regarding overcoming pain (the valley).  In it he says “Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.”  This strikes a chord for me on many levels.  Ultimately it is about how you can anchor your vision on  the mountain, your ministry, the future impact that you want to have on others, and then lean forward to embrace the suck and seek to wring every drop of learning from the experience of being in the valley.  I wouldn’t trade away a single valley experience.  They are just too important for growth.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…”

Right between the eyes…

“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.” 

Jim Yong Kim

Someone once told me that as soon as soon as you profess “I am humble” you have ceased to be so in any way.  Humility is hard.  We all want to be good.  Heck with that, we want to be great!  But what does it mean to be great?  Is it all about doing it for me?  For I?  For the ego?  The self?  The pursuit of selfish endeavors or selfish gains?  That is the opposite of humility!  For me humility is the recognition that I still yet have a lot to learn.  That I will always have more to learn and that everyone can teach me something.

My Dad (who by the way is one of the greatest influences in my life from both a leadership and human character perspective) taught me when I was very young that the value of a person wasn’t measured in the car that they drove or the clothes that they wore.  Instead, the value of another man was measured entirely in how they treated other people.  Interesting right?!  The value of a human being measured not in what they have, but in what they give.  Respect.  Honor.  Dignity.  Compassion.  Service.  These are just some of the gifts that the greats give, regardless of the size of their bank account or their station in life.

So, for today’s quote this is one lesson that I hope I never forget.  Ask for feedback.  LISTEN to the response.  Get better.  Period.  The day you think you have arrived your journey has ended.  Leadership is learning and growing.  I am a better leader today than I was one year ago and I hope that what I am today is a pale shadow compared to what I have become a year from now based on really listening, learning, and growing.

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