Archive for September, 2012

I want you to come on an adventure with me (an “expotition” as Pooh would call it). Imagine you are standing near the edge of a cliff. Mere inches from the tips of your toes, the cliff wall drops down hundreds of feet to a canyon. Across the way, some distance from you, you see the other side…and perched there is your goal, your dream (you fill in the name of whatever it is you desire to achieve), just waiting for you to cross over and claim it.

As you stand there, first looking with great longing at your goal on the other side, then down into the canyon just in front of you, and consider the chasm that keeps you from just reaching out and grabbing it, you think…what?

If you are like many others, you might be thinking:

  • It’s too far.
  • I can’t reach it.
  • There’s no way to get to the other side.
  • The canyon is too deep.
  • I don’t know how to get there.
  • I’m afraid to try.
  • I’m afraid to do it alone.
  • I’m not supposed to have it.
  • No one prepared me for this.
  • Why bothering trying?
  • It’s impossible.
  • Right?

Well, is it? I must confess I don’t have the answer. As a coach, my value is in not having any of the answers. My value is in having all the questions; the kinds of questions that will help you find the answer — your answer.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

It’s not impossible. In fact, I really think there probably isn’t anything that is truly impossible.

Let me share with you some of the things that have led me to that conclusion.

  • We put a man on the Moon.
  • We have a rover on Mars, right now — today!
  • We have people living in an International Space Station.
  • We have immunizations and treatments for illnesses that used to wipe out entire populations.
  • We have mapped the human genome; and in fact, can now map an individual’s within weeks, rather than months, and for thousands of dollars as opposed to the billions it used to cost.
  • Doctors have created what they refer to as tissue scaffold to regrow muscle lost to disease or damage, for which traditional methods of treatment have failed.
  • And, if that’s not enough, medical researchers are printing new organs using cells instead of ink. Yes, I said printing, like on an inkjet printer.

Now, I’m certain there are thousands more examples of how we have proven over time that so many things once thought impossible, were, in fact, quite possible.

So, what is your goal / dream? What is it that your heart calls you to do? What do you long for?

Going back to school? Earning another degree? Changing careers? Meeting someone special? Taking a trip to an exotic location? Developing a new talent? Really, the possibilities are endless.

I’ll admit, it can be scary stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new. You may need to learn something. You may not have all the resources you need when you begin. You may need help along the way. But if you never start, how will you know?

Just get started. If you can see the first step or two clearly, you are more than ready to move forward. Do it afraid. You’ll get what you need along the way.


One last question: What’s holding you back?

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In 2011, I participated in the Leadership West Virginia program. It was a tremendously valuable experience for me in more ways than I could recount quickly. One of the more memorable experiences was part of a service project my class decided to take on. We connected with the West Virginia College Summit program to act as mentors to high school students preparing for college; many times as the first person in their family to attend college.

Essentially, during one of our monthly LWV sessions, we were paired up with a College Summit student to act as a mentor, offering guidance on completing applications, writing essays, evaluating classes and areas of study. I remember so distinctly the young with whom I was paired. When asked what she planned to study, she talked of wanting to be a teacher. Her face lit up; her eyes were alive and full of energy; her voice was full of eagerness, and the desire to make a difference in the lives of children.

Then, she went on to explain that she would likely look into nursing or some other type of medical technologist position. As she made this change in fields of study, her whole demeanor changed. The light was gone from her eyes; her face no longer animated; her voice filled more with resignation than anything that could be interpreted as interest or excitement. Curious about such a drastic change, I asked her if she was aware of it…and why she would consider such a different career, and one that seemed to hold very little interest for her. Her response: Money.

We talked about this for some time. I acknowledged that, yes, making a decent living is certainly an important consideration, but suggested she might consider that she would be exchanging her precious life energy for that money, and it might serve her well to really think about what was more important — making more money at an unfulfilling job or making less money in a role where she truly made a difference in the lives of children, and by extension, her community and the world.

I have no idea what she decided; unfortunately, I’ve not heard from her since. I hope she makes the decision that fills her heart with joy, for it would be in that capacity that she would truly make an invaluable difference in the lives of many.

Her situation is not uncommon. In fact, according to a survey published in a recent Parade Magazine article, of the more than 26,000 people surveyed, about 60% said they would switch paths if they had the opportunity to do it over again.

In some ways, it’s an amazing result, and in others, not at all surprising. Nearly daily, I talk with people who are doing what it takes to get by, to make a living, working at a job, not in an area of passion. The survey shows that 34% describe their mood on Sunday night as “minor dread,” with another 9% in “despair” over the need to return to work on Monday.

It’s a sad commentary on our society, I think. So much wasted talent, energy, and passion! What’s worse, though, is discovering so many believe they are “doomed” to continue down this path — with no potential for change, even though it’s not what they wanted.

I wonder how so many people seem to have lost sight of the fact that the power is within them to make the changes. A new acquaintance so eloquently stated: This is NOT a dress rehearsal! We get one life to live. I hope you are making it meaningful.

If not, what will it take to shift you from your current paradigm about what is possible to the one that will allow you to realize your dreams and your potential?

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I have a lot of conversations with friends, clients, colleagues, and sometimes even strangers, about what success means to them. These are educated, motivated, hard-working, individuals who would appear — from the outside and based on what society seems to define as success — to be successful. They hold good jobs in interesting fields, earn good salaries, live in nice places, are able to vacation, wear nice clothes, etc…

Frequently, however, I find that when I ask them what success means to them, they don’t have an answer. For some, it is money, nice house, nice car, latest fashion, ability to mingle with all the “right” people, attend the “right” events…for others, it’s just the opposite. They want to be successful, but struggle with the idea that it means all of the material things, with which they are uncomfortable.

This topic got me thinking about a wedding I was in nearly 20 years ago. I lived nearly 1200 miles from the bride (a dear friend from 4th grade!) and groom, so I knew only one other person in the bridal party (also a friend since 4th grade). Not too long after the wedding, my friend shared a story about one of the groomsmen and his wife. He worked in sales and I believe she was a homemaker. They had a couple of kids, big, nice house (no small feat in Southern California, even 20 years ago), new cars…all the great things money could buy, right? They were getting divorced. The wife was complaining that the husband was never home, didn’t help with the kids, didn’t pay enough attention to her, didn’t do things around the house, etc. You’ve heard this story, right? Turns out, it was true…but why? Well, his response was, “I have to work these kinds of hours to earn the money to pay for all this stuff!” So, while he earned a nice living and could afford to keep them in style, he couldn’t be home to share and enjoy any of it. In the end, it cost his marriage and his family. Was it worth it? Only they can answer that question, but from my perspective, probably not!

Further along this train of thought, I think about how there are so many in our society caught up in this kind of a mess…working hard to earn money for nice houses, cars, things, and when we earn more money, we aren’t satisfied with what we already have, so we upgrade…and then we have to keep working harder and longer hours to make more money to support all the stuff that we no longer have the time or energy to enjoy!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on that train! I’m rethinking and redefining what success means to me. Success is a relative thing, though. What works for one person or family may not work for the next person.

Now, I’m not saying making a good living is a bad thing. I want to earn a decent living, to provide for my family, live comfortably, know that I can cover a major car repair or other unexpected event, take a vacation once in a while, and also splurge on frivolous things once in a while. I also want enough money to be able to give it away to people and causes that touch my heart and make me want to be a better person. I want time to be creative outside of work, to spend with my family, to read good books, take long walks, have deep conversations with friends old and new. Yes, I want things money can buy, and so much more that money has no bearing on.

The good news is: You get to decide. You get to define what success means to you and what you’re willing to pay for it. You are the person who needs to be comfortable and satisfied with the decisions you make and the actions you take each day.

In the book The Rhythm of Life, author Matthew Kelly encourages the reader to define what he or she wants from life. In fact, he says being able to answer that question is far more important than anything else he will write in the rest of the book, so put the book down and come back to it after you’ve figured it out…This is on page 12 of the book! I’ve shared this with quite a few people since I read it a few months ago, and I still don’t know if any of them have made it past page 12.

What does success mean to you?

What is it worth to you? What are you willing to give in exchange?

I encourage you to take the time to really think this through. Allow yourself the freedom to define it on your own terms; liberate yourself from the expectations and pressure of the outside world. Be true to yourself and those you love.

As many of us have probably experienced, if we don’t define it, someone will do it for us…and we will wake up one day, look around, and think: “How on earth did I get here? What is all this stuff? I didn’t want this…”

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The “town” (I say this in quotes because we have a Mayor and City Council, but our town is only houses and families…no services…seems funny to me!) has a community yard sale day twice a year; yesterday was the latest. It marked the 5th time we’ve participated, although on a much smaller scale than in years past. I kept the door open for only two hours, rather than six, but it felt so good to move some of our things on to others who will find them useful, even though we don’t, any longer.

In recent months, I’ve had a very strong need to clean things out, both literally and figuratively. I’ve been cleaning out my closets and drawers, throwing things away, and sending stuff to Goodwill and Salvation Army with the hope that someone else may get some good use out of the things I no longer need, want, use. Some days, this need is so strong, it’s a physical vibration (well, this makes sense if all things are energy, flowing into and out of things, then it’s just my frequency responding…) and I am compelled to clean, sort, and toss.

It feels much better to have what I need and use, and not be confronted with too many choices about what to wear and use each day.

There used to be a time when my purchases were based on what they cost, not necessarily on quality or value. These days, I am in a position to think less about cost and base decisions on quality and value, and it’s a much better place, to be sure. Take my wardrobe, for instance. I’ve never been a fashion plate, leaning more toward the comfortable than the latest fashions. I want what I buy to be things I truly love, feel good in, and know I can wear for years — both because the styles will still be fine, and because they are of such a quality that they will still be in great shape for some time.

What does this have to do with personal growth and leadership, you are probably asking yourself. Well, here’s the parallel, at least in my mind.

As I get older, I’m more focused, more in tune with myself and what I need to be a whole, healthy, happy person who is able to contribute and add value to others. As with the things in my closets, cupboards, and drawers, I am also taking stock of who I am, what I have to offer, how I want to spend my time, and with whom I want to share it.

One of my mentors, John Maxwell, shares that at the end of each year, he takes a week off to review how he spent the past year, before he plans for the coming year. He considers each person he’s spent time with in terms of whether the relationship was positive, one that added value to his life and lifted him up, or whether it was one of those relationships that suck the life out of you (my words, not his!). Based on this reflection, he decides who he wants to spend more time with in the coming year (think ‘life energy’) and who he will spend less (or no) time with in the future. He follows the same pattern with engagements, meetings, and other activities.

John understands that this is not a dress rehearsal. We get only one shot at this thing we call life and he wants it to be a quality experience. Me, too!

I want to spend my time with quality, like-minded people. I need to spend time with people who are better at the things I want to learn and in the areas in which I want to grow. I need to read good books; ones that make me think, expose me to new ideas, challenge my perceptions about what is possible, and allow me to learn from others’ experiences. This is not to say I don’t read the occasional frivolous fiction (I can’t help but lose myself in the ridiculous world of Stephanie Plum from time to time!)…but the point is, I am working on being more intentional about how I spend my time and who I spend it with.

I know many people think in terms of “spring cleaning,” but fall has always been a time of renewal for me. Although, I suspect, this will be an on-going process for me from now on, as each day I understand more fully that growth in any area is a daily process, a daily activity…not just something one does for some pre-determined amount of time (four years of college, perhaps…) and then is done. The thing is, I’m not done, and doubt I ever will be.

My questions for you are these:

When do you take stock of your life and how you are spending your life energy?
How often, and how frequently, do you spend time in reflection?
Does that time reinforce the good and right in your life?
Does it lead you to explore new paths, and make changes?
Are you any closer to understanding the difference between need and want?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about integrity and character lately.

I’ve heard it said that the true test of a person’s character is what he or she does when they believe no one is watching.

Here are a couple of examples that have stuck with me:

I used to live in Central Washington State, in a city comparable in population to Parkersburg. The couple who lived next door moved there from Alaska so the husband could go through a 3-4 year school program, which would allow him to change careers. When he was finished with his program, they intended to sell their home in WA and move back to Alaska. Yes, that’s right — they bought a home in Washington. However, they continued to license their cars in Alaska.

It’s logical to think there might be a financial advantage to continuing to license a car in one state when one has established a residence in another. While I have never lived in Alaska and don’t know what it costs to license a car there, I do know it costs only about $42 per year to license a car in Washington state — not a big financial hit. Perhaps there is another reason for this behavior, but it’s the law that you will register and license your vehicles in the state in which you reside. This leaves a lot of room for speculation about the person’s motives for not abiding by the law, especially when you are abiding by it.

On the other side of this coin, in the same Central Washington city, one of my colleagues told a story about running some errands with his pre-teen son one weekend. They went to one of the major electronics stores and purchased a few things, stopped at a couple of other shops, and then stopped for lunch. While they were eating, his son was looking at the receipts and said, “Hey Dad, they didn’t charge us for one of the things we got at…(the electronics store).” My colleague replied, “Well, right after we finish eating, we will stop back by there and pay for it before we go home.”

I don’t remember what the item was, but its price was about $150. In the course of a day’s sales at this particular store, likely just a drop in the bucket. But, those kinds of drops add up and there are consequences — to both the associates in the store and the store itself.

As he told this story, my colleague was mindful that he was setting an example for his son and wanted to do the right thing. He explained to his son that while it seemed like they got lucky by not having to pay for the item, there would be consequences for both the sales associate and the business if they didn’t go back and correct the situation. So they did.

These are not unique situations; they are examples of the kinds of things that happen daily — in whatever city you are in. In fact, there are people I know today who have licensed their vehicles in a state different from the one in which they live. Again, I can only speculate on their motives for doing so, but the behavior feels wrong to me.

It’s important to be aware that regardless of how “invisible” you might think you are, someone is always watching. They are drawing conclusions and making up stories that fit with their beliefs, values, and experiences, which may be nowhere near the truth of what’s really going on. And when you hear someone say “perception = reality,” it’s true; people believe what makes sense to them and people do what people see.

So, as a leader, you are always on stage. Someone is always watching. They are interpreting your actions based on partial pictures of what’s really going on. And they are sharing stories with others.

You have the opportunity to be aware of this. You have the opportunity to shape the stories they believe and tell others. You have the opportunity to do the right thing, or do something else because you think no one will know.

It’s your character. It’s your integrity. When you go to sleep at night, it’s all you really have control over.

Please do not misinterpret this as me implying that I do everything right every day, and that I have for all my life. Quite the contrary; I have made my share of mistakes, publicly and privately. As I said at the beginning, I think about this topic a lot. I make the effort to be intentional, daily, about what I do and say and the impact my words and actions will have on others, as well as on my future. I strive to be able to lay down to sleep at night knowing I did my best, set a good example, and can rest easily, knowing I did the good and right things that day.

The key, I believe, is to be mindful, intentional, and to reflect often on what we have done and experienced so we may take those lessons forward and do better the next time. It’s a daily process.

So, who are you when you think no one is watching?

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