March 17, 2014

I can't give you these fish

I read this post today by Seth Godin.  We often get caught up in emotional arguments for or against the actions we take.  I can't stand the way this person does x so I will be mean in return.  It would be so convenient for me if I just say y and I will be off the hook.  It's probably going to rain anyway, I'll just take my ball and go home.  Given any situation - someone picking on you, an opportunity for a dishonest way ahead, bashing instead of helping someone who isn't so nice - you have a choice.  There is always a choice between doing what feels good and what is right.  Why can't the right thing also be the one we like?  Don't know, but it rarely is.  Unless we change our perspective.

It feels good for ourselves when we eat the sweets, render some sort of revenge, or make an easy gain.  And yet when there's a choice between these good feelings and what's right; the two will almost always conflict.  Good health always beats out sugar.  A positive act for an arch rival enriches his life.  Kind words about somebody else defeats our bravado we think makes ourselves look good.  When we focus on ourselves, these decisions are hard.  When we allow our base and selfish emotions to lead the way, we choose poorly.  When I just know that the world revolves around me, nobody wins.

There are numerous traits, characteristics, actions, decisions.  Words have filled shelves about the qualities of leaders, friends, an respected elders.  Many are good, but few can really help you influence those around you.  Few are actually sources for other qualities that make us better.  So here's a list of decisions.  These actions mean putting the selfish emotions behind and focusing on the good that can be given.  They mean digging below the superficial, looking ahead, and working hard for the true value that comes with a selfless pursuit.  These items are a choice between feeling good for a short time or making good that can last:

Decide to be confident.

Decide your attitude.

Decide to be honest.

Decide to be courageous.

Decide to love.

Nobody can give you these qualities, they can only be taught, learned, practiced, failed, then practiced some more.  They are difficult: our own self interest tries to hijack them.  They all enable a positive that can be given once the decision is made.  They will all have lasting effects far beyond the time it takes to practice them.

March 9, 2014

I'm totally going to get a good performance review for this.

You chose to go fishing because I like to fish.  You wanted to to play with princesses because their pretty dresses make you happy.  At 5 years old, you are pretty good at shooting that Wal-Mart-purchased compound bow with 8 pounds of draw because you eventually want to hunt animals.  Your bikes, playground, and other "hobbies" you have as young girls make you happy.  I love it.  These activities keep you occupied, stimulate your imagination, work your hand-eye coordination, and give you real-world experiences that will help you grow into well-rounded people.  And at times they make me laugh.

At some point you'll pick a career.  Or a passion.  Something around which you will focus your lives.  The two may be one in the same.  Maybe the career will support the passion.  Whatever it may be, you will choose to do something because for you, it provides fulfillment.  It completes that need in you to do something larger than yourself; change for the better some portion of your sphere of influence.  I hope you find a cause into which you can dive head first.  For me it was the Marine Corps.  Yours may be the same, or real estate.  A stay at home mother.  Engineering.  Marketing.  Teaching.  Church.  Or any of the numerous respectable professions that make this world go.

Here's a danger:  You could become comfortable in your passion and forget that you began your journey down this road for a specific purpose.  A purpose greater than yourself.  And as you get established in your field, making decisions, it will be easy to start asking yourself: what will my friends think of me?  How will this make me look to those who work for me?  Or maybe the worse of all:  How will my boss react and how will it reflect on my performance review?

As soon as this becomes a concern, run!  You have now lost focus on the reason you became the person you did.  You have forgotten the purpose for which you have invested your time, talents, treasures.  No decision at this point will be the right one because you are making it for your boss.  Or your image.  Or something other than that higher purpose.  You have shifted your focus from the prize and any action you take will lead you astray.  It may find you a good report, but everyone else will see right through you.  You'll lose the respect or envy you so badly wanted.  Everything else that matters will suffer.  The passion in you will be lost.

I've seen this first-hand.  It's not pretty.  And at some point we've all probably made a decision for these wrong reasons.  You can recover, but remember the reasons you do the things you do.  Hold close to your passion.  Don't let yourself stray down the path of the passion-less.  Do not let your life become about how people think of you.  Do not let your life become about yourself.  Stay focused on your larger goals, make your decisions for the purpose of attaining them, and leave the focus on yourself somewhere else.  You can do the positive things you want when they, not yourself, are the prize.

March 7, 2014

They're break-dance fighting

Ladies, there are many positive things the Marine Corps has taught me.  Unfortunately, the following article and the Marine Corps mentality would probably conflict.  I think there's room for for the article's ideas to be incorporated into the mission-will-be-accomplished-or-else mentality of the Marine Corps:

The hard part will be balancing the increased productivity you've given yourself by such simple concepts with the perception that "[s]he doesn't do s&!*" when you implement them.  Unfortunately, not just in the military, people will judge you by how many hours you put in at work, or by how much time you spend at your desk/workspace.  Taking a walk in nature or reading a good fiction may not go over well with the boss or coworkers, even if it refreshes your mind and body.  If you're seen as the person who doesn't contribute, you may be pigeon-holed as ineffective, even if in reality you've built 1000 bridges, but taken the time to refresh yourself or maintain your family relationships.

As far as the Marine Corps goes, if you do the things in the article, just go somewhere else and tell people you've been at the gym.

March 3, 2014

He's so terrible, help is the last thing he needs.

He was struggling.  He knew his stuff, was smart enough, but when it came time to brief then execute the flight he would fumble.  He couldn't speak without uncomfortable pauses or explain a concept without the "ums" spreading throughout his words.  Malignantly the quirks, the hesitation would overtake everything he wanted to convey.  The brief was ineffective and once in the jet, he couldn't execute the procedures he knew so well.  A lack of confidence would be reinforced by mistakes and his confidence would spiral out of control until it overtook his ability to perform.  Circular.  Like a Merry-Go-Round.

It would be easy for the instructor cadre to complain about his consistently poor performance, or to find his weaknesses in performance to be chinks in his character.  It would be easy to close the door and gossip until the man was broken into human waste, at least in their minds.  This would be easy.  They would almost yearn for his continued mistakes just so they could vindicate the words they had said about him.  To look on with disgust and judgment, as if the performance defines the man.

This would be easy.  So the other's true character was displayed when he said, "I won't let this happen."  He took the man under his wing, to show him the way to control his nerves.  To reduce the quirks, calmly think about his words before delivery, systematically work through a maneuver while executing.  To prevent this man's character from the impending damage.  It will not be easy.  He will be frustrated.  But he knows it is the right thing to do.  The difficulty of the task solidifying his need to intervene.  So the man would improve.  So the man wouldn't fall.  So the fellow Marine would succeed, be a better tactician and aircrew.  So the man would remain a man.

Because he can.  Because he must.  Because it will be hard.  Because no one else will.

February 27, 2014

You don't have to be in charge to lead.

People will gather.  People will talk.  Your friends will arrive and be friendly.  Then the meeting will begin.  Even if there's someone in charge with an plan, people will continue to talk.  About their own agendas.  Toward their own goals.  Goals which are not necessarily in line with the leader's, or those of the collective group.  Everyone has to get their own thoughts expressed so they can breathe the sigh of relief, assuring themselves they did their parts.  Until the next person says his piece and it conflicts.  And the next person who is not on the same page as either of the first two.  The tangential thoughts scattering throughout the room will spear into others, flying with them into the nethersphere of inconsequentiality.  Two words I just made up.

This is the effect of a group with no focus.  No direction.  No real leadership.  The group may have an agenda, a vision, a desired purpose for the gathering.  Even with these essentials, with no one to inspire or to lead, where will this train end up?  Off the tracks, in a ditch; an organism with so much potential lying on a side with its wheels turning in the air.  Doing nothing.  Whether the yearbook committee, the youth group ski trip planning team, or another group in which you two will involve yourselves, it doesn't matter.  Are you on paper as being in charge or one of the many who arrived to see what's up?  This too doesn't matter.  You can focus their thoughts, narrow their direction, lead them toward their goals.  Do this with a confident humility.  Realize that not everyone will understand.  Or like it.  But there will be a few who see it.  A few who you'll touch, at first.  Focus on them, listen to all, and keep pushing ahead toward the goal.  More will see the value you bring.  More importantly, they will see the results the group has achieved.

Like all other useful and valuable skills, this will take practice, strength, and determination.  It will take a thick skin at times.  It will require you to close your mouth, listen, then speak up confidently. It means putting in thought beforehand, maintaining objectivity during, and applying careful consideration after a gathering, maintaining your humility throughout.  Your dedication and perseverance will find themselves rewarded with a great book, memorable trip, or successful project.  And you'll enjoy it that much more knowing you helped work to make it that way.

Wherever you find yourself, use your gifts to lead.


Your mom did this the other night and I am proud of her for it.

February 26, 2014

Assertive Humility

There are two types toward whom people gravitate.  One is the kid, good at whatever it is his particular group does.  He can throw a wicked fast ball, knows all the greatest super heroes, thinks of the most creative games with his friends.  He's good at these things and has the self-assurance to go along with them.  With actions that speak, "I'm good at what I do and I know it, but this doesn't make me better than anyone else."  No arrogance, just great ability paired with confidence.  People dig it.

And the other?  The girl who recognizes her mistakes, realizes her shortcomings, boldly takes responsibility, makes amends then objectively moves on.  Without a whine or a bid for others' approval, no fishing for compliments along the way, she avoids wallowing in timidity or overcompensating with bravado.  She gives a nod to her imperfections but has the self-assurance to admit confidently and sincerely when she's come up short.  A recognition that "I mess up at times, I know it, and now I will be judged for my response to adversity."  No self-pity, just great humility, working to learn from her mistakes, paired with confidence. People respect it.

My girls, it will be hard work, but can we be both types?  If so, we can inspire so many more.

February 25, 2014

Lift your attitude or crash into a boat - your choice.

"Attitude", the LSO (Landing Signals Officer) called, as the pilot allowed the airplane's nose to drop too low to make a proper arrested landing.  With its nose not high enough, a tactical jet's hook will not touch down at the right point - just prior to the arresting cable - for the hook to catch the wire and for the plane to stop in what little runway remains.  This problem is typically not due to some unforeseen, last minute, force upon the jet preventing its nose from rising, but an issue that goes back approximately 45 seconds prior, when the pilot should have controlled his airspeed, altitude, rate of descent, and heading such that he could fly the thing "hands off". An airplane not appropriately trimmed and "on speed" will always have issues while flying the ball.  Even so, and with just seconds before touchdown, the pilot has a choice to make: input a small nose up correction to put the aircraft in the proper attitude, or risk missing the wire and having to go around to try it all again.

We've seen this exact scenario play out so many times in our own lives, even when we don't step anywhere near an airplane.  We don't like our boss, or a coworker, and while we might have been able to prevent a situation by correcting our own attitude in previous engagements, we let the problem fester. The tension becomes tangible at work and affects us at home. We treat our loved ones poorly because we can only focus on the evil who is that coworker.

We don't see eye to eye with our parents, but we refuse to see our own fault in the matter, or we're afraid to bring up an issue that may be difficult to deal with.  The problem continues too long until it hurts the relationship.

Our kids will just not stop crying.  Or asking for things.  Or demanding our time.  How is this a problem?  It leads to bitterness because we can't do, or watch, what we want. And it's clearly all their fault.

So what's the problem here?  Our terrible bosses?  Possibly.  Our horrible parents?  Unlikely.  Our overly needy kids.  Nope.  It's our own attitude.  It's managing our own expectations.  It's realizing that seldom is anything perfect and that we either need to change our situations or change how we look at them. How many times have you expected to leave work early on a Friday, get yourself mentally ready, and find yourself staying until you can "only" leave 30 minutes early?  It ruins what should otherwise be a normal weekend. And yet because our expectations aren't under control, we ruin it for ourselves. Nobody ruined it for us.  Not even the boss, that heathen, who made us stay.  Our parents (for most) aren't out to get us and neither are our kids. Most of the time, problems with coworkers aren't caused by the other one having a directed vendetta against us.  Whatever the situation, difficult as it may be, our own negative outlook will only make the problem worse.  For ourselves.

Like the pilot who should have made his airplane right before he even started his turn to land, we need to make the decision to get our perspectives in order before we leave for work in the morning.  Before we engage with our parents.  Or, to avoid the frustration of a Saturday morning sleep-in cut short by miniature people, before we go to bed Friday night.  Managing our attitudes and expectations toward our lives, and maintaining positive outlooks will only help us navigate difficulty and more fully enjoy the sweet times in life.  It's not easy, and so many times it never will be, but it is fully under our control.  My attitude is always my own, and only my own, to affect.  It's one of the few things we all have in equal proportions.  Changing it early on will always be beneficial.

And when we mess this up and find ourselves cursing our bad positions, we need to pause, add in a small nose up correction, and lift our attitudes before we crash and burn.