Friday, November 30, 2012

How Do You Spell "Fun"?

This morning I’m presenting an old favorite. I haven’t had a chance to present, “FUN Is Not a 4-Letter Word!” in quite awhile.

My basic point in the presentation is that as we get older it’s easy—with all the adult responsibilities, increasing aches and pains, and recognition of mortality—to forget that life is supposed to be about having some fun and doing some good.

It’s difficult to find fun sometimes. The recent election mess, Hurricane Sandy, the usual troubles in the Mid-East (and no, that’s not an athletic conference the ACC is stealing teams from), and  all the fiscal cliff yammering by media and politicians create an atmosphere in which it’s an uphill slog to see life as an experience in which we can have some fun.

But, truly, I think that as we drive through life we should blow the horn, turn the radio up loud and squeal the wheels as we turn every corner.

For a couple of years I hit some fairly difficult times but things are better now because I actively went out and made a point of looking for fun…and I found it.

Rarely does fun come knocking on your door and asking you out. You’ve got to walk out the door and out into the middle of the street looking for it. Sometimes you have to walk down the block and knock on fun’s door and ask it out. It’s all up to you.

I know this sounds harsh: I don’t want to hear your problems; the reasons you can’t have fun. I’m facing a ton of my own life challenges right now and I’m still having fun.

I can hear you right now, “But Mike, that’s you!”

No…that’s you.

Have a great weekend…do something fun!

See you Monday.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Like, Umm, Urr, Ahh...Whatever

Are there words or phrases you use too much?

A friend told me she and some of her colleagues recently attended a presentation by a person whom they knew used, “Umm,” “Ahh” and “Urr” between comments.

During the presentation they kept score, marking a page each time they heard the sounds. It’s a fun game to play but distracts the listeners from the real purpose of the presentation or meeting. The high score was 32 in a relatively short presentation.

Ask a trusted colleague to be aware of—and tell you about—your overuse of certain words.

We all have friends who overuse “like” or “whatever” or “it is what it is.” Many years ago my grandmother stopped me in the middle of a story and said, “Mike, you say, ‘You know’ a lot. Did you know that?” I immediately became more conscious of the habit, started noticing how many of my friends used the term, and stopped overusing it.

After awhile it becomes easy for listeners to be distracted from the focus of our comments by the overuse of throwaway words.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wonderword and Looking at Life

Every Sunday I start working on the Wonderword puzzle. You probably have one in your newspaper.

Wonderword starts with a list of words relating to a specific topic such as “Going to the Zoo” or “Your Car,” and next to the list there’s a square framework with lots of what look like random letters in columns. But, as you look more closely you can find the words from the list vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and backwards.

Once you skim through and catch the easy finds you have to get more creative in how you discover the words. I’ve found that different people do the puzzle in different ways.

Some folks go straight through the list, in order. They don’t move on to the next word until they find the work they are looking for. Other people look for any word on the list by starting with the first letter and looking at the eight letters surrounding it. If there’s a letter that matches the second letter in the word they are seeking they check to see if the next letter after that matches what they need, and so on.

I have never completed the puzzle. I always get to the next Sunday with unfound words on the list.

Life can be like the Wonderword puzzle. Some of what you want is easy to find. You have to really work to reach other goals. Some of the goals will never be reached unless you have a list of really easy, simple goals…or you don’t have a list at all.

The great thing about life, though…if you have a positive outlook…is that each day you get a new puzzle, a new chance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Have NOT Been Watching Dr. Phil!!

Noooo. I’m not watching Dr. Phil!! I’m…uh…watching a rerun of the Oklahoma/Nebraska college football game from 1973!!

Ok, ya caught me…as comedian Ron White would say, “Ya caught The Tater.”

I had recorded Monday’s Dr. Phil episode because Julie Morgenstern, a time-management and organization specialist I like, was going to be on the program and I thought I’d learn something…which I did…but not from Morgenstern, who was on for about 5 seconds.

The show was about two couples having significant challenges finding time for themselves because they have so many family responsibilities. In one couple the guy was simply an immature dope and wouldn’t help his wife clean up around the house. The other couple had ten kids (which tells me they found a LOT of time for themselves but were only doing one thing with it) and organizing their home was like managing the 101st Airborne being deployed.

Here’s the first thing I learned: Couples relationship research shows the first four minutes you spend together when you encounter each other sets the tone for what the rest of the time will be like. So, when you come home at the end of the day you need to be sure and make the first four minutes positive. If the first thing you’re doing when you walk in the door is complain the probability that the rest of the time ain’t gonna be good is pretty high.

I’m thinking the logic may work at work, too. Without being too literal on the four minutes limit I’m thinking that if one of the first things you do when you get to work is say “hello” in a positive way and catch someone doing something right it may start your day and their day off in positive ways.

Here’s the second thing I learned (and yes, it’s a cliché and we’re all supposed to know this, but not enough of us do it): For a relationship to be successful, whether work or personal, each person has to spend some time learning what the other person wants out of the relationship. Then, again, if it matters to each person that the relationship be successful, they each need to negotiate getting what they want. It might be an easy negotiation if each agrees, “Oh, you want that? Ok, I’ll do it.” Or, it could be a stretch, “Oh, you want THAT?” “Uh, mmmm….ok, I’ll need to think about it a little.”

Either way is ok because it gets the parties communicating and working together.

And here’s something I re-learned in the last 48 hours, and I didn’t learn it from Dr. Phil: It’s the working together part that matters. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Today Starts the Sprint

Today is now dubbed Cyber Monday by retail businesses. That means it’s the day thousands of people sit at their computers at work and shop online instead of doing the work they put off last week while waiting for Thanksgiving.

For much longer than the Cyber Monday phenomenon today has been the start of what I call Sprint Month. It’s the end-of-year sprint to complete all those sales goals, projects, personal agendas and ideas that have been floundering or put off for the previous 11 months.

Sprint Month is reality staring you in the face.

So, how do you decide what needs to be done in Sprint Month? As Curly (actor Jack Palance) said in the movie City Slickers, “You’ve got to make the main thing the main thing.”

What is the one project or issue that helps you feel more secure; financially, emotionally, professionally, physically, spiritually or in relationships? That’s the main thing.

Now, what do you want the main thing to be like on December 31? If you can create a clear vision of the outcome you want on the last day of the year you can step back from the vision, the bull’s eye, and ask, “What would be the step just before completed the goal?” And then, what would be the step just before that? Keep working your way back until you get to where you are today.

The process is called reverse engineering. It’s a great way to plan the steps you need to complete to get to the goal.

Another method is to simply use a brainstorming exercise to list all the steps in no particular order, Then put the steps in a logical order.

Your first step, no matter what method you use, is to determine the main thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey on Tin

In about an hour I’m headed to Ft. Bragg for a meeting about an upcoming program. Anything that gets me to the home of heroes is a good thing.

Before you start celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow remember the thousands of Americans all over the world who’ll be eating their meal on tin plates or out of MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) packets. They won’t be enjoying a peaceful meal, some tag football in the backyard and a lazy nap during the afternoon NFL game. They’ll be standing to post on our behalf.

None of us have the lives we have on our own. Someone, somewhere, some how made our lives possible.

This is the time of year to thank them. Or, to say a little prayer of thankfulness for them.

Have a great, safe Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Your Turkey Thawed?

Most folks today buy a frozen turkey, thaw it out and cook it for Thanksgiving. Not that many folks are able to buy an unfrozen turkey and cook it within a few days.

So, is your turkey thawed?

How smart is it to stick a frozen turkey in a 350/500-degree oven? Or, dropping a frozen turkey into a boiling pot of oil to fry it?

MMMM….not very smart on either count.

You’re a smart person. You know, as I do, that you have to thaw your turkey, prepare it, before you cook it.

Life’s like that; you have to prepare, get ready, pay your dues, whatever you want to call it, before you can get what you want.

Now, I’ll be the first to agree that you can go to a restaurant and pay for a great Thanksgiving meal. Thousands of people do it every year. It’s easy, no mess, no clean-up.

Life’s like that, too. If you have the resources you can simply pay to quickly get what you want. I don’t think you appreciate the getting if you don’t do the doing, but, hey, that’s just me.

If your turkey isn’t thawed you’d better get going. Thursday’s only 48 hours away.

If your life isn’t what you want you’d better get going. Eternity starts right now.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holding Up a Mirror

Last night a friend explained in reasonably direct terms how I come across in some situations.

I joked (or tried to joke) that the description was not exactly flattering.

She said, “If you don’t have friends or coworkers or managers who tell you, every now and then, how you act, you might be acting in a way that doesn’t help you and you would never know.”

As usual, she was right.

We create who we are every day and we do it based on habits. It’s easy to get into habitual behaviors that are comfortable but neither helpful nor supportive of a positive image.

As my friend would say, every now and then we need someone to hold a mirror up for us so we can see who we are.

At that point we get to decide: Do I want to keep being the person I see in the reflection, or do I want to change? It’s our choice.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Leaves, Leaves Everywhere

Like a lot of folks my yard is…was…full of leaves this time of year.

I don’t mind raking leaves. It’s a great calorie-burning activity and if there is one thing I need to be doing on a regular basis it’s burn calories.

This morning I heard a leaf-blower going in the yard next door and looked out the window to see a kid pushing my neighbor's leaves to the curb.

A friend said, “I bet if you give that kid $20 he’ll clear your yard.”

Right now I’ve got a ton of things going on and don’t have time to do the leaves so I gave it a shot…and he did it! He’s finishing right now.

Are there tasks you need done but your time is better, and more profitably, spent doing other things?

Can you delegate, delay, not do or pay someone to complete the tasks?

Don’t be so quick to assume that you have to do everything.

How much is your time worth?

Knowing how much time is worth to you in money or time (the time to do what you like has a value) is a good thing to know when making decisions.

Fundamentally, time is your most important resource. So, sometimes it makes more sense to get someone to rake your leaves, clean your house, wash your car, cook your food or watch your kids than for you to do it. This isn’t about some sort of elitist lifestyle, it’s about making the best use of your time.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

5 1/2 Inches

Ok…get your mind out of the gutter…this is all about what you’ve learned today.

The average worker will work about 50 years. The average business organization will last about 30 years. Even if you work for a mega-corporation that’s been around awhile or you work for the government it’s highly likely that you will outlive your manager in the workplace or your employer will change dramatically.

What gives you any sense of security? What leads you to believe you'll be around tomorrow?

5 ½ inches.

That’s the average distance between a person’s ears.         

What’s in your head will determine the type of life you have. So, what have you learned today that gives you a better than average chance of being employed tomorrow, next month or next year?

If you aren’t learning something on a daily basis you’re falling behind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kill the Land Line

A friend is thinking about doing away with his land line telephone. He says the only people who call him on it are old friends and family. His logic is that they all love him and can adapt.

I’ve been without a land line for a year and haven’t missed it…except…when I lose my cellphone in the house and I can’t call myself with the landline so I can hear the cellphone ring and go to it.

Change is rarely a simple, easy path, but we adapt. Our ability to adapt is one of the great features about being human…well…that and opposable thumbs. It’d be really hard to hold a beer without’em.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rough Men and Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day.

No matter where you stand on foreign policy or military issues one thing is certain, for all of us who did not serve in the military, we owe so much to the people who have for over 200 years that we can never pay it back.

In 1945, George Orwell wrote, "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us." 

While women are now on the front lines keeping us safe the issue is the same: Without the people who are willing to serve, in and out of uniform, in readily-recognizable military situations and in the shadowy world in which many of our enemies move, we would not be safe.

This past weekend I was fortunate to spend some time with two good friends who have military backgrounds; one in the air, the other on the ground. One still serves. I'm honored just to be in their presence.

All we can do is say, "Thank You," and support veterans during and after their service.

Thank you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Go Home...Again

This is homecoming weekend at UNC-Chapel Hill. Am looking forward to seeing old friends, visiting old haunts, celebrating and…oh yeah…I think they’ll have a football game.

There are lots of types of homecomings. Families have them (reunions); churches, high schools and colleges, some companies have them.

The focus is usually on returning “home” to revisit places, people, emotions, triumphs, sorrows…memories.

 One of America’s literary giants, Thomas Wolfe, once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” True in some ways, but we keep trying.

Fifty years before I was in college and a member of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, Thomas Wolfe was a member of the same fraternity. In the ‘70s I had an opportunity to talk with one of his contemporaries and Mr. Harper told me that when Wolfe first joined the fraternity he was not known for bathing regularly—he was a mountain boy and once-a-week baths were the norm—so the members jumped him one night, threw a blanket over him and whacked him with broomsticks…(needless to say it was a different day in terms of hazing) after the experience Wolfe bathed regularly. Wolfe later wrote a friend saying, “Joining the fraternity is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

In most cases, returning “home” is a good thing, even if it means remembering sorrows or defeats. A visit allows you to measure how far you’ve come since the less-than-good times. That’s me. While walking across campus reminds me of classes skipped, time wasted and opportunities lost I enjoy remembering the good times.

We all go home in our minds on a regular basis. Unfortunately, studies show we ruminate on the bad stuff much more than on the good stuff. That sort of thinking spirals us down into less than positive states of mind.

Make this a homecoming weekend for yourself even if you aren’t going to one. In your mind or on paper or computer come up with ten good things from the past. Neuroscientists tell us that creating the list and thinking about the positive experiences makes us healthier.

Go home. It’ll be good for you.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Does It Say?

What did the election say?

It said that we all do better when people compromise and work together.

If you’re running into friction in the workplace and in life with managers, co-workers, customers, family, friends and others you might want to look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What has been my role in this situation? How have I contributed to the friction?”

None of us like to think we’re at fault in difficult situations, we want to point to others and yell or whisper, “It’s their fault.”

Maybe, maybe not.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Good news and bad news.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Boop! Boop! Boop! Backin' Up!

A 23-year old Florida woman was sunbathing recently when a friend backed his 4,500-pound Silverado over her head.

Brittany Taltos was asleep on her lawn. She said, “I woke up and half a tire was in my face. I thought I was going to die.”

Luckily, heavy rains had softened the ground so the tire pushed her head into the dirt.

I’m with ya Brittany!

After a tough work day it’s easy to have the “half a tire in the face” feeling.

Brittany also said that since the incident she just can’t get Willie Nelson’s song, “On the Road Again,” out of her mind.

Well…ok….she didn’t actually say that last part…I made that up. But, I’ve got to believe that alcohol had to have had at least a small part in this event for Brittany and her friend.

Think about it: This may be Monday but at least you didn’t wake up with a Goodyear tread mark on your forehead.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Perfect Workday

When you do what I do for a living you hope for audiences that are three things: smart, engaged and (at least for me) have a sense of humor.

Yesterday, I got all three in spades.

The three groups I presented for at the Workforce Development Conference in Greensboro were outstanding. Attendees offered thoughtful suggestions when asked, participated instead of just sitting there like meat sacks (that happens a lot in programs to which employees are told to come) and the back-row folks even good naturedly sang, “Happy Birthday,” to celebrants when asked. If you sit on the back row (a no-no) in one of my programs you have to sing something.

In short, yesterday was one of those days I pray for, an experience of The Perfect Workday: Great audience, PowerPoint worked, I remembered my lines.

If you could describe your Perfect Workday in three, positive words and/or phrases (forget the “I’m not here” silliness), what would they be?

Have a great weekend. Say a little prayer for the folks who got slammed by Hurricane Sandy. I'll see you Monday.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Be a Fighter Pilot for a Moment

Fighter pilots call it "situational awareness," checking out your environment and situation and then making a decision. All of us have times in which we are not as good as we should be at situational awareness.

Take this morning, for instance. I'm speaking at the Workforce Development Conference at the Sheraton Koury Center in Greensboro. I came downstairs and spent $12 on a muffin and milk for breakfast. For $12 they ought to have someone feeding it to me while wearing a Lady Gaga outfit.

Then, I walk upstairs to the conference area and realize they have food...for free. And yes, on my conference materials it said, "grab and go  breakfast."

Situational Awareness.

I was not aware enough of the situation in which I found myself.

Do you need to slow down and look around at life?