Friday, May 30, 2014

Hv Grt Wknd!!

A friend writes emails like a third-grader…I think he has the right/write idea.

When I get a message from Steve it might say, “How you?” or “Hvng fun?’

His style has been a joke between us and among our friends for years.

Increasingly, I believe he might have a great strategy. While Steve uses his concise style when writing to friends I’m suggesting you keep a short and sweet style when writing work emails.

Take a few seconds to compose the email in a way that makes it easier and faster for the recipient to read and respond. Mark Twain once said, “Please excuse the length of this letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

However, it’s ok to go crazy and make your messages to friends as long as you’d like.

Or, be Steve. Ok?

Hve fn wknd!! C u Mndy!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Breaking Out of Prison

Sonny is a guy I know from the gym. He’s on the other side of 70, fit, smart, lighthearted and one of those guys who,  when he’s talking, you should be listening.

Yesterday we were talking about the new book I’m writing about heartbreak and how to recover from it. Normally, you think of heartbreak as an emotion linked to romance…well…at least that’s how I think about it. Sonny, however, connected it to “how you feel when you lose the friendship and trust you have for someone because of what they did.”

It seems that Sonny had a very close friend (“he was married at my house”) whose lies started to catch up with him. Sonny said, “I had to meet with him and tell him that while I still liked him we probably couldn’t sit down and joke around and talk about old times.”

It takes courage and faith to make a choice like that. I think of folks I’ve known…and know…who don’t like the confrontation and conflict a choice and discussion like that would create. So, they’d rather put on a happy face around the person and then talk about them behind their back after they leave.

I’m not very good at hiding how I feel and it jumps up and bites me in a variety of ways and variety of situations. If I have a conflict with you you’ll probably see it on my face (and no, I don’t play poker) and I don’t have a problem with the conflict part. However, if you’re willing to talk it out I’m usually more than willing to explain my side of it and listen to yours. And, if I’m wrong I’ll take my heat and then try to get over it.

Sonny was a major exec at a well-known regional corporation. He brought in a speaker for a conference who was a former pilot and had been shot down in Vietnam and spent 6 years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. Sonny said the guy’s message was, “I might have been a prisoner of war but a lot of you are prisoners of fear or envy or anger or some other emotions that keeps you locked up.”

Harboring ill feelings towards someone and not dealing with them in some sort of positive way is a type of prison. Revenge, anger and grudges serve no one.

Breaking out of prison is difficult, but not going in in the first place may be harder.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's the Average?

Whenever a thought, comment, quote or idea keeps bumping into me in a short span of time I pay attention to it; life is trying to tell me something.

Recently, in a number of situations I’ve encountered the idea that if you average the incomes of the five people you’re around most of the time you’ll find it approximates your own.

You can make the same calculation with attitude…and life.

Look around at the people you come in contact with on a regular basis. Are they positive, optimistic people who believe their lives are under their control? Or, are they negative, pessimistic people who believe their lives—their world—is the run by someone or something else, or the gubmint, or their color/religion/sexual orientation/education/income/(fill in the blank)?

Now, figuratively or literally, look in the mirror. Which group do you see? And, if you have the...mmm...courage, ask someone who really knows you who they see.

Every morning when we wake up we make the decision to be who we’ll be, live where we live and make the day what it will be. Yes, I understand that there are all kinds of circumstances that have impacts on our lives. But, we…choose.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A "Got It Done" Journal

Recently, I’ve started a “Got It Done” Journal. When I get things done during the day I write them down.

If you ever have one of those days when it seems like nothing is going right and you’re spinning your wheels the Got It Done Journal is a great way to look back and see that you DID get some constructive things done.

I list emails sent, sales and deposits made, meetings held.

If you’re operating at a fast pace it’s easy to forget you made an important phone call, scheduled or didn’t schedule a meeting or accomplished a task you had planned.

If you’re doing a To-Do List you can look to see if the item is crossed off, but I’m increasingly liking the Got It Done Journal because I’m writing notes and doodling ideas about some of the issues and looking ahead to how they might impact other things/people/goals in the future.

You might want to try the Got It Done Journal for a week or month to see how you like it. Go to an office supply store and pick up a simple journal with a design you like (lined, unlined, graph paper design) and see how it works for you. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Driving at Night With My Headlights Out

At 9:36 last night I was 8 miles west of Chapel Hill on I-40 when the lights on my dashboard started going out.

A half-hour or so before that I had gotten in the car after a seminar in Cary and when I started it the little battery on the dashboard lit up; that means an electrical issue. I had bought a new battery a couple of months ago so I didn’t think that was the problem; and the car was running fine at the time.

The basic challenge was that I know about as much about how a car works as I know about what a gall bladder does for the body. My friend, Ken Jackson, is having his gall bladder removed today or tomorrow, but it could be his spleen or pituitary gland or spotsidonia nodes. I don’t know what those things are either. In fact, I made up the spotsidonia nodes thing…but see, you didn’t have a clue either did you, so there.

My problem-solving skills came up with, “Keep driving and let’s hope for the best.” I had two seminars scheduled for today in Gastonia, about a 3-hour drive, and I hated the thought of letting those folks down.

The headlights went out at 9:41 and I was doing about 70 mph. I know it was that time because I just picked up the phone to start calling my friend, Elaine, to let her know what was going on…just in case. I was able to hang behind an 18-wheeler for a few miles until I saw an exit. When I cruised to the top of the off-ramp the car totally died but I was able to coast to a stop on the side of the road.

As I’m walking to a convenience mart at Exit 157 I’m talking to myself in my head about how I might have been smarter and I'm (out loud) thanking Elaine for talking me into getting AAA. Stopping on the side of the road for a second I pull my AAA out of my pocket, shine the phone light on it and notice that it says my membership ends on January 31, 2014. Ruh, ro.

So—making no assumptions that I actually know what I’m doing in life—I call AAA and, sure enough, I have an old card in my pocket; later I find the new one in the glove compartment.

By a little after 2 am, I’m 76 miles east in bed falling asleep, the car is delivered to the great repair folks at Woods Auto Repair and my fun-to-ride-with tow truck guy, John, is on his way back home.

This morning I’m thinking through the lessons I learned: Listen to smart people; Elaine talked me into getting AAA, and especially suggested I get the prime service that includes 100-miles of towing. A small investment almost always pays off; if I had not had AAA I’d be in a hotel waiting all day for someone I don’t know to fix the car and still out the seminar business for the day. Understand that sometime decisions don’t go the way you want, but sometimes they are the only decision…if it happens again I’d still make the decision to keep going.

Look around, what seemingly small decisions are you putting off that could have large consequences?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Birthday Wish From "Your Daughter"

My mother’s birthday was last Friday and I was able to drive down to see her yesterday. I had swooped into a Lowe’s grocery store and grabbed a card from the “Birthday Cards for Mom” rack and a box of chocolates. I signed the card for my brother and me so I was as prepared as a good son could be.

Mama is 85, suffers from Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home. Her condition is not so advanced that she doesn’t know me and my brother and, while she can’t read the card, she enjoys the color and feel of them and the meaning when we read them to her.

As she and I laughed and talked I opened the envelope and handed her the card. She ran her hands over it and eased it back to me so I could read it. The sentiments were as you might expect and I got a little choked up as the message spoke of how much she was loved now and would be forever.

In fact the last three lines were what really touched us. They said, “You know you’ll always be loved, because you’ll always be my mother and I’ll always be your daughter.”

Needless to say, Mama exploded with laughter! As did I!

 If my brother had been there I’m sure he’d have cracked up and given me one of those, “You didn’t read the inside, did you?” looks.

So often in life we speed through efforts and then, at the end, realize we simply didn’t take the small bit of time necessary to keep from making a mistake.

This one worked out great and was memorable…the rest of the time, we should be so lucky.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Over and Over and Over

“The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.” John Wooden

Coach Wooden was right, but how many of us are willing go over something again and again and again and again?

See, you didn’t even like reading and again a few times. Not only do we often lack the patience to deal with repetition, if we do, we don’t understand that each time we repeat the process we need to be aware of learning something new.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, he says that true experts have 10,000 hours invested in a skill before they are masters of it. The truth, though, is that 10,000 of doing something over and over is simply 10,000 hours of doing something over and over if you don’t continue to learn how to improve.

Whether you are a golfer, a mechanic, an astronaut or an administrative assistant, you should be aware of the power of repetition and that the power can be multiplied by a simple awareness of what  you are doing each time you repeat the task.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moving at Warp Speed

Working on a new project has brought me into contact with a range of information I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Recently, I ran into a couple of sentences that jumped out at me:

“You can’t go directly from one really intense thing to a new really intense thing without giving yourself time to transition. We like to think we can do that—that we can fly from one thing to another at warp speed all the time—but we can’t. We need transition time, buffer time, time to come down off one thing and rest a little before digging into what’s next.”

I often say that emotional energy is an exhaustable resource; it’s renewable, but you can burn out.

Are you trying to keep too many balls in the air? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Smart Do You Have to Be?

Presented a program today for a regional agency that’s looking for some good employees. Not going to tell anymore about them for reasons that will be obvious 5 seconds from now.

Last Friday they closed out an application period and had 173 online applications. Of the 173 applicants only 36 completed the application AS NOTED ON THE APPLICATION FORM.

All the applicants had to do was completely read the instructions and they’d have known what, in addition to the application page itself, they had to complete and include.

Here’s one of my favorite parts of the story: The agency official (a positive, successful professional) who is the first person to see the applications immediately responded to each applicant with a “Thank You for Applying” email that again, OUTLINED THE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION NEEDED TO COMPLETE THE APPLICATION.

36 out of 173.

In an economy where so many people are saying they need a good job (the jobs available in this situation would be considered competitive, but good, jobs) you have to wonder how many folks are not able to score a job because they simply are not observant and don’t follow through?

So, if so many of those folks aren't professional enough to complete application does the organization really need them as employees?

Monday, May 12, 2014

How High Did You Go In the Draft?

Whether you’re a football fan or not, an NFL fan or not, you have to appreciate the fact that last week’s NFL draft created a new batch of young millionaires.

My two favorite parts of the draft are the ongoing clips of players making great plays and the shots of kids getting the phone call from the drafting team that made their dreams come true.

When young athletes get the call that tells them their dreams have come true many of them believe, “This is it! This is the place I’ve pointed to for so many years!”

But, the phone call isn’t it; what they do with the phone call is what matters.

We’ll all have a moment today, a moment that can change things…maybe change our lives. How will we experience it? Will we see it as a moment that can help move us toward our dreams or simply as another…moment…in the day?

(Send this blog to a friend)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sweat is Fat Crying

None of us like discomfort. We even come up with clich├ęs to explain it away.

Navy SEALS talk about, “The only easy day was yesterday.” Marines say, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” I saw a great T-shirt in a gym recently: “Sweat is fat crying.”

So often we want to simply ignore or rush by and through moments of discomfort because they are….well, uncomfortable.

But, what if we acknowledge moments of discomfort as portals of understanding? What if, instead of looking at pain as weakness leaving the body (or our heart), we acknowledge it as the body or heart telling us, “There’s something here you need to look at more closely.”

That takes courage; courage to move closer to the pain in order to understand it. Instead of hiding it or covering it up you bring it out into the light and roll it around and look at it and talk to it….and you ask, “What are you?” “Why are you here?” “Where’d you come from?” “Where are you going?” “What can I learn from you?”

Whether the pain is in our personal or professional lives it’s here to teach us some something. And, it can’t teach us if it’s pushed away or locked in a box.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What I Learned Going to the Bathroom

Last night during a break in a seminar I went to the bathroom. Taped to the wall was a photocopy of printed instructions about how to wash your hands…I know, I know…but hang with me for a moment.

The small type at the bottom showed that the instructions originated at the Lincoln/Lancaster County (Nebraska) Health Department. Considering that I was in Durham, North Carolina, the source of the information alone was interesting.

The parts about, “wash your hands thoroughly” and “use a paper towel to dry your hands” were familiar, but the next part was what made it intriguing. The instructions said, “Turn off water with the paper towel.” Obviously, that keeps you from getting germs from the spigots back on your hands.

For years, after washing my hands in any public facility, I’ve kept the towel (if that’s how I dried my hands) and used it to open the door when I left. If they didn’t use paper towels, they used the blower (which is not very sanitary because it takes dirty air and blows it on your hands), I’d be sure to use sanitizing gel as soon as possible.

This is a great example of situations in which you do the things you’re supposed to do to get a good outcome, but there is one little thing at the end that negates the whole process…think working out and eating right during the day and then eating a doughnut before bed…

Wait, you mean y’all don’t do that?

Later last night, on the way home, I started thinking about the paper towel strategies and somehow connected it with how we think and our mental state. We can do all the positive thinking and focusing and planning we want but then connecting with negative people, and believing what they say, can negate all our good work.

Use the paper towel strategy. Take a moment and look at the good efforts you make during your day and revel in them. But, be careful about the little things that happen during your day that can zap the good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I'm a Bad American

I’m not voting in the primaries today.

So, just go ahead and say it, “Mike, you’re a bad American.”

Here’s my problem. I don’t know if I support any of the candidates. And why don’t I know?

Because in today’s society the main way I can find out about them is to see their ads and the fear-based, negative advertising turns me off. I’m turned off to the point that I don’t want to know anything about them.

I’d run for office just to give myself an alternative but I couldn’t pass the background check.

The scary thing is that there are probably people worse than me running for office but they’ve figured out how to fake or hide their records. (That’s a half-true joke so don’t get cranked up about it)

I do vote in the major elections because I believe that if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain and complaining about elected officials is something I’m really good at.

 If you’re voting today, God Bless You….unless you’re voting for someone I don’t like.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What If You Had a Vacation Planned?

“Work every day like you are leaving tomorrow for a two-week vacation.”

Ran into the quote above at the end of last week. Ironically, I was getting ready to take off for a long weekend.

The quote started me thinking; could you or I do that? The pace would be pretty intense but the focus the strategy created would be crystal…clear.

Making the strategy work would be based on planning, setting priorities and working with intensity. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Ruins at Rockingham

The remains of the walls of the old, 5-story mill look like ancient ruins. Located just off US 74 in Rockingham, NC, they always remind me of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

I first saw the ruins over 50 years ago on trips to see my grandmother who lived in the area. The walls were more intact in the ‘60s, but even then I’d notice that chunks or whole sections would have fallen between my trips. Now, there’s only a couple of corners and part of one wall left.

On a trip to the area this week I noticed other landmarks that had changed; new businesses started, vacant lots where houses used to be, big changes to the small downtown area.

Native Americans often believe things have memories; what we see as inanimate objects “remember” events and people and situations just as we do. Whether that’s true or not I won’t guess, but I do know I often think, “If this thing could talk what stories it would tell!”

The director of the Train Station and Depot Museum in nearby Hamlet took me on a tour of their facility and showed me a “dowry trunk.” Years ago, a bride would collect linen, china and other items that were important to her, that would make a home her idea of a home, and fill a trunk/trunks and when she married she’d take the trunk with her to her new home. The museum has a wonderful old dowry trunk and you can’t touch it without wondering what the young woman and her life was like.

Leaving the past behind is almost always a healthy exercise, but it’s often instructive to look back and remind ourselves of the lessons we’ve learned. As philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Whenever I see the ruins of the old mill I marvel at the changes in the area and in life since I first saw them. I think less about the mistakes I’ve made and more about how far I’ve come. Take a moment and try that exercise this weekend.

See you on Monday.