My job function: To check the quality of the work performed and report my findings. From there I can help steer the quality in the right direction.
What I find: the things other people missed. The reason why it was missed doesn’t matter. Maybe they are having a bad day, or they didn’t get enough sleep because they had a sick baby at the house. It could have been an honest mistake or willful neglect. My job is not to investigate the reasons. It is to find the defects in the quality.
When it comes to auditing, I cannot have any preconceived judgments or misguided biases. It is only pass or fail. Do I hold the same criteria when I think about the quality of the lives of others? Or is my judgment clouded based on my own personal standards? And just because I see what they do in public, I have no idea what their lives are like in private. Their choices are not mine. Their motivations are different. Not right or wrong, only different.
Quality means doing it right when no one is looking?
I can audit the quality of a product, but I have no business auditing the quality of someone else’s life. Except…
The quality of my life. Public and private. Choices and motivations. I drive my own standards of quality. I choose the level. And when it comes to auditing it as a pass or a fail, I must judge that too.
If I want a better-quality life, I must look at it through the lens of a microscope. Does it look the same in the dark as it does in the light? Both good and bad choices must be reviewed. I need to ask why I made the good decision, so I can continue making them. I need to analyze the bad and what led me to it, so I can prevent similar bad choices in the future. Are my motivations in the right place? If not, then I must change its direction and steer it back onto course.
We are all responsible for determining our own quality standards. Once we figure it out, we can develop the processes that help us adhere to it. We can analyze and course correct. We can live in a state of quality of our own design.
Exercise: If I do the workout, I will get stronger. I can build the strength, but I must have the will.
Nutrition: Sugar or alcohol or both. Do I have the strength to abstain? Of course, the strength is not a problem. Do I have the will? Ah, that is the problem.
Sleep: Early to bed, early to rise. Strength or will? It takes extraordinarily little physical effort to get out of bed. But to turn off the television and the phone at night, to resist hitting the snooze button in the morning, that takes will.
Mind: Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. What physical strength is needed to garner these? It is not a matter of strength but one of desire. It is a matter of choice. Do you seek to learn? Are you willing to observe? Do you crave wisdom?
Soul: Courage, bravery, the ability to keep going despite the odds. Indeed, this does require a certain amount of strength within the soul. But like the body, it can be developed. You must be willing to do it. It is better to develop the heart of the warrior before you go to battle.
Lacking in strength is a problem, but it can be corrected. In almost every facet of your life, you can become stronger. Do you have the will to make it happen? Do you have the discipline to see it through?
Victor Hugo once said, “People do not lack strength; they lack will.” The great French writer knew what he was talking about. Les Misérables took over twelve years to write and had over 655,000 words. It was not strength that got this work done, it was will. It was discipline to see it through to the end.
When I was younger, I thought the shortcut was the way. In High School, I loved reading Muscle and Fitness. From the pages of those magazines, I was drawn to the one magic exercise for accelerated growth. I was intrigued by the miraculous supplement guaranteeing a 300% increase in fat loss. There was some real substance in those editions, but it was the fluff that captured my attention.
What I learned (eventually) was that taking the magic and the miraculous never worked for me. There was only one way to get stronger and leaner. I had the do the work. And the work was not a shortcut, it was an incremental daily improvement mixed with the right nutrition.
The lure of quick success was not limited only to the fitness magazines. I was also intrigued by the infomercials promising a way to get rich quick. They were most appealing when I was in between jobs or at a job I didn’t prefer. I am glad I never broke down and paid for the $1000 secrets that would guarantee me millions, but the temptation was there. But what if I missed out on the golden opportunities? I’m fine with that. If I were in my twenties with millions to burn, there is a good chance I would not have become the man I am today.
We must remember that it is a long process to get where we want to be in life. It is a journey that we may never finish. But we must not be in a hurry to get through it. It is a process that makes us better individuals. By rushing through it, we miss the opportunity to add depth, quality, and texture to our personal evolutions. C.S. Lewis said it wasn’t the load that breaks us down, it is the way we carry it. Likewise, it is not the destination that matters, but who we become along the way. No shortcuts to any place worth going. Those words from Beverly Sills hit the mark. Take the long way. You won’t regret it.
In the book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote about one of the life lessons he learned as a boy. The first time he was “whupped” was for responding to Matt. He was told that he was not named after a doormat. The second time was for saying, “I hate you.” The third for saying can’t. The fourth for lying about stealing a pizza. It wasn’t the stealing that warranted the punishment but getting caught and then lying about it. What was the lesson he learned from these instances?
I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.
Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey
I have written in the past about the value of a name and on the virtue of Justice, which includes lying. But the use of the word can’t, this one hit the mark. Words have value. So, what is the value of this one?
Alec likes to use the word can’t frequently. If it is too difficult, too hard to understand, or requires too much effort, the default statement is, “I can’t.” I have never spanked him for saying this, unlike McConaughey’s punishment, but it has crossed my mind. He is too young to be setting artificial boundaries on his abilities.
Can’t means not possible. The value is concrete. When we overutilize this word, we put too much concrete around us. We put up barriers to what is within our abilities. Can’t is the governor on a Ferrari that reduces the car’s maximum speed from over 200 to 150 miles per hour, it is the speed limit that sets its maximum legal speed to 70, and it is the poor maintenance on the tires that further reduces it down to a safe speed of 30. Can’t is the boundaries that takes a supercar designed for speed and reduces it down to a substandard vehicle barely safe for the road.
Why put limitations on yourself by saying you can’t do it? This word has power, but it is not the kind you want to wield. Instead of saying can’t think of what it would take to make it happen. Maybe it is not possible today. But with the training, effort, and a different perspective, it could be possible tomorrow. As Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”
For some high-adventure reading chocked full of action with a healthy mixture of historical facts and figures, I would recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Series. The series follows the fictional life of Richard Sharpe, a career soldier in the early 19th century.
One of Sharpe’s assignments was leading the 95th Rifle Regiment in the British Army. This unit was an advanced skirmisher company. Instead of having to stand in formation trading volleys of gunfire with the enemy, they would employ a type of guerilla warfare and harass them. Much like wolves unable to attack a herd of buffalo, they would look for weaknesses to exploit. They were an annoyance to the enemy and could slow down their progress.
Who are your enemies?
We may not be fighting in a war, but we do have enemies in our lives. And like the 95th Rifles, our enemies like to employ skirmishers. Your enemies could be:
Viruses. Whether they are on your computer or in your body, they have one goal. Viruses look for points of weakness to exploit. Once they find the weakness, they can do their work of destruction.
Like the viruses attacking our bodies, we have addictions that wreak similar havoc. Sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and all the other ones that give you a temporary high in exchange for long-term, slow-growing problems like diabetes, liver/lung cancer, and all the other self-induced diseases.
And then there are other people. For some reason, they have their problems with you. They would like nothing better than to see you stumble in some sort of way. They want to find and exploit your weaknesses. To gain an edge, they will highlight your mistakes, sabotage your work, and spread rumors to sully your reputation.
The benefit of enemies
What can we learn from those who attack our weakest areas? Looking into the mirror, I often only see what I want to see. Somehow, I am less inclined to see the flaws. But if I look at a photograph, the story is different. My eyes noticed the flaws that were overlooked in the mirror. My posture, the way my gut hangs out, and the fit of my clothes can no longer be ignored by the bias of the mirror. Without the mirror, I would continue in my self-deception.
We tend to over-estimate our good points and look beyond our weaknesses. When we do this, we fail to fix the things that need fixing. Our enemies do not look at us through the mirror of self-deception but instead through the photograph. There are no filters to gloss over all the flaws and weaknesses. Once they know where to point their attack, they can hit us where it hurts. And while it does hurt, it also gives us an opportunity to grow. Now that we know what our weaknesses are, we can work in those areas and strengthen them. We should be grateful the enemy pointed this out. Without their help, we would continue in our delusion.
“Pay attention to your enemies,” said the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, “for they are the first to discover your mistakes.” To ignore them would be perilous. But to use them to your advantage would arm yourself against future attacks. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow. You can even take the high road and thank your enemies for pointing out these weaknesses. Who knows? You may even remove the reason why they are your enemies in the first place.
The dark soil. The kind you can see the richness of without even touching it. And when you do touch it, you can feel its potential. Imagine the years it took to get its composition. Whatever is planted in it would surely thrive.
Then there is the other soil. It is not perfect, but it is not bad either. It can be conditioned to maximize its potential. What you put into it will determine what you get out of it. It will take some work, but you can plant in it and still get good results.
Your mind is like the soil. Most of us are not born with the super-rich mixture, but what we do have is still good. We can condition it and add nutrients to it. And the more wholesome the nutrients, the higher the quality our minds become. You will be able to plant almost anything in it. Once it is planted, keep watering it. Give it plenty of sunshine and air. If those tender shoots start to wilt, fertilize it with some emotion. You are the farmer. It is your job to bring that seedling of hope into a fruitful reality.
Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.
You can’t buy it. Somebody can wish it upon you, but that does not mean you will have it.
If you find that peace has departed from you, figuring out how to get it back is a must. What is it within you that is preventing you from having peace? Answer that question, and then you have the starting point to finding it.
At the end of the day, it is your actions that will make the difference. Do the right thing, and you will have peace. Do the wrong thing, and you won’t have peace until you make amends.
In The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova wrote one short paragraph that shook me to the core. She mentions a poker player named “X” and says this about him:
That was the only time I ever saw him. The chaos of life is greater than the chaos of games. And now X is dead, and all his future books remain unwritten.
When it comes to books that is my biggest fear. Will I get this stuff out of my head before I die? I want quality and an enduring legacy to leave behind for my family, but none of that is possible if I don’t get the words written down.
What is it in your life that you need to get done? What is it that you would regret if like “X” you died before finishing? It reminds me Paulo Coelho’s words from The Alchemist, “There was nothing holding him back but himself.” Don’t let it happen to you.
Success. We hear it all the time. We relate it to winning, which means a lack of success can be equated to losing. Everybody wants to be successful. Nobody wants to be a loser. What does it mean to win? A question like this we can agree on. What does it mean to be successful? That is a little trickier, and there is a good chance our definitions are going to be different.
There are many out there that will happily give you their secret to success. All you have to do is Google what you are interested in, find the experts, sign up to get on their email list, and then hurry up and pay for their limited-time offer into their next online course. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. If you want the shortcut to success, their way is the path that will get you there.
But consider another alternative. Consider:
Stephen Curry shooting a basketball,
Mike Tyson throwing a punch,
Usain Bolt going out for a run, or
Lewis Hamilton taking another lap in the car.
Imagine the hours of repetition. Not just one day, but nearly everyday for years and years. There was a constancy of purpose to the skill they were trying to acquire. They didn’t rely solely on genetics or talent. They relied on work and on practice. When we watch them and are amazed by the ease with which they perform at the highest level, we only see the finished product. We don’t see what they did to get there. Their success on the grand stage underneath the bright lights was built when the world wasn’t watching.
There is a secret potion to success, but you won’t find it in a get-rich-quick type of scam. The potion is made of three parts: blood, sweat, and tears. These ingredients must be continually resupplied to the potion and cured over time. It is there if you want it. Best wishes!
One of the things that impressed me the most from the book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by General Jim Mattis is that Marine officers are given assigned reading which must be completed before moving on to the next level.* If you spend a lifetime in the Marines, you will spend a lifetime learning about leadership and history.
What would happen if I chose to stop learning? Would I become the guy who could not adapt to the times, because I could not recall the past or prepare for the future? Would I become a dinosaur making way for the next dominant species?
Considering Asimov’s words that we are never finished with our education, I am reminded of so many others who have uttered similar words. It is imperative that we continue to learn. It doesn’t matter if it is formal or informal, there is so much waiting to be discovered and applied. We are never too old or too young. The only limitations we set on our studies are the ones we set on ourselves.
Gather as much knowledge as you can. From that knowledge, draw your correlations and seek understanding. From this comes wisdom. There is an unlimited supply to how much you can gather, but only if you are willing to make the effort.
*I am still reading this book and promise to return it to the owner as soon as possible.