A Good One

In a conversation with a colleague, we discussed the possibilities of moving to a different position within the organization. The new position is potentially cut-throat and very political. Like crabs in a bucket, the ones in this job don’t care about climbing over their workmates to get to the top. In the words of my colleague, there are some willing to sell their souls to get ahead.

How far are you willing to go to move ahead in this life? Would you be willing to play the game that has more losers than winners?

Later in the conversation, my colleague made an interesting comment. She said that some of these guys are older now and that you can see the regret on their faces and in their actions. Many are now disengaged and lacking any real enthusiasm for the job. Now that they have been passed up for multiple opportunities, they are content to sit back and coast into retirement. It is a good lesson to play the game in the right way because chances are your actions will come back to haunt you.

What these guys did was not take ownership of their jobs. If you are doing the right thing, there is no need to cover your tail. There would be no need to throw your teammates under the bus.

Ownership.

That is where our conversation headed. It doesn’t matter if you are at the top of the food chain or at the lowest of the low. We all have our responsibilities. We all have our jobs to do. As Jocko Willink says, “You must own everything in your world.” If you are scrubbing the floors, own it. Be the best floor scrubber on the planet. Who knows, one day someone might see the attention to detail you are paying to that floor and think this is the person she needs to promote into a higher position. But if you take no pride in your work, if you have a flippant, careless, or even unethical approach to your business, the opportunity for greater things will pass you by. And then you will be the one with the regret.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

Abraham Lincoln

Complete the Idea

How many times did the light bulb go off in your head? Afterwards that thought might have caused a couple of sleepless nights as the possibilities became limitless. And then, after another while, the dream dissipated. It went back into the ether from whence it came.

A few months or years later, somebody else did it. They snatched the idea out of the air, and now they are reaping the benefits. The benefits that you caused you all those sleepless nights. Oh, the irony! Imagine what might have been.

Imagine if you figured it out, put the wheels into motion, and did the hard work to bring it to life. Now it is too late. What was left undone, or in this case never begun, has been done by another.

That idea might be gone, but all is not lost. There are plenty of other ideas floating around out there. There are plenty of others that are floating around in the beautiful brain of yours. Let the sting of the lost opportunities be a reminder. Let their lessons permeate every atom within your being. The next time an idea magically appears, you will know what to do. Figure out how to make it work. Get those wheels into motion. Do the work.

Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert

All That I Can Be

That old Army advertisement struck a chord in me. I was young and “be all that you can be” did the trick. The tune was catchy, the imagery was macho, and the dotted line was calling my name. When I considered my life back then before the Army, I knew I was not maximizing my potential. What I wanted was to be all that I could be, and therefore I joined the Army.

What I learned about the Army, after the fact, was that without a good mentor and a solid plan going into it, the quest of being all that one can be is not as easy as the jingle made it out to be. Becoming it in four years is a task near impossible. And when I left the Army, I was a long way from that maximum potential.

I used to blame the Army and/or the universe for a bad draw. I could have done so much better if only I had the opportunity. But in this game of life, we never get to pick the cards we are dealt. We can only make the best use of the hand we have. It was not the Army’s job to make me become the “all” I could be. It was mine. I was not supposed to take a passive approach. Instead, I was supposed to go and find my own opportunities.

These days, my primary focus is moving that needle a little closer to my max potential. It is a long, slow grind, but it is the only way to secure any possible fruits of labor.

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. -Ernest Hemingway

When I consider my “why,” it is not to lord it over others or to be arrogant in my attitude. It is my own personal quest to be better than I was the day before, to become better than that foolish soldier who failed to become all that he could be.

Do you want to find true nobility? Become better than who you were yesterday. Move the needle a little closer to your maximum potential.

For the Good of Others

Could you imagine what it would have been like getting on a steam train back in the mid to late 1800’s? What a rush it would have been going 70-80 miles per hour! Before that, you were confined to going the speed of a horse.

This new mode of travel provided speed, convenience, and less worry for the passengers. Unless of course, there was an accident. And back then, accidents happened often. In the late 1860’s, George Westinghouse patented the railway air brake. This new braking system reduced accidents and gave the trains the ability to travel at faster speeds. But more importantly, it saved the lives of countless crewmembers and passengers.

If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied. -George Westinghouse

Many of us work for our own good or for the good of the organization that employs us. For the good of others is too often an afterthought that comes in the form of some charitable donation. Imagine if our focus was different. Imagine if we worked to improve the welfare and happiness of others. Directing our focus towards that endeavor would improve the quality of their lives and ours. It might be a small drop in this pond we call the world, but how many would feel its wave?

A Simple What-If

It begins with a “what-if.” What if I choose to do this or that? What would be the outcome?

From the “what-if” comes the choice. The choice is all about the work involved and the value gained.

We are all presented with the what-if’s and the subsequent choices. It does not matter our stations in life or the environment in which we live. It is the same with our age -it does not matter.

Anybody can what-if the possibilities of a new future. Anybody can make the choice to act based on that what-if.

According to Thoreau, the ability to elevate one’s life by a what-if and a choice is an unquestionable fact. For a moment, let it sink in. A better future can await us. Ask the question. Consider the possibilities. Make the choice.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. -Henry David Thoreau

Your Own Personal Treasure Island

There are a few quotes that have always resonated with me. Thoreau had a good one about us only hitting at what we aim at. Therefore, he said, we should aim at something high even though we might fail immediately. Mix his words with Les Brown’s quote about shooting for the moon. If we do not make it to the moon, he said, at least we might land among the stars. I spend a good amount of time considering my aim in life. I also spend an equal amount of time considering the consequences of missing that mark.

Can you really lose if your aim is in the right direction? I don’t think so, and well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  These are some very encouraging words from Thoreau, Brown, and Lee. And though I do take a small amount of comfort in remembering them, missing the mark is still missing the mark.

There are a few things in this life that I feel called to do. Failure to do them, I believe, would haunt me into my next existence. And these are things that I do not do for the gold or the glory. Yet by achieving them, I believe I would find more wealth than on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember my land navigation classes from the Army. You plot out your destination on the map and figure out how you are going to get there. You pull out your compass and find the direction you need to go. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and you find yourself deviating off the path. Once you realize this, you adjust your aim and correct your course. The journey might seem never-ending. At times, it might seem impossible, but we have no choice to keep going. Keep aiming and adjusting because the rewards are too great. In fact, it is the only fortune worth finding.

The Phoenix

The sun rises and a new day begins. With it comes new hopes and new dreams. The dawning of the sun brings a rebirth. It brings life. As the evening comes, the hopes of the day cease. This close signifies death, a conclusion to the life that was.

We see this cycle repeated over and over. Days, seasons, eras. Life followed by death, which in turn is followed by new life, a new hope from a new generation in the cycle.

The long nights and the long winters are filled with despair. Without hope, life ceases. There have been times when the sun seemed to refuse to rise. There have been times when the Spring was long overdue in its return. It was in those times that it was toughest to keep the faith.

When we come to the end of an age, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to stay where we are, or we can move forward. You must be brave to move forward into the unknown, beyond the confines of comfort. You must be even braver to leave the dead behind and forge ahead into a new life. It takes courage to decide to be the phoenix and rise up from the ashes.

Only you can make this decision, no one else can do it for you. It may sound scary, but there is still hope. Alone you choose whether to be reborn. But once you make the choice, you are no longer alone. Others are there to help you grow in this new season of your life.

What Is Ugly?

Alec came home from camp one day a little upset. After some coaxing from my life, he finally admitted what was wrong. Earlier in the day, some girls called him ugly. On top of that, they said the art project he was working on was also ugly. For this eight-year-old, comments like that made him sad.

As an adult, the first thing I want to tell him is to not let it bother him. This is easier said than done. I know in some way it would bother me if those type of comments were directed toward me. Nobody wants to be called ugly. Nobody wants their work to be called ugly.

What is ugly?

In my younger years, I would compare ugly only in relation to superficial beauty. I might not ever have called someone they were ugly, but I know I have been guilty of thinking it. Could a creature of God really be ugly? Could they be born, body, soul, and mind, ugly? And who has the right to say that someone’s exterior appearance is uglier than they are? What if our standard of beauty of so superficial that we have completely missed the mark of what is uniquely beautiful? If we are not born ugly, then it would appear ugly comes from somewhere else.

We know ugly exists in this world. Its manifestations can be seen all around us. We make poor choices with our bodies that deteriorate us faster than normal. We close off and dull our minds to the extent that we cannot see beyond our own biases. We sin against our hearts and in order to not be disgusted with ourselves, rationalize those choices. In time we allow ugliness to creep into our lives. And the longer we allow ugliness to have its hold within us, the greater the chances it will eventually rear its ugly head and come out, affecting how others perceive us. We might not have been born ugly, but we can become ugly people in time.

“Any man can do harm, but not every man can do good to one another.” -Plato

When our ugliness comes out, it can have a negative impact on those around us. We all have that potential, and to use it as a weapon is an easy thing to do. We also have a choice to not weaponize our ugliness. We can choose nobler pursuits, such as acting in the best interest of the ones we encounter throughout the day. This is a beautiful thing. And the more we behave in this manner, the more beautiful we become.

Good, not Perfect

In his book Open, Andre Agassi wrote about the time he struggled the most on the tennis court. Trying to be perfect, he realized he was making more mistakes. It was not until he finally let go of trying to be perfect and instead concentrated on being good, that he found his greatest success.

Cleanthes, the Greek philosopher and second head the school of Stoicism, said that all human being have the starting points of virtue. This inclination towards virtue is not about living a perfect life. It is about the desire the do the right thing. [Something, we have all had at least one point in our lives.]

Mistakes and failures happen to all of us. It is a normal part of life because none of us are perfect. What we cannot do is let those setbacks keep us down. Instead, we need to learn from them. We need to use them to our advantage to make us more capable people. We need to use them so that we become good.

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. -John Steinbeck.

Useless Things

What are useless things? Timewasters are the obvious. But what about the not-so-obvious: multi-tasking, dwelling on the past, or anxiety about the things that are outside of our control?

You could go back and beat yourself up over all the useless things you have done, but this also is useless. After all, you cannot go back in time and change it. A better solution would be to use those past failures as learning opportunities and try to make better decisions.

If there is no value added than it is useless. If there is one thing that I absolutely despise, it would have to be micro-management. As the managed, having someone constantly looking over your shoulder is frustrating. Your productivity is diminished, and you lose the ability to make your own decisions. As the manager, you spread yourself too thin and fail to make any solid gains. The manager can only maintain the status quo, while never developing the talent of his subordinates.

During the creation of this post, I stopped and checked my phone. I saw a video of someone doing something dumb. This led to watching more videos of dumb stuff. The deep guttural voice of Miyamoto Musashi kept ringing in my ears, “Do not do useless things.” And here I am, doing something useless. It sneaks up on you when you do not realize it. Stay vigilant my friends and have a great day.