A Fruitful Mind

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.

Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.

Earl Nightingale

Emperor’s Log #11: All the Small Things

There was a time when I managed a very profitable furniture store in Florida. Of all the stores in the region, this store had the highest dollars per transaction. The sales staff was optimized to drive this key metric. They were engaged, energetic, and proud of their sales abilities.

And then there came a day when it all changed. The top brass of the organization decided to change direction. No longer were they interested in the higher ticket sales. They gave us a new mission: get more customers to buy regardless of the amount they were spending. They told us it would be better to convert a higher percentage of our traffic into sales.

Old model: 20% of 100 customers spending $150 = $3,000

New model: 40% of 100 customers spending $20 = $800

We had no choice to comply. Our merchandise assortment began to change. The big-ticket items were replaced with smaller ones. Our sales began to plummet. At the same time, the economy was going through a difficult recession. I could no longer support the highly curated sales force in my store. Without the high average sales, hours were cut. Motivation was lost. All this happened around eleven years ago. Today, that company that had over 1,000 stores finally shut the doors on its last 500. Bankrupt.

In a highly competitive market, to change your identity is a dangerous choice. The goal is profitability, and there are several different ways to achieve it. Did this company make the right choice? I don’t believe so. There could have been several factors that finally brought this company down. Maybe:

  • The world lost its interest and moved on,
  • They got ate up by the bigger dogs in the market, or
  • The economy dictated that basic needs were more necessary than specialized wants.

Whatever it was, they were no longer competitive. The end goal should have been profitability and somewhere along the way, they got bogged down until they had no choice to shut down.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

I would love to say that on an individual level on I am immune from such catastrophes, but am I? How many times have I lost the big picture and got mired in the bog? How many times has my attention been diverted onto something of little or no significance? No doubt, it has been way too many times. When I think I see the path so clearly ahead, I still get squirreled. When it happens again, and it will happen again, I must not give it more time than it deserves. I need to address it quickly and move on.

A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve. -Marcus Aurelius

Peace Within

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.

More than Praying

I was maybe ten or eleven, when I first read the following passage from the Bible:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.

Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.

So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,

I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

I Kings 3:5-13

It was one of those first “aha” moments I remember. God told Solomon he could have anything he wanted. What did Solomon ask for? He did not ask for wealth, honor, or riches, but for understanding and wisdom. And God gave him wisdom, maybe more than anybody else. On top of the wisdom, He gave Solomon all the things he didn’t ask for, making him one of the wealthiest kings of history.

At that young age, I thought I found the key to conquering the world. From I Kings and Solomon’s writings in Proverbs, I had the secret formula for wisdom. All I had to do was ask for it. I got down on my knees and with all the might I could muster closed my eyes and prayed, “Oh Lord, I beg you, give me the wisdom of Solomon.” Okay, so I know it was no small request. But if you are going to go big, you might as well go all the way.

For ten years I continued that prayer. And for years, God laughed at me and said, “Foolish child, am I some desert genii here to obey your wishes?” I could imagine his laughter. It wasn’t scorn so much as it was amusement at my silliness. What did I expect to happen? Would I one day wake up to become the sage of this generation?

In time, those prayers were put to the side. I was getting older and other priorities grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was reminded of those youthful prayers. After all, it was back in those days that the seeds were planted. And like well-preserved seeds, they began to come to life after a little nourishment.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Are my prayers being answered by God? No doubt, this could be a debatable topic that both sides could argue. Maybe Solomon woke up one day with an extraordinary amount of wisdom, but that doesn’t usually happen to ordinary guys like me. Wisdom is available to the masses, but it doesn’t come without a price. You must work for it. It is earned, not given.

There is a step to wisdom. Over the years I read it over and over, but it took time for it to sink in. Consider these words from Proverbs:

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (2:6)

The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:14)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. (23:12)

Buy the truth and do not sell it —wisdom, instruction and insight as well. (23:23)

Over and over, Solomon repeats these words.

Knowledge and understanding. Plant the seeds of knowledge within your mind. Nourish it with understanding. Reap the fruits of wisdom. Prayer alone won’t do the trick. Wishing with all your might is not good enough. As James Allen said, our wishes and prayers are only answered when they harmonize with our thoughts and actions.

Regretting Things Undone

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.

Constancy of Purpose

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.

Photo by qi xna on Unsplash

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!

Education…Incomplete…Always

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?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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.

Emperor’s Log #22: Five Rules

The words of the emperor Marcus Aurelius…

Rule #1: In your actions, don’t procrastinate.

The message: Loud and Clear. The execution: well, that is another story. Like a door that turns on its hinges, I used to be the sluggard that turned on my bed (Proverbs 26:14). I would like to say those days are long behind me, but the truth is that every now and then I have that day where I get bogged down in the mire without a branch of motivation to pull me out.

It is on those days, that I must remember my purpose. How will I get to where I want to go if I am refusing to move? If I waste away these hours and days, then I will never get ahead.

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that other’s waste. -Henry Ford

Rule #2: In your conversations, don’t confuse.

There was some concern on my team that I would be too technical in my speech and too wide in my vocabulary. That is an issue I see with others. When they speak or write, I have no clue what they are trying to communicate even though I am trying my best to understand. I know there have been times when I took that path and drove on despite the glazed over eyes and confused brows.

What is the point of all this knowledge and understanding if it cannot be used in a way that improves the lives of others? If we cannot communicate the things we know then we are not helping anybody. But if simplify our language and communicate clearly, we can be effective in helping others to understand. Friedrich Nietzsche could have easily confused us all, but listen to this gem that he gave us:

Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity.

Rule #3: In your thoughts, don’t wander.

The practice of meditation. Oh man, this is something that I really need. It is something I must practice daily, even several times a day. It is not an easy task to sit still in mind and body. Once my mind strays down into the catacombs, it gets tangled and confused. Time will tick away, and I will still be looking for the way out. But then there is meditation, an internal GPS, which centers me and helps me to regain a sense of direction.

We all have the tendency to wander. The question we must ask ourselves is how long before we can regain the path. We are the masters of our minds. We are supposed to be the ones in control of the direction of our thoughts. Buddha was considered to a master of the art of meditation. Ponder these words attributed to him:

As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.

We must harness this energy and direct it where we desire it to go. We must be the masters over our minds.

Rule #4: In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive.

The heart is a muscle. If you train it, it will get stronger. If you don’t use it or even abuse it, you will eventually lose it. If you push it too hard, it will give out on you. You must train the heart, train it -just right.

Your heart is your soul. It is where your courage and intuition reside. It must be trained. Condition it by testing the boundaries. Don’t be too soft and don’t be too hard.

I sometimes test the upper limits of the organ. I want to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It is a good practice as it also tests my soul. It can be scary going there sometimes, but the fear is good, even healthy. We just need to remember these words:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -not absence of fear. -Mark Twain

Rule #5: In your life, don’t be all about business.

I must catch myself sometimes. There is a relentless pursuit to catch the potential rewards at the end of my goals. The pursuit is exhausting. Am I able to recover from one workout to the next? Am I able to digest my studies before I gorge myself in the next lesson? Are there breaks in between milestones and projects? I might not be going full throttle the whole time, but I do need to stop and refill. The occasional stop won’t prevent me from completing my journey. It may even speed up the process.

The Book of Exodus instructs the children of Israel to rotate their crops (23:10). It is an ancient practice still in use today. And though Seneca is not in the Bible (however his brother does get a mention), he makes a good analogy:

The mind must be given relaxation -a good break. Just as rich fields must not be forced -for they will quickly lose their fertility if never given a break -so constant work on the anvil will fracture the mind.

Take a break, recharge, and get back on your journey.

Marcus Aurelius wrote these rules in his private journal over two thousand years ago. True wisdom holds the test of time.  

Feature photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Designing Happiness

When I get to this point in my life, then I’ll be happy. How many times have you told yourself that? And when you made it to that point, did it work out for you? Did you finally find happiness? Or, did you move your time for happiness to the next point in your life? You said you would be happy when you graduated, when you got a job, when married, had kids, on and on and on. It is as if happiness is some form of payment for completing a life step. But happiness is not currency, it is a state of being.

Is it well with my soul? This is the question you should ask yourself. If you can answer yes, then you might find yourself at peace. You might be happy. And if you answer no, then you must find a way to get there. Maybe you are not being loyal to your purpose in life. Or maybe, it is a skeleton still hanging around in the closet. Is what you envision matching up to reality?

There could be many reasons why you are not happy. If this is something you want, then you must be the chief architect of your happiness. This means designing the plans, making sure it is up to code (i.e. ethical), and then building it.

Give it a try. Along the way, you might realize that it is not about the end result but something that was there the whole time, that it was a state of being achieved by the process of doing.

Contemplating Seneca #16: The Happy Life

From Seneca’s On the Happy Life, his 92nd letter to Lucilius:

What is the happy life? It is peace of mind, and lasting tranquility.

We all want a happy life, but do we know how to obtain it? Happiness does not come in the acquisition of more and more possessions. Often, we think those trifles will bring us happiness, and they may for a fleeting moment. But in the end, they will leave us wanting more.

This will be yours if you possess greatness of soul; it will be yours if you possess the steadfastness that resolutely clings to a good judgment just reached.

What does greatness of soul mean? Whenever I think of the word soul, I think of the word heart. It is the inner substance within you. It is the emotional part that often acts independently of the mind. Greatness of soul is courage and bravery. It is honor and fidelity. It is not thinking about laying down your life for a friend but doing it. It is doing the right thing without giving it a second thought, because you have developed the proclivity to doing such noble endeavors.

We have heard the ancient stories of men and women who possessed greatness of soul. If you look around you, you will see that it still exists. But it is not enough to witness it in the lives of others, we must also seek to possess a great soul.

How does a man reach this condition? By gaining a complete view of the truth,

The ways to getting it starts with a complete view of the truth. Truth is not always what we were told by our relatives or friends. It might not even be what we learned from our teachers and civic leaders. As George Berkeley said, “Truth is the cry of all, but the game of few.” But as correct as this statement is, it needs to be a game for all of us. We must dispose ourselves the embrace the truth, wherever it may be found (John Locke). It might bring us into an uncomfortable place, but we must go there anyway no matter how painful. We must challenge our assumptions, gain a complete view of the truth, and embrace it.

by maintaining, in all that he does, order, measure, fitness,

Or in other words, we must become disciplined in all aspects of our lives. It is a daily process that must be practiced daily.

and a will that is inoffensive and kindly,

This is a tough one today where we might be viewed as soft and weak by our peers. But the reality is that it has always been tough, which subsequently is the opposite of soft and weak. To deny yourself requires sacrifice. To do it for another, who may not be inoffensive and kindly, is an act of humility. There is strength in humility, and the incredibly strong ones are those who can remove biases, hurt feelings, and indifferences from their interactions with others and treat them in an inoffensive and kindly way.

and that is intent upon reason and never departs therefrom, that commands at the same time love and admiration.

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.” Even softly spoken, the most powerful words are the ones spoken in wisdom. You cannot force people to bend to your way of thinking, but you can persuade them if you are tactful and willing to listen to both sides of the issue. This will not only help in forming a resolution but will gain you respect from others.

In short, to give you the principle in brief compass, the wise man’s soul ought to be such as would be proper for a god.

The Roman emperor Caligula, like many other rulers before and after him, thought he was something super special. So much in fact, that he considered himself a god. He was a mad sadist and most likely insane, hardly the proper credentials for a god.

Imagine you are a pagan living back then. * Who would you want for a god? Hopefully, someone who would have you (or mankind) in his best interests. You would want one that is just, honorable, and wise. You would want one that is loving and merciful. And if that is the kind of god you would want to follow, then it would only make sense that you would try to emulate that god and have such a soul as that. In short, you would strive to live a virtuous life and set yourself to the highest standards possible.

The happy life is possible for all of us. If that is what you want, then Seneca has a solution you should consider trying. What do you have to lose?

*This is paragraph is not about religious beliefs, only an imaginary thought experiment.