What if?

We spend 95% of our time doing stuff.  Even when we think we are thinking about stuff we are actually thinking about doing stuff…and this is not really thinking, this is planning…there is a difference.


With that in mind, take a minute and just think…”What if…”

  • you caught what you were chasing?
  • money no longer mattered?
  • no one was actually “holding you back”?
  • the people you thought were against actually didn’t even think about you that much?
  • the giants were actually windmills?
  • you decided to not let “it” get to you?
  • your boss wasn’t really a jerk but you were?
  • it’s your issue and not _____ (insert name here)
  • your kids acted just like you?
  • you decided not to argue with ________ (insert name here)
  • the power to make the changes you desired were inside you…and you still didn’t make them?
  • it all depended on you?
  • _______ (insert name here) died unexpectedly and you had not made the time to call or stop by?
  • retirement sucks?
  • they took it all away and you were still happy?
  • you never started that project you always wanted to do but never found the time?
  • you started being the person you thought you would be once you “made it”?
  • you acted “as if” _________ (fill in the blank)
  • no matter what _______ (insert name here) said or did to you, you displayed grace and forgiveness?
  • there is no tomorrow? (I bet you know what movie clip will play if you click on the link)

I know that it is easy to write this down and extremely hard to incorporate into your life.  I know because I struggle with it every day just like you.  That is also why I have a hard time with “self-help” books and gurus who tell you all you need to do is follow their 10 step plan and you too achieve everything you ever wanted.

There is a huge chasm between thinking and doing and sometimes that distance looks so vast we are able to console ourselves because “we would never make it” and just continuing to do as we had always done is “safer”.  We are also correct that it is safer and much, much easier to stay continue to act as we have always acted and not entertain “What if…?”

Several months ago I was having coffee with good friend and he was telling me about some challenges he was having.  Now this conversation had been the same one…more or less… for the past 6-7 months.  He is a very bright guy and was always talking about strategy and planning and would say things like…”once this happens…” or “as soon as I…” then I can get things going.  I just nodded my head and stroked my beard as he continued to talked (my own way of focusing my attention on the other person).  At one point, he stopped and I just continued to think about all he has said without saying anything.  He looked at my for a minute and then asked me what I thought.  I then posed  the following question to him – “What if you started doing stuff instead of talking about stuff?  He just stared at me for a few minutes as he thought about the question.  Finally, he said – “I guess stuff would get done and I would actually see some results.”  At that point there was no much more to talk about.

(Read what Seth Godin has to say about this idea here…)

Here is all I can offer.  The next time you are in a situation and falling into your normal behavior/response/activity do the following:

  1. Stop and think “What if I…kept my mouth shut/spoke up/was nice/walked away/helped out/didn’t gripe about it/made that phone call/expressed gratitude/committed to ______ (insert your own answer here)
  2. Immediately reach out to someone close to you and share the experience with them and tell them what new action you are going to take and ask them to hold you accountable
  3. Do it
  4. Enjoy the feeling of being the person other people think about being…

Final thought:  What is Hale, Gandhi, and Fuller were right?

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”   ― Edward Everett Hale

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”      ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”     ― R. Buckminster Fuller

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

What are you prepared to do?

Please do not read this post if you are easily offended by NSFW language.  I am not trying to alienate or offend anyone but believe there is value in word choice.  I also apologize to my Mrs. Finke, my high school biology teacher, who always said that “cursing was a sign of a weak vocabulary”.

There is a scene in “The Untouchables” when Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is asking Jim Malone (Sean Connery) how to “get” Al Capone.  They are sitting in a church and Malone’s response is, “What are you prepared to do?”  (You can watch the clip if you click here)

 This is the most essential and vital question we can ask ourselves in context of our goals because the answer then impacts and drives (in theory at least) our daily activities.  I believe that the answer to this question is really what prevents many of us from reaching our goals because we are not honest with ourselves from the start.  

It is at this point that I diverge from most folks who discuss this issue.  There is no judgement involved in this for/from me.  My only goal is to empower you to be honest with yourself as to what you are willing to commit to as you begin to think about your dreams, aspirations, goals, or whatever you would like to call them.  Dreams and goals are easy because they do not cost us anything.  In fact, they are more harmful really because our failure to achieve them feeds the gremlins who told us we aren’t worthy, don’t deserve it, or whatever other head trash you might have.  In fact, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote a great treatise on “Whey big goals are for losers” that I would recommend checking out.

The challenge is to get excited about the “work”…the tactical steps that will be required each day to make that goal a reality.  This is the sticking point for us because the day to day things we have to do aren’t fun or exciting.  I think the biggest issue for us is that the small stuff doesn’t generate enough positive reinforcement from others.  No one is there congratulating us or patting us on the back when we perform some mundane, yet essential, tasks that will eventually lead to the achievement of a meaningful goal.  So here is where the NSFW piece comes in.  I saw this graphic the other day and have since printed it off and have it sitting on my desk.  We all have to find something that resonates with us and this really nailed it for me because I think we like to overcomplicate things.  We want to create these elaborate and complex plans to make it appear that what we are doing is challenging.  In reality, it really isn’t…it is really as easy as this…



I can think of no better way to close this out than to offer this benediction (using the term very loosely)…

“Remember this lesson. History does not teach fatalism. There are moments when the will of a handful of free men breaks through determinism and opens up new roads. People get the history they deserve.”  – Charles de Gaulle

What history will you deserve?

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition

Unknowing is not easy

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

As you probably know, this is the statement that Morpheus makes to Neo during their first conversation in “The Matrix”.  Did you also know that you may have this conversation with yourself many times a day?  The power to choose is available to all but not all accept the responsibility.

My goal is to be descriptive and not prescriptive so here are some interesting resources that you can choose to investigate (red pill) or ignore (blue pill)…the choice is yours.

  • Locus of Control (this sums it up)







You now bear the burden of “knowing”and you can’t go back, no matter how challenging it might be. It can be overwhelming to acknowledge that you can change your own behavior and, in turn, change other’s as well.  We all operate in the same complex adaptive system so that means that every “agent’s” action causes ripples in the ecosystem and we never really know how others will react because we are not in control (that is whole other post in itself).

So which pill will it be?



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Filed under Decision Making, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Writing with your wrong hand

When is the last time you learned something new?  

When is the last time you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation in order to gather new skills or stretch your comfort zone?

When is the last time you changed your mind about something and took a different stance because of new knowledge?



Chances are, for many of us, it may have been days, months, or even (“gulp”) years since any of these things have happened and that does not bode well for our future. As we progress through our lives we tend to develop a “very particular set of skills” (just like Liam Neeson) and the more we use those skills, the less time we spend developing new ones.  This is not necessarily a bad thing unless we begin to rely so heavily on those skills that we cease to understand the value in challenging ourselves and why it is important for our overall mental and physical health.

Contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks if the old dog (insert your name here) is willing and able. In fact, Daniel Honan wrote “Neuroplasticity: You Can Teach An Old Brain New Tricks” about the work of Dr. Dennis Charney  and there are some pretty amazing insights in regards to the impact that exercising your brain can have on you physically as well as on your overall well-being.  In fact, he asserts that the brain orders the body to make the necessary changes to suit its needs. I was quite fascinated with the story about the London cabbies and how they have an enlarged hippocampus which holds spatial representation capacity which they would use for navigation.

The challenge is that it does get harder to engage this plasticity as we age and if you want to read more about that here is “Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals Of Rewiring Your Brain”. In fact, Dr. Sarah McKay offers this summation in Neuroplasticity:  can you rewire your brain”“Plasticity dials back ‘ON’ in adulthood when specific conditions that enable or trigger plasticity are met. ‘What recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the power of brain plasticity can help adults minds grow. Although certain brain machinery tends to decline with age, there are steps people can take to tap into plasticity and reinvigorate that machinery,’ explains Merzenich. These circumstances include focused attention, determination, hard work and maintaining overall brain health.” 

If that is not enough, there is the argument that learning actually leads to folks being happier.  Philip Moeller provides a compelling case as to  why everyone over the age of 40 should be focused on their personal learning & development.  In his article, “Why learning leads to happiness”he discusses “flow,” a name coined 30 years ago by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and how it can lead to an autotelic state. (see Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted talk here).  He also points out that doctors are heading down the path of connecting continual learning as a potential method of staving of Alzheimer’s.

I believe there is also an emotional component as to why we tend to shy away from learning as we age and that is because the older we get, the less we embrace failure of any sort.  I think we develop a fairly fragile image of ourselves in terms of what we “do” and “don’t do” and embrace one and shun the other.  Not because we can’t  or don’t want to do it but because we don’t want to be in the position of failing when we try.  We tend to overvalue things like strength, confidence,  & being “right”. We avoid failure at all costs and you rarely hear anyone touting how many mistakes they’ve made.  The irony with this is that innovation and growth requires failure because we cannot learn without acknowledging our own ignorance. 

I am left handed and many times in my life, I have been forced to do things with my right hand because there was not another option.  Simple things like using a pair of scissors could pose a challenge as they are made for right-handed folks.  Early on I became accustomed to being put into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations and am sure that was part of the reason I have sought out new and interesting opportunities throughout my life…or it could just be I am not that bright and am willing to move from failure to failure without losing my enthusiasm.  I guess the motivating force is not that important because I like the outcomes.

For all you right-handers out there…pick up the pen in the “wrong” hand and give it a go!

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Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life

Meekness isn’t weakness

Beth (Joe’s manager):  “Joe, as part of your annual performance evaluation we list out some of the qualities we are seeking in those we promote into our leadership development program.  At the top of the list is meekness.  We believe this to be the foundation of a strong leader.”

Joe:  “Beth, I believe meekness is actually my greatest strength and I routinely exhibit this quality.  I think you would find this out for yourself if you asked anyone around the office.”

Beth: “We could not agree more Joe!  We have done a survey and everyone in the office is in agreement that there is not a more meek individual on the team.  With this in mind, we will be moving you onto the fast track for a leadership position.”

Joe: “Thank you so much!”

As you can probably surmise, this is pure fiction and has never happened in any business at any time…ever.  My question is, “Why not?”  In my opinion, the main reason for our societal aversion to being labeled “meek” is because some antonyms  of meek are words like bold, brave, and excited.  Those sound like adjectives we could all embrace but what about others on the list like impertinent, immodest, disobedient, and troubled.  I actually believe the most folks would prefer any of those to “meek” and that could be the root of much of the troubling behavior we see in our society.

I think the challenge is that we tend to assume that anyone who is not a hard charging, boisterous, and risk-taking individual is not leadership material.  I did some quick research and found the following three articles that outline leadership qualities from Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Inc. and while they don’t mention “meekness” overtly, there would be nothing stopping someone who is meek from possessing the other qualities listed.  I am also reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and in one of the first chapters, he uses the story of William Tecumseh Sherman and how he eschewed the spotlight and deferred to others of lower rank at times. This is an example of someone who lived out the maxim that “meekness is absolute power under tremendous control”.


Perhaps we might re-think meekness in context of the type of leadership that would benefit both our businesses and society as a whole.  Might it be time to reconsider our assumptions about leadership and work to create a new narrative that touts those who put others ahead of themselves and genuinely act in deference to the greater good? I think we would want more leaders like Lars Sorenson, CEO of Novo Nordisk instead of the likes of  John Stumpf of Wells Fargo.

So here is my list of required leadership characteristics:

  • Humility
  • Self-Control
  • Empathy
  • Intestinal Fortitude
  • Kindness
  • Intelligence
  • Self-awareness
  • Confidence
  • Meekness

What’s your list look like?


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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

The 3 P’s of Change



Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the following in The Prince (circa 1532), “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

That was 484 years ago and not much has changed (pun intended).  I believe that changing behavior is excruciatingly difficult.  It is certainly not impossible but it is also not for the faint of heart or for those lacking intestinal fortitude.  After spending the last 25 years studying & researching both the theoretical and practical sides of change, I have come to believe that there are 3 distinct variables in the change equation.

  • Purpose – There must be a visceral reason for change to occur and I have come to believe that it stems from “pain”.  This can be emotional, physical, psychological, or financial but in most cases the fear of the known exceeds the fear of the unknown and we take that leap.  It is important that we understand our purpose clearly and are able to communicate to others because change is never a solitary effort.  We must be able to create a clear vision for the effort in order to sustain all involved when the emotion has faded away and we are left with just the work.
  • Process – Once the purpose is clear, we have to create a system that will support us in the effort and enable us to realize the vision.  We cannot rely on willpower because if we do, we will most certainly fail.  Emotions are what begin the process but intellect must engage in order to sustain it.  Think of it as a project plan with milestones and check-ins along the way to ensure we are on track…and don’t forget the feedback loop. We have to solicit and integrate feedback on our progress in order to ensure our process addresses changes along the way.
  • People – This is where things get tricky.  The most important concept to understand is that change never happens in a vacuum.  No matter what change you are attempting to make it will, at some point, impact someone else.  This means that you have to ensure that all stakeholders are willing to allow you to change.  That’s right, other people will be your most significant obstacle in the process.  We all live & work in complex adaptive systems.  If one “agent” changes then others in the ecosystem must change as well.  The tricky part here is that we are all supportive of other people changing if they want to but not so keen when it begins to impact us.  I am sure you can all remember a time you wanted to change a habit or two and others in your circle of influence were not exactly happy with you.  Mainly because they liked that you accompanied them and engaged in group frivolity and when that was threatened, they may not have liked it.  The main reason for this response? Simply put, they did not sign up for the change. Have a plan and be prepared for push back from those who may not be willing to allow you to change.  They are most likely not even consciously aware they are doing it.  We have to overcome our own nature because, as a general rule, we seek homeostasis.

I believe that we all have the capacity for change but it is the willingness that evades us from time to time.  I maintain that change is never a solitary action and if we want to succeed we must engage those close to us in the effort.  Perhaps the challenge is actually to change our perception of who we are and what we can accomplish?  There is fear in that because to admit we can implies we have a choice…a responsibility we might not desire.

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
— W. H. Auden

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Filed under Adaptation, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Burdened with Glorious Purpose


To begin, I admit the following:

  1. I am a comic book nerd from the 1970’s-80’s.  I read comics back when they would be delivered to me monthly in the mail and cost $.35 each.
  2. I am a language nerd as well.  This stems from being an English Literature major many years ago and getting hooked on Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Donne, Coleridge, and the rest of that crew.

Knowing those two things explains (somewhat) the title of this post.  For those who are not connecting the dots, this phrase was used by Loki in the opening of the first Avenger’s movie (click here to see it).  That takes care of the comic book angle but the language itself is so very important.  There is so much power and meaning packed into those 4 words and that is a wondrous thing to accomplish.  Don’t take my word for you, Wittgenstein & Conrad will back me up…

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
― Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Okay, now let’s take a deep breath and come back from literary geekdom to the real point of this post.  I am proposing that we should all “be burdened with glorious purpose”.  If we are going to be on this spinning rock for 70-80 years why wouldn’t we spend it burdened in this manner?  The most amazing part is that you can choose the purpose!

There is a caveat and that is the act of choosing.  I realize that sometimes we may not have complete control over our job or the work we do BUT WE ALWAYS HAVE CONTROL OVER OUR PURPOSE!  We may not always being doing what we want to do but we are always in control of how we do it.

This aligns with the “have-do-be” versus “be-do-have” discussion that goes like this:

  • “If I have these things I want/need then I will do what is required, and then I will be the person I want to be”  (Incorrect)
  • “I will be the person I want to be, which means I will do these things, leading me to have certain things.”  (Correct)

Regardless of how you skin the cat (no cats were actually skinned in this post, just an old colloquialism), the crux of this discussion is that you have a choice.

  1. You can be “burdened with glorious purpose”
  2. You can be simply be burdened

The choice, as always, is yours.  Just remember the warning from the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (yes, I am also a movie geek)



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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition