The Perfect Day?

I woke up five minutes before the alarm clock sounded and I felt great, a full eight hours of restful sleep.  The morning paper arrived on time on my front doorstep and my wife had the day off so she got up early and prepared my breakfast.   

On the way into work, it was nothing but green lights as my favorite music played on the radio, a fresh summer breeze flowed through my open windows, and my car hummed along running smoothly.  My arrival at work was greeted with a full pot of just-right brewed coffee.  As I sat down, I saw sitting on my desk a small note of thanks from a colleague whom I recently assisted on a project.  I checked my email and I was pleasantly surprised with a message from a client, whom I had recently contacted; they were giving me the thumbs up on a nice project.  Just as I thought things couldn’t go any better, I was told by a colleague that one of our long-standing clients had just referred a new prospect our way and their company’s motto is, “price is no object.” 

Unfortunately, the real alarm clock now sounded.  My eyes were swollen and I was groggy with another restless night of sleep.  I stumbled down the stairs, and the dang cat kept bugging me until I fed the little monster.  As I stood in the bathroom trying to get ready for work, frustration mounted as I couldn’t get my left contact lens in my eye, and now the sink was clogged.  As I walked out to get the newspaper, I walked straight into some cobwebs on the porch only to find the newspaper wasn’t in the box. 

On the way into work, I got behind one person that wouldn’t go faster than 30 mph and the person behind me felt compelled to drive within six inches of my rear bumper.  And every time I looked at my speed, I was reminded that the check engine light stayed on so I adjusted my view so I wouldn’t see the annoying light.  And what was that smell, another dead skunk?  When I walked in the office, it is ice cold and so is the coffee…from the night before.

I checked my email and voice mail, neither person that needed that proposal IMMEDIATELY had responded.  My knees hurt from my exercise yesterday and now my right contact was now fogging up.  Oh, and someone dumped some “stuff” on my desk after I left; no note or anything.  I am just supposed to figure out who the heck dumped it on MY DESK and figure what exactly they want done with it.  Ugh, I need coffee, hot coffee!

Life is RARELY if ever one of those “perfect days” we have pictured in our mind.  It is an imperfect world in which we live and we have to deal with aggravating issues from home life to work life every day; that’s life.  That’s why there are so many self help books ranging from how to deal with angry customers, to avoiding road rage and coping with your kids from terrible twos to the rebellious teens. 

But we tend to bring on more aggravation ourselves by somehow being delusional and thinking we should not have troubles or trials.  We overreact when a client complains or a project doesn’t go smoothly.  We need to learn to deal with situations as they arise. Don’t get upset when things don’t go perfectly, it is the norm!  By increasing our blood pressure over these normal events of life, we only punish ourselves and those around us, who likely did nothing to cause the current situation.

So if the project does not go just as planned, if you don’t get along with everyone perfectly all the time and agree with everything that everyone says, and you get your share, (and sometimes more than your share) of trouble, in a given day, congratulations; you are wide awake and participating in the day.

 As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes,”…there is nothing new under the sun…” Our trials are not all that unique; really they aren’t.  If we are to grow and move to the “next level,” whatever that next level is, we need to effectively learn how to deal with the issues that confront us.  That next level for which we are striving has even more difficult issues.   Bottom line: Success results in effectively dealing with these difficult situations, not in spite of them.

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A Measured Response

Stupid CD player!  I couldn’t believe it – my truck’s CD player wouldn’t play the CD and it wouldn’t eject the CD either; stupid CD player.  I was just trying to enjoy my quiet early morning commute with some nice serene music that I specially picked out before walking out of my home at 5:50 a.m. …and then this!

I was determined to get the CD out of the player so every traffic light I came to, I hit the dome light, thumbed through the owner’s manual, hit the eject button a few more times, only to be left, saying the same thing, “stupid CD player.”

Anger began to take hold about 15 minutes into this ordeal and I hit multiple buttons, tried to peer inside the player and yelled a little louder, “stupid CD player!”

When I got to work I had already worked myself into a tizzy and had determined this was going to be “one of those days.”   It was after I had parked my vehicle, turned off the ignition that I looked down and opened my CD case that I realized I never put the CD into the player…stupid CD player indeed!  The placement of the noun, “player,” had to be modified, but I did have it right.

Getting worked up over ridiculous things like this is one of my special gifts.  I can contort issues and make them much larger than they could ever hope to be on their own.  Fortunately, I have been spending a bit more time in prayer to avoid irrational episodes.

Slowing down and not allowing the normal events of life to control us are something we all must learn.  If we don’t learn to control them, then the events control us.  It’s not so much the events themselves; it’s how we handle them.  We can all face the exact same problems and all react differently.  Here are two basic questions that I have found to help me when I am faced with an “issue.” 

Is this something out of your control?  Getting a flat tire on your way to appointment is frustrating, but getting upset will not do anything to solve the issue at hand.  Deal with it.  Call your client, let them know you will be late, take care of the situation and then move on.  Kicking the car, moaning about “this always happens to me,” or out-and-out panic will not do a darn bit of good.  Accept the situation as it is because, quite frankly, you really don’t have any other choice.   The only thing now in your control is your response or attitude about the problem.

Is this something within your control?  There are things that happen due to your action or inaction.  For example, if you find that your lack of organization is causing you to be inefficient, which causes delays in your work product, which causes your boss to give you “the look,” then you better do something about it.  You can choose to make the commitment to get organized – buy a planner or do whatever is necessary to put some structure to your day.   But if you do not choose to accept the responsibility for the events in your control (e.g., “it’s not my fault, it’s his or her fault”) then you are doomed to continue to have problems. 

If we just slow down, think about the situation, and then act, we will have a much more rational response then simply reacting.  Count to 10 before you act, if necessary, count to 100. 

Is it out of your control?  Don’t sweat it, do what you need to do in a rational manner.  Is it your fault or responsibility?  Accept your responsibility and make the necessary changes.

 

 

The Box People

This is a story about the people that lived in a box. They were very happy in their box.  They knew the bounds of their box.  There were eight corners in their box and this made the box people very happy.  They knew where each of the corners in their box was.  Sometimes issues came up.  This was not a problem for the box people because they knew they could pull together and solve all of the problems.  Problems were dealt with in a very efficient manner.

One day one of the box people noticed that there was a problem.  He gathered all of the box people and they all agreed, “Yes there is a problem.”  The problem seemed to be growing too. The box people were becoming agitated.  “That problem,” one of the box people said, “it is not going away.”  “In fact, I dare say that it is getting worse.”  No one wanted to admit it, but they knew that it was true, the problem was growing.  The now agitated, and truth be told concerned, people of the box were all looking around at one another wondering who was going to solve the problem.  No one, I mean absolutely no one, was stepping up and taking hold of the problem.

But why-oh-why, the box people wondered, can’t we take care of this problem?  Never in the whole history of the box people had they faced a problem that they couldn’t solve.  Worry and angst were now consuming their lives.  As their doom seemed certain their faces grew long, almost rectangular one might say.  But something was about to happen that would become almost legend.  Oh heck, almost nothing – it did become legend.  It came from a very young box.  He stood there looking at the problem, which was very hard to miss now because it was so large, and he said, “The problem is out there.”  Out there?  Now there were there’s and here’s to be sure, but no one had ever heard of an “out” there before.  “See, the problem is not here in our box it is outside of the box.”  Well their little box eyes grew larger and larger as they realized that the little box was absolutely correct the problem was indeed outside of the box.  But their momentary joy quickly turned to despair; if the problem is out there then the solution must be out there too.  No one had ever been outside of the box.

But as I said, this is about a legend.  Amid all of the downcast faces, the little box said, “Just because no one has ever been out of the box doesn’t mean someone couldn’t!”  Everyone looked down at the little box with the big idea.  “You know, I suppose he is right.”  Call these boxes what you will-but they all lined right up and volunteered to be the first to go “out there” and take a look at the problem from the other side.  Funny thing was, once they got outside, they found that the problem was not so big after all.  In fact as they got out and looked around they renamed the problem, they called it an opportunity because they learned so much more existed outside of their little box world.

Well, the rest is history; the boxes began to lose their edges as they thought more and more outside of the box.  They found all kinds of neat things existed “out there” and by-in-by the decided to tear down the box.

Boxes are not good places for us.  We need to tap into our resources – find better ways to do our jobs, become more efficient, serve our clients and be a leader in the market. Take a look out there and see if you can find ways to make our company better than we could have imagined – inside the box.

Decisions are crossroads

My less than restful night sleep left me more groggy than usual as I drove into work this early morning. I found myself constantly yawning and as I glanced in the mirror, I noticed my bloodshot eyes; yep I looked as tired as I felt. As I considered the work day ahead of me I knew that my sleep-deprived night would make my daily tasks more difficult. In the middle of my thoughts, I glanced out of my window to the left and noticed a police car with a “passenger” in the back seat.

As we pulled up to the traffic light, I caught myself staring at the prisoner that was being transported and noticed he sat at an angle in the back seat; I looked further, and noticed his hands were behind his back, obviously handcuffed. He was gazing off in the distance, seemingly lost in thought. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind. As hundreds of commuters surrounded him perhaps dreading the eight and a half hours of work that lie ahead, I’m sure he had no such thoughts. My guess is that he would love to be in the position of having to face an arduous work day. He may have been thinking about some foolish thing that he did which lead to a spiral of events that eventuated in his arrest.

What puts someone in a position such as this? One day it is freedom and laughing and enjoying the moment with friends and family and the next facing a lifetime behind bars.  Without trying to sound overly simplistic, it can be boiled down to one word: Decisions. Each one of us makes a myriad of decisions every day.  Some decisions are simple and straight forward others require more thought, maturity, and rationality.

Our lives are formed as a result of dozens of decisions. In a moment we change our life’s course; college is too difficult, so we quit and our dreams remained unrealized. A relationship or friendship hits a few bumpy roads, so we throw in the towel and never see how the difficult times could have molded the relationship to be that much stronger. Maybe it’s a career that faces difficult challenges that cause someone to run away rather than facing the issues head on and learning from the “trial by fire.”

Take a look at the headlines in the newspapers and see the tragic evidence of bad decisions. A person decides that they can handle a few drinks before they get behind the wheel of a car. The reality: their decision leads to an accident that killed innocent people and now dozens of people mourn as their lives are forever changed. It is one moment in time when a thoughtful, mature, and rational thought would have changed many lives.

How does this relate to business? It might be a simple decision to call that client or prospect when you don’t feel like it. You call them, and you begin a dialogue that leads to a long-term relationship with a very good client. Don’t call them and your competitor now has the project, a new course is set for two companies. Perhaps you are faced with the decision to work extra hours to make sure the quality of your product or service is not just average but exceptional, but you are tired and just want to go home. Focus on doing the exceptional job and you have won over a client, don’t follow through and you just proved that your company is just like all the others, and your client continues to search for that best-in-class provider.

The corporate world is replete with examples of executives that were entrusted by the employees and shareholders to make good solid business decisions, but one bad decision after another led to the collapse of companies, fortunes, retirement accounts, and jobs. These mega-corporate failures that have resulted in arrests of CEOs began with one decision.

If you were to plot out your decisions over a lifetime you would see a roadmap for your life. Every day you make decisions, and every day there are consequences of your decisions that affect you and those around you. Your decisions lay out the road map for your life and for your career. Decisions are powerful and are 100% within your control. No one else can take the credit or blame for them. 

Don’t make decisions lightly.  Consider the impact to you and how it may impact those around you.  Consider the junctures in the road that you face, don’t compromise or do anything that you will later regret. This requires a mature and rational thought process that is NOT automatically granted to you as you grow older.

Who you are when you are alone, is who you are

The annual deer hunting trip with my family is always a great joy; time with my uncles, cousins, and now my son-in-law just kicking around in the woods.

At the conclusion of a four-mile hike one day I met everyone back at camp and someone asked me, “where’s your butt pad?”  This gel-filled pad allows us to sit down in the woods with a bit of comfort.  It’s usually dangling from our hunting suite with a little clip; obviously, my fell off somewhere along the way.  Dang, I would look for it the next morning.

Trekking along the two tracks I began to retrace my steps. Spotting it is not a problem, it, is like everything else is florescent orange.  But, we share the woods on the public land with dozens of other hunters, so anyone could have seen it and picked it up.

About a mile and half into my reverse journey from the day before I was getting discouraged, and then up ahead, I saw it hanging from a tree.  Another hunter had come across it and hung it in easy site for the absent minded hunter (me) to find. I was very happy to find my butt pad and etched in the dirt on the side of the two-track road, “THANK YOU.”

Honesty – it’s easy when everyone is looking, but what about when no one is looking?  Thankfully for me, the hunter that came across my prized portable derriere seat was genuinely honest, that is true integrity.

Burn the Ships!

In 1519, Spanish explorer, Cortez sailed his fleet of eleven ships into the harbor of Veracruz, Mexico.  It was common practice in those days to leave guards with the ships, as they might be needed to later return to the old world for supplies, or if necessary to retreat from the enemy.  But Cortez came for victory; he did not come to look at “options.”  Cortez didn’t want anyone to have any doubts about their mission so he gave the order to “burn the ships.” And so every ship was burned, obviously Cortez wasn’t ambivalent about victory – it was victory and nothing short of this was acceptable!

Cortez demonstrated his commitment to the outcome by giving his orders to burn the ships – his men probably “got it” that he was serious about this mission.  It takes commitment like this if you really want results.  But what is a typical commitment by most people?  Usually it is a luke-warm response that says, “Sure I can give it a shot,” and with one hand outstretched we “reach for the stars.”  But just in case things don’t work out, we keep our other hand firmly grasped to the chair in our familiar and comfortable office in the world of the known and predictable.  As I read somewhere, when the going gets tough, those who keep one eye on the way out, usually lose.

We all go through times in our life when we know we must commit to change, and in some cases significant change.  And if we are honest, we will admit change scares the daylights out of us.  We all want the potential reward and excitement that the change offers and have excitement in our voice when we talk about the challenge.  But talk is cheap, commitment requires real action, the kind of action the Cortez took when he gave to order, “Burn the ships.” 

Fully committing to success means there are no excuses.  If you commit to increasing sales, really commit to it, then burn the ship of excuses, because there is nothing short of total completion of that goal that is acceptable.  Old sales goals are gone forever and the only thing you are focused on are the new numbers. Falling back and achieving the old numbers isn’t a success of any kind, it’s short of your goal. 

If you commit to meeting with one new client every week, but you used to meet with one new client every three months, burn that ship of what used to be acceptable; it’s gone!  Meet the goal you have established!

Simply saying “I want to do this or that” isn’t good enough.  Heck, I want five million dollars, but that doesn’t get me any closer to being a millionaire.  Commitment requires that we change the verb from want to will.   I will contact new prospects this week, I will make this deadline, and I will change my attitude.

 Burn the ship of options and excuses, make a real commitment!  No more woulda, coulda, or shoulda and no mindset of “I will go down fighting.”  I will not go down fighting, because I will not fail! 

 If you want to win, don’t allow losing to be an option. Victory comes with the commitment that is willing to “burn the ships.”

The next commitment you make, write it down on a piece of paper and keep  it  in a conspicuous place where you will see it daily.  Begin with “I will” not “I want.”

Proper Perspective

There is a Psalm that puts our life in the context of “everlasting to everlasting.”

This really struck home when my son shared with me a story about “space bubbles” recently discovered surrounding the Milky Way – it’s 50,000 light years across!

This all leaves me with this inescapable conclusion: if I aspire and achieve the loftiest goals and the world applauds my brilliance – at best…my life will amount to…cosmic snot.

That current challenge you are facing; it needs to be put into the proper context (from everlasting to everlasting). 

 

Rest

I believe it was Vince Lombardi who said, fatigue makes cowards of us all. 

Look, there are times when we have to push through and meet some pending deadlines – that is just a fact of life in any job.  But…sometimes when we are drained, the best thing we can do is pack-it-up and go home.

And if there is one thing I’ve learned for certain about me over the years it’s that a sure way for me to make bad decisions is to make tired decisions.

Rest for the mind, rest for the body, rest for the soul; it leads to much more rational and sound decisions.