Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Today I turned 45 years old!

Birthdays are usually happy occasions (HAPPY Birthday! Get it? ). But growing up I remember often feeling sad at least the night before and sometimes the whole actual day of my birthday.

I had a great childhood: loving parents/family, great friends, lots of opportunities and comforts in the town of Walnut Creek, CA.  But because of how I am programmed I have always been preoccupied with the mark I am making in the world. Additionally, I have always been keenly aware of the value of time as it passes. And so each birthday, marking another year of my life finished that I would never get back, made me sad and a little scared that my mark wasn't important enough, or even noticeable.

Well, for the most part, I grew out of this fear of growing up and when it was time to leave home in 1986 I left in a big way.  After one year at UC Davis, a school only an hour from home but a thousand hours from where I thought I was academically, I went to Japan for two years.  Talk about leaving the nest!  Still love my parents and siblings, more than ever, and I sometimes miss the comfort of the nest I grew up in but, MAN!, this flying stuff is the best!

As I reflect on my life this week I realize how much I absolutely miss the thrill of the unknown.  The thrill of flying!

  • I miss the pain of completely butchering the Japanese language:
  • The awkwardness of being totally in love with the girl I would marry;
  • The idiotic swagger I carrried in my first job thinking I knew more than the adults around me;
  • The stumblings and sleepless nights of a new dad;
  • The stumblings and sleepless nights of an experienced dad with teenage daughters (Wait! Those are ongoing).

My point is that I LOVE the chance to make my mark each day.  The chance to FLY! Admittedly these past few years have seen the world make more marks on me than I probably have made on it. BUT, with 45 years under my belt now and the hope of the first day of the next 45 years I am ready to fly again.

I love what I do--why would any of us waste our precious time doing something we don't love?!  I get it but it's CRAZY!  There will be always be hard things in whatever pursuit we engage, regardless of how much we love it, BUT how much better are we as people when we TRULY love what we do?

So for my birthday today I am going to leave my own comfortable nest and place much more emphasis on doing what I love to do.  I think a key to living a life of meaning is this:

Forget what the world says or thinks--they don't know you like YOU know you.  Find what you love fast and then pursue it relentlessly.

Happy Birthday to me and Happy Day to you!  Let's go mark this world up!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hope is NOT a strategy

Hope may spring eternal, but it is NOT a strategy.

I have felt a bit hopeless lately as I have grappled with less income than I need and certainly less than I want.  This financial downturn has prevented me from giving my family what we need and it feels unpleasant, even scary at times.  Does it ever feel that way to you, too?

Working on the front lines of finance over the past five years or so during this mini-Depression, Great Recession, whatever, has made a lot of things feel harder than I ever remember them, and I know I am not alone.  Maybe I am just getting older, or crankier (both true but perhaps not relevant here), but I don't think that's it.  Things are harder and many seem to feel that the American dream is starting to fade.  Well, I am no expert on that but I will say I have started to become aware of something an old Wall Street boss said to me, and probably to many others, in the midst of the Tech Bubble bursting in the early 2000s.   While I, an inexperienced stock broker, painfully fumbled for my metaphorical fire extinguisher as wealth all around me went up in flames, he said to me, "Hope is not a strategy."

That warning has stuck with me for over 10 years now and I think I am just starting to realize what he meant.  You can have hope, after all it does spring eternal!, and maybe you having hope and things getting better for you will magically coincide but you cannot count on hope alone getting you what you want, or even need.

Working on a goal without hope would be pure drudgery but what happens if you have hope--you want something really bad--and honestly feel like you deserve it and it doesn't work out?  Then what?  Did having hope not work?  Did you not hope badly enough? 

I say this:  Fear is, in many cases, a more powerful motivator than hope could ever, umm, hope to be.  Being afraid of not getting what you need/want will almost always get you working for that thing more than hoping for it will.

Hope does not replace work.  It can't.  Otherwise everyone with hope would get what they want and life would be too easy.  (Remember hope springs eternal, which means it's always there.  It's almost always easy to hope.  Sometimes, too easy.  In fact, hope is easier than work, isn't it? Maybe that's we are so naturally drawn to it as people.)

1000% Yes! Have hope!  But I am realizing that the world (business world, athletic world, relationship world, etc.) doesn't care or often even know if I have hope.  What the world can see, and, therefore, is more likely to reward, is results! 

So, the universal law must be: work = results = rewards. 

You cannot hope your way to results.  You can't.  If hope of a brighter tomorrow gets you out of bed today and off to work then use it for all you can.  If you hope that your work will yield results then by all means, hope!  But sitting around "hoping" your life will get better without the willingness to do the hard thing and work will really only ever yield disappointment or worse: "fake success."  I define fake success as the situation when luck or perfect timing--beyond your control--makes you look and feel smarter or better than you are really are.

When that happens those people for whom hope seemingly paid off will be the first ones to hope for solutions at the next inevitable crisis, rather than getting to work quickly to resolve the crisis and get back on track to a happy life solidly built on the principle that work = results = rewards.  THAT is the winning strategy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Winners and Losers

I don't know anyone who likes losing.  And I know lots of people who say they want to win--or be successful--in a variety of things in this life.  Sports, money, business, relationships, etc.

The pain of losing.

This weekend at my daughter's soccer tournament in Park City I realized the difference between winning and losing.  Until last month her team, made up of 11 and 12 year-old girls, hadn't lost a game in about 11 months and, in fact, won gold in their age group at the Summer Games in Cedar City, Utah.  By all counts they were and are "winners."  But after this weekend in Park City I see more clearly now that not losing isn't what defines them as winners.

This was not their best tournament.  They know they played uncharacteristically poorly on Friday.  But they still squeaked into the semi-finals on Saturday as the #1 team in their bracket.  Then they lost again, 3-1, against a team they beat just last month 3-0.  Tears flowed from a few of the girls, including my daughter which strangely always makes me proud, and most if not all of the girls wore their pain on their faces.  I believe that pain, however expressed, is the critical element in separating winners and losers.

  • Losers lose. And find a way to get comfortable with the pain.
  • Winners win and lose.  BUT, winners quickly reject the pain of losing, learn why they lost and boldly do what it takes to avoid that pain of losing ever again.

I am a passionate, competitive person and I have thought most of my life that if you want something badly enough you will get it; that you can will yourself to win.  I still think that is true BUT without the hard work BEFORE the deciding moment of winning and losing there is no guarantee that you will get what you want--the win!  Crucially, winners who lose get the importance of hard work and preparation.  There is NO magic formula for success, there really is only hard work fueled by a strong desire to not feel the sting of loss.

It is simply not enough to show up to a game, a presentation, a marriage and say you want success.  You have to want to succeed well beforehand and that desire can only be displayed by the effort you put into the preparation.  Too many people, including me, think that whoever has the bigger heart on the field, in the boardroom, at the lectern, wins.  Not so.  It is he who has the bigger heart consistently on the practice field, in the cubicle, in the cramped airplane seat, that is far more likely to win--get the outcome they want.  That is where greatness is made.  And the most important thing we must remember as we endure the blood, sweat, and tears of preparation is that that work will translate to the moment when points are kept, deals are awarded, and history made.

So, what do winners do when they lose?  (And winners do lose.)  Blame others?  Beat themselves up?  Quit?  Avoid the risk of losing by dreaming smaller?  No!  Winners display resilience.  They bounce back by working harder and REMEMBERING how it feels to lose and let that sting of losing push them to work harder so they minimize the chance of getting stung again.

Go Kylie and Logan Lynx!  You are winners!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Generosity in the 21st Century

It has been almost 6 months since posting some new thoughts here.  The reason is that I have been very absorbed with Bridges to America, my cute, little non-profit.  I have posted MANY thoughts on that blog which I hope you will read, including a report on the rescue mission I went on in March to villages in Ghana, Africa.

I have to tell you that I LOVE this work!  The problems are deep and the challenges tall but the rewards are significant.  I can say honestly that the feeling of digging in and working to try and tackle serious problems in the world experienced by people who really can't help themselves is compelling.  For me non-profit work is not some "feel good" or "pat myself on the back" type effort.  I have just connected with the problem solver in me and he is happily quite busy trying to solve problems.

All of this leads me to the "G" in BRIDGES; Generosity.

Generosity used to mean to me writing a check to charity or dropping some coins in the cup of homeless person or the Salvation Army's red bucket at Christmas time.  But I have learned that generosity in the 21st century really means the following:

1.  Engage

No dollar amount of a donation means more than spending time and the mental and emotional energy needed to understand someone's situation and help them.  While I cannot run Bridges To America without funding, often the most meaningful contributions people can make is to simply understand and then share our story.

2.  Connect

After engaging, we must somehow connect personally to the cause and the people helped by it.  We are all so busy in this modern day posting, tweeting, messaging, etc. that we can go days, weeks, or even months(?) without having a meaningful face-to-face and heart-to-heart conversation with someone.  Connecting personally to another can be the greatest act of generosity there is.

Bridges To America all started because I saw a very good man separated from his family and in real pain.  This only happened because I asked him about his family and he opened up to me about their separation.  At the time. the only thing I could think of was how much pain I would be in if I was separated from my family for two years.  After that, I HAD to act.

3.  Commit

It is an enormous waste of opportunity to find yourselves experiencing #1 and #2 above and then stopping. 

Do something!  It doesn't have to be big it just has to be meaningful.  If it means something to you then you will hardly notice the time and energy it takes to commit and pick up the ball and run with it for the rest of your life.

So, yes keep writing checks because money makes the charitable world go 'round but I would suggest that when you make the effort to find ways to serve, to contribute to others the returns on that investment are compounded because both the person helped and the person helping are elevated.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Groundhog Day--Perfect time for a New Year's Resolution Do-Over!

Happy Groundhog Day!  Or is it really February 3rd now?

Ever feel like that?

Sometimes I wish I was Bill Murray in that funnily poignant movie where he repeatedly gets stuck on Groundhog Day until he eventually gets the day, and his life, right.  His problem is comically frustrating but also teaches us that with the right mindset every day truly is an opportunity.  As I love to say around here: "Today could be your day!"  Wouldn't you love the chance to have a "do-over" day until you got your life right?

This year's Groundhog Day made me think of New Year's Day and the resolutions we traditionally make.  Groundhog Day marks one full month into the New Year and it occurred to me that many of us who actually went to the trouble of making a New Year's Resolution have, by now, either A) forgotten what we resolved to do, B) already failed and decided to push it out to 2013, or C) are actually keeping the resolution but could use a little encouragement to stick with it.

Well, rather than let another year slip by without making a greater effort at personal change I am offering a reminder and a way to avoid waking up next January 1st, or February 2nd, with the same life we have this year.

I am re-posting my thoughts on resolutions from last year here.  I am doing this because the ideas are still relevant, and probably will be as long as there are New Years to celebrate. However, this year I am sharing with you a tool to help you (and me!) not just keep this year's resolutions for change but to help specify who exactly we want to become and blaze the path that gets us there.  View it and make it your own by clicking here.

Also, for reference and perhaps a little inspiration I am sharing my own personal goals based on the BRIDGES model.  Rather than give you some random example of some fictional character like Joe Bagofdonuts I thought a real set of goals made by me would be most helpful and/or interesting.  So, at the risk of forever being haunted by my personal goals and aspirations being accessible to the minions that control the Internet I am posting my BRIDGES plan for life.  You can view it here.

So, consider this post my call for a "do-over" for change.  And with all due respect to Punxsutawney Phil let's not crawl back into our warm, little den and simply wait out winter, or longer.  The day awaits for us to get to the work of planning and making lasting change in our lives.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tsunami, Sweets, and Resilience

I just read an excellent article in The Wall Street Journal (link at the end of this blog) about a middle-aged baker, in the tsunami-devastated region of Japan who lost everything in March 2011.  The story is painful and inspiring all at once.

Painful because I think most, if not all, of us can relate to his loss as the world deals with the financial struggles of today's economy.  But more than that, this simple but strong man, dealt with the visceral anguish of the actual loss of family, friends, and livelihood.  As I read this well-written article I couldn't help but recognize the familiar feelings of simply just wanting to move on from heartache and start something new while this painful section of my life's road quickly disappears in the rear view mirror.

Don't we feel like that sometimes?!  "Things are too tough and didn't go the way I planned, so I am just going to throw in the towel, move on and start over with something new." 

There is nothing wrong with starting over but the baker in this story, Mr. Kimura, shows us that resilience is about being true to who you are and the talents and legacy that shape you.  Recognize who you have become and what you have to offer the world and then start over! Thankfully for Mr. Kimura he had somewhat unknowingly established a real loyalty from his customers who longed for something familiar; his sweets, in their newly uncertain and completely un-familiar world in post-tsunami Rikuzentaka, Japan.

He says: "I feel a lot of pressure, but it's good because it helps me move forward."

This is what most inspires me.  Despite the natural human inclination to give up and try something new; or to take the less productive route of railing against the world while you seek free hand-outs; Mr. Kimura was able to muster enough consistent effort to mount a comeback.  The article goes on to describe how he cobbles together a location, the funds, and enough equipment necessary to rebuild his bakery in a borrowed cargo-train car on the side of the road in his hometown.

His story has progressed so far because he first moved.  It doesn't matter what the initial catalyst was: his grandmother's words, his customers requests for him to rebuild, the generosity of others cutting him a deal on equipment, etc.  The point is he found something to propel him to take the first step.  Then he showed the courage to take the next one, and so on.

This story is still in the making but my guess is Mr. Kimura has generated enough momentum now to continue to breakthrough the inevitable challenges ahead and succeed by regaining his livelihood as he delights customers with his increasingly famous sweets.

Mr. Kimura's final words in the article offer great advice from a man of unquestionable courage and resilience.

"In making sweets, things never happen the way you imagine it.  And everything seems to take longer than we imagine."

As with Mr. Kimura's bakery, life doesn't reward us with bonus points for things going exactly according to our plan or occurring exactly on our timetable.  Rather, we achieve success by fighting through those things, those events, those disasters that threaten to derail us from our ultimate destination of the legacy we dream to leave to the world.

To read the full story copy and paste the entire address below into your web browser.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Marathon of Life

On September 14 I accomplished one of my lifelong goals and ran a marathon. http://bridgestoamericainc.blogspot.com/

I have lots of thoughts and insights that come from preparing for and actually accomplishing a life goal--which you can read about in my upcoming book--but let me share just quickly here.

As I watched people (lots) go by me in the starting miles (and happily only a few in the finishing ones) of the 26.2 mile journey I kept saying two things to myself--

1. This is a marathon not a sprint!
2. Run your race.

It occurs to me that life is exactly like a marathon except for one key difference--we don't know where our finish line actually is. We know it's out there but cannot measure how long we are actually going to be running this thing.

I was able to "pace" myself throughout the race with mile markers along the way that told me how far I had come and I quickly calculated how much further I had to run--seems like that was what I cared about most (are we there yet?!). This critical knowledge allowed me to gauge my strength and calibrate my effort to ensure I would have enough gas in the tank to finish--and believe me that was my only goal this time, to finish.

But in life, even though we mark our time on earth with birthdays we simply don't know how long our race will be. Given that inconvenience (or challenge?) it becomes difficult if not impossible to know how hard to work each day to pace ourselves and not burn out.

Or does it? Just as a marathon race has aid stations along the way with water, fluids, fruit, gels, first aid personnel, etc. (and trust me these aid stations become increasingly welcome and necessary as the race wore on) we have aid stations along our mararthon of life that perhaps we race by too often: friends, faith, exercise, vacations, quiet time.

So what?! What does this mean? What do we do to ensure we finish our race with a personal best performance?

Make life more about making the most of the mile we are currently running and not worry about the next ones. Make it more about who we want to be and what we want to accomplish than worrying about when we will do it. And given the uncertainty of how much time we have to finish our race we best be looking at each day as the extraordinary opportunity it is and enjoy it by simply getting out there and moving!