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.

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!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Soul Surfer

(Forgive me for posting this so long after the fact--two months ago!--but the thoughts are real and fresh as I review them today and will hopefully touch you.)

I just returned from watching the movie Soul Surfer with my 10 year-old daughter and a bunch of her friends.

I am not in the business of reviewing movies, in fact I am in the business of delivering perspective and motivation to help people make changes and live their best life, but this movie nailed a couple of elements that are key components to Bridges To Your Best.

 The first thing that hit me hard was this young woman's calmness as she had her arm suddenly ripped off by a great white shark that changed her life forever in an instant, but not the way you might expect.  There had to be already present a deep sense of calm about who she was making her way in the world.

Despite the enormous internal and external changes that come from a physically-transformative injury like this I am amazed that she had the perspective to change her view of things.  Rather than get angry and close off the world, she learned to reach out with one arm physically and her whole soul emotionally to embrace others with love.

Despite her physical challenge she went to Thailand not long after the incident to help others deal with and recover from the horrific tsunami.  On this trip while helping others she lost herself and found herself on the same trip.

I am amazed at the lack of whining and feeling sorry for herself.  Yes, I realize it was a movie but it was based on true events and I was actually pleased to see that she wasn't an emotional robot but rather that she and her family actually did indeed struggle with how to deal with this injury.  The key thing is that they all stuck together and fought through the unfamiliarity of what to do and made it to the other side of discomfort.

I am also struck that I have this internal desire to be an example to others and I often think how I would react to a dramatic challenge in my life that I would have to recover from.  Of course I don't seek out activities or circumstances whereby I might lose an arm or have the chance to survive some dramatic situation.  But then I realized that many, if not all, of us will lose a limb metaphorically in our life.  Lost job?  Divorce? Death of a loved one? Addiction?  We may not have a movie made about our lives but we have the chance to impact the most important audience of all: our families and friends.

When will we get there?

When we set off on a run, a ride, or a trip, knowing the answer to the question, "When will we get there?" is key.  This information allows us to know when and how much to refuel, rest and refresh.

When we set off on a goal to better our self--increase our fitness, build or repair a relationship, grow wealth, etc.--rarely do we know ahead of time exactly "when we will get there."  This is because these goals have naturally vague end points and sometimes it is impossible to know just how far away--or how close!--our destination really is.

How about this?  Instead of focusing on the destination so much why not focus on the journey?  And, importantly, don't cut short the journey until we have reached the destination.  If we learn to enjoy the journey we won't want to stop anyway and reaching the destination, i.e. accomplishing the goal, becomes the natural, happy result of consistent, focused work along our way.

Get on the road today and let your journey begin!

Monday, March 28, 2011

STRENGTH: Random thoughts from the gym

I just returned from a visit to the gym.  I love going to the gym for the following reasons:
  • I never regret working out.  But I have regretted NOT working out too many times to mention.
  • Once I get my workout in I feel physically weaker but mentally and emotionally stronger.
  • I feel better about having dessert later that day ;-)
  • There are a hundred human stories walking around the gym.
I have a few random thoughts I'd like to share as they relate to the "S" in BRIDGES: Strength

As I was on the rowing machine just inside the indoor track I noticed a fairly obese woman working hard to walk/run the track.  As she passed me, sweating hard, I thought about what might be going on inside her head (thinking about her helped me ignore the pain inside my body).

  • Did she feel conspicuous around the many others there who were in much better shape?  
  • Was she just getting started on her weight loss or was she about to quit?  
  • Does she have any idea that people like me--no world-class bodybuilder but a relatively in-shape 43 year old dude--look at her and feel proud and inspired?  
  • Would knowing that help her stay on track and continue to put in the hard work to reach her goal for better health and self-confidence?

We ALL have things to work on and changes to make in our life, and we always will.  What is great about the work involved in becoming physically strong is that--if you do it right--you and others can actually see the results.  We know if we are lifting more weight than before.  We know if we are running faster than before.  We know if our jeans are looser (or tighter) than before.  I think the nature of making physical change is actually easier than making mental and emotional change.  In the physical change process there's no: "Gee, I feel more positive but I am not sure if anyone is noticing.  Maybe my new-found positivity is all in my head."  You either lift more or you don't; run faster/longer or you don't; the jeans fit or they don't.  It's really hard to play mental games with physical change.

I see lots of very in-shape people at the gym and I think, "Man, how do I get a body like that?!"  Then I catch myself thinking, "Well that guy is probably younger, probably has more time that I do to be here longer and more often, probably started lifting at a younger age than I did." And on and on.  Then I realize, who cares?!  I am on a quest to be MY best.  Not someone else's best.  I also realize that I may be totally wrong in my judging.  I don't know the first thing about 99% of the other people in the gym so making assumptions about them in a perverse attempt to make myself feel better about my own apparent inadequacies is an utter waste of time and mental energy.

Instead, I would be better off remembering that outward (physical) appearances aren't always an accurate reflection of what's on the inside.  There are lots of "posers" out there.  Don't be one.  The world is not made better by faking what a great guy or gal you are on the outside when you are nothing but mentally weak inside.  In the same way, it is fruitless to look at people who are in better shape, drive a nicer car, have more money, or just seem happier than we do and decide to give up trying to chase those same dreams because "they" already have them and "they" must, therefore, be better than I am.  Sometimes we can't see past the outward "things" that seem to shout success and see inside what might be, in some cases, a pretty messed up emotional life riddled with all sorts of dysfunction and heartache.  It's sort of like looking behind Oz's curtain and seeing someone that looks a whole, lot more like Dorothy, or yourself.

Because mental change first happens on the inside it is logically harder to see.  I am not aware of an  MRI machine that can detect mental growth and strength.  (Not yet anyway.)  And if we can't (or choose not to) see something we start to think it's not there.  And who wants to make efforts to change if there isn't going to be a payoff at the end of the effort?!

In our modern society, especially in Western culture, we have come to expect fast change.  We may think: "Well, everything in our relatively short history has happened so fast why would change ever slow down?!  Why can't I make change faster because, gee, change hurts and I want the pain to stop!  Isn't there a pill for that?"

It takes a strong mind to remember that real change--building strength that lasts--takes time and effort.  Yes, from time to time we will founder and not be as consistent as we want to be.  That really is "life."  But if we can attach our efforts to a bold vision of what we can and want to become then I believe that we will find that slice of mental strength necessary to catalyze our physical and mental growth processes.  The trick is, once that's started, is to never look back and never forget that, just like the physical part of our beings, the mental part of us requires regular (dare I say daily?) work and attention.

Let me summarize my observations--

Physical Strength: Outside-In. Notice changes faster.  Improves mental strength and confidence.
Mental Strength: Inside-Out. Takes longer for you and others to recognize. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there. This strength enables us to move ourselves and/or mountains.

So, my conclusion is that real strength, the strength that matters, the strength that can move mountains, the strength that changes lives, is inside each of us and no matter our physical appearance we ALL have things to work on.

For people struggling with physical challenges keep moving.  And don't quit trying to be your best just because someone else appears to have gotten there first.  There is plenty of room in the world for you to reach your goals.  Just think of who you might be inspiring along the way!  (Like the 43-year old guy on the rowing machine.)

For people who have reached some level of outward success, in fitness or wealth, don't let complacency and/or pride sneak in to your head and convince you that you are just too darned good to need to continually keep yourself mentally strong.  Besides, the people in the first group are gaining on you...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Independence: Threading the Needle

My father has Type II diabetes.  We were catching up on life in general this past weekend and he mentioned his diabetes and that it seems harder and harder to control.  Each day he now has to inject 50% more insulin than he did just 6 months ago.  When I asked him what he thought caused this spike he replied that he wasn't eating well or working out often enough.  Not a shocker.  Of course that is what caused this medical condition in the first place and not dramatically reversing course is the reason the condition is worsening.

I love my dad, of course, and am writing this with his permission, though this definitely wasn't his idea.  Ever since losing his father to cancer at the vulnerable age of 12 years old my dad had to be independent.  Life dealt him a merciless, harsh blow and I think he figured that the only person he could ever really rely on was himself.  That realization has shaped most of the decisions in his 68 years on the earth.

At times his independence has served him well.  As a soldier serving in Vietnam, as a sales executive, as an athlete.  But independence is a two-edged sword.  Too much of it means that you can unintentionally treat people like they don't matter, like you don't need them because you are independent and can handle things on your own. This is not the most attractive personality trait one can have.  In fact, if not checked, you run the risk of becoming a jerk in that everything can seem to be about you when you are hyper-focused on your own independence.

In the context of Bridges To Your Best, I define independence as follows:

If you don't control your destiny, someone or something else will.  Modern life can move at breakneck speed and you can't afford to put your dreams in the hands of someone else.  Make decisions quickly before complacency and mediocrity talk you out of it.  Decide the life you want and then go get it on your terms and timing.  No one owes you anything.

Independence doesn't mean that we shouldn't ever depend on others.  We should.  It is trusted friends, colleagues, family members, and mentors that can help us become our best by showing us where we may be wrong, getting off the path or just plain crazy. That doesn't mean they will always be right but an outside perspective is always enlightening as it works regardless of what they tell you.  The feedback is spot on and you realize it and change course or it's dead wrong and, recognizing that, you increase your confidence that you are on the right path.

The key here is that the independent person is able to accept the help and feedback without feeling weak and without stopping the journey toward realizing their bold vision for themselves.  Rather, the independent person synthesizes the feedback from those on whom they actually can depend--someone who will tell them like it is with love and goodwill--and adds it to their own thinking and adjusts their effort accordingly.

Back to the conversation with my dad, he knows what he has to do but eating healthy by avoiding really tasty food and overcoming the urge to snack mindlessly is really hard.  And working out is by definition hard work.  Look at the obesity rates in the US.  They tell us just how hard this is.  My dad did tell me that he was able to do much better when he was living with us last summer and I stayed on top of his eating and workout schedule.  To be clear, I am no Superman and I too was more consistent in eating healthy and exercising because I wanted to be a good example and hate the thought of being a hypocrite.  (It's harder to sneak-eat ice cream when you are around someone who ice cream could literally eventually kill.)  I wanted to help my dad by showing him that I could control my life in the hopes that it would help him control his.

Now that he has been on his own for six months he has realized this important lesson of independence:  We should be independent enough to chart a course that best matches our innate desire to be our best and fulfill our potential but be dependent enough to be able to rely on others in our life (family, friends, colleagues, coaches, etc.) to give us honest, regular feedback and encouragement necessary to realize that dream.

In other words: Independently chart the course to your best while depending on trusted others along the way to help you stay on it.  Thread the needle of independence and dependence.

If you don't have someone you trust that will tell you the truth about who they think you are how can you assess where you are on the path to excellence?!

Go depend on someone today.  And because I depend on people like you please give me some feedback on this idea.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Big "D" --Without this we flounder

So, January is pretty much over and 2011 is now well underway.  As I reflect on my life so far this year and the changes I am trying to make I find myself just about every day asking:

  • How is it going? 
  • Are you on track?
  • Is this going be your year?
  • Are we there yet?
  • Why is change so hard?
  • Is it really worth it?
  • Why don't I have more discipline?

I have always had a strong desire to achieve greatness in all the roles I play in life: husband, father, professional, entrepreneur, athlete, and child of God.  I was born with this desire and sometimes I worry that it is a curse because when I don't feel like I have reached greatness in any of these roles I get impatient and restless and wonder what the heck is taking so long!  And if I am not careful I find myself questioning either the merit of becoming great or whether greatness is even possible.  I realize that it is at these very times I run the risk of quitting--or stopping my daily pursuit of greatness--and I become aware that if I don't reverse this line of thinking I may only ever fully achieve...mediocrity!

Maybe you are like me and feel similar feelings from time to time, or maybe all the time.   I have discovered something really useful in overcoming this human tendency to flounder or give up on the difficult path to greatness.  (By the way, few people get past this point of difficulty and that's what gives greatness its true value.)


Stephen Covey captured what I am talking about when he wrote: "When we find purposes we truly wish to pursue, half-hearted commitments are not enough.  Successful quests come only through steady, paced, every day efforts--practice after practice, night after night, step after step."

The good, no great, news is that if you go boldly enough in your quest to become your best you will feel a fire start to burn in your heart that will keep you focused and steady in the inevitably difficult road ahead.  That fire of boldness will be your best weapon to conquer distraction and fear and display the necessary discipline to stay on course.

If you want to be great--define it as you like but I define it as consistently exerting effort and getting results in line with what I know to be my real potential--then you probably regularly set goals for yourself that will get you closer to your vision, or dream, of what you want to become.  On any given day we actually work on making that vision a reality.  But how many cotton-pickin' times do we feel the tug or resistance of life pull us back to the launching pad??!!

If happiness is knowing that we are getting closer to realizing our vision for ourselves--by actually doing the daily work required and overcoming obstacles then we owe it to ourselves to be disciplined.  Conversely, if a lack of discipline distracts and derails us (and it will!) then we will find ourselves fading back to the launching pad, or never lifting off at all, and we ultimately will accomplish less than we know we could.  This results in regret and sadness.

Before you (or I) feel overwhelmed at the prospect of living a constrained, no-fun, boring life of nothing but discipline remember that if you find that bold dream and commit to it you will very likely find the passion you need to overcome whatever difficult things await you on the path to achieving your greatness.
One brief but important personal example.  My wife, Wendy, has always loved to sleep.  Her body has been through the ringer over the years and she has often needed more sleep than others, like me.  However, she has always wanted to serve people in the healthcare profession.  Six months ago she became a certified phlebotomist and promptly was hired at the local hospital on an on-call basis.  This means that she now regularly gets up at 3:30AM to start her morning rounds at 4:30AM! Every morning when she wakes me up (unintentionally I'm sure ;-) with the lights or the blow dryer I am still amazed and proud that she has been able to make this hard change she needed to realize her dream of helping people.  In the context of choosing more sleep or boldly living her vision to reach her full potential the choice seems obvious but how many of us have connected with that bold vision? 

What gets you out of bed in the morning?  What convinces you to turn off the TV and get to work--whatever that work may be?  Is your vision for yourself bold enough to enable you to find the discipline needed to stay focused, to work hard and make it a reality?

Dream boldly enough and the discipline will come.  When discipline is present in our lives greatness follows!

Go be great! One disciplined day at a time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Year for the Bold...and the Resilient

Ahh New Year's Day!   What is it about this day that compels most of us to make "resolutions?"  Is it guilt from eating, spending and relaxing too much over the holidays?  Perhaps. How many of these "new" goals to eat better, exercise more, i.e. lose weight, save more money, stop smoking, be nicer, etc. will be given up on by Groundhog Day??!!  That is the fallacy of this so-called resolution cleansing process that almost always leads to disappointment and another year of roughly the same level of personal performance.

Here's my take:  I am absolutely all about reflecting on our lives and setting or re-setting goals to ensure we are on the right path and moving forward.  In fact, this weekly review is something I teach in Bridges and is absolutely key to effecting lasting change in our lives.

That said, but for the once-a-year opportunity to straddle the past year and the upcoming year New Year's Day is really just another day.  And we kid ourselves if we think that by making our goal an official "New Year's Resolution" that our ability to actually accomplish it is somehow magically enhanced. It's not.

So, in order to make the most of this tradition this time of year make, or re-make, your New Year's goals with the following keys in mind.
  1. Go bold. If you dig deep enough into your persona you will very likely find that you know what you really want to and should do this year (is it really all that different than that past ten or twenty New Year's?) but fear, self-doubt and conformity hold you back. The world gets no better when people shoot for average.  Do we encourage our kids to stop just short of the line of greatness??!! No!  We say blow right past it.  Why should it be any different for ourselves?? I contend that setting bold goals is what gets us closer to being great than nearly anything else.
  2. Write down your goals and review them weekly.  What sounds great on New Year's Day can often lose its luster--or be totally forgotten--by February or March if we don't take the time to write and review our goals regularly.  If you are serious about making change--not just talking about it--then a weekly review is a must.
  3. Feel great about the fact that you are even thinking about setting resolutions/goals.  The prospects of accomplishing your goals this new year and of becoming more than you were on December 31, 2010 are raised significantly as you put forth the optimism and energy it takes to combat the natural complacency and laziness we all face when trying to make change.   When you decide to change and actually do something about it you are entering rare air.  Good for you!
  4. Be ready for the "hardness" that comes when your goals meet the rhythm of your current life and you feel like quitting.  This very moment is when we get to choose to change and be great or do what most people do and simply stay the same.  This is where change happens and resilience--a fierce commitment to your goals--is what makes it a reality.

Last note: Bold doesn't have to mean big or crazy, it means doing things that are strategic or key to your life-long pursuit of improvement.  This pursuit happens one step at a time and without a bold goal to pursue we may find ourselves bored or tired, or both, and end up becoming less than we are capable of becoming.  My example for 2011: I want to run a marathon in less than 4 hours.  I have never even run a marathon but am sure that if I keep that as my ultimate goal and maybe even register for one this week for later this summer I will stay focused on the day-to-day training and habits that will help me accomplish this bold idea for me.

I say, go bold or don't go at all.  But if you do go bold be prepared to be resilient and literally fight through the myriad things that will try to prevent you from becoming your best.

If you are ready for change then consider this: Compared to today, it will always be harder to start making changes tomorrow, or next New Year's. Don't wait.

At the very least resolve to keep an eye on what we are doing here at Bridges and practice what we preach.

Today, indeed every day this year, could be your day.  It's up to you!