Win the day!

Buckets, lines and outcomes.

Recently, my youngest son and I were having a conversation. Okay, it was less a conversation and more a mini lecture. Hey, he’s just turned eighteen, so I don’t have many more opportunities to lecture him, so I have to take them when they show up. Anyway, the conversation developed from a simple question, “Do you want to come and do a workout with me?” His answer was more a grunt than real words, and it communicated an idea of, “Not particularly, father dear. I have lots of other things to do that require me to sit in front of my computer screen for the next four hours, much like I have the entire day.”

That’s when the lecture kicked in.

Now, I’m not going to replay the lecture blow by blow, but as I talked at and with him, I started to realize that what I was saying to him is something that every human being on the planet should hear at some point or another. So I decided that the next blog post would contain the insights from that interaction. So here they are.

You trade a day of your life, 24 hours, for the outcomes of the day. You either move forward or move backward in each facet of life, a little bit at a time. Keep in mind, we will all be busy. The twenty four hours will be filled with something, that isn’t the question. The question is whether or not the things we are filling our days with will help us make progress or not.

Imagine that each facet of life had two buckets. One bucket was for making progress. The other was for not making progress. Simple right? Now, imagine if each day, you had six coins, one for each facet of life (Spiritual, Family, Business, Physical, Mental/Emotional, Social). You are only guaranteed the coins for today; you can’t save them. Each coin has to be put in a bucket. Either you make progress in each facet, or you don’t.

Now it doesn’t take hours to make progress in each facet. Sometimes it takes as little as fifteen minutes to make progress. But making progress is always intentional. It won’t happen by accident. You have to choose to take action that leads in the direction of growth, of Making Progress. If you don’t, the coin automatically goes in the bucket for Not Making Progress.

Now visualize that the buckets have lines on them, and the lines are labeled. On the Making Progress bucket, they would be labeled with desirable outcomes, like gaining confidence, or improved muscle tone, or a stronger sense of connection to the universe. Likewise, on the Not Making Progress bucket, this lines are labeled with outcomes that are undesirable, like self doubt, or heart disease, or a sense of isolation. The challenge is that we can’t see how close we are to any of the marks in advance. We have to fill the bucket without knowing when those benefits will be realized, just that they are there. Positive and negative outcomes, they creep up on us, a little at a time, all based on the small, almost insignificant choices of the day.

During my chat with my son, this is where I started to get emotional.

I told him that the way you win is by doing what needs to be done to get the positive outcomes each day. I told him that this is what I mean when I talk about Winning the Day. And the more days we win, the more likely we will have desirable outcomes in our lives.

Winning the day, each and every day, is hard. Some days, we win in all the facets. Other days, we are lucky to win in a single facet. But the effects are cumulative. So working each and every day to win is critical.

That’s what I told my son.

He worked out with me.

And tonight, to win the day, I wrote this blog post.

And tomorrow, we start all over again. And so do you. So I guess the big question is, what are you going to do to Win the Day?

To Critique or Cultivate, that is the question!

Okay, I know starting a post with a rip off of a famous Shakespearean line may seem a bit presumptuous, but I hope you will take a moment to “hear” me out. Because I think this is the most important question leaders of today must answer.
Normally this blog is dedicated to questions of style and substance, so why the big switch to leadership? Simply put, in my mind, all good leaders throughout history have been people of substance and style, people who wanted to make sure the best action was taken in a way that was uniquely personal. So, today we talk leadership and the question, critique or cultivate.
Borrowing fr my days in forensics, many years ago, let me start with some definitions.
To Critique something is to analyze it, to break it down into it’s parts and assign a judgement or value to each of those parts. Strong or weak, compelling or common place, the process of critique is to find out what is useful and cull out what is useless.
Cultivating something may seem to be very similar. For instance, when we talk about cultivating a crop, we will analyse what the crop needs (weaknesses) and provide those. We will seek to leverage natural appearing advantages (strengths) in order to maximize the yield. We then remove weeds or poor performing branches or plants in order to further maximize the yield.
Critique or cultivate, both seem quite similar at first glance.
But the first glance rarely tells the full story and in this case, the full story is about the process.
When we critique something, whether it be a performance or a work of art or even a skill demonstration, the focus is on the outcomes. Did you deliver on the expectation or not, simple as that. There is little if any thought given to what has come before or what will come after. Said another way, critique is something we do for a discreet moment in time.
Cultivating is very different. When we cultivate something we take specific action in order to promote future growth and development. We may still make an assessment as to whether or not desires expectations were met at this moment in time, but the focus is not the moment, it is future moments, future performance, future mastery that is forefront in the mind.
Cultivation and critique are both tools, techniques which can and should be employed with skill and only after thoughtful selection. If one cannot critique, valuable opportunities for fine tuning may be lost in the efforts to encourage future growth and improvements. If one cannot cultivate, the learner or follower may collapse under the burdens of too much corrective information and not enough recognition of improvement made.
To Critique or Cultivate? The answer to the question that forms the title of this post is best answered by asking a second question; namely, what is most necessary at this moment for the growth of the one receiving our information?
In my own experience, I rarely use critique alone. Critique when used is used as a part of the cultivation process. The only time that critique is used alone is when the individual approaches a mastery test. If the outcome is a clear “yes” or “no” event, critique by itself may be called for. However, in my experience, even such tests can be followed later by a debrief session where the critique is employed as a cultivation tool, guiding the next steps along the path to mastery.
With followers, learners, and children, more cultivation is likely a better direction. At ajudicated events, performance reviews and annual evaluations, critique may be called for. The person of style and substance will thoughtfully choose the best approach for the outcome at hand.

Big changes

Today I am undergoing a big change in my life. It is a change that I have anticipated, researched, prepared for, scheduled, postponed and, finally, rescheduled and moved up.
Some reading this may immediately be wondering what kind of change I am talking about. I’m not going tonahare that today, because this post isn’t about the actual change, but about some of the things that we each deal with as we contemplate and undergo big changes.
Last night, going to bed, I thought about the routines that would change for me in less than 24 hours. Simple routines that has been part of my life for the past 40 years or more would be ending. New ones will form, to be sure, but 4 decades of predictability will disappear in a few seconds.
That can be scary and unsettling and exhileratiing and exciting, all at the same time. At least it was for me.
As the morning moved from dark to Dawn to sunrise, I found myself thinking about how many other daily routines may be impacted. Little choices, barely worth a moment’s contemplation, are about to be rendered completely unnecessary. Habits that I don’t even think about will become things I used to do.
Such is life!
We encounter choices every day, some mundane and some momentous. Perhaps the surest way of determining which is which is by assessing how profoundly the choice will impact the other routines of life.
Through that lens, today will be quite momentous indeed.
But another way to evaluate them might be on how radically the choices and events alter our ability to maintain the relationships and values that have been established along the way.
Viewed that way, today’s change is a really insignificant thing.
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by men and women of style and substance is clearly identifying the difference between something being momentous and mundane.
Here’s hoping we all learn to be wise in those moments

The Grind and the Glory

Recently while playing games with my teenage children, I heard them talk about “the grind.” At the time, I thought that they were referring to the day-in-day-out workaday grind that is so much a part of adult life. I was about to ask, ” When did you too become so aware of adult concerns?”

Little did I realize, at that particular moment, that grinding is now a term that has a specific connotation in the video game world. It means going through the same steps over and over, whether beating repetitive puzzles or fighting endless low powered enemies, in order to become powerful enough to challenge higher level puzzles or enemies. (For the uninitiated, these higher levels or badies are called Boss levels, which gives rise to a whole different conversation that may come up some time in the future.)
As we got to talking about this, and as I started thinking about the similarity to the way I had used the term, I became more than a little refelctive. I began thinking about the way that nearly everything in life can be associated with the grind and the glory. And as I thought more and more on this, the more encouraged I became.
For instance, I am currently involved in training for a major bike event that will take place here in Utah and Wyoming at the end of the summer. For me, this will be a 200 plus mile relay to be completed from sun up to sun down on one Saturday in September. I’m really looking forward to it, but training for it is challenging. There is a lot of climbing on this event, and I’m not a good climber. As a result, much of my training has been (and will continue to be) spent grinding out climbs. But at the end of every climb is the glory of the descent. Fast, fun and exhileratiing, the descent is the reward for having made the climb, the glory at the end if the grind.
I also thought about my career. Early in my career, I was confident that my knowledge gained from university classes and a few professional magazines was going to be in high demand. Little did I realize at the time that there was far more to being an influencer, leader and successful employee than merely good information. There is also trust, reputation, demonstrated expertise and demonstrated results at increasing levels of responsibility. These characteristics, along with a host of others, are only developed over time, slowly, by making day-in-day-out contributions to an enterprise. In other words, grind before glory yet again.
And this principle, grind before glory, appies in relationships too. For instance, every really wonderful marriage, friendship or even long term professional relationship, has had it’s share of ups and downs. And quite frankly, it’s in the downs that the strength of the relationship is forged. When a newly married couple has their first fight, the way they handle it sets the tone for the rest of the marriage. Will they separate and grind it out separately? If so, it is unlikely that they will find glory together. But if they can find a way to grind it out together, however that looks for each couple, then the expected glory of long and beautiful marriage can and will show up.
Any man or woman who wisely recognizes this principle as one of the sure ingredients to developing a life of style and substance will embrace the grind, will commit to every moment of the grind with passion and patience. And in so doing, they place themselves firmly on the path to glory.
Go forth and conquer!

5 Reasons I’m Glad I Set a Goal That Scares Me!

Several years ago, I set a goal to complete a 200 mile bicycle road race. At the time I set the goal, I hadn’t even cycled more than 100 miles in a month, but I said to myself, “Yeah, I think I could do that.” I tentatively set the goal to complete this monster event in the summer of my fiftieth year.

That’s this summer!

Now, in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about this for a long time. I have been training somewhat consistently for several years now. I am probably more fit today than I was 20 years ago. But still this monster goal seemed undoable.

But I had committed to it, right? So I started to get ready. I’m well on my way, and while there are likely going to be more posts about this event, I thought I would take a few moments to share a few insights I have had at the beginning of the process.

1 – I prioritize my time better. When I have a goal in mind, I will always find ways to work it into my daily life. The bigger the goal, the more effort and time it will take, and the more I have to be thoughtful about making time in my life to accomplish it.

2 – The goal is a puzzle to solve. When I start looking at the goal like this one, I start setting smaller goals, training objectives, and schedules. In this way, I am forced to get intentional about planning and preparing, and not just the obvious factors of training. There are logistics to be handled and planned for, travel and time off to be arranged, and all kinds of various events to be planned around. Solving puzzles like these can help keep the brain active, which is immensely valuable, especially as we age.

3 – It helps me clarify the other important things in my life. When I started thinking about all of the training that I would have to do for the event, I started to realize how much of a toll this event would take on my family and other activities as well. I have to be honest, I wanted to accomplish the goal of competing in the event, but I didn’t want to put my family on hold completely for 4-6 months. Clarifying that, I inquired with my family and some friends and found a relay option for the event. Doing it this way, I can accomplish the big goal, but I got a chance to remind myself of how important the other facets are in my life, and that I needed to find a way to balance them all.

4 – I had to be public. Small goals require small commitment and small efforts. As a result, we could complete them and sometimes no one else even knows we did anything. With this goal, especially when I decided to pursue the relay option, I had to put myself out there and try to form a team. That meant telling people, lots of people, in the hopes of finding three others who would be willing to join me. I found them, and now we are all committed in very public ways to people around us.

5 – I have something to look forward to. I remember reading an article some time ago, about the effect on people’s moods when they look forward to a vacation. Everything is handled better, life seems less depressing, and generally people are more optimistic about the difficulties they face when there is something that they are looking forward to. I am finding that the same thing is true with this bike event in my life. Having this thing to look forward to, and all of the little milestones along the way, has helped me discover new energy and enthusiasm that had been waning a bit over the last several months.

Of course, now the real work starts. We are just under four months from the big day, and I have quite a bit of training to do to make sure I am event ready. But that is a post for another day.

If you are feeling like you don’t have the energy or enthusiasm in your life that you wish you had, I suggest you find a goal that (in your opinion) scares you a little bit. Go out on a limb, commit yourself to it, be public, and see if the act of working toward something doesn’t bring you a measure of rejunivation!

Go forth and conquer!

Milestones and trail markers: 5 ways to beat the birthday blues

I began my blogging experience a few years ago around my daughter’s birthday. The post I wrote at that time was reflective, emotional and perhaps more than a little self indulgent. I was thinking about all of the things that had transpired in her young life, about the adventures we had shared and about all of the adventures I was anticipating to come.

This year, I turned 50. As I contemplated my milestone and the opportunity to commemorate it with it’s own blog post, I found myself again becoming reflective and emotional, but I was trying to avoid the self indulgence. Instead, it was a little self persecutorial.

When I was in my early 20’s, I really thought that my life would be more meteoric than mundane. I had heard people tell me that I had potential and try to encourage me to use my time and talents to further their objectives. As a result, I had a lot of mementos and accomplishments in things that mattered to others, but never really seemed to rise to the level that I had expected of myself. And now, at 50, I found myself wondering whether or not all of that was time wasted.

Needless to say, the birthday was a mixed bag.

I celebrated with friends and family, and appreciated the time I shared. It was delightful. But nagging in the back of my mind was the thought that I had missed out on things that were really important. I thought if people near my age, some younger, and couldn’t help but compare what I had done (or not done) with what those people had accomplished.

And as often happens, I came up wanting.

At least initially.

It was then that I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was measuring myself against. We’ve all done this. We compare ourselves to others, to their social media posts, to their good fortune, to their accomplishments, to all of the visible things that they choose to put on display. We do this without ever really thinking about the negative aspects of their lives that are surely there. They are there because everyone struggles with negatives. It’s just part of human life.

So I started to evaluate my birthday not so much in terms of milestones on the way to the goals that I hadn’t accomplished but according to the trailmarkers that helped me clarify the path that I was on. Here are the types of trailmarkers that I am choosing to focus on:

What is the quality of my significant relationships like? Let’s be clear, I’m not the perfect husband or father. Let’s be honest, no one can claim the title of perfect. But as a milestone, my perfection of perfect far outstripped the reality of my life in this facet. Until I asked myself, “Do my grown kids still come by the house? Do they make time to spend with me? Do my kids who are still at home actively try to avoid spending time with me? Are they willing to just go for a drive when I ask, to run errands? Does my wife welcome my company when she is just driving to the store?” The answer to all of these questions were postive! And compared to what things could be like, this was all moving in a good direction. Positive trailmarker 1, check!

What has been my experience with my career? I have to be honest, I expected to be making a lot more money by now. I expected to be in a more glamorous position, to be enjoying a level of influence within my company and within my industry that far exceeds what my reality is. But re-examining the question, I was again impressed by the positive direction that things were taking. I have remained employed in the same organization when many people were let go. I have expanded my position and my influence within the organization, helping it to continue to make strides toward achieving goals and initiatives. And in other ways, I am helping people inside and outside of my company to be more successful in their careers.

What has been my experience with my physical facet? I have never won a Super Bowl, a world championship in anything, or even anything more prestigious physically than a local bike race, and even that I have only done once. But again, a shift of focus shows a very different perspective. I have completed multiple 100 mile rides, a marathon, two half marathons, multiple 5 and 10 K races and more than a few Obstacle Course Races, like Spartan. I am controlling my diabetes wisely, and have good endurance and flexibility. I can still play golf with one of my sons, and overall, I’m in great health, something that many of my peers struggle with.

How are my hobbies? I write, I sing and perform. These are my hobbies. I also have a YouTube channel and participate as a regular contributor for a podcast. None of these are changing the world, but in all of them, I acquit myself well. I sing with a fairly well known choir, people are happy to see me at auditions. I have a few subscribers for both this blog and my channel and our podcast just won an award this past year. Overall, these may not be things that movies are made of, but I’m busy doing things I enjoy for people who enjoy what I do. I think that trailmarker is pretty clearly pointing toward success and happiness.

How’s my spiritual life? I’m certainly not perfect, I’m not even sure I qualify as holy. But I am certainly striving for a measure of calm and connectedness to the universe and others that seems to bring me joy. I treat people with kindness, finding things about them that I can genuinely appreciate, and I express that appreciation. I have a spiritual discipline that brings me joy and peace, and I follow it well more days than not. That is a pretty clear trailmarker toward peace and happiness.

So, after taking careful stock of what I have done, it seems that my trailmarkers are indicating that I’m heading in a pretty good direction.

I wish the same for you! Go forth and conquer!

So, you want to date my daughter?

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am a father.  I have five children, ranging in ages from 25 (as of yesterday) to 14 (turning 15 in December of this year).  Two girls bracket three boys, and while they are far from done, I have to admit that being a dad to these wonderful young people has been the most amazing opportunity of my life.  They are fun, funny, gracious, fiesty, energetic, thoughtful, frustrating, loving, supportive, challenging, and so many other things!  I cannot imagine my life without them in it, each and every one of them.
Right now, I am in that place where my daughter is becoming an independent young woman.  And she is dating young men.  And I’m trying to learn how to be cool with all of this, to be calm and accepting and trusting.
And I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job.
Take yesterday.  My daughter brought over the young man she is dating.  On her birthday.  Wow.  It was a big deal for me, much bigger than I thought it was going to be.
The whole family spent the afternoon playing some games and walking around.  Then we prepared and had a nice dinner, built a fire in the back yard, and did the cake and presents thing that is obligatory for birthdays.  And through it all, I was a little stand-offish.
Part of it probably came from not feeling well.  I had some kind of a stomach bug that was really playing havoc with me, and the week had been particularly exhausting, so I really could have used some down time.
But another part of it probably came from my realizing that I may not have many more of these events  where I am the primary man in my daughter’s life.  And that has made me a little more pensive, a little more thoughtful.
When my daughter was younger, and when boys would come by the house to take her out, I made sure to give my version of the “Dad speech.”  Somewhere I may document that later (I think the one I give is a good one!) but I have to admit, I had no desire to go through that yesterday.
Unfortunately, as a result, I didn’t say much at all.
I listened.  I watched.  I tried to be aware.
It was very hard, harder than I thought it would be.  And like I said, I don’t think I did a very good job.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this young man.  And it is possible that we may see other young men in the future.  With that in mind, I want to put down a couple of ideas that have been running around my head that a young man ought to know.
If you are going to date my daughter you have to know that we both feel affection for her.  However, while the affection you may feel for her is new and fresh, the affection I feel for her is old and deep and powerful beyond anything you know. As you may desire to protect her and make her happy, I feel the same things only ten times over, maybe more.  As you are fascinated by her laugh and smile, I remember them growing from year to year, becoming more and more individualized and filled with layers of subtlety and insight.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am watching you.  I am watching not just how you treat her, but how you treat others.  How you treat her brothers and sisters.  How you treat her mother.  I am watching to better understand you, to get a sense of how you handle new situations and new people.  My daughter may be familiar with these things, but I’m not.  And I need to know more about you than a short first impression might offer.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am trying to figure out how to balance the two people she is.  When I see her, I see my little girl who needed me to sing her to sleep and chase away the monsters in her closet at the same time that I see a young, confident woman getting ready to make her place in the world.  Seeing her this way makes me more wary, more cautious, and perhaps a little harder to get to know.  After all, you only see one part of who she is.
If you are going to date my daughter you should probably remember that it’s really hard for a daddy to let go of a daughter.  There are all kinds of reasons why.  Some of them I have shared here.  Some I probably won’t ever share.  But it’s hard.  So please forgive me if it takes me a little longer to let go than you might think it should.  You aren’t a daddy yet.
But one day, you just might be.
And then, you’ll understand what it has meant for me to watch you date my daughter.
Go forth and conquer.