Tag Archives: Happiness

And it was sweet

In High school English, our teacher had us read dozens of Indian Animal Parables. You have probably heard the one about the blind men and the elephant. That’s a classic. There is another one I’ve always remembered that was more meaningful to me. It goes:

A man was walking in the wilderness and realized he was being stalked by a tiger. He was near a cliff with a vine hanging down to the ground, so he starting climbing down the vine, knowing the tiger could not follow. He was about halfway down with the tiger staring at him hungrily when a lion at the bottom of the cliff noticed him. The man was trapped dangling on the vine, a lion below and a tiger above. Two mice, one black and one white, started to crew through the vine above him. There was nothing else for him to hang onto. It was then that he noticed a strawberry plant growing on the cliff with one ripe strawberry on it. The man picked it and ate it and it was sweet.

Yes. That is the end of the parable. We leave the man hanging from a cliff over a lion with strawberry juice dripping down his chin. I always assumed he died shortly after the story ends but that isn’t the point of the parable. The man, even in the midst of a calamity not of his own making took the time to stop and enjoy that which was sweet. The strawberry was probably even sweeter to him knowing the doom that awaited him. While we may not find ourselves dangling from a vine with two predatory cats looking to make a meal out of us, at least not twice, we all find ourselves obligated to times and places we don’t want to be and doing things we don’t want to do. We should pull as much joy, learning and growth from those situations as we can.

I told this parable to my class the other day. My course (marketing foundations) is a required course and the majority of students aren’t marketing majors. If it were up to them, they wouldn’t take ANY marketing classes. Unfortunately for them, it is required. While I try to make it as interesting and valuable for them, I encourage them to taste the strawberry while they are there.

What’s your destination?

What is your destination?  Do you know?  Are you letting the the route dominate your mind and forgetting what’s really important. And I’m talking metaphorically.

I’m a planner normally.  Well by comparison to my wife, I fly by the seat of my pants but by most standards I’m a bit obsessive with plans.  When my wife and I vacation, we know where we are going to stay and have the hotels booked in advanced.  We know the things we want to see and I’ll have their websites, locations and hours tucked away in my files.  We have a pretty good idea of where we will eat by meal.  Once we start the vacation, many of our plans go out the window as we adapt to the flow of the vacation.  Winston Churchill once said that, “Plans are of little importance but planning is essential.” Whenever you need a good quote either Churchill or Mark Twain typically come through.

Why am I telling you about our vacation planning? Sometimes having a plan can be detrimental to achieving you goal. Sometimes you keeping working the plan even though the situation has changed. In our vacation planning, our goal isn’t to get to the top of the Washington Monument. It is to enjoy ourselves, to bond with the kids and to taking a break from our normal stressors. Making it to the top of the Washington Monument is an exciting thing but with the kids would rather just play in the pool, that may be a better path to our destination.

I’m reading, “Take off your shoes” by Ben Feder. He is telling a story of taking a sabbatical from a high power executive career. The main purpose is to reestablish family relationships and connections. On their way to their destination, Bali, they took a two week safari in Africa. Ben talks about getting anxious that the safari is delaying his family from their destination. He was getting fixated on his path, not his true goal. Bounding with his family could be done in Africa as easily as Bali.

The lesson is to not let you plans and planning to get in the way of your goals. Focus on what is important to you. Situations change and so must your plans.

Reinvent your life in four steps

Some times it takes the world slapping us in the back of the head (hopefully figuratively speaking) to realize what we are doing isn’t working anymore.  Who we’ve become isn’t who we want to be.  Losing a job, having spouse leave or just watching something amazing you’ve worked for fall apart can be scary.  It can also be an amazing period of self-realization.

So what do you do when you, the real you down deep in your psyche and not the “you” everyone else in your life sees, has become the square peg being shoved into the round hole of your life?  Realize it is less about reinventing yourself and more about reinventing your life.

1.) Do no harm – The first thing you need to do is to stop the damage, if there is any.  Sometimes we’ve been shoved so far into that round hole, damage is being done.  This could be over spending or pushing away loved ones or even just copious amounts of self-medication.  If you are doing anything that could cause lasting harm to yourself, your life or anyone else, work on that first.

2.) Make a little space – Life and habit conspire to keep us doing the same thing we’ve always done.  Change takes effort and effort takes time.  Odds are pretty good that your life is full.  Now it may not be full of what we want it to be full of but nature abhors a vacuum.  Decouple yourself from something.  Say no to a commitment and walk away.  Carve out a little time where you can work on you.

3.) Understand what you want/what you value – It is very difficult to find or create your own square hole if you don’t know what it looks like.  This can be a major step.  Talk to different people.  Read different books.  Keep a journal of things that excited you today.  Do the 20 in 20 exercise.  Make a list of things that you value and keep it handy when you are making decisions.

4.) Take action – Start small but start making changes today.  You don’t necessarily need to change cities or quit your job to start having a new life that fits you.  Remember, it is as important to stop doing things that aren’t right for you as it is to start doing things that bring meaning to your life. Progress not perfection.

What is your story about reinventing yourself?

20 in 20

I’m sure I’ve written about this tool, trick, hack before but it definitely is worth repeating. It is probably the most useful bit of homework that my clients enjoy. Well “enjoy” might not be the right word. Maybe “productive”.

Basically it is a free writing exercise with a few bounds. It can be used to push for creativity or for honesty. It can bring world peace. Ok, that might be a little hyperbole but it is a great tool that can help you push back limitations.

Go to a quiet place with few distractions. Put your cellphone on silent. Set a timer for twenty minutes. On a piece of paper (yes I recommend paper for this task) write across the top the problem you are trying to solve. Well it could be a problem or a challenge or an exploratory question. Then for the next twenty minutes write out as many responses as you can. Aim for twenty responses. To get twenty, you don’t have time to judge, edit or criticize your responses. Don’t put a lot of thought into any response because the clock is ticking. Remember you are not looking for quality responses, just a lot of them.

After the alarm rings, put the paper away without reading it. Let a day pass. Do things that allow your thoughts to flow. Really how many great ideas come to you in the shower or waking from a dream. Then go back to the paper. Read over your responses without editing or judging them. Set the timer for another twenty minutes. Try to add more responses or flesh out the responses you’ve already wrote down. At this point, you are adding, not editing. No criticism.

Let one more day pass. Go for a walk. Now reread all of your ideas. Circle anything that speaks to you. Pick the three best responses. Also pick the wildest response and the most “out there” response. Set your timer on last time. Now take those final five responses and add as much to them as you can. Include things you circled on responses that didn’t make the cut.

This is a great tool for “questions” like:

1.) What do I want to accomplish this year?

2.). Why do I hate my job?

3,) How could I get more customers?

4.) Why is my boss acting like a jerk?

5.) Why should I take this job?

6.) What would make me happy?

As you can see, it has a wide range of uses. It helps you tap into your subconscious and trap your underlying thoughts in writing.

You can do anything

You can do anything you set your mind to but you can’t do everything. Really.  The clue is right there in the sentence.  If you are trying to accomplish everything than you really haven’t set your mind to something.  You can have more than one goal but it definitely helps to be able to pick out a few top priority goals to work on.  The tricky part is how to determine what to set your mind to.  That is, what are your goals.

I’ve come across a great little game to help people prioritize their goals.  Take a pile of index cards and write out possible goals, one to a card.  Try to be very specific with each card.  Instead of writing, “make a lot more money” write “make $10,000” a year.  Adjust to your own income level.  You can put goals that cumulate on multiple cards, so you could have five “make $10,000” index cards or “lose 10 pounds” for example.  It helps to put a time limit on your goals.  For example, you might want to focus on goals you could achieve in the next year.

The goal on your goal cards, is to have, at least, twenty cards.  Feel free to overachieve.  Here are some prompts to help you fill out as many cards as you can:

Financial goals: making more money, saving for specific goals, increasing retirement, paying down debt

Health/fitness goals: losing weight, increasing ability (jogging more miles), lowering cholesterol, playing with the kids

Romantic: number of dates with spouse, getting a spouse, divorcing a spouse

Spiritual: attending church, praying, going on a retreat, taking a trip, meditating

Stress reduction: having flexibility at work, finishing nagging tasks

Growth: taking a class, reading a number of books a month

Joy: spending time with friends and family, getting a pet

There really isn’t a limit to the types of goals you put on your cards.

Once you have your cards all filled out, shuffle them face down and deal yourself five cards.  (If you really overachieved on the number of cards you wrote, you may want to start with eight cards in your hand.)  Look at that hand.  Is this the hand that equals goals for your next year?   Take a card from the deck and add it to your hand.  Now choose one card to discard.  Repeat with every card in the deck.  Your final hand is your hand of goals for the next year.

To really make it challenging, after you try it with five cards, reshuffle the entire deck (including the cards in your hand) and try doing it again but with only three cards in your hand.

What is your final hand?  Post it in the comments.  Sharing your goals can be a great motivator.

The Hard Work

Had an initial meeting with potential client this week.  My first meeting with a new client is really a session.  I don’t waste time and like to get right to work.  I mentioned, perhaps a bit too frequently, that I help but the client has to do the hard work.  He finally called me on it, what is the hard work, he asked.

To break it down, if you are trying to make a change, the hard work comes down to four areas:

1.) Brutal self honesty – most of us don’t like to be too brutally honest with ourselves all the time.  Actually, most of us don’t like to be too brutally honest with ourselves most of the time and really why should we?  We get to be less than our 100% best some of the time, a little vacation from our own personal perfection, and we don’t have to analyze all of our little lapses.  That’s ok but when you are trying to make a change, you have to be brutally honest to understand what needs to change.

2.) Making a change – our environment and our psyche are typically designed to maintain the status quo.  It is easier to just keep doing what we’ve always done than it is to make change.  Making a change and sticking to it is hard work.

3.) Taking responsibility – it is so easy to blame outside forces or other people for where we are in our lives.  It is much harder to own that where we are in our lives depends more on our efforts and reactions.

4.) Forgiving – to forgive ourselves and others can be very difficult.  Sure, we say “I forgive you” and might even mean it, but months or years later we still hold onto the pain.  To truly forgive someone (including yourself), you need to move on from the pain.

How were my houseplants doing?

I’m reading The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention by Pamela Mitchell.  I’m not that far in, so I can’t really give you a book report yet but there was one point that I felt was particularly poignant.  Pamela wrote about how someone, Stacey, was so excited about Pamela’s job at the time.  Stacey loved the idea of Pamela’s job but Stacey was focused on business class tickets to Japan on the company’s dime.

Pamela’s point was that Stacey looked at Pamela’s job as a fantasy, oh all those trips to exotic sounding places and not having to sit behind the curtain with the commoners as she did it.  Stacey didn’t ask the real questions about the job.  From The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention, “How long was I usually away?  How much of that time was spent working?  Did I enjoy reading through hundreds of pages of contracts?  When was the last time I had seen my friends?  How were my houseplants doing?”

You have to be careful about letting the fantasy, both good and bad fantasies, prevent you from making an informed decision.  The international travel sounds good but conference rooms around the world largely look the same.  When you are considering a change, stop and consider as many details about the potential reality as you can.  What is a typical day like?  What is a typical week like?  Will you be able to afford the things in life that are important to you?  Will you have the free hours to actually enjoy your life?  Will you be able to plan and make commitments?  Should your houseplants all be plastic?

Common areas to consider:

1.) Financial – this is an obvious one but be sure to consider both short term and longer term goals

2.) Consistency – there is no right answer here.  It comes down to whether you like to always live without a plan on one end of the spectrum or to have predictability.  If you are planning on taking classes, volunteering for your kids or even having Tuesday night bowling league, a lifestyle that requires you to travel at the drop of a hat.

3.) Variety – Even if you can go bowling every Tuesday, does the change give you enough of the spice of life to keep you engaged for the long term.

4.) Growth potential – what you are considering may seem perfect for you today but what about next year?  What about ten years from now?  Does this change launch you in the direction that you want to go?

5.) Authority – as a manager of mine told me years ago, what ever role you have must either have the authority to fulfill the responsibility of the job or the person you work for must have that authority.  If the authority necessary for you to succeed is more than one level away from you, than you probably won’t succeed.

6.) Flexibility – if you really need to drop everything and disappear for an afternoon, can you?  Can you choose which task needs to get done in what order?