Hold the Salt

Business lore cannot decide who it wants to attribute the “salt test” to. Some say Thomas Edison, others Henry Ford, not to mention household names like General MacArthur and a host of others.

What is the “salt test” anyway? Essentially, the salt test was a simple method devised to examine the character and personality of a potential employee.

It looks like this… Henry Ford takes you out to dinner, a small price to pay since you’ve applied for a key position in the company. Ol’ Henry keeps an eagle eye on you as the server delivers your requested meal. Your mouth waters as you reach for the salt. (NO! DON’T DO IT!) You proceed to smother your food in that all white ionic compound otherwise known as common table salt. You take a taste. Mr. Ford asks how your food is. You smile and provide enthusiastic feedback, “Delicious!”

You continue your attempt to dazzle. But, it’s too late. You’ve forfeited the job.

Henry Ford knows that premature salt application would indicate a person’s narrow thinking and inability to analyze fresh data. The action might also show a lack of appreciation for the host or a shortage of trust in the cook’s ability.

THE CHALLENGE: Leave the salt alone! Examine your self-talk. Do you season your language with negativity?

“I can’t”

“I’m too”

“Why bother?”

“I’ll never”

How much of this negative dialogue acts as premature seasoning?

When you meet people do you really listen? Do you learn their name? Do you care about what they are saying? Or, are you projecting your own judgements upon them?

As you go throughout the day, pay attention to how often a limited view is imposed on yourself or others. You may be surprised at the frequency at which we season our situations prematurely.

Shoot Blanks

What do most (if not all) books have in common?  A blank page defiled by the words “this page intentionally left blank.”

As if failure to declare this intention would result in a lawsuit.  But who really cares in the first place?

I’ve bookmarked, color coded, tabbed, and dog eared countless pages. But that blank page always goes without attention.  Maybe there is more to

be told on that singular page than any paragragraph in any book.  At least

one beckoning message is for us to “leave room.”

Our lives are filled with obligations and we saturate every crevice of every hour with trivial distractions! I bet one thing they are not filled with is bordom. Think about it, when was the last time you were genuinely bored? I’m not suggesting our time should be idled away. But it is worth asking, have we left any blank space – with intent?

“Boredom is good when in a creative rut, often you will find gift wrapped answers.” -Stephen King

THE CHALLENGE:  How many minutes of your day are intentionally left blank? No seriously, count them up.  Do you leave any room to just sit and think? Do you leave enough white space to find those gift wrapped answers? I dare you to stop reading this, unplug, and go experience boredom for a few minutes. String together some blank pages and note the tremendous influence it yields on the remainder of your “book.”

Survive the Ground

Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season contained a solid lesson.  Steelers hosted the Patriots and it came down to the wire.  Great games are always decided by a key play or two and this one was no different.  With less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Steelers’ tight end (Jesse James) caught what appeared to be a touchdown to secure the win.  Instead…they lost.

The NFL rulebook states that if a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he “must maintain control of the ball until afterhis initial contact with the ground.”  During the lengthy official review, it was deemed evident that James did not “survive the ground” and the touchdown was overturned.  Game over.

Survive the Ground

The sequence of these events reminded me of our goals and resolutions.  I started 2017 with some clear goals that would demand a lot of attention.  While some goals were achieved, others were virtually stillborn.

The first obstacle struck early in the year and I dropped the ball.  I didn’t anticipate variables like the Grim Reaper, traveling, moving, or new goals to surface along the way.  Of course, these are all excuses.  Excuses make the ball pop out.

“Good resolutions are a pleasant crop to sow. The seed springs up so readily, and the blossoms open so soon with such a brave show, especially at first. But when the time of flowers has passed, what as to the fruit?”

THE CHALLENGE:  A new year is upon us.  What do you intend to achieve?  Be a season ticket holder to the game of life.  This game is measured in years with no offseason and the stakes are much higher than a measly sporting event.  Remember, opposition will be knocking at your door.  Like it or not, you will make contact with the turf.  It is not enough to simply dream a goal, hope a goal, or even write down a goal.  You must internalize it.  It must excite you, you must dream about it, you must long for it… that is of course if you want to survive the ground.


Illustration by Ashley Goodall


“A New Car!” Part-2

Click here for part-1.

HondaE

In 2004 I purchased (via a whole lot of debt) a Honda Element. Unfortunately, the salesman was brand new to the job. He told me I could get the car in blue, that it was located on another lot – he lied! After hours at the dealership and well into the paperwork I saw the word “green” designating the vehicle’s color. I questioned the sales rep. “I thought you said I was getting blue?” He told me that he was mistaken and that green was the only color available. I was extremely disappointed. Still, I signed on the dotted line. Why?

I was impatient. I had already decided in my mind that I was driving away in the car that I wanted. I envisioned “a boy and his dog” taking tons of camping and road trips, going to the beach and hauling my bike around.

hondaSurf

Unfortunately, just like the salesman, my story was a lie. I rehomed my dog, rarely went camping, and didn’t take a single road trip (at least no trip that couldn’t have been achieved in the vehicle I traded in). I took a job that required lots of highway travel. This accrued many unnecessary miles and “swilled” (to drink something greedily or to excess; guzzle) lots of gas (try flying an airplane shaped like a toaster and see how long you remain airborne).

It didn’t take long for the Honda to receive many battle scars – from intentional scratches, induced by delinquents, to rocks cracking the windshield, to bad drivers (not that I am blameless, for I punctured the rear bumper last year).

In any event, the car got old and dirty and I was comfortable with this – too comfortable. While I firmly believe in being humble and modest as to material possessions, I also believe in cleanliness and good order. I believe in quality craftsmanship and maintenance. Cleaning out my car for the last time caused me to realize that I had been toting around “junk” for years! This was an embarrassing moment of self-awareness and a catalyst for change. Do I really need a map in my car? Do I really need a small fire extinguisher? Do I really need that extra plastic spoon or highlighter? Do I need floss in my glove box? When do I ever use these things?

It was a fantastic vehicle for its consistent performance and reliability and I recommend Honda to anyone. I abandoned my plan to drive her until the wheels fell off and made the call to take a preemptive strike as a preventative measure. For me, she represented something I didn’t really want from the beginning and now that she was showing signs of fatigue it was time to spend money either way.

I chose a new car, new make, new model, new mode of power – electricity. (I’m sure you can guess the generic questions I get.)

Here are three things you should know about electric cars:

(1)  They are scary smooth. Test drive one of these and you are likely to get hooked. They are quiet…reeeeaaaallllyyy quiet. After three days I still have trouble telling if it is running. It is truly a delight to drive. The immediate response time is amazing – no more waiting for combustion! If you prefer to quickly scoot around Sunday drivers this technology will be most satisfying.

(2)  If you drive your vehicle until the gas tank is on empty, then this is definitely not the type of car for you. If you forget to charge your phone at night, don’t even think about electric. You will want to plug your car in every day just like a phone. The benefit of fuel savings will be replaced with the “burden” of charging. All the time you save NOT doing oil changes will be spent at charging stations.

(3) Don’t expect to travel across the country. In fact, don’t expect to go far at all – in some cases that might mean the next big city. Your potential distance will be cut to a small fraction of what it is now. If you like to “get up and go” with no aim or forethought….you guessed it, not the car for you. (Unless of course, you are willing to trade a mortgage for a Tesla, which offers respectable mileage per charge). There are plenty of charging stations in the urban environments but if the back country is your thing – good luck.

(4)  It’s good for the environment (and when I say environment I mean lungs – nothing worse than a face full of exhaust when I’m out for a run). I happen to believe that climate change is not the senior ranking threat facing mankind. But, since I’m in a position to contribute to a positive movement, why not?

Number three listed above will take some getting used to. But I’m okay with that. I stopped telling myself a lie that I need a car to travel to “who knows where”. I hate traffic. I go to work and come home and do my thing. I go down to the beach for my run and have a couple of nature spots to sit and read or reflect. That’s all I need. While writing this, my wife (ironically) told me that she’s sitting in traffic. Why is there traffic?  Because there is a whole society on four wheels without limitations. Have you ever stopped to think how your life would change if we all had to revert to horseback? Life as we know it would be flipped upside down.

THE CHALLENGE:  What lies do you tell yourself? Do you drive a big truck imagining that you will spend most of your time on muddy roads shooting at wildlife? Do you drive a fancy sports car thinking that you will pick up a bunch of “chicks” (or dudes – more on that word later)? Do you sink a bunch of money into a car so you can “eventually” race it? Is your garage occupied with a fixer-upper that you will “one day” make look brand new?

If you do what you love, great! If not, stop believing your own false narrative. This applies to everything, not just cars. Get your story straight, then get your surroundings straight.

Images tactically acquired from Car Buzz

New Questions for Old Shoes

An old pair of sneakers were discarded in a small wastebasket at work.  Anytime someone popped their head around the cubicle they’d ask my neighbor, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  The question pickpocketed productivity since it only had one (glaringly obvious) answer.  I was reminded of how BAD we are at asking questions and connecting socially.

shoes

The intent, I understand.  We use the first accessible variant as a “way in”.  We want to break the ice with questions about a black eye, hickie, cast, flat tire, divorce etc.  There is nothing wrong with using the obvious bridge to cross the moat…except for the fact that our abundantly hollow question may be agonizingly unpleasant to the recipient.  “Hey, you broke your arm?”  “How’d you get that black eye?”  “I heard you are pregnant?”

THE CHALLENGE:  If you ever feel the need to question the obvious as a means of kindling a conversation, try to come up with a new angle.  Instead of, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  You might consider something like:

(1) What was the best adventure you’ve ever had in these shoes?
(2) How many pairs of shoes do you own?  What do you think the average is for most people in America?
(3) Tell me about the day you purchased those sneakers?  How much did you pay?  Was there an alternate brand or style?  What was the deciding factor?
(4) How much would you give me if I can sell these on eBay?
(5) If these shoes could talk, what would they say?

You get the idea.  Putting a twist on the “obvious question” demonstrates that you are unlike the previous 99 people who just asked the same exact thing.  This practice will lead to more meaningful conversations and rich relationships.

For more ideas about asking the right questions, you might enjoy this post.

Photo by Tom

Have You Found Waldo Yet?

In a recent post, I wrote about how quick we are to give up on riddles.  You can check it out here.  Let’s take another look at this, maybe from a different angle.

Think of someone who has what you want.  It can be a talent, skill, wealth, knowledge, travel, charisma etc.  Let’s presume you approach this person and ask them for their entire blueprint to success by saying, “Hey – I want what you have and I’m here for the taking.  I want it all!”  What type of response would you get?  You might get a handshake, or you might get a smack in the face.  What you WON’T get is 100% of the knowledge (at least not right away).  In fact, it doesn’t matter how you approach them – there is no shortcut to experience.

Thankfully, most people are willing to share at least a little SOMETHING.  Which brings me to today’s point.  Find Waldo.

waldo

Just like riddles, Waldo can be a royal pain in the butt.  You have to scan the page deliberately.  No being lazy.  No shortcuts.  As a child what did you do?  What do most children do?

ANSWER: “Mom, Dad…I can’t find Waldo.  Can you give me a hint?”

For kids, this works for everything.  They understand you won’t tell them what Santa Clause is bringing (not without a fight anyway).  So, they just ask for a hint.

They know you won’t solve their homework problem, so they ask for a hint.

You won’t tell them the surprise movie you have in store, so they ask for a hint.

If they can’t “solve the riddle” with a big hint, they’ll ask for a smaller one.  If that information is too obscure, they’ll ask for another hint, and another, and another.


THE CHALLENGE:  Be a kid again.  Ask for a hint.  Don’t be annoying, but don’t give up on something that came so naturally to you as a youngster.  Maybe you’d like to remember someone’s name, do a little work for it, ask them for a hint.

Perhaps you want a raise, maybe you can ask something like, “I would like to put myself in a position to get a raise next quarter.  Can you give me a hint as to how I can achieve this?”

Maybe you’re mad at God or simply impatient, instead of asking for the crystal ball try asking for a hint.

Asking for hints is a great nonconfrontational approach to reach others and will give you great leverage when used properly.  Now go find YOUR Waldo!

Squirrel Cheeks

My grandad was a bird watcher, as am I.  My feeder attracts a ton of critters.  It’s like an oasis in the desert.  Our most common “beakless” visitor is the squirrel.

I noticed these little screwballs will stuff their cheeks for over an hour and then bury their treasure just a few feet away from the collection point.  I’m sure they have a good reason, but for today’s application – let’s call that behavior “shortsighted” or “senseless.”

squirrel

Don’t get me wrong, I love squirrels and we are a lot like them.  We fill up on knowledge and then data dump the first chance we get.  We scarcely get a few feet away from the fountain of knowledge and it is forgotten or esteemed as trash.  This is not even taking into account the amount of physical waste we produce (or the number of selfies that are taken to update profile pictures like a revolving door).  All this waste is like food in the squirrel’s mouth, there one minute and buried the next.  Our so-called “needs” are assuredly short lived!

But I digress, I’m not writing to save the planet.  I’m writing to save me and you from mediocrity.  I’m writing to increase self-awareness and turn stagnancy into motion, and procrastination into progression.  So…go ahead…be a squirrel!  Stuff your cheeks with life’s goodness, but do something with it!  Use it to fight for the starting job, but unlike the four legged fur balls, don’t drop your nuts!

Rather than take 10 photos today, go through 10 old ones, the ones you’ve already buried.  Are you ever going to “eat” those pictures?  If they are not in a frame or scrap book by now, will they ever be?  What real purpose are they serving?

Instead of buying a new book, read an old book.  A squirrel’s buried acorn may produce an oak tree, but the book on your shelf will only grow a layer of dust if you do not digest it.  Remember, everything you own – owns you!

“Facts are to the mind
what food is to the body.
On the due digestion
of the former
depend the strength
and wisdom of the one,
just as vigor and health
depend on the other.”

THE CHALLENGE: Pictured above is a small Moleskine notebook that I carry with me. It’s a collection of the best ideas and quotes that I’ve harvested as a result of diligent effort throughout the year.  It would be very easy to never read my notes.  It would be no sweat to set it on the shelf and crack it open only when boredom strikes.  Instead, I refer to it every day.  I keep it handy in digital format for a quick search when needed.  I used an audio recorder and put it into MP3 format.  Occasionally I display quotes inside my house or on dry erase boards.  Basically, I’m trying very hard to not “bury” this “cheek full” of wisdom.

You can do this too.  It can be school work, a family journal, professional knowledge, anything you need to place more focus on.  If you know there is some knowledge you undervalue, give this idea hack a try.  I speak from experience when I tell you that this action will increase your personal gratification.

Take Ownership of Your Stewardship

Do you remember bunny’s dilemma? (You can read about it here)  That concept discusses the need to look both ways.  Yesterday, I built upon this concept with Three Lessons From Neil Armstrong adding the need to look up.  Today I want to talk about looking down.

In 2009 I was driving to work where my ship had been in drydock for a few months. I had the morning commute down to a science.  It was like clockwork and I was on autopilot.  I left the house at the same time every morning, drove the same route, and even parked on the same street.

One morning while turning right onto the final street where I normally park, I heard an unusual thump at the rear passenger window.  I thought it was a ball or a bird.  It didn’t feel like much. Turned out to be a motorcyclist, a Senior Chief in the U.S. Navy.  Even though I believed he was at fault – you can imagine how I felt as a young Sailor.

In 2011 we were stationed at the same command.  Little did I know that we would brush shoulders again.  As soon as he saw me he said, “Hey everyone, this is the guy that hit me on my motorcycle!”  We laughed and parted ways.  I didn’t see him again for almost a year.

When we did cross paths again, he taught me a simple lesson that has had a profound effect on me.  I was coming back from physical training and he was leaving for the day. We were walking different directions in a high traffic area.  I got the dreaded, “Hey SHIPMATE – come here!”  He pointed down to a piece of trash on the ground and asked, “You’re going to pick that up right?  I know you saw it!”

He was wrong.  I didn’t see it.  I wasn’t looking down and even if I had been, I wasn’t tuned in to keeping an eye out for trash.  I understood his point though and picked up the trash without question.  As we say in the Navy, “I carried on smartly.”

I will ever be grateful for his willingness to teach me.  He could have very easily ignored the trash as well as me, “the guy who’s car was in the way of his motorcycle.” Instead, he gave me a taste of REAL deckplate leadership.  The lesson stuck with me and to this day, I often pick up trash just because it’s in front of me.

THE CHALLENGE:

(1) Look down!  There is too much laziness and passivity when it comes to trash.  We tend to think it’s someone else’s job.  Maybe so, but try it out.  I’m not asking you to put on an orange vest and walk down the highway, but if you pass over some rubbish and there is a trash can nearby – toss it.  It’s an easy task that will make you feel good.  Take pride in your surroundings.  Take ownership of your stewardship.

(2) There are always difficult lessons that need to be taught.  These opportunities are never convenient.  You run the risk of offending or embarrassing others.  But give it a try. When that lesson finally does sink in with someone you will influence them forever and may add tremendous value to society.

 

Photo by Jes

Jolt Revolt

I wasn’t much of a handyman in my first house. Some things I had to learn the hard way, barely evading death or serious injury.  One such experience came when I decided to remove a patch of drywall in the bathroom.  I jammed a 6″ saw tooth blade into the wall and before I could even start hacking away, I found the precise spot where electrical wires were fitted to the stud.  A powerful jolt of electricity hollered at me as if to say, “YOU IDIOT!” Visible sparks flickered about in an odorous puff of smoke just inches from my face.  The circuit breaker tripped.  The room was left dark.  I was shaking like a leaf! “WOW, that was stupid!” I said to myself.

Many years have passed since that first terrible encounter with electrical current.  I now approach the subject with great reverence.  In fact, I’m a little too cautious and quickly hire an electrician regardless of expense (in my mind, that’s a small price to pay).

I’ve never seen anyone bypass the playground to take their kids to an electrical plant. Sure, we may ignore the speed limit, but never a high voltage sign.  Ironically, the high voltage isn’t the killer in our lives, it’s low voltage!  In other words…

“we dig our graves with our teeth.”

It’s not the first cigarette that kills you nor is it the last argument which causes divorce.  It’s the “pack a day” for 30 years or the premarital baggage and built up resentment over time that prevents the “happily ever afters.”  The kids who avoid the first cigarette as if it had a “high voltage” sign are the winners.  The same goes for the diet of cheesecake, Twinkies, Devil Dogs and Fudge Rounds; or the marriage based on deceit or wandering eyes (including other body parts).  Staying FAR away from the small discrepancies ensures peace and safety.

THE CHALLENGE:  I recommend using this idea in conjunction with “goal punching?” (You can read about it here.)

When you are faced with a small discrepancy, treat it like a massive one.  Take immediate mental action by putting a “high voltage” sign on it.  Stop telling yourself a little bit won’t hurt. Just because you don’t see visible sparks doesn’t mean you aren’t getting zapped.  A little bit does hurt.  Small leaks are capable of sinking big ships.

Photo by Ian Bailey-Mortimer

The Freaks Come Out at Night

I heard the following remark while conducting security rounds at work, “That door must not have been opened in weeks, just look at all the cobwebs.”  At first, I thought the observation was brilliant and perhaps for this particular application it was.

I began to ponder this concept and realized it may not be brilliant thinking when applied to our own lives. When is the last time you walked into a spider web and thought, “Darn it! That web must have taken months to construct. I’m so sorry for that poor spider!”

Answer: Never.

Most webs are temporary, assembled overnight – here today, gone tomorrow. We assume the webs on the door have been there for ages. Maybe so, but in most cases the homeowner has long since vacated the sticky premises. Granted, this analogy will be limited since some spiders don’t spin webs or may even come in superhero format.

For our purposes though, let’s consider common varieties. Think of the spider that seems to spin a web at precisely the point you need to walk through. Before you go to bed at night there isn’t a spider in sight, the yard is free and clear. Inevitably, when you walk outside in the morning you get ambushed by silky strands dispersed across your path.

These spiders are smart. They don’t work in the sunlight when it’s dry and hot. They weave at night. This protects them from predators, increases the longevity and functionality of their web and increases the odds of trapping nocturnal insects such as moths. Spiders are also diligent. If you knock their web down one day, it will be back the next.

THE APPLICATION: We all have cobwebs in our lives. Everyone has a “spider” that they can’t seem to get rid of. Your spider might be a negative thought that encourages you to stay home from the gym and sit on the couch. “I don’t want to have to deal with that cobweb today,” you think to yourself.

Maybe your spider is a lack of faith in doors that you would otherwise have the potential to open. So, you lecture yourself with the same old narrative, “I can’t become president, I can’t get a raise, I can’t ask that person out, I can’t find a better job, I can’t write that book etc… just look at all the cobwebs on that door. It has never opened up for me, why should I try now?”

Your spider might be you as a whole. Yes, that’s right…you might be the spider. You might appear “creepy” and put others off, perhaps you make them scream (if but silently). Maybe you spread fear, irrational or even legitimate. People want to avoid you or squish you.

THE CHALLENGE: Realize that cobwebs are strong and deadly…to insects. But you are not an insect. Running into a web will be frustrating. It might feel nasty and require your attention. But then it is gone. You are still free. A web has no power over you. Identify your spider.  Get into the corners of your life and knock the webs down. Find your cobwebs, get beyond them and open the door. Just remember, the web will be back tomorrow. Accept this fact and life will become a whole lot easier.

If you ARE the spider. Seek help you freak! Open yourself up to frank feedback from others.  Develop a little self awareness. Make a change!

 

Photo by Sebastian Galiano