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.”

Let’s Play Again

I overheard the following words from my first grader.  “Mom, if I don’t win let’s play again!

This is the secret to getting good at ANYTHING. The secret is to understand that losing is temporary.  If you want to ride a bike, you crash.  You lose some skin.  You cry.  You get a bandaid and get back on.  If you want to draw good you fill up a wastebasket with crumpled paper.  And….you’ll sharpen your pencil – a lot!

pencil

If you want to play an instrument you play a lot of really bad sounds.  You cause those within earshot to cringe.  But…only…at…first.

The problem is that most people fail to progress beyond the “only at first” portion.

THE CHALLENGE:  Identify something new you would like to try.  (Maybe it’s that thing that keeps you up at night.)  Now go do it.  Tell yourself you are going to lose.  Tell yourself you will be real, real bad.  Accept it. Then, move on.  Get past the part where you stink.  Approach it like a first grader and play until you win!

Photo by Jason Eppink

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

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