WINGS N’ THINGS

Long before the internet, there was this place called the library. If you wanted to gather information in a systematic fashion what would you use?  Google?  Nope!  Enter the prehistoric search engine, the Dewey Decimal System (Thank you Melvil, but I digress, a lot).

Going to the library was a must for me. I recall maxing out the 10 book limit on a regular basis.  My stack of books always came out of the “nature” genre, usually insects.

I was fascinated with bugs.  If I wasn’t reading about them, I was collecting specimens.  If I wasn’t collecting them, I was “conquering” them…usually with the bottom of my foot…or a magnifying glass (and a few other creative ways not worth mentioning – don’t judge – I was a boy).  Maybe that’s why my answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (An entomologist) never came to fruition.  (But I digress, again)

Have you ever noticed that ants take to the air for an opportunity to mate every time a summer heat wave strikes? After the “magic” happens, what next?  The male dies and the female abandons her wings.  What?!  What is wrong with Mother Nature?  Shouldn’t a new momma ant make herself as mobile as possible?  You know, explore the town, find the best neighborhood, maybe do a little shopping and perhaps raid a picnic?  Instead, she’s 100% committed.  She picks her nesting site and goes to work, never stopping until she dies.

THE CHALLENGE: Stop flying around.  You know what you want to be when you “grow up” right?  So do it.  Chew your wings off!  Dig in!  Do your thing!  Get to work and don’t stop.  The formula is that simple.  I already know that 99.9% of you reading this are going to look your wings in the mirror and tell yourself how you can’t live without them, and that you can’t lose them, at least not yet.  It’s a lie.  Don’t listen.

FLAKEY AT BEST

My kids grew up on Sea World – how lucky. My best animal adventure was a school field trip to Roger Williams State Zoo in Rhode Island – how lame.  Talk about apples and oranges.

While I never experienced the magic of watching people ride dolphins, I wasn’t clueless about underwater life. My older brother had a paper route and that allowed him to save enough pennies for…wait for it…wait for it…a fish bowl.  He never went without a fish.  They were sometimes gold and sometimes neon.  Eventually he discovered his favorite variety, a Siamese fighting fish.  They were terribly boring so I thought it was a good fit for him (we had our share of contention).  I can’t remember any of those fish living very long.  Unfortunately they seemed to go belly up within weeks, and while I don’t know the exact cause of death, I’m sure my generous contribution of fish flakes didn’t help.

Occasionally we took a summer vacation across the country all the way to the beehive state. We quickly learned that there was no way to frontload the fish food.  If they didn’t die from overeating, starvation was certain, even after cannibalism ensued.

As humans we tend to scoff at the scaly creature circling the fishbowl. We might suppose that fins and gills equate to a complete lack of human characteristics.  But the aforementioned observation changed my mind.  Hunger is as real as it gets!  Gluttony isn’t too far off the mark either.

Hunger makes the world turn. Let’s face it, we get up and go to work so we can eat.  Joey Chestnut got up one day and decided he would set a world record by devouring 74 hot dogs.   But hot dogs or not, no matter how full you get… it won’t be enough.  It won’t sustain.  Give it some time and before you know it that tummy starts to grumble.  Bears stock up for hibernation, but soon enough even they roll out of the cave for a midnight snack.

The takeaway (and please don’t nuke this one) is this. For anything to sustain maximum vitality and life, it needs a daily dose of nutrition.  Forget burning the midnight oil.  It’s not sustainable.  “Two-a-days” at the gym?  When did this become a thing?  How about “five-a-days” or “ten-a-days”?  Stupid right?  Work a job for the overtime?  Not for me.  Why?  Because you still have to flip burgers, drill oil, or file paperwork the next day.  Run a marathon in your 20s, cool…but what can you do in your 60s?  Maybe a mile per day, or even a mile per year is more sustainable for the long haul.

THE CHALLENGE:  Keep it simple.  Don’t overfeed your fish!  But don’t let them eat each other either.  You have to feed the things you want to keep alive.  You want to be a great artist, welder, pilot, musician, or mechanic?  The formula is simple, feed your craft.  Sure there are times to put in a little extra, and there are times to back off.  But remember this – play the long game!  Be consistent!  Watch how many flakes you put in the bowl and don’t go on vacation for too long.

THE COTTON HARVEST

At a recent Black History month celebration I was privileged to hear a wonderful speaker relate a few stories from his life and the cultural changes he has observed in the work place over the years.

He shared a story of Grandma taking the grandkids to a plantation to pick cotton. While family history is not my focus today, this is brilliant from a genealogical standpoint.  Generational teachings aside, I believe there is a lesson for all of us from this loving grandmother.

I have never harvested cotton. I don’t know what it is like and I most certainly don’t pretend to know what it is like to be a slave or to suffer the burden of bondage from a taskmaster.  Fortunately though, I’ve been fertilized by some “high grade manure.”  I have had a chance to carry out tasks that are both unpleasant and beyond the threshold of comfort for most Americans.  In every job there is a “rectal exam” – something not very glamorous – something you’d rather not do.  These jobs contain valuable lessons – usually in hindsight.  Today, I’m referring to such tasks as cotton picking.

I believe when it comes to being great at something , when it comes to being your very best, there are times when you must drive yourself. Your goals must become the taskmaster.  Your goal must morph into a living breathing thing, so strict and without feeling that it compels your body to obey your very will.  In other words, you force yourself to pick the day’s cotton.

THE CHALLENGE: What is your “cotton?”  Is it hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock?  Avoiding a phone call or email?  Proper diet and exercise?  Loving more?  Forgiving?  Being taken advantage of?  Or is it simply mastering your craft?  Identify an area in your life that you want to improve but continually procrastinate.  Now, implement the following immediately:  STOP BEING SO NICE TO YOURSELF!  DEMAND MORE.  DEMAND BETTER.  DEMAND RESULTS.  Stop giving yourself another chance or another tomorrow.  Start picking cotton!  There is a lot of acreage on whatever plantation you are avoiding.  Get out and get to work.  Get blisters.  Get sunburned.  Get lashed.  Get hungry.  Get thirsty.  Get fatigue.  Do this and you will get stronger.  Get progress.  Get results.  Get paid.  Get healthy.  Get happy.  Get what your heart desires!

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.”

A Smart Question Never Asked

If you hear the term “winter fun” you might think of ski slopes and snowball fights.  For me, I prefer the beach.  No crowds, no kids dusting your towel with sand, and no barrage of seagulls stealing your snacks because the person next to you tossed out their chili cheese fries like it’s a petting zoo.  Sure it’s too cold to swim, but the vistas are all mine, the shoreline can be scavenged at will for all manner of treasures and the golden winter sunlight can’t be rivaled.

I remember Memorial Day weekend growing up in Rhode Island.  For some reason, we thought this was a good day for an annual trip to the beach.  It wasn’t – but I didn’t know that as a kid.  I thought a beach was supposed to be crowded, that you were supposed to sit in traffic for hours, that you were supposed to wait in long lines for food or to use the restroom.  I never asked the smart question, “Why are we doing this on the busiest day of the year?”

Guess what just passed?  Memorial Day Weekend.  I live five miles from the ocean and visit year round.  I didn’t think much of it.  Seemed like just another good day for me to walk the dog.  Somehow I overlooked the fact that this holiday would bring out all the beach bums.

Roughly three miles into the walk my dog quit.  She had enough of the sun, got a drink from the doggy fountain and plopped onto the sand beneath the pier – the one spot that nobody occupies due to the foul smell and lack of sunshine.

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Not two minutes pass by before a cop drives up to me, delivers a dirty look and states, “You can’t have your dog on the beach.”  Was I disappointed that the officer could not see the forest through the trees?  Of course!  He failed to ask the smart question.

Obviously, it wasn’t my choice to stand in the most inconvenient location beneath the pier.  Obviously, my dog was preventing heat exhaustion.  Obviously, nobody would ever use that section of beach.  But the officer was simply doing his job.  He waited for me to pick my dog up and place her back on the sun-baked pavement.  If it was winter time (or any other time of year) I would never have this problem.  The cops come out when the crowds come out.

APPLICATION:  My life is best lived when I abide by strict boundaries.  It makes me happy when I don’t have to rethink my decisions or compromise my standards.  My life is most enriched when I protect my goals the way this cop protected the beach.  He never had to ask the “smart question” because he had a job to do.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you intend to make a difference in this world, you also have a job to do.  Avoid asking questions that compromise the integrity of your decisions.  Get your dang “dog” off the beach!  You know it shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Perhaps the only smart question to ask right now is, “How can I be more like that cop?”  At the end of the day, excuses don’t alter performance.  When something creeps in on your goals and tries to steal your attention, give it a dirty look and wait for it to “get back on the pavement.”

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Digging for Cables

In most situations, I’m a quiet guy. Somehow my dad nicknamed me “chatterbox” as child. The safety of my own home is probably the only time I lived up to such a name.

To this day I still hear people around me say, “watch out for the quiet ones, once they snap they’ll kill you.” Can’t say I’ve ever lived up to that.

In part however, I think there is some truth to the idea that the quiet folks tend to have a little more “clack” to their thunder, a little more “cold calculation” as words erupt like lava from a once stagnant volcano.

But it’s not just the quiet ones we need to be wary of. I think we ALL have an underground cable that if split will electrocute whomever dared to grasp the shovel.

I’m saddened with how quickly people go digging for cables. They long for contention and discord as if severed relationships were the rule and not the exception. They speak truth with no restrain, intent to hurt, intent to cause damage.

THE CHALLENGE: Brutal honesty (even if a skewed opinion) is often the shovel that will get you zapped. Brutal honesty has merit, but lacks sustainability. In dealing with those around you, look for the signs posted “warning, underground cable.” Stay away, dig somewhere else. Every personality has some territory that can be explored freely. Use tact. Use love.

As for your own cables, keep your signs posted. Avoid rust and decay. Sometimes we victimize ourselves when boundaries aren’t declared early and firmly.

Photo by: Ira