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.

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


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.

Goal Punching

“Moving Petty Officer” is a phrase that all Navy recruits learn immediately upon arrival to Boot Camp.  It is used throughout a Sailor’s career.

This is one of my favorite phrases in the military. It shows not only a willingness to carry out orders, but demonstrates closed loop communication and immediate action.

Recently, my daughter slugged me in the arm and said “punch buggy white, no punch backs!”

I found it fascinating that she learned this game (and not from me). This is one that children have passed on for generations now.

I wonder why it catches on. I wonder why children adopt it. For some, maybe the initial appeal is to avoid pain.  For others, to inflict pain. I must admit, it was always fun to hit my older brother as hard as I could knowing that I wouldn’t get hit back.  That is of course until he spotted the next Volkswagen, and I would have to pay a huge price in the currency of bruises.

Reminiscing aside, this little game teaches a critical principal. It teaches immediate action in response to stimuli, much like a new recruit responding to a senior Petty Officer.  Conscious thought is dismissed while instinct and/or habit take over.

The challenge: think of an area of your life where procrastination deters your achievement of a specific goal.

The action: set up a visual cue in which the moment you see it, you can take immediate action without any additional thought.  In other words, set up your own “punch buggy“. You can use anything.  For example what if each time you sat a traffic light you tried to memorize something, repeated a positive affirmation, or called a loved one?  The visual queue can be anything.  A basketball, wheelchair, beard, school bus, emergency vehicle or yes…even… road kill!

The follow-through:  now don’t think about it!  Just act! When you see your queue, take immediate action. Make the goal small enough so that there are no excuses. Get in and out just like a a game of punch buggy. Be stealthy!  It needs to be just enough to get you started.  You just need to get a taste of what it is you’re trying to achieve. The small habits will grow and the fire will spread.  Good luck!

What Color Flag do You Throw?

My love for the game of football has influenced the way I think as a leader.

Although the colors of flags vary from league to league and have changed over the years, every modern day NFL fan will recognize the yellow and red flag. 

Yellow flags are thrown by the officials to indicate a penalty. Red flags are thrown by a head coach in order to challenge a play call. 

A keen observer will note that penalties occur on nearly every down.  The officials must be judicious. The essence of the game would be lost if penalty flags were thrown too frequently.  The fans would complain. There would be no entertainment value. The players would lose motivation. The game would not sustain itself as a business. The stands would be empty, the TV turned off.

Officials are required to use their best judgment. They must allow some leeway to let the players play.  They must preserve the integrity of the game without overshadowing the fun of the game. They must determine where the line is drawn between competition and outright violation of the rule book. 

While yellow flags may be unlimited, red flags are just the opposite.  Red flags can change the outcome of the game.  There are several rules surrounding the red flag (which I will not cover). In general, coaches are allowed only two per game and at the cost of a  timeout for any unsuccessful challenge.

Before a red challenge flag is thrown coaches must trust their own instinct, the word of the players, and/or receive guidance from assistant coaches with access to a live television feed.

If we apply this to leadership (including parenthood), what can we learn?

Are you the type of leader that mercilessly penalizes every member of your team with no room for error or forgiveness?  Do you put team members on report? Do you bench them? Do you outright fire them?  Is your production compromised because you are too busy throwing yellow flags?

Do you view yourself as a coach or a referee? Do you penalize at the expense of your player when a little coaching would have done the trick?

How often do you throw the challenge flag? Do you challenge your player’s integrity and intentions?  Perhaps your challenge is positive in nature, like always helping them strive to reach their highest level of performance. Do you challenge bad play calls made against your team members?

Before throwing a flag, consider how it is going to affect the REAL game.  The one on the field…the one we call life!

Law of the Beak

A bill of sale is a document that records a transaction between two parties. But let’s explore a different kind of bill, the type found on a bird. 

Birds differ in shape, size, color and song. But there is always one constant between the various species. Birds lay eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks get fed.

Hatchlings don’t get to choose what they eat. I’ve never seen a bird turn up its beak over a slimy worm the way a young child might do over a piece of broccoli.  Instinctively, the hatchlings know they need vast amounts of nourishment in order to survive. They will take anything they can get.

As humans, we may be unlike the birds when it comes to food. But we are no less dependent upon the bill of sale. This transaction takes place when a parent opens its beak to feed us the traditions of the past – sometimes correct, and sometimes completely off base.

We are hungry birds waiting to be fed. We often don’t know what we want until someone shows us. It’s not until the new phone, or the new movie, or the new car, or the new fashion comes out that we believe we need it.  So, we sit in the nest and squawk. More, more, more!  Another beak comes along and vomits out a new diet, a new drug , a new scientific study, a new religion, a new political party, a new gadget or new learned behavior…we settle down in the nest, feeling full, but only for a short moment.  We soon yearn for the next delivery. 

Every commercial and every ad, includes a bird beak waiting to feed you…waiting to make that bill of sale.  There are plenty of beaks and there is no shortage of food.  

Perhaps every child has said “I wish I could fly.”  But fly we will never do, so long as we are squawking for more! 

Just Ask for the Dragon

Do you remember sitting at the dinner table and your crazy uncle said something like this, “If you don’t eat all your food I’m going to give it to my pet dragon…and tonight I’ll let him sleep underneath your bed.”

What do you do? You eat the food!  No questions asked. 

Is it just me or have the times changed? I noticed that when I am the “crazy uncle” and say anything even remotely close to this, today’s youth simply challenge it. “Can I pet your dragon!?” They ask enthusiastically.  They can sniff out my bluff a mile away. 

As you go throughout your day, listen closely. You will encounter a number of subtle threats.  People know you are scared of “what is hiding underneath the bed.”

Next time someone tries to use power or control to leverage themselves against you in favor of a stronger position, just ask to see the dragon. See what happens. 

I hate to give away the secret… But, there is no dragon!

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Disclaimer: There are people with mental health issues that are happy to exercise abusive measures to get what they want.  When dealing with these people it is best to seek professional help.  

Don’t Drop Your Nuts

(1) Grab a bag of peanuts.

(2) Reach in the bag and withdraw a LARGE overflowing handful.  I’m talking maximum capacity.  (Notice how the shells seem to work in unison, as if they all had a unique assignment.)

(3) Set the handful of peanuts down on a flat surface such as a table.

(4) Using only one hand, pick up the peanuts in one attempt. (Notice how each peanut has taken on a new position.  It’s as if they’ve been reassigned and no longer work in harmony)

If your original handful was large enough you will notice one thing.  Failure.  Some of the nuts will still remain on the table.

I observed this phenomena by chance and was pleased to discover that it contained the following lesson.  We are often the beneficiary of great ideas and ambition.  At first these ideas/goals/dreams/aspirations are almost too hot to handle.  So, we put them down thinking we can grasp them again….only to be met with one thing.  Failure!

Next time you feel inspired, act immediately!  Don’t put the idea down.  Sure you can use “two hands” to grasp all the content.  But that just means more work and less magic.