The Long Haul

I previously illustrated the need to stick to our goals for an extended period of time.  But at what point should we call it quits?

Marriage vows are typically until death.  That’s a huge commitment!  What if the marriage starts out bad?  What if “for better, for worse” seems to be all “worse”?  Do you hold out hoping things will get better?  What if your spouse gets a mental illness and can no longer remember you?

Children are also a long term commitment.  While they eventually fly the coop, you can’t divorce your children during the “terrible twos” or “turbulent teens”.  They are yours regardless of personality type, stature, learning ability, disabilities etc.

Most people accept the long term nature of these relationships without question.  Careers are a bit more fuzzy.  We no longer live in a world where the norm is to work a single job for most of your life and collect a gold watch at the end.  These jobs are disappearing fast, although not extinct.  The military is a prime example.  Twenty years of honorable service will earn a pension with benefits.

A friend recently noted that getting out of the military after 18 years is stupidity, not fear. But what about 15 years?  How about 10?  Is it smart to leave after 8?  Where do you draw the line?

If you have been driving for any length of time in a major city, chances are you have unintentionally traveled along a toll road.  These roads tend to produce a sense of imprisonment, a feeling of one way in and one way out.

Toll roads do have an evident advantage, they get the traveler to an alternate destination in a fraction of the time.  But there is a cost.  It won’t necessarily pay for itself by traveling only an exit or two, after all “both the hasty and the slow meet at the ferry.”

In life, sometimes we get on proverbial toll roads.  It could be a career, it could be a relationship.  Perhaps it’s getting out of debt or even parole or jail time.  Some things in life are better to commute via toll.  They are intended to be a long grind.  Since cutting corners will only add time, just pay the price.  Spring always follows winter, even if the winter seems long.  Too often we quit. We treat the long game as if it wasn’t nature’s way. We walk out of a marriage as if it was a boring movie.  We quit a job as if we were changing channels during a commercial break.  Someone is always selling you a dream that the grass is greener elsewhere…and let’s be honest, sometimes it is.  But let’s stay honest, usually it’s not.  Why pay for that dream when you can just pay the toll for the road you are already so far along?

The Challenge: Consider your long term goals and needs. Identify how these can be achieved.  You only have one life to live so don’t take too long.  Now, pull the trigger.  Let the bullet fly.  Let it do its thing.  Get on that toll road and don’t look back.  Be patient, you won’t find any rest stops.  It won’t be very scenic. The weather might be hazardous and the air polluted.  You might nod off at the wheel. Your butt will get tired, your legs cramped.  Food will not be gourmet. The radio will have static. You will feel bored and sometimes lonely.  Most important, there are people driving next to you.  They will cause frustration and sometimes fender benders.  You will have to lay on your horn.  You might get a flat tire and squish some bunnies along the way. When you unbuckle that seat belt it will have all been worth it.  You will wonder why so many others choose to sit in traffic.

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!

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.