Archive for August, 2008

Give me a bump in the road….

August 25, 2008

Wow – my recent lead article here stirred up some interesting comments.  I had referenced Michael Phelps stunning accomplishment at the Olympics – and that he had ADD, divorced parents, no college degree and a DUI in his background.  I went on to say that too many advantages early in life may be more of a disadvantage than a blessing.  Challenges often are the motivating factor to bring out our very best.

Well, the questions came pouring in.  Questions from people who suspect that their lives have been too easy – and consequently, maybe they have missed developing skills or levels of success that hardships would have stimulated. 

Here are just a couple of those questions: 

I may be one of those… So, now what? I’m not ready to give up, but don’t know how to overcome this “early-life-blessing-later-life-curse” thing.  Do I need to go back and pick up some success stuff I somehow unknowingly left behind?  Am I still doomed to mediocrity just because I got blessed on the front end of life?  How do I learn to convert this blessed life-currency at a positive exchange rate for my future? 

Or this one:

Dan, You hear a lot of success stories about those who have had something to overcome, but not many about those blessed from the beginning.  Can you give some more insight for the mediocre, middleclass, in middle management, who know we have something else to offer, but were never blessed to experience the challenges of more successful leaders?

No, I don’t think you’re guaranteed success if you had nothing but rice and beans growing up and that you had to walk to school, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.  Or that you’re doomed to mediocrity if you had six pairs of blue jeans, vacations in exotic ports and got a new Mustang on your 16th birthday.

But we do know from lots of lessons in nature that struggle produces strength.  Help a caterpillar out of a cocoon and it never becomes a beautiful butterfly.  Protect your muscles from any resistance and you’ll stay soft and weak.

So there’s the key.  If life hasn’t forced you to struggle for survival, set some goals that you know will stretch you.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Decide to run a marathon.  The physical discipline required will allow you to experience the immediate benefits of daily training.
  2. Give more.  You may set a goal of giving 20% rather than 10%.  The extra stretch here will loosen up the blindness that greed causes and make you see new ways of generating income.
  3. Commit to spending one hour a day for personal growth.  Choose positive materials for meditation, go to workshops, or sign up for teleseminars.  There are many opportunities for stretching yourself in this area.
  4. Read at least one new book a month.  This will accelerate your ability to increase your “preparation” and to see new ways to grow.  Remember, “Luck” is when “preparation” meets “opportunity.”
  5. Design a break in your normal schedule.  Getting away from a routine is one of the best ways I know of unlocking creativity and innovation.  I have spent 3-4 days at a monastery, just as an attempt to tap into new insights and inspiration. (The Abbey of Gethsemani)
  6. Create your own timelines.  If you want to write a book, decide when you will have the chapter outline completed.  If you need to update your resume, decide now to have that completed in two weeks.  Whatever it is you want to accomplish, set your timelines to propel you on.

All you’ve got to do to reach new levels of success is to stretch yourself beyond complacency.  Recognize that if you are not setting goals that push you forward, you’re likely to be far below your real potential – whether you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or in a one-room shack in Bangladesh. 

And if these don’t work – let’s see – you could put a pebble in your shoe, or tie one hand behind your back, or try to pick up an addiction.  No – don’t wish hardship on yourself.  There are better ways to prompt yourself to greatness!

And just for the record – yes, I was one of those that got my annual pair of blue jeans and an orange for Christmas, got my bicycle from the county dump, built my first car from junk parts, and had to shovel snow in Buffalo, NY to get to the unheated barn to milk cows (by hand) at 5:00 AM starting when I was 5 years old.  I wouldn’t change a thing – but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and certainly did everything I could to provide more for my children. 

If you don’t set goals for yourself, you are doomed to work to achieve the goals of someone else. — Brian Tracy

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Michael Phelps — Golden Child?

August 18, 2008

Michael Phelps made history over the weekend.  The 23-yr-old from Baltimore now has 8 gold medals from the Beijing Olympics.  So is this guy a golden child, raised in an ideal life with every advantage coming his way?  It doesn’t appear to be so.  As a little boy Michael was diagnosed with ADHD.  He started swimming at age 7 to have an outlet for his excess energy.  When he was 9 his parents divorced.  At 19 he was arrested for driving under the influence.  He has “attended” college between 2004 and 2008 but doesn’t plan to graduate anytime soon.  His friends call him “Gomer” because of his resemblance to the good-natured country boy played by Jim Nabors.  He eats around 12,000 calories a day (about five times more than the average adult male) to keep up with his amazing level of activity.  He’s already been making approximately $5 million per year in endorsements, and the 8 gold medals have earned him a $1 million bonus from his sponsor, Speedo.  

So what are you doing with your “challenges?”  Are you using them as an excuse to justify mediocrity?  Or are you, like Michael, focusing your uniqueness in a positive direction.  Do you have a diagnosed malady?  Were your parents divorced or did you get into trouble in your teenage years?  Maybe having “challenges” is a strong motivator for doing something extraordinary.  And maybe having things too easy makes coasting too attractive.  Remember the caterpillar’s transition to a butterfly. It’s the struggle that causes those beautiful wings to appear.  Maybe your “disadvantages” are your opportunity to find a more authentic path to success.

It’s typically the challenges that help us find our true calling.  Henry David Thoreau said: “I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.”

Frequently I see that those who have been given advantages early in life find themselves with a strong sense of being off track in their forties or fifties. I have a friend who, while a gifted singer and performer, has never developed these or any other talents as he is too busy protecting the money he inherited from his father.  A current client was given the best education money could buy, including medical school, and now, at age fifty-two, realizes he has never pursued his real calling. The search for authentic work is a very personalized and internal one and can easily be derailed by too many advantages. The best medical, dental, or law school will never provide a fulfilling career path if that path is not a match with the unique gifts of the person involved. Just as you shouldn’t let a lack of money deter you from pursuing a great opportunity now, don’t let money or circumstances you already have keep you from moving toward your passion.

Incidentally, I have to also add that in addition to his goal-setting and amazing focus, Michael Phelps is described by the Baltimore Sun as “a man incredibly invested in the success of the people he cares about.”  They go on to say he’s “unbelievably kind-hearted” with young children after practices and events.  I suspect that even at age 23 he remembers the painful challenges of his own childhood.

Shorts vs Panties

August 14, 2008

This morning I opened a new pack of undershorts that Joanne picked up for me.  Wow – seven pairs of new Fruit of the Loom shorts.  Out of curiosity I asked her what she paid for these.  She said it was $5.99 for the pack of seven.  Okay that’s $.85 each – and these babies have double stitching, the extra overlap for the trap door that we guys need – all in all just a real classy piece of workmanship.

Then I asked her what she pays for her panties. She said normally $8-10.00 each.  Of course those are much simpler in design – no trapdoor needed.  Just a bag with a couple of holes in it.  Now I may be oversimplifying the issue here, but why are they ten times as much money?

It’s because for guys we’re talking about a necessary and functional item.  For women it’s a matter of style and grace and beauty.  I’ve always told people you can make a living selling things that people need; e.g. washing machines, transmissions and light bulbs.  But you can get rich selling things that people want – chewing gum, vacation trips, motorcycles and ladies panties. 

People don’t “need” my books.  But I sell hope, inspiration and imagination that just happened to be packaged between two book covers.  People “want” that.  It sounds like an elementary business concept – but what about you — are you selling what people need or what they want?

The Open Road — or a Dead-End Street?

August 11, 2008

Saturday afternoon the now famous 36-ft green RV with the RoadTripNation crew aboard rolled back our long country lane here in Franklin, TN.  They are making the 08 trip from California to Maine and wanted to talk with my son Jared (Sisters of Rwanda director) – who lives in Rwanda but is currently here in Nashville.  What an interesting group!  Three long-time buddies graduated from college and began asking the common question “what do I want to do with my life?” They are now interviewing people who have found their passion.  They were determined to expose themselves to more than just the traditional life roads.  Like the original RTN gang they hopped in a green RV and hit the road to talk with inspiring people from all walks of life to find out how they came to do what they love for a living.

Roadtrip Nation has evolved into a PBS series, three books, an online community, and a student movement.  PBS sends people on the road who are interested in exploring the world outside their comfort zone, talking with individuals who chose to define their own road in life, and sharing their experiences with our generation.

I was blown away by their Manifesto – written on the back of the bus:

“So, what do you want to do with your life?”
You should be a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, a consultant….
Blah, blah, blah.
Everywhere you turn people try to tell you who to be and what to do with your life.  We call that the noise…Block it…Shed it..
Leave it for the conformists..
As a generation, we need to get back to focusing on individuality.
Self-construction rather than mass production.
Define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else’s.  Listen to yourself.
Your road is the Open Road. Find it.
Find the Open Road.

This young generation is not content to live out traditional work lives while missing meaning, purpose and fulfillment.  They are determined to connect their passion and calling to what they do each day.  What about you?  Have you found your open road – or are you stuck on a dead-end street?

Dan’s Diner

August 9, 2008

It’s big news in this community that Nissan has finally moved 1500 employees into their new headquarters here in Franklin, TN.  And then the Nashville Tennessean had an article last Sunday stating that there are 150 places to have lunch within a one mile radius of the new Nissan building. 150 places to eat lunch!

Why would someone open number 150, knowing there are already 149 others doing the same thing?  Is it really that difficult to come up with a unique business idea?  In my yard we have a tree that has two faces carved into it – creating a permanent piece of art instead of a problematic stump.  Every Friday our massage therapist comes to our house – saving us the time of driving to her office.  Last night at a seminar presentation a young guy showed me writing pens he makes using wood from old benches from the Grand Ole Opry.  Country music fans buy them faster than he can turn them out. 

My advice is don’t just pick a business that has 149 competitors, industry margins of 3-4 percent and then give coupons for 15% off.  I have to believe there are better options than that.  And no, trust me, you aren’t going to see Dan’s Diner anytime soon!

“Social Entrepreneurship”

August 7, 2008

Many of you have asked to hear more about “social entrepreneurship.”  I have mentioned this frequently over the last couple of years as a growing example of being able to “do good” while “doing well.”  What I mean by that is that you can change the world, address pollution, poverty, share the gospel, make the world a better place – you get to decide what your passion is – and MAKE MONEY in the process.

In this week’s podcast I have my son Jared as my guest.  Jared is executive director of Sisters or Rwanda in Kigali, Rwanda.  He has a great model of working with the women at the bottom of the ladder economically and socially, and has now created a model where they can earn significant income while providing funding for the organization’s administrative needs as well.

I love this growing awareness of “social entrepreneurship” or the understanding that we can shift capitalism to create good.  Many of us come from backgrounds that make us question if making money is somehow moving away from doing true ministry.  I am convinced it is the most effective and most direct path to actually increasing our ministry efforts. 

Jared and I explain how his organization has become self-sustaining and how you can take your idea and do the same using “social entrepreneurship.”

Listen to this 48-minute podcast on “Social Entrepreneurship.”

Of Course We Trust You…..But

August 4, 2008

Remember the obnoxious manager who used to sneak up behind you in your cubicle to try to catch you checking your email or putting in that last minute bid on eBay?  Then you elected to take the company option to work from home.  Thank goodness, no longer do you have to worry about Mister Nosey watching your every move at your desk.  Guess what – he’s back!  Electronic monitoring of home workers is an exploding trend. 

Latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that America has 28.7 million telecommuters, or “distributed workers”-those people who work for traditional companies but aren’t confined to traditional offices. That number is up from 10.9 million in 2000. Thirty percent of managers and professionals now work at home at least part of the time.  At IBM, 40 percent of the workforce has no official office; at AT&T, a third of managers can work from anywhere they choose. Sun Microsystems calculates that it’s saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of all employees to work anywhere they want.

But at oDesk.com, the system for linking 90,000 freelance programmers, network administrators, graphic designers and writers with 10,000 client companies includes taking random snapshots of workers’ computer screens six times an hour, recording keystrokes and mouse clicks and taking Web cam photos at any time.  Home office phone calls are monitored to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children or pets making noise in the background.  At call center Arise.com, they keep their 8,000 home agents so tightly scheduled to their phones that the agents have to scheduled unpaid time off to go to the bathroom.  (And just a sidenote:  Arise.com’s trademarked company slogan is:  Work. Freedom. Trust. Results.®

Now let me ask you this:  When do you do your best work?  When someone obviously trusts you and has given you the responsibility for completing an important job – or when you are being watched like a first-grader who gets his hand slapped if he colors outside the line?   It’s been shown clearly that “distributed workers” are more productive, not less.  They save the company real estate and utility expenses; less gasoline is burned and food and wardrobe costs drop.  Everyone wins! 

But without trust, the whole system breaks down.  If you don’t trust your workers, then keep them in cubicles, watch their every move, give them limited time to get up and move around, ration their food and water and decide when they can leave the premises.  But wait – doesn’t that sound remarkably like prison?