So you want to be a Star?


I think somewhere inside each of us, we want to shine. We have a desire to be thought of as a “star” in our world. We just have to look at the intense interest in celebrities to see evidence.

I’ve been working once again with my old friend, Jeffrey Hayzlett. Over the past 18 years, I’ve watched him rise from amazing to a star. I’ve had the opportunity to closely observe what makes up the change in him.

So many people come around our work and want to be like him. I can see why they would want this. Jeff has been generous with so many to show them what he does so they can appropriate it if they want. Yet, few have been able to grasp the golden ring of their ambition. Why?

There are five qualities that Jeff exhibits that few have. The first is Jeff has an amazing clarity of vision. He is clear what he wants and uses that clarity in making all the key decisions in his life. Most people have an idea of what they want but hold back for a variety of reasons.

Which leads to the second reason why others don’t succeed as he does – commitment. Jeff has an unfailing commitment to do all that’s required to bring his dreams to life. If this means three red-eye flights in a row, he does it. If it means he needs to shift his business model, he does so without looking back.

The third reason is courage. Most of us worry in some form about failing at what we do. We know this worry will likely attract the thing we are afraid of and yet, we continue to worry. Jeff is fearless and bold in his leaping into projects and initiatives that he feels are necessary for his vision.

The fourth reason is relationships. Jeff is in relationships with literally thousands of people. This is not a cursory kind of relationship we see often in social media. He knows people and what they are concerned with. He is constantly looking for ways to connect with them in meaningful ways and link them to each other.

The final reason is generosity. Jeff does not engage people thinking about what he can get out of them. He looks for ways he can offer something of value to them. He’s been doing this for all his adult life. His network of friends and associates have all benefited in some way from this extreme generosity.

So you want to be a star. The path is clear. Are you prepared to do what it takes to make that happen?

Writers and Entrepreneurs

imgresAs a writer, I know that the sign of engagement in this craft is the number of crumpled pages I find around me at the end of the day. Great writing doesn’t happen by sitting down and writing the perfect paper, short story or novel in the first draft. No matter how gifted you are the first draft is just a beginning.

In business the same is true. When someone conceives a new business the first step is often to write a plan of sorts. For some, it’s a complex treatise on the full ins and outs of what’s possible. For others, it can take the form of a dinner napkin with sparse words and a few drawings.

Whatever the beginning, the initial concept is version 1.0. No business has ever succeeded by sticking to this first version. Business, like writing, is a constant work in progress. Sometimes you find that only the first line (concept) works and the rest of the words (description of how things work) don’t.

As a writer, I often receive feedback from my spouse or friends or other authors. They can often see what’s hidden from my perceptions. In a business, potential investors and early customers let us know what we have right and what doesn’t work.

Writers and entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to start over or brutally edit what’s created. They are in a quest for excellence, however they conceive it. This drive forms the core of their passion and guides them to the experience of personal satisfaction.

Today, as you journey forth, look around you. How many crumpled pages do you see? Did you allow yourself the freedom to just begin without worry that the first draft wouldn’t be perfect? Remember – life is a journey not a destination

To Conform or Not to Conform – The Story of the Big Orange Splot

Last night, I was reading to our young boys one of my favorite children’s stories, The Big Orange Splott by Daniel Pinkwater. In this story, Mr. Plumbean’s world is disturbed in a most unusual way when a seagull drops a can of orange paint on the roof of his perfect house. You see, his house is like all the others in his neighborhood. This unlikely event starts a change that I invite you find out more about by reading the book.

I was reflecting on Mr. Plumbean last night and he wandered into my dreams. Conformity is such a strong force in our lives. It used to be called “keeping up with the Jones”. How we can belong to our local tribe by being alike seems to compose our actions in ways that we don’t really understand. Marketers know this, and people like Malcolm Gladwell have talked about it. Conforming is as good a name as any to describe this phenomenon.

I have always fancied myself as a non-conformist. I tell myself that I don’t like “the conventional wisdom” – another way of saying I don’t like others telling me what to think. Yet, I see the many ways that I allow what other’s think to influence my thoughts and feelings and actions. I want to be liked, so I stop considering what I feel and let others shape my life.

The act of non-conformity is not so much an act of rebellion, but a declaration of independence. It’s not selfish, although maybe your mother told you it was so. It’s your right to choose what you feel is right. One of my favorite aspects of Buddhism is the following that has been ascribed to the Buddha: Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

We assimilate so much based upon what we are told. Look at our current political campaigns for president. Candidates feel that if they say something, even if it isn’t true, we will believe it because we don’t take the time to follow the Buddha’s wisdom. The compelling story teller can influence us because we have forgotten that we are the ones who decide what’s true for us.

We pride ourselves as Americans on our fierce independence of thought. That may have been so a few hundred years ago, but what about now? Without our return to discernment, we will miss the amazing adventure life offers outside the lines of conformity, and the opportunity to create a life filled with wonder will be left behind.

The Cup is Half Full

A few days ago, I started this conversation about the half empty, half full cup. I talked about the implications of looking at the cup as half empty. You can go to the earlier posting on this blog to catch up.

Today, I’m in the world of half-full cups. We generally say that the cup half full folks are optimists. They see opportunities in everything. True, and there is more to it than that.

I have studied optimists for some time. I have a tendency toward optimism, so it’s personal. I always felt being a half full cup person was far better than being a half empty believer. It let me feeling I was better than others.

I bounced around thinking this for most of life. Then I met, head-on, someone who made me look like a pessimist. At first, I was enthralled. Great, someone who everyone loves to be around because of their bright outlook. As time wore on, I began to see fraying around the edges of this perspective.

One day, it dawned on me that I was around this person so I could see myself better. It’s that way when a big lesson is up. I’ve written often enough about the impact of living in the future. This is often the orientation of an optimist. They look beyond today, and find how tomorrow’s good outcome will take care of today’s problem.

This leaning into the future is contagious. So many of us want things to be better than they are. There are parts of our lives we don’t like. So, if we think about how things could be different, and apply a bit of hope, then “poof” all is well.

We all had a first hand example of how this brand of optimism works during the 2008 campaign. President Obama’s HOPE poster said it all. We were in a terrible economic mess, and we hoped that this man could get us out of it. This hope infected enough voters, and tipped the election in his direction.

I remember watching Obama’s speech the night of the election. After a few minutes of thanking everyone, he started to reshape his conversation with the American people. The road ahead was going to take hard work. He warned that there would be no quick solutions. I thought I could see in his eyes the awareness that his use of the optimists mantra of hope may turn on him.

Hope is something that is honored as an important attribute. I’m not so sure. Hope, to me, overlooks what’s right before my eyes. Hope has me believe in magical solutions that are often about what will happen tomorrow, rather than being present with what is, today.

I feel that confidence is a far greater quality than hope. Confidence is informed by the current situation, but not limited by it. In reading David McCoullough’s book, 1776, I was moved by George Washington’s confidence in the ability of the Continental Army to overcome great odds against the British army. He wasn’t hopeful. In fact, in some of his private letters, he reveals his concerns about the magnitude of the challenge. Yet, he felt confident, even knowing this situation, that they would prevail.

Sometimes, people will say that hope is the only way beyond a seemingly impossible situation. I disagree. You see, the obstacles I perceive are derived from what i believe. It’s these beliefs that create the feeling of impossibility. When I look at the world through these beliefs, I can’t see things as they are. I see the obstacles, or I see possibilities that aren’t real.

I’m becoming a reformed optimist. I have great help from my wife, who asks questions that puncture my optimism. For the longest time, I was really annoyed by these questions. I said to myself that she wasn’t supportive of my ambitions. I felt she didn’t understand what I could see.

I realized that she wasn’t infected by the emotions of optimism, and she could see some things I was overlooking. I had a fear, unknown at the time, that if I wasn’t optimistic, I would be stuck in a bleak world of “can’t do”. I would look around and capitulate to seeming adversity.

My experience has been very different than what I feared. I don’t have the emotional highs so much, and that fits me better. I also notice one of the other impacts of optimism. I would consistently override intuition. I would know something so clearly that there was no doubt. Yet, my optimism would sweep me right past this knowing and into the realm of wishing thinking. The outcome was often not very pretty.

I can see that pessimists have the same challenge. It’s just the other side of this coin of not seeing things as they are. In the end, the cup isn’t half-full or half-empty. The cup has a certain volume of liquid in it, and that’s it.

When we make our world something it isn’t, we are on the roller-coaster of emotional drama that some call suffering. Stepping into the reality of this moment is both a cure for both optimism and pessimism, and a way to a life that is free beyond comparison.

What happens when you lower the water level in the lake?

I’ve been thinking about self-deception lately. How is that I can be rolling along without hardly a bump in the road and then land up in a pothole? This pattern seems to be a part of many of our lives. I’m curious about what’s creating this obviously not so pleasant roller coaster ride.

As I was musing about this, I saw a connection between my personal experiences and what I’ve noticed about myself and others as leaders. When everything seems to be working, whether it’s at home or work, I’m not particularly reflective about several fundamental questions such as, “ Am I feeling joy?” or “Is what I’m doing connected to why I’m here?” I seem to be under the influence of the vapors, or emotional happiness. I know that emotional happiness (rather than joy) is tricky. When I’m on the up slope of greater and greater happiness, I’m already creating the downslope of despair. Yet, follow the yellow brick road I do, without any apparent awareness that there is a consequence of this rising emotional feeling.

I suspect all this is connected to an old adage that says, “You can’t see the rocks in a lake until you lower the water level. (I’m from Louisiana where they say, “You can’t see the cypress stumps until you lower the level of the bayou”). When my lake is filled with the happiness euphoria I overlook so much. My higher energy lulls me into believing that this feeling will go on forever (it never works out that way and I’m surprised each time). A bit like my version of Lucy always pulling the football away just before Charlie Brown can kick it.

I’m noticing that the highs are changing. I remember feeling so excited when something good was happening (a new relationship or new client contract or receiving praise from someone I held in high esteem). This excitement would “lift my feet off the ground.” This high was addicting. When the crest of the hill was breached, I stayed in my high feelings for a while. I just couldn’t believe I was on the down slope again.

Today, I’m in the process of coming unhooked. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t have any fun anymore (when I thing of that inner story I smile, because I know the price of that “fun”). This fear delayed action for some years. I just got so tired of the up and downs that I said, “The heck with the fear of no fun, I’m going to see what it would be like to step off the emotional gerbil wheel.”

The road hasn’t been without fits and starts. That’s always how it is with change. Yet, it’s worth it. My highs aren’t so high, but they are real. My feet are mostly touching the ground and I can sense the truth of my experience rather than the false story that is choreographed by the emotional high.

It’s the weekend and maybe it’s time to lower the water level in your lake. How about taking stock of the up and down cycles of your life and honestly see if it’s time to change them. If it is, talk to a friend about your decision and ask them to give you feedback when they see you moving away from reality. Your authenticity will deepen your friendship and carve a new direction for your life.

Optimism, Denial and Love

Hello my name is Thomas and I’m an optimist. You see, I’ve thought that being an optimist, particularly in business, was one of the greatest sins a leader could commit. I had this opinion confirmed by many colleagues along the way. So, I have been a closet optimist for over 35 years.

Today, I’m coming out of the closet. It’s time to speak the truth about my optimism and let the cards fall where they may.Today’s writing is only focused on the implications of optimism in a business content. More about the impact of optimism in the rest of my life, soon. I can see the challenges to being an optimist. The most obvious is that the view of the future (and the present for that matter) is often obscured by a feeling of hopefulness. I feel that anything is possible. That’s got good points, but it also brings with it challenges. (Note: I’ve noticed that optimism is a common quality among entrepreneurs)

Optimists can miss seeing what’s really going on, right before their eyes, because it doesn’t fit their hopeful perspective. They can hope that the contract will be signed any day now. They can believe that the “perfect storm” will happen and the business idea will be a home run long before events confirm this outcome. Optimists think everything is easy, and overlook the steps along the way that are required for lasting success. The cost of this underestimation of “what’s so” is not meeting expectations of customers, co-workers and other owners, which has a big impact on trust. In extreme cases businesses can run out of resources (think money) before the payoff can happen, which means everyone loses.

It’s important to also talk about the many positive aspects of optimism. The most obvious is that you don’t believe what others say about something being impossible. There are many times, when I have pushed along business ideas, products or programs that everyone (I mean everyone) was saying was impossible. When these work out, the positive consequences can be enormous.

What’s behind my optimism? Part of it is that I like being heroic. I love doing those things that look impossible. It is an emotional high. Others want to play on a team that’s inspired. Optimists are good at inspiring others, for without high levels of energy their dreams would never happen. Being in this highly charged environment is exciting.

I also feel that behind my optimism and the underlying hopefulness is that I don’t want to let anyone down. I know, I know, everyone is responsible for what they feel. Still, there are moments, when an old belief kicks in and says, “You want others to respect you, which means you never disappoint them.” This old programming has a strong partner with optimism.

The first step to being a reformed optimist is acceptance and love. I accept my personality and all that has come from that. I appreciate what I’ve gained from my optimistic experiences. I know that the motivations that have fueled optimism are unnecessary. It’s time to let them go.

The road ahead as a reformed optimist brings the best of my optimistic orientation, which is that I believe that everything is possible, using the gift of intuition to see where things truly are right now. As I started my day, I was feeling bit of dread about writing this. Now, I’m excited to see what this brings.

What do you Really Believe?

One of our projects today was to put a deer fence around my wife’s half-acre garden. You see the deer have been freely walking through and seem to like the leaves of everything from sunflowers to soybeans. With all the hard work that goes into tilling and growing, this is not a welcome development.

My wife and I were in our local Tractor Supply looking for twine to tie the deer fencing to the posts we were installing. We had reached the point where our seemingly endless ball of twine had been used up. We made our way to the rope section and found that all the rope and twine were products of a company whose values we don’t support.

We were faced with the dilemma of the convenience of buying what we needed right now or walking away. We didn’t think long about it. We decided we would scavenge twine from other parts of the garden until we could find twine from another company.

When we were back in the garden, I got to thinking about how, each day, we are faced with the choice of whether we support businesses whose values are not consistent with ours. On the one hand many people I know are quick to share an opinion about how badly these companies treat their employees, subvert the political process for their own gain, undermine unions, etc. They say they believe this is wrong. Yet, when they are faced with spending their money with the companies they vilify they have some rationalizing story that soothes their conscious and overrides what they say. To my way of thinking the only way to know what someone truly believe is to observe their actions.

I’m no saint. There are times when I don’t pay attention to the company behind the products I buy. My wife is much more attuned to this and helps me steer clear of obvious situations like she did at Tractor Supply today.

Many who read this post believe we need to reform corporate values. The only way this change is going to happen is for you and I to vote our values with our purchases. Companies can’t exist without customers. Customers who buy from their values will impact company values. For one of the key principles of all corporations is survival. If changing the values of a company can impact its survival, that change may well happen.

My invitation is for you to join me in exercising greater vigilance in spending your money. FInd out about the companies behind the goods and services you buy. Never compromise for the sake of convenience. It’s just not worth it.

The Truth is Just Before our Eyes!

I was talking with the head of a government agency a few weeks ago. He was telling me that his teams have no sense of accountability. He said, “they are expert at finger pointing and always have a good story about why commitments are not met.” He asked if I could help.

Over the next week, I read the organization’s internal documents that covered everything from their purpose and this year’s goals, to how they planned to promote their organization to the public. The problem they were facing jumped right off the pages I was reading. The public story they were creating about who they were is in conflict with how they privately view themselves.

This is common in so many areas of our life. I want you to see me in what I feel is the most positive light. Generally, this means that I appear to be nearly perfect. I am extremely competent. I handle my commitments impeccably, and the people in my organization work perfectly together.

I understand why it’s appealing to portray this picture. The problem is that we know this type of impeccable behavior is rare, and, anyway, it isn’t who we are. Our hopeful self-deception creates expectations we can’t fulfill, and surprise when we don’t meet our goals.

I also noticed when talking with this leader their sense of helplessness. It was clear this was linked to a disparity of perceptions. The results is he feels overwhelmed and sees no way out of his current situation. He confided that the way to solve the organizations problems with more resources, particularly staffing.

The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s unresolved conflicts within the leader. Their attachment to looking good has created an “Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome”. No one tells them the truth out of fear of retribution, and the problems compound. The road ahead isn’t pretty for this leader or his organization.

What can they (or you or I for that matter) do when are in the middle of this kind of mess? Most let a crisis sweep over them. This requires truth telling, and usually the leader is out of work. This is not necessary.

Every day, we can have as our top priority learning what’s really happening in our world. This means putting aside the need to be right, and proactively listening without prejudice. This takes practice, whether you are listening to customers or colleagues, those who work for you or your family. Everyone can offer something that gives us a glimpse of ourselves and the world around us we can’t see. So go ahead, allow the mirrors to show the truth within.

Sometimes it’s Good to do something that Really Scares You!

School had just let out for the summer and the first place I wanted to go was to my grandmother’s house. She was not working that day, so it was just the two of us for lunch. Being a typical thirteen year old, I wanted to go out and play while she was making lunch.

I ran out the back door and slammed it shut. Much to my surprise, I was immediately attacked by a swarm of pigmy wasps. I ran and still they followed. In all I received thirteen stings.

I immediately ran into the house and grandma’s maid quickly applied the old remedy of baking soda on the quickly rising welts. It was apparent that this was not a typical wasp sting situation. My heart rate was elevated and my breathing became difficult. My grandma called my mother so she could drive me to the doctor’s office (grandma didn’t drive).

I was ushered through the backdoor of the doctor’s office and placed on an examining table. It was clear to the doctor that I was in a major health crisis. My heart rate and blood pressure were at dangerous (read life-threatening) levels and my whole body was turning bright red. Immediately the doctor administered epinephrine.Initially, each time I received a shot, the symptoms dropped a bit, but still I was in danger.

In the middle of this drama, my doctor’s associate came in and announced, “I’ve never seen a reaction as bad as yours.” (You can imagine how reassuring this was for a thirteen year old). Over a period of two hours the medication kicked in and my systems returned to normal. It certainly was a good scare.

For many years, I carried a prescribed bee-sting kit. I never had to use it, but it felt good to have it when I was away from immediate medical care. In 2003, I was attending a program at a retreat center outside of Helena, MT. As I was sitting in a patch of clover, I put my hand on the ground for balance. Apparently, I disturbed a foraging bee and was stung between my thumb and forefinger. I waited to see if I had a reaction. Nothing. It seemed that my childhood experience was past. I have had several wasp and bee stings since that time and my reaction is what one would expect – a little swelling that quickly subsides.

Last year, I decided to become a beekeeper. I thought that since my sting incident was past, this should be no problem. Wrong! I built three hives and ordered bees for them. I went to the beekeepers house and brought the preformed combs and bees home. So far, so good. Once home, it was time for me to transfer the bees to their permanent hives.

This is when the fun began. As I opened the first temporary hive, the bees swarmed out. I was not wearing any of my beekeepers gear. I stopped in my tracks. My wife went into the house and brought out my gloves and helmet with veil. I put them on and then put my attention on transferring the bees. For almost ten minutes, I was frozen. All of my fears of death by bee sting were making themselves heard.

I was determined to move the bees, and finally did so. When I got to the third hive, I saw that the bees were more active than the first two had been. I again felt the fear rise up and started to move the hive anyway. In the middle of the process, a bee got inside my protective veil and stung me on the face. Panic was right in my face, and I did run away form the hive. I settled myself down and came back and finished the job.

Now its 2012 and I’m still keeping bees. I had a hive die over the winter and just picked up a replacement. Yesterday morning, it was time to move the bees into their new home. This time I was both aware of the inner fear and a new story – bee stings won’t kill me. I let this new story settle in and then began the work of moving the hives. When the first swarm of bees rose out of the hive and started pinging my head veil, I took a breathe and blew them away.

I felt a deep appreciation of my fear and the deliberateness to face it head on. In fact, my summer’s ambition is to have no fear of bees at all. I’m not sure if that’s how it will turn out, but that’s not so important at this point. I now have an experience of overriding my body’s fear when it is no longer helpful. I’m reminded that fear can be a strong teacher and is something to turn into rather than avoid!

I offer a few questions that may help you along your way. What is it that you are afraid of? How does it affect your relationships with others and yourself? Is it time to face the fear with appreciation and let it go?

Where the Wild Things Are!

As we have settled into our new home, my wife and I have explored the land. It is filled with wildlife that seems to jump from a nature magazine, and wild plants, whose varied identities continue to amaze us. There is a feeling of the green world of Ireland here with its deep beauty and wildness.

As we’ve talk about the history of Ireland and in particular its Celtic heritage, the mythical characters almost take life before our eyes. We have almost three acres of lawn, so a lot of attention can be easily placed on orderliness. Yet, just below the surface, I can feel wildness. Its like the Celtic god, Cernunos, is waiting to appear.

It’s this wildness that I write about today. I find that most of my life is about control. The messages from birth have been to control my sexual drive, control my temper, control my children, control my business – control everything.

At what cost is all this control and is it misguided anyway? When I was feeling the wildness here, I found I became very uncomfortable. My inner conversation was to get into motion so that this feeling of wildness didn’t go too far. Wait, I thought, what’s wrong with wildness? Oh, it’s out of control.

I have to admit I am afraid of wildness. I want the neat and orderly world of my lawn rather than the uncertainty of what lies just beneath. I know that control isn’t really possible anyway. I mean, how can I control the weather, or how you feel, or what the stock market will do today? Control is such an intense focus that creates so much tension and no real payoff.  Yet, I pretend it’s possible. What folly.

I admire people who I feel are wild. I like their unrestrained nature. Is this admiration an invitation for me to allow my wildness to come out? As the terror of letting go of control abates a bit, I am getting interested in seeing what this wildness thing would be like. There are moments when I do feel it already. My wife says the fire comes into my eyes.

Maybe by just admitting my worries about the world being out of control, I can allow more of my wildness to come out. I’m getting excited about this possibility. I’mcurious to see how this unfolds….