Showing Up or Phoning It In?

showing up or phoning it in

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1988, I was hired as the sole manager of a full-line bakery in Upstate New York. I was twenty-four years old and newly married. The owner of the bakery lived a hundred miles away. We did business twenty-four hours a day, 364 days a year. We closed for Christmas; that was it. I was on call always. I learned to get on well with fatigue, my constant buddy.

I learned a lot during the two and a half years I managed the business. One lesson I learned early was the importance of your attitude toward your work, however menial or apparently insignificant. That first year I had one particular employee who worked the counter as one of our bakery clerks. This lady was bright, but not very motivated to keep busy in her tasks, which included waiting on customers and preparing baked goods for the showcases. She told me one day, “When I get a real job, then I will work hard.” (Apparently preparing and selling food, a basic life necessity, didn’t qualify as real work.) Eventually she moved on.

That is the one thing I remember about her. She came to work but she didn’t show up. She punched the clock and did minimal enough work to ensure she didn’t get fired. But she didn’t try. Her attitude colored everything. I’ve wondered a lot over three decades where she ended up in life.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. The best you can. We cheat ourselves and our colleagues when we give the least amount of effort necessary rather than being a professional and acting like it.

Here’s a few reality checks that will help you:

  • What is your attitude as you approach work? Is it engaged and focused, or passive and listless? Trust me, those to whom you report or who report to you can tell the difference.
  • With your tasks, how attentive are you to the details? It’s in the details that excellence and mediocrity part ways. Take the time to do it right. The first time.
  • Are you committed to continuous learning and improvement in your work or do you stay only as current as you need to keep afloat? Doing the latter will catch up with you, eventually; doing the former will serve you.

Suggested Resources:

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life  (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

The Success Principles(TM) – 10th Anniversary Edition: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield with Janet Switzer)

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The Art of Listening: Talk Less

the art of listening - talk less

Hi. My name is Christian and I suck at listening.

There, I said it.

The late biblical scholar William Lane used to say, “The best way to show someone you love them is to listen to them.” One of his protégés, biblical scholar and music artist Michael Card, certainly remembered that one.

He was right, of course. You show you care about another person by listening to them. By hearing them. When people feel they’ve been heard, they feel valued and validated.

Maybe you’re like me and lots of others. We get a little too thrilled by the sound of our own voices. A little too impressed with our brilliance. So, of course, we must turn such brilliance loose on the world. We do this with lots of words, domination of our conversations, pontificating ad nauseam, etc. We interrupt, assemble responses while the other is talking to us, talk over the top of their words. That’s how people talk past each other. And that’s happening a lot these days.

I am guilty. Of all of it.

This is the first of a series of posts I’ll be doing here at The Upside on the importance of listening. Feel free to stop by while I try to get this right. I’m preaching to myself.

So what is the first step to learning the art of listening?

Talk less.

That’s it. Reduce word count. Diminish air time. The document I’m typing right now has a word count to it. We don’t really do the same with our speech, at least not without a whole lot of work, say recording yourself for a certain time period and getting a transcript of everything coming out of your mouth and reducing it to a word count. We’d be shocked and embarrassed by how much and how silly a lot of it is.

Try this. Next time you are in a conversation, pause three seconds before responding. Make it a game. Gee, I wonder how few words I can use to respond? Be like Ernest Hemingway was with prose, ruthlessly cutting away needless words.

More will follow. Here’s the promise: If you truly become a good listener, your stock will soar. Why? Good listeners, like diamonds, are rare.

Shhhhh.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Walk: The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends (Michael Card)

The Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships (Michael P. Nichols)

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson (Mitch Albom)

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

 

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The Fun (and Necessity) of Physical Things

the fun of physical things

Would you rather play or watch?

Over three decades ago, I worked as a day baker for a retired professional athlete in my hometown, Lake Orion MI. This man was an interesting character. After playing Major League Baseball, he went into the food business but kept his hand in baseball. He did fantasy camps, consulted young athletes and their coaches, did color commentary on broadcast baseball games, signed autographs at card shows, etc. However, he let me know more than once that he’d rather play than watch baseball any day. (Detroit Tiger pitcher Mickey Lolich was my boss, for those interested.)

We are physical creatures. We have five senses, all clamoring for stimulation. The essence of feeling more alive, not less, is to be fully, bodily involved in life, whenever possible. An actual, rather than a virtual, existence.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax is easily the most interesting read I’ve come across in the past few years. This is not simply a book about the resurrection of the vinyl LP market. It includes that, but also has chapters on board games (Settlers of Catan), film photography (FILM Ferrania), longhand writing and sketching (Moleskine) and much more.

Sax is a journalist in Toronto, ON. The opening of a new vinyl record shop near his apartment renewed his lost love for 33⅓ hot wax. He bought a turntable and began bringing home records. Inspired by his experience with turntable and record albums, he ventured out into the world to places like Nashville, London, Milan and New York to understand why people—many of them born after turntables, rotary phones and typewriters were ubiquitous and who’ve been raised in the speed-of-light, digital world—are turning back to simpler, more archaic forms of hobby and interest. What he found was stunning.

Physical things like record albums, pencils, chess boards, film and brick-and-mortar bookstores are not dying; they are attracting interest and market capital. Oh, and making money. Sax uses analog as a metaphor for things that involve physical, face-to-face interaction, with as many senses involved as the experience will allow. An analog approach and technology is about the experience of the participant.

There are many benefits to analog technology but here’s just one: It slows you down as you use it. Analog things cause you to be in the moment due to their slower and ungainly nature. They don’t depend on fiber-optics and binary number combinations. 1’s and 0’s have their limits.

What are some of your favorite analog things? Records, real print books, Monopoly, hand woodworking tools? And how can adopting or revisiting analog technologies and practices give you a richer life in addition to your digital, online world?

Tell us in the comments!

 

Suggested Resources:

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (Michael Gelb)

Measure Twice, Cut Once: Lessons from a Master Carpenter (Norm Abram)

 

Image Credit: Christian Fahey

Stops. And Starts.

just start 2

You’re forty years old. Middle age is upon you. When you smile, crow’s feet appear. And you’ve just lost your job. Fired.

May 1995. That’s where forty-year old Jim Grant found himself. An Englishman and a big man, 6’ 5”, Jim had made a career in British television production only to see that career dismantled strategically by people and forces over which he had no control. There was little he could do about it and he was angry. And broke.

Jim needed to do something to make a living and didn’t have time or money to waste. He went to the store and bought pencils and a ream of notebook paper. Pencils, because they’re cheaper than pens. He didn’t have a computer. He just sat down at his kitchen table and began to write:

I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock.

Fans of the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child, Jim Grant’s pen name, will recognize these words as the opening lines of Killing Floor, the first of the Jack Reacher novels. Lee Child has published twenty-three Reacher novels, all bestsellers, with a twenty-fourth in production to be published this year.

What are the takeaways for you and me in this short sketch? Here’s a couple:

  • He started writing at middle age, not as a kid. He did this because he needed to make a living and had been in entertainment most of his life. A novel is entertainment. Child argues that beginning to write at middle age is a great thing because you have experience with life. This gives credibility to your stories. See the video below.
  • He channeled his anger and frustration creatively. He didn’t baptize his misfortunes in pint after pint.
  • He began the career of a New York Times bestselling author in the least sexy way possible: At his kitchen table with pencils and loose-leaf notebook paper to save money. No Macbook Pro. No fancy creative space. Just a chair, table, pencil and a piece of paper. It doesn’t take much. Just put your butt in the chair and begin.

That’s what he did. You can do the same.

So start.

Suggested Resources:

Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future (Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer with Paul B. Brown)

Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me (Andy Martin)

Image Credit: Christian Fahey

 

Habits + Time = Exponential Growth

atomic habits 190108

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”—James Clear

I’m currently reading an excellent recent book by James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. In this book, Clear argues that goals–while important for setting a direction—are not the things we need to focus on primarily to improve our lives. Rather, we should focus on processes to help us become the kinds of people who regularly meet their targets. The primary tools in the process tool chest are our habits. As the title suggests, the habits are small things that over time shape a life for accomplishment or waste.

Clear gives an example: “The goal is not to learn an instrument; the goal is to become a musician.” The same for becoming runners and readers, not simply finishing marathons or books. The more important target is making these habits a regular, automatic part of your life. You just do the stuff regularly without thinking and stressing about it.

The idea that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world” has been attributed to Albert Einstein. Einstein surely understood exponents if not banking. What Clear teaches us is that the steady progress of all habits, good and bad, do not reveal their force immediately but over time. The “10,000 hour rule” for mastery of a skill comes to mind.

Habits + Time = Self-Improvement10   Habits are extremely powerful!

I will share more from this excellent book in the days ahead. It has changed my goal-centered approach to my own growth to one that values the habits I cultivate. The habits can be small, but if repeated over a good chunk of time will yield remarkable results. The task is to begin small and repeat faithfully to build the automatic instinct to continue into your lifestyle.

Here are a few practical ways to begin:

  • Commit to exercise ten minutes a day rather than a massive goal of five hours a week at the gym. That goal can come later.
  • Get up fifteen minutes earlier to read rather than one hour earlier. Anybody can do fifteen minutes earlier and the benefit of feeding your mind will encourage you to lengthen those early morning self-care times.
  • Have one half slice of pizza less than you normally would. Or one cigarette less. Or one drink less.

Suggested Resources:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (James Clear)

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer)

Image Credit: Christian Fahey

Teddy Roosevelt on Courage

“A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)

The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (Theodore Roosevelt)

 

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Decisiveness and Leadership

If there is one thing that defines a leader, it is decisiveness.  This is that indispensable ability to weigh the facts, select a course of action, then execute it at the right moment.  When the heat is on and somebody needs to act, it is the leader who looks at everything, makes a plan, and moves forward without looking back.

Chuck Missler, US Naval Academy grad (class of 1956, pictured above), once said, “Weak men hurt people.”  He made this statement in 1982, at a gathering where he spoke on business ethics.  Chuck made his living as a professional executive in the Defense and semiconductor industries for over thirty years.  He happened to be teaching a group of Christians to be ethical and stable in their business dealings.  Chief among these qualities are decisiveness and keeping one’s word.  “The sanctity of a commitment” was a value he saw in short supply after leaving the executive suite.  At the time of this talk, he was CEO of Western Digital Corporation, a proven leader with ballast.

You will never get anywhere being wishy-washy.  Vacillation and inability to come to a decision are fatal to leadership.  In contrast, people will follow someone who knows where he is going and knows how to get there.  And with dispatch, knowing that time is too precious to waste with “analysis paralysis.”

When the pressure’s on, the leader cannot afford to buckle.  Time, money, confidence, respect; all are lost when someone positioned to do the right thing can’t make a decision or takes too much time doing so.

It is far better to make ten decisions and have seven of them prove to be good decisions rather than to wait and wait and only make two good decisions.  The reason is that although both decisions turned out to be good, the effect of waffling has compromised your influence.  Playing it safe often makes your followers feel unsafe.    Why can’t he make up his mind?  Are we staying or going?

Your high calling as a leader—whether as a husband, business leader, captain of a sports team, etc.–means being decisive.  You cannot afford to be ambivalent in the clutch.  It is charming when we watch “Fiddler on the Roof” and see it with Tevye the Dairyman.  In real life, vacillating is uninspiring at best and dangerous at worst.  It certainly doesn’t win our respect.

Being decisive and stable brings a host of benefits not only to the leader but to those who follow him or her.  You earn admiration.  You inspire those watching.  In the marketplace, if you can weigh the facts and act quickly, you’re worth more money than those who can’t.  If you’re a military leader, you will undoubtedly save more lives than you lose.

Here’s the challenge.  This next month, make a calculated effort to make quicker decisions.  Do this with anything from where to go out to eat to vacation plans to starting a new growth project, like a blog or exercise program.  Weigh the evidence, do a cost/benefit analysis and then act.

You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

 

Suggested Resources:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Chip & Dan Heath)

Decisiveness: An Essential Guide to Mastering the Decision Making Process to Quickly Move Forward in Life on the Best Possible Path (Sergio Craig)

 

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