Get Real!


“Honesty is such a lonely word.  Everyone is so untrue.  Honesty is hardly ever heard.  But mostly what I need from you….” (Billy Joel)

Life thrives on health.  And healthy relationships thrive on honesty, on commitment to truth, whatever pains may ensue.  This is the same for all human interactions—with spouse, children, parents, colleagues, friends, etc.  But supremely with God and oneself.

I’m learning that in order to be honest with others, I must first be honest with myself.  I have to summon the moral courage to take a good look at where I’m at, what I like and dislike, where I’m going and with whom I’m going.

My wife has been the truest friend I’ve ever had largely because she sees me and tells me the truth, rarely with anything other than love.  She has helped me be courageous in asking myself tough questions about life and answering with the antidote of truth, even though it hurts.  One of my targets over the past few years is the practice of radical honesty, primarily with myself.  This will help me be more authentic with others because I’m a unity, rather than a potpourri of different selves adapting to the moment.

Go get alone, maybe with a journal and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, whatever, and ask yourself these tough questions and answer honestly:

  • Am I being true to my professed values, both in the public eye as well as out of line of sight? There is inherent tension that visits us when we profess one thing and live another.
  • Have I come to terms with the fact that I drove my own car to the place I’m at and to go further in my journey, I’ll have to drive there? Devil didn’t make you do it, the economy either, nor your parents.  Did they influence? Of course.  But we either acted or chose not to act.  This is a tough sell but you must own this.
  • If money were no option, what would I do for a career?  We’ve posted previously here at The Upside about the importance of doing what you love and were designed to do.  You have a sacred obligation to provide for your own, even if digging ditches.  But don’t stop there.  Work towards your dream occupation.  President Kennedy was fond of quoting the Greek maxim: “Happiness consists in the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.”
  • Am I continuing to nurture relationships that are hurting me? I spoke with a dear friend about this point earlier today.  This is something of a mantra on this blog, but you really have to choose your circle of friends and acquaintances carefully.  Do they spur you on or deflate you?  And can you goad them in the direction of their best selves?  A certain prominent minister was once given the sage advice “You need to go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.”  Think about that.  In what environments are you most appreciated—who you are as a person, your giftings, and your values?  It matters.

Honesty is therapy.  You will ultimately be a much happier person as you really start to tell yourself the way it is from this moment on.  There may be pain at the outset but that will be replaced with more peace, if only because you’re finally authentic.

“To thine own self be true.”

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Craft Your Own Job Security

Job SecurityStaying afloat in the turbulent waters of an economic downturn presents many challenges one might not otherwise face in a time of prosperity.  Navigating a volatile employment market takes ingenuity, drive, and creative thinking.  And not a little personal sacrifice.

The current unemployment rate, nationally, is about 7.4%.  It is, therefore, an employer’s market, even in the Armed Forces.  One career Army sergeant told me a few summers ago that the job security of being able to reenlist is a thing of the past.  Those who wish to do so are carefully scrutinized.  A record of poor performance, apathy, dust-ups with the law (e.g. bar fights, domestic mischief), etc., and your chances of being rehired are remote indeed.  Even the US Army can now pick and choose.

As well, many highly educated veterans in banking, InfoTech, retail, and other markets, having been downsized, are now taking the simplest jobs, with high mortgages and school bills coming due without fail.

What to do?

Job security is best stewarded in one’s own hands.  Labor unions can only go so far to ensure you have work to keep you busy and the bill collectors at bay.  Those who keep their skills current, their work ethic stellar, their thinking creative, and their drive unimpaired stand the best chance of finding and maintaining gainful, even satisfying, employment in this competitive economy.

Here are some things you can do to hone your edge and increase your staying power:

  • Traditional continuing education.  This means everything from attaining or completing a degree program to adult enrichment courses at your local community college.  You must weigh the costs associated and determine the value of the investment.  It is a fantastic choice for many.
  • Internet learning–at little or not cost.  There is so much free training material on the Web that one is able to complete a good deal of traditional education for little or no cost.  True, such training may not have the clout of an earned degree, but if it enables you to produce the results a company is looking for, you may get the job.  M.I.T. and Stanford, to name just two outstanding schools, have a huge assortment of free courses online—computer programming to engineering and everything in between.  Avail yourself.
  • A second job outside your primary vocation.  It does not hurt at all to learn skills completely unrelated to your career.  I am an IT professional, but also a carpenter, musician, baker, writer, and administrative assistant.  When the chips are down, I can look to these other fields for income and production.  If it means taking a second job at low pay and bottom of ladder, do it.  You will learn a new skill, valuable in itself.  And it may well keep you afloat in the days ahead.

Remember, you may have to train on your own time and dime.  Make the sacrifice.  Your sense of self-accomplishment as well as potential marketability are worth the effort!

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Respect: Its Acquisition and Maintenance

command-dont-demand-respect-fullSome time ago, I had a thought-provoking discussion with a group of young leaders.   A good deal of our interaction concerned the concept of respect.  Respect is something that is often misunderstood and confused with deference.  Let me explain.

Deference is the perfunctory and appropriate behavior we manifest towards position, authority and station in life.  You may not agree with a decision your boss or your President made this past week.  But prudence dictates that you are restrained when you express your displeasure and disagreement.  You do so mindful of the offices they occupy.  That is deference.

Respect, on the other hand, is rather an instinctual behavior, like sweating in hot, humid weather.  The gain or loss of respect is predicated on the presence or absence of integrity.  Put another way, deference is given; respect is earned.   It is an automatic response to the practice of integrity.

This is the way of life.  I’ve watched men in high office—political, corporate and ecclesiastical—demand respect without manifesting the kind of behavior that entitles them to respect.  It is unedifying, to say the least, and breeds cynicism in their constituents.  If you want respect, you’ve got to pay your dues.  They are substantial.  Respect is always earned.

I’ve both gained and lost the respect of people, especially those closest to me, over nearly fifty years of life.  This has always been in just proportion to my integrity or lack of it.  It’s no use for me to whine about “not getting respect” if I’ve not dug deep and won it.  There are no shortcuts.

How then does one win this prize, something essential to all human beings and particularly important to males?

  • Walk in integrity.  If you profess a creed, certain values and expectations, you must back these up with the currency of consistency.  You cannot keep two sets of books.  Be one person.  Not two or four or a dozen.  What you are in public must equate what you are when you are outside of public view, in the crucible of the secret place.
  • When you blow it, admit it. No equivocation.  No excuses.  No blame-shifting.  If you screw up, own it.  All of it.  And say you’re sorry and rebuild.  Apologizing and amending one’s ways with earnestness begins building respect immediately.
  • Realize that you cannot mandate an instinctive behavior.  You can say, “I am your father and you will not speak to me that way” to a mouthy child.  That is fair and right.  But when someone calls you out for your failures, you are not authorized to pull rank to avoid dealing with your transgressions.  If you do, you are a fool.  A big fool.  Don’t go there.

This prize is worth fighting for.  Be true, humble, and serve.  You’ll earn more respect than you know what to do with.

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A Place For Everything

organizedtoolsI’m a very organized male.  I have many weaknesses, but disorganization is not one of them.  (My friends say I’m a retentive.)  Time is something that none of us gets back once we squander it.  And disorganization is a big time-eating monster.  When you are unable to find what you’re looking for, time is a casualty.

Being a messy is very costly.

There’s an old adage that goes “ a place for everything; everything in its place.”  This is a real key.  How many times have you gone to your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot to buy something you know you had around the house somewhere, only to find out when doing a thorough cleaning that you had three or four of the thing you were looking for?

Disorganization also costs money.  I bet that got your attention.

Our public and collegiate libraries have very specific systems for classifying books—the Dewey and Library of Congress decimal systems respectively.  Why? So patrons can get the materials they are looking for with dispatch and little stress.

You can implement the same kind of thinking to de-clutter your life and take better care of your stuff, your money and your time.  And as a corollary, your life.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me.  Perhaps they’ll help you.

  • Allocate drawers and specific spaces in your house for your tools, clothes, cooking utensils.  Try to keep each thing with its family.  Sockets with sockets, chisels with chisels.
  • Make files for nearly everything.  Emails, news articles, documents, spreadsheets.  Files are indispensible.
  • If you’re a collector, alphabetize your collections by author or artist.  I do this for my library and music.  You can also classify by topic.  I have different sections of my library—over 3000 books, currently being downsized—and can point borrowing friends right where they want to look to find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Use your smart phone, a PDA, or a day planner to organize your days and appointments.  If you use Microsoft Office Outlook, you can use the calendar to remind you with messages for upcoming appointments.  As far as day planners go, if you like bulk, go for Franklin Covey.  I used one for about sixteen years.  Moleskine and others have scaled-down versions that are very helpful.  Check out your local Staples or Office Max for a whole lot more.
  • Use spreadsheets.  Microsoft Excel has all sorts of neat features that allow you to keep track of everything from your stocks to collections to family budgets.

In coming posts, I will share more specific tips.  You will find you get a lot more done in less time and have less loss as you get things in order.

Have at it!

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Baby Steps On the Way to Success

baby-steps-big-dreamsOne of the most hilarious movies I ever seen—and a favorite of our family—is the 1991 motion picture, What About Bob?  This delightful film portrays the comical interactions of a successful and slightly neurotic psychotherapist, Leo Marvin  (Richard Dreyfuss), with his nerdy and phobic new client, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray).

The story features newly-published Dr. Marvin counseling his patients, especially the recent, irritating, and charming Bob–who is afraid of everything–that goals and growth can be accomplished by taking small actions toward their fulfillment.  In Bob’s case, small, bite-size actions are the key to overcoming his fears and neuroses.

Baby steps!

Bob succeeds in driving Leo Marvin to the brink and over.  In the process, Bob grows and Leo regresses.  Watch the film.

I’ve been thinking about goals and how to reach them over the past few years.  If you’re like me and over six billion other bipeds on this sphere we call Earth, you probably find the goals you pursue often appear like giant mountains or obstacle courses.  If you focus on the size of them, you may very well become discouraged and either suspend them or give them up altogether.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tze once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”  My wife often reminds me of the moral of Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”:   Slow and steady wins the race.  Plodding.  Patience.  Keep on keeping on.  You get the picture.

What to do:

  • Write down your goals.  This is the very first step. The success literature seems to be united on this point.  Why?  Committing goals to paper makes them more real.  Tangible.  The human mind is so conditioned that when a goal is made specific, the brain will kick into gear and come up with strategies to fulfill that goal.  Make short term, medium, and long-range goals. What are one hundred things you want to do and become before you die?  Write them down today.
  • Begin thinking of a baby steps process to meet them.  One of my colleagues at work runs half-marathons in the beautiful Adirondacks in our state.  She won a medal during one of them.  I asked her how she did it?  She told me she did it by a gradual process of progressive running, working up to twelve to thirteen miles.  She’s planning on running a full marathon.  I bet she’ll do it!  Lay out specific, easily digestible steps toward finishing the meal.  Little bites.  Baby steps.
  • Dream big.  Often we fail to reach goals because we make them too easy.  If you’re meant to ski Olympic size courses, you’ll not be happy staying on the bunny hill.  Set the bar high.

You were meant to win at life, not lose, or drown in boredom.  Do it!

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The Hard Work Factor in Making It

hard-workIf you stop by The Upside often, you’ll know that over the past number of years, I’ve mentored  young leaders..  During one particular period, a handful of guys in their twenties met with me and we discussed leadership, family, career and steps to success.  They were inspiring and invigorating meetings.

A couple of these men work between ninety and one hundred hours a week.

No, that wasn’t a typo.

90-100 hours every week, holding down multiple jobs.

You simply cannot expect to advance in your career, increase your income and become exceptional in your vocations and avocations without putting time into them.  A lot of time.

There are no shortcuts.  Those who are “getting rich quick” with cheap moneymaking schemes will eventually lose.  Being clever is not necessarily the mark of being a professional.  Nor is it a benchmark of character.

These guys earn my respect.  They are putting out to get ahead for their families—multiple jobs, college and vocational schooling.  And they carve out a couple of hours each week to meet and be challenged.

I’ve long admired the cultural, economic and vocational achievements of the Jewish people.  Jews make up one fifth of one percent of the world’s population and yet have won about twenty-two percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded since 1901.

This is due in part to a sober understanding that to get ahead and make an impact in the world takes an enormous amount of focus and hard work over many years.  The Jewish people have understood this as well as any people group in history.

God initially set the bar for humanity when He said, “Six days you shall labor and do your work.  The seventh is a Sabbath (rest) to the Lord your God.”  The Hebrew day was a twelve hour day.  Over a six-day period, that comprises seventy-two hours (no, I didn’t say forty).

There are no shortcuts.

I left our meeting challenged by the lifestyle of my colleagues.  How much would my skills as a writer and a musician improve—exponentially—if I worked ninety plus hours each week (including my forty-hour day job)?

How much indeed?

Time to get at it.

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“You Can’t Outsmart the Work”

You Cant Outsmart the WorkJim Rohn is one of my favorite self-development teachers.  I’ve been mentored by him over the past few years through his writings and recorded seminars.  I have never met him.  He died in 2009 after a full life.

Some time ago, I heard him dispense this nugget, worthy of wrapping one’s head around:

“Make rest a necessity, not an objective.”

Now that’s a new and powerful way of highlighting the importance of working hard.

Rest is something we earn.  This sounds foreign to American ears.  We are used to the “standard” of a forty-hour work week.  But forty hours of labor over a seven day period—as enough to get ahead–is distinctly Western and recent.  Our grandparents didn’t think like this.

I’ve heard it said that if you’re only working forty hours a week, it’s not likely you’ll get ahead–certainly not as far ahead as your dreams, goals, and ambitions.

Even God worked six days out of seven when He created the cosmos.  He wasn’t done on Friday afternoon at 5:00.

I have family members who are doctors, attorneys, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, Federal officials, and much more.  They’ve all gotten where they’re at the old-fashioned way:  They worked their tails off.  Nobody handed any of them anything.

Here are just a few benefits that will return to you with greater effort and longer hours, as you create a life:

  • You will certainly grow in your chosen fields of vocation and avocation.
  • Your sense of accomplishment will increase as you tackle and master more skills and meet goals.
  • You will run far ahead of the pack simply because many, if not most, are content to put their expected time in, satisfied with “working their forty hours.”
  • Your earning potential will undoubtedly increase, especially if the extra effort is focused and you strive for greater levels of excellence at all to which you put your hands to.

This isn’t a paean of praise to workaholism, far from it.  But in a culture that lives for the weekend, for partying, for good times and leisure, one tends to get an unrealistic picture of what it takes to win at life and realize your full potential.  It’s simply a matter of adjusting your perspective to accord with reality.

So my advice is this:  See work and labor not as a curse, but as a blessing.  Some of the most successful people in recent memory got that way, in sizeable measure, because they love working:  Donald Trump, Gene Simmons, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.  Look for lots of increases in many different ways as you likewise work harder toward fulfilling your destiny.

And, when you have striven and exerted and are tired, then rest.

You’ve earned it.

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