The Hidden Costs of Shortcuts

30 09 2013

The Hidden Costs of Shortcuts

“I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and by manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world and far more satisfying when it comes without exploiting others.” (Alan Greenspan)

Bernie Madoff.  Michael Milken.  Ivan Boesky.  Charles Ponzi.  Jack Abramoff.   Enron.

The aforementioned are cataloged in the annals of infamy for cutting corners financially, hurting a lot of people and ending up in jail.  Greed and hubris motivated them all.  Plus the fatal narcotic of self-deception, thinking they could get away with their crimes.

There is no shortcut to the building of a large and stable estate.  Wealth grows in the soil of patience, competence and hard work.  There are no substitutes.

A good deal of the writings in the book of Proverbs came from Solomon, son of David, Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king.  Here is what he had to say about the acquisition of wealth:

  • Pro 28:8  Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
  • Pro 28:19  Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
  • Pro 28:22  A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
  • Pro 10:4  A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
  • Pro 21:17  Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
  • Pro 22:16  Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
  • Pro 13:11  Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Avoid like the plague the get-rich-quick mentality.  Build your estate, your wealth, day by day, dollar by dollar on a foundation of hard work, thrift, competence and compassion.  You are not Gordon Gecko.  You’re better than that.  Avoid the siren song of cutting corners and coloring outside of the lines to get ahead.

“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” (Sophocles)

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Uneven Performance and Excellence

29 09 2013

Uneven PerformanceDerek Jeter, throughout a stellar career in Major League Baseball that has spanned eighteen seasons, gets a hit—on average—only three times for every ten at-bats.  And he is destined for induction in the Hall of Fame, probably the first ballot, five years after he retires.

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player to step onto an NBA court, has missed more shots than he’s taken.  That’s an admission out of his own mouth and a matter of statistical fact.  And he’s Michael Jordan—a Hall of Famer and the standard by which professional hoopsters are judged.

Thomas Edison had over a thousand failures before he perfected the incandescent light bulb.  He kept at it until he got it right.

None of us is perfect.  We are all uneven performers in every conceivable area of life.  And yet we are capable of excellence and being outstanding in those things to which we put our hands.  Think about that.

Excellence does not mean never making a mistake, striking out, dropping a pass or making a train wreck of a meeting or conversation.  It does mean, however, getting up and dusting off, stepping back into the batter’s box, and calling someone and saying, “I’m sorry.  I blew it.  Please forgive me.”

Failed recently?  Join the club.  You are not a god and neither am I.  We are uneven often, perhaps most of the time.  But we keep at it.  We don’t stop trying.  We double down and give better effort and evaluate failure points as well as those times where we succeeded.

Okay now—no self-pity.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Bruised egos are not fatal by any means.  Get back on that horse and charge!

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Indulge Your Instinct to Create

28 09 2013

CreativityI believe that every human being who is living or has ever lived was made in the image of God, the Creator.  I believe this, first of all, because I am a Christian and believe the biblical record that says God made man in His own image.

From that reality follows certain things.  We are moral creatures, capable of choosing good or evil.   We have personality and intellect, heart and soul, drive and ambition, capacity and ability.

And creativity.  Like Creator, like creation.

Yesterday’s post, unpacking a quote by bestselling author Stephen King, highlighted the importance of reading as preparation for writing.  King’s goal, without a doubt, is to stimulate literary creativity.  He wants writers to write and to do so with skill.

I think I need to bring a necessary balance.

One might be left with the unfortunate conclusion, having read King’s quote, that unless one is a reader, especially an avid one, he or she ought not try to write.  Following on that logic, unless one has music or art lessons—especially “proper” ones—one ought not try to draw, paint, sculpt, or play piano.  Really?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Training in the arts is often helpful.  It gives one exposure to the best that creatives have offered fellow human beings throughout our history.  Such training often helps us along with instruction in techniques, interpretation, style, and grace.

But sometimes such training, though well-intentioned, has had the effect of stifling or even truncating one’s gifts.  Not all the time for sure, but too often.

The creative instinct is by nature a wild, exuberant, and wonderful thing.  It tends to defy a leash and, indeed, often withers by such an attachment.  It was because he thought about the universe as a child, rather than as a scientist, that Albert Einstein formulated his theories of relativity (General and Special).

What to do then?  Simple.  Write!  Draw!   Play!  Compose!  Sculpt!  Act!  Do so with wild abandon.  There’s little you cannot do unless someone tells you that you can’t.  That’s not the purpose of this blog.  My biggest regrets have come by believing I couldn’t do something significant because someone older and “wiser” told me I couldn’t.

And as for training?  Think it through and do so carefully.  If it enhances the gifts you’ve been given, then try it out.  If not, continue creating and let the snowflakes layer the ground where they will.

Most of all, enjoy the ride.  There’s nothing quite like creating, inventing, and reimagining.  It is, in fact, a divine partnership with the One who made you.

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Reading and Its Importance For Writers

27 09 2013

CA: Premiere Of Paramounts' Remake Of "The Manchurian Candidate" - Arrivals

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King)

When I first read this quote, I thought it a little harsh, candidly.  But as I’ve chewed on it over the past year or so, I think it is a statement of reality.

I’m a voracious reader.  If you’ve visited The Upside regularly, you know that.  So I am not intimidated by Stephen King’s perspective on the importance of reading as preparation for effective writing.  Why?

I am a musician.  I play guitar and piano.  In fact, I’ve been playing guitar since 1976.  I acquired my chops by learning the songs and imitating the styles of my heroes—Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Phil Keaggy, etc.  Imitation, in writing as in music and an array of other disciplines, is the way we learn and then cultivate our own voice, our own style.  What we see modeled, we emulate.

So, is King’s observation fair?

I think it is.  His excellent and hilarious book—from which the above quote is taken—On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, details his own development as a writer and the importance reading played in his own life, inspiring him to write.  It is an insightful and easy read.  Just the other night, I laughed myself to tears as I worked through about eighty pages.  Stephen King is one of the most unpretentious writers one will ever meet.

Confession:  Though I’ve read most of his book on writing, I’ve not yet read one of his novels.  But I’m sure I will.

But why is reading important for an aspiring writer?  Simply this.  For one, you are exposed to information and perspective which you’d otherwise have not considered.  But more to the point, reading is apprenticeship.  An apprentice learns his or her craft, whatever it is, by sitting at the feet or standing beside a master or mistress of the same.  We learn by what is modeled to us.  To avoid reading is to diminish perspective and stunt growth in skill.

It is interesting to me that John Wesley once told the Methodist ministers under his leadership either to read or leave the ministry.  Was he being harsh?  Uppity?  Not at all.  He just knew that failure to read was to leave oneself vulnerable to the prison of a very narrow perspective: One’s own.  Same with King.

Illiteracy is certainly a problem in our land.  And, to be fair and charitable, reading does not come with ease or delight to all.  But you must keep at it.  We have at our disposal these days all sorts of vehicles that deliver us information—books, blogs, websites, audio and video files.  Whatever you do, if you are a communicator with an audience, you must learn and process information, perspective, and style.  There are no shortcuts.

So…if you’re not reading and learning and growing, begin now.  You’ll be pleased with the results in your writing and in your life.

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Ray Bradbury On Writing and Creativity

26 09 2013

Ray Bradbury

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” (Ray Bradbury)

Do yourself a favor and read Ray’s inimitable book on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing.  You will find yourself ablaze in passion and wonder.

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The High Cost of Poor Eating

25 09 2013

Cheap FoodAh…junk!  Cheap carbs and sweets.  Such a treat for the palate.  They go down the gullet with ease and feel so good.  You can’t stop with just one (and you thought it was only certain potato chips).  And the best part?  They’re so inexpensive, compared to other foods.

Really?

You need to rethink this and do the math.

Highly processed foods, cheap carbs, sweets, are all placed at eye level, center aisles, and checkout counters at discount stores for a reason.  Companies make a lot of money on sheer sales volume of such “foods.”  And for good reason.  They’re inexpensive, so we buy more and feel great about it, having saved so much money on such tasty items.  What a bargain.

Here’s some hidden costs to cheap food you may not know about:

  • A diet high in cheap carbohydrates increases your appetite.  Therefore, you buy and eat more.
  • A diet high in cheap carbs also leaves you feeling stuffed and your thinking foggy.
  • You will pack on the pounds quickly because cheap carbs are treated like sugar which inhibits your body from burning fat.
  • Sodium and sugar = water retention = added weight.
  • A lot of ingredients in these “foods” are unnatural—hybrids created in the lab which the body has a hard time processing.  High fructose corn syrup, for example, is everywhere and not particularly good for you.
  • The added weight brings a host of physical and psychological problems with them—increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension as well as “I feel so fat and can’t fit into my clothes.  This too costs money over the long haul.  More visits to the doctor and psychotherapist often result.

Disclaimer:  I am neither a physician nor a nutritionist.  These are reflections from my own journey.

I’ve lost nearly thirty pounds over the last six months or so and kept them off by changing some things around.  Instead of cheap food, I’m eating stuff “closer to the ground” and touched by as few processes as possible—fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, fish, etc.

I’m no different than you.  I’m undisciplined in all sorts of areas and I love junk.  Ice cream, candy bars, pizza, pasta, chips, cheese puffs (ate with a fork so I don’t get cheese on my paws), etc.  I love it all.  But it comes at a price.

Here’s where I’ve benefited:

  • I’m lighter and fit into my clothes.  Thus I feel better physically and sharper mentally.
  • Gone are the blood sugar spikes and drops that make me feel cranky mid-morning.  Type 2 Diabetes, I’m told, can in some cases be reversed by a change in diet and lifestyle.
  • I eat less because I’m not as hungry.

There’s no such thing as cheap food, really.  You end up paying one way or another, one day or another.  Have you ever noticed that the discount stores place the cheap and unhealthy items front and center, while the good stuff is on the periphery.  It’s basic marketing.  It’s calculated.  And it works.

You deserve better.  Make the change and see if you’re not pleased with the results.

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Careful–Your Tongue Is Loaded!

24 09 2013

Tongue A WeaponIf we had any conception of the power of the spoken word, I’m convinced we’d be different people.  We would handle words—whether spoken or written—like a bomb squad handles a bomb that needs defusing.

As a Christian, I believe the universe was spoken into existence.  Obviously, I was not there to witness it.  But I believe the biblical record when it talks about how the universe was framed:  From the mouth of God.  I’ve no intent to go into the various scientific cosmologies.  But I do believe the record that says “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3)

If words create worlds, what do they produce when uttered or penned by creatures made in the image of God?  Maybe, as Peter Kreeft says, we should all be wearing crash helmets, considering that words are so powerful.

I’ve served in three different churches as an associate pastor since 1993.  I learned very quickly that words have the power to destroy people and cripple them for years, sometimes for life.  And I learned that people can shoot for the stars with a little encouragement.  That words are creative.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)

Treat your mouth and your pen as either loaded instruments or creative vehicles.  “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” simply does not square with reality.  Try these on your family, friends and associates:

“You’re gonna make it.”

“The best is yet to come.”

“I love you.”

“I forgive you.”

“You can do this.  You have what it takes.”

Watch what happens.  And when tempted to let someone feel the brunt of your anger by your tongue, stop for a bit, think carefully and remember that you are in the possession of a loaded weapon.

Handle with care.

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