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 Art of Being a Class Act: “If”

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Rudyard Kipling)

 

Suggested Resources:

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

“The Jungle Book” (Motion Picture)

 

 

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Words of Wisdom from Gene Simmons’s Mom

Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she is ninety this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Not his father; his mom.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten-million-dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)

 

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The Birth of a Child

“A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on. A book that does nothing to you is dead. A baby, whether it does anything to you, represents life. If a bad fire should break out in this house and I had my choice of saving the library or the babies, I would save what is alive. Never will a time come when the most marvelous recent invention is as marvelous as a newborn baby. The finest of our precision watches, the most super-colossal of our supercargo plants, don’t compare with a newborn baby in the number and ingenuity of coils and springs, in the flow and change of chemical solutions, in timing devices and interrelated parts that are irreplaceable. A baby is very modern. Yet it is also the oldest of the ancients. A baby doesn’t know he is a hoary and venerable antique — but he is. Before man learned how to make an alphabet, how to make a wheel, how to make a fire, he knew how to make a baby — with the great help of woman, and his God and Maker.”

(Carl Sandburg)

PS  Today, my wife and I became grandparents for the very first time.  We welcome our grandson, Everett, into our world.  We appreciate your prayers as he requires surgery within the next week.

 

Suggested Resources:

How to Babysit a Grandpa (Jean Reagan & Lee Wildish)

How to Babysit a Grandma (Jean Reagan & Lee Wildish)

 

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Dr. King on Excellence

“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.)

 

Suggested Resources:

The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE (Thomas J. Peters)

Inner Excellence: Achieve Extraordinary Business Success through Mental Toughness (Jim Murphy)

 

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Honesty Is Therapeutic…and Right

    “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–even with God.  But most of all, with 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 goals 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.
  • In my life of faith, do I really believe what I mouth as creed or simply parrot something I’ve been taught? Be ruthless on this one.  Nobody gets a free pass.  Someday, you will stand and account for your time here.  It will not be good enough to say “I did this because [insert name] told me this was the right thing to do.”
  • 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.  A tough sell but own this.
  • If money were no option, what would I do for a career? See yesterday’s post.  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? A mantra on this blog but you have to choose your circle of peeps carefully. Do they spur you on or deflate you?  And can you goad them in the direction of their best selves?

Honesty is therapy.  You will ultimately be a much happier person as you really start to tell yourself the way it is this year.  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.”

 

Suggested Resources:

Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth (Brad Blanton & Marilyn Ferguson)

Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life (Susan Campbell)

 

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