Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

25 08 2017

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

Image Credit

 

Advertisements




Give People a Better Experience (Than They’ve Been Getting)

21 08 2017

A few years back, I read something from renowned editor and author Sol Stein in his excellent book, Stein on Writing.  He wrote that the correct intention for a writer was “to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.”  I was really struck by that because, like many others who write and enjoy it, I do so “because I have something to say” or “need to get something off my chest” or “have a passion for this or that.”  Stein’s point is that the focus of our writing is to enhance and ennoble the life of the reader.  It’s not about me.

I began extrapolating this important reality.  What one does in writing one can do in daily life.  You can position yourself in such a way that every encounter people have with you makes their day far better than it would have been.

So I had to ask myself, “How do people experience my presence in their lives?”  Being honest I’d have to admit that at times my involvements in the lives of the people I live and work with have energized them.  Other times I’ve drained them.  Usually the drain part comes when I make the encounter all about me.  The energizing quality, however, comes when I forget me and seek to “provide [insert name] with an experience that is superior to the experience he or she encounters in everyday life.”

Be honest.  How do people experience you?

The world, especially the technical world, both praises and misses the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers.  When Steve passed away, I was reading Leander Kahney’s excellent book Inside Steve’s Brain.  The one thing that emerged very quickly from my reading was that the experience of the user was one of the absolute core values of Steve Jobs and Apple.  Still is.  Millions of dollars and countless thousands of work hours were and are spent to provide Apple customers with a superior experience in their interaction with modern technology.  Jobs examined every aspect of the experience of an Apple customer and, with his outstanding team, honed it endlessly to ensure that the complex was simplified and that the experience of the buyer—even down to the opening and assembly of a new computer—was superior to anything else out there.  Jobs’ solution to the problem of pirating of music (through illegal downloading) was to provide such a superior experience for one visiting the iTunes Store, that one would be willing to pay for the tunes and files they wanted, rather than pirate them.  A superior experience as a curative for a moral and economic problem.  Brilliant.

Challenge for the day: Ask yourself how people experience your presence in daily life.  Be honest and willing to make adjustments, shifts in thinking, learn new stuff, whatever.  You may be surprised how people jump out of the woodwork when they see how their lives are enhanced just by being with you—a superior experience.

 

Suggested Resources:

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

The Heart, Head, and Hands of a Servant Leader: Unleashing Personal Greatness to Serve Others (Michael J. Stabile)

 

Image Credit

 





Encouragement As a Tipping Point

16 08 2017

How many times have you heard the sentence “it was the straw that broke the camel’s back?”  We use these words when someone has reached an emotional breaking point.  Usually some relatively little thing pushes a person under duress to the brink.  They snap, blow up, break down.  It’s left to others to pick up the wreckage.

Such a moment may be called a tipping point.  Someone holds up against relentless pressure and circumstances until some minor thing causes them to collapse.  A straw.

A tipping point is an event in a defining moment that changes things in a big way.  In a life.  Sometimes in an entire culture.  The end of the Roman gladiatorial games in the Colosseum as a result of Telemachus’s protest comes to mind.   Or the  public 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in which her neighborhood witnesses did nothing to intervene and protect her.  This tragedy highlighted a culture of indifference and non-involvement.

I’d like to suggest that there are also such tipping points that result from continual encouragement.

There is always room in our world for another voice saying things like “you’re the man”; “you are beautiful”; “you have what it takes”; “you can do this.”  It often takes repeated positive affirmations to reach a tipping point in a life.   The point at which the recipient of the encouragement begins to believe it and act.

There are many broken homes in our land.  Families fractured and alienated.  Usually, the most potent fallout from a disintegrated family lands on the children.  This is not to say that fathers and mothers who’ve divorced one another do not encourage their kids.  Far from it.  But the absence of one of the parents and an intact family certainly has a devastating effect.

Young men need to be told they have what it takes to compete and win in the marketplace and in life.  Young women need to know they are protected, valuable and beautiful.

Continually encouraging human beings, especially the young, will no doubt cause such marvelous tipping points.  The point at which a person begins to see within themselves what God and others have known all along.  But it takes positive affirmation, repeated over time, to crest that watershed.

I challenge you to make it your goal to bring as many people, through your words, to a making point (as opposed to a breaking point).  Use your tongue as the creative instrument God intended it to be.  And watch as the light dawns in someone’s eyes as they realize that they are valuable, loved and eternally matter.

Suggested Resources:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Malcolm Gladwell)

The Unlimited Self: Destroy Limiting Beliefs, Uncover Inner Greatness, and Live the Good Life (Jonathan Heston)

 

Image Credit





What Is a Friend?

10 08 2017

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

(Aristotle)

What are the tasks of a friend?  Here are a few:

  • They see you as you are and take you in anyway, warts and all.
  • They’re the ones you’re not nervous about calling or texting at two in the morning.
  • They listen and your body language informs you that you’re safe in their presence. You don’t have to sell or earn anything.
  • They last.

Remember your true friends.  The ones who will throw themselves on a grenade to protect you.  The ones who are there when those who want something from you have trotted away.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Walk (Michael Card)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

 

Image Credit

 





The Thirst for Mercy

2 08 2017

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

(J.R.R. Tolkien)

 

Suggested Resources:

A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken)

The Name of God Is Mercy (Pope Francis)

Radical Forgiveness: A Revolutionary Five-Stage Process to:- Heal Relationships – Let Go of Anger and Blame – Find Peace in Any Situation (Colin Tipping)

 

Image Credit

 





The Best Friend One Can Be

1 08 2017

BFF.  Bestie.  “People let me tell you ‘bout my best friend….” (“Courtship of Eddie’s Father” for those of us who remember the TV show theme.)

What kind of friend do you want to be?  Answer that with your response to “What kind of person do you consider a friend?”

When I was first dating my wife, I asked her how many true friends she had.  Her answer rattled me.  “Well, not many.  In my mind, a friend is someone who will die for you.”

Well.

We’ve all had “friends” who we are convenient for:

  • The *friend* you haven’t heard from in nine years.  iPhone vibrates.  “Hey, how are you??!! I’ve been thinking about you lately.  How are you?  How’s the family? (long pause) I’d like to tell you about something I’m involved in.  Can I share with you?” (Sales pitch for their new business or multi-level marketing product ensues. It’s a cold call, that’s all.)  “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
  • The *friend* who calls you up, sounds off about their life, drama, and difficulties for an hour then finally says, “So how’s it going with you?” Five minutes later after you’ve started to answer and bleed, “Well, I’ve got to get going.”
  • The *friend* who uses you as a sounding board. (Wannabe ministers are good for this.)  They preach their sermon and you are their congregation.  I had one *friend* literally not respond at all when I told them my stepfather passed away.  No affect.  Nothing.  After he had preached of course.
  • The *friend* who is there while you’re providing them a service or helping them build their business, their brand, or their empire. Then they’re gone and you don’t hear from them again.  Until, of course, they need your help and skill.

This cuts both ways.  Are you the kind of *friend* who finds people convenient rather than valuable?  Don’t lie.

Maybe we use the word friend in the same meaningless way we say “awesome” to everything.  Such friends might better be called associates, acquaintances or colleagues, even peeps.  Don’t ruin something as beautiful as the word “friend” misapplying to people like this or to you if it fits.  Nobody likes to be used.

This is what friends do:

  • They ask you how you are doing and then listen.
  • They really want nothing from you except you.
  • They call out the best in you and call you out when you’re quitting and wrecking your life.
  • They’re the ones who stick around when the train derails. They help put the cars back on the tracks.

“When you win in politics, you hear from everybody.  When you lose, you hear from your friends.” (Richard M. Nixon after he resigned as President of the United States)

Have you friends?

 

Suggested Resources:

The Chosen (Chaim Potok)

“Brian’s Song” (the original 1971 film)

 

Image Credit





Feel for the Other…Then Act

27 07 2017

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

(Harper Lee)

 

Suggested Resources:

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Karen Armstrong)

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (Simon Baron-Cohen)

 

Image Credit