“Don’t Be Seduced By Low-Hanging Fruit”

10 12 2015

Avoid Low Hanging Fruit

Recently, I was reviewing some future vocational pursuits, and courses of study to prepare for them, with a mentor of mine.   He admonished me twice, “You must not be seduced by low-hanging fruit.”  He went on to encourage me to set vocational and educational goals that were neither too easy nor out-of-this-world in difficulty, but instead targets in which “you have to stand on your tiptoes to reach.”

That was a new twist.

My own human nature and the bent of our times drifts toward, even craves, things that require little or no effort.  Low-maintenance relationships.  Things you can “wing.”  Problem-solving that demands no more than easy, black/white, either/or solutions that don’t have to grapple with the complexities of our times and its issues, which are impatient of petty annoyances like nuance and clarification.  Or, better yet, long-term thinking.  (Current immigration debate and Donald Trump come to mind.)

The challenge for growth is something that requires stretching.  We all know this when we get to the gym.  But we tend to forget this once we’ve showered and leave the environment where sweat is accepted as part of obtaining the prizes.

What goals are you setting for yourself?  Do they cause you discomfort or are they well within your current competencies and are guaranteed to cause you little frustration?  Little effort can only yield small rewards.

These are necessary questions, because low-hanging fruit is cheap and easy.  But, you have to climb to get the good stuff.

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The Unescaped Life

8 12 2015

The Unescaped LifeThis is Seth Godin.

Yeah, he looks kind of quirky, yellow horn-rim glasses and all.  But he has a quote that eats at me every time I see it:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

 

Ouch.

 

We escape life in many ways.  Fantasy.  Substances.  Stuff.  Sex.  Sleep.  Netflix bingeing.  Care to add some others?

 

With the heart and simplicity of a child, this fifty-something thinker challenges us to challenge ourselves.  And the status quo (whatever “quo” is for you).  And “prevailing wisdom.”

One of his books on my shelf is entitled Poke the BoxHow can you not like that?

 

What does an unescaped life look like for you?

A mid-life career change doing something for more passion and less money?

Running a 5K race when you’ve never run anything?

Saying “no” for once instead of being a doormat?

Actually writing something longhand instead of typing or texting with calloused thumbs?

Or better, putting your not-so-smartphone away and actually having eye-to-eye communication with another person…undistracted, all emotionally naked-like (gotta be brave for this one)?

 

I dare you.  I dare you to craft a life you don’t have to put out of your head at 5:00 PM on Friday.

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A Failure of Nerve

7 12 2015

A Failure of NerveThe book you see above this post is simply the best book on leadership that I have ever read.  Ever.

I read a lot.  A great deal of what I read devolves in some way upon leadership–autobiography, biography, leadership as art and craft, critical leadership arenas, failures of leadership and so forth.  This is a rich field as there are so many great authors and leaders.  The usual suspects: Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Douglas MacArthur, John Maxwell, Seth Godin, Warren Bennis and political leaders ad infinitum.  I’m sure you could assemble your own list of leaders and leadership mavens and their writings.  (Matter of fact, please load up the combox with your suggestions!)

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and therapist who did most of his work in and around Washington, D.C. up until his death in 1996.  The strength of his work (his entire corpus comprises five volumes, two of which were published posthumously) is that leadership is ultimately a function of the leader himself/herself (hereafter his/him for the sake of brevity).

A Failure of Leadership gets at the essence of good leadership.  The focus of this book is on a leader’s self-leadership, rather than leadership techniques, punch lists, alliterations and the like.   The leader sets the tone in any environment by 1) maintaining a non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious and emotional people, whether family, congregation, business or government and 2) practicing his own inner leadership as a self-differentiated individual; that is, one who is clear about his goals, vision, purpose and values and is able to hold to them in a steady way, especially when times are tumultuous and the tendency to herd rears its head and threatens to pull him into its toxic vortex.  The self-differentiated leader is moved by reason–namely, his goals and values–rather than emotional current.

There is so much more to this book in general and Friedman’s work in particular that we will explore in future writings.  Topics such as orienting towards adventure rather than safety, focusing on personal responsibility and challenge and not simply “feeling another’s pain” (empathy).  Fodder for later posts.

Buy this book.  He wrote it during the Bush (41) and Clinton years–years in which he described our country and culture as anxious and stuck.  One can only imagine his response to our own times with the challenges of the post 9/11 world and ubiquitous social media which, at best, is a mixed blessing.

Stick around.  There’s more!

Further reading:

Friedman’s Fables

Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue

The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays

What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Unpublished Writings and Diaries
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After A Long Hiatus….

6 12 2015

After A Long HiatusI’ve taken quite a long sabbatical from writing regularly on this blog.  One post in the past sixteen months has been it.  I now intend to return to at least semi-regular, if not regular, contributions to this page.

Much has happened in the past year and a half.  Our eldest daughter married a fine man from the Plains.  Both are now happily ensconced in the Deep South, surrounded by salt water and palm trees.  My wife, Kath, and I visited them a month ago.  A great trip.  They are well.

Our youngest daughter, happily married for the past two years, has moved with her husband, another son of the Plains, thousands of miles away to new tasks.  They, too, are surrounded by palm trees and salt water.

Our vacations will be superb!

Here in northern New York, we recently sold our one hundred and one year-old Victorian farm house and have a smaller apartment close to work.  We are content.  Our home of fourteen years served us well but, with our two daughters married, it was more house than we needed.  So we sold to a fine young family with adorable children.

Candidly, sheer busyness accounts for my writing hiatus, a good bit of it anyways.  But more than that, I’ve learned some things over the past year and a half.  My reading has increased in breadth and depth.  I’ve had the good fortune to be mentored skillfully and have been forced to reevaluate many of my cherished prior commitments about life, human accomplishment and foible, God, reality, and lots of other things.

I hope to share the fine authors and thinkers who’ve helped me grow.  They’ve not been easy on me.  And won’t be easy on you either.  But then again, as a mentor recently admonished me, “Do not be seduced by low-hanging fruit.”  What has value must be extricated at cost and time.

Or, as Sara Groves sings on her newest record Floodplain, “Love is a diamond hidden in mountains, covered in danger and dirt.”

Let’s do this.  Thanks for reading!

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Life, Filtered…Through You

24 08 2015

Life Filtered Through YouWe’ve all heard, at one time or another, that there are no two snowflakes alike.  Science has confirmed this.  It is estimated that there are something like ten quadrillion (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000) water molecules that make up a snowflake.  Thus, while many snowflakes at the microscopic level appear to be similar, at the molecular level they are all different.

Which brings us to you.

You are unique, to say the least.  And so am I.  At the molecular level, to be sure, but in a number of other areas of involvement, measurement, comparison, etc.

What this means is that each one of us see the world in slightly different ways.  You and I have differing perspectives on everything from this morning’s global sell-off on the world financial markets to the fallout of the Ashley Madison web hack debacle.

We all see things differently.  It’s meant to be that way.

Put another way, we all are positioned in a unique way to see and filter everything locally, nationally and internationally, even cosmically, is different colors, shades, shapes, nuances.

One angle is your time in human history.  Another is your geographic placement (are you Oriental or Occidental?).  How about your embedding in the economic strata?  Your level of education provides you with special tools for this task as well.

The biggest variable is the questions you ask of people and of life.  The late Rabbi Dr. Edwin Friedman shared this anonymous quote before he died: “If you do not have answers, do not feel too badly.  But if you do not have questions, you had better feel your pulse.”  A mentor of mine once told me that he asks questions to get…answers? Wrong.  “To get to better questions.”  The Socratic Method is not going away anytime soon.

You have a place in this world for a reason.  You’re not an accident (I’m a theist.)  When you ask questions, when you speak up and out, you bring–unless you’re a parrot–something unique to the discussion, new light, slightly different perspectives and colors.  And when you do, people gain greater insight.  (Do you really want to leave this to the pundits, the intelligentsia, and mainstream news media on both sides?  I didn’t think so.)

So take life in.  Ask lots of pain in the backside questions of it.  And speak up!

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Drama, Catastrophizing, and the Freak-Out Gene

15 07 2014

Freak out geneTrue Confession: Any sense of drama in response to the stresses of life exhibited in the lives of my daughters they got from me, not their mother.

There, I said it. It feels good to admit the truth.

Psychologists call this tendency towards the dramatic, towards planning for the absolute worst, towards injecting a perfectly good molehill with steroids—to make it a mountain, duh—catastrophizing.

Guilty. And embarrassed.

A friend of mine got sick a few winters ago.  In his 50’s, career Army retired.  1st Sergeant.  Ranger Battalion for 6 years.  A remarkable guy and dear to our family.  I work with one of his sons, who is a chip off the old block and a close friend as well. And doesn’t freak out.

When my friend got sick, I was concerned.  It was serious enough that it put a retired Army Ranger in the hospital for a few days.  I asked the son about the father and he said that, though worried, his dad didn’t show it.  The son, one of our managers, is pretty good under pressure.  Just like his dad.  When asked by one of our colleagues if he was a mess because of his dad being in the hospital, the son said, “I guess [like dad] I didn’t inherit the freak-out gene.”

Man, I’ve had to chew on that one. And have been eating that business for a few years now. Why? Because I’ve not been great under pressure.  Candidly, I’ve been lousy in the clutch.  But the example of my even-keeled Irish buddies has been inspiring and convicting.

As I’ve thought about this, I realized that when stresses mount, one does not have to freak out.  Cave.  Bolt.  Come apart.  But I’m learning that a good deal of my responses to the tensions of life have to do with what I think about and tell myself.  Right thinking and talk are one of the secrets to poise, grace under pressure.

It’s that simple and that powerful.

To be sure, we all face things much larger than we are.  That overwhelm.  That can sink the boat of the ablest mariner.  But there is in our society entirely too much drama and meltdown.  For guys, it’s really an effeminate thing that insults the high call and dignity of manhood.  Great military leaders in combat are as scared as those under them but they mask it and charge ahead. They just don’t let their troops know they’ve filled their shorts.

What to do when stress comes?  Some hints:

  • Hit the gym rather than the bottle—or any other medicine, like shopping, sex, drugs, and other sundry ephemeral escapisms—for relief.
  • Remind yourself that you are equal to the task and think positively.       It certainly hasn’t worked for you to work yourself up to face the worst, has it?
  • Take a walk or a run and reflect.  Often stresses overwhelm simply because we don’t take enough time to think through challenges and find creative solutions to meet them.
  • Pray.  And act.  Do both, not one or the other.
  • Ask yourself, “Will this matter in five days, five months or five years?” Perspective gives proper weight to problems.
  • Lead.  God help you, but whatever you do, stand up like a man and walk on.  You will astound people, because leaders are rare.

I’m learning.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  I hope you are too.

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True Friends…Rarer Than You Think

14 07 2014

True FriendsThere is a proverb in the Bible that goes like this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

We all survive and thrive on the comfort of those who know us best, who get us back on our feet and help us to carry on when the going gets tough.

I am continually challenged to take my ability to be a friend to another level.  My wife and I have made some strategic decisions for the next year and are laying out goals for our personal and professional development.  Often, in my desire to offer comfort I sabotage her by offering a way out of difficulty rather than challenge in the pursuit of her goals and dreams.  She’s told me, “I really need you to be a friend to me and not let me out of these goals when things are not easy.”

I have to admit, it’s far easier for me to soothe when I should be urging her on to hit the marks she has set, with affection and encouragement.

How about you?

As a friend, you are able to speak in love to those closest to you and help them become the best they can be.  In fact, it’s your love and commitment that makes such direct challenges palatable.

Here’s some starters to help be a better friend:

  • “You’re overextending yourself.  Why don’t you get to bed a little earlier? You need sleep—not more movies.”
  • “Come on.  You’re better than that!”
  • “Do you really need that second bowl of ice cream or can of beer?”
  • “There’s a trend I’m seeing in your attitudes.  Let’s talk about it.  I’ll walk with you through this and stick with you.”
  • “You need to take better care of yourself.  Why don’t you make an appointment to see a doctor?”
  • “Be a class act.  Don’t descend to the level of petty gossip and malice over what [insert name] has disappointed you with.”

Being a friend surely means offering solace and empathy.  But it also has the character of a good coach—you help those you love to win.  Be that friend.

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