Heroic Expectations

Don’t we all love a hero?  Don’t we want heroes to hold up as examples?  But the mistake we make with heroes is expecting that they’re better than the rest of us so when they show us that they’re not perfect, we sometimes desert them in disgust.  They let us down.

Superheroes Wanted

Superheroes Wanted

I love a quote from filmmaker Ken Burns:  “We demand perfection from our heroes but a true hero has weaknesses he strives to overcome with his strengths.  Inconsistency is a hallmark of all of us.”

Marcus Buckingham insists that we should concentrate on strengths so much that weakness becomes insignificant.

It’s been true in literature, true in history, and true today:  We’re all imperfect and, being human, incapable of perfection.  But we still strive and should still hold heroes high because of their strengths and the deeds that were evident of those strengths.

You suspect where this is going, don’t you?  Especially on November 22?

JFK was imperfect and certainly no saint, morally.  But he exuded a strength and optimism about America that we still prize over 50 years after he enunciated it in his inaugural address.  If he accomplished nothing else, his determination to create the manned space program and land on the moon would still stand as a landmark in world history.  Besides the obvious achievement of getting there and returning safely, the American space program demanded new technology and innovative thinking.  These in turn created economic, scientific, and technological breakthroughs that transcended the space program and sent the United States as well as the world into a new level of expectation and hope for the future.  We owe much to the US Space Program of the 1960s and John Kennedy’s vision for making it a priority.

We could use some of that determination and optimism now.

So my friends, let’s paraphrase the call to action that resonated from the inaugural podium in January of 1961 and took a big blow in November of 1963.  Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do to make life better for others:   For your family, your employer, your community, your country, your Earth.

 

Six Start Signs

Start Sign

 

In my last post, we looked at activities to cease doing, to just stop because they interfere with being happy, content, peaceful, you insert the proper adverb.

But nature abhors a vacuum so you might also want to consider this list of ideas to start doing.  There are others you could add but it’s a start:

  1.  Start to express yourself,  possibly in writing, probably in private.  My Morning Pages and the writing I did after my first wife died were of immense help.  Letting off steam or emotion by writing or ranting to a web cam or voice memo can be very liberating.  Just make sure it’s not accessible to anyone.  Then erase it or post it once you’ve considered and edited the piece.
  2. Start discerning your calling.  Why are you here?  What are you called to do?  What gifts do you have?
  3. Start caring about something larger than yourself:  Some cause, some group of people, some organization needs help.  Help them.  Do what you can.  It will not only help them, it’s good for you in a number of ways:  You know they’re being helped, you know that you helped, it took your mind off your own problems temporarily, and reminded you that your life may look pretty good in comparison.
  4. Start taking time for yourself.  No wonder we feel overwhelmed sometimes.  We’re so busy doing that we forget just be.  Find a place that’s quiet and where you feel peaceful like a church, a library, or a park.  Go there regularly.  Clear your mind.  Let the light in.  You deserve it.
  5. Start moving!  If you’re not being physically active on a regular basis, begin.  Start slowly and keep at it.
  6. Start apps or classes in meditation or Tai Chi.  The cultures of the Pacific rim brought these practices to our shores and they have helped millions of people.

We frequently lead lives on someone else’s terms, usually involving our careers.  But we need to be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally refreshed.  We need to make sure we’re leading satisfying lives.  That usually requires change.  Change implies both starting and stopping.

Do you have another idea of something to start?

 

Stop Signs

I usually like to phrase ideas in affirmative terms, avoiding the negative.  But right now, I’m thinking of activities to stop because they’re not doing us any good.  They are, indeed, doing us ill because they interfere with achieving peace of mind.

Sign---Stop Sign

We unconsciously allow ourselves to be bombarded with baloney that is distracting, disturbing, and dismaying.

But, you query, what can we do?  What can someone, a person like myself, do to overcome this plethora of poop?

Humbly, I offer these suggestions:

  • Stop watching the news. It’s depressing.  Just skim over the basics of what you need to know on a local level.  Then, turn it off, especially if it involves the federal government.  Congress will just depress you.
  • Stop watching the market unless you’re a day-trader.  The up and down swings will drive you crazy and the market analysts on TV will only frustrate you.
  • Stop managing your own money:  We get too emotional about our money and that clouds our judgement.  Find a financial consultant, make sure they’re accredited and certified and all that meet with them regularly.  In between those meetings, forget about it.
  • Stop being plugged in all the time.  Anyone can do it for short periods of time. Really.  Just walk away from the computer for awhile.  Leave the tablet at home.  “Forget” to take your phone with you.  Yeah, it will feel funny the first few times but trust me, it’s really good for you.

Next time we’ll consider some ideas to start doing.

              What could you stop doing that would make your life better?

Best Persuasive Speech. Ever.

"Persuade" Definition

“Persuade” Definition

Persuasive communication is an art, but it can be learned.  It introduces a thought that may disagree with the beholder’s beliefs but does so with respect and honor wishing to help him benefit from accepting your idea, your product, your service.  It is a process that demonstrates your working hard to understand the value of their point of view and inviting them to reciprocate.  It was also one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits:  “Seek First to Understand; Then To Be Understood.

I think that our leaders in Washington would do well to remember that and to study a little Shakespeare.

Marc Antony’s speech to the Roman mob at Caesar’s funeral, in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, is the best example I can choose.  Anyone can benefit from the skill and subtlety of the writing and how it can be brought to life by perceptive interpretation.

Talk about the ultimate sales pitch:  Antony faces a Roman mob incited by Brutus and  the senate who justify the murder of Caesar by condemning him as a tyrant and would-be emperor.  The Romans are with them and approving in full voice when Antony steps before them, now in some danger himself.  He now stands before the Roman mob at Caesar’s funeral and denies that he is here to contradict the noble senators and just wants to bury his friend.

Then he very carefully, slowly, deliberately, skillfully weaves other meaning into his oratory and leads the Romans to exactly the opposite conclusion.

He skillfully moves from:

  • A type of penitence to
  • Agreement with the senate, followed by
  • Some seeming contradictions and then,
  • Some real questions.

Eventually, he senses that the mob has turned his way, he allows his tone to turn sarcastic and eventually invites the mob to to condemn the assassins as murderers of a beloved hero and the mob is with him.

Here are two examples of quite different interpretations of this speech, the first in a more classical presentation by the brilliant actor Marlon Brando.  The second is a more contemporary, bare-bones delivery by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a a cast that is, I think, African in origin and the phrasing is almost musical.

In both of these, I’ve included only the first few minutes but you will appreciate both the words and how they’re spoken.

Here also is the speech in written form, should you care to read it.

This speech also brings into focus some essential elements from which salespeople and public speakers would benefit.  In both cases, they are in the business of opinions of their audiences and sometimes wanting to change those opinions.

 

 

Challenge, Change, and Charles (Darwin)

Our lives are constantly buffeted by the winds of change.  Charted on a graph, that rate of change has accelerated to the point that the upward axis never seems to level off.  But every person can embrace the embrace the challenge of change by observing and learning from change in nature, at its most basic level, and the implications and inspirations those changes can have for us.

600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, straddling the equator, is the island archipelago of the Galapagos.  This island chain is famous because of one of its visitors, British scientist Charles Darwin who developed his theory of evolution and adaptability after visiting the Galapagos and reflecting on what he observed there.

Several years ago, my wife and I had a chance to visit the Galapagos Islands with some college students.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that everyone should consider making because of the fascinating creatures you can observe there, many of them just inches away.

I saw at least 3 examples of how these animals evolved, adapted over the years to deal with an environment that is frequently harsh.

Darwin's Finches

Darwin’s Finches

First is the bird that was one of Charles Darwin’s main inspirations for his theory of how creatures can evolve:  The Galapagos finch.  The finches on different islands have different beaks, some pointed, some parrot-shaped, some coned, some shorter depending on their source of foods.

What We Can Learn:  Find a new approach.

 

Marine Iguana

Marine Iguana

Next is the marine iguana.  Prior to observation in the Galapagos, iguanas were thought to be exclusively land-based but some iguanas in the archipelago learned to use marine algae as a source of food, finding it on rocks or swimming into the ocean to find it there.  And the marine iguana’s feet have evolved to the point where they hold fast to rocks so when a wave recedes, the lizard is still there munching contentedly.

What We Can Learn:  Sometime you go with the flow and sometimes you just hang on.

Saddleback Tortoise

Saddleback Tortoise

Finally, there is the giant tortoise.  On some of the islands, the tortoise’s traditional food was unavailable either due to its disappearance or lower branches having been eaten by other animals.  The saddleback adapted by its shell growing a peak and being able to extend its neck to reach higher branches and leaves.

What We Can Learn:  Stick your neck out.

Charles Darwin is frequently misquoted as positing that “only the strong survive” when his theory proved that adaptability is paramount.  If we observe he constantly-changing  landscape of life and then assess what changes we need to make in our lives and skills, we can effectively deal with change and challenge.

 

Why You Should Consider Writing Morning Pages

Every morning (OK, almost every morning), I sit down and write 3 handwritten pages. No keyboard use here.  It’s an idea that originated with artist/author Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.  She recommends it as a potential cure for writer’s or artist’s block, that condition of inspirational constipation where it seems like nothing wants to come out.  Yeah, I know that’s gross but it’s true!

Actually, I’ve found it beneficial (and therapeutic) as a daily exercise, as great for working and stretching the mind as cardiovascular activity is for physical fitness.

Pen & Ink

Pen & Ink

There are at least 4 reasons you should start doing this:

    1. It clears your head and gets out the little things that are taking up “psychic RAM” as David Allen defines it.
    2. It’s powerful:  You are forced to come up with ideas even if it’s just griping and whining because you have to keep the pen moving.  Eventually, you’ll write something you can use.
    3. It’s therapeutic.  You can describe your fears, prejudices, aspirations, fantasies, and just plain weird things that you’d never share with anyone.
    4. It’s slow and low tech.  Since you’re using a pen and not a keyboard, your mind can’t race ahead too quickly.  You’re temporarily disconnected and that’s always good.

Julia describes the experience in this video.

Possibly my strangest post on these pages was an explication of the nursery rhyme “Jack & Jill.”  For some reason, I wrote down, “Jack & Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.”  Then, it was off on a series of strange speculations about what was behind their ill-fated climb.

  • Was there a drought that required their fetching water from the hill?
  • Was this regular chore in a rural area where they had no running water?
  • Were they older than normally depicted and the hill a trysting place?
  • Was Jack’s “breaking his crown” referring to a skull fracture or was he perhaps royalty and damaged his diadem?

I think you get the idea.

But, in reviewing pages like these months later, I’ve found presentation inspirations, phrases, and other ideas that have been of great use for both work and personal life.

It’s free-form, free-association, free-thinking romp through the gray matter writing down any thought that pops in to my cranium.

I prefer using a fountain pen.  It hearkens back to a simpler time and is like painting words on a page.  I also use a particular type of paper from Levenger that has room on the left side for reminders, side thoughts, or space I can use to quickly label a longer entry for later retrieval.

It’s been a regular part of my morning for almost 2 years and I get a little uncomfortable if I skip it for more than a day, somewhat like the tension you feel when you haven’t worked out (assuming you engage in regular physical exercise).

Try it and tell me what you think.

Silence, Please

Today is Thursday and it reminded me that two months ago today, I went on my annual retreat.  It’s  an annual escape where we meet, greet, eat, and retreat.  I mean RETREAT.   Silence, please.  We stop talking on Thursday night and don’t talk again until Sunday supper.  It’s kind of sensory deprivation and spiritual overload.

Demontreville Jesuit Retreat Center

The silence, as they say, can be deafening.  The idea is to be alone with God.  And 60 other guys doing the same thing.  But, that’s why he’s God.  He can listen to us individually and still pay attention to those other 60 guys.

Yeah, it’s a guy thing.  That is, it’s a thing that’s only for guys.  At least at this particular spot.  It’s run by the Jesuits and it’s a retreat center just east of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  They do men’s retreats almost every weekend and mine is in mid-September.

It really is an exercise in introspection, retrospection, expectation. It’s time to retire, rethink, relive, remember, reorganize, rearrange, and be religious.  Now THAT’S a retreat.  As they say during orientation, retreat is a military term that doesn’t mean “turnaround and go the other way.”  It means to stop, rest, take a look around, assess and then decide what to do.  I don’t know if that’s the idea that Sun Tzu or General Patton really had in mind when THEY said “Retreat!”  But, it sounds good when they’re explaining the whole idea of making a retreat.

That’s right—making a retreat.  The priest that’s there for the weekend to lead the process isn’t going to give you a retreat; you’re going to make one.  It’s up to YOU.  Because God doesn’t like to shout through the distractions (who does?), they pull all the input plugs.  No radio, TV, newspaper, telephone, computers, internet, mp3 players, tablets, or smartphones.  Disconnect, disengage, and discover.

There are no distractions, no worries.  Just listen, think, contemplate, and pray.  Ask God to help you.  Consider those things in your life that you wouldn’t want to spray paint on an overpass and what you might like to do about them.  Don’t come programmed.  Don’t tell yourself “This time on my retreat, I’m going to think about my marriage.”  Or my kids, or my job, or my weight, or bad habits.  Just listen to what they have to say, think about what God might have to say, consider what you need to do, and get ready to do it.  Just wait and see what bubbles to the surface.  Something always does.

It’s amazing what a little quiet can do.  Actually, it’s a LOT of quiet.  A whole lot of quiet.  3 days of quiet.  If you can’t hear God talking to you under those circumstances, you’re not listening, my friend.  Because, every year, God does a little whispering in MY ear.  And every year, I wind up doing one of the things that they warn you about.  Don’t try to go out and change the world in a couple of days when you leave this wonderful womb. Because the rest of the world doesn’t know where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, or how profound you found the experience.  They want to know why they’ve been getting your voice mail since Thursday afternoon and why you haven’t answered the e-mails overflowing your Inbox.  Welcome back, Jack, to the real world where we don’t ring bells at assembly time or turn out the yard lights so you’ll get some sleep.  We may tell you how to think but it won’t be based on scripture.

So, you take the hard-won enlightenment that you worked out with God over the weekend and try to extend the serenity and live the lessons you learned.  It’s a fascinating, calming, and cleansing experience.

He SCORREs!

No, that’s not a typo in the title; it’s an acronym.  Last week I had the opportunity to attend the SCORRE Conference for speakers and I recommend it highly.  Anyone who is thinking of being a professional speaker or wants to improve their speaking skills will benefit from this experience for 4 reasons:

1:  Proven System:  It’s been taught and used successfully for years and some attendees claimed that it changed their lives, including my favorite blogger Michael Hyatt (now one of the partners and presenters).

2.  Proven Method:  Their system demands specificity and required us to focus our thinking to move an audience to action, using a step-by-step method.

3.  Proven Faculty:  At every level, the faculty is terrific.  They are experienced and committed to improving the quality of the attendees.  In addition, they are genuinely nice people.

4.  Proven Results:  We each got a chance to speak every day (3 times total) during the conference to our 9-person group that included a faculty member.  All of our group were some of the most friendly and committed people I’ve ever met.

The whole atmosphere of the conference was encouraging and there was a palpable absence of competition or trying to one-up anyone else.  We were all there to learn as well as help each other.

I only had one problem:  While the setting in the Colorado mountains west of Vail was breathtaking, it was also breathtaking.  Huh?  I mean that I’m used to an altitude near sea level (900 feet) and this was 10 times that at almost 9,000 feet.

But it was postcard gorgeous and the conference gave me something I’ll use for the rest of my life.

Retirement

Retirement isn’t a do-over but a start-again or as a fitness guru once put it:  “You can turn back the clock but you can wind it up again.  (NOTE TO Gen-X & Gen-Y readers:  We all once used clocks that didn’t run on batteries or electricity but had to be wound up with a stem or a key.  Sounds primitive but it worked for the first 100+ years of clocks).

So what was “winding up the clock again” for moi?  I wanted to put many years of experience in destination marketing, tourism, organizational leadership, and public speaking into use helping other people and organizations, especially in tourism.

I also wanted time to enjoy life:  Spend time with my family, travel for fun with my wife, travel for fun with our kids, read, listen to the blues, and generally live at a slightly slower pace.  And since leading a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) is a pretty public experience, I thought it would be nice to be just a private citizen again; perhaps express a controversial opinion which heretofore would have been difficult.

So I started by assembling a mind map using a computer application.  I look at it frequently, especially when I start to feel useless or bored (yeah, it can happen) and it gets me going again (there’s that clock-winding metaphor again).  I’ve displayed it here.