Character Creates Opportunity® – The List That Matters: February 26, 2015

Benjamin Franklin is recognized as one of the wisest men in our nation’s history.  He is known for a method of decision making that has been widely used throughout the world.  Essentially, Franklin’s process is a matter of drawing a line down the middle of a piece of paper, listing the pros and cons, reflecting on them, and then making a decision.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we determine what list we bring out when we face difficulties and need to make a decision.  These are times when we just can’t take Yogi Berra’s advice; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  In reality, when we face challenges and need to make a difficult decision, there are two lists we bring out to help guide our decision.

The First List is the one that energizes and encourages us.  It reminds us of the times when we actually accomplished something special.  The times we received that fortunate break, the positive direction from a close friend, and the help we needed.  It reminds us of the blessings of a good start, of being born at a great time, in a land of freedom and opportunity.  This list reminds us of the nice things that people say about us.  This list speaks to us about our growth and potential.

The Second List is the one that drains and discourages us.  It reminds us of those nagging challenges in our lives that we continually face. This list highlights the troubles in our family and the hurtful, personal attacks we have felt in our lives.  This list shows the people around us who seem to get all the breaks and live at the corner of “lucky” and “easy” streets.  This list reminds us of the times we have been misunderstood and got the short end of the stick.  This list speaks to us about our disappointments and regrets.

The reality for all of us is that at every decision point, family challenge, or workplace event, we have a choice as to which list we review.  We will read it, review it, ponder over it, and we will rely on it to decide what to do next.  The choice is ours to make and whether we acknowledge it or not, we make this decision all the time.

Here are a few reasons why the First List should be the only one that matters:Businesswoman Writing On Clipboard

(1)    There is a ton of scientific research and practical life experience that would recommend “count your blessings, name them one by one” really does work in elevating our level of performance, maintaining mental and emotional health, and reaching our goals.  There is too much proof to disregard the importance of reminding ourselves of the list of blessings in our lives when we face difficult and challenging situations.

(2)    We cast a shadow on those around us, whether we accept it or not.  When we choose from the Second List, we often drag that attitude around for a while and it has the potential to bring down those around us who we care about most.  We all are in a position of influence and it is not a kind thing to do when we bring a dark cloud over others based on our reliance on the Second List.

Every point of transition and decision are clear opportunities to learn and grow.  They are not dead-ends to remind us that we have limits.  We are not mice running in the proverbial walled box looking for cheese and no chance for freedom.  Each fork in the road opens up a new opportunity to learn, grow, and reach our potential.

As we read from the First List and crumple up the Second List, we choose hope, courage, and opportunity.  When we base our decisions on the First List, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to reach our potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Smorgasbord Dilemma: February 19, 2015

The smorgasbord concept became a part of the American restaurant scene after the Swedish brought this part of their culture to the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Most baby boomer generation families will remember the original all you can eat concept as the smorgasbord.  Somewhere over the last 30 years or so, the term smorgasbord has been replaced by the All You Can Eat buffet in our current vernacular.

Regardless of the term we use, the all you can eat buffet concept is still with us today.  What a wonderful blessing.  I can eat all I want of a variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, breads, soups, and of course, desserts, for just one low price.  In addition, the different likes and dislikes of everyone in the group are seamlessly addressed and there are almost no complaints about the choices.

Unfortunately, we all know what often happens at the buffet.  We eat way too much.  We regret the choices we made as we walk out the door and uncomfortably squeeze into the car for the drive home.Smorgasbord

In today’s world, we have a virtual smorgasbord in every area of our lives.  The old style industrial concept of whoever is in power determines what styles are stocked on store shelves, music stores, bookstores, and certainly what we watch on television, has been flattened with the efficiencies of point and click convenience in today’s world.

We all can get what we want, when we want it, often for prices that seem unbelievable low…many times for free.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, the “all you can eat” lifestyle presents us with some challenges to ensure we don’t overeat in too many areas and to ensure we take full advantage of the opportunities to customize and support our own unique style.

Here are a few ideas to help guide us as we walk up and down the smorgasbord table of today’s reality:

(1)    Choices.  The number of options in life has exploded.  We can start our “dream” business overnight with an easy to build website.  We can customize the sneakers we buy.  We can watch our favorite TV show when we want to watch it.  We can go to classes at Harvard online for free.  Now, more than ever, we have to determine priorities and make choices. “Winging it” with all of the opportunities available to us today, will cause most of us to overeat everywhere and regret not making specific choices.

(2)    Responsibility.  With choices, comes responsibility.  We can no longer say, “Well, I just did not have the opportunity.”  We are no longer confined to what is on a store shelf to get what best fits our unique style. We are no longer confined to the public library or an expensive degree program to get a formal education.  When we overeat at the dessert table instead of eating some fruits and vegetables, we can’t play the blame game.

(3)    Individuality.  Many times in life, our unique talents, gifts, and desires get minimized in the mass production model of our industrialized world.  We picked certain careers based on what we saw around us and some perceived set of expectations.  We wore the clothes that seemed to help us fit into those expectations and through it all, we have minimized our own uniqueness. Today’s “all you can eat” opportunities give us a chance to re-birth our uniqueness in areas of work, family, fashion, and culture. We all should do a little soul searching to make sure we did not lose who we are based on some past confinements.  We should exercise the courage to be ourselves.

(4)    Time.  We all have some uncommitted time – Time when we are not on the job or at school, taking care of critical responsibilities at home, or working in some other area of service.  With today’s “all you can eat” entertainment offerings, we run the risk of overeating on entertainment under the concept of just needing some time to chill out, veg out, or honestly admitting to wanting to be a coach potato for the evening.  Our point and click entertainment choices combined with everyone’s personal electronics presents a unique and complex challenge to “family time” being customized to everyone going into their corner of the room with their own entertainment device.  The entertainment industry no longer controls a limited offering of watching Walter Cronkite deliver the evening news or I Love Lucy to make us laugh.  We all need to be vigilant to ensure we use our uncommitted time wisely and keep some family time as “together time.”

With today’s “all you can eat” lifestyle, if we don’t guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions with principles like moderation, self-control, and discipline, we will soon realize that we can’t make pants or belts big enough to contain our habits.  When we effectively leverage these principles, combined with cultivating our own uniqueness, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to learn, grow, and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Mirror: February 12, 2015

There has been a great deal in the news recently about trustworthiness and honesty.  Whether it is a news reporter recalling events from the past, a sports team gaining a competitive edge, or public figures denying the truth that seems apparent to all of us, the lessons learned on the importance of telling the truth are still being learned each and every day.  History most certainly repeats itself on issues of integrity in our world.

As individuals, and as a society, we all seem to feel comfortable pointing out the apparent flaws in others and passing swift, public judgment for actions that go counter to the self-evidence of principles like honesty, trustworthiness, and respect.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, these public disclosures can be a catalyst for us to do our own personal inventory around our actions to ensure we don’t become the next “lesson learned” on the front page of the paper, the nightly news, or for most of us, the only channel that really matters, the reality show we find in our own homes each day.

Below are a few thoughts to encourage all of us to develop the habit of looking in the mirror on a regular basis:

(1)    Self-Awareness: It requires little effort to become the judge and jury for individuals and events that come across our screens.  However, the hard work is in exercising the courage and discipline to do our own personal inventory of our daily actions around the small stuff that matters, when no one is looking or filming our life story.  It was Jesus Christ who said, ““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Self-awareness of our own behavior is an important discipline to reach our full potential.

(2)    Principles Matter Most: Concerning all things, it is the principle that matters most, not the size of the audience or the infraction.  Yes, bigger than life figures in our world cast a big shadow and their poor choices have a wide ranging impact. However, our integrity around the dinner table, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the mirror is our opportunity for greatest impact.Mirror

If the statistics are right, a very, very large number of us need to look in the mirror and reflect on a few actions that impact our trustworthiness.  Here are just a few to help all of us to do a little reflecting:

We lie and cheat on our taxes.  Maybe we should just describe it as a minor mistake in declaring donations to charitable organizations or in forgetting about some additional income we did not disclose.

We hire the guy who says, “If you pay me in cash, it will be $300 to do the work, but if I have to send you an invoice, it will be $550.” Maybe we should just describe it as getting a really good deal.

We lie on our resumes.  Maybe we should just describe it as a slight stretch of our experience to ensure we qualify for a particular job.

Although the vast majority of us will not find “our version of events” on the nightly news, we should acknowledge the truth that it is not the size of our audience that matters, it is the principles that guide our daily actions that matter most.

We all should take a deep breath and be thankful that we did not have to make our own personal full disclosure in front of millions of people.  However, in a world that is becoming completely transparent in all areas of our lives, we all should be well warned that the next YouTube video that goes viral may feature one of us when: (A) The tax auditor arrives at our house (B) A former boss runs into us after a job interview and says, “You never did that when you worked in my department.  Why is this on your resume?” or (C) The content of some secret email account, harsh text messages, or internet search results get released to the world…or perhaps just to those in our home.

When we exercise the courage and commitment to look in the mirror, honestly see our own shortcomings, and make a plan to change our behavior, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to be a positive influence on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Mistakes: February 5, 2015

We seem to have a cultural bias towards only talking openly about our successes or when things go according to our plans.  It is such a more pleasant conversation to have with coworkers, within families, or within a community.

The reality is that things don’t always go “perfect” and many times we, as individuals, make mistakes.

Leveraging the opportunity that comes alongside mistakes is an important part of our growth as we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character.

There are just a few simple truths around mistakes that we all could use an occasional reminder and reinforcement of the opportunity they bring about:

(1)    No one is perfect. We will continue to make mistakes.  The thought that we can tap dance, without tripping from time to time, through a world that continues to grow more complex and uncertain is pure fantasy.

(2)    Accepting responsibility.  Passing through the furnace that comes with accepting responsibility helps to purify and humble our spirit.  Playing the blame game or passing the buck on some excuse weakens us as individuals.

(3)    Learning and growing.  Volumes of academic research and real world experience would tell us that we learn and grow a great deal more through mistakes than we do with successes.  The pain of mistakes is often the first step to admitting our problems which starts us down the path to personal growth.

(4)    Helping others.  Many times, we are so focused on ourselves trying to cover things up or reorganize the mess we made, that we fail to take advantage of the opportunity to help others.  Openly sharing our mistake, in a genuine and authentic way, shows others we are real and opens a door for them to overcome the potential shame they feel from their own mistakes. Unbeknownst to us, our sharing encourages others to silently move forward past their own mistakes.

From time to time, we all feel a bit down because of a mistake we have made.  Below are a few reminders that no one is perfect and sharing them may build hope for each of us to keep moving forward:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”  Ken Olson, President and Chairman of Digital Equipment Co. in 1977

“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute in 1954

“We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound, and good stocks are cheap at these prices.” Goodbody and Co. in a market update to customers on October 25, 1929, just days prior to the biggest crash in the history of Wall Street.

“Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look.”  United Artists executive after rejecting Reagan for the film The Best Man

These very public mistakes are the easy ones to identify and address. Mistakes Couple

The painful truth is that the mistakes made with those closest to us are often the most difficult for us to effectively address.

As we deal with the mistakes we make in the home with principles like humility, compassion, forgiveness, and sacrifice, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to learn and grow from our mistakes and build strength in our homes, where we need it most.