Character Creates Opportunity® – A Critical Choice: April 30, 2015

We make trade-off decisions every day.  One of the more consistent and obvious trade-offs we make is the decision of quality vs quantity.  Whether it is a bottle of wine, a business suit, an evening meal, or a piece of furniture, there is a decision being made around whether we prefer quality vs quantity.

We mentally perform the Ben Franklin decision making process of seeing high quality as being more expensive, taking more time, and usually more enjoyable as compared to high quantity which usually means, lower cost, faster service, and a little less satisfying.  We weigh both sides of the ledger and then make the choice.

Our hope is that we can maximize the benefits of both quality and quantity.  Today’s free market is the most effective system to help us achieve both high quality items made at sufficient quantity to keep costs low.

One of the trade-offs we make very often today is around communication.  The technological advances over the last decade or so have made the choice for quantity almost too appealing and easy to see any other choice.

An important area on how we can continue to build and strengthen our character is in the critical choice we make around how we communicate.

Communication experts would tell us that most of what we communicate is not what we say, but the tone and body language in our delivery.  We see that truth every day in families hustling through a busy schedule, in the expression of the waitress in the coffee shop, and the greeting towards a potential customer in the marketplace.  We can all say “Hello” and “It is nice to see you,” but our tone and body language carry the weight of impact in that simple message.

When it comes to having meaningful and lasting impact on another individual, there is no substitute for face to face communication.  The outcomes that stem from a quality vs quantity choice could not be more striking than in our communications to have meaningful and lasting impact:

  • Difficult conversation in the workplace are not handled well on an email or voicemail. We make enormous progress on trust and reconciliation when we have the courage to communicate face to face.
  • Strained relationships within families rarely find health in a text message.  We bring healing to pain and anger within families when we demonstrate mercy and grace to gather around a table and communicate face to face.
  • Frustration in our communities does not move toward a deeper understanding through a social media post.  We grow in understanding and health when we take the time to meet and communicate face to face.

Quality, face to face communications take time and a great deal of courage and effort.  They afford us the most effective opportunity to have a meaningful and lasting impact.Compassion

When it comes to individuals and causes we believe are most important, we face a critical choice around how we communicate during difficult situations.

As we take the time and effort to communicate face to face with those we care about most, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to make meaningful and lasting impact especially in our homes, our communities, and the businesses we are building.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Clear Warning Sign: April 23, 2015

We have all felt overwhelmed from time to time.  Feeling “flooded” is a nice, polite way psychologists will described our situation when we are feeling like we have reached a final breaking point in relationships, careers, and other endeavors.

There is no denying that our experiences in the home, school, workplace, and community continue to grow more complex and create new challenges for all of us to reach our hopes and dreams.

As our situations continue to get more challenging, the principles we rely on to keep moving forward in our journey do not change.  As we guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions based on principles such as courage, perseverance, loyalty, and faith, we will figure out the most effective choices to address the complex reality we are all facing.  Techniques may change, but principles are timeless and universal to support our cause.

Throughout the generations, as the challenges seemed to grow greater, the principle based actions of individuals most certainly rose to the occasion to continue to move forward.  I am sure we can all look back through generations of our own story to find times where we faced seemingly insurmountable challenges, but managed to overcome.

However, there has always be one clear warning sign that if not addressed, will turn a near term derailment into a permanent loss in the pursuit of our goals. This warning sign is a more formidable obstacle in achieving our goals than the actual challenge we face.  This clear warning sign is when our thoughts, decisions, and actions are guided by the phrase, “I just don’t care anymore.”

Apathy is the real enemy in the long journey to pursue our hopes and dreams.

When we come to the point of not caring about the important issues within our families, the challenges of our chosen profession, the pursuit of education throughout our lives, or service in our communities, then the battle is over.  Sun Tzu said, “Every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought.”

We continue to build and strengthen our character when we keep caring about the things that matter most, even in the face of extreme difficulty and struggle.

Here a few thoughts to identify and address this clear warning sign:

(1)    Self-Assessment:  No one knows our inner thoughts, but us.  It is critical that we “look in the mirror” and continue to assess the genesis of our own thoughts that drive our decisions and actions.  An honest self-assessment is our best tool to identify apathy in our mindset.

(2)    Choices:  We can only effectively give our energy to a few causes.  The world is too challenging to give 50% effort and expect to make a difference.  We need the discipline to clearly choose whether to go “all in” or don’t go at all.  In today’s vernacular, my kids would say, “Go big or go home.”  We should determine what we care about most and act accordingly.

(3)    Long-term:  There is no cause worth pursuing that will have an “overnight success.” There will be a series of short term ups and downs.  It is important we don’t get too elated or too down in the short run, but focus on staying the course and caring throughout the long journey to reach our hopes and dreams.

(4)    Observation and Action:  Be on the lookout for this clear warning sign in others. Apathy can metastasize like a cancer within families, the workplace, and our communities.   We all need some courage to have the difficult conversation when we see apathy in others and share an encouraging word about the importance of addressing it and overcoming for the good of the family, the team or community.

At times, we can all struggle with making choices on what is really important.  I wanted to share a story that was recently passed on to me by a friend as a helpful guide to our choices.  A father, his three sons and two daughters stood around the hospital bed of his wife and their mother as she peacefully shared her last thoughts with them and simply said, “I feel so loved right now. We should have gotten together like this more often.”

Especially as it concerns our home and family, we need to keep up the fight against our greatest enemy, apathy. character-creates-opportunity-2014-250-by-250px

As we continue to guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by principles such as love, loyalty, commitment, and grace, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to keep apathy out of our homes and build a strong family foundation that is critical to effectively addressing the challenges we all face outside of our homes.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Necessary Skill: April 16, 2015

Today, we have more choices in basic education, on-the-job skills training, and in traditional life skills like marriage, parenting, and household finance that are taught in community centers, churches, and libraries.  In addition, via the internet, we have a global education system at our fingertips for any subject of interest.female chemist

The unlimited opportunity to gain direct access to training for any school subject, work skill, or critical life skill highlights two important realities:

(1)    From a practical standpoint, we can teach people the best techniques to be functional at coding in C++, setting a family budget, playing guitar, driving a delivery truck, cooking a good steak, and even improving communication with our spouse 🙂

(2)    The vast majority of people can learn to be really great at something, if we make the choice. When we choose to make the effort, work through the disappointments, short-term failures, and the inevitable grind in the journey, we will develop the functional skill.

Making a choice to commit is a necessary skill for any endeavor in life.

As we continue moving forward to build and strengthen our character, we need to be reminded of a necessary skill that is not routinely taught in the classroom, the workplace, and on the home front: Commitment.

Psychologists and academics would have a few fancy terms to describe the reality that most of us don’t commit to something until we have discovered that we can be good at it.  If the technique or skill being taught seems interesting and we show some initial, marginal success at doing it, then maybe we will commit.

However, for most things in life, there is always the “honeymoon” period.  Where the initial excitement of something new and different energizes us for some time and then the subject gets difficult.  We spend one too many all-nighters studying for exams and still do not pass.  We work hard and give it our best in the workplace and the promotion seems to never come our way.  In the home, the strain of bills, schedules, and bad habits marches us into that valley of loneliness even while we share the same bed with our spouse.

During the difficult times, when the energy surrounding new and different fades away, the necessary skill of commitment is exposed.  It is the skill of commitment that carries us through the journey to learn a new language, to develop a new skill at work, and to build empathy and understanding with those in our family.

We could all benefit from an honest, self-assessment every once in a while on the necessary skill of commitment. Unlike some classes in school, this assessment is not graded on a curve by comparing our commitment to that seen in others.  We stand on our own with this grade.

When we set the bar high on our own level of commitment, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to learn new skills and reach our potential in the key areas of life.

Character Creates Opportunity® – “I have to” April 9, 2015

What do we achieve when we “have to” do something?

When we “have to” do something, we come to realize that we have the capacity to do more than we ever imagined.

In today’s world, we very rarely hear the phrases “I have to” or “I must do” something.  We pride ourselves on self-expression and for keeping our options open as we feel a sense of confinement with obligations and commitments.

Many times, our self-expression manifests itself in phrases like, “I just felt like doing something different” or “I just felt like it was time for a change.”  These choices often come about when the going gets tough and the outcome we desired is not so certain.

As we continue on our own personal journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be careful that our desire for self-expression and keeping our options open does not side-step responsibility or consistently enable a way out when times get tough.

The risk to reaching our full potential is greatest when our desire to keep our options open becomes a convenient escape hatch to avoid responsibility. 

When we come to that point in life when we “have to do” something, we soon realize we have virtually unlimited potential.

Many times, the common expression shared after a significant accomplishment is, “I had to do it…I had no other option, but to continue.”

Ask any young parent, “How do you stay up night after night with a young baby with colic or just a troubled sleep pattern and still manage to function and be productive throughout the day?”  Most often you will hear, “It is just what I have to do.  There is no other option.”

Ask any immigrant family, who came to this country and overcame tremendous language and cultural barriers to survive and provide, “How did you do it?”  Most often they will respond with comments like, “We had to make it work.  Returning to our homeland was not an option.”

A detailed review of the great breakthroughs in scientific discovery would reveal a sense of “I must” or “I have to” find answers to these great questions.

Madame Curie became the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and her work to isolate uranium opened the door to so many discoveries in the field of medicine.marie curie  She spent most of her life in financial hardship, endured the tragic death of her husband early in their marriage, and conducted most of her greatest research in a leaky, rusted out shed.  Friends and associates would recall her passion to find the answers to some of science’s most complex questions. With frostbitten toes and working in that shed on an empty stomach, she saw her work as having no other option, but finding the answers.

Ask any great athlete how they can continue to push through intense training programs and overcome injuries and pain to continue to reach for their goals, we will find a sense of focus with no other option but continuing to move forward.

Ask any combat veteran how they overcame the horrors of warfare, we will hear expressions like, “You do what you have to do to survive. There is no other option.”

When we have no other option and we “have to” do something, we are often amazed at what we can accomplish.

Are there areas in our lives where we have conveniently created options to avoid the commitment of saying, “I have to”?

  • Is there a troubled relationship with a family member that could be repaired with a “have to” commitment?
  • Is there a child or adolescent who would benefit from seeing a parent with a “have to” attitude around the important things in life?
  • Is there a struggling business that could continue with a “have to” decision to succeed?
  • Is there a student struggling in the classroom that could overcome with a “have to” choice to learn and grow?

What do we “have to” do to reach our full potential?

When we do what we “have to” do, we build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to reach our full potential.

Character Creates Opportunity® – One on One: April 2, 2015

Our world seems to give a great deal of praise and attention to those who impact the masses.  Whether it is through a great speech, inspiring an organization to do great things, or leading a large movement to have a measurable impact, it is the large numbers that get the attention and are assigned the greatest value.

The reality of our lives is that most of us don’t fall into that category.  Most of us will move through life in our small, little corner of the world and try to contribute some positive impact in our own way.

As we continue on our own personal journey to build and strengthen our character, I want to offer a word of encouragement around an important fact that we should not forget:  The greatest opportunity we have to make a positive impact in this world is one on one with an individual.

There is a certain physical and emotional distance we can experience in groups.  We can passively go with the flow in groups and remain detached.  We can keep things hidden in groups and our character is not as visible to others.

However, there is no detachment when we are one on one.  There is no “flow” we can passively go with when we are one on one.   When we are one on one, there is no hiding behind others, our effort is transparent to the other person, and over time, we reveal nothing but the authenticity of our character.

As we intentionally build and strengthen our character with thoughts, decisions, and actions based on principles like commitment, loyalty, and honesty, we are placing a premium on our one on one relationships because there is no hiding our character over time in a one on one relationship.

When we place a premium on our one on one relationships, we can ensure we give our best effort where it matters most.

We will forget the great speeches.  The great moments with teams or organizations will be confined to a highlight reel that is rarely shown. Tracy and Stephanie and BBall

However, we will never forget the look in someone’s eyes when the “light was turned on,” when the motivation to rise above the present challenge was ignited, and when the individual stepped back into the ring even when they were scared, exhausted, and quitting seemed understandable.

Those great moments happen one on one.

Truth be told, the great movements we read about in history books, in today’s news, or the strong family that remains intact over time, all began with a one on one connection that inspired an individual to impact another individual in a meaningful way and then a larger movement was created.

As we focus on building strong one on one relationships, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have a positive impact in this world.