Character Creates Opportunity® – Being Proactive: Thursday, October 8, 2015

What are we waiting for?

In the quiet of an early morning or a late evening, the majority of us see the potential for something bigger in our lives.  It may be a desire to see improvement in a close, committed relationship.  It may be the desire to get a promotion at work or start that business on the side.  It may be a desire to have a greater impact on a cause we care deeply about.  Very, very few of us, have reflective moments where we say, “I wish I could just sit here and do nothing for the rest of my life.”

Our world is wide open to enable us to reach our full potential.  The question we need to ask ourselves is, “What are we waiting for?”

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, the decision to be proactive is a cornerstone to our effort to reach our full potential.

We can get all the education and skills training we need for free…today…right now.  We can log in to any popular website and see the world’s greatest thinkers, doers, and teachers provide the very best of content on any subject for free while sitting at home.  If we think we have enough information to start, we can take action. We don’t need to ask for permission.   The door is always open.

In a world that is growing in complexity and where everything is open to everyone, if we are not moving forward, we are falling exponentially behind.

The questions we need to make sure we answer honestly are:

  • Are we waiting for someone else to make our close relationships stronger?
  • Are we waiting for someone to spoon feed us that job opportunity to get promoted?
  • Are we waiting for others to jump into an important cause before we get started?

As the traditional obstacles of education and awareness are rapidly going away, we are left looking in the mirror and asking ourselves, “What are we waiting for?”Mirror

We don’t need to take massive leaps forward.  All we need is to starting taking small steps in the desired direction on the things that matter most.

As we continue to dream big dreams and take proactive steps to making them become a reality, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a greater impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – When Commitment Begins to Falter: Thursday, October 1, 2015

There comes a point in time in every long term relationship, every major work endeavor, every pursuit of a life-long dream, and each time we attempt to make a change in our own behavior, when quitting starts to look good.  We question the original choice we made and we look for a way out.

The excitement surrounding the start of a new journey carries us for quite a while and then, when the really hard work begins, our internal voice starts to ask a few questions.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, making effective decisions when our commitment begins to falter will help us in the journey to reach our full potential.

We are all very familiar with the motivational stories like Abraham Lincoln overcoming numerous personal, business, and political failures before finally becoming the President of the United States.  We probably all have a few motivational quotes either on a wall or stuffed in some drawer that help to serve as a reminder of what it takes to overcome struggles.  We all need good reminders.

Many times, we become enamored by the story and the ultimate outcome.  However, more important than the outcome, are the small acts done each day.  The commitment of showing up every day is the real strength of the story.

When we commit to a decision, we will have moments (maybe years of moments) when we don’t feel like doing it, when we may believe it was a poor choice.  But, when our commitment remains day in and day out, the opportunities to learn, grow, and overcome show up also.  Just showing up every day is the “wisdom” that gets lost in the popular stories about overcoming. Tough Decisions

As we learn and grow, goals will change over time.  The situation may require a different set of decisions as we navigate the journey, but what matters is that we climbed back into the ring each and every day, whether we felt like it or not.  Just showing up and staying in the game is often what makes all the difference in the world.

Here are just a few points to consider when our commitment begins to falter:

  • We are all in the same boat. Anyone who has ever made a decision to commit to a goal worthy of effort has encountered a moment when quitting looks like an attractive option.
  • The ultimate goal is not the only celebratory moment. What is worth celebrating is the day in and day out commitment to show up and do the work required.  Climbing back in the ring each day is worthy of recognition.
  • Opportunity shows up, when we show up. So, more times than not, the most effective choice we can all make is to keep showing up each and every day.

There will be moments when our commitment begins to falter.  However, when we make the simple decision to keep showing up, we will gather momentum behind our commitment.  We will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and accomplish the goals we set.

Character Creates Opportunity® – On the Edge of Despair: Thursday, September 24, 2015

Let’s face it.  There are times in our lives when we face the toughest of circumstances and we stand on the edge of losing hope.

Whether it is a close relationship that has unraveled and the reality of “happily ever after” seems unreachable.  Or maybe it is the teenage or adult child who has lost their way.  Or maybe it is the hopes and dreams of a business that has just run out of cash and its demise is imminent.  Or maybe it is the sense that the safety and comfort of the “good old days” are never coming back in our communities.Mistakes Couple

These are the times when all the money in the world could not buy a quick fix out of the situation and all the pump-up, positive thinking, motivation speeches sound like nails on a chalk board.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is on the edge of despair where we can find opportunity to learn and grow through difficulty.

On the edge of despair, is where our masks come off and the costume party we have been attending comes to a close.  In the very raw, unguarded, and openness of pain, when we have no strength to hold up the mask of “everything is fine,” we now can begin to move forward on the path to learning and growth.

On the edge of despair, there are several things to consider as we look to build and strengthen our character through these moments of opportunity:

  • The most effective direction to move is forward towards the hurt and embrace the unguarded, authentic moment of pain. Take the mask off to begin to grow.
  • Be intentional about avoiding the routine addictions we have learned to cover the pain. We all have our own ways of coping to keep the costume party going.  Growth comes when we realize the party cannot go on forever.
  • Communication in times of pain is real, genuine and priceless for our growth. We should find someone we can trust and open up.  If we do not have someone in our close circle to confide in, then we need to seek out a pastor or counselor as the pathway to health is accelerated with open communication of our pain.
  • Our very best will emerge from the pain. Psychologists and our own experience would demonstrate that we only grow in struggles.  “No pain, no gain” is not just a slogan for coaches during practice.  We have a massive human weakness to get soft, complacent, and lazy during moments of calm and order.  We should use the times of pain to grow…it is our only chance.
  • No matter what the outcome of our present struggle, there is one positive step that can come out of any difficult situation. We can, and should, use our feelings of raw hurt to grow in empathy for others.  Our pain can be a catalyst for our growth in compassion for the struggles of others.  Another incredible accelerant on our pathway to health is when we turn to help others through their struggles.

When we stand on the edge of despair and we focus on growing through the struggle, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to remain on the path to our own emotional health and well positions us to be a helping hand to others.

One last point:  When we turn the corner on this present struggle, we should remember that life will always have another interesting event awaiting around the next corner.  If we can address our present struggle in a healthy way, we will be in a better to position to address the inevitable next bump in the road.  Enjoy the journey!

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Path to Stronger Relationships: Thursday, September 10, 2015

We live in relationship with others.  Whether we are an introvert or an extrovert on the personality scale, we live in relationship with others in the home, the school, the workplace, and the community.  Psychologists, pastors and wise old folks would tell us that life is about relationships and a healthy life consists of healthy relationships.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we identify some guideposts to keep us on the path to healthy relationships.

We live in a world that is quick to pass judgement.  It seems as we have all transitioned into the speed of the digital age for telecommunications, we have also accelerated our willingness to make judgements just as fast as we can scroll through a social media page.

This accelerated pace to judgement creates a risk for us veering off the path towards healthy relationships.

Empathy, the ability to understand and “feel” the emotions of another individual, is one of those important guideposts to keep us on the path to building healthy relationships.  Empathy is our gateway to understanding and understanding is the foundation for healthy relationships.

Empathy not only give us a better perspective through understanding, it can help us answer the question about why someone acted the way they did in a particular situation.

Expanding our level of empathy is not accomplished in a quick scroll through our most recent social media updates.  Empathy takes an investment to understand someone’s experiences, beliefs, and assumptions in order to better understand why they are the way there are and why they did what they did.

Like a lot of things in life, growing our empathy takes time and effort.  It is our choice.  Driving on an empty road towards the setting sunHere are just a few thoughts around empathy that may help us to stay on a path to stronger, healthier relationships:

  • The ability to understand one another through growing our empathy is the foundation for healthy relationships.
  • Empathy takes an investment and we have limited resources of time and effort. Start with those relationships that matter most.
  • Quick judgments on behaviors we don’t like because we don’t care enough to grow our empathy is rarely going to help us bring about the changes we desire in close relationships.
  • A simple starting point when we feel like passing a quick judgement is to simply pause and ask, “Please, help me understand…”

As we continue to grow our empathy in the relationships that matter most, we will carry that discipline to our broader view of the world around us and we will continue to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to remain on the path building healthy relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Major Threat: Thursday, September 3, 2015

There is no denying that our world continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty.

There are major international and domestic threats to our way of life that we often hear about in the news or experience directly in our communities.  The transparency of life that comes with the digital age also poses a threat to some very private situations or some regrettable activities that would have caused much less collateral damage in times past.  The complexity of life these days seems to pose a significant threat to the peace and stability we all yearn for in our lives.

However, there is one threat has been with us through the ages that continues to challenge us more than any other in the quest to reach our full potential.  The threat of isolation for an individual or a group presents a major threat to reaching our full potential.

Healthcare professionals, in both academic research and practical experience, would tell us that personal isolation is the greatest predictor of health outcomes.  Those that are struggling with physical or mental ailments, do worse when facing a situation alone as opposed to those who have a support network to help get through the struggle.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, we must be vigilant in addressing the continual threat of isolation that can create major risks for us achieving our hopes and dreams.

There is a tendency that when we face struggles, we turn inward as oppose to turning outward to others to address our situation.

  • In our schools, students who struggle academically or socially tend to keep their challenges to themselves.
  • In our homes, when relationships are strained, we have a tendency to go to our separate corners or simply attempt to put up a wall to separate us from our problems.
  • In our workplace, there is a sense that we need to figure out the problem ourselves as opposed to reaching out to draw on the experience and knowledge of others.

The impact of isolating ourselves in the midst of struggles can have a significant negative impact in many areas of life.

Below are a few thoughts on what we can do to address the major threat that isolation poses in reaching our full potential and helping others to do the same.

  1. Gain a greater appreciation for the reality that we all have a tendency to turn inward when facing difficulties and the poor outcome that can be the result of that decision to turn inward.
  2. Be continually on the lookout for our own risk of turning inward and also for those closest to us who seem to move into more isolation over time.
  3. Model the way for those around us by reaching out to others when we are facing difficulties in a genuine and authentic way to encourage others to do the same.
  4. Take the time to highlight the positive outcomes that were the result of coming together as a family, a workgroup, or a class to reinforce an effective choice that avoided the threat of isolation.Points of View

As we remain vigilant in facing the major threat of isolation, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and help others do the same.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Courage to Ask: Thursday, August 27, 2015

There is a tremendous need in most areas of life to squeeze out inefficiencies that slow us down or cost us time and quite often money.  In many organizations today, we often hear about creating a more efficient work environment in order to maintain competitiveness in the marketplace.  On a personal level, there are websites that can help us be more efficient with planning schedules, meals, vacations, and just about anything else.  There is also no shortage of books or consultants we could employ to help us be more efficient in what we do.

There is one critical area that often gets overlooked on a very personal level in families, friendships, and other close relationships.  The courage to ask for help is often times what separates a willing helper from a person in genuine need of help.

As we build and strengthen our character, it is the courage to ask for help that can create massive efficiencies in the strengthening of our close relationships.

We could spend a great deal of time discussing why we don’t ask for help, but suffice to say, many of us do not reach out for help when we truly need it.  We typically march on until disaster strikes and the cover-up has lost its effectiveness.

It may not be what we see on the news or read on the internet, but I am a firm believer that in most of our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces, people are genuinely willing to help someone in need.  What we all lack is someone with the courage to ask.

Yes, we all can, and need to, improve our listening skills and our ability to discern the real question behind the question.  However, experience would tell us that we are all good at the cover-up.  What would bring incredible efficiency and strength to our close relationships is if we personally modeled the courage to ask for help.introvert

As a parent, we would give anything to hear about the real struggles of our children to offer help and assistance in overcoming a challenge.  Many times children (of all ages) don’t ask.

As a spouse, we would benefit much more from hearing what is at the heart of the struggles that often times manifest themselves in other ways like defensiveness, stonewalling, or contempt that cover up the real need for help.  Many times spouses don’t ask or give up after a few years of asking.

As a friend, we would open the door to much richer relationships if we went beyond the “everything is fine, things are great” comment and genuinely opened up and asked for help.  Many times friends don’t ask.

There are a number of benefits that we can bring forward when we have the courage to ask for help:

  • We bring clarity to the need. Too often, our relationships wonder with unproductive energy spent trying to figure out what is at the heart of the struggle.
  • We enable someone who wants to help with the opportunity to productively help. Many times there is a willing helper without the understanding of where or how to help.
  • We demonstrate to others the necessary courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. Our example will help them during their time of need…and we all have times of need.

Many times, the complexity of our lives will hinder our ability to know exactly how to describe what it is we need help with and we just know the reality that we are hurting.  A simple, soft call for “help” can open the door for a more productive discussion than maintaining the cover-up until disaster strikes.

As we demonstrate the courage to ask for help, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build stronger relationships with those closest to us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Lifetime of Cramming: Thursday, August 20, 2015

I am sure we can all relate to the strategy of cramming to study for that big end of semester exam.  We kind of paid attention throughout the semester, but in the end, we believe an all-night session of studying will be an effective option to make up for a semester in which we did not give our full attention.Cramming

More often than not, we probably found that despite all the warnings of how ineffective the cramming strategy was to learning, we experienced that cramming for an exam seemed to result in the outcome we needed for the moment in that we passed the test and the course.

Unfortunately for many of us, we continually employ the cramming strategy we learned in school to solve many of life’s pressing challenges.  We cram in a great deal of catching up on relationships with that much needed date night and family vacation to shore up those critical, close relationships.  We provide the all-encompassing life-skills speech as we prepare children to leave the home for summer camp, college, or to move out on their own.  We have that upcoming reunion, wedding, or annual health check-up and we figure we can starve our way into losing that much needed weight in the last few weeks before the event.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we face the reality that we will fall short of our full potential if we deploy the cramming strategy to the really important things in life.

Building and sustaining a healthy relationship is not built on that one weekend get-away to rekindle love and caring.

Preparing children for life outside of “home sweet home” is not accomplished in a 15 minute send-off speech prior to that all too sudden good-bye.

Maintaining optimal health is not accomplished with the occasional crash diet and two week exercise routine.

Achieving financial freedom is not established through that one great idea for a get rich quick scheme.

The really important things in life will always be judged by one of the most critical guiding principles of life, the Law of the Harvest. Simply, we reap what we sow.

The law of the harvest in the natural world is as true as the law of gravity.  If we want to reap an abundant harvest of corn or soybeans, there is only one pathway to follow: The Law of the Harvest.  If we asked any farmer 2,000 years ago or one today in the fields of Nebraska, we would get the same general response.  There are no shortcuts to an abundant harvest.

We cannot vacation in the spring and summer and then deploy our cramming strategy for an entire growing season into September.  There is no way to pay for the “Speed Pass” lane on the farm and there is no “Easy” button.  The natural law of the harvest will always be our judge.  Just like the law of gravity governs our eventual return to the ground no matter how high we jump, the law of the harvest governs our ability to produce our most essential food sources for life.  In addition, the law of the harvest governs our ability to reach our full potential in the most important areas of our lives.

When we face the reality that the cramming strategy we deployed in school will not produce the abundance we desire in the important areas of life and we take meaningful steps overtime to reap an abundant harvest, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Worthy Timeline: Thursday, August 13, 2015

The clock is ticking all around us.  We have a time schedule to keep in order to catch the train in the morning, to complete a project by the deadline, to graduate on time, to finish that much needed project around the house, and the list could go on.

If we are not very thoughtful and intentional about the schedules we keep and projects we place on plate, we can end up just running, or just living, from one timeline after another.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, there is a worthy timeline that often goes undetected but can make all the difference in our ability to have a positive impact on those around us.

We all experience frustration and disappoint in our lives.  Discontent is very often the first step in the creation of anything of value.  As a matter of fact, academic research and our own experience would demonstrate that we really only move in the direction of making meaningful change when we are absolutely fed up with our current situation.

A worthy timeline that often goes unchecked is the time between our initial sense that change needs to happen and the time we actually begin to make meaningful progress to bring about the change. In reality, sometimes that timeline can go on forever on the most meaningful things in our lives.

The time we realize we need to continue our education, formally or informally, to remain relevant in today’s job market.  The time we realize our family life is revolving around schedules and it has been a long time since we had a meaningful connection.  The time we realize our waistline is growing at an unhealthy pace.  The time we realize we need to get our household budget under control.  The time we realize our anger has dampened the joy in our home.

The time we realize we need to make a change and when we actual starting making progress towards the desired change is a timeline worthy of our attention.Driving on an empty road towards the setting sun

When the gap in time gets too long, we move quickly from the ranks of the self-aware focused on reaching our potential to the ranks of complainers and excuse makers.  When the timeline gets too long, eventually those around us realize we really don’t care enough to change and then trustworthiness falls.  Soon we are on a short timeline to becoming irrelevant and losing our ability to have a positive impact on those around us.

We need to be careful that the old Credence Clearwater Revival song about “someday never comes” does not become an anthem for some of the most needed changes in our lives.

As we realize the need for change in our lives and we very efficiently start making progress in the right direction, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Our Turn with Disappointment: Thursday, August 6, 2015

Throughout life we will experience disappointment.

Sometimes we experience disappointment in the classroom, the workplace, our home life, and our community. These disappointments can vary in degree from the slight disappointment that rain caused the game to be delayed or our drive-thru order was missing some fries, to the significant disappointment that turns to heartache and despair when the dream of a close knit family is now facing the reality of a deep, challenging family conflict.

Although we all wish to avoid a great deal of disappointment in this world, the reality is that we all will have our turn with disappointment.  Most of us will find a way to move through it, some in silence and some with a loud roar.  There is no escaping disappointment.  Our well-worn path to address disappointment is to rally our own strength, perhaps we are fortunate to gain some encouragement from others and our faith, and we endure with the hope that we will continue to grow stronger through the experience.

Many times, our initial reaction when it is our turn with disappointment is to focus on our own our pain. Given the extent of the situation, it may be a very real and practical response to focus on our own psychological survival.

However, as we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, there are a few additional responses beyond focusing on ourselves that can bring about a positive impact when it is our turn with disappointment.

First, our personal experience with disappointment allows us the opportunity to build empathy towards others walking through a similar valley.  We can become a credible source of understanding to others with each and every time it is our turn with disappointment.  Those around us do experience a level of disappointment at certain times in their lives and we can effectively build an authentic and helpful connection with others through our own journey with disappointments.

Points of ViewSecond, our personal experience with disappointment allows us the opportunity to build humility in realizing that everything is not in our control.  We can keep our thought life strong, we can make effective choices, but we do not control the final outcome.  We can only control our response to that outcome.  It takes “two to tango” and there are often times a great deal of factors that can impact the outcome.  Make no mistake, we need to always take responsibility for the outcome. However, building humility in realizing we are not in total control of everything strengthens the opportunity to build genuine connection to others around the reality that we are stronger together than we are alone.  Despite the persona of how macho it is to “John Wayne” it all alone, we are much more effective in this world when we build a force of interdependence among families, partnerships at work and in the community.

Third, our personal experience with disappointment reminds us to be thankful for the little things.  Psychologists, pastors, and friends would all say that being thankful for the small blessings in life is a sure way to maintain our mental health throughout the inevitable chaos and challenge of life.  Whether it is enjoying a sunrise or a sunset along with the fact that we had one more day with those we care about most, gratefulness for the little things will help us when it is our turn with disappointment.

As we put effort into more effectively dealing with disappointment in our lives, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Hard Work of Listening: July 23, 2015

Let’s face it, there is a lot of chatter in our world.  Whether it is on the television, through the internet, in various social settings, at work, etc.  We hear a lot of chatter.

With so much noise and information around us (along with less than an optimal amount of sleep), we have a natural coping mechanism to just tune things out or engage in very superficial dialogue without truly listening.  Our most common reaction is to sit still and endure it, just like we did doing a boring class in school.

Many times, our filtering mechanism for all the chatter goes overboard and we lose the important skill of really listening when it matters most.  As we continue our journey to build and strengthen our character, the discipline to listen is an important element for having a positive impact on those around us.Family is disconnected image

Many psychologists would say that there is an unfortunate pattern for many of us in that we can carry on, with a pleasant disposition, our activities outside of the home whether that is with friends, at school, work, or various social activities.  We seem to blend in well and minimize or eliminate any attempts to rock the boat.  However, when it comes to our home life, the description of most family therapists, pastors, and relationship experts would commonly say that it is in the home where the disposition changes, the willingness to endure weakens and many times, all you know what breaks loose.

The same can be said about listening.  Many times, we take a more active role in listening to a customer, a colleague at work, a friend on the street, or even that really boring teacher, but when it comes to those closest to us, we are relatively quick to downgrade our listen skills.

There is no doubt that the volume of information coming at us will continue to increase over time.  Very few of us would find “getting off the grid” to be a productive solution to our problems with listening.  Given this reality of increasing information and noise in our world, we need to take hold of a few truths about the importance of listening in order to have a positive impact on those around us.

  1. Listening shows others that we care. Asking questions to ensure understanding, maintaining eye contract, acknowledging the information being shared, etc. takes effort and focus.
  2. Listening is the gateway to understanding. Improved understanding helps us see through the veil of “I am ok” to uncover the real issues impacting someone around us.
  3. We can’t listen to everything or everybody. The reality is that there is a lot of noise out there that needs to be filtered.  We should choose to filter most of it in order to focus our efforts on those we care about most.

As we do the hard work of listening, especially with those closest to us in our home, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® to have a positive impact on those around us.