Character Creates Opportunity® – Laughter: Thursday, December 29, 2016

Our world continues to grow in complexity and intensity.  As we sort through the events of the past year and we are reminded of the best and worst that occurred across the globe, in our communities and in our own homes, one item that is routinely missed in these year-end summaries is remembering when we laughed the most.

Laughter is the universal symbol for moments of happiness, peace, and human connection.  These moments don’t last forever, but laughter remains an essential ingredient for our emotional health and well-being.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we all need to ensure we keep an adult-size dose of laughter as part of our daily habits to maintain our perspective in a world that continues to try and focus exclusively on the serious and concerning issues of the day.

Modern science has continually proven the old proverb that laughter really is the best medicine. Recent studies completed at several academic medical centers show a good laugh can lower our blood pressure, protect our heart, improve brain functioning, elevate our mood and reduce stress.  Laughter is a solid workout for our diaphragm, lungs, and even our facial muscles. Laughter is the original “core” workout as it tones intestinal functioning and strengthens the muscles of the abdominal wall.

Even though the worries of this world will not go away, as we look into the new year, let’s all remember to lighten up a bit and fill the prescription for a little laughter as we look forward to doing great things in the year ahead.  Here are a few suggestions to help get the required dose of laughter to strengthen our connections with others, especially those closest to us in our homes.

  1. Our own uniquely created family humor is most often the best. There is usually one self-depreciating soul in the family that is comfortable reminding others at the holiday gathering about one of his/her stupid and funny mistakes that still unites the family in laughter.  The stories may involve throwing up at the dinner table, someone peeing in their pants after “the driver” refused to stop at the last exit, ripping their pants at the start of the wedding, or old Uncle Harry belching during a quiet moment at church.  Laughter strengthens families.laughter
  2. If we run short of family humor, there is always a classic comedy movie to get us laughing. A good scene from the Blue Brothers (“Hey you fat penguin!”), Tommy Boy (“Richard, is there a mark on my face?”), and Tin Men (“Ok Mr. Merengue, let’s dance!”) can always generate a good laugh.
  3. When old movies fail to get us laughing, there are usually a few good examples in history when “the experts” got it all wrong and we can smile knowing that even the smart folks make mistakes:
    • “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the Office of Patents in 1899.
    • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM in 1943.
    • “You haven’t got through college yet.” An Atari executive as he turned down Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who were pitching the idea of developing a personal computer.
  4. And last, but certainly not least and if all of the above fail to get us laughing, watch a few episodes of Saturday Night Light Live on YouTube…anyone “need more cow-bell?”

Laughter helps to lower stress, put our problems in perspective, and build connections with others.  As we remind each other to consistently get a good dose of laughter each and every day, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to have a positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Meetings That Matter: Thursday, December 22, 2016

On a daily and weekly basis, most of our lives are scheduled out.  Many us move from scheduled meeting to scheduled meeting throughout our days.  It is not just work related meetings jamming our schedule, but meetings with friends, time to explore new opportunities, and other social activities that need to somehow get wedged into an already packed schedule. Our calendars, whether electronic or old school paper, are well structured to support coordinating our lives.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we all need the occasional reminder of the meetings that matter.  Many times, these meetings are unscheduled and have an opportunity to occur almost daily in our homes.

We should all come to appreciate and respect that our homes come in all sorts and flavors, but the principles of the home remain intact as they are universal and timeless.  Home is a place where we should feel safe, loved, and encouraged.  In addition, we should be given the chance to take off the mask and be real while we learn and grow without shame or judgment.

The meetings that occur in the home are the meetings that matter.  They occur in the kitchen, the garage, in the yard, in a messy bedroom, on the way out the door and in the early morning hours with someone struggling to sleep.  For the most part, the meetings that matter never get on our calendar.

Day after day and year after year, it is the connections in the home that have the biggest impact on who we become.  The positive impact from a solid home life is next to impossible to outsource.

As many of us try to get a little more time with family over the holidays, here are a few thoughts on making the most of the meetings that matter:

  • Be intentional about treasuring the time together. Realize, in the moment, how special it is just to be together.  Life, as “they” say, is short, but the reality is that face to face time with those we care about most is less than we can ever imagine when stacked up to the busy, “purposeful” lives we are all trying to lead.
  • Reinforce to others about how special this time is so it can potentially “sink in” to those who may not be aware and may not care at this particular moment in time. It will be contagious for some now and maybe others later, but it is helpful to remind those we care about most how special time is together. It helps to remind others that they matter.
  • When struggling to find time together, be kind and gentle, but determined, and force it on the schedule. Imagine the impact if we figured out how to spend some time each day, without electronic distractions, looking each other in the eye, being present, listening, learning, challenging, questioning, being questioned, and not judging?

As we become intentional about creating more meetings that matter in our homes, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to live a purposeful life and reach our full potential.

Character Creates Opportunity® – On Auto-Pilot: Thursday, December 15, 2016

The pace of innovation in our world continues to accelerate.  Innovation is the gateway to improving our lives in some very practical and meaningful ways.  The technology enabling a plane to be flown on auto-pilot across the globe, a self-driving taxi and drones that are programed to arrive at our doorstep with a package delivery is changing so many roles in our day to day lives.

Automation brings the luxury of just going through the motions without much risk.  As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, there is a very real risk of apathy and detachment if we consistently just go through the motions on auto-pilot in the important areas of our lives.

Sure, we all get stuck in a rut once in a while. That rut can become a coffin with the ends kicked out if we remain there too long, so the real question we have to ask ourselves is, “Are we just showing up and going through the motions in some important areas of our life?”

  • Is the meeting at work just another meeting in a succession of meetings?
  • Is the jam packed, hectic schedule in our homes just a big mind-numbing drill?
  • Is the sunrise, in all its glory, just another time check for the start of a new day?

Are we just going through the motions on auto-pilot?

Here are a few risks if we are just going through the motions in the important areas of life:

  1. We are not fooling anybody. If we continually just show up on auto-pilot, eventually our teammates, spouse, kids, and boss figure it out and we get dismissed rapidly and without warning.  We miss the opportunity available in the moment right in front of us and the moment is all we really have to count on.
  2. We set an example that is contagious like a bad virus and then our home, workplace and community begin to display the tell-tale signs of a life on auto-pilot, apathy and detachment. It sets a bad trend in motion.

On the contrary, what if each day we reacted with the energy as if “the President is calling.”  We hear a lot these days about people being called to meet with the President-elect.  I am sure those people are bringing their “A game” to that meeting. I doubt anyone is just showing up on auto-pilot and just going through the motions.

Well, the truth is, the president has called and continues to call us.  It just so happens that for the 99.9% of us, the president is in our homes, our workplace, and our community.  Are we on auto-pilot and going through the motions in these daily opportunities, or are we bringing our A game?Thankfulness

As we shutoff the auto-pilot and get engaged to make a positive difference in the important areas of our lives, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to have an amazing journey and an unlimited positive impact on world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Quick Fix: Thursday, December 8, 2016

If we are honest with ourselves, we all desire a quick fix to what ails us.  There must be a simple pill, an “easy” button, or a conference we can attend to pump us up enough to address our greatest challenges immediately with a few tricks. If that does not work, lottery winnings can ensure that plenty of money will take care of everything.

We all know the odds of winning the lottery are very slim, but the potential for a massive quick fix always taps into a deep yearning within all of us.  With regards to money and the quick fix, I think Sigmund Freud said it best when he said given a choice between treating rich or poor patients, he would always choose rich because they no longer think that their problems will be solved with money.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to genuinely and honestly confront the areas in our lives where we are waiting for the lottery winnings to give us a quick fix to our challenges.  Just like winning the lottery, the odds are stacked against us, so the principled choice is to plan around the reality that there will never be a quick fix to our struggles.

If I were to ask you, “What are the most difficult problems you face today?”

What would you say?

Once we move beyond the myth of the quick fix, we can begin to make steady progress in addressing our most difficult problems.  The consistent, daily implementation of habits, not an intervention of the next great idea, is the only proven effective method for addressing our greatest struggles in life.Mountain landscape. Caucasus. Georgia

Here are a few thoughts on the habits we can make part of our routine:

  1. Do we care enough to solve this one? This is a helpful question to ask as solving our most difficult problems will take effort and focus every single day.  We can’t do everything, so answering this question will help narrow our efforts to what matters most in life.
  2. Do we know what it looks like in the end? Clearly being able to see what the goal is will help keep us on a consistent path.  The clearer we have the goal defined, the better our chances of achievement.
  3. Do we believe we can achieve it? It will be incredibly difficult to effectively address our struggles if we don’t genuinely believe they can be solved.  Start to believe now.
  4. Principle-based habits. We should guide our thoughts, decisions and actions based on principles like honesty, commitment, compassion and hope as we go about our daily activities to address our most difficult problems.
  5. Reality Check: The journey on addressing our greatest struggles is a life-long pursuit.  Enjoy the journey as we will learn, we will be better for having tried rather than if we quit, and we will set an example for others to follow which will have an impact even when we are not around.

As we walk away from the myth of the quick fix and become intentional about delivering on the habits that will lead to addressing our most difficult problems, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential.

PS: Miracles do happen.  However, they are so rare and so unpredictable that it is most effective to believe in miracles, but keep working our habits like they are our only option.  When the miracle does show-up, we can be amazed and overjoyed just like young children on Christmas morning.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Understanding: Thursday, December 1, 2016

As our world continues to grow more complex and intense, there continues to be plenty of fertile ground for conflict.

Global conflict is one thing, but we also see it in the workplace as competition and disruption seems to increase all around our once isolated business creating tension in the workplace.  We see it in our communities as random acts of violence have seemed to replace the random acts of kindness we use to hear so much about.  All of these factors inevitably impact families, which already have their own unique set of potential flash points, creating a genuine opportunity for increased conflict in the home.

Although life has plenty of areas for conflict, the timeless truth is that family conflict is one of the most heart-breaking of all of life’s struggles.

With the holiday season upon us, there is usually an opportunity to be a bit reflective on the hope for greater peace and less conflict in our everyday lives and especially in families gathering for the holidays.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, understanding is the critical element to preventing and resolving most interpersonal conflict.  Understanding should be at the forefront of our decisions before we decide to break things and walk away.

To the family member we don’t see, hear, or care much about anymore, is it possible we misunderstood her or she misunderstood us?  Did we just let other’s opinions form our own view of why tension and isolation remain?

To the friction in the office, where we all have learned to play the game and suppress the tension, is it possible that the rationale behind the tension is based on a misunderstanding? Did we simply lack all the information?

Before these wounds continue to break up relationships, burn bridges, ruin the productivity of the team, or create massive indigestion at the next family gathering, here are a few ways to improve health while addressing the disease of misunderstanding that plagues so much of interpersonal conflict.Shaking hand on the green background

  1. Ask ourselves, “What if I misunderstood something?” Simply asking ourselves this question will bring about a pause before we act.
  2. Work to gain some perspective. We see the world as we are, not as the world is.  It is important to ensure our limited, prior experiences and biases don’t cloud the reality that is in front of us.
  3. Be proactive in asking for help. “Help me understand a little better what just happened…or Help me understand what happened 20 years ago to create such a rift.”

Understanding is the gateway to peace in our relationships.

As we become intentional about first understanding before we break things or shut down relationships, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to bring health into our most important relationships.

Character Creates Opportunity® – An Important Question: Thursday, November 17, 2016

There is a passage in Scripture when Jesus comes upon a man who had been crippled his entire life and the expectation of all those in attendance was an instant miracle enabling the crippled man to walk.  However, Jesus first asks the man a question that is relevant for all of us today.  He first asked the man, “Do you want to get well?”

We are all familiar with times in our lives where we stood facing a decision for change. The decisions span the spectrum from quick and easy to long and incredibly difficult.  Success and failure both bring about a multitude of decisions for change.  As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, making the decision to “get well” is an important first step in reaching our full potential.

History demonstrates that for most of us, we only learn and grow through pain, discomfort and challenge.  Discontent and frustration over our current situation is an opportunity waiting to happen. The great medical discoveries were born out of frustration and near hopelessness in witnessing suffering and death from disease.  The great challenges of war brought about some of our greatest inventions.  The tremendous frustrations of a growing nation brought about incredible advances in transportation and communication in the most recent 100+ years of our nation’s history.

On a more personal note, in our close relationships, we really only wake-up and prepare to learn and grow when our world is about to fall apart compared to the relative calm of a quiet night at home when everyone is well fed, well rested, and the bills are paid.Man Paying the Bills

When we face discontent and frustration, our ‘inner voice’ that drives our thoughts, decisions, and actions spotlights our character.  When we are facing a decision for change, do we choose to “get well” or do we choose to continue with unhealthy behaviors?

Do we want to get well when…

  • Reality hits that our skills and experience in the workplace are not what is needed to maintain gainful employment?
  • The lack of a financial plan results in credit card debt that has stretched beyond our comfort zone?
  • Faced with frustration and conflict in the home?
  • The doctor informs us we need to eat better and exercise more?

In those difficult times, when we face a decision for change, if our thoughts, decisions, and actions are based on principles like courage, responsibility, love and understanding, we build and strengthen our character as we choose to “get well.” If we let our thoughts, decisions, and actions be guided by anger, apathy, and contempt, we weaken our character and choose to bring about more pain and discomfort.

We are responsible for making the choice to get well. When we choose to get well, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Way You Are: Thursday, November 10, 2016

“I love you just the way you are” is the final line in Billy Joel’s 1970s hit “Just the Way You Are.” The song went on to win Song of the Year in 1979.

If we examined our most meaningful and important relationships, could we say that final line and describe the actions that support it? How would the person on the receiving end of our love describe the reality?

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, growing our capacity for unconditional love, especially for those closest to us, is a worthy endeavor and it will not be an easy task.  When we examine our lives, many of us realize we have layers of experience that have shaped our love as conditional.  If we want to be brutally honest with ourselves, we most likely place the toughest conditions on those closest to us in our own homes.

When we look back on our lives, we probably find the simplest examples of unconditional love from children when they are very young.  They don’t care about our title at the office, our bank account, how many friends we have, how clean our home is, how many times we have pizza for dinner, or even the areas of darkness in our lives, they just love us.  Whether we wear a bad day or a good day on our face, they still reach out and squeeze our neck and say, “I love you.”

Somewhere along the journey for all of us, we learned about expectations and conditions for love.  We smile more, reward more, and love more when kids bring home good grades, comb their hair and wash their face, show interest in what interests us, and to expose the most painful reality, become what we want them to be.

As adults, we drag those experiences into our relationships and we find most of our love is built on conditions; what we do for others, how much money we make, how organized our home is and how elaborate we make our holidays.  Inevitably, those expectations and conditions are not met and the cold, hard reality we face is many friendships and close relationships lack the love we displayed as children.

Conditions on our love hold us back from experiencing the simple, pure love we all desire in our close relationships.  Here are a few steps to help grow our capacity for unconditional love and display “I love you just the way you are” to the people that matter most in our lives:Authentic

  • Overcome Fear: We fear that our love will not be returned.  We offer our love unconditionally and fear that nothing will be returned.  This fear is built on an unhealthy view that relationships should be measured by a ratio of love given compared to love received. Measurement is not an act of love.  Giving is always better than receiving in building healthy relationships.  If we are feeling unloved, most often, it is not because we are not receiving our “fair share” of love, it is because we are withholding our love.  Love unconditionally.
  • No Retribution: Many times, when the actions of others do not meet our expectations or when real-life shatters our fairy-tale version of life and love, we hold back and deal with our pain by withholding our love from those closest to us. We are so ready to describe our hurts and how we have been wronged.  However, the act of withholding our love out of retribution is much more serious than someone close to us falling short of expectations.  Love unconditionally.
  • Keep It Simple: Love is first and foremost about being present…mentally, physically, and emotionally.  We don’t need to fret over saying something brilliant, sharing our experiences to make us feel relevant, or making sure everything is perfect before we act.  Just being present is a great foundation to build upon. Love unconditionally.

When we grow our capacity to act in manner that demonstrates “I love you just the way you are” to those closest to us, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to support building strong and healthy families that can positively impact our world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Don’t Wait: Thursday, November 3, 2016

“Are you sure you want to do that?”  For many of us, there is that little voice inside our head that causes us to exercise some caution and delay in making a decision.

With many financial transactions, exercising delay in making a decision to buy that new car or new house probably proves to be a wise decision in the end as there is always another car or house on the market despite how “perfect” this one might be.  With that second piece of apple pie, a little delay and caution is probably a good thing for our health.  With new technologies and gadgets, we can always wait to get the “new and improved” version coming out and save the hassle of transitioning now.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, exercising caution and delay on some decisions is a wise move.  However, there is one area in life that we need to be reminded, “Don’t Wait.” In building and maintaining healthy relationships with those we care about most, we need to act now.

Every relationship has moments of highs and lows.  The truth is, the closer the relationship, the more extreme are the highs and lows.

  • A parent is going to miss a “signal” when a son or daughter needs them.
  • A spouse is going to miss a “moment” when they should have listened.
  • A son or daughter is going to miss a “chance” when a parent needed to know they mattered.
  • A brother or sister is going to miss a “time to connect” because of another priority.
  • One of us is going to bring judgment and shame into the situation instead of understanding.

Life is full of imperfection.  We will make mistakes.  However, our most important relationships deserve our commitment to stay connected. Don’t waitMan and woman holding hands at a table

  • Don’t wait for the perfect time. There is no such thing.
  • Don’t wait for the other person to take the first step. Set the example for others to follow.
  • Don’t wait for the holidays to reconnect. The holidays are stressful enough.

Start small, reach out and take a few steps to reconnect.  We will all benefit from the connection.

When we act now and reach out to work on a struggling relationship, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to bring health into the relationships we care about most.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Universal Antidote: Thursday, October 27, 2016

The mental and emotional health of ourselves and those we care most about is a critical issue that impacts our homes, communities and our society.

There is a great deal written about improving our mental and emotional health.  There are countless resources available on how to be happy, handle stress, deal with the ups and downs of close relationships, etc.  Also, in terms of therapeutic intervention, we (as a society) take a lot of pills to relax and be happy, a few adult beverages to unwind, and use some mind-numbing habits to avoid a few painful realities. Truth be told, even though most of us are not exposed on the front page of the papers, we all have our own “little helpers” to deal with some darkness in our lives.

There is a saying that has been passed down through the ages that seems to apply today just as it did a long time ago; “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important for us to find the habits that can be the antidote to what currently plagues us.  Our mental and emotional health and the impact that may have on those closest to us is too important to not make meaningful progress towards a cure.

Giving is the universal antidote to what plagues little girl and boy with ice cream

Like reading, exercising, or listening, giving only becomes ingrained when we engage in it regularly. The words of Aristotle ring true on the importance of consistent, routine behavior.  “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The time to start is now, not when we think we have our house in order. In a world (and our homes) that continues to grow in complexity and uncertainty, we live in a constant state of change and our house most likely will never be in order.

Here are a few areas where giving can help a specific plague that we may be dealing with today:

  • Time and Effort: Giving our time and effort to serve others in need is an effective antidote to the “busyness” that sometimes plagues all us and helps to deal with the time-wasting habits in our lives (we all have them). Studies would show serving others in need lifts our emotional state.  It turns out that doing good makes us feel good.  It does not have to be huge.  Start small in the home like taking the trash out without complaining.
  • Money: Giving financially, on a consistent basis, is an effective antidote to greed, the struggle to compare and “keep up with the Joneses” (or Kardashians) and naturally puts guardrails around “wants” vs “needs” in our lives. Studies would show if we don’t start now to give, we will just keep moving the goal post higher as we tell ourselves, “I will give once I reach a certain income level or net worth.”  Spoiler-Alert: We never reach it as we always see the need for more. Find a cause and start giving now. Small, slow and steady.
  • Talents: We all have some skills in life. They may not be the ones that will earn us a 10 year-$100 million contract for a professional sport, but we have some skills to offer to others.  Some maybe be good coaches/mentors on the field or in the workplace.  Experiences can always be shared with “newbies” to big items like parenting, moving into a new community, transitioning into a new grade at school or into a new job.  Giving our talents (big or small) to help others is an effective antidote to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that we all face.

As we discipline ourselves to give regularly, we will take preventive measures to maintain our mental and emotional health in a challenging world.  Giving will help to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to reach our full potential and have a positive impact in our homes, communities and the world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – A Common Path: Thursday, October 20, 2016

There is a common path that we all journey on as we continue to build and strengthen our character.  Despite how our world continues to grow more complex and uncertain in our homes, businesses and communities, we all share a common path.  We do not journey alone, rather we journey together in relationship with others…whether we admit it or not.

The enclosed graphic is an attempt to depict the common path that most relationships travel on towards a journey of health or harm.161020_relationship-journey_graphic-dashed_final

There are several concepts contained in this graphic depiction of the strength of relationships over time, but below are ones that I wanted to specifically highlight:

  • There is no finish line with regards to our impact on the relationships around us. Even in death, the legacy of our relationships lives on in the lives of those left behind.
  • Every single important relationship in our lives endures some significant ups and downs.
  • When we choose to guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by principles like honesty, compassion, and sacrifice, we strengthen our character and our relationships. When we fail to guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by those same principles, we weaken our character and our relationships.

As we individually reflect on the truths above, it is not uncommon for us to think about our own ability and willingness to sustain the effort over the long haul. How can we sustain our efforts along this journey when we are told (a) There is no finish line (in essence, what is our pace for a race that has no finish line?) (b) There are some significant high points combined with some pretty significant low points and (c) We need to take responsibility for the relationship even though it “takes two to tango.”

Whether you find yourself today on a high point or a low point on this graph with an important relationship, here are a few suggestions that I hope will be some support and encouragement to keep moving forward in building and strengthening an important relationship.

Stay Humble:  We really do reap what we sow as defined in the Law of the Harvest.  This is a very well-worn, principled path to achievement.  Although life is not always fair, more times than not, if we set a goal, make a plan to achieve that goal, work hard over time on delivering on the plan, we will reap a harvest and accomplish the goal.  We need to be careful not to let the momentum of our success build our pride as we will have a tendency to miss warning signs of pending challenges and our decision making relies on our own track record and fails to take the counsel of others.  If we do not stay humble, the transparency that is our new reality has a tendency to crush our pride in very public and painful ways.  Stay humble.

Stay Hungry:  One of the biggest threats to building and strengthening our relationships is when we get complacent and comfortable.  When we deny the reality that our journey will be filled with ups and downs, we get comfortable and complacent in so-called “good times.”  We fail to spend energy learning and growing in our relationships.  When our bellies are full, the bills are paid, and the sun is shining, we still need to hunger after raising the bar on ourselves and our relationships by delivering on the basics: serving more than taking, understanding more than judging, and listening more than talking.  Stay hungry.

Stay in the Ring:  No one is perfect and we all fall short from time to time.  It is important that we do not quit the fight when we make mistakes.   We should stay in the ring and keep fighting the good fight.  There is no more important game in town than building and strengthening our character and our relationships to have a positive impact along our journey.  Don’t choose to become a spectator, no matter how many times we fall short.  Stay in the ring.

As we stay humble, stay hungry, and stay in the ring, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to strengthen our relationships and have a greater impact in our homes, businesses, and communities.