Walking through the Valley – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 29, 2018

“Yes – This is exactly what I need to do…I can do this!” We have all been there at some point. We start out with a great deal of energy and excitement as we head into our journey towards that next big objective in our lives.

Many times, we encounter some catalyst for change brought on by a meaningful event in our lives: A significant change in our personal life, the insightful guidance from a friend or family member, the ideas of a great speaker, or some helpful concept we read in a book or on social media. Some situation triggered our response to get motivated, to take on that next challenge, and go after another well intentioned goal. We take off from that mountain top “high” with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism about reaching our objective.

After traveling along into our journey, we eventually find ourselves off the mountain top experience and into the valley. The valley we encounter between that initial high and the journey towards our objective is often difficult. The ability to clearly see our ultimate objective gets more challenging and somehow the journey does not seem as exciting as when we set off from the mountain top.

As we continue to work on building and strengthening our character, how we manage our mindset (or the voice inside our head) becomes a critical choice we need to make as we walk in that dark and often lonely valley.

We can all probably relate to a few “valley” moments in our lives:

  • After some time of progress on our new diet and exercise routine, things slow down and we notice a few pounds creeping back on the scale
  • After some time in a new job, when our coworkers and boss don’t seem as supportive as they did at the start and the work is no longer exciting
  • When that “sweet bundle of joy” we brought home from the hospital becomes an angry and rebellious young adult
  • When the “I do” in marriage becomes “when you know what freezes over”
  • When our poor choice brings about an unfortunate outcome and there is no hiding from the consequence

On a much lighter note, but still a meaningful, teaching moment about the valleys of life, is the new puppy in our home. After a few weeks with a cute puppy running around in the yard and plenty of time and people around the Thanksgiving holiday to share the workload are suddenly replaced with a winter blizzard, post-holiday busy schedules, and that familiar nighttime question, “Ok, whose turn is it to take the dog out?”, you can find yourself wandering around in the dark a few too many times.

We could all come up with a good laundry list of excuses when we are struggling in the valley and some of them are completely legitimate. Storms do come in life and destroy much of what we tried to build. Tragedy does strike. People do fail to keep up their end of the contract. However, for most of our journey, the consistent application of timeless and universal principles like faith, perseverance, commitment, and hope will rarely cause us to fall short of crossing through the dark valley and reaching the next mountain top high in our journey.

Here are a few ideas to help us move through the valley as best as possible and up to the next mountain top:

  1. Set priorities. We cannot do everything. It is important to be selective and declare a clear “yes” or a clear “no” or at least “not now” so our energy can be channeled into a few important goals.
  2. Plan and prepare. “Winging it” or “going with the flow” seems to only work for cool people. For the rest of us, winging it is often a losing strategy. We need to be intentional about outlining the direction we wish to go and the habits we need to instill to ensure we keep heading in that direction. Our daily habits, especially the voice we listen to in our head, will help keep us on our intended direction even in the darkness of the valley.
  3. Build hope through the momentum of habits. The mechanical process of day in, day out living by our chosen habits builds momentum. When our habits are guided by principles like perseverance, commitment, and loyalty, we build hope through the positive momentum of moving forward for another day through the valley.

As we work our way across a few valleys in our life with the help of sticking to habits based on principles, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach that next mountain top milestone in our journey.

A Reason to be Grateful – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 22, 2018

Even though our world continues to grow in complexity and uncertainty, it is still an amazing blessing that many of us have the opportunity at some point today to pause and celebrate Thanksgiving in America.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, there is no hiding the fact that we still face big challenges in building a strong family, succeeding in building a career in a hyper-competitive global marketplace, and keeping our communities safe.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, one of the most well-proven enablers to successfully face adversity and overcome challenges is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. The simple act of “counting our blessings” has been proven effective to maintain our resilience and perseverance to overcome obstacles. The “proof” has been demonstrated in the stuffy halls of academia, our own real-world experience, and with psychologists and advisors all over the world. Thanksgiving is a great day to remind all of us of the power of the simple act of counting our blessings.

Several months ago, our family started “A Reason to be grateful…” jar that stays on our kitchen table. At least once a day, and sometimes several times a day, one of us will take a moment and write down a “a reason to be grateful” and toss it in the jar. As the weeks and months have passed, just physically seeing the rising stack of reasons has helped to create a slightly more positive atmosphere around the kitchen table.

The jar does not provide a remedy to the challenges we face, but it is a small, physical reminder each day that despite our challenges, we have a large and growing stack of reasons to be grateful as we continue to face the reality of our world.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, our time is probably filled with a bit of traveling, cooking & eating, crowds, and maybe a good football game. From our family to yours, please consider starting a journal or a jar to stack up some reasons to be grateful as I am confident it will help your family as it has helped ours.

As we become intentional about reflecting daily on the many blessings in our lives, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to overcome difficult challenges and set a positive example for those we care about most.

A Worthy Timeline – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 15, 2018

The clock seems to be ticking all around us. We have a time schedule to keep in order to catch the train, 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 our plate, we can end up just running, or just living, from one timeline after another.

As we continue on the 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 reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

We all experience frustration and disappointment in our lives. Discontent is often the first step in bringing about change and creating something of value. Academic research and our own experience would demonstrate that we 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.

When the gap in time gets too long, we move quickly from the ranks of those with high self-awareness and a focus on reaching our potential to the ranks of mostly complainers, blamers, and excuse makers. When the timeline gets too long, eventually those around us realize we really don’t care enough to change, and our relationships begin to falter. 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 efficiently start making progress in an effective 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.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #6) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 8, 2018

The influence we cast in the near term becomes our legacy in the long term. We all have influence on those closest to us. The writings over the last few weeks have focused on some key principles on the pathway to having a positive influence on others.

Here is a brief summary of the prior weeks:

Part # 1 Intent: We need our intent to be aligned with a desire to help others and not focused on our own self-interest.

Open Communication: Part #2 & #3 enable a door to be opened for more effective communication.
Part #2 Listen: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding.
Part #3 Empathy: We need to build our empathy to better understand one another and try to “walk in their shoes,” see experiences from their lens, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel.

Create Connection: Part #4 & #5 create more effective personal connection with others.
Part #4 Common Experience: We all can find some areas of common experience with others. Sharing those experiences and the emotions that accompany them can create a strong personal connection with others.
Part #5 Common Learnings: Imparting wisdom based on learnings across some of our common life experiences is at the heart of positive influence and has its greatest opportunity to impact the lives of others.

Part#6
As we look to close out these writings on the pathway to positive influence, the one principle-based action that is woven throughout the pathway from start to finish is to Serve & Give; To serve others, not ourselves and to give ourselves to a cause greater than us continually strengthens the bond of relationships that are vital to a healthy, fulfilling life.

When we consistently act in the service of others and give our talents and energies to a cause greater than ourselves we set an encouraging example for others to follow. The quiet servant, far from the headlines, focused on consistently moving the cause forward through the dark uncertain valleys will more times than not, cast a positive influence on those around them.

All of those with incredible intelligence, those with a loud voice, and those well-polished speakers eventually lose their luster through time and distance, but those who remain steadfast to serve and give leave a legacy of positive impact that we would all cherish.

It is important that we acknowledge the truth that close relationships are not easy. Life is complicated and often messy. Our ability to have a positive influence throughout life’s ups and downs can be most assured when we aim to serve and give. Below are some universal truths around the importance of serving and giving:

  1. Life is hard and we could all use some help (help in tough times and help to push us to reach our full potential). By serving others we can be best positioned to help those in need who often may be hesitant to admit and accept some assistance.
  2. It is a greater blessing to give than receive. When we focus on giving to a cause greater than ourselves, we realize the true joy of giving.
  3. We find our purpose, meaning, and lasting joy when we look to serve and give to others as opposed to continually searching for our own happiness.

When we can consistently serve and give, we foster strong relationships over time which helps us to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.

A Pathway to Positive Influence (Part #5) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, November 1, 2018

We all have influence on those closest to us. Our influence, in many ways, translates into our legacy. The writings over the last few weeks have focused on some key principles on the pathway to having a positive influence on others.

Here is a brief summary of the prior weeks:

Part # 1 Intent: We need our intent to be aligned with a desire to help others and not focused on our own self-interest.

Open Communication: Part #2 & #3 enable a door to be opened for more effective communication.

Part #2 Listen: We need to increase our focus on listening and lessen our efforts on responding.

Part #3 Empathy: We need to build our empathy to better understand one another and try to “walk in their shoes,” see experiences from their lens, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel.

Create Connection: Part #4 & #5 create more effective personal connection with others.

Part #4 Common Experience: We all can find some areas of common experience with others. Sharing those experiences and the emotions that accompany them can create a strong personal connection with others.

It has been said that “experience is the mother of all learning.” How we use our experiences to learn and grow will determine our future potential. As we develop the 5th step along the pathway of positive influence, we have the opportunity to create a greater connection with others by sharing our learnings from some common experiences that we have encountered in our journey.

Wisdom comes with time, experience, and most importantly through intentional reflection to discover some learnings from our life’s journey. Imparting wisdom based on learnings across some of our common life experiences is at the heart of positive influence.

The passing on of wisdom from generation to generation (wise old folks to the young and naïve) and from the learned journeyman to those who do not currently possess the mental or emotional capacity to learn and grow (i.e. “This is just the way I am” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, “This is the way I was raised” etc.) is where the pathway to positive influence has its greatest opportunity to impact the lives of others.

Effectively sharing learnings (imparting wisdom) is a two-way street. There needs to be a willing teacher and a willing student. Below are a few additional thoughts to help share learnings and move forward along the pathway to having a positive influence on others:

  • Growth vs Limitations: There is a clear difference among people in the area of learning from experience. Some of us view past experiences as opportunities to learn and grow while others of us use past experiences to reinforce some perceived limitation and shortcoming. The truth is that we reach our full potential when we view past experiences as opportunities to learn and grow. It may take some time for a “student” to acknowledge and accept that truth. Be Patient.
  • Seeds of Wisdom: Learnings are best shared and received over time in bite sized chunks as opposed to a massive flood all at once. The pathway to positive influence is a long journey and there are no short-cuts or an Easy Pass to accelerate the process. Planting seeds and adhering to the truth contained in the law of the harvest that it will take time, intention, effort, and faith to reap an abundant harvest, or in this case, a legacy of positive influence on those we care about most is an important reality to accept. Be Thoughtful.
  • Remember the Past: As we share learnings, taking time to consistently reinforce to others their prior experiences of overcoming, persevering, and moments of joy can be an encouragement to open the heart of a “student” and be an enabler for additional learning and growth. Be Reflective.

When we thoughtfully and humbly share learnings from some common experiences, we create greater personal connection to others and we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive influence on those we care about most.