Unlimited Choices – Character Creates Opportunity®: April 25, 2019

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  Somewhere over the last 30 years or so, the term smorgasbord has been replaced by the All You Can Eat buffet in our current vernacular.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Choices.  The number of options in life has exploded.  We can start our “dream” business overnight with an easy to build website.  We can customize the sneakers we buy.  We can watch our favorite TV show when we want to watch it.  We can go to classes at Harvard online for free.  Now, more than ever, we have to determine priorities and make choices. “Winging it” with all of the opportunities available to us today, will cause most of us to overeat everywhere and regret not making specific choices.
  2. Responsibility.  With choices, comes responsibility.  We can no longer say, “Well, I just did not have the opportunity.”  We are no longer confined to what is on a store shelf to get what best fits our unique style. We are no longer confined to the public library or an expensive degree program to get a formal education.  When we overeat at the dessert table instead of eating some fruits and vegetables, we can’t play the blame game.
  3. Individuality.  Many times in life, our unique talents, gifts, and desires get minimized in the mass production model of our industrialized world.  We picked certain careers based on what we saw around us and some perceived set of expectations.  We wore the clothes that seemed to help us fit into those expectations and through it all, we have minimized our own uniqueness. Today’s “all you can eat” opportunities give us a chance to re-birth our uniqueness in areas of work, family, fashion, and culture. We all should do a little soul searching to make sure we did not lose who we are based on some past confinements.  We should exercise the courage to be ourselves. 
  4. Time.  We all have some uncommitted time. Time when we are not on the job or at school, taking care of critical responsibilities at home, or working in some other area of service. With today’s “all you can eat” entertainment offerings, we run the risk of overeating on entertainment under the concept of just needing some time to chill out, veg out, or honestly admitting to wanting to be a coach potato for the evening.  Our point and click entertainment choices combined with everyone’s personal electronics presents a unique and complex challenge to “family time” being customized to everyone going into their corner of the room with their own entertainment device.  The entertainment industry no longer controls a limited offering of watching Walter Cronkite deliver the evening news or I Love Lucy to make us laugh.  We all need to be vigilant to ensure we use our uncommitted time wisely and keep some family time as “together time.”  

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

Hold Loosely – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 18, 2019

We all acquire stuff. Whether it is a memento of a fond family memory, some special award, a dream car, or some piece of furniture. For most of us, we are not going ultra-minimalist and move into a modern “tiny house” anytime soon, and we would prefer to not be featured on the next prime time episode of “Hoarders.” Most of us land somewhere in the middle of those extremes. We have some items we may quietly consider personal treasures and the pile of stuff is not going away.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, being intentional and thoughtful about how we hold loosely to our possessions is important in maintaining our emotional health over the years.

The reality around us is that many times we get initially “sized-up” by our possessions. Whether it is the size of our house, the car we drive, or the items piled up on shelves in our homes and offices. If we call our bank, insurance agent, or credit card company, they have plenty of information on their screen to size us up quickly and determine a certain level of service.

For most of us who have been around the block a few times in this life, we realize that possessions can come and go very quickly with the uncertainty of tomorrow. This week’s tragedy at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is another reminder of how quickly things can vanish from our fingertips.

We all can appreciate the fact that possessions should not define us. The life we live, the relationships we develop and the legacy we leave behind are what matters most, but the fact remains that we all possess and enjoy some “stuff” as we journey along in this life.

Here are a few reminders of the importance of holding loosely to the things we possess in this world:

  1. There is no guarantee that we will have them tomorrow. Enjoy the thoughts and feelings they bring about today but holding on with a death-like grip to our possessions will be very unhealthy for us and those around us when they unexpectedly disappear.
  2. Sharing our possessions is the best way to increase our positive impact on others. Keeping things for our own enjoyment limits the usefulness of our “stuff.” We should look to share and give away our possessions in order to expand the blessing they can bring to others.
  3. We must always be on guard to ensure we don’t solidify our sense of worth based on our “stuff.” It is so very tempting given the world we live in to focus on possessing certain things to fill some cracks in our emotional health. Purpose, not possessions, will help fill the cracks we all have in our emotional health over the long-term.  

As we hold loosely to our possessions in this world and focus on strengthening our grip on what matters most, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive impact on those around us.

A New Way Out – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 11, 2019

We make decisions with limited information all the time. We never have all the facts. We end up with what we feel is enough information, we may reflect on our experience, and then we make the decision.

With today’s information age, we are in a much better spot when we buy a car, some fancy new smoothie blender, or even decide on a place to work or hiring a new employee. We have access to a world of information nowadays to make a more informed decision, but the information is never complete. We decide it is good enough and we make the call.

If we bring these decisions closer to home, many times we have a spirited debate (or some may say an intense argument) based on limited information and before we know it, it is “game on” around the kitchen table. We don’t yet have the ability to mind-read and in most homes, we still have some barriers like scars from prior judgments and shame that impeded the sharing of all available information which brings some well-documented challenges to building healthy relationships in the home.   

The tough part comes when we have new information that highlights, we made a poor choice.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, effectively addressing the challenge of “digging in” or changing course when we have new information is another important decision we need to make in order to be our best for those we care about most.

Many times, we feel the need to keep digging in and defending our initial decision because it is tough to admit we were wrong. Those who study the psychology on all of this would say that stubbornness and pride built on a foundation of some underlying fear are the most likely drivers that keep us from processing new information and re-visiting a decision.

Before we allow things to continue to come off the rails and get worse, new information gives us a new way out. The acknowledgment that we were making a decision with limited information is an effective way to re-visit things; “I am now making a more informed, more effective decision to move things forward rather than digging in for what typically becomes a lose-lose battle.” New information provides us with a way out to help overcome the typical resistance we all have to saying, “I was wrong.”

Here are a few thoughts to encourage all of us to continue to seek information and alternative points of view when we realize we initially made a poor choice:

  1. Life is a research project. As Einstein once said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research.” Sure, we have some principles to guide our way (making decisions based on timeless, universal principles is what this blog is all about), but we are still moving through uncharted waters as our world continues to change rapidly.
  2. We will make mistakes. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We don’t have things all figured out. When things don’t work, we can apply those learning to make improvements for the next time.
  3. We set a great example. When we can process new information, openly admit to learning something new, and when needed, change course based on those learnings, we set a wonderful example for others to follow. Demonstrating to others that we have an open mind, we can process new information in a healthy way, and we are focused on learning and growth vs. digging in and remaining stuck, we encourage others to do the same.   

As we process new information in a healthy way and have the courage to re-visit a decision or a certain initial point of view, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most.

The Steps of Resilience (Part II) – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 4, 2019

We covered the first step in being resilient last week with a call to action to refocus on our Purpose after we experience a setback or disappointment. Whether that purpose is to be a loving parent, a committed spouse, a hard-worker, a loyal friend, an intentional servant where there is a need, etc., taking the important first step to refocus on our purpose is critical to harness the strength to rise and get back into the fight.

Unfortunately, since last week’s message, the world has not changed much so we still need to possess the principle of resilience in our quiver to effectively handle the challenges we will face.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, resilience is one of those principles we need to be our best for those we care about most. This blog post is the second part of the message to bring some practical, proven steps to strengthen our resilience as a key dimension of our character.

From last week, we described resilience simply as the mental, emotional, and physical strength to continue after a difficult setback or failure. If you read last week’s blog you will remember that we all experience our share of disappoint, despair, failure, and a few other unpleasant experiences in our roles in the home, work, and community. In addition, we are all nursing a few wounds even as we continue to attend our daily costume party with those around us.  

For Part II of this message, the second important step to be resilient after a setback is to take small, routine steps daily in order to get some forward motion and momentum building again.

As we mentioned last week, a major setback in life can literally take our breadth away and cause us to be somewhat unstable and on shaky ground. The first step of refocusing on our Purpose helps us get steady again and ready for the next step. By taking this next step, basically small routine steps daily, we accomplish several things in the context of being resilient:

  1. We get moving again. Just through muscle memory with little thought or emotion, we just begin to get activity going in a purposeful direction. At home, we clean the dishes, cook a meal, clean the garage, cut the grass etc., that helps get practical, simple routine tasks done to get life back in us after a major setback. At work, we process payroll, update employees, call customers, clean out some email, etc. and get back doing the typically daily tasks of the business.
  2. We regain a sense of worth. By doing routine, practical tasks we begin to regain our sense of worth which can be quite damaged after a significant disappointment or journey through despair. We don’t need to immediately charge the hill or climb the mountain, we just need to get moving on some simple tasks to get our life back on the rails toward the long-term purpose for our lives.
  3. We build momentum and confidence. As we complete the small, simple tasks, we start to get our strength back and our confidence builds to keep moving forward. Just like blood rushing into muscles and our brain after a crushing blow, movement through routine tasks gets our mind out of the fog of despair and we begin to see more clearly a future that is slowly becoming brighter with each passing day.
  4. Time begins to pass. Time is often our best counselor. As we move forward with small tasks daily, we begin to create distance between the immediate sting after a disappointment and the eventual path to health that we desire.   

As we take the steps to refocus on our purpose and complete small, routine tasks after experiencing a setback or disappointment, we will take the necessary steps to be resilient which will help us build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most.