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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those great moments happen one on one.

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

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

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Mirror: February 12, 2015

There has been a great deal in the news recently about trustworthiness and honesty.  Whether it is a news reporter recalling events from the past, a sports team gaining a competitive edge, or public figures denying the truth that seems apparent to all of us, the lessons learned on the importance of telling the truth are still being learned each and every day.  History most certainly repeats itself on issues of integrity in our world.

As individuals, and as a society, we all seem to feel comfortable pointing out the apparent flaws in others and passing swift, public judgment for actions that go counter to the self-evidence of principles like honesty, trustworthiness, and respect.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, these public disclosures can be a catalyst for us to do our own personal inventory around our actions to ensure we don’t become the next “lesson learned” on the front page of the paper, the nightly news, or for most of us, the only channel that really matters, the reality show we find in our own homes each day.

Below are a few thoughts to encourage all of us to develop the habit of looking in the mirror on a regular basis:

(1)    Self-Awareness: It requires little effort to become the judge and jury for individuals and events that come across our screens.  However, the hard work is in exercising the courage and discipline to do our own personal inventory of our daily actions around the small stuff that matters, when no one is looking or filming our life story.  It was Jesus Christ who said, ““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Self-awareness of our own behavior is an important discipline to reach our full potential.

(2)    Principles Matter Most: Concerning all things, it is the principle that matters most, not the size of the audience or the infraction.  Yes, bigger than life figures in our world cast a big shadow and their poor choices have a wide ranging impact. However, our integrity around the dinner table, in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the mirror is our opportunity for greatest impact.Mirror

If the statistics are right, a very, very large number of us need to look in the mirror and reflect on a few actions that impact our trustworthiness.  Here are just a few to help all of us to do a little reflecting:

We lie and cheat on our taxes.  Maybe we should just describe it as a minor mistake in declaring donations to charitable organizations or in forgetting about some additional income we did not disclose.

We hire the guy who says, “If you pay me in cash, it will be $300 to do the work, but if I have to send you an invoice, it will be $550.” Maybe we should just describe it as getting a really good deal.

We lie on our resumes.  Maybe we should just describe it as a slight stretch of our experience to ensure we qualify for a particular job.

Although the vast majority of us will not find “our version of events” on the nightly news, we should acknowledge the truth that it is not the size of our audience that matters, it is the principles that guide our daily actions that matter most.

We all should take a deep breath and be thankful that we did not have to make our own personal full disclosure in front of millions of people.  However, in a world that is becoming completely transparent in all areas of our lives, we all should be well warned that the next YouTube video that goes viral may feature one of us when: (A) The tax auditor arrives at our house (B) A former boss runs into us after a job interview and says, “You never did that when you worked in my department.  Why is this on your resume?” or (C) The content of some secret email account, harsh text messages, or internet search results get released to the world…or perhaps just to those in our home.

When we exercise the courage and commitment to look in the mirror, honestly see our own shortcomings, and make a plan to change our behavior, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to be a positive influence on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Mistakes: February 5, 2015

We seem to have a cultural bias towards only talking openly about our successes or when things go according to our plans.  It is such a more pleasant conversation to have with coworkers, within families, or within a community.

The reality is that things don’t always go “perfect” and many times we, as individuals, make mistakes.

Leveraging the opportunity that comes alongside mistakes is an important part of our growth as we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character.

There are just a few simple truths around mistakes that we all could use an occasional reminder and reinforcement of the opportunity they bring about:

(1)    No one is perfect. We will continue to make mistakes.  The thought that we can tap dance, without tripping from time to time, through a world that continues to grow more complex and uncertain is pure fantasy.

(2)    Accepting responsibility.  Passing through the furnace that comes with accepting responsibility helps to purify and humble our spirit.  Playing the blame game or passing the buck on some excuse weakens us as individuals.

(3)    Learning and growing.  Volumes of academic research and real world experience would tell us that we learn and grow a great deal more through mistakes than we do with successes.  The pain of mistakes is often the first step to admitting our problems which starts us down the path to personal growth.

(4)    Helping others.  Many times, we are so focused on ourselves trying to cover things up or reorganize the mess we made, that we fail to take advantage of the opportunity to help others.  Openly sharing our mistake, in a genuine and authentic way, shows others we are real and opens a door for them to overcome the potential shame they feel from their own mistakes. Unbeknownst to us, our sharing encourages others to silently move forward past their own mistakes.

From time to time, we all feel a bit down because of a mistake we have made.  Below are a few reminders that no one is perfect and sharing them may build hope for each of us to keep moving forward:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”  Ken Olson, President and Chairman of Digital Equipment Co. in 1977

“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute in 1954

“We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound, and good stocks are cheap at these prices.” Goodbody and Co. in a market update to customers on October 25, 1929, just days prior to the biggest crash in the history of Wall Street.

“Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look.”  United Artists executive after rejecting Reagan for the film The Best Man

These very public mistakes are the easy ones to identify and address. Mistakes Couple

The painful truth is that the mistakes made with those closest to us are often the most difficult for us to effectively address.

As we deal with the mistakes we make in the home with principles like humility, compassion, forgiveness, and sacrifice, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to learn and grow from our mistakes and build strength in our homes, where we need it most.

Character Creates Opportunity® – An Effective Pace: January 29, 2015

We rarely ever get the full story.  In our world of sound bites, summaries, and brief encounters, it is tough to fully grasp and appreciate the entire scope of someone’s experience.  As we navigate our way through life, this repeated exposure to the short story, often simplifying an experience as a success or failure, paints an unrealistic view of life’s journey.  The short story also creates a strong temptation to guide our thoughts by comparing ourselves to others. The result of this comparison mindset is that we encounter a series of emotional ups and downs as we compare ourselves to others and we risk falling short of our full potential.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to set a more effective pace to reach our full potential.

Steve “Pre” Prefontaine was one of the greatest middle and long-distance runners in history.  “Pre” once held the American record in seven different events from the 2,000 meters to the 10,000 meters.  Running for the University of Oregon in the early 1970s, he set numerous national records.  He had some great quotes about life and running.  One of his most memorable was describing his strategy to run a sub-4 minute mile.  He simply said, “You need to run the 1st lap under 1 minute, the 2nd lap under 1 minute, the 3rd lap under 1 minute, and the 4th lap under 1 minute.”

Steve Prefontaine set his own pace.

“Pre” was focused on giving his very best.  “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.” He was not focused on comparisons to others.  He set his own goals and set his own pace.  Steve Prefontaine’s life ended tragically in a car accident at 24 years old, but his legacy lives on in so many aspiring runners around the world.

Our world continues to move at an accelerated pace of change and challenge.  David Borgess Run 2012  FINALAs we set out to build and strengthen our character in order to reach our full potential, there is tremendous value in setting our own pace through life’s journey and avoiding the comparison mindset.  Below are just a few thoughts on the benefits of setting our own pace:

  • Responsibility: Setting our own pace best positions us to take responsibility for our own decisions.  It is an effective way to avoid playing the blame game and minimizes the chance we may say, “Well, everyone else was doing it” or “Everyone else seems to give up when times get tough, so I thought it was ok.” Setting our own pace helps us to accept responsibility for our choices.
  • Intention: Life is too complicated for us to naively think we can reach our full potential by just “winging it.” Acting with intention to set our own pace, minimizes the potential disaster associated with just “winging it.”
  • Focus: Setting our own pace maintains the power and promise of focus. Just like the ox pulling a plow, we continue to plod along toward our goals.  We become less distracted by the changing scenes and opinions around us and we channel our strength around making progress down our path.
  • Embracing the Gift.  We are all unique.  Whether it is our DNA signature, the way we were raised, or the life we are experiencing today, we are unique.  Our uniqueness enhances our ability to have a real impact.  Setting our own pace enables us to embrace the gift of our own uniqueness.

Setting our own pace by principles like courage, vision, perseverance, and sacrifice will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to set our own pace and have a unique, positive impact on those around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Most Important Base of Operations: January 22, 2015

When I was a young infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division, we always started a mission from a base of operations.  When we were on a small patrol, we would establish a patrol base to secure and then send small teams out for various missions.  On a much grander scale, we established and occupied Forward Operating Base Cobra, 90 kilometers inside Iraq during the First Gulf War.  As a young leader, it was very effective to have a home base.  The home base was secure (for the most part), it was where key updates on the enemy situation were provided, a new mission was disseminated, weapons and food were replenished.

Recent events across the globe and in our own country, consistently remind us of the challenging times we live in today.  As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important for us to maintain a base of operations to effectively deal with uncertainty and change.

During challenging times, we have a tendency to look to large groups or organizations for the “great ideas” or the foundation to deal with the challenges we face today.  Political leaders, leaders in education, business, churches, and community groups play an important part in supporting our ability, as individuals and as a society, to effectively deal with change and challenge.  However, the base of operations with the greatest potential to deal with change and challenge is the family.

The foundation of the family has the potential to be the most effective base of operations for support in dealing with a challenging world.  Family is where many first learn:

(1)    The value of education from a parent reading to a young child

(2)    The value of sacrifice by seeing a parent work in and/or outside the home to provide

(3)    The value of service by seeing a family member serve our nation, our community, or others in need

(4)    The value of compassion by seeing family gather around a sick loved one

(5)    The value of living an intentional life as we remember the legacy of grandparents and parents

Most teachers would agree that the critical factor in the growth and development of a student is not some new curriculum or assessment tool, it is family involvement.  When families care about the education of their children, they learn and grow at a much greater rate.

The same can be said about so many other aspects of society.  It is the foundation of family that helps minimize crime, poverty, and many of the ills of society.  It is the foundation of family that also ignites that first spark of innovation, dreams, and passion that set about a course for positive change in our world.

For all of us, it does not matter what kind of home base of operations we came from or what condition our family is in today.  We cannot rewrite the past.

What matters most is what we do going forward to build a strong base of operations to help our family deal with change and challenge.

We will always remain a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a parent or grandparent, a spouse or ex-spouse.  The foundation of family will always be with us.

As we build and strengthen our character, an important question we need to continually ask ourselves is, “What are we doing to establish an effective base of our operations within our family?”

Here are a few ideas:

(1)    Be Intentional.  If we “wing it,” we will fall short of our potential.  The risks are too great. We need to be intentional about our thoughts, decisions, and actions within the home.

(2)    Find Time.  Time is a great asset to the family.  For many families, evenings provide an opportunity for greater connection or greater disconnection.  We need to be careful in this day of personal electronics that we all don’t “go to our separate corners” and miss an important chance to connect in the evenings.

(3)    Create Conversation.  Just talking is a great start for many of us.  Taking it to the next level would be having a conversation to truly understand the concerns of the day and be a listening ear to a voice that needs to be heard.  We need to create to a forum for conversation and be prepared to listen.

(4)    Build Hope.  Our world is full of challenges and not enough encouragement.  The base of operations for a family should be the source of hope for a better tomorrow and a bright light on the path to reach our dreams.  The family should be that one point we can all count on to ensure hope is alive as we continue our journey.Multl Generation Family Walking Along Autumn Path With Dog

As we guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions based on principles, like understanding, patience, and perseverance we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for our family to be a strong base of operations for us to deal with change and challenge in our lives.

Character Creates Opportunity® – What Do You See? January 15, 2015

There is little doubt that our world continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty.  Occasionally, we may hear someone say, “Oh how I wish for the good old days.”

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character in order to reach our full potential, there are always points in time when we just need a good reminder of truth.  As our world deals with continued extremist activity, our global financial markets continue to be tested, and the complexity of day to day challenges in our homes and communities continue to grow, this is one of those times for a good reminder of truth.

The truth to be reminded about is that we become what we think about…we become what we “see” in our mind’s eye.  Whether we subscribe to the teachings of some famous personal development guru, some enlightened individual, or we believe in the Book of Proverbs that says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” our take-away is the same.  Regardless of our reference point, the truth remains, we become what we “see” in our mind’s eye.

We don’t need a PhD in psychology from a prestigious university, be a member of the 1% or the 99% in terms of financial wealth, or sit in a corner office to understand the simple, timeless, and universal truth that we become what we see in our mind’s eye.  We could reference numerous academic studies, cite quotes from individuals who have had real impact in our world, or think back along our own experience, and the conclusion would be the same…what I dwell on in my mind, so much so that it becomes as clear as day, I become.

As we build and strengthen our character, an important question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do I ‘see’ today?”

In our own mind’s eye, not in the view of a spouse, a parent, a boss, a teacher, a TV broadcaster, a mentor, but what do we “see” in our own view?

Do we see adversity that we cannot overcome?  Do we see relationships that are best to be broken instead of repaired and strengthened?


Do we see an opportunity to rise above?  Do we see challenge and a view of overcoming?  Do we see the reality of close relationships struggling in the near term, but in the long view, see love, affection, and togetherness?

Do we see a business with present-day challenges, but opportunity on the horizon?  Do we see communities divided, but a pathway to cooperation and support?

Or…Do we just see dark clouds all around us?

Each one of us has the freedom to choose what we see in our own mind’s eye.  What do you ‘see’ today? Viewpoint

In this present time of challenge in our world and in our homes, it would be helpful to remember the simple truth that we become what we see in our mind’s eye and ensure our lens is adjusted to see our present challenges as an opportunity to overcome and reach our full potential as individuals, families, and communities across the globe.

As we guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions based on principles, like patience, perseverance, hope, and faith, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to create the future we desire and rise up to reach our full potential.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Ask the Question: January 8, 2015

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, today’s topic is on the importance of asking questions that can help us learn, grow, and reach our full potential.

Have you even been in a situation where you had no clue about what someone was talking about or no understanding about a concept that a close group of friends or colleagues were discussing?  Most of us have had an experience or two like that and we will most likely have more as we continue along in our lives.

We have all heard the old saying, “there are no stupid questions.” However, we have all experienced a few times when that has not always been the case and so our tendency is to keep quiet, muddle through, and hope we won’t look like a complete fool in the discussion.

The problem with keeping quiet and muddling through is that without asking questions to gain understanding, we don’t add “new tools to our toolbox,” our growth is hindered, and we fall short of reaching our full potential.

We learn and grow when we move beyond our current borders. One very simple and effective way to grow is to have the courage to ask a question when we don’t understand.

Recently, there has been a great deal of published research on the benefits of asking questions that I hope will encourage all of us to ask when we don’t understand.

One conclusion from the research is that when we ask questions to better understand a topic, we learn (not too surprising).  However, there were two additional conclusions that I hope will encourage all of us to overcome the fear of asking questions: (1) When we ask people a question about a topic or idea they are discussing, we are actually providing them with some encouragement and a boost of confidence.  People feel better about themselves when they are genuinely asked a question from someone who wants to learn.  Encouragement and confidence…what a nice gift we can give someone just by asking a question.  (2) In turn, because that person feels affirmed and a little more confident about themselves, they actual think more highly of the person who asked them the question.Ask a Question

In essence, when we genuinely ask questions to learn; (1) We learn (2) We encourage others and (3) People end up thinking more highly of us, which could open doors for future opportunities for growth and raise the bar on our potential.

So the next time we are involved in a discussion around an idea or a concept we don’t understand, stop and ask a question…every time.  We will be headed in the right direction.

When we develop the courage to ask a question, we build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to learn, grow, and reach our full potential.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Learn & Grow: Thursday, January 1, 2015

The year-end holiday season is traditionally a wonderful time to connect with friends and family and temporarily “unplug” from some of the rigors of earning a living in today’s competitive marketplace. In addition, despite the wonderful time of connection with those closest to us, there usually is a degree of stress with trying to finish year end projects, searching for that perfect gift, or preparing for the holiday parties for family and friends.

As we continue on this journey to build and strengthen our character, the purpose of today’s blog is to encourage each of us at some point during the holiday season to spend some time reflecting on the past year and identifying some areas to grow in the New Year.

It is in the reflection on past events that we find a sharp contrast between two very distinct patterns of thinking that have a significant impact on our efforts to reach our full potential.

The two distinct patterns of thinking can be summarized with the following: (1) Individuals that view experiences as an opportunity to grow and learn versus (2) Individuals that view the outcome of experiences as defining moments on who they are and what they can or cannot become.

These two patterns of thinking play out in school through (1) The student who works hard and receives a “C” in science class and concludes, “I am no good in science and I better figure out something non-science related to do in life.” Compared to (2) The student who also receives a “C” in science class, but responds by speaking with the teacher to learn from the mistakes and grow his/her understanding of the material. One student viewed themselves based on the grade they received versus one student who viewed the experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.

These two patterns of thinking play out in the workforce when (1) A sales representative misses a monthly or yearly sales quota and doubts his/her ability, perhaps blames the shortfall on customer buying patterns, the marketplace, etc. Compared to (2) A sales representative who misses quota and is seeking to better understand where they may not have targeted the right customers, may not have developed an effective sales message, or failed to follow-up on some lead.  One viewed themselves as a failure and the other viewed the situation as an opportunity to get better.

These two patterns of thinking play out in the home when the challenges of maintaining a marriage come into play (and the challenges of marriage will always come into play).  (1) A spouse who is quick to blame the other for shortcomings, the mistakes of the past, and use those highly flammable terms like “never” and “always.”  Compared to (2) A spouse who is quick to identify where they may have failed to listen, understand, and act more appropriately.  One view sees the struggle as an opportunity to grow the relationship and the other view sees the struggle as another reason to reject the marriage and walk away.

Life is full of challenges, successes, and failures. Driving on an empty road towards the setting sun There is no “Easy Street.”  Throughout our journey of life, if we can focus on growth and learning versus letting our successes and failures define us, 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.

Happy New Year!

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part II: Thursday, December 25, 2014

In part I of this blog, we highlighted that beyond the basics for survival, we all have a strong need to belong and be accepted.  We discussed the reality of how today’s “connected world” can foster isolation instead of genuine connection in the home, the workplace, and the community.  In addition, we provided a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging.

As we continue on this journey to build and strengthen our character, in Part II of this blog, we will touch on two essential steps we can take to further strengthen the gift of connection and be more effective in trying to meet the need of others to feel they belong and are accepted into something bigger than themselves.

In most relationships there is usually healthy tension (at least we all hope it remains healthy) in discussions about important decisions that need to be made.  It is quite rare for complex, important decisions to be so clear cut that we can stand firmly in the “yes” or “no” camp.  The real important decisions are usually complex and have a number of factors that need to be addressed.

Below are just a few examples of important decisions that need to be made:

  • Money decisions: How much to spend now versus saving for later.  Buy cheap now and replace or buy quality now and keep for longer.
  • Career decisions: Deciding to take a risk on a new job versus the risk of staying with something you know well that provides for your needs today, but may become obsolete in a few years.
  • Parenting decisions:  Deciding when to transition from protection to preparation and then preparation into freedom and full release into the world.  Deciding if that timeline changes based on the uniqueness of each child.
  • Lifestyle: Decisions to move away for new experiences and opportunities or remain close to the familiar community of friends and family.

Complex decisions are not easy to make.

There are few more effective ways we can cement an individual’s sense of belonging and feeling accepted than when we trust him/her to make a decision.  After all the debate and discussion has been conducted and the decision is still daunting, we say, “I trust you to make the decision.” As a spouse, when we come to appreciate each other’s strengths and we communicate (with words, tone, and body language) that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a parent, when we communicate to a child that we trust him/her with a decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.  As a leader, when we communicate to an individual that we trust him/her with making the decision on a new product line, a change in strategy, or a hiring decision, we communicate belonging and acceptance.

Communicating trust to an individual through empowering him/her to make a decision is an essential step toward meeting his/her need to feel belonging and acceptance.

We have probably all had the experience of trusting and then disaster struck.  MistakesWe trusted our spouse and he/she made a mess of things.  I wish the “mess” was just some spilled paint on the carpet, but the reality is that the “mess” many times is much worse and much more painful.  We trusted an adult child for the weekend and then came home to find Animal House – Part II just became a reality show at our home while we were gone.  We trusted a business associate and they destroyed the reputation and finances of the business we poured our heart and soul into.

The reality is that trust can sometimes bring about a great deal of pain.  We can remain bitter.  Unfortunately, bitterness has been proven to result in greater pain and problems for all involved.  In addition, the one who holds onto bitterness usually suffers the most compared to the one who first stumbled and fell short.

On the back side of that painful experience, there is one of the most effective ways that we can rise above and many times, permanently solidify someone’s sense of belonging and acceptance.   We can take an action they may never forget.  The additional way to ensure an individual feels a sense of belonging and acceptance is to show redemption towards the individual who squandered our trust.  We build and strengthen our character in a major way when we demonstrate grace through communicating redemption towards the individual and open the door to trust him/her again.

The act of “clearing” one’s debt or “saving” someone from the continual pain of a poor choice and communicating our willingness to trust again is probably the greatest challenge we will face in terms of building strong and healthy relationships over the long-term.

How do we respond when those closest to us fall short and break the bond of trust?

Providing redemption from past mistakes, as opposed to remaining bitter, has been shown time and again to build a sense of belonging, connection, and community with those around us.

As we become more intentional on providing the gift of connection during this holiday season, today’s blog was meant as a reminder of the two essential steps we can take through trust and redemption to ensure we meet a clear need of those closest to us.

As we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

One additional note:  Given the pressures and challenges in our world, we all struggle with extending trust and redemption from time to time.  When I have found myself in that spot, it has been helpful to reflect back on the individuals and experiences who have extended trust to me and demonstrated a redemptive spirit when I certainly did not deserve it.  This reflection often helps motivate me to move towards trust and redemption to others.  I am pretty confident that if each of us inventoried our lives, we would find others who trusted us and then redeemed us after we fell short.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Gift of Connection Part I: Thursday, December 18, 2014

Psychologists would tell us that our greatest need beyond the basics for survival is our need to belong and be accepted.

We can all relate to the positive emotional sense we feel when we know we are part of a team on the athletic field, the workplace, the community, and certainly the home.  When we join efforts with others to support a cause bigger than ourselves, we feel most alive.  Whether that cause is building a strong family, a winning basketball team, a competitive business, a community project, or the defense of a nation, the sense of belonging meets a real personal need. Knowing we are an accepted part of something bigger than ourselves is critical to our emotional health and stability.

When we become disconnected or feel rejected from a group, we struggle.  In the absence of a sense of connection to others and a cause greater than our own, we all can become susceptible to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.  Even those so-called “tough guys” or “tough gals” among us, will eventually reach a breaking point without a connection to something bigger than themselves.

As our world gets more connected with technology like the internet, smart phones, and social media, research would show that we are at risk for minimizing the benefits of genuine connection.Family is disconnected image  In addition, today’s technology enables the instant personalization of getting what we want, when we want it, and many times that fosters isolation instead of connection during our “free time” beyond school, work, and the essentials of running a home.  We don’t need a PhD in psychology to see the reality around us.  All we need to do is look around a lunchroom at work, an evening at home, or the ‘waiting period’ for a practice to end, a bus to arrive, or a meal to be served.

Social scientists would say that our technology dependent connections impact the depth of our relationships mostly because we lose empathy.  Sure, “emojis” help with emotional connection, but it is not optimal.  I am sure we have all seen a picture of a beautiful sandy beach and I hope most of us have felt the warm touch of beach sand between our toes.  There is a difference in the connection.

As important as feeling a sense of belonging and being connected are to our health, I would recommend that we add a few last minute gifts to our list this holiday season.  We should all add the gift of connection to those closest to us.  An important challenge for all of us would be to not just think about the seemingly peaceful relationships in our lives, but we should act with courage and add those to the list where perhaps the stresses and strains of this year has put the relationship in a difficult spot.

Here are a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging:

(1)    Acknowledge the reality that there is pain, discomfort, and challenge in any relationship.  The ups and downs in relationships are a sign of LIFE, not death.  “Flat-lining” by way of not caring is a sign of death in relationships.

(2)    Admit that “I am not perfect.”  Hopefully, they will acknowledge their own “non-perfect” reality, but don’t sweat it if they don’t.

(3)    Act with the desire to grow and reach the full potential of the relationship versus being anchored to past mistakes.

(4)    Accept them.  When possible, tell them face to face that they belong to the family, the team, or the project.  Tell them that they are a needed part of the group and the group would not be the same without their contribution.

It takes an intentional effort to give the gift of connection to those around us.  Especially those where we know there is a struggle in the relationship.  The gift of connection will take more than the swipe of a credit card.  However, as we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.