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Our Deepest Fear

The lines below written by Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love, published in 1996. The verse has also been incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, as having been included in his inaugural address. Over the years, these words have inspired millions.

These words have been inspiring me since I first came across them in 1999. They powerfully speak to the fact that many of us live our lives not so much afraid of failure, but afraid of achieving our true potential. We feel comfortable ‘flying below the radar’, so as not to attract attention and possibly criticism, rather than spreading our wings and seeing how far we can fly. I hope they challenge you to always shine at your brightest, and to continue to work toward becoming the best possible version of yourself.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

–from  A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.

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31 Dragon-Slaying Quotes from ‘Do the Work’ by Steven Pressfield

I have just finished reading the book ‘Do the Work‘ by Trinidadian-born author, Steven Pressfield. This short, powerful read, written in the no-nonsense style of a manifesto, is designed to prepare you to face the dragons that stand in the way of you accomplishing your highest goals. What are these dragons? They are the ones we all face when we attempt to do something we believe in. Among them are fear, self-sabotage, procrastination and self-doubt. They say “present, please” every time we attempt to pursue any important objective—from conquering addiction, to learning how to play a music instrument, to getting over an ex or preparing for a marathon. Whenever we decide to abandon the status quo to become our better selves, fearsome foes appear, and stand in our way, ready to fight us to the finish.

Steven Pressfield knows a thing or two about facing the adversity of procrastination, distraction, perfectionism and ego. As he worked to achieve his dream of becoming a successful writer, he struggled for almost 20 years. Pressfield worked in odd-jobs including being a bartender, picking fruit, driving a tractor, and being an attendant at a mental hospital. He was even homeless, and lived out of the back of his car before finally publishing his first novel, ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Steven has brilliantly dissected the opponents of personal success, and labelled them with the catch-all term “Resistance”.

Written from the point of view of a writer, this book is a deafening call to action. Steven Pressfield grabs us by the collar and gives us a sound reminder that accomplishing anything worthwhile is always going to be the hardest thing. No one gets a free pass. It’s always going to be difficult, but it is always going to be worth it.  He teaches us how to recognize resistance, how to marshal the unexpected allies needed to crush Resistance, and how to “ship” i.e. get your project to “The End”.

Do the Work‘ is a quick read, you’ll be finished the 109 pages in an hour or two, but the words will resonate for longer. I hope you will click on the link below to order it and read it for yourself as soon as possible. This will be a powerful weapon in your arsenal, as you clear the path to your own greatness as an entrepreneur, awesome parent, published author or any other important mission you’ve set for yourself. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Resistance – The Dragon

“On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.” — Steven Pressfield

“The only intercourse possible between the knight and the dragon is battle.” — Steven Pressfield

 

The Dragon is Inside of Me and You

“What comes first is the idea, the passion, the dream of the work we are so excited to create that it scares the hell out of us.”  — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance is the response of the frightened, petty, small-time ego to the brave, generous, magnificent impulse of the creative self.” — Steven Pressfield

“Fear of success is the essence of Resistance.”  — Steven Pressfield

“The opposite of fear is love—love of the challenge, love of the work, the pure joyous passion to take a shot at our dream and see if we can pull it off.” — Steven Pressfield

“Our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project, or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.” — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” — Steven Pressfield

“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill” — Steven Pressfield

 

How to Fight Resistance and Win

“Don’t Prepare. Begin.” — Steven Pressfield

“Fear doesn’t go away. The battle must be fought anew every day.” — Steven Pressfield

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” — Steven Pressfield

“Don’t think. Act. ” — Steven Pressfield

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” — Steven Pressfield

“Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready.” — Steven Pressfield

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional crazy heart.” — Steven Pressfield

“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.” — Steven Pressfield

I like the idea of stubbornness because it’s less lofty than “tenacity” or “perseverance.” We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.” — Steven Pressfield

“Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness.” — Steven Pressfield

“Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.” — Steven Pressfield

“Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork. Believe me, he is.” — Steven Pressfield

“Figure out where you want to go, then work backwards from there.” — Steven Pressfield

“You are not allowed to judge yourself. Suspending self-judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the “You suck” voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectations—from what we think our work “ought” to be or “should” look like.” — Steven Pressfield

 

There will be Failure Along the Way – This is Guaranteed

“That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem—and a problem can be solved.” — Steven Pressfield

“A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers… A crash means we are on the threshold of something new.” — Steven Pressfield

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.” — Steven Pressfield

 

Why Fight the Dragon of Resistance?

“There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.” — Steven Pressfield

“If you and I want to do great stuff, we can’t let ourselves work small.” — Steven Pressfield

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.” — Steven Pressfield

“Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long. You may think you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.” — Steven Pressfield

“Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.” — Steven Pressfield

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3 Things To Do Before Picking A Fight

© 3RiiN at deviantART.com

 

Fight or Flight – Silence or Violence

When someone disappoints us, it isn’t always easy to stop and figure out what went wrong. We are far more likely to jump to conclusions, blame the other person, then either silently fume or angrily drag them over the coals. This is the beginning of conflict. To many of us, every possible confrontation has only two options: fight or flight.

Although we know better, many of us are often too afraid to speak up. We choose to sweep the issue under the carpet to avoid the threat of being embarrassed. We may resort to dropping subtle hits, changing the subject or becoming withdrawn. We default to silence rather than broach a topic we know to be of critical importance. We may be aware that if we say nothing the problem will get worse, but instead we agonize in our own private hell.

On the other hand, sometimes we’re amped up for an altercation. Bring on the battle, we say.  Desperate to prevent our thoughts from being overlooked, we attack. We cut others off, employing debate, insults, threats and sometimes even physical violence to get our point across. As a result, our position is resisted all the more vehemently.

People Who Know How to Fight Win

The ability or inability to handle conflict lies at the heart of success or failure in almost every relationship, whether personal or professional. The failure to manage confrontations effectively can lead to disaster. Businesses fail, family members become enemies and marriages end up in shreds because disputes were either conducted poorly or not at all. People who know how to fight, approach confrontations carefully, lead them skillfully and walk away with clear benefits over not having had the fight.  Those who don’t know how to fight bring the drama time and time again. Their actions become the kind of fodder that fuels the ridicule and cheap laughs we love to hate on reality TV.

The most influential, and well-respected people are those who approach conflict as an opportunity to hold others accountable in a respectful and well thought out manner. They skillfully execute confrontations with friends, family, colleagues and bosses knowing which fights to take on, which ones to delay and which ones are better left alone.

Here’s a three step process, to help you bridge the proverbial “fight or flight” impasse, and decide what to do before responding to any potential conflict that arises.

1. Identify the Problem Clearly

When someone disappoints you, emotions may run high. Quite often, allowing situations to fester is a risky proposition. In some circumstances, remaining silent can lead to disaster. If you are truly seeking to achieve a positive outcome and reverse a trend of bad behavior, you must start by clearly identifying what has gone wrong.

The goal of your interaction should never be for you to vent your anger or assert authority over the other person. ‘Crucial Confrontations‘ advises that you should first unbundle the problem, decide what about it is bothering you most, and finally distill it into a single clear sentence. This very simple technique will help you to focus on the real issue and prevent conversations from straying off topic.

If you know exactly what behavior you would like to address, there is little or no risk of taking cheap potshots once the session has started.

2. Decide Whether the Problem Requires A Confrontation

After expressing the issue as one clear thought, ask yourself whether it is really necessary to discuss the matter. Consider the possible consequences of an interaction before bringing it up.

Failure to meet performance indicators, missed deadlines and broken promises are all good opportunities to talk. If you feel inclined to be silent, ask yourself some questions. If you’re feeling inner tension, if your conscience is nagging you, if you are feeling afraid or if you are feeling helpless, then you probably need to speak up.

Downplaying the cost of not taking action, or exaggerating the consequences of broaching the topic are not valid reasons for backing away. One of the biggest considerations in deciding if to speak is evaluating the status quo. What would be the result if the  behavior in question were to continue indefinitely? It is often useful to differentiate yourself by clearly in advance by letting those around you know where you stand with regard to commitments and expectations. This way, your holding them accountable will not come as a surprise.

3. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

You’ve zeroed in on the issue, and decided it is worth addressing, here is the last and probably the most important step. Before you broach the subject, put yourself in the others person’s shoes.

Force yourself to go through a detailed process of asking “Why?”. Ask why a reasonable, rational, decent person might do what you’ve just seen. Think about all the possible reasons why the person acted the way they did, or failed to act. Consider the facts and circumstances you know about, and the ones you may be unaware of.

What are all the possible influencing factors? Make a list: work load demands, school assignments, family obligations. Next, think of what might have influenced the person; look at carrot and stick motives within the contexts you’ve identified. Finally, think about limitations that may have been at play and the person’s ability to behave in the way you expected, before opening your mouth.

 

Summary

When someone acts badly or fails to live up to a commitment, your response options are not limited to silence or violence. You can choose whether to address the situation from the point of view of exploring expectations and clarifying accountability in three steps. First, pinpoint the core issue and express it in one sentence. Next, assess whether it is important enough to call for a discussion. Finally, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore all the possible motives and limitations that may have influenced their decision or behavior.

 

I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts

In the coming months, I will continue to discuss how to handle conflict in a meaningful way. In the comments section below, let me know if you have any questions, and if this post has been helpful. Do you feel you can practically apply these suggestions in your life? Do you have any other tips to offer?

 

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Anna Karenina: The Beauty and Tragedy of Life

Anna Karenina by Lucio Palmeri for Dolce & Gabbana

Anna Karenina has been on my must read list for many years. I have been keeping lists – and book lists in particular – since my first summer journal at eight years old. The epic Russian novel appears at the top of many top ten novels lists and has been referred to as “flawless” and “the greatest novel ever written” by two of the most celebrated novelists of our time.

I have owned a copy of Anna Karenina for about ten years. If I have made any attempt at all to read it, I have never gotten much past the first sentence, which is one of the most iconic quotes from the book “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Last Sunday, realizing for the first time that there has been yet another movie remake – this one starring Kiera Knightly and Jude Law – I decided I’d better read the book before “accidentally” catching it on television.

Tolstoy’s world is mid-to-late nineteenth century Imperial Russia. The primary characters live lavish and eminently superficial lifestyles. Their daily existence is a whirlwind of sparkling balls featuring hair-pieced chignons piled high, and decadently luxurious boudoirs where the aristocratic Russian society of Moscow and St. Petersburg affectedly pepper their speech with French. In stark contrast to the elaborate, but constricted life of the city is pastoral Russia. The agrarian countryside has expansive landscapes, rich soil and an unending sky.

Tolstoy’s romantic masterpiece is as vivid as it is relatable. The book captures the imagination with its straightforward and exact language. Tolstoy stops time as he bores into his characters’ every thought, motive, and facial twitch, even as dialogue is being exchanged. It is a romance – admittedly not my favorite genre – but juicy from the get-go with marital infidelity, unrequited love and a tragic love affair.

The novel is sweeping, with at least two dozen named characters whose lives spiral around the two central protagonists – Anna Karenina and Tolstoy’s alter ego, Konstantin Levin. Tolstoy peers not only into the lives of a few rich 19th century Russians, but into the whole of humanity. The novel has stood the test of time because it reminds us that even the most desirable of circumstances may be unbearable, that bumps in the road may still lead to happy endings, that glamor and frivolity are but fleeting joys, and that family and real love are worth crying for, fighting for, striving for, waiting for.

Anna Karenina is a celebration of human frailty and redemption. Tolstoy says its okay to be flawed, its okay to make mistakes, just keep trying. We see that there are infinite possibilities in life, but we indeed choose our own path. Without seeking to reduce a 150-year old, 900-page classic tome to a few epithets, Anna Karenina is a celebration of life – its beauty and its tragedy – and all the meaning there is to be found, if only we will choose to see it.

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A Century of Wisdom: 34 Quotes from the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor

Monday, November 26, 2012 – Alice Herz Sommer celebrates her 109th birthday. Living alone in a small London apartment, this amazing woman is the world’s oldest living holocaust survivor. A former concert pianist, Alice has been playing the piano since she was five years old. Using only eight fingers, Alice still practices for hours every day. Alice’s story is a testament to the power of the human spirit. She and her six-year old son survived two years in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt, escaping almost certain death. She has witnessed unspeakable cruelty, watching hundreds go to their deaths in the gas chambers or through sickness and starvation. And yet, this living hero has never stopped smiling. This ever-laughing centenarian credits her longevity to a lifetime of optimism.

In commemoration of Alice’s 109th birthday, I would like to share with you some of the wisdom of Alice Herz Sommer – gained from living nearly 40,000 of the most richly textured days.

 

Alice Herz Sommer – On Education

School is only the beginning; we can learn all our lives.

No one can rob your mind.

Education of the children is the most important family value.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Friendship

I love people. I am interested in the lives of others.

Understanding of others can lead to peace.

We do not need things, friends are precious.

Be kind, kindness is free, it costs you nothing, and the rewards are great for everyone.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Laughter

A sense of humor keeps us balanced in all circumstances, even death.

Laugher is wonderful. It makes you, and everyone else feel happy.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Life

We need to treasure time. Every moment that passes is gone forever.

Only when we are old do we realize the beauty of life.

Everything we experience is a gift. Everything is a present.

I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Marriage

In marriage, friendship is more important than romantic love.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Motherhood

How can any woman ever be unhappy after she has seen her infant’s first smile?

It was my greatest privilege to raise my son.

A mother’s love is a child’s only fortress against the world, come what may.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Music

I am richer than the world’s richest people, because I am a musician.

Children must study music, it helps with everything in life.

Music saved my life and music saves me still.

There was no food. Music was our food. Through music we were kept alive.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Optimism

My optimism has helped me through my darkest days. It helps me now.

Always look for the good things in life: the world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and miracles.

When you are optimistic, when you are not complaining, when you look at the good side of your life, everybody loves you.

Every day in life is beautiful – if we only look up from our reality.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Parenting

Reason with your children, never use harsh words.

Patience, kindness and love, this is the food a child needs.

To survive, a child must never, never doubt your love.

Children need unconditional love to grow and develop into full human beings.

School is important, but what children learn in the atmosphere of their homes lasts for life.

Alice Herz Sommer – To Single Women

Have sex. Have fun. Have someone in your life, but don’t tie yourself down in marriage. Cherish your freedom… Take care of your career, your life.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Work

Love to work. When you love your work, you are never bored. Boredom is unhealthy.

When we love our work, we can enjoy a sense of achievement, every small achievement.

Work is the best invention.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post ‘Today I’m Inspired by: Alice Herz Sommer‘ about Alice’s awe-inspiring life, and and some of the lessons we can learn from her. Very recently, I was contacted by Caroline Stoessinger, the author of ‘A Century of Wisdom‘ a touching biography of a Alice’s noteworthy life.

In honor of Alice’s 109th birthday, Ms. Stoessinger will be donating all the proceeds from the sale of her book to the Alice Herz-Sommer Scholarship Fund at the Music Academy of Jerusalem where Alice taught for 37 of her happiest years. Please consider buying and reading this wonderfully enriching biography of an extraordinary woman, and helping a worthy cause.

 

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Considering the Balanced Scorecard Approach

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind…” William Thompson

As the leader of a relatively young organizational unit, I am always looking for innovative ways to measure and improve overall performance and achieve strategic goals. A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Balanced Scorecard approach.

The Balanced Scorecard Approach in a Nutshell

The Balanced Scorecard approach was developed around 1990 and a result of the extensive research of Robert Kaplan and David Norton. They developed a methodology of translating organizational strategy into a balanced framework which guides organizational energies toward achieving long-term goals. Kaplan and Norton’s framework transforms the company’s vision and strategy into a coherent set of performance measures and objectives. The system is designed to balance both short and long term desired outcomes, and hard financial measures against more intangible deliverables. In their book ‘The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action‘, they arrange performance measures into the following distinct perspectives:

  • Financial perspective
  • Customer perspective
  • Internal business process perspective
  • Learning and growth perspective

The idea of a balanced approach to developing performance strategies and achieving business goals resonates strongly with me. I am from a hard-numbers, public accounting background, and so making a profit is essential. On the other hand, I have a strong long-term vision for the company I serve. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people who use our products and services, and I want our organization not just to be a place to work, but a place that shapes the lives of its employees in a positive way.

Why Financial Measures Alone Don’t Work

More and more organizations are realizing that achieving profitability or even product and service quality is not enough to shore up the probability of long-term business success. In his book ‘Balanced Scorecard Step-by-Step: Maximizing Performance and Maintaining Results‘, Paul R. Niven gives five reasons why focusing on financial measures alone does not work:

  1. Overabundant use of financial measures is not consistent with today’s business realities. Since value resides in the ideas, relationships and cultures of people scattered throughout the firm, financial metrics alone will provide  little value in identifying opportunities with customers or employees.
  2. Financial KPIs only measure past performance, but have no predictive power for the future. Scores of great companies with excellent financial metrics virtually vanished from glory without warning.
  3. Financial statements are prepared by functional area. This approach is inconsistent with an organization’s cross-functional nature; teams come together to deliver value that is impossible to track via financial measures alone.
  4. Financial measures often sacrifice long-term success. Downsizing, for example, may provide the required short-term goals required, but may also have a hugely destructive impact on morale and the firm’s overall long-term value and future prospects.
  5. Financial measures are irrelevant to day-to-day tasks of employees at many levels of the organization. The measurement of strategic performance be interpretable in a meaningful way at every level of the organization.

Balanced Scorecard for the Win

While most companies have mission statements and vision statements, these are often no more than well-worded inspirational statements, equally as grand and unused as the foyers they are displayed in. Employees don’t understand them, managers don’t implement them, resources are not invested in achieving them; they are, in essence, devoid of meaning and impact. Rare leaders, such as Steve Jobs, do a remarkable job of keeping their companies focused on the overarching vision. In stark contrast, many companies are led astray, distracted by the alluring siren-song of ‘profit maximization’ to the detriment of their identity and purpose, and ultimately their survival.

The Balanced Scorecard approach has gained an impressive following in its twenty year history; it is estimated that up to 60 percent of the Fortune 1000 has a Balanced Scorecard in place. Indeed, the greatest argument for the Balanced Scorecard approach is its ability to bring organizational strategy to life, by interweaving a company’s definitive vision and strategy so that it is felt, understood and executed at every level of the organization.

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Crucial Confrontations

Slightly ahead of my annual goal, I have just completed book number fifty-three for 2012. ‘Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior‘, was released a few years ago by authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. The book teaches how to confidently address violated expectations and resolve accountability issues without harming relationships.

The Scenario

[Husband lying on the sofa watching TV.]

Wife: Honey, can you please remember to take out the garbage tonight?

Husband: Yeah

[Thirty minutes later.]

Wife: Honey, are you going to take out the garbage?

Husband: In a minute.

[One hour later.]

Wife: Honey, the garbage!

[Snore.]

How Do You Respond to Bad Behavior?

We have all been there, situations where someone disappoints us not just once, but repeatedly. Your wife takes so long to get herself dolled up that you are late every time you go out together. Your assistant hands in sloppy assignments. Your boyfriend drinks too much and embarrasses you. Your boss screams at you. Your best friend borrows money and does not pay it back.

How do you respond to similar disappointments?

A) You handle yourself with grace and aplomb. You introduce the topic of the broken promise or inappropriate behavior in a safe environment, explain your disappointment, carefully get feedback from the other person and mutually agree on a plan of action.

B) You condescendingly remind the other person that the infringement has now been committed for the two-hundredth and thirty-seventh time.

C) You silently replay your fantasy to strangle him or her and curse under your breath.

D) You grudgingly ignore the first few instances, whine to your friends about it, and then explode like a crazy person when it happens a third or fourth time.

If you answered A, then you’re already applying the skills taught in ‘Crucial Confrontations’. If you answered B, C or D, then you’ve done what most modern human beings have been conditioned to do. We respond to conflict in one of two ways–fight or flight.

Crucial Confrontations

The pre-programmed responses do not work. Failing to adequately resolve touchy, controversial or complex issues at work can lead to major organizational problems and can be very costly. Picking fights or ignoring ingrained family problems because we feel ill-equipped to deal with broken rules or failed promises is a common cause of long-lasting family tension and strife. In ‘Crucial Confrontations’, the authors teach how to skillfully handle sticky situations without resorting to silence or violence. The book explains how to carefully prepare for an accountability session, how to conduct one and how to follow-up so that the behavior does not continue to occur. These skills applied in a disciplined manner will empower you to face the challenges that plague families, teams and organizations and resolve them permanently.

In a coming post, I will discuss some of the valuable lessons from ‘Crucial Confrontations’ in more detail. If you are struggling with unresolved conflict, I recommend that you read this book right away.

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Choose Your Fate

This week, I took advantage of Audible.com‘s promotion for the new Whispersync for Voice feature. The new technology allows readers to listen and read simultaneously or switch seamlessly from audiobook to e-book and vice versa. Up to 22 free Kindle ebooks are available here for a limited time. I shamelessly downloaded 19 of the available 22 titles, even though I’d already read some of them.

Ethan Frome: The Story of a Loser

The first title I read is one of Edith Warton’s best known works. ‘Ethan Frome’ is the story of a poor, downtrodden New England farmer trapped in a loveless relationship with a conniving, invalid wife. The book’s protagonist can’t seem to catch a break. As one bad thing after another comes his way, his story inevitably ends in tragedy. Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed this dark book;  it served as a poignant reminder that each of us shapes his or her own destiny.

The Choices We Make Seal Our Fate

We seal our own fates every day by the choices we make, the friends we choose, the opportunities we don’t pursue. All around us are people brimming with ambition, ideas, talent and promise. So many of these lives end up as sad reflections of what might have been. Within them lie the untold stories of dreams deferred.

How to Lose

When you choose to accept the poor odds and negative labels cast upon you by circumstances, you lose. When you sink under the burden of a few bad grades, a lost job, ill-health or a bad economy, you lose. When listen to the inner voice that whispers for you to go so far and no further, you lose. Losers unwittingly self-sabotage their careers and personal lives. Set-back after set-back, losers trudge inexorably through an increasingly barren wasteland of their own shattered dreams.

How to Win

On the other hand, in business, entertainment, science and sports, winners refuse to live in the land of “almost”. Winners rise above personal setbacks and see failures as temporary. “So close, what a pity” is not an ending winners will accept. Winners recognize that their most formidable opponent is the nearly imperceptible voice of self-defeat. They train themselves to detect and defeat that enemy every day.  Winners refuse to lose sight of their dreams.

Make the Choice to be a Winner

None of us have to be losers. Instead, we can choose to allow ourselves to dream and never stop dreaming. We can choose to laugh in the face of every voice that says “you can’t have that”. Choose to be a winner. Never accept the lie of personal limitation. Never accept from yourself less than you know you are capable of. Never be satisfied with living below the threshold of your own limitless potential. Never settle for less than you know you deserve.

 

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2012 Reading Challenge Update

Two years ago, I set myself the goal of reading about a book a week, so that by the end of each year, I should have read about 50 books. I blogged about it here. When I recently updated my Goodreads profile, I was surprised to discover that I am lagging behind in my progress toward my goal of reading 50 books this year. You can follow my reading challenge booklist here. I’ve been so busy this year that I have only read 23 books to date.

I listen to audiobooks every day when getting ready in the morning and commuting to and from work. I easily clock between 60 to 100 hours of “reading” each month. But it has been a particularly challenging year. I have found myself starting books I “should” read, but then resorting to the staples that help me stay grounded every day. When I took a week’s break during July, instead of returning to my list of half-finished books, I chose to read well-reviewed works of popular fiction. Here are some of the books I chose:


Have you set any reading goals for yourself? Below is the embarrassingly long list of books in my library which I have started, but not completed:

Leadership and Business
23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
The Art of the Start by Gary Vaynerchuk
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
How An Economy Grows and How it Crashes by Peter D. Schiff
Less is More by Jason Jennings
No One Would Listen by Harry Markopolos
Winners Never Cheat by Jon M. Huntsman
Winning by Jack Welch

Biographical
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
A Century of Wisdom by Caroline Stoessinger
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Roots by Alex Haley
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Psychology and Personal Development
Change Anything by Al Switzler and David Maxfield
The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tarvis & Elliot Aronson
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Classics
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Odyssey by Homer
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
True Grit by Charles Portis
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Popular Fiction
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Science
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin

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What’s Your Mindset?

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures. I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.” -Benjamin Barber

August 2012: at the company I worked with, it was the time of year when budgets were being set and financial projections established for the fiscal year ahead. My boss, the intrepid entrepreneur had, as usual, set stiff targets for the group. My EBITDA target was sent to me via email. The number jumped right out of my laptop screen, hit me with a blow that almost knocked me senseless and said “hey there, my name is “IMPOSSIBLE” and your name must be “LOSER”. It left me with a black eye, a swollen lip, and what felt like a permanently bruised ego.

After a panicked call to my Finance Manager, I nursed my wounds and got busy with the mountain of other important tasks. Of course, the number wasn’t going anywhere; the more I ignored it, the more disquieted I became. As I racked my brain about how this target could be accomplished, I managed to convince myself that the target was unrealistic. I began to accept that the initial slap in the face would only be the beginning of an abusive relationship between me and my new earnings target for the 2013 financial year.

After days of making myself miserable, I finally realized that it was a fear of failure and not the target itself that was getting the better of me. This evening, I updated my facebook status to reflect my change in attitude:

Trying to turn my “I can’t do that, don’t try to make me” attitude into an “I can do this, I just need to figure out how…” mindset. The human spirit is powerful; it knows it can do the impossible.

My friend Greg immediately responded. I have several awesome friends named Greg, but this one is the multi-talented champion kickboxer with the gorgeous girlfriend and a heart of gold. He sent a link to this blog post.

The words resonated with me. It was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. The article is based on the work of Carol Dweck, PhD. It turns out that I’ve already read her excellent book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success‘ via Audible. I had to face the fact that my “mindset” about my own abilities was still a lot more fixed than I would have wanted to admit.

According to Dr. Dweck, there are two meanings to ability and we can choose which one we will adopt:

1. Fixed Ability

A fixed ability seeks to be proven as smart, accomplished or talented, and is overly concerned with being validated, and minimizing mistakes. There is a constant fear of failure, because to “fail” means to mess up your own fixed view of yourself. In the fixed mindset, trying really hard is a bad thing; too much effort proves you’re not smart or successful.

2. Changeable Ability

A changeable ability seeks to be developed through learning, and even through “failure”. Growth mindset people constantly seek to stretch themselves, always reaching for a new challenge. They fear not growing and not fulfilling their potential. In the growth mindset, not trying hard enough is the bad thing; effort is the proof that you will become smarter and more successful.

One of the things I admire most about my boss and several of the other entrepreneurs I have been blessed to work with is their overarching drive to keep going—obstacle, after obstacle after obstacle. Most entrepreneurs have a growth mindset; they thrive on challenges and sometimes achieve the impossible.

Here’s the key question: Is success for you about learning and overcoming limitations? Or is success about proving that you’re smart and validating your ability?

As infants, we exhibited an exuberant desire to overcome obstacles. As we learned to walk and talk, we were not self-conscious. We were fearless and ready to take on any challenge. But as we learned to evaluate ourselves, we gradually become more and more afraid of looking foolish, of saying the wrong thing, of failing. Most of us have developed a fixed mindset.

We can all begin to reverse that process and work to develop a growth mindset. We must change our definition of success from something to be protected or maintained, to the idea of success as a bumpy process of constantly becoming better than we were before.

And this why I changed my mindset, and decided not to give up. Yes, 15% VAT was slated to be introduced in St. Lucia on October 1st. Yes, the unemployment rate was estimated to be around 17%. Yes, I was running a small company in a competitive environment. But yes, I made a commitment to conquer myself and work my hardest to meet and exceed that EBITDA target by running the tightest, happiest, most innovative ship I could.

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Leadership Lessons: Remember Everyone is Important


After a busy spate at work which lasted months, followed by a glorious week off in Toronto, I have finally gotten around to re-starting the next book on my leadership list: ‘Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney’ by Lee Cockerell. Lee Cockerell managed Walt Disney World resort operations for over ten years. He has won many leadership awards and crafted Disney’s ‘Great Leader Strategies’. “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” On a resort the size of San Francisco, with a staff complement of 40,000, Lee achieved one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry and created magic.

I have just finished Chapter 3 where Cockerell explores the first leadership principle – inclusion. Lee’s most important leadership lesson is not about driving for excellence or being a stickler for operational efficiency. He focuses on making people so comfortable that they always do their best. Disney’s concept of inclusion is summed up by the acronym RAVE: Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone.

Here are the 13 key principles for creating an inclusive environment:

1. Make sure everyone matters and that everyone knows it
2. Know your team
3. Let your team get to know you
4. Greet people sincerely
5. Reach out to everyone on your team
6. Make yourself available
7. Listen to understand
8. Communicate clearly, directly and honestly
9. Stand up for the excluded
10. Forget about the chain of command
11. Don’t micromanage
12. Design your culture
13. Treat your people the way you would want your customers to be treated

In principle 13, Lee goes on to elaborate that customers want four basic things:
– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Be knowledgeable

Employees, in turn also want four things:

– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Make me knowledgeable

How many of us can name bosses who have routinely done these four things? I can think of leaders who ticked two of the boxes regularly and three occasionally. All four? Only on extremely rare occasions. I know that as a leader, I have failed miserably in accomplishing this. How often do I make my direct reports and line staff feel special? How often do I treat them as individuals and not just department members or someone filling a role? Do I ensure that my team members each feel respected by me? Do I make my people knowledgeable?

I am only on Chapter 3 of this book, but I feel challenged already, and inspired to begin today to become a better leader. I hope you do too!

 

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21 Inspiring Quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born the son of a minister in Boston, Massachusetts in 1803. After attending the prestigious Harvard College, Emerson initially followed in his father’s footsteps and became an ordained minister. While still a young man, however, he left the clergy to pursue a career as an essayist and public speaker. Over the course of his career, he became one of the most influential nineteenth century literary figures. His two most famous works, essays ‘Nature’ and ‘Self Reliance’ serve to clearly outline his distinct philosophy of life which emphasized optimism, individuality, the unity of all things, the difference between right and wrong and the power of human potential.

Here are 21 of his most inspiring quotes:

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On achieving your dreams

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On optimism

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On personal growth

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On using time wisely

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting… Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Ralph Waldo Emerson – On recognizing greatness in others

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On friendship and love

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Love, and you shall be loved.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On character.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On starting each day anew

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson – On not taking life too seriously

“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson