What Should You Be Doing, While You Still Can?

Just outside my office is a golf course that provides amusement and distraction during my work day. When the windows are open, I can hear golfers smack the ball. Occasionally, I hear them use interesting combinations of four-letter words to convey their enthusiasm for their performance. I’ve even heard a window or two break.

Though few golfers impress me, I admire all of them, because they are doing what they should be doing – enjoying the opportunity to golf.

I used to be one of them. In fact, I was a varsity golfer on my high school team, mostly because there weren’t very many good high school golfers in my hometown. When I competed, it was best to start at the bottom of the results, if you wanted to find my score. For a while, I thought that I was the inspiration for the term “handicapped scoring.”

In an odd twist of fate, that forgettable golf career earned me a job coaching high school golf, when I graduated from college and became a teacher. Just a few years removed from stinking up the courses in Central Nebraska, I was leading high school golfers, most of them far better golfers than I ever was. Due to no fault of my own, those teams were largely successful, mostly because I was sufficiently self aware to get out of the way. That and the fact that I never drove the van into the ditch were my largest contributions to that success.

Though I was never very good at it, I enjoyed being around golf. When I played and coached, I had an occasional good shot or even a good round, but I almost always had a good time. I envisioned golf being a part of my life for many years to come. Like my grandfather, who didn’t start golfing until he retired and then was never very good, I saw myself golfing into my 80s. Unfortunately, I barely made it into my 30s.

I got busy with kids in my late 20s and early 30s, and didn’t golf regularly. Some years, I didn’t golf at all. I probably could have and should have, but it felt selfish to leave my wife at home with chaos. When I did make it back to the golf course, my body no longer bent and moved like it used to. I backed off and resolved to work on improving my weaknesses in the hope that I could still swing a club. A few months later, it was no better. In fact, it was even more difficult to make contact with the ball, let alone direct it in a safe direction, and the very motion of swinging hurt. I was done.

Like I do with pretty much everything out of my reach, I blocked golf out of my mind. I’ve learned that it’s pointless to dwell on things that are no longer an option. We’re all going to get there eventually. I just got there more quickly. I tell myself that a lot.

But sometimes I don’t listen. Lately, when I catch myself watching the golfers outside my office, those old golf fantasies cross my mind. One day, I even stood up from my chair and attempted a swing without a club. I wanted to see what that felt like, hoping that maybe I could find a way to get back out there. I took one swing that probably didn’t look much like a swing and nearly fell over, much like the last time I tried that on an actual golf course with an actual club. It wasn’t going to happen.

I share this story not to make you feel sorry for me – I don’t even feel sorry for myself – but to make you think about the things that you should be doing and aren’t. I see way too many people wasting opportunities far too often or making excuses that result in lost opportunities.

Perhaps you’re postponing travel, because everything isn’t perfect, when perfection really isn’t necessary. I’m proof that the opportunity you assumed would always be there sometimes isn’t there when you expect it to be. Can you live with the regret of missing it?

Maybe you’re frustrated that age has reduced your physical prowess, and because you aren’t what you once were, you quit trying. Don’t do that. Reduced physical prowess is better than no physical prowess.

If I could travel back in time to 1999, I would make the time to golf more. It probably wouldn’t affect my ability to play now, but I would be satisfied that I squeezed everything I could out of the game before it was taken from me. Do yourself a favor and try to live your life in such a way that you don’t have the same kind of regret.

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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I could stand to be more empathetic. I’ve suspected that for a while now, but it became more obvious this week, when snow kept me from the gym.

More often than not, Midwesterners do a good job of clearing sidewalks and parking lots after snow storms, but my gym is an exception. The owners and/or management who took control about a year ago seem to have adopted the Southern response to winter precipitation, i.e. leave it alone and let the sun take care of it. If they do happen to use a shovel, they clear the most meager of paths. They recently cleared a narrow path next to the building by the handicapped parking, leaving a ridge of snow between the parking spots and the cleared area. They might as well have saved the effort – there aren’t very many skilled high-jumpers or hurdlers where I park.

Detachment like that leaves me shaking my head and asking questions. Don’t they understand that gym patrons, particularly those who park where I do, need a cleared surface in order to enter the gym safely? If they spent a day in my shoes, they would realize how dangerous slippery surfaces can be. There’s the catch: they’ve never been in my shoes, and because of that, they likely lack the empathy that an experience like that would provide.

It’s hard to be as empathetic as we should be, because we rarely understand the full extent of most challenges. We look derisively at the mother using food stamps or the scowling teenager at the mall, because we’re so sure that we’re superior or could do better in their shoes. Yet, we don’t know their entire story. If we did, we would probably be embarrassed by our attitude. Many times, our judgment isn’t as sound as we believe it to be.

Before age and the wear and tear of my awkward gait took its toll on my body, I often scoffed at the numerous handicapped parking stalls at gyms. Are there really that many handicapped people in a gym, I thought to myself. If I could park in a regular spot and walk in, so too should almost anyone else. I learned the hard way just how wrong I was.

That’s not where the irony ends. My experiences with a physical handicap occasionally give me an unfounded sense of superiority, especially in areas of effort. If I could do it, why can’t they? In thinking like this, I discount all of my other advantages and likely discount the challenges of those I judge. There’s almost always an untold story.

I was at a high school basketball game a few years back, and the volunteer keeping the clock was struggling. It was a tight game where every play mattered, and this poor guy kept screwing up the time. He’d either stop the clock too soon or too late, and the bleachers were full of people eager to point out his mistakes. More than once, the game had to be stopped to allow for a scoreboard adjustment. I had a similar experience in the same role at a youth football game, so I could empathize with his situation. I silently wished that those sitting around me had such empathy, as I watched him get flustered.

None of us knew that he had brain cancer and would die after a three-year struggle. I’m not even sure if the cancer was affecting him at the time or if he had even been diagnosed. When I learned of the diagnosis though, I immediately thought back to that game and wondered how many boo-birds regretted their behavior that night.

A lack of empathy toward my sidewalk challenges at the gym made me look internally at my own shortcomings in that area. Don’t wait until something like this happens to you. Strive to be more empathetic. It can’t hurt.

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Measure His Heart, Not His Hand

Early next month, a young football player from Central Florida will have his hand measured at the NFL Combine. He won’t get to choose which hand is measured; he only has one hand to offer, and that might be his biggest strength.

If you haven’t followed Shaquem Griffin’s journey to this point, consider following him from the combine onward. It’s a story made for a feel-good movie. He was born with a defect to his left hand. Because they weren’t able to rehabilitate it and it caused him extreme pain as a young child, his parents opted to have the hand amputated. For most, that would end a football odyssey. Not Shaquem. He thrived without his hand.

His twin brother also possessed rare football talent, and both earned scholarships to the University of Central Florida. Some believe that Shaquem was offered a scholarship in order to sign his brother, and for a while, that looked like the case. Shaquill thrived almost immediately, while Shaquem redshirted his first year and saw only limited action for the next couple of years. Last year, because he didn’t redshirt and his eligibility was exhausted, Shaquill was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks, while Shaquem’s NFL dream seemed in doubt, mostly because of his missing hand.

Shaquem answered these doubts with an outstanding senior season, leading the team in quarterback sacks. He didn’t have a bad junior season either, leading the team in solo tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback sacks. Despite the on-field success, the missing hand caused skepticism about his NFL potential. Just getting invited to the combine was a huge success and undoubtedly, a huge relief for Shaquem.

When he arrives at the combine, evaluators will measure his arm length, height and weight, in addition to his hand size. He’ll also participate in a number of drills and athletic tests – all in an effort to provide data that NFL teams can use when deciding if and when to draft him. Once their seasons were over, most of the 336 invitees devote themselves to maximize their combine results and thereby, increase their draft value. Some even undergo procedures to improve their measurables, like their hand size.

As an executive recruiter who spends his day judging professional qualifications, I understand the importance of metrics in making decisions that affect an organization’s success. Like employers who make hiring mistakes, if teams draft the wrong player or pay too much for a player, the consequences can be dire; however, Shaquem Griffin shows how judging others isn’t fail-proof. The x-factor that metrics don’t reveal is what’s on the inside.

If NFL executives pass on Shaquem, I believe that they’ll miss an opportunity to have a unique player with unique strengths on their team. I believe that it’s possible that Shaquem’s missing hand is actually a strength. Yes, it can affect his ability to shed blocks and make tackles; however, I suspect that it has also made his drive and desire stronger.

Many people with handicaps have gone on to achieve great things, not despite their handicaps, but BECAUSE of their handicaps. There are a number of reasons for this. As examples:

  1. A person with a disability is often more imaginative and ingenuitive, because they must overcome and adapt when their disability prevents them from doing things the normal way.
  2. A person with a disability is often more emotionally durable, because they must persevere through abnormal levels of failure and frustration to achieve their goals.
  3. A person with a disability often has a high level of gratitude, because life has taught them to never take anything, including their health, for granted.

I realize that I am making a lot of assumptions about Shaquem, a guy that I’ve never met; however, I’ve lived with a physical handicap long enough to recognize someone who has turned a negative into a positive. I hope he gets his chance in the NFL and thrives there, but if that doesn’t happen, I believe that his experience will make him a success in whatever he does.

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Regret and Resolve – A Different Kind of New Year’s Hangover

Many people wake up a day or two after New Year’s Day with a familiar but different type of hangover. They often experience the same hangover each year at the same time, but do nothing to prevent it. While headaches and upset stomachs are symptoms of alcohol-induced hangovers, the hangover I’m talking about is marked by regret and resolve, and it’s caused by misusing the previous year.

People suffering from this type of hangover call my office seeking a professional change, and they clog up my gym as they seek a physical change. Both happen much more frequently at the beginning of the year and all but disappear by summer. Why is that?

New Year – New Day

Despite the weather in most locales, January is a time of hope and optimism. Many have just spent at least a few moments in introspection through the holidays, and few are completely happy with the results of the past year. The new year represents an opportunity to erase past failures and to make positive changes. That’s what drives people to pick up the phone and call me.

My role as a recruiter, AKA headhunter, is to find my clients the talent they need in order to be successful. This puts me in touch with highly talented and successful people every day of the work week. Most tell me that they’re not interested in a professional change, but I believe that many of them are being dishonest. They might desire a change, but they aren’t ready to commit to one. Often, when are ready to commit to a change, weeks, months or years later, the opportunity I brought to them isn’t available.

Making a change is difficult. Try sitting in a different spot at church or in a classroom or meeting room. Most of us, myself included, don’t want to do it. We sit where we sit, and that is it. Moving from our traditional spot exposes us to uncertainty, and uncertainty is almost always uncomfortable. When we struggle with a discomfort as benign as switching seats, how are we going to do when facing a much more daunting discomfort, like switching jobs? Most of us are going to say that we’re not interested and continue on our not-so-merry way.

When we resist making changes that we think might benefit us, we might successfully avoid discomfort, but we can’t dodge regret. We might condition ourselves to live with regret, but it doesn’t go away without change. Most of us will wait until the discomfort of regret exceeds the discomfort of change before we will commit to change.

The people who call me in January seeking a professional change didn’t just wake up and realize that they needed to do something different in order to achieve their goals; they have likely been contemplating the call for months or maybe even years before they actually pick up the phone. The new year on the calendar simply amplified the discomfort of regret. We shouldn’t have to wait for a new year to create a better situation for ourselves.

Each day represents an opportunity to make positive changes, and there are many more new days than new years. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, consider setting a New Day’s Resolution. If you woke up this morning still suffering from the regret hangover, do something today to make tomorrow’s morning better. You won’t regret it.

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What Can an Inventory of Blessings Do for You?

When I was involved in the NASCAR business, we took an inventory at the end of every year. It was a tedious task, but it had to be done. We needed to match what we actually had against what we thought we had, primarily for tax purposes. That information was also helpful in planning.

If we had too much of a particular item, like a baseball hat, we put it on sale and noted to ourselves not to order so many the next time. If we were low on a popular item, seeing it alerted us to order more immediately and to monitor our supply more closely. Of course, our accounting software contained all of this information, but seeing and counting the product made it more real.

We should do the same thing with the blessings in our lives, particularly at the end of each year. Like I did with my retail business back in North Carolina, I have a general sense of my blessings, but they become more real when I think about and count them. They become even more real when I create a list.

Creating lists doesn’t come naturally to me. My wife, on the other hand, is the master of the to-do list, and will create a list containing tasks that she has already completed, just so she can get the satisfaction of crossing them off the list. It makes her incredibly efficient and productive, even if it does often leave me shaking my head.

I’m more of an “it’s in my head” guy. Ask me to list my blessings, and I’ll fire off the first four or five pretty easily. Writing them down helps me focus on blessings that maybe aren’t as obvious, like my network of mentors. I learned the power of this exercise by reading Rhonda Byrne’s book entitled, “The Magic.” It was a follow-up book to her best-seller, “The Secret.”

“The Secret” focuses on the law of attraction, while “The Magic” focuses on the power of gratitude. Both are great books that I highly recommend. In “The Magic,” Byrne asks readers to build lists of the things for which they are thankful. I often groan and dismiss exercises like this. I’m already a very thankful person, I tell myself. I don’t need to make a list to be conscious of my blessings. That’s probably more useful for people who struggle to be aware of their blessings.

I WAS WRONG!

Creating a list of blessings was difficult but rewarding work. As expected, the first four or five came easily. Those are blessings like family, health and freedom that come to the minds of most people most immediately. Once the easy ones are there, it becomes substantially more difficult. I’m embarrassed to say that I struggled to list ten blessings the first time I tried. It wasn’t that I didn’t have numerous more blessings; I just hadn’t thought of them as blessings. In other words, I wasn’t as consciously grateful as I needed to be, and the list helped me correct that.

In my NASCAR business, we always found items we didn’t know that we had when we took our year-end inventory. These often became assets that positively affected our bottom line, and we would have missed them had we not done an inventory.

The same thing happens with the blessings in our lives. Like the once-lost merchandise, hidden blessings should not remain hidden, and the best way to uncover them is to make that list.

Suggested Assignment

If at all possible, stop what you are doing right now and create a list of at least ten things for which you are grateful. Then, challenge yourself to add one item each day for the rest of the year. You will be glad that you did.

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Live Like the First Snow Just Blew by Your Window

The first snow of the year arrived on Halloween afternoon this year. I caught it blowing past my window as I worked in my office. Not wanting to believe it, I stared out the window for a minute, trying to wish it away. Defeat conceded, my mind jumped from resignation to panic as I contemplated the implications of the coming winter.

Due to my gait, a slippery surface of any kind is almost always unnavigable. Snow, ice, sleet, rain, rain that turns into ice – any of these elements on any surface makes walking extremely dangerous. In a cruel irony, the treatments (salt, sand and gravel) that well-intentioned people use to deal with winter precipitation are often just as dangerous. Even worse, they stay behind much longer than the precipitation. After a few rounds of snow and the ensuing treatments, I feel like I’m trying to walk across a shuffleboard table, desperately trying to reach spring.

As the snow and winter treatments pile up, my world shrinks. I miss days at the gym, church and lunches. I hesitate when friends invite me over. I quit planning things, because I don’t want to be disappointed when the weather keeps me from them. In particularly bad winters, I might as well be under house arrest.

At this time of year, I know that snow will soon negatively affect my lifestyle, and that’s what makes each day before the first snow a valuable gift that I cannot squander. Never do I appreciate good weather days more than in the winter.

We all do this – maybe not with winter weather – but we all suddenly become more appreciative and mindful of our gifts, when something threatens them. We learn that a loved one has a terminal disease, and we scramble to make up for lost time and lost opportunities. Our children near the end of their time with us, and we finally prioritize family time. Our bodies start to fail us, and we become interested in diet and exercise.

Why do we do this? Each day and each experience is a gift, and those gifts shouldn’t have to be threatened for us to appreciate them, but that’s what we often insist on doing. Imagine if we lived every day and seized every experience with the urgency and appreciation that we feel when the end nears.

I spent this last weekend deer hunting with my dad. Though every deer season since 2003 has found me in the field, I had planned to skip this year. My son left for college this summer, and it didn’t seem worth the hassle to hunt without him. I could spend the weekend lounging around my warm home and catching up on projects, instead of driving for hours and subjecting myself to the cold. All of my lame excuses almost won, but one thing changed my mind: how many deer seasons do I have left?

By the time my son graduates, I’ll be over 50, and my dad will be a few years past 70. Things typically don’t get any easier physically when you pass those milestones, and none of those years are guaranteed. That realization was like the snow blowing by my window, awakening my appreciation of what I can do now and prompting me to act.

My reward was a trophy buck and an incredible experience. Though I’ve taken nice deer before, since I didn’t start big game hunting until my 30s and my dad isn’t a big game hunter, I had never taken a deer with my dad. It was an experience I almost missed and probably would have missed had the prospect of impending snow not awakened me.

I pray that God will give me a few more days or even weeks before the first substantial snow, and I plan to do my part by enjoying all of them. The bigger challenge is to sustain this attitude when spring arrives, and the next winter seems so far off.

Think about and appreciate your life’s gifts. Don’t wait for the snow to rattle you awake.

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Are You Playing with a Chip on Your Shoulder?

Like many of you, I have been watching a lot of football lately. A large part of the intrigue of football and other sports are the stories surrounding the athletes and the game. We like to know what they have overcome to become successful and to hear about the good things they do away from the sport.

Among the most popular narratives in sports is “he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder.” The proverbial chip on the shoulder is routinely celebrated in sports culture as a powerful source of motivation. He didn’t get recruited by bigger schools. People doubted his abilities. He wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school or college. Many of these stories are remarkably similar, and they all end with the successful athlete thumbing his nose at the doubters. These stories are appealing, because every one of us has been wronged or doubted at one time or an other, and almost every one of us has at least quietly longed for justice in the form of revenge. Revenge is easy to understand, and its use as motivation is rarely questioned.

I didn’t question it until I heard Zig Ziglar talk about it. Zig, as only Zig could do, said, “If a person has a chip on his shoulder, there’s likely to be a block of wood on top of his neck.” His point was that the chip on your shoulder is an unnecessary and possibly counter-productive vehicle of negativity.

While the negativity associated with carrying a chip on your shoulder might be productive in sports, where controlled anger can be an asset in the heat of competition or in training, it’s rarely helpful for the rest of us. I believe that chip-on-the-shoulder motivation is suspect for three reasons:

It gives others control that we should reserve for ourselves. Strong, successful people typically want to be self-directed and controlled by their own thoughts and actions. Most chips on most shoulders were put there by someone else’s opinion or action against us. If we rely on them for motivation, we’re relying on negative memories placed in our minds by those who doubted us or mistreated us in some way. Why give those people that much power over us?

Negative memories pollute our thinking. Every time we use that chip, we introduce doubt into our minds. We might say and believe that our critic’s doubt was misguided, but if we’re carrying around that chip on our shoulder and dwelling on it, there must be at least a small part of us that believes it. Quit giving credence to doubt.

Positive thinking can take us to higher levels. If the chip on your shoulder is your primary motivator, what happens when it’s gone? When the revenge you sought has been exacted, you might feel momentary satisfaction, but if you want to reach higher, you are going to need to find new motivation. If you have used positive thinking as motivation, and perfected it as you pursued success, you can build upon it to reach the next level.

I understand the value of chip-on-your-shoulder motivation in the heat of battle, but away from that, I think it’s much better to build our self-worth through positive thinking, rather than through fantasizing about waving a middle finger at our doubters.

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