When you sit back and reflect on Thanksgiving there is much to learn from the events that led to its creation. It is quite a testament to the power of the human spirit and our individual and collective capacity to accomplish great things especially when we work together. When life is stripped down to its bare necessities you learn alot about your fellow human beings. While sadly, some people use survival as a rationale for poor behavior, history seems to vindicate that most of us try to do the right things even under the most adverse circumstances. I’d like to offer a few observations about the genesis of the holiday:
Sadly, my dad passed away this past weekend. He was 84 and lived a full life. Many times he commented to me that he couldn’t believe he lived this long. When he was a child, he told me, living to 65 seemed like a reasonable expectation. I am glad he beat his own expectations and gave us many more years to be with him. Dad came from a generation where you lived up to your responsibilities. He didn’t complain about it and believed that one of the most important things you could do was to teach your children was to become independent adults. He didn’t coddle us, but also did judge us too harshly. He was always there if needed.
We are in the midst of a fairly active and important election season in my local area. Many critical positions are up for grabs which is clearly illustrated by the large number of individuals who have thrown their hat in the ring. I am sure there are varying motivations by the candidates as to why they are running. Personally, I try to give them all the benefit of the doubt that their primary motivation is to make a positive difference. I don’t expect to agree with every candidate, but I do expect them to have the courage of their convictions. Having studied leadership and politics for quite a long time now, the following characteristics emerge as indicative of whether or not someone will be effective once they assume office:
July 4 has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It is a day rife with history and rightfully full of revelry. As an American, I am proud of our nation’s unlikely beginning. It …
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite writers. It is hard to box him into any one style because he does it all so flawlessly. While he is sometimes not an easy read, the effort is always worth it. There are nuggets of wisdom embedded throughout his work and the more you read him, the more thoughtful insight you come away with. He has a way of making sense out of life that is hard to match by anyone else. Personally, I recommend everyone keep a copy of his complete essays and reference the individual topics based on their current life situation.
The following quotes are just a very small snippet of his wisdom:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”
“Thought is action in rehearsal.”
“Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day.”
“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”
“Self-trust is the first secret of success.”
“No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.”
“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”
“Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood.”
“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”
“No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.”
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”
“Often a certain abdication of prudence and foresight is an element of success.”
“Some pursue happiness – others create it.”
“Life is a progress, and not a station.”
“Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself.”
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”
“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
“All life is an experiment.”
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
There are only a few days a years when we are all encouraged to step back and reflect on our life and its many blessings. I find this time of year to be especially important for this very reason. Of course it’s easy to get caught up in the commercialism and challenging logistics of the holidays, but I encourage you to avoid this temptation.
There is certain randomness to a natural disaster which is hard to explain. Sure, we have weather forecasters who are diligent about keeping us informed, but even they can’t predict where the damage will be worst and who will be the most affected. People on opposite sides of the same street can have completely different experiences. I’ve seen pictures where a tornado wipes out one house and leaves the one next to it completely untouched. I imagine that when you are one of the unfortunate victims of these events you struggle a long time understanding why you were the unlucky one. The truth is it could have been any one of us.
Far too many people think that leadership is about style over substance these days. It’s almost as if it is more important to look and sound like a leader rather than behave like one. I wonder if historical figures like Abraham Lincoln with his high pitched nasally voice ad physical awkwardness or George Washington who was personally aloof and somewhat stiff in public settings would even stand a chance today. When a society starts spending more time focusing on how things appear rather than how they truly are, we as a people are in trouble. It is the content of someone’s character that matters most when tough decisions need to be made. We are in serious times both geopolitically and socioeconomically. We need deliberative thinkers who think before they act, don’t rush to judgment, have the ability to prioritize amongst competing issues, stay cool under pressure, maintain a reasonable level of consistency in their actions and messaging, build alliances rather than make enemies, and tell us the truth even when it is unpopular. The presidency shouldn’t be just a popularity contest.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my line of work is that you can’t save everyone. Despite your good intentions and best efforts, sometimes the formula will not work. In some cases, you might have to accept the fact that you are not the right fit for a given engagement or client relationship. In other instances, there is always a reason why someone is struggling and until they fully come to grips with this fact and take ownership of their behavior, there is only so much you can do.
Every once in awhile you come across a song that just resonates with you. I knew nothing about the band South until iTunes referred me to them based on my preference for another artist. I was immediately taken in by the song”A Place In Displacement.” Beside having a great title the lyrics and music mesh perfectly. I was also pleased to come across the official video and never get tired of listening to it.
As far as I am concerned, Ray Davies is the best songwriter of my lifetime. His body of work is amazing and he is still going strong well into his Sixties. He may not have achieved the same level of notoriety of his peers over the years, but I challenge anyone who is a fan of rock music to sit down and listen to the vast collection of songs created by The Kinks and his solo work and not come away impressed. Pete Townshend has been vocal with his praise over the years and Bruce Springsteen and John Bon Jovi are avid fans. He recently released a collaborative album called See My Friends in which many top artists (past and present) covered his hits with him.
I’ve often heard the saying, “if you want something done give it to a busy person.” While I am an advocate of applying the 80/20 principle in most circumstances, I believe the ratio get even greater in organizations and communities when it comes to overall effort and impact – it is more like 90/10 or higher. Some people just seem to be hardwired to take on more responsibility. They just can’t help themselves and have a difficult time saying “no.” When they find a need they feel compelled to address it. Poor performance isn’t an option for them and they work hard even no one else is watching. While it’s great these people exist, I also worry that we expect too much from these individuals and in the end many of them end up suffering from burnout and/or too much stress.
I have been a huge fan of the holiday song “Christmas Bells” by John Gorka for quite some time now. It was only recently that I took the time to explore his wider catalogue. All I can say is “wow.” He is a very talented singer-songwriter who should be heard by a much wider audience. I’m sad I took so long to realize this because I have missed many great albums and songs. Maybe it is the folk music classification that I often see associated with his name that limits his exposure, but my feeling is that music like his should transcend genre. It takes a very talented artist to hold an audience with just his voice and guitar.
It was always evident to me that Jimmy Buffet was a great storyteller. His later work as a successful author clearly illustrates this fact. His songs always manage to take you somewhere else and evoke some level of feeling. There is almost an instantaneous transition of the vibe in any room when his music comes on. Wistful smiles form on the listener’s faces and some people’s thoughts wander as they contemplate any number of things – most of which are positive. For a guy who purports the simple carefree life, he sure has managed to create a musical catalogue of substance while also pursuing many other varied passions.
I knew very little about the band Wilco when I went to see them in concert last month. Honestly I was going to see their warm-up act Nick Lowe (who is a musical legend in my book). Over the course of a month or so beforehand I went on iTunes and downloaded several songs so I could become more familiar with them. I liked what I heard and found them to be both original and creative which is what always should be happening in any art form. I also appreciate that there is a bit of an edge to their music. Formulas get old and boring fast even if they sell albums.
I can’t imagine what it was like growing up in the musical shadow of Bob Dylan. And, then to have the courage to follow in his footsteps and carve out your own successful artistic path – what pressure. The comparisons were inevitable and the stakes so high that it would have been easy to fail or give up. It also is alot to expect that songwriting talent at this level would exist in more than one person in a family. Yet Jakob Dylan persevered and his career to date clearly stands on its own merit.
As summer fades into our memory and another fall enters our lives I thought of the song “September Grass” by James Taylor. His songs have been part of the background of my life since I was a small child. There is something comforting and reassuring about his music. I never get tired of listening to him sing his lyrics which tend to conjure up vivid images and positive memories from my past. He almost always seems to capture the moment perfectly.
One of the great things about music is that there is always something new to discover. Sometimes it is an artist you’ve never heard of before, other times it’s actually making the effort to explore a songwriter who captured your attention at some point. Everyone knows the band Crowded House from their two hits song of many years ago – “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” Regrettably, I never paid much attention to this very talented trio from New Zealand. Then I stumbled across some solo work by Neil Finn the lead singer and main songwriter and was both impressed and pleasantly surprised by his body of work including efforts on several other projects. The more I listen to his music the more I like it.
Bad things do happen in life. Sometimes they test our emotional and physical fortitude but we have to persevere anyway. There really is no other acceptable choice but to be resilient in the face of pain and adversity even when it really hurts.
When it comes to your life I highly encourage you to be a non-conformist. Carve out your own path. Worry less about what other people think and more about living a meaningful life – whatever that means to you. Too many people simply plug into a system. They do what they think they are supposed to do without regard for how it makes them feel. They are also constantly bombarded with messages praising consumerism and the belief that acquisition of material goods will be their just reward and make them happier. Unfortunately, life doesn’t really work out this way.
It is impossible to be truly happy and successful in life without a strong sense of priorities. There will no shortage of distractions competing for your attention. It is easy to get out of balance and sidetracked by issues that are comparatively unimportant in the wide scheme of things. Sadly, we often taken for granted people we shouldn’t and have a tendency to lose our perspective when we need it most. Many people I meet struggle with guilt and regret over what they wish they would have done differently in certain areas of their life. More often than not they are unhappy with how they prioritized their time, energy and attention.