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Reflections On Life and Leading Book Excerpts – Part 2

October 21, 2022

Very few of us have a life curve that is only upward sloping. The difference is that “lucky” people just do not let their periods of adversity define them in unhelpful ways. They just keep plugging away, learning from their mistakes, continuing to believe in themselves, and taking calculated risks anyway. Their worldview is usually a positive, optimistic one. Where others see obstacles to success, they see windows of opportunity.


Every day when we wake up, we get to make a choice about how we approach our life. We can see our existence as an amazing gift full of unlimited possibilities, or a burden full of work, obligations, and limitations.


The glass can be half-empty or half-full. It all comes down to your perspective. Sadly, many of us end up obsessing over what we do not have or how we are falling short rather than counting our multiple blessings.


Don’t be influenced by the naysayers. Do your best to surround yourself with “can do” people who will properly balance reality against opportunity and potential.


Too many adults act like children when things don’t go their way. They give up far too easily and lose their emotional bearings. Instead of believing in their own capacity for emotional, mental, and physical resilience, they capitulate to the obstacles strewn in their path.


Most of us, however, prefer to stay on the sidelines and watch others excel and rationalize away our own inability to do the same thing. Too many people dream big but act small.


Growth often requires some level of pain and discomfort. There are no quick fixes. Have you ever noticed that we never fully appreciate what comes to us too easily in life?


While I am certainly a fan of win-win negotiations, I don’t always believe that compromise is the best course of action. Sometimes you have to stand on principle and do what you believe is right rather than doing what seems politically expedient.


The problem many of us experience is that we anchor ourselves to too many things. If everything is important, then nothing truly is. We need to be more thoughtful and selective about the battles we choose to fight.


One the biggest fears we all grapple is the fear of being wrong or making mistakes. Far too many employees would rather do nothing or rigorously defend the status quo than go out on a limb and try something new or different… All good leaders understand that one of their primary jobs is to address this fear. They strive to create an environment where people push the envelope and take ownership of their work.


I’ve always liked the whole yin and yang concept and the principle of duality. There are two polar opposites of everything and a vast continuum that operates in between them. Whether you apply this as individual to your own behavior or in your interaction with others, it can be a useful tool. Overly aggressive people need to be balanced out by those who are more passive. They also need to find the downshift gear in their own behavior, while others may need to learn to upshift a bit more. There is a time to be patient and a time to be impatient. The key is balancing it all.


Everyone’s life journey has bumps along the way. Keep pressing forward even when it’s hard. Obstacles strewn along our path are just opportunities to further build our character. They also test how much we truly want something. If success always came easily, then it really wouldn’t mean anything.


Henry Ford has a famous quote: “If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” I believe this sums up most of life quite nicely. Self-confidence and self-belief do matter. So much about success and happiness is related to your mental attitude and emotional resilience.


There is no such thing as standing still in life; time moves forward regardless. Too many of us spend too much energy stuck in our present circumstances or held back by our past. There is nothing we can do about what has already happened. All we can do is learn from it and strive to become a better person in the process.


There is only so much any one person can accomplish on a sustained basis. If you spread yourself too thin, you will find yourself constantly falling behind and falling short of everyone’s expectations.


My experience is that most physical and emotional breakdowns happen gradually rather than all at once. Someone seems to be chugging along just fine, and we are all amazed by what they are able to accomplish until something dramatic happens. We are often surprised at first, but then after further reflection, we realize they were pushing themselves too hard and trying to do too much.


It is rare that things work out exactly as planned. We often attempt something with the best of intentions, and then run smack into a less accommodating reality.


Always remember that how we spend our time is a proxy for what we value.


Most of us are very bad at managing our time. We waste many hours and minutes throughout the day and then try to push all of our productivity into only a few intense bursts of energy; hopefully we are focused when this happens. Unfortunately, this work style only adds up your burdens over time, and we get further and further behind on important responsibilities that require any significant amount of thought and/or work. In addition, the little things that are seemingly less important at the time start to fall through the cracks. We have all experienced that a bunch of little things untended can lead to bigger problems.


Monday will begin a new week. The week before will only be a memory. On Monday, you can and should tackle your toughest challenges and embrace your biggest opportunities. On Monday, you should show up recharged and full of energy because you had a restful and enjoyable weekend. Friday afternoon is about unwinding and refocusing your energy and attention. Saturday and Sunday should be about family, friends, and fun.


Most of us will start the New Year with a list of goals we would like to achieve over the course of the next year. Making New Year’s resolutions has become an American pastime. Unfortunately, a majority of us will end up falling far below our initial expectations. For some reason we lose interest, become distracted by other things, or find the goals end up requiring more than we are willing to give to get there.


Actions do speak louder than words. Many of us are hypocrites and don’t even realize it. I have a professional belief that a considerable amount of unhappiness in leadership is due to individuals living in conflict with their true values and focusing on the wrong priorities. Either we are moving closer to or farther away from the person we’d like to be. There is no standing still. The person we become is a direct result of the outcomes we create and how we get there.


Happiness is a choice, not just an outcome. It should also be an expectation. This doesn’t mean a life devoid of adversity or challenge, or that every day will be joyful. It does mean that when bad things happen, we will have greater capacity to deal with them. It also means that the path back to contentment will be less steep.


I cannot tell you how many people I have seen make unwise professional and personal decisions out of desperation or for the wrong reasons. It is almost as if they are grasping at straws and hoping that by blowing something up, they will end up with a better reality. It will definitely be different, but not always better. In fact, the consequences of their decisions often result in significant collateral damage because life isn’t lived in a vacuum.


Life can be hard work at times, but it is usually worth it. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you willing to do the work?


I find that far too many people get stuck in patterns or hold on to situations that are no longer worth their time and investment. Life is short. Once you conclude that something is not working for you, transfer your energy into something different and move on.


… the overall curve of any individual’s life should be upward sloping inevitably accompanied by a series of plateaus along the way…When you are stuck, you should be consciously striving to become unstuck, not seeking out more glue. When faced with adversity, do your best to take constructive steps to help you get back on track. Don’t be mired in the past, but embrace the present and pursue the future with a vigor worthy of your time and energy.


Most of the change that takes place in our life is beyond our capacity to control. All we can do is react to what’s taking place. You can both accept what is happening and do your best to deal with it or attempt to resist it. However, resistance is futile.


Most people slowly box themselves in over time and limit their possibilities until they even begin to embrace and justify the constraints. I cannot promise you that life will always work out the way you want it to if you become more vulnerable and less close-minded, but I will guarantee that your options for success and happiness will increase.


For some reason, despite our relative wealth, comfort, and prosperity compared to previous generations, most of us still see things for what they are not, rather than being thankful for what they are.


When you look to others to solve your problems and make you happy, you are already at a disadvantage. You end up forfeiting control of your own destiny and hope that someone else will make your issues a priority. Even the best intentioned of leaders, colleagues, spouses, and friends will only ever get an incomplete grade in this regard.


There are no perfect leaders, organizations, marriages, or friendships. They are all a work in progress.


You can’t force success or happiness upon yourself or others. Life just doesn’t work that way. However, you must be able to act when the timing is right and be smart enough not to force the issue when it won’t work. Sometimes you need to push forward, but other times you need to pull back.


The fact is, too many people stay on past their prime. There comes a point for each of us where the value we are adding begins to diminish, and the time comes to reinvent ourselves, moving on to something different or to focus on other priorities… In everyone’s life there comes a time to walk away from what is to recreate and embrace what could be.


Friendship is easy when life is easy. When life gets hard, some people just don’t have the stomach for it. Always remember that this says more about them than you. Some people are just much more comfortable taking rather than giving and/or just cannot handle deeper levels of emotional commitment.


We all need people close to us who will help us get through the hard times. They will have to be comfortable with seeing the less attractive side of our personality and allowing us to be fully human. They should be willing to help us create a place where it is safe to be honest about what we are experiencing. When we get off track, they should gently nudge us in the right direction and then walk with us, holding our hand if necessary. They should never enable immoral, unethical, or destructive behavior. We should also be willing to do the same for them when needed.


A conversation without listening is merely the exchange of two monologues… For another person to have a true connection with you, they need to feel like you care about what they have to say.


Some people just seem to need to find flaws in everything or disagree just to be disagreeable. It’s one thing to have a different point of view. It is quite another to always default to having a different perspective. There is a fine line between being objectively critical and becoming a crank.


The world can be a tough place, and life has its challenges, but the ride can be much easier if you know you have a circle of people supporting you who genuinely care about you.


I think just about every parent feels the same when it comes to protecting their children from the big bad world. Unfortunately, protecting them is impossible, and kids are destined to learn painful but valuable lessons on their own. I believe it’s even more humbling and disappointing when we as parents become the source of these difficult experiences. In the end, I guess all we can do is our best to always act out of true love and a sense of genuine responsibility.


a person’s IQ is the collective average of the ten people with whom they spend the most time.


Most of us waste valuable time and energy on the wrong people. We expend significant effort and energy on people who do little to enhance our lives or who have a negative impact on us, which is quite sad.


What I sometimes find missing in this quest for self-improvement is a focus on the other people in your life. We can spend so much time looking inward that we miss opportunities to reach outside of ourselves and make a real difference. It is never just about you.


Being there for others in an empathetic way as they navigate their own journey is the best gift we can give them and ourselves. Having a front-row seat to someone else’s life is a real privilege and responsibility.


No one ever truly goes through life alone. Our experience is reflected back to us in the eyes, words, and feelings of those around us.


It is disheartening to see how petty, judgmental, jealous, and critical we can be of other people. This is especially true when someone does well. We often jump to quick conclusions and second-guess their motivations or worthiness. My belief is that we do this more because of how we feel about ourselves than because of anything related to the other person.


Very few individuals are meant to take the full journey with you in life. Sometimes you outgrow people, lose the interpersonal connection, and leave them behind. Instead of regretting the loss, cherish the time you had together and keep it as a fond memory. I believe that everyone’s life is a novel, and at times, new chapters require new characters. It is all part of the process of growing, learning, and evolving as a human being.


While personal independence and self-reliance is a good thing, we live in a society that requires interdependency and cooperation.


It is always best to try to spread a little sunshine in some else’s life. This can be as simple as being courteous and respectful, especially because so many people are not.


If you took a step back and honestly viewed your life and the perceived lack of time, you would find that most of the stresses around time management are self-imposed:

  • We spend too much money on things that won’t make us happy, only to end up working too hard and stressing out trying to pay for them.
  • We live in the moment seeking instant gratification when it comes to our diet and lifestyle habits, and then avoid doing the exercise necessary to make up for these decisions.
  • We make career choices based on what others think rather than what truly ignites our passion and talents.
  • We tell the boss what they want to hear rather than being honest with them and ourselves.
  • We tell the spouse or partner what they want to hear rather than being honest with them and ourselves.
  • We volunteer for too many causes and then can’t spend sufficient time on any one.
  • We sign our kids up for too many activities and struggle with the logistics associated with these decisions.
  • We stay connected to the people who bring us down rather than investing in people who lift us up.
  • We take on the problems and troubles of others while ignoring our own issues.


No one person is ever always right or always wrong. Some people may have a better record of accomplishment than others may, but the moment they start believing in their own infallibility and consider themselves beyond reproach, they become vulnerable to the vagaries and nuances of life. Moreover, they foster the resentment and the waning support of others who often wait or even hope for them to fail to validate their own position.


Admitting you don’t know enough about something to make a good decision is a sign of wisdom. Being open to alternative points of view and challenging you own conceits are the pathway to professional maturity. Listening without judgment is a prerequisite for effective leadership.


Leaders who are unwilling to admit their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge are eventually confronted with the very reality they are ignoring. It may take time, but it always happens. It’s even worse if they are completely unaware of where they fall short and end up getting blindsided. In leadership positions, ignorance is not bliss.


We all know that we meet the same end, but we usually don’t know when or why. Most of us avoid spending much time at all thinking about our mortality. It is almost taboo to think about our own expiration date. We stay focused on the moments at hand and feel like our future is open-ended. Why does it take a crisis for us to appreciate the tenuousness of our time here on earth and the true importance of our close relationships? It is a shame we cannot be in this mind space more often; maybe it would make us all slightly better people. The truth is that we are all living on borrowed time, and how we spend that time is what matters.


I believe everyone is the protagonist in his or her own story. The only difference is that your story is a constant work in progress, and the ending isn’t yet written… What chapter are you writing right now? Are you taking control of your life or letting events control you? Are you in a period of significance where important decisions need to be made or simply enjoying a time of contentment and incremental progress? Are you transitioning to something new or embracing a time of reflection and growth?…How do you want the story to end?


I have read and observed that leadership cycles typically run in five-to-seven-year cycles. A standard bell curve accompanies these cycles with effectiveness peaking at about the midpoint, then begin to wane. The typical leader maybe has two or three cycles in him/her at best. Very few make it beyond this point. There are certainly leaders who opt to stay in their position longer (especially small business owners), but if they are honest with themselves, they will admit that the organization has become a bit stale and is lacking the energy and direction it once had.


You have to be careful about becoming too comfortable with the status quo and losing your energy and edge. Reinvention isn’t always easy, especially if there is no “burning platform” forcing you to change. You have to reach inside yourself and seek out new challenges. You need to engage in necessary and sometimes uncomfortable self-reflection. You need to keep learning and embracing new ideas rather than relying on what you already know and/or understand.


Several years ago on this day, I learned the tragic news that a client/colleague/friend of mine had passed away. He was only thirty years old and so full of life… In the brief period we knew each other, I learned a lot from him and wanted to share these lessons so others can benefit from a life well spent:

  • Live life to the fullest; don’t put off tomorrow what’s important to you today because the window of opportunity may close before you know it.
  • View the world as full of opportunity rather than strewn with obstacles; you’ll be amazed by how much more can get accomplished with this mind-set.
  • When push comes to shove, always bet on yourself. It’s better than the alternative of having your fate in the hands of others.
  • Don’t be shy about seeking advice and guidance from others who will help you advance your personal and professional agenda.
  • Always be on the lookout to grow new relationships while also carefully maintaining old relationships that are important to you. In the end, it’s the people you surround yourself with that define a life.
  • Self-awareness is a critical part of personal growth.
  • Don’t avoid difficult conversations; honesty and courage in communication will ultimately prevail as long as your intentions are pure.
  • Invest time and energy in your passions; it’s important to be good at those things that are important to you.
  • Don’t get pushed into a box, and continue a path that’s not working for you; be willing to risk the uncertainty of new beginnings
  • Enthusiasm matters in life; positive energy is infectious and will rally others to your cause.
  • It’s okay to be vulnerable to those closest to you. They will respond in turn, and both of you will grow as a result.
  • Never forget the importance of having fun and being spontaneous; we are supposed to enjoy the ride.


I firmly believe that people who understand what they are naturally good at and use this information to their advantage minimize the negative consequences of their pride and ego. They typically aren’t shy to ask for help when needed. They put forth the requisite effort to do a job properly. They approach life with a generally positive attitude, and they have very few real obstacles they cannot overcome.


A colleague I work with introduced me to the basic coaching question, “How’s it working for you?” It is a simple but profound question. If you do not like the results you are getting, then try something different. You get nowhere good in life by banging your head against a brick wall. All you do is feel bad afterward.


Pride can be a big obstacle in our lives if we are not careful. What, if anything, are you holding on to that you should let go of?


Are there places in your life where you are causing or receiving too much pain? Why? How can you begin the healing process?


Anger in and of itself is not bad. Sometimes it is even appropriate. There are no bad emotions, just bad actions. You also should not remain in a space for too long that makes you feel bad rather than good. Embrace your feelings, but watch your actions. If what you are doing is creating more, not less, negativity in your life, then something is wrong.


The brain is a powerful and complex organ, although some people refer to it as the muscle of thinking. It won’t be ignored for any extended period of time. What is troubling you will continually resurface until you do something about it. Once you work toward resolution on whatever is bothering you, it’s interesting how that thought seems to fade into the background.


When all is said and done, each of us ends up being the sum total of our decisions and the ensuing consequences that result (good and bad) and our follow-up actions. It really is that simple.