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What's Your Dashboard Telling You

“They’re driving down the road without a dashboard.  They have a brake, an accelerator, a steering wheel but no indicator lights, no speedometer, no gas gauge.”  That’s what the self-proclaimed bean counter sitting next to me at breakfast said, when I asked about the corporations with which he was working.  They are businesses that have grown quickly but find themselves in financial trouble.  Apparently, most of them have no way of gauging how fast they are going, no indicator for when they are starting to over-heat, and no gauge that tells them how much gas is left in the tank.

In college, I drove a blue station wagon whose gauges didn’t work.  I never knew how much gas was in the tank, how fast I was going or when the engine was overheating.  The good news is half of the time it didn’t start, so those things weren’t important.  The bad news is fifty percent of the time I was driving down the road blind.  As a result, walking to the nearest gas station with a gas can in tow became common.    

How do you know when you’re going too fast or not fast enough?  What signals do you get when it’s time to re-fuel?  When do you know things are dangerously close to overheating?

Just like the corporations this CPA works with, we all need a dashboard that gauges our pace, the state of our upkeep and our need for fuel.  There are physical, emotional and behavioral signs that can serve as indicators for speed, maintenance, and fuel.  Shortness of breath, feeling anxious, and continually arriving late announce that it’s time to slow down.  Tension in your muscles, feeling constantly overwhelmed, daily putting out “fires” imply that it’s time for some maintenance. Constant fatigue, feeling emotionally depleted, and having a short fuse signal the need for fuel.  

Some time yesterday, I remember thinking I was low on gas.  This morning on my way to my first appointment, the light that indicates I need gas came on.  There is a gauge that shows me I need gas.  When I ignore it, the light flashes.  I saw the light but hadn't given myself enough time to stop to fill up.  As I was driving down the road, talking on the phone a bell chimed a number of times.  I knew my navigation system was set to silent -- I was surprised that it was chiming at me.  Finally, it dawned on me that was the third warning signal from my dash, attempting to emphasize how desperately I needed gas.  Ignoring the dashboard doesn’t keep us from breaking down on the side of the highway. 

Install your own dashboard and then pay attention to it!  It helps ensure that you will actual get where you are wanting to go.  

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Run Your Own Race

Shelly signed up for a 50-mile race through the woods.  The night before the race it rained. The course was muddy — the type of mud that takes your shoe off.  Maneuvering through the clay mixture on the hills required hanging on to the trees for the climb. After the slippery climb she was all smiles — loving it. Shelly misread a directional sign and repeated the first part of the course, adding 4 miles.  She worked hard at not dwelling on that mistake.  Many of the runners where on their second loop while she was still working on her first one.

She started to get discouraged, seeing no progress and feeling like she’d been on loop number one forever.  After the second aid station, she began to feel nauseous and dizzy.  The last drink she swallowed wasn’t agreeing with her.  As she neared the end of the first loop, the crowd was already thinning out.  She had two more 16.6 mile loops and that sounded impossible.  Maybe this wasn’t her race — perhaps the best plan was to drop out.  

After the first loop, she refueled, changed her socks and started running agin.  At the first aid station, she was pleased with her decision to continue.  She had her second wind.  In the next section of the course, she fell apart again.  Finally, she’d made it to the last loop.  The first half of that loop went well.  By the second aid station, her body ached, feet ached, mental strength waned with 8 miles still to go.  By the time she arrived at the final aid station, she was nearing the cutoff time of 16 hours.  She never planned on needing that much time.  The final four miles, a friend walked in front of her and one behind her in an effort to get her to walk faster.  There was no more running.

A few hundred yards to the finish she managed to run.  She ran in with only 8 seconds to spare.  She was dead last and it felt awesome. 

Don’t compare your race to anyone else’s, run your own race!

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Think Big, Start Small

A passionate crowd of well-wishers gathered outside a farmhouse in Maryland in September 1884.  They had come to approve the nomination of the most recently announced candidate in the presidential race of 1884.  The nominee, an attorney, was smart, well spoken and media savvy.  Belva Lockwood was the first woman to run a full campaign for the office of president.  

Widowed at the age of 22, with a young daughter to care for, she fought social convention to become one of the very few women in the country with a college degree. She secretly dreamed of a life in law or politics.  In 1866, she moved to DC as a teacher, with an eye on Capitol Hill politics.  Pursuing her dreams, she applied for admission to several law schools but was repeatedly denied.  Five years later, St. Louis’ Washington University law program began to admit women.  Lockwood and her fellow female classmates were hassled by male student and placed in segregated classrooms.  Ultimately, Belva had to petition Ulysses S. Grant, president of the school, for her degree.

Now running a one-woman law firm in the capital, she was refused admission to the US Court of Claims.  After a five-year fight to get qualified women attorneys the privilege of practicing in federal courts, she became the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court in 1880.  With this kind of history and vocally outspoken disposition, Lockwood was a fairly well known figure.  But it was her decision to run for the highest political office in the land that made her famous.  Washington newspapers reported her kick-off rally in Maryland and her quotable quip, “I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.” She understood the irony of a voteless woman running for the presidency but recognized the nomination as a way to awaken the country to the issue of women’s rights and the need for reform.  

Bold action and the pursuit of the things she valued shaped Lockwood’s life. Mel Robbins has encouraged all of us with the 5 Second Rule — if you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.  Just yesterday, I had a fellow coach say to me, “Do something you are afraid of this week!”  It was his way of challenging me to be bold.  This week practice physically moving, taking action within 5 seconds of an idea coming in your head.  I’d love to know if it helped you be bold. 

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Laugh all You Want: Hatchbacks are Memorable

Family vacations are the stuff of which memories are made.  When I was twelve, we went on one memorable vacation.  I have one sister — there were only four of us in a two door hatchback driving from Texas to Pennsylvania.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.  It’s important to note that my sister and I have not grown one inch in height since the sixth grade.  

Two-door cars basically have a back seat for people with no legs, aka young children under three feet tall.  Hatchbacks, if you are unfamiliar with the term, don’t have trunks.  The back window lifts up and you load a very small space, the size of a kitchen sink, with luggage.  Technically luggage was too bulky to fit in that space, so we packed in bags— gym bags, duffel bags, book bags, grocery bags.  You name it.  To use the space well, we also took random items and filled any empty holes. When we unloaded the trunk, and I use that term "trunk" loosely, someone’s tennis shoes came out and then a hair dryer, followed by a rolled up pair of pajama pants, etc.  Then 423 assorted bags started flying out.  At a fancy hotel in Atlanta, we unloaded while the valet held our keys (a fat lot of good those were going to do him) and the bell hop stood with his jaw gaping open and eyes bugging out as we loaded his luggage cart with 423 motley bags and 14 haphazard items.  He would never roll it to the room with out a catastrophic avalanche.  My sister and I were mortified.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.   Just to be clear, we had a larger family car at home but the gas mileage was so much better in this car.  After all, gas was 62 cents a gallon.

Knowing this would be a tight fit with four full grown bodies with no places for legs and things stuffed everywhere because it didn’t all fit in the kitchen sink sized trunk, my mother — who is always full of good ideas — devised a plan to ease our travel angst.  Stop every two hours, get out and stretch our legs, then rotate seats.  If you were behind the driver you moved to the front passenger seat, the front passenger moved to the seat directly behind them, etc.  Dad always stayed in the driver’s seat.  I’ve neglected to mention to you that I grew up in Corpus Christi.  My mom fondly refers to it as the end of the earth.  Pennsylvania is 18,000 miles from Corpus Christi.  No matter what way you slice it, this was going to take 27 hours of driving.  If you limit these “life-saving stops” to 15 minutes each, and it’s not likely that you will, you’ve just added three and a half hours to the trip.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.

The little hatchback, let’s call him DeVille, developed an issue.  He refused to start his engine by a simple turn of the key.  However, he would gladly rev it up if we gave him a running start.  Every two hours on this God-forbidden journey that would never end, I would get at the back of DeVille and push, my dad stood with the driver’s door open, one hand on the wheel and one beside the windshield ready for a jog, as my mom from the passenger seat cranked the key.  Every two hours, so that we could travel without angst, mind you.  The reason you hear nothing of my sister’s designated spot in this ordeal is because she was in the back seat doubled over in pain dealing with menstrual cramps — or so she said.  And this is not even the painful part of this story.  

Now that DeVille is rolling, Dad is jumping into the driver seat and I am running along side a moving vehicle that none of us want to stop for fear it might die.  Some how I have to jump in the back seat of a two door where the driver is already seated — that’s not even humanly possible because the driver seat while occupied leaves no access to the back seat.  Once I wrangle my body into DeVille — God rest his soul — Dad’s practically on the highway. And guess what?

We still need to rotate seats, so that our travel experience won’t be full of angst! Everyone is now seated in the appropriate restful place and we have exactly 84 minutes before we do it all again.  Oh DeVille, we made some memories that summer!

Sometimes our well thought out plans are no longer accomplishing the purpose but we continue to execute them.  We had some serious angst on that trip that could have been eliminated by adjusting the plan.  Do you need to flex a little in your current plan? Consider hiring a coach to help you re-think your strategies. 

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Just Recieve IT

For Christmas, my brother-in-law had a clown hand-made by a local toy maker for my 7 month old. It was spectacular — colorful, soft, sweet, attractive. 26 years later, we still have the clown.  It was a marvelous and gracious gift.  My precious baby played with, wait for it, the box.  I kept putting the delightful clown in front of him and he kept pushing it aside to play with the boring cardboard box.  I had the clown kiss him on each cheek, still he played with the box.  I knew then we would have to practice this gift receiving thing in the future.  After all, that's what my mom did with me -- made me practice receiving gifts.  (But that's a story for another day.)

You can imagine my anxiety when the gift giving started at Christmas two years later. (He wasn't really old enough to start practicing.)  He ripped open a specially wrapped box and flung the top off, I could see from across the room -- oh my dear God in Heaven, it's SOCKS.  His grandmother, my mother, had given this two year old that preferred cardboard over a bright, playful, exceptionally designed toy—  SOCKS.  Cringing at what would happen next, I started to melt into the corner. As I did, he let out a squeal of delight similar to what a 24 year old would sound like when given the keys to a Ferrari. (I’m just imagining — I’ve never actually heard that.)  Apparently, each pair of socks sported a different dinosaur.  OH! He loved dinosaurs! The entire room full of extended family, mostly adults, was laughing, clapping, smiling over this two year old's reaction to SOCKS.  Everyone, except for my aunt.  Overwhelmed by his enthusiasm, she sat quietly on the couch crying — over SOCKS.  The point: A gift well received is enjoyed by everyone.

Today I want to encourage you to receive your gift well — your style, your raw talent, your education, your position, your strengths, your abilities, your desire to impact the world for good.  When you receive your gift well, everyone in the room will delight in it also. 

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What'd You Say?

A women checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot.  WHAT?  Apparently, 98,000 hospital deaths each year stem from human error. Partly because health care professionals are afraid to speak their mind. Every industry and organization and family has this problem.  In the case of the woman with a missing foot, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but they said nothing.  Dialog is a necessity!

Everybody benefits from free flowing dialog.  When opinions vary, emotions run hot and the stakes are high, it’s easy to cut off the lines of communication.  Our brains are hard-wired to fight or flee.  This is an automatic response that doesn’t require any processing time.  When you step off a curb and realize an 18-wheeler is barreling down the street, you automatically jump back onto the side walk. Or when someone grabs your purse, you immediately fight back. This hard-wiring is a life saver. Unfortunately, when our emotions start to crank up, our brains start to shut down.  

The best way to keep our brain engaged is to step out of the content of the conversation and ask ourselves what we really want.  What do I really want for myself here?  What do I want for the other person?  What do I want for this relationship?  If I keep my focus on what’s being said, I might lose sight of where I genuinely want to end up after this conversation.  Labeling people or ideas, controlling the direction of the decisions, being sarcastic, or sugarcoating our responses, immediately cuts off any free flow of dialog. As soon as the conversation becomes about defending dignity, everyone loses.  

When everyone feels safe, we can talk about almost anything. Restoring safety may involve slowing things down, making apologies, reassuring the other person of what we don’t want and what we do want.  “I really don’t want you to feel cut off here.  I absolutely want to hear what you have to say.”  “I don’t want you to think I have a separate agenda.  I really do want to move forward together.” Recognizing that our mutual purpose or respect is at risk can help us stop and reconnect.

The way we handle any exchange with the people around us, impacts how they will interact with us in the future. What would it take for us to not cut off the foot, when what’s really needed is a tonsillectomy?   

 

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Let It Go

When I was first learning to water ski (don’t assume by that first phrase that I actually water ski), I had the hardest time remembering to let go of the rope after I’d fallen.  You see the rope is what kept me moving forward, upright on the water, connected to the boat.  When I lost my balance and didn’t let go of the rope, it became the thing that drug me head first through the wake of the boat almost drowning me along the way.  Everyone on the boat would scream at me to let go of the rope but my mind had trouble understanding the very thing that was to my advantage in the beginning was now trying to kill me.

Letting go is unbelievably difficult because often times we are having to let go of things that appeared to sustain us — keep us upright and moving forward.  Neuroscience explains that our brain motivates us to prevent harm and/or relieve anxiety and we see letting go as harmful or full of anxiety — we are hardwired to hang on.  This means that letting go takes some savvy, intentional steps.    

One primary step is to confront our compelling, distorted thoughts that make holding on appear reasonable and right. We entertain magical thinking ("If I give him more time, his destructive behavior will stop”), delusions ("I must keep gathering this evidence. Somehow, I can be proven right if I stick with it"), and sheer errors of logic (“Even though I haven’t needed this for a decade, someday I might. So I have to hold on to it"). Each thought pattern is a cunning argument against letting go. Each needs to be challenged and rewritten so that we can stop being dragged behind the boat.

As soon as we let go of the rope behind a ski boat, we can just float in the water.  It’s so relaxing and enjoyable to be buoyed by the lake rather than beaten by it.  Letting go ushers in peace.

What will the long-term consequences be in your life if you do not let go? What is one small step you can take today to start letting go?

 

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Take out the Garbage

He stumbled into his kitchen in the middle of the night for a glass of water.  When he flipped the light switch, a little critter stood up on his back legs and stared right at him before he scampered behind the stove.  Startled out of his sleepy walk, he went after the little rat.  As he carefully pulled the stove out, his mind begin to process the situation. What if this tiny mouse attacks him? How will he protect himself? Armed with the meat fork, he continued his hunt.

When my son called to tell me about his middle of the night shenanigans, I belly laughed at the thought of him holding a meat fork as a weapon against a mouse.  For those of you who need a conclusion to the story — all is well.  The holes have been plugged and the mice have been sent to heaven or wherever they go. I chided my son by telling him the word was out in the mice community, his place was an easy dinner stop. He assured me there was absolutely no truth to that, anymore.  The next time I visited him, you could eat off the floor in his apartment — not a dirty dish, not an overflowing trash can, not a crumb on the floor.

After re-telling the story a dozen times just for the laugh, I had a revelation — get rid of the garbage and the rats will leave.  Where is the garbage in your own life or mind?  Where do you need to do a little clean up or clean out to eliminate the pests?  Where do you feel under attack, when the reality is you just need to close up some holes and sweep the floor?

Many of us find ourselves in the midst of a constant stream of negativity, judgement, criticism, blaming and complaining.  Sometimes it’s the company we keep.  Other times it’s our inner critic. Either way, it’s time to take out the garbage, so that the rats will leave.  

If you need some extra support with your own mental shenanigans, you can find me at www.lifebydesign.guru.  

 

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Accolades for Dad

I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone else is doing this week — priase Dad.  The first thing you need to know about my dad is he taught me not to do what everyone else is doing.  With one exception (today), I’ve been able to see the value and attempt to adhere to that lesson.  What he wanted was for me to not make knee-jerk decisions, to move through the moment calmly and to think before I acted and especially before I spoke.  He taught me this not with words but by his own actions.  He can disagree with you but be calm about it.  He can encourage you to change your mind without degrading you.  He can go a different direction from you but still support you.   

I recently met a CEO of a large institution.  It took less than an hour with him to recognize his marvelous capacity for leadership.  When I mentioned him to my dad, my dad explained that this CEO thirty years earlier was his state representative. My dad and the representative did not see eye to eye on a particular issue.  Dad felt passionate about the issue and visited the representative often. The day before the congressional vote, Dad drove from Corpus Christi to Austin for one last effort to influence his public official.  As he left the Capitol that day unsuccessful, he assured this young, green representative that they would remain friends.  The representative looked at him in shock explaining that my dad’s counterparts did not make the same assurances.  

Out of curiosity, I emailed the CEO’s assistant retelling this story to confirm to my new powerful leader friend that my dad never forgot him.  This young, green politician now a thoughtful, influential, intentional leader remembered my dad clearly and said, “I still consider him my pastor.”  After thirty years, he still remembered a man who respected and honored him in spite of his disagreement and felt well cared for by him.

The only time I really need this valuable lesson my dad taught me — don’t do what everyone else is doing, be calm and thoughtful, show honor and respect even when you disagree — is when I’m with people.  The days I’ve lived on a deserted island, I don’t have to practice this at all.

One tip that might be helpful as we manage ourselves: breathe.  Our brain demands a full 20 percent of our body’s oxygen supply.  Next time you are in a stressful situation, focus on taking slow deep breaths.  Another tip: sleep on it.  Time brings clarity and perspective to the thousands of thoughts that go swimming through our head. One last tip: take control of what we’re telling ourselves.  Turn “I always” or “I never” into “just this time” or “sometimes.” When we stop beating ourselves up, we’ll stop making our problems bigger than they really are.  Replace judgmental statements like “I’m an idiot” with factual ones like “I made a mistake.” Thoughts that attach a permanent label to you leave no room for improvement.  

What tips to you have for not making knee-jerk decisions?

 

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When All is Lost

When it all seems lost, is it really over?  

Another spring training workout in 2016. Ninety-eight baseball players dressed in identical Texas Ranger warm-ups, stretching their backs, cover the field.  Danny’s son had always been easy to find with his 98 mph fastball and a fleet of fast cars.  Now he’s been assigned to Auxiliary Field Six with a bunch of 18 year old rookies and career minor leaguers.  The Ranger’s star players have left the field; the security guards are headed home; the fans have put away their autograph books —all that’s left is the minor league pitchers grinding it out.  

Danny can’t find his son on the field.  This is particularly concerning because Danny is contractually obligated to keep on eye on his son, who just turned 30.  He chauffeurs him to every event, lives with him in the hotel room, monitors his curfew, and takes him to 12-step meetings.  Those are just a few of the conditions of his son’s return to professional baseball — his last chance to redeem a decade of blown opportunities that made him perhaps the biggest disappointment in the history of the Major League Baseball draft.

The last time his son went missing from spring training was four years earlier.  He’d been clean and sober for several months when his roommate let him borrow his car to go home.  The house was only half a mile from the field.  What could go wrong? Forty miles later, he was buying beer at a gas station for one final bender.  Next he was at a liquor store, followed by a strip club.  Finally back behind the wheel and blacked out, speeding toward the wreck that so many in his life had long anticipated and dreaded.  His vehicle careened into a 72-year-old motorcyclist, knocking the man off his bike, driving over his head and leaving him in critical condition.  A few miles later the police catch up with him and charge him with three felonies.  He was sentenced to 51 months in prison.  

When he was released from the Pen he took a job for $8 an hour at Golden Corral.  He rode three miles from his halfway house to the Golden Corral on a donated bicycle, worked the morning shift in the bakery, ate at the buffet, pitched to a friend in the parking lot in the afternoon. That’s where a Ranger’s employee rediscovered him, with a department of corrections GPS tracking device locked to his ankle, throwing 95 mph fast balls.

Most of his time in prison he spent thinking of the opportunities he’d wasted and the mess he’d made of his life.  In high school, he had a .450 batting average with 11 home runs and 35 runs batted in.  He threw 94 mph fastball with a solid curveball.  These stats rival major leaguers, not high schoolers.  He was considered one of the best players ever to come out of high school.  He was selected first overall in the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft.  Signed by the Padres with a 3.15 million dollar signing bonus at 18 years old.  

His professional career began with his suspension before he ever took the field, for his role in a fight outside an Arizona bar.  After being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were well aware of his behavioral problems, he threw a baseball at a woman’s head at a local party.  The Blue Jays released him the next day.  It would take a year before he signed a contract with any team, and then only a minor league team.  Two years in the minors and he was headed to prison.  

After a brief panic, Danny finds his son on the field, with a wave and a huge sigh of relief,  Danny thinks to himself, “He looks healthy and stable today.”

Spring 2017, after owning his alcoholism, seeking forgiveness from his victim, taking full responsibility for his action, choosing to give back to his community, committing to a clear plan for change, and repeatedly expressing his gratefulness, Matt Bush steps on the mound as the Texas Ranger's closer.

It doesn’t have to be over, just because it looks like it is.

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Small Shifts toward Wholeness

Our Sundays, our weekends, our night’s off, our holy days are lost.  Our bosses, co-workers, parents, kids, neighbors can find us at any time — day or night.  More and more we feel like we’re permanently on call. With the increased speed of our life, we pull into marked off lanes, pick up paper bags and begin to ingest fat, calories, sodium, starch. We call it food, but it has little to no nutrition. Because we have no space in our lives, we express our emotions poorly, with no real understanding about what we feel. Surrounded by this fast pace world, we often confuse wellness with an absence of pain.  Wellness is something far greater, far more exhilarating.  Wellness is a constant dance of pushing past previous limits and breaking new ground.  Wellness begins with paying attention to the little stuff — how we eat, how we listen to and take care of our body, how we process our feelings and contribute to the larger society.  

Wellness isn’t about deprivation or, on the other end, perfection — it is about pointing ourselves in the direction of growth and taking small steps to support that shift. Whether you want to start drinking more water, release pent up emotion, or spend more time sitting quietly, consider using these four steps to move in that direction.

1)  Digest information
2)  Decide on a destination
3)  Design a plan
4)  Do something

For about a decade, I drank at least sixty-four ounces of Dr Pepper a day. I knew it was not fueling my mind, body or spirit.  I was a full on addict and it was socially acceptable. I began to seek information — just listening and learning.  What was in soda? How did that much sugar impact my organs?  What would the long term result of that be?  As I ingested the information about Dr Pepper undermining my health, I kept sucking down that refreshing taste of Dr Pepper.  The education, the facts, the understanding was settling into my mind — somewhere.  I decided I needed to successfully stop drinking DP. My intention, my goal, my target, my destination was improved health. I’d tried many times before to stop the Dr Pepper habit, which meant I knew what wasn’t going to work — recruiting my best friends as accountability partners.  They just started showing up with iced down Dr Peppers for me when I’d asked them to help me stop.  Declaring out loud every morning that I was no longer going to drink the stuff, only to find it in my hand by 10:30 AM.  Not buying it at the grocery store.  There’s a drive through every mile where friendly people are happy to pour me a DP.  Obviously, it was time to try something different.

I partnered with an alternative medicine professional who could tell me about my own body and help me design a plan. I purposely did not tell her that I was a Dr Pepper addict. At my first visit, she explained that my liver, bladder, hormones, adrenal glands, thyroid were all in trouble, not to mention my alkaline balance. All of this before I turned 50. I started on a new vitamin regiment and introduced more lemon, yogurt, cinnamon, leafy greens and broccoli to my diet. Baby steps. I was taking baby steps toward health while still enjoying refreshing Dr Pepper every day.  At some point, I started on a lemon juice concoction for a couple of weeks as a detox.  While I was drinking that lemon juice recipe, Dr Pepper stopped tasting good.  Having been off it for two weeks, I never picked it up again.  Something about my wellness was shifting in my body and that impacted my mind (where at least part of the addiction exists).  That was over two and a half years ago.  After a decade of addiction, I’m still Dr. Pepper-free. 

The more we adjust or shift — even in tiny ways — the more we can look forward to sweeping changes showing up in our lives.  Cut one thing out of our diet, add 5 minutes of silence to our day, turn our attention for a moment toward kindness and before we know it we are creating a new world for ourselves. 

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On the Ranch

My mother grew up on one of the largest cattle ranches in Kansas.  She could rope a calf, run a barrel race, move a herd of cattle, drive a tractor and gather eggs all before she rode her favorite horse to school.  In all seriousness, she did do all those things — maybe not all before school.  

I grew up in Corpus Christi.  I could read a book, walk two blocks, load a backpack and eat an egg before arriving at school.  Yes, I could; that is all true — a marvel, but true.

Back on the ranch, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all cowboys, business men, veterinarians, and cow wranglers . . . all in a days work.  Every summer my sister and I would visit for several weeks.  Since it was a working ranch we became part of the crew, right alongside the hired hands.  How many of you know city slickers do not make good cowboys?  We would climb on horses, ride out to the pasture, gather up a herd and drive them back to the corral.  Typically with lots of people yelling instructions at us as we moved along.  We were the world’s worst cattle ranching hands!  But we loved it.  

As far back as I can remember Grandpa would pile four to six granddaughters into the cab of the pickup truck and let us drive — even before we could reach the pedals.  He would work the clutch and accelerator, the granddaughter in the middle shifted the gears and the granddaughter on his lap steered the wheel.  Each cousin would take their turn — half of them younger than I.  All of them drove tractors at the age of 6.  They absolutely dreaded my turn.  But no one dreaded it more than I.  Grandpa would put me in his lap and say “Take us home, Michele” and I would promptly put us in the ditch.  E - V - E - R - Y - T - I - M - E.  To which Grandpa would say, “You got her in here, you take her out.” It was always a long, hair-raising ordeal that kept my cousins talking for years.  

One summer the crew needed to round up the cattle in the pasture a good distance from the barn area and drive them into the loading area.  The horses were saddled, loaded in the largest horse trailer on the ranch — 8 horses — that’s one long trailer.  Everyone piled into the truck pulling the trailer and off we went.  One by one the horses were led out of the trailer and Grandpa would announce: Bryant, Bear's yours.  Bryant would climb onto the big black horse.  Nanette, Socks is yours.  And the announcements continued.  Seven horses out of the trailer with riders on them trotting through the pasture.  Grandpa lead the last horse out of the trailer, put his foot in the stirrup, swung his leg over the saddle and with a twinkle in his eye tossed something to me.  As he began to ride off, he hollered, “Take her home, Michele.

A R E   YOU   K I D D I N G   ME?

I’m 14 years old; have no driving experience except for a couple of weeks each summer at the ranch.  I’ve never driven anything, much less anything with a 27 foot trailer that’s 7 feet wide, on a gravel road that’s not much wider.  Add to that, I don’t know where I am or which way the house is.  I couldn’t make it back to the barn if my life depended on it.  I’m holding the keys with tears in my eyes as I watch eight backsides disappear over the rim.  

There is no reason to believe that I will get out of this alive.  In fact, my initial idea is to sit in the truck until they get back to the house with the cattle in six hours and discover I’m not there.  Surely, they’ll send someone.  

After that thought leaves me feeling hungry, I take a deep breath, put my hands on the steering wheel and start to lean my forehead against it for a good, long cry — then it dawns on me I have a secret weapon. GRANDMA!  Grandma is the kindest, most gentle women on the planet.  She knows absolutely everything about cattle ranching.  She can ride a horse, rope a calf, wheel and deal with the buyer, grow the vegetables and fry ‘em up in a pan. All I need right now is Grandma.

I can’t drive, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag, but I know how to use a CB radio.  “Rawhide one,  this is Rawhide 5, come in?"  And then it happened, I heard Grandma's voice coming through the static on the CB.  “This is Rawhide one. Go ahead, Rawhide five.”  Words spilled out of my mouth like they were on fire, “Grandma, Grandpa and the others left with all the horses. Grandpa gave me the keys. I’m supposed to bring the trailer home.  Grandma what am I going to do?”

Grandma said calmly and confidently, “I’ll help you.” And she began to instruct me about where to put the key, which foot to put on which pedal, what gear to shift into and which direction to move in.  The truck and trailer lurched forward and I was off and moving with a $50,000 worth of equipment dependent on my abilities.  At every corner, I described the landscape and Grandma told me where to turn, how to line up the tires so that I wouldn’t lose the trailer in the ditch.  When a fellow rancher was coming toward me on the road.  I said desperately into the CB, “Grandma, there’s a pickup truck coming!”  She calmly said, “Move as far as you can to the side and stop.  He’ll go around.”  How likely is it he was hearing the entire conversation on the radio?  She probably sent him, for all I know.  

A full hour and a half later, with all of ten miles behind me and the truck and trailer fully in tack, I pulled into the drive.  Complete relief rushed over me; I jumped out of the truck and ran to the house, wrapped Grandma up in a big hug.  That’s the day I believed.  I believed in myself.  I decided I could do it — whatever “it” is.  

It turns out you’re the only one standing in your way!

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Don't Quit

After 13 years, Tawny O’Dell had written six unpublished novels and collected 300 rejection letters.  She jokes that her epitaph should read, “Here lies Tawny O’Dell.  Just not right for us.”  Finally, her first novel was published and receiving great reviews.  

A month later, O’Dell was fixing dinner while moderating a debate between her kiddos about who the dog liked best when her phone rang.  Answering the phone was not a top priority, she almost didn’t.  The voice on the other end said, “Hi, Tawny.  This is Oprah Winfrey.”  After accusing Oprah of being an impersonator and a poor one at that, she finally realized Oprah had a book club and Tawny was an author and this could really be happening.

O’Dell would say that Norman Vincent Peale was right, "It’s always too soon to quit!"  Thirteen years is a long time to wait to be published.  Because she didn't quit, she made it as a best selling novelist.  

Whatever you are pushing toward — a business, a project, a job, a movement, a new life — don’t quit.  

I have a friend who is a triathlete, at mile 60 of a 100 mile bike ride she wanted to quit.  She was done.  It was over.  The hardest part, according to her, is not the physical preparation but the mental preparation.  At mile 60, she decided to go 10 more miles.  Then at mile 70, she decided to go 10 more miles. The best way for her to negotiate past the desire to quit was to break down the huge task into small goals.  She did quit that day but not until she got to mile 100. Persistence is the most common quality among people who have achieved something of value. They simply refuse to give up.  In refusing to give up, we learn new lessons, experience new growth and arrive at difficult decisions.  

“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed.  They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” ~ B.C. Forbes

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Powered by Purpose

Last week, I attended Leadercast.  The theme of the day was “Powered by Purpose.” Our first speaker articulated the definition of purpose as the reason for which something exists or is accomplished.  Andy Stanley went on to explain that purpose is the means to an end.  He emphasized that people want to be the "something" or the "end." No one wants to be the reason or the means.  The starting point for purpose is not “Why am I here?”  Instead it it is, “Who am I here for?” Stanley pointed out that purpose is always formed across the border from “What’s in it for me?”

 

Stanley reminded us of CVS Pharmacy’s decision in 2014 to stop selling tobacco products.  CVS has always stated that their purpose is helping people on their path to better health.  The CEO of CVS said, “Simply put, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”  The decision cost them billions of dollars. But they understood that purpose is a path to meaning.

Cheryl Bachelor in Dare to Serve said, “The point of purpose is to determine how you will serve others.  If you don’t plan to serve, you don’t need a purpose.”

Who are you here for?

 

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Velcro your Tools Down

She was born on a farm in Iowa in 1960.  Her anticipated life course would be to marry a farmer and spend the rest of her life on the farm.  Instead, at the age of 57, she has spent more time off the planet than any other American.  Every 90 minutes, she circles the earth traveling at 17,500 miles an hour.  Yes, she still uses her farming skills to grow cabbage in space.  

Astronaut Peggy Whitson started working at NASA in the 80’s as a researcher who supported space missions.  In 1992, she became the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program.  Four years later, she was selected as an astronaut and took her first trip to the International Space Station in 2002. Last week, obscure farm girl to globally known biochemist, Peggy Whitson broke the NASA record of 534 days in orbit.  Upon her return to earth in September, she will have been in space for more than 650 days.

In her virtual interview with CNN, she explained that the challenge of living in zero gravity is remembering to velcro everything down.  Keeping track of your tools is not simple.  If you lay them down, they will float away.  She is comfortable working with her body on the ceiling or on the wall — in any orientation.  It’s incredibly disorienting to be able to work in all those different positions.  As I watched the interview with Dr. Whitson, it struck me that her adaptation is exactly what we need right here on earth — velcro our tools down so that they don’t float away and keep our eye on which way is up.  

Many times we uncover really great tools, tips, routines that keep us focused or motivated or at peace but some how we quit using them — they just float away.  Or we hear about something that could be fantastic and forget to try it. Whitson velcros her tools to her cargo pants.  That may not work for us.  Let’s find a system that keeps valuable tools in sight -- a structured morning routine, a community that keeps us focused, an electronic notification that keeps the tools in front of us.

When our lives are fast pace, full of varied responsibilities like family, job, and volunteer work, it’s easy to get disoriented.  Everyone seems to need something from us.  No one appears to be satisfied.  And we have fully spent all of our energy.  At the end of the day, we can’t remember which way is up — why are we here and what keeps us moving forward.  Staying grounded (moments of silence, affirming yourself and others, practicing gratitude) is the only way to be flexible and comfortable in a number of different places.

Life lessons from Whitson: Velcro your tools down and pay attention to which way is up.

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At the End of the Road

Big Bend, I’ve always planned to go there. It’s something I dreamed of, thought about, considered but never made happen.  Last week, I arrived at the long anticipated Big Bend National Park. Before my departure to the desert, a friend of mine said, “Way to make things happen!” Dreaming, considering, thinking about things is not the same as making it happen. “It” only happens as a result of action.

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Even after a long drive and unloading at an airbnb in a nearby town, eighty miles separated us from the park. In the park, our winding road rose over two thousand feet above the desert floor. After an hour of driving through the park and a series of hairpin turns, we arrived at the trail head.  In life, even after it feels like you should be there, a long series of actions are still required in order to arrive. It’s easy to get discouraged by the long list of things that need to be done before we can even get started on something.  

I was giddy with excitement as we started down into the Chisos Basin. A wise choice to start on a trail that is going down, leaving the uphill climb for later.  The drive through the Chisos Basin is breathtaking, but walking it is an up close and personal experience unlike any other.  Seeing the lines and patterns on the erosion formed peaks and watching the critters scamper across the trail leaves you awestruck.  The trail down was taken at break-neck speed, all the time passing those coming back up.  Their faces red, breathing shallow and pace slowed to a crawl.  Still we persist.  After some weaving and climbing, we arrive at the Window. At first glance, it’s stunning.  Then you move a little closer and words escape you — only moans and groans pass through your lips. The views of the vista peaks cannot be captured in photo or words.  The realization that I’m standing in a place were less than .000002% of the world have stood this year, overwhelms me. It’s hair-raising and heart stopping to take the road less traveled.

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Once you get to the window, there is no alternative but to climb back out.  One women going up said “I’m a wimp!”  Another said, “It’s so hard.”  Some used trekking poles and others stopped often.  Certainly, I took a completely different pace on the way up, than I did on the way down.  In life even after “it” happens, there is hard work to be done.  To stay the course, it’s important to remember: this is worth it.  Making “it” happen wasn’t easy but so worth it. Going all the way to the end of the road can take you to a splendid place, few experience.

Let’s go make things happen!

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Fierce and Fearless

In 1967, women rarely participated in professional or competitive sports.  Kathrine Switzer was a student at Syracuse, where she trained with the men’s cross-country team.  The Syracuse coach told her women were too fragile to run long distances.  But if she could run the marathon distance in practice, he promised to take her to the Boston marathon.  

On the application she used her initials rather than her first name.  No woman had ever run in the Boston Marathon. About a mile into the race, the race director tried to throw her out. In an interview with CBS, she said she turned around and looked into the angriest face she’d ever seen. (A picture is worth a thousand words.) Her large, stout, football-playing boy friend who was running with her handled the director, while her coach hollered at her to keep running. As Helen Keller taught us, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

Switzer was brave and confident of her strength in 1967 and is still brave and confident today.  She ran the Boston Marathon this past Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of becoming the first women to officially complete the race.  Her original time was 4:20.  This week, at the age of 70, she ran it in 4:44.   

In 2013, Kathrine said, “When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying.  They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives.  They feel they can do anything.”  Switzer’s fearlessness has inspired many and continues to inspire.  She is the founder of 261 Fearless, a running club designed to empower women.  261 is the bib number she wore in 1967 and again in 2017.   She pioneered the way for women everywhere by demonstrating that women are not lacking endurance or stamina. 

Now it's our turn to be brave and confident, so that others can be inspired. No one is too fragile to run the race set before them.

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When Death Brings Life

This week remembers, enacts, and participates in the hope of the renewal of all creation, including our own.  Betrayal, trial, execution, death, burial, watching at the grave, and the disturbing or even terrifying surprise of resurrection meet us throughout this week we call Holy Week.  Jesus' death was required in order to bring us life. This principle of a required death bringing life can be found every where.  

For creativity to live, rigidity has to die.

For beauty to live, disregard has to die.

For bravery to live, gutlessness has to die.

For gratitude to live, bitterness has to die.

For community to live, blame has to die.

For faith to live, skepticism has to die.

For hope to live, hopelessness has to die.

For love to live, complacency has to die.

What else do you want to live? What has to die to give way to it? Add your own refrain in the comments below.

 

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Why Wait?

I crawled into Downtown Fort Worth at peak rush hour this morning.  With this crawl, came two options: dread or hope.   With the push of a button, I turned on a podcast, enjoyed the new ideas and perspective as I slowly wound through what appeared to be the entire population of Texas on Highway 287.  

Life is full of waiting — the type of waiting that makes you ache. Waiting for a fulfilling job.  Waiting for health to return. Waiting for reconciliation. Waiting. This kind of waiting causes us to question — our direction, our decisions, our capacity. My journal is full of pages over my lifetime of notes about waiting — waiting for resolve, waiting for answers, waiting for the next action step.  Learning to wait in these season with hope is not easy.  

Waiting in the line at Walmart and waiting for your college aged son to come home for the weekend are two completely different experiences. In the line at Walmart you notice every annoying little thing — how slow the person at the front of the line pulls their wallet out, how many unnecessary items the guy in front of you has in his basket, how chatty the clerk is with the boy refilling her plastic bag dispenser.  You tend to focus on what is in your way.  As you wait for the much anticipated return of a child, you busy yourself preparing, checking every detail, readying for all the fun, long conversation, and sweetness of the moment.  Your focus is on the things that bring you joy.  

One of the best things that comes out of waiting is the refining of our character.  When a two year old doesn’t get what they want when they want it, they throw themselves on the floor and have a temper tantrum.  (Or was that just my two year old?)  How do we respond when we don’t get what we want, when we want it? Waiting well means pursuing growth over immediacy.  It means refusing to do less than excellent work at your current job when your dream job is nowhere in sight.  It means expressing gratitude for what is in our grasp, rather than complaining about what is out of our grasp.  

As I was slowly snaking my way to downtown Fort Worth this morning, I could focus on the fact that I would eventually get there.  And with that hope in mind, use my extra thirty minutes on the road to improve myself.  Or I could choose to feel drudgery over crawling along the roadway with the masses.  Over the years, I've done both, probably more of the drudgery than the hope.  The choice isn’t easy but it is ours to make.

Let's not ask ourselves, "Why wait?" but instead, "How?"

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After the Storm

Spring in Texas is gorgeous.  The sunshine is warm and inviting.  The wild flowers are blooming in all the open fields and along the highways.  Spring in Texas is where we all want to be, except when the storms fire up.  Two nights ago we had a storm that dropped an inch of rain on us in no time, the winds blew at 85 mph and the hail littered the yard.  As we started the clean up the next morning it felt overwhelming.  A neighbor down the street had an entire tree down across the road.  A friend in an adjacent neighborhood had the tree in his front yard laying across the drive way.  Our next door neighbor had a tree land on their roof and knock the chimney down.  Our pergola was picked up off it’s supporting poles and reset on the roof.  Not to mention the random large limbs in the yard and the billions of broken twigs that covered streets, drives, grass and were plastered up against walls.  

                                    The house next door.

                                    The house next door.

After a storm, it’s hard to know where to start.  Everything seems so insurmountable that you feel like no matter what, you can’t make a difference.  No matter what you start on, there will still be so much to do that you’ll never overcome it all.  We’ve all experienced personal storms or moments in our life when we felt like that.  As I began what seemed like a puny effort to face the damage of the storm, I started to think about how my actions after a physical storm are really similar to the action that needs to be taken after personal storms.  

First, just get started. If the “bleeding has stopped,”  just get started.  Once you start picking up after the storm, you can adjust your course of action.  But the big first step is just get started.  So I walked out the garage door and started sweeping the drive way.  Probably not, the most urgent or essential but getting started helped me to assess what to do next, how to break down the big job into smaller ones, etc.  Personal storms can paralyze you.  The best way to recover is to get moving.

Start on something small and manageable so that the completion can give you encouragement and motivation.  The driveway seemed do-able to me.  I scooped up several bags of debris.  It was manageable and the progress was obvious.  It helped me see that I could get the front yard cleaned up also.  One small win, after a storm, propels you to the next win.  

Get help. I do not have the understanding or skill to fix the pergola.  The only step to take there — call the experts, starting with the insurance adjuster.  Sometimes during or after a storm, the best thing you can do is call the professionals — people with skills you do not have.

Walk away for a period.  After hours of work on the aftermath of a storm, taking a break gives you fresh wind to tackle the next thing and new perspective to see the progress that’s already been made.   The entire area was without electricity, so we drove 25 minutes away to have lunch. At lunch, we relaxed, enjoyed family, and rested from the work.  Upon our return, it looked totally do-able.  Just hours earlier, it was overwhelming but now it felt conquerable.  

Finally, give thanks.  After seventeen hours without electricity, an entire community began to express thanks.  Gratitude for what we do have and gratefulness for what we typically have and a genuine spirit of awe for the intangible things of life.  No matter where you are in the storm or after, choosing gratitude will adjust your own perspective and develop a spirit of hope.

 

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