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Ole!

At the age of seven, Patricia McCormick was full of life and curiosity. On a family vacation to Mexico City, she was enthralled with a bull fighter who lost his shoes in the mud but continue to fight. That was the moment she fell in love with bullfighting. Back home, her tattered blanket quickly became a cape as she danced in front of her mirror with the biggest bulls she could imagine. She could see the beady eyes of an angered bull charging toward her, so close she could feel it’s breath. She jerked her cape one direction and took her body the opposite direction. Every time the bull in her childhood bedroom would charge the blanket and the crowd would explode with a deafening roar. The time passed quickly as she spent her early childhood fighting the bulls in her imagination.

Patricia attended UT in Austin to study opera only to discover she lacked musical talent. She transferred to UT at El Paso to study art. In El Paso, she reconnected with bullfighting in the neighboring Mexican city of Juarez. Every fight was a thrill for her. She spent every waking hour watching the bull fighters, studying the bulls, reading about matadors, and practicing in her dorm room with her father’s World War I blanket as a cape.

McCormick chose a career as filled with drama, passion, and death as any of the operas she longed to sing — she became a matador, the first American bullfighter, not to mention the first women in a machismo-saturated Mexican bullring. Patricia premiered as a guest bullfighter in Juarez in 1951. Although the bull trampled her a couple of times during her first appearance, the crowd enjoyed her performance and the judges deemed it superior. Her first professional fight was four months later. When she realized her upcoming appearances would be broadcast, she reluctantly told her parents she had quit college to fight bulls. They were appalled and rushed to El Paso for a meeting with the college president. Her Mother was in tears, repeatedly saying to Patricia, “How could you?” McCormick with a manager and a contract for nine fights, responded, “You can’t beat that.”

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She received top billing in stadiums from Mexico to South America. She insisted on following the same rules as the men. Female bullfighters typically rode horses in the ring and faced smaller animals. McCormick spent the entire fight on her feet, standing her ground and pivoting when necessary. Thousands of fans went wild at the sight of her. She was an international phenomenon. Time, Sport Illustrated and Look magazine all wrote profiles on her. Sports Illustrated called her the greatest woman bullfighter who ever lived. The bullfighting critic Rafael Solana once called her, “the most courageous women I have ever seen.”

For more than a decade, she experienced the bellowing crowd, the stirring band music, dust in her nostrils, half-ton bulls charging a swirl of red cloth, horns low and deadly. One thousand times she faced a bull set on killing her and was gored six of those times. In 1954, while fighting the second bull that day McCormick faced away from the bull to bow to the applauding crowd, a traditional part of the performance. The bull charged. As she started to turn, the bull gored her from behind, impaled her on his horns, lifted her into the air, and then traversed the arena. Her mentor, Alejandor del Hierro jumped into the ring without the aid of a cape and pulled her off the horns. The gruesome stomach and pelvic wound caused a priest to administer last rites over her mangled body right there in the arena. A doctor wanted her transported to the United States so that she could die in her own country. The next few days, McCormick floated in and out of consciousness vowing she would fight again. After a six month recovery, she fought several more years before exiting the arena in the early 1960s, complaining that the bulls had become too small.

“She fights larger bulls than does any other woman. . . and she kills well,“ said Carlos Arruza, a renowned torero. “Her only defect is that she is a woman.” In the mid 20th century, the bullring, too, had a glass ceiling. She performed on the same bill as some of the arena’s most accomplished men, facing the largest bulls at dusty rings across Mexico and Venezuela, yet she never advanced from the apprentice rank. A sponsor was required to become a full fledged matador. No male matador would sponsor a woman.

Patricia, you have sponsored us — given us a platform to face down the things that charge us, inspired courage within us to become more than what was expected of us, and left us challenged to stand bravely on your shoulders. Thank you for leaving a legacy. You’ve cleared a path for tenacious, powerful, determined, resilient women to follow their design and leave their mark on the world.

What is charging you today? Get on your feet, stand your ground, and pivot when you need to. Ole!

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A Place you Frequent and Never want to Return

You can’t find it on the map, but I know you’ve been there. It’s a place called STUCK. A place where you feel distant from others. In fact, their accolades, encouragement, humor and suggestions just sound like noise. The elevation here is higher than you expected and yet not quite high enough. You can’t easily get down but you don’t really want to go up either. Stuck is not a place you meant to arrive. Much like the Hotel California, you just can’t seem to get checked out of Stuck. In an effort to leave, you retrace your steps. Going out the way you came in is no longer an option. The struggle against this place is so intense you entertain the idea of just putting out a few throw pillows and making it home.

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The most shocking thing about Stuck, it only exists in our minds. To move beyond Stuck, we have to adjust our thinking, our beliefs, and the verbiage that comes out of our mouths. If we want to leave Stuck, we’ll have to stop saying, “I can’t. . .” “I don’t know how. . .” “I’m not . . .” We also have to look for an alternative route. The one that brought us here won’t take us out. The tools, skills, strategies that brought us this far won’t take us any farther. We’ll have to chose a more painful track. The one that produces growth.

Growth is painful, change can be distasteful, discomfort is unpleasant but nothing is as agonizing as being stuck in a place we do not belong.

What temporary pain can you choose today that will bring long term pleasure in the future?

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I'm a Valentine

I’m a Valentine. I mean I was born on February 13th. That qualifies me as a Valentine, right? I’ve always loved pink and hearts. My birthday celebrations are typically associated with the great Day of Love. This year, after decades of Valentine birthday celebrations, I decided to research the history of Valentine’s Day. The bottom line: nobody really knows. What we do know is there were two or three saints named Valentine. Everything beyond that is legend. Each story a little more gory than the last. When I started reading about beating women with animal carcasses to assist with fertility, my research ended abruptly.

Why do I care about the history or alleged history of Valentine’s Day? The reason for my probing can be tied back to my fascination with love or what we call love.

I fell in love with my sons as infants and loved every stage of their growing up years. They are brilliant, generous, thoughtful and kind young men. I always believed I loved them well. When they arrived at adulthood my love for them was challenged. They began to live a life different than I expected. Believe things I didn’t believe. Walk down paths I had never walked. It’s so easy, fun, exhilarating to love people when they agree with you. My mother’s heart, this extravagant love I had poured out on precious babies, energetic little boys, talented teenagers, brilliant scholars and handsome young men hiccuped.

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For the first time ever, I was learning what love looked like — love with no conditions; love that doesn’t require you to look, act, think the way I thought you would or should. My capacity to love extravagantly was being stretched. One of the most clarifying days of my life was the day my cherished sons took a different road than I. The conditions I had placed on my love were exposed. I was launched into learning the absoluteness of loving extravagantly. This is what makes me a Valentine - something expressing praise and affection - not my birth date. Loving recklessly is the sweetest place from which to love and be loved.*

 

*Please understand that I am not advocating you recklessly pour out your devotion to someone who is physically, mentally, or emotionally abusing you. That is a place for radical boundaries!

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Don't Skip the Hard Stuff

I stood in front of a room full of people early Monday morning and apologized for something offensive that came out of my mouth a week earlier. The people in the room were gracious and kind. They knew my heart and chose not to take offense. My desire to make amends confirmed for them what they knew about me. All was well.

The truth is I could have skipped the humiliation of confessing to a crowd. Most of us would have bailed on the whole thing. After all, they were gracious, understanding, and not taking offense. The confession, apology, expression of gratitude for who they were seemed unnecessary. However, who they are does not change what I need to do. Sadly, this is not the first time I have apologized for action or behaviors that didn’t line up with who I really am. It is the first time I’ve recognized the larger impact of that confession. (When I started requiring my children to apologize to everyone who was present during their missteps, I had no choice but to do the same.)

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A day after my Monday morning confession, I ran into someone who was present at that meeting. He told me he probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to do what I did. Then he said something pivotal! “I learned so much by watching you do that. If I ever need to do something like that, I feel like I know how now.”

Sure, I could have skipped the whole thing and missed out on the growth and development that I personally gained. What I wouldn’t have realized is that everyone in the room would have missed out on personal growth. Being willing to be vulnerable, brave, and just grow out-loud, in-front-of others moves everyone in the room to new places of hope, understanding, and development.

Go ahead! Grow in front of others and watch them grow along side you. It turns out, confession is good for everyone’s soul!

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Facing Down the Big Decision

Decisions. Every day. A million decisions. When to get up? What to wear? What to have for breakfast? How to motivate the kids? How to schedule the day? Who to ask about the project? And the list goes on. Most of those decisions we make quickly and easily, almost automatically. Occasionally big decisions stop us in our tracks. We feel paralyzed to take the next step. Below are five things I’m learning to do in the face of big decisions.

Just do It

In that paralysis, it’s important to remember there is never just one answer. When we have multiple options, believing that one is better than the other may keep us stuck. On a menu, we can choose the salad, the soup, the sandwich — each are good options for different reasons. You cannot choose the wrong thing. (If there was only one way to do it, we’d all be dead by now, right?) If you are looking for a job, a new home, a tribe, nothing is un-do-able. This mentality of “what if it’s the wrong decision?” hangs us in a place where we make no decision. The only wrong decision is not making one at all. Follow Nike’s lead and just do it. The course can be adjusted as we go.

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Slow Down

In moments where the decision is large and looming a knee jerk decision is never our best decision. Slowing the process down, purposely taking some time to think, lends itself to better decisions. Taking the time needed to reflect on priorities, goals, values and allowing our minds to truly percolate can bring clarity. Just breathe.

Set a Time Limit

The other side of that coin is we can all get paralyzed by analyzing. Setting a time limit to move the processalong keeps us from sitting in the restaurant for two hours deciding what to order. The same principle works for big, tough decisions. Give yourself two weeks and then do it. Or take the last 15 minutes of a staff meeting and say we are going to make a decision in the next 15 minutes. Time limits can help us with the just do it strategy.

Be true to yourself

Advice can be found on every corner. All decisions large or small need to reflect your values. Everyone has an idea about what you need to be doing. Do not go against who you are at your core. That will always be a decision you regret. For me, if I’m really wrestling with something and can’t find an answer, it’s usually because what I’ve been told to do and who I am are at odds. Always err on the who I am side — I learned that the hard way.

It’s about being not doing

What you do isn’t as important as who you do it with. Digging ditches with a group of fun, trustworthy, kind people will always be more fulfilling than working your dream job with a group of mean-spirited, two-faced manipulative people. It’s not the doing, but the being that becomes most important in decision making.

Go ahead. Decide.


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Sometimes We Need an Invitation

An embossed invitation on linen paper arrives at your door. You’ve been invited! You’re boss invites you and the team to his house for a barbecue. You’ve been invited! A dear friend texts you inviting you to dinner and a movie. You’ve been invited! An invitation is precious. We feel seen, regarded, honored. To be invited is to be valued.

INVITE is my word for 2019. It feels like an odd word to adopt as a guidepost for the months ahead. The more time I spend learning about the word invite, the more confident I am that it’s my word. To invite requires awareness of the opportunity to summon someone into more. This word pushes me to recognize there is more and be willing to invite others to it.

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In my 20’s, I was invited to forgive. It was a life-shaping moment. Hate that had transformed my 28 year old self into a bitter old lady fell away. My circumstances did not change. I did. I was invited into something more by someone who was willing to invest, linger with me in my resistance and celebrate with me in my victories. I was invited!

At the age of 14 and again in my 30’s, I was invited to do something I was incapable of. The first was an invitation from my grandfather, the later from my boss. Both men believed in me and demonstrated it by giving me great responsibility. In the middle of fear, doubt, uncertainty, I accomplished what felt impossible. Without the invitation from these men, I never would have stepped into those responsibilities. I would have continued to believe I was incapable. I was invited!

A few years ago, I was invited to take a risk by a leading businessman. I am not a risk-taker. The known and comfortable is where I live. Risking something seems so risky! I prefer what is safe. Being invited into a place of discomfort created the opportunity for growth that I never would have seized. I was invited!

INVITE is my word for 2019. I will opt to invite everyone I can into places that will be empowering, encouraging, affirming. Because there is more. And sometimes we need an invitation.

What is your word for 2019?

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Giving the Perfect Gift to the King

I have a niece who is a perfect gift giver. Every time you open a gift from her or see someone else open a gift from her, you think, “Wow! that’s perfect!” It’s truly mind-blowing to watch someone give a perfect gift every single time.

I, on the other hand, am a very practical person. When I attend a baby shower, I bring diapers. That is a fabulous gift because no matter what happens next you will need diapers. When I arrive at a wedding, I bring a Target gift card. I see you rolling your eyes but I’m telling you this is a perfectly good gift. I have been known to give oranges at Christmas with a few nuts. You would eat oranges, if I gave them to you. But I’m not going to because I can sense your attitude right about now. I have two sons 27 and 29, it’s been 3 or 4 years since I’ve given them gifts because they can buy their own shaving cream. You can imagine how my perfect-gift-giving-niece feels about a pair of socks and a razor from me. My friends and family really prefer that I not bring a gift — my gifts say things to them that they just don’t want to hear.

This year I was looking at the piece of the Christmas story where the Magi bring gifts to the King (Matthew 2: 11)— Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Gold is precious, rare, valuable — a perfect gift for royalty. Frankincense, at that time, was an incense that was made and burned only in the Temple. It was set apart for the divine. (Now we know it to be incredibly useful for all kinds of healing.) Myrrh was used as a purifier for preparation, either for burial or queendom. (Four hundred years earlier, Esther spent 12 months using myrrh, in order to prepare for becoming the Queen.) Whichever way you use it, it points toward destiny.

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The Magi are giving us some instruction in their gift giving — to be a gift to the King, show up as gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold - Royalty

Many of us have been trained to think like a pauper. We assume the worst, believe we’re nothing, dwell on what we’re not. Royalty recognizes their authority, power, distinction and operates in it. Embrace royalty. Throw off the limitations we carry around with us that sound like, “There’s not enough time, resources, creativity, etc.” and embrace that we have access to the King of Kings. It will change how we see things. When our perspective shifts, everything shifts.

Frankincense - Chosen

Often our day is spent thinking about the raw deal we’ve been handed or the way in which we’ve been overlooked or how we don’t belong. We have been selected, picked, favored, settled on by the King of Kings. Understand we are chosen. When we begin to believe who we are (chosen), we start to show up differently (more fragrant with the capacity for healing).

Myrrh - Destined

Telling ourselves we are insignificant or believing others when they tell us that, leaves us feeling purposeless. Recognize we have a destiny. When we don’t have a problem knowing whose we are (the King’s Royal son or daughter), and who we are (the chosen, picked one), we can focus on making sure others catch the revelation of why they exist. “A man who understands his own destiny can draw it out of others,” Proverbs 20:5.

You are the gift to the King — a gift of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Merry Christmas!

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Peace in All Seasons

In the Christmas season, there is much talk about peace — messages like: Peace on Earth; World Peace; May Your Year be Filled with Peace can be seen on cards, social media, storefronts, TV specials and area businesses. And yet, it is the most hectic, stressful, emotional time of the year for many. I have a friend who says he is so happy when Christmas is over, so that his wife will relax. A little contradiction to the season’s message, isn’t it?

There is one thing in the world that I refuse to do — shopping. I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before I will go shopping. Which means, I go without. I wear clothes that have been in the closet for years. If I’m wearing something new, someone else bought it for me. If I absolutely have to purchase something, I buy it online. Should some catastrophe befall me and I find myself walking into a store, I walk straight to the item I need and straight out. There is no browsing, no handling, no curiosity. In and out. This means that you will never find me in a store in December because walking in and out is not really an option in this retail frenzy season. I went shopping yesterday. Many stores were involved. Peace could not be found in any of them and that’s an understatement.

We have this false idea that peace is tied to what is happening outside of ourselves. If that is the case, we are all doomed. Good news: if we will stubbornly focus our minds on a specific list of things, we will discover peace or more accurately preserve it within ourselves. (Side note: holiday shoppers have not perfected this practice.)

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Stubbornly focus our minds on:

  • What is accurate. Honest messages about yourself and others get crowded out by messages that are not accurate.

I’m not going to make it. This is stupid. I can’t believe they are such terrible people.

When we direct our minds toward accurate messages like:

I’m not perfect and this will be good, I just need to give it a little more thought.

This isn’t working out like I expected, what can I adjust here.

I’m not understanding them, I wonder where they are coming from.

Those messages alone shift everything and provide space for PEACE to grow.

  • What is worthy. Fostering honorable thoughts about your circumstances takes some intention. While holiday shopping, one thought could be:

These people are out of their minds!

Or we could focus on how everyone is looking for gifts to communicate that they care and that is definitely something we love. Worthy, honorable thoughts about what is happening around us bring PEACE to our own souls and possibly a few others.

  • What is gracious. Compassionate conversations with strangers and friends focus us on what we can learn about them. Wondering about the other person, their ideas, their ways, their experience (even if we have opposing ideas and experiences) pushes us toward PEACE.

  • What is the best. We have made a sport out of re-living our worst moments. They replay on repeat in our heads.

I can’t believe I said that, did that, lost it like that. Everyone thinks I’m a terrible . . . mom, boss, employee.

What is the absolute finest moment of our day? Let’s re-live that! Replay the choicest pieces of the day to preserve PEACE.

  • Things to Admire. Focusing our mind on things that are worth celebrating pulls us away from the all-too-easy trap of blaming, shaming, denouncing, and humiliating ourselves and others that is so prevalent in our culture. Training ourselves to look for things we admire and applaud (and verbalize them to others) will shift the experience for all of us to a more PEACEFUL place.

This list is only a part of a list that the Apostle Paul wrote out for us to keep our minds focused and peaceful. Many centuries later Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed, “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” This Christmas may peace reign in your heart and mind because you became intentional about where you focused.

Sit in the Pain

Pain makes me stir crazy! I have been in a great deal of physical pain the last two weeks. Every waking minute I focus on how to get out of the pain — get up and move around, the faster the better; sit down and be still, motionless, if possible; find medication; experiment with home remedies; adjust something in my routine. Pain is something we instantaneously want to get out of and we will work tirelessly to do just that. Any pain — all pain — emotional, mental, relational and physical.

In a couple of weeks, I have the rare opportunity of interviewing an artist who just released her first single. The message of the song is. . . wait for it . . . sit in the pain. WHAT?!? Who does that? Seriously. This song is all about her journey to get out of the pain. She discovered that it required her to take a moment to sit in the pain. I have never once in the last 10 days of my physical pain considered sitting in the pain. My only consideration was how to get out of it, as fast as possible. Of course, she is referring to spiritual and emotional pain. I’m learning that her message applies to all kinds of pain.

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Sitting in the pain ushers in some clarity. Clarity comes because when we sit with the pain the search gets refined — re-focused. Prior to sitting in the pain the search is focused on how to get out of it. When we sit in the pain, we are drawn to uncover the source of the pain. Armed with the source, our actions are better informed, more deliberate, less harry carry, completely intentional. When we sit in the pain, we refuse to bow to anxiety and fear. Instead we face them both. Courage rises. Anxiety and fear cannot linger in the presence of courage. When we sit in the pain, really look at it, truly contemplate it, breakthrough arrives.

Check out Whitley Bone’s new single, Clear. You can also find a video of her explaining the process and significance.

Go ahead, sit in your pain for a moment (not forever) and find clarity.

The Hardest Person to . . .

“I have participated in every bad decision I’ve ever made. I’ve talked myself out of exercising and into dessert. I’ve been present at every boring meeting I’ve ever led.” Andy Stanley said as he taught at Leadercast a couple of years ago. The topic: self-leadership. You are the hardest person to lead.

Three decisions are required in order to lead ourselves well. First, we must decide not to lie to ourselves, even when the truth makes us feel bad about ourselves. We consistently deceive ourselves, talking ourselves into something we know isn’t good for us, like over spending because the deal is so great, over indulging in order to celebrate, or fudging the truth for a “good reason.” The challenge is to ask ourselves out loud: “Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this . . . really?” Banging our shin on the coffee table in a dark room can be avoided with a simple flip of the switch. Telling ourselves the unfiltered truth is a huge key toward leading ourselves well.

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Second, decide to prioritize what we value most over what we want now. We live in the tension between the immediate and the ultimate. Immediate gratification is so satisfying, until tomorrow when we pay the price. We won’t be able to lead ourselves well until we understand our values. Once we’re clear on our values, choosing the ultimate rather than the immediate is a challenge worth taking.

The third decision Stanley discussed was not leading ourselves by ourselves. When we think back to the greatest regrets in our life, we were with people — people who supported our regrettable decision. Most of the time people are influencing everything we do from Facebook posts to doctor’s opinions. In order to lead ourselves where we want to go, we need to be surrounded by people who share common values with us, not just common interest. Finding a tribe that moves, almost carries us toward our goals (because it’s the same direction they are already going) is the absolute best way to lead ourselves well.

Mahatma Ghandi weighed in on the topic of self leadership when he said, “You must be the change you wish to see.”

Go change the world! Start with yourself.

Own Your Story

We are all writing our own story — living our autobiographies.

An author writing a novel starts with a rough idea, progresses to an outline of a larger story and then begins to flesh out each scene, each character, each event. After all the work and rework, writing and rearranging, the manuscript is sent to an editor. The editor marks up every chapter and sends it back for yet another re-write. A story evolves.

Each of us is writing our own story. The story line, the characters, the next scene — all of it is in our own hands. Often we are convinced that the preceding story line must dictate what comes next in our story. What we forget is: it’s our autobiography. We own it. What comes next is our decision.

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You’ve probably heard me say I woke up on my fiftieth birthday, homeless, jobless, and alone for the first time in 31 years and yet I was better than I should have been. Partly because I was re-framing the situation that could have been seen as devastating into an opportunity to push the re-start button, a re-birth with all the wisdom of 50 years.

When we reflect on the story that has already been written, it’s helpful to re-frame some of the moments of distress. Re-frame: to look at a situation in a different way — a way that causes you to feel energized. The day the car accident maimed your body does not have to be the day all was lost. It could be the day you uncovered how strong you are. The day the judge banged the gavel declaring the end of your three decade marriage does not have to be the day you died. It could be the day you discovered yourself. The day the company downsized does not have to be the day you lost your identity. It could be the day you gained new direction. Re-framing what we are seeing in the rear view mirror helps us adjust the story line and write the story we intended to write all along.

Zig Ziglar loved talking about mining for gold. He said, “While mining for gold, you are going to find a lot of dirt.” When we are mining for gold, we do not focus on the dirt, we keep an eye open for the glimmer of gold. Finding the gold in our own story, informs our next chapter.

Own your story — build your legacy. Write something worth plagiarizing!

Taking People on a Journey

In order to join her husband in the US, a friend of my relocated here a few years ago from Nigeria. After she’d been in the country a couple of months on the evening of October 31st, her doorbell rang. She was surprised to find children dressed up as characters she did not recognize or understand. Imagine her shock when they demanded candy. Her puzzled look and frozen stance must have given away the fact that she didn’t have any idea what was happening. Still they insisted on candy. She flew to the kitchen and rummaged around until she found a few treats to give them. All the while, wondering why she was desperately in search of sweet treats to give to oddly dressed strangers at her door. Three years later, she laughs about how Halloween took her by surprise.

This might be an unusual phenomenon on Halloween but fairly typical in our day to day. Our teams, employees, children, volunteers often do not understand why they are desperately running around fulfilling our request when they have no understanding of what is really going on.

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To make a greater difference in the lives of those we lead and experience more significance as we do it stop asking yourself, “How can I lead better?” Instead ask, “Why do I lead in the first place?” Leaders are called to develop people. There is nothing sweeter then investing in the lives of others and watching them grow as a result. Effective leadership is all about taking people on a journey that enables them to experience more as a result of what you bring to them.

When we understand our role is to invest in people, there is less chance that they operate in the dark; less likelihood that they are just following orders, and more opportunity for them to contribute to the bigger picture; less moments of desperately and begrudgingly fulfilling the request, and more understanding of how the request fits into the larger story. The impact of true leadership reaches beyond the project, job, task into individuals’ lives. When teams, communities, families, employees become more, they are right in the middle of the journey they want to be on.

How are you adding value to the people in your community, family, team or business?

Stop and Check In

NASCAR pit crews are seldom the focus of a race. They refuel, change tires, make mechanical adjustments as quickly as possible and get the car back out on the track. In racing, the pit and crew become one of the most significant parts of the race. The goal is to be there for the least amount of time while still operating at optimal levels. While stopped, other race cars can gain more than a quarter of a mile on the stopped vehicle. On the other hand, the pit stop enables the car to run faster than those who didn’t stop. What a conundrum! To stop or not to stop? That is the question.

I received some feedback from a team member that blew my hair back. I was completely taken by surprise. The wrong impression was swirling and I had no idea. If we had never stopped to talk about it, think about it, strategize our response to it, it would have impacted all that we were trying to accomplish.

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As parents, we can learn from our children the next best step for the family, if we stop for the conversation. As leaders, our team likely has more vital information than we can imagine. Uncovering that information takes diligence and precious time. When we’re looking for our next right step, make a pit stop — allow the people closest to the action to inform us.

Great questions for doing this kind of checking in:

  • What has been the best and the worst of the last 30 days?

  • What is one thing I need to change to be better for you?

  • What can I start? What can I stop? What can I continue?

Demonstrate Vulnerability

As you read through those questions, your chest may have contracted just a bit. These questions call for humility and curiosity. Then, courage and confidence to act on what is learned. When we get our hair blown back, we must stay curious. Keep asking questions.

When this team member came to me, my first assumption about the root of the problem was not the source of the problem at all. When I mentioned my thoughts, I was steered in a different direction. Finally, a light bulb went off inside of me and I was able to connect the dots, see where the misstep was and how to correct it. This required a true conversation with a variety of back and forth. Once the root was uncovered, then more questions helped us navigate to the needed action steps. The result: a solid race with the pit crew time being vital to the outcome.

Create Connection

Because I had a true connection with this team member — she knew my heart and I knew hers — she was able to stay in the conversation with me until I was seeing the real issue. These conversations cannot happen without connection. If you want to have a vulnerable conversation with your teenager, you first must have real connection with him. Connection comes from mutual respect, genuine interest, and consistent investment. Likewise, if we expect our team to give us important feedback, it only happens when we’ve invested in real connections.

Drive toward the Desired Result

The best way for us to arrive where we want to be is to check in with the people around us and take action steps based on what we learn from them. Really hearing what they say is a bigger challenge than we think. Again, keep asking questions. They don’t know that we didn’t “get it” and we don’t know that we didn’t “get it.” The more questions we ask the more likely we will get to the true issue. If we come out of an encounter without new traction, chances are we won’t be driving toward the desired results.

NASCAR has something figured out — strategically plan for pit stops.

Stop Making Yourself Small

Want to get smaller? Maybe around the waist but not necessarily in the conference room, a vital conversation, or your next presentation. Those are places we want to be remembered as valuable contributors.

When the neighbors cat wants to avoid being chased up a tree by the dog lopping down the street, she makes herself small — crouching down in the grass as if to say, “Don’t mind me. I’m of no significance — no threat. Don’t give me another thought.” When we make ourselves small, we are delivering the same message both to ourselves and the people in the room. The crazy thing is both will accept and believe the message. If we find ourselves complaining about feeling invisible or unheard, chances are we are making ourselves small. We can have valuable information and use language that devalues our message.

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A few ways language creates the message we are not verbalizing and yet everyone is hearing:

Starting with an Apology

Starting a conversation or presentation by apologizing when there is nothing to apologize for sends the message that we are unsure. Often times when we want to jump into a conversation or take center stage, we start with, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to say. . .” What are we sorry for exactly? Speaking up? Communicating insecurity and uncertainty, even subtly, translates this is not important — there is no need to listen. And so they don’t!

Using Tiny Words

Tiny words like just, only, quickly, little, small mimic the stance of the neighbor’s cat. “I just have this little comment.” “ I have a tiny suggestion.” “Let me quickly mention . . .” This language makes us small. Whatever the comment, suggestion, idea articulated, the message delivered is don’t give me another thought. And they don’t!

Including Disclaimers

I have a friend who likes to tell jokes. He always starts with a disclaimer. When you have to start with a disclaimer, the joke is likely not going to hit the mark. This would be the case for my friend EVERY TIME. His disclaimer is usually, “I’m not a sexist.” Oh boy! Immediately, before I even hear the joke, I think, “Wow! He is a sexist!” Then when I hear the joke, the message is reinforced. When we use disclaimers, it’s like announcing, “Disregard everything I am about to say.” Disclaimers sound like, “I’m not sure if this is important.” “You’ve probably already thought of this.” “I don’t know if this is what you were thinking.” As soon as the disclaimer is out of your mouth and before you make your valuable comment, articulate your brilliant idea or deliver a stellar suggestion, everyone in ear shot has decided to disregard what you are about to say. And so they do!

While the world you live in might be encouraging you to work on a smaller waistline, I’m challenging you to get larger. Eliminate the language that makes you small and start showing up in a way that you are heard and seen. The world needs your input. Stop telling us not to listen to you.

Why You Need a Sweaty Mob

A 5K.  It was a warm night, the park was over-crowded, when the gun went off many began to run, others walked briskly, at the back of the pack were momma’s pushing strollers.  Sweat flowed freely and mingled often.  The 3.1 miles wasn’t going to be a tremendous challenge for me because I walk 2 miles fairly regularly — alone.  Why anyone needs to gather a mob for the occasion, is beyond my understanding. But I accepted the invitation because it was wrapped in a health challenge.  

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3.1 miles an hour is an average walking speed — 20 minutes a mile.  Knowing that I walk an 18 minute mile on average, my only goal was to do all three miles at the same pace.  Walking 4 mph is an extremely brisk walk, which would be a 15 minute mile.  At the end of the 5K and as a result of the mob, my pace was 16 minutes per mile.  That’s when the light went on — when I had my “aha” moment. This is why you get in the middle of a mob and exchange sweat, even though it sounds unpleasant.   We gather people around us to push us, set the pace for us, cheer us to something beyond what we were expecting of ourselves.  I walked faster that night than I typically do and faster than I planned or hoped for because of the people around me.

Where in life are you walking alone?  What would it look like to put people around you who are pushing the limits, challenging the current pace, expecting more?

~originally posted October 5, 2017

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Think About It

The life we have is a reflection of the thoughts we think. Our life is always moving in the direction of our strongest thoughts. If we think we can’t, then we probably won’t. If we’re always looking at the problem, then it will likely overwhelm us. This is the beauty and the curse of our magnificent brains.

A few short years ago, thoughts like I can’t; It will always be like this; I don’t have what it takes; were holding me hostage in a place I didn’t want to be. I had allowed my thoughts to limit my actions. What came into my mind, actually came out in my life! Life is moving in the direction of our strongest thought. Are you excited about where your thoughts are taking you?

Pause for a moment right now. Identify the thought that has dominated your mind the last few days. What destination is it leading to — peace, worry, others, self, positivity, negativity, action, defeat? Is that where you want to end up? Be honest with yourself.

Our brains are redesigning themselves around our thoughts. When we think something over and over, a path (neuropathway) is created in our brain, much like the path in the back yard where the dog runs out the back door around to the back gate 42,789 times a day. The grass no longer grows on that path, the dirts becomes smooth and tight. When it rains, the path becomes a little canal for runoff water. The pathways in our brain work the same way. Thoughts begin to run easily along them — even though it wasn’t our intention to create that canal.

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If our thoughts are not taking us where we want to go, it’s time to identify them and pay attention to the direction they are taking us. What direction do we really want to go — who do we want to be; how do we want to act; what do we want to feel. Write it down. This gives us clarity on the new direction. Find a true statement that gives us permission to be, act and feel the new way. Write that statement down and repeat it multiple times a day for an entire month. Watch what starts coming out of into your life, as a result of changing your thoughts.

If we are becoming our thoughts, than what exactly are you becoming?

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Where in the World are You

Where in the World are You

It’s such a fun story but such a heart breaking point — finding yourself in the middle of a story you no longer want to live. Perhaps the script or plan or purpose that was laid out for you worked for a season but now it’s time for you to live out of a plan, intent, design that’s a better fit. We get so caught up in the familiar routine, we lose sight of the fact that we can shift from this story.   

Getting started, a big first step, can feel monumental. If you’re looking to head down a new path, start by thinking through where you are right now. If I’m holding a map of Texas with plans to travel to San Antonio, the map won’t get me there unless I know my starting point.

Take stock of your current situation. Create a “I Am Here” gauge, like the dashboard on a car.  The gauges on a car tell us something — is there enough gas for the journey, is there oil in the engine, is the car running too hot. These gauges assist us in identifying what to take care of first.

When we want to design something new, finding the problem is part of the process. That sounds so easy. Unfortunately, more often than not we are working on the wrong problem. The identified problem in the video was a long trip in a small car. We solved that problem by breaking up the trip in two hour increments. A long trip in a small car turned out not to be the problem. If you are disinterested in mechanical engineering but you are working on the problem of raising your grades, you are solving the wrong problem. Creating a gauge or dashboard that identifies where you are in the area of health, work, play, love (or whatever categories you want to use as gauges) will reveal the flashing lights that need to be addressed.

After we assess where we are, accepting where we are is the next step. Just because I don’t want to be headed to San Antonio from DFW doesn’t mean I’m not. Knowing my starting point helps me evaluate the option of heading down I-35 or taking a more scenic, less stressful, longer route. Understanding that my joy gauge is on empty, pushes me to explore the question of what brings me joy. Seeing that what I am “doing” (work, school, volunteering) is leaving me empty, causes me to ask questions about what would fill my tank. Asking questions that move me to explore are the next best step.   

As you think about a new story, operating from a more intentional place, begin with where you are. It’s the only way to get there from here.  

 

Be Sure of Yourself

My momma always told me, “Just act like you know what you are doing.” So I did because I was pretty devoted to doing what my momma told me to do. I didn’t realize I was practicing confidence. I’m guessing she did.    

Confidence is the feeling that one can rely on someone or something — firm trust.  That means self-confidence is firm trust in ourselves. “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life,” Marcus Garvey.

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Self confidence is a developed skill, just like playing basketball. Basketball players practice — not just once, but every day. If we want more confidence in a certain area, repetition becomes the vehicle for arriving at our destination. Malcolm Gladwell says that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field. Where ever you lack confidence, start practicing over and over. It’s common for us to bail when we hit a little adversity. When we make our first attempt at public speaking and it flops, we quit. The 10,000 hour rule encourages us to stay at it. Thomas Edison’s teachers labeled him as too unintelligent to learn. Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb but he just kept at it. Confidence comes as we practice.  

Confidence is also a reflection of what is going on in our mind. Thoughts influence actions. Let me slow down here and repeat that — thoughts influence actions. Tearing ourselves down will never result in building anything up. Self-confidence cannot come from self-deprecation. If we want more confidence, we need to start with more affirmation. Step one: put distance between us and the people who feed us negative information about ourselves. Step two: find people who are positive about themselves and learn from them. Step three: deliberately affirm ourselves every day.  A good place to start, believing in our ability to improve.  As we make these changes the pathways in our brain begin to alter — the ruts that negativity had burrowed begin to fill in and our positive mindset starts building new roads to different places. Remember Muhammad Ali saying, “I am the greatest!”  He knew affirming himself would lead to confidence. And he definitely had confidence.

Follow my momma’s advice and act like you know what you’re doing — you’re practicing confidence.  

 

Change your Mind about Change

Junior High seemed daunting, too much, too different, too foreign.  I didn’t want to go. My sister was a year ahead of me, I drilled her on everything that happened her first day of Junior High. A full year had gone by, she couldn’t remember.  How could she do this to me? I need to know.  

Three years later, I did not want to go to High School. It was too much, too different, too intimidating, too foreign. Again, I drilled my sister — no real answers. Three years later, I did not want to go to . . . Are you getting the picture? In my adult life, I moved nine times in 20 years. Change became a familiar pattern. Eventually, I learned— this is life.  Embrace change or lose life in the resistance to change.  

The start of the new school year brings change. Students headed to different campuses; mommas sending off babies to college; college graduates taking on full time positions in the professional world. Change is the content of life. Our bodies are changing. The earth is changing. Technology changes. When change comes our way, we can either cooperate and benefit or resist and feel defeat.  

Think back to a time you resisted change. What happened once you surrendered to it?  Recognizing that change is not the enemy, it’s simply part of life, helps us shift our approach.  Choosing to look for the excitement and anticipate the new chapter, adjusts our attitude. With a new approach and a new attitude, now we can embrace change with a little introspection.  Here are some questions you might find helpful. Grab a journal and thoughtfully sit with each question.

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What’s changing that I am resisting?
Why am I resisting this new chapter?
What am I afraid of with respect to this change?
What’s the payoff for keeping things the way they are?
What’s the cost for keeping things as is?
What benefits might there be in this change?
What would I have to do to cooperate?
What’s the next step I could take to cooperate?
When will I take the next step?

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.  ~George Bernard Shaw

Mountain Lake Contentment

Three days of solitude among the majestic mountains around Trout Lake, Colorado overwhelmed me with beauty -- quiet hiking trails complete with vistas that took my breath away leaving me silenced. The tranquility of the vast mountain lake captured my mind and all mindless chatter ceased. This is contentment. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish Scientist of the 1800s, tells us, “Contentment is the only real wealth.” Trout Lake contentment in the middle of real world chaos appears unattainable. All it takes is some powerful intention.

Choose Forgiveness

To cultivate contentment we need to be willing to forgive. I know this is not where you were expecting to start. Forgiveness is two-sided: letting go and moving forward. There is a releasing of the old and a creating anew. Grieve the hurt, the loss, the trauma. Let go of the blame. Honor the moment of loss. Acknowledge who you are becoming. Cut the ties to the past. Use our energy in new ways. Find compassion. Create new patterns. As we practice forgiveness, choosing to forgive ourselves becomes a priority. Nothing robs us of contentment more than choosing not to forgive. It’s a process that is well worth the effort.

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Practice Gratitude

Often we find ourselves content until we compare ourselves to others. We see they have something we do not. They appear happier, healthier, more successful, more financially stable, more influential, more . . . Our minds begin to focus on what we don’t have compared to what (it appears) they do have. Immediately we are discontent. Cultivating a posture of gratitude restores contentment in the wake of comparison. Practicing gratitude re-focuses our mind on all the things in our world that are good.  

Use Goals, Don’t let Them Use You

Pushing ourselves to grow and develop requires us to set goals, expect more, and push beyond our current circumstances. This creates a tension between the idea of contentment and dreaming big. Letting our goals guide us but not hold us hostage is a key to contentment. Goals are simply targets. When I first tried archery in school, anytime I hit the target I celebrated (and so did everyone else). A bull’s eye was not necessary. Hitting the target was a significant accomplishment. Rather than using goals in a way that leave us discontent with ourselves and our world, using goals as a guide toward a great target will reduce the tension between dreaming big and choosing contentment.

Stepping into contentment requires intention on our part. It will take time and consistency, support and encouragement. As we choose forgiveness, practice gratitude and allow goals to simply guide us, we will see contentment begin to mushroom in our world. I still recommend Trout Lake and, at the same time, I know we can tap into the wealth of contentment without ever leaving town.