The Race

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From the Book, Make Today Matter, by Chris Lowney:

“Don’t treat your life as a race to be won. Don’t focus on getting to the top of the heap, because every peak you reach will yield a clearer view of the next summit, already occupied by another competitor in the game of life. Run every race as if it’s your last, but decide first why you’re running. Instead of competing against me or anyone else, why not contribute your energies to making us better people, through your coaching, love, inspiring example, or noble mission? Instead of trying to win the race, why not make it your mission to contribute to the race, the human race—by making your corner of the world more just, more loving, and more happy.”

It’s Simpler Than You Think

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It’s simpler than you think.

Really.

And I don’t’ even care what “it” is.

As a person trying to be more or have more or build a certain kind of life or find our spiritual center or balance a balanced life – It’s simpler than you think.

As a company or organization trying to grow, build a marketing campaign, streamline business processes, build loyal and engaged employees, build a culture of creativity, design a broadcast facility, become more profitable – It’s simpler than you think.

I’ve been wrestling with this column for ages. Because in general, we don’t want to believe it’s’ true. For some absurd reason, we want to make everything complicated. And I’ve never had a good understanding why.  But at last, I think I understand.

A little background first. I worked primarily in the broadcast technology world for the first few decades of my career. I was part of the startup team for three different companies and I owned part of one of them. In each case we took two very complex things – high technology and building new businesses, and made it stupid simple.

Each grew to be national powerhouses in the industry. (Well, two of them did. The third one was bought out by a national powerhouse.)

The Lesson I Keep Learning

I can remember the first of those startups. There were four of us with an idea. The head of our little band, Kevin, met with the owner of the largest IT and networking firm in the state of Virginia about the possibility of them funding our startup.

The owner of the IT firm came with his entourage. Lawyers. Financial types. Operational gurus. The whole shmeal.  And on the other side of the table was Kevin.  “Tell us your plan.” the owner said. I know what he was expecting. Long involved business plans. Charts and graphs.

That’s not what he got.

Kevin said simply. “We intend to dominate the broadcast and AV business. We hire the best people and take better care of customers than anyone else.”

That was it. The whole enchilada. No charts. No graphs. No power points. No accounting projections or complex contracts. I give the IT owner credit. He got it. Take away all the jibber jabber and razzle-dazzle and that is how you build an organization. He funded us.

Today they are one of top two or three companies in the industry, with offices across the country and around the world.

I’ve seen the same thing play out both in the other two start-ups and was part of. I’ve seen it in the companies and organizations I have consulted with. Simple solutions create success.

I also see it in personal lives. Both in my work of the last five years coaching individuals to their own version of success, and in my work as a part-time pastor, the solutions are always simple.

Solutions are simple. People are complicated.

I am a student of success. I read about it. I pay attention to people and organizations that succeed. I often contact successful people just to pick their brain about what made that success happen. I have a huge bookshelf of self-improvement books that range from step by step manuals to law of attraction tomes. And here’s what all my study, experience and observation has taught me.

It’s simpler than you think.

And I don’t care what “it” is.

Everyone who has written a book on success, everyone who has sent you an invitation to a webinar promising success, every one day program or weekend seminar, every class, every program, every guru, they are pretty much saying the same thing.

Oh, they use different language but pay attention and they are all trying to tell us the same thing. Stuff is simpler than we think. Everything is.

Solutions are simple. People are complicated.  And we make things complicated. Way more than it needs to be. Mostly the only thing that gets in our way is ourselves. We don’t like to think that. But I’ve done what I do long enough to see the pattern.

We get in our own way.

Over and over again I see it. In individuals. In companies. In non-profits. In churches. in anyone who wants anything. The ones that trust the process that leads to success, succeed.  I don’t care if it’s my process, (blatantly stolen from everyone else out there) or someone else’s proven process.

When we do the simple things to get there, we get there. It’s never as hard as we think when we trust and act on a proven process. Except when we get in our own way.

So, where do you want to go? What do you want to be? It’s there. Stop making it so complicated. The solution is out there. It’s simpler than you think. Pick one and go.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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When it all comes undone….

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There comes a point where rebuilding is no longer an option. When things are so broken, so torn down that what was is beyond reclaiming. What is left is in ruins. Pieces are missing, taken by others, or simply rotted beyond repair.

It is true of buildings. It is true of ourselves.

I grew up thinking anything could be salvaged. My father was a master restorer of things. As a child and a young man, I saw him restore thing after thing. Old cars. A wooden sailboat. Once I remember him bringing in a box of wood that I thought was for kindling for the fireplace. As it turned out, it was an antique cherry Grandfather’s clock, and when he was done, it was magnificent. Today it lives in my sister’s house, one of those things you notice the moment you walk in the room.

Just before I went off to college, my dad bought a business, finally fulfilling a lifelong dream.

A dream that went badly. It turned out the man he bought the business from had been cooking the books for ages, cooking them in a way so clever it caused the state legislature to rewrite laws to prevent what he had done. Not that all that lawmaking helped my dad – he came close to losing everything.

For my father, that was a turning point. He was never the same, according to my mother. What he saw as his failure haunted him the rest of his life. It colored the way he saw himself.

The irony of that is that while he was beating himself up, I was getting a different lesson. What I saw was how he picked himself up in mid-life. How he entered a whole new industry and succeded. I watched him recover financially, and not just stabilize his financial life, but thrive. He did good work, built great relationships with his clients, who often became his friends as well. He and my mom were able to travel extensively – something he likely would never have been able to do had he run his own business, even successfully.

I saw resilience and rebuilding. I saw the courage to plow through the dark times and, not rebuild, but recreate a life. I saw how hard it was.

It was probably the most important lesson I have learned in my life. That not everything can be fixed. That somethings are so broken they cannot be recovered. But that even when it is all broken, you can still build. You can take the rubble of life and build something new. And that new may be different, but it can be wonderful. It might even be better.

Decades later, as I neared fifty, my own life came apart. I lost everything. My marriage. My children. My work unraveled. My financial state went from solid to fragile. I sank into a black depressive place where I barely functioned. For years.

What I had, what I was, was gone.

But there was a tiny little sliver of hope gleaned from that lesson I had learned while I was in college, watching my father slowly build a new life.

That’s the key I think. When life comes undone, there’s a tendency to want to restore the old life. It’s natural, I think. There were parts of my old life that I loved. Part of the “before the crash”  time that was a delight to me, that I was proud of. I wanted that back.

The problem was, of course, is that too many parts were missing. There’s a reason things come undone in our lives and at times it is a cumulation of many many pieces that one by one, go missing, Like a Jenga game.

Unlike Jenga, though, where you can rebuild because all the blocks are there, in real life when things come undone, too many parts are missing. The tower can’t be rebuilt.

But something else can be built.

Going back to my father, when I was ten, he and my mom built a new house. He found an old 1700’s parsonage back in the woods of Surry County, Virginia that was falling apart. There was no restoring this house. It was too far gone.

But there were parts that were still useful. The floors in particular, beautiful heart of pine floors, hand-hewn, tongue and groove floors. We (OK, mostly he. I was only ten, after all.) pulled out those floors, had them planed down, and put them in the new house he was building. They were, and remain breathtaking.

The house could not be rebuilt. Something new could be built from it. My dad’s life could not be rebuilt. Something new could be built from it. My own life could not be rebuilt. Something new could be built from it.

But to get to that place of building something new, we have to stop trying to rebuild the old thing. And that is hard. Some of us never get there. Our lives come undone and we spend the rest of our precious time here trying to rebuild the tower, without the pieces and parts we need.

Not everything can be restored. But something can be built anew.

In my office is a small hanging corner cupboard. It is an 18th-century corner cupboard that is fifty some odd years old. How can that be? It is made from the shutters of that same old house my dad pulled the floors out of.  Nearly every piece of wood in the cupboard came from that house. Beautiful as it is, nothing there is what it was originally made to be. It is not a restoration. It is a new thing my dad made from the pieces and parts of the old house, and it’s beautiful. But it is not a restoration. It is something new.

My life now is something new. And it’s pretty wonderful. Not what I had planned 35 years ago, or even 15 years ago. I’ll never be able to restore that life. It’s gone. Too many pieces missing.

But it’s pretty wonderful. I would not trade it for the life I once had. And the beginnings of this wonderful life came when I realized, and accepted, that I’d never have my old life back again, and set about, not restoring, but building.

It’s hard building anew. There are no blueprints. We still have that old stuff to figure out what to do with. Call it baggage if you like. Or call it building blocks. Something to build on a giant puzzle where some of the pieces seem to be of one puzzle, (the old one) and some seem to be of another (the new one). A giant collage, with about a million mismatched pieces.

But that is where art comes from. And that’s where amazing new lives come from. The adventure of discovery, along with the adventure of salvaging the stuff from our past that is useful and good, and merging it with the new things.

The sad part is that my dad never fully embraced the wonder and power of what he managed to do. His failure haunted him till the end. Somehow he never took the lesson that saved my life to heart for himself.

But I am grateful for that lesson. I do love restoration. Like him, I like to restore old things. And the things that can’t be restored, like the life I once had? Ah, that’s when the magic starts.

If we let it.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: The picture was taken in Turner’s Falls, Mass. It was a wonderful old abandoned factory until a fire destroyed it for good.

Not Quite According to Plan

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Well, the new year did not exactly get off to the start I had anticipated.

Like many of us, I had plans. A trip with the woman I love for New Year’s, and then a flurry of activity to get the new year off to a bang of a start. New projects. New approaches. January was going to be a corker of a month, just chock full of New.

Well, then the pipes froze in my house. A few days lost nursemaiding those. And then there were the inches of snow. And the more inches of snow and ice coming tomorrow. A couple of days of bad health. There was the hiccup of my all-important internet router at home. Some of the new software I had chosen was, well, not quite as advertised. Powerful yes. Easy to set up – not even close. Two weeks into it all, I am nowhere near I envisioned I would be as I finish up the second week of the year. The best-laid plans and all that.

But not all is lost. As I plodded through the delays and interruptions, as I was forced to live without internet a bit, and chose to for a bit longer. As I dove into the world or API’s and technical jargon I never had any intention of having to learn, I learned all kinds of things, even a few about myself. I had time to rethink. I stumbled into some new opportunities, gained a new client, fine-tuned my marketing, learned some of the tools I already have even more deeply. I’m not where I wanted to be, but I have moved forward in directions I planned, and in directions I never even saw coming.

Forward. That’s what matters.

I am always telling my clients and friends that the trajectory we are on is more important than where we are or where we have been. “Which way am I moving?” is the question to ask.”Have I made progress?”

Sometimes (most times) we spend too much time measuring ourselves by our expectations, but what we think we should accomplish in “X” amount of time, as if we had control over all the elements of life and work and circumstances that are part of that happening. As if. Somehow we seem to ignore all the other stuff happening in the universe, some of which can grease our skids (and often does) and some of which fall like a huge old tree in the middle of our road.

Forget all that. Remember Dory from “Finding Nemo”. Just keep swimming. If we fall, fall forward. There’s no great secret to it. Not where you want to be? Feel like you’ve already failed all those New Year’s promises? So what? Don’t let that stop you. Plow forward! Never got started at New Years? So what? Start today. Forward is one day closer. Forward is the right direction.

And every step counts, whether you are creating a life you love, or the company you want to be.

Screw the calendar. It’s trajectory that matters. Forget all the hype and internet ads and garbage you read that says there is a secret. We pretty much know how to get or be anything these days. The problem is rarely not knowing how. There’s books and sites and coaches and consultants like me. You can find the how. No, that’s not the thing holding us back. It’s not taking a daily step forward.

Take that step. And the next one tomorrow. Big steps. Baby steps. Any steps. Do something. Do anything. Fall if you will. ( I am good at falling.) Just fall forward. Then do it again. It may sound boring, but it’s true. It works. And here at Quarry House, we’re all about what works.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

New Years and Now

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It is -18 degrees outside.

Most of the diners in the area are closed, so I am eating breakfast in a McDonald’s. It is quiet except for the pop music they play just a tad too loud. There is snow outside.

I woke up next to the woman I love. Our first New Year’s together. Both of us have families and children from a previous marriage and so often holidays are kind of fractured affairs to see everyone that is so important to us.

But this weekend is ours. The seeing in of a new year is ours.

A new year, but here I am doing what I do every day. A time of prayer and meditation.  Time to journal. Time to write. The inward focusing time that fuels introverts like me. Last night my love asked me if I was going out to write. I was thinking about it. She said she thought I should. She knows the value of it.

The sun is on my back. Yes, it bleaches out the computer screen a bit, but the warmth is welcome

It is New Years.  A time of anticipation. Of Promise. Of new hope. Of resolutions. Of, for many of us, change. We are going to lose weight. (the classic resolution). We are going to write the novel, get the new job, get the help we need, become great, or greater. We are going to pull out of our dark place. We are going to …..

… become better.

We all know though, that it’s just a day. Not unlike the others except for the power we give it, the choice to make this day the starting point of new things. We choose to do on this day something we need to do: Release the old and grasp the better.

And that’s the magic of New Year’s, isn’t it? That we give it that power. We choose to mark this day as a day of new beginnings, of washing away the old and becoming the new. What if we gave any day that power? What if we recognize the truth, that any day can become our new year.

In recent years, I have come to measure new years by relational things.

The most recent one was May 20th, my wedding day. A day that everything changed. But even that day was just one in a long chain of days and decisions that brought the woman and I together, that brought us closer.

Each day a decision. Each day a new start. Each day with the possibility to create newness, to change our course, to move in a new direction.

I like small changes. The big, wholesale “I am going to change everything at once” method has never worked for me. I am not sure it works or most of us. I know that for me, a parade of tiny changes works a lot better. I don’t get overwhelmed, or disappointed, or sidetracked. I get lots of little victories to celebrate and reinforce the fact that I can do it.

Little changes are not overwhelming. They are not wearing. They are not scary. If we slip on a little change, it’s not a big deal.

And so, knowing what to keep is just as important as knowing what to change.

My love knows this time in the morning is what sets my day. I pray. I write in my journal, purging the dark stuff in my head. I write. Hope rises again in my day. I can move forward. More importantly, I do move forward. Days without my routine are off kilter, never quite gaining the traction I need to be as effective as I need to be, never quite being who I want to be on that day.

She and I have talked about what we want for the new year. Yes, we have some things. Resolutions? No, I am more gentle with myself than to call them resolutions. Hopes, with action. Dreams that can be reached and touched by action.

The subject has come up several times the past week or so, and a fair number of things have emerged. All good. All doable We will, I am sure, make progress on most or all of them, even as we don’t dismantle the things that we love.

It’s been a lazy couple of days. It’s too cold to go out. No walks on the beach or along the trails in the mountains for us. Quiet time. Talks. Fixing meals. Going to the movies. Afternoon naps. Reading.

Refreshing, spiritually and relationally. A time, more even than Thanksgiving, to remember and celebrate my blessings. Plans got frozen out, and something just as good floated to the top.

I am not rich. I have a modest house, modest cars, a modest life. But I have people who love me and people I love. I have interesting and rewarding work. I get to live mostly on my schedule and my terms. My creative and spiritual life fill me.

Remembering and keeping the good things. It is just as important as resolutions, second chances, and new beginnings.

In fact, it may be those things we keep that make the things we want possible.

Happy New Year my friends and readers. Celebrate today. There’s good stuff ahead. There’s good stuff around us right now.

Sipping coffee.

Tom