Adding or Subtracting

I had a great Thanksgiving this year.  In the morning we had brunch with a small gathering at our house and in the afternoon we had dinner with family at my sister in-law’s house.  Both events were enjoyable and it was fun to see everyone and spend some time together.  It was a nice Thanksgiving.

At my sister in-law’s, there was a family member who was absent, due to illness and declining health.  Toward the end of the evening my sister in-law commented that it was nice not having the family member present because that way she didn’t feel on edge wondering if they were going get upset and start yelling, as they so often have in the past, thus turning what should be a fun family event into an awkward, tension filled evening.  This was clearly a case of addition by subtraction; the absence of this family member made for a more enjoyable evening for everyone else.

As I reflected on this comment, I couldn’t help think of my interactions with others and wonder if there have been times where an event would have been enhanced by my absence.  To think that the answer to this question would be “Yes”, is an awful feeling, especially if those answering are family and the people closest to me.  I never want my absence from a gathering or event to be considered addition by subtraction.

This seems like a pretty easy scenario to avoid.  If you want to be seen as someone whose presence adds to an event, then employ the following suggestions the next time you gather with family or friends:

  • Be kind to others. Greet people by name when you arrive.    Shake hands or give out hugs.  Let others in attendance know you’re glad to be part of the event with them.
  • Take the focus off of yourself and place it on others. Ask how people are doing and what they’re up to, and show an interest in their reply.  If you know of somewhere they’ve been recently, or something currently going on in their life, ask them about it and then listen to and comment on their reply.
  • Enjoy the moment and be present with the people you’re with. Put down the smartphone.  Wait until you get home to check social media.  Instead of being so eager to inform everyone who’s NOT at the event about what’s going on, engage and connect with those present.  That’s the ultimate in social media.

As you attend different events this holiday season, do so with the intent of being someone who’s presence enhances the event for others attending.  Let it be said of you that events which you attended were much more enjoyable because of your presence.   What a great gift to give people this holiday season.

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Does it Matter

Does it really matter whether or not we hold the door open for someone behind us?  What about saying “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk or letting the waiter at the restaurant know that we appreciate their service?  How about:

  • Scooting over on a crowded bus or subway so someone can sit it the seat next to you instead of stand?
  • Letting someone behind you in the checkout at the grocery store go in ahead of you, because they only have a couple of items?
  • Sending a thank you note to someone deserving?

What difference does it make if we do any of these things or not?  Are they even worth doing?  Does it even matter?  I’d say that it most certainly does matter

When we spend our days ignoring people we cross paths with, we can begin to see people only as objects that have little value beyond what they can do for us in the short-term.  The longer we do this, the easier it will be to become detached and disengaged from the people around us, willingly thwarting opportunities to connect with others and hear their ideas and perspectives.  Some of which may have been beneficial to us.  As a result, our world shrinks, becoming small and self-centered.  I certainly don’t want to live in a world where I’m the center.  What a small world that would be.

We also forfeit opportunities to brighten the world of those around us when we fail to acknowledge or encourage others who help us, provide a service, or who are just in close proximity to us.  That may not sound like a big deal, but I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t appreciate a kind word, an encouraging word, or a heart-felt thank you.  I know I do.  It makes me feel good and has a positive impact on my day.  I’ll bet it does for you too!  If we appreciate that, doesn’t it seem reasonable that those around us would appreciate it too?

When we say, “Thank you”, or offer encouragement, or give someone our place in line, we do the following:

  • Acknowledge their presence and worth
  • Let the know that we appreciate their contribution
  • Communicate to them that they matter as fellow human beings

We are fortunate that we can influence our world by how we acknowledge (or not) those around us.  We can ignore and dismiss others, leaving a cold impersonal wake behind us, or we can choose to acknowledge our fellow humans with a kind words or actions.

I love the quote from Gandhi that says, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  Have you ever thought that the world is becoming ruder, more isolated, more impersonal, more…?  If so, here’s your chance to put Gandhi’s quote into practice.  Begin acknowledging those around you with kind words or actions.  Try this for a week and see if it doesn’t brighten the world of those around you.  My guess is that it will begin to brighten your world as well.

Art and Artists

A couple of months ago my wife and I were on vacation, hiking in Southern Utah.  While we were passing through the small community of Bluff UT, we stopped in at Comb Ridge Coffee for lunch.  While we were there, I bought a tumbler created by one of the local artists.  I was captivated by its shape, colors and feel and have enjoyed drinking ice water from it every day since arriving home.  Not only is it a functional beverage container, it is a beautiful piece of art.

Tumbler

At first, it seems strange to refer to a beverage container as art.  Usually when I think of art, an image of a painting usually comes to mind, or a song, photograph, or statue.  However, art can be broadly defined to include anything done to an exceptional level or an extraordinary degree.

With this new art paradigm, my boundaries of what art is just exploded!  Now, I see so much art around me.  Things I never would have considered art before.  Things like:

  • Quality relationships
  • Exceptional marriages
  • Extraordinary parenting
  • Superior leadership

In addition to my expanded definition of art, I also now see myself as an artist.  Not as one who always creates exceptional or extraordinary results, but as one who is simply striving to do so.

It’s easy to tell ourselves, “I’m not an artist because I can’t draw, paint, sing …”, but that’s no longer true.  This new paradigm, where anything done to an exceptional level or extraordinary degree is art, grants all of us great opportunity to become artists of our own lives.  No longer is our form of artistic expression limited to paint, canvas, or clay.  Now we can be artistic with the words we use to communicate, the care we take in building and cultivating important relationships, or the method we use to learn and explore the environment around us.

Today, begin seeing yourself as an artist and your life as the medium for creating a beautiful work of art.  The world needs the beauty of the art you are capable of creating.

Zig Was Right

You can get anything you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.

~ Zig Ziglar

This is a classic quote from legendary speaker Zig Ziglar that I have been aware of for several years.  While I have always understood what Zig was saying in this quote, I never really got it until this week, when I was awarded my first voice over job.

The experience was an “ah-ha” moment for me.  I wasn’t awarded the job because I had a better voice than anyone else who auditioned.  (I’m not bad, but I’m no Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones!)  The reason I was selected for this job is because I was helpful to the client.

The audition notes stated that the client would be open to suggestions for improving the script.  Since they asked, I made some changes to the script, which caused it to read better, without changing the spirit of their message, and submitted my audition.  When I was awarded the job, the client mentioned they liked that I had taken the time to make changes to the script and liked how it now read.  It felt good to be awarded the job, but it felt even better to know that I added value to the client’s project.  I felt good knowing that I had helped them.

This experience reminded me of Zig’s quote and the truth behind the principle of being helpful and useful to others first, rather than first seeking what we want and what we can get for ourselves.

Where in your life do you have opportunities to be helpful to others?  I’m not talking being helpful in a manipulative way, where you expect something in return.  I’m talking about offering your skills and talent to others to help them with their struggles and challenges.  Begin looking for opportunities to be helpful to those around you.  Not only will it make you feel good and benefit those you’re helping, you’ll most likely find that others will be eager to help you get what you want as well.

Set Your Own Standard

Have you ever found yourself in an environment where mediocrity appears to be the standard?  Where people have set low standards for themselves and others, and show no sign of wanting to improve.  I have.  I have also noticed that if I’m not careful, this type of environment can begin to have a negative effect on my own standards as well.

In an environment where low standards have been set, it’s easy to get frustrated and feel like throwing our hands in the air and give up trying to make a difference.  At the very worst, we may even wonder if it’s worth it to try to uphold our own high standards when no one else is doing so.  Whenever this feeling arises, it’s imperative to remember that we are responsible for setting our own standards.  Letting others set standards for us takes control to direct our lives out of our hands and places it in someone else’s.  We should be the ones setting our standards of responsibility, accountability, and work ethic.  We should set them high and never allow others with lower standard to adjust them for us.

The next time you’re frustrated by an environment of mediocrity and feel like giving in to, or accepting the lower standard, do the following:

  • Commit to setting and maintaining the high standard of excellence you’ve set for yourself, regardless of the lower standards others have set themselves.
  • Where possible, limit your exposure to individuals and groups with a mindset of mediocrity.
  • Make a change. Whether it’s your workplace or a civic or social community with a standard of mediocrity, consider making a change.  We have tremendous freedom to decide where and with whom we spend our time.  Let’s take advantage of that freedom.

Setteling for mediocrity in one area of life is a dangerous slope that makes it easier to compromise standards in other areas.  Be mindful of mediocrity and decide in advance to be the one who sets your own standard.  It’s a great privilege and responsibility that shouldn’t be handed over to others.