Looking Beyond Today

I like Thanksgiving.  It’s a fun time of year, the sights and smells of the holiday are great, plus it’s a fun time to get together with people we’re thankful for.  This year’s holidays will likely be very different than holidays past for many people. 

While that may be frustrating, I think it’s important not to spend too much time lamenting what we don’t have this year, but rather focus on what we still do have.  In addition, it would help us to begin to eager look ahead to the holidays yet to come that won’t be impacted by a global pandemic. 

Those days are coming.  We just need to look past today to see them.

Taking Inventory Our Habits

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Warren Buffett

Habits are fascinating, because despite the fact that they are small, they can be extremely powerful.  Their power comes from the compounding effect they have when done over long periods of time.

Some habits taken conscious effort to do, like deciding to get up every morning and go to the gym.  Yet other habits are so easy to fall into, that they almost become an automatic part of our daily life.  Things like drinking several sodas or going out for fast food on a daily basis.  (There are a zillion others, but those are the first 2 that came to mind.) These habits are rewarding in the moment, and thus easy to form.  And while an occasional soda or trip to McDonald’s isn’t terrible, the impact of these habits done continuously over years, if not decades, can have severe negative consequences.

For this reason, I think it’s important to regularly determine whether we’ve developed any habits that have the potential to plant land mines for our future selves.  We should ask ourselves:

  • Are the habits we’re engaged in healthy or destructive? 
  • Are they leading to a good outcome or a potentially dangerous one? 
  • Are there habits we should stop doing?
  • Are there habits we need to cultivate?

We all want good outcomes in our lives, but as we know, they don’t just happen.  They require action from us, as well as reflection, to determine if our habits will take us where we want to go.

With 2021 approaching, now would be a good time to take an inventory of the habits we’ve acquired.  It might be time to say, “Good-bye” to some potentially destructive ones we’ve been heretofore traveling with.  It may also be time to say, “Hello” to some new productive habits and invite them to join us on our journey forward.

I See That

Before work Monday morning, I took a sunny yet cool Autumn walk through the neighborhood.  At one point I heard what sounded like rain.  However, a clear sky quickly ruled rain out as a source of the sound.  As I kept walking, the noise grew louder until I realized the sound was being created by a flood of leaves continuously falling from several reddish-orange trees lining the street.

I stood under one of the trees for several minutes and just watched and listened.  It was such a unique experience.  Sure, I’ve often heard wind blowing through Autumn leaves that were still in the trees, but I’ve never seen falling leaves that sound so much like steady rain.  It was a beautiful scene.  I’m glad I noticed it.

I like to be on the lookout for things like that.  To be curious about and eager to notice something so unexpectedly beautiful.  When I do encounter such a scene, I like to say out loud, “I see that!” It’s my way of letting God know that I see His creativity and how much I appreciate it.

Small Things Add Up

Last Thursday was such a good day!  There wasn’t one specific thing that made it good, but rather there were a number of smaller things that all added up to a great day.

Some of the small things during that day were:

  • A sunny Autumn sky
  • Red, orange, and yellow leaves in the trees
  • A couple productive collaboration sessions with colleagues
  • A nice walk through the neighborhood with my wife
  • Getting several tasks completed at work

Each one of these things represented a small thread that were all stitched together to create one great day. 

I was reminded that something doesn’t have to be big or extravagant to be great.  Great things are often the result of many smaller things taken together or even by themselves.  Any one of the experiences listed above would have made for a good day.  They effect they had together made for a day that was indeed great.

I’m glad I didn’t fail to notice it.

The Best You’re Capable Of

Whenever time or effort is required of me, either voluntarily, for work, or just for fun, I think it’s important to give the best effort I’m capable of within the given conditions.  I’m not a big fan of mailing it in.

Whether it’s carving a turkey at Thanksgiving, giving a presentation, or anything in between, why would we want to give anything less than our bet effort?  The effort we give our tasks sets the tone for how we approach life.  When we decide to offer our best, we are deciding that we want to show up and engage life.  We expect more than the minimum daily requirements, from life as well as from ourselves.

Besides, when we offer our best to the world, we are encouraging others to do the same.

Helping Those Behind You

This week, my team at work was interviewing for a senior-level data analyst member.  It’s pretty easy to tell whether someone has the technical skills to do the job based on the sample of the work they bring to the interview, as well as how they describe the work experience they’ve acquired throughout their career.  We had one candidate form a different department in our organization that is brand new in the field, with very little experience, but they sure stood out.

While it was obvious that this candidate didn’t have the necessary qualifications, I was impressed by the steps they had taken, and are scheduled to take, in order to educate themselves about data analysis.  At one point during the interview, they showed us a sample of a coding exercise they had done in school, and while, by their own admission, it was very basic, it is where we all start… at the very beginning. 

This person is excited to be on the journey and eager to learn about data analysis.  Toward the end of the interview, they humbly mentioned that they would be interested in any guidance, assistance, or mentoring anyone on the team would be willing to provide.  The team mentioned that they would be eager to offer any help they could.

After the interview was over, I had a career flashback.  In this candidate, I saw myself at the start of my career.  I remember being new to the filed, proud of the first basic code I had just written, while at the same time knowing that I had so much more to learn.  Fortunately, I still feel that way.

I was reminded of the experienced people who helped me grow my knowledge and gain the experience I lacked.  People like Edwin, Chuck, Joel, and Prasenjit.  These kind folks were extremely generous with their time, listening to my questions and helping me understand new and often confusing concepts.  They were willing to take the time to invest in someone who didn’t yet have much to offer, but who was eager to learn.  I am grateful for their investment in me.

Flash back to the present.  Ever since that interview, I’ve been thinking how quickly the time went from when I was someone with no skills, but a strong willingness to learn, to someone who can actually reach back and help someone coming up behind me.  I can think of no better way to honor Edwin, Chuck, Joel, and Prasenjit’s investment in me than reaching back and offering a hand to this person behind me. 

There’s A Price To Pay

Here’s a bit of wisdom that everyone already knows:  sacrifice is the price we pay to achieve success.

Think about this:

If we want to:We sacrifice our:
Earn a degreeFree time in order to study
Lose weight and get in shapeDesire to eat anything we want and to remain sedentary
Be in a committed relationshipRight to have it our way all the time, because there is now someone else’s input to consider.
Become debt freeDesire to take expensive vacations and buy whatever we want
Succeed in a chose career fieldTime in order acquire and continuously hone our skills
Raise childrenThe list is endless!

The attainment of any worthy goal is proceeded by sacrifices.  To be ignorant of this fact will lead to frustration and scant progress as we pursue our goals.  That’s why it’s a good idea to know the price to be paid before we start on a goal. 

It’s also good to understand that, if we’re not willing go make the required sacrifice, we should probably adjust our goals accordingly.

Ready When It Happened

I’m currently reading 2 books.  (Actually, I’m reading one and listening to another.)  The first book (Highest Duty) is about Captain Chesley Sullenberger.  He’s the airline pilot that successfully made an emergency landing in the Hudson river after engine failures caused by bird strikes.  The second book (A Captain’s Duty) is about Captain Richard Phillips.  He was the captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama that was taken captive by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. 

Each book tells a story of leadership during extraordinary circumstances.  In both accounts, I’m struck how each leader had prepared themselves for their moment in history.  When their historic moments came, they had already been prepared. 

Both of these captains were responsible for the successful operation of expensive machinery, as well as for the lives of the people aboard those machines.  In each volume, the captain talks about how they trained their crew or considered scenarios that could go wrong, in preparation for were that scenario happened to them. 

Captain Sullenberger and Captain Phillips each seemed to have a sense of responsibility (a duty, as suggested in the title of each book) to be prepared to lead well, no matter what circumstance presented itself.  I think that’s also true for us as well.  While we may not be piloting commercial aircraft or large cargo container ships, we too are responsible for leading well in our families, in the places we work, and in our communities.

These captains had taken the time to prepare themselves, through learning, repetition, and thought, long before these critical events demanded their leadership.   So, when the moment arose, they were ready.

It seems there’s a lesson in their stories for us.  We should continue to sharpen our knowledge and abilities in the areas where we are considered leaders.  That way, when our leadership is called on, we’ll be ready too.

It Makes Sense To Them

Brace yourself, because I’m about to drop a news flash!  Ready?  Not everyone shares the same viewpoints as me.  Whoa, that’s huge!  Here’s an even bigger news flash… not everyone shares the same viewpoints as you either.  BOOM!!

You’re probably sarcastically thinking, “Thanks for dropping the obvious on me, Scott.  I had no idea!”  If that’s your thought, then you’d be right; we all obviously know that not everyone agrees with our viewpoints and opinions.  Yet while we know this to be true, I think we sometimes forget that a person’s viewpoint or opinion, which may seem strange, or even wrong to us, makes perfect sense to them.

There is a reason why a person thinks the way they do, or believes what they believe.  Their viewpoints are likely shaped by their own unique life experiences, which are probably not the exact same life experiences that we’ve had. 

Ok, that seems pretty obvious too.  So why do I bring it up?

There’s so much divisiveness now.  It seems when we encounter someone with a differing viewpoint, we feel we a need to defend our position.  We’re eager enter into a debate and convince the other person that their viewpoint is wrong, and if they had even a slight modicum of intelligence, they would adopt our position.  We already know where that usually leads: more discord, animosity, hurt feelings, and possibly fractured relationships.  I propose another response to differing viewpoints.

What if, the next time we’re confronted with an opposing viewpoint, instead of immediately entering into a debate, we try to genuinely find out why the person holds that viewpoint?  Not with toxic accusations or labeling, but with a genuine curiously and non-inflammatory questions.  What if we cared enough to see beyond the differences, and to see the person and their experience that lead them to the viewpoints they hold?  

My guess is, that once we’ve taken the time to understand someone, we’ll have a better comprehension of why they think the way they do.  Who knows?  We might even change our own viewpoint in the process.

A Thought On Unity

There’s a lot of talk currently about how divided we are in the US.  While I think that’s true, I also think there is a lot that still unites us. 

Consider the following things that still unite us with other people:

  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Church and religious beliefs
  • Hobbies
  • Places we work
  • Clubs and affinity groups
  • Colleges and universities we’ve attended
  • Civic groups
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Common goals
  • Neighborhoods
  • Common experiences
  • Countries or states of origin

That’s a good, yet incomplete list!  We don’t realize all the things that bring unity until we pause long enough to consider them.  I’m encouraged by such list. 

Unity doesn’t mean “in total agreement with”.  In fact, we can have unity with someone, even when we don’t agree with them.  For example, you can disagree with a relative, yet still have unity with them as a member of your family. 

Disagreeing, or having differing viewpoints, with someone doesn’t mean we can’t have unity with them.  We’re not required to hate someone and treat them poorly, simply because we don’t agree with them on a specific topc. Why would we sacrifice unity on the altar of disagreement?  Why would we throw out a relationship simply because of differing viewpoint or opinion?  That seems wasteful to me.

When you have a disagreement with a friend, family member, or someone you currently have unity with, remember that you can still be united, even amidst differing opinions or viewpoints.

Unity and disagreement are not mutually exclusive.