The Unknown

What are the first thoughts that go through your mind when you hear the phrase, “The Unknown”?  Is it:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Scary
  • Confusing
  • A mystery
  • Something to be avoided

If we think of The Unknown as a destination, it represents somewhere we have never been, and therefore have never had any experience with.  I’d like to introduce the following thought regarding The Unknown:

“Just because you’ve never been somewhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there.”

Think about that for a moment.  What if you never:

  • Traveled to a place you’ve never been before
  • Attempted to learn something new
  • Met people you didn’t already know
  • Undertook something you’ve never done before
  • Exposed yourself to different cultures and surroundings

What kind of impact do you think this would have on us?  What is the price we would pay in terms of the richness and quality of our lives if we always sought to avoid The Unknown?  Although I’m not exactly sure how you’d quantify that, I am certain the price would be quite high.

While The Unknown can be a scary place, and sometimes a place we didn’t choose to go, we shouldn’t be afraid of it simply because it is unknown to us.  For it can also be:

  • Exciting
  • Life changing in a positive way
  • Filled with opportunity
  • Full of adventure
  • Eagerly awaiting your arrival to bestow unimaginable joy and blessings
  • Where you’ll learn more about yourself than you every thought possible
  • An experience you’ll be able to encourage others with

The next time you’re feeling nervous or scared about venturing into The Unknown, seek out someone who has been where you haven’t been or has done what you haven’t done yet.  For them, our destination is not unknown.  Their experience can give us the courage we need as we step into our Unknown.

Here’s a final thought:  Someone else’s scary Unknown is familiar territory for you.  When you come across these people, put an arm around them and encourage them as they step in.


Filling in the Blanks

I’m currently reading a very interesting book by Cleveland Clinic’s Customer Experience Officer James Merlino, MD titled, “Service Fanatics:  How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way”.  In the book, Dr. Merlino discusses the different aspects of providing a quality experience for the clinic’s patients.  One section that I found particularly interesting was the reality that when patients lack information, they tend to fill in the blanks.

Dr. Merlino talks about how a patient that has been admitted to a hospital most likely has all day to lay there and think almost exclusively about their condition and the illness or injury that ails them.  Their condition is likely the “big thing” on their mind, causing them to think about how it may affect their future, what could go wrong, or a host of other concerns.

As a result, patients are eager for information from doctors and other care givers about their condition and in the absence of information from their caregivers, patients start to fill in the blanks for themselves.  If the patient had a test that the doctor ordered, and they haven’t received the results from their doctor shortly thereafter, they may start to wonder whether the doctor has received the results or whether the results showed something bad that the doctor isn’t telling them or a whole host of other, usually negative, scenarios.

This got me thinking, although I’m not a doctor, have I ever caused someone to fill in the blanks because they were waiting for a response from me regarding a topic that was extremely urgent or important to them?  I’m sure I have.  I’m also reminded that what may seem normal, routine, or of low priority to one person may be totally new uncharted and even scary territory for someone else.

As we’re going through life and setting our priorities at work, home, and in our communities, let’s be aware of those we’re interacting with and scenarios they’re facing.  If they’re facing something critical and need information from us, let’s provide it quickly.  If we can’t provide it quickly, let’s at least keep people informed on our progress, so they’re not left to fill in the blanks.

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.

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.

How Will it Affect Them

Have you ever had something that you wanted to do that you knew would cause stress or anxiety to someone close to you?  What did you do?  How did you make a decision in light of the other person’s anxiety?

I was listening to a podcast this week where a married couple was talking about life stuff and sharing some recent examples from their own marriage.  One of the spouses was planning on getting a tattoo, while the other was really anxious and struggling with the decision, hoping their spouse would not go through with it.  The struggling spouse realized that it was not their decision to make and acknowledged that they had no right to tell their spouse not to get the tattoo.  The spouse getting the tattoo also agreed that it was their decision alone to make.

What struck me about the spouse getting the tattoo was how they didn’t seem have any concern for the anxiety or concerns of their partner.  There didn’t appear to be any consideration given to struggle and stress their other-half was having, and the message that was indirectly communicated multiple times was, “you’re just going to have to deal with it.”

I’m not saying that we need to make all of our decisions based on what other people think.  That would be ridiculous.  However, when we know in advance that our decisions will have a negative impact on those closest to us; I think it warrants some extra thought on our end, and certainly some honest discussion with each other.

Those closest to us are close for a reason.  They’re important to us. We like being around them.  We love them.

When faced with a decision that could negatively impact a loved one, be sure to spend the necessary amount of time communicating, which is both talking AND listening, so you know exactly where they’re coming from.  Based on the feedback you get, and the importance of what you’re considering, you’ll be able to make a decision that, although it may still cause the other person stress and anxiety, will communicate that you wanted and considered their point of view as part of your decision making process.

Remember Your Good Samaritans

Can you remember a time when you were assisted by a Good Samaritan?  Perhaps you were stuck, lost, in need, or even scarred, and someone came by and offered the very assistance you needed at the very moment you needed it, and they didn’t want anything in return.

I think we’ve all had a moment, or moments, like that.  For me I can think of more than once when I was helped by Good Samaritan, and each time I felt a strong sense of gratitude.  I’ve attempted to show my thanks with some dollar amount, but I’ve always been turned down.  These people just helped me out without expecting, or wanting, anything in return.

I was reminded of the good Samaritans in my life recently when I got to play this role, along with several others, for 2 people who had got their car stuck in some gravel at a trailhead.  We all got together and pushed their car out and they were on their way, extremely grateful that some good Samaritans were there to help them out.

That incident also reminded me of the ability we all have to be good Samaritans in the lives of others.  After we helped the 2 peoples get their car unstuck, I thought about how grateful I was to the people that helped me in the past and felt that in some way, I was paying back their kindness to me by helping someone else.

Try something this week.  Think about the Good Samaritans in you past and be aware of opportunities to honor them by freely helping out someone else in need.  Not only will it make you feel good, you’ll probably encourage them to do likewise for someone else in their future.


We’re Not That Different

The disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370 has dominated the news for several weeks.  This story is especially heart breaking when you begin to think about the family members of the passengers who will never see their loved ones again.  I can’t imagine the pain and grief they must be experiencing.

One recent news broadcast showed some of these family members after they were given news about the search results (or lack of results).  The family members shown on the broadcast were all from China, and experiencing very real and very raw emotional responses to the fact that no one knew where their loved ones were.  Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could tell from their wailing and facial expressions that they were hurting and struggling with the fact that life without their loved ones was becoming a reality.

Seeing these suffering people of another culture half a world away caused me to realize just how similar people of different cultures usually are.  Although the family members on the news spoke a different language and have different customs and norms than I do, they have family and people in their lives that they love.  Just like me.  And when those people are suddenly taken away, they are severely impacted and feel the loss in a painful way, just like I would.

It’s easy to look at people from another culture, or part of the world, and think them strange or weird because they are different from us.  But on a human level, we’re all wired for community and to love and be loved.  In this regard, there is great cross cultural similarity. This commonality is a great place to start building connections and understanding with people of different cultures.

I’m fortunate to have worked with a lot of people from India during my career.  I’ve enjoyed learning about their lives in India, their families, and their culture.  It has really opened my eyes to the world beyond the borders of North America.  Do you work with, or live next to, or regularly cross paths with people from a different culture that you don’t know that well?  If so, here are a few suggestions to help you make a connection and show that you are interested in learning more about them and their culture:

  •          Ask them about their families and how they interact with each other:  siblings, parents, spouses, children, grandparents.
  •          Read a book about their culture and ask them specific questions about something you read that you found interesting or didn’t understand.
  •          Ask them how to pronounce their name and practice pronouncing it correctly.

o   Ask if they have any nick names they prefer being called.

Cause something to happen that broadens your understanding of the world by interacting with people who differ culturally from you.  Remember that they’re people who have loved ones they care about just like you.  It’s a great way to connect with others and to increase your understanding of people on a more global scale.

How to Get Out of Prison

Would you ever volunteer to spend several years of your life in prison?  Think about that.  Would you voluntarily decide to sacrifice, say, 10 or more years of your current life for that of a prison inmate?  My answer to that question is, “Are you kidding me?!  Who in their right mind would do something as stupid as that?!”  However, I think that every day, many people voluntarily send themselves to a prison of frustration, despair and under achievement.  And it’s not a judge, jury, or court that sentences people to this prison.  What sends most people to the prison I describe is the conviction of their own thinking.

Just this week, I was talking with someone who was telling me how bad everything in their life was going.  During our conversation, they unknowingly gave me glimpses into their thinking through the language they chose to describe their situation.  It was negative and self-defeating and stripped them of any ability to change their current situation.  Their thinking had made them hopeless, and the more hopeless they became, the further their thinking deteriorated.

I left that conversation frustrated, because I knew that, although their situation was challenging, it wasn’t as insurmountable as their thinking made it out to be.  With some minor changes to their thinking, they could easily attain a more hopeful outlook, and even restore a degree of joy about life again.  Instead, they chose to extend the sentence they have placed on themselves by the thinking they continued to employ.

When the conversation was over, I felt like I had just left a prison after visiting an incarcerated inmate.  It was a heavy feeling, knowing that they could begin to free themselves from their self-imposed sentence by simply changing their thinking, but realizing that that wasn’t a choice they were going to make.

Is there any area in your life where you’ve sentenced yourself through the court of your own thinking?  What negative thoughts about people, situations, or circumstances are affecting you outlook in a negative way?  Give some thought to these questions this week.  When you discover an area where your thinking is imprisoning you, cause something to happen by determining alternative ways of thinking about the situation that improves your outlook and restores hope and confidence in the future.  (If you need a source to help you change your thinking for the better, I’d recommend reading the book of Proverbs.  It is filled with great wisdom and principles that will have a profound impact on your thinking.)

Don’t spend another day in a prison of your own negative thinking.  Decide today to improve your thinking and set yourself free.

You don’t have to be 9 Feet Tall to be a Giant

There has been a lot spoken about the life of Nelson Mandela in the weeks following his death.  His legacy is being compared with the likes of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  One thing is certain; on the world stage, Nelson Mandela was big.

I was familiar with his imprisonment and how he forgave his captors as well as him being the first black president of South Africa.  What I didn’t fully understand about this great man was the degree to which he was loved by the people of South Africa.  He was held in high regard by them and often referred to as “the father of the nation”.  In the hearts of the South African people, and people around the world, he wasn’t just big, he was a giant.

Wouldn’t you like to be a giant like that?  I would!  What a great legacy it would be to have had such a positive impact and influence on so many people around the world.  Nelson Mandela was a unique figure in history.  People such as him don’t come along very often.  There are few people that have, or will, leave a similar mark on the world stage.

But don’t lose heard, because there’s good news!  Every one of us has the capacity to be a giant.  We can be giants in our families, our communities, and our circles of influence.

So how do we go about being giants?  What does being a giant in our circles of influence look like?  Here are some actions you can take toward becoming a giant to those around you:

  1. Love those around you and those closest to you.  Don’t just say you love them; show them with your actions and how you live your life.  If you’re not sure what love in action looks like, check out 1 Corinthians 13.
  2. Be a “value add” in the lives of people.  Encourage others.  Listen to them.  Help them out when you can.  Forgive them when it’s needed, or seek forgiveness when it’s needed.
  3. Be present.  When you’re with someone close to you, let your actions show how important they are to you.  Turn the cell phone off and focus on the interaction with them.  Remove distractions and pay attention to what they’re saying.  Ask questions.  It’s a big deal when someone you care about decides to spend some of their time with you.  Their time, like yours, is valuable.  Honor them by being present.

Wouldn’t we all like to know that we were a significant part of the lives of those closest to us, and that we made a difference to them?  We’re all capable of being giants to those around us.  We need only chose to do so and follow that decision up with consistent action that shows those around us that we value them.

Start becoming a giant today.  You’ll feel great from the positive impacts this will have on your relationships, and others will be blessed by having a giant in their lives.

Pay Someone

It seems like we’re always paying people.  Perhaps it’s the grocery store for our recent purchase, or maybe it’s the waiter or waitress at the restaurant.  We pay the utility company, the bank, the cellphone company and many other people and organizations as part of going about our daily lives.  Regardless of that, I’m going to suggest that you cause something truly beneficial to happen this week by finding additional people to pay.

I can already hear the response, “The only thing finding more people to pay is going to cause is me going broke!”  Don’t worry.  I’m not suggesting you find new creditors to send monthly payments to.  Far from it!  In fact, I’m not even suggesting there be a monetary exchange at all.  What I am suggesting is that you find people to whom you can pay a genuine compliment.

Most people enjoy receiving a sincere compliment.   I know I do!  So why not leverage our capacity to brighten someone elses’s day with a sincere compliment by looking for opportunities to do so?

We can all think of someone we know who has done a good job for us, or whose work we admire.  Perhaps it’s someone with a remarkable skill or attitude.  It can be a colleague we work with, someone whose services we use, or even a friend, family member, or a total stranger we witness doing something good.

I had a chance to do this with my veterinarian this week.  He recently was successful in treating our cat for a condition she had been suffering from for quite some time.  His logical, methodical approach impressed me as much as the immediate results we that saw in our cat.  So when we ran into him at the store this week, I told him.  I told him how impressed I was with his methodical approach and how much I appreciated the results of his efforts.  After I paid him this compliment, he was all smiles.  Now I’m not saying that my compliment was the highlight of his day, but based on his response, I could tell that he really appreciated hearing it.

Be on the lookout in the days ahead, and every day for that matter, for people to whom you can pay a genuine compliment.  When you find them, be generous with the currency of your kind words.  Let them know specifically what they’ve done, or what they do, that sparked your compliment.  Also let them know what that means to you.  Not only will it cause them to feel good to be paid a sincere compliment, it will also make you feel good to share some kind words with someone else.