Swing for the Fence

Imagine you’re on a baseball team and it’s your turn to bat.  You’ve been practicing at the batting cage, and you’ve become quite good; not to mention, you enjoy batting.  Could you imagine saying to your coach, “You know what, Coach?  I don’t know if I’m ready for this.  What if I strike out?  I think I’ll skip my turn and go back to the comfort and security of the batting cage and let someone else bat instead.”

That would be ridiculous, right?  Who would do that?!

I would argue that we may be guilty of doing something similar when we doubt or play down our abilities in the face of opportunities that would grow and stretch us out of our comfort zone.

It’s easy to wish for opportunity, or even seek it out, in the comfort of the daily routine.  However, when an opportunity actually presents itself, we often begin doubting our abilities and whether we’re really capable of being successful.  We wonder if we are capable of rising to the challenge, or if maybe we’re really not as good as we, or others, might think.

It’s totally normal to have some doubts or be nervous about taking on a new and challenging opportunity.  However, what’s tragic is when we decide not to pursue an opportunity we’re capable of either out of fear of failing or because we doubt our own proven skills and ability.

I heard a quote recently that stated:

“In 20 years we won’t be disappointed by the things we did to; we’ll be most disappointed by the things we didn’t do.”

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity that will stretch you and your abilities, grab your bat, step up to the plate, and swing for the fence!  Take the risk.  Step out of your comfort zone and into the challenge, and give it your best shot.  And if you happen to fail, which you most likely will NOT, at least you’ll go down swinging.

Always remember: No Grand Slam home runs have ever been hit from the safety and security of the batting cage.

The Intersection

On Monday evening January 12th Ohio State played the University of Oregon for the College Football National Championship in Dallas Texas.  What struck me most about the game was not the score or the collective ability of each team, but the very clear life lesson that was on display during the game.  The lesson was that great things happen at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Although I was rooting for the University of Oregon, myself being from Oregon, I was really impressed with the performance of the Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

Consider this:

  • The National Championship game was only his the 3rd college start as quarterback
  • At the beginning of the season, he was the 3rd string quarterback on his team

I was amazed by these facts while watching the game.  While on the biggest stage in college football, Jones showed the command and poise of a seasoned quarterback.  He didn’t look like a 3rd string quarterback, or someone who had only started 3 games.  He looked like he belonged there.  Was he perfect?  No.  Did he make mistakes?  For sure!  However, he was able to step in for his team when his number was called late in the season and perform extremely well.  Well enough to help win a National Championship.

It is obvious from his performance that he had been practicing and preparing for the opportunity.  His preparation intersected with his opportunity, and great things happened.

If Jones hadn’t been diligent in practice while he was still the 3rd string quarterback, he never would have done so well when he got the nod to lead the offense.  Imagine what a different outcome Jones would have had if he had said, “Once I’m the starting quarterback, then I’ll really start practicing!  However, since I’m only the 3rd string, there’s really no point in doing my best at practice.”  Jones had great performances during his 3 starts because he put in the effort to prepare himself in practice; to be ready for the opportunity, even when he didn’t see one or know that one was coming.

What about you?  Are there areas where you need to begin preparing for a future opportunity?  Is there a class you need to take, a habit or discipline you need to develop or stop?  Is there a reading, networking, exercise, or eating plan you need to get on?  If so, begin today.  Don’t’ delay and think, “I’ll start preparing when I see an opportunity.”  That kind of thinking leaves out half of the intersection equation:  There can be no greatness-causing intersection between preparation and opportunity if opportunity shows up alone.

So begin preparing today for the opportunities you seek in the future.  My guess is that, if you’re preparing, the opportunities are closer than you think.

What Football Can Teach Us About Goal Setting – Part 2

There was some good college bowl games played on New Year’s Day 2015!  Ohio State and Alabama played a close game in the Sugar Bowl that went down to the last play, and Oregon dismantled Florida State in the Rose Bowl, breaking a Florida State 29 game winning streak in the process.  Despite the differences in each game, there was one aspect that was exactly the same:  Each team knew the significance of the goal line.

I love the name:  “goal line”.  It very clearly states the objective of the entire game for each team, no matter what side of the ball they’re on.  For the offense, the objective is to cross the goal line and score points for your team.  For the defense, the objective is to keep your opponent from crossing the goal line and scoring.

The goal line is a very clearly defined critical reference point that each team is striving to cross or protect.  There is no question from anyone, on either team, as to the objective of the game and the goal they’re working toward.

Imagine if there was no goal line in football.  The game would be confusing and chaotic, with no one really knowing what they were supposed to be doing or what the objective of the game was.  It can be like that in our own lives without clearly defined goals.  If we don’t know what goal lines we want to cross for our lives in 2015, we will be unclear and confused as to our daily direction.  In addition, unless we’re content just drifting through the year like a leaf in a stream, going wherever the current takes us, we’re going to be disappointed on December 31st 2015 when we realize we haven’t made any progress or significant changes in our life.

What goal lines have you defined for yourself for 2015?  Do you know what you’re moving toward achieving throughout 2015?   If so, great!  Begin taking steps every day to move ever closer to crossing your goal line.  If you haven’t determined what your goal lines for 2015 are, it’s not too late.  Spend some time deciding what you’d like to accomplish this year and clearly define what success in those areas looks like for you.  The definitions you create will be your goal lines.  Your objective for the year will be to make incremental progress toward crossing them.

What Football Can Teach Us About Goal Setting

With 2014 drawing to a close, many people have begun setting goals for 2015.  I like setting goals for the coming year.  It provides direction, purpose, and focus for the next 12 months.  However, sometimes it can be frustrating when we don’t see immediate results, and it feels like we’re not making progress as quickly as we’d like.  When this occurs, I think we can gain great perspective and encouragement from the sport of American football.

The objective of American football is for the offense to advance the ball down the field and into the end zone for a touchdown.  What’s interesting, from the standpoint of pursuing goals, is the process for advancing the ball.  In its simplest form, the offense:

  1. Huddles up to hear the play (the plan) that will be run on the upcoming down
  2. Lines up and executes the play
  3. Examines the results, makes any necessary adjustments, and runs another play

That’s so similar to the process of pursuing a goal we’ve established.  While pursuing a goal we:

  1. Create a plan for achieving our goal
  2. Execute our plan
  3. Examine our results periodically, make any needed adjustments, and continue forward with our plan

We continue this process until the year is up or the goal is achieved.  In either case, we continue the pursuit of our goal, or define a new set of goals and advance toward their achievement.

It’s pretty uncommon in football that the offense will throw the ball all the way down field and score a touchdown every time they have the ball.  Likewise, our big goals are rarely achieved on our first attempt.  They usually take time and consistent effort, as well as an occasional tweaking of our plan, rather than one quick heroic effort.  That’s how the majority of touchdowns are scored and how goals are achieved.

As you set your goals for 2015 and create plans to achieve them, remember the following: they will take time to achieve and adjusting your plan is part of the process.  If you stay committed to the process, I have now doubt you’ll achieve the goals you set.

What’s the Outcome We’re Expecting

Have you ever hopped in the car with somewhere important to go and just found yourself driving around and never making it to the destination?  It may be somewhere we’ve been multiple times, or it may be somewhere we’ve never been before.  Regardless, when we get in the car and start the engine, we usually know where it is we would like to go, so our probability of getting to our destination is quite high.

What about a meeting, appointment, or important phone conversation?  How many times do we begin one without really knowing or specifying what a successful outcome looks like, leaving others in attendance to think to themselves, “Where is this going”?  I think the best way to avoid this scenario is to ask the people in attendance for their expectations.

Business consultant Ray Edwards addressed this in a recent podcast (time remaining 6:03), and I thought his insight was significant.  At the beginning of any call he has with a client he asks, “So that we get the most out of this call, what’s the most important thing that needs to happen on this call?”

What a great question to ask!  This question is applicable not only for phone calls, but also for meetings and appointments.  The question allows everyone in attendance to know the desired outcome the appointment was created to achieve, as well as creating a framework to keep the appointment on task.  I’ve already asked this question once this week, prior to a scheduled meeting, and found the insight I received enabled me to better participate.

If you find that your meetings, appointments or important phone conversations lack direction or a specific outcome, try doing one of the following before the meeting:

  • Describe to the attendees the desired outcome of the appointment. This is most applicable if you scheduled the appointment.  It lets everyone know why they are there.
  • Ask attendees if there is any specific outcome they need from the appointment.

Asking this simple question, or stating a desired outcome at the beginning of an appointment, will bring focus and efficiency that may otherwise not be present.  Not only will your appointments be more successful, those in attendance will appreciate being asked what is important to them.

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.

A Compelling Why

We give up way too easy.  It’s simple to begin a new pursuit or activity, but often, after the fun and excitement wears off, we abandon our efforts and give up.

Perhaps we do this because there are so many things competing for our attention.  As soon as we discover something new, we’re captivated by something else that has caught our attention.  More likely, when we’re faced with actually doing the work, we quickly find out how committed to we really are… or aren’t.

I’ve struggled with starting new ventures and not following through, usually due to 1 or both of the reasons described above.  Now, before I begin a new pursuit, I determine:

  • If I has a compelling reason why I want to do it
  • If I have the commitment, as well as the time, to daily do the work required to achieve success

I’ve decided that I must have a compelling reason; a compelling “Why”.  A reason why I want this?  Without a good answer to that question, it’s too easy to quit before starting or when things start to get tough.  So, without a compelling “Why”, I move on to something else.

Once I’ve decided to start, I gauge my commitment by thinking of the acrostic FOCUS:

Follow

One

Course

Until

Successful

 

This reminds me that it is not about starting new things, but about following through on those things I’ve started until successful.  I find that if I don’t adopt this mindset, I’ll often start a bunch of new ventures but achieve success in few, if any.

 

So what about you?  Do you tend to start ventures and fail to complete them?  It could be you started without a compelling “Why” or even the commitment required to be successful.  If that’s the case, start being aware of why you’re doing something and whether you’re committed to seeing it through to success.  If you are, GREAT!  It’s time to get started.  If not, that’s great too.  Just keep looking for something where you have both a compelling “Why” and the commitment.  Then when you find it, dive in and give it your best.

Shut Up or Do Something

It’s easy to complain, and most people don’t need much practice to get good at it.  Sometimes complaining to the appropriate people is the right thing to do, like when you receive a bad product or service or experience poor treatment from a merchant.  In these circumstances we should complain, but we should always do so respectfully with tact and the right motive.

However, I think we often complain:

  • About people or things that have always been the way they are.
  • About things we have no intention of changing.
  • To any listening ear that is willing to hear us complain.

What good does this do?  How does this benefit you? Complaining like this takes away your power to direct the course of your life and instead fosters a victim mentality.  Unless complaining sparks action, it serves only to ensure you get more of what you’ve always been getting.  It’s also draining to you and others around you of energy and optimism.  Worse yet, it signals to others that you’re not a person of action, but merely a chronic complainer.

Instead of just complaining, try taking action that will improve the situation you’re complaining about. Why allow yourself to be just another complaining voice? The next time you find yourself complaining for the wrong reasons, add the following closing statement to the end of your complaint:  “…and this is what I’m going to do to make it better…”  Then do it!

Try this for the next week and observe the results.  At the very least, you’ll most likely gain a great sense of accomplishment and an improved attitude.  You’ll also find yourself becoming a person of influence, impact, and action.

How to be an Idea Machine

I’m trying to get better at coming up with ideas.  When trying to envision something that doesn’t exist, or isn’t your current reality, it’s extremely easy to say, “I don’t know” and give up before we even begin to think.  But that response doesn’t cause change or improve your situation.  It merely keeps you where you are, which is fine, unless you’re looking to make a change.

There are 3 truths about generating ideas that I find helpful as I attempt to improve my ability to come up with ideas.  They are:

  1. Most of your ideas won’t be any good. I find this liberating because it frees me up from thinking that all my ideas need to be stellar.  Instead, I can just focus on coming up with a large quantity of ideas for problem.  From that quantity, there he is bound to be something that creates the spark of a good idea.
  1. You don’t need to come up with original ideas. Instead, build on existing ideas.  Take prepackaged salad you get at the grocery store.  There’s nothing new there: chopped up lettuce.  The idea was to do the chopping for the customer so as to be more convenient.  Sounds like a good idea to me!  And from the number of stores that carry bags of chopped up lettuce, I’d say a lot of other people thought it was a good idea too!
  1. You can get better at coming up with ideas. The three best ways I can think of to do this are:
    • Every day, come up with 10 ideas for a problem you’re facing.
    • Read books or listen to podcasts in your area of interest on a daily basis.
    • Be curious about life. Observe similarities between different events, scenarios, or problems.

Life is more fun when you’re engaged and using your mind to chart the course for the life you want to live.  Begin developing your ability to generate actionable ideas and take charge of the direction you want your life to go.  That’s what successful people do.  People like you.

Throw Something Out There

Sometimes all that’s needed is an idea, even if it’s a bad one.

Have you ever been I a group where a decision needs to be made, but no ideas or suggestions are coming?  I have!  (In fact, I was in one such meeting less than 2 hours prior to writing this blog.)  These gatherings can be frustrating because the focus of the group seems be on the problem versus finding a solution.

Sometimes I find that what’s needed most in this scenario is an idea, any idea, just to cause people to start thinking and narrowing down the discussion toward a decision.  Throwing out an idea, be it good, bad, or ugly, gets the conversation off of the problem, and focuses it on a solution.

Say you throw out a bad idea to solve the problem at hand and no one in the group likes it.  Great!  The group’s negative reaction to the idea is the spark that begins the conversation toward a better idea, and ultimately a solution and course of action.

Don’t worry about looking dumb or foolish.  Instead, focus on starting the conversation and navigating discussion toward a solution.  Specifically, ask others what they think of the idea or what they don’t like about it or how they would change it.  Use their ideas to build on the initial bad idea.  Instead of trying to be the one that comes up with all the great ideas, focus on being the one that can take input from the group  and orchestrate solutions by leveraging the knowledge and wisdom of its members.

Look for opportunities this week to throw out initial ideas and then help others to shape and build them into a viable solution to the problem at hand. You’ll become a valuable contributor to your team and a person of action; a person who causes something to happen.