Does this subplot play out in your life, too?

He wants to be a hard news reporter. But it turns out that John’s real gift is writing columns about happenings in his own and others’ lives. Connecting with readers in a personal way brings him energy and enthusiasm. His editor calls his work “a national treasure” or, at least, a “regional” one (if I remember the line correctly.)

picture-33His full name is John Grogan. You might recognize him as the author of the bestselling book Marley & Me which was just released in movie form over the holidays.

The main story line is, of course, Marley the dog and his penchant for disobedience in pretty much any form one might imagine. Grogan’s dubbing him “the world’s worst dog” is a well-deserved rap in both book and movie.

But within the Marley movie is a small, easily-missed subplot about the author (played by Owen Wilson) and his struggle (perhaps that’s too strong a word) to pursue his life in his own way as a newspaper reporter, instead of using the gift that brings him, his wife (played by Jennifer Aniston), and thousands of readers much pleasure.

I would have missed the significance of this subplot had it not been for a colleague’s account of seeing the movie with her soon-to-be husband. “Like many of us,” she said, “We think we’re supposed to be doing one thing, when it’s another that we get so much personal and professional satisfaction from.”

It’s unfortunate that many of us feel the same way. For whatever reasons, we’re doing good work but we’d really love to do other things. In some cases, we may be completely dissatisfied with what we’re doing.

Can we make money doing what we really like to do?

Marsha Sinetar thinks so. She’s an organizational psychologist and author of the book Do What You Love the Money Will Follow. She poses four questions:

1. What is my real life’s purpose? (What do I want to have accomplished when I look back upon my life in old age?)

2. How, specifically would I have to think, speak and act in order to bring that purpose into being? (What habits would I need to cultivate and what would I have to delete from my present life to live out my true purpose?)

3. What activities—what actual daily choices, attitudes and concrete accomplishments—would I do if I lived as if my purpose meant something to me?

4. How would I live, on a day to day basis, if I respected myself, others, my life’s purpose?

So, what do you love to do?

Here’s another post that looks at this topic from a different angle.

Four tips to keep your resolutions alive

With the Christmas holiday behind us, we turn (overstuffed, no doubt) to the next milestone in the season: the New Year, which we will dutifully mark with football games, parades, and more food. And, because it’s “the new year,” about two thirds of us will use the opportunity to gin-up a resolution or two.

We’ll sign up to lose weight, manage debt, save money, get a better job, get fit, eat right, get an education, drink less, quit smoking and/or reduce stress. (These, by the way, are the most mentioned resolutions on a website that tracks them on our behalf.) Resolutions are good, we tell ourselves.

And they can be, although I’ve never really been a huge fan of using the changing year to suddenly attempt a self remake. Seems that a more useful approach is to fairly regularly look at ourselves and see if some adjustments or course corrections are warranted. So, that said, I’m going to proceed by changing the idea of a “resolution” into a “goal.”

istock_000000588057xsmall It’s a powerful feeling to know we’ve done what we set out to do: overcoming obstacles, being tenacious in the face of setbacks, and staying focused. Unfortunately, most of us will fall off the resolution bandwagon shortly after we get on. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are four ways you can tip the scales of success in your direction.

1. Ask: What do you really want?

This is the most important element in establishing an achievable goal. Think about it this way: If you really want something, you think about it, consciously and unconsciously giving it mental energy. You may even visualize it, sometimes vividly! (That’s a good thing, by the way.) Athletes often do this, for example. A distance runner might see herself crossing the finish line ahead of others, or a golfer may visualize his golf swing as a complete, smooth arc.

This kind of goal is different from those containing “I should’s” or “I oughta’s.” There’s an element of “If I’d just do (or stop doing) this, I’d be okay. Until then, I’m probably not.” Ouch. Not the best self-talk, that’s for sure. Let’s say, for example, that you feel you should spend more time with your family which, of course, implies that you don’t spend enough today. A more powerful way to say that is, “I want to build my relationship with my wife by spending quality time with her each day.” According to some, phrasing the goal in the present is even better. “I am building my relationship with my wife by spending quality time with her each day.”

Here are some other good examples. “I’m using my blog to help people succeed.” “I’m becoming more fit by walking three days a week.” “I’m eating more healthy by including one or two more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.”

2. Have a clear sense of “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

The examples above include a personal benefit (WIIFM) as well as a means to achieve it. Both are important ingredients in the recipe for achieving your goals.

The benefit can act as a magnet, drawing you toward something worthwhile. This takes on special meaning when your goal is a tough one, requires some sacrifice, or requires courage. For example, resisting the urge to smoke, taking on a new career challenge, or running on a treadmill for the first time in years can, at first, be pretty daunting. So, WIIFM?

In the case of smoking, quitting will likely give you more energy and stamina and result in a healthier life. Focusing on the benefits (health, energy, stamina) helps draw us to what we want, rather than on what we’re missing (smoking, in this case.) Sure, it’s a simplification, but the more you can “feel the feeling” that results from your goal—the more you’ll find the motivation for staying with it. This is “WIIFM?” at its finest.

3. Under promise, over deliver.

There’s something to be said for tough goals that are outside our easy grasp. Mega-goals can be good because they stretch us, give us confidence when achieved, and can set the example for others. But, generally, less is probably better.

Let’s say your goal is to get more physically fit next year. In an ideal world, you might have time to visit the gym seven days a week. But the world in which most of us live includes days that are chock full of real work, family, friends, you name it. So, why not set an achievable goal—one that makes you feel good when you actually do it?

Here’s a thought. Let’s say your achievable goal is to go to the gym three days a week. What if you actually made it four times one week? How would you feel?

This is not meant to low-ball goal setting. It’s about being realistic and achievable and feeling good about your progress.

4. Find reinforcements.

Many motivational experts say you should commit your goals or resolutions to paper. The value of doing this–especially if you write both the goal/resolution and the details associated with it–is that the physical act of writing it down helps solidify the idea in your thinking. If your goal has sub-goals associated with it, plan the steps to get there. Want to lose ten pounds? What will you do when you lose one, two, three, etc.? Consider including reminders and reinforcing messages in Outlook or your activity planner.

Your friends and family can help, too, especially if you use them to encourage and celebrate your success. Consider an “activity partner” who shares your same desire. Why walk alone during lunch when a work mate might enjoy it as well?

Remember that, at their core, goals and resolutions are meant to help us do something different. If we set them correctly, they will help us achieve greater happiness, success and fulfillment. There’s an old adage that says a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The lesson here is keeping the final destination in mind but, at the same time, valuing each step that gets us there.

And what if you don’t reach the goal? That’s okay. Try again. Take another step.

Here’s to step-by-step progress in 2009!

Different faces, different names, but really much the same

Christmas 2008 is drawing to a close. We have opened presents and feasted on far too much food. We may have talked about the Christmas days gone by with family, with friends. Or we may have dined without either. Some may not have eaten at all. The Christmas day goes on…in many ways.

I want to remember two things.

First, although it’s the day Christians and others celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, not everyone does. While we trust that they will embrace, honor and accept us for what we believe, hopefully, we embrace, honor and accept the differences that make them who they are.

Second, there are many people who are not able to celebrate (regardless of the day) because they are poor, or alone, or because…fill in your own blank.

Mostly, let’s remember that we’re one huge family of people. Let’s try to understand each other because we have more in common than we believe.

We’ll only know we’re right about that if we try.

May good things come to you and those you love in whatever belief, ethnicity or language that is yours.

The book, its cover, and slowing down

It’s an unusual art project that was recently unveiled in the small town of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. The effort offers learning at many levels, not the least of which is that what we initially see and experience may be quite different upon closer inspection.

picture-32Take “Trust,” Cochrane’s art project, for example (shown on the right).

From a distance, the painting appears to be a young cowboy and horse providing each other comfort and support. But when you look carefully, you find not a single painting, but 216 of them, each a foot square, each a complete painting in itself.

Founding artist Lewis Lavoie calls it a mural mosaic.

He creates a master image then designates panels to numerous artists who are provided color guidelines and, perhaps, some shapes to use. But each is free to create, so long as it fits within the theme of the mural. Lavoie points out that, unlike photo mosiacs which are individual photographs arranged like pixels using a computer, mural mosaics are fully hand painted by individual artists.

To see for yourself, go here. Click on any single image to see the individual artist’s contribution to “Trust.” Creating “Trust” is an illustration of teamwork and of appreciating how an individual’s contribution can be part of a greater tapestry. It’s a lesson in diversity.

It is also an example of what a friend, his wife and I were talking about as we discussed the old admonition to not judge a book by its cover. “I heard a father give advice to his son,” my friend said, “Judge slowly.”

How easily and how often we rush to conclusions about people or events without really understanding them. In fact, the world often rewards decisions and smart conclusions that get us to the bottom line quickly. Even author Malcolm Gladwell pontificated on the topic in his best selling book, “Blink,” in which he concluded that we’re able to make decisions with far less data than we thought.

I don’t mean to argue with a noted author (he gets, after all, big bucks to discuss his blinking theory), I just suggest that we can often miss the richness and beautiful complexity of events and people by judging too quickly.

Without getting closer to “Trust,” would we have looked into the horse’s eye to find a boy who is hang gliding, or at the cowboy’s finger to see a peasant woman gathering grain? Each painting is its own message, yet each is part of the whole—much like you and me.

If we should ever doubt our significance in the scheme of things, we only need to step back to see the bigger mosaic to which we contribute. And, if we think that our significance is greater or lesser than anothers’, perhaps we should think about it from a different standpoint: which is the most important painting in the painting?

The answer is none is more important than the other. In fact, the bigger painting cannot exist without the little ones. And the little ones exist to make the whole. We’re all important, all valuable, all needed.

“Judge slowly,” the father said to his son. Judge slowly.

The byte of the apple

DENVER, COLORADO. Apple Stores are sleek, bright, contemporary and usually filled with a United Nations crowd of consumers. Each wants to (a) own the latest piece of Mac technology or (b) at least touch the goods that are planfully scattered throughout the store.

ripe red apple with green leaf isolated on whiteWalking in, you could be greeted by a hip-looking girl wearing jeans and sporting nicely painted eyes or a spikey-haired twenty-something with piercings. Either would ask why you’re visiting the store that day.

“I’ve got a bunch of questions and I’d like to look at an iPhone,” I told the guy with the hair.

“No worries,” he said, “Follow me and we’ll find someone to help you.”

We wound our way to the rear of the store (Genius Bar located there), passing mostly young customers who were busy playing with technology, where Spikey Hair introduced me to Kahfim whose sense of style began with fashionable black, rectangular glasses that matched his hair and set off his clear, olive skin. He wore a light turquoise t-shirt with the words, “Santa’s got elves. You’ve got me.” on the front.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Good, I have a bunch of questions,” I answered.

“Hit me up, bro.” And for the next hour, Kahfim answered them, showing passion for his job and patience with me.

“Do you ever get tired of answering questions?” I asked.

“Never. I get tired of the technology sometimes, but I really like helping people. How could you get tired of that?” he answered, making me think there really wasn’t any other answer for him.

And, so, I bought some equipment, signed up for service, paid the tab using a wireless credit card device strapped to Kahfim’s belt, and walked out with a fully functional iPhone perfectly connected to my existing email account to which my Apple Store receipt had been mailed.

On the taxi ride to my hotel, I couldn’t help but think about the Apple Store Experience. Planned. Branded. Customer-focused. People-centered. Fun. Fast, but not hurried. Passionate employees.

Apple has the Store right. And (depending on your loyalties) the right designs on technology.

I want to go back next week to see what’s new. Or, maybe just for the feeling.

I think I’ve been bitten.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA…An December 27 Update: My second Apple Store experience was as cool as the first but in a different way. It seems that the iPhone is a remarkably brilliant device. It’s also true that it only works on one cellular network and in many places that would be “not so well.”

But the sales folks were helpful and understanding when I returned it. No questions asked except if there was something wrong with the phone. The answer to that was a “no” followed by “just the network.” I don’t think this came as a great surprise to Dan of Apple. He’d heard that one before, I’d bet.

Life without an iPhone. Deal with it.

Some things are better left unGoogled

Ever look at things around you and just wonder WTH*?

I just got off a brief Delta flight that featured a brand new Embraer 175. The aircraft was sleek and immaculate, as you’d expect a new plane to be. It sported the latest navigation technology, comfortable seating, smart controls for the lights and air vents. And, a “turn off electronic devices” light replaced the dated ones that used to say “no smoking.”

230075607v3_240x240_frontBut, despite its newness, the lavatory signage and equipment were, well, different. (For a more intellectual discussion of “emotionally intelligent signage” visit Daniel Pink’s website and choose “emotionally intelligent signage” from the categories column on the right.)

The faucet was a sleek mixing variety that, if pressed just right, dispensed cold, warm or hot water for a nearly perfect 20-plus seconds or so—just long enough to require a second press for another 20-plus seconds of water, of which you usually only need another five, unless, that is, you subscribe to the 60 second hand washing rule, and then you’d go for a third push.

Then there was the “smoking is not permitted in the restroom” sign under which a strategically positioned ash tray was mounted. “But if there’s no smoking in the rest room,” I reasoned, “Why would there be a…?” I decided that logic would not apply here.

And there was the sign to the left of the faucet. [Note: An airline lavatory affords plenty of reading opportunities.] It read, “No liquids other than water should be put in the sink.” Coffee, tea, or soda, I wondered? Then I realized there must be some reason for the sign and, at that point, I stopped thinking. On purpose.

A small notice along side the toilet’s “flush” button then caught my attention. “Do not flush toilet while seated,” it read. Since I wasn’t seated, I figured it must be safe to press it and WHOOSH, air rushed in around the lavatory door, water in the basin gurgled, and my hair shifted ever so slightly.

What would happen if someone was actually seated while flushing? Would she be permanently glued to the seat? Would he remain stuck until flight attendants entered, armed with crowbars, to pry and free his newly framed rear from its captor?

I concluded that the sign was there for some sort of reason, but decided not to Google the subject to learn if (and how) the public unwittingly (hopefully) contributed to its presence.

It would seem that any toilet system with such hostage taking power should be against the rules, whatever they are. And should some small sign be adequate protection to keep some unsuspecting Joe getting his booty glued down? Maybe I will Google it to see if it’s fact or fancy.

Then again, maybe not. I’d rather not know.

*That would be “What The Heck.” (Sometimes other four letter NSFW* words are substituted for the “H.”)
**And that would be “Not Suitable For Work.”

How can I help you?

Ever wonder why some people are just so darned helpful? I was talking to a colleague yesterday and I learned something that helped me understand the question.

istock_000005066727xsmallKris (name changed to protect the innocent/guilty) is an organized, unassuming woman who works in a different department and who will do just about whatever it takes to meet your needs. At least that’s been my experience. She’s got the tough exterior of a former New York City gal and the presence of mind to keep her cool when things heat up.

I had called to ask a few technical questions on some IT matters. The conversation ended along the lines of, “You know, I always appreciate your help, Kris, and the way you think problems through.”

Then she said, “Well, you and your team are always such nice customers and so appreciative. I just love working with you.” Hmmm. I’d never thought that we were nice customers—probably because I hadn’t thought about it one way or another.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon, of course, to conclude that “nice customers” get better treatment than those who aren’t. That’s how all the members of our team try to be—not consciously, I’m sure; it’s just the way they are. The question, then, might be: Does Kris give us better treatment because we are nice folks?

Knowing Kris, I’d say, “No, she’s just that way.”

But it does raise a good point: If we try to be good customers by being courteous and appreciative, we help the people who are trying to help us. It’s a sort of “helping others be successful” approach that has some great, positive consequences.

The same holds true in the normal work setting, too. Working with people who are serious about their work, dedicated and thoughtful but who go about their work in a pleasant, fun-loving manner are always easier to be around than those who are down, dour and in the dumps.

That goes to the “happiness rubbing off” flavor in the previous blog.