Delivery as promised

istock_000000171707xsmall2Several years ago, while moving into a new-to-me condo, I literally gutted the 25 year old kitchen and replaced cabinets, lighting and appliances with all things new. I did some serious shopping for appliances and settled on a particular brand known for its reliability-at least that’s what the television and print ads said.

So reliable, in fact, that the company (supposedly) laid off some of its repair staff, because they weren’t needed. Though not true, it at certainly made for good ad copy.

Turns out that there have been two recalls on my appliances (both handled very professionally, by the way) and several other obvious defects. The simple truth is what the company said about it’s products was quite different from my actual experience.

I’m not mad or angry about this. In fact, I find it sort of funny that I was taken in by what I heard. Next time, I’ll do some research on repair histories and, hopefully, make a better choice.

I was reminded of this when I heard from a coworker that an important package wouldn’t be delivered today, a national holiday. The person made some very convincing arguments about this. But at some level, that just didn’t seem right. Here’s why…

On Friday, when I placed the online order for 25 books-something I’ve done dozens of times in the past-I was told they’d be delivered on Monday, January 19. I’d grown accustomed to very dependable service from this company, so I never doubted the delivery promise–holiday or not. 

Fast forward…the books were delivered, as promised.

What’s the learning here? For me, it’s about how we experience things. On one hand, the appliance company promised reliability but my experience ran counter to that. What they said didn’t really matter. On the other hand, the internet company just asked a simple question, “Want it delivered tomorrow, click here” and did what they said. I never doubted it.

There’s an important lesson about personal branding here, I thought. Do I follow through? Consistently? Ouch. Can always do better, that’s for sure.

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!

Living your life with passion

Today, a colleague forwarded an unsolicited email from someone I don’t know, someone who has suddenly found himself out of work, an unwitting victim (my word, not his) of the downturning economy. Jeff (not his real name) writes that, “Obviously, today’s job market is tougher than most so beyond using the traditional job search methods I know I need to get ultra creative and I know I’m going to need all the assistance I can get. I was wondering if you could provide some assistance.”


The truth is that career advice is fairly well available on the web today. Monster, CareerBuilders, TheLadders serve it up by the bucketful. “Have a good resume and cover letter,” they’ll say. Another touts the merits of networking. They do a much better job on career advice than I.

That said, I’ll offer up a couple thoughts.

istock_000003074379xsmallaThe first is this: Don’t allow yourself to think of yourself as “a victim.” Sure, the economy isn’t what we’d like it to be and your company needed to take some action. That is, unfortunately, “business” as they say. But to think about yourself as its victim immediately places you in a mental position that can include doubting your abilities, questioning if you should have done something differently, and why it was you and not someone else.

I’m not saying a little self-reflection is bad, I’m just suggesting that victims have it tougher than those who are mentally tough.

The second is this: Each of us can achieve more than we think we can. The difference between mediocre and magnificent comes down to one thing: passion. Substitute a different word if you’d like: emotional engagement, enthusiasm, joy, zeal, fervor, etc. Pick one that fits and live it to the fullest.

Here’s why. All great achievements come through dedicated, hardworking people who believe in their mission and purpose. And only YOU can do that for yourself.

When you approach the job market, do it with a passion and belief that you are the best at what you do because you (1) have practiced doing it (2) consistently do it and (3) have a full glass, not a half full one or a half empty one.

Here’s an afterthought. Find your touchstone, something you can believe in if times get rough. This can be your family, a strong belief that never shakes, a favorite saying. Return to this and remind yourself why it’s important to you. Leverage it if you have a bad day.

So, throw yourself a pity party if you must, but don’t stay too long. The world is big and it needs you!

Your song for world peace

Sitting quietly and almost hidden in composer and conductor John Williams’ immense body of orchestral work is a gentle, but insistent, almost five minute composition called “Song for World Peace.” It’s part of his “American Journey” album.

The idea that earth’s seven billion inhabitants could live together without strife is a concept almost too large to comprehend.

But, Williams’ musical development of “Song for World Peace” is a metaphor, of sorts, of how peace might come to our planet. French horns introduce a simple theme that is echoed by flutes, later by clarinets, then strings and the entire orchestra. But, slowly, the theme dies out and falters.

Williams then begins a new, but complementary, theme. Again, it begins somewhat tentatively, but it grows much richer and more confident, bringing an affirmation that peace may, in fact, be possible.

World peace would imply that individuals are at peace, too, meaning that the tiny moments of impatience and the bigger moments of personal anger would not exist either. The sometimes strong desire to honk at the slow driver and harsh words would yield to love and compassion. It is a tall order.

Which raises the question: Would I be ready for world peace if it should break out? And, even more important, how am I waging peace in my life? What are my individual peace efforts?

Philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis provides her own practical example. “I want to use my 100th birthday to help young people launch some immediate initiatives,” she said, “—things that they can do during the summer of 2007—that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world” You can learn about her work here. It was such a successful effort that 100 Projects for Peace continues in 2008.

“My many years have taught me that there will always be conflict. It’s part of human nature,” Davis wrote. “But I’ll remind you that love, kindness, and support are also part of human nature. My challenge to you is to bring about a mindset of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war.”

How do you prepare for peace?

The unfinished puzzle

In my family, jigsaw puzzles were a holiday tradition of sorts. We’d set up a special card table in the living room and work a little each day until the pieces found their ways to the right spots.

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but one of our favorite puzzles (a 1000 count version of an autumn forest scene) was missing several pieces. We’d go into it, fully knowing that 99.7 percent of the pieces were there. And when we were done (well, as done as you can get with missing pieces) we’d all admire it until it went back in the box to be replaced on the table with another one.

I was reminded of this while watching a video today. The speaker was talking about how, rather than focusing on the completed parts of our lives–the parts that are going well–we often focus on the unfinished elements: The ideal job that we just missed landing, or the partner we can’t find, or an income that’s short of what we need.

The unfinished elements of our lives can certainly seem huge. And focusing our thinking around them can become a serious downer. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be alert to finding the new job, or partner, or increasing our income. Those plans are important!

But while looking, we might be best helped by focusing on the parts of our lives that are working and leverage them–the jigsaw puzzles pieces at play, if you will.

A friend of mine put it this way. “I may not have the perfect job or car or living situation,” she said, “but I’ve got this really great bunch of friends who I’m always there for, and they’re there for me, too. When I’m tempted to get down about what I don’t have, I just remember what I do have.” It’s much the same way we put the puzzle together when I was a kid–by focusing not on the missing pieces but the ones we had.

What completed puzzle parts do you rely on? Tell us in the comments section.

The (sometimes) wisdom of reader boards

I’m not usually one who pays attention to reader boards and the sometimes successful (but not usually) attempts to be funny or clever in 20 words or less. But while visiting a local gas station this morning, I couldn’t help but notice a pithy one outside a Days Inn. “The years teach much which the days will never know,” it read. “Interesting,” I thought and turned away to find out how much gas would cost this time around.

Then, I turned back and re-read the board. What a commanding ten-word reminder that perspective, the ability to put events in context, is a powerfully freeing skill—though it often eludes us in the press of daily life.

Turns out that the words are Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, the mid 1800s author, poet and philosopher.

I think there’s a difference between gaining perspective and “rolling with the punches” or “letting water run off your back.” While there’s something to be said for lightening up and not taking things seriously all the time, there’s a certain beauty or wisdom in being able to rise above the moment to see how it fits with days and weeks and years. It promotes a kind of learning that helps us see how all the dots actually connect together.

Yet, that’s not easy to do sometimes, especially if something feels personal, emotional or if the skin that’s in the game happens to be yours.

Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult job and an equally testy boss. The whole situation became so complicated that I could see no way out. I temporarily lacked the insight to see what was really going on, my role in it, and any possible future that could be less miserable. Things were not only unhappy, I was beginning to lose energy and enthusiasm.

Then I recalled working for a boss who was in charge of testing some very complex, expensive equipment. On the late shift one night, technicians incorrectly programmed a computer. The result was that the equipment literally dropped several inches resulting in perhaps catastrophic and expensive damage.

I learned about the problem the next day. The office was buzzing with engineers forecasting dire consequences for the program and for some of the leadership, my boss included.

In one meeting, men were wondering how our boss could remain so centered and focused. In his characteristically thoughtful and unflappable way, he reached into a drawer and pulled out what looked like a very large aspirin pill about three inches across. It was made of Styrofoam and covered with paper on each side. On the paper were written these words, “Anti-glum pill. Take with a large dose of perspective.”

We all laughed, in part to break the tenseness of the situation, but more because it was funny. He went on to say, “All we need do is our best. That’s why we’ve been successful in the past and what will make this project work. Let’s focus on the future because it’s darned sure to be better than the past couple of days!”

Applying that to my own situation, I asked myself what was the worst possible outcome, the most awful thing that could happen. That was an easy answer: I could lose my job. And, if that happened, what would I do? I’d sell the house, pack things up and go back to school. I could support myself playing the piano in clubs. Life would be okay.

That dose of perspective was what I needed to make a decision. I left that job within 30 days on a Friday. On Monday, I was doing consulting work for a large company.

Perspective is a great tool.

UPDATE: November 15, 2008. Today, the sign reads “Sofa for Sale.” Hmmm.

How do you maintain your perspective when things get tense? Add your comments!

“Don’t give in,” he prodded.

When it comes to taking “the next steps” on a project, I’m usually pretty good at figuring them out. The ideas come at odd times and in strange places. I often joke with colleagues that I do my best thinking in the shower. They cast funny glances, laugh and say something along the lines of, “Okay, what is it this time?”

But last week, I found myself in a royal funk of not being able to figure out what to do next. A pet project of mine had been rejected (rather rudely, I might add) as “not corporate enough.” The baby wasn’t just ugly, it was the wrong gender! It was apparent during the discussion that the rejector and I looked at the same concept from two entirely different standpoints. It was even more apparent that anything I might say would be met with total disregard. It was a good time not to back an angry opponent into a corner, I reasoned.

I didn’t feel personally rejected, rather I was personally frustrated because this project was to become a tool to help thousands of company employees. My goal was to help others, something that seemed right at the time. But I felt stuck and totally unable to move forward. The next step eluded me.

I was driving to work when my cell phone rang. It was a friend who, somehow, sensed something was up (or, in this case, down). I told him about what happened and he very calmly said the problem was not about winning or losing, it was really about finding the “gift” in the situation. It doesn’t have to be a setback, he reminded me, rather, it could be just the opposite. “Don’t give in,” he prodded.

That’s sometimes easier to say than to do, especially if you’ve been dealt what feels like the sucker punch of punches. But when I paired the “gift idea” with the “don’t give in thought,” I realized it wasn’t a matter of giving up the idea/project concept but not giving in to discouragement.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw that the disagreement was deeper than I originally believed, and that I didn’t have to make anyone (including myself) right or wrong.

And then he said something that really hit home: Stop thinking about it! That’s like telling someone to get an image of a pink elephant in their head and make it vivid, and then telling them not to think about it. While that seems funny, it’s also true that ruminating over a problem doesn’t help solve it. Maybe a shower would help, I thought.

It’s now several days later, and I still don’t really know “the next step.” I do know that being open to the world around us–and the people around us–often leads to the next step. I’m not fearful, lost or uncertain anymore, because I know that the next step will be there. I’ll know what it is when the time is right.

Your turn: how do you “find the next steps?” Share your ideas by adding a comment.