Much of what I write about in my blogs does not depend on theory or fantasy. In fact, my perspective comes from my experiences and observations. I have been working full time for over 40 years and every stretch of my career has deeply involved working with others. As an observer of life, as someone that has worked on his listening skills, I have listened and interacted with people at the worst and best times of their lives. If you pay attention, you find the commonalities between people that have succeeded in life as well as those that have struggled through difficult seas.
My beliefs on what guides people to their path in life have come from those observations. Those that know me the best, from my friends to my kids, will tell you that my battles in life have been many, deep and painful. Certainly, enough to derail a person in the worst of ways. Someone asked me recently what in my life am I most proud of? My answer, that I have survived, that I am still standing. Lesser men have allowed the freight trains that run through a man’s life to take them out, to drive them to the bottom of a bottle or the point of a needle. I have always seen my most important role in life to be that of a parent and I would not allow my misfortunes to allow me be anything other than an example for them. Each time I have been knocked down, I have managed to get back on my feet. I have sailed rough seas and have always returned to the docks. Nothing stops you from doing the same.
I have tried to live by the adage that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In my interactions with others, I have always tried to constructively listen to their words as well as the emotions behind those words. If there is a way I could help, I did. Leaders without followers are just out for a walk and people won’t follow someone into battle that won’s stand up for them, lead them proudly. So I have always tried to lift others up at their level of need not mine.
I have also learned that belief is useless without action. I can’t say I have never procrastinated, I have and more than I should. I do, however know the feeling of pride one carries when acting on faith, pursuing a direction that no one expects and succeeding at that task. One can’t win a race they don’t enter. Taking that first step for me has always been the simple encouragement that led to the second step. The fastest way to get me involved is to tell me it can’t be done. You gotta love the challenge!
Finally, anything I do, any event that carries my name, reflects on who I am. I don’t do shabby. In writing my books, I hang on every word. We edited and re-edited my last book five times. I take pride in my home, my projects. My kids know the term, pursue excellence, as well as their own name. They have heard it often. No matter what your job, no matter how small the task, attack it with pride as if thing that carries your name was going to hang in the Louvre, as if was going to lead the Thanksgiving parade. Excellence knows no replacement.
Indecision. Hesitation. Have you ever wondered what happens during the time that expires while you wait to act, to decide? Do the conditions change or the options lessen?
I am a big believer in the magic of a crossroad, the ones we encounter on an almost daily basis. A crossroad is a moment in time tied to a location where it’s impact can totally alter your path and the direction of your life. How do I know? I know because I experienced my moment over 38 years ago. Its existence is obvious to me now but was just a blip in time when it happened. At that moment, in real time, I had no idea that my actions would change everything.
Most people, in fact, almost all people side step or climb over their crossroad, not just once but many, many times. We negotiate them away, make excuses that delay our action. “I don’t have time today. My plate is full.” Or, “Maybe next week or next month or next year when life gets easier.” The funny thing about life is that it probably will never get any easier and the same excuse will surface again and again. Here is the absolute truth, your crossroad will become a dead end unless you act, unless you step out on nothing more that faith, a knowledge that your action is required with no proof, just a mysterious sense that “I need to do this!”
Opportunity does knock, just not on locked doors and closed hearts. Let’s say you get a job offer from a company you have been following for a while and applied to often. It’s exactly the job you crave, but you are dismayed to find out the location is in Birmingham, Alabama. You know nothing about the city nor know anyone that has ever been there. You only have 24 hours to make a decision. The prospect or leaving family and friends causes you extreme angst. The fear of moving to a strange land causes you to pause, just long enough to let the opportunity drift away to another applicant. What you didn’t know, couldn’t know by your choice, was that the manager of the Birmingham office is solidly connected within the company and has moved several qualified candidates though the company to the office of their choice, including your home town. In fact, the last three big promotions went to candidates that got their starts in Alabama.
While it’s true my crossroads occurred 38 years ago, I didn’t recognize it as such until seven or eight years ago. The vision of a crossroad doesn’t always come clear until many years later, until you can recognize its impact on your life.
Yes, one of the main rules in life is “belief without action guarantees defeat.” What brought my crossroad into reality was my decision to act on my opportunity, to step out and reach up above my station, beyond my plan, beyond my comfort level. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been had I not acted.
What about you? Unlock your door, open your heart, imagine all the possibilities that adorn your life’s path and when the gateway to your future swings wide open, run, don’t walk to your destiny. Like lightening, this chance may not strike twice.
The major theme that drove the second book of The Shepherd Chronicles was discovering your path in life. Once found, understanding what it takes to walk it, to grow with it and to stay connected to it at all costs. David, as the shepherd was given the chore to bring the lost back to their path. In this book, The Rules, He encounters a major challenge of his own. The choice he faces may bring his journey to an end and in doing so, alter his life forever.
With the help of his mysterious messenger and a family that stood by him, David fights through his crisis by falling back on the Rules of Life, taught to him by his father though out his childhood. These are the rules that David shares with his followers and the ones I will share with you here. Listen carefully.
The first rule is “We don’t learn to sail on calm seas.” It’s only through the trials and tribulations of life that we discover our strength and learn to overcome our obstacles, how to get up off the ground when knocked down. As David said, “As long as your get ups exceed your knock downs by one, you are still in the game.
The next rule is the major theme of the trilogy. It says, “The true measure of a person is not found in the size of his or her home or in their riches, it is counted by the number of people you lift up in a positive way.” It means taking your eyes off of yourself and placing them on those around you, reaching out to the person next to you, easing their pain. Yes, one person can make a difference and for each person you reach out to, your path becomes more defined, more enriched.
The third rule says that “Belief without action guarantees defeat.” You may believe you are the best candidate for a job, but if you don’t apply for the job your belief is empty. You may believe you and your date would make a perfect marriage, but if you don’t propose, you will never know. Opportunity doesn’t knock on locked doors or closed hearts. Ignoring the crossroads in your life is a guarantee to convert them it into dead ends. Yes, you may fail but if you do, see Rule 1. You can’t win a race you don’t run.
Finally, Rule 4, “Pursue Excellence, for nothing else is worth your time.” Once you decide to take action, do your best, try your hardest and give it all you have because any less will bring you disappointment. It’s all about habits. Taking short cuts sets you up for failure and lays out a pattern you are sure to follow. Let your habits bring you success. Let your habits be the building blocks to your future, the pavement to the path you seek.
Each rule can have an impact on your life and bring you short term success. To find that “pot of gold” you seek, it takes a commitment to all four rules. As with all things in life, it’s up to you. Happiness, success as you define it, does not happen by accident. It does not just appear one morning next to your orange juice. It arrives through your perseverance, your generosity, your action and your excellence. It is your choice so choose wisely. Your magic wand is you!
When discussing the word instinct, it is usually with regard to animals and their behavior. Human beings are not in the conversation as often. Yet, we are known to be creatures of habit and as such follow the same patterns found in the animal kingdom.
What sets us apart is that humans create a set of priorities that can overtake our basic instincts. When our priorities are skewed, we can lose sight of what is important and what really matters. If the drive for money overtakes reason, laws tend to be broken. Paying the consequences for those choices can destroy marriages, families and careers. Forgetting that consequences ultimately follow behavior, we let that behavior take us down ruinous paths. Just run down the list of seven deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth and you will find pathways to consequences that will undermine the possibility of success in your life.
Ask yourself a question; what would I want to accomplish with my life if given the opportunity to choose? What good could I do? What disease could I cure? What family could I reunite?
You see, it is my belief, formed through years of experience, years of watching people make messes of their lives, that we have choices in our lives over all things. There is no such thing as being a victim of circumstances. We create our own circumstances. Blaming fate is a dangerous habit to fall into.
In my book, Crossroads, I show how we all face moments in time that can change our lives forever. I talk about how a crossroad becomes a dead end when we fail to act, fail to take advantage of the gift handed to us, fail to take the next step that leads to becoming all you are capable of being.
We all know the incredibly long odds against winning the lottery. Do you know what makes the odds even longer? Don’t buy a ticket. Remember “You gotta be in it to win it!” The winners of lotteries have done one thing the non-participants didn’t, they acted, they made a choice and bought a ticket. Extend the lottery to life. Do you want to be a doctor and save lives? You have to buy a ticket in the form of hard work, academic effort, choosing your studies over that party you were invited to, putting down the video game controls, stopping from making TV a priority. You have to set your priorities dial toward success. It’s your choice.
We can all accomplish great things. Nothing prevents that more than ourselves. Would you like to be remembered for generations for the way you lived your life. Would you like to be a Lincoln, a Washington, a Mother Teresa, an Einstein, a Churchill, an Amelia Earhardt, a Ghandi? They are all revered for the lives they led. Well, you have one thing they don’t. You have tomorrow. You have choices. You can change. You can make a difference. You can lift someone up, touch their lives. Maybe it’s too late for you to cure cancer, but maybe you could touch the life of someone that could. Would your impact be any less for being once removed.
Set you priorities and step out in faith. Belief is not enough, you have to act. Yes, life is what you make it. Make it count!
According to Webster’s, a promise is a commitment by someone to do or not do something. None of us are strangers to the concept. I would suggest that we make promises several times a week, every week of our life. A promise doesn’t have to be stated as such. You make a plan to meet a friend for dinner. You have promised you will arrive when you plan to. It is no less a commitment because you don’t say the word.
The question my book raises is “How different would your life be if you were held to all your promises, big and small?” You get pulled over by a police officer and he takes your license back to his cruiser. While you wait, you make a promise to whoever you make promises to at a time like this. “Please, please, don’t give me a ticket. My insurance will go sky high. I promise I will never speed again. Just no ticket.” So the officer comes back and gives you a warning. You are so excited that you speed off down the road at the exact same speed you were traveling when you were pulled over.
You see, we make promises at the time of crisis in hopes of deflecting the dangers. Once the crisis passes, so does our commitment to our promise. The problem is that sooner or later our broken promises catch up to us. The important people in our life start to question our intentions, our word. Others outside of our close circle lose their respect for you. Finally, the guy in the mirror doesn’t take himself seriously. When a promise becomes a manipulation, all integrity is lost.
Words have meaning. They carry weight. They require respect. When you use words for effect rather than with accountability, they become empty noise. What disappears in time is trust. No relationship at any level can exist without a level of trust, whether it’s romantic or parental, serious or casual, social or business. Trust is built over time, brick by brick and each brick represents a word. Walls of trust can’t stand when the bricks turn to dust.
In The Promise, David makes a promise that saves his life, only to discover that he will be held to his promise. He could have complained, tried to wiggle his way out or make excuses. He didn’t. He stepped out in faith, he kept his word and lives were changed all over the world, including his own.
How about you? When will you know that the bond of your word will change a life? Yours, a parent’s, a spouse, a child’s or even a perfect stranger. How will you measure the value of a moment when you have to choose between action or inaction, between faith and doubt? When will your promise save a life?
I will make a difference. I will fight for what is right, defend those in need. I will care and I won’t give up. I promise. How about you?
Many people have asked me, “When did you decide to write a book?”
The truth is it was never a decision I ever had to make. In fact, it wasn’t even a consideration. All I knew was that I had a message inside of me, a belief in a way I wanted to live my life. Not only did I want to adjust my own life to my beliefs but I wanted to share the message with as many people as I could to help them see the world through a different set of lenses.
But how? How do I find a platform from which I could speak to people in a way that would force them to, at the very least, peek into the reflection in their life’s mirror? How was I to tell others how to live their life? What were my credentials, my degrees? What proof did I have, what experiment did I conduct to validate my theories? Show me the numbers!
I am not a preacher but I am on this earth by the gifts of God. I have no pulpit, no congregation. I am no longer in education but the world is my classroom. I give no grades, nor do I hand out diplomas. I am more a student. I have learned life’s lessons the very hard way. No year has been easy, no month a piece of paradise. I never had to beg for a meal or steal clothes to stay warm, but I set my standards high and had to fight for every inch of the road. Someone asked me recently, “What is you greatest accomplishment so far?” My answer is that I am still standing, still above the daisies looking down. For every freight train that has roared through my life, I remain on the tracks. David Hynes once said, “As long as your get ups exceed your knock downs by one, you are still in the game.”
So, my message. After exploring every option, after knocking down every option I could come up with, the only choice left was to put my thoughts down on paper in a way that would entertain as well as inspire.
The message is truly simple. In a world overstuffed with anger, a world where its inhabitants are more concerned with their own feelings, their own needs, their own happiness, obsessed with their own passions, can’t we do better? In this world where empathy is dwindling, the message implores the listener to redeploy their priorities. Take your eyes off of yourself and fix them on those within your sphere of influence. Focus on their needs not yours, their desires instead of your own, their wants, their priorities. Wouldn’t your relationship be better if you focused on your partner first? Wouldn’t your children be emotionally healthier if their vision was yours? One of the truest statements in life is you get what you give. Put others first and they will pay you back in kind. Be an example to the ones you love, even the ones you just know and you will find it comes back to you time and again.
The true measure of a man is not the size of his house but the number of lives he touches in a positive way, the number of people he lifts up. It’s never too late to start.
I found myself at the firing range this week to work on my accuracy. The course of fire I follow offers a perfect score of 150. Each and every time step to the line, I visualize a 150 score from 30 rounds worth a maximum of 5 points each. I follow each round to the target and the moment a round strays from the 5 point range I realize immediately that a 150 score just disappeared. The miss doesn’t occur at the target, it occurs at the moment I pull the trigger. Once the round leaves my barrel, I can’t stop it, nor can I walk out to the target and remove the hole or move it from the 3-point zone to the 5-point zone. I can’t fill it in or cover it up, what’s done is done and each miss moves my score lower.
Words are a lot like bullets. They move pretty quickly and can either hit their mark or miss the target completely. They can wound, they can even kill in the most extreme cases. Once you let them fly, once you pull the trigger, you can’t pull them back into the barrel. If there is a purpose to your words, like target practice, each miss drops your score and your ability to make a meaningful point.
With a weapon you have choices. You can leave your finger outside of the trigger guard or for that matter, leave the gun in your holster all together. If time isn’t a factor, you can slow down, take a deep breath, be extra sure of your aim and then let it fly. Words offer the same options. You can slow down, take a breath and think about what you want to say before you let those words fly. Of course, you can decide to leave your weapon in your holster and not engage at all, hence the old adage “It is better to be silent and thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.”
In the same category as guns and words comes love. Once you have fallen in love, there is no way to take it back. As I stated in a previous blog, love is an action and not just an emotion, the action of giving away a piece of your heart. Like a bullet, once that piece of your heart is gone there is no way to get it back in the barrel. It’s also true that giving away your heart can lead to enormous, debilitating pain. Having been burned once, many of us choose to leave our love in our holster, never to draw it out again.
As for me, no one has given away more parts of his heart than me. Lost love doesn’t just slip away, it crashes through your life like a freight train. I have had more trains pass through me than the old Central Terminal. Those close to me have suggested I keep my heart in my holster, that maybe I should just ride off into the sunset atop my trusted steed. That just isn’t me, I am not one to give up, remaining the optimist. I still step up to the line and visualize a 150, even in my love life. Besides, the steed makes a mess of the living room that I have to clean up.
We, as human beings, are on this earth to love, to care about each other and yes, as the Shepherd Chronicles point out, to lift each other up. Rise above the current state of affairs. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into the angry rhetoric. Give your heart away. There is no greater feeling than doing so and receiving someone else’s heart in return. I can step up to the line and visualize a 150 but if I never pull the trigger, if I don’t try, I will never engage the target, never achieve my goals. Not pulling the trigger may prevent me from missing, prevent me from being hurt, it just simply leaves you alone at the starting line while the race is being run. Try! Engage! Risk! Love!
David is the main character in my Shepherd’s Chronicles Trilogy. For those of you that have not yet had the chance to read The Promise or The Rules, the first two books of the series, David strikes out to keep a promise and in doing so, travels the country and interacts with others, helping them find their way back to their path in life. His actions support one of the major themes of the books, that the true measure of a man in not in his worldly possessions but in the number of lives he touches in a positive way, the number of people he lifts up.
When I get the chance to talk about my writing, I always urge the listeners to take on lifting others up as a practice in their own lives. It may sound like a big deal but in reality, it’s easier than it sounds. Let me give you one example.
As many of you who follow me on Facebook know, I do a lot of my writing at Panera’s on Niagara Falls Blvd, pretty much at the same table each visit. There is a regular crew of customers that I have gotten to know and enjoy. There is one guy who comes in often that I rarely get to interact with. Sometimes he comes in alone and every once in a while he comes in with a young man who is both physically and mentally challenged.
A few mornings back, he came in alone and sat near my table. I went over to him and introduced myself. After telling me his name was Ron, I asked, “Do you mind if I ask about the your occasional breakfast companion. I apologize if you think I am being too nosey but I am just curious.”
Ron beamed as he told me about his son Anthony, how he is 26 years old and is working hard to make his own way in the world. His pride in his son was clear. I asked Ron if he would mind introducing Anthony to me next time we were all here. He assured me he would.
A few days later, Ron and Anthony came into Panera’s and they came right over to my table. Ron introduced his son to me and then left us alone while he ordered their breakfast. Anthony and I shook hands and we got to know each other. We talked about what he likes for breakfast and how much he enjoys coming out with his dad. His love for his father was obvious. I told him how nice it was to meet him. Our conversation was brief. I watched him turn and walk to his father’s table, struggling as he does to move with a regular gait, kind of dragging his one leg behind him as he crosses the room.
After finishing their meal, Ron and Anthony cleared their dishes and headed for the door. Ron got there first and held the door for his son. As Anthony approached the threshold, he turned, smiled, waved and said “bye-bye” and limped away. It occurred to me that in all his visits, it was the first time I had seen Anthony smile.
I didn’t do much. I didn’t change the world. My total investment in time was less than five minutes. My physical investment was walking six feet to introduce my self to Ron. In the big picture, not much changed for me or anyone else in that restaurant, but for one young man, he felt a part of a world he was always struggling to keep up with, appreciated for who he is, proud to be a part of his father’s world and accepted as one of the crowd. The smile he shared was as genuine a smile as I had ever seen and he made my day as much as I had made his.
Yes, it’s easier than it sounds. Try it for yourself. Make a difference, reach out, be an agent of change, care. You will discover that the joy you give others will come back to you in ways you never imagined. Who among us couldn’t stand a little extra joy in our lives?
I debated over calling this blog as stated versus The Lost Art of Compromise. Either way, it ain’t what it used to be. The dictionary definition of compromise is – “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.” Families, relationships, businesses and countries have been saved by its use. Wars have ended as a direct result. We watch as it’s use diminishes over time.
It appears as if compromise has been associated with weakness, that anything less than a total victory is a failure, that in our winner take all society, anything less than winning is an attack at our self esteem. In my younger days, we used to call adults like this stubborn, children spoiled brats. Congressmen used to be praised for being able to work both sides of the aisle. Now isolationism is a badge of honor. My way or the highway is the new battle cry.
Where did it all go wrong? At some point over that last ten years, that ability to negotiate has become obsolete. Let’s see how this attitude affects relationships today. When a subject comes up that forces husband and wife to opposite sides, without compromise, one walks away the victor, arms raised Rocky style over their head while the other hangs their head in defeat. This not only defines the current battle but also sets the stage for the next confrontation where both parties dig in, refusing to give up their firm stance. Future disagreements are less about the current state of affairs and more about the total picture, the battle vs. the war.
It all boils down to one word or a lack of it’s existence, EMPATHY! It is the ability to see the world through anybody’s lenses other than your own. Lacking empathy prevents you from feeling somebody else’s pain, to make you wonder why they feel the way they do, to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, to recognize that, there but for the grace of God, go I. It seems that the ability to empathize correlates directly with the year of birth, where people in their 40’s carry more empathy than people in their 30’s. For most in their 20’s, most not all, but for them, empathy is a relic in the same bin as black and white TV. It’s the “me” generation run amok.
How does it change? As my books, “The Promise” and “The Rules” demonstrate, it happens through action, through recognizing that the true measure of a person isn’t the number of arguments you win, but by lifting others up, giving them value. You lift others up by listening to their point of view and not to listen while you formulate a response that will crush them. but listening to hear their words, understand their perspective, feel the heart behind their opinion with a willingness not to change your entire view, but with a willingness to compromise, to find a common ground. It’s that willingness that will, in the end, define who you are as a person. Isn’t it better when you both walk off the field a victor?
In a meeting to plan marketing and social media for my books, The Promise and The Rules. Looking forward to future success in the literary world.