Let Praise Lead the Way!

Crossroads are not visible close up, not in the moment, or the hour, or the day. Deeply meaningful crossroads may truly be decades in your rear-view mirror before they come into focus. I want to share one of mine that is at least five of those decades in my past.

            I spent many of my summers at Camp Lakeland in Angola, NY. During my youth, I enjoyed sports, playing football, baseball, soccer and more. I was never the first player chosen when teams were picked and sometimes the last, but I still enjoyed participating. That all changed that next summer at camp.

            We were playing softball in an organized game between cabins. I came to bat in the first inning and as I stepped into the batter’s box, I heard the left fielder call out to his teammates. Now, I knew the left fielder from back home, his name was Jeff, but I had never been around him playing sports. He had an impression of me that I wasn’t aware of. He yelled out “Power hitter guys, back up”

            Power hitter? Who me? I was twelve years old and no one ever believed in me like that. I stepped back out of the box. This guy believes in me. Maybe I should believe in me too. I watched the first pitch go over my head. The second pitch was right down the middle and I swung and drove it into left field, over Jeff’s head and the ball rolled all the way to the tree line. Confidence in yourself, in your abilities is like a magic pill. I took that pill at the plate that day and became the hitter Jeff imagined. I hit eleven more home runs that summer.

            The last athletic event of the season was a camp Olympics. I came in second in the 100-yard dash, although I swear, I won. It was a photo finish with no camera. I won the 220 and the 440-yard run and was scheduled to be the anchor runner for the 440-relay, the last event of the day. At that point, my team was tied for first place.

            As the race progressed, my team was falling farther and farther behind the team that, if they won, would win the whole day. By the time I received the baton, I was at least thirty yards behind. I stumbled a bit at the beginning then started to gain speed. The runner ahead of me made a crucial mistake. Instead of running his race, he kept looking over his shoulder to see if I was gaining on him. I was. By the time we hit the last turn, I was right behind him. Once I passed him it was over. It wasn’t even close. The best part was the whole camp was watching this one event and the cheers I got were unlike anything I had ever experienced.

            When I went home after that session, I was truly a whole new person. I had a confidence in my athletic abilities that served to make me more competitive, more capable. I was never the last player chosen again.

            Whatever your role in life, in sports, at work or as a parent, let praise lead the way. Cheer on your teammates, let your coworkers or subordinates no how much you value their efforts and never, never stop telling your children how much you believe in them. Slip them the confidence pill. Be their Jeff.

Another Man’s Skin

Sara Kulwich/New York Times

If you read my last blog, you are aware I went to New York City to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway. It was an exciting moment. The production did not disappoint. That’s not to say that it followed the script and the characters step by step, but it did take a 1930’s era story and raise it up to the conscience of a 2019 audience. The play produced 57 years after the release of the award-winning movie, introduced a new character and a new dressing for an old argument.

First, the new character, Link Deas. He appeared in the novel but not the movie. He was Tom Robinson’s employer that explained how Tom lost the function of his arm. Link was identified as the town drunk who always went around with a bottle wrapped in a paper bag with two straws. He later crosses paths with Jem and Scout and offers up his enlightened opinion of the people of Maycomb and how he has managed to keep most of them away from him for many a year.

Second comes the argument. Atticus Finch, played masterfully by Jeff Daniels tries to teach his children, just as Gregory Peck did in the film, that you shouldn’t judge a man until you have walked around awhile in his skin. In the play, it causes Scout to ponder while bringing Jem to argue. He struggled to accept the notion that a man as mean and evil as Bob Ewell could have a redeeming nature. Jem said why would he want to walk around in the skin of a man that doesn’t spend much time there himself. Atticus points out the Mr. Ewell recently lost his job and that doing so has put the rest of his life as he knows it in jeopardy.

The new dressing was a statement Atticus makes during the argument. He says that when a man joins a group or a mob, he ceases to be himself, gaining his anonymity, no longer an individual and no longer responsible for the rantings of the mob. The opinions of the group are that of the group and not necessarily the opinion of each individual of the group. That statement stayed with me during the rest of the first act and well into the intermission.

I have purposely avoided political debate in my postings and blogs. I have not felt comfortable bringing those sides into my feelings about leading a better life and lifting up our fellow man. However, like Jem, I have a problem with this discussion. In the anger and the disunion shown in this world, I am not comfortable giving someone a pass for hanging with extremists and bowing out of the venom by saying it was the group’s opinion not mine. That simply doesn’t work.  If you run with a mob, chant their slogans, carry their torches, whether you agree with every plank of their platform, your support lifts up the anger of the group and paints all members of the mob with the same brush, no matter what you whisper in private.

Yes, I believe in lifting each other up, being positive support but not at the expense of my integrity. I will not allow myself to sink into a pit just to keep another man company. I would rather help him to find a way out of that pit. The racism portrayed in this 1930 story has not washed away in time. For me, after spending the last five days walking the streets of New York, streets that carry people of all color, people from every country of the world, streets where English is a minority language, I never felt out of place, never felt like my place in this country has been taken over by others nor did I feel that any one person I saw didn’t have every right to walk the same sidewalk that I did. That is America, just as it has always been, a collection of people with the same dream and the same right to live that dream, no matter what brought them here.

Be an Atticus!

On this Thursday evening, at 7pm, I will be sitting in row 12 of the orchestra section of the old Shubert Theater in New York City, waiting for the curtain to rise on the most recent production of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels. My love of this play is not a recent development in my life. I saw the 1962 film that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck more times than I could count. The same play was the final production ever at Studio Arena Theater and I was there with my kids. I had tickets for the production at Kavinoky Theater last year until it was cancelled in a legal battle. Needless to say, I am a lifelong fan of this production. The question is why.

I watched the movie again last month to help find the answer. The character of Atticus Finch turned out to be the reason. He is, at least for me, the most admired character books or movies has offered. He was a man of honor, integrity and decency. He was a humble man that didn’t brag about his abilities, his intelligence or his skills with a weapon. Most of all, he was a father dedicated to his two children. He listened intently to his children and answered honestly to any question they asked, never shirking in his responsibility to educate them. His commitment to defend Tom Robinson and defend his family as well showed his empathy as did his understanding for his beleaguered neighbor, Boo Radley. It showed Atticus to be a human being to be respected. For me though, it was his fatherhood that touched my heart.

I must have been around twelve years old when I saw the film the first time. If I had to describe my relationship with my father then, I would call it distant. He worked fourteen hours a day and nine hours on Saturday. His evenings were dedicated to his social world and his Sundays to his yard or visiting his family in Rochester. Way, way, way down the list was the emotional needs of his two sons. The only time he took a big interest was when he came home as the disciplinarian and got out the belt to whip us into acknowledging the errors of our ways. He had a hard time connecting to the needs of his adolescent boys or even when they become teenagers.

So, I deeply admired Atticus Finch as a man I wanted as a father, and I envied Scout and Jem for the father that always had their back and not just as a target for a whipping. Atticus would read to them each night and always listen to their questions. As a single father, he played the roles of both father and mother with ease.

Atticus was simply the man I tried to be when I became a father. I read to my children every night I was home and sang them a lullaby when the lights went out. I attended every event I could, from baseball and softball games to concerts and musicals. I answered their questions honestly even when it was painful and many times it was. I never rose to be an Atticus Finch copy but I can say I never stopped trying to reach that level.

Fathers, take note. The image you are to your children is real and long lasting. Children know best of all what they want and need in a parent. If they don’t find it at home, they will look elsewhere, sometimes with disastrous results. In all things, in every way, put family first. Be the role model for your children to follow, to emulate. Be an Atticus!

Overcoming Disney

First let me explain that the title may be a bit confusing. I am not saying that we have to overcome Disney, I am pointing out that the Disney stories we grew up with, taught us that living our lives requires us to be able to overcome difficult, sometimes heart-breaking situations.

            I was in a conversation with a loved one about the difficulties in our lives. She came to a point where she said, “Life can’t be all like Disney characters.”

            I replied, “But Disney characters are all about living and coming back from difficult moments.” Think about it. Go back to your earliest Disney experiences. Bambi loses his mother and yet comes back to be the prince of the forest. Simba loses his father and has to battle Scar to regain his father’s kingdom. Cinderella is living a life at the control of her stepmother and evil step sisters, on her knees scrubbing floors well before she dances with a prince. Then there is Sleeping Beauty where she takes a bite from an apple and goes into a coma, cared for by 7 little people until she is kissed by another prince. And talking about the dwarves, how would your life be if you had to go through life named Grumpy or Dopey? How about going through life with the name Goofy or Dumbo. Now Dumbo, besides the name issues, is made fun of because of his ears only to overcome the ridicule by learning how to fly with those same ears.

            We all saw comic books with Donald Duck raising his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Well what ever happened to their mother? How did Daisey Duck fit in to all this family controversy. Let’s not forget The Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He was put under a spell where he was to remain an ugly beast until loved by the beautiful Belle. How about the poor apprentice Mickey Mouse being abused by the sorcerer in Fantasia? Aladdin, Shrek, Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook, 101 Dalmatians, the mermaid battling with her self-image. Even the feature length movies of our youth showed us the need to deal with difficulties. Old Yeller dies in his movie, Toby Tyler runs off to the circus, three animals are lost and find their way back in Homeward Bound.

            The writers and artists at Disney never offered up a rosy world. Instead they fed us story after story of the importance of never giving up, of overcoming any obstacle that happened to cross our path. For that, we should be eternally grateful. I don’t suggest we wait around for a princess or prince to save us or for a glass slipper to fall our way. Disney’s solutions might not always be available to us in that way. What I am suggesting is that we have been surrounded throughout our youth, of stories that remind us to never give up, to fight for what you believe in, to take on all enemies, slay every dragon until your path is clear again.

            I can assure you, if my life is any example, that the Captain Hooks, Cruwella DeVils, and Ursellas of the world may be waiting for you around every corner. Just know that they have been famously overcome in the past and will be overcome by you if you never give up. As David, the main character in my books The Shepherd Chronicles, once wisely said, “As long as you’re get ups exceed you knock downs by one, you are still in the game.”

Finding your path!

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.

Crossroad or Dead End

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.

Where is that magic wand?

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!

What would I want to accomplish if I had the opportunity to choose?

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!

Where Will Your Promises Lead?

The Promise

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?

Getting Started!

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.


© Copyright 2017 Gary Friedman Books

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