A Thrift Store Chair and Another Book

The final eastbound destination on our recent 12-Day journey was Nashville, TN. Here we were to revisit a tradition from the year or two we lived in Indianapolis where every several weeks we would drive to Nashville and our friends John and Julia (then all our children came with us) would drive up from Atlanta and we’d spend the weekend together.  Those were great times and we were excited to see our friends.

John and Julia are another couple we’ve known for over 40 years. John and I were security guards (with Keith) in Chicago in college and we’ve stayed in close contact through the years. Julia and Suzi love so many of the same things and John and I have worked for the same company in the past. I also worked for a company that provided service to John’s company once. Let it suffice to say, we never lack for conversation.

Tradition!

One of the traditions of our time together with John and Julia is a trip (or two) to a thrift store.  Suzi and Julia especially like to see what people donate in different parts of the country. So off we went to a Goodwill store in Franklin, TN outside Nashville.

Suzi and Julia went off on their treasure hunts inside the store as soon as we hit the door.  They have keen eyes and a sense for the kinds of things they’re looking for so they don’t take hours to complete their searches. Suzi usually fills a shopping cart with possible purchases or things she wants to show me that are unique or might be special in some way. But, often she walks out of the store with nothing or one or two small things. Occasionally, however, there is a piece of furniture that catches her eye. This was one of those times.

I noticed the two of them standing at the front register admiring something so I went to see what it was. It was a wooden chair. It sat lower than most chairs, had a rattan bottom, and was unusually wide. One elderly lady in line said it was a “story time chair” where you and a child could sit side-by-side and read a story together. Another lady in the line suggested, “you could but a big cushion on it and make it a dog bed chair.” The look in Suzi’s eye suggested, “I really like this chair.” So we paid the $15 and loaded it into the back of our vehicle to make the 2,200 mile trip home with us.

Another Book

When Suzi and I hit the thrift store together, she heads off on her systematic search and I head to the book section.  Admittedly I rarely find anything. It’s like panning for gold. You sift through a lot of dirt and usually come up empty. When I say “dirt” I just mean things I’m not interested in. But, once in awhile, I find a nugget. This was one of those times.

Several years ago I ran across a video by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I saved a link to it in my Evernote file and have referred to it, been informed by it, and shared it with others often. The video outlines the research showing that the “carrot and stick” motivational tactics used by so many can actually be counterproductive. He shows that we are much more highly motivated by three intrinsic factors, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Well, there, on the shelf at the Goodwill in Franklin TN was a copy of the book he wrote by the same title. I started to leaf through it, then I started to read a particularly interesting chapter. I was about mid-way through that chapter when I noticed Suzi and Julia at the front of the store. When I went up to see what they were looking at the book was under my arm.

I bought that book even though it had been thoroughly highlighted by the previous owner. I actually think that’s kind of cool. I get to see what they thought was important when they read it. It goes into much more detail about the research and shares great implementation ideas at the end. I enjoyed reading it so much I bought a clean copy to share with my colleagues.

The Dancer and The Book

One of the stops on our recent vacation was Olathe, Kansas (Kansas City area) to see our oldest daughter, Juliana, who moved there three months ago.  She’s the one I mentioned in my post “How Does A Klutz Become A Dancer?” This is the same girl who, right after graduating from High School, was given no choice but to move to China with her parents and two younger siblings. “What am I going to do in China,” she asked? I’ll tell you what she did. She started a dance school.

I was working at an international JK – 12 school and Juliana saw an opportunity. She started classes in the cafeteria after school. She had classes by age group and by dance style (Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, etc.). The junior Kindergarten kids were adorable and she even had some of the staff in classes. She learned how to get costumes made and had several full recitals over the two years we were there. She charged for the classes but also held bake sales to raise money for a scholarship fund so no one who wanted to dance was unable to.

Fast forward to three months ago. Juliana has become a Dental Assistant. She was working and living in an apartment with two other girls in the same town as us . The three of them lived in a two bedroom, two bath apartment that cost them over $1,700 a month for rent. Their transportation was a minivan Juliana’s roommate had borrowed from her dad. When their lease was up, the roommate decided to move home to save money so she could buy a car. Juliana and her two dogs moved in with us temporarily.

Time to Get Out of Dodge

After several months of living with her parents again, Juliana wanted to get back out on her own. She decided to leave California because of the cost of living and she does not like the hot summers. So, where do you go? She had three criteria for choosing another place to live and work. One, it had to be a state where her Dental Assistant credentials would be accepted with no additional work. Two, there had to be a family member or friend living there so she wouldn’t be completely on her own (that one may have been influenced by mom). Three she had to be able to afford an apartment on her own.

After a couple weeks of research Juliana zeroed in on Olathe, Kansas. She has a cousin there who agreed to let her stay until she got a place. She had put her name out in the area and had several phone interviews which led to invitations to in-person interviews, so she packed her stuff and her dogs into a rented minivan, got a friend to drive along with her and hit the road.

Within two weeks of arriving in Olathe, Juliana, after having several working interviews with different Dental offices, had multiple job offers. She loves the office where she’s working and the pay and benefits are far better than she had in California. Better pay and benefits with the lower cost of living, I’d say she landed pretty well. She found a two bedroom, one bath apartment that she can afford on her own (with her two dogs). That’s the girl we went to visit.

Dancers Gotta Dance

We arrived on a Monday night. Juliana got the next day off so we had an evening, all day on Tuesday, and the morning of Wednesday together. She took us to the Kansas City Market downtown, to Union Station and to a cool “Made In Kansas City” shop with some amazing ice cream. The day we left, we had brunch at a local breakfast-and-lunch-only place that was delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Juliana. One thing that tickled me happened the night we arrived. We planned to have dinner together which we did, but before we had dinner, Juliana wanted to keep her appointment. It was her class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio where she’s moved on from Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical and Ballet to Ballroom and Swing. Hey, dancers gotta dance. I love that she’s doing that.

O Yeah, The Book

Suzi and I needed something to do while Juliana was at her dance class. I took Suzi to a nearby store where she wanted to look for a few things and, at her suggestion, I want across the street to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

On the way to the bookstore I remembered a book I’d been wanting to get so I went in, bought it, and started reading it in the car while I waited for Suzi and Juliana. The book is called The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea. It’s by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I absolutely loved it. I’ve read it twice already. The title is a link to the book so you can check it out.

Stories

Stories can have purpose. I could have shared this story (actually there are several stories here) to a number of ends. I could want to talk about entrepreneurship (dance school in China) or to introduce you to the character of my daughter. I may want to highlight some of the spots in Kansas City or talk about the comparative cost of living in different parts of the country. I definitely wanted to introduce you to a great book. What other purposes could you see for these stories? What are some of your stories that can have a purpose?

Our 12-day Journey

Suzi and I just returned from a two-week vacation. It was a driving vacation that touched 14 states over 4,900 miles. We love driving across country. We did a similar trip last year, too.  It’s relaxing and fun to drive through the changes in topography and to see the countryside and the cities.

Our first night was in Salt Lake City. After that we stopped in Denver to have dinner with Suzi’s sister and her husband and Suzi’s sister-in-law. The next day it was on to Kansas City where we spent two nights and a day with our oldest daughter (the Klutz who became a dancer). After that we stopped in St. Louis to have dinner with a friend on our way to a layover in Mt. Vernon, IL. The next day we reached our eastbound destination, Nashville. There we spend three nights with dear friends who had driven up from Atlanta.

We decided to return home by a different route. That trip involved no visits with friends or family but took us to stops in Oklahoma City, Gallup New Mexico, and Bakersfield California. Bakersfield is only 3.5 hours from home but we decided it was better to rest, leave at a leisurely pace the final morning and arrive refreshed rather than arrive home at midnight wrung out from the road.

I just described a 12-day journey in three paragraphs that take less than a minute to read. That’s a story in itself. What did you learn about me and my family from those paragraphs? What did you think about yourself as you read? “I would never do that.” or, “That sounds like fun.” What did you think about the length of the trip or the speed or the distance?

This series of posts is about the power of stories (starting the first week of October with my Black Swan story) . Over the next couple of weeks I will share few stories from the trip in more detail.

Has Anyone Else Experienced Failure?

Below is the text of a short speech I gave in August of last year in Orlando, FL. There was no assigned topic but I chose personal failure as the back door to success. I hope this is encouraging to you if you, like me, have ever experienced failure.

Has anyone else here experienced failure at any time in your life? Can we talk about that for a minute? Can we talk about “Failure: The back door to success.” That’s the title of a book by author, pastor/theologian, Erwin Lutzer. When I first encountered that title it caught my eye. Partly because the title is intriguing and made me want to read the book. But the truth of that title is also a great life lesson. Failure is not the end of the world. In fact, it is often a necessary step forward into a better future.

I said it’s a life lesson. Well, I don’t know if its because I’m a slow learner, or what. But it seems I’ve had more than a few opportunities to review that lesson in my life. One of those opportunities involved relocation. Have you have ever relocated your family? Ah, ok, then you’ll be able to feel me on this. We packed up all our stuff, our family of 7, plus the dog, plus two cats, and moved 2,851 miles (oh, I counted) across the country from Cary North Carolina, BACK to Manteca California.

I say “back” to Manteca because 13 months prior to that, we had packed up all our stuff, our family of 7, plus the dog, plus two cats, left our idyllic cul de sac neighborhood, our church home, and our friends, and moved to NC for a new job. The night we left, all the neighbors and some friends from outside the neighborhood were on the front lawn of the house we were leaving and we were all crying our eyes out. In the swell of all that emotion I made a pretty melodramatic pronouncement. I said, “California will not defeat me, I will return!” Pretty dramatic, huh?

My new company bought a company in California giving us the opportunity to go back. It felt like a triumph that day in September, 2005 when we rolled back into Manteca. Promise kept! We made an offer on a house in a neighborhood where our kids could attend the school they wanted. The appraisal came back for $25,000 more that we bought it for! Instant equity. We were pretty excited. Things were good.

Fast forward 3 years to Friday November 7, 2008, 3 days after the presidential election. I walked into work that morning and got a pink slip. I was laid off. If you remember, things were difficult for business during those days and nobody was hiring. I couldn’t find a job. Unemployment wouldn’t cover the mortgage payment on the house so I wasn’t able to make another payment after that day and by July of 2009 we lost the house. That was a dark time.

Open the back door. By August 3, the next month, we were loading up as much of our stuff as we could (the rest was in storage), five members of our family (no dog or cats this time) and relocating again. This time we moved 7,244 miles to Kunming, China (how that came about is a story for another time). I had a two-year contract to serve as the director of an international school there. Those were the two most personally enriching, professionally expanding, and family transforming years of our life … so far. The bonds of friendship that we forged there with local Chinese and other expats, remain strong to this day. And I would NEVER have had that opportunity, it would never have been on my radar screen, if I hadn’t lost that job and the house.

I said I’ve had several opportunities to review that lesson. One benefit of frequent review is that it helps reduce the fear of failure, which is liberating. I’m learning to view things in the spirit of the 1998 hit song “Closing time,” – “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I hope my story encourages you.

Thank you,

Be A River

For the last several weeks We’ve been talking about personal growth. As we leave this general theme, it’s important to ask, “Why do we want to grow?” Several answers may come to mind. Growth is its own reward for example. We are intrinsically motivated to get better at things. It’s called the motivation of “mastery.” Another very practical reason for personal growth is that it potentially opens more opportunities in life. I would like to suggest a higher reason. This reason taps into another intrinsic motivator, “transcendent purpose” – the desire to be part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. That reason is that growing yourself enables you to grow others.

Be a River Not a Reservoir

John Maxwell and others talk about the difference between a life of success and a life of significance. Young entrepreneur and founder of the website greattoawesome.com, Anshul Kamath, described the difference like this:

  • Success is consuming existing knowledge, data and news for your benefit. Significance is doing something news worthy and creating knowledge that others can benefit from.
  • Success is being able to afford to send your kids to a good school. Significance is educating others.
  • Success is earning a steady income, saving and retiring happy. Significance is empowering others with employment and a livelihood.

Put another way, a life of success is like a reservoir, taking in to fill itself. A life of significance is like a river, taking in at one end and sending along at the other. In one sense a river is always growing (taking in) but there is always room for more because it is flowing that water to other bodies of water. In the words of the Ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus,

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

How to Become a River

How can I make the transition from reservoir to river, from success to significance? Here are a few practical steps:

  1. Ask Benjamin Franklin’s daily questions:
    1. In the morning ask, “What good shall I do today?”
    2. In the evening ask, “What good have I done today?”
  2. Be grateful – the attitude of gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. Gratitude is the fundamental river mentality. When I see everything as a gift, it’s much easier to share it.
  3. Put people first – above stuff, position, or achievement. People are the pathway to the others, not in the sense of stepping on them to rise, but in the sense that everyone rises when you care for the people as your priority.
  4. Don’t let stuff own you – we are servants to that which we give ourselves. Better to serve people than stuff.
  5. Define success as sowing not reaping – ask, “how much have I given,” rather than, “how much did I get?”
  6. Keep giving – a river that stops giving is a reservoir. I refer you back to step 1.

We’ve spent the last 13 weeks talking about personal growth. We’ve talked about curiosity, rubber bands, poop, recipes and much more. This, however, is the capstone concept of personal growth. Growing yourself enables you to grow others. If you make it your goal to grow others, there will be no end to what you can become.

Are You At Capacity … Nope!

Suzi and I were at an event with our kids and she said, “Oh, get some pictures of this.” I pulled out my phone and opened the camera app to start shooting when it said, “Not enough space left to take pictures.” the camera had reached it’s capacity. I could fit no more pictures on it, but this was important so I frantically began looking through the gallery for the random funny face selfies my kids had taken, or the unintentional shot of my foot to delete in order to free up space for the pictures I wanted to take. I lost a few moments in the process but was able to capture some nice pictures in the end.

Capacity is a limit. By definition it means “the maximum amount that something can contain or produce.” Are you operating at capacity? At first, that may sound like a good thing, to operate at capacity. But, consider this quote by Albert Einstein: “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” That suggests what John Maxwell calls the “Law of Expansion: Growth Always Increases Your Capacity.”

How Much is Full?

The truth is, nobody knows. We’ve all heard the myth that we only use 10% of our brain power. That’s been debunked by science, but true or not, we do know that people who think they know everything don’t tend to learn and grow. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced the phenomenon where we learn something new and realize in that moment that there is more we don’t know than we do know. Our capacity has just been stretched.

Living overseas was a huge capacity expansion for our family. Experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of another country on the other side of the planet expanded us to realize there was a whole world we knew nothing about prior to living there. There are hundreds of more subtle examples, When you go to the grocery store to buy bread, for example, you select the bread you want, buy it, take it home and enjoy it.

I’ve worked in bakeries in my past. There is a whole commercial baking world most people know nothing about. There are GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) to be followed, food processing sanitation to be sure equipment is clean, recipe formulas, line speeds, proofing, oven temps, packaging, shipping, and distribution. Each of these elements has experts.

My point is that I didn’t know anything about anything until I learned it. And, each thing I learned actually increased my capacity to learn more. The same thing happens for you. So, how do we get intentional about expanding our capacity?

Expand Your Thinking Capacity

  1. Stop thinking MORE WORK and start thinking WHAT WORKS? If working longer and harder made you successful then more developing countries would be successful. Put your time and energy into what gives the greatest return.
  2. Stop thinking CAN I and start thinking HOW CAN I? When you add the question How? you have moved from doubt to solution finding. Doubt cripples and hinders, Hunting for solutions is energizing.
  3. Stop thinking ONE DOOR and start thinking MANY DOORS. There is always more than one way to achieve a goal. The problem with one door thinking as that you are usually disappointed when you go through that door because it doesn’t deliver all it promised and you wind up going through other doors anyway. Keep options open on the front end.

Expand Your Capacity For Action

  1. Stop doing what you’ve ALWAYS done and start doing what you COULD and SHOULD do. At first you do what you know. But the more that you do what you know you will discover additional worthy things, innovative things, that you know you should do. At this point there’s a pivotal decision. If you know what you should do but continue to do what you’ve always done, you’re in a rut. But if you know what you should do and then do what you know you should do, you’re leading and you’re growing. Get out of your comfort zone. Stay in your strength zone.
  2. Stop doing WHAT is expected and start doing MORE THAN is expected. Jack Welch calls this “getting out of the pile.” During your annual evaluation, do you want to be the person who “Meets Expectations” or the one who “Exceeds Expectations?” I had a boss once who said his favorite three words were, “And then some.” He wanted that extra from himself and others.
  3. Stop doing important things ONCE IN AWHILE and start doing important things EVERY DAY. Important things are those that are
    1. Required – things that not only must be done but that only you can do
    2. Deliver the greatest return – don’t just look for the “low hanging fruit”, look for what will multiply results
    3. Bring the greatest reward – the things that are in your sweet spot, where you passion, your strengths, and your dreams come together

Nike had a slogan, “There is no finish line.” In the same way, unlike my camera, you will never be at capacity. Keep growing.

What If I Were Curious?

“Hey Mom and Dad, What if I walked like this?” That was one of a thousand “what if” questions our oldest daughter, Juliana, asked us while she was growing up. She asked that one in a crowded department store and followed the the question with a demonstration of the kind of walk she was talking about. She took several long, lunging steps where her trailing knee almost touched the floor. It looked really silly. How do you answer a question like that?

Our youngest son, Jordan, was also quite the questioner. One particular trip into San Francisco comes to mind. My parents were visiting from Minnesota that week and we decided to take a trip into the city for the day. The whole family had maxed out the minivan for the hour or so drive in. From his car seat in the back, Jordan almost immediately started lobbing questions to all the adults. “Mom, what …?” “Mom, who …?” “Dad, when …” “Grandpa, why …?” The vast majority of the questions went to “Mom.” It became funny at one point and we started keeping score of who was asked more questions. I don’t remember what the score was, but Suzi definitely won!

The Law of Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it made the millionaire. I don’t know if that’s an actual quote from someone else and I don’t know if being a millionaire is your goal, but the fact is that growth is stimulated by curiosity.

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I’m only passionately curious.”

Walt Disney said, “Curiosity keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

How does that work? Why did that happen? What if I did this instead? How many other ways could I try to get to that result? Curiosity is the key to ingenuity and creativity. Nothing new was ever attempted or accomplished without curiosity. In the most watched TED talk of all time, Sir Ken Robinson argues that schools kill creativity. I’m not trying to indict our educational system, but I do think we lose when we focus more on finding the right answers than we do on asking the right questions.

How to Cultivate Curiosity

Do you want to know how to be more curious? Are you wondering how to regain that childhood wonder that sparks so many questions? There’s the first key.

The first step in cultivating curiosity is to adopt a beginners mindset. A beginner’s mindset is not at age thing, it’s an attitude thing. Jordan on the way to San Francisco was displaying a beginner’s mindset. A beginner’s mindset cares more about learning than about reputation. A beginner’s mindset is not influenced by set rules or by conventional wisdom. A beginner’s mindset starts with a question, not an answer.

The second step in cultivating curiosity is very practical. It’s to learn something new every day. When was the last time you learned something for the first time? How about today?

The third step is to make failure your friend. Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We often learn more from our failures than from our successes.

The fourth step is to stop looking for THE right answer. There are two fallacies to the “one right answer” people. Fallacy number one, there is always more than one solution to a problem. To buy into the only one right answer is to stop the search for more and better ones. Fallacy number two, the “best” answer can always become better. Keep your options open.

Here’s another way to think about it. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Most people stop there. Curious people, people who grow, wonder, “If it ain’t broke … how could it be better?” or, “If it ain’t broke … what’s likely to break it in the future?”

What are you curious about?

We Have to Stretch to Grow

The thing about rubber bands is that they’re pretty much useless until they’ve been stretched. Every use I can think of for a rubber band requires that you stretch it first. This is why John Maxwell calls one of his laws of personal growth “The Law of the Rubber Band.” It says that “growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.” You need to keep stretching. Another way of saying that came from Abraham Maslow who said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy the rest of your life.”

Suzi and I were having lunch with some friends several years ago. The conversation turned to personal growth and one of our friends said, “If I have to experience pain in order to grow, then I’m happy where I am.” I’ll never forget that comment. It sounded like that person was aiming for mediocrity. Mediocrity is not a worthy goal. It’s like the cartoon I saw on a bulletin board. A football team was running off the field chanting “We’re number six!” One of the fans said to another in the stands, “I think they’re too easily satisfied!” It’s easy to be average.

Life Begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch

Your comfort zone is a dangerous place. It prevents you from improving, it stops you from achieving all the things you are capable of achieving and it makes you miserable. That’s a line from an article entitled, “Why Your Comfort Zone is the Most Dangerous Place on Earth.”

Your comfort zone is where you feel familiar and in control. It’s where you are not intimidated by challenges and don’t feel like something is at risk. But that’s exactly the problem. Risk and intimidating challenges are the stretching of the rubber band. Doug Larson said, “Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.” You have to get out of the boat if you’re going to walk on water.

Stretch Goals

Most of us set goals. Many organizations require you to set goals as part of your development plan and annual evaluation. We are most often asked to set “SMART” goals. Those are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Realistic), Time bound. I love what Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ said in a white paper called, “Are SMART Goals Dumb?” He proposes H.A.R.D. goals. In his model the “D” stands for Difficult. It means, “I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my goal.” Now we’re talking about stretching. Rabbi Nehman asks, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

“Stretch Goals” are ambitious goals that challenge current assumptions and processes, and inspire teams (people) to re-imagine what they previously thought possible. You can stretch in two different directions. If you stretch vertically, for example, you are reaching for new heights in something you’ve already achieved. It may be a sales goal no one believes possible or putting a person on Mars.

You can also stretch horizontally. That means expanding your horizons to attempt something you’ve never done before. You may be dreaming of starting a business or launching a product line that seems outside your normal arena. Whether you stretch up or you stretch out, stretching is the key to growth.

Someone once said, “You are exactly where you should be in life given everything you have done to get here.” That may cause some of us to say, “ouch!” It’s true, though, and the question is, what will we do on purpose to become who we could be?

Personal Growth and Character

Do you know the difference between a tornado and a zamboni? The difference is in what they leave behind. A zamboni comes out on the torn up ice after a period of hard skated hockey and glides over the surface leaving behind a glistening smooth surface. A Tornado, on the other hand, smashes into the most peaceful, idyllic towns and leaves behind destruction and death.

People can be like zambonis or like tornadoes. I’m sure you’ve met both kinds. I know I have. What makes things challenging at work is when one person has both characteristics. For example, they may be a zamboni in their people skills, very friendly, always willing to help, but a disaster when it comes to the work they produce. On the flip side of that is the person who is amazing at what they produce but leave dead bodies in their wake when it comes to people.

We’re talking about character and competence, who we are and what we can do. Someone once said that character and competence are like the two wings of an airplane. You need them both if you want to fly. I believe that. I would rather work with someone who is pretty good at what they do (especially since it’s easier to teach skills than character), and of really good character than someone who is really good at what they do and a disaster when it comes to character.

What Difference Does Character Make?

“Character growth determines the height of your personal growth.” John C. Maxwell.

When I interview people for leadership positions, I don’t ask them a lot of questions about skills. I may ask one or two to make sure they know what they say they know (actually, that’s a character issue, too), but mostly I focus on questions about character. “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” or, “Could you tell me about at time when you saw a co-worker struggling in their job?” I can teach you the skills you need to do the job.

Character matters because character makes you solid on the inside. Like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, a person with no character will eventually implode. But strong character makes you resilient while allowing you to grow.

Some lists of desirable character traits have been developed like the “Pillars of Character” from the “Character Counts” educational program for public schools:

Trustworthiness
Respect
Responsibility
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Some add Empathy as well

Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed identifies these traits as more important than IQ for success:

Grit
Curiosity
Self-control
Social Intelligence
Zest
Optimism
Gratitude

Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who possessed these qualities?

Can Character Change?

I believe it can! The bottom line requirement for a change in character is for a person do deal with their personal B.S. (Belief system). In other words you change the way you think about yourself and the world around you. How?

One way this happens is through a life-changing encounter with someone or something, something so traumatic or amazing happens in your life that it alters your world-view completely. A murdering, self-righteous, religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus had such an encounter with Jesus Christ. He became the Apostle Paul after that encounter.

Another way that character can change is by intentionally putting yourself through a series of exercises that begin to develop a new mental muscle memory. Those in the religious world might call these exercises spiritual disciplines. Others may call them Habit Formation. The first one to work on is your belief about whether or not you can change. Start by changing your self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m just direct whether they like it or not,” which indicates an unchangeable state of being, try saying, “that comment seemed to land more like a punch than constructive advice.” That would allow you room to think about how to offer the same information differently so the person hearing it would be more inclined to receive it.

Competence and Character, the two wings of the personal growth airplane. You can become a zamboni in both.

How to Turn Poop Into a Positive

“Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue.” Have you ever heard that saying? I loved it the first time I heard it and still do. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other days you feel like a depository of pigeon poop. Everyone feels that way because we all have good days and bad days. We all have really awesome experiences and really horrible experiences. The difference between people who grow and everyone else is in what they do with the bad experiences.

“No pain, no gain” is about when you experience pain because you’re working out. That’s on purpose. You intentionally do things that make your muscles sore because you want to get stronger. What about when you experience pain that’s not on purpose, when someone just poops on you? John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth writes about “The Law of Pain.” That law says, “Good Management of bad experiences leads to great growth.”

Here’s an Example

A friend of mine, despite being great at what he does, found himself out of a job not long ago. The COVID-19 pandemic so negatively impacted his industry that he lost his job. Instead of sitting around whining or feeling sorry for himself, my friend decided to let people know he was available to work by writing a social media post. The theme? “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” It was a beautifully written piece but I don’t know if it ever got posted. A recruiter was asked to look it over and provide feedback before my friend posted it. That feedback led to a new job with that recruiter’s company. How’s that for turning poop into a positive (or lemons into lemonade)?!

As Warren Lester said, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

How Do You Turn Lemons to Lemonade?

First, understand these truths:

  1. Everyone has bad experiences
  2. Nobody likes bad experiences
  3. Few turn bad experiences into a positive.

So, how do you become one of the few? I wish I could tell you there are three or five steps to turning poop into a positive. It boils down to a choice. You can choose what to think about. For example, think about a blue sock. Now think about a bowl of lemons. See, you can make yourself think about what you choose.

You can also choose how you think about something. Take that bowl of lemons, for example; maybe you would have preferred a bowl of oranges. How will you think about that? Are you sad or angry that you got the wrong fruit? Maybe you don’t even like lemons. Or, do you see an opportunity? You could make lemonade, sell it at a lemonade stand and make new friends and enough money to buy oranges! You can choose how to think about good and bad experiences. Often the way we think about the experience helps determine how it turns out.

Another Perspective

I’m a person of faith. The Bible has some interesting things to say on this topic. For example:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials because you know that tribulation works patience…” James 1:2-4

It also says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Romans 5:3-5

This is not passivity or defeatism. This is someone who recognizes that bad things happen to everyone, and that good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.

How do you turn poop into a positive? Choose to. After all, poop makes great fertilizer!