The power of now

When the clock stops

At some point, the clock stops for all of us.

The big one, the permanent one, the one that is both definitive and defining, will likely halt on its own terms. Despite our best efforts, despite our wishes and hopes that it might be otherwise, it is largely an immutable force.

Yet my guess is you know people for whom the clock has stopped when they remain very much alive. Maybe you’ve been there. I know I have.

The stoppage can be brought on by hopelessness or by The Resistance. We can remain stuck in resentment or paralyzed by indecision. We can avoid when we need to confront, hide when we need to leap, or simply decide to ride out the real or perceived storm. We can be the critic opining from the stands instead of the one in the arena.

It’s sad when we don’t realize we have a choice. And it’s sadder still when we don’t even realize the hands of our clock haven’t moved at all for quite some time.

Yes, accidents, medical conditions or other situations totally out of our control can come into play. Sure, we can be trapped or stymied by others. But more times than not, we’ve chosen to be the victim, to live in the past, to refuse to walk through our discomfort, to be a consumer not a producer.

If I were to die tomorrow, I would want to be certain that I’ve taken full advantage of the precious time that I’ve been given. That we’ve all been given.

The poet says it better than I:

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Mary Oliver (When Death Comes) 


Fail better · Smile at fear

Fail better

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

–  Samuel Beckett

It seems for many individuals and organizations it’s really “feel better.”

Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t make waves.  Don’t call attention to yourself.  And certainly don’t put yourself in a position where you might be seen as making a mistake.

That’s comfortable.  That feels good.  Until it doesn’t any more.

Until you realize you no longer understand what your customers really want.  Until you realize the competition is pulling ahead.  Until  you realize you haven’t innovated on anything meaningful in years.  Until you realize you did not even try.

Leadership requires taking chances.  Leadership requires failing.   In fact, it requires failing faster than the other guy and learning and evolving.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  Fail better.


Do the work · Get proximate

Waging an air war

Politicians like to talk about avoiding “boots on the ground”–and for good reason. A so-called air war has the promise of victory with little muss or fuss. No uncomfortable and sad videos of bodies returning home in flag-draped caskets. No awkward Presidential calls to family members. No VA hospitals filled with the maimed. At least not on our side.

Air wars allow us to fly above the fray. To accomplish our objectives indirectly. To do away with actual confrontation. Death comes from above instead of face-to-face.

I’m hardly a military strategist. I’ve never served in the Armed Forces. Maybe an air war is the best choice in today’s world of combat, under our present set of circumstances.

Back in our every day world, I see plenty of people waging their own versions of an air war. They pontificate on ways to fix the world’s problems from the sidelines instead of being in the arena. They think all the answers will be found at a conference or in a book. They write checks to assuage their guilt. They seem to believe a Facebook post can change the world. They lob in the occasional emotional grenade from afar, rather than sit in actual vulnerability.

And yeah, I’ve been that guy. And yeah, that is still my default mechanism far too often (can we let that be our little secret?).

It’s far easier to sit on one side of town and opine on what everyone else needs to do about the other side of town. And I suspect we all know that passive aggressiveness may be good for our short-term dopamine levels, but rarely actually accomplishes anything positive.

Let’s face it, critics don’t win the awards and cheerleaders don’t win the game.

The fact is, plain and simple, the hard, uncomfortable work–the work that matters– requires us to get proximate, to put our figurative and literal boots on the ground, to get dirty, to fall and get back up again. Rinse and repeat.

We can extend a lesson from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and acknowledge that despite our hopes there is no easier and softer way.

And we can be reminded by Brene Brown that “if you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I am not interested in your feedback.”


Chase remarkable · Unleashing potential

Tell a better story

You sell a product that is losing out to Amazon on price and convenience? Stop chasing your tail in the pursuit of ever lower prices or fanciful plans to get into the same-day delivery business. Tell a better story; one rooted in deep customer relevance and remarkability.

You run a non-profit that has trouble getting the attention of large donors? Stop trotting out endless statistics and convoluted theories of change. Tell a better story, one that connects emotionally, paints a clear picture of a brighter future and inspires hope in a new and different way.

You see yourself as someone who has to do something to prove their worthiness? Stop repeating the false narrative of victimhood or original sin. Tell a better story, one that rejects the abusive programming from your childhood and one that embraces the gifts of imperfection.

I get it. Facts can’t diverge from an experienced reality forever. But far fewer things are actually facts than we tend to think. And besides, data without a soul, an inspiration or an ultimate hero, is often meaningless.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a lousy strategy for just about everything.

You may feel like you have facts on your side, but hearts and minds (and wallets) rarely open up to the overwhelming force of logic.

The best way to claim our worthiness–to believe we are enough, we have enough and that we do enough-is to buy into the story until it rings true. Until it becomes habit.

People buy the story before they buy the product.

If nobody’s buying the product (even when that product is you) maybe the time you spend trying to be like everyone else0 or burnishing your PowerPoint would be better spent crafting a better story, believing in it and watching it spread.


A bunch of kids running toward a soccer ball

I was the coach of my first-born daughter’s soccer team when she was 5 years old. The coaching requirements, apparently, were lack of competing hobbies and near infinite patience. As it turns out lack of knowledge of the game and no discernible experience in coaching did not seem to matter.

If you’ve never seen a bunch of 5 year olds play soccer, it goes down pretty much like this. One of the kids kicks the ball and the rest start chasing it madly (except for that one girl who decides to stay back and get a jumpstart on her botany career). Once the scrum catches up to the ball, they all flail their legs a bit until, through luck or the kind of perseverance that will serve them well later in life, one of them makes contact and the ball squirts free. The cluster once again goes running after it with reckless abandon. This goes on for about an hour.

kids soccer

Now when I had some spare time from selling stuff nobody needs (I worked for a retailer) and my fellow coach wasn’t out saving lives or something far more noble (he’s a doctor), we both tried to learn a bit more about the game and how to coach it. So during practices and games we tried to impart some of our new-found wisdom.

We ran drills, we encouraged the actual playing of positions, we taught “strategy” and we yelled “spread out” until our voices sounded like Harvey Fierstein on a bad day. Our results were decidedly “mixed.”

I guess there was just something so new and exciting about the game and that ball that those kids just couldn’t resist chasing.

It was going to be some time before they learned the discipline to pace themselves.

It would take practice to appreciate that they were all in it together–and that by all of them trying to be the hero, the team was in fact being held back.

They would need more experience to learn that just because everyone else was running toward something didn’t mean it was right for them.

Eventually, they would come to see that impulse and enthusiasm is great, but so is awareness and discernment.

And hopefully they’d learn to pick up on the subtleties of metaphor.

Smile at fear · Unleashing potential

Hanging around the edge of the pool

It’s pretty comfortable on the pool deck. We get to relax in a chaise lounge, soaking in the warm sun, taking in the scenery. Maybe somebody will even bring us a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.

It’s pretty comfortable being a consumer. It doesn’t take much energy to absorb while somebody else creates and produces; to catch while the other guy or gal pitches.

It’s pretty comfortable being a critic. Where’s the risk in pointing out the shortcomings of the innovator and the failings of the artist?

It’s pretty comfortable being a cheerleader. Not much chance of injury as we watch those in the arena from the sidelines and shout enthusiastic words of encouragement.

Of course nothing meaningful actually gets done through observation. Knowledge of a problem doesn’t solve the problem. Cheerleaders don’t win the game.

Let’s face it: there’s no shortage of people hanging around the edge of the pool.

What we need is more of us willing to take the plunge.


Radical acceptance

Gravity always wins

There are few forces more powerful than gravity.

And gravity never takes a day off. Or a minute for that matter. For all practical purposes it’s ever-present, strong and unrelenting.

Most of us have learned not to fight gravity for just these reasons.

From time to time we may want it to be different, but it’s not going to be.

So there’s absolutely no point in getting upset about it or worrying about it or strategizing on how to make it different. We accept it, work with it and get on with our lives never giving it much thought.

Of course gravity is hardly the only thing in our lives that’s not going to change despite our hopes, dreams, protestations, fears, manipulations, cogent arguments or ardent scheming.

The hard part is seeing that, accepting it and making a different choice.