Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

There are connotations about the word “success” that differ based on who hears it. Some hear it and think, “Admirable goal! Top of the game, target to shoot for, best, achievement, purpose, triumph!” Some hear it and think, “Forget it! Over-achiever, out of reach, lucky, brown-nose, snob, locked out, blocked!” And still others think, “It depends,” or, “I’ve made it!” or, “Success in what, exactly?” You’ve probably had a thought pop into your own head while reading this – take it out and examine it a moment.

Isn’t it true that the first images you think of when trying to define success are the superficial stereotypes: money, fame, fancy homes, important career? Erma Bombeck noted the same thing: “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”

So you go a little deeper, and you add things like good friends, happy family, good health, strong marriage. Bet even those things are only the outside appearance of success.

So you go even deeper: real happiness, a rich spiritual life, finding your soulmate. Many would think, “Ah, at last we have come to our true definition. After all, we can’t go any deeper.” But I don’t know if these are quite it. All wonderful evidences of success, yes; but not success itself.

Maybe the English language has failed us here. Or maybe the meaning has become diluted, muted and polluted. I know I want success, but I couldn’t convey it to those around me without risking their prejudiced ideas about what that means. Even in my own mind, I sometimes wondered if my efforts at success weren’t somehow self-aggrandizing.

Then someone used another word in the same context, a similar one in content and value, one that hasn’t yet been bleached of its richness:


Significance is the place where real, non-superficial success fetches up. Every single example of real success that I can think of boils down to becoming significant. Making a difference. Being someone or doing something that matters. What a goal! Who wouldn’t aspire to that? And isn’t that what I always meant in my heart when I described success to myself?

These words are not typically found together in the thesaurus; that is, they do not share an identical definition. But I think they point in a parallel direction, except that I don’t know of any negative cultural undertone attached to the word “significance”. The meanings of the two words are close enough that some historic quotes gain fresh new life when you take out “success” and use “significance”:

Some people [succeed/are significant] because they are destined to, but most people [succeed/are significant] because they are determined to. (Henry Ford)
Action is the foundational key to all [success/significance]. (Pablo Picasso)
One secret of [success/significance] in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes. (Benjamin Disraeli)

Significance seems more important, more noble than mere success.

One last note: if you are a lover of language, you might have already noticed that the verb form of success is “to succeed”, which indicates action. There is no popular action verb form for significance. To succeed is to do, and to be significant is to be (or become). If only the English language had a word for “to become significant”! “I will strive for becoming significant” is far too clunky and even changes the meaning a little.

But even without the help of the exactly correct words I have begun updating my mindset to accommodate this new outlook, and have incorporated it into the efforts I make to reach my own level of success significance. I may not always succeed attain significance, but I will have given it significant effort.

What does success mean to you? Do you have friends or family to whom success a dirty word? Share it in the comments below.


I’ve never been much of a worrier. My typical reaction to impending doom is to ignore it and hope it goes away.

This strategy has worked well more often than it ought to have. I think it may be because I’m not actually ignoring it, even if that’s how it seems. Instead of panicking and flapping around like a landed trout, I send the problem down to the subconscious to find a solution; meanwhile, my outward countenance has nothing to do, which gives the appearance of calm in the face of adversity. My conscious mind sees my apparent calm and figures there must not be anything to worry about. Eventually (sometimes days or weeks later) the hardworking brain cells in the basement send up a workable answer and I’m ready to act.

This never fails to surprise those who know me well. The action step usually happens just after everyone has given up on me and decided I’m not ever going to do anything.

I suppose that I’m just reluctant to take an action unless I’m sure it will be effective. Which lever do I pull? Which knob to turn? Where to steer? When to wait? What to watch for? Sometimes there seem to be no options, and sometimes there are too many. But anxious fretting has never been an effective strategy. If I worry, it’s very short lived; if I think something might go wrong, I’ll try to fix it if I can, and then there’s nothing left to worry about.

Watching people worry makes me crazy. It just doesn’t factor into analyzing the problem, working out a logical response, or even that other useless activity, finding someone to blame. The most perplexing examples of worry are those in which a person is worried about something they cannot change. What’s the point of that?

At a religious leaders conference called The Nines, Pastor Steve Robinson of Church of the King in Mandeville, Louisiana, gave a talk called, “Worry is Temporary Atheism.” That’s a powerful idea. I understand this to refer anxiety over things beyond your own influence. The concern that our future is potentially and permanently awful, and that God can’t or won’t get you through it.

Faith in God has an amazing capacity to strengthen resolve. There are thousands of stories of people who get through the most horrible situations and credit it to their belief in an afterlife and in a loving God.  But even if you don’t believe, is there really anything so terrible that you can’t find a way to live with it? Even unbelievers find ways to persevere. It’s astonishing how strong people can be when it’s required.

So is worry a useless emotion? I think so. It is fear of an unknowable future – and the unknowable part is key, there. Think about it: if you knew precisely that a specific awful thing was going to happen, you would stop worrying about that (and start worrying about the unknowable things resulting from it, probably). If you were worried about losing a finger while working on an engine, and a genie came along and proved to you that yes, in fact, you were going to lose your left index finger, what are you going to worry about after that? You stop worrying that you might lose a finger, first of all. But then you start worrying about the details your genie left out: “Will it get infected? Will they be able to re-attach it? Will I ever play the piano again? How will I pick my nose?” Suddenly, “Will I lose a finger” doesn’t even make sense.

Is there anything about the future that is knowable? Sometimes, but that doesn’t seem to solve the worry problem. You can worry about your kids, your health, your relationships, your career and your finances, but to what end? You can influence those things, but at some point the results are out of your hands. Worry will never change the results. You have to trust that you’ve done what you can, and let it go.

Do you ever struggle with worry? Have you developed a strategy to avoid anxiety, especially over those things you cannot control? Can faith and worry exist together? Share your story in the comments section, below.

Earlier this week a meme that I ignored for awhile was making the rounds on Facebook where a friend gives you a number and you must answer, as your status, a few basic poll questions about yourself when you were that age. For instance, my sister wrote:

My number is…17
I wanted to be: in Europe ALL summer
I was scared of: NOTHING, ‘cept maybe getting a hole in my waterbed
Favorite show(s): Fame
Favorite food(s): mom’s spaghetti, dad’s grill, Luigi’s pizza, Big John Steak n Onion
Favorite drink(s): Coke in glass bottles

Later in the day, I read a post from the blog of Michael Hyatt (former Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers) titled What Do You Wish You Knew Then That You Know Now? (which was actually a guest post from Adam Donyes.) Somehow this captured my imagination in a way that the Facebook thing did not. The connection to me was the idea of looking back at who you used to be, once upon a time.

The Hyatt post had the potential to be a dreary excavation of a person’s lifelong regrets (in his terms, folly), but it was not. Instead, it was a study of success. The author’s premise was that age brings wisdom – the kind of wisdom that makes you say things like, “I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know.” (Let’s face facts: was there ever a time in our lives like our college years, where we were sure we had all the answers and frankly, knew it all?) His train of thought logically progressed to another idea – mainly, that at this present point in his timeline there is surely a similar body of knowledge and wisdom as yet undiscovered. So:

“Rather than accept the fact that folly was inevitable, I spent the past twelve months polling fifteen respectable men I admire – men that have lived lives of integrity, men who are faithful husbands, and have been deemed successful in their chosen vocation… The question I asked these fifteen men was this, ‘What are three things you know now that you wish you knew when you were thirty?’ I was hoping that these men would share the folly they had experienced as leaders and in life, so that I might not repeat their mistakes.”

(The results are great. You should check them out.)

It got me thinking about the person I once was. My number is… 23.
I wanted to be: a wealthy college graduate
I was scared of: dying alone
Favorite show(s): Anything on Comedy Central
Favorite food(s): Danish meatballs, pizza, lasagna
Favorite drink(s): Beer. Lots of beer.

I now look upon that guy as “Least likely to live up to his potential.”

And, a la Adam Donyes (with a little Marty McFly mixed in), what would I tell that 23-year old guy were I to meet him in 1989?

  • Stay out of debt. The idea that you need to build your FICO is a trap.
  • Sell your TV. Nothing good ever came from the hours you wasted in front of it.
  • If you want good friends, be a great one. To everyone you meet.
  • The best cure for laziness is activity. Work like hell while you can (i.e., when you’re young), and start investing the extra – even if it’s only $50 a month.
  • The trick to quitting the smokes is that only the first three days are intolerable. After that it gets easier. (And you know it would have been better not to start.)
  • What steps did you take this week to be that “wealthy college graduate”? Do something next week to make sure your answer isn’t “nothing” again next week.
  • Call your grandma.
  • Yes, there really is a God. He loves you, and cares what happens to you. He’s also a lot smarter than you are, so you should probably let him decide what path you should take. Ironically, there’s a lot of freedom in that.
  • God has someone special in mind for you. But not until you both grow up. A lot.
  • Atlanta Braves tickets are likely pretty cheap right about now. 1991 is going to be an excellent year to grab a suite for the season.

Granted, that last pearl of wisdom is probably of no use to the youth of today, but the others are golden. Or pearly. Whatever. The point is that if I had spent more time pondering, “What is the wise thing to do?” and less time searching for “What is the fun thing to do?”, I might have saved myself a ton of trouble and a decade or two of wasted effort.

The takeaway? These are still excellent pieces of advice that I can use, even today. If I continue to adhere to these principles for the next 25 years perhaps I’ll have, instead of advice, a list of things I’m glad I did right. One can hope.

Did you ever look to someone older and wiser for clues to a better life? Ever engage in the whimsical fantasy of traveling through time to speak to your younger or older self? Tell me your story in the comments section.

Every once in awhile I’ll be doing something and I get a glimpse, almost a flash-forward perspective, of the way I expect to live fifteen, twenty, thirty years from now. Those little moments where I think, “Yeah, this is good. I would be happy having more of this in my everyday world more often.” Which gets me wondering what I’m doing to guide my life in that direction.

My recent post on golf is a good example. I am certain that I could be happy playing three rounds of golf every week if money was no object. I could easily imagine putting together a remote work agreement that allows me all the time I would need (if not the cash), and have taken a few, small steps in that direction. If it all works out, I’d be living part of my dream life.

Another example is cooking. In our home, cooking together with my wife is a romantic and intimate pastime. Food is life, and sharing a kitchen is play; these are fundamental, not abstract, human needs and concepts. So our plans – a large kitchen with high ceilings, huge granite countertops, a big gas stove, a flat-top grill, beautiful Tuscany tile and an amazing array of copper pots and cast-iron cookware – these plans are never far from our minds. That’s what we expect our future to look like.

Pipe dreams? Maybe. But I think pipe dreams get a bad rap. Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have always imagined.” It’s a better plan than just letting life happen to you.

Food is Life

As much as we enjoy cooking, we also share a special fondness for interesting restaurants. Our tastes in restaurants coincide very well; we’ve been married for eight years, and I can’t remember a single restaurant about which we disagreed. In order to be interesting, it cannot be a national chain, it has to be reasonably priced, it ought to be something none of our friends has heard of, and it must be something we can recommend to people and brag about our discovery. Extra points for quirky, cozy, funky, rustic or bohemian; more bonus points for having a patio, live music, a lending library, a history, friendly waitstaff, local art or an excellent craft beer list.

So we plan to make finding these places a part of our life and our future. Our intent is to dine our way across America, and maybe learn something about the countryside while we’re at it. This originally started out as our plan for spending our retirement years, but the more I consider it the more I realize that there is no reason to wait that long. It’s just a matter of becoming location independent.

Having these dreams, plans, goals – it’s important to keep them in mind so that you know what direction you wish to travel. But it’s equally important to monitor your actions, tasks and behavior to make sure they are propelling you in the same direction as your dreams. Henry Ford said, “Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to.”

One more point about the concept of “retirement”. We have no intention of letting retirement be a time of inactivity. We see it as a time we are finally able to “do” without limits. To accomplish and to experience. To live the big life. The word “retire” means to withdraw, to retreat; these are antonyms to what we have in mind.

At first I thought I needed to start using a different word. “Dis-retirement? Un-retired? Encounterment years? Big life?” Then I realized I had fallen into the trap of thinking that it was something in the future, distinguishable and separate from our life now. It’s not! I have no plans for myself at age 45 that I cannot see doing also at age 55, 65 or 75. There is no line of demarcation where we will transition from being not retired to being retired. Instead, we are going to keep on moving, building and doing the way we are now, with an eye towards the next new, fun thing. Living the big life and always setting sail towards bigger and bigger shores.

How about you? What are your big goals for a big life? Are you doing things consistent with those goals? Has your retirement planning been based on a specific date, or have you decided to take on some big life in small doses before that date comes? Leave your answers in the comments section, below.

(See parts one and two here.) The previous six lessons have played out; now let’s tee off on the seventh on our way back to the clubhouse.

Sometimes things just go wrong (but it won’t keep going wrong)

I’m not a golf pro, and I don’t watch golf on television where the analysis is constant and often very technical. So sometimes a shot will head in a completely unexpected direction. I’ll watch my ball travel out of bounds and stand there gawking, baffled as to why it happened.

When you know what you did wrong, it’s a simple matter to begin to correct it. But where do you start if you’re clueless about your mistake? It’s important not to let that kind of thing derail us. I’ve found that if the problem is that subtle, it’s often just a fluke. It probably won’t happen again. Just drop another ball and swing away. This is even more important in life off the golf course.

Sometimes things keep going wrong

In part one, I talked about the “death spiral implosion” that can occur when one bad shot follows another. If you combine this phenomenon with not knowing what went wrong, it can be enough to make you want to quit altogether.

My approach for times I don’t have a specific “fix” to apply to a recurring problem is to become unconventional. In the movie “Bull Durham”, Susan Sarandon’s character has to get the pitcher’s mind off his streak of wild pitches. She makes the pitcher (played by Tim Robins’s) don a garter belt under his uniform, and he becomes so distracted that he stops worrying about wild pitches and begins firing the ball right down the middle.

While I don’t recommend stowing garters in your golf bag, any unconventional play can work. Bet your caddie that you can hit the next shot 50 yards using just your putter. Keep a sleeve of pink golf balls in your bag and tell the guys, “I’ll use these, since I can’t seem to get past the ladies’ tees anyway.” Tee up the next shot barefoot. Once the tension of your “losing streak” is broken, your “A” game might just return.

Good times are better with a friend

If you’ve ever tried to play a round of golf by yourself, you’ll know there are a several things that make this a very different experience. Your mind wanders; you tend to rush to the finish (and each shot, as well); the temptation to take mulligans and do-overs becomes intense; and it’s somehow just not enough that you’re outdoors enjoying beautiful weather in a beautiful setting.

In fact, solo golfers are so rare that their presence is disconcerting – even alarming – to other players. Inevitably every twosome or threesome they see will invite the soloist to join their group. It’s as if they consider it offensive to be alone there, or some evidence of sociopathic behavior. Or maybe it’s just that the groups understand what’s being missed, and compassion is the thing that moves them towards an invite.

Humans are social creatures, and almost everything that brings humans happiness has a social element to it. It’s just more fun sharing the fun with a friend, and the friend in turn makes the experience more remarkable and enjoyable.

The 19th hole: Conclusions

Like life, the game of golf has elements of work, play, integrity, meditation, problem-solving, philosophy and friendship. Some days you struggle, some days you’re golden, some days you get rained on. If you pay attention, you can get a lot out of it. And usually there’s a beer or two involved.

If I can derive so much philosophical insight from just one round of golf, how much better would the world be if everyone spent some time on the course every week?

(See part one here.) Who says golf is a waste of time? Sometimes you can derive the most inspirational lessons from a round of golf. Here are more of the nine life lessons that I pulled out of yesterday’s game:

Integrity allows for apples-to-apples progress tracking

I admit that in my younger days I often “fudged” my score, but only when the golfing gods were being particularly mischievous and unfair. I mean, I know that missing a 3-foot putt means you’re supposed to putt again and count both strokes, but in my mind it shouldn’t have counted as a miss because I could try that putt all day long and never miss it again.

Then I played a couple of rounds with someone who had the same philosophy, times ten. I realized that if I wanted to keep up I was going to have to cheat on an unprecedented scale – and that made me very uncomfortable. The only way this was going to work for me was to do the exact and complete opposite – and fanatically track every stroke and penalty knowing he was going to “win” the round. Then I could always claim a personal win, knowing my score was right and his was not.

The surprising thing was that I found I didn’t end up in situations to fudge things as often as usual. And I had an accurate record of this game, and all those that followed. My game improved, also my mindset, and there was a serenity and sense of honor that I wanted to experience more often. These days I play it straight – although sometimes it enters my mind that some golfing gods, gremlin or higher being is intentionally screwing with my game, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to record the score fairly instead of accurately.

Minor changes are amplified the further out you go

When you line a putt up wrong, it may only wrong by an inch or two when it’s rolled two feet, but by the time the ball has rolled thirty feet you’ve missed the hole by a yard. This is even more evident when you’ve lined up wrong from the tee box, because there’s a long way to go before it stops travelling in the wrong direction.

If it were possible to steer a ball in flight, golf would be a strange game indeed. The earlier you can determine that you’re off course, the sooner you can institute corrections. Fortunately, life allows for constant course correction. We are not locked into an inescapable trajectory – we can decide a new direction the moment we realize we’ve botched our aim.

Fixing it yourself feels better than someone telling you how to fix it

The guys I usually play with had been somewhat helpful in showing me how to compensate for a wicked slice that has consistently plagued my drives. Unfortunately, these “solutions” meant making accommodations for the slice instead of fixing the problem that was causing it. What I really wanted was to undo my bad form, not learn to live with it.

I came into Sunday’s game ready to try a couple of new ideas that I came up with and tested at the driving range the previous week. The results were amazing on the range, and even held true in the field under the pressure of an actual game. I was proud of my new improved skills and even prouder that I figured it out on my own. It was also great to have an audience who could appreciate it.

This is not to suggest that the help from my friends was useless or unwanted. I have asked for help on occasion, and not just out of desperation. Fixing it yourself sometimes means asking for help.

Stay tuned

for the final round as we’ll tee off from the seventh hole next time.

George (my father-in-law) and I had a terrific day on the links yesterday. This was the second consecutive day we played on the same course, which accounted for how much better we both played. I’m not at liberty to discuss his scores, but I had a season high 95 (46/49) on Sunday, and a blistering 92 (42/51) on Monday.  If I were to continue playing every single day and improve my score at this rate, I could be a scratch golfer in a week.

I began to reflect on why our golf experience was so much fun. Here are the first few of the nine life lessons that I pulled out of yesterday’s game:

Plan for comfort

The temps were in the nineties, and our tee time was 1 pm. Georgia in the summer teaches you that reasonable people stay indoors during the hours from lunch to dinner. When it can’t be avoided, dress comfortably.  A lightweight, light colored shirt (I’ve recently become an advocate of the shirts made of that “wicking” material) and a comfortable pair of pleated shorts (with big pockets for my tees) keep me relatively cool, and I could concentrate on the game.

Play for endurance

It was 2:30 by the time we’d finished nine, and even with comfortable clothing the cumulative effects of the humidity and sunshine were about to make themselves known. Perhaps there’s a way to train for that kind of endurance. I haven’t discovered it yet, but making ourselves as comfortable as possible from the start surely helped us last as long as we did. Our scores and our comfort levels plummeted around the 14th hole.

It’s more fun when you’re playing well

Isn’t this true about almost anything we do? And we’re happier when we think we’re good at something, too. Playing well feeds back on itself, in turn causing you to play better. It happens so often in everyday life that we don’t often notice it. Musicians call it “being in the groove”. The happiness we experience at making a good shot creates a more relaxed, less anxious mood, which is essential for making the next shot.

However, the same is true when you begin to do poorly. It’s not unusual to see a golfer duff a shot only to go on to botch the next three, more exasperated each time. This kind of death spiral implosion is never fun to watch and less fun when it happens to you. When you find yourself dipping into the vortex of bad play, the only way out is to create serenity in your mind – lie to yourself, if necessary. Remind yourself of why you love the game and how good it felt when you were on the upward spiral of good play.

Stay tuned

and we’ll tee off on the fourth for next time.