I decided to start reading novels. I’ve been in a crazy vortex of business, sales, and leadership books and realize I used to love to just read to read.
Since I had it for free on my Kindle, I started War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It’s surprisingly funny. It’s surprisingly accessible. Some of the beginning is surprisingly like a cross between Real Housewives of pick your place and The Hangover.
I took a break from W&P and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That, too, is pretty darn good. I loved J.K. Rowling’s little ‘greasy, grimy gopher guts-esque’ bits. If I were an 11 year old guy, I would have loved some of the snot and slime stuff. As a 41 year old, it wasn’t so bad either.
I’ve not completely set aside my business books. My current reading includes the following, highly recommended pieces:
If you’re in sales or manage salespeople or own a business that has salespeople, then it’s a great nuts and bolts guide to new business development. It does not give neat tips and tricks.
It’s the equivalent of a workout book that tells you that you best be doing your squats, bench presses, and power cleans if you want to get stronger and bigger.
If you want to make sales, there are some basic, tried, true, yet challenging practices you must put into place. This books helps to outline them.
I’m late to the Jim Collins Good to Great party. Since I started reading this book, I hear and see references to the principles in Good to Great absolutely everywhere. Nearly every sales or leadership podcast, blog post, or book I listen to or read should have a footnote referencing this book. It’s second only to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (of course, in my content consumption world, they are 2nd and 3rd to The Bible).
EntreLeadership (combo of Entrepreneur and Leader) is Dave Ramsey’s collection of wisdom regarding starting and running a business. Personally, I didn’t love it as much as the other two, but I have a feeling if I were starting a business, I’d wear the book out.
I particularly like his chapter on hiring and firing. It makes me consider what kind of employee I am.
A Note about Fall
This is, bar none, the best season of the year.
The weather is nicer (I love being able to describe air as ‘crisp’). Football is on TV. Apples are ready to be picked. Scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice hang out in my kitchen.
I hope you enjoy yours and I hope to bug your inbox a little more often.
When we practice, our bodies create myelin which wraps around nerve fibers which then fire more quickly resulting in strengthening talent.
But that’s not the point of this piece.
Random Case of the Weeps
There was a story about the KIPP program, how a couple guys developed this educational program for at-risk fifth graders that proved exceedingly effective in leading children to wrapping myelin around the nerves that increase discipline and engagement in studies.
I noticed while I was reading about a San Jose, CA area KIPP school that my eyes started watering. Something about it was nailing me.
The passage wasn’t particularly poignant. I’d quote it here, but it’s about 800 words. I can’t figure out how to trim it.
Here’s the picture: Nervous parents. Excited 5th graders. It’s the first day of a new school. The kids come with backpacks, jackets and water bottles. But when the school leader calls the kids into line, the backpacks, jackets, water bottles, and parents fall away.
It’s almost like they walked into boot camp–a kind and gentle one, but a boot camp nonetheless.
They are handed a three binder, shown how to keep a ‘KIPP line,’ and taught standards of how to talk, sit at a desk, look at a teacher, keep an eye out for trash around the school.
Their day starts with a straight line and a goal: college.
Why behind the Cry
I didn’t cry because of the college story line. I don’t look at college as the huge savior and guarantor of future success.
But there I was reading this book about talent, getting weepy over a snapshot of the first day of school for a bunch of hopeful, nervous fifth graders.
It surprised me. I was taking a short break at work and all the sudden the corners of my eyes are puddling up. Why?
It could be that these little ones were getting a chance to start a brand new trajectory. This wasn’t a rundown-neighborhood and odds-stacked-against-them fate. The expectations for their future officially changed.
It could be the crew of teachers, fully committed to drawing the good stuff out of each of their new students.
It could be that I just love straight lines and three ring binders and order.
In the end, I think it was the new trajectory thing. Unfortunately, we often think that a certain group or even ourselves are destined to play out the cards we were dealt. We get what we get. Don’t argue with it. Just have a few laughs and accept it.
I loved seeing these families not accept it. None of us have to accept it.
My particular moment with this book is still not the point of this post.
It’s simply this: When something gets you in that place where, if you were a crier, you’d cry–pay attention to that thing.
Someone might be trying to tell you something.
What has made you cry recently? I’d love to hear about it in the comments…
I love to create vision and mission statements. I love to develop personal business plans and goals (although execution can be spotty). If you’ve read any of my December or January posts, you know what I’m talking about.
While I make sure to include spending time with my children in my goals and calendars, I don’t know if I have been as diligent in having a parenting plan.
For some reason, we all know that if we don’t take charge of our health, then we’ll develop into a couch-dwelling blob. We know if we don’t have a budget, we’ll always struggle with finances.
But we often think parenting will happen easily on an intuitive level.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very conscious of being available and present. My wife and I have developed rhythm around schedules. We generally know where the boundaries are.
But can we be more intentional? Have we placed those schedules and boundaries, etc. in the larger context of a parenting plan or vision for our family?
Business Plan for Parenting?
A parenting plan isn’t a business plan, but perhaps it should have some of the elements of one.
How much more effective would we parents be if we sat down and took a stab at these questions?
What is my purpose as a parent?
What is my mission as a parent?
What is my vision for each of my children? (Not my plan for them to live out my owndreams, but a vision for noticing, identifying, nurturing the stuff they are drawn to)
What are the character traits that I’d love to see my children integrate into their lives?
What are important faith values to pass along and how do we do it?
How will we inject joy and fun in each day?
What memories do we want to create this week, month, year?
How can we live in such a way as to inspire them to follow their hearts?
I would venture most people don’t ask and answer these questions in any area of life, much less parenting.
How powerful would it be if we just took an hour and asked ourselves these questions? It might reveal some things.
Pick One Question and Try
Even if we only answered the ‘Character Trait’ question. If we said, I pray my children grow in these areas:
Sense of adventure and curiosity
Would that inform the way I discipline them? Would it cause me to be more adventurous? Would it remind me to find ways that they were ‘in charge’ over tasks around the house? When it gets a little chaotic, would it guide the way I respond?
All I know is that it can’t hurt to define what we want our parenting to look like.
Just like with business plans and personal goals, we still have to execute. But it’s not a bad place to start.
I put my five year old daughter to the test the other day.
It was a music test on Sirius/XM: Would she like the tween pop princess tune playing on Radio Disney (some Demi Lovato jam–note that my tongue is planted in cheek) or the witty, yet still kid-friendly song “A Walk Around the Block” by Bill Harley?
She picked correctly which proves one thing:
She’s still my little girl.
That makes today’s transition from her little Presbyterian day school to the huge public elementary school so nerve-wracking. It’s a big school and she’s our little girl.
Some of you might be mocking. It’s only kindergarten. No big deal. But when you’re going to a small little class of ten 4 year olds to a school of 750 or so kids, it feels like a big deal to mom and dad.
First day of school (ever)
What I’m So Scared Of
Let me share some fears (some valid, some irrational). If this blog is anything, it’s therapy.
I’m guessing some of the fifth graders are shaving and are 4 times the size of my daughter. I just don’t want one to trip and fall on her.
None of her friends from her old school are in her class so she’s totally starting from scratch.
Will she pick up on the reading?
Will she get lost going to the restroom?
Will she get lost getting to our car at the end of the day?
Will she learn curse words in the first few weeks?
Will she decide that Demi Lovato is a better listening choice than Bill Harley?
Will she make friends?
I know it’s only kindergarten, but will she stick to her guns when her little values are challenged?
Will she be made fun of?
Will she make fun of others?
What I’m Excited About
I had a whole load of ‘lessons’ that I wrote after this list of fears. I’ll save it for a later post when I’m feeling preachy.
For now, let me end on the positives. While it’s a little scary and sad, it’s also exciting for a few reasons:
I’m happy for new people to get to meet my daughter–because she’s awesome.
I’m excited for her because she’sso excited.
It will be so fun to watch her grow and learn new things.
My wife and I are excited to volunteer and take part in her education and give some time to the school.
This is one more step in getting to see who our daughter will become.
Our beautiful little girl is simply doing what tons of little boys and girls do everywhere around this time of year.
She’ll have joy, fun, bumps, bruises. She’ll be encouraged and discouraged. She’ll have a little pain and might inflict a little. She’ll learn and grow through it all.
I learned a lot on our first family beach vacation. First, I learned that taking a child on his or her first beach vacation post-3 yrs old is almost cause for a DFCS visit.
Here are some others:
1. Old guys love to dole out parenting advice at resort pools: I’m ashamed to admit it, but my children still wear Puddle Jumpersat the pool. Yes my daughter is 5 and my boys are almost 4. We need to step up the swimming lessons.
But you, Mr. 73 yr old… I’d prefer you cast judgmental looks instead of the lecture, “You know they really should be out of those things. They should be swimming. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll get. Seriously. How old are they? That’s too old for those things.”
As if watching 3 yr old versions of Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin all around us wasn’t enough.
Thank you sir. Go have a daiquiri.
2. Sunrises make you think about God: I walked my boy Sam out to the sunrise viewing area. We sat on some rocks and I pointed out how a bit of light was sparkling out around a cloud–that the sun was coming up over the ocean. He said, “Jesus lives in the sky. When will we hear him talking, Daddy?”
We hadn’t been talking Jesus recently, but the sunset brought out his deepest theological questions.
Sunset with Sam
3. Cell phones might be the most evil bits of plastic, glass, and metal on earth: I could NOT for the life of me fully check out from work. I did pretty good for a few hours at a time. But then there was an email. It’s more of a ‘me’ problem. One that I must get figured out.
4. Kids on vacation alternately want to go home and want to stay: When Sam or Jake got surprised by a particularly strong wave, calls for home rang out. But on our way home, all they said was that they wanted to go back to ‘Aunt Melissa’s house’ located at 909 Club at Hammock Beach. Unfortunately, Aunt Melissa actually lives with my brother (Uncle Aaron) in Augusta.
5. My wife would make an incredible project manager: Seriously. It was amazing to see her prep for the trip.
6. I Have a New Goal: Have enough of these types of vacations so I’m not scared to have help from the bellhop for fear of being a bad (or overly good) tipper. Since they helped us bring our car back from a dead battery, I came close to handing over my wallet.
7. Golf is better when the course is right next to the ocean: Even if you lose a whole box of balls and three stolen range balls.
That strip of grass… that’s the 18th
8. Our kids are just as good and just as bad as most other kids:Sometimes, we assume our children are the worst behaved children in the world (my apologies to the folks who stayed in rooms 214 and 216 at the Exit 16 Hampton Inn in Valdosta–my children’s first hotel stay). Sometimes, also, we assume our children are the best. We’re right on both counts. Sometimes they are the best in the room. Sometimes they are the worst. In the end, all of us parents are doing our best.
Simply, as parents, we need to work at steady improvement as much as we try to get in better shape, make more sales, or excel in whatever hobby we’ve decided is vital to our existence.
9. Footwear is important: I’ve been playing golf wearing shoes I bought for a charity golf tournament when I first moved to Destin, FL to be a youth pastor back in 1999. When the rubber spikes started disintegrating into the golf cart during my last attempt at the sport, I decided I needed new shoes.
I got these Puma Jiggs (the kids helped me to decide between them and these Adidas–both comfy, only one had a cat on it, hence the kids’ decision). Golf was so much nicer wearing shoes that didn’t cause pain.
On other other hand, these Champion slip ons from Target rubbed the top of my feet raw. Combine that with salt water and sand and yeeeaaaawww! I don’t recommend them.
10. Playing is the best way to get exercise: I think I body surfed 127 waves. I felt like I was 12 or 13 playing down at Anna Maria Island during my summers visiting Mommy Mac and Daddy Mac in Bradenton, FL. It was an absolute blast! And I felt healthy, you know?
It was also fun seeing my boys: “Daddy, we’ve never seen water like this! This is the best water!!!!!”
Trying to impress Jake with my body surfing
That’s enough for today. I also had an ABSOLUTE BLAST! Thanks so much to my brother and sister-in-law for inviting us to join them for a couple days. Aunt Melissa’s ‘house’ was seriously a place of fun and rest.
If you’re looking for a fun vacation off the beaten path, check out Hammock Beach. Beautiful, self-contained vacation experience.
Be warned: This is written simply because I’ve not put anything out in a while. I’m trying to be consistent. You’re fully excused from reading further.
I’m exhausted, but blessed.
Here’s the day…
I woke at 5:00 this morning. I struggled with Speech 3. I was scheduled to give it at my Toastmasters group at noon. I’d been rolling the topic around in my brain for days, but struggled putting it to paper.
I never did rehearse the thing before I stood up and chopped my way through it. The topic: Be Your Own CEO. I have a half-written post on the topic for this blog. I have 62 half-written drafts.
I hung with the kids for a while before driving to work. I’m going out of town next week, so work is all about preparing to make sure key people in the office can find the 30 or so projects that I have in the hopper.
There were a couple opportunities to help clients. My team and I were able to save one company $6,000 on their insurance package. I was also fortunate to set up an appointment with a nonprofit that we might be able to assist.
In between, I gave the speech and discovered my wife got stranded at the eye doctor with a car that wouldn’t start.
If you saw a sweet looking woman with three kids in tow walking to the Slope’s on Hwy 92 in Roswell, GA on Wednesday 8/1/12, then that was my wife (and progeny). A stranded wife makes the husband sad.
After the appointment with the wonderful charitable nonprofit at 2:30, I got back to my office around 4:45. There were fires and a bazillion emails.
As I finally left around 5:45, I remembered two things: Call an underwriter in California and send an email to a potential client in California.
Back to the office: Done, done, and out. It was 6:00. I had to put down the pen and shut off the computer and just back away.
As you know, most jobs would suck 20 of 24 hours every day if we’d let them.
Heading up GA 400 to home, I shot off the sheepish text: “Hope to be home by 6:40″.
I hate being home late when it’s been a long day for my wife.
On the way home, I cancelled my standing 6:30am coffee in midtown and listened to a podcast (coincidentally from the potential client in California). I probably should get to work early.
When I pulled up, my wife and I got to talk a little about her ordeal before she headed out to the Y. I then got to check my Hungarian wax pepper plant (please, someone, tell me what to do with these things!). I have 18 growing right now. I’ll sell one too you if you want.
Now, in between sentences, I’m cooking brinner (breakfast for dinner): eggs scrambled with sauteed onions and spinach, turkey sausage, and hash browns cooked on a waffle iron.
I was going to write a witty post about my ‘Be Your Own CEO’ speech. Or finish up my ‘Olympics and the Social Media Fire Hose’ post.
I just didn’t have the energy. So instead, you get this picture of a long, mundane day. It’s awesome because…
I get to do things like Toastmasters to get better at speaking and leading.
I get to actually help clients. I don’t just sell.
The thesis of the book is that talent improves through the growth of myelin. Myelin is this stuff that wraps around nerve fibers almost like the plastic or rubber that wraps around electrical wire.
The difference between electrical wire and nerve fibers is that the thicker the myelin gets, the more efficient the nerve fibers fire. As they fire efficiently, they work better and talent improves.
Now, when I practice anything, I picture these little myelin contractors working in my brain, wrapping nerve fibers and making me better at whatever it is I’m practicing.
Coyle suggests that there are three elements that create a perfect storm for myelin construction.
Deep Practice, Ignition, and Coaching
What I love about the book–whether I buy in wholeheartedly that talent is by no means born but completely made, is that it provides a visual hook to getting better at anything.
Becoming more talented requires what Coyle calls ‘deep practice.’ Deep practice involves slow, repeated, analyzed, corrected, chunked efforts (over and over again) at the same skill.
Swing the golf club. It hooks. Adjust. Swing again. Break down. Is it the backswing? Is it the follow through? Is it the grip? Adjust again, swing again. And so on.
With each repetition, myelin grows and wraps around the nerve fibers, causing them to fire more effectively.
Basically, you find and fix and dial in. As you do, the white matter (myelin) thickens and talent grows.
The other two elements are ignition and coaching.
Ignition is, in the parlance of a lot of success literature, finding your ‘why’. The talent hotbeds Coyle studies in the book include Curacao and South Korea. Both of these locations were ignited when Andruw Jones and Si Ri Pak experienced success. As a result, both locations started excelling in baseball and women’s golf, respectively.
Ignition can also be as simple as attending a classical concert at age 9 that moves you toward the violin or watching parents explore a hobby that excites you.
Coyle also found that coaching was key. He found the coaches in the talent hotbeds knew how to break down a skill into chunks and spoon feed it to students in the perfect way for the individual student. That type of patient, focused, individualized teaching improves practice and, in turn, the wrapping of nerve fibers.
When You Practice Your Brain Fires Better
The book seems to indicate that absolutely anybody could have been Pavarotti if they only were ignited, coached, and deeply practiced. Perhaps that true. I do think that some folks have some natural, biological proclivities toward certain skills, though.
What I love is the idea that I can work to make the myelin grow and get better at anything. I might never be world class but I’ll be a heck of a lot closer to it.
I never have to assume I just don’t have what it takes by some genetic natural selection. When I go to the driving range, I can work my swing. I can improve. I can break it down.
Honestly, when I make sales calls. If I make the call, observe, change up, call again, etc. Am I not just building myelin?
Myelin and Habit and Being the Best Hack You Can Be
I’m a believer in God–that God created humans and gave us some kind of a purpose. Sometimes that makes us think that we’re fatalistically destined to be good or bad at stuff.
But I also believe that God set certain biological stuff into action. If he chose myelin, then he made it possible that I don’t have to settle for current skill levels. I can always get better. So can everybody else.
Consistently practicing and developing habits creates myelin that just might make you a better hack than you ever thought you could be. And that is probably enough to give you bragging rights.
I recommend the book. Read it and be encouraged to get better at whatever is you hope to get better at.
First, I know that ‘hi’ shouldn’t be possessive, but I didn’t want you to think I was using the pronoun ‘his’.
I caught myself today.
I started going for that lowest common denominator of office communication: the complaint. I don’t remember what it was, but I was whining about something.
I stopped, and immediately asked my coworker about something going on in her life. That cut me off.
Corporate culture, in general, is saturated by whining, complaining, and gossip.
Those who notice it complain about the fact that everybody whines, complains, and gossips.
In the end, my ‘Hi’ needs to energize. I don’t care if I’m the lowest guy on the totem pole or the president of the world.
Even if I’m not officially a ‘leader’ by role or position, I can lead by energy. I can lead by not gossiping.
Now I’ve put myself out there. If you happen to work with me and you read this, and you hear me whine and moan. Tell me to shut up.
A healthy goal: To make people feel encouraged and energized after running into you. We all know people who have this effect on us. No reason we can’t be the people who do that for others.
P.S. I’m watching NY Med while I write this and Jon Kuhfeldt is about to get a liver transplant. He’s giving his son what could be some final words from dad. My wife and I are crying. I’m more encouraged not to whine at the moment. Plus, the son called his dad his hero. The family had talked about how energetic he is. Maybe there’s something to the energy thing.
I went to sleep before the show ended. It’s DVR’d. No spoilers please.
Tonight, my wife is out with a bunch of friends for a night of spinnin’ yarns and paintin’ toenails at a slumber get together. One of them lives in Luxembourg (or one of the other smallish countries in Europe).
In the meantime, I’m going to indulge in one of my more recent favorite desserts:
The Chipped Weight Watchers Ice Cream Sandwich
This takes the Weight Watchers Ice Cream Sandwich (surprisingly good in and of itself) to the next level.
Simple ingredients: a bag of semi-sweet morsels and a Weight Watchers Ice Cream Sandwich.
Pour a couple table spoons of chocolate chips in a little bowl (you can always add more).
Roll the sandwich edges around in the bowl to pick up some chips. Tip: let the sandwich melt a little bit for maximum chip pick up.
Here it is with sandwich newly unwrapped, fresh out of the freezer. The chips are reluctant to stick.
Here’s with the sandwich sitting a bit while I finished a segment of Cops on Fox. My wife never lets me watch it. Ah the glories of having the TV to myself for an evening! The chips stick to the sandwich like velcro.
The best part about doing this yourself instead of buying a Chipwich or something like that is that you can take a bite, and then dip back into the chips. And you can do it over and over and over again.
Eventually, though, the fun ends.
I fully understand that this loses any Weight Watchers weight-watching advantage.
But it’s Saturday night. Chances are, if you’re in the group, you would have weighed in this morning and you have all week to make up for it.