No Fooling

Note: With everything going on in the world, April Fool’s Day is cancelled this year. That’s a good thing. We need to be serious right now. However, amidst all the fear and uncertainty, maybe a story from four decades ago will bring you a brief smile.

First some background. Jester Center at UT-Austin isn’t your typical on-campus co-ed dormitory. There are hundreds of rooms spread over 14 floors. They serve thousands of meals each day. In my era it was cafeteria style – I still hate boiled potato balls – as compared to today’s choose-your-favorite from an assortment of selections.

So… 40 years ago today…

At 11:55 p.m. on March 31, 1980, Glenn began calling friends who lived in Jester. You only had to dial four numbers, so it didn’t take long. He said: “Guys, you gotta see this. Somebody’s rappelling right outside my window. Come quick.”

Shortly after midnight a dozen of us are gathered staring into the semi-darkness. We see no one. Then Glenn shouts from above: “See him? Right over there.” We’re all yelling at him, “Where? We don’t see anyone.” Now more students are joining us and looking up to find out what all the fuss is about.

Suddenly, Glenn yells: “Hey, everybody… April Fool’s!”

The next day I promised Glenn he’d pay for it eventually, and for many years I’d call him at midnight and say, “Not yet.” Then hang up. Eventually, the desire for revenge passed. Glenn remains my close friend. April 1, 2021, might be the perfect time…

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Change Magic

Some folks say the biggest fear people have is giving a speech. Others claim it’s being buried alive. A few believe it’s being buried alive while giving a speech. Of course, the most likely biggest fear is… change.

Think about some of the big changes in your life. Going to a new school in junior high? Unsettling. Starting your first full-time job? Scary. Watching your 16-year-old drive away in the car alone? Frightening.

Change just doesn’t feel as comfortable as that old pair of shoes, as familiar as that drive you take to work every day, as tasty as that dessert at your favorite restaurant. Yet shoes wear out, roads get rerouted and restaurants revise their menus.

Rather than fear change, perhaps the magic comes when you approach it as an opportunity to experience something for the first time. To lean in and anticipate the possibilities. After all, what’s the fun in going through life without ever standing in front of an audience and giving it your best shot?

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Singular Focus

“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon

“Believe you can and you are halfway there.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Those are three of my favorite quotes about sticking with a goal. For often, just when someone is thisclose to achieving what they set out to do, that old adversary impatience – and its buddies frustration and pain – shows up and causes a person to quit.

To keep those bad boys from derailing his efforts, one of my friends uses the analogy of ‘one more swing of the axe to fell the tree’ to keep him focused. Another reminds herself of the familiar ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time.’ I think about my swimming workout.

When I get in the indoor pool – which is not warm this time of the year – and think about what’s ahead, finishing 2,000 yards seems so hard and so long… and I fight thoughts of ‘do I really need to do this again today?’ To overcome those self-inflicted disrupters, I break the next 40 minutes into smaller chunks: 2x 200 / 150 / 100 / 50 and reverse.

While it may be a mind trick, I quit thinking ‘still another 1,000 yards to go’ and focus on ‘two more laps to finish this set.’ If it’s a tough day, I pull out another of my favorite quotes – by Vince Lombardi: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”

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Creating Space

One of my friends shared with me this month the approach he’s taking to be more empathetic toward others. He switched from a ‘me first’ attitude to a ‘you first’ style.

A few months ago he began looking at how he relates to others by focusing on ‘Free from / Free for’. Allowing himself to be free from things that are important to him so he can be free for listening more closely to the person right in front of him.

“I went to a meeting,” he told me, “and there was a person who I needed to get answers from. I started to approach him to ask questions, caught myself and instead said hello and kept my mouth shut. That person then shared something that was important to him. Had I followed my natural tendency – jump right in to solve my concern – I would have missed the chance to help him.”

‘Free from (myself) to be free for (others)’ opens up a lot of possibilities. It also works in other areas of life…

Free from (watching the Super Bowl) to be free for (spending time with my family)
Free from (checking Twitter) to be free for (reading a business article)
Free from (parking near the entry) to be free for (getting exercise walking)

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More Lessons Learned 2019

Part II of II

Looking back on the final year of the decade, here are five more Lessons Learned during 2019:

Small Step – One of the best books I read in 2019 is “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Using the analogy of breaking down everything to its smallest part, when it comes to improving yourself, it’s important to not make each step along the way too big of a leap. Thus, if you want to run a marathon, the first thing you do is walk to the end of your block, not try to run five miles. If you want to lose weight, don’t diet, just use a smaller plate and avoid seconds. If you want to memorize a poem, focus today on the first stanza. Seems like an excellent approach… and fitting during this 50th anniversary of the Moon Shot and Neil Armstrong’s famous words.

Quickly Forgotten – A lot of my travel is to work with leaders to create a culture of safety within their high-risk facilities. Thus, I try to live what I teach. Of course, we’re most likely to forget about working safely when under a time crunch or when our thoughts are elsewhere. On Sunday, as our oldest helped me wrap Christmas lights around two pine trees, I set the staple gun on the top step of a ladder before climbing down. Then I said, “Let’s move the ladder over here.” When I picked it up, the staple gun fell five feet… hitting me in the clavicle. A couple of inches to the right and I might have had a head injury.

Getting Faster – Next week marks 21 years in our home, so it was built before technology became a major focus. We’ve upgraded here and there; however, our WiFi speed always seemed slow. So when AT&T offered an upgrade to more bandwith at about the same monthly cost, we jumped. When the installer finished, he asked why we did it. I told him to make things faster, and he said, “I don’t think this is going to solve that.” Wait, what? “You need a WiFi net to increase speed.” One month, lots of research, and $200 later, I installed an Orbi Tri-band system in about 30 minutes… and our speeds doubled.

Solution Rediscovered – The best quote I saw for the first time this year is attributed to the 17th century French mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Seems especially relevant in today’s continually connected, always engaged, checking email, texts and Twitter society.

Gift Giving – If you’re looking for an end-of-year goodwill gesture, please consider contributing to an organization based in the Dominican Republic, where 20 percent live in extreme poverty. Puente – “bridge” in Spanish – utilizes mobile data technology to survey locals and pinpoint where needs exist, then identifies solutions and finds partners to deliver them. For example, Puente distributes water filters, constructs bathrooms and floors, and organizes short-term medical brigades. The son of our lifelong friends left his career 18 months ago to move there and co-found Puente, which has helped more than 180 families during the past six months.

I’ll conclude with this quote from an unknown source: “May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve.”

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Seasons Greetings. May 2020 bring clear vision for you… and continued success in all things.

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