The Sinking Boat

 
SinkingBoatWhen is a dream about a boat sinking a good thing? Well, it’s better that it was a dream rather than real but I still think the symbolism of this dream was positive.

I don’t often remember dreams but when I do there always seems to be a reason. Let me setup the situation with some background as to what was going on in my life.

The spa business my wife and I own has been doing well. The one problem we have is that we need to hire more people to keep up with the demand so that’s a good thing. One hire we needed was a manager and we had found a winner. Our new manager was excellent in every way and really put us at ease. Now we could concentrate on other issues and keep growing. Three weeks into her employment, however, she stopped showing up to work. We could not reach her in any way. She didn’t return phone calls, emails, or texts. We were at a loss.

That’s when I had this dream. In the dream every time I checked on my boat it had sunk but, being a dream, it would rise up again. I’d leave and when I would return it had sunk again. But it would rise again. The pattern continued, sink, rise, sink, rise. And that’s when I woke up.

So why do I think this is a positive thing? Because being an entrepreneur, owning a business, is like being a sinking boat that can rise again. Things go wrong, some things are beyond your control, but when things go wrong you have to rise up and deal with them, fix them, and keep moving. Our manager chose Valentine’s Weekend not to show up and my wife and I stepped in and worked. We did what we had to do and the business kept moving. We sank but were able to rise again. I’m sure something else will happen to make us feel as if we’re sinking but we do what it takes to stay afloat. Whatever the challenge, we keep focused on success.

Saturday could have been a disaster but we rose to the challenge and had a very good day.


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Dumb Quotes 2

 
I admit that I’m probably the most inconsistent blogger out there. When the mood strikes (or when I have time which is even more difficult) I’ll write something.

The mood struck when I saw this article: Study Finds People Who Fall For Nonsense Inspirational Quotes Are Less Intelligent. It reminded me of my “series” on dumb motivational quotes of which I’ve only written one post. Well today is post number two!

TallTreeToday’s dumb motivational quote is: “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.” I have no idea who said that which is good because I won’t feel bad saying that quote is really really stupid.

First of all how well does this person really know trees? I mean, are they on a first name basis? Is there a tree this person would want to have a beer with? But beyond really “knowing” a tree what exactly do trees teach about patience?

I get that they wait, they stand still, that trees aren’t in a hurry, but that’s mainly because they’re inanimate. Patience is one thing but I don’t think there’s anyone out there whose goal is to be inanimate. Trees live a long time and that too takes patience but a tree isn’t going to teach anyone to live hundreds and even thousands of years. At the end of patience is an outcome but for a tree there is no outcome just more of being a tree.

Patience is a good thing and not enough people practice it (I know I struggle with it). We get angry first and ask questions later, we listen just long enough to jump in and add our thoughts or comments, we want things now rather than later. Instead we should seek to understand first and give the benefit of the doubt before anger begins to form, we should listen, really listen, and try to understand. It’s ok to wait because not everything happens on your schedule.

Patience however shouldn’t lead to inaction. Sometimes you have to push things along. A healthy balance between patience and agitation keeps momentum going.

What dumb motivational quotes do you recommend I feature in future articles? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Can You Build Fires?

 
Making FireI was a horrible Boy Scout. My troop was the Keystone Cops of the scouting world, the ones who came in last in our survival and wilderness skills competitions, the ones who didn’t capture the flag, build a fire, or navigate with a compass. In the navigation competition you had to follow a course using only a compass and to make things more difficult, you wore a paper bag over your head so you couldn’t see where you were going. Using only a map and a compass most teams made their way to the finish line, our team walked in circles.

But this post is not about navigation, it’s about fire. Another competition had us build a fire using only a few select items (none were matches unfortunately). The first item was flint to make a spark and that reminds me of this quote from What Next: “Inspiration on its own is like a flint without fuel, the spark is there but nothing catches fire.”

Of course we were given fuel in the form of tinder but it was a very limited supply. Now there was something to catch the spark but it wasn’t that easy. If the spark wasn’t strong enough or had to travel too far to reach the tinder, it wouldn’t catch. It’s the same with inspiration. If there is no one around to share your inspiration it might just remain an idea, a thought rather than action. If you can’t motivate yourself then the spark of inspiration will be exstinguished. Again from What Next this is summed up with this quote: “Motivation is the tinder for the spark of inspiration; it is the thing that catches fire.”

If the tinder did indeed catch the spark it would die without coaxing and that came in the form of oxygen. You would stoke the flame by gently blowing on the tinder; blow too hard and you put out the fire, too softly and it won’t spread. As we build the fire of our lives this last ingredient is drive. “Drive is the wind that spreads the fire of motivation sparked by inspiration,” I write at the end of What Next. Drive is the oxygen that sustains us as time, money, nay-sayers, or any other obstacle tries to exstinguish our fires.

As a Boy Scout I was horrible at building my fire but with practice and the right combination of inspiration, motivation, and drive, I’ve built plenty of fires that sustain me both mentally and financially. A leader will help others build their fires or give them one of the necessary ingredients. I hope I’ve given fuel to others so that they can build a fire of their own. What are you doing to build, sustain, or spread your fire, your passion?


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Dumb Quotes

 
Today I’m starting a new series on the blog called Dumb Quotes. I have plenty of quotes, mostly pulled from my book, What Next, and some might just be dumb. Someone will read a quote of mine and think it’s brilliant (I hope) and someone else will think it’s ridiculous. Of course I’ll be using other people’s quotes in this series because I’m confident that mine are just fine the way they are.

This series will point out quotes I think are ridiculous. The sentiment might be worthy but the quote itself is just plain silly. Today I’m starting with one that you would probably think I like a lot because it references a topic I’m fond of, hiking. I talk a lot about paths and obstacles, about the importance of creating your own path and understanding that obstacles are not to be feared but are a natural part of every path.

BlockedPathMy dumb quote of the day (or week, or month, depending on how often I write these) is “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere” by Frank A. Clark. First of all I have no idea who Frank A. Clark is and I have nothing against him personally but I have seen this quote a few times on Twitter so why not start here?

What’s wrong with this quote? Well if it’s a path then by definition it leads somewhere. I’ve hiked many a trail without any obstacles and I’ve gotten somewhere.

I get it though, I do. If the journey isn’t difficult the destination probably wasn’t really worth it. Struggle is a part of life and we need to recognize that those struggles make the goal so much sweeter. The other thing about this quote is that obstacles aren’t the only thing that build character. The trail itself could be wide, flat, and straight – in other words easy, or it can be narrow, steep, and full of switchbacks – a real struggle. There might not be any obstacles whatsoever but it can be the most difficult path you’ve ever been on.

Do you have some dumb quotes that you find more annoying than helpful? Post comments below to add yours or tweet me @askwhatnext and use hashtag #dumbquotes.

 

 


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The Benefit of Obstacles

 

Maybe I have it wrong, maybe obstacles aren’t all bad. Often people talk about overcoming obstacles, getting past or through them, but maybe that obstruction was placed there on purpose, designed to protect you from going down the wrong path. I’ve written about maintaining momentum in spite of obstacles but maybe sometimes we need to heed the warning and turn back.

There is a big difference between turning back and giving up, however. Turning back just means you’ll find another way, maybe even a different path altogether, but progress continues. When presented with a block, unable to reach your goal, don’t curse the obstruction. Look around and try to see it from another perspective, as a warning that danger lurks if you insist on continuing. Only after you consider all options can you be confident that getting up and over the obstacle is the best choice or that turning around now leaves you better equipped to fight on another day.

That is exactly the lesson I learned on The Skyline Trail.

Julie and I, avid hikers, decided to set off on a hike up the San Jacinto moutains from the base in Palm Springs to the tram station over 8,000 feet up. The trail known as the Skyline trail is wilderness hiking at its Warning signbest. It is not marked and even has several signs at the start indicating the dangers that lie ahead.

The climate ranges from hot desert at the base, to cold and snow at the higher elevations. The night before our hike it rained in

Snow on the trail

Our first sighting of snow on the trail.

Palm Springs but snowed several thousand feet up the mountain. Believing we could handle the hike we began the ascent loaded down with water, food, and warm clothing for the difficult journey.

We were excited when we saw our first signs of snow and before long we were ankle deep in it. As we continued up we could see the tram in the distance having gotten 8 miles into our 10 mile hike but the snow was much deeper and any indication of the trail was buried deep below. We had to make the decision to continue or turn back. The choice was easy in spite of what should have been an 8 mile hike now being a 16 mile hike.

The obstacle, snow obscuring the trail, could not be ignored and was not worth pushing past. We turned back and lived to try again. I’m still waiting for our next opportunity but when it comes I’ll be ready having the learned a valuable lesson.


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Recapping 2012 Part 6 of ??

CyclistLike every year 2012 had times of joy, sadness, pain, euphoria and everything in between. Some would say it was a roller coaster and mean that in a bad way while others would mean that in a good way. I look at it like a bike ride with flat sections, hills, twists, turns, and wind all of which have their benefits and their costs. If there’s one thing I was certain about, I didn’t coast much in 2012 and that’s exactly how I like it.

Up Vs. Down

Up is good. Down is bad. I’d rather be on my way up than on my way down. It’s better when stock prices rise than fall. It’s better when things are looking up.

Being out on a bike ride yesterday in a hilly area, I’m not so sure up is good. Up is a struggle, up takes a lot out of you. When the road would level off, or better yet, point down, I could rest and even pick up speed without any effort. That’s called coasting and I think I’ve made my feelings about coasting clear, both in my book and in this blog post.

I’m not going to talk about coasting today, I’m going to talk about hills, working hard, struggling, and ultimately conquering the challenge.

Where I live, the roads are fairly flat so when I get an opportunity to bring my bike back to the area I grew up, with all the hilly terrain, I take it. That’s right, I actively seek out a difficult ride because I want the challenge, I want to test myself, my fitness, my determination. That is the difference between a successful person and one who coasts.

As I began the ride the first hill I encountered was a steady gradual climb, not too steep. I was surprised as I found myself downshifting much sooner than I thought, loosing speed quickly, my breathing becoming labored. If this was a sign of things to come I was in trouble.

Fortunately I was here before and I knew that this first hill was the adjustment hill, my body gearing up for the challenge ahead, the rest of my ride would be at a higher level of conditioning. A lot of people would become discouraged or maybe even quit at this point, but those who push on find the strength to continue.

I was gaining elevation on the entire ride out. Sure, there were some periods where I could rest, but the down hills were shorter in this direction. When I got to the 10 mile mark and turned around I had two things going for me. First, I had a tailwind instead of a headwind. Second, since the uphill sections were longer going, the downhill sections would be longer returning, giving me more time to rest and recover. That’s what I believed anyway.

With a headwind you feel it, you struggle against it as if climbing a hill. I call headwinds perpetual hills. When you turn around and the wind is now at your back, you don’t notice it, it doesn’t seem to aid you as much as the headwind hindered you. Doesn’t life seem like that sometimes, the struggles are so much harder, and longer than the good times?  I think that is because many people don’t consider the value in the struggle, don’t take the time to relish the accomplishment before moving on to the next challenge.

The same goes for those long hills up that are now just as long but much easier on the way down. The problem is that you’re going much faster downhill and they seem so much shorter than when you were going up. The anticipated rest is over before you know it and once again you’ve got to struggle up. By pedaling downhill you aren’t working as hard but you’re increasing your speed giving yourself a little more momentum as the next hill begins or as the road levels off. In life I find too many people stop pedaling downhill and don’t set themselves up for success.

Up is good but it’s also hard. The harder you work the more satisfied the victory. Are you willing to push yourself? Are you willing to seek out a hill?

 


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Recapping 2012 Part 2 of ???

 
Looking BackThe second installment of my look back at my 2012 blog posts features a common theme for me, hiking. Hiking is a great metaphor for life as the journey is often more important than the destination. Another category this post deals with is leadership. We all vary from follower to leader and back again depending on the situation.

This post also features Adam (@ajm5338 on twitter), the person I mention in the post below, who has indeed taken the steps necessary to reach the goal we spoke about at the event I attended early in 2012. I hope that Adam has a moment to stop by and fill us in on his progress.

Be The Trail Guide

Whether you are beginning your working life or are looking for a change, you have more choices than you realize. Choice is not an either-or proposition, however. You can decide to go to work for an established company, a big corporation, or you could set your own path, be your own boss. You could also do both if you want to.

Not too long ago I went to an event at a bar in NY organized by Andrew Warner of Mixergy.com. The event was a mixer (of course) where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs got a chance to talk and share ideas. I met a guy who just recently (six months ago) joined the workforce after graduating college. The thing that was interesting, though, is that he was already anxious for more. He was looking for his what next. The experience he was getting was valuable but he wanted to create something. There is no reason he can’t do both, continue getting great experience while creating something new.

Being at the event was a step in the right direction but to be an entrepreneur, he also needs to be a leader. He needs to be able to get others to follow him, to believe in his mission as much or more than he does himself.

Entering a palm oasis

Leading the way.

He is like a hiker setting off on a trail others have been down before. Anyone can be a hiker but a leader is a trail guide who knows their way. In this case, only the entrepreneur with the idea, the sense of direction, can lead their team of hikers.

Is it enough to simply declare yourself a leader, the trail guide? No. You have to demonstrate why you should lead, you have to give as much as you get. The authority is not yours to claim but is earned as your enthusiasm and belief in the project lights the fire of those you want to lead to success.

Now get out there and explore the trail so you can be an effective guide.

Subscribe to the What Next Trail-Map to Success:




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On a Plateau

 
Take OffThe imagery of success is up, climbing, reaching new heights, blasting off like a rocket. None of that can be sustained forever and we often hit a plateau in our lives, careers, our ascents to greatness. It is these moments when we can rest, regain our strength for the next struggle, the climb to the next level.

Why then does a plateau feel more like I’m stuck, like I’m not getting anywhere, maybe even falling backward? For someone like me I need constant stimulation, a What Next to work toward.

I saw a parallel to this over the weekend while on a bike ride in the area where I grew up. What makes this my favorite area are the hills. Where I normally ride there are no hills just flat roads like a perpetual plateau and for me that’s terrible.

I ride 13 miles through several towns ascending most of the way until I reach my highest point which also happens to be Bike Closeupadjacent to a mental institution (some say I’m crazy for liking the hills). At this point I turn around and cover what took me several minutes going up in just a minute or so going down, gaining momentum. Then I hit the flats, a plateau.

Another rider came along side me at a traffic light and we talked a bit and when the light changed we pedaled away. Typical of how things go on flat roads I was not able to keep up with him and watched as he got smaller and smaller as he rode farther in front of me.

The other rider reached the bottom of the next hill before me. When I got to the bottom I noticed I was gaining on him and as the road became steeper I was gaining more. I’ve always been strong on hills and I enjoy the struggle. It turns out that I like that in life too.

Do you view a plateau as boring? Do you like a challenge? When are you the most productive? Please share your thoughts with us.


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Momentum Requires Endurance

Asking What Next is being aware – of opportunities, of your surroundings, yourself, of lessons in every day activities. I often talk about hiking and believe it’s a great metaphor for life and so is cycling. When I need to de-stress, a bike ride almost always does the trick. I call it mobile meditation. I’m not alone in that concept either as Tara points out in a recent tweetchat called #spiritchat (Sundays 9am ET hosted by Kumud Ajmani @AjmaniK).

WindWhen I’m on the bike I enjoy riding hills, the up and down is similar to our struggles through life with easy days and hard days. My least favorite aspect of a bike ride is when it’s windy. A headwind is like a perpetual hill but worse – your mind is telling you that it should be easy because the road is flat but it’s as hard as a steep hill.

There is no such thing as perpetual motion, you have to take action to keep rolling forward otherwise friction, from wind, the tires on the road, or hills, will slow you down and eventually stop your progress. This requires endurance.

Quite by accident, I kept Tara’s tweet about meditation in my favorites, but it’s a funny coincidence because she hosts a TweetChat of her own called #UBUsensations Tuesdays at 7pm ET and the most recent topic was endurance. Endurance fit so nicely with the ideas in this post I decided to include some  tweets from that chat.

Shelley defines endurance by tweeting:

Endurance Defined

When I’m on the bike riding into a head wind I appreciate the idea of endurance as I push through the difficulty and continue pumping my legs, knowing that this will eventually end or maybe turn into a tail wind. It’s what we all do with so many things in life, a job we’re unhappy with, a relationship that’s on the rocks, a new business we’ve started. Greg had an interesting take on endurance saying:

Endurance 2

Another coincidence is when Tara asked, “What similarities do you see between Entrepreneur/Leaders and Endurance Athletes?” This fit so nicely with my cycling analogy and Jennifer had a great response:

Endurance 3

Whether on a bike or in life you must keep moving to maintain momentum – there is no perpetual momentum without work. Do you have the endurance necessary? Of course you do, but you have believe it and carry on despite adversity. With a bit of patience and some stubbornness you can keep your eye on the prize and do whatever is necessary. Believe it – do it!

 


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Imperfect

 
I’ll start with the bad news: to feel good about yourself, to have a sense of accomplishment, you have to set the bar high. The good news is that no matter how high you set the bar, you define success. For example, if you set a goal to reach the level of president in your company, a difficult goal, but only make it to vice president, you can decide whether you were successful or not.

This is a concept that is explored in my latest obsession called “Failure Club” a web TV show with Morgan Spurlock. The idea of failure club is to push yourself so hard that it’s almost impossible to succeed. An example from the show is Liz who wants to start a high-end handyman business and have 10,000 clients in one year. This is a lofty goal and if she only makes it to 5,000 clients she’ll have failed, or will she? The answer to that question is up to her.

By pushing ourselves, and setting difficult goals we really understand our limitations, our strengths and weaknesses. We define the line between perfection and imperfection. I thought about this after seeing this tweet from Greg (@StrategicMonk) during the #Inspirechat tweetchat.

Imperfection Tweet

Race FinishSurviving imperfection is what we all do on a regular basis and that’s good because it means we’re challenging ourselves as we strive for perfection. Think of an athlete missing first place by a small margin – that’s surviving imperfection because it was a learning experience.

The other part of Greg’s tweet is trusting yourself and confidence is a big part of that. Confidence in your ability and confidence that while you didn’t reach you initial goal you still succeeded. Here’s my story, a story only friends and family know, until now.

The Longest Day

After becoming an avid cyclist I set a goal of doing a ride called the longest day. The ride was so named because it was usually held on the weekend closest to June 21, the summer solstice. Oh and because it was a 200 mile one day bike ride from the northernmost part of NJ to the southernmost part of NJ (see my crude drawing of the route).LongestDay

I trained long and hard for the ride (it wasn’t a race) putting in over 1200 miles in the months prior to the Longest Day. I was ready and I was confident. The night before the ride we all met at the hotel we’d sleep at so we could start at 4:30 the next morning. I was on a team with three others and we had one support vehicle following us. My wife would join us half way with a second support vehicle.

It was cold as we started riding at 5am but at least it wasn’t raining yet. By the time the sun came up the rain started and we rode mile after mile in some very heavy rain. There were some breaks including a glorious two hours of bright sunlight and heat. Then the thunderstorms came. We tried waiting them out but made the decision to finish the ride. That’s when my teammates made a decision I wasn’t comfortable with.

Drafting

In cycling, the practice of drafting is riding very closely behind the rider in front of you making your ride easier because there is less wind resistance. If you can ride behind something bigger, say a truck, then it will be even easier. My teammates decided to draft one of our support vehicles, I refused. The roads were wet, the rain was torrential, and riding that closely behind a truck just wasn’t safe in my eyes, not to mention the fact that it felt a lot like cheating. Since it wasn’t a race I felt I’d be cheating myself out of the effort I knew I trained for.

I watched as my teammates sped away in the distance and I kept rolling on. Because of all the delays the hour was getting late and it was getting dark. My wife kept her truck behind me to block me from speeding cars. Annoyed that she was driving slow the cars would swerve around her getting much too close to me for her comfort.

The End

Finally at 8:30pm Julie pulls along side me and asks, “How do you feel?”

“I feel fine. Why”

“Can you finish” she asked.

“Of course, it’s just five more miles!” That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“Then get in the truck. You proved you can do it but one of these cars is going to hit you and I’m really worried.” We argued a bit but I could see the concern on her face so at 195 miles into a 200 mile bike ride I stopped. My teammates made it to the finish line but I feel I completed the task while they failed.

What do you think?


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