Winning Friends and Influencing People

Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” turns 75 this year and its publisher – for better or for worse – is releasing an updated version that deals with the peculiarities of the digital age. Carnegie originally wrote this classic in an era where most communication was face-to-face, so it is understandable that those charged with stewarding his legacy are concerned to do what they can to maintain its relevance. The trouble with updating timeless favorites, however, is that they run the risk of blunting the original message.

Take for example these substitutions:

OLD Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.

NEW What will you do when the best road to business growth goes through someone with whom you have already burned the relational bridge?

Have we really evolved beyond the point where we can follow simple advice, without requiring an explanation? Must everything be sugar-coated in our era of political correctness? One of the mistakes many young parents make is that they feel the need to explain everything to the child in great detail, rather than simply expecting agreement and compliance. What this breeds is a child who does not know how to move easily with authority, an especially dangerous trait in emergency situations (e.g. Parent: “Get off of the road!” Child: “Why?”). While I do agree that every child must learn to weigh his or her options against a set of expected consequences, I also feel that at a certain level every child must possess a fundamental building block to character: obedience.

Another of the updates further illustrates the point, albeit in a less obvious way:

OLD “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

NEW “With so many opportunities to be heard, many seem keen on thrusting forth their right to speak when someone else is wrong, yet they just as quickly shrink into their right to remain silent when it is they who are wrong.”

The updated version is an excellent observation, but like the previous example, it dances around the core message rather than laying it on the table in plain sight. In my experience, when it is time to swallow a bitter pill you are wise to hurry up and swallow it. There is rarely any advantage gained by hemming and hawing, insisting that it be coated, packaged or delivered in a different way. If you are a male of the species, then man up; if you are a female of the species, then put on your big girl panties and deal with it. By all means, never delay the necessary!

The discomfort of a well-deserved lesson lasts only as long as you forestall the full acceptance of responsibility for misplaced orientation, unclear thinking and misguided action. Once you accept it and move forward, allowing for a permanent redirection, you realign yourself with the power of life that allows you to overcome with much less ado the next time the issue comes to point. Your reputation in the minds of others may take a while to catch up, but if you stay true to the truth that sits at the core of your new realization, you will reveal yourself to be a different person over time.

Your Touchstone

“Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.” ~ Quintus Ennius

Sifting through the annals of recorded human history in search of pearls of timeless wisdom is an extremely rewarding process. Whether sown as specific seeds to be watered and germinated by the minds and hearts of future generations or extracts of a more complete line of thought, sharing and breathing new life into the remarkable statements made by men and women who led uncommon lives and hearing what resonates with you, dear readers, is gratifying and encouraging.

No matter what you believe about what happens after death, it’s hard to deny that a life well-lived will continue to bless others many years after the vehicle for the expression of that life gives way, especially now that we record our thoughts in ways that make them much more accessible than was possible in previous generations. One downside to the breakthroughs in communication technology is that readers must now sift through tons of literary dross before finding the gold, but the fact is that the gold is much closer to the surface than ever before!

Separating the pure, unadulterated truth from everything else requires a touchstone. Historically speaking, touchstones were small tablets of dark stone used to assay precious metal alloys. The purity of gold and silver were determined by the color of the line left when the metal was rubbed on the touchstone. We now use more precise methods, but the new approaches are just different applications of the same underlying principle.

Metaphorically speaking, a touchstone is a test or criterion for the quality of a thing. Very few people nowadays can – please pardon the vulgarity – tell shit from Shinola when it comes to separating literary dross from the gold. This is especially true in the literary genre known as “self-help” or “self-improvement.” I’ve read and heard a great many things that sound good on the surface, but put them into practice, under pressure, with real lives at risk and you see very quickly what works and what doesn’t.

Rare is the person who does not love a “feel-good” story. People love to be inspired, but most tend to prefer to be inspired in ways that doesn’t require much of them. Package a product that makes a person feel good without having to do or being good and you have a hot commodity. Require something of them and the crowd of prospective buyers quickly thins.

If you wish to live an uncommon life you must be willing to develop a personal touchstone, a means of sorting through the mountain of information you encounter from day-to-day. What is true and what is not? Which are the diamonds and which are cubic zirconia? There are no comprehensive guidebooks that I am aware of and these daily blogs are my attempt to share my touchstone with you.

Your life can be one that passes to and fro through the mouths of men for many decades and centuries to come once your touchstone is in place. Your legacy will quickly evaporate if you leave it to be recognized or for other selfish reasons, but it will last forever if it is paved with the bricks of blessing, blessings given to others without expectation of return.

Adding Value

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve been meeting with various members of my team about their plans for 2011 and while the details are unique to each one, a common theme is emerging.

Success follows those who add value.

If you care more about adding value than you do about what you can get out of the world around you, you’ll find that decision-making is cleaner, being free of the sticky tentacles of self-concern.

It’s easy to add value. The process begins with being observant, listening and asking questions on occasion and ends with offering whatever help is within your power to provide. It might be a word, a gesture, lending a hand or making a valuable connection. Help comes in many forms.

Many people fill their days consumed with self-interest, desperately trying to find ways to eek more satisfaction, pleasure, financial reward or fulfillment out of their immediate circumstances while dwelling on how the world makes them feel. Whether robed in gold or bronze at the end of the day, such an approach constrains to emptiness.

As the resolutions of the New Year begin to take shape in the womb of your mind, make a point to base your resolutions in the desire to add value to the world around you. Whether it is a fitness goal, a change of heart, habit or attitude, focus on how you can increase your ability to a blessing.

I am convinced that most diets and fitness plans fail because the individual goes into it hoping to get something out of it for him or herself rather than focusing on how he or she might be able to help others more effectively because of the change. Self-improvement is more sustainable when its focus is outwardly instead of inwardly focused.

2011 is full of promise for my team and for you. I trust that best use will be made of whatever comes our way. Onward and upward!

The Fountain of Life

Der Jungbrunnen by Lucas Cranach, Image by Wikipedia

 

“A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Man’s obsession with the discovery of the fountain of youth reaches deep into early history. Whether driven by the desire to overcome his mortality or by the quest to rediscover the key to eternal life, his search spans the written record.

Herodotus, in his “History of Herodotus” written in 440 BCE, tells of Ithyophagi messengers who made their way to Ethiopia to visit the king of the land, where the men were “said to be the tallest and handsomest in the whole world.” Upon their arrival they “questioned the king concerning the term of life” and they were told that most of their people lived to 120 years and some of them well beyond.

Herodotus then added “When the Icthyophagi showed wonder at the number of the years, he led them to a fountain, wherein when they had washed, they found their flesh all glossy and sleek, as if they had bathed in oil- and a scent came from the spring like that of violets.”

Al-Khadir and Alexander the Great, Image by Wikipedia

Islamic tradition also tells an intriguing tale of a prophet named al-Khadir (The Green Man), who was the only person to have discovered the secret to immortality by drinking once from the fabled Ma’ul Hayat (Fountain of Life). Eastern versions of the Alexander Romance describe the tale of Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness in search of the fountain of life. The servant, incidentally derives from the Arabic tales of al-Khadir!

The archetypal idea that there could be a magical place where restorative waters flow freely is tantalizing, but I have to wonder if we are looking at the record too literally, as children often do when told a story. Could it be instead that the fountain of life is figurative and not literal, a state of being instead of a geographic location or a physical spring?

The stories of great men and women through history who lived phenomenally influential lives are appealing to anyone who has not yet given up on life. They lived life fully and in some cases they found a way to do so without being used up in the process. Was it serendipity, the right combination of genetic material or did they tap into the source of life itself, deep within their bosom?

I imagine that all three of these explanations had some part in it, though good luck and the right genes were likely secondary to the strong sense of self that comes only to those who tap into the wellspring of life within themselves. This connection, I suspect, is not something that can be “gotten” or “possessed,” instead, it is something that manifests as it is given into expression through body, mind and heart.

I am a firm believer in the idea that you cannot give what you do not possess, and I believe in this case that we must add, “…what you do not possess or do not know that you possess.” I believe that the fountain of life is present in each and every person on earth. Whether or not you tap into it is a matter of choice.

Education, religion, spirituality, inspirational and motivational tools that line the self-help shelves and so on are a means to an end in the sense that they provide (in varying degrees) the guidance necessary to reestablish this connection between inner resource and outer expression. When taken as an end, they quickly become a dead end rather than a living one. When viewed as the key to “getting” life rather than giving it, the well-paved road to enlightenment morphs into the road to a hellish life, paved with good intentions.

I would love to hear what lights your fire, what inspires you to push where others crumble and fade away. Don’t be shy…the world needs your vision!

The Art of Manliness: The Secret of Great Men

If you are a guy who wishes he were more of a gentleman, I would highly encourage you to visit The Art of Manliness, an uncommonly rich online resource that aims to “reviv[e] the lost art of manliness.” My brother-in-law, Zach, pointed me to the site as he has found it tremendously useful in his pursuit of ongoing refinement and I must say, I wish I had known about it earlier! It is chock-full of information and inspiration.

One of the articles in particular, “The Secret of Great Men: Deliberate Practice” piqued my interest and I hope you take a few minutes to read it, whether you are a man or a woman. Greatness is inherent in each of us, but it is foolhardy to expect that your unique brand of excellence will magically appear out of nowhere.

Of course certain rare individuals in the recorded history of man were blessed with the unrestrained expression of genius in one area or another, such a revelation usually comes at a high price. Most “geniuses” suffer from imbalances that make everyday life a challenge. I have to wonder if the imbalances emerge in part from the highly focused attention given to a certain activity, be it a sport, a musical instrument, invention, art or in whatever area you may be seen as being gifted.

The author challenged his readers to “man-up” by applying the principles of deliberate practice to an area of their lives that is in need of improvement. One of my own goals at the moment is to be more proficient and efficient in the encompassment of those for whom I am responsible at home and at work.

The life of a leader is a demanding one, and I am keenly aware that certain pastures in the various fields of responsibility suffer from inattention at times. When I have a lot of irons in the fire I find that I have to be hyper-vigilant and careful to visit – in thought, word or deed – every person, place and thing that depends upon me for guidance and leadership at least weekly. While significant loss is not always avoidable as there are things out there that are beyond the control of any and all of us, doing the best that you can – without excuse, carelessness or thoughtlessness is a great starting point.

I’ve been practicing deliberately and with regard to this particular goal I have made notable progress, especially since the conclusion of a significant business transaction that I’ve been working on for nearly two years now. Will life go back to normal? Well, maybe a new normal…we’ll see!

If there is anything I’ve learned about the application of deliberate practice it is this: don’t celebrate overly when you take ground and don’t waste time griping and bemoaning your fate when you don’t. Keep on keeping on, as they like to say in this neck of the woods.

I’ve also learned that it is important to keep the larger vision in mind, especially when you encounter setbacks. The failure to do so inevitably constrains to a loss of perspective while consistently doing so leads to a more balanced approach to the ups and downs that you encounter along the way.

Life’s lessons are endless and manliness (not bravado), grace (the product of humility) and the constant pursuit of refinement of your ability to bless the world around you are the mark of a gentleman. Thank you, The Art of Manliness and thank you, Zach for inspiring me to press onward and upward!

 

 

The Antidote to Premature Aging

 

Photo Credit: Lisa DeJong

A friend of mine told me that she was inspired by the example of others recently to start a new hobby. The hobby she chose, rowing, met several criteria for her as it was outdoors, involved opportunities for solitude as well as social time and provided exercise without physical exertion being the central focus. I wish I had a camera so that I could share with you the light that was in her eyes when she described her new-found passion.

 

Hobbies provide avenues for self-expression, personal development and  change in rhythm. My college soccer coach, who was a marathoner himself, taught me that varying the rhythm in distance running can provide for better performance and greater mental alertness over the long haul. The same could be said for your daily rhythms. If you are stuck in a “it’s time to make the donuts” repetitive rhythm, you might want to consider shaking it up a bit.

It is so easy to get into repetitive patterns that turn lightly-worn paths into ruts over time. I once heard someone say that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth and I feel strongly that everyone should find ways to have variety in life, to fill out flat spots in development and to express themselves more fully throughout life.

Consider this: no matter how old you are right now, dear reader, you are as young as you will ever be for the rest of your life. It’s never too late to start! Take up that hobby or activity that you’ve always thought would be interesting. What do you have to lose?

An active body and an active mind are an effective antidote to premature aging. Likewise, a balanced oscillation between activity and rest makes for better sleep, greater productivity when awake and a progressively more influential life. I find it strange that many people seem to give up on the idea that they can live generative, influential lives right up to their last living breath.

One of my readers, “FlyingGma” (Flying Grandma), is a grandmother who took up flying very recently in her life. I loved to hear her story and continue to enjoy reading her posts on her travels. Life needn’t be a bell curve, where you return to inactivity and impotence in your latter years. In fact, life can be and should be an ascending spiral, where its actors soar ever upward like a hawk in a thermal.

If you find something that lights your fire, that pushes you to perform closer to the edges of your present envelope and that calls for something new from deep inside of you, I will assure you that the rest of your world will benefit. Passion is contagious! Even the dullest aspects of your life will receive a breath of fresh air if you allow yourself to open up in new ways.

Gird up your loins, as they used to say, and enjoy a new challenge. The nature of the activity doesn’t matter; it could be physical, intellectual, esoteric, practical, serious or outrageous. The fact that you dive right in and let your mind and heart be caught up in a new field of creative expression is what truly matters, for flow begets flow.

I imagine that some of you have taken up new hobbies recently while others are contemplating them. Please share your stories! I’d love to hear them and how they affected your worlds.