Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The House with a Boat in The Driveway

In the late afternoon I can often be found rumbling down a side street near my home, cut off t-shirt and gym shorts on, Lil Wayne screaming profanity in my ears as I push for another step, another mile, a little more me time. I admit it, my iPod Nano contains a masterfully blended mix of electronic music, folk, and yes, insanely misogynistic hip-hop. Hey, if it’s good enough for President Obama, is it not for me? Music filled with stories of struggle motivate me to run, often times my run concludes past a sprawling ranch home on a well manicured corner lot.

Maybe it’s just the time that my endorphins finally kick in, or when my blood really gets pumping, but I’m always subtly awed by this workingman’s paradise. The sixties ranch home has an expansive front yard cut short enough for one to practice a few putts on. The back lot is big enough for the Golden Retriever, whom I’ve nicknamed Sparky, to roam freely, the very pup that often greets my passing with a few barks loud enough to interrupt Jay-Z’s verse in my plugged ears. The home, nice on it’s own account, often holds a sport boat in the driveway next to a late model pickup truck. While I’m far from a boat market expert, it seems to be of the $30,000 and up variety. Nice digs for my little blue-collar town of Cayce. So who lives there? It’s a question that often runs through my mind as I pass by the place in exhaustion.

What do those folks do for a living, are they young or old, happily married or miserable? Look at that boat, they must be happily married with that thing in their driveway, get in a fight? Take a soothing ride on the waters of Lake Murray, bring Sparky the retriever, and enjoy life. All is forgiven, or is it?

I believe many in America, and beyond, aspire for something like this house might possess within its 50 year old brick walls. 3 beds, 2 baths, big yard, a few kids, family pup, and of course, a sporty boat. Awww, how that boat glimmers in the sparkle of the street light that covers it with fluorescent illumination each night. With a boat like that, the American dream has been reached, mission accomplished, live there for a lifetime, and enjoy all that this great southern city has to offer, right? Wrong.

Can you imagine my dismay when, one day not too long ago, the boat was gone from the driveway. While Sparky still came to the fence to acknowledge my passing by, he didn’t bark this time, in fact, the dog looked a little sad. Maybe this nuclear family was on a vacation, and old Sparky had to stay home, maybe the boat will be back tomorrow I told myself as I continued down the long road, past more feeble abodes.

A few days later, after getting back from a business trip, I ran my normal route, bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the music in my ears, so excited for my upcoming visual affirmation of the American dream, when low and behold, as quick as I could approach the home I couldn’t help but notice a for sale sign that donned the now less than perfectly cut front yard. First the boat is gone, now the house is for sale? What happened? If only Sparky could tell me. He sat quietly in the yard, eyes fixed not on me, but on that for sale sign. Surely they’d come back for him, but where they’d go, and how come this American dream never turned out like I thought it would, only the Lord knows.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Problem with Ego

In a steamy Tennessee courtroom some years ago I watched as a judge handed down a guilty verdict like a brick might hit the pavement after being dropped from an 11th story window of a skyscraper. Words were not minced, eye contact was made, and his honor’s voice was as rich with confidence as it was with southern drawl. Judgment day had arrived for one of my more scrupulous family members, and all I could do was watch in awe.

The only thing that can make inner-family lawsuits more combustible than the act itself is the presence of arrogant counsel. Something about a cocky lawyer prodding at whatever bones are in the family’s closet, on either side of the case, can literally make people turn to rage induced fits of violence. Luck would have it my not so trustworthy family member on trial had himself a real grade A false-bravado-filled attorney from New York City.

After a moment of silence following the verdict, as the swarms of lawyers packed their things, the judge, with a slight smirk, invited the defense to view the portraits of notable judges that had ruled in the courtroom from the past on the wall as they left the building. These portraits of stately southern judges in their black gowns with stern sophistication painted on their faces were showcased in baroque era gold frames all along the entryway to the courtroom. One would be hard pressed to miss these relics, so why did the judge ask the defense to view them on the way out? It was as if to suggest, that not only did the judge want the losers to know this was his turf, but that their was a long precedence of intolerance for Yankee arrogance in his courtroom dating back many, many years.

While the case, and that day in court in particular taught me many things, most notably to have legal counsel review all documents related to a trust or a will before signing anything, it was the juxtaposition of confidence and ego that shone the brightest that day. If there was ever an incident in my life that helped underscore the power of confidence and the idiocy of ego, it was this day.

Ego tells you to do things you shouldn’t do, say things you shouldn’t say, and act ways that are unbecoming to your own reputation. Ego tells you that you’re better than you are, and hides when you inevitably fail. Ego is cowardly in defeat, it leaves you starved, embarrassed, and bewildered. Ego is incredibly dangerous. Ego saps away the very humility that your soul counts on to grow and mature for the better.

Confidence is intently listening for days on end at a heated trial, playing no favorites, and when the time for judgment comes, making the decision with all the facts in mind. Confidence comes from history, experience, and education. Confidence grows with time, and contracts with failure, but never fully leaves the soul. Confidence allows for error, and helps set resilient success stories on a trajectory of achievement from the start. Confidence is okay with losing sometimes, and gets along with humility just fine. Confidence is the anti-ego, because it is based entirely on experience, not inner-perception.

As I get older, I’ll be 31 in a few weeks, I feel less inclined to do anything that isn’t in my realm of confidence. In graduate school a professor once noted with a hefty laugh that the older she got the less she really knew about anything in life At the time I thought it was a ridiculous remark, but the older I get, surely the more I realize that I really don’t know much about anything either. One thing I do know is that humility, with the right amount of confidence, can take people to places they once only dreamed they could reach.

When a coach talks about another team before a big game, they often emphasize all that is good about the opposing team, to help motivate their own to get up for the game. Lou Holtz was a genius at this, to the point that it was often fodder for the media when he spoke of inferior opponents before games. Lou Holtz won a national championship in arguably the most competitive college sport at the highest level of college athletics.

Creating an environment for positive thinking, high goal setting, and confident execution is only possible if we accept the dangers of ego, and purposefully avoid them. Any ignorance on our part could throw off the chemistry that exists in all of us to do great things. Making a purposeful choice to recognize the power of humility, handwork, and confidence, while avoiding the pitfalls of ego, will greatly enhance our collective abilities to live fruitful lives of importance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life Stock

Isn’t this great? You’re happy now, I’m happy now, we’re happy now!

How often do we really engage in conversations like the one above with friends? How often do we really stop to take an emotional euphoria inventory? Not enough. Simply put, we are so caught up in doing something that’s supposed to make us happy; we neglect to take stock of our emotions when we’re actually happy. This, I believe, is called being giddy.

Oh how things change when the sun sets on our good moods. How the hysteric vertigo ceases when bad things happen, when times are tough, we all tend to become life stock takers of the highest account. What is this life all about? Am I really happy in my job, at home, with this new red coat? Nothing is left out when things go wrong, we’re a determined bunch, ready to take account of each and every little thing in our lives. So, how come when our lives are going great, we’re too overjoyed to find our mental notepad, nonetheless take an accounting of our lives?

I tend to put things I don’t understand into the category of human nature. The reason we cry at the very movies we know are contrived to make us do just that? Human nature. How us men tend to lift our chests a little higher when we walk hand in hand with our significant other late at night down a dimly lit street, human nature of course. It’s all human nature if it’s something I don’t personally understand. But this notion of life stock, of looking at where we are at when things are going well, it’s been camped out in my mind for sometime. Why is it so hard to be grateful when things are going well, yet so easy to take introspective looks when the chips aren’t falling our way? Of course when things go wrong, we want to change, so we take these closer looks at what is making us happy, and not, in our lives. But could we be happier, or at least sustain the happiness if we did actually look at life closely when it was going well? Surely most would agree, that if we could just take the time to look at all that is going well, we’d be even happier. But why then, is it so darn tough to stop and smell the flowers while they rest in our palms? Could it be something that takes effort and deliberate action, like say the art of listening? I might be on to something.

Most people I know are awful listeners. For whatever reason, they’d much rather speak their two cents, than collect the verbal change of others. They want to share their side of things, before they even fully understand yours. In fifth grade a teacher of mine once told me the secret to making friends in life was being a good listener. Even at that age, I knew she had mentioned something profound. Few dispute the power of being a great listener, yet even fewer make a concerted effort to be one. We get carried away in our own voices, giddy if you will.

Taking life stock when things go well, listening when you have a lot to say, they’re both tough, they both take thoughtful approaches full of sacrifice. When one listens, one can’t speak. When one takes life stock, one has to be removed from the very moment that is so wonderful to take in. It’s against our, you guessed it, human nature.

On rainy days like the one we have on our hands in Columbia this morning, I can’t help but think about these things. About being better at some of the most basic things, that can surely have a measurable positive effect on the lives of any who practice them. For the past few weeks I’ve tried to start each day with a reflective prayer, and look at what good is going on in my life. To be honest, I never get all the way done with listing all the great things going on, yet for many looking in, it’d be considered a difficult time for me. I can tell you that, because people ask how I’m doing a little more often these days, sometimes with moist eyes. Through introspection, and simply taking stock of the good in life, no matter the season of emotion in your heart, so many positives can arise. I don’t need to tell you about those, because I know after you’ve counted your blessings today they’ll become abundantly obvious.


I have not lost my mind, or my company. I know this blog has been for the most part about business for the past four years, but I’ve had the itch as of late to write about more personal stuff. I appreciate you reading it, and hopefully I’ll write something about business soon, as I’m still conducting it, and have new things on the horizon to share with you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Moving On Can Be The Damnedest Thing To Do



Work with me on this one. Let’s say you love summer, and spend your time counting the days until the pool opens, the khaki shorts can be brought out from storage, and the good old A/C unit can get cranked up again. The trips to the beach with friends and family, the late setting sun, it all just gets your heart pumping with passion. The memories of great times seem to follow you around like your shadow at dusk. Is there anything wrong with your passion for summer? Of course not, she’s a beautiful season worthy of your undying love. But, if you are all too often caught up in missing summer, are you really able to truly appreciate winter? If you spend your time in the now frustrated about what you don’t have, how possible is it to honestly, and sincerely be appreciative for what you do have? Few dispute gratitude has its way of making us all feel better. So then why is it so hard to let go sometimes?

I try to live in the moment. Ask close family of mine, and I’m sure they’d tell you I live in the moment a little too much for comfort. Retirement account? That’ll be the day. Annual doctor visits when I’m not sick? Forget it. I pretty much take each day as if it could be my last, and try my hardest to accomplish something. God forbid my last day on earth I’m found passed out in a Snuggie on my couch watching Oprah. That’s not cool. I hope to die as I lived, to leave it on the field as they say.

Living in the moment is great, but, from time to time, I find myself drifting back to the past. Oh the past, don’t we all have a way of romanticizing the deliciously good times, and forgetting the sour times all together? I know I do it, if you ask me about someone I couldn’t stand ten years ago, I’d probably call them a great human being. Ask me about a mediocre business venture in 2005, and I’d tell you it was the best choice I’d ever made to be involved in it. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I get so caught up in the past from time to time. I’m always thinking ahead, yet sometimes I just can’t let go of things in the past.

Moving on with life is most difficult when dependency is involved. Emotional, physical, monetary, it all seems to ply us together to moments that are anything but here forever. In the past seven months I’ve made a lot of changes in my life, and I’m betting you have too. Looking back on this time, many things were very easy to let go of, while a few have been much harder. Through prayer, and a few friendly consultations over imported pints of stout, I’ve learned the best really is yet to come, if I can just open my eyes and see it in front of me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Choosing The Right Path

Our lives are defined by the choices we make. This message was made clear to me sometime ago, as part of a Sunday morning message from the pastor of my church. The idea behind the sermon, and the crux of this blog post is this; never let your choices put you in places of danger, because life itself offers enough danger without us having to put ourselves in precarious situations.

There is so much in life we can’t control, such as encounters with hateful people, traffic tickets, or even something as simple as getting rained on. We can’t control when our neighbor has finally had enough, and decides to unload 18 rounds into the bodies of people in her workplace. We can’t control when the person we sit next to on the airplane sneezes too close to us, offering us a virus when all we wanted was to get to Minnesota safely. We can’t control these things, but what we can control, and should, is our decision making.

There are two types of decisions you make each day, those with substantial consequences, and those without. Where to go to lunch? This is a choice where the consequences, are probably at worst, a stomachache and money wasted. Where to go to college? This would fall under the substantial consequence realm. Where to work, what church to attend, whom to marry, these choices all come with real consequences, good or bad, making choices like these will have a significant change in the way you live your life. This post is about these high level choices we make.

I see so many people that are deftly understanding of others, yet when it comes to making choices for themselves they take a left when so obviously the better choice is to go right. Complicating this phenomenon is the fact that more times than not, the better choice is the harder one to make. Human nature kicks in. We default to choosing easy, when true rewards await us only if we went with hard.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, to sincerely believe a greater power is monitoring your decision-making, and to start making choices under such an assumption is unquestionably beneficial to making better choices for your wellbeing, and ultimately living a happy life.


In the pursuit of happiness is a very powerful statement, not just because of its age, and transcendence of time, but because of what it ultimately sums up by the greatest philosophers of our time. It is a single sentence that defines the lives of nearly all that inhabit this earth. By being deliberate, and utilizing fore thinking about the big choices we are about to make, our chances for obtaining true peace, and happiness on this earth are greatly enhanced.

On a personal note, my impulses often lead me down crazy paths, exciting at first, but often terrifying as the paths turn into long winding trails of consequences. This post aims to illustrate that when we think about the potentially hazardous results BEFORE a choice is made, we are apt to make better decisions when the time comes to firmly make a serious life choice. You might laugh, and think this is obvious, but easier said than done, just look at so many people’s poor choices over the last year alone. Hopefully this post serves as a healthy reminder for us all, that being patient, and having foresight will take us to fruitful places, full of the things we truly seek, rather than the drifting dreams we so often chase.