Sailing Through Christmas: What Will You Learn?

When I was a kid my dad came home one day with a beat up sailboat strapped down in the back of his work van. I think it was in lieu of payment for some carpentry work but given its condition it’s just as likely he pulled it out of a dumpster. Regardless, we patched it together and occasionally took it out on a small nearby lake. I loved it! Something about harnessing Mother Nature’s wind power and gliding across the water made our little journeys feel like big adventures.

In those same years, my uncle in Annapolis, MD became a yacht broker and would share tales of the mammoth boats he sold and the grand exploits upon which their owners would embark. For a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the lifestyle seemed as unworldly to me as flying to Mars but I dreamed of one day getting a taste of it.

Fast forward through college, marriage, career, and kids and a few decades later the itch to experience high level sailing remained unscratched. Last week, however, my generous and supporting wife and kids gave me a pass to indulge in a sailing adventure I still cannot believe was real. For eight days a few other students and I traveled to Florida and lived aboard a forty five foot sailing yacht where we were drilled on nautical principles, vocabulary, laws, and techniques. Our captain and instructor, Rick, is a retired sailing professional who’s been captaining boats longer than I’ve been alive. Short of a parrot on his shoulder and a patch on his eye, he possesses all the vigor and veracity you’d expect from a lifelong seaman.

The certification program is no joke. Every day you’re challenged to learn new concepts and apply them with hand-on exercises. It’s humbling to be a forty four year old guy as unfamiliar and out of his element as a sixteen year old learning to drive a stick shift. Sure, I’d read a few how-to books in advance of the excursion but having a theoretical understanding of how to reef a sail is a heck of a lot different from actually doing it under twenty five knot winds and four foot seas. Did we make mistakes? Tons of them. Did we learn from them? You betcha.

Eight days later our motley crew returned to the harbor with sore backs, sunburned faces, calloused hands, and – miraculously – a boat in one piece. And you know what else we brought back from this adventure? A brand new skill set, a sense of accomplishment, and a certification to charter a sailing yacht up to fifty feet long.

Am I now a sailing expert prepared to cross the Atlantic? Not even close. But I am confident that my wife, kids, and I can charter a boat in the beautiful British Virgin Islands and enjoy an experience that just might bring the same euphoria that dad’s dumpster boat brought me all those years ago.

To Offshore Sailing School, my fellow students Charlie, Richard, and Crystal, and to Captain Rick I offer a Thank You for a terrific learning experience. To you, my kind reader, I offer a challenge. What’s a skillset that intrigues you? What’s a bucket list item that you’ve long dreamed of experiencing but haven’t explored? This holiday season, forego the gifts under the tree and replace them with a learning experience that expands your comfort zone and instills fresh confidence. And if there are any guinea pigs out there – preferably strong swimmers – who are willing to “practice” with Captain Ben, I’m delighted to deputize you as a first mate 🙂

Wishing you a Happy Holidays!

Nittany Lion Pride and Your 107,000 Fans

None of us had any personal connection with the group who made it happen. No neighbors, no friends, no family on the team. Nor were any of us poised to benefit in any tangible way from this incredible victory. Yet the moment Penn State pulled off the year’s greatest upset in college football, all 107,000 of us lost our minds.

The woman next to me, a complete stranger who could have passed for my high school math teacher, embraced me like a long lost son while she wept (not cried, WEPT) tears of joy. Her husband, meanwhile, bear hugged us both while screaming like a Braveheart warrior. The dad behind me fell to his knees, grabbed his ten year old son, and sobbed uncontrollably. The crowd’s roar was so powerful I literally felt the sound waves reverberating through my boy.

In case you don’t follow sports, this past weekend Penn State’s football team, an unranked squad, defeated the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes who were ranked #2 nationally. Most agree it was the biggest Penn State victory in decades.

Crowds Gone Wild is nothing new, right? Watch any sporting event and you’ll see mild mannered, otherwise even keeled people freaking out when their team comes out on top. But I must say that Saturday’s spectacle seemed more powerful, more significant than any other victory celebration I’ve experienced.

Reflecting upon it and hearing other Happy Valley residents share their thoughts, there are three reasons this win is forever burned in the memories of those who witnessed it. Two of these reasons are factors you and I can immediately apply in our own lives – and I hope we do. The third reason, however, is one I hope none of us ever need to address.

Reason #1: 100% Effort

In the normal course of your day, how often do you witness 100% effort? I’ll guess almost never. Your office is full of sleepwalking people sitting quietly in their cubicles doing who-knows-what. Your grocery store clerk meekly mumbles “Have a nice day” as you check out. Let’s face it, the majority of the world is half-assing it.

Sports, on the other hand, give us an opportunity to watch talented people give everything they have to the task at hand. How refreshing!

For those who watched last Saturday’s game, do you have any doubt the Nittany Lions gave less than 100%? Of course not. The team showed what’s possible when an outranked squad delivers excellence.

Reason #2: Exceeded Expectations

C’mon, be honest. How many of us truly believed Ohio State was going to lose?

Unfortunately for a sports team underdog, the odds of outplaying a heavily favored opponent are slim. On the rare occasion when it happens, though, a fan base is pleased beyond words and doubles down on its loyalty.

The good news for you and me? Exceeding expectations in the real, half-ass world is much easier. Back to your grim workplace: What if you came into work tomorrow with a smile on your face and a box of donuts for your co-workers? What if that grocery store clerk offered you a genuine smile and complimented your beautiful wardrobe? Tiny gestures are all it takes to light up your fan base. You may not get bear hugged by a screaming stranger but believe me, your small efforts will not go unnoticed.

Reason #3 – The reason Penn State fans responded so emotionally to victory, and the factor I hope you never have to chase to salvage your own personal brand: Redemption

Five years ago Penn State’s reputation cratered in a heap of shame and embarrassment. Joe Paterno’s glorious program deservedly became the laughing stock of the sports and academic worlds. As often happens, however, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. Not everything Penn State football was evil. The long history of extraordinary athletes, high academic achievement, alumni support, fun tailgates, and exciting football was overshadowed by a tragic abuse scandal that to this day sickens me.

But to thousands of fans, Penn State still represents something good. It’s still a university that produces outstanding graduates (I work with Penn State engineers who blow me away every day with their brilliance). It’s still a place that gainfully employs thousands of fellow Pennsylvanians, many of whom are developing groundbreaking technologies and medicine. It’s still a place that gives back to its community. It’s still a place my family and I are grateful to call home. And last Saturday night, it was a place where Nittany Lion fans could celebrate a clean victory bursting with pure effort, storybook endings, and pride.

No, you may never have 107,000 screaming fans cheering for you all at once. But bring a little more effort and kindness every day and you’ll experience one fan’s cheers on 107,000 different – and delightful – occasions.

Danny’s Goal: What’s your takeaway?

A single goal. If you had to sacrifice nearly everything in life that fills your days – your career, your paycheck, your marriage, even your Target shopping excursions – what goal would you pursue and with how much dedication would you keep after it? Short of locking yourself in a monastery, the modern world is so full of options that living a life consumed with a single purpose seems impossible. Heck, most of us cannot focus on a single task for ten minutes before distracting ourselves with email or social media.

That’s part of what makes Danny Chew so special. Danny decided long ago to commit himself to a single goal. By my calculations, he’s already invested more than 50,000 hours in pursuit of it. (In comparison, the average American works 2,000 hours a year, so Danny’s more than 25 “work” years into this.) When he committed himself to this goal he was still a child; today he’s 55 years old.

In lieu of a family, a spouse, a career, a home of his own, or a steady paycheck Danny remains at home with his mother and scrapes together a few dollars to cover the bare essentials. To minivan driving, suburb living, Target shopping adults like you and me, Danny’s life may seem preposterous. Upon reflection, though, Danny’s life is an incredible example of what’s possible when one chooses a road less traveled.

Ah, but a road less traveled is exactly what Danny has not chosen! You see, Danny’s life mission is to travel one million miles. A million miles by car? No, though it would take the average American 72 years to rack up that many miles on the road. Danny is choosing to travel a million miles by bicycle.

It’s not cycling a million miles that I’m asking you to consider as your inspiration, but rather the commitment and discipline you and I know it takes to narrow one’s focus, day after day after day, into a single mission.

As a fellow Pennsylvanian I’ve never come across Danny on any of my rides but some of my cycling friends have. The story usually goes that while meandering down some back road in Central PA, a guy with monster quads riding an old, tired road bike comes upon you and humbly mentions that he’s about halfway through his day’s two hundred mile ride. Good Lord! Two hundred miles in one day? Never in my twenty years of cycling have I reached that but Danny knocks down that kind of mileage without a second thought. Danny’s a legend in the endurance cycling world. He’s twice won the Race Across America and routinely logs more miles in a week than a professional cyclist is likely to log in a month.

A few days ago, Danny’s single goal collided with a serious obstacle: He suffered a crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down. As of this writing he’s lying in a hospital bed, heavily sedated so that his body can rest. Danny’s life is about to take a serious turn but does his goal remain or will he have to abandon his dream? Please, this is Danny Chew, the guy who’s spent his entire life fighting headwinds, suffering up climbs, and pushing through pain! As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, one of Danny’s first comments from the hospital was, “Worst case scenario, I’ll just have to finish my million miles on a hand cycle. So be it.”

Danny, the entire cycling community is cheering for you and praying for your recovery. You will reach your goal, now with more purpose and inspiration than anyone could have imagined.

Note to readers: Danny has health insurance but it carries a large deductible and he faces many expenses following his release form the hospital. If you’re able, please consider a donation of any amount to Danny’s recovery fund:

Nerves of steel? How to prove you’ve got ‘em

By the time the fire trucks arrived the building was fully engulfed in fifty foot high flames. Fortunately, the police had already cleared the area and everyone was safe. But when the firefighters rolled up and marched directly toward the inferno I feared the safety record was about to take a turn for the worse.

Have you ever witnessed a three alarm fire? Last week was my first, as my daughter and I were out for a bike ride and came upon a small fire at an apartment complex that within minutes of our arrival had gotten out of control.

The scene played out as you’d see in a movie:

People run out of building, police clear the area, firefighters show up to save the day. Hollywood drama, however, ended the moment these brave firefighters moved toward the flames. What made this so different from what we’ve seen in the movies? They walked.

I imagined these firefighters leaping off the truck, sprinting up the stairs, and madly rushing about in a desperate attempt to extinguish the flames. Instead, these guys calmly approached the fire and carefully moved about the scene at a steady pace, even when they were so close to the flames I feared they were going to spontaneously combust.

The situation was growing dire: Their fire hoses weren’t keeping pace with the flames and the roof was beginning to collapse. At that moment, all the fire trucks started blaring their horns while the chief on the ground gestured an “Abandon ship!” signal.

Again, I was certain in that moment these guys would break into a sprint and get the heck out of the danger zone as fast as their legs would carry them. But nope, they calmly changed direction and moseyed down the stairs. Imagine! A fifty foot high inferno at your back, the building in a state of collapse, your boss wildly gesturing for you to get the hell out of there, and you calmly exit the building as if you’re leaving the opera. Nerves of steel indeed.

I have no idea if this is standard firefighting protocol but upon reflection it made perfect sense. Think about it: You’re wearing a bulky suit, you’re peering through a face shield that limits your vision, you’re stepping through a smoke-filled area you’ve never before visited, and a bunch of your firefighting buddies are clustered around you. Under these circumstances, running around like an adrenalized chicken is the worst thing you can do.

You and I may not be firefighters but how often do you find yourself living the watered down corporate or personal equivalent? An angry customer chews you out. Your car breaks down on a busy road. Your boss demands that you complete four days of work in four hours. Your kid runs to you in tears after falling off her bike… Whatever the “Oh s***” moment, our instinct is to freak out.

What did these brave firefighters teach me? Do the opposite.

When you find yourself facing a raging fire and a collapsing roof, SLOW DOWN. Take a deep breath, carefully scan your surroundings, and execute a reasonable plan one slow, steady step at a time.

So what happened to our firefighters? Well, here’s what didn’t happen: They didn’t stumble, they didn’t lose control, they didn’t fall down the stairs, and they didn’t get injured. They all made it safely back to their trucks and a few minutes later successfully got the fire under control.

Take a deep breath. Stay calm. Work together… And thank your local fire department for the dangerous work they do.

Don’t tell my daughters they’re smart or beautiful

Posted: 06 Apr 2016 04:44 AM PDT
Where does a guy with limited skills go to learn how to communicate with and motivate his daughters? Back to school, of course. Like parents, teachers have to motivate their kids to pay attention, struggle through difficult tasks, and earn good marks.

Through wildly good fortune our kids have had terrific teachers. One who stands out is Mrs. Feldman, a third grade teacher at our local elementary school who’s now had two of our daughters in her class.

Our kids love Mrs. Feldman. Time and again she’s proven capable of motivating our kids to do things my wife and I sometimes find impossible: become voracious readers, enthusiastically practice math, write creative stories, and every day be excited about going to school.

How does she do it? It’s taken me awhile but at a recent Parent-Teacher conference her formula began to crystalize: She doesn’t compliment the person, rather she compliments the activity. Notice the difference between Mrs. Feldman’s compliment to our nine year old daughter, Amelia, and one that I, the bumbling parent, tend to give:

The Amazing Mrs. Feldman: “Amelia, I’m really impressed with the hard work you’ve put into your writing this year. The other day I noticed you asked for extra help and the story you wrote afterward was your best yet. I’m proud of the effort you’re making.”

Clueless Dad: “Wow, Amelia, you’re a good writer!”

Mrs. Feldman knows something that many parents don’t: Your kid’s success depends a whole lot more on his/her work ethic and willingness to try hard than it does on any natural intelligence. Mrs. Feldman doesn’t praise a child’s talent, she recognizes the child’s effort.

Mrs. Feldman is teaching me an important lesson: Do not lavishly emphasize your kid’s natural gifts. Why? Because the moment your son or daughter encounters an obstacle their God-given gifts cannot overcome, he/she’s likely to give up. Thanks to your misdirected praise, your child comes to rely too much on his/her natural gifts and not enough on his/her work ethic.

Mrs. Feldman, do you subscribe to Harvard Business Review? Here’s what social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson published a few years ago in HBR: “Gifted children [often complimented on their natural abilities and the degree to which things come easy to them] grow up to be more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident.” She continues, “The kind of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children has a major impact on the beliefs we develop about our abilities, including whether we see them as innate or developed through effort and practice.”

Halvorson goes on to describe a study wherein one group of kids was praised for their natural talents while another group was praised for their work ethic. Soon thereafter, each group was assigned a difficult task. The result? The “Wow, you’re a smart kid!” group quickly gave up and failed to complete the task. The “I’m proud of your work ethic” group solved the problem and appeared happier doing it.

It’s easy to pay someone a surface-level compliment, but you’re making a deeper impact by recognizing the effort instead of the result:

Instead of, “Wow, you’re fast” try, “Wow, I love to see how hard you run. Great job on the extra effort!”

Instead of, “You have beautiful hair” try, “You take good care of your hair. How do you keep it so nice?”

Instead of, “You’re a smart kid” try, “Congrats on the good grades. What’s the class that you find most challenging? I’m proud of you for making the effort to do well in that class, too.”

Are my daughters smart and beautiful? Hell yes. But please don’t tell them that. If you want to build their confidence and motivate them to be their best, follow Mrs. Feldman’s formula: Find a way to compliment their efforts instead of their natural gifts.

Want to grow your business? Buy a grapefruit.

Want to grow your business? Buy a grapefruit.

Posted: 03 Mar 2016 10:43 AM PST

They were about 12 years old and among the poorest kids I’ve ever seen.  Central Mexico is a long way from the glamour and riches of Acapulco and Cancun, and these kids were living at the opposite end of Mexico’s Haves vs. Have-nots society.  They were scrambling around on a dirt field, shoeless and dressed in rags but having more fun than Julia Roberts on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree.  Their diversion?  Soccer.  And they were playing it beautifully: crisp passes, perfect spacing, incredible foot control.

If I’d taken any of those kids and placed them in the middle of a College Prep Starbucks sipping SUV driving First World High School soccer game they’d have made every other player look like a concrete-footed buffoon.  I’m certain these athletic marvels had never been to a sports camp or gotten a video analysis of their kick or had a protein shake or owned a pair of soccer cleats, but their grasp of the game’s fundamentals was a thing of beauty.

Sometimes I reflect upon these kids while sitting in a sales or marketing meeting with a company that wants to grow its business.  More often than I care to admit, the conversation quickly spirals into a misguided wish list of money pits: “If only we had more exposure in the marketplace.  Call an ad agency.”  Or, “Let’s get more data on our website visitors.  Call Hubspot.”  Or, “I wish we came up sooner on internet searches.  Call Google.”  Or the one that really makes me bristle: “The problem is we don’t know what’s happening with customers and sales.  Call”

Back to the 12 year old soccer players:
If you want to become a talented player worthy of jumping into a pickup game in Central Mexico, where do you begin the journey?  Well, you could go out and buy a fancy uniform but walk out onto that dirt field and you’ll get clobbered.  Or you can hire a PR firm that broadcasts all over Mexico what a formidable soccer player you are and how you’re going to light up the field.  But again, without thousands of hours of practice you’ll immediately be exposed as a fraud.

The only way you’re going to earn a credible spot in the game is to first spend years working, sweating through, and ultimately mastering the fundamentals.

In business the fundamentals I see time and again most in need of attention are human connections and one’s ability to develop them.  No matter what you’re selling, if your team is unable to connect with customers, understand their needs (or better yet, challenge them on what the real problems are), and enthusiastically solve the customer’s need, no amount of market research, data tracking, or sales forecasting will spawn your growth.

The next time you find yourself ogling over the latest Big Data Market Research Sales Pipeline Metatagging Instamatic Marketing Tool, STOP.  As yourself, “When’s the last time my senior executives and I took our top customers to lunch?  … that we spent a day in the field cold calling with our salespeople to hear the latest objections?  … that I got on the phone with an upset customer and personally walked through resolving it?  … that I invested in the skills and attitude training my team constantly needs to stay ahead?”

Long before Pelé stepped onto a professional soccer field he’d spent a lifetime molding his raw talent into something refined.  Heck, long before Pele even kicked around a soccer ball he’d been dribbling grapefruits off his knees because that’s all his family could afford.

Give me the financially deprived yet fundamentally sound, barefoot-equivalent sales team and we’ll take the field any day vs. the fancily equipped 800 lb. guerilla who just ran a bunch of Super Bowl ads.

The next time you’re compelled to buy your way to success through a new advertising/PR campaign, CRM database, or website tracker put your wallet back in your pocket.  Your success depends more upon mastering the fundamentals – human connections and your ability to develop them – than it does on big data analytics and marketing strategy.

Focus.  Train.  Connect.  Execute.

You have a perfect resume? Don’t call me.

You have a perfect resume? Don’t call me.

Posted: 08 Dec 2015 07:44 AM PST

The moment for me came more than twenty years ago.  A hot, humid summer day when I found myself sitting on a street curb in Richmond, VA, sweating through my suit and questioning my own self worth.  I felt terrible.  Three weeks prior I was on top of the world, convinced I was embarking on a successful and profitably journey.  But here I was completely broke, living in a dirty motel, and embarrassed at the extent of my failure.  What happened next was a defining moment of my life.

This moment recently flashed through my mind while working with a class of honors-level college students.  The students had completed a research project for my company and presented their findings to the instructor and me.  Great ideas!  Powerful presentations!

A number of the students approached me after the class and asked for an internship.  Their resumes were impressive: High GPA’s, plenty of extracurricular activities, and a shining history of achievement.

Yet something about these kids turned me off.  Why was I so uninterested in hiring them?

Then it occurred to me: they were too perfect.

If you’re seeking a job at a big company with a big HR Department, I suppose your resume has to be perfect.  I know of HR Departments with computerized filters that automatically kick applicants out of the candidate pool if one’s GPA is too low or if there aren’t enough key words pointing to accomplishments.

In my opinion, those resume filters are bunk.

You know what I want to see on your resume?  Failure.

Show me how you’ve taken a risk and fallen flat on your face.  How you signed up for a high level Math class and got an F.  How you started a business that hemorrhaged money.  How you toed the line at a marathon and never made it to the finish.

Then show me how you bounced back.  How your failure was a blessing in disguise that taught you a valuable lesson.  Prove to me you have that rare but priceless attribute: Resilience.

I fear if you’ve always had straight A’s, always were Prom Queen, always won your races, and always gave your mother something to brag about, you are a fragile porcelain doll who’s going to shatter the first time you’re dropped.  Additionally, if you can’t point to times you’ve failed in life and bounced back from them I fear you can’t take a punch.

Years ago I took a class on how to interview people for TV and radio programs.  The instructor’s top suggestion: When interviewing someone, get them talking as quickly as possible about his/her failures.  It’s one’s failures in life – and how he/she bounced back from them – that makes the most interesting story.

Your failures are interesting.  How you bounced back from them is an inspiration.  Share those moments with your audience.  Yes, some computer might kick your resume out of the running but the most exciting opportunities and the people driving them will come running in your direction.

Oh, and back to that street curb in Richmond, VA:  My first-ever sales job.  After breezing through the hiring and training programs I hit the streets to sell a real product in the real world.  Three weeks in I’d made more than 500 in-person sales calls, had been rejected every single time, and had been physically thrown out of more than a dozen places.  I had no money left and no reason to believe this job would get any better.

For some reason, though, I stuck with it and in my fourth week I sold ONE item.  My fifth week I sold three items.  By the tenth week I’d rocketed to the #1 sales position in the country.

Sticking with that difficult job ultimately earned me a taste of success, lifelong friendships, and a career path that’s taken me around the world and supported my family.

Fail fast, fail forward!

Endurance: A Dirty Word?

This may sound crazy from a guy who’s spent the last 20 years competing in endurance sports, but I’ve come to the conclusion that endurance is overrated.  As a matter of fact, I now realize there are times in my life I should have considered endurance a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor.

Let me explain:

Years ago I was looking for a way to stay in shape and decided to run a marathon.  Like many others, I considered the marathon to be an admirable fitness goal.

Since my running background was minimal, I bought a “Marathons for Beginners” book and eagerly followed its advice.  90% of the book’s pages stressed one point: Build your endurance.
Begin with short runs and slowly over time build up the distance of your runs until you can shuffle along for the entire 26 miles.

I followed the plan and after a few months I was sufficiently trained to go the distance.  The marathon was grueling but I finished and got the t-shirt.  You know what else I got?  A serious case of achilles tendinitis and a strong aversion to ever running again.

The constant, repetitive motion of training at about the same pace and at about the same intensity for so many miles burned me out, both physically and mentally.

“But Ben,” you argue, “learning to endure hardship is a valuable lesson.  Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and learning to suffer in one part of life teaches us to suffer in other parts of life.”

Indeed!  I agree with you.  Learning to face adversity, stick to one’s guns, and fight through hard times is important.  In my experience, though, we often face adversity and fight through hard times sooner than we should.  Is success – and one’s happiness –  90% dependent upon one’s ability to suffer?  Or is success mostly dependent upon one’s ability to learn and adapt?

Training for that marathon, I made a fatal mistake that I’ll bet you’ve made, too, in some part of your life:

First, I focused on endurance.
“I’ll push myself to survive one more mile on this week’s run than I did on last week’s run.”

Second, I focused on speed.
“OK, now that I can run 26 miles let’s see if I can run it a little faster.”

Third – and last – I focused on form.
“If I run with better posture maybe I won’t hurt my achilles tendon.”

The problem:
By focusing on endurance first, I’m suffering through most of my runs and forming terrible habits before I pay attention to what’s more important: speed [i.e. efficiency] and form.

The solution to avoiding the endurance death spiral: REVERSE the order of focus.

1.  Begin with FORM.

How can I run more effortlessly?  Where does my body need to be stronger and more flexible in order to run smoothly, lightly, quietly, and happily?
(Think of how a world class runner moves: On the balls of her feet, shoulders back, head up, core steady, minimum bounce…  vs. the “shuffler” at the back of the pack: hunched forward, eyes cast to the ground, heel striking, and jarring her entire body.)

2.  Next, and only after my form is very good, add SPEED.
How can I maintain that perfect form while moving faster?

3.  Finally, and only after I’ve mastered steps one and two:  build ENDURANCE.
How can I maintain that form, move quickly, and cover a longer distance?

Running is only one example.  The same principal – first master technique, then move to speed, and as a final step focus on endurance – applies to nearly everything else in life.  Think about times in your life that you’ve:

  • Started a new job,
  • Entered a new relationship,
  • Taken on a new responsibility,
  • Begun a new activity.

In most cases, we learn through repetition.

Learning through repetition is OK, but make sure the “reps” you’re performing are done properly!

Here are some hints you’re on the wrong path and how you might push back to get on the right path:


Your sales manager gives you only a half-day of new product training and then says, “Now go hit the streets, champ!  Try to sell this product to at least 30 people every day.  Eventually you’ll figure it out.”  [What he’s not telling you but he is thinking: “You’ll either figure it out or go down in flames of failure.”]

Push back:
Before you spend too much time pitching your new product to 30 people every day, ask your sales manager if you can shadow a top performer and observe his/her tricks of the trade.


Your new swim coach orders,
“Get in the water and swim today as far as you can.  Tomorrow we’ll swim even farther.”

Push back:
Before you start grinding out hundreds of laps with that awful form, read a couple books and do some video analysis on your form.  Figure out how to stop fighting the water and instead move effortlessly through it.


You find yourself suffering through countless time-wasting meetings.

Push back:
Research best practices for minimizing meetings and making them more efficient.  Share your research with your colleagues and encourage them, along with you, to try a better way.

No writer or coach I’ve ever encountered better emphasizes this “form over endurance” philosophy than Terry Laughlin.

Terry is the founder of a swim coaching method entitled Total Immersion.  Even if you’re not a swimmer, I encourage you to follow his blog and read his books.  Coach Terry is constantly extolling the value of good form, and you’ll find countless ways in his teachings to apply those principles in other parts of your life.

(Terry: If you’re reading this, THANK YOU for teaching me how to replace ugly, brute force with something more graceful, sustainable, effective, and enjoyable.  Without your guidance, my endurance sport journey would have ended long ago.  Here’s to another 20+ years of kaizen!)

Oh, and one last thing…

If you ARE interested in improving your running form and improving your fitness, here’s a feat I’ll argue is more beneficial and gratifying than shuffling through a marathon:  Run a 5K in under 21 minutes, and do it barefoot.

Why 21 minutes?

Almost impossible to lack strength & flexibility and still run that fast.

Why barefoot?

Almost impossible to run with bad form in your bare feet.

Would the Navy SEALs approve of your job screening process? Probably not.

Earlier this year I found myself standing in one world and gazing out at another. The Hotel Coronado is a magnificent beach resort and I was there for a business conference, while next door lies the mother of all proving grounds, the Navy SEAL training center.

Lounging on the beach in front of the resort, you’ll catch glimpses of your neighbors, the SEAL candidates, training like animals. SEALs have a reputation for dishing out the world’s toughest job screening process and developing one of the world’s most elite and accomplished Special Forces.

I’ve never known a SEAL personally but while in Coronado, I had the chance to meet a few. We ran into them while out one night, and it was an honor to speak with them and hear their stories. These guys were respectful, well spoken, and – here’s my age showing – young!

First question I asked them:
What are the minimum fitness requirements to qualify for a Navy SEAL tryout?

I braced myself for what was sure to be a deluge of impossible standards. But these guys rattled off a list that wasn’t all that exclusive:
Swim 500 yards in 12:30,
42 push-ups in 2 minutes,
52 sit-ups in 2 minutes,
8 pull-ups,
1.5 mile run in 10:30.

Granted, these are tough challenges but every gym in America has a handful of people who can meet these.

Next question:
During which part of Hell Week do most candidates quit?
(Hell Week, in case you aren’t familiar with it: Imagine a week of extreme physical and mental challenges wherein you’re constantly wet, cold, sleep deprived, covered in sand, screamed at by your superiors, awoken with the sounds of gunfire, forced to do miles-long ocean swims in frigid water, scramble through inhumane feats of strength… All with the ever-present opportunity to quit at any time with no hard feelings. Drop out rates are as high as 90%.)

Again, I imagined these SEALs describing in vivid detail how one torturous event or another was the ultimate obstacle that destroyed candidates’ dreams.
Yet what they told me I’ll never forget:

“You know when guys quit? When we’re just standing there, when we’re taking one of our precious breaks in-between events. During the breaks, the trainers will tell us all about how the next challenge is the worst. How it will hurt. How it will break us…
Letting those words seep into your mind, allowing those words to instill fear about what’s to come… That’s when guys drop out the most.”

The SEALs went on to describe how shocked they are to see who makes it through Hell Week and who doesn’t. In baffling disproportions, the champion college athlete, the big muscle dude, the elite scholar/athlete, and the Cross Fit freak are bailing left and right while the smaller, less fit, soft spoken kid who doesn’t wow you at first but absolutely refuses to give up stands tall and becomes a SEAL.

The lesson these SEALs taught me was becoming a SEAL isn’t about what you portray on the outside; it’s about what you bring on the inside.

I suppose most of us will go our entire lives without matching the intensity and sacrifice of a SEAL, but what are the lessons we can apply in our own lives?

First, how can you radically improve the way you recruit, screen, and hire the people on your team? To what extent are you choosing your team based on who’s got the best pedigree or who’s smoothest in the interview?
Like the SEALs, perhaps you’ll reach a higher level if you lower the bar for candidates, and then screen more closely to find which candidate has – on his own without a parent or powerful friend coming to the rescue – faced and overcome failures.
(That reminds me of a terrific CEO for whom I once worked. His nephew was a young Harvard graduate and wanted to work for his CEO uncle. The wise uncle wisely refused to hire him. Why? In the CEO’s words, “You haven’t failed enough yet.” I love that ☺)

Second, how much confidence do you have in yourself? How often do you compare yourself to the competition and say, “Oh, clearly they’re smarter/faster/more beautiful/better connected/stronger… I’m not cut out for this.”
It’s human nature to eye up others. It’s human nature to have moments of self doubt. But just like those few Navy SEAL candidates who choose to ignore the doomsayers during Hell Week, remind yourself that self doubt will sabotage your success faster than any external obstacle.

A special Thank You to the Navy SEALs who so kindly shared their experiences with me. Keep inspiring all those resort guests at Hotel Coronado!

Not a goodbye, just a new chapter

United Airlines lists it as 498,377 miles.  In the six and a half years I’ve worked at GlobalEnglish, that’s how many miles United’s friendly skies have carried me.  Those flights have taken me to places I never imagined visiting, places such as Vietnam, Brazil, India, Italy, Thailand, Denmark…  even St. Louis :)

It’s easy to quantify miles traveled, revenue generated, number of meetings held, or number of nights on the road, but pointless to quantify without considering the sole reason for all that activity: IMPACT.
What difference did we make?

I’ll remember my clients who landed jobs, earned promotions, won deals, and gained confidence by mastering the English language.  I’ll remember the communities combating crime and poverty by investing in their young people.  I’ll remember the executives who fought for their people amidst budget cuts.  I’ll remember the customers who hosted me in their countries and introduced me to their cultures.  And I’ll remember the amazing team with whom I worked, the team that built our company from a tiny start-up to a multinational force worthy of acquisition.

GlobalEnglish, you are growing up!  Now you’re part of a massive organization whose product offerings dwarf the tiny niche that we served, and I am cheering for you to leverage that size to deliver an even more meaningful impact.

Last week was my final week with GlobalEnglish.

I’m not sure yet what the next chapter will be, but my #1 hope is that I’ll again be honored to serve a customer base as friendly and a team as professional as the one that we developed at GlobalEnglish.

498,377 miles and six years taught me these lessons:

  • The human relations principals Dale Carnegie revealed a century ago work anywhere on Planet Earth.
    If you’re not familiar with them, print them out and post them next to your computer.  They will serve you better than any tourist guide book or culture notes.
  • No one cares what you’re selling until they understand how you can help them.
    Approach your customers with an offer ONLY after you are convinced what you offer is better than what they’re doing today.  Better to research, understand, and serve ONE customer than to scatter an insincere, irrelevant message across a hundred customers.
  • Say and write Thank You.
    Executives the world over are fighting every day for their employees, their customers, and their vendors yet they’re almost never thanked for it.  Make the time to say Thank You, and do it with sincerity.  (By the way:  A quick “thanks” doesn’t cut it.  Write the Thank You and tell the person exactly why you’re thankful.)
  • Smile.
    When you’ve missed your connecting flight and you’re caught in airport hell, be kind to the customer service agent who’s behind the counter.  It’s not their fault, and they can perform miracles for those who treat them with patience and respect.

To my GlobalEnglish customers and colleagues, THANK YOU!  You have overwhelmed me with your kindness and well wishes.  I am humbled.

You all made a tremendously positive IMPACT on me and I’m forever grateful for it.

To all my RideWithBen blog readers, I assure you this blog will continue.  No matter what the future brings, this blog remains a nice way for us to stay in touch.