JFK and MLK: Their Winning Strategy (and Yours?)

The Space Race was a little before my time but even today it’s hard to pass beyond middle school without learning its history.  From the mid-1950’s through the early ‘70’s, The Space Race was a superpower battle between the USA and the USSR to see who could first land a man on the moon.  This whole Space Race spectacle offered one primary benefit: bragging rights.  In today’s world that seems so dewy-eyed, doesn’t it?  Imagine..  Two nations locked in battle not over economic gain or shipping channels or religion.  Rather, they were duking it out to see who could be crowned Most Innovative.

You may also remember from your middle school classes that early in the race, the US was getting its ass kicked.  By 1961 the USSR had already celebrated a couple orbital launches while NASA had yet to launch even a bottle rocket.  John F. Kennedy, America’s president at the time, was under immense pressure to save face and prove that his nation could keep pace, and little known then to the public, JFK was already filled with shame and embarrassment because the Soviet premier, Nikita Krushchev, had recently met with Kennedy and steamrolled him like a JV football payer on an NFL field.  So extreme was the Krushchev-inflicted steamroll that JFK retreated to a dark room, slumped in a chair, pulled a hat over his eyes, and confessed the Krushchev meeting was, “The worst thing in my life.”

Imagine for a moment you’re Kennedy:  New to the job, losing the World’s Fanciest Science Fair, trying to guide a NASA team whose space-age engineering language you don’t even understand and appease a public screaming for results all while your inner voice is whispering, “Your number one adversary just pistol whipped you, publicly and privately, and he thinks you’re an idiot.”  Not the ideal time to expose yourself to humiliation, but that’s exactly what Kennedy did.

What I didn’t learn until recently was that the Soviets would keep their launch attempts under strict wraps until after they’d had a successful one, at which point they’d broadcast a blind side gut punch press release designed to deflate their adversaries.  Kennedy, even while smarting from those announcements, opted for a different approach.  He demanded full transparency that, in his eyes, would help the entire nation appreciate its risk.  Despite the exposure to his own reputation, JFK wanted the world to know that failure was an option, and that his nation was willing to share the good news and the bad.  Kennedy knew what the Soviets back then and, I’d argue, so many of us today don’t: Vulnerability, not staged perfection, earns loyalty.

On February 20, 1962, over 100 million Americans tuned in to NASA’s launch attempt, and I gotta believe every one of them felt an elation that comes only when a moment that could have gone horribly wrong goes wonderfully right.  Kennedy, who’d staked his presidential brand on the effort, earned seeds of pride and loyalty that day that inspired the nation’s most talented men and women to join The Space Race and fight for a win.  Not for the promise of an IPO or a million Instagram followers or the biggest paycheck (there’s that dewy-eyedness again!), but to be part of something that Kennedy positioned as important, risky, and hard.

The Soviets portrayed themselves as perfect; the Americans portrayed themselves as vulnerable.  Hmmmm….  Perfect vs. vulnerable…  Which do you think instills trust over skepticism, empathy over jealousy, an instinct to avoid vs. a desire to join?  The results speak for themselves.  Seven years later NASA’s Mission Control won The Space Race with an average age of – ready for this? – 28.

I wonder if The Space Race would play out the same today.  Would our public officials risk public humiliation at a time the adversary is doing victory laps?  Would our nation’s best and brightest toss aside big paychecks and stock options to join a publicly funded, underdog fight?  I once read about a Silicon Valley executive who said, “Our best engineers used to crack the code on how to put a man on the moon.  Now they write code trying to get people to click on social media ads.”  I haven’t reached that level of cynicism but I have concluded that Kennedy’s approach is still the right one to follow.  Your best opportunities to win the hearts and minds of your target audience come when you declare a bold goal, share unflinchingly the stakes of missing it, and do so with humility and vulnerability.

On today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what’s your dream?  How openly are you sharing your dream and why it’s important, even if failure to reach it leaves you vulnerable to ridicule? Speaking of vulnerability, it’s interesting to note that MLK’s “I have a dream” speech was not part of the script he planned to deliver that day in August 1963.  It was only when he, like Kennedy, veered from the safe path and went off script that he truly won his audience.  Proof that King’s message resonated?  Immediately following his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, MLK headed to The White House where JFK, having exclaimed, “He’s damn good.  Damn good!” upon watching it on TV, approached King, shook his hand, and said, “I have a dream.”

JFK and MLK: Two leaders who shaped a nation and inspired millions to see themselves in a different light, and whose example I trust we’ll all continue to follow.

Here’s to your dreams, your failures, and your victories.  May the mission you choose be important, risky, and hard.  Happy MLK Day!

**Special Thank You to Mark Updegrove and his outstanding book, “Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency“, for introducing me through such gifted storytelling to these events and others.

Customer COST vs. Customer VALUE: What Smart Business Can Teach Us

Ginger the Wonder Dog.  If you’ve spent time with our family you’ve met or heard about her, a fifteen pound mixed breed who’s just as comfortable sitting in your lap as she is joining you for an eight mile run (never on a leash – she’ll stick by your side like a loyal solider).  One part chill, one part energy, and all parts friendly, she’s brought tremendous joy to our family for the last twelve years.  And unfortunately, last week was her last.

Ginger the Wonder Dog: 2010-2022

Anyone who’s grown close to a pet knows the heartache of losing one and as you can imagine, our family misses Ginger.  Friends, neighbors, and family have expressed condolences and it’s comforting to hear from them.  But like anyone’s passing, there’s the business of it all that needs to be addressed, including arrangements for her cremation, cancelling her meds, even stopping her dogfood delivery subscription (gotta love online ordering – it’s everywhere!).

As we went about the business of closing out Ginger, however, we experienced one flash of compassion that reminded me how powerful seemingly-wrong-but-oh-so-right business decisions can be.  Last night we got a knock on our door from the local florist who stopped by to deliver a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  Like every forgetful husband my first thought was, “Uh oh…  Did I miss an anniversary?”  After reading the card, however, I was A) relieved to know I was in the clear, and B) dumbstruck by the thoughtfulness and yes, savvy business decision, the team at Chewy.com made.

Flowers from… Chewy.com? Wow!

Haven’t heard of Chewy?  Neither had I until my wife, Jessica, explained it’s the online subscription service through which we ordered Ginger’s dogfood.  When Ginger died, Jessica called them to cancel our subscription and the phone agent, upon learning of our circumstances, said, “Tell you what, Jessica, how ‘bout we credit you back for that most recent shipment that you may not have even opened yet?  Instead of returning it to us, can you donate Ginger’s food to a local shelter?” 

That alone earned Chewy big points with Jessica but this gorgeous flower delivery?  Don’t be surprised if our entire family ends up with Chewy tattoos*.  (*If my daughters are reading this, THAT’S A JOKE.  No Chewy tattoos, please 😊.)

Did Chewy make a good business decision?  At first glance, maybe not.  For starters, they refunded us thirty dollars on a shipment they’re not getting back.  In addition, they sent us a bouquet I estimate cost seventy dollars.  All in, that’s a one hundred dollar debit from a single customer who can’t possibly earn them more than fifty dollars are year in profit, and a customer whose dog (their consumer) is definitely not eating any more dogfood.  Add it all up and in a couple days Chewy spent double on “being nice” vs. what they made in annual profits from all our orders.  On paper this company is circling the drain, right?  But what the spreadsheet does not take into account is this:

Goose the High Energy Maniac

Meet Goose, the Lawrence family’s other dog, a six month old maniac we recently added to our roster.  Up to this point we’ve been buying his food from a retail store but moving forward, guess where Jessica is placing her orders? 

So the rest of the dogfood story goes like this:
Chewy took a $50 hit on Ginger but stands ready to make $600 in profit from Goose that they otherwise never would have seen.

My point: Compassionate gestures and good business are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, one supports the other and organizations who bake both into their decisions come out on top.  I don’t care how may brochures the retail pet store sends me or how many Super Bowl ads they run, Chewy is now our family’s go to source for every piece of dogfood that Goose consumes and we’ll encourage other families to follow suit with their pets.

What can your organization learn from Chewy?  What actions can you take that tell your customers, “I appreciate you.  You’re important to us.  When you’re feeling low we’ll support you, even if the spreadsheets tell us not to.” 

Can you send your new customers personalized welcome packages?  Pen handwritten Thank You notes to those who send you referrals?  Deliver Get Well packages to clients who are under the weather? 

When you’re deciding what to do for your clients, keep in mind not all gestures need to carry a price tag or consume vast amounts of time.  For example, earlier this week I was due for a medical screening which, for the first time in my life, required me to be anesthetized.  My logical brain knew this was a safe procedure but I still felt a little uneasy.  Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, the nurse came out and instead of standing at the doorway, shouting my name, and beckoning me to follow her, which is what’s happened every other time I’ve visited a doctor’s office, a friendly nurse approached me, sat down next to me, and said with a smile, “Hi, I’m Wendy.  I’ve been working here a long time and I’ll be with you every step of the way today.  Any questions before we head back?”

That brief introduction, that pause in the action which took all of thirty seconds, made all the difference.  Wendy dialed back her authority, removed the “business” of the process, and offered a dash of compassion that left me feeling like I had a partner for this procedure who was going to take good care of me. 

The screening went fine and as I was leaving I asked Wendy, “When you came into the waiting room and sat next to me, was that something you’re required to do?”

Laughing, she replied, “No.  I just figure if I was coming to the doctor that’s how I’d want to be greeted so that’s what I do for my patients.”

As I returned home I noticed billboards all over for medical centers but Wendy’s thirty seconds made them irrelevant.  You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be seeking out Wendy’s team any time I’m slated for procedures their clinic offers and I’ll encourage others to use their services, too.

Here’s the bottom line:  It’s easy to coldly calculate customer cost.  Enter into a spreadsheet questions like, “What’s the future value of a dead dog?” or “How much efficiency will our nurses gain if they admit every patient thirty seconds faster?” and you’ll get a certain answer.   But make the effort to compassionately calculate customer value and the answer you get may be very different.  “What happens if the dog’s family becomes a loyal customer with its next pet?” or “If our nurses greet every customer in a more personal way, what does that do for our brand?”  In today’s world of online shopping and infinite consumer choices, value is the special ingredient that separates the best from the rest.

Want to earn lifetime customers?  More referrals?  A stellar reputation that no competitor can displace?  Follow Chewy’s lead.  Follow Wendy’s lead.  Look for the (seemingly) small ways to compassionately serve your customers and reap big rewards both on your balance sheet and in your life.

The University of Michigan Wins the Day, Except…

Their campus is among the most beautiful I’ve seen.  Their stadium, the nation’s largest, is stunning.  Their fans, students, and alumni a friendly, welcoming bunch.  But if The University of Michigan has one shortcoming, it’s one they don’t suffer alone.  In fact, it’s a blind spot that’s derailed more meetings, turned off more audiences, and ruined more parties (perhaps yours?) than any other wet blanket I can imagine.  More on that in a moment…

Last weekend a few friends and I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan to see Penn State’s Nittany Lion football team take on Michigan’s Wolverines, a much hyped annual showdown that draws over 100,000 spectators.  In addition to the game, a portion of our group attended a VIP fundraising banquet the night before, making this a weekend where we attended two events that shared a common objective: Deliver a world class experience that inspires its attendees to come back for more. 

Both events pulled out all the stops.  For the football game: A fighter jet flyover.  For the banquet: Fortune 500 executives who flew in on their own airplanes.  The football game: A famous DJ.  The banquet: A piano player.  Between the two events, one could list celebrity appearances (Michael Phelps!  A highlight for me), spotless venues, and audiences excited for a big show.  And for the most part both events were a hit for Team Michigan.  Their football team destroyed Penn State, the banquet surpassed its fundraising goals, and I’m certain every blue and maize-clad Wolverine returned home with big smiles.  But were the smiles as big as they could have been?  I don’t think so.  In fact, if one were to poll either event’s attendees and ask them to score a Pass/Fail by sense, here’s what I suspect the survey results would look like:


In both the stadium and the banquet room, the sound systems were weak.  While both events offered dazzling spectacles, the muffled, crackling audio did not keep pace.  Glancing around the venues I saw a sea of people leaning forward, strained looks on their faces, trying desperately to hear what the heck the person on the microphone was saying.  “What did the keynote speaker just say?”  “Who are they recognizing on the field?”  “What song are they playing right now?”
Unfortunately, the waves of confusion eclipsed the waves at the stadium that the student section performed. 

Living within earshot of the nation’s second largest stadium, Beaver Stadium, I can attest that Penn State’s audio engineers have mastered their craft.  Michigan boasts a larger stadium, nicer amenities, and this year a heck of a superior football team but Beaver Stadium’s body-thumping, crystal clear audio engages its crowd more viscerally than anywhere since The Beatles rocked Shea Stadium.  It seems Penn State took all the money it could have invested in nicer bathrooms and higher end suites and diverted it to the world’s most badass speakers and I gotta say, it was the right move.

When’s the last time you stepped to a microphone to share a few words, or when’s the next event you’re hosting that includes music?  If you’re like me, you’re pouring loads of effort into what you’re going to say or play but not testing the audio until you stroll to the podium on plug in your playlist on the day of the event.  Would you agree most of us spend more time deciding what to wear or what to serve for dessert than we spend optimizing the audio system?  I’d estimate at least fifty percent of the events I’ve attended or, guilty as charged, in which I’ve participated had bad audio.  Screeching mikes and weak volume too often rule the day.

Friends, we’re making a mistake.  All the words you share and the music you select are worthless if your audience cannot clearly hear it.  In short, we overinvest in how pretty we look and we underinvest in how clearly we’re heard.  And the lost opportunity cost is high.  How much does a fundraising banquet leave on the table if the evening’s most inspiring message isn’t heard?  How many lifelong fans does a football team lose when the game’s pageantry dribbles short of our ears?  How many all-star employees will you lose if that speech on which you worked so hard falls flat?

The fix is simple.  Focus on the audio quality of your event as much as you focus on the words or music you plan to share.  And if you’re in a bind, call up Penn State’s audio engineers and ask them to help.  I wonder if Michigan would consider a trade?  Their quarterback for Penn State’s audio engineer…  Seems like a win/win!

Enjoying the game with KCF Tech’s All-Time #1 Intern, Nate Woodman.

A State College, PA reunion in Wolverine Territory.

You’re an Industry Expert? Uh Oh..

Whether you’re pro mask or anti mask, pro vaccine or anti vaccine, can we agree government guidance throughout the pandemic has been a disaster?  Questions such as, How many days to quarantine?  Who gets vaccinated when?  Do employers need to mandate vaccination or not? seem as accurately answered by a Magic Eight Ball as a government spokesperson.  Even the medical community appears to be confused.  For example, I recently asked my doctor if he thought masks on airplanes were a good or bad idea and he responded by throwing up his hands, shrugging his shoulders, and saying, “Who’s to say?  It’s a personal choice, I guess.”  Not exactly the clear, confidence-instilling response I was seeking. 

How did our nation’s leadership botch this crisis?  Now before we start pointing our blue or red fingers at who’s to blame, let’s consider a refreshingly honest, non partisan mea culpa from Rochelle Walensky, the director of The Center for Disease Control (CDC), during a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal.  Her comments on why our nation screwed up its Covid strategy were so insightful, in fact, I find it terrific insight for any organization (perhaps yours?) trying to guide, sell, persuade, or bulldoze an audience into making good decisions. 

Paraphrasing Rochelle’s comments, her takeaways sounded like this: 
“The CDC’s staff is comprised of smart researchers and scientists who spend most of their time communicating with other smart researchers and scientists who are working together to solve complicated problems.  As a result, our communication style is steeped in vocabulary, acronyms, and phrasing that makes sense to industry professionals but looks like Greek to the public.
“Suddenly, the pandemic hit and our staff, accustomed to that technical style, had to begin communicating directly with the public and, even worse, politicians*.”
(*OK, she didn’t say that last part about politicians but wouldn’t that have been great?  Ha ha 😊)

Rochelle went on to describe how CDC advisories, press releases, website postings, etc. continued to follow the same complicated format they’d been using for years, which meant the information made perfect sense to the .001% of us who are infectious disease insiders but left the rest of us in the dark.  She even confessed that the CDC’s Communications Director role, the one role that might have been able to streamline and simplify all the technical jargon, had been vacant for the last four years!  Shocking.

What happens when our organizations, like the CDC, don’t have a talented Communications Director to align our message with our audience?  Unfortunately, the outcome is not what our high ego minds like to believe.  Our egos tell us, “I have an important message to share.  My audience, dazzled with my expertise, will appreciate what I have to say and pay close attention.  If they don’t understand what I’m talking about they will double down listening to me, consider carefully my words, and reach the same logical conclusion that I have.”

Ah, if only!  Reality is quite different.  When we do not communicate with extreme clarity, here’s what our audience actually thinks:  “You have nine seconds to capture my attention.  Since you failed, I’m tuning you out, reaching for my phone, and tuning into a different channel to get someone else’s [often biased, ill informed] simple, one hundred forty characters or less social media conclusion on your topic.”

As the pandemic proved, this, “You have nine seconds to nail it or I’m tuning you out” approach is true even when the information is of life or death importance.  Imagine, then, how less focused your audience is likely to be when you’re delivering information that, while important, is not life or death.  Whether you’re an auto mechanic describing what’s wrong with your customer’s car or a salesperson pitching your latest offering or an employee speaking up at a staff meeting, you have mere seconds to earn attention and you’re constantly at risk of drifting out of focus.

“But Ben,” you may argue, “I can’t deliver my message that quickly or that simply.  The subject is too complex and the details too critical to understand.”

I appreciate your concern.  You’re not alone.  In fact, I’ve heard this objection countless times over my career, usually from longtime, respected subject matter experts who’ve A) spent years mastering their craft, and B) despite having the biggest brains in their space have the tiniest revenue in their industry.

Friends, I assure you there’s a path to clarifying your message and one’s inability to do so sacrifices followers, revenue, and in pandemic scenarios, lives.

The formula I’ve found works best is to share information with your audience the same way a newspaper designs its front page:  We begin with a big, bold headline.  Then we offer a slightly longer subtitle.  And finally we share the information with a brief narrative (in story form whenever possible, not textbook form!).  And we repeat that formula again and again throughout your entire presentation.

Think of it this way: You’re breaking up your information into several USA Today stories, not one longform New York Times article.  You gotta bread crumb it, one easily digestible morsel at a time.

1) Attention grabbing headlines.  2)  Slightly longer yet equally compelling subtitles.  3) Brief, story-packed narratives that bring the headlines to life.

If you’ve ever worked with me on a presentation or communications plan, you’ve probably heard me ask, “Explain it to me again as if I’m ten years old.”  Now the first reason I ask my colleagues to do that is because I’m privileged to work with people far smarter than I!  But the other reason is I know your audience is more distracted than we appreciate, and if we don’t keep thing simple we’ll lose them.  A helpful formula to consider when crafting your message:  If you suspect your message requires your audience to apply more than 25% of their focus, your audience will remember 0% of your message. 

I’m also shocked at how convoluted a message becomes when we fear we’re going to exclude or offend a tiny portion of the audience.  For example, an engineer I know was writing a new SOP on optimal pressure settings for a pump system and the right answer 99% of the time was, “Never run your pump below 80 PSI.”  We knew this updated SOP would save their company over $5 Million/year, so it was critical to get the message out quickly and clearly.  But when authoring this SOP, our friendly, uber-smart engineer (we’ll call him Josh) wrote a multi-page, tiny font manual on all the reasons it might be OK to set the pressure differently during the other 1% of the time. 

“Josh, Why did you write all this other crap to cover 1% of the scenarios?” I asked.

Josh responded, “Well, we have some people on staff who will be upset if I don’t reference the other 1%.” 

“Josh, if you send out this wordy, complicated SOP no one’s gonna read it, which means your $5 Million problem doesn’t go away.  Forget the 1%.”

Bottom line:  Upsetting a few people is OK.  Spurring debate among the always-present “yeah but..” crowd is OK.  But confusion?  Confusion = chaos, and chaos reigns when confusion wins. 

Listen, I know this is hard.  Boiling all that knowledge of yours into simpleton soundbites can feel trite, and I know it’s hard to speak in black and white terms in a grey world.  But it’s only through direct, clear, attention-grabbing soundbites that we earn the right to share deeper messages with your deserving audience. 

If you’re convinced this is only a modern day problem, consider what Cicero wrote over two thousand years ago: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”  The challenge of condensing and simplifying complex messages is as old as the hills, and those who master the art will always rise to the top.

Oh, and as for those questions about Covid protocols, I still have no idea what’s best so please, if you know any powerful headline writers or storytellers please refer them to the CDC for immediate hire!

Your Next Climb: Make It Unforgettable

You know who climbs mountains for a living?  Oxygen deprived, pain seeking, always-learning, gritty, vagabond nutjobs who’ve lived the most interesting lives.  And it’s a good thing, too, because when you’ve hired one of them to guide your summit quest there are many, many hours available to hear their stories.

Mike, The American born, France raised, EMT and medical student with three Bachelor’s Degrees and one Master’s Degree, son of traveling magicians, certified heli-ski instructor, Army veteran with multiple combat tours – who happened to be our lead mountain climbing guide – turned to me through howling wind and shouted, “We’re at the limit.  Haven’t seen it like this up here in two years.  Your call.”  Though he may have been thinking it, he didn’t shout, “You’re an idiot” or, “I don’t think you should do this”, just the facts and a serene poker face revealing nothing about his own opinion.  In the moment, though, I very much wanted his opinion.  I wanted him to grab me by the shoulders and shake me and demand that we turn around and forever let a decision to forgo the summit be his, not mine.

Following weeks of training and planning and a cross continental journey, three friends and I were nearly atop Mount Shasta, a volcanic monstrosity that reaches over 14,000 snow-covered feet into the sky and is as alien to an East Coaster like me as the bottom of the ocean.  Mike, along with our other badass guide Chris (another former military, son-of-professional-kayakers, uber-fit billy goat), are professional alpinists who climb peaks like this all the time and after fighting our way over 99% of the way to the summit, the decision as to whether we take these final steps was up to us, not them.

How did my friends and I end up there, steps away from one of the nation’s highest mountain peaks?  In reality, the journey began thirty years ago when we were all college kids from various regions who stumbled upon a summer internship selling Yellow Pages (remember those?) door to door on 100% commission.

Since those pavement pounding days we’ve all gotten married, formed families, started and stopped and started again multiple careers, and scattered to far reaches of the country but we’ve always found unique ways to reconnect.  This most recent adventure, a triple dog dare to climb Mount Shasta, was the latest reunion and, much like selling Yellow Pages door to door, had me seriously questioning my life choices.  Our packs were heavy.  The air was thin.  The sun, reflecting so intensely off the pure white snow we had to cake even the insides of our nostrils with sunblock, seemed twice its normal size.  And the wind – oh, that incessant, angry, holy-crap-I-can’t-stand-up wind – kept throwing us to the ground like The Rock tossing a rag doll.  I’d never experienced anything like it; it felt like another planet and from the trek’s first step I’d been humbly learning I knew nothing about this wild, unpredictable mind warp called mountaineering.

When you envision a high intensity mountain climb what comes to mind?  If, like me, your exposure to the activity includes only a sprinkling of Hollywood films and Netflix documentaries, you might think of swinging ice picks, ropes, extreme cold, and mad scrambles over impossible peaks.  And while some of those ingredients are prevalent, I learned real-life mountaineering follows the same principles that drive success in most things.  For example:

Unless things go incredibly wrong, there are no sprints.
You wanna scale the highest mountains?  Follow this rhythm:  One-one thousand, STEP.  Two-one thousand, STEP…  From the time we left basecamp at 3am until the time we completed that day’s hike some fourteen hours later, it was like living a slow motion movie.  No sudden movements, no high heart rate surges, just a steady, methodical slog through mud, over rocks, up steep slopes, through knee deep snow, across glacier ice, and through that freakin’ wind until you reach your destination.
Funny, Mike and Chris had stories about younger, studlier hares speeding by on lower sections and invariably burning out (and sometimes lifeflighted) while the slow, steady tortoises keep on trudging. 
Takeaway:  Slow and steady may not make for the best movies or highlight reels but it’s the ultimate formula to reach the top.  Next time we’re tempted to procrastinate or jam twice the effort into half the time, remember to one-one thousand, STEP, two-one thousand STEP all your way to the finish line.

Single file, slow and steady. Funny how we’re surrounded by incredible scenery but we spent most of our time staring straight down at the ground in front of us.

We modern humans give ourselves too much credit.
Sure, we drive powerful SUV’s and design supercomputers and build fancy dwellings and sweat it out in fitness studios but stepping beyond the oxygen-rich, climate-controlled bubble of our normal lives (which, by the way, is only a few miles walk uphill!), is the ultimate reminder that Mother Nature sits atop the food chain, not we fragile humans.  The world is big, dangerous, and breathtakingly beautiful in ways we so easily forget enveloped in our manmade boxes.
Takeaway: Explore nature’s limits but recognize our limits.  If Mother Nature is telling you no, listen to her.

Buying stuff is such a waste vs. buying experiences.
A guided tour on Mount Shasta is not cheap but we’ve all blown money on “things” that cost way more and deliver almost nothing in return.  I can now say firsthand that marveling at the night sky at ten thousand feet and sipping melted snow from a basecamp teapot was more gratifying than any material possession I could have bought for even triple the price.
Takeaway:  Next time we’re tempted to buy a bigger TV or an overpriced pair of shoes or a new phone, take that money and invest it in a life adventure. 

The view from basecamp. Our guides taught us how to dig tent platforms into the snow that protected us from the wind. Not a difficult task but with the air so thin even a few minutes of digging left us out of breath.

America’s National Parks: Worth fighting for.
If you’ve not visited a National Park I hope you stop reading this blog right now and immediately book the trip.  (See?  We’re already spending that money earmarked for a new TV or new shoes in a better way!) 
First, their beauty is unparalleled.  Please do not misinterpret this as a political statement but any policymaker who proposes to shrink the budget or strip the natural resources of these wondrous regions is my sworn enemy and I hope yours, too.
Second, it’s the land of no liability waivers.  Why is it we need to sign a thousand word legal document to run a local 5K yet anyone can try to climb in a National Park to death defying heights with nary a “be careful” sign to warn us?  I have no idea why that is but I love how these sacred grounds leave it to you, the visitor, the decide for yourself instead of leaving it in the hands of a desk-anchored, risk averse lawyer.
Takeaways: First, visit and support your National Parks. 
Second, while you’re there, test your comfort zone without a helicopter parent – er, lawyer – telling you what you can and cannot do.  If you screw up it’s on you and you alone.  Refreshing, isn’t it?

Novel + Difficult = Memorable
Think back to a time you struggled mightily in a new environment to reach a goal that was important to you, a time you had to focus one hundred percent on the novel task at hand and it made you really, really uncomfortable.  Perhaps it was completing your first marathon?  Making it though boot camp?  Birthing a baby? (props to my wife, Jessica, for somehow pulling that off three drug-free times!)  This trip reminded me that in those moments, time slows.  Memories are branded into our minds with extreme color and become more unbelievable every time we revisit them.  Even though those experiences sometimes last only days or hours, the brain’s commitment to remembering and retelling those stories would take at least a year of Groundhog Day life to accumulate.
On this climb, for example, tiny moments I’ll remember forever include:
*The sound of the wind whipping around our tents at basecamp as we lay there wondering how our bodies would respond to the next day’s ascent,
*The look on our faces when we learned our friend’s oxygen levels dropped to the low eighties (he ended up being fine, thank God!),
*The smell of sulphur as we neared the summit of this volcanic mountain,
*The deep blue glacier ice sparkling under that brilliant sun,
*The Black Bear Diner pancakes we feasted on upon our return,
*The extra strength white sunblock smeared all over our faces, giving us the appearance of a clown-meets-snowman lovechild.
Takeaway: None of us will lay on our deathbeds reflecting back on the time we commuted to work, watched TV, or clicked through email.  Find challenging, uncomfortable goals to pursue and DO them.

Novel + Difficult = Brotherhood
I can only imagine the bonds military units form on the battlefield or that west-bound settlers formed over 150 years ago but as I learned on this sufferfest with Tom, Crawford, and Andy, we learn more about each other in those wild hours than we’d learn in years sitting around a bar or a conference table. 
Facing massive rejection together in our street-selling days, boating excursions gone wrong, saying goodbye together to a loved one who passed too soon, missing quotas, crushing quotas, overseas debacles, getting fired, getting promoted..  Together we’ve slogged through countless ups and downs that brought us closer.  There are people in my life with whom I’ve spent more time but few with whom I’ve done more living.
Takeaway:  Wanna build ironclad bonds with people you love and respect?  Go do something novel and difficult together.

Longtime friends Andy, Tom, and Crawford along with new friends (and world class mountaineers) Chris and Mike.

In the end, did we reach the summit?  Well…
The summit of our physical limits?  Yes. 
The summit of safety?  Yes, and then some. 
The summit of memories?  Absolutely.
The summit of friendship?  Definitely.

…And after all that, did we reach the summit of Mount Shasta?  It hardly matters 😊

See you at the top, kind reader!

See that rock behind us? That’s the very top. You might also notice there aren’t many places on that rock face to hold on if the wind blows you over. Should we climb it? Hmmm….
A few hours following our visit the winds reached 175 MPH.

Are We Promoting the Wrong Person?

What’s the job you’ve wished for the most?  In our younger days we might have said, “professional athlete” or “movie star” but now, as a parent with kids approaching their young adult years, the job I wish for more than any other is the one my kids want for themselves.  And I’ll bet if you’re a parent you share those same desires.

This past year our oldest daughter, Madeline, was vying for a competitive internship that many students hope to land when she reached out to me as said, “So many students in the running for this internship are more experienced and more connected than I.  My one shot is to interview better than the rest.  How can I do that?”

Responding like any doting parent I replied, “Oh, Madeline, you underestimate yourself.  Of course they’ll hire you!”

Sighing and rolling her eyes as only teenagers can she said, “C’mon, Dad, that’s what every parent says and you’re not the one making the hiring decision.  Do you have any solid guidance?  What should I talk about in the interview?”

What advice would you offer?  Reflecting back to my college years I recall career counselors coaching us on how to dress appropriately, how to jazz up our resumes, how to respond to questions such as, “What’s your greatest weakness?”, even how to speak about how much we’d grown after all that academic rigor (ha!).  In short, these counselors groomed us to look and sound impressive.  Did it work?

Three decades later I now do a lot more job hiring than job seeking and I struggle to pinpoint one hire I’ve made because the candidate wore the nicest tie or dazzled me with their straight A’s.  Trying to boil all that interview experience into one morsel of guidance for the job that I wanted the most, Madeline’s internship, I blurted out, “Don’t talk about you, talk about them.”

“What do you mean, Dad?” asked Madeline.  “They’re not the one being interviewed, I am.”

“I know,” I replied, “but try that approach.  See if you can get the interviewer to do most of the talking, especially stories about their own journey and their advice for someone like you who wants to follow in their footsteps.”

The next day, Madeline marched into the hiring manager’s office (dressed nicely, of course.  You still gotta cover the basics) armed with two questions.  After greeting the hiring manager and exchanging a few pleasantries Madeline asked question #1: “So, Mrs. X, how did you end up in this role?”

To hear Madeline describe it, the interviewer jolted up in her chair and replied, “Wow!  No one’s asked me that before but that’s a funny story…”  And Mrs. X went on to share a story that Madeline described as “so cool” and had both of them laughing.  Madeline then asked question #2: “Mrs. X, I really want this job and I know it’s a competitive field.  What advice can you offer on how I can earn the position?”  Again, Mrs. X brightened and offered Madeline helpful tips on how to follow up and who else to contact.

After the interview Madeline called me.  “Well, Dad, I have no idea if I got the job.  In fact, we hardly spoke about my experience or my application.  But Mrs. X is such an interesting and helpful person!  Even if I don’t get the job I feel like we’re friends and I hope to stay in touch with her.”

I share this story with you because Madeline discovered a secret that, in my (ahem – 50 year old luddite) opinion has been more forgotten in today’s social media era than in any period prior:  To earn success, focus on being interested, not interesting.  Not only when I interview job candidates but when I scroll through company websites, solicitation emails, LinkedIn posts, pitch decks, marketing proposals, trade show booths, etc. (Don’t even get me started on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok) I see desperation.  I can almost hear so many of us screaming, “Look at me!  Aren’t I so cool?  So beautiful?  So happy?  So smart?  So successful?  Please like me.  Follow me.  Want to be me.”

Friends, I write this with respect: When you and I fall prey to that approach we shoot ourselves in the foot.  Perhaps even more off-putting than the “check out my awesomeness” tactic is the time we narcissistically invest planning and staging it.  Tracking every minute, selfie camera and keyboard in hand, constantly asking ourselves, “Where’s the next opportunity to showcase my amazing success?” is time we lose thinking about how we can appreciate and serve others.  If there’s one truth about human nature it’s that we already spend the majority of our time thinking about ourselves, and modern day self-promotion tools only exacerbate that me-first thinking.

Believe me, neither the recruiter, your employer, your customers, your true friends, nor your top prospects are lying awake at night wishing you spent more time promoting yourself.  If anything, they might be asking, “Am I heard?  Do you know what’s important to me?  Can you help me solve my problems?” 

I once heard that the late, great Dale Carnegie was asked during a radio interview, “Mr. Carnegie, You came up with twenty one guiding principals on how to live a successful, fulfilling life.  If you were to instill only one of those principals in your fellow man, which would you choose?”

Without hesitation Carnegie responded, “Principal number four: Become genuinely interested in other people.  If we can live by that principal alone, all the others take care of themselves.”

Notice Carnegie did not write, “Become genuinely interesting to other people.”  In none of Carnegie’s writings will you find instructions on how to sound like the smartest person or tell the funniest jokes or flaunt the greatest riches.  Instead, he guides his readers through the same formula that Madeline used in her interview:  Ask good questions, listen with genuine interest, and build a personal bond with your fellow human being.

Imagine if instead of expending all that energy promoting ourselves, i.e. trying to make ourselves interesting, we invested that effort into becoming genuinely interested in others?  For example…

Trying to be interesting…Being genuinely interested…
Announcing that we just won an awardSubmitting an award nomination on behalf of our top customer or most impactful mentor
Posting Thank You’s on social media to an event we attended, a ceremony where we were recognized, etc.Calling those event planners or sponsors and asking them, “What are your goals?  How can I help you reach them?”
Peddling our latest offeringPolling customers on how we can better serve them
Telling an employer why they should hire usAsking an employer what kind of person they want to hire and why

Granted, I understand there are times we need to advocate for ourselves or challenge someone’s worldviews and times we need to update an audience on our latest news but can we agree both we as individuals and we as organizations are guilty of skewing heavily to the “let’s talk about me” side at the cost of the “let’s learn about you” side? 

How well do you really know your customers?  Your vendors?  Heck, if like me you have ever-morphing teenagers how well do you even know your own family?  At the end of the day it boils down to this: We don’t want to read about you celebrating you, we want to read about others celebrating you.  And when we give selflessly to our communities, families, friends, and customers, even a fraction of the publicity they generate on your behalf goes longer than all the self serving materials you could post in a lifetime.

I’m not suggesting we dial back our self interest to the level of Mother Teresa but what if during your next family dinner, customer meeting, or networking event you asked a few more questions and listened more carefully for areas where you can help the other person reach their goals?  Or if before your next presentation you asked the audience for a bit more feedback on what they wanted to learn?  Just as Madeline discovered in her job interview, shifting our pregame prep from, “How can I get them interested in me?” to, “How can I express my genuine interest in them?” will elevate your partnerships, friendships, and your success to levels modern day self-promotion tools are ill equipped to do.

Oh, and as for that job that I wanted most, Madeline’s internship, did she land it?  Let’s put it this way..  Both her doting dad (by luck) and Dale Carnegie (by objective expertise) were right again 😊

Another Failed New Year’s Resolution? Not This Time.

When’s the last time you voluntarily put yourself in an awkward, rookie position that made you feel incapable?  If you’re over the age of twenty, I’ll bet that you, like most of us grown-ups, rarely find yourself in such a position.  When we’re young, it’s inescapable and we do it all the time.  From learning to walk to learning to ride a bike to the first time you asked someone on a date, these first time moments are such a routine part of a young person’s life that we bound from one comfort zone-expanding activity to the next with little trepidation.  By the time we’ve reached adulthood, however, life settles into a much more predictable pattern.  What a shame.

Granted, as adults the stakes are higher.  We cannot afford daredevil stunts that put our careers or families at risk.  But oh my, how risk averse we become!  Outside of required changes related to starting a new job or adjusting lifestyle to accommodate family, we rarely seek new experiences just for the hell of it.  When we’re young, on the other hand, no one demands us learn to ride a bike before we can pass the fifth grade or get a promotion.  Rather, we figured it out simply because it looked fun. 

As adults, we still learn new things – how to hook up a printer or write a computer code or calculate retirement savings – but they’re necessary (and boring) skills that life requires.  Even our hobbies, it seems, are usually rooted in fundamentals we picked up as youngsters.  In my case, I enjoy running and cycling but they’re continuations of my childhood skillset.  Ask me to walk a tightrope or do a back handspring and I’ll run for the hills.  Not only do I have zero ability but I also lack any desire to figure it out.  Yet challenged with those acrobatics as a kid I’d likely have given them a shot.

As we head into a New Year and set another round of resolutions, can I challenge you to set a resolution that’s childlike?  What would your ten year old self want to accomplish with a fresh start and, I hope, a few more dollars in the piggy bank than you had back then?  I guarantee your resolutions would not have been obligatory or based on your doctor’s recommendations.  What do I mean by that?  I mean grown-up resolutions are a bore; they read like something a nagging parent or supervisor would jam down one’s throat:

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Go to the gym
  • Read the newspaper
  • Count calories
  • Read more self improvement books
  • Watch less TV
  • Earn a professional certification

Sure, these are worthy resolutions that earn you brownie points with your doctor or boss or financial planner but they’re no fun.  None of them will awaken your enthusiasm or make you whoop with joy upon the first taste of success. 

This year, set your sights on something that..  A) seems to you like a fun adventure, B) scares you, and C) is unrelated to anything you’ve done before. 

Why am I recommending such imprudent guidance?  Because over the years I’ve occasionally ventured to those eyebrow-raising edges and in every instance it’s rewarded me in more ways than my responsible, adult brain predicted.

In my 20’s I learned to fly airplanes.
In my 30’s I learned to swim competitively.
In my 40’s I learned to sail.
And now, on the cusp of decade #5, I’m learning to telemark ski. 

Last weekend I once again felt those nervous butterflies as for the first time I strapped on a pair of “free heel” skis, clambered over to a very patient instructor, and sprawled onto the bunny slope like Bambi on a frozen pond.  As the lesson began I kept asking myself, “What the heck are you doing?  This is hard.  You look like a fool.  You’re gonna break your leg.”  A few hours later I still looked like a middle-aged Bambi but I was laughing out loud as every jaunt down the bunny slope became a little more manageable.

That was yesterday.  Today, my body is sore in ways it hasn’t been for years but I’m as giddy about the next telemark outing as you and I were following the first time we rode a bicycle.

These seemingly self-serving, unprofessional pursuits have benefited me in ways that doctor and financial planner recommendations never could.  Through flying and sailing lessons I learned to stay calm under pressure and trust instrumentation over my gut.  With swimming I discovered a form of meditation and exercise that snaps me into focus in totally different ways.  And telemark skiing?  The verdict is still out but I already have smiles, laughs, and a new group of friends that never would have crossed my radar.

Let’s face it, the last couple years have been rough.  This pandemic has snuffed sparks within us all, and the last thing we need this New Year is another set of stodgy, uninspiring obligations, er, resolutions that are no fun to pursue and likely to fail, anyway.  In its place, join me on a frivolous, semi-risky journey into learning a new skill that excites you to consider, challenges your comfort zone, flexes your mental and physical muscles, and brings a smile to your face.

See you on the bunny hill.

Holiday Valley, NY’s All-Star Telemark Ski Instructor Mary Gibbs. Thank you, Mary!

MAGA Hat vs. Biden Bumper Sticker vs. American Flag – What’s the Difference?

4th Fireworks!  How were yours?

This year our family enjoyed them from Raystown Lake, a hidden gem in Central PA where we keep a small boat.  Leading up to the spectacle I mentioned to my three teenage daughters and their friends that I’d like to mount an American flag to the boat’s rail.  Let’s fly those stars and stripes as we glide across the water, right?  The reaction to my flag comments, though, shocked me…

“Dad, Are you sure you want to send that kind of message?”
“Wow, Mr. Lawrence, didn’t realize you were that extreme in your politics.”

Excuse me?

Prodding further I learned from The Demographic That Continues to Baffle Me (i.e. teenagers) that in their minds, brandishing an American flag, unless one’s an Olympic athlete or active duty military, means:

  • You’re conservative,
  • You love guns,
  • You listen to Country Music,
  • You’re a Trumpster.

Now, I may or may not be any of those things and I’m not writing this blog to advocate one way or the other but hearing a reasonably educated group of our country’s future leaders describe the flag in such polarizing terms shocked me.  What do you think of our nation’s symbol serving as a political statement? 

I’m beginning to wonder if We the People have taken the flag too far.  Have we reached a point where in order to prove our patriotism we need to adorn ourselves with red, white, and blue pins, hats, stickers, t-shirts, and patches that were probably made in China?  Even worse, have today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s leaders pigeon-holed this universal symbol to be affiliated with only a fraction of the American fabric? 

Call me crazy but if the American flag becomes to one political party what an individual team jersey is to one NFL fan, we’re screwed.  It’s fine to root against the other team on the football field; it’s a disaster if we Americans root against one another on the geopolitical one.

Wanna wear your Biden pin?  Your MAGA hat?  Outstanding!  But please understand that your fan club paraphernalia says, “I support X person/opinion/party.”  Add an American flag to your ensemble, however, and – at least in my opinion – you’re adding something else to your story.  The flag declares, “Not only do I stand for my views but I also respect yours.  No matter your political affiliation I will defend your right to express it.”

I wonder to what extent our fellow citizens see that distinction?  Increasingly, it seems the lines are blurring between party paraphernalia and national symbolism.  How did we get here?

Time Magazine published an interesting article about the rise of U.S. flag trinkets and outlines this trajectory:

  • Until the Civil War, one would find the U.S. flag almost exclusively at government buildings and military stations,
  • Stars and Stripes “wearables” weren’t a thing until the 1950’s,
  • The first president to sport a flag lapel pin was Richard Nixon.

In other words, George Washington, arguably the most badass American hero of them all, never placed a red, white, and blue lawn ornament at Mount Vernon, The Greatest Generation, while whipping the Nazis and saving the free world, did not vinyl wrap their cars in screaming eagle emblems, and the first politician to rock the lapel pin got kicked out of The White House.

My point is some of our nation’s greatest heroes never flaunted the flag and some of its most disgraced figures did.

As for me, I’m moving forward with my boat flag – who doesn’t feel especially free and grateful when enjoying a beautiful day on the water? – and crossing my fingers that my daughters, their friends, today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, and you, kind reader, remember that America’s #1 symbol represents us all.  Fly, wear, and decorate your flag as a token to the diversity and ingenuity one finds only in this messy, beautiful, fumbling, young, ingenious republic. 

Horses, Food, and Fire: A Cure to COVID Blues?

My dad likes to remind my brother and me, “This isn’t the first holiday season your mom and I have been away from family, it’s our third!”  And while that may be true, the first two times were a half century ago when my parents joined the Peace Corps, shipped off to Venezuela, and if the old photos are any indication, spent two years building latrines.  My point is that while a family separation may have felt like an adventure back then, I doubt they’re as enthused today about living as quarantined shut-ins in snow-buried Western NY State.

We wanted to celebrate the holidays with our parents/grandparents but did not want to put them or others at risk.  Sitting around our dining room table, my wife, Jessica, our daughters, and I kicked around a few ideas that you might have also considered:

  1. Drive by their house while honking the horn and waving through the window? 
    Nah, my dad probably wouldn’t hear the horn and my mom would chase us down the road with a tray of cookies.

  2. Christmas morning Zoom session?
    Ugh.  One more webcast and we’ll lose our minds.

  3. Last-minute COVID tests for everyone in the family?
    Not only uncomfortable but complicated and self serving.  It doesn’t seem right to elbow our way into a testing center at a time others genuinely need rapid results.

But wait…  What if we ditched the traditional gift exchange, redirected that money into some kind of outdoor experience, and pulled off a celebration that conformed with every safety protocol?

With that question in mind we made a couple phone calls, the first to a small restaurant near my parents’ house that’s connected to a public golf course.
“Hello,” we began, “Could we host a small outdoor event on your snow-covered golf course, complete with online food orders and – ahem – a big bonfire?”
“Absolutely!” came the enthusiastic reply.

The next call was to Crackerjack Farms, another local business that specializes in horse-drawn carriage rides, and their response was equally accommodating.  “In a non-COVID year, you’d be out of luck this close to the holidays,” said the owner.  “But this year?  We’re wide open.  In fact, while we typically log over forty events a year, this year we’ve logged only four.  And these horses still need to eat!”

And there we had it.  Two phone calls and we’d landed:

  • A catered event,
  • A raging bonfire,
  • A horse-drawn carriage, and my favorite of all,
  • A holiday season free of gift wrapping.

My brother and his family agreed to set up the site, staking out the bonfire area with roped off, socially distanced sections for each family unit.  And he threw in eight feet long marshmallow roasting sticks with which, miraculously, none of the kids poked an eye out.

The kids went to work adorning the horse carriage with all sorts of holiday paraphernalia.

Jim, the horse carriage driver, cued up Christmas music on his massive Bluetooth speaker. 

And my unsuspecting parents, expecting to pass the season in quiet quarantine, were surprised with a knock on the door, the sight of two massive draft horses in their driveway, and a ride straight to a golf course bonfire where their cheering family welcomed them – behind masks and from a distance, of course.

Since this was Western NY State where the wind whips and the mercury drops, our gala lasted only an hour or two but the stories and memories live on.


  1. What service businesses in your town, whether restaurants or horse carriages or singing telegrams or jugglers, could use a little holiday cheer? (meaning cash) 
    Whether it’s a circus act at the bottom of a lonely neighbor’s driveway or a takeout meal for a busy postal worker, find ways to engage your town’s small businesses at a time they need the help.

  2. Which will you reflect upon more fondly, a material object or an experience?
    If you have kids, for example, will they enjoy more a plastic Made in China horse from Wal-Mart or a real-life horse ride?  Will your teenagers appreciate more new iPhones or a catered outdoor event for their extended family?  (Don’t answer that, just go with the catered outdoor event.)

  3. COVID is a flu that attacks the human body but it does not attack the human spirit.
    What can you do, at a time you may feel stuck in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, to brighten someone’s day in a safe, creative way?

As for my parents, I think they enjoyed this Christmas party at least as much as they enjoyed building latrines in Venezuela, and the rest of our family enjoyed the rush of pulling off a celebration during which neither the bonfire nor the virus had any chance to spread.

Happy New Year to you as well, kind reader.  Here’s to a ’21 filled with health and good cheer!

Sharper Than Google, Wiser Than I

It started with a YouTube video.  This one, in fact, which for whatever reason drew me in like a moth to a flame.  It looked so fun, so satisfying to take a small block of wood, pare it down on a lathe, and presto! – out pops a beautiful wooden ring as unique as a snowflake.  I eagerly bought the necessary tools and followed the video’s instructions to a T, so why was I failing?

In my basement with lathe whirling and sawdust flying I’d carefully do exactly as instructed and bam!  At some point the ring block would shatter.  Bits of wood flying everywhere and my colorful expletives right on their heels.  I tried different tools, different lathe speeds, and different angles but suffered the same frustrating result.

“Damn it!” I said to myself.  “I really want to learn how to do this but I’m stuck.” 
And given my impatient nature I knew I had to figure this out soon or this endeavor was going nowhere.

When you’re stuck on a problem, where do you turn?  I tried the same avenues you might: Google, YouTube, even called a couple vendors who make woodturning tools but as you may find when turning to the internet or customer service lines, the responses were confusing and of little help.  So I went to the one resource often overlooked but usually full of answers: old guys.

In this case, Fred Hill, a retired (yet vibrant!) professor who’s been perfecting his woodworking skills longer than I’ve been tying my own shoes.  Fred has three valuable traits that you and I may not have yet earned: wisdom, experience, and patience.

Fred and I met last weekend in his woodshop, where we embarked on a quest to make the wooden rings that had alluded me.  And while we blocked several hours for this lesson, within five minutes Fred discovered the root cause of my angst.

“Needs sharpening.”
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“Your tool.  It’s dull.  Needs sharpening,” he repeated.
“C’mon, Fred, these are brand new tools.  The tools are fine.”

Fred, without saying another word, approached me, gently pulled the tool from my hand, and spent sixty seconds honing its edge on his grinding wheel.  And from that moment forward, Fred and I cranked out the most beautiful rings you’ve ever seen.

You see, it wasn’t about the best tools or the strongest grip or the highest quality materials; the secret lay in how sharp the tool was.  Even the slightest flaw on that cutting edge and the rings were sure to shatter.  And for some strange reason neither the internet nor the tool vendor nor I, the impatient rookie, had called out this most obvious flaw.

How often do we set our tools to our work – our nose to the grindstone, if you will – without first ensuring our blades are as sharp as they need to be?  Like me, how often do you give a presentation or hammer out emails or make a sales call without the slightest consideration for the style you’re using or the grammar you’re employing?  Or muddle through the same old workout with sloppy form?

Next time you’re falling short of the result you desire, think of my new friend Fred.  Would he, or his senior counterpart who’s spent a lifetime mastering the discipline you’re pursuing, take one look at your flailing attempt and declare, “Needs sharpening”?  Just a little extra time sharpening our tools might be all it takes to transform failure into fulfillment.

Abe Lincoln said it best:  “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Final note:
My time with Fred reminded me that in this COVID era we’re losing our most seasoned mentors at an alarming rate, including my stepfather-in-law, a military pilot and prolific storyteller who survived getting shot down in Vietnam and a fight with cancer but couldn’t overcome this blasted virus.  Every time we lose a senior who’s still got lots to give, which is just about every one of ‘em, we lose a pool of wisdom and insight that’s yet to be fully tapped by those of us who need them. 

Where in your life are you not getting the results you want?  Beyond the fitful, muddled world of Google, how much effort have you made to meet the real-world senior expert in your community who could guide you to success?  Seek them out.  Befriend them.  Thank them for sharing their guidance.  And for God’s sake wear a mask.

Fred Hill working his magic with a sharp tool.
Thank you, Fred!
Fruits of labor