The Story of a Veteran

You probably know that I’m a big reader. I love fiction as well as non-fiction and kids books too.  In November one of the days that are celebrated is Chicken Soup for the Soul day.  While it isn’t as talked about now as it was years ago, you’re probably familiar with the book series that swept the nation and the world, but to refresh, each book is filled with inspirational true stories about ordinary people’s lives.  What I love most about the book series is that they’re a reminder that the world and our past, present and future are made up of individuals with stories.  So often we hear about events or dates or places and it may not mean a whole lot to you, for example November 14, 1440, do you know what happened that day?  Probably not, which means that the date doesn’t mean much to you.  It’s one reason many people don’t like history or learning because they aren’t able to find a personal connection to what they’re supposed to be learning.   But when you add a face and a story to what seemed like a random date, event or place all of a sudden it becomes a lot more real and interesting.

Friday in the US was Veteran’s Day, the day that we take time to honor and remember the men and women who have put their lives on the line in one way or another for our country.  It’s not always easy to talk with kids about topics like war, fighting and dying.  We want to protect them from the reality that we worry about, but in countries around the world kids of their age are right in the middle of war zones and don’t know if they will see tomorrow.  That said with all of the devices and access to the internet that kids have today it’s a lot harder to hide the truth from them, and sometimes you have to ask if it’s really the right thing to do.  No, I don’t think kids should be exposed to the details of the horrors and hurtful things that people do to each other, but I do think they need to know that there is hurt in the world and they have to decide if they’re going to add to it or do something to change it.

But the point of today’s post is to not only thank the Veterans, but to give you an idea of how to talk with your kids about the men and women who face such horrors, especially if they’re killed in war and the kids never had a chance to know them.  Each and every Veteran has a story, they’ve got a life before they went to war, they have a family they left, and veterans have a life after the war.  Yes, the war changed them; you can’t see what they’ve seen and not be changed.  While most Veterans aren’t comfortable talking about what went on during their time in war, there are stories they are willing to share about their life or the war that aren’t about the horrors they saw.  Maybe they’ve got some crazy ship and travel stories, maybe they had some of the best food of their life from crazy little shacks in tiny towns that no one really knows exist, maybe they played cards with people from a bunch of other countries every night for months, or maybe they have stories about their lives before the war that they can share.  War can take a lot from our Veterans, but we can give them something back by asking for and sharing their stories, whether they’re stories of heroism, crazy drunk activities or sweet family moments, and reminding the rest of the country and the world that Veterans are people just like you and me whose life and choices have taken them down a very difficult path.

So this month as you think about Thanksgiving coming up, I encourage you to find some way to give back to the Veterans in your life and community.  Maybe you can invite a military family over for Thanksgiving.  Maybe you can donate a meal to a Veteran’s organization in your area.  Maybe you can give a military family in your area a gift of service from your business.  Or maybe you will just sit and listen to the stories they have gathered through their life and pass them on to future generations so they and their sacrifice aren’t forgotten.

Sharing Freedom through Hope

Every day we do a thousand things that could either hurt or help ourselves and others.  We make tons of decisions about our lives and the lives of the other people we interact with.  Sometimes they’re really good decisions, sometimes they’re lucky decisions, sometimes they’re selfish decisions, sometimes they’re selfless decisions, sometimes they’re lazy decisions, sometimes they’re rushed decisions and sometimes they’re thoughtless decisions.  It’s always my goal to make one more thoughtful and selfless decision each day, but I’m not perfect and don’t expect that I’ll make all perfect decisions anytime in the near future (and sidenote: sometimes the best decision you can make is a selfish one).

So what if, instead of trying for the impossibility of perfect, we focused more on doing one more thing that could positively change the world?  What if instead of letting that insensitive thought fly out of our mouths, instead we looked for the words that would heal or free someone?  What if instead of playing the victim card you turned it around and became the victor?  What if instead of trying to get revenge on someone for the way they hurt you, instead you went on to encourage someone else?  What if instead of looking for ways that you can be king or queen, you looked for ways to make a difference instead?  What if instead of trying to always be center stage, you let someone else shine?  What if you took the spotlight off your life and you looked for ways that you could make one person’s day a little brighter?

Today I encourage you to choose the gifts of encouragement, hope, reassurance and shared strength.  Let people know that the whole world has not gone to pot and that there are still caring people here.  Let the world know that each person matters, as an individual and a human being.  Let people know that they are not forgotten.   Finally, let someone know that their life is not over and they can still find purpose and fulfillment and live their life however they choose.  Who will you encourage today?

“Is there somebody in your life whom by a word or an action you can help to unbind, help to set free? Give them hope. For that is God’s gift to each one of us. Give that gift to another today.”  Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Your Expectations

Today I’m thinking about expectations.  We have expectations about ourselves, we have expectations about our family members, we have expectations about the place we work or the kind of work we do, and we have expectations about our world.  The dictionary defines expectations as: to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of; to look for with reason or justification.  Sometimes our expectations aren’t justified and we don’t have a whole lot of facts we can put behind them to support them, but if we really take the time to think about it, most expectations we can come up with a reason for expecting the result that we do.

The thing is though, not all of those reasons are good ones.  We may expect someone to let us down because we have had it happen in the past, we may expect that things will typically become less expensive over time because the products to complete them are cheaper, and we may expect something to happen because it seems logical to us or because it’s the only conclusion we can come up with.  However if you present the same exact situations and things to other people they may come up with completely different conclusions than you or I did because each of us has our own set of expectations.

The reason I bring up expectations today is because the expectations you do and don’t have could greatly affect, and even hurt, someone else.  For example if you expect someone to fail or not do their best work, while you may be right you’re discouraging them from giving it their best effort if/when they know you don’t believe they can do great things.  A prime example is when your kids hear that they’re “good for nothing” over and over.  When they hear that, and know that’s what you believe about them and expect them to produce (nothing), and most will be beaten down until they do produce nothing.  Of course, the reverse can be true too; if you have high expectations of someone you can help launch them to reaching bigger goals than they thought they could reach.

This week I encourage you to check your expectations.  Do you expect the best of people? Are your expectations so set in stone that you can’t see beyond them to the other possibilities that are out there?  Do you live up to the expectations other people have of you (and are they fair expectations)? Are you expecting the best possible result from this week?

Confidence Building Celebrations

Like much of the world I’m thinking about the Olympics today.  I love how it brings people and countries together regardless of language, location, sex or economic status.  It’s a chance for all kinds of people to show their particular athletic abilities and show off some country pride too.  Events like the Olympics are a chance for the world to put aside differences and disagreements and instead focus on encouraging each other and raising each other up.

Yes, there is a sense of pride for those who win, both the people and their country, but it’s fun to celebrate all winners because regardless of where you and they call home, as they’ve accomplished a feat that most of us couldn’t begin to do whether it be swimming so fast, running so far or hitting a target. Plus you’ve got all of the challenges the athletes have had to overcome and victories they’ve had to achieve in their personal lives to get to this point.

It’s important to share our gifts and talents with the world, and just as important to recognize the good things each of us can do.  It’s such a simple thing to tune in to the Olympics, to cheer at a little league game or celebrate when your kids get a good grade, but it’s so important to not only recognize the good they’ve done, but encourage them to continue doing their best.

This week I encourage you to step up in your regular life and recognize the people around you and the gifts they have.  Celebrate with them their accomplishments.  It may be challenging for you to do if you’re losing out on a position you were hoping to get that they got, or when they got a house when you’ve lost out on several, or got pregnant when you’ve been trying so hard.  Sometimes we have to wait (patiently) for our chance to celebrate, other times we’re the first ones celebrating.  What will you celebrate this week?

“What a gift it is when we can inspire others to have courage and to hope, when we can raise another’s confidence, when we can instill in them life and energy and vigor. How important it is for us to express care for one another regularly and explicitly, to commend and cherish one another, to work actively to build up [each other] by our words and actions, and not to undermine its health by bitterness and complaining.”  Br. David Vryhof

A Response to Violence

I’ve been receiving lots of emails about the violent deaths of black men and women around the US over the past few months and especially these past few days, and you probably have too.  I’ve shared some thoughts on violence before, but to sum up I believe it’s sometimes necessary, but only for reasons of showing your strength or defending those who are weaker and in trouble.  I don’t believe violence should be the answer to fear, differences, disagreements or the way to gain power.  We each have our differences and our similarities.  Just because we’re different in one way or another, it doesn’t make it right to treat anyone as less than a human with rights.  We all have our biases and beliefs, but if we really believe we’re meant to live in a global, connected world, we have to start working together at some point in time.

So today I wanted to share with you a few of the comments I have heard that stood out to me, I may reflect in depth on some of them on the Life and Spirituality blog over the coming days and weeks as well.

“We[‘ve] talked about the terror some of us feel in our own homes. Scared of feeling rejected, ignored, dismissed, or unheard by the people who matter most, we reactively retreat to passivity and self-protection.  This is not the path to peace in our own homes, nor in our own hearts…Ultimately, learn to represent your fullest self to the fullest. That way you give yourself, and the ones who matter most, the best chance at the relationships we all crave.”  Hal Runkel

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“… the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.”  Kai Wright

“There is a deep wound in this nation and we must re-double our commitment to be a part of healing it — and it must be done nonviolently.  The only way we can truly generate healing is to take the skills and values of peacebuilding deep into our communities.”  Matthew Albracht

“Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancee, but you didn’t cry this morning for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  Because we are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.’  Van Jones

“You need the courage to push yourself beyond your own fears.  You need to embrace your fears in order to make your life everything it was meant to be.”  Chris Howard

The world you grew up in is much different than it was for your parents, and the world your kids and their kids grow up in will be much different than the world you grew up in.  I want a world that will be a place to grow, thrive and blossom, and that’s not possible if the threat of violence remains so high.  What world do you want to create for your future generations?

Taking Time to be Thankful this Father’s Day

This past week has been a tough one for many people.  With the loss of a child to an alligator and the killing of 49 people in Orlando plus the finding of the wreckage of the downed EgyptAir plane, and countless other tragedies that weren’t front-page news, anyone who cares about human life has reason to stop and give a moment of silence for those lost.  I’m reminded of 9/11, Titanic and other events that caused large losses of life.  Throughout the work to figure out exactly what happened in Orlando, exactly what happened on EgyptAir, finding the people who died in the Towers, and finding the place where Titanic sleeps, we’re faced with conflicting emotions.  On one hand we are so thankful and almost glad when we find out pieces of the puzzle, when we find any kind of answers because it means we don’t have to wonder quite as much.  But on the other, to realize the immense loss of life and remember that we’re looking at the place where people have died and may never be recovered, hurts and may even make us angry.

With Father’s Day on Sunday here in the US I want to encourage you to treasure the life you have and the people in your life.  Choose to be a father, mother, sister, brother, partner, boss, employee, friend, neighbor and citizen who is respectable, honorable, honest, giving, caring, compassionate and loving.  Choose to become the best person you can be.  Choose to make the most of each and every day, because as we’ve been reminded this week, you never know when it will be your last day.

Regardless of whether you lost someone you know in one of these tragedies, whether you are a parent, whether you support the LGBTQ community, or whether you even know anything about these tragedies or not, I don’t believe that “serves them right,” “good riddance,” “that’s the price we pay,” “whatever” or any other hate-and-ignorance-filled comments are the right response.  Every loss of life is a tragedy.  Choose to live your life to the fullest, to show compassion and love to those you meet, and make sure to thank and celebrate the people in your life that you appreciate this weekend, especially your dad, or the father-figure in your life.

Tragedy and Triumph

The last week has brought much of the world to tears compounding on the tragedies that seem to have come one after another in the past few months and years. Today’s post is a business post so we won’t be talking about the situations per se, but rather about a few things that caught my attention over the last week in the business world that encouraged me that maybe there is hope for our world yet.

Last Wednesday brought two updates to my email inbox from Seth Godin and Mark Silver.  While I encourage you to go ahead and read their two short posts Seth Godin’s is all about people he has worked with or connected with who are making a difference in the world through their work, and Mark Silver’s is about the value of having a “Dropped Ball Policy” and understanding that sometimes things just don’t work out the way you hoped or thought they would.

So why would I shared these two posts with you?  Let’s start with Mark Silver’s post.  Mark’s post (and policy) acknowledges that no one is perfect and things don’t always get done and it’s OK.  But the other important aspect of the policy is that it assumes that what happened wasn’t because someone was lazy or didn’t care, but other factors were involved.  He believes that deep down we all care about what happens in our lives and what happens as a result of our actions (and want things to go well).

Seth Godin’s post is all about honoring those who do good work.  We all try to make our mark on the world and sometimes it happens that someone sees what we’ve done or what we’re trying to do and recognizes our efforts.  We’re not under obligation to celebrate what other people have done or are doing, but I believe that when we support each other, encourage each other and highlight the good work being done in the world we can all benefit.  Seth was under no requirement to share about those people and it doesn’t look like he gets any benefit (financial or otherwise) from sharing about them. He just wanted to celebrate what good people were doing.

So what about you?  How will you choose to go forward with your business?  Will you choose to isolate yourself to try to protect yourself from what could harm you or will you choose to go forward boldly knowing that mistakes will happen and some efforts will fail and try to create a legacy that lasts anyway?

Remembering our Service People

Here in the USA on Monday and throughout this weekend we’re celebrating Memorial Day. It’s the day we take each year to remember those who died in military service to our country. It’s one of several patriotic holidays that we celebrate as a nation, just like other nations around the world take time each year to honor their armed service people. Whether you support the decisions we’ve made in the past or will make in the future to go into war, is not relevant to your ability to honor those who fought. To clarify, shame on you for not recognizing and thanking service men and women just because you don’t agree with going to war. Yes, I really believe that even if we don’t agree with the reason they’re out serving or the location they’re serving in it isn’t a reason to ignore them, the work they’ve done and portion of their life and the lives of their family they’ve given to serving the country. It’s about more than showing up for a parade or waving a flag. It’s about giving service people jobs, providing them with resources, supporting their return and re-integration into society and support of their family too.

Each day each of us make sacrifices. Sometimes it’s as insignificant as giving up your coffee so your kid can have a drink or letting someone else use the copier at work first. You won’t be recognized for those sacrifices, or for sacrifices like giving up gas-guzzling cars or wasteful and anti-nature spending habits, because those are things that we can and all should do as humans living and interacting together, even though sometimes you really feel like cheering for particularly tough sacrifices like being nice to mean coworkers and putting your partner first when you never go first. Those aren’t life-endangering sacrifices, you won’t die if you don’t have a cup of coffee (at least I haven’t heard of it yet), but too many soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice.

So this Memorial Day I encourage you to do something to support the veterans, and the families of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Here are a few of my favorite veteran support organizations (Wounded Warriors Project, Hope for the Warriors, Puppies Behind Bars, Homes for Our Troops, Fisher House Foundation, Patriot Paws, Hero Dogs, and Travis Mills), make a donation, get involved locally with one of them, or even share a Facebook/Twitter post of theirs to spread the word about what they’re doing, and don’t forget to thank a veteran when you see them out this weekend.

Living a Full Life

There are several different ways to live your life: you can choose to not live it, you can choose to half-heartedly live it, you can choose to give it an attempt, you can choose to do your best and you can choose to live life full out.  Choosing to live life full-out is not for the faint of heart; it takes a lot of courage to get up every day with a can-do attitude and carry that through the day while taking bold actions and fully loving everyone in your life.

While most of us won’t choose to be part of that small percentage that lives life full-out, there is a way to turn our lives that are attempted or being lived the best we can into lives that are just a little more: be grateful.   I’ve seen the results and impact that being grateful can have on a child or adult, and the difference that it can make in their future.  Simply letting someone know you appreciate them, recognizing them and their existence can have the biggest difference on someone’s life and future.  There are plenty of stories of those who were considering ending their lives but because of the kindness of another person they chose to give life another try and as a result did some amazing things.

The good news is that we don’t have to get to our end before we start really living, we can start today.  Every so often in the news you hear about people who are living their lives full-out because of a life-threatening condition like Brittany or Lauren, or Leah. A death sentence often changes our perspective on life, and is a reminder how special it really is.

But rather than get to that point I would encourage you to make today special.  Choose to live, choose to love, choose to be patient, choose to do a little something for someone or yourself each day that will make their day or yours just a little brighter or better, and make a point of finding one thing each day you are grateful for, you’ll be amazed at the transformation in your life just doing those two little things.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  Melody Beattie

Living with Thanks

We’ve reached the second to last month of 2014, are you ready for the year to be over or are you going to do your best to make the most of these last few weeks? This month we’re going to talk quite a bit about a topic that I believe is essential to business owners, parents, partners and kids alike: being thankful. So we will be discussing a thanks related topic each Monday (and you can read even more over on my life and spirituality blog).

Today I wanted to talk about what being thankful is really about. Theodore Roosevelt said:

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”

Last month I shared a lot about compassion, including the incredible realization that compassion isn’t just an emotion: it’s really an action. You can read more at this blog post, but simply put, if you’re feeling true compassion for someone, not only are you going to feel bad for the person where they’re at and the situation they’re in, but you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure they don’t stay there. True compassion is unable to leave the situation as bad as it is, it’s almost a compulsion to make a change.

In this statement Roosevelt reminds us that being thankful is much the same as compassion: it’s really an action based sentiment, of course we’ve gotten pretty good at making it just empty words. Which is really the challenge we’re up against this month: can we make being thankful about more than just 2 empty words that we say when someone holds a door for us or helps us pick up dropped papers? Can we turn around and do something nice for someone else because someone helped us? Can we go out there and make a difference in someone’s life because someone made a difference in ours?

That would be my challenge to each of us this month as we look at holiday sales, crazy family parties, and the celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years; to make a difference in the lives of others around us. Maybe that looks like a discount for a customer you know you can help but doesn’t quite have enough to pay you, or donating your time or resources at a homeless shelter, or taking the kids to play with homeless kids. What will you do to share your thankfulness for all you’ve been blessed with this month?