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Don’t Compete, Create!

Do you believe that life is one big game of competing to get ahead? Do you take the game so seriously that it becomes winning at any cost? Sometimes life looks like the world is filled with an endless path of competition and struggle. From the beginning there’s a challenge to do well in school, then a challenge to find the right career, then a challenge to move up the ladder in your career, then a challenge to keep up with your neighbors, then a challenge to stay healthy, and on and on. Competition appears to be a dominant force. But what if you’ve taken the concept too far? What if there’s a better way to play the game of life that’s much more rewarding?

Consider for a moment the possibility of starting to play the game of life from a standpoint of creating instead of competing. Competing is striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same. Conversely, creating is bringing something into existence or causing something to happen as a result of your actions. You could go so far as to say that “to compete” can mean “to destroy” your competitors whereas “to create” can mean “to collaborate” with your so-called competitors.

Focusing on creating brings to mind such action words as building, constructing, promoting, fabricating, fostering, generating, and producing. These words all sound much better than competing in a win-lose game. Creating instead of competing could turn “competitors” into “collaborators.” And if it’s not possible to work with “competitors” perhaps it’s time to avoid them altogether. Instead try working on your own independent ideas that no one else may have considered.

In thinking about this topic over the years, I’ve come to the realization that competing for the sole purpose of winning can be waste of valuable time, and it can leave you with feelings of inferiority through comparison. A person who is competing is often stuck in the trap of comparison. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt said it best with this idea: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Focus on creating instead of competing. Remember that your ultimate competitive advantages are those things that make you unique. No one else can compete with what I call your “Unique Talent™.” Your Unique Talent™ is like a mote around your castle. If you haven’t found your Unique Talent™, keep looking because finding it and using it in the service of others is your gift to give to the world.

Don’t compete, create!

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The Limits of Self-Help

Are you interested in self-help? Have you ever read a self-help book, listened to a self-help program, or attended a self-help seminar? I can’t imagine that you are reading this blog if self-help is not a huge priority in your life. In other words, I’ll bet you’re a person who is interested in self-guided improvement be it intellectually, economically, physically, or emotionally. You want to improve and you want to be in the driver’s seat of making that improvement. Am I right?

You want to control your life. You want to make your life better. You want to direct your next breakthrough and be responsible for the next personal and professional transformations that you need in order to reach the next level of success. You want to summon the iron will and steadfast courage to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way.

I can promise you that this is exactly who I am. I’ve been hooked on self-help ever since I learned I could make a difference in how my life turns out. From the moment I learned that I could make choices, the game of self-help was on. I wanted to make the best choices, and I wanted to win the game. I was ready to play. I was all in.

I instinctively knew how the game was to be played. It is based on a very simple idea. The fundamental belief of self-help is the belief that you can make yourself better. That’s it, and I agree.

Now here’s the question: Can this idea be taken too far? I’ve learned in my own life that it can. In fact, I’m embarrassed to tell you that while I have worked extremely hard to make everything about my life the best it could possibly be, the major advances that I’ve made have come from others helping me. It’s true. My major successes have come from Other-Help, not Self-Help.

Now I don’t want to say that I haven’t played a major role in this game I’m playing called MY LIFE, but I’m saying that self-help is not enough, not nearly enough. My guess is that self-help has not helped you through the most difficult times in your life such as those times when everything just fell apart and you were so disillusioned that you didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Haven’t you had times when you’ve been so lost and alone that you couldn’t decide what to do next? If not, then you may be an alien or you may have some special super powers I’ve never witnessed in anyone that I’ve ever met or read about, and that’s a lot of people.

I’m willing to bet that you understand what I’m talking about in terms of the fact that self-help can only take you so far in life. Self-help does indeed have its limits. It’s not enough to get you where you want to go and it most certainly will not provide you with the lasting achievement and fulfillment that you desire.

Self-help is definitely part of the formula involved in getting what you want but without the help of others, the game is over. The victory is both lost and hollow no matter what the achievement.

My suggestion is to make a list of the people who have helped you the most in your life. After each of their names, write down what they’ve done for you. Just this simple exercise will lead you to the underlying truth behind the game of life, which is this: Life is a team sport, and you can’t win a team sport by yourself!

So let’s add more people to your list who you may have never considered. For example, what about all of those opponents you’ve faced in your life? Did any of them make it on the list of people who have helped you in life? Why or why not?

Haven’t the people who challenged you the most also caused you to grow the most? How about writing down the names of your so-called “adversaries” along with a list of what they “helped” you learn and achieve. It’s been said that we learn more from failure than we do from success. Why? Because while we celebrate in some way when we achieve something, it’s when we fail that we are forced to ponder. What happened? Why did I miss my target? How can I get back on the right track? What can I learn from what happened? I know that I can succeed, so what’s the answer that I need? What else can I read or who can I ask for help? Asking questions leads to answers, and it often takes failure to get us to ask the questions we need to succeed.

As is so often the case in life, a change in perspective is needed when we miss one of our goals, and maybe it’s time to rethink self-help alone. It’s refreshing to turn things around now and then and look at life from a different perspective. There’s no need to stop studying self-help principles, just don’t limit yourself because there are a lot of people who can help you if you’ll only ask. You can also expand your reading to include books with the topic “Other-Help” to your library. That may not be a category in the bookstore but you can start with biographies and autobiographies of what people did who achieved what you want to achieve, and maybe you can even meet those people. The answers are always within reach and others will help. People are standing by to help you if you’ll only ask.

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Three Steps to Solve ANY Problem

Do you have a problem that you’d like to solve?

Here’s a simple three-step formula that never fails:

  1. Define the problem as precisely as possible.
  2. Visualize what the problem will look like when solved.
  3. Take daily steps toward your vision.

Perhaps that seems overly simplistic; however, I’ve never had anyone give me a better formula. The truth is that we are always either in a problem, we just got out of a problem, or we are heading straight toward a problem. Those are the only three options we are ever handed while traveling on this beautiful blue, island in space. This means that we’d better have a system or formula for dealing with problems or we are going to spend a great deal of our life in constant frustration.

When a problem confronts us, we are often caught off guard and begin to think that something totally unique has crossed our path. But that’s not the case. Our ancestors have been solving problems for thousands of years or we wouldn’t even be here. So our job is to solve the problems that face us so the next generation can stand firmly on our shoulders and keep the process moving forward.

So what is the biggest problem you are currently facing? Do you wonder if it can be solved? It can, but it might just take some laser beam focus and determination to get the job done. We know that problems are a constant in life and we also know how to solve problems by using this simple formula, so let’s dig in a bit deeper to see what kind of problem might be standing in our way.

The first thing I like to do when presented with a problem is see it as clearly as possible and also decide if it is a convergent problem or a divergent problem. In other words, is the problem one where a single, correct answer can be found or is it one where many possible solutions are available?

Convergent problems are solved when you converge on the correct answer. It’s like the solution to a math problem. Two plus two always equals four. That was the solution yesterday and today and it will certainly be the solution tomorrow. Convergent problems have systematic and logical answers that solve the problem every time.

Divergent problems, on the other hand, diverge or can go off in many directions. These kinds of problems have multiple solutions and require new, original, unique, or free-flowing solutions. Marriage is a great example of a divergent problem. What works today to keep a marriage vibrant and happy might not work tomorrow. And, more importantly, there are no singular answers that will work every time. Anyone who is in a successful marriage knows that it requires constant work.

So what about the problem you are currently facing, is there a single answer that will work if you discover it? Or do you need a range of options to choose from in order to whip the problem? Most problems facing us are divergent problems that require spontaneity and creativity.

I’ve spent my life working with entrepreneurs which is something that I thoroughly enjoy. I often point out to my clients that they are unique in the way they make a living and spend their days. While most people have a set schedule, prearranged relationships, and constraints on the amount of money they can make depending on their exact position or job, entrepreneurs have much more control. They get to choose their schedule and how they use their time. They get to choose the people they will do business with, and they also get to choose how much money they will make by virtue of the way they choose to run their business.

When you control your time, relationships, and money, your options in life are greatly expanded; however, you still have plenty of problems to solve and that includes a seemingly endless supply of divergent problems that require creative thinking.

Luckily, human beings are built for creative thinking. It’s literally in our DNA. We are designed to solve problems and solve them we do. Write down your currently problem and define it with as much clarity as possible. Look at it from every possible angle until you can see it in its entirely. Once you’ve done that, sit back and daydream about ways in which your problem could be solved. What would your problem look like if solved? See your life without your problem. What does that look like? What does it feel like?

It’s been said that whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. If that’s true, then it’s true for you and your problem. So see the solution in your mind like an already accomplished fact. See yourself celebrating the fact that you’ve solved your problem. Now you’ve taken charge of the situation.

All you have to do now is begin moving every day toward that vision in your mind. All you have to do is one thing at a time in the order of its importance to you and the solution of your problem. If you keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll wake up one fine morning to the realization that your problem is solved. But don’t stop there. Now it’s time for another problem because you are a problem solver. That means you need a problem to solve because that’s what successful human beings do. So decide what your next breakthrough is going to be. It may involve some problems but you already know how to solve them, right? The secret is that simple three-step formula: (1) define your problem, (2) visualize a solution, and (3) take daily steps toward the solution. For good measure, add a bit of persistence and determination and you’ll defeat whatever problem stands in your way.

Life becomes infinitely more rewarding and exciting when you know how to play the game. So carefully choose your next move and remember to enjoy the journey!

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New Year’s “NOT TO DO” Resolutions

Have you ever thought about having a “NOT TO DO” list as a part of your New Year’s Resolutions?

One of my yearend rituals that I share with clients involves writing a “NOT TO DO” list. It’s quite simple really. Make a list of 3 things you want to stop doing this year. That’s it. Not complicated. I find this idea surprises most people. It seems we have a tendency to think mostly in terms of what we need to start doing. But as with all things in life, turning around to look in the other direction can be very enlightening.

Consider this. The things that we are doing that we shouldn’t be doing are taking up valuable time, and our time on planet earth is limited. So another way of thinking about this idea is to ask yourself what things am I doing that are wasting my time and my life, precious time that could be spent doing what’s most important to me?

I believe the best use of our time is doing those activities that are directly related to our Unique Talent™. However, it’s easy to start taking on projects and activities that have nothing to do with our Unique Talent™ if we’re not careful. Think of it this way: Your Unique Talent™ is your gift to the world. It is the most valuable service you can provide to others. Other than time spent with your family and friends, your Unique Talent™ is the best thing to focus on.

So with that in mind, what should you stop doing?

Because I believe one should eat his or her own cooking, these are 3 things that I added to my current New Years “NOT TO DO” Resolutions:

  1. Stop all manner of housework including any and all cleaning, straightening up, handyman stuff, yard work, remodeling, or property management. You get the idea. I admit that I’m already pretty good at this as my wife will attest, but I want to shut it down completely. I want to live my life as if I lived in a fine hotel with everything provided. Because my wife will read this, I better be clear that I don’t want her doing anything that she doesn’t want to do. My goal is to hirer people who love doing what needs to be done. Yes, some people have a Unique Talent™ for cleaning, home repair, yard word, remodeling … you name it. I don’t want to take this work away from them because we both know I’m not going to do a good job at these things anyway because my heart isn’t in it. So the key is to spend more time on my areas of Unique Talent™. That’s the best way I can serve others.
  1. Stop vacationing at home. I’m embarrassed to admit this to you. I spent some of my vacation time last year at home. To be clear, I was indeed vacationing and not working, but staying home doesn’t cut the mustard. We all need stimulation and change, which includes giving ourselves the chance to see and experience other places. It’s good for us and helps us grow. Luckily, I do get to travel a lot for work but work doesn’t count. While I have been fortunate to travel all over the world, I need to do more traveling where there is no work of any kind involved. Just wandering around this beautiful, blue island in space is one of the most life enriching and mind expanding things you can do. So for me it’s time to take out the old list of places I’d like to visit and start crossing travel destinations off the list. Come join me, won’t you?

(You may think I’m joking about this last one but I’m dead serious. Seriously!)

  1. Stop spending the Christmas and New Years holidays in Michigan. Allow me to confess that I don’t always spend the holidays in Michigan. I’ve been to many destinations for the holidays including Caribbean cruises and trips to numerous warm-weather locations, but this year I ended up in Michigan. Our house was filled to overflowing with relatives from all parts of the world, and it was a merry time for all. But it reminded me again that I don’t like the winter. In fact, I’ve never really liked the winter. Sorry it’s just me. I grew up in Nebraska, spent many years in Illinois, and then settled in Michigan to open up my own business, all places with full-blown, arctic winter seasons. (What was I thinking?) It wasn’t until I bought a second home in Florida that I realized that winter is not a time of punishment inflicted upon me as a penance. But alas, I reluctantly agreed to spending the holidays in Michigan this year without remembering the extent of my aversion to the cold and grey days. Now, don’t get me wrong, Michigan is a wonderful place, most of the year. It’s just that in my book Florida beats Michigan in the winter hands down. It’s not even a close race. Therefore, it’s time to resolve to spend no more winters in Michigan. It’s an official NOT TO DO now. I was so cold during the holidays this year that I couldn’t even think about my Unique Talent™. When a relative mentioned that the driveway needed a bit of snow shoveling upon returning from an errand, I quickly began giving a Unique Talent™ Seminar in my garage to change the subject but it was too cold to finish it. I love Michigan, just not in the winter, please. (I’m now catching the first flight to Florida!)

There you have it. Three things that I need to stop doing. How about creating your own list? I promise you that you are doing things that can be ignored, delegated, or transformed into something better. If you come across something that you don’t want to do anymore but you think it can’t be avoided, don’t lose heart. Maybe it will take you longer than a year to make the change but once you begin, the momentum will build.

Happy New Year!

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Have you ever read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell? He is the same author that wrote “Tipping Point” and “Blink” among others. I was recently having dinner with a friend and he mentioned the book “Outliers” that I originally read when it first appeared on the scene in 2008. We had a fun conversation discussing the book.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. After our dinner conversation, I decided to reread the book which is often a great idea if you are dealing with a book of substance. Gladwell’s book certainly qualifies in that regard.

Gladwell’s position in “Outliers” can be summed up with this statement: Success and failure are often not the result of what seems obvious at first glance.

I really like this idea. After literally decades in the personal development industry, I can tell you that a lot of what is taught is not only wrong but utter nonsense. There is always more to success (and failure) than meets the eye. I’m not going to spoil “Outliers” in case you haven’t read it, but I will give you a couple of my favorite points as well as something that I think would improve the book. (To get the most out of a book, it’s helpful if you don’t assume that everything an author says is correct. It’s always better to have a healthy skepticism that allows you to debate the points based on your own knowledge and experience.)

One of the people Gladwell discusses in the book is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He writes about how most people credit his success to his amazing intelligence. And while it’s certainly true that Gates was gifted with the raw material for high level thinking and analysis, he also was the recipient of many other benefits that aren’t usually mentioned. For example, he came from a wealthy family where education was held in high regard. He was born at just the right time for the computer revolution. And perhaps one of the greatest benefits he received was access to state of the art computers at a time when they were quite rare.

Gladwell did an outstanding job of looking into the many factors that influenced the enormous success of Bill Gates. Certainly, Bill Gates gets a lot of the credit for his achievements but he can’t claim all of the credit. In fact, had certain factors not been present, he may still have been successful on some level but certainly not into the billions and billions. That kind of success, which Gladwell labels an “Outlier” or way out of the norm, requires a mix of factors that more often than not requires just plain good fortune or luck.

Many people that study personal development or success, don’t like the idea of luck. They want to control everything. Even one of my early mentors Earl Nightingale would often say: “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In some ways, I think Earl used to think that you could control opportunity by getting prepared but that’s not always the case. You can certainly influence opportunity and/or be ready for when it appears, but you often can’t control it. Great opportunities often resist being forced or controlled. What I like to say is that many of the doors in life that lead to opportunity can only be opened for you by someone else.

Luckily, there is plenty of good fortune around if we will prepare ourselves for recognizing it when it does appear, but trying to control everything isn’t going to be a winning strategy. The people that think they can control everything usually end up old before their time because of the unnecessary stress and anxiety their approach to the world has brought about.

It’s good to remember that there are things outside of our control. It is possible to be a part of what one writer called “The Lucky Sperm Club.” Yet if you live in the United States it might not be a bad idea to conclude that you’ve already won the “Lucky Sperm” lottery. Not that there aren’t other great places to live on planet earth but it’s hard to beat the opportunities that have resulted from the combined brainpower of our Founding Fathers. I sometimes wish they were still around to keep us on track, but that’s not the case. It’s now up to us to keep freedom and opportunity alive.

Getting back to Gladwell’s book, there is one concept that I liked very much that has actually been presented by others. Gladwell calls it “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically states that extraordinary success usually doesn’t happen for someone until he or she puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Bill Gates was able to work on programming high-end computers for 10,000 hours before most people knew anything about what these computers were capable of. That put him in an enviable position. It’s the kind of advantage that is hard to compete with if you don’t have it. Those doors were opened for him.

Yet here’s the thing that I believe Gladwell doesn’t recognize clearly enough. Bill Gates had just the right mind and temperament for this kind of work. In other words, Bill Gates had a Unique Talent that he was helped to develop. If he would not have had that talent, the opportunity would not have been as valuable.

It’s no different than someone like Mozart whose first words were “G sharp” at age two. Seriously, age two! Supposedly the little guy heard a pig squealing and exclaimed “G sharp.” When his father ran to the piano to check, he discovered the little guy was right. Now that’s a Unique Talent!

But recognize that Mozart’s dad was a musician and could appreciate this kind of talent and helped the little guy develop it to the fullest. Little Mozart wrote his first piece of music at age 4 but who but a musician parent would even recognize such scribbles or be able to help him develop his gifts to the fullest?

Mozart’s father got him the best education available at the time and got the little prodigy performing throughout Europe. But this is worth remembering. We don’t remember Mozart for his early compositions or performances. What we remember is what happened after Mozart put in his 10,000 hours. That’s when he became a genius unlike the world had ever seen. After his 10,000 hours he began creating music that will surely live on forever. So even Mozart had to put in the time.

It’s not unlike Tiger Wood’s dad recognizing that his son could hit a golf ball wherever he wanted it to go. No doubt Tiger had an incredible Unique Talent but it was his dad that spotted it early and helped him to develop it to the fullest.

So allow me to suggest a new success formula:

SUCCESS = UNIQUE TALENT + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

It’s up to you to find your Unique Talent and start practicing it. This is especially true if you weren’t lucky enough to have a dad who spotted your Unique Talent at age 2. I certainly wasn’t. I was undoubtedly just drooling on myself at age 2.

But luckily it’s never too late with Unique Talent. The chances are excellent that the right opportunity will come your way if you do your part. It’s not guaranteed, but the odds are in your favor, unlike the Mega Millions State Lottery. Besides, you can’t lose by focusing on your Unique Talent. It’s what you are meant to do, and the best rewards in life always come from doing what you are meant to do.

We all have a song to sing or a book to write or a company to start or a child to raise or a foundation to launch or some other noble thing that only we can do. Your exact genetic make up has never before appeared on planet earth with the exact environment that exists right now. Take advantage of it while you can. It’s a mistake not to. There is no better way to enjoy your ride on this beautiful blue island in space.

Here’s the formula you want to avoid:

FAILURE = INCOMPETENCE + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

Maybe we shouldn’t label that failure but it certainly can be called “Nose to the Grindstone Living.” There is a better way. You have a Unique Talent that you can use in the service to others and become extraordinary in your own right. Now’s the time to take action.