Monthly Archives: July 2009

Seven Steps to Success… how to set and achieve goals

the steps to success
Image by nchenga via Flickr

Record unemployment, bankruptcy filings by iconic businesses and tightening consumer credit…

Stark realities like these are the reason many of today’s young professionals have experienced corporate lay-offs, income cuts, diminished revenue at small businesses and fewer contracting opportunities as consultants.

What it boils down to is no matter what your job, it’s more important than ever to be disciplined and to make sure that you are doing your very best.  If the definition of self discipline is “the ability to make yourself do what you should do when you should do it whether you feel like it or not”… ask yourself; “What decisions must I make today to start moving toward the top of my field?”

In its Spring, 2009 issue, The National Urban League’s Urban Influence Magazine presented a seven-step formula for setting and achieving goals for the rest of your life including in times of stress and uncertainty:

  1. Decide What You Want – decide exactly what it is you want in each part of your life.  Become a “meaningful specific” rather than wandering “generality.”
  2. Write it Down – Write it down clearly and in detail.  Always think on paper.  A goal that is not in writing is not a goal.  Rather it is a wish with no compelling energy behind it.
  3. Set a Deadline – Set a deadline for your goal.  A deadline acts as a “forcing system” in your subconscious.  It motivates you to do the things necessary to make your goal come true.  If it is a big enough goal, set sub-deadlines as well.  Don’t leave anything to chance.
  4. Make a List – Make a list of everything you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goal.  When you think of new tasks and activities, add them to the list.
  5. Organize Your List – Organize your list into a plan.  Decide what you will have to do first and what you will have to do second, third, etc.  Prioritize in order of importance and then diagram it on paper in much the same way that you’d develop a blueprint to build your dream house.
  6. Take Action – Take action on your plan.  Do something…anything to get busy and move the plan along.
  7. Do Something Every Day – Do something each day that moves you in the direction of your goal.  Develop the discipline of doing something on each day of the 365 days in the year that will propel you forward.

Make your plan and then GET STARTED!  That single act could change the direction of your life.

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Faith and Hope
Image by A Perfect Heartvia Flickr

Have you ever heard this story of a Cherokee Indian youth’s rite of Passage?     

The story goes that a youth’s father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night without removing the blindfold until  he feels the rays of the morning sun shine through it.

The boy cannot cry out for help to anyone. If he gets through the night successfully on his own, he becomes a man. He can’t tell share this experience with other boys because each one must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is terrified.  He can hear all kinds of noises. He thinks that wild beasts must surely be all around him…maybe there is even a human who might do him harm. During the dark night, the wind blows the grass and the  earth, and it shakes his stump, but he sits stoically, never removing the blindfold.  Because it is the only way he will become a man

Finally the he feels the sun and he removes his blindfold. That’s when he discovers his father sitting on the stump next to him.  His father had been at watch the entire night, protecting him from harm.

TAKE AWAY:  Just because you can’t see a higher power, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there  to watch over you.

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TIME IS SHORT AND THE MUSIC WON’T LAST…so slow down! Don’t dance so fast!

Jumping from the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown,...
Image via Wikipedia

I have a friend who lives by a three-word philosophy: “Seize the moment.” Just possibly, she may be the wisest woman on this planet. When anyone calls my ‘seize the moment’ friend, she is at the ready — open to adventure and always up for a trip. She keeps an open mind toward new ideas.

Her enthusiasm for life is contagious. You talk with her for five minutes, and you’re ready to trade your shoes in for a pair of Roller blades or to skip taking the elevator down and try out bungee jumping!

Too many people put off something that could bring them joy just because it’s not on their schedule.  I got to thinking one day about all those folks who passed up dessert after dinner or passed on spending time with their kids on September 10, 2001 because they needed to cut back or because they were too tired.  The next day they went to work and never came home again!

In the wake of 9-1-1 I’ve tried to be more flexible. How many of us will pass up a last-minute invitation to dine out with the hubby or a friend because we’ve already taken something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner?

How often have your kids tried to talk to you and you shushed them into silence while you watched television or finished something else that you were doing?  Have you ever told your child; “We’ll do it tomorrow” and, in your haste, missed that really sad look on his face? 

Have you ever lost touch with someone or let a good friendship fall by the wayside?  Have you put off calling someone just to say “Hi?”  I think about how many times I’ve called or e-mailed a friend or a family member to say, “I miss you, how about getting together today or this week?” Only to have them reply; “I can’t…because it is too short of a notice or I’m tired or I have too much on my plate or I’m too stressed out or it looks like rain or, simply,  I’m sorry, I just don’t feel like it.”   Maybe the additional response was; “I’ll let you know when things get better for me…”   

We Americans cram so much into our lives that we practically schedule our headaches! We live on a sparse diet of promises that we make to ourselves and we seem to feel that we can only do something when all the conditions are perfect:

  • We’ll go visit when the baby is older.
  • We’ll entertain-when we have a better house.
  • We’ll do whatever it is tomorrow…

“Tomorrow” has a way of never coming and time has a way of accelerating as we get older. The days get shorter, and the list of promises we make to ourselves gets longer. One morning, we awaken, and discover that all we have to show for our lives is a long list of “I’m going to…”; “I plan to…” and “Someday, when things are settled down a bit, I will…”

Do you run through each day on the fly?  When you talk to someone and ask, “How are you?” do you actually hear the reply? When the day is done, do you lie in your bed reviewing your list of the next hundred chores running in your head?  

Have you ever sat on the porch and just listened to the rain splashing on the ground?  Have you ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight or gazed into the fading night at sunrise?  If not, you are missing some of the best parts of life.  Slow down.  Don’t dance so fast. Time is short. The music won’t last. 

When you run so fast to get somewhere, you miss half the fun of getting there.  When you worry and hurry through your day, it’s like throwing away an unopened gift.  I have a sincere wish for anyone who is reading this:  Have a nice day and be sure to do something you WANT to do, not something you SHOULD do.

Remember that life is not a race. You can take time to stop and hear the music before the song is over.

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Language Can Corrupt Thought

PASS the BUCK: Bucking Great Fun!
Image by John Kannenberg via Flickr

George Orwell, in his wonderful 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” noted that language can corrupt thought. We apprehend the world based on the language we use, which is why Confucius said that the first thing he’d do if he were appointed to rule a country would be to fix the language. That is to say, if we actually want accountability and responsibility in the public and private sector, we need to fix our language. Currently we rely on the language of “Pass the Buck.”  We should name those who make decisions and implement policies and then not forget either the people or the decisions when those choices fail.

Passive voice and sentence structure that diffuse responsibility infuriate me. I’m sure we’ve all sat at an airport, waiting for a delayed flight, and heard a customer service representative announce that the airline apologizes for the delay but “the incoming equipment has arrived late.” As though the airplane itself decided to take off and arrive late!  Or another example: an advertisement for a Wall Street Journal conference on the financial crisis that claimed “the world’s financial system has broken down. Credit remains constrained, markets and regulatory regimes have failed.”

The world’s financial system hasn’t just “broken down.”  Someone — or a group of someones — broke it! Credit isn’t “constrained” (that sounds like some mysterious force field is at work.)  Simply put, financial institutions are not making loans… banks that have received billions of dollars in governmental aid are buying distressed financial assets at fire sale prices instead of renegotiating loans and making new ones to keep people in their homes and/or businesses.

That final assertion really irritates me. Regulatory regimes haven’t failed. Deregulation triumphed, pushed by many of the same business executives who now complain vociferously about economic conditions and advocated by the Wall Street Journal — the very same newspaper that held a conference back in March to profit from the troubles it helped produce. As a consequence, there weren’t enough regulatory staff overseeing the U.S. economy — which is why we are not only struggling to avoid a financial meltdown but must deal with issues of toy safety and food contamination in products ranging from spinach to hamburger to peanut butter on a regular basis.

Between 1990 and 2006, the total dollars in the U.S. budget spent for overseeing finance and banking increased merely 25 percent. And here’s an even more dramatic statistic: Between 1980 and 2006, a period covering more than a quarter-century of rapid expansion of the financial sector, the number of full-time equivalent Federal employees regulating finance and banking went up by less than 2,300.  What goes on in public discourse happens inside companies and nonprofit organizations as well. A phrase like “customer service has decreased” leaves those responsible for the decisions that resulted in poorer customer service mysteriously unidentified.

A contrasting example is DaVita, a large kidney dialysis company,  that has among the best clinical outcomes in the industry. This company’s culture is worth emulating. One of its core values is accountability; DaVita believes it produces service excellence. Accountability means that when the CEO has failed to remedy a problem, he stands in front of hundreds of employees and admits it. In doing so, he also admits that the situation is unacceptable. When he doesn’t know something, he admits that, too. No language like “the machine was not repaired,” but acknowledgement of who and what failed and why instead.

Accountability is the first step toward learning and improvement. If all we say is “the regulatory regime failed,” we don’t know why or how. If, instead, we note that specific people pushed for specific policies that resulted in insufficient staff to do the jobs they had, we are on the way to understanding and fixing the problem, as well as preventing its recurrence.

It behooves companies and society to speak the truth. How do you fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge and understand its cause — or, for that matter, its existence?

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