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It would be nice to be in a movie

As an American, I get carried away by the heroism and overcoming of huge odds.  For instance, in the latest incarnation of Robin Hood, Russell Crowe’s title character goes from being an archer in disregard, to a rich thief, to a baron’s son, to being happily married to Cate Blanchett.

No one bothers to question him as to why he is riding the king’s horse when he returns to England and he seemlessly becomes lord over a great number of servants who can cook for him.

And I know that you can drive across England in a day, but can you really ride from the northern area where Nottingham is all the way to the southern coast in a short enough time that you don’t need cooks, cattle, and food for your army?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the movie which I enjoyed immensely, I’m just wishing I could get some of that magic pixie dust.

Instead of having to interrupt what I’m doing, I could simply declare myself the winner of a small lottery and soon I could pay people to do all my food preparation so that I could have time to write instead of having to split cooking and cleaning duties with my wife.

Rather than having to work for weeks and months to lose a few stubborn pounds, I could simply run through the streets with a cool looking dog (which would hopefully eat my family’s cats) and we could just re-run that sequence a few times until I thinned out.

Instead of having these dumb fights with my wife where I my pithiness drops to something like “did not,” I could have a very alturistic argument followed by long winded French kissing to make up for perceived differences.

Alas, I am not in a movie and so I have to work a regular job, use “portion control,” and step away from the keyboard long enough to go for a walk/jog to burn those calories.

It takes a mix of hard work and smart work these days to be a generalist.

To be good at your “real job,” spend time with your family, mow the grass, be engaged at church, stay fit, and to write a book (and invest in all the social media required to become an author).

Someday I should emerge (theoritically) doing well at all those things, but for now, I suppose I will have to make do with the progress and the “joy of it” (which is sometimes there and sometimes isn’t if I’m honest) and keep plugging away.

What I Learned From a Maple Tree

The New Year starts and you have all of your goals in place, but just around the corner there’s a problem waiting for you.

You may twist your ankle throwing your phone practice schedule and the disarray. Lightning might strike your house and destroy your computer and all of the notes she forgot to back up.

Recently, I got a lesson about resiliency from a likely source. In March of this year, I was true several trees down goalie area of our yard. Out before I could remove the branches so they have lain there until now. The modest chore of cleaning up from that project finally made its way to the top of my “to do” list and was I in for a surprise.

First clue that always right was the fact that there were still some green leaves growing off of the branches. As I tugged on that to inch diameter branch, I noticed that several parts of it didn’t want to come off the ground. Yanking harder, I was able to get all of the side branches loose and what I discovered was that four or five of them had sprouted roots that had anchored the branch to the ground and give it new life.

What a marvelous example for those of us who are chasing long-term goals.

Whether your goal is large — writing a novel, run a marathon, we’re losing 60 pounds — you will encounter some sort of problems along the way.

The difference between those who makes their goals and those who don’t is the ability to adapt and work around these problems.

If a tree that can only follow instinct can survive, so can your dreams.

A slightly different layout

If you come around here on a regular basis, you will notice a slightly different layout than before.

Since I write on different topics, I wanted to put them on top across the banner so that you could dig into the categories that interest you more or go back and find what you were looking for.

My expectation is that I will be blogging quite a bit more here as the days go on but I wanted to get things set up in a fashion that I liked before I started to make that push forward as well.

Three Ways to Get Better Grades

The school year is upon us! For many of my friends who are students, these are the tricks that I used to help me improve my grades in college.

1) Before the first day of class read the first two chapters of each book ( if you already missed it or are a high school student then do it by the end of the first week of classes).

There are three benefits to this.

a) Most classes build concept upon concept. If you have a strong grasp of the general concepts you will do better in classes. If you get lost early in a class, you will tend to struggle.

b) Before you get to class or soon after, you will have already heard and read some of the key definitions and words that will be used at the start of the class. That way when the professor starts talking about them, you can make minor adjustments to your understanding during class instead of saying “Huh?” the first time you hear the definitions.

c) You will have a better opportunity to answer questions and impress your professors as one of the smart kids in class during the first week of school. Guess what, teachers tend to treat the “smart kids” (real or perceived) with much more mercy when they goof up.

Special note for college freshman: You will have plenty of time to play during your time in college. Even in the pre-class weeks, there is plenty of time to hang out and plenty of time to study. Don’t miss a chance to get off on the right foot.

2) Have a clear understanding of how your teacher grades.

You’re primary reason for being in class is to learn, but getting good grades is a very close second. If you don’t have a good idea of how the teacher is going to grade ( 30% of your grade is quizes or 5% ) then you may under study for important grades.

Does the teacher allow extra credit? What types of projects will the extra credit be a part of?

3) Before the end of the second week of class, ask the professor the best way to study for his exams

There are two benefits to doing this.

a) This question will convey to a teacher that you are serious about their class and they will again treat you as one of the smart kids (see 1c).

b) In some cases, the teachers will give you answers here that will completely unlock an easy grade for you. Many of them have been teaching the same course for years and they have found patterns of studying that have helped their previous students.

There are additonal things you can do but those three will get you on your way towards much better grades than you might otherwise be able to manage.

A todo list to reduce stress and make you successful

How do we prioritize our work?

The two most famous models in the last fifteen years are the “7 habits” model and the “Getting Thing Done” model (although there are hundreds of others).  ( I use a more complex variation of the GTD model for myself).

I have found that there is a way to make a “small list” for those days when I am feeling overwhelmed or to make a “top of the list” when the full list is just too daunting.

Lately I’ve been using this model:

1) One thing that I’ve been putting off doing.

2) One thing that my boss (for a work list) or family member (for a non-work list) would like to see me do.

3) One thing that I would like to do.

4) One thing that will help me make progress toward my biggest goal.

5) One thing that I can do quickly.

Reducing stress

So what in the above list will lead to a life of reduced stress?

Starting at the top, #1 probably indicates something that you are afraid of or are unsure of how to do — both of those things add stress so it follows that doing that thing will eliminate stress.

Doing #2 will usually generate positive feelings between you and your boss or you and a family member.  Better relationships in those areas will generally reduce your stress.

Doing #3 will usually make you happy.  I hate the days where I work as hard as I can but the thing that I think is important or will be fun stays undone.

Doing #4 will NOT do much for short term stress but should help your long term stress as you see your overall goals coming to fruition.

Doing #5 just gets something off your list so that the next time you take a look, it’s a smaller list so that will also reduce your stress a bit.

Being more successful

Now let’s look at the list and see how these contribute to success.

Number 1 may or may not make you successful.  It will however help protect your reputation.  No one wants to have the reputation for not finishing tasks they have been given.

Number 2 is huge for your work success (although in non-work situations it may simply keep your family happy which is a success but not a milestone type of success).  From a work point of view, if you did the 300 most important things every year, I suspect that your boss would be pretty happy.

Number 3 may not help you be successful other than the stress reduction discussed above.  It depends on how well your “want to do” line up with your long term goals.

Number 4 is of course a huge impact on long term success.  Take a step toward your most important long term goal every day and you will reach your goal (assuming you make minor adjustments as necessary).

Quick List

When you aren’t making progress or you are just being swamped, take a break from your big to do lists and knock out the five things above and then go to sleep at the end of the night knowing that you’ve set yourself up for success and reduced stress.

What is your life metaphor?

Life is hard and then you die.

Camp chuck!

Which of the above would you like to be a part of?

Both are phrases that two of my good friends use.  Do you want to be a part of  Team Life is Hard and Then You Die or Team Camp Chuck (where everyday is like Summer Camp).

I must admit that I spent a lot of time as a part of the Team Hard up until my mid-twenties.  In college my guiding philosophy toward people was “Don’t expect much of people that way you will never be disappointed.”

A friend named Steve Patton pointed me at  a book called Learned Optimism and in forties I stumbled upon some Anthony Robbins books. 

Now neither book contains the answer to life (that would be the Bible), but both contain valueable lessons in moving towards creating a life that you enjoy.  One thing is how you think about life.

Life is Easy / Life is Good

For a couple of years now, I have flucuated between Life is Easy and Life is Good as metaphors that adorn the inside of my journal and the sheets of paper that I call my focus points and help me remember key goals and key lessons learned.

You may object to both of these metaphors because it might not reflect your experience, but give me a couple of minutes and let me explain.

Life is Easy

Some people object to this metaphor on the grounds that most successful people work very hard to get what they want and that to get good at something you must put in a lot of practice.

The disconnect is that we associate “work” and “practice” as “hard.” 

For me, though, life should be “easy” and by that I mean that we should design our life around choices that are things we enjoy. 

Hate your house?  Pick up and move.

Can’t afford too?  Make a list of what you don’t like and pick five things to improve for the year while spending as little money as possible.  Go to your friends house and (silently!) make a list of things that you like better about your house.

Repeat for your job, family situation, and relationships.

My yard has always been a source of “hardness’ in my life — ivy growing up trees and fences, a lawn I have to mow, trees that need to be trimmed. Yuck!

A year ago I decided to make peace with the yard. 

The ivy can have the fence, but I get to keep the trees.  The trees are friends to trim or cut down if theyare in the wrong place.  Mowing the yard is an escape of two hours a week in the spring to think about life and the yard itself.

I sit on the porch after I mow and run my sprinklers and smile and thank God for my beautiful yard.

Life Is Good

Death, disease, famine, bills, cats.

There are many things that we do not consider “good” in this life from the serious to the amusingly annoying.

I will save my long discussion of death for another day (short version — it makes life precious), but like the “hard” things in life, the “bad” thinks in life can be redeemed.

One of the small “bad” things is when good friend move away from each other.

We may see each other on facebook and wish for a chance to hang out and play cards or wish that our families could grow up near each other.

There are, of course, the truly horrible things in our society — hatred, abuse, and death.

One thing to focus on is what we control?

We have each day of our life to make an impact for good in the world regardless of what was done to us or people we know.

 We can turn to God and ask His help in redeeming the bad and turning it into good.

We have a choice each day to focus on the good parts of our life and celebrate those even if they are few and far between.

In most countries, we can make choices about our future — job, friends, relationships — that will allow us to build a good life.

For me, I see that Life Is Good despite some of the bad around me and I work to do little things in people’s lives to help their lives be a little better as well.

What’s the point?

How do you choose to see life?

If you think that “life is just something to get through” then I suspect (from experience) that your life will be that.

If you think that “life is about impacting people” then I suspect that your life can be about that as well.