Be Teachable. And Stay That Way.

Throughout my teens I was often reminded that I would never reach my dreams unless I continued improving in every aspect of my being. There was no room to regress into know-it-all mode or into some sort of arrogance that I already had everything it took to succeed.  The truth was that as a teenager I wasn’t even close—even though I was tall and could jump high. I still had a lot to learn before I could become the professional basketball player I wanted to be. And I definitely had a lot to learn to become the husband and father I wanted to be. Even today, after 23 years of marriage and with two kids of my own, I am still learning how to be a better husband and dad. And that’s the key.

Remaining teachable means that you never really “arrive” in any important aspect of your life. While you can certainly reach a point where you are highly skilled and highly confident in your ability to produce great results, the moment you think you have everything you need is the moment you begin to falter.

Life is so unpredictable because we can never control every force around us. Our environment is constantly changing. Just when you think you have a grip on your future, something shifts. Maybe a parent gets sick, or maybe you sustain a severe injury and can no longer play your sport. Or maybe you didn’t receive the scholarship for which you worked so hard, and you’re going to have to find a job to pay for college.

Or like a businessman named Erik Wahl (1), maybe a recession forces you to rethink your dream in another career.  Erik co-owned a successful business for nearly ten years, only to have it crumble after the 2000 recession. With a wife and three kids under the age of four, and very little money in the bank, he didn’t have the luxury of spending six months relaxing on the beach and hoping the next step came to him.

On a whim he went to an art supply store and picked up some paints, a few brushes and a couple of canvases.  At the very least, he thought that painting would give him an outlet that would help reduce his stress. He’d always had an interest in art but he had no training whatsoever. In fact, the last time he had tried to paint something, his elementary teacher insisted that art was not his thing. But something inside him was still fascinated with painting.

Over the next few days, Erik’s little stress-reducer started to become something much bigger. He found himself spending more and more time painting and studying new techniques and the history of the medium. He was soon hooked on art, and he poured all his energies into becoming a great artist.

Do you know what he’s doing today, 12 years later?  He’s not running a business. He’s a highly sought-after graffiti artist who can paint a perfect likeness of a well known face in about three minutes, upside down, before a live audience.

Do you know who his audiences are? Businesses, like the one he used to own, that are looking for ways to become more creative. If you were to ask Erik today if he wishes he had his old career back, he’d laugh. He knows that the unexpected path he followed ultimately led him to his dream job. But he would have never discovered it had he not remained teachable and continued to learn.

Britain’s great Prime Minister Winston Churchill explained it best when he said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” If you want to reach your dreams and sustain them for the rest of your life, the only thing you should know for sure is that you will never know everything you need to know. There will always be more opportunity for growth, sometimes where you least expect it, sometimes where you’ve been looking all along.

Be teachable. And stay that way.

 

(1) Erik Wahl, Unthink. Crown Business, 2013.

Bouncing Back From Adversity

One of my biggest challenges growing up was learning to own the life I’d been given. That may sound like a no-brainer to those of you that have heard my story. After all, I had no choice in all the experiences of those early years. But the truth is that everybody experiences things they didn’t choose.

Many people spend the rest of their lives protesting and rebelling against the injustices of their past. They fill their minds with a long list of excuses for not chasing their dreams.

Others choose to own their lives and rise above their circumstances regardless of what happened.

One of the keys to bouncing back from adversity is accepting responsibility for your future, in thick and thin. That doesn’t mean you remain where you are. And it doesn’t mean you downplay negative circumstances or act like you enjoyed every moment you’ve been alive. What it does mean is that you reach a point where you admit, “Nobody but me can make something of my life.” It’s ultimately an admission that you have no excuses for not giving your all to be successful.

I know because I’ve been there. There were so many days that I had every excuse to strive for nothing but survival. I could make a compelling argument that life was out to get me. Yet, instead of finding excuses for not succeeding I realized that I had to find a way around them and do whatever it took to be successful.

We all have reasons – some of them very legitimate reasons – to stop pursuing our dreams. I must have had a couple thousand before I reached middle school. You might too. But you can’t let your reasons for quitting dictate what you do. Instead of spending time wallowing in your past, you have to spend your time finding a way to a brighter future.

In the end, excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure. It’s OK to acknowledge they are there, but to be successful and achieve your dreams you have to learn to not pick them up. People who succeed do what they say they’re going to do. People who fail make excuses for falling short.

Excuses are a sign of weakness, and they pave the road to failure. Excellence is a sign of strength, and it paves the road to success.

Drop the excuses and embrace excellence at every turn.

 

Paying the Price

Paying the PriceI once heard about a young man who, in his eagerness to make it to the top, went to a well-known millionaire for advice about how to get there.

“What is the first reason for your success?” he asked.

“Hard work,” the millionaire replied.

Disappointed, the inexperienced fellow responded, “What is the second reason?”

We laugh at this young man’s desire for a quick-and-easy formula, but his response brings up a much more serious question for people who aren’t doing what they know they’d like to do: Are you willing to pay the price to get there?

You’ll never live the life you’ve always dreamed of at a bargain-basement price. In fact, the cost is often much higher than most people are willing to pay. I’ve seen more examples of this than I can count. People start chasing their dreams with energy and enthusiasm, only to fizzle out when they realize how much effort is involved. If they had counted the cost first; if they had seriously investigated what it would take to make them successful in that area, they may have gone another direction. Instead, they’re right back where they started, dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

The way to avoid this scenario, of course, is to count the cost of doing what you’d like to do before you begin. So what does the price tag include? Here are just a few items:

1. Hard work
There’s no way around this.  You can’t fulfill your dream without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. You also will have to spend time, large quantities of time, working diligently and doing things you don’t particularly like in order to prepare yourself for the future you want.

2. Learning
Doing what you love will require you to be teachable, acquire some new skills, and polish your existing abilities. Are you willing to devote the time, effort and energy to making that happen?

3. Discipline
It takes focus and commitment to pursue your dreams without getting sidetracked or giving up. Success doesn’t just happen. You have to be intentional about it, and that takes discipline.

4. Change
At the surface, this might not seem like a significant price. As we all know, change isn’t easy. It can cause stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and a host of other uncomfortable emotions.     However, change almost always produces growth.

5. Emotional Stamina
On your way toward doing what you love, you’re going to stumble and you undoubtedly will take a few hard falls. When that happens, you’ve got to have the intestinal fortitude to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get going again. Do you?

As you think about the price of doing what you want to do, remember that the only way to find out for sure how much you’ll have to pay in each of these areas is to find someone who is living what you’d like to do and ask them about the cost. Ask them what they DID in order to DO what they do.

The young man in our introduction got it partly right, he went to someone for advice about how to be successful. Sadly, his response shows that he was unwilling to pay the price. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

Now the ball is in your court. If you know what you want to do but aren’t doing it yet, stop making excuses and start taking steps to make it happen. Don’t wait until everything is perfect to begin because everything will never be perfect. Don’t put it off until tomorrow because tomorrow you’ll be tempted to put it off until the next day.

Just start.

And as you begin, remember these three truths about the end result.

1. Doing what you want to do will be different than you imagined it would be.

2. It will be more difficult than you ever imagined.

3. And it will be better than you ever imagined.

I can assure you that when you’re doing what you really want to do, it’s not work. It’s fun because you’re reaching your potential and you’re helping others reach theirs. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Are Successful People Made or Born?

Made Not BornThere is no question in my mind that most successful people are made and not born. It has always amazed me how some of the most successful people of all time have gone through, overcome and survived serious obstacles in life before they succeeded. That is the reason I’ve given my life to reaching this generation of students with a message of character, leadership, and faith. You see, many people today have bought into the stereotype that most teenagers are messed up, beyond reach and headed down a wrong path that cannot be corrected. I completely disagree with this assumption.  Why? Because over the last 15 years I have listened to thousands of stories from young people that have found hope through my personal experiences and have chosen to take responsibility for their own lives and not let excuses keep them from being the success they were created to be.

For example, last month in Michigan after speaking in a high school assembly a young man asked me if he could talk with me in private. He started off by telling me that he came to school so depressed that he didn’t feel like living anymore. I asked him why and he immediately opened up. He told me how his life changed when he was nine years old and his father was sentenced to 6 years in prison for drug trafficking. He shared how his mom was never the same after that – “she was always depressed.”  When he was ten, he walked in the house after school and found his mother in the living room with a gunshot wound to her head. She had decided that the pressure of life was too much and killed herself. He said he had been living with his aunt for the past five years and just figured he would turn out like his mom or dad.

Then, he looked me in my eyes and told me that his life changed that day in my assembly. He said that listening to my story caused him to realize that regardless of how bad things have been, if you have breath in your lungs, there’s still hope.  I’ll never forget the look of strength on his face when he told me that he wasn’t going to give up and that he was going to go to college, earn a degree, and make something of himself. That’s why, I believe successful people are MADE not born.  The fact that this young man is determined not to give up makes him a success!

7 Non-Negotiables for Success

Helen KellerHelen Keller was an amazing woman. At 19 months old she went blind and deaf, yet that didn’t stop her from achieving her dreams. Helen was not a person who made excuses, she made things happen. She is a constant reminder to all of us that anything is possible.  Despite her circumstances, Helen Keller became a world famous author, activist, and speaker. One of her many accomplishments includes being the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. I believe we can learn a lot from Helen Keller’s life and the non-negotiables she lived by.

7 Non-Negotiables for Success:

1. GO AFTER YOUR DREAMS.  I often tell people to go after their dreams and turn them into a reality. My skeptics would say, “That’s unrealistic,” …but what’s the point of being “realistic.” Nothing great has ever been achieved by a “realist.”  Albert Einstein was not a realist, the Wright Brothers were not realists, Thomas Edison was not a realist, and Alexander Graham Bell was certainly not a realist.  What is “realistic,” its often, nothing more than the self-imposed limitations adopted from society? Take the limits off; Life is too short to blend in.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.” – Helen Keller

 2. YOU MUST HAVE A VISION.  Do you have a vision, a goal, a plan, a mission for your life? Isaiah wrote, without a vision the people perish. Great leaders are always great visionaries, they have an internal picture of where their going; their fixated on their vision. What’s your vision?

“It’s a terrible thing to see, and have no vision!” – Helen Keller

 3. NOTHING’S IMPOSSIBLE.  The beauty of “time” is that you can accomplish just about anything if you keep at it long enough. Set your mind on what you want to accomplish, and don’t stop until you get there. They say the usefulness of the postage stamp consists in its ability to stick to something until it gets there. Learn from the postage stamp; stay committed to your dream until you get there.

“We can do anything we want to do, if we stick to it long enough” – Helen Keller 

4. EXPERIENCE IS PRICELESS.  Knowledge is nice, but experience is priceless. Learn from all of life’s lessons! Never be afraid to get your hands dirty by getting some first-hand experience. Only experience can bring full understanding.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”- Helen Keller

 5. BE POSITIVE.  Although we could focus on the negative things around us, it doesn’t do us much good. Helen Keller said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you will never see the shadow.” I think this is good advice. Decide to see glass as “half-full,” things are not getting worse, they’re getting better!

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”- Helen Keller

6. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH WINNERS.  Winners hang-out with winners. Don’t be caught hanging-out with negative people. Negative people are like “vampires,” they suck the life from everything around them. They’re always saying “how you can’t, why you can’t, and how you’re going to fail when you try.” If you hang with these “chickens” for too long, you’ll forget that you have the ability to soar like an eagle. Decide to spend your time with those who believe the impossible is possible.

“While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.” Helen Keller

7. YOU CONTROL YOUR DESTINY.  Everything you need to succeed, you already have on the inside of you.  Success is yours for the taking, but you have to believe it, and you have to be convinced that you deserve it.

“What I am looking for is not “out there,” it is in me” – Helen Keller