Finding your balance

I was quite blessed to have Ms. Evans as my high school guidance counselor.  For whatever reason, she took an interest in me, looked after my welfare, and encouraged me to be my best. When I was close to graduation, she called me to her office and gave me a small award for which she nominated me.  As part of that, she gave me a book called “I Dare You!” by William Danforth.  (By the way, when I mentioned this book in a different context, a friend of mine sent me a photo of his copy, also received in high school, which was well-worn.)

One of the exercises in “I Dare You!” was to create what the author called “My Checker”.  This checker had four sides, representing a balanced life that includes the Mental, Physical, Social, and Religious.  I don’t know that that was my first introduction to a balanced approach to life, but it certainly stayed with me, and I still have my checker, which was written on the back on one of the cards I included in my high school graduation announcement.






There are certain ideas that seem so pervasive throughout history, religion, philosophy, and even popular culture that you have to believe they have merit.  One of those ideas is the notion of balance. Aristotle had his Golden Mean, which represented a balance between extremes.  The ancient book of Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything under heaven.  Plato said, “The music masters familiarizes children’s minds with rhythms and melodies, thus making them more civilized, more balanced, better adjusted in themselves, and more capable in whatever they say or do, for rhythm and harmony are essential to the whole.”  Emerson said, “People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.”

More recently, John Wooden said, “Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”  (I believe it might have been Miss Piggy who said, “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”, but I’m not sure.)

Whenever I am feeling out of sorts and ineffective, I step back and most of the time I’ll find that I am out of balance in one particular area.  Much of the time, I’ll find I have my identify tied up too much in my work, which is probably the most common source of problems in our society.  But there are times, too, when I’m leaning too far in another direction.

We can often measure our balance by our language.  When we find ourselves saying, “He always..” or “She never…”, we are probably not balanced in our thinking, because it’s seldom that those kind of declarations are valid.

I think one reason for the popularity of yoga and meditation these days is that it gives us a counter-balance to all the time we spend multi-tasking between the many screens that call for out attention. For that matter, resisting the siren-song of technology for even a few days can be a gift to ourselves and our loved ones.

How do you stay balanced?  Do you have some routines to make sure you are attending to all areas of your life?  If not, think about how that might be something you can do.  Don’t make me bring out my checker!

It’s really not about you

There wasn’t a great deal of amusement at high school football practice.   August and September in North Carolina can have the heat of an oven and the humidity of a steam room.  Still, I sometimes found myself laughing at the rivalries that would spring up around the arbitrary division of the team during practice.  Guys who were great buddies at the beginning of the day’s work would become heated enemies when placed on different teams.  The insults and enthusiastic hitting that would take place in the context of an otherwise meaningless split made by the coaches were quite humorous.

I was explaining this to a friend at the time and she said something that stuck with me.  In telling her that I gave my best effort but didn’t really find myself with anger she said, “You take it seriously.  They take it personally.”

I have found it to be a challenge to resist taking things personally sometimes in the world of work.  It may happen when we find our favorite idea rejected, or we feel like we’re competing against instead of working as colleagues.  This is one of those areas that calls for us to be mature and emotionally disciplined.  To be able to look at a situation and know it’s not about me is a high-level skill indeed.

We sometimes find ourselves at enmity with a colleague, perhaps for known reasons, but maybe we aren’t even sure why the tension exists.  Often, though, we’ll come to the realization we are taking something personally that really isn’t personal.  When this happens, we might fall into a false dilemma of either capitulating (in which case we think we’ll look weak) or trying to compete for dominance.  In truth, there’s a third alternative:  Taking the high road.  It may seem by doing so you’ll lose the battle, and indeed you may, but you will ultimately win the war because the greatest war is inside you.  You have to live with yourself and know you are the kind of person that anyone would want as a colleague.

You may find yourself thinking, “How do I act around this person?”  And guess what?  You’ve just answered your own question.  You are to act and not to react.  If you want to win that war against yourself, here’s the game plan:

  • Every time you give your full, sincere attention to your colleague while he has the floor — you win.
  • Every time you sincerely congratulate her on an accomplishment — you win.
  • Every time you go out of your way to keep him  informed to his benefit — you win.
  • In short, every time you take the highest, most professional, most kind road — you win.

There are many other ways we can win friends and influence people at work, but it seems they are all predicated on making a conscious decision to stay on the high road, to resist the temptation to return the behavior you’re given.

One last note I’ve found regarding this.  We have many well-meaning friends and colleagues who will take our side in difficult times and will buy into the notion we’ve been wronged.  It’s important to remember while we may indeed have grounds for being angry it is probably not helpful to enlist allies.  There’s a feeling of intimacy that comes from having a mutual enemy.  In truth, we grow more from keeping our independent judgement.  Writer and singer Christine Kane puts it this way:

Colluding is the best way to perpetuate the pattern of taking things personally. It takes a deep and committed discipline to shift out of this pattern. That’s because much of what we call friendship in our culture is little more than disliking the same people and staying stuck in our own versions of the truth and requiring that our friends agree with us. Collusion is rounding up people who believe your own illusions. Stop it.”

How much better to encourage each other to shift our perspective, and even perhaps change the subject to something more useful when we’re being recruited to help someone in viewpoints that aren’t helpful!

Like many others, I write about what I know.  Unfortunately I know about this tendency from both sides. More than anything, I know you have important things to do…and this isn’t one of them.


The one who gives the most wins

When I’m restless or pre-occupied at night, I sometimes listen to talks by Earl Nightingale, one of the oldest of old-school personal development coaches.  Long before Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and the like, Nightingale was dispensing wisdom with a pleasant baritone voice.

Something I’ve heard him say many times always sticks with me:  If  we are unhappy with our  rewards, all in the world we have to do is increase our contribution.  To the degree we perform a valued service, so will we be rewarded.  (Or, as another ancient text puts it, “For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”)

Now this compensation may or may not be of a strictly monetary nature.  We can obviously see examples of entertainers and athletes who receive outrageous salaries compared to teachers or social workers.  But if we assume our work lives are not entirely measured by our pay, we can reap a large bounty of reward by giving our best to those whom we serve.

As one who serves others for a living (don’t we all in some way?), one of my goals is that I would never have a someone call me and begin the conversaton with “I know you’re really busy, but…” While I usually *am* busy, I want to cultivate the illusion that I always have time for that person, and then do my best to take care of his or her need.  Here’s how I see it:

What I give my customers:

My Communicator button is green for you.
I will be happy to talk to you in person.
I won’t hesitate to say “I’m sorry” if I’ve messed up.
If possible, I’ll say “Yes”.

What I receive:

You challenge me to be my best.
You give me the opportunity to do good work.
You’ll understand me saying “No” as long as you know I’m doing my best.
Because of you, I have a job.

This reciprocal contribution is not only good from a career standpoint, but I believe it is part of a rewarding life.  It just feels good when we are part of give-and-take relationship.  And when we do our best to out-give one another, I believe our company benefits.  Besides, don’t you enjoy a little competition between friends?


For Labor Day, a secret of adulthood revealed

Like most young people, I often slept late in the summer, played baseball in the park, and frequently enjoyed lying on my back, listening to the radio while staring at the white puffy clouds overhead.  Inevitably, at least once a month or so, some adult would tell me something along the lines of “Enjoy it now, because life will be much different when you have to go to work each day.” or “This is the best time of your life.”  Now, I don’t know how widespread conspiracies are carried out — there must be some hidden network to make sure everyone is on message — but I’m here to say that such assertions do not match my experience.  I look back on my childhood with great affection, but here’s the truth:  It is loads of fun to be an adult with an adult job.

There is something within us that likes to be useful.  Self-determination theory tells us that we all long for relatedness, competence, and autonomy.  We get this largely through our work.  Whether you are a software developer, a retail store manager, an insurance representative, or any of holder of a good, honest job, I’d wager that when things go well, when you are at the top of your game, you get a deep degree of satisfaction from a job well done.

When I go to the grocery store and reach for my favorite food (and I do love food), I am glad that I can work to afford such. When my car breaks, I pay for it knowing that I earned the money just for such occasions. And when I buy a silly T-shirt of my favorite rock band, I know that it’s okay because I worked hard to pay for it.

Most of all, when I see the accomplishments of my daughters, I know that paying for their education was worth all the hours of preparation for my career, and all the late nights I spent at the office.

If you’re reading this, work is most likely a part of your life.  It’s okay if you want to propagate the myth to children that life will never be better than childhood.  But they will find an enormous satisfaction when they join the ranks of the work force.  We can keep that just between us!

Now, for Labor Day, one of my favorite poems that speaks to how wonderful it is to make a contribution.

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

True Grit

In my kettlebell class, which is one of the highlights of my week, the instructor told us that we’d be doing something a little different.  The idea was to repeat this particular lift with the goal of not being the first one to quit.  He said, “I know who I’m betting on.”  With that, we all knew he was speaking of Jess.  Both shorter and thinner than anyone else, she nevertheless is always the one to lift the most for her size and to do more than anyone.  She did win the game and did so again when we repeated it.

She was demonstrating an indomitable spirit, or what my former coach called intestinal fortitude.  That’s just Jess — she has grit.  The little incident came at a time when I’ve been thinking quite a bit about resilience and persistence.

For those of us who don’t consider ourselves among the most talented or smartest, the good news is that persistence plays a much bigger role in whether we are successful than practically any other factor.  Not much to me is more beautiful or inspiring than seeing someone fight against the odds and come out on top.  I think, for example, of the courage shown by England in the face of massive bombing from the Germans in World War II.  Against overwhelming odds, they carried on in the belief that their system of government was good and should remain.

But this isn’t just about the sort of feelings we derive from history and movies like “Rocky”.  There is actually quite a bit of psychological research to show that resilience is a key to accomplishment.

In one chapter from her work “Succeed“, a book I’d highly recommend for its research-based approach, author Heidi Grant Havorson, puts forth several tenants about the nature of persistence, which she refers to as “grit”.  It turns out that many studies substantiate the fact that a firm commitment to your goals and a willingness to work hard to achieve them is a greater factor in meeting them than any innate ability you may or may not have.  Some points put forth by Dr. Halvorson:

  • You are more likely to stick to it if you choose goals that are related to “getting better” rather than showing how good you are.  In other words, the commitment to work each day to improve is much more likely to result in success than a goal related to proving your worth to someone else.  Say to yourself, for example, “I’m going to learn about this today and every weekday by spending one hour studying from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M.” rather than, “I’ll put an emphasis on this the next six months and try to get an above average rating on my annual review.”
  • Similarly, your goals should be chosen by you, if possible, and you should internalize them, rather than having them chosen by someone else.
  • In general, if you believe your success in meeting goals hinges on a fixed ability, you’re much less likely to be successful, plain and simple.  Keep in mind that it’s not about what you are but what you are becoming.  In a study by Angela Duckworth, she says “Grit … demonstrated incremental predictive validity of success measures over and beyond IQ and conscientiousness. Collectively, these findings suggest that the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time.”
  • If you don’t meet a goal, don’t blame it on a lack of ability or on luck or fate or someone else.  Instead, commit to working harder.  In studies related to achievement gaps in math between U.S. and Asian children, the Asian children are much more likely to attribute any lack of success to not working as hard, rather than to any inherent abilities they might have.
  • Making a decision to walk away from a goal isn’t necessarily the same as quitting or giving up.  You may decide rationally that the goal isn’t worth the price.  For example, you may have wanted to get a law degree in evening college, but you come to the realization that you will miss much of your children’s lives if you do so.  On the other hand, if the goal is something worth having, then you will need to believe that working harder will get you to the place you want to be.

I have a friend who is spending much time preparing for an international piano competition in a couple of years.  When we talk about it, which is often because I find it so inspiring, he usually says something like “First, you have to accept yourself where you are, not where you think you should be.  Then, you just have to decide you’re going to put in the time.  Not many are willing to do that.”

What about you?  When you look back at your proudest achievements, I’ll bet they were for things that required you to be resilient and persist despite obstacles.  These were your moments of true grit.

The Art of Being Wrong

When we moved in to our house on a cul-de-sac about 10 years ago, one of the first things I noticed, something that irritated me very much was that the neighbors would put their yard clippings and fallen branches on the island in the middle.  As I contemplated this and became more angry, I would move the yard waste to the side of the road (the designated location) and even spoke to one of the neighbors about it.

A couple of years later, after an epiphany that affected all areas of my life, I took a step back.   I pledged that whatever my intuition might tell me, no matter my gut feeling, I would question my assumptions when I was frustrated at circumstances.  In the case of my cul-de-sac, I began to realize that if all the neighbors agreed on this particular strategy for such yard clippings, and I was alone in my outlook, then perhaps I was wrong.  After shifting my perspective I could see that, yes, I was wrong.  Now, none of us likes to be wrong, especially when we’ve taken a strong public stand, but there it was.

In the years since, I’ve seen the value of reconsidering my conclusions at times.  I have come to see we sometimes, when confronted with a different point of view, grit our teeth, dig in, and arm ourselves with research, hyperlinks, and other intellectual armaments to prove our point.  What we fail to see sometimes is that context is important.

Let me say this early on:  There is nothing wrong with making up your own mind and holding strong opinions.  We can all see examples of cases where someone has stood alone, only to be proven correct at a later time.  But most of us aren’t Copernicus or Galileo.   It might be that we have stumbled upon a truth obscured to the rest of the world.  But probably not.

We can save ourselves and others much pain if we are open to the possibility of being wrong sometimes.  (I think those of us in the Myers-Briggs subtype of Intuitive Thinking are most likely to have difficulty with this.)

And there are just so many ways to go wrong!  Occasionally, I’ll review the list of cognitive biases in order to remain humble at how flawed my thinking can be.   There’s confirmation bias, in which we look for information that confirms what we think.  There’s negativity bias, in which we pay more attention to or give more weight to negative experiences rather than positive.   And the very common selective perception.  (Regarding this last one, if I were to tell you that, say, the Ford Fusion is the third-best selling car in the U.S., then you would see more on the road than you did before, confirming this fact I just made up.)

I believe one of the reasons we do this is we let our identities become caught up with our assertions.  Our interest in a issue becomes a position, and once we’ve taken a position, we’re going to defend it.  If I say I believe that X is the best way to approach a problem, I ease toward a stance where X and I become inseparable.  X it is, and that’s that.  If, on the other hand, I suggest X is the best approach based on A, B, and C, I leave myself room to be proven otherwise.

No one wants a leader who is wishy-washy, subject to whatever political or popular wind that blows.  But when someone feels personally threatened by the possibility of saying “I was wrong”, that person is revealing that he or she is out of touch with his or her core being.  We can decide that our core values are non-negotiable (which is fine – that’s what makes them our core), but if we aren’t open to hearing other opinions and perhaps changing our minds based on new information, we are missing out on the possibility of larger lives.  We might also be revealing that we’re not quite as secure in what we believe as we think.

When you find you are wrong and admit it, it’s important not to feel dejected or ashamed.  Those who can stand up and freely say they have come to a different conclusion based on what they have learned are showing a huge strength of ego.  And when you do this, you’ll probably find that others are happy to stand with you.


The Power of Helplessness

“Rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I built my life.”  J.K. Rowling

There was a time in my college years when I was doing all I could to hold things together with the singular goal of making it to graduation.  About this time, I read for the first time a book by Catherine Marshall, “Beyond Ourselves”.  One chapter in particular spoke to me at that time, “The Power of Helplessness”, which, as the title implies, conveyed how much better off we are when we lose the notion that we can control all aspects of our circumstances.

I thought about this recently when a poor relationship completely crashed and burned, I also got sick and missed my first day or work due to illness in almost 20 years, and we lost our electric power for a while due to a storm.  I don’t really believe in “bad days” (bad moments, maybe), but I was in what we might call in baseball parlance a “slump”.

With any challenge, however, lies opportunity and it was important that I seize this one.  There is a healthy sobriety that takes place when you’re teetering toward rock-bottom.  I think of a line from Emily Dickenson, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.”  Every time I’ve been dealt a blow in my life, it has helped me see things I was otherwise too pre-occupied to perceive before.

In this case, I took a step back and realized that too much of me was tied up in the wrong things, and by freeing myself of those things, I made room for more important ones.  I’m never one to shy away from a metaphor, and in this case I think of how we sometimes find ourselves coming upon a prime parking space at a mall.  Now, when this happens we are rightfully pleased.  But what if we were so taken with that space that we decided to stay at the mall indefinitely, lest we lose it?  Would that not be an absurd turn of events?  Perhaps that is what we sometimes do with our lives.  We find ourselves blessed in some way, and before long that blessing becomes a burden as we, without realizing, let it become part of our identity.  The tail begins to wag the dog.  That new car interferes with the time we should spend with family.  Our job becomes our life.  We become possessed by our possessions.

In addition, I realized that I had lost sight of the totality of my life.  We can all look back and think about the difficult things we faced with success and use this to realize that we are capable of doing what’s needed in this situation.  There’s nothing wrong with an occasional pep talk to remind ourselves of the hidden accomplishments that only we know.

Every twelve-step program begins with a statement along the lines of “We admitted that we were powerless over (something) — that our lives had become unmanageable.”  What liberation there is in this admission!  Why liberation?  Because the second step says, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

I could recite story after story of those who found their greatest strength as a result of realizing their weakness.  (My favorite, perhaps apocryphal, is that when Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for “Rocky” in three days, he had $106 in the bank, no car, and was trying to sell his dog to meet expenses.)

But what about you?  When you strip away your 401K, your position, your planning, the things you think make others value you, what is left?  What is left is you.  And that is your best raw material.


With me to this day: Lou Gehrig

Caught up in a bit of nostalgia, I recently ordered and received a biography I read, with no exaggeration, about seven or eight times as a youth.  This was an account of the life of Lou Gehrig, published in the early 1940s.  While it’s easy to find deep meaning in the things of our childhood, I can say that this former New York Yankee was a strong, quiet guiding force in my young life.

I seldom struggle for words but I had to search for how to tell my friend the other day why Lou Gehrig left such an indelible mark on me in my youth.  Finally, I somewhat blurted out: “With all the chaos in my home, everything I wanted so badly was something found in him:  consistency, stability, strength.”  Lou Gehrig was the kind of person conspicuously absent in my life at that point.  Even now, I sometimes meditate on what he represents when I need to quiet my mind.

For 15 years, from 1925 to 1939, Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, in his native New York home.  I learned from The Iron Horse qualities that I would do well to emulate today : He was humble, slow to anger, workmanlike, team-oriented, and consistent.

Lou Gehrig could have been greatly jealous of his famous teammate Babe Ruth.  The Babe not only commanded the spotlight, he cultivated it, and carried that light with him.  But this never seemed to bother Lou Gehrig.  (Some may not realize that it was actually Gehrig who occupied the clean-up spot in the line-up in the famous 1927 “Murderer’s Row”.  In that same season, in which Ruth set the record for 60 home runs, Gehrig was actually named Most Valuable Player.)

It was with the same grace that he lived and played that he endured the illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease which became known by his name.  His famous speech when he was forced into an early retirement personifies the sort of courage with which we all hope to face mortality:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow,Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.  (July 4, 1939)

When Lou finished his speech, the crowd gave him a long standing ovation, and he was hugged by the Babe.  Jaded sportswriters wiped away tears.

Do we outgrow our heroes?  Do we become too old to regard an athlete as someone to be emulated?  To the contrary, I would do well to continue growing to be more like Lou Gehrig.

The quality of mercy

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

I can well remember having made a big mistake in my early years at my company, and it weighed heavily on me.  Upon confessing my guilt to a friend at work, he said, “That?  Happens every day.”  With those four words, I felt greatly relieved, especially since he had been with the company a long time.

How we react to mistakes says much about who we are, and goes a long way toward whether we put those mistakes behind us.  I’ve kept a pad in my desk where I write down my mistakes.  I do this not to flog myself for them.  Just the opposite, by writing them down, they go away when I close the drawer.  In addition, I can look at things I did 10 or so years ago and realize that I can’t even remember why they were a big issue.

By being free to dispense grace for mistakes, we create opportunities to take new, better actions.  Every successful company can point to huge investments that turned out to be duds.  (Less than 20 years ago, Apple’s stock was in single digits and their new, innovative product was the Newton.)   On a more personal level, don’t you love and want to emulate those people who look the other way when you embarrass yourself?

Obviously, if we don’t learn from mistakes we are bound to repeat them.  But grace allows us to admit to them, acknowledge them so that we get their full value.   According to Joseph T Hallinan, an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in his book “Why We Make Mistakes”, most of our errors are systemic and best dealt with in that way.  For example, he cites an improvement in the error statistics for anesthetists when they simply changed the valve that is turned to deliver anesthesia so that it could only go one way.  In other words, the problem wasn’t really personal.  When we look at the mistakes we or others make in this light, we can see them as curbs on the side of the road, designed to help us stay in the middle of the path we should be on.

The next time you’re driving in traffic and someone cuts you off, take it as an exercise in growth to breathe, smile, and realize there are factors that you may not know.  When you’re at your next family gathering, why not keep quiet about the embarrassing things your relatives have done.  And when you mess up, look at it, learn from it, and then close the drawer on it.


Evolving beyond cynicism

“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” G. K. Chesterton.

Like many teens, I was taken when I read the first lines of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” in high school:  “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”   There seemed to be something quite sophisticated about the cynicism and just reading it I felt like I was smarter than others.

I continued along this line of thought for some time.  Somewhere after the birth of my daughters, though, I realized the truth:  That just wasn’t really me.  Over time, I began to understand that I had lost some of what I really believed in because it’s much easier to be a successful critic than to create something worth criticizing.  Now, I’d say that if being earnest makes someone less than sophisticated, if I’m a true believer, then so be it.

But I also think there was a more universal dynamic at play, which is why I’m writing this.  Going through a period of disillusionment may be part of the growth process, but I like to think that coming out of that period is a next step.

I can see why it might be attractive to remain cynical.  It is much more difficult to live up to ideals than to live in their opposition.  It’s also less risky to look for and expect the worst.   By keeping a sour demeanor, we can avoid risking an unreturned smile.   To see the flaws, to cast the jaundiced eye, to laugh derisively — these are all very easy.

I am not qualified to play amateur psychologist, but I think that by expecting the worst, we avoid our fear of the disappointment we might experience were we to dare to hope.

Assuming I’m right, if you accept my premise, what practical value is there to this observation, and how might we use it for our own self-development?  It’s simply this:  If you want a real challenge, decide that you will be daring enough to expect the best of yourself and of others.

I see people at my company every day who offer up themselves and their ideas for how we can be a better company.  They are not reacting to others, but acting on behalf of their best thinking.  In short, they are doing what our company is paying them to do.  Whether I agree or disagree with the particulars, I respect these people as leaders and feel privileged to listen.

Whatever your position, you can be an instrument of encouragement.  Step up and make other people better than they would be without you in their life.  Change the subject when it turns toward gossip.  Bring out the best in others.  Lead through example, and don’t be afraid to appeal to what’s good.   In doing this, you’ll see that as you strive to make others to be better people, you’ll be a better person yourself.