Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lesson 18: Set your priorities, and follow them.

 

Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

 Action expresses priorities.
—Mahatma Gandhi

In an earlier lesson, we talked about living by a set of values. Priorities are driven by your values, and in fact some of your values may also double as priorities. But whereas your values are principles to live by, priorities are more like a set of rules. Think of your priorities as a list of the most important things in your life, in ranked order.
 For many people, the basic personal priorities include family, career, and religious development, but personal priorities can go well beyond these. Some may set their leisure activities as a priority. Athletes place a high priority on improving their performance, musicians on practicing their craft. Young couples often want to save money for a new home or a child’s education.
We need priorities because we have a limited amount of time. We want to make sure we spend our time on things that are important to us, rather than wasting time on worthless activities. Priorities are our way of budgeting our time so that we get to the important stuff.
Now that you’ve graduated, your priorities will become even more important. As we’ve already seen, time becomes more precious as you get older. And as you enter the world of full-time work, you’re likely to find that your non-work hours are very valuable to you. You want to make sure you spend them on activities that are important.
You may have never thought much about your priorities, but they’re there, all right. They reveal themselves in your behavior. Wherever you spend your time and effort, you’ll find a priority.
Whenever our actions don’t match up with our stated priorities, discontent is sure to result. A man may say that his children are his number one priority, but if he neglects them, then something’s wrong. He either needs to change his actions or admit that his kids really aren’t as important to him as he says they are.
Ask yourself: Where have I been spending my time? What are the priorities that are revealed in my actions? Are they the priorities that I want for myself? If not, now is the perfect time to set your priorities, and then reflect them in your actions.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lesson 17: Make yourself useful.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

The be-all and end-all of life should not be to get rich, but to enrich the world.
—B.C. Forbes

Having a good heart does not make you a good person.
That may sound callous, but think about it. What makes for a good person? Don’t you think that a good person is one who makes the world better for his having lived there? The fact that you care about something means absolutely nothing to anyone other than you—until that care takes the form of action.
Let’s carry the concept a step further. A caring heart unaccompanied by action is a recipe for unhappiness. Why? Simple. If you truly care, then you know you should be doing something, but because you’re not, you feel like a failure—or worse, a fake.
Let’s take a simple example. My Kiwanis Club spends a few Saturday mornings each year picking up litter along a local highway. One such day, as I prepared to leave for litter duty, I asked a friend if he wanted to come along. He said in all seriousness, “No, thanks. I think that’s just for show, so other people will think you care. For me, it’s enough to know I care—it doesn’t matter if anybody else knows.”
Hmmm. That’s not an uncommon view for a kid, but it doesn’t wash for an adult—even a young adult like you.
The truth is I didn’t really care much about that road litter; I never really noticed it. And I doubt that anyone recognized my hunched figure as I picked up beer cans and McDonald’s bags. But I was out there cleaning up while my friend was at home on the couch, “caring.” Even though I didn’t care very much, my actions made the world just a bit cleaner. Who felt better about himself afterward?
This big ol’ world couldn’t care less about your personal happiness—or about the fact that you “care.” The world wants to know: what are you doing for me?
The first thing you should do when you get a job is get busy and try to make things a little easier on everyone around you. By doing so you’ll quickly become a valuable employee, you’ll put yourself in position for raises and promotions, and you’ll feel good about the fact that you’re making a contribution. Keep applying this simple concept, and you’ll never be without a job for long.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lesson 16: Life is different now.

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Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

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Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.
—Bill Gates

Congratulations on your graduation. They call it a commencement ceremony for a reason: you’re heading out on your own into the future. Life’s great adventure is before you. If you embrace it, you can have a fuller, more meaningful life than you can possibly imagine.
Don’t get me wrong. It won’t be easy—nothing worthwhile ever is. And it won’t be at all like the life you’re used to. Life in the adult world is radically different from school life. For example, if you just graduated from high school, you’re used to a life regulated by the school year and the school day. The school day is spent in a school building with others of about your same age. You change classes every hour or so. School ends sometime around 3:00 in the afternoon. The day closes with extracurricular activities and/or homework, and maybe a part-time job. College is different, of course, with its own routines and schedules.
Your authority figures are your parents, teachers and professors. Your parents provide money for the basics of life, as well as some luxuries. Adults are authority figures simply because they are adults.
 But that life is over. As comfortable as it may have been, it was a child’s life. You’re an adult now. The life of an adult is better than that of a child—if you make it so. On the other hand, the responsibilities are much greater, and the price of messing up is much, much higher.
For one thing, instead of your parents providing for you, you’ll have to provide for yourself. In our society, you’re expected to pull your own weight. If you don’t, you end up completely depending on others. So I expect you’ll do what is necessary to make your own way.
The daily routine of an adult is generally determined by your job. There’s no telling what your typical day will be like, but it is highly likely that your workday will be longer than a typical school day. And those frequent vacations and days off you’re used to? In your first year on a job, you’ll be lucky to get a week’s vacation and a few holidays. Other than that, they’ll expect to see you at work every weekday.
All of this is not to scare or depress you. Remember, an adult’s life can be wonderful. But the change is sudden. Just try not to be too shocked when it hits you all at once.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lesson 15: Relax, and expect the best.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

Those who look for beauty, find it.
—Unknown

Let’s review the concepts we’ve talked about so far:
Your attitude is the prime factor in achieving long-term happiness, career success, fulfilling relationships, and triumph over adversity (Lesson 1). What’s more, you have complete control over your own thinking (2). Thinking only of yourself is a recipe for disaster; personal fulfillment comes from improving the world around you (3). Happiness does not come from your circumstances—if it is to come, you must create it for yourself (4). And you can create it, here and now (5). Embracing personal responsibility gives you the ability to determine your own destiny (6). Your personal values system is the internal compass which guides your actions (7). Time is slipping by; you can’t slow it down, so every moment is precious (8). Perhaps for the first time, you are now in a position to really live the Golden Rule (9). Forgiveness gives you the power to liberate yourself and others (10). The secret to living a regret-free life is to be bold (11). You can’t always change your circumstances, but you can adapt and make the most of them (12). Your expectations will probably come true (13). Don’t feel bad if you haven’t made the most of your life up to now, because it’s never too late to start creating your future (14).
The recurring theme throughout this list is as simple as it is meaningful: You have the power to shape your own destiny.
That is a fact. If you haven’t thought about it before now, take a few minutes to let it sink in. That power rests entirely with you. Nobody can take it from you without your permission.
So relax and know that all is well. Start believing that life will bring you everything you want. Decide to take control of your destiny by taking control of your life. Expect the best, and know that it will happen for you.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lesson 14: It’s never too late.

Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.


Self-forgiveness means accepting the fact that you will never have a better past.
—Dan Sullivan

You’re lucky to have your whole life ahead of you. You’re able to choose how you will live it. Many people wake up in middle age to the realization that the life they have lived is not the life they wanted. This often results in regret, disappointment, and a mid-life crisis.
I enjoy watching Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan on the National Geographic Channel. It follows real-life dog expert Cesar Millan as he works with people and their pets. Millan finds that problem behavior is more often caused by the human owner than by the dog.
Many of his clients have rescued their pets from abusive or neglectful situations. The owners mistakenly believe that their dogs’ behavior problems are caused by bad memories, when in fact the owner’s worry is to blame.
Millan points out that dogs don’t care about—or even remember—the past. “Dogs live in the now,” Millan says. “They don’t care about their past lives. If you give them exercise, discipline, and affection, they will be happy and well-adjusted.”
Maybe we could learn a thing or two from dogs. Whatever bad stuff has happened in the past, leave it there—in the past. You’re an adult now. Childhood was just the warm-up act; now is the time for you to take control of your own well-being. As Cesar Millan would say: live in the now. If a dog can do it, surely so can you!
Of course, you can’t just live in the now. To paraphrase Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, you should live in the past, the present, and the future. But don’t let the past rule you.
Who you are today is a composite result of everything that you have experienced in the past. Recognize that fact, but resist the temptation to go back. Don’t regret or wonder, “What if?” Your life is here and now. By the same token, you must look ahead, to the future. Decide where you want to go, and start moving in that direction. If you don’t, you could find yourself in a life that goes nowhere.
So here’s the trick: cherish all the good stuff from the past, let go of all the bad stuff, and envision the future that you want for yourself. Then use the present to begin creating that future.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lesson 13: Your expectations will usually come true.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
—Michael Jordan

It’s called the Pygmalion Effect—also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy—and it’s real. If we expect a positive outcome, we’ll probably get it. If we expect a negative outcome, it’s likely to happen.
A lot of research has been done on school children in this area. Robert Rosenthal and Lenoir Jacobson performed studies at elementary schools where teachers were given the names of a select group of high-achieving students. The teachers were told that because these kids were so intelligent, they would probably excel over their lower-performing classmates.
Sure enough, those smart kids performed like smart kids. They got good grades, and they generally showed significant improvement on end-of-the-year tests. There was only one catch: the “smart” kids weren’t really any smarter than the others. In fact, they had been chosen completely at random.
The real difference had been the expectations of the teachers—and as a result, their treatment of the students. Later studies have confirmed this effect in adults as well.
Your expectations become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. This applies to events both big and small. The reason is simple: if you really believe that you will do a great job, your subconscious mind will guide your behavior to be consistent with that belief, and you will indeed be an outstanding employee, student, or whatever.
If, on the other hand, you view yourself as not being good at something, you’ll have no motivation to improve. What would be the point? You know you can’t do it, so why waste your time trying to get better?
Do you see where this is going? Just knowing about the self-fulfilling prophecy can be a tremendous help to you in your life. Remember: you have complete control over your own thinking. It naturally follows that you have control over your own expectations.
So what’s it going to be? You can expect misfortune—and almost certainly bring it on—or you can expect great things from yourself. Just remember that you have no one but yourself to blame for your own expectations.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lesson 12: Be flexible—to a point.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour.
—Unknown

When I was in graduate school, a professor gave me a criticism which I took to be a backhanded compliment. “The problem with you, young man,” he said, “is that you’re always trying to change the rules to suit you.”
Obviously, we can’t always change the rules to our liking. The fact that we don’t agree with something doesn’t mean we can ignore it. You may think the speed limit is unreasonably low on a certain road, but if you speed on that road, you’ll still get a ticket. Many, many circumstances are totally beyond your ability to direct. Your success or failure under those circumstances will depend largely on your response to them—in other words, you have to adapt.
Here are a few examples. Let’s say you want a particular job, but it goes to the boss’s nephew instead. Maybe you’re in love with someone and want to marry him or her, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. Perhaps the company you work for goes out of business, and you lose your job. A loved one dies. You’re injured in an auto accident or suffer a serious disease. The list of possible scenarios is endless.
These are the proverbial cards that you have been dealt. You can’t trade them in for another hand; you must play the cards you have right now. Now is when you must adapt. Recognize the reality and respond accordingly.
George Washington is one of my favorite historical figures. Perhaps his greatest trait was his ability to see a situation as it really was, not as he wished it to be. His actions were guided largely by the situation itself: he planned his moves to make the best possible use of the circumstances, and wherever possible, he tried to turn those circumstances to his advantage.
You can do the same thing. It’s a two-step process. First, view every situation through realistic eyes. Don’t kid yourself. Second, shape your response to make the most of the circumstances.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should give up your personal autonomy or allow yourself to be tossed and turned like a boat without a rudder. No sailor can control the wind, but a good sailor uses the existing wind to sail to the destination of his own choosing.