Monthly Archives: August 2009

Conquering the Obstacles

Like so many other fathers on this little spinning ball in space, I suffer from a syndrome that has plagued man for centuries…my daughter has me wrapped around her little finger. When I look at her I see perfection – pure, unblemished perfection. Now, as her father, I realize that I am probably the only one who can see her through such unbiased and objective eyes so if others fail to see it, I can simply write them off as ignorant buffoons.

And, as my daughter’s 10th birthday approached, she inevitably desired that one gift that made all other gifts pale by comparison…a horse. Well, as you would guess, while I love her more than life itself, I do not have that tree (I have tried to plant it many times but it just won’t grow money). And, as you would also guess, she looked up at me with those sad, big blue eyes and, by golly, Daddy bought her a horse.

Her name was Yoo Hoo (the horse not my daughter) and it was love at first sight. Lindsey wanted to be a show jumper (this is where she competes in a huge arena filled with people and jumps over large walls, fences, and other obstructions that frightened her father to no end).

We got Lindsey an amazing trainer to help her learn how to compete in this sport (honestly, all I knew about horses was which end the food went in and which end it came out and to stay away from both ends). I was more than a little worried when “my baby” climbed up upon this 700 lb “wild beast”.

They trained for months with Lindsey progressing rapidly in her learning. She was a natural. Then one day her trainer, Jason, proclaimed her ready to compete and signed her up for a huge show. We had one week to get ready. Jason informed us that the week before a show was critical and that he wanted to work with Lindsey every afternoon with her completely dressed in her “competition outfit”.

We arrived for the first pre-competition practice and Yoo Hoo was nowhere to be seen. Jason said Yoo Hoo was ready but Lindsey was not. He proceeded to sit her on top of the fence that surrounded the riding area at the stable and they rode the course over and over in Lindsey’s mind. Jason taught her that she had to “see” herself succeeding, that she had to visualize herself flawlessly running the course: elbows in, thumbs up, heels down, change leads, lean into the jump. Time and time again they ran the course in Lindsey’s head.

The following Saturday I watched my girl win her first blue ribbon and learn a lifelong lesson on the importance and the power of vision. Rather than focus on the obstacles in the course she focused on getting over them. A good lesson for all of us as we face the obstacles in our course of life.


The longer I live the more I see the negative impact that mediocrity can have in virtually any situation. From a mediocre project team member pulling the team down, to a mediocre waiter ruining a nice dinner out, to a mediocre parent unwilling to say or do the hard things that good parenting sometimes requires… mediocrity, at its core, is really something most of us would like to avoid.

For those who truly aspire to do great things, beware of the mediocre in your midst. You see mediocrity recognizes greatness… resents it… and seeks to pull it down. Rather than rejoice with or emulate greatness, when the mediocre encounter it, they want to destroy it. You see, true greatness makes the mediocre feel “less than” and rather than work harder to become better, the mediocre would rather you become mediocre too.

It could be the athlete who tells his teammates to slow down during pre-season wind sprints, or the teacher who tells her colleague to stop using so much technology in the classroom, or even the sales rep who belittles a coworker for staying late, the bottom line is they do not want to work harder to get better and they don’t like that you do.

Watch out for the cynics too. Cynical people are sometimes nothing more than mediocrity with a bad attitude (which they try and mask by cutting everything else down). You can almost hear them rolling their eyes as they talk. Cynicism is cancer of the attitude and you do not need to hang out with it. You deserve better.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference

This summer, after 22 years of being a professional speaker, I had my first opportunity to work with our men and women in the military. Having never presented to folks in our armed services before, I was quite nervous. As I flew from Atlanta to San Diego to work with the Navy, my self-talk continually threw questions of doubt around in my head:

Would they enjoy my program?
Would my principles apply to “their world”?

Would they be able to relate to my stories and illustrations?

I envisioned a room full of men and women in uniform, sitting in perfect rows, staring up at me with lifeless, stony expressions that conveyed a “hurry up and finish, we have a country to protect” message.

As always, I arrived early to get set up and make sure all the technology was going to cooperate (laptop, LCD projector, wireless lapel microphone, etc). Moments later the first sailors began to arrive and sure enough they were in uniform. Having never served in the military, I immediately felt out of place in my coat and tie. I’m not sure if they could “smell the fear” or not but many of them immediately approached me and introduced themselves to me. Those first to arrive were actually part of a Navy band that was there to play music as the crowd of over 200 filed in.

“What a first class move”, I thought to myself. It sets a whole different feel when people walk into a large meeting room and there is upbeat, toe tapping music playing—much less from a live band. My contact told me that everything they planned for the meeting was intentional and he wanted folks to instantly feel engaged.

I thought to myself, “How many times have I watched people walk into a silent meeting room or ballroom and it was like walking into a morgue. It somehow makes folks want to sit in the back and “punch out”…you know, a lot like church.

The band continued to play right up to the start of the program and then performed the most amazing rendition of the star spangled banner I have ever heard. It gave me goosebumps. As I was introduced and took the stage, I had a crowd full of eager learners who were ready to be challenged and inspired by their speaker (me).

The morning went great and as I flew home I reflected on my contacts words “everything is intentional”.

What a great lesson for all of us. Sometimes it is the little things that can make a big difference in our lives and our pursuits. What many people might have thought of as an afterthought — “Hey, there was live music” –was actually an intentional step in creating the best environment for learning to take place…one with positive energy, that invited folks to engage.