Feeling inspired

One of the hardest things for me to do is write within the parameters of someone else’s making. Themes or starter ideas rarely motivate my creativity into anything substantial, so I agreed with some trepidation to write a short story for a Christmas-themed anthology coming out next year. For weeks my mind wandered in circles, trying to figure out a spinoff from one of my previous novels. Every idea I fleshed out ended up sounding so contrived to fit the Christmas theme they wanted, I cringed in disgust and threw it away. I didn’t care that it was only a short story. If it was going to have my name on it, then the story had to be a work I wasn’t ashamed of.

I awoke early Thanksgiving morning, my mind whirring with an idea that had nothing to do with any character I’d ever written before. I rushed from my bed and stumbled into the kitchen, my fingers scrawling on the first piece of scrap paper I could find.

The plot isn’t groundbreaking, but a funny reflection on a simple truth—the sweetest moments in our lives are those we don’t plan for. I promise, though short, Sidney’s story will be worth reading. Coming Christmas 2019.

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Being a loser isn’t such a bad thing after all

There is a gift in losing that can never be received any other way—it’s called compassion.

My youngest son is fun to watch in most sports. How fast he picks up on athletic skills has blown my mind on more than occasion, but that doesn’t mean he always wins. Far from it—not even fifty percent if I’m being honest. And after watching him this weekend, I can say that all those losses have been for the best.

In a four-man bracket at a wrestling tournament my son finished his last match—an easy pin on someone who clearly was new to the sport. Rather than just shake hands and go his way, he took the teary boy back to his coach with his arm around his shoulders.

I shook my head at the animated way my son lifted his hands up, like people did years ago when saying “raise the roof.” Once a smile cracked on the boy’s face, our son rejoined us on the other side of the mat.

“What was that about?” I said taking his headgear.

“I felt bad about making him cry, so I told him about my very first match, and how I pinned myself by trying to bench press the kid off of me.”

It was an epic loss we still laugh about today.

I couldn’t have been prouder. He didn’t the win the bracket, having experience a loss of his own earlier in the day, but that wasn’t his focus. Instead, he reached out to someone who he could see was in far more need of comfort. All those losses through the years had given him an intimate understanding of what defeat feels like, and he wanted to ease that pain. To me, that makes him one cool kid. He added to my understanding of what it really means to compete in sports.

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The heart of a learner

Experience is life’s greatest teacher. Sometimes it’s the only way you can be taught, which means there is a good chance you’ll be starting out with little to no understanding. Don’t fear those moments—embrace them. No one has all the answers or has experienced everything. And no one is beneath you, no matter how intelligent you think you are. Farmers know things lawyers do not, and vice versa. Everyone you meet could teach you something you don’t know. Just imagine what you could become if you lived by that truth. What knowledge you would acquire if you listened with intent to learn. In fact, the older I get the more I realize how little I know about the things I thought I understood well. Yeah, that was a confusing sentence. 🙂 There is always room for growth, always.

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The making of a great leader: The ability to explain yourself

Ah…communication, probably the single most helpful and yet often most frustrating part of being a leader. You gotta do it. It’s the only way the people beneath you will know the how, when, where, and what you are leading, but let’s face it, words get misconstrued all the time. And sadly, being a mind reader doesn’t exist outside the realm of fantasy. How do you ensure your words are reaching the necessary level of understanding for your endeavor to be successful?

First, make sure you use language familiar to the person you are dealing with. You may be the smartest, most qualified leader the world has ever seen, but if someone can’t understand what you need them to do, your knowledge and leadership is worthless.

Be willing to look for other avenues of communication. You might literally have to paint someone a picture to get your point across. That shouldn’t bother you—we all have different strengths and ways we learn. A leader who is willing to try every avenue will eventually find success with those they work with.

I could go on and on about communicating, but I will leave you with this one last point. You’re going to make mistakes in this department, I promise you. Picking the perfect course of communication for everyone you work with, every time, is not possible, so don’t beat yourself up. A leader who never gives up, never truly fails.

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The making of a great leader: Put a positive spin on it.

Staying positive can be hard at times, but when you’re a leader, it’s critical that you always find a way. Most people do not react well to negativity, it tends to make them less productive. Remember, as a leader, you are like the gasoline for engines. The more pumped up octane you provide those you lead, the better your group’s engine will perform.

This positivity shouldn’t just be about the goals you are trying to attain but also those working with you. Be careful how you speak about those you lead. If you show a constant example of speaking only uplifting things about those under you, everyone will be more likely to do the same. Nothing ruins engines faster than the fissures that come from within. It takes a positive leader to keep them to a minimum.

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The making of a great leader: Humility

The world will always be in need of leaders. As one generation passes away the torch of guidance must fall to someone—the responsibility cannot be left on the ground. But what does it take to make a great leader? Are they born or bred from the circumstances they face? I imagine it’s probably a little bit of both. I’ve have many opportunities to lead in my life and I’ve also had the pleasure of working beneath effective, amazing leaders. Over the next few weeks I want to focus on some of the key characteristics those great leaders had, in hopes that the rising youth will try and incorporate them into their own lives.

At the top of my list is humility. Some of you might find that trait an odd one to put first, but I truly believe it is the most important. A leader who believes they know it all is unteachable, and even worse, often unchangeable. When working with people it is a fundamental truth that no two people are the same. A leader who is humble honestly assess themselves and those around him, trying to find the best means to draw out everyone’s strengths. A humble leader wants success for their entire team, not just themselves. This kind of attitude always generates positive emotions in others. And nothing motivates people more that feelings of positivity.

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Okay, inner self, whose idea was this?

I’m sure each of us can name a few traits we don’t like about ourselves. And while some might be thinking about physical traits, I’m talking about the few inner idiosyncrasies that seem to work at odds with the person we want to be.

Mine? Why can’t I remember the simplest of things, even things that were told me only an hour ago? Every day I chide myself on my forgetfulness, even going as far as swearing I will get a hold on this problem and do better. Yet, day after day, there’s always something that I forget. This quirk of mine is in complete opposition of the kind of person I want to be, but it doesn’t matter, my brain refuses to change. The daily calendar on my phone is made up of ridiculous reminders, like “pick kids up from school,” because if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember. I have a senior in high school, folks. You’d think I would have that one down by now. Nope.

Birthdays, holidays, even my own anniversary have been forgotten a time or two. Trust me, I don’t do it because I’m mean or don’t care, my mind is always whirring with ideas and information. Little details can get flung around pretty hard in there. When I think of it that way it’s amazing I remember to do much of anything at all. I guess what I’m saying in a very roundabout sort of way, if you can’t beat those traits into submission, it might be time to look for outside help to ease the issue. Hence, my phone with it’s endless “to do” tasks and vibrating reminders. Now if only I would stop misplacing the phone fifty times a day. Ugh…yep, hopelessly forgetful, no doubt about it.

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