If you were trying to solve a riddle, would you want me to tell you the answer before you had a chance to figure it out for yourself?

If you were putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and I offered to finish the rest of it for you, would you let me?

If you were assembling a Lego set, would you accept a fully-assembled version if I offered it to you?

There are many people who will offer you answers to your most challenging problems in life. Their answers might be wise with good intent, but being handed the answers ruins the game, spoils the ending, and prevents you from learning important lessons.

Maybe ask for hints instead.

~

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I’ve heard it said that when a good leader is faced with something alarming or unexpected—whether overhearing gossip or weighing a difficult decision—they first take a deep breath. They think. They reflect in silence and allow fear and confusion to pass, as they often do with time.

Good leaders remain calm. They avoid the temptation to react, and simply breathe.

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It’s my belief that most of the people you encounter each day are starved for praise.

In the career world, most bosses rarely compliment the good work employees do each day. Some even waste no time pointing out areas of weakness in their employees.

In relationships, we tend to overlook the kind things we do for each other out of habit. I sometimes overlook the fact that every time my wife takes a trip to the gas station, she buys me a pack of M&Ms. She’s awesome.

Take the opportunity to compliment someone today. But remember: to give meaningful praise, you should know the person and understand what makes them praiseworthy. Don’t give hollow compliments; don’t make a show of it; just share a word of kindness, send an email, or even write a letter. You’ll be glad you did (and so will they).

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A bit of friction sharpens the claws; too much friction dulls them.

A bit of friction within a team strengthens a project; too much friction stalls progress.

A bit of friction in communication can reveal a deeper meaning; too much friction creates separation.

Don’t eliminate it. Just reduce it.

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In the past few years in my field, I’ve found a common thread that defines true professionals.

Pros don’t get cocky. They don’t complain. They show up each morning and serve. They serve their teammates by delivering quality on time and under budget. They serve their clients by maintaining a kind demeanor and patient attitude. They serve their leaders by being reliable and professional. For them, the value they provide with their craft is their act of dignified service each and every day.

Another quality of pros: they know that to be truly effective at providing service to others, they must put in the time and learn to do the work properly. I, as a web developer, can’t walk into an operating theater and perform open-heart surgery. If we can’t meet people’s needs effectively, we’re not providing real service.

Pros also approach career advancement cautiously. They know that as our careers advance, it’s not an opportunity to wield more power; it’s a call to greater service. It’s why we uses phrases like “serve as President” or “serve in the military”; these roles require extraordinary sacrifice, and when those in power act as servants, they inspire and enrich those around them.

Lastly, pros have a mission. They understand why they carry out the service they’ve committed to, and this makes them highly effective. Service without a mission is an act of self-service.

At every point in your career, ask yourself: what service am I providing to others? Is this work valuable to anyone but me?

We are all servants, but pros truly serve.

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June 15, 2017

Avoiding the downhill

I sometimes think about dying. But not in the suicidal way. I wonder what it’ll be like in the end; will I die in a fiery, explosive exit, or will I wither away from disease or old age? Will I leave life fully spent, having given away everything I can?

If life is a mountain, I’m on the climb: I’m enjoying my career, I started a new company, I love the life that me and my wife share (and our travel wish list continues to grow).

But I sometimes wonder what the downhill will be like. Is there an age when I’ll look at a problem or an opportunity and think, no thanks, I’m too old for that? Will there be a day when I decide not to learn something new because I can see the end ahead of me, and maybe I don’t feel like it’s worth my time? Will I choose to make my way down the mountain and retire quietly, having never reached the summit?

I hope not.

But then I remember that this mountain’s peak is as tall as I want it to be. I can keep climbing. Maybe the summit could reveal a new, taller mountain. But in the end, I can choose to keep going. I can choose to keep learning and setting new goals. When I’m 80, I can decide to write that next book or song, and maybe it’ll be my best.

Consider the story of a woman named Audrey Crabtree. At age 99, she finally received her high school diploma, 80 years after leaving school one credit shy of graduation. There’s a very cynical part of me that thinks, “but why bother?”, but I realize that people like Audrey, no matter their age, are climbers. Audrey’s early life regret turned into an opportunity to plant her flag late in life, and she didn’t turn to head back downhill and abandon her dream.

Be like Audrey. There’s a mountain ahead of you, so climb. Also, don’t look down.

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The problem is that they don’t know their own story. They’re living it; they don’t think it’s a story worth telling, so they ignore the fact that their successes, failures, and lessons learned could inspire others and provide insights into what many are seeking.

When we can look back over any period of our lives, recount the narrative, and wrap it up into something that can be shared with others, it’s a recipe for books, talks, projects, or companies.

Ben Chestnut took his expertise in email marketing, packaged up the valuable parts of his narrative, and turned it into MailChimp.

You have a story to tell; it might be one that’s​ new to many people. Take the time to dissect the threads of that story, package it up, and tell it to the world in a way that creates the greatest good.

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If you choose to lead, you must also choose to leave the field.

You must head to the sidelines and encourage your people to claim the victories. Advise offscreen and direct your team towards the goal when they need your help. Cultivate a passionate team, praise their strengths, and coach their weaknesses.

To win as a leader, be of service to those doing the winning.

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May 27, 2017

Life Currency

We all have a life currency—an area of our life (not including money) which, when we have it in abundance, we consider ourselves wealthy.

Some people’s life currency is in relationships. They attract friends easily and feel most accomplished when they develop a large friend community.

Others choose a life currency in travel. They feel most at home on the road or exploring the unknown. Their richness is derived from experiences.

Some choose to build their life currency from a career. They dedicate most of their time and energy to a cause or an organization, and they consider themselves wealthy from their professional accomplishments.

Others choose to build life currency in family. They set out to raise a happy and healthy children and dedicate most of their time to family upbringing.

With this in mind, remember that we all have our own idea of life currency. Not everyone shares your values or dreams, so be careful not to judge others if they’re not chasing your preferred life currency.

Also, like money, life currency is best used when given away. If you’re pursuing a career, build your skills in an effort to serve others and meet their needs. If you’re traveling, use those experiences to give back and enlighten the world around you. If you’re building relationships, build those relationships out of love, not out of a desire for acceptance. And if your currency is in family, raise a family built on values, so that those you raise can go out into the world and make something good of it.

Whatever life you choose, live it richly.

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May 27, 2017

Earn It

You have to earn it
every day
or what you know
will become what you knew
and what you do
will become what you did.

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