In The News

Posted on Monday, March 3, 2008 at 08:53AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Each of us has been affected by many people in the course of our lives, some more than others. One particular man influenced me in a very specific area. I had a football coach for a social studies class when I was in the 8th grade. I vividly recall two things about this teacher. The class was 1st period and some students tended to be still sleepy (fortunately I was not one of them). Coach had a golf club with which he would wake students whose heads were too heavy to keep off their desktops. He would walk up to the offender’s desk and, with a brisk upstroke, strike the bottom of the desk under the sleeping head. This method produced quite a loud sound and jolted the whole class, of course, none more than the sleeper.

That method of dealing with students sleeping in class would not be tolerated in today’s classroom. But the other thing I remember about the coach should be a part of every school kid’s education. Each morning, before the lesson began, Coach would pull out that day’s newspaper and read aloud excerpts from the top stories (or whatever else captured his interest). The class would then discuss the various news items. This was the point in my development when internalized the value of keeping abreast of current events.

A perusal of today’s news finds that the Israelis have pulled forces out of Gaza, ahead of Secretary Rice’s visit, after retaliating for Palestinian rockets being shot into Israel. Vladimir Putin’s hand-pick successor, as everyone expected, won election as Russia’s next President. Senator Clinton is on the ropes in the democratic primary against Senator Obama. The U.S. economy is bad, but the powers that be are not admitting it’s in recession. There are tensions between Colombia and Equator in South America and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) is stirring it up even more. And, here locally (metro Atlanta) a myriad of concerned groups and individuals are calling for the resignation of the entire Clayton County school board.

Of all the news I just touched on, the only thing I could have any remote affect on (and it would be very remote!) is the school board situation. And that is the way with all the news we hear, see, and read. Unless you are an elected official or a big-time insider, you, like me, are a spectator to the events in the news. Which begs the question, why is it important to pay attention to the news?

There are three reasons. First, learning new stuff is great for brain health. Second, being knowledgeable about current events gives you something intelligent to talk about. Third, and most importantly, understanding what’s happening in the larger world gives you perspective in dealing with “your” world.

Brian's Island - part 10

Posted on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 10:49AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian, his truck and trailer ceased forward and downward motion suddenly and completely. The impact was jarring, but not as bad as Brian had feared it might be. The air was thick with dust, even inside the cab. Brian wondered, sitting there, stunned, how that dust got inside the truck. He was afraid to move, not knowing what his injuries might be. He just sat still for several minutes listening to super-heated water escape as steam from the destroyed radiator under the crinkled hood in front of him.

As the dust settled, Brian looked left, then right. He was struck be the beauty of the nature that surrounded him. Had he not arrived here via such distressing circumstances he would like to have found this place. Spring had come early here. Everything was green and lush. And the trees were like none he’d seen anywhere else on the island. They were huge. Making a rudimentary comparison to the size of his truck, Brian estimated that some of these giant trees were more than 20 feet in diameter.

Then Brian’s mind snapped back to his predicament. So, slowly, carefully, he began to move, first his hands, then arms, then feet, then legs. He did not move any part much, just enough to assess its functionality. There was no pain and no visible signs of blood or breakage. After another few minutes, he moved more. He put one hand on the console between the seats and the other on the armrest attached to the drivers door and pushed himself up, carefully. He moved a couple of inches up and back in the seat. Still, everything felt good. So he reached for the door handle and wondered if the door would open or be jammed. It opened. Moving slowly, still, he pulled his left leg from the floorboard and put his left foot on the ground, then rotated his body counterclockwise in the seat and put his right foot outside of the truck. He slid down from the seat with clenched teeth, anticipating that there may be pain when his right foot hit the ground followed by the weight of his body on his legs.

There was no pain and his legs were stable under him. He was still holding the door with one hand and bracing against the door jam with the other. He let go, still good. Brian was relieved to not be injured. He offered a prayer of thanks to God for this, then took a few steps away from the wreckage.

He was torn between going for help and exploring this wonderful place. He had always been able to think on his feet. He could hold various thoughts simultaneously in his awareness without the most emotionally charged of them taking all of his attention. So now, he reasoned that since he was not hurt and no one else was involved and since he couldn’t think of any reason why there was a rush to excavate his truck, he might as well look around.

To be continued

Renaissance Status

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 08:17PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

No one is perfect, but we humans have always aspired to be. And for a brief moment in history one human came amazingly close. For 67 years, from 1452 to 1519, Leonardo da Vinci approached perfection. And, though not even Leonardo could achieve what is Christ’s alone, he did come closer than any other person (that history chronicled) before or since.

In the western world we have this concept of education, called liberal arts, based on well-roundedness – exposure to many subjects and disciplines. The ultimate product of a liberal arts education is a Renaissance man (or woman). And Leonardo was the prototypical Renaissance man. He was legitimately accomplished (and in most cases superior to his peers) as a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. He is considered equal to the greatest painter of all time and is almost certainly the most diversely talented person to have ever lived.

Maybe before, but assuredly after Leonardo, ambitious people, inspired by his example, have aspired to achieve extreme proficiency in multiple disciplines. In fact, when we discover we have a deficiency in some area or another, we either work to improve in that area or we feel inferior for being flawed. But the thing that is flawed is our belief that we should be good at everything.

In fact, one of the secrets to a great life is to focus on your strengths. Stop and think about that concept: Focus on your strengths. While we all must achieve a degree of proficiency at living in the world, we do not need to spend time, energy and attention in the pursuit of perfection. A well-lived life is not about ticking off a myriad of diverse accomplishments. It is about the contribution we each can make to the world.

Leonardo could contribute in many areas. You and I may only be able to contribute in one or two. But if we do not focus on and develop those one or two, we will end up not contributing at all. And that would be the worst use of our lives.

And, lest you think that satisfaction and joy will be left behind when you abandon the pipe dream of Renaissance status, the most satisfaction and joy are found in doing one thing well, not multiple things poorly.

Just a Few More Minutes

Posted on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 02:56PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments1 Comment

How many times have you wished for just a few more minutes? Just a few more minutes of sleep when your alarm goes off. Just a few more minutes when you are frantically rushing somewhere because you are late. Just a few more minutes in a basketball or football game for your team to come back. Just a few more minutes to get some work done before a deadline. Just a few more minutes with a loved one. Just a few more minutes or even hours would really help to ease our stress and afford us more joy.

Well, you’re in luck. You have 1440 extra minutes. Think about it. That’s a lot of minutes. 1440 will cover “just a few more” a bunch of times.

Why? How? What are you talking about?

You have 1440 extra minutes this month and this year. You have February 29th. A whole extra day – 24 extra hours, which equals 1440 extra minutes.

What will you do with all those minutes? Use them wisely. It will be 4 years before you get another bonus day.

And I’m giving you a heads-up now so you’ll have time to plan how to use your extra minutes.

Brian's Island - part 9

Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at 10:23AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian felt himself pulled toward the vacant chasm he stood surveying. He leaned forward, but, at the same time felt as if an imaginary harness held him from leaning too far. And he thought, “Even if I got up the courage to get off this island, how would I do it? To simply jump would be suicide.” And he wasn’t even sure his islander instincts would allow it, anyway. Though, at that moment, getting off the island seemed more impossible than ever, he realized he could not, as he had thought after talking with his dad, be satisfied with staying. Brian also knew that to have any hope of realizing his dream of getting off the island, factors out of his control would have to turn in his favor.

He turned slowly away from the edge and walked to his mower. He sat in the seat and cranked the engine. With the blade disengaged, he drove the mower back to his waiting truck and trailer and loaded it. He finished the job (edging, pruning) and drove back up the sandy dirt road.

Brian’s next job that day was east of his first. When he reached the junction of the small dirt road and the paved highway, he turned right and pressed the accelerator. As he drove, he replayed the sights, thoughts, and feelings he’d had standing on the edge. He was frustrated by not knowing how to proceed, but, at the same time, excited all over again. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a large island deer leapt from the woods onto the road in front of Brian’s truck. There was no time to think and Brian pulled down on the steering wheel with his right hand, hard and fast. The truck listed to the left as it tired to follow its front wheels, which were now pointed 45 degrees right. There was a lot of vibration and screeching as the tires fought, against the shifting weight of the truck and trailer, to hold their grip on the pavement.

It is amazing how fast the human mind works. In that split second Brian was able to look at the trees he was headed towards, find a narrow clearing, and change the position of the steering wheel just enough to thread the nose of his truck between two trees. The next sensation was the awful noise of hundreds of small tree limbs scraping down the side and over the top of the truck. Again, in a split second, Brian was fully conscious of the decision to slam his foot down on the brake peddle and then to put his other foot next to it, and push with both as hard as he could.

Locking down the brakes did not seem to effect the forward motion of the truck and trailer. They were still speeding through the woods. Tree trunks flying by on both sides. Then Brian lost his stomach. The truck launched off the ground, then fell over some kind of drop-off.

To be continued…

Optimal or Marginal

Posted on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 04:05PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Well-constructed goals are often achieved, but there is another issue which needs to be addressed. I am a fan of, and would highly recommend, the work of Stephen Covey. One of the profound insights with which Dr. Covey changed my reality was his “ladder against the wrong wall” proposition. 

The setting of goals does not ensure that the goals are right. In fact, the mechanism of goal-setting doesn’t know pro from con. Goals are like the rungs on a ladder. They help you get to the results you want, step by step. Goals, like a tool or a weapon, can be used for good or evil. They can facilitate the achievement of the right outcome or the wrong one.

For most of us, the choice is not between good and evil or right and wrong. It is more subtle. It is between optimal and marginal. Pay close attention to what you want your real, honest, ultimate outcome to be, then set your goals. It is your time and effort and life. Make it count.

Brian's Island - part 8

Posted on Friday, February 22, 2008 at 02:41PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

There were no fences at the edge of the island. Brian wasn’t sure whether it was a law or not. But he knew it did not matter if a law was somewhere written down, no one would ever think of putting up a fence. It was part of the shared culture of the island. There were fences around yards and buildings and parks on the interior, but never around any part of the parameter of the island. Brian sometimes wondered why there were not stories of children or animals falling of the edge. But there were not. Ever. It was as if every living thing on the island was born with an awareness of the edge and an undefeatable mental barrier that held them all from going beyond it.

Brian stopped looking beyond the edge of the island when his mower got within three rows of reaching it. He concentrated on his straight lines. And, finally, he wheeled the mower around to make the last pass – to cut the last swatch of grass next to the edge. He felt his concentration ratchet up even more. He was not nervous. Like all the islanders, Brian knew his mind and body would not allow him to make a mistake this close to the edge. But he also knew that this level of concentration was the reason why.

At the end of the last row Brian turned the mower back toward the house. He pulled it forward, across the end of the last two rows, and stopped. He reached down and turned the mower’s key a quarter turn counterclockwise. The motor stopped. There was not another sound. Brian was aware of the residual ringing in his ears, from listening to the mower run, but he was, at the same time, aware of total silence. The kind of silence that is more than the absence of sound. It is a void, like the sound has been sucked out.

Brian got off the mower and walked around a bit, stretching and limping, as his muscles loosed up. He was captivated by the thought of the edge being a few steps away. But still, on another level in his mind, he was able to look back over the freshly mowed grass and admire his work.

Then with excitement and trepidation, Brian walked slowly, directly, to the edge. He stood, first looking out, then down. And the words of Edgar Allan Poe echoed through his mind: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

Brian's Island - part 7

Posted on Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 10:01AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Mowing grass was the most monotonous task in Brian’s work. In planting new plants or even trimming and pruning there is art and creativity. In mowing there is just the redundant back and forth and attention to straightness. The challenge is to stay focused even as the motion tries to rock you to sleep.

The motor of the mower droned in a kind of ebb and flow way as Brian cut straight rows across the yard. He learned, in the beginning, that the trick to making the rows straight was to pick a point at the end of the row and focus on it. Brian was also blessed with an innate sense of square. He could look at the lines his mower cut and the perpendicular edge of the grass and tell whether it was at a perfect right angle.

But Brian worried that in this yard his lines would not be straight, because his head kept being pulled to the side. He told himself, “You’ll get there when you get there.” But still, he could not stop himself from looking.

Being here, near the edge, caused Brian’s mind to scroll, over and over, through all of his dreams and fears of leaving the island. He always started by thinking about the freedom and excitement and fulfillment he imagined awaited him somewhere else. And then he would, involuntarily, slip into reviewing every reason why leaving was not only a bad idea, but impossible. Then, in frustration, he let himself think, just for a moment, “What if, when I get to the edge, I simply jump off?”

Brian’s mower was still carrying him too and fro and with each pass moving him closer to the edge. The mower rolled back and forth; but his emotions were traveling up and down. On the outside Brian was riding on flat ground, on the inside he was riding a roller coaster. At one point he almost stopped working. He told himself he could not finish. He could not go to the edge. But there was a disconnect between his thought and his actions. His body just kept driving the mower, closer and closer.

Soon he could see the edge and, off in the distance, the foggy outline of another island. He squinted to focus, but the expanse of space and the fog made the other island impossible to clearly see. Plus, he had to keep jerking his head back to front in order to keep the mower on line.

Ten, maybe twelve, more passes and he would be there, at the edge.

Fitness Is More Than Physical

Posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 11:29AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Everybody knows that physical fitness is good. Everybody wants it. We watch the infomercials and make our resolutions; and we have no doubt but that being healthy, well, fit, and conditioned is the way to live. Of course, the problem is getting from here to there. This is not a diatribe on motivating yourself. I just want to point out some not-so-obvious reasons why you may want to muster the motivation to get fit.

In Western society the primary reason to get fit is aesthetic. We want to look good. And, while that is fine, it is a by-product of real fitness. Plastic surgery and starvation can make you look good (in the short term) but will not make you fitter or healthier (or happier for that matter). So, physical fitness is the goal – a healthy heart, muscles, joints, bones. But there is a lot more.

I am always gratified when my physical body has the stamina and strength to do something challenging: Fend off my playfully attacking daughter, lift and carry a heavy box up the stairs, play in a pick-up soccer game, run a few miles… But there is even more. The benefits of physical fitness go beyond the physical. They extend to capturing a sense of well-being, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of victory.

A sense of well-being is something that cannot be described. It has to be experienced. But once you experience it, you know it is worth replicating as often as possible. Physical fitness helps us get to that feeling of well-being.

A sense of accomplishment is one of the most rewarding of human feelings. It can be the result of mental achievements or psychological triumphs, but demanding something of your body and having it deliver for you is one of the purest ways to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Humans have always participated in contests with one another. Too often these are mortal contests like wars. But even absent a war, humans create ways to compete. I can’t even name all the sports we’ve invented. And then there are all the other games we get into just to see if we can beat the other guy. We have an innate need for victory. Obviously, physical fitness can aide us in achieving victories in fighting and sports. But it also provides an avenue by which to achieve another kind of victory: a personal victory. The same feeling you get from beating someone else occurs when you win over, what you thought were, your own limitations – A personal victory.

And that’s not all. There are (at least) two more benefits of a physically fit body. The first is control over your own life. When you are out of shape you necessarily give up some of your freedom and control. You can’t work or play at whatever you choose. You can’t go and do whatever you want. And you certainly give up a lot of the enjoyment of just moving freely about.

And the last reason (that I can think of right now) to be physically fit is to be an example to others. I absolutely believe we are here, together, on this earth, to help each other. And setting a good example of physical fitness is a great way to positively impact all the people we encounter in our lives. I have been inspired to better physical fitness by my friends and acquaintances. And I hope I have paid that forward by inspiring others.

You Can't Kick the Habit

Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 12:37PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

We all have vices and habits. You can say that one habit is worse than another but you cannot say a human can live without habits. I think some try, but, after a short time, fall off the wagon. Of course, the destructive habits are the things against which we must guard. Or a better way to think is: Aspire to and pursue positive habits.

Habits come and find us, but good and productive ones must be sought out. They are often easily seen. But, like a landmark off in the distance, seeing it and getting to it are different matters entirely. And, not to discourage, but even after a good habit is in hand, it is a slippery thing.

Nicotine and alcohol and drugs can make themselves your habits, as can eating disorders (too much and too little) and sleeping disorders (too much and too little) and negative relationships and even the accumulation of material possessions. But only by your volition and commitment can you make good things your habits.

Your mind, your soul, and your body need habits. That is why they are susceptible to substances and situations. Denying the need for habits is delusional. The thing that we must do is fill the need. Fill it with good stuff. Fill your mind with books and the banter of smart friends; fill your soul with prayer, meditation and scripture; fill your body with water and exercise and the right kinds and amounts of food and sleep.

This will take initiative, planning, and diligence. And it is worth it, in multiples!

Brian's Island - part 6

Posted on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 11:14AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian awoke. He had an “instant on” kind of mind. It did not have to boot up like a computer that’s been off, or wake up slowly like other people who’ve been asleep. His mind began immediately assessing what needed to happen in the unspoiled day ahead.

Today Brian’s work would take him to the Southern coast of the island. He had a residential customer there. Brian showered, dressed, grabbed a few pieces of fruit from the bowl on the kitchen counter, and burst out of the house into the cold morning air. He could feel the freezing vinyl of his truck’s seat even through several layers of clothes. He put the key in the ignition and turned it 2 clicks, then waited. In a few seconds a light on the dash went off indicating that the glow plug that ignited the fuel in the engine was sufficiently warmed. Brain turned the key another notch and the motor rattled to life. It did not rattle because it was old or ill-maintained. Brian is obsessive about keeping all of his equipment in perfect condition. It rattled because that’s what diesel motors do. Brian did not know why, but there was something very satisfying to him about hearing that motor run.

He pulled out of the driveway and drove through his neighborhood’s streets, almost idling, in the dark. He noted which of his neighbors were early risers, like himself, by seeing whose lights were on and whose houses were dark. Most were dark.

After a couple of turns and a couple of minutes, Brian pulled out onto the larger highway and pressed the accelerator hard. The sound of the engine went from a rattle to a clatter and the truck, pulling his landscaping trailer, picked up speed, heading south.

After about a half hour’s worth of driving, Brian turned off the main highway onto a smaller road, which he followed to a, still smaller, dirt road. There was no gravel like on unpaved roads in the island’s mountains. Here, near the coast, the soil was sandy enough to keep the mud to a minimum without gravel. He slowly wound down the narrow path until he arrived at a cul-de-sac of sorts – three driveways diverging from the end of the road. Brian was glad his customer’s was the center drive. He knew his truck and trailer rig would not make the turn into the left or right drive.

Brian couldn’t remember how long he’d had, as customers, these homeowners. They were some of his oldest customers. Two women owned the house together. They were single (though he vaguely remembered that one used to be married).

Brian unloaded his commercial lawnmower first. It was already gassed up and cleaned, blades sharp, and all maintenance done. So he fired its engine up and drove it around the house, by the pool, which was surrounded by a huge screen enclosure, and into the back yard. This backyard was long and narrow – about 50 feet wide but 200 feet from the pool deck to the edge of the island. The sun was just coming up.

Brian tried to keep his mind on his work, cutting perfectly straight rows, stretching the short way across the yard, like he knew the owners wanted. This kind of attention to detail and willingness to spend the extra time cutting short rows instead of long columns or even concentric circles, was what differentiated Brian from his competitors. He took great satisfaction in knowing that no other yard maintenance outfit would take the time to cut this yard this way. But Brian’s normal ability to concentrate on the job at hand was always challenged in this particular back yard, because the south end of this yard ended at the south end of the island.

Brian kept telling himself, “You’ll get there when you get there. You have to cut all the rows of grass from here to there first.” Still he could not help but glance away from his straight rows, toward the island’s edge.

to be continued…

Mouse Eye

Posted on Friday, February 15, 2008 at 02:04PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Think about a mouse’s view of the world. A mouse’s view of the world would be very limited. In addition to being small already, a mouse walks on 4 legs instead of bi-pedally, as do we humans. Thus a mouse’s view is that much lower to the ground. I have no idea how keen a mouse’s vision is. But I would suspect that it is not that good, therefore further limiting the scope of a mouse’s view of the world.

Compare what an adult human can see to this mouse-eye view. A person between 5’0’’ and 6’0” tall, standing on two legs, with 20/20 vision, can see, absent obstructions, for miles. A mouse, on the other hand, under perfect conditions, can see for yards. Since God designed a mouse to be a mouse and a human to be a human, I have to assume that a mouse-eye view is perfect for a mouse.

The problem is that we humans go through our lives, at least, mostly, with a mouse-eye view of the world. I am no longer talking about the physical act of seeing. Now, I am referring to vision not eyesight. Vision being our perception of what is possible for our lives.

Along with our size and upright walking and eyesight God gave us amazing minds. Minds that can conceive of and execute fantastic things. But most of us, most of the time, do not use these amazing minds. Instead we go from home to work to the ball field to the golf course to home to work to the ball field to the golf course… Or whatever your routine happens to be (I only wish the golf course was part of mine). My point is that we don’t stand up and look around (mentally) to see what we could be accomplishing with our lives. We just follow the mouse maze of our routine unless an outside force (sickness, job loss, relationship problems) interrupts us. And then we complain and whine and pray for things to go back to “normal”.

Wake up, stand up, look up and see (really see!) of your own volition, now, before the interruptions. Or, if you’re already experiencing an interruption, see it for what it is: A wake up call.

Ya Never Know

Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 02:31PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

It was 1983 and I was sitting in my first ever college business class – Introduction to Management. Fortunately for me, the class was taught by the Dean of the School of Business. Well, I guess it wasn’t fortunate that he was the Dean, necessarily, but fortunate that I had Dr. Hunsucker for MGT 101. Dr. Hunsucker was a Tom Peters devotee. Tom Peters, for those of you who don’t know, is a prominent business writer, lecturer, and consultant. Peters was a junior military officer who, after his service, went to work for the famed business consulting firm: McKinsey & Co. After his stint with McKinsey, Peters struck out on his own. He secured his place in business history (and his fortune) by co-writing the, now classic, business book: “In Search of Excellence”.

I don’t recall anything else Dr. Hunsucker said or did in that class. But I vividly remember sitting in the downstairs lecture hall in the business building at West Georgia College and watching him put a cassette tape in a small tape recorder/player. I don’t know how we all heard it (the acoustics must have been good in that room); but I heard it loud and clear. It was a recording of a Tom Peters lecture based on “In Search of Excellence”. I listened with rapt attention. I was mesmerized by Peters’ tales of searching for excellence in companies, then trying to replicate that excellence in others. After that, I bought that cassette-taped lecture and wore the cassette out listening to it over and over. Later, I bought many, many more of Tom Peters’ books and recordings and attended several of his lectures in person. I even met Tom and got him to sign his book “Liberation Management” for me.

That one day, in the lecture hall, in MGT101, has influenced my thinking about business (which I pursued to a college degree and a 20-year career) more than any other thing before or since. For people wanting to study business now I would endorse “Good to Great” as the best business book ever. But “In Search of Excellence” will always be the one that hooked me. Incidentally, a lot of other Tom Peters books have been very valuable to me over the years. And he is still relevant today: www.TomPeters.com.

Ya never know what will positively impact your life.

Right Away

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 03:51PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Today I find myself with nothing to write. I had planned, when the year began, to write and keep at least 5 posts in a folder, complete, and ready to go, for just such an occasion as this. Well, I do not have 5 posts in a folder. I do not have one post in a folder. But, despite evidence to the contrary, I have done a much better job of not procrastinating in 2008 than I did previously.

Now when something that needs my attention comes up, I am much more likely to knock it out right away. My old philosophy was to put everything on a list, then prioritize the list, then check off the tasks in order of importance. This is the textbook time management way. The pitfall, though, for me, was that the list would get so large that it would become overwhelming. And soon I’d be back to just doing things when, and only when, they were absolutely due or past due.

My new way is much better. Some things still have to go on a list, because they just cannot be done instantly. Things that involve gathering data or assembling people. But many, many things can be done very near to as soon as they come up. And I have found that doing immediately the things that can be done immediately helps me in two ways. The first is obvious: It unclutters the list. The second is less obvious but, I think, more important: When I do something as soon as it comes to my attention I only have to think about it once. On the other hand, if I put an item on a list I have to think about it (read worry about it) several times before it gets done.

So, lists are still necessary in time and task management. But the Nike way - Just Do It - works for a lot of stuff.

Now I need to “just do it” regarding filling my blog folder with posts.

Boating

Posted on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 10:51AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I am a boating enthusiast. Well, the truth is, I am a dormant boating enthusiast (I don’t now have a boat though I hope to again one day). For years my parents owned a house on a beautiful lake between Atlanta and Augusta. I had a boat; and my dad had a boat; and there were an assortment of personal watercraft, skies, knee boards, and wake boards, belonging to various family members, always available. My wife and I (before we had kids), and my brother and sister, and bunches of friends, spent many weekends at that lake.

Before buying my boat, I had driven other people’s boats a few times. I knew the basics. But when I got my own boat, and was able to accumulate a lot of hours on the lake, I learned to be an expert boat driver. In addition to the perfunctory considerations of boat driving (steering, throttle, trim) there is a rhythm to it. It is different from driving a car. By and large, the asphalt under a car is stable and immoveable; where as the water under a boat is in constant motion. And the actions of a boat’s driver cause reactions from the lake, which have to be factored (preferably in advance) into the situation.

On the open water boat driving is pretty straight forward. Point the bow where you want to go, push the throttle forward, and watch for other boats. But in tight spaces and near docks boat driving gets much more demanding. It is different from driving a car for three reasons: First, as mentioned above, the water moves. Second, there is no break. And third, the distance a boat will “coast”, at a given speed, is different from a car.

The mistake most people make when riding a motorcycle for the first time is trying to stop by putting their feet on the ground. The mistake inexperienced people make when driving a boat is killing the throttle and still expecting steering input to yield results. A boat, unlike a wheeled vehicle, will not turn while coasting. It must have power to the propeller in order to respond to the steering wheel.

We have all spent a lot of time sitting around thinking or even talking to friends about our great ideas. We may even get to the point of spending time and effort making plans associated with our great ideas. But, like a boat, a great idea will never go where you want it to without power. It will not come to fruition unless you take action.

A lot of money and time is spent in offices and conference rooms at businesses, large and small, on planning. And I am a proponent of planning. It is essential. It is not, however, an end in itself. That is why Larry Bossidy (of GE and Honeywell fame) wrote the important (if kind of boring) book, “Execution”. By “Execution” he did not mean killing people, but rather executing a plan – engaging the throttle of action so that the plan for steering will work.

Whether in your business or your personal life, action is key. Without it your best laid plans will either go nowhere or coast into a crash.

Bolivar Fuerte

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2008 at 07:49AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

The currency of Venezuela is the bolivar. At the beginning of this year, January 1, 2008, Venezuela changed the valuation of the bolivar. Well, at least the powers that be tried to change the perceived value of their currency. It is called bolivar fuerte, which translates to “the strong bolivar”. The bolivar fuerte policy simple removed 3 zeros from the currency. But currencies are made by world economic forces, not by political proclamation. So saying that on December 31st 2000 bolivars were equal to 1 US dollar (the government imposed exchange rate) but now 2 bolivars are equal to 1 US dollar, is delusional.

You and I have something in common with corrupt and crazy political leaders who try to artificially change their country’s currency, or time zone, or workday (all of which Venezuela’s president attempted). Instead of doing the actual, honest, and laborious soul-searching that leads to realizing, admitting (to God and ourselves), and fixing our shortcomings, we reframe the issues. We hide out weaknesses. We make what we can seem normal and hide the rest.

It is not enough to proclaim or project the kind of life or to pretend to be the kind of person we want others to believe we have and are. For one thing the illusion is never sustainable. And for another, it’s not about what other people see or believe. It’s about congruence.

I saw a television show about men in prison last night. One of the inmates said that he was more at peace now, even in prison, than he was on the outside, before he got caught. The reason, he said, is that now he is not hiding any dark secrets. He is exactly, on the inside, what he appears to be, on the outside.

It does not improve the economy of a country to knock 3 zeros off the currency. And it does not improve you to act as if you are more successful, happy, confident, competent, etc. than you are. What will really help you is to do the work (inside and out) to actually be more successful, happy, confident, competent, etc. And in that authenticity you will also find a peace, for which you will be thankful, and a humility, for which others will be thankful.

Brian's Island - part 5

Posted on Friday, February 8, 2008 at 10:51AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian liked to get up early. He enjoyed being outside at sunrise, especially in the summer, when the temperature was perfect and the air heavy with moisture, but now, in winter, too. He wore layers of clothes to hold in the heat (which is much more effective than keeping out the cold), so that he could appreciate the cold air on his face without being chilled by it. Brian liked to be up and out before dawn so that he could see and feel the sunrise. He thought it an odd thing that the temperature got cooler just as the sun rose. As if the sun were sucking the heat up from the earth before pouring it back down.

Brian also liked the early morning because he felt he could get more of the stuff he valued done before everyone else began to stir. Spending time in prayer and stillness helped Brian a lot and he could best do this early, undisturbed, undistracted, in the mornings. The mornings had a practical advantage for Brian, too. He could travel about the island unencumbered by traffic. And he could know that he was getting ahead of his fellow islanders.

Some people are motivated, in sport or life, by coming from behind. But Brian was not one of them. He did not gain inspiration or strength from being the underdog. Brian’s mind worked differently. He was most inspired by gaining an advantage over whomever he perceived to be his competitor and then leveraging that advantage to greater advantage. According to Brian’s way of thinking, getting up and out early put him ahead of the pack from the beginning of the day. He often got 3 or 4 jobs done before other landscapers even arrived at their first job for the day.

And Brian loved the mornings, more importantly, because in the morning all possibilities for that day are still open – every outcome is still available. Miracles can still happen.

What Would That Do For You

Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2008 at 03:35PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

What in this world do people want?

· money

    • homes
    • vehicles
    • vacations
    • toys

    · accomplishment and achievement

      • #1 salesperson
      • youngest person ever promoted to …
      • company or industry star performer
      • scratch golfer or club champ
      • ALTA tennis domination
      • 250 bowling average
      • softball world series winner

      · status

        • corporate power
        • political influence
        • Dr in front or PhD behind your name
        • adoring fans

        · health

          • wellness
          • fitness
          • strength
          • shape
          • condition
          • mental acuity

          · good relationships

            • a happy marriage
            • closeness with your children
            • loyal and fun friends

            · adventures and experiences

              • climb a mountain
              • go on safari
              • sail the Caribbean
              • race cars or boats or planes
              • show horses
              • run marathons or even triathlons
              • travel the world

              Is there anything else to add to the list?

              If you had the money to fund everything you want, what would that do for you?

              If you had the perfect house, or better yet, all the perfect houses, the one at the beach, the one in the mountains, the one at the lake, the one in the tropics, and an army of servants to take care of them all so that you need only show up and enjoy, what would that do for you?

              If you had a stable of cars, collector cars, maybe 60’s and 70’s muscle cars or European sports cars, or if you had several airplanes or boats and a staff of caretakers to manage them all so you need only pick from the menagerie and enjoy, what would that do for you?

              If business and political leaders looked to you for advice and guidance, if important and average people alike desired only to do your will, what would that do for you?

              If your body and your mind were near perfect, if you enjoyed great health, and a strong, conditioned, lean, well body, what would that do for you?

              If you had all the things of this world – all the thing described about (and whatever others you would add to this list) what would that do for you?

              If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would that do for you?

              In the end, all you want and all you’ve ever wanted is peace, peace of mind, the Peace of the Lord. If you trace each and every possession, power, and performance to its emotional and psychological end, that end is Peace.

              And the secret is you don’t need the litany of stuff above to have peace.

Small Talk

Posted on Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 11:08AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

We each have different gifts. The ability to make small talk is not one of mine. Until recently, I had two problems with small talk: I found it difficult and useless.

I am shy, so small talk does not come naturally. Maybe I have some Finnish DNA (In Finland shyness is considered a positive trait). And why should I waste my time talking about the weather or traffic or sports scores. After all, time is more precious than money. How could it be prudent to use so much of it going over the same old things with every person I see.

For a lot of my adult life my solution to not having the small talk talent was to short circuit the small talk preamble to a conversation by opening with some statement or question that got straight to a substantive issue. But over the last few years I have come to see the value in small talk. It is not the details of the weather or the football game that make small talk important. It is the connection it establishes. When we meet someone new, or see someone infrequently, small talk is the device we use to connect or reconnect ourselves with them.

We’ve all heard that most of what is communicated between people is non-verbal. And, additionally, even in verbal communication, the content is only part of the package. Our inflection and intonation, the specific words we choose, the words we avoid, all tell a lot more than just the temperature and the score.

Some people have the gift of being personable. Others, like me, do not. But we can all strengthen our weaknesses, especially in the area of human interaction. And regarding small talk, we should. We should because it is crucial to connecting with other people. And connecting with other people is essential.

Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 08:44AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE

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It is Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday. At first glance, the two seem to have nothing whatever to do with one another. In fact, they seem diametrically opposed to one another. After all, Fat Tuesday is about drunken partying in the streets. And Super Tuesday is about the sober task of electing each party’s nominee for president. Fat Tuesday is the epitome of irresponsible behavior; and Super Tuesday is about the ultimate civil responsibility.

But I think if we look more closely we see that Fat Tuesday and Super Tuesday are actually inexorably linked together. If it were not for the protections afforded us by free and fair elections there may well be no parties in the streets. What if we were ruled by political parties who opposed street parties? What if we were ruled by a dictator who despised partying – many countries are. What if Fat Tuesday was made illegal, enforced by the military? What if we were ruled by communist or socialists who sucked up all rewards of the people’s work and so there was no disposable income with which to party?

Did you know Marti Gras (which is French for Fat Tuesday) is based on Christian theology? It is a celebration tied to Lent and Easter. Fat Tuesday always occurs the day before Ash Wednesday. What if religious freedoms were not protected? Fat Tuesday may be declared heretical or unpatriotic by the government.

So, in a very real way, Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday have a lot to do with one another. Celebrations are good and necessary. But they are only warranted and possible when there is something to celebrate and freedom to celebrate.

(Fortunately for the people who like to participate in the democratic process AND partake in the decadence, there is early voting.)