Brian's Island - part 4

Posted on Monday, February 4, 2008 at 11:36AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Since deciding to abandon his pipe dream of leaving this island, Brian refocused on his work as a grounds keeper. He had built a small business around his enjoyment of landscaping. He had as customers various businesses and residences around the island. He loved that this job rewarded attention to detail with a visual payoff – that the selection, placement, and grooming of the plants created symmetry and beauty. And he loved that his job did not require him to be indoors. He even enjoyed, as an added benefit, driving around the island, as he went from customer to customer.

Brian learned, growing up, that hard work is honorable and essential. Each person’s value to society and to himself is measured by how hard he works. Brian started his landscaping business with this philosophy firmly embedded. But somewhere along the way Brian began to doubt this tenet. His doubt started when he noticed that hard work was valued regardless of whether or not it actually contributed to the good of the society or the individual. In other words, the work in and of itself was assigned a worth, regardless of whether or not that work contributed any actual value.

In fact, Brian had noticed, in his own life, that working hard had never really paid off. It was not his work ethic, but his intelligence that was responsible for whatever advances he had enjoyed. His business was born and grew not because he worked harder than his competitors, but because he used his artistic bent and business acumen to out-create and out-market them.

Brian pondered such things as he pruned crape myrtles in front of a huge warehouse, inside which audio CD were produced. The crape myrtles were brown and dead. Brian carefully, one branch at a time, trimmed the smaller offshoots away. After the pruning the small trees would look like a bunch of naked sticks pointing to the sky.

Lest you wonder why the crape myrtles would be dormant on a tropical island, Brian’s island is not tropical. In fact, it has perfect whether (especially for a landscaper). Not perfect as in 85 degrees year round, but perfect in that it has 4 distinct seasons: A cold winter, a warm spring, a hot summer and a cool fall.

As Brian meticulously trimmed the branches, one by one, and thought about the working harder versus working smarter thing, a quote from Charles Lindbergh came to mind: “ Isn’t it strange that we talk about least the things we think about most! ”

To be continued …

Brian's Island - part 3

Posted on Friday, February 1, 2008 at 12:46PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian ended the conversation with his father and went away doubting himself. “You know, happiness does come from inside” he thought, echoing his dad’s point. Brian was shaken that day by a hard lesson: What sounds rock solid in the privacy of your own mind, is often full of holes under the scrutiny of the world outside your head. Brian had thought on, and pondered over, this issue for untold hours over several months. And yet his dad made one simple statement – uttered one line – and all Brian’s reason and resolve was revealed to be, not the firm structure he thought it, but a weak, vulnerable figment of his imagination.

Brian’s dad, on the other hand, had no idea that the one line he managed to blurt out, through his shock and dismay, was so impactful. He was not, as Brian assumed, at all sure that he had said the right thing or that the thing he said was even heard.

Brian resigned himself to the fact that his dad was right. He decided to refocus on making his life on this island fulfilling and complete. And he took consolation from the thought that he would not find greener pastures on some other island; the greener pastures he sought were within. And, anyway, staying put would assuage all those fears of what may lie afar, that had accompanied (like an evil twin) his aspirations.

So Brian went back to his everyday life with a new attitude. And he told himself he was happy (or would soon be). The only problem was that he didn’t believe it.

To be continued…

By The Grace of God

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 02:59PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

We have probably all heard the saying “There but by the grace of God go I”. It is used often when we see someone who is in a situation in which we are thankful, ourselves, not to be. Our human compassion compels us to sympathize with people whom we observe in bad circumstances. In most cases, however, the rotten predicaments that make us feel sorry for people are of their own choosing. By which I mean they have made many choices that led them down the paths that eventually put them in their current situation. That is not to say we should not have compassion for people. And, truly, “there but by the Grace of God go I” applies to every one of us at some level since there are innumerable things which are out of our control that could turn in or out of our favor.

But I think “there but by the grace of God go I” applies more directly to something that the national debate over U.S. immigration policy has brought to the fore. I am a citizen of the United States of America, by all measure the most free and prosperous country in the world. I am a U.S. citizen because I was born here. I did not choose to be born here, though I certainly would have. I was not, however, given that choice. I arrived here (in the delivery room of a clean, safe, modern US hospital) years before I was cognizant of what a tremendous blessing it is to be a U.S. citizen.

I have been fortunate to travel to other countries and to interact here with people from still more countries. And from my exposure to citizens of other places, I know that people are people. There are bad and good people in all countries and cultures. So it is not by choosing to be good or bad that we are assigned to be a citizen of this or that country. It is simply, irrefutably, by the grace of God.

This was all brought very close to home yesterday when a co-worker, who is Peruvian, went down to the INS office here in Atlanta and, after passing the requisite interview and test, was sworn in as a naturalized United States citizen (note: this was the culmination of an 11-year effort). My co-worker came to this country on a work visa as a research scientist. He had a good education and a good job in Peru. Yet he wanted what he did not get by virtue of his place of birth. He wanted the opportunities, the hope uniquely afforded people who are a part of the United States.

I plan to talk to my daughters about this tonight (I hope I can do it without getting choked up) because I want them to understand the value of what they did not choose – the value of being born where they were, the value of, by the grace of God, being United States citizens.

Work and Worries

Posted on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 10:56AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

In order to accomplish anything you must have desire and the ability. But desire and ability do not come first. First is vision – being able to imagine what a future, better than today, would be like. Vision is an interesting thing. It is more than just prognostication and planning. Vision is that, plus emotion. It is to know what you want and to put yourself mentally there. It is feeling the future not just thinking about it.

Vision is oft thwarted, though, by the work and worries of today, which are like a weight around your neck, pulling your head down so that you cannot see the future. When the weight is the heaviest – when the problems of today are the most grievous – it is impossible to see the future. It is impossible to see a better day. But take heart, the weight will lessen and your neck muscles will strengthen and you will again be able to lift, first your eyes, then your entire head and see down the road, if you choose.

There is, unfortunately, another choice. Another choice that is easy to make: The choice to succumb to the weight – to quit trying to lift your head. You must not make this choice. Do not think that action is a decision and inaction is not. Choosing to do nothing is just as much a choice as choosing to do everything possible.

Here is another bit of advice: If you stand with the weight pulling your head and eyes to the ground and think that you will beat it, completely, by shear will, and lift your head all the way up, in one swoop, you are probably wrong. And when you fail to do it, over and over, you may get frustrated and beaten down in spirit. But there is another way, a way with much higher odds of success. Instead of trying to lift your head all the way up, all at once, lift it just a little today, then a little more tomorrow, then more next week. Incremental gains, step by step, can overcome monumental obstacles. It would be foolish to think that you could jump over a mountain – no matter how much desire or ability you possess. But it is entirely plausible and possible that you can climb up one side and down the other, step by step.

Glimpse the vision one step at a time, if you cannot see it all now. And then, once you can see down the road, walk down it, one step at a time.

Brian's Island - part 2

Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 11:48AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Brian chose a time when he thought his Dad would be receptive to a talk about his need to grow and expand beyond the small island on which they lived.

Brian had rolled his thoughts over and over in his head, even rehearsing exactly what he planned to say. He had so many thoughts and had been thinking them for so long, that it was hard to put everything, every emotion, every desire, into words.

When Brian had thought about his dilemma and how to present it to his father long enough, and when he perceived the time to be right, he found his father on the beach sitting in a white wooden chair. His dad was working with his hands, as usual, fashioning a small piece to a machine with hand tools.

Brian sat in the white wooden chair next to his Dad’s. There was an awkward silence between them (though many voices were shouting in Brian’s head). Brian managed to think, through his racing thoughts, that starting a conversation like this was the hardest part. Kind of like siphoning water, it’s hard to get it going, but once the flow is established it’s easy.

Brian’s dad looked up from his work. He could tell Brian was there to say something significant. He didn’t know quite how to help Brian get started, though. Fortunately for both of them, these several awkward seconds, which felt like hours, ended when Brian began, as he had rehearsed, “Dad, I have felt for a long time that this island does not hold my destiny.” For all of Brian’s preparation and practice, this was not the way to start this conversation. His dad thought, and before he could stop himself, said “What in the world are you talking about!?”

Brian stumbled around in his thoughts to find the best next sentence. Then he stuttered while saying “I have done everything I can here. I need to go other places and find other challenges.”

This was so far outside of Brian’s dad’s thinking that he could not even wrap his mind around what he was hearing. He just sat there, with a confused look on his face, and tried to make sense of the nonsense he was hearing. After a moment he managed to say, “Brian, this island is your home.” Brian didn’t respond, but his expression hardened. Then Brian’s dad, with the elapse of a few seconds, was able to come out with a deeper thought. He said, “Your home is here and your destiny is here. You don’t need to go anywhere else to find your destiny; it comes from inside.”

Brian was proud of his ability to maintain the outward appearance of calmness and to think rationally even as his emotions raged. He knew that his dad had a valid point: Happiness does come from the inside. He also knew there was more to it than that.

To be continued…

Path Not Found

Posted on Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:49AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Path not found. That was the error message I got this morning while trying to connect to a set of shared folders that reside on another computer in our office. Not being a computer guy (well I am a power user, but not a techie) I have no idea why something like this will work for months then, one day, just not. And I don’t want the “excitement” of trying to figure it out. I just want the same old boring reliability day after day.

Most of us go from day to day without thinking much about the future. We do our jobs, hang out with our families and friends, and expend whatever time and attention is leftover watching TV or maybe playing golf. We lead a life which is boringly reliable. Then, one day, we wake up (metaphorically) and for an unknown reason, get a message, from somewhere deep inside: “Path not found”

Being 43 and having just celebrated a birthday, I have glimpsed what causes mid-life crises. It is realizing that you have only so much time in the world and that you have not done the things you wanted to. For a lot of people that may be buying a Harley or a convertible. For some, unfortunately, it may be ending a marriage. For others it may be getting into physical shape. And for still others it may be changing careers.

I have spoken to many classes of college students over the years. I always admonish them to follow their bliss – to pursue a life of doing what they enjoy. I would say the same thing to people of any age or life stage. I know a man who worked at an automotive plant into his 50’s before going back to school and getting a doctorate in a totally different field. Since having the guts to go against the good opinions of other people, he has changed careers and received numerous awards and accolades for work he immensely enjoys.

You may feel like I do about the error message on my computer. You know you have not found your path; but you don’t know how to get from here to there.

The answer: Pray and Plan.

But be warned: You may have to sacrifice boredom in order to repair your connection to your path. And boredom is not always easily sacrificed.

Brian's Island

Posted on Friday, January 25, 2008 at 10:43AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments1 Comment

Our life’s journey can be carried out in one place (physically and/or psychologically) or it can play out in many places over the course of time. Let me tell you a story about a guy named Brian. Brian lives on an island surrounded, not by water, but by nothingness. Kind of like an island in an empty ocean, but with one distinction. Brian’s island does not gradually taper down into the abyss. It drops precipitously off – a shear cliff of a drop, around its parameter. There are other islands near Brian’s island, some are close and easily visible, others are farther away and, because of distance, or just fog, less visible.

On Brian’s island he has almost everything he needs. Though he may have to work for it, he has water, food, shelter, and security from danger. He even has companionship, as there are other people on the island (some family, some friends, but very few strangers).

Having been on this island for quite a while, Brian has established ways of satisfying all of his needs. Well, almost all of his needs. There is, though, one need he cannot satisfy: The need to grow. Brian’s little island was okay while he was a child. It offered uncharted caves, and woods, and mountains to explore. But, at some point, he had done all the discovering he would ever do on this island. When Brian realized that his island held no more adventures, he was faced with THE choice: “Do I accept safety, comfort and boredom; or do I look for some way to satisfy my need to change and grow?”

At first Brian was able to pacify the pull to find new adventures by simply dreaming up adventures in his mind. He would imagine himself in various situations. He would imagine himself triumphing over adversities. Sometimes he would even see himself standing victorious with his arms in the air.

After more time passed, though, Brian realized that, just as he had run out of real life adventures on his island, he was running out of fantasy adventures, too. The problem was that, just like in his physical existence, he had only this little island from which to draw material for his dreams.

Faced with this perplexing and saddening situation, Brian was compelled, as many times before when facing adversity, to talk with his father. He carefully chose a time when he thought his dad would be receptive to a talk.

To be continued…

Back to the Grid

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 12:28PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I went to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning. A chamber of commerce is a group of business people who get together to further their own and their community’s interests. The currency of chambers is networking. Networking is extremely important in most businesses, but also in your wider life.

If you have a negative view of networking maybe you should consider that it is often called by other names. In your personal life networking goes by the name socializing. At church it is called fellowship. In public service and big corporations it is called politics. Each has nuances, but they are all really the same thing: Personal interaction.

In the age of online shopping, pay at the pump, and home offices it would be easy to make the case that personal interaction is less important than it once was. And maybe for the processing of orders this is true. But that only leaves us more time to focus on our person to person encounters. And those person to person, face to face, dealings are still essential to business and essential to more important stuff.

The negative connotation of networking (especially politics) is of the powerful getting what they want at the expense of the powerless. I would argue that building a network and gaining political connections is hard work and those that do it have honestly arrived at whatever influence they wield. But networking (in all its itterations) is valuable for another reason. It is valuable because it satisfies our basic human need to share our lives with other people. This starts when you are born. Your first network is your family. Then you expand it to include friends, then classmates, then co-workers, then, if you’re diligent, the larger world. God gave us the desire to interact with other humans. It is natural and necessary.

You may have read, as I have, stories about businesses or even homes that produce their own electricity. They may have solar panels or huge wind mills or a geyser turning a turbine in the back yard. But they generate not only enough power to satisfy their own needs, but enough extra power that they are able to “sell it back to the grid”. The grid, of course, is the ubiquitous array of power lines that link every place and thing to the alternating current that runs our modern world.

The cynical view of networking, and politicing is that of taking from the interpersonal grid that links every person. But personal interaction exists for a much better purpose. It is a conduit through which you can make a positive contribution to the world. That is, not for you to take from it, but for you to add power back to it - for you to add to the lives of your network, your social group, your political faction, your fellow fellowshipers.

You Control Gravity

Posted on Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 11:03AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

You can improve things over which you probably don’t even realize you have control.

I pulled up to a gas pump, got out and began filling up my car (well, it’s not really a car it’s an SUV; so it took awhile to fill). As the gas pumped, out of boredom, I watched the other motorists filling their tanks. Right across the island from me was a guy who looked to be about 19 years old. He was tall and lean, wearing jeans and a hoodie. At one point he remembered something in his work-van. I watched him step over the hose, stretched from the gas pump to the van, open the door, tilt his body into the van with his feet still on the ground, and do whatever.

The interesting thing was the way he moved, as if there was no gravity. He flowed, almost floated. His strength and coordination just carried him effortlessly through every motion.

I have felt like he looked, in my best moments of physical fitness. It is a great feeling, to be light on your feet, to glide up a flight of stairs, to spring up onto a chair to change a light bulb, to pop up out of a car or up into an SUV.

The converse is those people who look as if gravity is magnified under them. As if someone turned a knob and the downward pull of the earth increased its effect on him or her. Every step is an effort. And getting out of a chair or a car is a major undertaking.

I guess most of us live in the middle. Moving through the world is not effortless, but it is not a monumental task either.

Gravity is a constant – a natural law. But you can decrease its effects on you. You can change the way it impacts you. If you choose to decrease your weight and increase your muscle strength and bone mass, you can effectively turn down gravity.

Do you want to go through life feeling like an astronaut walking on the moon or like a fighter pilot enduring g-force several times his body weight?

Your physical condition and fitness does not just affect the length of your life. It affects the quality of every step you take.

The World is a Dangerous Place

Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 01:04PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

The world is a dangerous place when you sit on the couch and watch TV or when you listen to the radio and sit in your cubical all day every day. The world is a dangerous place, to hear the media tell it.

I saw an advertisement for a cruise today. I am fortunate to have been on a couple of cruises. They are great. I would recommend it. But they are not as great as the advertisements make them seem. Almost nothing is as great as its advertisement suggests.

The same thing, in reverse, is true of the television, radio and print news. Certainly there are bad people in the world and bad stuff happens in the world. But the bad people and bad stuff makes up about 1% of all the people and all the stuff. The other 99% is good or great.

Last Saturday, in Atlanta where I live, there was a dire prediction in the media of winter weather. In fact, there was lots of hyperbole and hysteria called a “Winter Weather Warning.” This time, the warnings turned out to be for naught. But even in the times, in the past, when the snow and ice did come, travel and safety were not threatened and thwarted nearly to the extent the media predicted.

Today the stock market is experiencing a correction. Though some in the media have even mentioned the word “crash”, it is merely a correction. The stock market, like any free market system, corrects itself. It is, left to its own devices, self regulating. It is a beautiful system. A system, by the way, the federal government (stimulus package) and Federal Reserve (3/4 point interest rate cut) should leave alone.

The media lives and dies by ratings. And viewers/listeners/readers are attracted to the media, thus boosting ratings, by doom and gloom, fear and crisis reporting. The weather and the stock market make great fodder for the media because they are perpetual and ever-changing stories. But one need only get off the couch and out into the world to know that the world is, overwhelmingly, a good place.

And one need only study history to know (not believe, KNOW) that this is the best time in history to live AND that the United States is the best country in which to live. The only way anyone could feel any differently is if he or she knows nothing of any other time or any other place.

Car Connection

Posted on Monday, January 21, 2008 at 06:09AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I was watching the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction Saturday afternoon. I have had an affinity for automobiles ever since I was a little kid. So the Barrett-Jackson is an annual event (albeit via the television) for me. Well, actually it is a bi-annual event because Barrett-Jackson has one event in Scottsdale, Arizona and another in Florida each year (and they are adding a Las Vegas auction this year).

I particularly like the late 1960’s and early 1970’s muscle cars. And more specifically, the 1968 and 1969 Chevy Camaros, the 1969 Mustangs, and the 1970 Chevy SS Chevelles. I also love the 1958 Corvettes. But my dream car amongst all collector cars – the first one I would buy if ever I had copious amounts of disposable cash – would be a 1969 Red 428 Super Cobra Jet or Boss 429 Mustang. I rode in one once. It was around 1983. A friend of a friend’s brother owned it. I happened to be at his house one day and started gushing about how cool his car was. He generously offered to give me a ride, though he did not offer to let me behind the wheel.

My first car, which I paid for by working summers at a potato and onion packing house, was a 1967 Mustang Fastback. It was the ugliest green color you’ve ever seen. I decided to have it painted brown because I’d seen a beautiful 1969 Mustang convertible painted brown with flat black highlights. I later added a flat black hood scoop, rear window louvers and double-T rear deck spoiler, to complete the brown and flat black visual.

After the paint and add-ons (plus new carpet, seats, and wheels) my Mustang was decent to look at; but it lacked in most every other area. It came from the factory as 6-cylinder/4-lug/3-speed. Translation: The cheap, underpowered version of the Mustang. Somewhere along the way someone pulled the straight 6 motor out and dropped a 289 V-8 in. The 289 was a much more desirable engine, but attaching it to a power train intended for a 6-cylinder was automotive heresy. And even the Mustangs that were born with 289’s (arguably) did not compare in desirability to the later model with big block motors.

My wife, who does not share my love of cars, happened to be walking by the television just at the moment my dream car rolled up onto the Barrett-Jackson auction block. A red 1969 Boss 429 Mustang. My enthusiasm captured her attention. And we stood there and watched the bid go to $100,000, then $200,000, then $300,000. At which point my wife observed, “You could never drive it.” She was exactly right. A car like this, in perfect condition, completely original, with matching numbers, with less than 20,000 miles on it, will not be driven. It finally sold for $325,000.

Then my wife asked me a question I could not answer: “Why would you want something you could not drive?” The bigger question really is: Why do some people have an emotional connection with cars. I feel it. It is definitely an innate reaction I (and many others) have for certain cars. But I don’t understand it.

Friday my buddy brought his new BMW 335i twin turbo to show me. Unlike the ’69 Mustang guy, the BMW guy handed me his keys (well there is not really a key, just a computer chip housed in a small black plastic box hanging on a keychain). I had a ball challenging the traction control with my heavy right foot and fingers flicking the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A vehicle the weight of a 3-series Beemer, propelled by the twin-turbo German motor, is something akin to a rocket. Fortunately, it was also outfitted with huge break discs.

Having spent years driving pick-up trucks and SUV’s, it was quite a treat to pull my rusty driving skills off the shelf. It brought squarely to my awareness how much I love to really drive. The excitement and challenge of aggressive driving is pretty easy to understand. It affords a vehicle (pardon the pun) to test one’s abilities and generates a great adrenaline rush, to boot. But driving a great car is different (psychologically) from owning a great collector car. And I cannot explain the appeal of the latter. But it is real and worth $325,000 (and much more) to some people.

You're Making Me Mad

Posted on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 02:24PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I used to spend a lot of time and energy being angry. I blamed other people for making me feel that way. I would say to myself, “he is making me mad”, and “she hurt my feelings” and “he drives me crazy.” And I would think if only all these other people would straighten up my life would be much better.

I particularly remember having strong negative feelings toward this one co-worker. When I started the job where we worked together, he was already entrenched. He had seniority (in age and tenure). And his area of responsibility was essential to the success of the company. He was a great example of what I wrote about last week regarding everything that is accomplished needing a champion. He definitely was the champion of his cause. The problem was that he championed it to the exclusion of everything, and everyone, else. Additionally, this co-worker-from-hell had a volatile temper and was so single-minded that he could not be reasoned with.

I was young and dumb and unsure of myself so, instead of challenging this guy when he lashed out and belittled me and the other workers, I would just seethe. I can distinctly remember having some very strong negative emotions and malicious thoughts about him, even when I was off work. When I would go running I would think about how I should/could/would tell him off!

As I matured I realized that other people cannot make you unhappy (or, for that matter, happy). Your happiness has to come from the inside out, not the outside in. That was a very freeing realization. It did not come overnight or in a switch-flipping way. But it has become the way I interact with the world, well, most of the time. I am by no means perfect in this.

Concurrent to my internal growth, over time (years not months) I worked my way up in the company, until finally I was put in a position to challenge my crazed co-worker. The pivotal moment came in a meeting. He suggested a course of action (though to him, his suggestion was a decree). I did not argue the merits of his “suggestion”. I just said, “I have not decided whether we’ll be doing that or not.” My saying that ignited him. He started yelling and turning red. When there was a break in his rant I repeated, “I have not decided whether we’ll be doing that or not.” He jumped up and stormed out of the meeting. But from that point on (and we worked together for many more years), though he still had anger management and narcissism issues, he acceded to my authority. Had I come at him with the combative, malicious attitude I had early-on, we would not have been able to accomplish a lot of good stuff together at that company.

Like The Eagles’ song says:

“I know it wasn’t you who held me down

Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains

And we never even know we have the key”

 

No one can make you angry, mad, sad, unhappy.     You have the key.

Success Thwarts Sustainability

Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 11:08AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

By this time, January 17th, you have probably encountered some obstacle to keeping your New Year’s resolutions. It has been 16 days now - ½ a month. I learned from experience that the first two weeks of starting a new thing are the hardest. It takes two weeks just to feel like you have a chance to make something work. Whether it’s a new job or new school or new exercise regime or new eating plan, there is a time between the idea and the internalization of the actuality. That space is usually about 2 weeks. I don’t mean to say that you cannot fail or fall after the first two weeks; but it is easier to get up from a fall and continue forward if you have at least two weeks under your belt.

Ironically, success is one of the biggest obstacles to ultimately changing for the better. Especially with a big daunting goal, we build up reserves of courage and perseverance in anticipation of the launch. Then, because we have prepared mentally for a big challenge, we exceed our own expectations, in the beginning. We enjoy immediate success, which feels easier to achieve than we had imagined because we have forgotten how much mental preparation we put into getting ready.

This immediate success then fuels a rapid ramping up of expectations and effort. If you planned to run 1 mile 3 times per week, you may quickly find yourself able to run 2 miles 4 times per week, which inspires you to try 3 miles 5 times per week. At some point this increase is unsustainable. The same thing happens with weight loss. You may see the first few pounds fall off quickly and (what seems) easily, but, after a couple of weeks, the rate of loss is unsustainable. And you will inevitable even find that you reach a point when you cannot run the distance that was easy last time or when your weight ticks up instead of down. It is at these moments that you must realize (really, deep down realize) that you are in this self-improvement thing for the long haul.

We all want to be great and do great things every day and every week. But, in order to sustain accomplishment over a significant period of time we must accept that some days are just maintenance days. Some days you will not run further or faster or lift more weight or loose more weight than you did last week. And it is at this moment, when discouragement has its nose in your tent, that your resolve is truly tested. It is at this moment that you need all that courage and perseverance you stockpiled before you began.

So if you have already stumbled or are clipping along at an unsustainable pace, gather your wits about you and stay focused on long-term, ultimate improvement. Think about how you can be better by January 2009. Not how much better you can be today or next week.

Breathe Out

Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 10:42AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I learned a long time ago, though I don’t recall if it was from experience or a coach or reading, that exhalation is more important than inhalation when running. Actually, that is an oversimplification. It is more accurate to say: Focusing on exhaling is more important than focusing on inhaling while running.

Obviously, you must fill your lungs, blood, and muscles with oxygen in order to exercise. So inhaling air is important. The thing is, though, that when you challenge your muscles your body automatically seeks to intake more oxygen. So you naturally breathe in more frequently and more deeply. But an issue arises when you don’t take care to breathe out completely. Stale, oxygen-depleted air stays in your lungs.

Most of us have, left over from when we were kids, this idea that the lungs are 2 open bags that expand and contract to move air in and out. The truth is that the lungs are made up of millions of bronchial tubes which branch off of each other in ever smaller segments, like a couple of inverted trees.

Because lungs are made up of these many passages it is possible for air to stay in the lungs even after the oxygen has been removed. Since the lungs obviously have a limited capacity, when this stale air occupies part of a lung, it necessarily leaves less room for new, oxygen-rich air from successive inhalations.

So it is important to focus on exhaling while exercising. Another way to look at it is that the body will suck in the air the muscles demand. But it will not always exhale the used air, as effectively.

That was the anatomy, here is the analogy

We inhale the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical things we need. But we don’t always exhale like we should. Imagine that inhalation is what you get from your life and exhalation is what you contribute to others’ lives. All creatures are born with the will to survive. So we automatically breathe in the things we need (along with a lot of things we think we need) from the world. But we have to choose to focus on making a contribution to the world.

And when we choose to focus on making our maximum contribution, we empty our metaphorical lungs, thus making them available to inhale additional blessings for ourselves, which we can then pass along to others in an expanding and increasing cycle of mutual benefit.

————-

book Lon to speak to your group

Pinnacle Not Praise

Posted on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 11:15AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

Do not mistake praise for success. (Note: praise as in positive reinforcement not as in worshiping God). It is nice to receive praise. It validates our efforts. It does not however, necessarily, indicate success. Praise should be thought of as encouragement. It inspires us to continue onward and upward. It is not a reward for having achieved something. Praise is a great tool. We all like it. We respond positively to it. But we must realize, when we are the recipient of it, that it is only a tool not an award.

Affirmations are great, and even necessary, given their autosuggestive properties (especially in the beginning of an undertaking). But they are not the goal. Allowing praise and popular approval to be substitutes for achievement is a trap. Praise feeds our egos. Be humble. Maintain sufficient distance from your ego to steer clear of the trap of hubris – a trap often bated with the praise and admiration of others.

Be gracious outwardly and thankful inwardly for pats on the back, but keep the true and correct target in your sight and trajectory. Receiving acknowledgement in the form of praise makes the journey easier, or at least tolerable. But you must not depend upon it. You must know how to continue and stay the course when there is no outside recognition, or worse, in the face of the slings and arrows of criticism. You must have your own inner-compass by which you can find your way in the dark or fog. Do not allow yourself to be distracted or led astray by praise and adulation. If this concept is lost on you, you will fall victim to circumstances in which you come up short of accomplishing real victories.

Achievement of an honorable goal is authentically rewarding. Actual accomplishment, not just the appearance or feeling of accomplishment, is the pinnacle you really seek.

The Invisible Man

Posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 at 10:59AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments1 Comment

There have been several movies and television shows based on the idea of an invisible man. I think these stories were popular because, like me, people enjoyed imagining what he or she could do with the power to be invisible. You could make plenty of money, fast by eavesdropping on customers, vendors or competitors. You could follow your wife or girlfriend to be sure she was being true to you. You could assuage or confirm your paranoia by secretly listening to what other people where saying about you. It would be fun as long as you could toggle between being invisible and being normal (being stuck in invisibility would not be all that cool).

I was having lunch with my Dad at one of those hole-in-the-wall, meat-and-two vegetable places. The waitress was not very good. But she was particularly not very good where my Dad was concerned. It started innocuously enough, when she took my order first. This is a small nuance, but I would have taken the elder customer’s order first. But that was just the beginning of my Dad’s problems. When the food arrived, my order was correct, his was not. The waitress had apparently not been listening very well when he told her what he wanted (I heard him order and did not think it was ambiguous or hard to hear). Then my Dad asked her to bring some ketchup. Though he said it loudly enough to be easily heard, from her body language and lack of acknowledgement, it looked like she didn’t notice he was speaking to her. The ketchup did not come (He had to ask her again for it). About halfway through the meal the waitress came by and refilled my drink. Dad’s drink was low too; but she didn’t bother to refill it. Finally, when we were finished eating, the waitress came to our table and cleared away my empty plate and utensils. She left my Dad’s empty plate sitting on the table in front of him. At this point, Dad said to me, “I am invisible today!?”

I was driving home from work that same day; and I noticed on one of those changeable church signs the admonishment: “Be Effective in 2008”. I like that. It is a call to action without any assumptions about what each individual should specifically do. It leaves it up to each person to institute his or her own plan for effectiveness.

My Dad’s invisibility problem and the “Be Effective” edict combined in my head into a thought: Too often our effectiveness on the world is invisible. Maybe it is invisible because we feel invisible to the world. Or maybe it is invisible because we go around, in our narcissism and myopia, without trying to effect the world. But we are each here to effect the world.

We all feel as if we are invisible sometimes, but we are not. It is up to each of us to decide how we want to do it and to be effective in 2008.

Lines, Lots, and Loving Thy Neighbor

Posted on Friday, January 11, 2008 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I was standing in line this very morning at a convenient store (well, not just any convenient store, a Quick Trip. The best convenient stores I’ve had the pleasure to patronize) when this woman, in her twenties, attractive but not stunning, smartly dressed, cut in line in front of me. She came in from the outside – from the gas pumps – and just stepped in between me and the guy ahead of me. I really don’t think it was a crime of commission, so much as omission. She omitted to consider that there are other people in the world.

I was taken aback, then aggravated; then I made a conscious choice to take the high road – to look at the bigger picture. Incidentally, having that, almost unperceivable, delay installed in your thinking that allows you to make a conscious choice, instead of have a reaction, is invaluable. It not only prevents regretting what you’ve said, it allows you the space to look at the broader landscape and gain understandings that would be precluded by rash rants and the like.

So, standing behind this line-breaker, from my high-road view, I saw that getting to pay for her gas a few seconds quicker was no consolation for all the negative stuff her self-focused, narrow view of the world would (and I suppose has) produced in her life. With this thought, I was pacified and fine with waiting for her to pay. Then, in an unexpected but much appreciated, divine act of swift justice, (for some unknown reason) the cashier told her there was a problem; and she had to go back out to the gas pumps without completing her transaction.

Conversely, on Tuesday of this week, I arrived in the parking lot of a building at which a trade association luncheon was being held. Normally, at this monthly event, parking is at a premium. Last Tuesday it was not. There were plenty of spaces, even near the door. As I parked in the closes available space, I caught sight of a friend parking his car in a space far from the door, even though there were many empty spaces between us.

We got out of our cars and headed in. When he caught up with me I asked why he’d parked so far out. He said, “Because I can walk.” In case you’re not getting the implication from reading his answer, let me tell you that it was abundantly clear, hearing it live, what he meant. He did not have blinders on like the convenient store woman. He saw the importance and rightness of putting others first.

And, like the swift justice dealt the line-breaker, there is swift reward (internally) to loving thy neighbor.

Champions

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 12:38PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

A cause needs a champion. Nothing is accomplished except by a mono-maniac with a mission. In industry or ministry or politics, a product or organization or cause will only succeed if a human makes it his or her goal to see it succeed. No matter how just or great the cause, how marketable or demanded the product, how squared-away the business plan, it is still a man or woman, who is hell-bent on success, that determines victory.

Most things of significance are the work of many people. Yet, I stand by my assertion that it is one person who determines the success or failure of a thing, because without one person at the center, around which the others gather, from whom the others receive instruction and inspiration, even the best ideas never develop into great realities.

I have a friend who heads up a 7-man team within a huge (really huge) corporation. When our conversations turn to work, my friend’s passion for customer service and excellence in the execution of his team’s duties is palpable. He talks about routinely processing more work, faster than management or customers require. His team does this, not because senior management and over-priced consultants came up with an 82-slide PowerPoint and an elaborate strategic plan. They do it because the leader of the 7, this one guy, has a passion for exceeding customer expectations. It is not for money or metrics, but because he loves making it happen for the customers.

Back in the year 2000, the Nissan Motor Company was dying. They were in deep financial trouble; their products could not complete; the morale of their employees was low and falling; things looked bleak. Then Nissan hired Carlos Ghosn. From 2001 to 2005 Nissan, led by Ghosn, rebounded. Carlos Ghosn’s place in leadership history is still not certain, but Jack Welch’s is. Welch led General Electric to be the gold standard, by which all other large corporations were judged. GE was so good at raising up managers that many went on to run other huge companies successfully (Nardelli at Home Depot notwithstanding, though he may still prove out as head of Chrysler).

In a sole-proprietorship, entrepreneurial situation it is easy to see how one person, with a passion, makes all the difference. But amazingly, the same thing is true for the largest corporations and even for whole countries. Huge corporations are replete with talented, driven, educated, intelligent people. And, even more so, countries. With 303,208,000 people in the United States, obviously there are 1000’s of superstars. Yet we have only one President. And, as evidenced by the ongoing election cycle, we Americans put a lot of stock and faith in who that one President is.

In every successful endeavor of which I have close knowledge, there is a passionate person at the center. I have also seen, many times, in profit and non-profit organizations, great ideas, great initiatives, great programs fail for lack of a champion.

I see two lessons here: 1) If you want to be successful find something about which you can be passionate. 2) A good idea with a champion is far better than a great idea without.

Uncover

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 10:36AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

I was listening to my friend, Glenn Hall’s, new CD and somewhere around Track 8 I started thinking about God-given talent. We tend to think of God-given talent as things like musical ability and athlete ability, but there are many, many more to which we don’t give ample consideration. It is cliché to say that we all have talents and gifts. But it is true.

I was never a good athlete; I can’t carry a tune in a bucket; I never excelled academically (in fact, it took me 3 tries to spell “academically” just now). I’ve heard several people talk about their glory days (and Bruce Springsteen wrote a whole song about it). But I could never relate. My life has been much better from age 32 to 42 than it was from 12 to 22.

I learned in college that there are things called latent talents. These talents are like stored energy. They have the potential to turn kinetic, but they are dormant until you discover or uncover them. It seems that the older I get the more latent talents are actualized in me. Even the classic abilities of athletics and music are much easier and more enjoyable to me now than they were a couple of decades ago. I find myself quite capable now on the golf course and in pick-up soccer games, even though I don’t practice or play either one much. And, though I have always been a runner, my ability to run, now, far exceeds that of my teens and twenties. I still can’t sing or play music. But at least, now I derive a lot of pleasure from a great appreciation of music.

We all have God-given talents, even if they are not readily apparent. If you are alive your mission on earth is not complete. And if you are alive you have talents, though they may be latent. Richard Bach said, “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true.” That may be a stretch (or not). But certainly a wish or a goal or a problem can release talents and abilities theretofore unrealized. And your talents may change over the course of a lifetime. Some will fade away but, in doing so, will reveal others that were hidden or undeveloped. You may know your God-given talents. If you do then your challenge is to pursue them. If you are not yet aware of your talents then your mission is to excavate them. They are there. You do have them. Start digging.

Encourage

Posted on Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 10:13AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments1 Comment

Maybe you are striving to keep some New Years Resolutions of your own, but bear in mind that one of the best uses of your energy and attention is to help someone else stay on his or her resolution wagon. Whenever something in our lives is new (like a diet or exercise regimen) it is fragile. Be aware that your friend or spouse or child or co-worker may be tenuously balancing his or her new good habit or even more tenuously managing to walk a tight rope over the hell of a recently abandoned bad habit. Both strengthening of the good and abstention from the bad take constant attention, at first. Of course, most of the process must be internal to the individual. But you can provide a support component that is vitally important to anyone trying to change for the better.

If your friend has decided to leave nicotine in the past or your daughter has resolved to improve her grades in the future, you can play a role in their success or failure. Your comments and attitude may be just the thing that pushes a person one way or the other, to victory or failure. Let people you care about know that you want them to succeed. And, more importantly, that you believe they can succeed.

Guard against unintentionally sabotaging someone’s effort by pointing out the potential hurdles or pitfalls. Though it may be true, don’t say, “cigarettes are one of the most difficult things to kick” or “getting all A’s is a very hard thing to do”.  This is not the time to play devil’s advocate. Don’t analyze, just encourage.

And know this, whether it is you or someone you know who stumbles in pursuit of a goal, almost nothing is accomplished without some setbacks. In fact, the people who make it to their goals are the people who manage to get back up after a fall. I read that the number of times a person has tried to quit smoking is an indicator of future success at quitting. It seems counter-intuitive, but the more times a person has tried and failed to quit the more likely he or she is to succeed on subsequent attempts.

So, when you are standing over your friend or family member as they lie on the ground, help them up, without ever indicating (verbally or otherwise) that a setback is anything more than a part of the process along the way to eventual success.