Another Outrageous Thought to Ponder: Who Creates Your Limits?

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There are no limits to what you can accomplish…unless you put them there.  See walls?  Tear them down.  Stuck in a hole?  Quit digging, grab a rope and climb out!  Quit making excuses for where you are in life and change it.

An outrageous life is worth living and you (yes, Y-O-U!) own the power to create it and make it happen!  I’m rooting for you, so what are you waiting for?

Winning Your Iron Dog Moment

2011 Iron Dog finish

2,031 miles in seven days. From Big Lake to Fairbanks, and 26 checkpoints in between, 39 Pro Class teams are currently racing across Alaska to win the famed Iron Dog Race. It is the world’s longest snowmobile race, requiring participants to test their mettle against some of Alaska’s most remote and rugged terrain, while at the same time confronting some of the harshest winter weather conditions. It is a test of survival skills, teamwork and preparation.

Amazingly, no one has ever died in this extreme test of sportsmanship. Despite extreme conditions, terrain and speed, not a single racer in many years of the race has lost their life. Why? Because true athletes are prepared for the competition. They practice and prepare, physically and mentally.

The racers spend months making sure that their snow machines are in the equivalent of mechanical perfection, investing countless hours and thousands of dollars in research, equipment and training to be prepared for any surprise they may encounter along the course. Breakdowns are costly and minutes lost on the course are the difference between winning and losing.

They hone their mental strength and teamwork skills, making sure they can withstand the daily hours spent in the bitter cold on the course, fighting cold, wind and terrain as a team. They know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and are prepared to motivate and encourage each other throughout the course.

They have prepared their gear, with the proper hydration, insulation and tools and the camping gear they are required to pack throughout the race. For they know that they will face extreme conditions throughout the course and must be prepared for survival in the harshest of conditions. Keeping drinking water from freezing, battling wind chills in the subzero triple digit range or chipping morning snow out of the cavity of your snow machine engine are daily battles.

Despite the challenges of such a race, these extreme athletes persevere. They train, battle and push themselves to the limit to compete in this annual race. While their course is different, they are not unlike you or I. Their chosen field of battle is simply run on a different course.

Today is your day, too, to compete and win. Is your equipment tuned and in peak condition for your day? Are you mentally in the best possible form you can be in? Have you done all you can to make sure your team is aligned and ready to work with you, motivate each other and play, successfully, off of each others’ strengths and weaknesses? Do you have the gear you need ready for the unexpected that may come your way? That’s what it takes to be a winner…and that’s how you win the race.

You might not find me today racing from Kaltag to Unalakleet on the back of an Artic Cat, but you can be darn sure I am out on my own Iron Dog today and ready to hit my next checkpoint…prepared to be in first position!

Leading with Appreciation

strategy-79-hands1_252I’ve been on my own version of a Marine Corps crucible of late.  It’s been a seemingly endless test of physical, mental and emotional strength and, I must admit, it is taking me on one heck of an exciting ride!

If you aren’t familiar with The Crucible,  it takes place over 54-hours and includes food and sleep deprivation and over 45 miles of marching. The entire Crucible event pits teams of recruits against a barrage of day and night events requiring every recruit to work together to solve problems, overcome obstacles and help each other along the way. It is team-building at its’ finest (or worst) and it you can survive it, you come out on the other side a true, solid to the core Marine.

In my world, the march I am on is lasting more than 54 hours and is demanding a lot of my team, their families and many of our associates across the organization. I am seeing some of the best and brightest rise to the occasion; while at the same time watching some who are challenged in their roles fall farther behind. It is exhilarating to see ideas that have been incubating in various departments of the company quickly come to the forefront and we challenge teams to remove the [sometimes] self-imposed rules and give themselves permission to solve for business challenges in a free-form fashion.  All across the firm, new life is being breathed into people, processes and behaviors and the energy it creates is exciting.  Hard work? Yes!  But the results are truly inspiring!

While those who give continue to help forge new paths, reach back to pull a collegeaue forward or give an extra ounce of energy to make sure a deliverable deadline is met, it is so critical to remember to say thank you.  Good leadership demands it and common sense requires it.  It isn’t enough to wait until ‘The Crucible’ is over to show the appreciation.  It has to be delivered along the way, as we complete each obstacle and pass through each major turnstile.  Thanks and appreciation are the fuel that motivates and keeps the team marching on toward the goal.

The two things people want more than sex or money are recognition and praise.  – Mary Kay Ash, Founder Of Mary Kay Cosmetics

A client asked me yesterday about how best to recognize the stellar efforts of several associates who have really shined in their work of late. Gift cards? A weekend away? Cash bonus? All great ideas and surely most welcome. But my response was to take a moment and send a letter. A real, bona-fide letter on corporate letterhead that comes in the mail. Today’s digital society makes letters of recognition a bit of a rarity these days. Emails are nice, but they quickly get filed into the abyss or deleted.

A letter that can be saved for the “atta boy” file and referred to later means something. Your kids and grandkids will appreciate knowing you were recognized long after the money was spent or the trip is forgotten. Knowing someone went to the effort to write, print and send a letter makes it special; it reinforces your extraordinary efforts genuinely appreciated. Yes, it is source of excitement to receive now, as well as encouragement for years to come.

Tough times come in today’s competitive world of business. We have to work constantly to reinvent our business relationships and continually demonstrate the value we create and deliver for our clients. We must make sure that we never lose sight of the efforts of our teams and people — most often our greatest asset — in our efforts to deliver the products and services we do.

Saying thank you and showing appreciation for the big and small things our associates do is critical to the quality of experiences we create for our customers. Even when we’re telling ourselves it is “just their job” we can never lose sight of the heart and passion they are putting into it.  We need to encourage it, motivate it, celebrate it and let them know it is appreciated. For without it, we are nothing.

All Retch and No Vomit: Do What You Love

A good friend, who is a dedicated educator, recently shared this video from the British philosopher Alan Watts on Facebook.  Watt’s central message is that there is no point to wasting a lifetime trying to earn enough money to be stable enough to finally be able to afford to do what you love to do.  His belief?  it is better to lead a short life doing what you love doing than a long life being miserable.  This is his manifesto on doing what you love, it is well worth the three minutes to watch. 

I find his message inspiring.  I love the idea that I can walk away from the daily grind to live out my passion…paycheck and responsibility be damned!  That we all should be doing what we love first and foremost.  That if we find our passion and dedicate ourselves fully to it, that we will become masters and command the living necessary to build a proper life.  It’s a great philosophy, but I have no idea if it is realistic.

And it isn’t because the idea isn’t realistic, it is because at age 47, I am not really sure I know what my one true passion is.  If someone walked in the door right now and said, “Go follow you dreams, Lori.  I’ve got the mortgage, the college tuition, the retirement account and all the day-to-day stuff covered, you just go focus on making ‘it’ happen,” I’m not sure I really, truly know what the big IT is.  And that saddens me greatly.

I have a lot of ideas, a lot of what I’ll call “little it’s” running around in my head.  But I’ve lost the ability to dream big.  In the reality of living this wonderful life — and it is wonderful — I’ve gotten so used to the caretaking and minding of others, the responsibilities required to be good at what I am required to be good at, that the dream doesn’t always get permission to breathe. 

And maybe, that is Watt’s advice, to stop doing and just figure it out.

The final words of this speech are the most impactful to me:  “…it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.  See what we are doing is we’re bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of lives we are living.  In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch and no vomit — it never gets there.”

“And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question:  what do I desire?”  –Alan Watts

Counsel and Old Cookbooks

grandmas cookbookI find relaxation in the kitchen. As odd as it sounds, there is something completely therapeutic about putting together an elaborate meal for me. Thankfully, my family doesn’t selfishly look forward to those moments of high stress in my life with knife and fork in hand. That said, when the sounds of appliances whirling and the aromatic smells of dishes in the oven begin wafting through the house in the wee hours, you can be assured everyone will be up, dressed and ready for breakfast. And that Mom will get an extra hug or two of reassurance, for they know the world rests heavy on my shoulders that day.

It is our silent support system…and for us it works.

But for as much as I love to cook and find the rhythm of beating eggs and the precision of measuring, cutting and baking a momentary release of the weights of the day, it is the recipes that I often find equally comforting. I love old cookbooks. I love the beautiful bindings of tomes from decades ago, when one weighty book was sufficient to guide a young bride through her first years of marriage. It offered advice on everything from cooking, to how to set a proper table, to childcare and guidance on the care and keeping of her home. I am intrigued by the collections of civic groups, churches and the like; who share not only their local recipes, but the stories of local legends, lore and favorite sites I one day may want to visit. I love the modern-day books, as much a coffee table photography book as it is a collection of recipes, with beautiful shots that will never resemble dishes that I produce.

I am inspired by the dishes, the ingredient combinations and the stories often shared behind the dishes. Most importantly, I love to find old cookbooks that have been lovingly used. Pages stained and splattered, silently confessing to the favorite recipes simply by how worn and broken down the binding is; naturally opening to those time-tested, favorite recipes. Even more amazing to find are the notes and comments left behind, sharing adjustments to recipes, dates of when dishes were prepared and suggestions on accompaniments to make the meal complete. That is heaven to me!

Years ago, I stumbled upon an estate sale in an exclusive neighborhood of Capitol Heights. The home was gorgeous; tastefully decorated by a gentleman who had incredible taste for fine art, furniture and exotic textiles. Every room was more spectacular than the rest and I quickly realized that I was way out of my financial league. Enjoying the self-guided tour nonetheless, I ended up in the basement of the home, where a secondary kitchen was located. It was clear that the homeowner had been an aspiring catering chef and this was his true domicile.

Unlike the rest of the house, it was a true work space and design for function, not style. Everything was intended to support a cook in the height of his work and no attention was given to design; it was all about the craft of cooking. I noted some boxes full of books in a corner, and I quickly found myself drawn to them. As I explored the collection, a world of love for cooking was at my feet. From the well-worn pages, hand-written notes, newspaper clippings of recipes and restaurant reviews, etc., that caught his eye fell out. I found notebooks of his party menus — all in beautiful script — saved and marked to ensure future parties were properly planned and favorite guests’ dishes were thoughtfully remembered. Recipes, tablescapes, thank you notes; it was years of his passion for cooking all bundled up into boxes. I found an endearing love letter to cooking; someone else’s passion and shared kitchen therapy. There was absolutely nothing else in the house I wanted; I bought the entire priceless collection for $50.

I love my time in the kitchen and feel privileged to know that I share a bond with an exquisite gentleman who had a similar passion to mine. In those old books are sage advice and wisdom — and not all is about cooking and entertaining. It is about taking time to explore your passions. Making sure you have an outlet for the stress in life that comes from time to time. Counsel that we all need to have secret places we can go – real or in our minds – that allow us to break away from the worlds we’ve built up and allow our true selves to be live and breathe.

Stress will come. But to have an outrageous life, we have to embrace the stress, work through it and know we will be stronger, wiser and more resilient on the other side. I love this life! And, I think, today is a great day to bake something beautiful!

Juggling Too Many Balls

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The past week has been a blur of epic chaos. The flu fairy landed at the worst time possible and sprinkled her magic fever dust on ever corner of my world. If that wasn’t enough, it was the week that the dual-career household also had its’ rare conflict of “who’s job is more important,” as we both found ourselves with unusually intense schedules, late night demands and S-T-R-E-S-S!

All in all, I felt like a juggler on a wobbly rolla bolla trying to keep up.

Juggling too many balls is a challenge we all face from time to time. Sometimes, we put those balls in the air ourselves, over-committing our time and talents too, too much. Knowing the limits of our true capabilities and finding our voice to say “no” is a skill we must all continue to hone and develop. For we are no good to anyone when we are stretched beyond our capabilities and fail to give anything the best that it deserves.

But sometimes — like this period in my world — circumstances beyond our control toss a few more balls into the mix than you can sustainably keep in the air. That’s the time you have to make some hard decisions: what can I drop, what can I delegate to others and what must I absolutely make sure do not fall?

Yes, this week, I intentionally dropped a few. My blog didn’t get the attention it deserved, as I used those wee morning hours to cram extra work time needed to keep up with looming priorities. My usual OCD approach to housekeeping isn’t up to snuff. My in-box is bursting with low-priority emails awaiting follow-ups that will get tackled today. But seriously, nothing went down in flames.

I delegated things I usually don’t like to: I let the Nanny handle the doctor appointments and some round-the-clock care, called a neighbor in for back-up evening help, and let a colleague cover for a client meeting so I could continue a critical strategy session. It all went just fine.

Am I completely exhausted? You bet! The balls are still in the air, but I’ve realized that even when they get a little heavy, or an extra one gets tossed into the mix, having a good offensive strategy at the ready to handle them will help make it a little less stressful.

And today, I’ll rest up, snuggle with my recuperating kiddo, tackle some things that went unattended and recharge so I can jump back on the board and skillfully demonstrate my best Dr. Stardust moves again next week!

What an outrageously wonderful — and sometimes crazy! — life. Make the best of it!

Mustaches, Conversation Hearts and Valentines

My household has a bit of an obsession with mustaches at the moment. Thick ones, waxed ones, pencil thin ones, even ones that look like a walrus landed on your face. You name it and my daughter has either drawn it, has a t-shirt of it or wears earrings with one embellished on them almost every day. I’m not really sure where the whole mustache fad came from — and I’ll lay big money it is not a trend — but for the moment, we’re going a little hairy over facial hair.Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 6.02.37 AM

We found ourselves the other night making Valentines Day cards and, of course, the mission this year was to incorporate the ‘stache into the theme. I must admit that with a little creativity, some artful fonts and a quick trip to the craft store for stickers, we turned out a pretty good effort. I guess we’ll have to wait and see the verdict next week rendered by a jury of fourth-graders.

But in the process of thinking about the abandon with which children freely express their sentiment toward each other at most any holiday, and especially at Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better adults would be if we, too, took the time to more openly express our feelings and emotions toward each other.

What if we gave each other Conversation Hearts and Valentine’s?

I do keep a stack of thank you cards in my desk drawer at work. Just simple monogrammed cards with my company logo and my name that I picked up a Vista Print. I use the cards — not as often as I should — to send a quick note to employees and clients to acknowledge good deeds and simple wins. I prefer the art of a hand-written note versus an email, as I just think the effort means more to the recipient. I know I make a slightly greater effort when I pen my words, taking care to ensure my penmanship and my sentiment convey my true emotion. I hope it means something to the recipient and they tuck it away, like a Valentine, to find later and remember they are special.

But it would also be fun to have a bowl of candy hearts that could also remind people how we feel. “Good Job.” “You Matter.” “Keep it Up!” “Try Again!” “Thanks!” “Great Win!” I know that the New England Candy Company, which has been making candy hearts since 1902, now offers a custom service for those who really want to ensure their candy hearts get the message just right. It is too late to order for this year’s Valentine’s Day, but good to know, nonetheless. I think I’d like a bowl of my own little pearls of candy wisdom to encourage others.

Whether you want to say “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” or simply need to remind a friend, colleague or client that they are valued in your life, don’t put off the importance of a simple gesture of appreciation. Watching the excitement and enthusiasm of a nine-year-old opening her construction paper mailbox, stuffed full of envelopes festooned with hearts and ribbons, is a gentle reminder that we all need to know we are special and that someone one else in our world has taken notice.

I might not leave my boss a big red heart in his office next week, but I do think I have a few more note cards to write to some very valued people in my world.

The Role of Heart in Business

iStock_000011763101Small-cropped-1There’s a little debate it seems about the role of the heart in business. Some say the only way to succeed in business is to follow your heart; others will tell you that is the fastest road to ruin.

Michael Gerber, a legend in the world of entrepreneurial business, makes no bones about his opinions in an Inc. magazine article. He says, “To run a successful business, you must have more than a personal dream. In fact, you must have an impersonal one. What do I mean when I say an ‘impersonal dream?’ I mean just that–it is anything but personal. It is not about you and it is not about me. It is about the act of creativity; that “sudden seeing” of a possibility we have never seen before.”

I’m not so sure I can take such a removed look at how I spend my life toiling away; and perhaps that’s why I toil away each day, instead of sitting somewhere on a beach sipping margaritas and counting my millions.

I believe there is a role for heart in everything we do. That passion — the fire that burns in our belly — is the reason we get up each day and hit the floor with a fervor for winning and succeeding. Too many people lose that vision of what they set out to accomplish and with it goes the heart, the passion and, most often, their chances for true success. Maintaining focus on what really important is something none of us can ever afford to lose sight of as we set out to fulfill our life’s work. And make no bones about it:  it is life-work for a reason. The order is set for a specific purpose:

You should never forget that it is about how your career fits into your life and not how your life fits into your career.

For me, there is no question about the role of heart in business:  it is a critical element required to win. Show up without it and you will fail yourself, your employees and your customers. You have to be crystal-clear about who you are, what you stand for and follow that passion with a relentless tenacity. With heart in your main sail, you will find the momentum and drive to withstand any storm the world of business will send your way.

“To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business and your business in your heart.” — Thomas John Watson Sr.

If you want to read an amazing book on the topic, check out Soul Trader – Putting the Heart Back into Your Business by Rasheed Ogunlaru.  He outlines a very straight-forward approach for those of us looking to run our businesses the way we run our lives: with sound ethics, consciously and collaboratively. Seven heart-centered principles that will guide a new generation of leaders to succeed.

Follow your heart, use your head and success will follow.  Go live an outrageous life, and don’t be afraid to lead with your heart!