Imagine What’s Ahead for You. It Might Be Beyond Belief.

I’m listening to the audio book “A Personal Odyssey” about the life of economist Thomas Sowell. It’s fabulous, by the way, and I highly recommend it. (On Amazon)

I’ve long been an admirer of Mr. Sowell, and it is absolutely fascinating to hear his story of growing up in the south, moving to New York, struggling with issues of family, schooling, societal racism and the constant struggles of a teenager and young black man trying to make a living by juggling various stints of employment trying to make ends meet. It’s a gripping and vivid story already, and I’ve only made it up to 1952 when he was a photographer in the Marine corps.

What struck me this morning, as I was listening during my walk, is the young marine, in his early twenties, has no idea whom he will one day become – one of the most respected researchers, writers, and economists in American history. All of the accolades that he has achieved in his breath-taking career were not even remotely on the radar in the young life of Thomas Sowell.

By 1952, he had not even finished high school. How would he have ever guessed the academic career which was to come?  graduate of Harvard,  Doctorate at the University of Chicago, professor at Cornell and many other institutions, a Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, syndicated columnist and author, etc…

How could have a high school dropout ever had hoped as much? It’s remarkable, really, and the truth that comes out it is this: We cannot, ever, foresee the future. This fact is both a great encouragement, but it is also a warning.

This is encouragement for those stuck in the life they don’t want to be in. You never know what’s right around the bend. You never know what how much that extra little effort will pay off. Grit may have its reward far beyond what you could have imagined.

On the flip side, this is also a warning shot for those who are riding high in life: don’t take the good times for granted. Enjoy them for what they are. And be thankful. You never know when the good times will end.

(Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Sowell. Now back to listening. I can’t wait to find out how you repudiated your communist leanings.)



If It’s a Fad, It’s Not a Lifestyle

A few years back I was getting a check-up at the doctor’s office. Weight-wise, I was not where I wanted to be at that particular moment, and she spoke the truth to me: “You have to do the hard work.” In other words, you aren’t going to lose weight without making the right choices, without being disciplined, without making sacrifices.  No-one can do it for you!

Boy, we hate to think that the things we want require hard work. Let me win the lottery! Surely an agent will discover my talent! World, please. Notice how awesome I am. Make it easy for me!

Ah, no.

You want to get into a top-flight college? Hard work.

You want to write a novel? Hard work.

You want to be a movie star? Hard work.

You want to lose weight? Hard work.

But here’s the difference between something being a fad and being a lifestyle. We all put hard work into particular things at certain times in our lives. I remember a particular diet I was on in 2005. I put in the hard work. I achieved the success I wanted. Then I stopped putting in the hard work. You can imagine the results. My fad faded. And my waistline, well, … yeah.

Same with writing. How many people are enthusiastic to write their first novel? They work and work and possibly even get it done, but when instant world-wide fame isn’t bestowed on them, they move on and never write again.

Hard work is needed. But sustained hard work, over years, without giving up, even in the face of little success or many unpleasant bumps in the road — in other words GRIT – is the only way that your hard work season becomes your hard work lifestyle.

I wasn’t ready to listen to that doctor about a decade ago. But more recently, her words are sinking in.

In 2002, when I started my first great novel, I wasn’t ready to make a lifestyle change and become a writer. I put in a minimal amount of hard work and abandoned it. It took another ten years before I was ready to put in the hard work of being an author for the long haul.

You aren’t going to reach your goals overnight. Or in a month. Or maybe not in a year. But much is achievable with a steady hand on the plow, ignoring the criticism, pushing back the doubts, and keeping your eyes straight ahead on what’s important to you.

Only you can do the hard work.

Are you ready for it?

Choose a Mindset: Growth or Stagnation

Half full. Half empty.

Pessimistic. Optimistic.

Toxic. Encouraging.

Complaining. Uplifting.

Wallow in pity. Wash, forget, and start anew.

Where do you fall of the scale of daily ups and downs in this life?

Whether a situation is best described as half full or half empty actually doesn’t change the situation in the slightest way. It is what it is. It’s what we choose to do about that half-empty or half-full cup which will determine if our life is on the trajectory of growth or stagnation.

Think of a trying situation in your life. Will you be toxic about it, spreading rumors and causing discord? Or will you be the encouraging voice in the room, spreading hope, constructive ideas, and solutions?

Will you wallow in self-pity because “this shouldn’t be like that” or “things should be done differently” or will you put aside the messy, dirty stains you picked up along the way today and wash, rinse, forget, and re-boot anew tomorrow?

We make choices every day which will not only affect our demeanor and the demeanor of those around us but will ultimately affect the trajectory of our life.

Whether it’s dealing with the ups and downs of being a writer, a situation with a difficult child, or a difficult work environment, we make our own stars in a lot of ways.

What’s your trying situation that you will need to navigate in the near future?

Mine revolves around a quickly approaching school year with a new campus that’s not quite ready, new teacher apartments that are not quite ready, piles of boxes and furniture in our old apartment ready to be moved but nowhere to move them to. Unanswered questions about where I will be teaching, how my dramas will be affected if our new theatre isn’t built on time, etc… It’s a stressful time for a lot of people around here, so how am I going to react and respond?

Here’s a few reminders to myself: The situation is as it is. There’s no changing the past. Complaining in the present isn’t going to better the situation. Participating in gossip or destructive conversations about “how things should have been done” also won’t change anything. Negativity accomplishes nothing, but it can hold back progress.

Our school has some unique challenges in the weeks ahead. But challenges are opportunities for growth. The important thing to remember about growth, however, is that it doesn’t come easy. Growth takes time, hard work, stubbornness, resiliency, and grit. A growth mindset builds into others. It seeks solutions to improve situations. It’s a learner’s mindset, because to grow we must change. Change our attitude. Change our talk. Change our behavior.

But if you don’t choose growth in whatever situation you are currently facing, what are you choosing?

One of the antonyms of growth is stagnation. Stagnation doesn’t take any time. It requires no hard work. It comes easy. There’s no need to bounce back from adversity and you’ll need to stick with nothing in order to achieve stagnation.

So what will it be? Growth or stagnation?

Like Cats, We All Leave Stuff Behind

Like cats, we all leave stuff behind.

On Christmas afternoon, our neighbors popped over with a delicious chocolate cake to share with us. They were fronted by their two delightfully adorable kids, who still had the magical glassy eyes of Christmas spreading joy to everyone they met. As we chatted at the doorway before they left, I watched the youngest, a round-faced, puffy-cheeked, smiling miracle of Christmas, prance around with sheer delight at everything and anything said by anyone.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she had the cheeks you just wanted to squeeze. I watched the exuberant child as she walked over to our cat, which was resting in her usual spot on the front porch. The child reached out with her chubby hands and started petting the self-anointed princess of felines. The cat tolerated her well enough and the child’s hands remained all over the cat for about a minute until the child pulled back  and looked closely at her fingertips. She had something strange on her fingers. Cat fur. Strands of the same stuff we find all over the house. She couldn’t quite understand how it got there, and she rubbed her fingertips with her other hand until she now had the cat fur on both. The child was changed in an unexpected way. The cat did nothing but be itself, its very lazy self, and yet it still left something behind for the child to marvel and ponder about.

This whole delightfully simple and silly episode got me thinking. This is what happens in real life. We all leave stuff behind whether we intend to or not. We all leave our influences, good or bad, wrong or right, wonderful or annoying. And they stick on others like lint on a warm sock, or fur on a baby’s hand.

We don’t always realize the impact that one life has. Many times we walk away from a situation or a person and we have no idea that we have their cat hair all over us. We think we have made a clean break and have turned the page, but we haven’t. We never leave a station in life unaffected, whether we like to admit it or not.

Our influence may not be actual hair which catches a ride on a sweater like good ‘ole Fluff and Stuff is famous for, but we are never alone, and we are never unaffected.

If it’s true that we each impact the world whether we intend to or not, then the question remaining is what is it that we want to leave behind? Do we want to be like my cat and leave behind an annoying trail of fur which needs to be washed and removed? Or do we want to leave behind something which can make the world a little better? It might be one of a thousand things. It could be an hour spent with someone who needs some help. It might be a thoughtful visit to the hospital. It might be leaving behind a little of your money to help someone who needs it a little more than we do. It might be an encouraging word, an invitation, a willingness to talk, a willingness to slow down and listen.

None of us are untouched by others, and neither should any of us want to be free from influencing others. At this charitable time of the year, I wonder how I can leave a little bit more of myself behind. It’s something to ponder.

And it’s a holiday lesson I learned from a little girl and our cat. If we are going to leave things behind, it might as well be more useful than fur balls. Let’s all see if we can do something positive, because if we don’t, we will leave behind the opposite of that.

Indie Authors: Do you have True Grit?

Research has shown that those who succeed have the quality of what we would call grit – ability the shake off the negative and keep going – perseverance in the face of failure.

Do you, indie author, have it?

When you receive a bad review … do you have true grit?

When you haven’t made a sale in days … do you have true grit?

When you can’t see the path ahead that would allow you to write full time … do you have true grit?

When you stare at a blank page for an hour … do you have true grit?

When your family patronizes you with another smile concerning your writing … do you have true grit?

When every single literary agent in the world think they could get leprosy from you via email … do you have it?

When you write something that you know just isn’t very good … ?

When you simply have NO time for promotion and your wonderful new book is languishing in a marketing black-hole … do ___ ____ it?

When doubts creep in and you start to question whether you have the right stuff to make it as a writer or not, ____ you _____ true _____?

Do you have true grit?

It’s a choice. Sometimes it’s painful, hopeless, and seemingly pointless.

But you’ll never make it if you don’t keep going.

And if you love to write, what choice do you really have?


Shade: Are you offering it?

A couple weeks back, we were walking to a Chinese New Year feast at the house of some friends, and my wife and I found ourselves skipping from shade patch to shade patch to escape the blazing sun.

It was one of those stifling days where your sweat can have sweat of its own even when you are sitting idly under the shade of a tree. But if you have to emerge into the sun, it has the feeling that you might as well be standing on the surface of the sun.

It was hot. Biting hot.

However, the shade in such an intolerable environment provided a needed and unexpected respite from the offensive rays. The shade cooled with a caring embrace. The speckled dark patches on the road lay as welcome mats of refreshment, and we danced down the road, jumping from patch to patch like a pair of school children might engage in a bizarre game of jagged movements. But we didn’t care how child-like we looked. All we cared about was finding a place of relief.

Life is very much that way, isn’t it? We find ourselves dodging a series of tests and trials where being badly burnt is a definite possibility. We might be burn by circumstances, by accidents, by malicious intent, or by the slowly progressing humanness which we can never escape. We might find ourselves exposed to the elements and ready to melt under the overwhelming heat  of our circumstances. Or we might feel stifled by the oppressive nature of the climate around us.

Enter shade.

It might be a word of encouragement.

A friend who tells us how much they appreciate us.

A quiet night at home to restore our faith in ourselves and humanity.

It might be a small gift.

It could be a gentle touch  on the shoulder.

It might even be a smile of appreciation.

Shade that encourages our soul comes in a variety of means, but it always feels the same – refreshing, life-giving, and encouraging.

All of us have our trials – maybe even on a daily basis – and we all need those who are willing to shelter us with the leaves of shade.

When is the last time you were able to offer shade to someone who is standing uncomfortably, sweating in the blazing sun?

Look for opportunities to regularly offer shade to those around us because, no doubt, we are going to need it ourselves before too long. Shade is needed for all of our journeys, whether a short trek to a Chinese New Year dinner or a slow walk into our future.

Shade. Offer it. Accept it. Live it.

Going out of your way to make someone’s day.

I have been the fortunate recipient of a very kind and encouraging word that came completely unexpected from a complete stranger. A recent reader of Beauty Rising wrote me this:

My wife received your book Beauty Rising here in Canada yesterday. I needed something to do last night so I started reading it. I could not put it down. Could not wait to get back to it today. I just finished it. WOW! What a story. What emotion you have been able to put into words that can be felt by the reader. Thank you for sharing your gift.”

Of course, I can’t even express what a simple note like this means to me.

Shouldn’t we all be doing this? Encouraging others by taking a minute to thank someone for what they did. Thank someone for the impact they’ve had on your life. Thank someone who has touched you. Thank someone who was kind to you.

Thank someone and make their day.

Perhaps we can’t change the world, but we can make it a better place.