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“The house does not rest upon the ground, but upon a woman.” ~ Mexican Proverb

I read this and had to chuckle as it is either a statement of profound wisdom or a proclamation made by the Mexican Ambassador to the Lollipop Guild upon seeing the legs and red shoes of the Wicked Witch of the East. Seriously, though, I do feel that women play an important role in the development of nest of home and the heart of any successful business.

Sitting by the fire yesterday evening after having put my sons to bed I found myself reminiscing about the days of my youth. I recalled the great challenge faced by young women my age in high school, namely, that it wasn’t “cool” to get good grades or to appear too smart. How tragic! I don’t know if that paradigm persists, but it certainly placed an artificial limitation on what could have been achieved in school by many who subscribed to that policy.

I am equally thankful for the men and women in my life. Father and mother. Aunts and uncles. Girlfriends and guy friends. All of them made important contributions to the rich nest of home that served as an introduction to me of love and truth.

That said, there were and are certain women I have and continue to be privileged to know. My mother. My childhood girlfriends. My teachers, counselors and professors. Co-workers. My mother-in-law. My wife. Truly phenomenal women. Dedicated. Passionate. Intelligent. Beautiful. Diligent. Devoted. Fearless.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Maya Angelou‘s rhythmic verse describing women, you’re in for a real treat.

Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I would love to hear from you as to what makes a woman a phenomenal woman in your eyes!

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My wife heard an interesting statement on TV yesterday evening and was thrilled to share it with me this morning, for it was both empowering and revolutionary:

“Pressure is a Privilege”

The statement: “pressure is a privilege” defines a novel way to look at the various pressures you face in your world. Rather than see pressure as a foe, something to avoid or get away from and another reason to hate life, why not recognize it for what it is?

Pressure is a harbinger of change. In fact, change rarely occurs without some form of pressure. Most change occurs within a contained cycle – with a definable beginning and an end – after the application of a stimulus. The stimulus brings pressure on the situation and the pressure rises and then falls, describing a bell curve within the cycle.

The way you handle pressure determines how effectively you handle change. If you are in the habit of reacting to or avoiding pressure either consciously or unconsciously, you will blow the cycle the leads to progressive change. If, conversely, you learn to be at rest under pressure or even better, to shine under pressure, then you will become an agent of change in your world rather than a victim of change.

Pressure is a privilege because it makes change easier. Without pressure, all change is an uphill battle. Pressure – if you’ve contained it properly by not reacting to its building – builds naturally in relation to a process of change and this is the secret behind the reason why it is said that “timing is everything.” Timing is everything because a sensitivity to pressure management allows for the least amount of self-generated force to be applied to get the ball rolling.

If you’ve ever forced something before its time, you’ve recognized how much harder it is to make changes without the necessary background pressure. Some people dislike change for this reason. They’ve pushed and pushed until exhaustion without moving with the pressure. Rather than standing victoriously at the end as an agent of change they’re flattened by the process, exhausted and disheartened by the apparent futility of trying to make change happen.

Be mindful of the pressure in your world, but don’t obsess over it. Watch for signs that you may be unwittingly leaking out valuable pressure, such as:

  1. Heightened reactiveness to the world around you (usually expressed through agitation, anger, panic, etc.)
  2. Physical tension, shallow, rapid breathing, stiff neck or shoudlers and other physiological reactions to stress
  3. The tendency to withdraw or to run away from it all
  4. Quitting, selling out for comfort
  5. Engaging in mindless activities in lieu of digging in and taking care of pressing responsibilities

Learning to handle the privilege of pressure responsibly is a progressive process. It won’t happen all at once. It is a building process much like physical exercise. The good news is that every circumstance contains in it an opportunity to get a little better at handling pressure.

My challenge to you this morning is to prove that you are man or woman enough to take positive steps in the way you handle pressure. Relinquish bad habits as they show themselves to you. Don’t worry too much about those around you and how they deal with pressure…you’ll likely have your hands, head and heart full with your own issues.

The absence of pressure brings an illusion of comfort. I say illusion because a leaky container holds water for only so long. At a certain point you recognize that you, as a container for life and all that is represents – vibrancy, tenacity, resiliency, beauty, potency, etc. – can no longer support its expression. The bottom falls out eventually, sadly though it is typically long before death.

That is no way to live! Life is meant t0 be dynamic, vigorous and virile and the experience of those qualities comes only as you recognize and learn to move gracefully with the ebb and flow of pressure within the various cycles you’re privileged to handle.

Grace under pressure is absolutely within your reach and capabilities. Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread, but instead commit yourself to the long haul. Step by step you will prove that you can – with increasing ease – overcome. Pressure is not your enemy, it is your friend and you are privileged to keep such good company.

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“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring so greatly that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

If ever there was a recipe for a creative life, it is this: to engage unabashedly with whatever comes your way. The world is full of talkers, naysayers, spectators, critics, crybabies and cynics and relatively short on motivators, those who can galvanize and doers. The difference between the two is found in the level of engagement with your field of responsibility.

Your world, that is, your sphere of influence, should rightly grow as you age. Some people never grow up. They remain as children, lacking sufficient maturity and sensitivity to radiate the unmistakeable quality of character that says “the buck stops here.” The quality of character of which I speak is granted only to those who consistently assume full responsibility for the little things in life, such as tidiness, timeliness, follow-through and creative problem-solving, again, in the little things in preparation for the large.

Take care that you do not go through life cutting corners, inattentive to the small things that matter in your world and sitting on the sidelines wishing you had a different set of circumstances. Instead, embrace it with passion, enthusiasm, devotion, determination and good cheer. Yes, I said it, good cheer.

Have a great day!

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The other day someone mentioned to me that America’s health crisis could be largely resolved if people would avoid everything in the middle of the grocery store and only buy items currently on the outer walls.

I had to think about the statement for a moment, but once the picture of the last grocery store I visited filled the screen in my mind it occurred to me that he was on to something. Perishables – vegetables, fruit, juices, milk, eggs, fresh meats, fresh breads and so on – line the perimeter of just about every big-box grocery store. The middle of the store, conversely, showcases heavily processed, sugared, salted, chemically-enhanced conveniently packaged whole and fresh food substitutes.

My brother-in-law and I were chatting the other day about how few people have a chance to see their food in its original, live state before it is butchered, harvested or processed. Chickens to most children nowadays are slabs of clean, skin-free meat enclosed in styrofoam and shrink-wrap. Cows, pigs, lamb and fish suffer the same misunderstanding. There is hardly any connection between the original plant or animal and its eventual consumer anymore.

In my mind this creates a situation where healthy food choices are more difficult to make. Everything in the grocery store is put on equal footing, the primary difference typically has little to do with the item’s provenance and everything to do with its price to the average consumer. Fair enough, but I have to wonder if we are missing something by accepting the “big-box” distribution system which is backed by industrial agriculture as the only possible solution.

I came across a courageous talk given by an 11 year old, Birke Baehr, at the recently held TEDxNextGenerationAsheville. Sometimes children put it best, despite their lack of life experience.

Wasn’t that wonderful? Don’t you love the fact that he wants to be an organic farmer when he grows up? I wish Birke well. What an inspiring story.

Is our present system sustainable? It’s hard to see how it could be. If we are to escape from the downward spiral we are presently on relative to the health of our nation, we need to take Birke’s advice and learn about ways to get back in touch with real, wholesome and nourishing food. Believe me, there’s more to it than getting sufficient macronutrients.

I’d love to hear what resources you use to help you make healthy food choices as well as any success stories you’ve come across…

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“All meaningful and lasting change starts first in your imagination and then works its way out. Imagination is more important than knowledge.” ~ Albert Einstein

It’s a little ironic to me that my company’s product line is based in part on a manufacturing method developed in the Middle Ages while at the same time we have identified the ability to change and adapt as being more important than our strength or intelligence. As CEO I prize employees who display nimbleness, a passion for ongoing refinement and an unwavering commitment to making the world a better place.

Many people possess those qualities but more often than not they withhold them and wait for others around them to initiate any shift from the status quo. Rather than stick their necks out and consequently stand out in the crowd, they prefer the relative comfort of anonymity and mediocrity.

Anyone who has embraced change in life can tell you that a commitment to change must be back by persistence and specific action. Pronouncements of change such as “I’ll be different this time” and “We can’t make the same mistake again” must be met with a deliberate clearing out of the old pattern and a careful induction of the new.

“The hardest part of gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea that occupies that niche.” ~ Robert Heinlein

It is said that “old habits die hard” for good reason. Habitual thoughts, actions and patterns of reaction wear grooves in the body, mind and heart that can be difficult to avoid when a change is initiated. That said, change has the remarkable ability to be both a process and instantaneous. Most changes take a while to become the new “normal” yet many changes happen in an instant and last forever.

The former are obviously the greater challenge for they require persistence, constant readjustment and a realignment of the factors that found their balance based on the former state. I’ve watched a number of changes in my organization revert to “how we always used to do it” faster than you can say “I thought we agreed to approach this differently.”

Charting a new course can be particularly difficult when the previous way of doing things was well entrenched or long-standing. In my estimation people invest far too much of their sense of stability in external factors (other people, their surroundings, etc.) and they miss the opportunity to cultivate an unflappable sense of stability and tranquility that only comes from a deep connection to their inner selves, their true character.

When you are at rest with yourself, being yourself and aware of your connection to a greater sense of purpose, you are at peace no matter what is going on around you. My company is filled with such people and they never cease to amaze me. No matter how busy they are, how pressured they feel, they continue to display, as I mentioned earlier, nimbleness, a passion for ongoing refinement and an unwavering commitment to making the world a better place.

What do you see as the larger purpose for the work you do? Whether you are employed or retired, you are involved in creative activity. When you are clear about your purpose you stop working against yourself. When you are clear about your purpose distractions are less likely to draw you from your desired course. When you are clear about your purpose you are no longer at risk of being tossed by the winds and waves of circumstance.

 

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The Canadian spirit is cautious, observant and critical where the American is assertive. ~ V.S. Pritchett

I spent a number of years close to the Canadian border in Michigan as a young man and it never ceases to amaze me how different Americans are from Canadians, despite their proximity. One of my best friends and closest business partners is Canadian and I know that we have a wonderful time discovering these similarities and differences, though most of the observations are left unspoken.

To say that one approach is superior to the other would be folly. In fact, oscillation between assertiveness and caution is the natural course of life. Risk is inherent in every aspect of life and how we handle that risk determines, in large measure, how successful we are in the living of life.

Warren Buffett said that “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.” While I am inclined to agree, even the best laid plans can be subject to risk. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life it is this: expect the unexpected. If you allow yourself to be not just surprised but taken aback, flabbergasted, exasperated or awed to the point of paralysis by the unexpected, then your life’s purpose will forever be frustrated by unforeseen factors.

If you are observant, you’ll find that the unexpected is often a double-edged sword. The key to handling the unexpected, beyond the obvious matter of adequate preparation and confidence built through experience, lies in learning to take the time available and necessary to determine how you can most creatively accommodate the unheralded shift in the factors you are dealing with. Rather than dwelling on “why me” or “why now” or “why that”, channel the heightened attention and energy piqued by the unexpected into a laser-like analysis of the situation. Ask yourself “What can be used to advantage here and now?”

There are six billion plus agents of change on earth today. We are interconnected and our actions send shock waves, both big and small, that affect the lives of countless others. There is rarely any risk that things will go exactly as planned, so rather than struggle with this reality, why not embrace it? Why not see it as an asset rather than a liability?

You can live an uncommonly generative life. No matter what country you were born in, no matter what lens you tend to view life through, the ordinary, common, predictable things in life (e.g. surprises) can be used to propel you closer to the goals you’ve set for yourself in life.

Just as a cautious approach is warranted on occasion, there is a time and a place for assertiveness. Where you sit on the spectrum relates to your risk tolerance and fortunately for us, the world is a big place with plenty of room for variations in perspective and approach.

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Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. ~ German Proverb

No reasonable person would deny that there are dangerous elements in the world we inhabit. Whether part of the natural state or the product of having mismanaged the natural state over the ages, these perils are a regular part of everyday living.

Children must be protected from them until they have matured to the point where they can handle them on their own. Many of the life lessons I have received relate to brushes with danger and I have found that one of the great values of experience is that it brings awareness to things that would otherwise remain theoretical.

One of the challenges of parenting is to instill respect for the dangers of the world without tipping the scales to a fear of them, for respect is empowering, while fear is debilitating. I see no point in weakening that which we wish to fortify and protect from future harm.

Marketers have a tendency to use fear to sell products. Insurance companies that predicate virtually everything on actuarial science often resort to scare tactics to sell policies. Medical care providers, particularly purveyors of preventive medicine, are also prone to employing this approach. Even environmentalists, who no doubt have very real concerns, have been known to resort to this tactic as a means to an end. Using fear to compel action is rarely advisable, for it tends to enfeeble rather than support. Moreover, it invariably backfires.

I heard someone say once that fear cannot take what you do not give it. So true! Fear is not self-sustaining, in fact, it is kept alive by human beings like you and me. As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate dangers in the world we have today. I am yet to be convinced how investing time and energy fearing those things which are obviously perilous could possibly help. No fuss, no muss…just avoid them!

Far too many people are stopped in their tracks by fear. Fear of real things, fear of things imagined. Fear of the future, fear of surprises. Fear not, for fear gives credibility to the unreal.  Fear eats away at the fabric of humanity when left unchecked. Fear destroys more than it safeguards.

To let go of fear you must let go to a deeper sense of confidence in your ability to handle the uglier details of life. You must likewise be willing to accept the fact that life is not out to get you. Life is what you make of it. As soon as you realize that you have a choice in the matter you start a process of being free – once and for all – from fear.

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