Danny’s Goal: What’s your takeaway?

Posted on | September 8, 2016 | 2 Comments

A single goal.  If you had to sacrifice nearly everything in life that fills your days – your career, your paycheck, your marriage, even your Target shopping excursions – what goal would you pursue and with how much dedication would you keep after it?  Short of locking yourself in a monastery, the modern world is so full of options that living a life consumed with a single purpose seems impossible.  Heck, most of us cannot focus on a single task for ten minutes before distracting ourselves with email or social media.

That’s part of what makes Danny Chew so special.  Danny decided long ago to commit himself to a single goal.  By my calculations, he’s already invested more than 50,000 hours in pursuit of it.  (In comparison, the average American works 2,000 hours a year, so Danny’s more than 25 “work” years into this.)  When he committed himself to this goal he was still a child; today he’s 55 years old.

In lieu of a family, a spouse, a career, a home of his own, or a steady paycheck Danny remains at home with his mother and scrapes together a few dollars to cover the bare essentials.  To minivan driving, suburb living, Target shopping adults like you and me, Danny’s life may seem preposterous.  Upon reflection, though, Danny’s life is an incredible example of what’s possible when one chooses a road less traveled.

Ah, but a road less traveled is exactly what Danny has not chosen!  You see, Danny’s life mission is to travel one million miles.  A million miles by car?  No, though it would take the average American 72 years to rack up that many miles on the road.  Danny is choosing to travel a million miles by bicycle.

It’s not cycling a million miles that I’m asking you to consider as your inspiration, but rather the commitment and discipline you and I know it takes to narrow one’s focus, day after day after day, into a single mission.

As a fellow Pennsylvanian I’ve never come across Danny on any of my rides but some of my cycling friends have.  The story usually goes that while meandering down some back road in Central PA, a guy with monster quads riding an old, tired road bike comes upon you and humbly mentions that he’s about halfway through his day’s two hundred mile ride.  Good Lord!  Two hundred miles in one day?  Never in my twenty years of cycling have I reached that but Danny knocks down that kind of mileage without a second thought.  Danny’s a legend in the endurance cycling world.  He’s twice won the Race Across America and routinely logs more miles in a week than a professional cyclist is likely to log in a month.

A few days ago, Danny’s single goal collided with a serious obstacle: He suffered a crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down.  As of this writing he’s lying in a hospital bed, heavily sedated so that his body can rest.  Danny’s life is about to take a serious turn but does his goal remain or will he have to abandon his dream?  Please, this is Danny Chew, the guy who’s spent his entire life fighting headwinds, suffering up climbs, and pushing through pain!  As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, one of Danny’s first comments from the hospital was, “Worst case scenario, I’ll just have to finish my million miles on a hand cycle.  So be it.”

Danny, the entire cycling community is cheering for you and praying for your recovery.  You will reach your goal, now with more purpose and inspiration than anyone could have imagined.

Note to readers:  Danny has health insurance but it carries a large deductible and he faces many expenses following his release form the hospital.  If you’re able, please consider a donation of any amount to Danny’s recovery fund: https://www.youcaring.com/danny-chew-640082



2 Responses to “Danny’s Goal: What’s your takeaway?”

  1. Marilyn Hoare
    September 8th, 2016 @ 7:51 pm

    Thank you for letting us know about Danny. We have taken up backpacking and I can not even thinking about a million miles. We sent a small donation and our prayers.
    Tell you brother and father Hello!

  2. Ben Lawrence
    September 8th, 2016 @ 8:18 pm

    Marilyn, That is very kind of you and your family. Thank you for your generosity! Best to your family as well. Those hiking miles will pay off next time you’re in Denali :)

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Nerves of steel? How to prove you’ve got ‘em

Posted on | June 23, 2016 | 13 Comments

By the time the fire trucks arrived the building was fully engulfed in fifty foot high flames.    Fortunately, the police had already cleared the area and everyone was safe.  But when the firefighters rolled up and marched directly toward the inferno I feared the safety record was about to take a turn for the worse.

Have you ever witnessed a three alarm fire?  Last week was my first, as my daughter and I were out for a bike ride and came upon a small fire at an apartment complex that within minutes of our arrival had gotten out of control.

The scene played out as you’d see in a movie:

People run out of building, police clear the area, firefighters show up to save the day.  Hollywood drama, however, ended the moment these brave firefighters moved toward the flames.  What made this so different from what we’ve seen in the movies?  They walked.

I imagined these firefighters leaping off the truck, sprinting up the stairs, and madly rushing about in a desperate attempt to extinguish the flames.  Instead, these guys calmly approached the fire and carefully moved about the scene at a steady pace, even when they were so close to the flames I feared they were going to spontaneously combust.

The situation was growing dire: Their fire hoses weren’t keeping pace with the flames and the roof was beginning to collapse.  At that moment, all the fire trucks started blaring their horns while the chief on the ground gestured an “Abandon ship!” signal.

Again, I was certain in that moment these guys would break into a sprint and get the heck out of the danger zone as fast as their legs would carry them.  But nope, they calmly changed direction and moseyed down the stairs.  Imagine!  A fifty foot high inferno at your back, the building in a state of collapse, your boss wildly gesturing for you to get the hell out of there, and you calmly exit the building as if you’re leaving the opera.  Nerves of steel indeed.

I have no idea if this is standard firefighting protocol but upon reflection it made perfect sense.  Think about it: You’re wearing a bulky suit, you’re peering through a face shield that limits your vision, you’re stepping through a smoke-filled area you’ve never before visited, and a bunch of your firefighting buddies are clustered around you.  Under these circumstances, running around like an adrenalized chicken is the worst thing you can do.

You and I may not be firefighters but how often do you find yourself living the watered down corporate or personal equivalent?  An angry customer chews you out.  Your car breaks down on a busy road.  Your boss demands that you complete four days of work in four hours.  Your kid runs to you in tears after falling off her bike…  Whatever the “Oh s***” moment, our instinct is to freak out.

What did these brave firefighters teach me?  Do the opposite.

When you find yourself facing a raging fire and a collapsing roof, SLOW DOWN.  Take a deep breath, carefully scan your surroundings, and execute a reasonable plan one slow, steady step at a time.

So what happened to our firefighters?  Well, here’s what didn’t happen: They didn’t stumble, they didn’t lose control, they didn’t fall down the stairs, and they didn’t get injured.  They all made it safely back to their trucks and a few minutes later successfully got the fire under control.

Take a deep breath.  Stay calm.  Work together…  And thank your local fire department for the dangerous work they do.


Don’t tell my daughters they’re smart or beautiful

Posted on | April 6, 2016 | 40 Comments

Where does a guy with limited skills go to learn how to communicate with and motivate his daughters?  Back to school, of course.  Like parents, teachers have to motivate their kids to pay attention, struggle through difficult tasks, and earn good marks.

Through wildly good fortune our kids have had terrific teachers.  One who stands out is Mrs. Feldman, a third grade teacher at our local elementary school who’s now had two of our daughters in her class.

Our kids love Mrs. Feldman.  Time and again she’s proven capable of motivating our kids to do things my wife and I sometimes find impossible: become voracious readers, enthusiastically practice math, write creative stories, and every day be excited about going to school.

How does she do it?  It’s taken me awhile but at a recent Parent-Teacher conference her formula began to crystalize:  She doesn’t compliment the person, rather she compliments the activity.  Notice the difference between Mrs. Feldman’s compliment to our nine year old daughter, Amelia, and one that I, the bumbling parent, tend to give:

The Amazing Mrs. Feldman: “Amelia, I’m really impressed with the hard work you’ve put into your writing this year.  The other day I noticed you asked for extra help and the story you wrote afterward was your best yet. I’m proud of the effort you’re making.”

Clueless Dad: “Wow, Amelia, you’re a good writer!”

Mrs. Feldman knows something that many parents don’t:  Your kid’s success depends a whole lot more on his/her work ethic and willingness to try hard than it does on any natural intelligence.  Mrs. Feldman doesn’t praise a child’s talent, she recognizes the child’s effort.

Mrs. Feldman is teaching me an important lesson: Do not lavishly emphasize your kid’s natural gifts.  Why?  Because the moment your son or daughter encounters an obstacle their God-given gifts cannot overcome, he/she’s likely to give up. Thanks to your misdirected praise, your child comes to rely too much on his/her natural gifts and not enough on his/her work ethic.

Mrs. Feldman, do you subscribe to Harvard Business Review?  Here’s what social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson published a few years ago in HBR:  “Gifted children [often complimented on their natural abilities and the degree to which things come easy to them] grow up to be more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident.”  She continues, “The kind of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children has a major impact on the beliefs we develop about our abilities, including whether we see them as innate or developed through effort and practice.”

Halvorson goes on to describe a study wherein one group of kids was praised for their natural talents while another group was praised for their work ethic.  Soon thereafter, each group was assigned a difficult task.  The result?  The “Wow, you’re a smart kid!” group quickly gave up and failed to complete the task.  The “I’m proud of your work ethic” group solved the problem and appeared happier doing it.

It’s easy to pay someone a surface-level compliment, but you’re making a deeper impact by recognizing the effort instead of the result:

Instead of, “Wow, you’re fast” try, “Wow, I love to see how hard you run.  Great job on the extra effort!”

Instead of, “You have beautiful hair” try, “You take good care of your hair.  How do you keep it so nice?”

Instead of, “You’re a smart kid” try, “Congrats on the good grades.  What’s the class that you find most challenging?  I’m proud of you for making the effort to do well in that class, too.”

Are my daughters smart and beautiful?  Hell yes.  But please don’t tell them that.  If you want to build their confidence and motivate them to be their best, follow Mrs. Feldman’s formula: Find a way to compliment their efforts instead of their natural gifts.


Want to grow your business? Buy a grapefruit.

Posted on | March 3, 2016 | 16 Comments

They were about 12 years old and among the poorest kids I’ve ever seen.  Central Mexico is a long way from the glamour and riches of Acapulco and Cancun, and these kids were living at the opposite end of Mexico’s Haves vs. Have-nots society.  They were scrambling around on a dirt field, shoeless and dressed in rags but having more fun than Julia Roberts on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree.  Their diversion?  Soccer.  And they were playing it beautifully: crisp passes, perfect spacing, incredible foot control.

If I’d taken any of those kids and placed them in the middle of a College Prep Starbucks sipping SUV driving First World High School soccer game they’d have made every other player look like a concrete-footed buffoon.  I’m certain these athletic marvels had never been to a sports camp or gotten a video analysis of their kick or had a protein shake or owned a pair of soccer cleats, but their grasp of the game’s fundamentals was a thing of beauty.

Sometimes I reflect upon these kids while sitting in a sales or marketing meeting with a company that wants to grow its business.  More often than I care to admit, the conversation quickly spirals into a misguided wish list of money pits: “If only we had more exposure in the marketplace.  Call an ad agency.”  Or, “Let’s get more data on our website visitors.  Call Hubspot.”  Or, “I wish we came up sooner on internet searches.  Call Google.”  Or the one that really makes me bristle: “The problem is we don’t know what’s happening with customers and sales.  Call Salesforce.com.”

Back to the 12 year old soccer players:
If you want to become a talented player worthy of jumping into a pickup game in Central Mexico, where do you begin the journey?  Well, you could go out and buy a fancy uniform but walk out onto that dirt field and you’ll get clobbered.  Or you can hire a PR firm that broadcasts all over Mexico what a formidable soccer player you are and how you’re going to light up the field.  But again, without thousands of hours of practice you’ll immediately be exposed as a fraud.

The only way you’re going to earn a credible spot in the game is to first spend years working, sweating through, and ultimately mastering the fundamentals.

In business the fundamentals I see time and again most in need of attention are human connections and one’s ability to develop them.  No matter what you’re selling, if your team is unable to connect with customers, understand their needs (or better yet, challenge them on what the real problems are), and enthusiastically solve the customer’s need, no amount of market research, data tracking, or sales forecasting will spawn your growth.

The next time you find yourself ogling over the latest Big Data Market Research Sales Pipeline Metatagging Instamatic Marketing Tool, STOP.  As yourself, “When’s the last time my senior executives and I took our top customers to lunch?  … that we spent a day in the field cold calling with our salespeople to hear the latest objections?  … that I got on the phone with an upset customer and personally walked through resolving it?  … that I invested in the skills and attitude training my team constantly needs to stay ahead?”

Long before Pelé stepped onto a professional soccer field he’d spent a lifetime molding his raw talent into something refined.  Heck, long before Pele even kicked around a soccer ball he’d been dribbling grapefruits off his knees because that’s all his family could afford.

Give me the financially deprived yet fundamentally sound, barefoot-equivalent sales team and we’ll take the field any day vs. the fancily equipped 800 lb. guerilla who just ran a bunch of Super Bowl ads.

The next time you’re compelled to buy your way to success through a new advertising/PR campaign, CRM database, or website tracker put your wallet back in your pocket.  Your success depends more upon mastering the fundamentals – human connections and your ability to develop them – than it does on big data analytics and marketing strategy.

Focus.  Train.  Connect.  Execute.


You have a perfect resume? Don’t call me.

Posted on | December 8, 2015 | 22 Comments

The moment for me came more than twenty years ago.  A hot, humid summer day when I found myself sitting on a street curb in Richmond, VA, sweating through my suit and questioning my own self worth.  I felt terrible.  Three weeks prior I was on top of the world, convinced I was embarking on a successful and profitably journey.  But here I was completely broke, living in a dirty motel, and embarrassed at the extent of my failure.  What happened next was a defining moment of my life.

This moment recently flashed through my mind while working with a class of honors-level college students.  The students had completed a research project for my company and presented their findings to the instructor and me.  Great ideas!  Powerful presentations!

A number of the students approached me after the class and asked for an internship.  Their resumes were impressive: High GPA’s, plenty of extracurricular activities, and a shining history of achievement.

Yet something about these kids turned me off.  Why was I so uninterested in hiring them?

Then it occurred to me: they were too perfect.

If you’re seeking a job at a big company with a big HR Department, I suppose your resume has to be perfect.  I know of HR Departments with computerized filters that automatically kick applicants out of the candidate pool if one’s GPA is too low or if there aren’t enough key words pointing to accomplishments.

In my opinion, those resume filters are bunk.

You know what I want to see on your resume?  Failure.

Show me how you’ve taken a risk and fallen flat on your face.  How you signed up for a high level Math class and got an F.  How you started a business that hemorrhaged money.  How you toed the line at a marathon and never made it to the finish.

Then show me how you bounced back.  How your failure was a blessing in disguise that taught you a valuable lesson.  Prove to me you have that rare but priceless attribute: Resilience.

I fear if you’ve always had straight A’s, always were Prom Queen, always won your races, and always gave your mother something to brag about, you are a fragile porcelain doll who’s going to shatter the first time you’re dropped.  Additionally, if you can’t point to times you’ve failed in life and bounced back from them I fear you can’t take a punch.

Years ago I took a class on how to interview people for TV and radio programs.  The instructor’s top suggestion: When interviewing someone, get them talking as quickly as possible about his/her failures.  It’s one’s failures in life – and how he/she bounced back from them – that makes the most interesting story.

Your failures are interesting.  How you bounced back from them is an inspiration.  Share those moments with your audience.  Yes, some computer might kick your resume out of the running but the most exciting opportunities and the people driving them will come running in your direction.

Oh, and back to that street curb in Richmond, VA:  My first-ever sales job.  After breezing through the hiring and training programs I hit the streets to sell a real product in the real world.  Three weeks in I’d made more than 500 in-person sales calls, had been rejected every single time, and had been physically thrown out of more than a dozen places.  I had no money left and no reason to believe this job would get any better.

For some reason, though, I stuck with it and in my fourth week I sold ONE item.  My fifth week I sold three items.  By the tenth week I’d rocketed to the #1 sales position in the country.

Sticking with that difficult job ultimately earned me a taste of success, lifelong friendships, and a career path that’s taken me around the world and supported my family.

Fail fast, fail forward!


Endurance: A Dirty Word?

Posted on | September 23, 2015 | 15 Comments

This may sound crazy from a guy who’s spent the last 20 years competing in endurance sports, but I’ve come to the conclusion that endurance is overrated.  As a matter of fact, I now realize there are times in my life I should have considered endurance a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor.

Let me explain:

Years ago I was looking for a way to stay in shape and decided to run a marathon.  Like many others, I considered the marathon to be an admirable fitness goal.

Since my running background was minimal, I bought a “Marathons for Beginners” book and eagerly followed its advice.  90% of the book’s pages stressed one point: Build your endurance.
Begin with short runs and slowly over time build up the distance of your runs until you can shuffle along for the entire 26 miles.

I followed the plan and after a few months I was sufficiently trained to go the distance.  The marathon was grueling but I finished and got the t-shirt.  You know what else I got?  A serious case of achilles tendinitis and a strong aversion to ever running again.

The constant, repetitive motion of training at about the same pace and at about the same intensity for so many miles burned me out, both physically and mentally.

“But Ben,” you argue, “learning to endure hardship is a valuable lesson.  Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and learning to suffer in one part of life teaches us to suffer in other parts of life.”

Indeed!  I agree with you.  Learning to face adversity, stick to one’s guns, and fight through hard times is important.  In my experience, though, we often face adversity and fight through hard times sooner than we should.  Is success – and one’s happiness –  90% dependent upon one’s ability to suffer?  Or is success mostly dependent upon one’s ability to learn and adapt?

Training for that marathon, I made a fatal mistake that I’ll bet you’ve made, too, in some part of your life:

First, I focused on endurance.
“I’ll push myself to survive one more mile on this week’s run than I did on last week’s run.”

Second, I focused on speed.
“OK, now that I can run 26 miles let’s see if I can run it a little faster.”

Third – and last – I focused on form.
“If I run with better posture maybe I won’t hurt my achilles tendon.”

The problem:
By focusing on endurance first, I’m suffering through most of my runs and forming terrible habits before I pay attention to what’s more important: speed [i.e. efficiency] and form.

The solution to avoiding the endurance death spiral: REVERSE the order of focus.

1.  Begin with FORM.

How can I run more effortlessly?  Where does my body need to be stronger and more flexible in order to run smoothly, lightly, quietly, and happily?
(Think of how a world class runner moves: On the balls of her feet, shoulders back, head up, core steady, minimum bounce…  vs. the “shuffler” at the back of the pack: hunched forward, eyes cast to the ground, heel striking, and jarring her entire body.)

2.  Next, and only after my form is very good, add SPEED.
How can I maintain that perfect form while moving faster?

3.  Finally, and only after I’ve mastered steps one and two:  build ENDURANCE.
How can I maintain that form, move quickly, and cover a longer distance?

Running is only one example.  The same principal – first master technique, then move to speed, and as a final step focus on endurance – applies to nearly everything else in life.  Think about times in your life that you’ve:

  • Started a new job,
  • Entered a new relationship,
  • Taken on a new responsibility,
  • Begun a new activity.

In most cases, we learn through repetition.

Learning through repetition is OK, but make sure the “reps” you’re performing are done properly!

Here are some hints you’re on the wrong path and how you might push back to get on the right path:


Your sales manager gives you only a half-day of new product training and then says, “Now go hit the streets, champ!  Try to sell this product to at least 30 people every day.  Eventually you’ll figure it out.”  [What he’s not telling you but he is thinking: “You’ll either figure it out or go down in flames of failure.”]

Push back:
Before you spend too much time pitching your new product to 30 people every day, ask your sales manager if you can shadow a top performer and observe his/her tricks of the trade.


Your new swim coach orders,
“Get in the water and swim today as far as you can.  Tomorrow we’ll swim even farther.”

Push back:
Before you start grinding out hundreds of laps with that awful form, read a couple books and do some video analysis on your form.  Figure out how to stop fighting the water and instead move effortlessly through it.


You find yourself suffering through countless time-wasting meetings.

Push back:
Research best practices for minimizing meetings and making them more efficient.  Share your research with your colleagues and encourage them, along with you, to try a better way.

No writer or coach I’ve ever encountered better emphasizes this “form over endurance” philosophy than Terry Laughlin.

Terry is the founder of a swim coaching method entitled Total Immersion.  Even if you’re not a swimmer, I encourage you to follow his blog and read his books.  Coach Terry is constantly extolling the value of good form, and you’ll find countless ways in his teachings to apply those principles in other parts of your life.

(Terry: If you’re reading this, THANK YOU for teaching me how to replace ugly, brute force with something more graceful, sustainable, effective, and enjoyable.  Without your guidance, my endurance sport journey would have ended long ago.  Here’s to another 20+ years of kaizen!)

Oh, and one last thing…

If you ARE interested in improving your running form and improving your fitness, here’s a feat I’ll argue is more beneficial and gratifying than shuffling through a marathon:  Run a 5K in under 21 minutes, and do it barefoot.

Why 21 minutes?

Almost impossible to lack strength & flexibility and still run that fast.

Why barefoot?

Almost impossible to run with bad form in your bare feet.


the most important 2 seconds of your next conversation

Posted on | July 14, 2015 | 22 Comments

Love him or hate him, one of the world’s most effective communicators is Bill Clinton.  Now hang with me!  I promise this won’t become an endorsement for or a rail against our former president; this blog is not a political platform.

Rather, this is an observation of a professional communicator’s skills and the lessons you and I can learn from him.

The lesson President Clinton offers takes only two seconds…  But it’s a looooooong two seconds, and these two seconds “say” more than any words that come out of your mouth.  Let me explain.

In 1996 I was sitting in a hotel lounge watching a televised presidential debate between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.  Some of the people in the room were cheering for Clinton, some for Dole, and some were there just to people watch.  Anyway, as is standard format, a moderator would ask one of the candidates a question and the candidate would have a minute or two to respond.

When the moderator asked Senator Dole a question, the senator repeatedly jumped into his response before the moderator had even finished asking the question.

Now, Bob Dole is a brilliant guy.  He’s a seasoned politician with an impressive track record of service to his country.  But in those moments, he came across as a pompous blowhard.

The image he portrayed: “I’m not a good listener.”

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, responded to his questions as follows:

  1. He’d listen to the ENTIRE question without interrupting the moderator.
  2. He’d bow his head as if deep in thought.
  3. <Pause>  One thousand one…  <Pause>  One thousand two…
  4. Only after two full seconds of silence would Clinton raise his head, turn to the camera, and begin his response.


Sitting in that hotel TV lounge, here’s what I remember:

Every time Bill Clinton paused to gather his thoughts, every person in that TV lounge – even the ones in Dole’s corner – leaned forward in their chairs and stared intently at the screen to hear Clinton’s response.  It’s as if his charismatic, gravitational force was pulling us forward and onto the debate stage at Clinton’s feet.

What do I NOT remember from that debate?  One single word that Clinton said.

All I know is that Clinton won that debate with the words he DID NOT use, and Dole lost it with the words he used too soon.

Clinton understood the power of silence.  He understood how important it was to portray himself as a careful listener with a thoughtful response.

Our society applauds smooth talk, quick wit, feisty retorts, strong oration, and clear diction.  There is a place for all of those skills but the one communication technique I see underappreciated and ignored more than any other is listening.


Your customer throwing out an objection you know you can overcome?
STOP.  Let the customer finish saying it, then hold yourself back from leaping across the table with your oh-so-impressive response.

Bonus points: Keep your fancy response to fewer than 30 seconds and then go back to listening.


Your spouse telling you about a problem at work or with the family he/she needs to solve?
PAUSE TWO SECONDS after he/she’s finished talking.  Be a sounding board.  Listen first.

Bonus points: Keep your fancy response to fewer than 30 seconds and then go back to listening.


You’re in a company meeting and have something you want to say?
**Especially if you’re in a leadership position:  HOLD BACK.

Give your team two full seconds of silence before opening your mouth.  Just because you, Mr./Ms. Hotshot, are the leader of the department and have the most experience doesn’t mean you have the best words to share.  Give your team a couple seconds to collect their thoughts, and the silent space in which they may share them.

Bonus points: Keep your fancy response to fewer than 30 seconds and then go back to listening.
Be a leader with your ears.



Want to achieve greatness?  Earn from someone you trust, admire, or love this unsolicited compliment: “You’re a good listener.”

Talking does not a great leader make.  My dad says, “There’s a reason God gives us two ears and one mouth.”


As for Bill Clinton, he went on in 1996 to win the presidency by the highest margin of any presidential candidate since.  The last president prior to Clinton to win by such a landslide?  The great communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.
Proof that effective communication skills are political party-agnostic!


Amelia’s Lesson for the Rest of Us

Posted on | May 4, 2015 | 14 Comments

I knew right away something was amiss.  For starters, she was smiling.  Never before had this kid returned from basketball practice with anything but an angry glare.  In this instance, though, she was swooning with pride and eager to tell us something important.

Then she opened her mouth and made the most outrageous statement I could have imagined:  “Mom, Dad, tonight I made six baskets.”

Ha!  A joke!  I get it, she was acting and saying the opposite of what my wife and I have heard after the last 100 basketball practices.  Our youngest daughter, Amelia (8), had begged us to sign up for basketball and had regretted her decision ever since.

Amelia turned out to be the youngest kid on her team.  While the older kids were making baskets with ease, she’s spent the whole season throwing the ball with all her might and missing the top of the rim by several feet. It had gotten to the point where she was frustrated, embarrassed, and insisting that no one from our family attend her games.

She wanted desperately to quit but hey, a commitment is a commitment.  Her mom and I told her she had to finish out the season.  It would have been a whole lot easier to have just quit, but that’s not the lesson we wanted Amelia to learn about how one handles adversity.

Amelia is athletic in lots of other ways, and it’s apparent she takes pleasure in pursuits that come easy to her.  She’ll fly across a set of monkey bars faster than anyone in her class, wrestle down her older sisters with one hand tied behind her back, hammer out sit-ups like a US Marine..  and complete those challenges with quiet satisfaction.

But to make a basket?  Oh, the glory!

It lifted her spirits in ways the more “natural” talents never have.

That night as I tucked Amelia into bed I asked her, “Amelia, How did you feel when you made those baskets?”
“So so so so good!” she replied.

“What lesson did you learn today?”
She went quiet, thought for a moment, then looked me right in the eye and said, “Making baskets is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do, but now that I did it I love it.  I feel proud.”

Will Amelia return for another season of basketball?  Who knows?  A week ago the probability was ZERO and we’ve certainly improved upon that score.  But Amelia has reminded me – and proven to herself – that life’s proudest moments don’t occur when we’re showing off abilities that come naturally.  They spring forward when failure after failure after failure finally transforms into success.

Amelia, I’m more impressed by your six baskets than I am by the hundreds made every week by NBA stars.  You stuck with it, powered through, and earned every bit of satisfaction that came your way.  You remind me that we cheat ourselves when we stick to only those activities that come easy.


Are you a true professional? Here’s one way to measure it..

Posted on | February 25, 2015 | 8 Comments

My friend Tom has spent at least 50,000 hours mastering his craft.  If you buy into Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory, it means Tom is five times more practiced and qualified than a “professional” in the same occupation.  Over the twenty years I’ve known him there’s been one consistent story: Tom joins a small, struggling company.  He hits the streets, works his tail off, finds customers, builds a team, parties like a rock star, makes it all look easy, and leaves in his wake a treasure trove of memories, friendships, and profits.

His style hasn’t change but his tactics always do.  He’s constantly testing new methods and perfecting the ones that show promise.

Tom’s the kind of guy you’d think doesn’t need to read how-to books, he’s the expert who ought to be writing them.  Yet here’s a key difference between Tom and the other people who’ve held the same general job title for the last twenty five years: Tom reads.

A couple weeks ago Tom sent me a text: “Have you read the book Pitch Anything?”

My response: “No.  Do you recommend it?”

Tom: “Yes.  It’s a must.  I suggest listening to the audio book first.  Then read it.”

The book was a simple how-to related to the type of work Tom and I do.  Yet here’s  one of the most accomplished professionals I know listening to and reading a book he could have authored.

Of course I immediately picked it up and found the book incredibly helpful.

The takeaway:  Successful people are constantly learning.  If you’ve spent 10,000+ hours in your profession and you’ve done little to sharpen your skills, I dare say you’re not the professional you might think you are.

What books are you reading?  What seminars are you attending?  What thought leaders are you following?

A few questions to ask yourself that will indicate whether you’re a professional or just a card puncher lumbering from paycheck to paycheck:

  • What’s the last book you read related to your work?  (*Note: A book or article your boss assigned to you doesn’t count.  I’m talking something you sought out on your own and read voluntarily.)
  • When did you last ask someone you trust for feedback or advice?
  • When did you last attend an educational seminar that your employer did not mandate?  (*Bonus points if you paid for it out of your own pocket.)

…And the question that indicates whether any of the books, feedback sessions, or seminars were worth it:

  • How are you applying those ideas and concepts in your real world life?

Next time you’re meeting with a prospective employer, prospective customer, prospective business partner, or even prospective mate, ask him/her, “What’s the last book you read, and what are you doing differently now as a result of reading it?”

If your prospect responds with a blank stare, perhaps it’s time for you to seek a new prospect.

“Ben, This all sounds great but I don’t have time to read.”

I hear you!  No doubt you lead a busy life with limited free time.  So let me ask you, “What’s on TV tonight?”

My friend, if you can answer that question I would guess that sharpening your skills is more feasible than you imagine.  Replace TV time with read time and you’re on your way.

As for Tom, he recently launched a new venture with a new company, and I can’t wait to see what new rabbit he pulls out of his hat.  I guarantee his 50,001st hour will be his sharpest and most impactful one yet.



One simple change that will improve your life and delight your mother

Posted on | December 21, 2014 | 17 Comments

When does your family begin talking about, shopping for, and preparing the holiday dinner?  My mom and wife can kick that conversation off on the 4th of July and keep it going right through Christmas.  Planning for D-Day took less time.

On the Big Day, when the family’s finally gathered around the table and the meal kicks off, my brother and I play a little game. We hide a stopwatch under the table and the moment everyone reaches for their forks, we hit the start button.

How long do you think it takes for the majority of people to blaze through a holiday meal?  Think about it: a cornucopia sprawling across every inch of table space.  Serving platters overflowing with dishes that grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and spouses have spent hours preparing.

Clearly such an enormous spread that’s taken months to coordinate and hours to prepare would take a long time to consume, right?

Well, after years of study my brother and I can tell you it takes about seventeen minutes.  Seventeen minutes for those plates to go from overflowing to empty.  All that preparation flares up and disappears faster than one can heat up a TV dinner.  Gross.

We Americans do things fast.  Drive, talk, work, type, walk, grow up, make decisions, judge..  Ours is a culture where fast is worn as a badge of honor.  And in some cases I’m all for it!  If there’s one exception, though, where I wish we’d learn to slow down, it’s the velocity with which we eat.

Eating fast is a terrible habit.  When we don’t thoroughly chew our food, our stomachs suck precious energy in order to further digest it.  Our stomach’s “I’m full” signal doesn’t have time to reach the brain, meaning we eat way more than necessary.  And at holiday time or when eating something your mom or spouse has worked hard to prepare, I think eating fast is a sign of disrespect.

So let’s summarize:
Eating fast makes you feel like crap.  It makes you gain weight.  And it will disappoint your mother.

This holiday season, when you sit down for your family’s meal, be grateful for the food and company that surround you.  Thank your mom, spouse, and everyone else who contributed toward making it.  And if you want to set a New Years resolution that will improve your health more than almost anything else, here’s my challenge to you:

In 2015, make two simple changes:
1.  Put your fork down in-between bites,
2.  Eat with your opposite hand.

Wishing you a healthy, happy, and slow-chewing 2015!  (And a special thanks to my mom, my wife, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law for always preparing a world class holiday spread.  This Christmas, may our family surpass the seventeen minute mark; you deserve it!)

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  • About Ben Lawrence

    Ben Lawrence Ben's expertise is helping organizations reach their full potential through an empathetic, value-first, challenger-based focus on their customers.  Data analysts want to choke him but entrepreneurial, sales driven, profitable, customer-centric organizations (or those who aspire to become one) love him.

    Ben lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, three daughters, dog Elvis and foo foo but badass dog Ginger. He is a competitive triathlete and member of the National Eagle Scout Association.

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