Be relentless about continuous improvement

This is part of my firm’s culture. We have a fundamental that says: Be a lifetime learner and continually invest in your own education, both formally and informally. Be curious and never stop improving your legal, technical, and personal skills. Embrace change. Look for a better way.

No matter your role, you are constantly learning and change is constant. You should strive to learn and adapt to and embrace change. Part of this is realizing and accepting that you don’t know everything, there always is more to learn, and that change is happening whether you want it to or not.

William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” He is right because there is no way to fill up your brain with too much learning or new information. There always is room for more. On Wikipedia, lifelong learning is defined as “is the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”

Note that lifetime learning is voluntary and requires self-motivation. When we were younger and in school, the motivators were teachers and parents. As adults, we may have similar figures in our lives pushing us to continuously improve, but many people don’t. This is why being a lifetime learner requires self-motivation. You should challenge yourself to always be learning. In our world it could be learning about a change in the law or maybe you want to learn to paint. Whatever it is you should follow the muse because it will improve the quality of your professional or personal life.

Another part of this fundamental includes embracing change. As Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” This is true and your attitude towards change makes a difference. When change happens you either are influencing the change or not. If not, you likely will feel out of control and like you are being dragged along by the change. To avoid this, you need to be pro-active. This may require you to acknowledge your fears and take action anyway. It is okay to be scared of change, but don’t let that stop you. If it does, change will happen anyway, but without you being in the driver’s seat.

Someone named David Mann explains it well in a few minute video: He explains that change happens and you can see it as a disruption or an opportunity. I urge you to view change as an opportunity. It could be an opportunity to learn or to improve yourself or your surroundings. Many times you don’t know where the change is going to lead you, but wherever it is will be better if you are pro-active and face it head on.

As we head into a new year, it’s a great time to be pro-active about the change you want to drive in your life. Instead of making a resolution and hoping you follow through, you should make smart goals related to whatever you want to learn or change. The point is to take control of your evolution, because with change being constant, so is your evolution as a person. Be the driver of your life, not the passenger.

No Comments

The 2019 version of why it’s time for an annual “checkup” for you and, if you have one, your company

Over the past few years many of you probably read my blog regarding having a checkup for you and, if you have one, your business. This does not involve the doctor, but it does involve all the other professionals in your personal and business life. Since that time, I decided to make this topic an annual tradition. This is based in part on the range of feedback I receive every year.

Some of you said “What a great idea. I am definitely going to do that.” Others said “Sounds like a good idea, maybe I will look into that.” Most of you were busy with the holidays and all that they entail, and probably did nothing. To be honest, any of these responses is okay and ignoring my advice may not have had detrimental effects to you or your business.

The point of the advice is that you only know what you know. If you do not check in with your professionals and, for example, make sure contracts or your estate plan remain enforceable and up-to-date, that is where risk comes in. For example, I always check in with my accountant at the end of the year to ensure that all is right with taxes and withholding.

A few years ago I had a reminder related to a different item you should check on annually, auto insurance. We had two teenagers on our policy and a number of vehicles, and the premiums always seemed so high to me. But my insurance person knows me and shops the policy every year looking for the best rates rates for policies with similar coverage from quality insurers. He did that for me and we ended up with a new insurer, with pretty significant savings.

With the time constraints of life, it’s sometimes hard for me to move beyond the higher-level checkup, but when I do I usually end up with some benefit. Unfortunately, in our time-crunched world, the question of who to check in with at year end is expansive, from your estate planning attorney, to your investment person, to your insurance person, to vendors you may use such as a yard or pool maintenance company, or your cell phone carrier or your Internet provider. You may be surprised what a company will do in lowering monthly costs to satisfy or keep a current or longtime customer. Try it and see what happens. A good one to start with is your cable or satellite television provider (assuming you haven’t cut the cable).

I know, I know, who has the time? None of us do, which is why the choices are yours. Are your contracts up to date? Did you pay enough estimated taxes or withholding? Are you paying the cleaning service at your office or your lawn service for your home too much? The choice of what professionals to consult, what costs to check or compare, and what services to put out to bid is yours. Choose wisely.

And for those of you seeking a reminder or who did not see it in years past, here is my original blog post on getting an annual checkup:

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where you are personally and professionally. This can be checking in with your personal accountant to make sure you have withheld/paid enough taxes during the year or planning for deductions to planning for large corporate expenditures on things such as upcoming projects, planned corporate initiatives or planned equipment purchases. But the one thing that is a constant is that we all should be doing this.

In the past I have mentioned why it is good to sit down with various professionals you or your company work with just to check-in, be they attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals, financial planners, investment professionals, etc. The list depends on you and your business.

This does not have to be a formal appointment unless you think that is appropriate depending on the nature of the planned conversation. Instead, it can be you offering to buy them lunch or a drink. The point is the better the professionals you work with know you, the more they are able to make recommendations aimed to benefit you or your company.

So don’t wait, start making plans today to meet with these people this year, or at least first thing next year. We all are busy this time of year, but if you take these actions it will help you now and in the future.

Happy New Year!

No Comments

Reduce stress

Everyone has stress. Many people have more stress than is good or healthy. It can be related to their work or their personal life. This time of year it also can be related to the holidays, such as dealing with family or the financial burden of gifts or travel. Reducing stress obviously is important.

How to reduce stress depends on you because what helps lower stress differs person to person. I hike and meditate. Others I know run or fish or play a musical instrument. Find something, because your life depends on it.

I know that sounds quite dramatic, but anyone who has experienced significant stress can tell you how it affected them emotionally and
mentally, but also physically. Allowing yourself to remain in a state of stress is comparable to knowing you broke a bone and not seeking treatment; you know it won’t get better without doing something about it.

My guess is one or more ideas jumped into your head when you began reading this. If not, think about what can help lower your stress, try these things, and find what works for you. There will be times stress is just part of your life. Anything you can do to lower it will be beneficial.

No Comments

What’s your definition of success?

Do you ever ask yourself this? You should. If you do, the answer should include all important aspects of your life.

The answer will be different for each of us. For one person it will be gaining a certain title or earning a certain amount of money. For someone else it may to train their dog to roll over. Or, maybe it’s a combination of both, because true success should be achieving your definition of success in your work and personal life.

This is balance. Whatever your definition of success is, it should involve balance. If your work life is a 10 and your personal life is a 2, or vice versa, there is a problem. If so, you need to work to figure out how to move towards balance.

I also think you need to define success by what matters to you and makes you happy, not others. This doesn’t mean you should ignore what others think, but it is only one consideration and may or may not fit within your definition.

And your definition of success will change over time. What is important to you at 28 is different than what will be important to you at 38 or 48. This is how life works.

It means you should revisit what success is to you on a regular basis, because true success involves being happy and content in your ever changing world.

No Comments

Don’t believe everything you think

None of us are always right. Most times there is not a “right” answer, but opinions. And no one’s opinions are anything more than opinions.

I am not speaking to core beliefs such as religion, though I think it’s healthy to question all ideas and belief systems. Here, I am talking about everyday tasks and ideas. It could be the best way to drive to a certain place or the best way to keep your calendar. We all could speak to these and support our positions, but each of us is wrong sometimes.

It doesn’t mean you’re not right a lot of the time, but it does mean you always should be questioning what you and others think. You should learn about topics you are interested in or need to know, such as for your work. Though the purpose is to learn, not to prove you are right. It feels good to be right, but what if the person you are speaking with just won’t agree with you? Hopefully you can just agree to disagree.

This is why it’s valuable to know a diverse group of people. If you live in a world where you are surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and beliefs, you are living in an echo chamber in which you never hear you may be wrong. This results in a false sense that what you think is always correct because those around you simply agree with what you say. This is similar to the participation trophy mentality that there are no losers.

Be open to others’ ideas and thoughts. Question them, but also question your own thoughts. This allows you to be a constant and lifetime learner, always trying to improve your knowledge and life, along those you interact with, as well as how you move through the world.

No Comments

Show gratitude always

We are a few days out from Thanksgiving. In thinking about writing about being thankful or gratitude, I thought back to a post from last November. I can’t say it better, so here is my annual blog for the week of Thanksgiving.

This is a good time of year to think of gratitude generally and what you are thankful for specifically. At the same time, it’s a great time of year to spread good feelings, which you can do by letting others know when you appreciate something they have done for you.

Those of you who have younger children (or older ones…) know that you end up reminding them to say “thank you” all of the time. That is because thanking someone or showing gratitude is a learned behavior. If it came naturally or from observing others we wouldn’t have to teach children to do so.

Hopefully you remember to thank people as appropriate in your daily life. In my day, this can be thanking someone holding the door for me when I get to my office, for holding the elevator for me, or for making a pot of hot water so I can have tea and get that needed caffeine injection upon arriving for work. Many of these situations are universal to all of us, but I notice when I hold a door for someone and they walk through without saying anything.

Of course, if you go through your day looking for when people should be thanking you, you likely will be disappointed. Instead, I think about how I want to come across to others, as well as ways I don’t want to come across to others.

We all have bad days, but most days we should recognize when thanking someone is proper and appropriate. Plus, it has the added bonus of making you or the other person feel good, making it a great way to go through life.

No Comments

Challenge yourself

It is good to get out of your comfort zone. What that means is different for each person. One person’s challenge is just a normal day for a different person. When you challenge yourself it is invigorating and makes life interesting.

Last weekend I did the Phoenix Summit Challenge with my friend Warren and my wife. It was multiple hikes, with seven summits and a total of 25 miles of hiking. My wife and I hike a lot, but not that long of hikes. I had never hiked 25 miles in one day, so this was a real challenge. I assumed I could do it, but you don’t know until you try.

It always seems easy to start a challenge, but once you get into it the real meat of it, the challenge really begins. Our challenge included hiking and driving – we figured out fast getting warmed up on the hikes and then cooling down on the drives between the hikes was in and of itself a challenge. But we made our way through any thoughts of not finishing and powered on.

Whatever your challenge is, when it gets tough you need the mental fortitude to stick with it. When it’s a physical challenge, you need your body to hold up, along with your mind. That’s where training and working towards goals comes into play. Try to come up with a plan leading up to your challenge to give you the best shot of success. This could be practicing chess for months before playing your friend who is really good, or putting in the miles if you are running a marathon.

The best part is finishing. Whether you win or lose the chess match, following through is the real test. In our case, it was finishing the last hike with a beer at the top of South Mountain even though a Ranger appeared next to us out of nowhere. The Ranger stood by us and said he would let us finish the beers because it was the day of the PSC and we had finished the challenge of the summits (we did have to hike back down, but the last summit was the feel good point of the day!). It was a great moment we will remember.

What is a challenge you are willing to work towards and try to complete? There has to be one. There likely are more. Take one at a time, make a plan and you will give yourself the best opportunity to complete your challenge. You will feel great when you get out of your comfort zone and complete the challenge or goal!

No Comments

Dream Focused

I have an old t-shirt from a concert I attended years ago. On the back it says “dream focused.” I hadn’t worn it in a while, but happened to pull it out this week. At the same time, I received an email from a friend who said I need to write about the power of dreaming. Coincidence? I say inspiration!

Dreaming is powerful. Whether as a child or now, dreaming can take you to another place, or place you on a path towards a goal. It involves curiosity. It also can be hard to do in the daily grind of life where we spend little time without someone or something (think cell phone, tablet, computer) in front of our face. When this happens the time to dream is lost.

I think that some of the best ideas or plans I come up with alone or with my wife happen when we are out of town. We generally are disconnected and have time to think of things not involving work, kids, or other daily concerns; our minds are free.

Once you free your mind, you may well find your body following. It could be to a new job or to start a business. It could be to change how you parent or deal with a troubled family member.

It’s a matter of being able to step back and have perspective. Of course this can happen while you are slogging through your everyday life, but it’s less likely. It also doesn’t mean you need to go out of the country or do a cave in the woods. You can create the space needed to dream and let your mind be free from routine in your home or hometown, but then you have to be intentional to do so.

Maybe you need to go on a hike but not listen to a podcast or listen to background music you won’t pay specific attention to (I used to do this with long jams by the Grateful Dead or Phish, but that’s another story). The idea is to create the space for your mind to drift and thoughts to come and go until you latch onto something that intrigues you.

Dreaming is important and powerful, and opens you up to opportunity. So dream big and then focus on how you move towards your dream coming true.

No Comments

Work on your implicit bias

Everyone has implicit bias. The term “implicit bias” describes when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them unconsciously. This can be on account of race, gender, sexual orientation, age – the list is longer than most people think and specific to each person. And this isn’t about being racist or sexist, it’s about the unconscious thoughts that come into our heads when we see someone walking down the street.

Implicit bias is difficult to change. We all need to try to be aware of our own implicit biases and be motivated to work on them; don’t make negative (or positive) assumptions about people just from seeing them walking towards you or standing on the side of the road. One idea is to analyze a situation before coming up with who you think that person is despite the unconscious thoughts that come into your head, let alone making a comment or taking action. Instead of going with your first feeling, focus and think about members of stereotyped groups as individuals by thinking of their specific word and actions, and how they differ from what you see as  the stereotype.

One thing that results in implicit bias is when you surround yourself only with people who look, think, act and believe like you. Doing this results in you being in a vacuum in which what you think and feel are validated and any negative thoughts of other groups or types of people are reinforced. This happens a lot as most people are more comfortable in situations in which there is unlikely to be conflict.

Engaging with people who are different than you opens up your world. It doesn’t mean you have to change your belief system to align with people who are different than you. On the other hand, the opportunity should provide perspective and the chance to learn or even to agree not to agree in a respectful way. You don’t have to change your politics or religion if you speak with people with different beliefs, but you can and should treat them with respect. Doing so will open up your world to different people, ideas and the chance to looks at things from a different perspective.

No Comments

Karma exists

I believe karma exists. Maybe it is an existential justice system, maybe not. It isn’t necessarily instant and may take a long time, but it happens. The rub is that you may never know it happens where you were wronged and are hoping for karmic retribution.

So what can you do to be on the right side of karma? Be intentional in a positive way. This means to be intentional and positive in what you do, what you say and how you act. There is a difference between generosity and compassion as compared with cruelty or greed.

One idea is to be nice. You can’t do it all of the time, but only you control your mood and actions. And people appreciate dealing with nice people. Another thing you can do is to do the right thing. It makes a difference to others and will make you feel better about yourself.

This is about character and how you want to live your life. It may affect how you are viewed by others, but that shouldn’t be the focus; you should want to be a good person just because. There is truth in the statement that you get what you put out into the world. What do you want to get??

No Comments

Share This