The power of now. The power of no.

“Life is a series of moments, all called ‘now’.”      

– Unknown

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

If you are anything like me, it’s often pretty easy to slip into a little time traveling–to lament what might have been or too worry about what the future holds. Unfortunately I lack both a time machine and the gift of prophecy, so this is not only a big waste of time, it can very easily mess with any sense of serenity I desire.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself frequently saying “yes” to things you really shouldn’t–perhaps out of a desire to look like a good person, to avoid hurting the other person’s feelings or merely because you struggle to trade off the essential against the expected or habitual. And then the resentment and self-shaming follows as we realize how our wants and needs once again take a back seat to the squeaky wheel or the self-inflicted obligation.

We can dream about having super-powers, but eventually reality rears its ugly head. And we can work hard to accept all the things we are powerless over (spoiler alert: it’s just about everything). But when it comes down to it, two “powers” can make a huge difference.

The power of now: the commitment to live fully in the present moment and to let go of the past we cannot change and the future we can neither predict, nor control.

The power of no:  the willingness to stop saying “yes” to obligations, mindless distractions, bad relationships and everything else that gets in the way of our living a life of purpose, connection and fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

Quitting is underrated 

We don’t have to spend much time among our friends or on social media to run across the never give up, quitting is for losers, in-it-to-win-it ethos. There’s a whole socially acceptable narrative built around the notion that only weak people quit and that failure is never an option.

It’s ridiculous. It’s wrong. And it’s harmful.

Perseverance, grit, determination and hard work are certainly important to achieving our goals. But frequently our best work–the work that matters, disrupts, challenges the status quo–comes precisely because failure IS an option. It happens when we know “this might not work” and we choose to do it anyway.

Yet the best friend of an intentional choice to go out on a limb and take a risk is knowing when it’s time to quit. The point is not to avoid failure at all costs, the point is to fail better. Failing better means failing faster and failing smarter. It means knowing when to stop pushing too big of a rock up too big of a hill. It’s radical acceptance of reality. It means being vulnerable to the idea that despite our best efforts, despite what our original analysis told us, despite knowing that we might hurt someone else’s feelings, despite the real possibility of looking stupid, we simply need to stop.

I loved it when, in her now classic talk on shame, Brene Brown referred to TED as the “failure conference.” She called out the reality that all these great leaders and speakers we look up to had dared greatly and failed–many of them on more than one occasion. It was, in fact, a room chock-a-block with quitters. But not quitters who beat themselves up about it and became victims. They were all quitters who had indeed failed better. They eventually figured out when it was time to stop, learned from their mistakes and moved on.

It turns out that knowing when –and having the courage–to quit is exactly what frees us up to go and try the next big thing.

I wonder what we are all doing right now that’s worth quitting?

I wonder if we can muster up the courage to stop and simply say “no more.”

I wonder what amazing possibilities that will unleash.

 

 

And so this is Christmas…

It doesn’t matter to me one bit whether the story that’s been told through the ages is literally true. In fact, you can most definitely put me in the highly doubtful camp.

For me, the heart of the Christmas story is the birth of an idea. An idea that today seems increasingly radical–the idea that humanity can be “saved” through compassion, love and hope.

For me, Christmas is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge, and being met with generosity. And what could be more timely and relevant?

For me, it’s a reminder that whether we label ourselves Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist (as I do), Agnostic or whatever, what ultimately matters is not what we call ourselves or what creeds we espouse or what particular book we turn to–or don’t.

What matters is our common humanity. What matters is how we show up, how we live, what we actually do.

And so this is Christmas..and what have we done?

Here’s one small thing I did. I donated to The Compassion Collective, an organization that is standing on the side of love in a time of fear. I hope you will join me.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but–thankfully–I’m not the only one.

This is not for you

I recently received a comment from a reader of this blog that said “if this is going to get political, I’m moving on.” He was apparently referring to a shot I took at Trump supporters in one of my posts which, I’ll now admit, I regret. I regret it not because it was off point or untrue, but because it was far too easy and obvious.

To be fair, while this blog is mostly about retail innovation, strategy and marketing, I often drift into my broader world view of leadership and spirituality. Regardless of where my musing takes me, it’s always been my goal to be authentic and to speak to issues I care about. It’s never been my goal to appeal to everyone. And, frankly, I don’t do some of the things that would grow a larger but decidedly less engaged audience.

When I ask myself “who is this blog for?” I’m comfortable with the answer that comes back. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact I’ve decided that it won’t be. And if it’s not for you, that’s okay. So happy trails, my friend.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do for our brands –personal and otherwise–is to get crystal clear on who/what we are and who/what we are not. By doing so we make an intentional choice to not cast a wide net, to deliberately chase some people off, to cause some folks to say “I don’t get it.” There is great power in our confidently owning our “this is not for you” position.

Consider for a moment that restaurant that started out as Greek or Chinese or maybe only serving breakfast, but when business gets soft, they start adding things to appeal to a wider audience. Any chance they had to be unique and remarkable slowly gets diluted. Before long, they stand for absolutely noting. Before long their fate is sealed.

Rarely have the greatest artists quickly garnered wide followings. Many never did. Their relevance and importance remains undiminished. Few people “got” Picasso or Pollock early on. Upon hearing Coltrane or Mingus for the first time, most folks thought they were either weird or profoundly untalented.

Of course these eventual legends could have strived to broaden their appeal, they could have worked to smooth out the edges or stay in the realm of the more familiar. Thankfully they proudly stated “this is not for you” and forged ahead, working to deepen their craft.

It’s worth remembering that when we try to serve everything, we end up serving nothing.

When we try to please everybody, we end serving no one.

XHlXGEv

 

 

Swimming in the deep end

I want to live a life of purpose. I hope to see the world changed for the better. I want to innovate. I’d like to make a real and lasting difference.

So here’s my plan…

I’ll lay low. I’ll take little or no risk. I’m going to please everyone and try to get them to like me. When given a choice, I’ll take the path of least resistance. I’ll say things like “failure is not an option” and mean it. I’ll spend most of my time pointing out what others are doing wrong.

“But that’s a terrible plan” you say.

It is and it seems glaringly obvious. But it is, in fact, what so many of us (and the organizations we are part of) have chosen as our strategy, despite our statements to the contrary.

I wish there were an easier, softer way. Spoiler alert: there isn’t.

The work that matters gets done when we let go of our people-pleasing default mechanism.

The work that matters gets done when we accept that–as Seth reminds us–“if failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

The work that matters gets done by working out in public, by sitting right down in front where everyone can see us, by being in the arena, instead of the stands.

The work that matters happens when we show up, over and over again, as our most authentic selves.

The work that matters is set in motion when we have the courage to make a conscious and intentional choice to leave the shallow end for something deeper. To take the plunge. And to start swimming.

deep-end-of-the-pool

h/t to Brene Brown for the virtually constant inspiration.

 

Escape velocity

There is a concept in physics called escape velocity. Escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to break free from the gravitational attraction of a massive body and continue moving forward without further propulsion.

Now I may be pushing the analogy a bit–not to mention my basic comprehension of complex scientific theories–but I think businesses, brands, project teams, individuals, and organizations of just about any type, can benefit from understanding what their own version of escape velocity is and by identifying the fundamental factors which fight against achieving it.

We all suffer from powerful forces that hold us back. All too often, the greater the aspiration or risk, the more we feel a strong pull back to the tried and true, the warm and comfortable, the familiar. The fear of being wrong or looking stupid can be tough to break free from, as evidenced by the simple fact that many of us never do.

And even if we begin to conquer our own insecurity, even when we stop listening to the voices that tell us to slow down or reconsider, even when we muster the courage to say “here I made this“, the gravity-like forces can creep back in, killing any inertia we might have gained.

In other situations we don’t achieve escape velocity because we lack adequate resources, key information or the requisite skills and capabilities. Here, if my experience is at all common, it’s rarely the case that we are unaware that we need these things. Most often we simply fail to ask for the help we need or we’re afraid to go from knowing to doing.

The beauty of achieving escape velocity is that things become so much easier. The forces that once limited us are no longer constraints. We no longer find ourselves saying “if only…” Momentum is achieved. We go from constantly selling our ideas to actually doing the work. We begin to find our flow.

It’s obviously easier said than done.

But, from where I sit, if we don’t understand The Resistance it’s a much tougher dragon to slay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pander express

Are we experiencing a pander epidemic?

By now, we’re used to marketers preying on our insecurities and making promises that we will be thinner, smarter, more attractive to the opposite sex or whatever it is we don’t like about ourselves. Yet the gap between the hype and the reality seems to be growing.

By now, we’ve come to expect most brands to attempt to seduce us with deep discounts or some sort of special offer. But frequently the invitation is better than the party. Often when the hot deal goes away so does our business. And, despite many of these offers being fundamentally uneconomic, companies go back to the well over and over, more and more.

By now, we are quite familiar with politicians trying to appeal to our basest instincts. But the antics of Donald Trump have certainly taken us to new depths. Regardless of the growing chorus of outrage, the rhetoric only seems to get dialed up to 11.

Of course, people and organizations pander because it works. That is, until it inevitably doesn’t.

There is no doubt that more than a handle of people are comfortable staying in their cocoon of ignorance. There clearly are folks who have little or no ability to get beyond their most primal and visceral impulses (my best guess–based upon the most recent polls–is that it’s about 35% of Republicans. But I digress).

Fortunately, most people only get fooled once or twice before recalibrating. Most of us eventually see past the fascade. Few of us confuse bribery with loyalty for very long.

But in an ever noisier and more confusing world it seems like the tendency is to lay on the hype. To shout louder. To desperately chase the promiscuous shopper. To pander more.

But if we know that authenticity will ultimately shine through, that the truth eventually wins out, that buying business has a relatively short shelf life, why not eschew pandering right from the start? And if we find ourselves engaged in a bit of pandering right now, why not stop?

h/t to Stephen Colbert for the title inspiration.