Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Charted Course

Every human being who has ever lived has wished they had a perfectly charted course for success in any given endeavor.  Many in the world make millions writing, teaching, and distributing what they believe is the answer to the dilemmas and challenges of life.

Recently I read a quote by Malcolm Forbes from 1975:

“The Forbes Dart Fund  was established in 1967 by throwing 28 darts at the stock listings of the New York Times.  In the June 1 issue a progress report was made; the fund continued to do better than the experts and to elicit assorted comments.  From an investment executive at Shearson Hayden Stone comes this query:  “we are considering the same strategy.  We are wondering if you used the safety suction type dart and were allowed to select any stock within the confines of its perimeter?  Or were you really that pin-pointy?””

When I read this I howled with laughter.  Over the years, it has appeared to me that many so called experts were really self serving toward their own greed or cause.  This is not a slap against the possibility of obtaining expertise and the perfectly charted course for success.  Really, it’s more of a statement that we can all become the captain of our own ship.

Let me bring this thought into relevance.  A man by the name of J. Reuben Clark, Jr. expressed his fascination regarding a great debate between Webster and Senate President Robert Hayne- two giants of his day.  They were having a great debate in which Hayne of South Carolina interpreted the Constitution as little more than a treaty between sovereign states and Daniel Webster expressed the concept of the United States as one nation.  heavy-sea-sailingWebster replied to President Hayne regarding some fundamental issues of the day pertaining to constitutional law.  The opening paragraph reads:

“Mr. President:  When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course.  Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are….”

Sometimes, in this highly instantaneous informational world with opinions flying like snow in a blizzard, we need to pause to determine the place from which we started and gain our bearings as we proceed forward.  I’m still a believer in obtaining continuous education and seeking direction rather than just “throwing the dart.”  But regardless of where we want to end up, we better know where we began.

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Posted by on June 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


Bucket O Crap

I remember it well… almost every name of the pioneer fathers and mothers, and other relatives of the town folk were etched in stone.  I knew them by name and location, let me explain.

I was a young teenager and had a terrific summer job taking care of the Byron cemetery.  I would mow around the stones, weed whack and trim, weed and dig… wow, six feet is a very deep hole!  In truth, I didn’t have to dig the entire grave, but I did have to smooth the earth after a burial, and make sure those that were laid to rest didn’t resurface before Memorial Day!  One day I was “dead tired” and decided to take a nap on top of an above ground tomb.  I think they call that a vault, crypt, mausoleum or sepulcher- I called it a nice place for an afternoon nap.  As you might predict, at the moment I stretched out over the vault my boss came driving over the hill to witness the event.  I think I told him that I was “channeling” and that I thought it might be productive to know what the local crowd might like in terms of ground care, flowers and such.  Needless to say, I have not lived that rest bit down to this day.  I can’t go to a school reunion without hearing about it.  His story is a little different than mine, and I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle.  While this was a great summer job, it was one of the least favorite jobs I ever had.  Still, I learned a lot from it, including where and when to not take a nap on the job.

Can you think of your least favorite job of all time?  I bet it wasn’t working around dead people.  But alas,  I think I’ve found a job I would put on the bottom of my list.  Because I love my grandson so much and want him to learn great life lessons, I’ve hired him to do this job, which is to occasionally clean up the doggy doo on our property.

Hunter is just 5 years old, but he gets twenty bucks a bucket O crap, and that is a small fortune for a five year old.  As long as we feed the two labs, he has job security.  In this crazy world, this kind of job security is first class.  There won’t be any bail out or stimulus involved if times get tough, because this work is not going to save the world’s largest insurance company or bank- though the return on investment is about the same- a pile of crap.

So I armed Hunter with rubber gloves, a small shovel, a 5 gallon bucket, and a motivational speech about work and beautification that would make one proud.  He actually goes about his work happily, requiring only the nudging you might expect for a five year old, and through this experience he has been taught the rules of 10.  I pay him the twenty dollars when the bucket is full, and tell him 10% is for charity first, 10% is required to be saved, and he has to live off the rest!

Someday when Hunter is older, he will look back on this job perhaps as his worst, and will have a nice story to tell his kids that begins with “You think you had it bad…”  We all need to have a quiver of these types of stories for our posterity; we think it makes us bigger in the eyes of those listening.

So here is a toast to the worst job we’ve ever had.  I hope as you read this you are not currently “in” that worst job, but if you are, think of Hunter, and visualize his bucket O crap, and think again.  “You think you’ve got it bad…?”




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Posted by on June 17, 2009 in Uncategorized


The Empty Bench

As our five children have grown up and left the nest, the space we take at our “row” at  church has gotten shorter and shorter.  Some folks probably wish it had gotten shorter faster!  To hell with them (as my Dad would say), this is my story and I’m going to tell it!

Thirty-one years ago it was just me and Ginger… then we added one.  Within 12 years we occupied 7 seats on the pew.  Then, as they have grown up and gone their own way (they are still church goers, but attend other congregations where they live), one by one the row has shrunk- until this week it was just me and Ginger.

What now?  We don’t need to pack a bag filled with quiet distractions, cheerios, or juice boxes.  We won’t need to take a crying baby out in the hall, or flip a child’s head for being irreverent (corporal punishment can have a spiritual connection when performed in church).

Ginger is sad that the row has emptied.  It is weird for sure.  Sitting there looking down the empty bench, we then directed our attention toward the pulpit- we could concentrate on the sermon today.  The only distractions were in our heads, and there were plenty of them.

I have studied and taught the value of change for two generations; from Who Moved My Cheese to Our Iceberg is Melting.  I realize nothing is more constant.  And yet, when the reality of some change sets in, the change feels more like a change of wardrobe than a simple diaper change.  Not too many more change sequences and diapers will be on the list and a part of our conversations again!!! But I digress.

The seats change, the pew shrinks, the prostate enlarges!  So What?  The truths remain the same and new challenges present themselves.  Life does change, but it can become filled with more meaning and excitement than ever before.  This is our choice, and we’re taking door number one!

I think I just heard the word “Damnation” from the pulpit- I’m paying attention now.

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Posted by on June 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


Act Well Thy Part

Being in the “Service” industry, I have a critical eye toward service of any kind, which means I also recognize the difference between “OK” and “stellar” service.

In Pennsylvania, we recently had the pleasure to eat at a lovely restaurant.  The waitress was about 50 (I’m guessing) but very young-spirited and bubbly.  It was clear she enjoyed her labors.  Her descriptions of food were filled with emotional zest and I felt like whatever she described, even if it were liver and onions (which I hate), would have been absolutely delicious.  I said to her, “you belong in marketing;” to which she replied, “I am in marketing.”

She had to leave the restaurant before we ordered dessert and the young man who took her place and described dessert was also masterful.  A member of our party asked, “Do you have ice cream sundaes?” (There was no indication of this on the menu).  The young man replied, “hmmmmm…..we do have ice cream, and we do have chocolate syrup, so YES, we can give you a sundae”.

I recently read a book called “The Milk Shake Moment” by Steven S. Little (overcoming stupid systems, pointless policies and muddled management to realize real growth).  In that book, the author described a time he was in his hotel room and called room service for a chocolate milk shake.  He was informed that was not on the menu.  The author asked, “Do you have milk?”- Yes.  “Do you have ice cream?”- Yes.  “Do you have chocolate syrup?”- Yes.  So even though they had the ingredients, they would not make the shake.

Today I went to a Mexican fast food place, and requested a fish burrito.  “No Senor” reverberated through the microphone.  They had fish tacos however.  How hard could it be to put the fish in a tortilla instead of a shell?  They had what it took to do the job, they were just not willing to put forth the effort to get it done.

The difference in performance in our duties is often a clear choice of effort.  As I pondered these different responses stated above, I remembered a jewel from my past that has helped me.

stone-tablet_smallDavid O. McKay, a renowned spiritual leader, had an experience that gave him the motto which he used his entire life. After he returned from visiting Stirling Castle in Scotland, he passed a building where the stone above the door had a carved inscription: “What-e’er thou art, act well thy part.” This message struck David O. McKay forcefully and he decided to devote himself completely to always doing his best in whatever responsibility he had.   Our lives will be much more fulfilling if we can decide to improve the lives of those we serve—–though it will require some effort!

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Posted by on June 4, 2009 in Uncategorized