Time: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Time: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

time-best-friend-worst-enemy

1… 24… 168… 8,760

You might be wondering what the above numbers have in common?  Or perhaps what they even have to do with you?  Of course, you may have also already figured them out.

The truth is, the above numbers apply to all of us equally.  Over the next 60 minutes, 1 hour will tick away.  This time tomorrow, 24 hours will have passed.  One week from now, 168 hours will have come and gone.  And this time next year, 8,760 hours will be in the books.  

So big deal, right?  The same has held true since the beginning of Time.  

Some might say time is neutral.  That it is neither good or bad.  Neither friend or foe.  

I say differently.

Time is either your best friend or worst enemy.  

And you get to decide which it is.  If a friend, you are using it.  If an enemy, it is using you.

Let me illustrate.

Have you ever slept in, and when you finally got up the gumption to get up, you just kind of rolled out of bed, spent your morning meandering around the house, and never really got around to doing much?  You were just kind of lazy but you justified it by saying you deserved it.  Before you knew it, it was mid-afternoon and you really hadn’t accomplished much of anything.  By then though, you felt you needed a nap, because you were just tired from not doing much.  So you snoozed a little more, and it was soon supper time.  The day was nearly spent, and if you even bothered to think back, you’d have to admit you did absolutely nothing.  Nada!  Zip!

Now that may be an extreme example, and if you’re like me, you cannot think back to a time when you had a day that went like that.  But you, like I, might be willing to admit instances in your life where an hour here or an hour there was “spent” on meaningless or non-productive activities.  Sure, they may not have been “lazy” things, but they accomplished nothing of substance nonetheless.  Can someone say Facebook?  Or the 2nd or 3rd football game in a day?  Or the fourth episode of your favorite sitcom?  Watching Dancing with Stars?  Or surfing eBay on the web?  Or…

Of course, in and of themselves, none of the activities described above, or similar ones that might come to your mind, are evil, bad or hurtful.  Well, maybe not…  But here’s the point.  Each time I’m engaged in one of them, an hour or two will pass.  And the question is:  Did I use time, or did it use me?  Were you in control of that four letter word?  

That is the key.  Are you controlling time or is it just happening to you?  When you find yourself in a scenario where stuff happens, things just seem to occur with no proactive control or input into what is happening, especially as it relates to your schedule, then time is controlling you.  But when you and I are deliberate, scheduled, and focused on a definitive timetable for our day and week, then we are in control of time.  And rather than time being our worst enemy, it becomes our best friend, our ally.

Time is what enables us to complete tasks, goals and projects.  Time enables you to build your dream home, deploy a detailed business plan, raise a loving family, deepen relationships with loved ones, redevelop a failed inner city, restore a failing nation to its once admired status and more.  It matters not the size of the task.  Time can and will be your friend and ally if you harness it to bend to your plans versus allowing it to choke us as we remain mired in mediocrity, laziness or simply poor planning and stewardship.  

Time is neutral.  So you will decide how it plays out in your life.  Friend or Foe?  Asset or Liability?  

You decide.  Don’t delay.  1, 24, 168 or 8,760 hours from now, will tell the story.

Mark

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Knowing the Facts is Easy but…

Knowing the Facts is Easy but…

Knowing the Facts is Easy but...

“Knowing the facts is easy. Knowing how to act based on the facts is difficult.”  Han Feizi

A good friend and mentor shared the above quote with me this last week and it got me thinking…  In this age of Google and Siri, it has become commonplace to find out the answer to nearly any question we have.  No longer do we need to go to a bookshelf, pull out a volume of the World Book encyclopedia, to find out the answer to a problem we might be having. 

Case in point.  A couple days ago I was struggling to remember the name of the runner from Jamaica who just won gold for the third time in the Olympics in the 100 meter race.  So I picked up my phone, and asked my digital assistant: “Siri, who is the world’s fastest man?”  In just moments I had the answer along with more facts than I ever asked for:  Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man.

Yet, with our 21st century capacity to know the facts on nearly any subject matter known to man in mere seconds, what has not changed for mankind is the ability to know how to act based on the facts.  In fact, it remains just as difficult today as it was for our ancestors thousands of years ago.

The truth is, it matters not whether we are talking about our personal life, business, political choices, moral dilemmas, or spiritual quandaries, we often know the facts of a matter, but struggle to make the right choices based on those facts.

Uncertainty

There are times when we know the facts, but the proper response to the facts is difficult to discern.  It may be that the proper choice is not totally clear.  Or it could appear that there are pros and cons to all the various options.  So discerning which is the best option can be difficult. 

This can occur when we are too close to the matter, or our experience with the facts at hand is limited.  When this happens, a second set of eyes, a new perspective, greater wisdom, or even a personal coach, can bring clarity to the matter, resulting in the proper choice coming into focus.  So we should never hesitate to bring mentors, counselors or trusted advisors into the picture, whether in our personal, business or spiritual life.  

Conscience 

We’ve all heard the phrase, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  Well, so is a conscience.  Our God-given “inner voice” can serve as a guide in leading us to the proper decision in a matter.  While this is true, at times we choose to ignore or question the voice.  We know what we ought to do, but we resist doing so.  The sad reality of this scenario though is that if we do this often enough, at some point our conscience will grow weaker and weaker, to a point that it no longer serves as a voice of discernment in our lives.  And what was designed into us as a guide can over time lose its influence, and even grow silent.

There’s a passage in Romans 7 that speaks specifically to this quandary:

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate… I want do do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”

Situational Ethics

We’re all familiar with the philosophy “the end justifies the means” and most would likely reject it. But the truth is that many of us will at times embrace this reasoning when it can benefit us personally.  The opening quote of this post says, “Knowing how to act based on the facts is difficult.”  If I were to re-write the quote I would revise it to say, “Knowing how to act correctly based on the facts is difficult.”

Situational ethics can frequently lead us to a justifiable option, but it may be the wrong choice.  My set of facts may reveal that I am broke and don’t know how I’m going to put gas in my tank.  While I’m in the break room at work I find a $20 bill laying on the counter.  No one is around so I justify taking the cash because no one will ever know, “finders keepers, losers weepers” or some other rationalization.  I need to put gas in my tank to get home to my family, so I’m ok with doing the wrong thing.  So that $20 is now mine.  Simple.  The end justifies the means.

We know better but we justify our decision, and thus we act based on the facts, but our action is flawed and incorrect.  James 4:17 addresses this particular dilemma quite succinctly:  “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

At the end of the day, it’s critical to look beyond the facts and seek to respond to those facts in the correct manner.  Whether we seek out a coach or mentor, or we respond to the truth we know to do, or we resist the temptation to justify inappropriate behavior, if we want to succeed and grow in life, we must all too frequently make the tough but difficult choice.

Are there other ways you’ve found to do what is right but difficult?  If so, send me an email or post a comment below and let me know your thoughts.  

Mark

The Wildly Profitable Gift Shop on the Titanic: The Dilemma

The Wildly Profitable Gift Shop on the Titanic: The Dilemma

The Wildly Profitable Gift Shop on The Titanic-Part 1

“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”  Proverbs 27:12 NLT  

It was April 14, 1912, day 4 of Margaret Fuller’s virgin voyage on board the Titanic. Things could not be better. Her bid to open the only gift shop on the new mega-ship had been accepted three months earlier. She had operated other shops on several ocean liners during the past decade.  As a result, she had achieved some degree of success and affluence from those years of hard work, sacrifice and optimism. 

RMS_Titanic_3 (1)But none of those other shops had begun with such a burst of passenger excitement, which directly translated to record setting sales. In the first three days of the voyage, her shop’s revenue had already surpassed the sales of the last two transatlantic voyages combined. Margaret could not be more pleased. 

As she rose early to head up for a quick breakfast before opening her shop, Margaret walked by one of the twenty lifeboats that were stowed securely on the boat’s deck.  For a brief moment her mind flashed back to some reports she had read prior to their departure.  Some had expressed concern that there were more passengers on board than the lifeboats could carry.  But Margaret quickly pushed the thought from her mind, fully confident that a ship the size of the Titanic, with all its safety systems, was completely secure.  It was certainly too big to falter along the 3000 mile journey.  

Sales were strong again on that fourth day of the voyage.  The passengers seemed eager to spend.  Their excitement and mood could not be more upbeat.  There were other small business owners and entrepreneurs on board who all seemed to be experiencing the same results that Margaret was realizing. 

That evening, Margaret sat down to write down her thoughts in her journal, as she had been doing for several years now:

Day 4:  Life is great.  Another record day.  Sales are phenomenal.  People are happy.  The only concern I have is whether I will run out of inventory on our return trip to England.  Not that such a problem would be bad.  Who would have ever imagined I would sell out my entire inventory?  This new venture on board one of the greatest sea-going vessels of our time is something I could have never imagined.  And the likelihood that anything could go wrong at this point is beyond my wildest imagination.  Well, I better get some sleep.  Tomorrow will be another busy day, no doubt.  Good night diary…

Margaret readied herself for bed, said a quick prayer, and was soon in a deep sleep.

As Margaret slept, she began dreaming that she was hearing sirens going off.  The more she tried to ignore the sirens, the louder they seemed to get.  Soon the sirens were accompanied by a jolting and lurching and she then realized: This isn’t a dream!  The sirens were really going off.  The articles on her dresser had just been thrown across the room onto the floor.  She heard glass breaking in her bathroom as the mirror fell off the wall.  Down the hall, outside her door, she could hear people screaming. 

Margaret was now wide awake.  This was no dream.  Rather, it was a real nightmare. As she grabbed her housecoat, and dashed out her cabin door, Margaret’s mind flashed back to the lifeboat she had walked by the day before.  She tried to control a panicked and sinking feeling as she considered the fact that if the lifeboats were needed, she might not make it onto one of them. 

Leaving_the_sinking_linerAs she shot up the stairs to the main deck, her panic suddenly turned to terror.  Crew members were yelling to everyone to head for the lifeboats, screaming to them that the ship had struck an object of some sort. There was little time before the unthinkable would happen, they were warning.  It was clear the unsinkable ship was going down, and only those who were fortunate enough to scramble onto one of the lifeboats would survive.  

As she ran towards one of the lifeboats, the ship suddenly lurched violently, and Margaret was thrown several yards into the air before she  slammed back down onto the deck.  She was dazed and shaken.  Her entire body ached.  But she had enough presence of mind to realize she had to make it to a lifeboat. 

Margaret half crawled and half ran to the nearest lifeboat and began to fight her way through the others who were all trying to board it.  She was ashamed of her actions as she clawed her way past other screaming and terrorized passengers.  But Margaret knew that if she were courteous, she would not make it.   As the lifeboat began to swing over the side and above the freezing dark waters below, Margaret lunged for it, barely grasping the edge of the small boat, as a strong arm dragged her aboard.   And then, everything grew pitch black as they descended into the ocean below.

Margaret could hear screams from above.  It was sheer terror and no doubt they were the last sounds that many who were still on board would make.  She was told that the lifeboat they were on was the last one.  There were no more.  Those left behind were no doubt destined for a horrendous fate.  

Briefly, Margaret thought about her gift shop, her livelihood, her fortune and her dreams.  They were all going down with the ship.  Just hours earlier she couldn’t have been more upbeat, more optimistic, more confident of the profitable future that was in store for her.  Now, it all seemed so meaningless, so short-sighted, and so mundane.  She hauntingly remembered the warnings some had made prior to the Titanic’s departure about the inadequate number of lifeboats.  She thought about the hundreds of poor souls who were even then sinking to the depths of the Atlantic.  And then she realized the truth. 

The Titanic was not too big to falter. It was not too big too fail.  And yet, it took a catastrophic loss of life for that reality to set in.

It was 130 years earlier, during the Revolutionary War, that George Washington commented, in strong disapproval, about how many of our early countrymen put private gain before “the essential rights and liberties of the present generation, and of millions yet unborn.”   Our first President was concerned that a short-sighted focus by citizens could lead to a long-term loss of our most sacred values: Life, Liberty and more.  

Like Margaret on board the Titanic, in my fictional story, today’s entrepreneurs, corporate executives and managers are busy about the business of making money, turning a profit and increasing their own personal fortunes.  Obviously, in and of itself, this is not a bad thing.  But as our first President noted, we can often pursue our own private gain at the expense of our “essential rights and liberties.”  Sadly, because of this tendency by too many today, our nation is bearing down on its own iceberg.

In our hearts we all know this.  The sirens are going off.  The warnings are everywhere.   

$150 trillion in debt

a collapsing political system

extreme societal polarization and division

rampant corruption in Washington and our state houses

greed has infected our populace

unrest and violence is growing

ethics and morals have all but disintegrated

religion has little influence in our society

terrorism is rising

And there are innumerable more warning signs.  And yet, it appears that so many of us are so disengaged.  We ignore the obvious. We are more focused on seeking the profit of our “gift shops” than heeding the perilous warnings.

But unless we wake up before it’s too late, there will be a catastrophic event that will make that last sale, that last promotion, that last quarter’s results, seem so mundane, so futile, so meaningless.  

Have we reached the point of no return?  I do not know.  

I pray that we can avert the iceberg that appears to be directly in our path.  But you and I will determine whether or not we do. Will we prioritize our private gain?  Or will we, like our founding fathers, prioritize the “essential rights and liberties of the present generation and of the millions yet unborn?”  Our actions today and tomorrow will reveal our priorities, and the destiny of America.

Next week, in Part 2, we’ll explore some practical steps that we can take to avert the iceberg, or, if the worst should happen, what we can do to prepare for such a disastrous event.  But I’d love to hear your thought before then as well so shoot me an email and post a comment and let me know what you’re thinking.  Until then…

Mark

Your Business and Marriage: The Urgent vs Important

Your Business and Marriage: The Urgent vs Important

Your Business & Marriage

 

Last year I wrote about the importance of marriage in “An Entrepreneur’s #1 Partnership,” emphasizing the need to prioritize your marital relationship above your business.  But it’s easy to write about doing so, and quite another thing to actually live it out on a daily basis.

Entrepreneurs and employees are often tempted to focus more of their attention and energies on their business or job than the relationship with their spouse.  As an entrepreneur, I can affirm the struggle this dilemma often presents.  And if you’ve spent any amount of time in business, you know exactly why this is. 

Our businesses present a constant set of opportunities, challenges, and other “urgent” matters, that demand our immediate attention.  If you’re like me, it’s all too easy to allow these demands to overshadow everything else in life.  Whether it’s our relationship with our spouse, our kids, our personal health, or perhaps even our spiritual walk with God, it seems that all too often, the urgency of the immediate drowns out the preeminence of the important.  

Granted, there are instances when a scenario is truly urgent in nature, requiring our immediate focus or else catastrophic consequences could ensue.  These rare instances are not what I am referring to.  Rather, the “urgent” issues I am referring to are the unlimited number of lesser demands that present themselves on an all too frequent basis.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can see this reality clearly, both in our own lives and sadly in the lives of others.  But in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to ignore that internal nagging voice that continues to remind us that the urgent is once again supplanting the important.  And when it does, it can result in our cancelling that special dinner with our spouse, or missing our child’s ball game, because a last minute “deal” demands we do so.  

So how do we overcome this temptation so that we properly address the urgent without sacrificing the important?  There are at least three truths we can embrace to overcome this “urgent versus important” dilemma:

  1. Involve yourself in an accountability relationship with someone you trust implicitly, whether individually or in a small group. Be honest and transparent with this individual in a manner that allows him to provide honest feedback.  It is a rare person who can critique his own actions and choices in such a manner that he will self-correct and recalibrate his life when he veers off course.  An accountability partner will provide that much needed correction to help us bring the important back to a priority over the urgent.  The book of Proverbs affirms this truth when it reminds us that “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

  2. The urgent will always be clamoring for immediate attention.  The unexpected and unplanned seem to show up on a regular basis, and too often at the most inopportune times.  And when the urgent rears it’s head, it seems all else pales in significance.  You can likely identify this reality playing itself out over and over in your own life, if you think about it.  So it’s critical that we begin to identify when the urgent has arrived and that we be prepared to counter this temptation with a predetermined course of action.  Whether it’s one that you’ve devised on your own, with your accountability partner, or perhaps one such as the Eisenhower Decision Principle (named after President Dwight Eisenhower), have a plan ready to deploy when the urgent shows up and seeks to derail the important.

  3. As hard as we try, there will be times when we succumb to the urgent despite our best intentions.  One truth that we know about ourselves is that we often fail to live up to our own standards and expectations.  It may not be that we intended to, but old habits die hard and we frequently revert back to our old self.  But this is just another instance when we must simply acknowledge our frailty, both to ourselves and our spouse and/or family, and then recommit ourselves to steps 1 and 2 above.  Meet with your accountability partner, evaluate your actions, and then learn from your mistakes.  

I trust that you and I will continually remember these truths and we’ll take whatever steps we need to take in order to insure that we don’t wake up someday and realize that, while we were successful at accomplishing the urgent, we failed in the truly important areas of our life. including that most important relationship, our marriage.   

Mark

Finding Men to Match our Mountains

Finding Men to Match our Mountains

Finding-Men-to-Match-our-Mountains

In April 1967 one of my heroes, Ronald Reagan, gave a speech to the California Republican Assembly just a few months after being elected Governor of California. At the time, his state was facing significant challenges and he had sought to attract men and women from the private sector to help in turning the state around. In his speech he recognized the fact that in order to achieve the successes he envisioned he would need to find “men to match our mountains.”

As I paused to ponder that statement, it became apparent that this is not only the challenge of our day, but it also represents the solution to any problems you and I are facing, whether in business, in our personal lives or in government.

Mountains come in all shapes and sizes. Some are relatively low in elevation and simple to climb. It takes very little effort or special training or knowledge to scale Lookout Mountain, which overlooks my home town of Chattanooga. But travel out West to Colorado and attempt to climb some of the peaks in the Rocky Mountains, and the story is much different.

A few years back my son and I hiked up Buffalo Mountain to an elevation of 12,777, a picturesque peak that overlooked our home below in Silverthorne, CO. The hike, while certainly not the most difficult Colorado has to offer, was nonetheless more strenuous than climbing Lookout Mountain back in Tennessee and required a higher degree of fitness.

Buffalo-Mountain-Collage

While I consider myself to be somewhat fit, there are other mountains I would love to climb, but they are mere dreams at this point. Consider our world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, at an elevation of 29,029 feet — nearly 2.5 times the height of Buffalo Mountain.

I have done some research about climbing our world’s highest peak and discovered that those who attempt to scale Everest prepare for several years prior to undertaking such a feat. One of the strategies deployed in preparing for the climb is not only to gain the counsel of experts but to also undertake a graduated program of scaling smaller mountains in the years leading up to Everest. This process of scaling smaller but increasingly larger mountains provides invaluable training, teaches critical skills, and offers the physical and mental strengthening that is required to ultimately scale the highest mountain in the world.

Just as mountains come in all sizes, so do problems and challenges. Whether in your marriage, business or our government, in order to tackle the mountains you are facing, it will require that the man is able to match the mountain.

While it’s likely most reading my thoughts here, have never scaled Mount Everest, I’m certain that many of us have faced our own Mount Everest in our personal, business or even spiritual lives. For many, their marital relationship may be their personal Everest. It may seem too difficult to scale or conquer. The very idea of beginning to solve the challenges one’s marriage poses seems as hopeless or overwhelming as confronting the real Mount Everest.

Or perhaps for you it’s the overwhelming challenges you are facing in your business, struggles that seem to hold no answer. No matter how hard you have tried, it seems that there is no way to scale and overcome the daunting task in front of you.

Given my passion for our nation, my mind also drifts to the challenges we are facing in America — difficulties that have been festering for decades and even growing to a point that scaling Mount Everest would seem to be a leisurely afternoon climb.

There’s a reason though that the struggles you and I are facing in our lives, whether interpersonal, business, spiritual or even our government, remain unsolved. I think Reagan had it right when he said we must find men to match our mountains. If there’s a mountain in your life, business or our nation that seems unscalable, I would assert that the problem is not the mountain but rather the man.

Find the right man, and you will scale the mountain. Or in your case and mine, develop the man within, and those seemingly insurmountable Everests in our lives will undoubtedly be conquered. Just as preparing to scale Everest involves an ongoing and rigorous strategy, likewise, if you want to overcome the mountains in your life, you must also develop a plan.

Find an “expert” to help you. Seek out someone who has what you want, whether it’s a successful marriage, business or spiritual life. If they’ve done it, they can help you to overcome the mountain in front of you. Call him a counselor, coach or mentor, but there’s no mistaking that the most successful people you know will credit others for their success.

Next, you must strengthen yourself mentally and spiritually. Someone who has never trained to climb a high mountain will find themselves woefully unprepared. Likewise, to tackle your struggles, begin to build yourself up. Read, read, and read some more. Find books that can help you strengthen yourself mentally. And be sure to get into God’s Word daily. There is no better discipline to strengthen oneself for whatever struggle you and I face than a daily regimen with God.

Finally, because we are broken people and we live in a broken world, setbacks are certain and will occur even as we progress in becoming the man to match the mountain. But as you and I remain committed to our growth plan and persevere regardless of the circumstances, we can be certain that the mountain you and I are facing today will be scaled tomorrow.

So, will you become the man to match the mountains in your life? Your marriage, your business and your nation are in dire need of such a man.

My prayer is that you and I will become such men.

Mark

Christmas: The Gift of You

Christmas: The Gift of You

Christmas-The-Gift-of-You

It’s that time of year again, when we all scurry around doing our last minute shopping for that person who seems to have everything already. And as so many of us rush around to make sure that our final purchases can be delivered in time for Christmas by UPS or USPS, it’s easy to forget just what Christmas is all about.

It’s become politically correct these days to greet others with the words “Happy Holidays.” But these two words don’t begin to touch the reason for the season. One hopes to have a happy holiday on every one of the holidays that we enjoy throughout the entire year, regardless of which one it is.

Christmas, though, is different. Sure there are snowmen, ornaments, and Santa Claus. But let’s not forget that the very first Christmas was about God entering this world in the form of a babe, in the most vulnerable manner He could come. The angels announced The Gift to all mankind to the lowly shepherds on that first Christmas night.

Jesus, as God incarnate, was the ultimate Gift of God to us. God gave Himself in the form of His Son to us and His act should serve as an example to us, in both our personal and professional lives.

If you’re an entrepreneur you know all too well the demands upon you. There’s not a day that passes, including holidays, when you are not thinking of your business and are not pulled in that direction. While you can shut down your computer, lock the door of your office and be physically present with your family and friends, it can be very difficult to unplug from your business mentally and emotionally. I know this all too well from personal experience.

But this Christmas let’s commit to making it different. As business owners, or simply husbands or wives, or fathers or mothers, let’s truly give of ourselves to those we love the most. Let’s resist the urge to check our email, work on that report, or simply worry about next week’s payroll. Those closest to you desire the gift of you. They desire your undivided attention, not merely your presence, or presents.

As we celebrate The Gift that God offered to us 2,000 years ago, let’s follow His example and give others the gift of us: our time, our attention and ultimately our love.

I trust you will have a blessed Christmas, and I pray that the Joy the angels promised will be yours this season. Merry Christmas!

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Mark