One of the smartest things you can do

Getting smarter isn’t about knowing everything, it’s about admitting what you don’t know.

“I don’t know,” is such a simple phrase, but many of us have difficulty saying it to ourselves let alone to others. It makes us feel weak, vulnerable, stupid.

But you’re not. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Saying “I don’t know” is one of the smartest things you can say, because it’s the beginning of learning. It’s the trailhead to gaining more understanding.

To learn is the only way to get smarter. And to do that, you must admit that you don’t know everything, you must open yourself up to the fact that you’re not as knowledgeable as you want to be.

So the next time you are tempted to act like you know something when you don’t, remember this.

Not knowing isn’t bad; it’s an opportunity.

If you want to soar, do this

Often the best way to rise higher is to go lower.

If you want to feel happier and be lifted up and feel like you’re dancing with the angels, you need to go deeper. You need to dive into what has hurt you and forgive others, yourself and heal.

To soar in your career, you often need to do things that seem underneath you. For instance, to start a business, you’re not only the boss but the janitor, trash-taker-outer, errand-maker, servant. You do what it takes to win, even doing the most menial, lowly jobs to rise.

Humility is required to learn and grow. Like a fifty-year-old who goes back to college, you have to become like a child again; or to learn a new language, you start by speaking like a baby; or to gain expertise, you must be willing to constantly say “I don’t know,” until you get to know little by little and, over time, you grow to know a lot. Learning requires stooping low and fumbling around in the nest before you fly.

Don’t fear to reach new depths.

For, new heights await you.

This is one of the best ways to reach your goals

The key to accomplishing big goals is making tiny ones.

Big goals are overwhelming, distant, intimidating, scary. They freeze us in panic. Like deer caught on the road by headlights, we get paralyzed. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

You may want to lose fifty pounds, run a marathon, pivot your career, start a business, become a blogger, become a better person. Those are all great aims. But they are also big.

So start with incredibly small goals. Ones that barely even feel like a goal. Seriously.

You want to get fit, great. Start with doing one push up and one crunch per day. That’s it. But do that every day.

Want to run a marathon? Fantastic. But you’ve never really run before, not to worry. Start by running for one minute. And do that regularly, like three times a week.

Changing your career isn’t impossible. Dabble, try new things, read books about what interests you. Talk to friends in various fields. Don’t leap; don’t even take a step. Do that for three months while you work at your current job, and then you can determine what’s next.

Starting a business can look very similar to making a career shift. Explore various ideas without taking a large amount of risk. In fact, you can begin by risking very little, virtually nothing. Start by learning, reading, asking questions.

Interested in blogging? Great. Start by writing ten to twenty words per day. That’s it. But do it.

You get the picture. And after a while, your first tiny goal will seem too easy, so you will naturally take on the next slightly less tiny goal. A crunch and pushup will grow to become two or four or ten. One minute of running will increase similarly. Your career exploration or start-up quest will solidify into an idea, maybe even a decision. Writing twenty words will turn into fifty or hundred.

Tiny goals seem insignificant, but they’re not. They are powerful. They let you start without feeling like starting. You will barely feel anything happening, but something is, something magical.

You are changing. New habits are forming. Your mindset is improving. You’ve overcome one of the most significant obstacles of reaching a big goal–starting.

So don’t let the huge goals scare you away from following your dreams. You can accomplish them one tiny goal at a time.

And over time, you will see your body transform, your work improve, your dreams materialize.

You will be better.

You don’t need to be angry

A gas station attendant made me pay a dollar for hot water (which I thought was absurd) and treated me rudely. And I learned something.

It was compassion.

It was a magical day. My family and I went apple picking. We drove down two-lane highways surrounded by wood and canopied by leafy branches that were starting to show signs of fall. The air was crisp, and the sun was beginning to break free from the clouds. The orchard was small, but the apples were sweet. We picked some Fuji and Gold Delicious. We felt rich. 

And after lunch, a pony ride, and feeding some farm animals with our kid; we decided to return to the city. We shared our favorite memories of the day before we got back to our building. 

The rental car needed to be returned, but, before that, I had to refill the tank. And there’s a station fairly close, so I went there. I got to the pump and pumped. And, as I jumped in the seat to leave, I saw my empty paper cup with my teabag that I usually use twice before I throw it away, but only used once. I went into the gas station to fill my cup up and get the most out of my teabag. I had my phone in the car and didn’t want to linger in the store. So, I ran in and filled up the cup and ran out. 

And as I was leaving, I hear, “Excuse me!” I check the car for my phone and then pop back in. 

“Yes,” I say, as the hulking attendant glares at my cup of freshly steeping tea. “It’s my cup and tea, and I just got hot water for it.”

“Would you just barge into someone’s living room and take hot water?” the attendant asked. 

I didn’t think it had anything to do with living rooms or hot water. He thought I stole from his shop and realized I just got hot water. So he wanted to save face. He did that by telling me to pay him for the hot water. It was outrageous, but I asked him how much to see what outrageous costs. He told me one dollar; I tossed it onto the counter, wished him a nice day, jumped into the car, and zipped away to return my rental. 

As I drove uptown, I was seething as I replayed the situation in my mind. I was drenched in anger and incensed with injustice. All of the bliss from the day was melting away. “It’s not the dollar; it’s the principle of the thing,” I told myself, feeding the fire. 

Then I realized something that changed my whole perspective. It was this. 

Pain is contagious. People who are in pain tend to inflict it on others. When one is in misery, they often make others miserable. I mean, anyone who likens a gas station to their living room can’t be enjoying their life that much. 

That perspective extinguished the fire of anger I had for him. He made me feel momentary pain, but he seems to dwell in it. I had compassion for him, and that stopped my pain from him and allowed me to be pained for him. 

And if we all took a moment to stop and reflect on what the person who hurt us may be experiencing, we might, just might, make this world a little better. 

If nothing else, you will be. 

A love poem to the haters

To the haters,

It’s tempting to want to hate you back. But that’s useless. 

It won’t help anything. All it does is perpetuate the hate between us. And that’s foolish. 

Instead, I will say that I love you. I feel for you and with you. I sense your pain. 

Isn’t that what causes the hate within—the pain?

I’ve been there—full of hate and fury—and it’s contagious. You can’t help but spread it to others. It’s all you have to give; it’s what you’ve been given. 

No, I will not hate you back. I will fight myself, my reactions, my need for justice, my hate. It won’t be perfect. In fact, I will be terrible at it. But I will aim to love. 

For I was loved with a divine love even when I hated, rebelled, writhed. 

I tasted a goodness that transcends hate and heals pain, freely offered in the Son of God. 

For he was hated by those who should have loved him, rejected by those who should have embraced him, killed by those who should have worshiped him. 

Love loved me when I hated him. 

How can I not love you? 

Improve your life with this one simple word

“No.” 

It’s hard to say it. It’s true. 

We want to help everyone; we want them to like us; we don’t want them to think badly of us. So we say yes. 

But the truth is that we can’t help anyone very well when we are overwhelmed. And always saying yes is overwhelming. 

And that’s no way to live. We don’t want that. Yes obligates. Yes binds. Yes is busy. 

But no isn’t like that. No frees. No empowers. No opens. 

Saying no gives us the space to say yes to what we are called to do, do what we believe we ought to do, become who we were meant to be. 

Doing this is a decision. You can choose to have a manageable schedule, space to think, time to rest, freedom to be. 

Yes or no.

It’s your choice. 

The most exciting thing about boredom

Being bored is a gift; it’s an opportunity. 

Boredom is space, freedom, capacity. It’s the ability to move around, try new things, learn, and, best of all, create. 

When you’re busy, you are trapped. You have obligations, responsibilities. You have to do such and such for so and so. 

When you’re bored, your time is open. 

The key is to fill it wisely, purposely. 

You can paint a painting, write a book, make new friends, deepen existing ones, meander through a museum, lie in the grass daydreaming, read a novel, learn something new. 

Boredom means possibilities. You get to create your adventure. 

Don’t be afraid of boredom. Find it. Embrace it. Use it. 

It means you’re free.

What is the greatest greatness in life?

In the process of becoming better, it’s easy to think we are greater than we really are. And it’s one of the worst mistakes we can make, touting our strengths and toting our accomplishments. 

But the answer isn’t to think we are lesser than we are. That won’t do; it does no good. 

For we may be great. And we can become even better. And that isn’t accomplished by looking down on ourselves or thinking that we are unworthy or incapable. No. 

So what do we do instead? 

We ought to think others better than ourselves. Hold them up, serve them, care for them, and use our greatness to help them become greater than they imagined. 

Service and love subdues pride. 

And what is interesting is in doing that, you will find that people will tout your strengths and tote your accomplishments for you. 

They will do it out of love. 

And the reward you will reap may or may not be riches, but it will be fullness. You can feel whole, blessed, rich, connected. 

Loving others is the greatest greatness.

You can conquer the fear of embarrassment

The fear of embarrassment is powerful, but it doesn’t have to overpower us.

But sometimes it does.

I know all about that.

An episode of a TV show kept me from blogging. Let me explain.

Billions, a show on Showtime, has a scene where two characters were talking about another person who got fired from their hedge fund, and one of them wanted to know where he ended up. And the other said that he thought the guy who got fired started blogging, and then they looked at each other with this smirk that said something like this—loser.

Blogging was an idea I had toyed with for months. I wanted to try it. But I was unsure of myself. Then I saw that episode. And visions of others smirking about me made me cringe. I didn’t want to be a loser. I got scared.

And I didn’t blog.

Others’ opinions about us affect us all. Parents, friends, coworkers, strangers—for me, even fictitious TV characters—can, and do, stop us from pursuing good things.

All too often, we care too much about what too many people think about us.

Dreams, goals, and hopes are squashed even before they begin because of that dynamic. A threat of a smirk halts us.

And what’s interesting (and sad) is that often it’s not the actual embarrassment that stops us. It’s our fear of it.

We don’t want the possibility of others thinking that we are a loser. But living that way robs us of reaching our potential, trying new things, becoming better.

And that fear, it’s often the fear of feeling embarrassed. It’s the fear of fear.

But we don’t need to live that way. We shouldn’t.

And this truth can set us free.

Most of what we believe other people think about us doesn’t exist. It’s not real. Most of the time, we don’t know what others think about us. It’s just our imagination, and we usually imagine something snippy or snide. It’s never anything positive, or cheery.

But really, most of the people whom we are afraid are thinking those negative thoughts aren’t thinking about us at all. They are too busy worrying about what other people are thinking about them. Their thinking about their problems, stresses—not you.

The issue isn’t them. It’s us. We tell ourselves a story of what we think they are saying about us. But it’s just our inner critic; it’s self-hate. We are calling ourselves a loser: They’re not smirking. We are.

Being aware of that is power.

Anytime we start worrying about the opinions of others, we can pause and assess the thought.
Then, we can call it what it is—a lie. It’s a false story. And we can move on. We can pursue our dreams, start that company, make a career change, be ourselves, blog.

For me, this isn’t just a battle; it’s a war. It’s fought daily. Assessing that inner critic and calling out the lies needs to happen far more than I’d like to admit. But that’s just what it is. So I fight. Many of you may need to, as well.

If so, fight on friends. It’s a practice. It’s life. And we need to get on living freely, unchained by the smirks, fear of fear, and opinions of others, free of self-hate.

Sure, there are haters out there, but that’s for another post.

For now, let’s overcome the hater within.

Failure is the secret to success

Failure doesn’t have to be the end; it can be a start to something better.  

Failing sucks—no doubt. It’s something we all want to avoid. And after we’ve failed, we may be tempted to quit, stop trying, hide. But that would be a mistake.

For greater success is forged from the ashes of failure. 

He wanted to be CEO of Apple, the company he helped start, but his board didn’t think he was ready. Then Steve Jobs was fired, setting his life in a direction he never anticipated nor planned for, at all. But his firing led him to start NeXT, buying and growing Pixar, getting married, and, finally, Apple bought NeXT which brought Jobs back to his first company and led him to become its CEO. 

That’s not how Jobs scripted his life. But it ended up being better than he planned it, all because he got fired and didn’t give up. 

Failure, for Jobs, was the beginning of something new, something better. He didn’t know it at the time. But he continued to take risks and try to add value to the world. He continued to work. And he accomplished more than he would have if he would have stayed at Apple.  

Jobs’ failure multiplied his successes. Later in his life, Jobs called getting fired the best thing that happened to him. If he stayed at Apple would we have Pixar, Toy Story, and all of the other animated movies that we love? Probably not. 

When we fail, we must remember that failure isn’t the end. It’s painful, yes; it’s embarrassing; it sucks. But if we keep moving forward and pushing ourselves, we can still succeed. But even more so we have a higher chance of multiplying our successes. 

You may not become a CEO of one of the most valuable companies in the world, instrumental in and largest stockholder of the best animation studio in the world, or even an entrepreneur. But failure can still shape a life you never imagined for yourself. 

It happens because failure creates change. Just as it did in Jobs’ life, failing changes your life and work. It shakes things up. Your career, work, trajectory, etc. is forced in directions you never saw coming. But, in that lies opportunities to see things afresh, gain learnings, try new things. And you will be surprised by what you can produce, who you can become.

What changes will, or should, occur for you isn’t for me to say, but there is one thing for sure that will change. And it’s this.  

You. 

You will be different. Failure wounds, and you will have scars. Forgetting what happened is a fool’s errand. The memories won’t leave you. But that can be a good thing. 

You will see the world, others, yourself differently. The pain you experienced will be a part of your story irrevocably. And, after you’ve survived the agony, you will see yourself anew. You can be stronger, better, more capable. 

And as life presents new bumps and bends in your path, you will find navigating them easier. And you will be able to do things you never thought you could do. 

If you don’t allow failure to crush you completely, it can become an experience that helps you soar to heights you never thought you could reach. Because you are changed, better, greater. 

Pushing through failure helps us become the people we are meant to be. It’s an essential part of reaching our potential, the potential we never even knew he had, nor ever could have achieved without the pain of failure. 

C.S. Lewis is one of my literary heroes. He is one of the greatest thinkers and writers ever to marry ink to paper. 

But, he was a loser. 

Well, he wasn’t really, but he did lose. And it did something to him. 

He considered himself a Christian apologist, which is a fancy word for someone who defends his or her faith. Lewis wrote some of the best works that articulate what Christians believe about Jesus and why. 

Then in a public debate, in a club Lewis was president of at Oxford, he and a new female professor debated on one of his positions that he wrote about in one of his books. 

And he lost. 

It’s hard to say what it did to him. Some say that he questioned his ability to be a Christian apologist and had a lot of self-doubt. Others doubt that. Whatever happened to Lewis, we can be sure that it did do something to him and his work. It changed him. Just look at his bibliography. 

He was on a tear, writing a lot of Christian nonfiction. Then, after the debate, he stopped. And he started writing children’s books. 

Chronicles of Narnia to be precise. 

And Narnia became his most successful work in terms of popularity. If Lewis never lost that debate, it’s hard to know if Narnia would have ever existed. Out of the ashes of defeat, Lewis wrote his most beloved work. 

C.S. Lewis didn’t know what his failure would produce at the time. He probably did feel humiliated, embarrassed, or bad, at least. Losing hurts. 

Lewis stopped publishing nonfiction for a long time, but he didn’t stop writing. He was knocked down. But he got up and started anew. And children all over the world were (and continue to be) blessed. 

Failure can kill. It can destroy our drive, our will, our hopes, our loves. But we can’t let it snuff us out. We must move forward. Writers must continue writing, even if they are “just” children’s books; entrepreneurs must continue starting businesses; we all must continue moving forward. 

Remember that failure is a part of the process toward success. It’s an invitation to progress. 

In my life, there have been many times when I just wanted to pack up all of my toys and check out. I wanted to quit. I didn’t just want to stop school, work, relationships; I wanted out of life. 

I do not doubt that you’ve had your fair share of pain. You’ve lost. You’ve felt shame. You’ve felt stupid. And all you want to do is hide and never come back out. 

Failures will change us. And, if we let them, we won’t just become different; we will be better. If we continue to push forward, we progress to not only to becoming better than we were before but better than we could have ever imagined ourselves to be. 

Failure isn’t just falling down.

It’s where we rise up.