Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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This is the best way to succeed

Failure isn’t an event; it’s a state of mind. No one is truly a failure unless they give up.

I’m not talking about quitting because sometimes you need to quit in order to succeed. Not every venture is worth your time: Sometimes you try something and you find that it’s not working, so it’s good to quit.

To “give up” or failure means that you surrender to the difficulties of life and resign to the sense that “You can’t do it,” any of it—life.

But if you’re still trying and kicking, you aren’t that. You’re just in process.

The key now is to keep at it.

Did you know that Colonel Sanders (a real person) of Kentucky Fried Chicken, didn’t start his famous “finger lickin’ good” franchise until he was in his sixties?

Yeah—true story.

Before getting in the chicken business, he worked all kinds of jobs. And he was a piece of work, ornery and difficult to deal with. He was even fired for knocking out his co-workers.

But he never gave up. He kept going even though he was older, at an age when he should have been thinking about retirement. But he didn’t retire. He fought. Not just with his fists, but he carried on with his mind, gumption, capital, life.

If you keep on living, trying, fighting, you always have a chance of climbing, growing, succeeding.

Keep that in mind and put that into practice and you can’t help but succeed.


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Learning From Failure Is the Key to Succeeding

Success is less about how you think of succeeding, and more about how you view failure.

Maybe you made a terrible investment, messed up your work, sent out an email that was meant to be private but somehow cc’d your whole division including your boss, have a terrible relationship with so and so, etc., and all you want to do is ignore it. (I get it.) But don’t. Resist pushing your failure away.

Instead, gaze into it. Look through the rubble. Find ways you could have, should have, done better.

And, by doing that, you can’t help but improve.

See, to grow, change, learn, we mustn’t shy away from our failures, we must study them. They are one of our best teachers. When you sit at its feet you will gain new direction, better solutions, fresh ideas.

Failure isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.

By studying your failures you will learn to succeed.


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Be More Unrealistic

“Let’s be realistic,” is a dream killing phrase, and I hate it. Don’t be realistic. Be foolish.

Do that thing everyone says don’t do. Try that crazy idea that everyone says will fail. Go to that place everyone tells you not to go to.

Failure is better than regret. With the former you learn. With the latter you only wallow.

In a “realistic” world we wouldn’t have personal computers, iPhones, Google, the internet, beautiful art, music, all of the things created by innovators, artists, and those unrealistic dreamers that we all love so much.

In this world where everything seems like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, where it’s unsafe to go out—dream. Create a new world inside of your mind.

Dream big. Dream small. Whatever you do cast your thoughts into a pool of possibilities and wade in it, bathe, swim, play. Submerge yourself in it. Emerge baptized and new.

And when you arise, attempt that “unrealistic” thing you dreamt. Try it. Make it.

You’ll likely fail, but keep at it, learning with each failure.

And who knows you may fly, create the next big thing, realize your dreams.

But whatever happens, you can be sure of this.

You won’t be the same.

You’ll be better.

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Experience we all need

“Experience” is just another word for making a lot of mistakes. Everyone prizes experience. So go get it. Try things. Break things. Do things. Don’t try to be perfect. Try to be effective. Contribute. Make things. Create value. And after a while. You can say that you’ve done this or that.

You’ll be experienced.

By Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

You can win at life by doing this

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Sometimes life is hard and feels impossible. But that’s when you should stop thinking about your life and focus on today.

Don’t try to tackle life, that’s too much to take on all at once. That’s how you get overwhelmed, depressed, worried.

Instead, just attack what you need to do at this moment: the tasks, the mico-goals, the wins (and loses). Do what you can do with what you know, right now.

Not tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, don’t concentrate on those. That can kill you.

Don’t worry about the future unless you’re planning, dreaming, hoping. Set your big goals and big dreams.

But then, spend your time doing what needs to be done, now, to accomplish those goals.

To win in life, you need to fight today’s battles, win today’s fights.

And you’ll have a greater chance at winning in life.

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.

The worst thing that happens to you often can lead to the best results

Sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the best opportunities. They are the gateways to greatness.

Giving up is always an option. Or, you can fight and find a way through the difficulty.

The former will lead to the status quo or worse. The latter can irrevocably change your life for the better.

When I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, my first position out of graduate school, I wanted to slink away and die. I was trained to be a pastor of a church. Then, I was terminated. But, oddly enough, that helped me to become an entrepreneur.

What about you? Have you been beaten down, hurt, unjustly treated, fired? Maybe you’re tempted to give up. I get it.

But you don’t have to. You can take one step at a time, day after day, facing your fears and uncertainty, moving forward and upward.

But it all starts with not giving up and fighting.

Ghengis Khan’s (affiliate) life changed irrevocably when a rival tribe kidnapped his wife. Instead of letting her go and finding a new wife (what most men in his culture and time did, especially at his level, insignificant and impoverished), he did the unthinkable. He raised a fighting party and battled to win her back. He won.

And that decision was one of the most significant steps that helped him build the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

You may not want to be an emperor, but you want to win. You want to overcome your challenges.

The best place to start is here.

Don’t give up. Then, fight.

You can.

Rise.