Posts Tagged 'focus'

The Can Do Man

Courtesy of KVOA.com

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
John Wooden

I love to cook, but have a hard time boiling eggs.

Over the years, I’ve tested every method I could find to make them.

The internet has been a bust.

Food Network was no help, either.

If the Queen of England came over tomorrow and wanted one for dinner, we’d be ordering in.

For someone who enjoys being in the kitchen as much as I do, this is a bit distressing. How can I consider myself a decent cook if one of the most basic tasks eludes me?

I am frustrated by this fact until I remember what I am able to do.

Chocolate chip pancakes with blueberries.

Scallop and shrimp salad.

Pork tenderloin medallions with asparagus.

All of these dishes are palatable, to say the least. Why be concerned about something else?

The best use of my time — for myself or anyone else — is the things I do well.

Something about the American ethos glorifies the idea of turning weakness into strength. The legendary figures of this culture are perceived as heroes for rising above all that would hold them back.

Guided by this assumption, we come to believe triumph is rooted in overcoming faults.

Most of the time, it’s quite the opposite.

Success, in any walk of life, is about leveraging what we do really well to create the desired result. All of us have done so — and will continue to — time and time again.

Greatness is the repeated expression and magnification of skill. Attempting to improve lesser talents takes time away from the pursuit of excellence in those that matter.

And, if we’re not careful, what we cannot do keeps us from doing what we can.

The Theory of Change

Courtesy of CBC.ca

I wanted to know how to spend $100 million.

Provoked by the teaser on the cover, I opened a recent issue of Inc. magazine to see how such a large sum of money might help education.

Inspired by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s recent donation to the Newark school system, the author tackled the inherent challenges to reforming education guided by an entrepreneurial mindset.

What it comes down to is the “theory of change.”

This is “a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome.” Organizations of all kinds — industrial, political, religious — operate under basic assumptions about how results are achieved. In fact, it’s most accurate to say they are defined by these ideas; membership grows based on how many people identify themselves with this or that method for making a difference.

If these central concepts are absent, it is nearly impossible to get anything going.

An agreed-upon approach is the foundation for decision-making, it creates the boundaries for what will be done to reach a stated goal. Used properly, it streamlines the process for advancing from stage to stage.

This is true of people, too. How we go about moving from one station in life to the next — if we ever do — is a function of the perspective we have on tactics.

And, being human, we often cling tightly to what we’re comfortable with, continuing to work furiously despite our efforts having questionable impact.

What must be done to change how we think about changing?

Do we allocate more resources (money, information, time)?

How about taking different action? Is simply doing that enough?

Can it be identified without the 20-20 prism of hindsight?

What, if anything, can be deemed necessary without argument?

It takes commitment.

Early returns do not a revolution make. Challenges are bound to arise when steering a new course. Just overcoming the momentum built traveling the old way is a task unto itself — one which must be completed before going full speed in another direction.

Determination, then, is a component.

It also takes patience.

Change, for the most part, is a gradual process spread over days, months and years. Though we find ourselves frustrated and overwhelmed when it takes a while for everything to coalesce, steadiness of spirit and the willingness to persevere are necessary to witness anything bear fruit.

Regardless of how we anticipate change occurring, we can be certain of one thing:

Deeply-held belief and inspired effort will be harnessed over time to create the hoped-for conclusion.

Trust Issues

Courtesy of PalatePress.com

Developing trust in the wake of pain is a challenge.

When you see the person, if you can stand to look, all you can think of is the injuries suffered.

You show off the emotional scars, the aftereffects of being hurt so many times.

Anger simmers beneath the surface, begging to boil over.

Good deeds are hidden by bitterness.

What matters is your unmet expectations — and the price of that failure.

You sit and count the ways you were let down.

You struggle to forgive.

You wish to forget.

Eventually, though, you trust yourself again.

Fragile Focus

Courtesy of INeedToStopSoon.com

“You’re going to screw up and make a mess.”

She was right.

I did.

My sister-in-law got in my head.

I had been alone for several days while she and my brother attended a funeral in our hometown, cooking and cleaning and caring for the the dogs without anyone to talk to.

Though I enjoy solitude, extended periods to myself invariably lead my mind to find entertainment in practicing random skills. This time, I settled on the chef’s trick of flipping eggs in the pan.

I’ve watched a lot of Food Network. How hard could it be?

I gave it a shot and got close.

I kept at it. By the sixth or seventh attempt, I could execute the basics with consistency. After that, it would be more remarkable if I failed than if I succeeded. Having added this little party favor to my cooking arsenal, I set about to show it off.

I called for attention.

I set up.

I heard those eight words.

I got nervous.

I flubbed the flip.

The meal ended up as delicious as it would have been, if a little less aesthetically pleasing.

I could only think of how easily I became rattled.

Why does new-found confidence disappear so suddenly?

How many of these little battles do we lose each day?

Our brains light up with a fresh idea and energy surges through us.

Enthusiasm bursts to the surface and we get excited to share our good news.

We tell someone and the reaction deflates us.

We hunch our shoulders in defeat and return where we came from.

We lose focus.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen: I heard her voice just as I readied my wrist for the flip and my concentration vanished. I became aware of the consistency of the egg. I noticed my grip on the pan seemed off.

Was the heat high enough?

Was it too early?

Was the right amount of oil in the pan?

I was thinking about everything but snapping my hand through the motion I knew worked and had performed several times without a hitch.

When adopting a new habit or changing a belief, the margin for error is slim.

Just as with long division and the crossover dribble, development is a conscious process at the start. Every step is measured and done and remeasured and redone until it becomes aut-o-mat-ic.

Such diligence is the difference between “good” and “great” and “exceptional” and “excellent.”

It’s time-consuming and rigorous, for sure, but worth the effort.

In the meantime, we must hold on for dear life to our fragile focus.

Unreality Check

Courtesy of BearSkinRug.co.uk

There are a few sentences I contend with immediately.

My brain is encoded to detect these phrases from across rooms. Like a sophisticated set of military instruments, my ears perk up and I instinctively tune in to the subsequent conversation.

“The University of Louisville is a fine institution.”

“Wearing brown and gray together is impossible.”

“I can tell he’s a __________ because he bought __________ and voted for ___________.”

“You have to be realistic.”

Though I refrain from running off at the mouth due to the conventions of polite conversation, I am completely unable to keep my mind from asking a simple question:

“Why?”

Those five words command people to stick with what they know. Look at what’s reachable and go for that.

Reality is stark and unfriendly.

Focusing on the perils of day-to-day life strips us of the imagination necessary to go beyond it — absent the slim hope of lottery victory.

What’s real to us is often far beneath what’s possible.

The capacity to think beyond what we can see and comprehend is the greatest of humanity’s gifts.

It defines us.

It moves us.

Advancement in any arena is the direct result of gazing towards the horizon and setting out to discover what lies beyond it.

History is the compilation of stories about those who believed this simple truth:

We can only be extraordinary if we are first unrealistic.

Waves

Courtesy Sulekha.com

I love staring at the ocean.

Having grown up in the Midwest, the waves I’m accustomed to are more of the “amber” and “grain” variety.  Since the first time I set foot on a Brownsville, Texas beach in my late teens, I’ve been captivated by the powerful flow of trillions of gallons of salt water.  Even though I’ve gazed at the surf in places all over the United States and Caribbean at least a couple dozen times, I’m still just as amazed and soothed by the sight of it now as I was then.

It mirrors the way God moves in our lives.

Sailors and surfers know the strength of the tide is “out there,” far off shore. What we feel washing across our ankles with a tranquil swish is a fraction of the energy created – a pale shadow of the unbalancing force generated. Occasionally, a stray wave reminds us of the magnificent power we are surrounded by, but in general what we experience hardly knock us off our feet.

We adapt to the gentle current and quickly lose track of where we’re standing.

There, with the water rushing over our toes, we easily forget we are in the midst of something far larger than we are — planted firmly on its fringe and unable to quantify its mightiness. The miraculous, the tremendous work of pulling together all of creation into a synchronous story, is done by Him “out there.” On the shores of this life, we fail to remember billions and billions of things are gathered together for what we perceive as the observable results of just one day.

God bends space and time to get us in the exact place to receive what we need when we need it.

Trusting Him is counterintuitive. The vast majority of His work cannot be seen. It’s challenging to even sense, as we focus so much on what is tangible and measurable.  Sometimes we acknowledge He is on the task of building something that will wash up at our feet, yet ignore the fact the sheer grandeur of His design would boggle our tiny minds.

Pacing anxiously, we check our watches and cross our arms in frustration.

We walk along like spoiled children, kicking the sand and utterly oblivious to the possibility He did anything simply because it falls short of the huge movement we consider appropriate. Wrapped up in our desires and our timetables, we’re exposed for the petulant, selfish, unappreciative creatures we are.

Miracle of miracles, He loves us and keeps exerting Himself “out there” anyway.

Breathe.

Have some patience.

The tide is coming in.

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The Monk’s Prayer

The Gift from Above

Fear and Commitment

Courtesy SelfHypnosisBlog.Wordpress.com

Life-altering decisions have a way of scaring us.

The shift from known to unknown is a breeding ground for doubt.

Even when full of confidence, old ghosts haunt our minds with questions.

What will change?

Who will I lose?

Am I ready?

Do I want to?

Can I even do it?

If we could see the challenges ahead and the work to overcome them, we’d probably stay home.

Taking a step in a new direction, regardless of how brave we feel, is always the stuff of legend.

What we believe to be a simple move is infinitely more complex than we can imagine.

If we knew the answers, the meaning would be lost.

We are left to ask:

Without fear, is there commitment?

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