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EIGHT POINTS OF THE COMPASS

Directing Our Children on the Path to a Better Life

EXCERPT

CHAPTER 6

Fifth Compass Point: Commitment Working Hard When Nobody is Looking

"The common denominator for success is work." - John D. Rockefeller

     Michael Jordan was one of the most gifted athletes to ever lace up sneakers and step on the basketball court. Even avid sports fans who do not like Michael Jordan always recognize his abilities to put forth his best efforts, even under adverse conditions, and to extract the best from those around him. True basketball fans will never forget the fifth game of the 1997 NBA Finals when a flu-stricken Jordan, requiring intravenous rehydration at half time, still played with an intensity that allowed him to score 38 points and lead the Chicago Bulls to victory. What possessed him to achieve this level of success when others would have been back at the hotel watching the game in bed? In one word: Commitment. 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"It's your attitude, not your aptitude, which determines your altitude in life." -- Anonymous

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     Commitment is a word often bandied about. There is the story of the barnyard animals and their discussion relating to their respective levels of commitment to providing their farmer/owner and his family breakfast every morning. The chickens maintained that by providing eggs for the farmer and his family on a regular daily basis, like clock-work, that they were exemplifying the standards of commitment for all of the other animals on the farm.  Not to be outdone, the cows pointed out that they were responsible for gallons and gallons of fresh milk, cream, and cheese, as well as butter after it was churned. The pigs solemnly listened to their contemporaries boasting, and quietly announced that one of their own was going to be providing the bacon for tomorrow’s breakfast table and the pork chops for tomorrow’s dinner. There followed a silence that just hung in the air. Nobody spoke after that, because truly, the pigs had demonstrated the meaning of true commitment.

     When we speak in terms of honoring commitments, it is never on the same level as the pig in the preceding story. Nobody is going to be asked to sacrifice their lives to demonstrate their level of commitment to a goal, a concept, or an ideal, except perhaps for a soldier doing his duty in defense of his country, but you may be required to take an unpopular stand, or to make a personal sacrifice of time or status.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"It takes as much courage to have tried and failed as it does to have tried and succeeded." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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     Sometimes our level of commitment is tested in other ways. Sometimes it is all about the choices we make and whether we are truly teachable or coachable, and more importantly, living up to our true potential.  There is a great deal to be learned in the world. We all need to be willing to attempt new things, even when we may be afraid of failing. There is nothing worse than squandering a talent that we have been given by God. Each day should be filled with the desire to learn new things. Whether it is something as seemingly senseless as going skydiving for the first time or taking ballroom dancing lessons, get out there! Just do it! Embrace life and all that it has to offer. While you are doing this, give it your very best effort! Embrace the opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge since it is the only thing besides our character that we take from this life with us. Be a sponge, and be teachable.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"I've failed over and over and over again in life. And that is why I succeed." -- Michael Jordan

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     So what does it mean to be teachable? In the hundreds and thousands of professional recruiting and developmental interviews that I have conducted, I have yet to meet anyone who did not consider himself to be teachable or coachable. Yet, when I ask them to cite examples from their own life when they have demonstrated this ability, more often then not they become tongue tied. Most of us have distorted views of ourselves.  We all want to believe that we are capable of changing, and yet quite often we are the single largest obstacle to our own change, growth, and progression.

     When I was ten years old, I read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. It was a book that quite literally changed my life. It taught me that I was capable of changing who I am as a person. I could lose bad habits and develop different, better habits. What it required was a proactive attitude, effort, and desire. While I freely admit to being a peculiar child, I must say that some forty years later, that these tried and true principles of Benjamin Franklin and his alter ego, Poor Richard Saunders, are just as relevant and practical. Change and growth are healthy things that we should engage in regularly.

     The only person we should ever be in competition with in an effort to be better is the person who stares back at us when we look in the mirror. There are always going to be people who can run faster, jump higher, throw farther, and sing better. The only person that you have to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Make your life a mission, not an intermission." -- Anonymous

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     So what is the secret to becoming the better you? First, it is important to remember that it is most assuredly hard to soar with eagles if you flock with turkeys. The key is to surround yourself with good people having like values who will serve to inspire you and lift you up. Strive to associate with people who are positive and who are themselves seeking to be better. Be with people who view life as a series of endless possibilities and the glass as half full. Avoid the negativity of those who will use their own fears and insecurities to hold you back or to plant seeds of doubt in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"We are what we believe we are." -- Justice Benjamin Cardozo

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     Second, it is necessary to purge ourselves of fear, doubt, and all forms of negativity. Just this morning as I was contemplating this chapter, I called my younger son to wish him a good morning, as well as good luck on the three examinations he had today. I asked him how he was feeling about his exams, and he said, “As well as I can.” When I asked him what he meant by that, he laughed, and said, “Dad, you should know what I mean. I’ve studied the materials and prepared myself as best as I can. That is all that I can ask of myself, and to tell you the truth, I feel pretty good about it.” As I attempted to formulate a brilliant response to that, he went on and added, “Dad, you’re the one who always told us that ‘fear is a lack of preparation, and that if we are prepared, that we have nothing to fear,’ right?” Oh my gosh, another one listened! I wished him good luck, and hung up the phone.

     The conversation stuck in my mind, and I still found myself thinking about the exchange over lunch and determined that another corollary to that thought would probably apply not only to my son’s test taking, but also to any of my professional endeavors, as well as to Michael Jordan’s incredible desire to be a champion. Actually, it became increasingly clearer to me when I thought about it and kept writing on the portable white board that was also collecting the crumbs from my sandwich. After a few minutes of writing, rubbing out words and replacing them with tighter more descriptive ones, I think I have come up with the winner: “If you are prepared, you will always have the edge. If you have the edge, and exploit it, you will win.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"If you are prepared, you will always have the edge. If you have the edge, and exploit it, you will win." -- Anonymous

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     As I thought about it more, I realized that this preparation could be physical, emotional, or psychological, or any combination thereof. In any event, nobody wants to go up against someone else who has any kind of edge. I know that it applied to my son’s little league baseball team that I had coached years ago. The edge that they brought to every game was that they looked and acted and sounded like a real baseball team. The manner in which every player on the field would set himself with each pitch from the mound had an incredibly debilitating effect on the competition nearly all season long. That was their edge. It was amusing to me when the coach of the opposing team would later confide to me that we had psyched out his team often as early as the first inning with the confidence that my team exuded. It was not that they were necessarily better hitters, better fielders, or had blazing fastballs, but rather, they had a winner’s edge. As I finished this wordsmith exercise I called my son again and let him know of this new thought. He must have liked it, because he repeated it back to me and then wrote it down.  

     So how do we develop this edge? If we focus on our worst traits and work on them really hard, we may someday achieve mediocrity in them. The last time I checked with various Human Resource departments and several recruiters, no employer was looking to add, much less hire, mediocrity to their team. Certainly the New York Yankees have not been interested in adding mediocrity to their team if the manner in which they have thrown millions of dollars at various long term contracts for a great number of ball players over the past twenty years is any indication. So if working on our weaknesses is not the answer, what is? Obviously we need to focus on our strengths.

     In his storied baseball pitching career, Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters, and twelve one-hitters. He worked hard at staying in shape, and in maintaining pinpoint control and command of his pitches. I suspect that he did not spend a whole lot of time in the batting cage. While he was called upon to bat, he was not in the line up for his bat, but rather for his pitching arm. He did not squander this talent, and certainly lived up to his potential over the course of an amazing career in major league baseball. He remained focused on his strengths as opposed to his weaknesses.

     The key aspect and integral component of establishing the edge of a winner is attitude. I freely admit that I can no longer play a musical instrument, have difficulty singing a hymn at church without, much to the disdain of my musical daughter, changing octaves; nor do I paint, draw, or display any other form of musical or artistic talent. When I am asked what the Lord blessed me with, my reply has always been the same: I know how to work hard and to achieve goals that I set for myself. I know how to help others on my team do the same. That is my talent, that is my gift, and it all starts with my attitude. I’ve always believed that anything is possible if we try hard enough. Having written SMART goals is a key to this success as well, but we’ll talk about that in Chapter 8.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us." -- L. Thomas Holdcroft

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     Associate with good people who will mentor you and teach you new skills. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for advice or to be a mentor to you. A true servant leader or leader coach will always say yes to you because they achieve their own self actualization by helping others discover new inner strengths and talents while achieving their goals. All of this begins, however, with a genuine desire on your part to be a better you, and with a good work ethic. As noted, I have been fortunate enough to substitute talent with a laser-like focus and ability to work hard. That is not to say that I am not without any talent. The ability to think logically, and as on a chess board, several steps ahead, has aided me significantly. I encourage you to be self-motivated and disciplined. Be punctual, reliable, and honest with yourself. If you make a mistake, own up to it. We learn more from our failures than we ever do from our successes.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company." -- George Washington

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     In this day and age of high definition television, books on tape, text messaging, voicemail, and e-mail, my question is how many people read books any more? As previously noted, I was a peculiar child. I enjoyed reading then, and I still enjoy it now. It is one of my passions. It might explain why I like to write books of my own. When I was practicing law, and in need of research materials, I much preferred the touch and feel of a set of law books over the keys of the computer terminal that would connect me to vast law libraries online. I have to wonder what life will be like for my grandchildren and their children: will anyone read a book and expand their minds with the printed word?

     Will YouTube, Facebook, and Google replace reading books and the main means by which we acquire information? I have to wonder if this is why I discern a growing difference in the ability of people to read aloud at church or in professional meetings that I attend. Does anybody read anymore for pleasure or to expand their view of life and their own abilities? Do we read to our children any more when they are young? I am greatly relieved when I hear my children reading to my grandchildren. I find both solace and comfort in this throwback activity.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Humanity falls into three classes: those who are immovable, those who are movable, and those who move." -- Benjamin Franklin

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     One of the best movies I have seen in recent years, is a little known film entitled Renaissance Man. It stars Danny DeVito and revolves around his attempts to expand the minds of some less than sterling U.S. Army recruits lacking in formal education. He attempts to expand their minds and their horizons by introducing them to the words and works of Shakespeare and relating it to their own modern day experiences. While the premise may sound like less than a rip-roaring piece of cinematic entertainment, it was aptly titled, and inspired me to want to be more of a renaissance man, and to expand my own horizons. I have added a great number of items to the list of things that I want to achieve, master, or simply attempt in my lifetime. Yes, I was the dummy who went skydiving, swam with the rays, and snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. I have also rappelled off of buildings and out of helicopters, driven tanks and other-like vehicles, been a passenger in a race car, and canopied in Costa Rica. I always remain game to try new and exotic foods, these are just some of the things I have done in the name of experimentation. I have expanded my view of life and the possibilities associated with it. Now I want to learn how to really sing (and avoid the current ridicule), play the piano, still write that elusive best seller, parasail, re-learn the German and Spanish languages that I have forgotten from High School and College. I want to be a modern Renaissance man. I encourage everyone to do so! Read! Think! Broaden your horizons! Learn new things! Try new things! Don’t be afraid! Grow!

The Fifth Point of the Compass: Commitment
  • It's hard to soar like an eagle if you surround yourself with turkeys
  • Live up to your potential, don't squander talents
  • Be the Modern Renaissance Man/Woman
  • Altitude is often a matter of Attitude
  • If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right!
 

EIGHT POINTS OF THE COMPASS

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