Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Make it happen

Life doesn’t have to happen to you. Rather, it can happen because of you. You have far more power and influence than you can possibly imagine. Once you decide to make life happen you can use your power to affect your own life as well as the life of the people around you.

The biggest problem that most of us face in our spiritual, personal, and/or professional lives is that we often sit back and let life happen to us. We wait for things to happen and often sit around and complain about the bad breaks that life sends our way. We tend to react to life. I am not sure why we do this, but maybe it is easier that way. It is easier to be a victim of life than it is to be a victor in life. Sometimes we get so caught up in the mundane routines of life that we lose sight of what is really important. We tend to settle for security rather than pursuing significance. That is ok for a while. However, at some point in our lives something comes along that makes us question our position in life, and more importantly, our convictions about life.

Most of us go through a period in life where we are concerned with power, status, and glory. We do all that we can to put us in a position to be able to live “The Good Life”. We pursue education and career promotion. We try to grab all the financial and social perks that we can. I am not saying that this is wrong in itself. We should try to do things to better ourselves. The problem is that these things often take too much of a precedent in our lives. We are often blinded to the cost and the toll these things take on our lives until something happens to make us question our involvements and the goals that have come to direct our lives.

Over the course of time I have learned to be in touch with the struggles that people face. There are so many things that rob people of joy in life and introduce them to despair, fear, uncertainty, and leave them questioning the significance of life. When people arrive at this place in life, as most do, they begin to ask why. There never seems to be an answer to the why, but there always seems to be a chance to have an awakening. This awakening seems to come from something inside. That something inside seems to be the human spirit or an indomitable will that is eager to born. Oddly enough it only seems ready for birth when we are in our darkest moments. Moments that are brought by life’s tragedies. Those tragedies have names like, poverty, hunger, loss, death, fatal diseases, hurt, guilt, remorse, shame, abandonment, loneliness, and many others.

There is a difference in how people respond to the circumstances of life. Some fall into a self-defeating cesspool of regret and complaints of how life happened to them. The spiral of despair and fear grips them and their life becomes one of excuses and complaints about the unfairness of their circumstances and they question God and his motives for their life. I think we all fall in that category at one time or other in life. As strange as it sounds misery tends to find a comfort zone within the tired. It is often a very painful experience to move away from the pain. When we get to that point is when we have to come to the glorious, yet painful, realization that life can happen because of me and not just to me.

Yes, we have the ability to be powerful when we are weak. When we face the sickness in our soul that is brought about by poverty, hunger, loss, death, fatal diseases, hurt, guilt, remorse, shame, abandonment, loneliness, and many others, we can make the painful choice to move away from pain. How? By learning to surrender our desire for power, status, and glory. By moving away from self-centered interest. By recognizing that there truly is more in giving than receiving. Does that mean that we have to become glorified by extravagant acts of philanthropy? No, we just have to learn that giving is done in small ways. We have to learn that giving is often sharing our time, a kind gesture, or an encouraging word. Giving is sharing the gratitude of life rather than the complaints about life. It is appreciating the small wonders of life rather than lamenting the catastrophies. Being powerful is sharing hope in the face of despair. Sharing courage in the face of fear. Being powerful is recognizing that life doesn’t have to happen to me, it can happen because of me.

Monday, May 25, 2009


My 17 year old son wrote this for a homework assignment. I thought it was really insightful. It is a brief piece on his thoughts on how to handle adversity.

Rivers are my problems. Every problem
has solutions. I could ride a boat or
Fly an airplane. I choose the long route though.
I face my problems. That makes me better.
So I build a bridge, to the other side.
Each is one step. One step toward what I will
Be. When I am what I will be, you will
look up and say, “What a bridge he
has built!” I have built many bridges.
I have many more to build. Conclusions
Are so simple. I have come to one. All
Rivers lead to bigger rivers. Problems
Lead to bigger problems. Once I cross the
First one, I know that I can cross them all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dealing with adversity

In this world we will face difficult times. We do not always have the ability to control when these difficult times present themselves. Adversity wears many different mask. Sometimes adversity comes from outside sources. However, it most often comes from within. We are most often our own worst enemy. I read somewhere that on average people tend to think negative 77% of the time. That is an incredible statistic when you think about it. nearly 80% of the time we tend to think negative. When I contemplated on that fact I accepted it as true. Consider the conversations you hear people engaging in. They can tend to be cynical at best on most any topic. Particularly when it comes to our discussions about others, our jobs, other people, politics, religion, and most topics we can think of. We tend to think about the flaws in people or the system, focus on the failures of others or how things could be done differently in just about every endeavor. This mentality often bleeds over into our personal beliefs and values.

Most people are quick to give into the negative thoughts and think what is the use. This leads many to settle for a life of mediocrity at best. It leads others to seek pleasure and satisfaction in various hurtful ways. Adversity presents itself in marriage and many people decide to give up and get a divorce. The divorce rate is sky rocketing and we see that more than half of the marriages in todays society end in divorce. We see people cave in when adversity strikes and they often quit their jobs or begin hurtful habits such as drinking and abusing drugs. Many people find it difficult to face their problems and seek quick fixes rather than long term solutions. We see so may problems facing our society due to the effects of adversity. People tend to seek lustful pleasure because it feels good now. That is why we see drug abuse on the rise. With technological advancements we see the proliferation of powerful designer drugs that are intended to give a much more powerful effect to help people dissociate from hurtful feelings brought on by stress and pressure they face in todays fast paced society. It becomes much more convenient to avoid our problems and issues than to work through them.

I have worked with people for the duration of my career in social work and tried to help them overcome these tendencies to seek instant gratification and work towards more long term solutions. It is a difficult task to get people to see the value in taking this approach. We live in such a fast paced instant solution society that it is often a foreign concept for people to see the value in working through painful situations and seeking a slower and more lasting solution. And to be honest, we all fall victim to this quick, give up solution from time to time. It takes effort to keep a mindset geared toward overcoming adversity and not becoming cynical.

Monday, May 12, 2008

NIGHT by Elie Weisel

Elie Weisel has written one of the most powerful books I have ever read in “Night”. In fact, the New York Times calls it “A slim volume of terrifying power”. The book consists of only 120 pages, but these pages are packed with human drama. This book explores the depth of human emotion and takes the reader on a journey to the very foundation of the human psyche. Wiesel uses horrifying honesty of the brutality of the Nazi regime and explores the human mind in a way that most people cannot imagine. His contrast of the idyllic life he lived as a pre war Jewish boy growing up in Sighet, Transylvania to the horror of the Nazi concentration camps is sobering to say the least.

In pre war Transylvania, Weisel dreamed of studying the Jewish religion and Kabbalah. He had a very nice and peaceful upbringing and enjoyed a very loving family. His family ran a small store and lived happily until the Nazi’s invaded his town. Shortly after the Nazi’s invaded they turned the town into a “Ghetto” and moved everyone from their homes. In time all were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to concentration camps. Weisel describes this in this most compelling verse from the book:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, they turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things; even were I condemned to live as long as God himself.


Weisel makes the pain ever so clear. Throughout the book he describes in chilling detail the insanity of the concentration camps. He makes the brutality real, he makes you feel the gut wrenching anguish and takes you inside the desperate mind of a Jewish prisoner of war. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and desperation that sets in. His touching stories of the love he felt for his family, the total helplessness he felt when watching his father suffer, and ultimately his fathers agonizing death. Weisel points out the minds desire to survive and how desperation will force a person to turn against their most beloved. His desperation even led him to doubt the existence of the God he once sought to dedicate his life to.

I found Weisel’s brutal honesty made “night” one of the most heroic pieces of literature I have read. I cannot imagine the ability to write with such candor about our very darkest emotions. His brutal honesty was refreshing. He could have chosen to write the book in a much simpler and watered down truth. However, he depicted events as they truly were. Or maybe the book was written in a watered down approach. With all his candor and courage Weisel may not have been able to fully depict the sheer evil of the Nazi’s.The evil of the Nazi’s may very well be beyond truth. However, this book shines light on the dark side of human nature. It is well worth the emotional read.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The talent of giving

All people have talent. Some people have artistic ability, others have leadership qualities, and others may have athletic ability. Some people are talented cooks and others have strong business minds. Some peoples talent may be that they are very strong willed and persistent. The fact is, all people have some talent. Some people struggle to realize their talents and abilities, but they do have them. A trait of successful people is that they are able to recognize their talents. Once they recognize their talents they take an inventory of their talents and weaknesses. Successful people are then able to play to their strengths. They leverage the talents and strengths of other people to overcome their weaknesses. That seems like a pretty simple formula. However, there is a whole lot more to it than that.

Some people really struggle to find their true talent. There are numerous reasons for this. Some people struggle with confidence and self esteem. Others have battles with their ego. Many people get caught up in life and circumstances become a real hindrance. They get caught up in the day to day struggle to make a living and life becomes too hectic to pursue their talents and passion. Whatever the reason may be, some people have a very difficult time realizing their true talents and abilities.

The successful people I have met seem to have a very good understanding of their talents. They pursue their talents and seem to really enjoy life and work. I once heard that if you do what love you will not have to work a day in your life. That makes a lot of sense. If you pursue your dreams and play to your talents, then you are likely to do what you love doing. It is not work if you are truly enjoying what you do. It becomes work when the joy leaves. So, what is it that allows you to continue to play to your talents and enjoy what you are doing? The answer is really quite simple. To keep the joy in your career and to keep your talents growing and improving you have to use your talents to serve others.

That’s right, you have to give to get. I am sure that there are many people that have a lot of money that are just not nice people, but the truly happy people that I know are the ones who use their talents in a way that benefits others. There is a lot of talk about abundance and the secret and various ways to become successful. They are all based on the premise of giving to get. That is how nature operates. You plant a seed and in time you reap a harvest. The harvest yields an abundance of crops for the seeds that are planted. You have to put in the work of planting and cultivating before nature will do her part, but by giving up front, you gain multitudes in the end. It is the same way with our talents. We have to use them to serve others. When we do serve others we reap the rewards of satisfaction for doing good for others and we reap the rewards of doing satisfying work. In addition, we often receive financial rewards as well.

So, how do you use your talents?

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak. Thomas Carlyle

Encarta defines persistence as the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties. It is a fact that we all face difficulties in our lives. As we face these difficulties we all have different ways of viewing and responding to our circumstances. Some people really struggle to deal with problems that arise in their lives while others seem to have an uncommon strength when it comes to handling adversity. I can’t help but wonder why it is that some people seem to have that uncommon ability to adapt to and overcome their problems. What makes the difference? Is it education, gender, age, qualifications, or some secret that some are privileged to learn?

It is not always the most educated person that is the most successful. It is quite often the person that has the ability to be persistent regardless of their circumstances. Most of the successful people that I have encountered are not necessarily the most educated. They have certain qualifications, but they are not necessarily the qualifications one receives from an academic environment. I do believe that academics can play a very important role. If nothing else, academics can prove ones ability to make and sustain a commitment. This sustaining a commitment is the the very essence of persistence. However, the people that seem to be most successful in life have an even higher sense of commitment. They have an uncanny ability to stick to their mission. They do not let anything deter them from doing or becoming what they desire. They set a goal and they stick to it.

I can’t help but think of people that have achieved their goals while enduring incredible obstacles. I think of Abraham Lincoln overcoming the lack of formal education, suffering from severe bouts of depression, facing numerous tragedies in life, failing in almost every endeavor he took up, and still becoming one of the greatest leaders of all time. Consider Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They both overcame hatred and prejudice. They did this with non violent opposition and changed whole governments, societies and the world’s view of oppressed people. James Stockdale endured horrendous treatment while spending over 7 years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. Not only was he able to endure and survive incredibly harsh conditions and brutal treatment, but he was able to change his captors view of him and eventually won better treatment for him and nearly 400 other captives. Viktor Frankl was able to survive the brutality of Nazi concentration camps and the loss of all that was dear to him. Art Berg became a quadriplegic at a very young age and was able to be a father, business owner, hall of fame professional speaker and even was awarded his very own super bowl championship ring. The list can go on and on of incredible achievements of valor, glory, and fame. That is not the real goal of what I am trying to convey. The point is not the achievement and becoming famous. The point is not that only famous people posses the ability to overcome great odds. The point that I really want to make is that it is not some magical quality that can only be obtained by the rich and famous. It is not necessarily taught in schools or universities. No this quality can be the possession of anyone.

The quality that I am talking about is persistence. Everybody has the ability to be persistent. The common man has just as much ability to persist as the rich and famous. It really depends on how much we choose to cultivate this ability. It is not as though it is some mysterious quality or something that has to be searched for. It is something that has to be cultivated. I mentioned James Stockdale earlier. He was an avid reader of ancient philosophers and gave a great deal of credit for his inner strength to his studies of Epictetus. Stockdale believed “that each individual brings about his own good and his own evil, his good fortune, his ill fortune, his happiness, and his wretchedness” How? By following the line of thought that all persistent people follow. It is not your circumstances that determine the outcome; it is your response to your circumstances that determine the outcome. Viktor Frankl stated that if you have a big enough why you can overcome any how. In other words, if you have a purpose strong enough to make you persist towards your goal, you can succeed. The real trick is in being persistent. Refusing to give up on your intended goal.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Action is the antidote to despair. Joan Baez

I have just returned from a wonderful vacation in the Bahamas. I went on a cruise with my family on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. We sailed on the Sovereign of the Seas. It is a very nice ship with lots of activities. The crew was really pleasant, the food was excellent, the entertainment was well organized and of high quality. I think most on the cruise had a great time. Best of all the weather was beautiful. It was in the mid 80's F with a light breeze and plenty of sunshine. The only problem I can think of is that it did not last long enough.

While on the cruise I noticed that allot of things were going really well. The thing I noticed about whatever was going well is that it was caused by people taking action. When a crew member seemed overly charming, it was because that person took action to be charming. If a person on the islands was successful at selling their product, it was because they took action to make that happen. I know this sounds simplistic and many people are saying, well duh,how else are you going to get things done. Yes, being successful at anything has to start with taking action. But, those that are the most successful do not sit and wait for the circumstance to be right to take action. The boldly do. They take action when others hesitate or when others take a break.

Action oriented people create their circumstances. If they have a desire to be the most hospitable person on the ship, they go around greeting people and being hospitable. They do not wait to find the perfect time or the perfect situation. They make it the time and the situation by choosing to act. I noticed some people on the other side of the issue. Some people waited for something to happen. For circumstances to be a little bit different or a little bit better before they would take some action. Those that waited seemed to be the passengers or workers that were the least happy. They expected someone else to be responsible for their success or their happiness. Those that took bold action always seemed to be happy. If it was having fun or providing a service those that were action oriented had the best time. The bolder the action the more the success. Some passengers took it to the extreme and maybe were a little aggressive in some endeavors, but in the final outcome they had a lot of fun.

If you take action you can be sure that things will happen for you. If you fail to act then things are likely to happen to you. Be a person of action and remember this quote, "Doubt, of whatever kind, can be ended by action alone." Thomas Carlyle