Savoring

February 17th, 2014

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Much of what I’ve learned about the ability to savor life’s delicious moments, whenever and wherever they occur, came from my mother.

This includes the capacity to savor food, music, irony, humor, the absurd, the profound … and the conscious spending of money, even when you have hardly any to spare.

Both my parents were teachers, and finances were always tight in our home when I was growing up. Every purchase—every new toy, every dinner out (a rarity), every vacation—was something bought only after careful consideration. In my mother’s eyes, the “worth spending money on” category included education, books, good food (home-cooked, with endless enthusiasm), and travel when possible.

Once, when she and my father were still newlyweds, the piano tuner come over to work on our Steinway, which had come over from Germany with my father’s mother during the war. “The tuning bill was $25,” she said when she told me this story. “I looked in our checkbook; we had just over $27. I wrote the check on the spot.” She wasn’t sure where the next bag of groceries would come from, but our piano was in tune.

Even though money might be tight, she never let that make her tight with money. When she decided to make a purchase, even if that purchase cost her dear, she made it with a spirit of totally carefree delight, as if she had all the money in the world.

One winter we learned that my father’s choir was going to be on television at Christmas time, performing Handel’s Messiah. A week or so before the broadcast, I came home from school one day and found a brand new color TV in our living room. I couldn’t believe it. We had never had a color television, and I knew we couldn’t really afford such a luxury. I asked her, “Mom, are you serious? You bought a color television?!”

She looked at me and said, “You don’t expect me to watch your father in black and white, do you?”

My mom passed from this world nearly twenty years ago, but she hasn’t lost an ounce of her capacity to make me smile — and savor.

A Day in the Life

February 11th, 2014

“Well what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” — Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day

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Are you creating your own life? Or is the force of fate (history, destiny, circumstance) encircling you from all sides, weaving its inexorable web around you so that the path you tread ends up being what it’s fated to be, no matter what choices you make?

Or (which seems to me a whole lot more likely) is the truth somewhere in between, some combination of the two? And if so, what is that mix like — the universe’s plan for you versus your plan for you?

Right now I’m halfway through Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s enormously acclaimed 2013 masterpiece that explores those questions in a breathtakingly powerful way as it follows the life of Ursula Beresford Todd, born on February 11, 1910, through two world wars and a kaleidoscope of more personal conflicts.

“What if had a chance to do it again and again,” her brother asks, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” And in a weirdly magical way, Ursula has exactly that chance. Again and again. And in the process, she gets to explore the limits of our personal ability to determine events.

So does Jake Epping, the main character of Stephen King’s brilliant epic-novel 11-22-63, in which a schoolteacher from Maine stumbles upon the opportunity to go back in time and see if he can prevent JFK’s assassination. (And if so, what might be the long-term consequences.)

You may not be a Stephen King fan, but that book is one of my favorites and well worth the read. (And if you think he’s all horror, remember: this is the guy who wrote the stories behind the films Stand By Me, Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile.)

And you may never have read any Kate Atkinson, but if these questions intrigue you the way they intrigue me, pick up a copy. It’s not something you can read casually; you have to pay attention. Not in-line-at-the-post-office reading. But SO worth it. (Atkinson is also author of the Jackson Brodie series, and her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, is one of my top ten favorite novels of all time.)

I say all this, because this is about more than good reading.

This is about your life.

If this life you’re living is a song, who’s writing the lyrics? And where does the melody come from? And what are the lifelong implications of something seemingly so simple as the passage of a single day, the fleeting choices of a moment?

P.S. Happy birthday, Ursula!

Slight Edge Do-Over

January 6th, 2014

New Year

Happy New Year!

And while we’re at it: happy New Edition of a book that is tailor-made for helping you make any New Year’s Resolutions stick, and turn into long-term results.

Here’s how this happened:

SlightEdge2013Back in the ancient times of 2005, I was handed a few early 1990s drafts of a self-help book, along with a CD of sales-and-personal-development guru Jeff Olson speaking. My task: make a book out of it.

This was the first project in what would become a long association with the folks at VideoPlus (later SUCCESS) and would in time produce books by Paul Zane Pilzer (The Next Millionaires), Robert Kiyosaki (Business of the 21st Century), Rita Davenport (Funny Side Up), and more.

That first book, The Slight Edge, spread like wildfire and soon became one of the most popular titles in the network marketing and self-improvement communities.

In 2008 the publishers put out a revised, enhanced, and enlarged edition with testimonials and some new material. I was not involved in that revision, but had always wished we could take the book a little further.

That wish came true.

A year ago I was approached again, this time with the idea of putting out a completely revised and rewritten version of the book. Awesome! I thought. I got to work, starting with a now eight-year-old book, taking it apart and putting it back together with the benefit of eight years of learning and experience. What a blast!

And now, here it is: the good people at SUCCESS have just published this completely revised-with-lots-of-new-stuff-added “8th Anniversary Edition” of The Slight Edge. (On its release it shot to the #1 spot on Amazon and BN.com, and found a spot in the top 100 nonfiction list at USA Today. Nice.)

The Slight Edge makes you aware of the unwritten rules that we all live by and just weren’t aware of.” — John C. Maxwell

This new edition is completely reconstructed and rewritten, line by line and word by word. I took a few bits out that I’d never felt really worked, and added a whole lot more bits in. There’s an entirely new chapter, “The Secret of Happiness,” whose core message is that success does not lead to happiness — it’s the other way around. And another entirely new chapter on the business of creating ripples on the pond of life and leaving a legacy. I also had the chance to say a whole lot we hadn’t quite said the first time ’round.

It was like getting to have a massive do-over.

How often does that happen in real life?

Pindar the Sniper

December 29th, 2013

Someone asked the other day, how do I switch mindsets from writing something like The Go-Giver to being inside the head of a Navy SEAL sniper?

Actually, they’re not so different as you’d think. Check it out.

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¡Viva la Revolución!

November 21st, 2013

And smile (I’m talking about an inward smile of deep satisfaction and delight in the delicious fabric of life, not just the yellow-button smiley-face thing) when you say that!

A brand new magazine just hit the newsstands, and if you look close, you’ll find my byline peeking out at you.

livehappyThe journal’s called Live Happy, and its mission is:

…to impact the world through a happiness movement that inspires people to engage in living purpose-driven, healthy, meaningful lives.

My article, “The Happiness Revolution,” is a broad-strokes sweep at the birth and impact of positive psychology and the happiness movement over the past fifteen years. Here is the first few paragraphs:

A young psychology student at Cal State, Ed Diener had grown up on a San Joaquin Valley farm and had been around farm workers all his life, and he thought it would be interesting to study happiness in migrant farm workers.

“Mr. Diener,” his professor sniffed, “you are not doing that research project — for two reasons. First, farm workers are not happy. And second, there is no way to measure happiness.”

Ed knew from firsthand experience that his professor was wrong on his first point. But just how do you scientifically measure the level of a person’s happiness?

Ed was convinced this was worth looking into. He abandoned the project and did his paper on the topic of conformity. (History does not record whether the professor appreciated the irony.)

To find out what happened to young Ed Diener (and whether or not scientists ever figured out how to measure happiness) (hint: they did) go hunt your newsstand!

And meanwhile, you can read the first two pages of the piece here.

Enjoy!

Diary of a Writer, contd.

May 14th, 2013

Working on a magazine article on the power of staying in the present. Wondering how much longer it will take.

The Go-Giver Turns 5 … with a Movie!

March 15th, 2013

Since The Go-Giver (our “little story about a powerful business idea”) launched in 2008, close to 300,000 copies have sold. Which is awesome. Still … there are some 300 million people in the United States — which means that for every one person who’s read it, there are roughly 999 who haven’t. (And that’s not even counting the rest of the world!)

So, to celebrate the book’s fifth birthday, and as a way to help us reach those other 999 x 300,000 — we’ve made a movie.

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Okay, not exactly a movie.

More like a short.

About four and a half minutes’ worth, to be exact.

And when I say, “we’ve” made a movie, what I really mean is, Bob Burg and Kathy Zader did. I had nothing to do with it. (Other than to cheer them on and make popcorn.) But I sure do like it! And I thought you might, too.

Here it is.

If, once you watch it, you enjoy it, we’re hoping you’ll pass it on — that is, pass on the URL to friends you know who may (or may not) already know about the book.

Hey — let’s see how many of those 299,700,000 we can reach!

A SEAL Says Goodbye … Again

February 27th, 2013

A few months ago I posted an open letter, reprinted from the New York Times, by my friend and Red Circle coauthor Brandon Webb, saying goodbye to his best friend Glen Doherty, who was killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

Today Brandon’s writing appeared in that same Times blog once again, saying goodbye to yet another friend and comrade-in-arms, the legendary Chris Kyle, who was shot and killed on February 2 by a troubled Marine combat veteran he was trying to help. (Text appears below; scroll all the way down for photo of Kyle’s memorial service in Austin.)

Moving thoughts; beautiful writing; sad tidings; tough times.

My heart’s out to you, dude.

* * *

It’s a strange place I find myself these days, in my late 30s, and faced with the reality of friends, SEAL brothers, lost and gone from my life. The most recent include my friend Chris Kyle, who was killed last month, and Glen Doherty, who died six months earlier. I find myself often rereading saved e-mails from the guys because they give me comfort and an occasion for a much-needed laugh or cry, and I’m not afraid to admit the latter.

I spent a decade on SEAL teams and made some of my closest friends there. My generation of SEALs has seen at least 50 members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, possibly more than any generation since Vietnam. This has affected me, and I struggle to explain it to people. Think about six close friends and imagine them all dead and gone in the span of a few years. These guys were irreplaceable, and they have left huge holes in my life that will not be filled anytime soon.

I first met Chris when he was a new guy on probation in SEAL Team 3. I instantly knew he would go on to do important things. A few years later when I was an instructor and course manager for the SEAL sniper program, Chris and I got to know each other better. I became his friend when we filmed a series on my Web site, sofrep.com, called “Inside The Team Room.” He agreed to do the show for free because he believed in what we were doing, which was to highlight the sacrifice of American war fighters and their families.

We would often kid each other via text about our media appearances. I probably gave him too much of a hard time for his appearance on NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes.” He called me one night upset that he was getting a lot of heat from our community over the show, saying that he did it to raise awareness of veteran causes and not to make money. I believed him and respected him more for it.

I think Chris and I both shared the struggle of military to civilian transition. We left the teams on top of our game, as chief petty officers with many career opportunities open to us. But we chose family first and left many people scratching their heads at our decisions. We spoke of this often in our short communications.

Chris took no pleasure in taking lives as a sniper, and he doesn’t deserve the criticism that some, including Representative Ron Paul of Texas, have leveled at him. He did what his country asked of him, and did it well. His family also sacrificed greatly and deserved a moment of dignity in his death. As citizens we all share some responsibility for what this country does to defend and protect its borders.

After life in the SEALs, Chris donated profits from his book, American Sniper, to a charity started by the mother of a fallen teammate, Marc Lee, America’s Mighty Warriors.

Chris could have lived his life in privacy and comfort, yet he recognized that veterans who needed help the most were slipping through the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He chose to continue serving his country, by helping one veteran at a time. And he died doing just that: aiding a troubled veteran.

I managed to avoid the funerals of six teammates. But I stopped avoiding them when Glen was killed in Benghazi, Libya, in September. And I dropped everything to pay my respects to Chris, his family and the great state of Texas.

I flew into Dallas early Monday morning, and rushed to catch a taxi to Cowboys Stadium, arriving just in time for the memorial to start. I was amazed to see the thousands of people who showed up to pay homage to Chris. After the memorial, I met up with a fellow SEAL, Drago, a Polish immigrant. In America, he joined the Navy and went through SEAL training in his 30s. At the memorial, he delivered a wreath from our Polish Special Operations brothers, the GROM, who served with Chris in Iraq. We embraced outside the stadium, each knowing the gravity of the loss in the way those who have served and lost close friends know.

The next day, Drago and I shared the three-hour drive to Austin, where a private funeral service took place at a state cemetery. We were running late and were pulled over for doing 100 mph in what must have been the tiniest rental car on the lot. We looked ridiculous in that little car, but the Texas state trooper let us go once he found out where we were headed.

In Austin, we had only to follow the people lining the streets with American flags to find our way to the funeral. It was an unusually gorgeous and warm Texas winter day, and we both fell into formation with the active and retired SEALs in attendance. I don’t know how many of the guys were at the service, but it took the better part of an hour for all of us to pound our SEAL Tridents firmly into Chris’s coffin. It’s a new tradition that I’d rather not have to observe again.

Afterward, the SEALs gathered around Chris, taking a knee, and clasping each other while “Amazing Grace” played on the sound system. I found myself overcome with grief, but also a strange joy, as I wept in the presence and comfort of the brotherhood. When the song ended, a designated SEAL called out a firm and loud, “CHRIS … KYLE!” In unison, we thundered back, “HOOYAH CHRIS KYLE!” so loudly that I think we could be heard miles away.

Chris had clearly found peace and purpose being with his family and helping veterans, his new mission in life. He is a true hero, and I’m proud to call him my friend.

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The Love of a Dog

January 15th, 2013

Last night, for no particular reason, I was suddenly seized with the impulse to go read Neil Gaiman’s blog. Now I know why.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers: a gentle, kind soul wrapped within a brilliant creative personality and wicked sense of humor. (I mean, humour.) If you haven’t read Stardust, or Coraline, or Neverwhere, or (if you are in the mood for something a wee bit darker) American Gods, you’re missing something timelessly amazing.

(Or, just read The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish; it will take you all of ten minutes.)

One of those writers whose work makes you feel like after reading it, your life now means more than it did before.

Neil’s was the first blog I read regularly, nearly a decade ago. It was what inspired me to create this one. (Now you know why this blog is called “Journal.”)

But I hadn’t gone there to visit in quite some time.

I must have been drawn by the sad vibe. When I clicked over, I found Neil’s sweetly melancholy ode to his dog, who had just moved on, after years of cameraderie.

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I remember reading Neil’s posts in the spring of ’07, when he and Dog (later renamed Cabal) first got acquainted.

This is a post I am so glad I didn’t miss, and thought I ought to share it with you, too.

I wish dogs lived longer too, Neil. I keep hoping mine will live forever.

This Just In: Words Matter

November 19th, 2012

viralmarketing-2My friend Bob Burg and I share something in common: we really dislike it when people say things that just ain’t so. Especially in print, or from positions of influence where their words are liable to be passed on widely.

Like the old statistic that says, “7 percent of our communication is conveyed by our actual words, while 38 percent comes through our tone of voice and the other 55 percent from our body language.”

If you’ve ever heard that bit of “scientific research” cited, perhaps you found yourself wondering, “Wait a minute. Can that really be true?”

No, it can’t — and it isn’t.

Did you know that of the supposedly true statistics published authors quote, more than 87 percent of them are in fact just made up, and not based on solid research? Shocking, isn’t it? But guess what? I just made that up.

But back to the 7 percent. If this were true (as I wrote in The Zen of MLM), then it wouldn’t really matter that much what we said, because our words would represent only about one-fourteenth of our message, so who cares? But it isn’t true, and it does matter.

In fact, these widely quoted numbers are a horribly skewed distortion of genuine research conducted forty years ago by the distinguished UCLA psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who was studying what happened when he gave subjects specific individual words to say, with the instructions to say them while at the same time doing their best to convey a totally different meaning. For example, saying “Brute!” or “Scram!” nicely.

Single words, with intentionally mixed messages, and heard only on tape recordings.

The only facial expressions subjects saw were from black and white still photos, not live encounters.

Zero body language was involved.

The 7:38:55 ratio is actually a theoretical composite, produced by combining two different findings from two completely different experiments that studied two completely different things.

Mehrabian himself has repeatedly insisted that his findings cannot be extrapolated to communication in general. In fact, you can hear him say it right here, in this five-minute interview with Mehrabian himself, which Bob kindly sent me on email today, prompting this post.

In Mark Twain’s wonderful The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Eve writes admiringly, sort of, about her new acquaintance, Adam: “He knows a great many things . . . but they are not so.”

She might as well have been writing about the human race at large.