You Have Three Chocies

RSS-Huddle_1978As a high school sophomore I sat on a yellow school bus with my football team and wiped away the tears as I listened to one of the greatest life lessons that I would ever hear. We had come so close to winning this game. We were going to win. We should have won. We had them. We were on the one yard line about to score. All that stood between us and an undefeated season (and a district championship) was one fumble on the goal line.

The fumble happened.

We lost by 3 points.

Into this bitter disappointment our head coach, Richard Bethell, taught one of those lessons that athletics seems especially suited to teach. He said, “Men, when you face defeat, failure, and disappointment you have three choices.” He laid out our choices:

  1. You can quit

  2. You can make excuses or blame others, or

  3. You can go to work

Often the profound is simple. Sitting on that bus all I could think about was football. Many times since then, however, the wisdom of these three choices has fit my life.

I am capable of each choice from time to time. I prefer #3. I try to avoid #2 at all costs. I consider #1 only if the situation makes it clear that I have been pursuing something that is not worth my effort or is bad for me — but I am constitutionally not a quitter.

After my senior year Coach Bethell sent a letter to all of us seniors who played offensive line for him that season. As we went out into our adult lives he reiterated this lesson we had learned two years earlier. He spoke of adversity we had overcome in both our freshman and senior years. Here is an excerpt from the letter he wrote us:


Earlier in the letter he called that loss our sophomore year his “greatest loss as a coach.” He had felt that sting as deeply as we had.

So the lesson remains with me in life to this day. I hope you will make it your lesson as well. When you face defeat in your life you have a decision to make about your future — your Forward Story.

You have three choices. Which will it be?

Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain

Based on a recommendation from my wife (via Michael Hyatt’s Twitter feed) and from the podcast by “Relentless Roger and The Caveman Doctor,” I recently read a post at Lifehacker on Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret. It turns out that his secret is incredibly simple and effective. Basically Jerry identifies some task or behavior that is important for him to perform. He hangs a calendar on his wall and then marks a red X on each day where he has completed that activity. In Jerry’s case it is writing jokes. After a while he has a string of red Xs. His advice then is simply:

Don’t Break the Chain!

After a couple of years of sporadically working on my first book, I decided the time had come to get serious. Since I travel quite a bit, I printed out a calendar I can take with me. On May 1st I began rising at 5 AM to write. I write for at least an hour, but often for an hour and a half. I permit myself no sleeping in on the weekends and no excuses because of travel.

This is a photo of my calendar from two days ago.

Don't Break the Chain

Don’t Break the Chain

This morning’s writing session made it seventeen in a row for me. I am now in a groove, and I do not hesitate to get up when the alarm goes off. The corgis are not quite sure what to make of it yet, but they will figure it out in time. Of course, by about 9 PM I am starting to think about sleep, but that’s OK.

I am really making progress, and I do not want to break the chain. Thank you Mr. Seinfeld for something so simple and effective.

What project could you move forward with Seinfeld’s calendar approach?




Think of your life as a dart on a certain trajectory. Are you likely to hit your target?

When you think of your current life trajectory you are immediately forced into a glimpse of the future. While none of us can truly glimpse the future, I believe we all walk around with some sense of how our lives are going and whether we are “on track” or not. Of course, “on track” for you is likely quite different from “on track” for me. You cannot define my track, and I cannot define yours. This relates to ambition. We all get to have our own. The important thing is to make an honest assessment of where you currently are, what you are currently thinking and doing, and where you want to go. Are you likely to get there or not in the right time with your current bearings?

The powerful thing about the human experience is that in a free society you possess the power to alter your course. Unlike a dart that has been hurled, you are capable of course correcting from this point forward. For you that course correction might be new education, different friends, a different job, a different career path, or a new relationship. Whatever it is, you can do it if it really matters to you. It comes back to what “on track” means and how much you desire that outcome.

It may be that your honest assessment of your current trajectory reveals that you are indeed on track. If so, your challenge will simply be patience and endurance. Make that a priority by keeping your eyes on the prize.

Is your current trajectory likely to lead to your desired outcome?

If so, endure.

If not, make a move.

Practicing What I Preach


I made a commitment several years ago to revise and update my personal Forward Story at the beginning of each year. Experience teaches me that in order for my Forward Story to be a powerful tool for living and action, I need to regularly update it. This is why each of my Forward Stories has an “as of” date:

Mark’s Forward Story as of January 1, 2013

These two little words remind me that the story contained in the following pages represents my vision for the future as it existed at a set point in time. To me a new year, even though it is just a function of human calendars, is like standing on a mountain and looking out over a long view. It is a great place and time from which to do some visionary work.

Given that we are in the first month of a new year, I am putting the finishing touches on my revised Forward Story. I wanted to take a brief break from the revision to answer the question:

Why does my Forward Story need to be updated regularly?

  • My plans for the future change as I grow older. I no longer see the world or my future the same way I did when I was younger — even one year younger. To be honest about the future I now envision as a more mature person, I have to take a fresh look at what I hope for now given where I am. I sometimes look at my older Forward Stories from years ago and marvel that that young man valued different things than this older man now values.
  • My circumstances change from time-to-time requiring a fresh look. One of my previous revisions in the area of health expressed the desire to reach a certain weight by this point in time and to maintain that weight into the future. The truth is that I have now lost below that original target weight. Now that my vantage point has changed with regard to that goal, I am now revising my goal lower because I am convinced I can get even healthier. The same is true for family and career domains as well as health. Sometimes the revision goes the other way. Perhaps I have not reached a goal, and I revise my desire with regard to that goal. I may restate it, eliminate it, or attack it a different way.

An amazing exercise is to go back and review previous Forward Stories. Over time they tell quite a “back story” about my life. As I read the hopes, dreams, and plans of my younger self, I see what authors and storytellers call a “character arc.” I can see the way my life has changed from inside of my thinking in those earlier timeframes. I highly recommend it.

I will admit that doing the annual revision can be a bit of a tedious task, but I have developed some helpful tools that make the task a bit more fun and effective. I will be sharing those tools in future posts.

Holidays Don’t Scare Me

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake (Wheat-Free & Sugar-Free)

In February 2012 my wife and I transformed the way we eat. We did something radical and eliminated all wheat from our diet. Cold turkey. One day I was eating a sandwich – the next day I was not. The results have been amazing. If you consider all of the foods we eat that contain wheat, you could end up with the same reaction as comedian John Pinette:

The winter holidays for our family are dominated not only by the warm glow of being with family and loved ones, but also by incredible food. Like many Americans, our holiday food is rich and delicious, but not ideal for people concerned about their weight and health. As we approached Thanksgiving 2012, our first Thanksgiving without wheat, I was a little concerned. Would I really be able to say no to the macaroni and cheese? Could I pass on the cookies, cakes, and pies that are such a wonderful part of our family’s tradition? Would I hurt someone’s feelings by saying “no thanks” to their famous goodie? This really was a concern.

I should have known that our family would be very supportive and non-judgmental about our food. We are very fortunate to have a family that wants what is best for us, even if it seems weird to them. Going wheat-free or gluten-free certainly does seem weird to many people. I also attribute our holiday success to two factors that relate to our Forward Story.

1. Forward Vision. Because our health is such a priority for us, we try to view each daily decision through the lens of the future. If I choose to eat these cookies, will the ensuing discomfort and negative health consequences be worth the temporary pleasure enjoyed? Listen, for my wife’s pies and cookies, the answer is almost yes. But we try to follow the philosophy that “Nothing tastes as good as being lean and fit feels.” By considering the future consequences of the current decision, I tend to make better decisions. In a previous article we referred to this as future-oriented behavior.

2. Planning for Success. The photo at the top of this post is the pumpkin swirl cheesecake that my wife made for Thanksgiving. It is a wheat-free and sugar-free recipe from Maria Emmerich. It is remarkable. The fact that we knew Thanksgiving could be a challenge for us led us to plan to have a viable alternative. This cheesecake was so good that even the wheat eaters in our family liked it. Along with the non-judgmental attitude of our family, having this alternative led to our success. It has given us confidence that in the future we can handle Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the challenges presented at birthday parties and other family gatherings as long as we plan for success. Planning for this success and actually following through on that plan was a key.

I accept the fact that having forward vision and planning for success does not come naturally for everyone. In fact, it may not come naturally for any of us, but some of us do seem to more naturally adopt these practices. If you struggle in this area, I want to encourage you that these are skills you can cultivate. If you do, you will be pleased with the results. It is worth the effort to grow in this area of your life.

I am now only 13 pounds away from my weight as a senior in high school 32 years ago! I am now 37 pounds lighter than when I began. I want to say thanks to our family for their support. It means a lot to have a good network of people that care about us.

Tell me about your own Forward Story. How do you employ forward vision and plan for success?

Has the role your family has played been a positive or a negative for you?


How To Select a Great Coach

Coaches are everywhere. It is difficult to find a domain where coaches are not present.

  • Football Coach
  • Track Coach
  • Golf Coach
  • Tennis Coach
  • Debate Coach
  • Job Coach
  • Executive Coach
  • Career Coach

Even if the title “coach” is not applied, often a person is still functioning as a coach. Sometimes we use the words “mentor” and “teacher” to refer to a coach.

What does it mean to coach, and why is it so important? To coach is to instruct, direct, train intensively, and to demonstrate. If you want to learn some new practice or activity that is not natural, you will learn faster and become better if you have a competent coach who can show you how to do it. Perhaps you want to learn to play golf. There is nothing natural about playing golf. How should you grip the club? Which club should you use? How is the golf swing started? What about the stance? Where should the ball be placed relative to your feet? How do you putt the ball? All of these questions and hundreds more need to be answered in order to become a good golfer. Not only do you need to know the answers to these questions, you need to actually practice doing them. Golf is a physical game that requires you actually golf. So, in addition to telling you how to do something and demonstrating how to do it, a coach also trains you. That is, she has you practice the behavior over and over until you do it right. Depending on what you are learning, the coach can be very demanding. This is the reason coaches are often viewed as strong leaders and disciplinarians. They train, direct, and instruct.

You Have to Want It

The truth is that no coach can coach you if you do not want to be coached. If your coach has told you to go run stairs to improve your fitness level, you will only run those stairs if you choose to do it. If you choose not to run those stairs when the coach has directed you to do it, there may well be consequences. For instance, you may be removed from the team. Or, you may simply not get to play. But, that is your choice and your right (at least in environments with individual liberties to choose). So, even though we may gripe and complain about how unreasonable the coach is being, ultimately we choose to be coached because we think it is important to achieve our ambition.

Have you noticed that it is not only the beginner that gets coached? The teams that are at the top of the sports world have coaches. Professional teams have the highest paid coaches. What this demonstrates is that coaching is vital in not only learning the basics, it is vital in learning how to achieve higher and higher levels of expertise. If this were not the case, the world’s greatest golfers would just direct their own practices and analyze their own swings. The better the player, the better coach he or she demands. This is because those players recognize the need for coaching and they want it. If they did not want it, they would not submit to coaching.

Competent Coaches

Unfortunately, not everyone that desires to coach is very good at it. If the golf coach you select doesn’t know much about golf or doesn’t know how to effectively teach you the game, how will that impact you? You will learn wrong information, develop bad habits, and likely not achieve your ambition. This is why it is so important to select your coaches carefully. Not everyone that wants to coach you is competent to do so. If you are a  middle school athlete, you don’t have a choice about who coaches you. If you want to play, you get the coaches that the school has assigned to coach you. Many of those coaches are outstanding, but some of them are still learning themselves how to coach.

Let’s move from school coaching and athletics to other domains of coaching. As stated at the outset, there are executive coaches, career coaches, and coaches for many different professional ambitions. If your ambition is to be a great sales professional, you need to select a great sales coach. You need someone competent to coach effective selling philosophy and to help you develop good selling behaviors. It is extremely important that you select someone with a proven track record of success. You need competency and effectiveness. How do you find it? The same way you select the hiring of a key employee or the purchase of an expensive car or piece of capital equipment. You do your “due diligence.”

Due Diligence

The concept of due diligence is well established in business and law. The term refers to a process of research, conversation, and discovery by which you get to the real truth. If you are looking to purchase a business from someone, you need to know the true status of the business, not just the pretty photos and the company narrative. You need to look into the books to see what the revenues and expenses are. You need to see the balance sheet to understand the company’s assets and liabilities. You need to speak to employees and customers to gauge the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Before you spend your money to buy this business, you need to be sure you have done your homework.

The decision about who will coach you deserves the same level of scrutiny. There are three important ways to search for a competent coach:

  1. Internet. As with most research these days, it will probably involve the internet. There is a wealth of information at click of a SEARCH button.
  2. Network. Speak to the people in your network about the subject of coaching. Find those people who are the best at what you want to do and ask them if they use coaches. Ask for specific names of coaches that they recommend.
  3. Interview. Once you have identified potential coaches, schedule an appointment to discuss their services. Plan your questions before you meet, and treat it like an employment interview. In a way it is. You will want to know his coaching philosophy, formal instruction methods, and costs. Don’t forget that a great coach can help you achieve levels that you never before thought possible, so while cost is important, the cheapest is not necessarily the best.

People who are serious about their careers, sports, or other endeavors look for the best coaches. Hopefully your Forward Story will include the need for and commitment to personal growth in one or more fields of endeavor. If so, having a great coach can be a vital ingredient. The best coaches are competent and have a track record. Make it your goal to find a great coach to help you achieve your ambition.