Emily Brontë Died at Thirty

How Old Are You?

Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing
My wife and I recently watched the movie To Walk Invisible about the Brontë sisters. These amazing sisters created some of the most enduring works of English literature.

The eldest sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics). The youngest sister Anne wrote Agnes Grey (Penguin Classics). The middle sister Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (Penguin Classics).

Their decision to write and publish under male pseudonyms is an amazing story of strategy and perseverance. Charlotte was “Currer Bell,” Anne was “Acton Bell,” and Emily was “Ellis Bell.”

As with all writers in their day, their work was conducted often by candlelight and always by hand with ink and quill on paper. I am writing this post in an online editor with cut and paste, auto-spell check, and the ability to publish to the world with one click of the “publish” button. It is hard to even envision the painstaking effort they expended to bring these works to readers.

There are many aspects to their story that I find amazing, but perhaps the thing that strikes me most is the fact that Emily Bronte lived only 30 years. In fact, her youngest sister Anne lived only 29 years. Charlotte lived only to the age of 38.

I do not measure myself against women who were among the most gifted writers in the English language, but I do draw two lessons from their lives:

  1. Youth should be no barrier. If anyone told them they were too young, the Brontës did not listen. Some of us seem to be waiting until some magic future date when we are of sufficient age to do something important. Go ahead and do it now. Will you get better at it as you get older? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not. In the case of the Brontës, there was no getting older. Life is uncertain and short. That leads to the second lesson…
  2. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started doing something you really want to do and need to do. Don’t wait for later and older. Do it now. Get it started. Do not let resistance paralyze you. If you plan to do creative work (writing, music, art, entrepreneurship), get a copy of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and let it motivate you. The main thing is to act. Now.

I have to confess that while we have had copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our library for years, I have read neither. I am going to correct that soon. I think that as I read them knowing just how young these authors were when they wrote them, it will really reinforce the two lessons above.

Hopefully it will motivate me to act.

How old are you at present? If older than 30, take encouragement from what these young women did at a younger age than you. If you are younger than 30, follow the Bronte’s lead. Make it happen.

Too Many Irons in the Fire?

warmth-fireIdeas are portable and easily shared. In a recent conversation with my friend, Coach Deborah Newkirk, I repeated the familiar refrain: “I’ve got too many irons in the fire.” This idiomatic expression comes from the days when blacksmiths had literal iron bars in literal fires. We now use it to mean “I am really busy.” Deborah shared something that her friend Dr. Jerry George said to her (see how portable ideas are?). Since I did not hear it directly from him, I will offer this as a paraphrase. I am not even sure of the context in which he said it to her, but here it is:

When you have a lot of irons in the fire, don’t be afraid to add more irons. Accept the blessing. – Dr. Jerry George

That resonates with me. Even though I do have a lot on my plate, I need to adjust my attitude a bit and remain open to new opportunities and blessings that come my way. The “too many irons” mindset can become an excuse for not doing something that matters. It may also prevent me from accepting a tremendous new opportunity.

The new approach I plan to adopt is to not be afraid of all of the irons I have heating, but rather to attend well to them while being open to even more irons. Now, not every iron is as important as the others at any given point in time. I may need to focus on some more than others at this moment, but they are all a blessing.

Having a lot of irons in the fire is a very good thing.

If you don’t believe me, just ask someone with nothing to do.

My Dad is a Man

miller-fordMy Dad is a man. I don’t mean he is a male — that much is obvious. I mean he is a man in the sense that he is what we call a manly man.

He was a good athlete. He hunts. He fishes. He has at least one of every power tool ever made…and he has used them all. Heck, at age 76 he still uses them all. He is an accomplished mechanic who restores vintage cars like Ford Model Ts. He welds. He mows. He chainsaws. He is a master with the smoker and grill. His brisket is still the standard by which I measure all others. What I am saying is that by every standard by which masculinity is usually measured, he is manly.

It has always been easy for me to look at him and see what a man looks like, but that is not what makes him so special. There are manly men everywhere. What makes him special is the ease with which he models both his manliness and his sensitivity. From the time I was a small child he was comfortable with hugging me and telling me he loved me. We still hug. We still affirm our love for each other. I have come to realize that not all fathers know how to do that. He is a gentle and kind man. He is a man of faith.

My grandfather died when I was five years old. I still remember him, but the memories are veiled by years and by my age at the time. So, I don’t know if he modeled this physical and verbal form of fatherhood for my Dad to see. I will find out today when I speak to him on Father’s Day. Regardless of where he learned it, Dad decided that he would tell his children that he loves them and that he would embrace them to demonstrate his love. He has been consistent with it. I am grateful for that. It helped me see that there is no contradiction between masculinity and sensitivity.

I have friends who did not have that kind of model in their father. Some of them struggle with showing affection to their children. I cannot blame them because the way we are raised has a powerful impact on how we parent. If you are one of those men who struggles with kindness, affection, and expressiveness with your children, let me challenge you to break the cycle. Find a man who does it the way you want to do it and have a conversation with him. Try it sometime with your children even though it may feel strange. You have the opportunity to start a new family tradition that you can pass along to your children and grandchildren. Boys need to see this positive practice of masculinity, and girls need to see it as well.

There are really no downsides to my Dad’s approach. I highly recommend it, and I try to practice it myself.

So, thank you, Miller Lee.

I love you.

My Responsibility with Regard to My Potential

And Yours with Regard to Yours

We have all seen it before. A naturally gifted athlete with tons of potential refuses to work to develop that potential, and he or she ends up wasting it. We had a guy like that on our team.

It is sad.

I find it easy to get judgmental about that guy and about others who waste their potential.

Yet, it occurs to me that I also have specific and unique talents, abilities, and background that create my potential. The real question is whether I am putting in the work to realize my potential? Am I living up to my potential or am I instead wasting it?

That is a challenging question to answer with total honesty.

I have come to believe that it is my ethical responsibility to live up to my potential and to achieve my ambitions. To do anything less is to waste what I have been given. To me, that would be unethical.

My family, my community, and my world are counting on me to contribute what I can and to be the best version of me possible. They deserve nothing less.

So how do I achieve my potential?

Dan Fogelberg’s lyrics in “Run for the Roses” resonate with me:

It’s breeding
And it’s training
And it’s something unknown
That drives you and carries you home

While he is talking about race horses, I find application there for us. There is nothing we can do about our “breeding,” but the training and the “something unknown” is where we can reach our potential.

So, what is your potential? What is your responsibility with regard to it? What are you doing today to achieve it?

Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther. – J.P. Morgan

Are You Stuck in the Doldrums?

4 Steps to Get Unstuck

The word “doldrums” is an interesting one. I have heard the expression “stuck in the doldrums” from the time I was a child, but until now I never bothered to look up what it means.

What are doldrums?

It turns out that this is a nautical term. The doldrums is a region of ocean near the equator that receives very little wind, and thus is difficult to navigate. Both north and south of the doldrums the trade winds blow. These winds allow skilled sailors to coordinate sail and rudder to travel where they wish.

Put yourself back a few hundred years on a wooden sailing ship with no engine. All you have are sails. You are stuck in the doldrums. There is not enough wind to work with, and your ship is too large to row. All you can do is sit and wait.

Sit and wait.

Sit and wait.

You make no progress. You have no trajectory.

It is not hard to see why we have turned the name for this region of the ocean into a metaphor. Our modern usage of the term means that if you are stuck in the doldrums you are making no progress. For this reason you are sad or depressed.

How do you get out of the doldrums?

  1. Recognize where you are. Step back from the details of your life at the moment and acknowledge: “I am stuck in the doldrums! This environment is not conducive to my going anywhere positive. I am getting nowhere fast.”
  2. Get clear about where you want to go. You are going to get unstuck, so you ought to know where you want to go when the winds blow and you can set your jib. Prepare for what happens when you start moving. Create a vision. Write a Forward Story.
  3. Change your environment. Remember, the trade winds are just above and just below where you are stuck. The fact that you are not moving anywhere does not mean that there are not places you can be where the wind does blow. You likely need to change your current environment to get to those trade winds. Then you can travel toward your desired destination. Unlike the physical doldrums, most of us can greatly control the environment in which we live, learn, and work.
  4. Apply energy (or generate some wind). Once engines were invented and built into ships, the doldrums could be navigated. You may need the equivalent of an engine in your life to get unstuck. What could the engine be? It could be education, meeting people, becoming an apprentice, taking a second job, or any number of other practices that may help you move in a positive direction.

How do you get out of the doldrums when you are stuck there?