Truth is like a threshing-machine; tender sensibilities must keep out of the way. – Herman Melville from The Confidence Man.
Let’s say you are twenty-five years old and have a goal to become a ukelele player.
Or, let’s say you are fifteen and want to become a doctor.
Perhaps you are fifty-three with a strong desire to be a beekeeper.
Or, let’s say you are seventy years old and want to help relieve hunger in the third world.
Whatever your goals are, you need to identify the gaps between where you are now and what it will take to achieve those goals. What stands in your way? Before you can actually achieve your goal to become a ukelele player, a doctor, a beekeeper, or an aid worker, you have to be honest about what it is going to take to make that happen. If you allow your gaps to go undefined, your goal is just a dream that will likely go unrealized.
What do we do when we encounter a gap or chasm that we need to cross? We build a bridge.
Since some gaps are small and some are huge, there are bridges of all sizes. Some chasms are so large that a bridge is not possible. Have you noticed that there is no bridge from the United States to Ireland? That gap is just too large. We navigate that space in different ways.
Step 1 – Identify the Gap
These are the things missing in your life right now that must be bridged before you can reach the other side. Again, honesty is vital here. You will do yourself no favors by minimizing the task ahead or by lying to yourself about what it is going to take. Be brutally honest in defining the gap. What do you need to learn? Who do you need to meet? What certification do you need to achieve? How much do you need to pay? How long will this take?
Step 2 – Design Your Bridge
Break the bridge down into smaller steps. No one builds a bridge, or a house, or a nation without a plan. Use what you know about the gap you defined in Step 1 to create your plan for bridging the gap. Design it well so that you have confidence it will get the job done.
Step 3 – Start Building
Your bridge will be built by actions. Just as no bridge ever designed itself, no bridge ever built itself, either. The best bridge design in the world will bridge no gap if it is not actually built. Actions taken in the proper sequence will lead you to build the proper bridge and reach your goal. Establishing and following great habits is a key to making these actions effective.
Step 4 – Glance Behind You and Take Heart
Once you have built your bridge and crossed the gap, you will have achieved your goal. Now is a good time to look back over your shoulder at the bridge. See that bridge for what it really is. It is a testimony of the power you possess to envision a Forward Story, to design the practices necessary to achieve it, and to follow through on that design to realize your goal. You should now realize that you can do that over and over again. None of us truly arrive at a point where we have no ambition left. The sense of accomplishment you get from crossing the bridge and achieving a goal provides a powerful shot of confidence that you can use on bridging your next gap.
My gaps are currently gaps in taking my business to the next level and in my health goals. In other words, I am currently working on bridging more than just one gap. I have a couple of bridge-building projects going on right now. As Step 4 explains, I have bridged enough gaps in the past to have confidence that these current bridges that are under construction will take me where I want to go.
What gaps are you trying to bridge at the moment? How is it going?
As 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:
You can quit
You can make excuses or blame others, or
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?
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.
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?
This year I decided I needed to grow something. I have never had a garden or really any interest in gardening, but over the past year I have gotten a lot more interested in food. Though life-long city-dwellers, my wife and I have become regulars at our local farmers’ market and have completely changed the quality of food we eat. We have bought in to the “farm-to-table” movement.
So I decided to try to grow something. I wanted to start small and pick a fairly easy plant to grow for our climate. I chose jalapeno peppers. Following my regular approach to any new subject, I read a lot of information about how to grow plants in containers. I bought some organic seeds, two containers, organic potting soil, organic fertilizer, and organic compost. On May 7, 2013 for the first time in my life I planted seeds. I put five seeds in each container at about 1/4″ depth and then watered. It felt good to get my hands dirty. These hands are normally on a keyboard, so this was a different sensation. I haven’t played in the dirt much since I was a kid. Here is what my plants look like three days after planting.
Not much to see right? According to the seed packet, these seeds should germinate in 10-25 days.
So now I wait.
Actually, now I water and wait. If I fail to water I will be waiting for a long time. However, even if I water diligently there is nothing I can do right now to speed up the process. Nature dictates that these seeds take 10-25 days to germinate in the proper conditions.
It is hard to wait.
I remember my Grandfather Adcox making us wait on Christmas Eve (which was our family’s big gift exchange). The brightly wrapped boxes piled up under the tree were adorned with seductive bows and paper snowmen. We were bursting at the seams wanting to get at those boxes — but PawPaw had his rules. With a twinkle in his eyes, he explained that those rules had something to do with the sun setting or a certain time on the clock. Whatever it was, it was excruciating. As we waited, those packages taunted us.
We don’t like to wait.
And yet, waiting is required for most good things. We have many aphorisms and proverbs about patience and waiting:
- A watched pot never boils.
- Good things come to those who wait.
- “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
- Rome wasn’t built in a day.
So, I am not waiting for Godot, but rather for the first green sprouts from my new pepper plants. It is hard to wait, but at least I have planted and watered. If you never plant, you will not reap. My Grandfather, who was a master gardener, would be proud of these first small steps I have taken.
Sowing and reaping is a powerful metaphor. It is a law of nature. You cannot reap if you have not planted. Even if you have planted you will likely not reap if you do not continue watering, weeding, and providing the proper nutrition. It takes work. You have to nurse and tend the process.
What is it in your life that you want to reap? What steps should you be taking to get your seed in the ground and to help it grow? It will take patience and hope while you water and work, but in the end you should have a reward for your labors.
I will provide an update on my project in time. All I have to do now is work.
Today was day 10 since I planted my seeds. Today began like every other day, with me checking the containers carefully at around 7 AM for any signs of life.
But then I checked again after lunch, and lo and behold I saw something, ever so slight, that is green. I surprised myself by how excited I got. Take a look:
So now, I wait again.
Don’t forget the update on 3/25/2014.
Today we are attending the college graduation of our niece, Amy, who crosses a threshold into the rest of her life. Any kind of graduation marks a potential turning-point for people. It is the completion of a defined phase of education or training that was begun because it held a certain promise of a better future.
As these graduates today listen to the commencement address and walk across the stage to get their diplomas, they will be reflecting on the hard work of the past four years and thinking about the future. Some of them already have jobs lined up, while others see little hope for a good job. Regardless of where they find themselves in the job market, they are all in need of a plan – a strategy. They need a narrative for the future. Hopefully they will not view today as the end of education, but rather as the beginning of their life-long commitment to learning and improvement. All of us need such a plan, whether we went to college or not.
It is my hope that Amy and her fellow graduates will design a powerful narrative for their futures, a Forward Story, to help guide the paths they take and to fulfill their highest and best ambitions.
Matt, “you got next.”