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 Brontë 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 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?

Identify Your Gaps to Reach Your Goals

IMG_0567 (2)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?

How to Find Your Dream Job

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is graduation season. A lot of freshly minted graduates are streaming out of our colleges, high schools, and technical programs. A lot of new graduates are looking for their dream jobs.

How do you find your dream job?

I want to share some insight from a good friend of mine named Bill Martin. Bill is an octogenarian with a lot of wisdom. If I told you his entire career history you would be amazed at this man’s success. If you could meet him, you would be amazed by his humility and charm.

He recently spoke to engineering graduates about how to find their dream jobs. Here it is in all its wisdom and simplicity:

  1. Get a job. Work hard and do great at it.
  2. Get a better job. Work hard and do great at it.
  3. Keep repeating this until you…
  4. Get your dream job.

I sort of understood this when I was young. I did not expect to have a dream job right out of the gate. I knew it was out there if I worked and produced value for my employers. A job well done leads to a recommendation and to advancement. The idea of an entry-level position is that you do not stay there long. It is simply where you enter.

In your pursuit of a dream job, don’t forget to get a job and do really well at it. That will lead to good things.

Thanks, Bill!


The Myth of the Stress-Free Life

Have you ever dreamed of  a stress-free life? In this stress-free life there is no one to tell you what do do, how to do it, or when it must be done. You are master of your universe and get to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. This dream becomes most desirable when your boss or someone else with authority puts the pressure on you to perform or face the consequences. Those consequences may include being fired or getting an F in a class. This dream of a stress-free life is very seductive because it tempts you to believe that you can somehow escape the responsibilities of adulthood. Adulthood requires you to be responsible and to fulfill the requests of other people.

My operating assumption is that stress is the normal default condition of life. Consider this:

 Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck

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This dream of a stress-free life can take many forms. One example is a young man I know whose dream is to move into a modest cabin on a ranch and to live off the land. This is an idealized vision of leisure that is not based in reality. Anyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch can destroy this myth quickly. The realities of that kind of life intrude upon the idealized dream. Before I detail some of these realities, I must say that living on a ranch in a cabin and living off the land is a perfectly fine ambition. If that is what you want to do, you can do it. I am just pointing out the reality that it will be full of responsibility. Life always is. To live on a ranch or farm is to trade your current stresses for a new set. This is true because, as Peck says above, life is difficult. This is the default human condition.

My grandparents lived on a farm, and I have recordings of them discussing the hardships they faced. Among the difficulties of life on the farm are:

  • Food. You still have to eat. Perhaps you will hunt your food, fish for your food, or grow your food. All of these require work, and there are deadlines built in.
  • Money. Just because you live on a ranch does not mean you need no cash. You will need to buy equipment, seeds, tools, clothes, gasoline, and any food you cannot catch, hunt, or grow. You will have to pay for your electricity and heating gas or oil. You will have to pay for water or at least drill a well and maintain your pump operation. Also, the government will still require you to pay property taxes on any land you own. Any buildings you own must be maintained and repaired. This all requires money.
  • Natural deadlines. Careful attention has to be paid to the seasons. No boss may tell you when to plant the corn, but if you do not do it at the right time you will not be pleased with the result. Once the corn is grown you must harvest it in a narrow window. That sounds like a deadline to me. In addition, the animals must be fed, and the cows must be milked. Those fish are neither catching themselves nor cleaning themselves once caught. The deer are not shooting themselves nor dressing and processing themselves.
  • Natural challenges. Farmers and ranchers face lack of rain (drought), too much rain (flood), hail, high winds, insects, and weeds, just to name a few challenges.

If you really turn the clock back and envision a time when nomadic hunter-gatherers lived a care-free life, you would find that their lives were not actually care-free at all. If your own well-being is dependent on successfully hunting wild game, your own hunger becomes the stress in your life. If you do  not leave the cave or the tee-pee you will starve regardless of whether or not you have “Leave Cave” in your day planner.

 So What?

Given that there is no such thing as a stress-free life, part of becoming an adult is accepting this fact and crafting a Forward Story that embraces this reality. Avoiding stress is not a realistic strategy. I encourage you to embrace the idea that stress and responsibility are inherent in life. With this baseline realization you can then get around to a future worth living. The Myth of the Stress-Free Life is one end of the spectrum. In our next article we will explore the dangers of too much stress.

What are the stresses in your life, and how do you handle them?