Three steps to making your new approach stick

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I described a process for changing your approach. Two weeks ago I described three indicators that your current approach is not working. In this post, I will share three steps for making your new approach stick. The steps are easy, but as we all know making a change stick is not. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Implement it – don’t expect anything to be different until you implement your new approach. This step is actually the easiest to complete – all you have to do is start. But, it can also be the most difficult. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many times I decided to make a change but never implemented a new approach. Several times I even spent a lot of time and energy crafting a new approach, but never got around to making it happen. The main reason I think implementing a new approach is difficult is fear of failure. What if it doesn’t solve the problem? What if your new approach does not work better? What if it actually makes things worse? Many times these fears are unfounded. Bottom line is that you will not know how well your new approach works until you try it.

Don't get stuck in the starting blocks
Don’t get stuck in the starting block

2. Measure progress – it will be hard to tell if your new approach is working, or not unless you measure your progress. Come up with the metrics you will use to determine if you are actually solving the problem. For example, I have been in debt numerous times. One time the amount of debt I had accumulated troubled me greatly, so I decided to change my approach. The approach was somewhat radical. I implemented several changes that wiped out the debt quickly. I was not confident that this approach actually addressed the root cause of the problem – more money going out than coming in. I decided to measure both the amount of debt I carried and how quickly it grew each month. After only two months, the same problem started to surface. I knew my solution worked in the short term, but would not suffice for the long term. After this analysis, I implemented a different approach – I changed jobs to make more money. I continued to measure my progress using the same metrics. This time the change worked. The problem was finally solved. More income than expenses equals no debt.

Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working
Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working

3. Stick with it and make tweaks – sometimes you will make progress after implementing your new approach, but improvements are not happening fast enough. You may ask yourself what do I do now. Should I stick with my new approach, or stop it and try something else. I recommend making tweaks rather than abandoning your new approach. Tweaks are different than major changes. They are small adjustments you make to your new approach. For example, one time I changed my approach to eating in order to lose some weight. As I measured my progress I recognized that I was losing weight, but not as quickly as I hoped. In fact, I would lose five pounds and then regain five pounds, and then lose the same five pounds. My weight was going up and down like a yo-yo. Overall my approach was working but I had to make some tweaks. One tweak I implemented was to start drinking black coffee rather than put cream and sugar in it. This one change made a positive impact and helped me achieve the result I was looking for. Make tweaks to get to the finish line. Don’t abandon your new approach to quickly. Give yourself some time. On the other hand, if your new approach is not working at all, then it is time try something different. You may end up trying several approaches until you find the one that works.

'I must say, that was quite a tweak you came up with.'
Tweaks can make a big impact

In this series, I have attempted to pass along my advice on how to implement positive changes in your life. Talking about it is easy. Making it happen is difficult. Enough talking – get out there and make it happen.

Process to change your approach

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I discussed three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should seriously consider making a change. In this post, I will describe how you do it – the process to change your approach. The process is easy and described below. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Determine where you are – the first step in changing your approach is figuring out where you are. When I was in US Army Ranger School we would navigate through various terrain to include mountains, swamps, and deserts. If you were in charge of the patrol it was important to always know where you are. At some point during the patrol, the Ranger Instructor would ask the patrol leader to point out where you were on the map usually with a pine needle. You were not allowed to use your fat finger and fake it. Pinpoint accuracy is what they expected. If you were wrong, you were in trouble, and you knew it. They drilled this expectation into us because it is really easy to get lost if you have no clue where you are. Any path will work. I think the same can be true in life. If you have no idea where you are on the map of life, then how will you know if you are lost.

Determine where you are on the map
Determine where you are on the map

This step sounds simple, but it can be a real struggle. The reason why is that many of us are overly optimistic when it comes to evaluating where we are on the map. Are you ahead of schedule, or behind? Are you on a mountaintop, or in the valley? Have you crossed a bridge, or not? For example, if you have changed jobs, then you have already crossed the bridge. If you determine that the new job is not working out, and a change is needed, then you need to decide what to do next. Walk back across the same bridge (assuming that you did not burn that one), or find a new bridge to cross by finding another new job.

Have you crossed a bridge, or not?
Have you crossed a bridge, or not?

Based on my own experience, I tend to overestimate my current situation. In my head, I picture that things are not as bad as they seem, and will work out in the end. What I have learned is that I need to be honest with myself when determining where I am. You may need help determining where you are. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide perspective. When in doubt, ask you heavenly father for help in determining where you are. He sees all and may open your eyes to see a bigger picture than what is right in front of you.

2. Seek guidance from others – after you determine where you are, next you should think about what you will do next to change your approach. When I was younger I tended to try and figure out most things myself. A stupid mistake that really limited my options. Nowadays, I am a big fan of getting help from others. I have learned over the years that I do not know much. Others possess wisdom, knowledge, and experience that can benefit me. Why not take advantage of their life lessons. Don’t be afraid to talk with your friends, family, and mentors about your situation. They may have dealt with what you are going through, and have ideas for a better approach. In addition to seeking guidance from people you know, you can also learn a lot from experts. The number of resources available to you from experts in all fields is staggering. You can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and research on the internet. Remember everything you find on the internet may not be true, or helpful, but there is plenty of great content available to you. Take advantage of all these resources when trying to figure out how to change your approach.

Seeking guidance from others can help
Seeking guidance from others can help

In the last blog post I mentioned that my approach to running was not working. I trained hard, probably too hard, to maintain the same pace and race times as I got older. But, it came at a price. My body suffered. I experienced multiple injuries and did not feel well almost every morning. Just getting out of bed was a painful event. Something needed to change. I spoke with several of my friends who also run, and they noticed the same thing. They were experiencing more pain and suffering than normal. I listen to a podcast called Fitness over 40. During one broadcast the guest was two college professors who created a training plan for runners to keep running into their later years. I read their book, and it really opened my eyes. The research they conducted shows that too much running is bad for you, and results in injuries. Duh – exactly what I was doing to my body. The book contained the training plan, that I implemented earlier this year, and I can already tell the difference. I feel better physically, and have a much better approach than the one I was using the past decade of my life. I can only imagine how much damage I would have done to my body if I kept to my old approach. I am avoiding all that pain in misery because I was smart enough to seek the guidance from others. BTW – I let all my friends know about the book. It is shown below.

Train smart to run forever
Train smart to run forever

3. Craft your plan – the last step in changing your approach is to craft your plan. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what changes you are going to make. Go ahead and craft your plan with all the details you will need for success. I am a big fan of actually writing down your plan. Writing it down forces you to really think through the details. I tend to get more clarity when I commit my plans to paper. In fact, I write down my goals for each year. Last year, I read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. Michael recommends that you create a life plan, and offers other life planning tools that I used for the first time this year. The tools really helped me craft my plan for the year. I highly recommend both the book and tools to others. It is one thing to craft a plan for a new approach- that is the easy part. It is another thing to implement the new approach. Next week I will cover that topic.

Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt
Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt

If your approach is not working – change it

There will be points in your life when you have to decide if your approach is working or not. You may ask yourself the question am I making progress, or am I just spinning my wheels going nowhere? It can be really hard to tell if a change is needed. Oddly enough, the easy path is usually to continue down the path you are on. The older I get the more I recognize that staying on the same path may not be the best choice. Changing your approach may be difficult, but it is worth considering. Over the next few weeks I am going to share my perspective on this topic – how do you change your approach. In this post, I will discuss three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should consider making a change. I hope you learn something from my experience.

1. You are not making suitable progress – measuring your progress can be challenging. In some scenarios calculating your progress is pretty straightforward. Let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Clearly, you can calculate your weight using a scale, body weight composition test, or other methods. The good news is that the scale does not lie. As many of us have learned, the bad news is that the scale does not lie. I actually weigh myself just about every morning. I am not obsessed about my weight. Rather studies have shown that weighing yourself every morning is an effective way to prevent putting on extra weight which is a challenge I face at my age. It will not appear overnight. This article explains more details about why weighing yourself everyday is not a bad idea. Remember – it is just one data point. Don’t panic.

Weighing yourself everyday
Weighing yourself everyday

In other situations, it can be difficult to accurately measure your progress. Some goals may take years to achieve, such as earning a college degree. In this case, I would monitor your progress against the graduation requirements for your degree. If you are off track, then you will likely need to change your approach. For example, I changed majors during my undergraduate years. As a result of this change, I was not on track to graduate in four years. Rather than stay in college longer I decided to take several classes during the summer so that I would still graduate on time. If I had not changed my approach, then I would have required more time and money to graduate. When it comes to professional goals, measuring your progress can be even more tricky. You are several years from that, so I will not cover that topic right now. Suffice it to say that if you are not making suitable progress then you may need to change your approach.

2. You are causing more harm than good – achieving your goals will take time, energy, and effort. In a previous post, I talked about the fact that some days you have to grind it out. I am a big fan of putting in your best effort, even when times get tough. Having said that I also think it is important to make sure that you are not causing more harm than good. You need to monitor the impact you are causing to yourself and others. The ends do not justify the means. You should not sacrifice everything to achieve your goals. This point is especially true when it comes to relationships and your health. If you are causing more harm than good in any of your personal relationships, then you need to reevaluate your approach. You may need to make changes to include ending a relationship. No one deserves to be miserable. Also, if your approach is causing health issues, then you need may need to change it. I am not saying that some pain is not needed for physical progress. Rather I am saying don’t be foolish when it comes to your health. Learn from my mistakes in this category. Many times I ran when I should have rested while training for an upcoming race. In my mind, I was doing the right thing. But, what I was really doing was tearing up my body. It seems like every time I took this approach I paid the price later with either poor performance on race day or an injury. Don’t’ be stupid like me. Listen to your body, and take care of yourself. Trust me – if you don’t you will pay the price later.

Take care of your body or pay the price
Take care of your body or pay the price

3. You lose your why – when things get hard I often ask myself “why am I doing this”. I think most people do. A strong reason why makes it easier for me to keep going. If I cannot answer that question clearly, then I may be in trouble. Sometimes you may lose your why. It does not happen all the time, but this question will show up in your life at some point. I remember being in Graduate School. At the time I was working a full-time job, trying to be a decent husband to your mother, and a good dad to you boys. Needless to say, I had a lot going on at this time. When I asked myself why I was getting a graduate degree the answer was clear. I was preparing for the future. I was getting ready to leave the Army and needed current skills to enter the civilian workforce. That why helped me get through some late nights and tough times. If you do not have a good answer to that question, and you have lost you why then it is time to consider changing your approach. I am not saying just quit. I am saying that you may need to come up with a new approach which is what I plan to talk about in the next post.

People lose their way when they lose their why
People lose their way when they lose their why

Leaders go out the door first

This blog post is my 82nd one. The number 82 has a special meaning in my life. When I hear the number 82, I think of one thing…the 82 Airborne Division also known as the All-American Division. This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The division was created way back in WWI. It is a famous unit with a storied history. It also has a special place in my family’s history. My father served in the 82nd Airborne after graduating from West Point. It was his first duty assignment as an Infantry Officer. Many years later I followed in his footsteps. I joined the 82nd in 1991 as an Infantry Officer. My first assignment was rifle platoon leader in Bravo Company, 1/325 AIR. After that role, I transferred to the Signal Corps and joined the 82 Signal Battalion. While there I served as a Signal Node Platoon Leader, Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. Yes – I was a platoon leader three different times. I finished my time at Bragg as a Company Executive Officer. These jobs were with the same unit, A Company, 82 Signal Battalion. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For the next three weeks, I plan to share the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Below you will find the first one.

Lesson one – leaders go out the door first. The 82d has a somewhat unique culture, full of traditions that have been created over the years. One tradition regarding their leaders is that they jump first during airborne operations. This tradition started back in WWII. What does that mean – leaders jump first. Basically, the most senior leader of any airborne operation will go out the door first, before anyone else. For example, if the Commander of the 82d (a two-star general) is part of a jump, he will jump first followed by the rest of the paratroopers. During WWII legendary commanders like Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin jumped and fought along side their paratroopers. No cushy office for them. This act is not one of privilege, but rather of leadership in action. This tradition visibly shows all the paratroopers in the plane that you are willing to lead them by jumping first. The 82d expects danger when they jump into combat. Its leaders are expected to face this danger first. This tradition clearly demonstrates that the leaders are willing to do what they are asking their followers to do. It is a powerful way to show others that I am with you and fully committed, just like you.

General James Gavin getting ready to jump
General James Gavin getting ready to jump

I learned this lesson firsthand while serving as the Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. My platoon’s mission was to support the Division Command Group with communications capabilities. We jumped in the radio equipment the Divison Commander and other senior leaders used on the drop zone during airborne operations. Many times we jumped from the same plane as the Division Commander. He would go out the door first, followed by his Aide, and then members of my platoon. For larger airborne operations that involved many planes, my platoon would be split into small groups and jump from several different aircraft. Usually, we would be one of the first to leave the plane so that we would land near the command group members. I remember one mission where jumping first was somewhat troubling to me. For this operation, we were jumping into Puerto Rico. The drop zone was not big so we jumped from C-130s. The Division Commander was in the first plane. I was in the second plane and would be the first jumper from that aircraft. Everything en route went fine. As we approached the Puerto Rico, the Jumpmaster gave me the command to “stand in the door”. That means I am positioned in the door, waiting for the jump light to turn green. When it does, you jump. Usually, you stand in the door for less than 30 seconds. As you stand in the door of a C-130 you can see out of the aircraft. When I looked out I noticed a potential problem – all water, no land. I am a good swimmer, but I certainly did not want to experience a water landing. I peered at the jump light – it was still red. Thank God. I watched and waited, hoping that the light would not turn green until we were over land. I kept waiting for what seemed like well over a minute. Eventually, I saw land, then the drop zone, green light, and I jumped, followed by my fellow paratroopers. What I learned later was that the jumpmasters decided to put the first jumpers in the door earlier than normal because there was real concern that all the jumpers would not be able to exit the aircraft in time because the drop zone was so small. They did not want any paratrooper to miss the drop zone, and have to ride all the way back to Fort Bragg.

After the operation was complete I thought to myself what would have happened if the light had turned green while we were still over water. I knew the answer – I would have jumped. I would have done what paratroopers have been trained to do for decades. The light turns green, and then you jump. I could not turn to the paratrooper behind me and say why don’t you go first, it looks kind of dangerous with all that water. No – I had been trained as a leader in the 82d that you jump first, and deal with whatever happens next. You lead from the front, not from the rear. That lesson has served me well in many other situations. Sometimes when I find myself in a somewhat scary situation I think of my days in the 82d, and what it taught me as a leader. You go out the door first. Airborne.

For more about the 100th Anniversary, see this video below from All-American Week.

Follow the 10-10-80 rule

Gavin finished his first summer job recently. He earned a fair amount of money and asked me about the process I use for managing my money. Gavin is just learning about money. I recommended that he keep it simple, and follow the 10-10-80 rule. This formula represents how you should allocate the money you earn – save 10%, give 10% (some call this tithing), and spend the remaining 80%. I cannot remember when I learned this rule, but I have tried to use it over the years. It seems to work well, although it can be tempting to spend more than 80%, especially if you experience a windfall.

1. Save 10% for yourself – there are multiple reasons to save 10% of your paycheck. First, it is helpful to have an emergency fund to deal with surprise situations that may arise. Opinions vary about how much money you should have in an emergency fund. One month salary is a good starting point. Second, you may want to save money for a specific purchase so that you don’t have to borrow money and pay interest. In general, I like to stay out of debt as much as possible, but I think it is okay to borrow money for some purchases. For example, you will likely need a loan if you decide to buy a house. Third, you will need money for retirement. In fact, you will likely need a lot of money. Start saving early for retirement, so that you don’t have to play catch-up later on. I did not save nearly enough early on in my career and am paying the price now. Avoid this mistake if you can. Most companies offer employees ways to save for retirement. Take advantage of these savings opportunities. Here is a video that talks about various ways to save for retirement.

2. Give 10% for a worthy cause – it honors God and helps those in need. I would love to say that tithing is easy, but it can be a challenge to give away 10% of your money. I recommend starting early so that it becomes a habit. Don’t tell yourself that you will give money away when you earn more and can “afford it”. I think it actually becomes more challenging the more you make. Once again, keep it simple. If you are a member of a church then you should tithe to that church. The tithe is intended for the church to operate and support the local community. If you are not a member of a church then look for a worthy cause to support. Plenty of them exist. I have taken different approaches when it comes to charities. One year I decided to support as many as possible – even with only a small amount. More recently, I decided to focus my donations to a few specific charities that I am passionate about. For example, this year I am focused on the Lead the Way Fund. They do great work. Lastly, some charities are not worth supporting. They spend too many resources fund raising, or other events, rather than making sure the money gets to those who need it. For example, I used to send money to the Wounded Warrior Program, but stopped due to a recent scandal about how they were wasting donor’s money.

3. Spend 80% to live your life – this part covers the rest of your expenses like housing, food, utilities, clothes, and other bills. 80% sounds like a lot. Not spending more than that seems easy, but I will warn you that it is not easy. What is easy is spending more than you earn by using credit cards and other methods for borrowing money that you do not really need. Trust me, it is really easy to buy stuff, esecially nowadays. You don’t even have to leave your house to shop and they will deliver many things straight to your front door. I am a big fan of online shopping, but it can be a slippery slope when it comes to spending money.

Lastly, I have warned you before about the dangers of credit cards, and will reiterate to be careful. At one point in my life I wracked up over $10K in credit card debt and had to refinance our house to pay off the debt. Really big mistake on my part. You should not be shocked to learn that the credit card company never called me to ask why I was spending so much money. The reality is that we had just moved and it cost a lot more money getting the new house set-up than I anticipated. The credit card company did not care because they make money out of the deal. The more I borrow, the more they make.

Managing your money can be tricky. I recommend keeping it simple, following the 10-10-80 rule, and avoiding debt as much as possible.

Here is another video in which Dave Ramsey and Chris Hogan answer a question about retirement from someone who is 23 years old.

Be picky about being picky

In America, we have a lot of choices when it comes to the things we buy. Think about it. When is the last time you bought something and there were no options – only one item for purchase. If you go to a restaurant you will usually receive a multi-page menu describing all the various options. The Cheese Cake Factory menu is thick as a book. It can be overwhelming. Visit an American grocery store and you see how many different kinds of Ketchup there is. I like hot sauce. It is amazing the number of options you have when it comes to buying hot sauce. Let’s talk about Starbucks – the options seem unlimited. It is a pet peeve of mine to stand in line behind someone who takes forever to order their drink. It is not like you are making a life changing decision, but you would think so based on how difficult it is for some patrons to make a selection. Even after you order the barista may ask you more questions about what you want – whip or no whip? Really.

I am a big fan of not overthinking things when possible. With that in mind, I recommend that you not waste your mental capacity on trying to figure out what to buy. Look at your options, determine what you like, calculate what you can afford, and then buy it. Don’t spend too much of your brain power trying to buy just the right thing. You can drive yourself nuts if you do. If you get it wrong, it probably will not be a big deal. There are three exceptions to this approach that I want to share with you so that you can be picky about being picky.

1. Quality vs. quantity – you will buy many items in large quantities. Don’t waste too much time picking these items. For example, I run a fair amount and like to drink Gatorade afterwards. Gatorade comes in many types and flavors. I like G2 because it is low calorie, and am not that picky about the flavor. When shopping for Gatorade I buy whatever G2 flavor is on sale. If none of it is on sale, then I buy one of my favorite flavors. Problem solved. Wristwatches are another matter. It is unlikely that you are going to buy multiple watches at the same time. In fact, you will probably only buy a few over your lifetime. In this case, do some research so that you make an informed purchase. I don’t have a lot of money, so really expensive watches are out of the question. I own two watches – one informal, and one formal. I wear a Timex weekender watch that I really like. It costs less than $100. You can change the straps on the watch to match the clothes you are wearing. For work, I wear an Invictus watch. It is stylish and only cost a few hundred dollars. Nothing fancy for me.

Timex weekender wrist watch
Timex weekender wrist watch

2. Premium purchases – you will buy a few things that cost a lot of money. Cars, houses, and college tuition are top of list for me. When spending a lot of money like hundreds of thousands for a house, you should spend a lot of time looking, researching, analyzing, and comparing before making a decision. Work with a good real estate agent who can help find you the right house, at the right price, in the right neighborhood. Some shows on HGTV make it seem like you can find a house quickly. I prefer to take my time and spend a lot of time thinking before buying. Bottom line – you should love the house you buy. If you don’t love it, then hold off until you find one you do. When it comes to cars I never buy the first day I visit a dealer. I don’t want to make an impulse buy. It is an easy mistake to make when buying a car. I prefer to visit multiple dealers, do a lot of research, and spend some time thinking about the purchase. Three car purchases I made were good – the Accord, Tacoma, and my Jeep. The Lexus I bought was a mistake. I should never have spent that much money on a car. Choosing a college is similar – do lots of research to include visiting each school before making a selection. The good news is that researching cars and colleges is much easier these days with all of the online tools. These did not exist back when I was your age.

Jeep wrangler
Jeep wrangler

3. Money makers – you should save and invest some of your money with each paycheck so that you can retire one day. When it comes to investments there are an overwhelming number of options. Be picky about who you allow to invest your money. Many financial institutions will promise high returns and low risk. They use this marketing lingo to justify charging you high fees for managing your money. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you spend on management fees is one less dollar that gets invested. It is really hard for money managers to “beat the market”, and they know it. I have done a fair amount of research on this topic and decided to keep things simple. I invest in index mutual funds with low management fees. Several reputable companies offer these type nowadays. I would never attempt to invest my own money in individual stocks. It takes time and energy, and expertise that I don’t have.

In most cases I don’t think there is much value in being picky about what you buy. There is a time and place to be picky. I recommend the three listed here. In case you are wondering why we have all of these choices, the video below explains why:

Blondie Forever

This week I saw the band Blondie in concert at Wolf Trap. Beforehand I was not overly excited about the concert. I was looking forward to tailgating in the parking lot with friends but did not have high expectations of the band’s performance. You may not know a lot about Blondie. They were a moderately famous band from the 70s and early 80s. They had multiple radio hits and were pretty well known back in the day. Blondie’s greatest hits album is a good representation of their early musical career if you want to sample it. Boy was I surprised when Blondie took the stage. They were really good and put on a great show. Afterward, I thought about why Blondie was so much better than I expected. I can think of three reasons.

1. Be your best – Blondie opened the show with the song “One Way or Another”. It is a really up beat song, and one of my favorites by them. They really set the tone by starting the show with a bang. I noticed right away that their lead guitarist was not one of the original members. He was a rather young man full of talent and energy. I appreciate the fact that Blondie was not afraid to augment their line-up with new members. It made them a stronger band and helped them be their best for their fans. Don’t be afraid to include others who can help you be the best that you can be, even if you become rich and famous.

2. Continue creating – Blondie played several songs from their new album, Pollinator, during the show. I have listened to their new album several times, and it is actually pretty good. Not their best album, but better than most new music I have heard this year. Whenever a famous band puts out and plays new music they are taking a risk. Their fans are always going to compare the new music to their old hits like I just did. This comparison is not really fair, but it happens nonetheless. I appreciate the fact that Blondie continues to create – writing new songs, recording them, releasing them, and playing them live. One of my favorite bands, U2, takes a similar approach. They continue to put out a new album every few years. In contrast, many other bands stopped creating new music years ago. Instead, they rely on their past accomplishments and simply play their greatest hits during their concerts. Simply put, this approach is lazy. Artists should continue creating. I want to encourage you to continue creating over your lifetime. Don’t stop and rest on your laurels, relying on your past accomplishments to carry the day.

Blondie new album
Blondie new album

3. Keep kicking – Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry, is no spring chicken. In fact, she is over 70 years old. But you would never guess that watching her perform in concert. She does a great job singing their songs, moving around the stage, dancing to the music, raising the energy level of the audience. I was really impressed with her performance. Let’s face it – it is probably no easy task for Debbie to complete a concert. Rock-n-roll is a young person’s profession, but you would never guess that watching Blondie in concert. They are still touring, and keep kicking. I sure hope I have her kind of energy and enthusiasm when I am over 70 years old, and I hope you will too.

Just so it is clear – I am not endorsing Blondie as model citizens, or saying that you should act like rock stars. Rather, I am exploring ways to learn something new from them. I think we can learn something from everyone, as long as we are paying attention.

Here is a video from Blondie’s early days – probably their most famous song, “Heart of Glass”. It was filmed in a disco – old school.

Here is a video from their new album. The song is called “Long Time”

Learning something new

As you know I decided to start my own business. It is a new adventure for me, and requires that I learn a lot of new skills. Learning something new can be a challenge. The reality is that it takes time to learn something new. In fact, according to some experts it takes at least 20 hours to learn something new. In this TED talk author Josh Kaufman explains the learning process. It is worth watching.

We live in a culture that is big on figuring out better ways to do things. Hacks, shortcuts, and cheat codes seem to be all the rage these days. I am a big fan of learning. It is one of my strengths. I look for ways to learn things quickly, but I recognize that you have to put in the time. I am experiencing that fact first hand right now as I download new software tools and teach myself several new skills. It is taking some time. I am making steady progress, and will get there. During your lifetime you will need to learn many new things, so I want to pass along a few observations based on my own experience learning new things.

1. Starting out is usually ugly. When you start something new you do not know what you are doing, and it shows. It is going to be ugly. I remember the day Jill and I decided to play tennis together. She is good at tennis. She has played for years, taken lessons, and knows how to play the game. I, on the other hand, have played very little, never had lessons, and don’t really know how to play the game. As you might guess – it was ugly. She stood on her side of the court and simply hit the ball over the net repeatedly while I ran around like a mad man trying to figure out what I was doing. An odd thing happened the next time we played. My play improved, just a little each game, and we actually ended up having a competitive game. I still have not beat her in a game, but I bet I could if I practice on a regular basis.

2. Practice takes time. If only 20 hours is required to learn something new, then it should be easy to learn new things quickly. Right. The reality is that 20 hours is actually a fair amount of time. As Josh Kaufman points out in his TED talk, you will improve a lot the first few hours – which is great. But, you will need to press on and keep practicing if you want to actually get proficient. Riley – you are learning to drive right now. The DMV requires that each driver spend many hours behind the wheel before you get your license which is a good thing. Every drive knows that it takes awhile to learn how to drive and get used to the various speeds and obstacles that you will encounter. Put in the practice and get your 20 hours in. Don’t rely on hacks or cheat codes to make you proficient.

3. Get the help you need. The good news about our modern culture is that you can find help easily. We have numerous ways to connect and communicate with others. When I announced that I was going to start my own company on Facebook several friends reached out to me, offering encouragement, and potential help. Many of them have experience that will help me a lot, so I plan to talk with each of them. In addition to your own friends, experts exist, coaches are available, and the really good news is that you can find most of them online these days. In fact, you can learn a lot from others, and get help for free. Youtube is a gold mine of information. You may remember the time when I could not figure out how to change the tire on our old Lexus (it had wheel locks that the manual did not mention), I went to Youtube and found a video that explained how to do it. Most of these tools did not exist when I was your age. Take advantage of them. Leverage the expertise of others, and get the help you need.

I hope that both of you learn new things on a regular basis. It will help you grow and become a more rounded person. Gavin – you are excellent at playing the guitar. I encourage you to keep learning and become an expert. Riley – you are a great soccer player. I hope you keep playing later in life. It is a great sport, and will bring you a lot of joy. Scoring a goal never gets old. Trust me.

Learning never exhausts the mind.
– Leonardo da Vinci

Dunkirk Reveals Human Nature

War is hell. We all know that – at least I hope we all know that. We are reminded on a regular basis about both the horrors and heroics of war. Bottom line – it brings out the best and the worst in mankind. We have many books, movies, television shows, videos and monuments all aimed at giving all of us insights about war, and what it is like. As you know, I served in the military, but I never deployed into combat. I did spent many years preparing for it, studying it, and learning about it. Based on what I know and have learned from others – we get unique insights into human nature by learning from previous wars.

Occasionally a movie comes along that reminds us how awful war can be. Dunkirk is one of those movies. It is a grim reminder that WWII did not start well for the Allies. In fact, it was a military disaster on all fronts. The Germans were able to conquer much of Europe quickly. I watched Dunkirk last night, and really enjoyed it. The director lets history tell the story and attempts to personalize it by focusing on a small group of individuals who are caught in the action – soldiers and civilians. The movie is intense, and I think it points out three things about human nature that are worth reflecting on after watching the film.

1. We are all selfish. The battle of Dunkirk focuses on the fact that a large part of the British Army was surrounded by the Nazis early in the war and needed to be evacuated back to England before it is annihilated. It is a dire situation. The movie does an excellent job portraying how bad things were for the British. The enemy is closing in. All the British are trying to get out of France, and the only way out is via the English Channel. There are not enough ships for everyone. Time is running out, so various characters in the movie start to take matters into their own hands. It is an “only the strong survive” type situation which leads to selfish behavior. It should not be surprising that people get selfish. It is in all of us – the will to survive. It comes out especially when the stakes are high. Putting other first is a difficult choice to make, and does not happen naturally. Usually our basic instinct is to take care of ourselves first. Something to think about anytime you are in a tough situation. Look for this behavior in others, and monitor it in yourself.

2. We can all be heroes. The evacuation of Dunkirk ended up being successful because of the extraordinary deeds of many average people. The British government send out a call for help, and many answered. The film focuses on one family who joins in the action and plays their part in the evacuation despite many challenges. The director does a nice job keeping these everyday participants anonymous during the action. He does not treat them like super heroes. They don’t have super powers or any special abilities. They simply do what is necessary to get the job done. The same holds true for many other participants to include the Air Force pilots who fought bravely to keep the evacuation ships safe. Remember – heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled by marvel and DC comics – there is no real Superman or Wonder Woman. They are not coming to rescue us. Rather it is up to normal people like you and me to be heroic when called upon.

3. We can fight another day. When WWII begins – the Nazis are prepared. No other country really is ready and it shows. Dunkirk is a pivotal point in the war. The French are defeated, and England evacuates in order to prepare for a potential invasion. British leadership is forced to make some really tough decisions. They are outmatched, and they know it. They need a new strategy. They decide to do something a little different than normal – they celebrate their retreat from Dunkirk. Normally in military operations any retreat is seen as a loss and should not be celebrated. But, British leadership realizes that the evacuation allows them to fight another day, and fight they will. The movie ends with Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that finishes with “we will never surrender”. Anytime I hear this speech – it inspires me. Also it reminds me that some days you will lose. In fact, you may need to retreat, regroup, refit, and prepare to fight another day. Notice that I did not say quit, but live to fight another day. It is a perfectly suitable strategy in some situations.

If you have not seen Dunkirk – I suggest that you do. Below is a link to the trailer for the film. Hopefully you get a lot out of the film like I did.

Travel Journal – Lessons from French Culture

This summer we visited France, spending numerous days in Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and a few other locations. We saw a lot of great sites, and were able to experience numerous dimensions of French culture. Like almost every country in Europe, France has a unique culture. Well, it is just very French. I will not pretend to be an expert on French culture (I don’t even speak the language), but I have visited this beautiful country numerous times and have taken note of a few things I really like about French culture…and a few things that I would not emulate. Please note that I am not trying to stereotype an entire country’s culture based on my limited exposure. Rather I just want to note some things that you will remember from our recent journeys that I think can inform how we live our own lives. First, three things that I enjoy about French culture.

1. They enjoy a good meal. Let’s face it, the French know how to cook tasty food. As you can tell from my size, I do not have the most sophisticated palate, but I do eat like a King when I am in France. The list of French foods I enjoy is long, but not endless. I really enjoy croissants, croque monsieur, escargot (yes – the snails are delicious), baguettes with cheese (not the really stinky blue cheeses), onion soup, steak and mussels with fries, beef burgundy, andouillette, and crepes to name a few. Just typing that list makes me hungry. To be fair there are several dishes I don’t like such as liver pate, tartare dishes, or creme brulee. French food enjoys a good reputation worldwide, and it is well deserved.

2. They look good walking around. France, particularly Paris, is known for its fashion. You notice this walking around Paris, and other cities. Simply put, I have seen few French dressed like slobs. You can tell that most people spent some time thinking about what they are going to wear before going out the door. We here in America tend to be much more casual than many countries. I am not saying that is a bad thing. Rather I am saying that it is probably worth investing some time and money into looking nice. I used to dress really casual all the time, but try to dress more appropriately these days. I don’t think you would ever witness a French person walking around in their pajamas, and I have seen more than one person in Reston Town Center who looked like they just rolled out of bed.

3. They appreciate art. We saw so much great art in France. Their museums are full of masterpieces. In fact, the Louvre has so much art that I would never attempt to see all of it during one visit. The Orsay has a wonderful collection of impressionist art. We visited Monet’s house in Giverny. The garden there was as beautiful as you would imagine. I see their appreciation for art spilling into the colors and designs they use in everyday life. I am not an artist (no talent at all), but I do notice how prevalent art is throughout French culture.

France is a great country, but not all is sunshine. There are a few things I will note that could use improvement in France. Some of these are obvious, so I will not elaborate in detail.

1. Many people still smoke. The negative affects of smoking cigarettes are well known, but I guess the French don’t care. I was surprised by how many people still light up cigarettes on a regular basis…to include with coffee over breakfast.

2. Many people are working less. The short work week is a reality, and many stores are closed during lunch hours. Trying not to judge, but it just seems like the French work ethic is much different than ours. Granted, Americans probably work too hard, but it is noticeable.

3. The dog poop. I know it sounds crazy, but there is dog poop all over the place in many cities. For those who have been to France, you know this is true. For others, it is probably shocking. It seems like no one invented the plastic bag to pick up dog poop in France. Pay attention when you are walking around, or else you may get an unpleasant surprise.

As always, I enjoy traveling and learning from other cultures. In case you are looking for a humorous perspective on French culture, check out the video below from a You Tube travel channel that I watch on occasion. Yes – he talks about the dog poop too.