Failure Is Your Friend

Often in life we preoccupy ourselves with the intent of avoiding failure at all costs – as if doing so will guarantee our personal growth and success in life. And then I remember a small dead bush.

One summer I hitched up with a small landscaping company. Creating manicured lawns, trimming bushes, and laying truckloads of mulch. I can still feel the relentless heat and sitting on curbs eating lunches out of brown paper bags.

“Hey,” came the voice from the beige pickup truck one day. “Who did the front entrance?”

Looking up from my place on the curb where the six of us sat, I raised my hand.

“Get in here,” said the crew supervisor. His words were not an invitation.

As we drove through the neighborhood of beautiful homes, I wondered what’d I’d done wrong. I’d trimmed, swept, and moved all the trimmings to the edge for pick up.

Pulling to the curb in front of the entrance, he jammed the truck into park.

“Well?” he said. His gaze focused only on the stone entrance landscaped with ground-hugging bushes, tall decorative grasses, and dark, fresh mulch.

My silence was not the right answer. From my point of view, the entrance looked beautiful. I’d never lived in a neighborhood with anything other than a street sign marking its existence.

“What is the deal not finishing?”

Peering through the fog of tension, I could not see what seemed so obvious to my crew supervisor.

Walking me over to the curb he pointed to small bush near the back. From the color you could tell the summer was winning the war. And to be honest, it never occurred to me to pull it and request a replacement from the truck.

“We can’t have you half-doing your job,” he said. “These people pay good money for our work. Fix it and don’t let it happen again.”

Standing there on the curb I felt as small as a handful of the brown mulch surrounding the footings of the bushes in front of me.

As we rode back to the curb where the rest of crew finished their lunches and jockeyed for position for a place around the water cooler, my ego throbbed.

After lunch the crew supervisor sent me hiking back to bring back the bush. The distance, when combined with my bruised ego, seemed punishing. An hour later I returned to the crew, dragging the brown bush behind me.

Decades later I still remember the brown bush and the helplessness of failure I felt. I’d not intentionally failed – quite the opposite. I took great pride in quality of my work that summer. Whether mowing straight and square lines on a lawn or making sure bushes were symmetrically trimmed, I cared about my work.

But the brown bush taught me giving it your all does not guarantee success in life. And in reality, failure is an important lesson to learn. The value of success is only truly realized when compared to the failures balancing out the other end of the spectrum. We all need to fail in order to grow, learn, and develop. Avoiding failure – at all cost – is to rob us of one of the most valuable lessons in life.’

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Is the Trump Factor Real?

As the 2016 presidential campaign continues to ramp up, the traction of Donald Trump is leaving the traditional model in shambles. In a short time, Trump seems to have sucked all the air out of the national spectrum of politics.

This weekend alone, as other candidates stumped at preordained engagements, networks chose to stream only one live – Trump. Standing in front of a frothy 30,000 people in Alabama, Trump whipped up the crowd with a blend of populist themes, nationalist speak, as well as using a broad brush to paint all politicians as the problem. Not only are Republican Party candidates finding themselves on the outside looking in, but also Democratic Party candidates are increasingly discovering the same problem.

What is remarkable is the increasing base of political traction Trump is gaining – thus threatening to upset the time-honored coronation process of the presidential race for both parties.

We all know Donald Trump. As a matter of fact, you could’ve lived under a rock for the past several decades and not avoided him. Trump, like him or not, is a master of creating attention. Books, television shows, golf courses, and skyscrapers – there is no shortage of exposure of the Trump brand. He is big, he is bold, and he is all about getting the deal done.

And it is just this tool, his ability to read into people’s psyche that is making his foray into politics so interesting to witness.

My aunt grew up in a war-torn Europe. At times she would point to the rise of certain political figures and how they’d built a populist support based on nothing other than dissatisfaction of current circumstances. Long food lines, inability to find employment, feeling of disconnect from those in power all fed these movements she said. Short on details, long on passion seemed to be enough for these political candidates to ride into power. Be careful, she said in a hushed tone.

While I’m not about to compare Donald Trump to those my aunt warned me of, I do believe there is a lesson here. When things are good, people are happy with the status quo. When they are struggling, the more likely they are to become engaged and supportive of someone – anyone – who can take their anger or dissatisfaction up on stage.

And that is just what I witnessed the other night. As Trump spoke to not only tens of thousands of supporters, the networks built their coverage around his words and actions. If you’d just landed on planet earth you’d have thought this was the only guy running for office.

Trump is not stupid. He can read a market or opportunity. And only Trump knows his end game.

History points to a long line of candidate who tried to break the mold of our presidential coronation. It won’t last, historians say. But in the back of my mind, watching the frothed-up supporters of Trump, I can’t help but hear the warning of my aunt ringing in my head.

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Serving Others a Lifetime Charge

Jerry Lewis, widely known for his zany comedic touch, helped a woman get a new bathroom earlier this week.

While not directly, Jerry Lewis and the long running Muscular Dystrophy Association’s telethon, helped change a friend of mine while only a child sitting in front of this television more than forty years ago.

“Jerry would have his telethon going on and we’d all sit around and watch it,” said my friend. “We then learned about how another friend in our building had a sister who was suffering from it.”

Suddenly the parade of movie stars and entertainers on the small television screen became very real. To my friend, the three little letters came to life – one with a face of a little girl.

“We all decided to go around the neighborhood knocking on doors to raise money,” said my friend. “This, you’d have to say, was my first experience of charity helping others.”

He talked about how he and his friends would knock on doors of the apartment buildings where they lived collecting coins in small, milk carton-type containers. Later they’d all go down to a nearby church where they’d turn in their donations and watch the donor board numbers climb.

Fast forward decades and my friend is still the little boy — only now he is in a position to help others. As a partner in a company who helps rebuild homes, he has many tools at his disposal.

“One day a contractor of ours pokes his head in my office and tells me about a lady he’s run across suffering from Muscular Dystrophy,” he said. “Apparently she lives in a modest home but because of her disease, she struggles each day to get through life’s even most basic things – like getting into a bathtub or shower.”

My friend will be the first to tell you he is a blessed man. He enjoys his work, he has a beautiful family, and he has his health. And in return, my friend looks for opportunities to repay his debt to God, living life with a servant’s heart.

“So we find out a bit more about the woman and decide we can do something to help her.”

Suddenly, the little boy in my friend is running from door-to-door collecting coins for someone in need.

My friend gets with a crew and together they figure out what they can do to help this woman in need. They survey the situation – determining how they can build a bathroom to best allow this woman access to her basic needs.

Shortly afterwards a crew finished a custom remodeled bathroom for the woman – paid for from my friend and his resources.

The thing about living life with a servant’s heart is you’re not in this for the money or yourself. Rather you’re a part of relationship in which you willfully seek out opportunities to help others as a part of understanding your role in life. My friend believes he owes God a large debt for the blessings in his life. And, if you know my friend, you know the resources he sent to this woman is not a one-time event.

Jerry Lewis and God probably don’t get mentioned too often in the same sentence. But in this case, both played a role in changing the lives of woman in need.

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Artists Color Our World for the Better

A tall wooden chalkboard stops me in my tracks. The letters are colorful, deeply emotional. A silent voice speaks to me loudly from the dusty text.

“Blessed are the weird people, the hippies and misfits, the artists, the gypsies & music makers, the dreamers and outsiders for they force us toe see the world differently.”

I pause, absorbing the words, allowing their collective meaning to filter through me. I know these people. These are my family and friends. Often considered outliers, they disproportionately occupy a valuable place in my life. They are the riches of my life.

As the words settle, my mind continues to churn over those in my life who make our world so interesting. My reward is to allow them to change me.

An hour later, I find myself being changed again.

I’m standing in a small shop. The location is modest, the exterior similar. Inside, however, a powerful force is chasing and changing the world.

One foot inside and I feel as if I’m stepping into another world. In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, a young woman is pouring out a soul so true you can’t help but find yourself being pulled into her world by the gravitational energy of her personality.

A large tattoo colorfully occupies her left shoulder. Junkyard Gypsy, the words call.

In a world filled with retail themes and carefully staged merchandise, I’m a galaxy away. The eclectic collection of clothing, artwork, and other items are as unique the DNA of the blood running through her body. This is not a fashion play, but rather a genuine expression of her soul.

She is loud, confident. Her voice carries and fills the room as she shares her world with others who’ve unknowing stepped into her world.

Her makeup is bold and creative. Long lines of black mascara leave the safe confines of her eyes, sweeping up towards her eyebrows. Her clothes drape, her jewelry collects like a collection of old and new friends. There is a rare honesty in how genuine, so real she is to her soul. She’s not dressing for anyone else but herself.

We visit for a few minutes. She, much like her tattoo, is a gypsy of sorts. Coming to Texas from California, she’s excited to be in this new world, cutting her own pathway.

I watch her wrap a package for a customer. Brown paper is kept in place by simple brown twine. A beautiful peacock feather is tucked between each to add a touch of magic to the experience.

We visit a few minutes more. This woman is an artist. Her canvas is her shop. You can’t help but be infected by the unique way she sees the world as well as the terms she shares with her universe.

She is who she is. Will always be. True individuality is not a fad, a fashion. An artist is someone who is forever clawing their way out of their skin, growing more confident and fearless in the face of a world attempting to push them aside. And in doing so, these people, change the world for the better for the rest of us.

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