When Halfway Equals Making Progress

My daughter called for advice on how to complete paperwork for her new job.

“What percentage do you think I should put away into the 401K past the match?”

She’s twenty-five and single. But to me, she still bangs around in my heart as a 10-year old princess asking me to save her from imaginary dragons. But today she’s a young adult with enough instinct to know she should never pass up an opportunity to prepare for her future.

I suggest an aggressive rate; my wife suggested a more balanced number. In the end, what matters is our daughter understands the need to be prepared for her future – much like and elevator I rode last week.

Being prepared is a lesson we generally learn the hard way. From children’s fables – the grasshopper and the ant – to a financial advisor reviewing your retirement plan, we should always be preparing for the next step. Both illustrate you can’t make up for lost time. Work must go in long in advance if you ever wish to arrive at a destination with any level of confidence.

Which brings me back to a lesson I learned from an elevator.

Stepping into the brass-trimmed cabin, my hands held a scone in one hand and hot tea in the other. I’d forgotten the elevator required a keycard for access to rooms above the third level. My room was, unfortunately, on the thirteenth floor. Hands full, I mentally fumbled what to do next.

And then the elevator began moving.

Figuring some divine elevator karma stepped in and would help get to my floor, I decided not to put my drink on the floor and go searching through my pockets for my keycard. Instead, I figured I would go along for the unprompted ride and see where I would end up.

Honestly, I assumed someone above was calling the elevator up to their floor. I figured the elevator would rise, stop at a specific level, and guests climb aboard would push button. From that point, I just thought I could then press my floor’s button and be on my way.

But that did not happen. Instead, I watched the red numbers count off until the 7th floor, where the elevator paused. The doors did not open; people did not get on and whisk me away. I was in the same situation – only now on the 7th floor.

And then I figured it out – the elevator defaulted to the 7th floor, roughly half-way up the tower. Doing this allowed the elevator to reach a requesting party on any level in about the same travel time. And doing so would drive better customer satisfaction. And yes, according to what I read afterward, fancy algorithms drive this piece of science.

My daughter knows she needs to be prepared – much like the elevator. She also knows sitting on the ground floor and not preparing for what is next will make her hopes of reaching her goals more difficult.


Next/Next Process Critical To Success

Life is not always about what happens next, but rather what happens next/next.

Good and bad things happen to all of us. A decision at work does not go our way, or maybe a doctor delivers news about a life-changing medical condition. On the other hand, perhaps we are receiving end of an aunt leaving a few thousand dollars following her passing, or you finally earn the advanced degree years in the making.

Life is not always in what happens, but more so in the ones immediately following.

A couple of years ago, our daughter discovered herself diagnosed with a chronic health condition altering the course of her life. After doctors warned the long hours and high levels of stress baked into her career field would be the wrong prescription for successfully managing her health, she sat deflated.

Long years of dreaming evaporated before her eyes – and she took it hard.

But what happened next/next is where she truly succeeded. After a good cry to three, she created a dedicated social media thread, sharing what she was learning about her condition as well as her personal journey. Photos of her in hospital beds or medical supplies spread out across a table began to connect with others of her situation. A community of individuals thirsty to learn – not pity each other – sprang up from social media feeds. And as she helped others, followers paid forward with suggestions and tips they’d gleaned. Without knowing it, our daughter discovered the same media skills she was developing for her targeted career allowed her to see a higher purpose to her condition while helping others.

And as a parent, I could not be more proud.

But she is not alone. Bad things happen all the time. But often, the real damage occurs after one lets the impact derail the one inside of them. No event or action should be allowed to become the ending result rather than another bump along the road to tomorrow. The next/next step we take is most times the most significant predictor of whether we allow the moment to define us or become only another dent in our armor.

My mother died when I was young. I loved her with all my heart. But her passing, as close to my emotional center as it could be, was not an excuse to negatively impact my long-term direction in life. What would happen next/next, I figured out, would determine my longer-term outcome. In such a journey, days become months, months become years, and years become decades until you finally create a lifetime of experiences. My mother did not expect, nor would she wished, for my life to end the day hers did. Instead, she would have wanted me to rise and take her spirit forward into the world and become the best me I could create.

Next/next is a process you adopt and repeat your entire life. And having the courage to do so will make all the difference in life.


My Generation Is Guilty As Charged

My son blames my wife and me for ruining his youth.

Years ago while our son was away at college, he once complained about all the rules and regulations required to hold even a small party or event on a modern campus.

“Apparently, your generation had too much fun and messed it up for the rest of us,” he said.

Well, he might have a point – we did have a great time.

His words dropped by for a visit while I was at a business lunch earlier this week. Among the four of us, three of us came of age in the last century. The other guest, however, is only a few years out of college.

A co-worker was talking about how she would and friends would cook themselves while trying to get the perfect tan during the summers.

“We’d cover ourselves in oil mixed with iodine,” she said. “We’ve even laid on tinfoil to reflect the light back up on us.”

The face of the youngest member at our lunch table went slack, hoping my friend was joking.

Another guest spoke up.

“Yes, we even held up cardboard trays covered in aluminum foil to focus the sun on our faces.”

I think our youngest guest began to realize the rest of her table was from a much different world, one not only from the last century but one where people lived with a different attitude towards life.

Finally, the youngest guest spoke up, bring the rest of us back into the 21st century.

“I try never to go into the sun with our at least 100 SPF,” she said.

The rest of us know she is right – each us probably harboring sun damage somewhere on our bodies. But at the time, we were young, invincible, and our tomorrows were more conceptual than anchored in reality.

Our days were seasoned with all-night road trips without cell phones or going out with friends long after what is now our regular bedtimes. And as for all we knew, our tomorrows were unlimited would only get better.

Like probably every generation at their time, we were determined to out-celebrate, out-music, and out-define our time in the spotlight. And as happens when you keep raising the stakes, the returning to reality can have its downsides.

Today I see the scars of years of the unprotected sun on my skin, I’m now seriously considering hearing aids, and I wish I’d understood the concept of compounding interest when I was twenty-three.

But then again, there is the other side of the coin. Our generation bought tickets to see the best bands for $15 and thought cholesterol was a food additive. We thought hair could always be a bit taller, the music louder, and shoulder pads might even look good inside a t-shirt.

While we were wrong about the last item, we had our fun. And we did it big.

And while my generation sincerely wishes the newer generations their good times and self-discovering experiences, we are – as my son accuses us – guilty as charged.


Doing Right Takes Effort On Our Part

We like to believe we will always do the right thing – that is, until we don’t.

Last week a figure leaned against a wall to my right while walking into a local restaurant. Even without a direct glance, I could tell the man was bordering between blending into the stucco wall and hoping to get someone’s attention. He was in need but unable to ask.

Helping others is easy to sign up for, harder to do without fail. Life distracts us, tricks us into thinking whatever we are doing is more important. Human nature swings both ways.

At the moment, I was scanning an email on my phone, walking towards the restaurant’s glass doors. But inside of me, I knew I was missing an opportunity. But I was, so insisted the selfish voice inside of me, in a hurry.

Inside the restaurant, the voice worked to reaffirm my decision. But the inaction stubbornly hung over me like the smell of the chicken fajitas on the crackling in the restaurant’s kitchen.

The door closed behind me, and my world moved forward – that is, until I heard the sound of metal scraping and banging from aluminum doors behind me. Turning around, I saw a younger man helping an older couple maneuver a heavy wheelchair through the narrow opening.

“Here you go,” he said. “Let me help you.”

Neither knew each other.

His sun-kissed hair danced like angry ocean waves. Silver bracelets draped from his muscled and colorfully inked arms. His energetic voice seemingly illuminated the room an extra 10 percent.

Once in the door, the older couple settled at a wooden table, and the younger man stepped into line to order his meal with his friend.

I sat down, thinking about how fortunate the world is when people are tuned in to the opportunities of helping others. I was also licking my self-inflicted wounds from earlier – no matter how hard the little voice inside tried to justify my selfish response. I’d whiffed on two opportunities.

Minutes later, the young man’s order was called, and a plate overflowing with food appeared. Getting up, he turned and stepped outside, returning with the man behind from the shadow. Bundled in a heavy coat and his most valuable possessions stored in a stained backpack, he looked down at the food. The younger man invited the shadow man to sit down and eat.

The conversation didn’t make it to me, but I did see the other man appeared uncomfortable to sit down and eat, among others. The younger man, understanding, grabbed an employee, and packaged the food to go. He then placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, made meaningful eye contact, and shared a few words of encouragement.

We all say we will do the right thing when presented with the opportunity to help others. But we don’t. I will always remember the day the universe decided to powerfully remind me there is a vast gap between signing up and acting with heart.