Monday, April 26, 2010

This week's Pep Talk Blog: "Serendipity at Starbucks"

One chilly Kansas City winter morning, the kind most Midwesterners grow accustomed to suffering through year after year, I awakened in my hotel room about four hours before presenting a Pep Talk. I had time to kill and assessed the situation: Darling girlfriend sleeping soundly next to me would not want to be disturbed and the hotel had no gym. I would have to seek activity elsewhere.

I remember there was a Starbucks about three blocks from the hotel and decided to head there for a cup of chai, bite of food and wonderment. I glanced out the window and recognized, so I thought, a typical Midwest winter morning: cloudy and gray. So I threw on a sweatshirt and headed out the door with instructions from darling girlfriend, “Bring me a coffee and pastry.” While walking through the hotel lobby, I noticed the doorman looking at me in an odd way. Finally, he says, “Where ya going dressed like that?”

After I quickly explained my destination and offered to bring the young man a cup of coffee, he joked. “That sounds good, but you don’t have enough clothes on!” Well, I begged to differ: “Ah, don’t worry about me, I’m an athlete; three blocks is nothing.” I exited the hotel. Instantly the wind hit me like a Mack truck—cold, cold, horribly cold. The wind chill factor – about 25 below - wasn’t part of my plan, but I felt I could handle it and sprinted to the coffee shop.

The warmth of the establishment soothed my aching lungs yet I knew there was no way my “short” return trip would include another run. I’ve been called a lot of things in life, smart rarely being one of them, but even I realized it was impossible to sprint, carrying hot drinks through the frigid conditions. I had no idea what to do, then a brilliant idea hit me: I reached to pull my cell phone from my sweatpants fully prepared to call a cab for the three-block walk. Call a cab to traverse three blocks? How insane. But on this bitterly cold day, there was no other option. I dug for the phone but it was not there. It was recharging back in the room.

I looked around the coffee shop. The handful of people in the place didn’t appear remotely interested in my dilemma. NONE of them gave me a second look. Why would they? No one knew me. Then out of the blue, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you Mark McIntosh?” Surprised I stammered, “Yep, that’s me,” I counter. “Do we know one another?”

Robert Thompson proceeded to refresh my memory about our paths crossing a few years earlier when he and some other University of Colorado Buffaloes’ fans had ventured to Pasadena, California to watch the Buffs and UCLA Bruins play at the Rose Bowl. Apparently, we had bumped into each other outside the huge stadium, and I wound up giving him a press pass that allowed him and his friends to watch the game from the press box. “What are you doing here,” I ask.

“I just stopped in here to get a cup of coffee before meeting my girlfriend for breakfast,” the financial advisor said. “I never got to thank you that day. It was great watching the game from the press box,” Robert proudly proclaimed. “So, thanks.” I saw opportunity knocking. “Robert, do you want to show me how grateful you are? Give me a ride back to my hotel!” Call it good luck, serendipity, law of circulation—whatever you like. All I know is Robert came to my rescue.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the legendary philosopher of the 1800’s, said it pretty well: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life. No man or women can sincerely try to help another, without helping themselves. Serve and thou shall be served.”

That brief encounter with Robert substantiates Emerson’s philosophy and my encouragement to you: whenever you have a chance to reach out and help someone, act on it! This unlikely encounter at Starbucks is sufficient evidence, when you least expect it, “what goes around, comes around.” Who knows when such a situation may arise again? No one. But trust me, it will.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Good Will"

Do you ever have those moments when something happens that really validates your belief system? It inspires you to exclaim, to anybody that will listen, “That’s what I’m talking about!”

I did recently while attending Goodwill Industries of Denver’s annual Power of Work luncheon. It was an amazing experience that showcased the power of the human spirit to discover the good in life despite difficult physical, emotional and financial obstacles.

Whenever having the privilege of leading a Pep Talk discussion with a group, four life strategies, I like to call them the “Faithful Foursome”, are offered for discussion. They center on the importance of:

· Being a student, not victim, of our experiences
· Never growing weary of doing good things for others
· Putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win
· Honoring, nurturing and adding value to the communities we serve – home, work and elsewhere.

These four philosophies are, in my opinion, the foundational cornerstones to success. If we have those pillars drilled deep into our souls, I believe we have a good shot of dealing with whatever lemons life throws our way and transforming them – the heck with lemonade – into sweet and savory margaritas.

At this heartwarming luncheon those fourth truths came alive in the stories of the award winners. Charles Hensley is a great example. As a child, doctors removed a tumor from his brain. It saved Charles life but left him with physical and mental challenges. He became a “student, not victim, of experience” and today is a superstar employee at one of Goodwill’s retail shops.

And then there’s a wife and husband who certainly live “never growing weary of doing good for others” through their company, Environmental Safety. Partnering with Goodwill, ESI hires many former offenders who have paid their debt to society yet struggle to find gainful employment because of their past record.

“Putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win” describes Ariana Kasper and Jacob Grein. Each has overcome great physical and emotional barriers to lead healthy and prosperous lives despite overwhelming physical, mental and emotional adversities.

Finally, there is Goodwill, the organization and its mission. It certainly demonstrates the truth, and power, of “honoring, nurturing and adding value to the communities we serve” through helping more than 30,000 struggling adults and high school youth create a new chapter in their lives.

Right in front of me the faithful foursome was alive and well: Hensley, a student not victim; the Ford’s never growing weary; Kasper and Grein putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win; Goodwill honoring, nurturing and adding value.

This week, how about you and I embracing the value of the faithful foursome, in our thoughts, words and actions? I promise, it will be good for us and promote good will for others.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "No Substitute"

As the father of a teenager and young adult, I find myself praying often that a wonderful young man and his younger sister will always have dreams and have the courage to chase those dreams. I also hope they understand sometimes those dreams don’t unfold exactly the way it was envisioned when the dream became crystal clear and they set forth in transforming the dream – the voice within – into reality via actions, thoughts and beliefs.

Each of them is in the midst of chasing dreams. It’s very cool to watch them unfold. Kyle, after three semesters as a film student at New York University, has moved back to California and is working full time at a major talent agency in Hollywood and continuing his studies at night; younger sister Rachel, having just turned 13, is working her butt off in improving her volleyball skills while maintaining an incredibly hectic schedule and very good grades in school.

As I marvel and admire their willingness to devote themselves so passionately to success in their endeavors, it reminds me of something I learned long ago. It was a daily reminder each and every day as I slipped into football, basketball or baseball practice gear at Raytown South High School. The reminder came from a huge sign hung from our locker room wall. A blessing for me, it was in my direct line of sight and proclaimed: “There is no substitute for hard work.”

There are some fundamentals regarding success that stand the test of time. Each generation reveals new fads and fashions but there are a few things that never go out of style. One is, there is no substitute for hard work.

Whenever I have the privilege of leading a Pep Talk discussion, we talk about the importance of “putting fear and self doubt aside and allowing wonderment to win.” I think that’s a real key in believing “there’s no substitute for hard work.” Regardless of the endeavor, if fear overpowers wonderment, why in the world would we put forth the effort to reach for dreams and goals?

The wonderment surrounding reaching a goal and becoming superior to our former selves must rule over the fear and self-doubt of falling short. It’s simple to grasp this philosophy but not easy to accomplish.

This week, put fear and self-doubt aside! It might be losing weight, quitting smoking, remaining faithful in your marriage, returning to school, changing jobs, volunteering in your community – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is you accept, realize and embrace the challenge. I encourage you to take a cue from two wonderful kids – there is no substitute for hard work and it starts with the tough task of allowing wonderment to defeat fear.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Progress from Pain"

I would suspect most have heard the old adage “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” It’s easy to say, easy to affirm, but let’s be honest, much more difficult – when the storms of life come along – to live it, right? But people do it. Somehow, someway they find the guts to, as I like to say whenever giving a Pep Talk: “Refuse to become a victim of circumstance, instead choose to become a student of experience.”

That is certainly Thelissa Zollinger’s story. Gary, her darling and devoted husband died way too young from a rare form of lung cancer. An active and fit husband, father and grandpa, the energy executive developed a violent hacking cough in his 56th year. Doctors first thought it might be an asthmatic condition. Sadly, it was cancer. By the time of diagnosis, it was already stage four. That’s a sad and familiar story for too many lung cancer patients – the diagnosis comes too late.

Gary fought a brave fight. After conventional treatments proved ineffective, the non-smoker underwent a radical double-lung transplant. The surgery was successful but tragically, ten months later, severe back pain had Gary back in the doctor’s office. The news was not good. Cancer had returned to his spine. Gary Zollinger died six months later.

Married 30 years, the couple made Gary’s final days quite productive. The Zollinger’s started an endowment to fund research to develop an early-detection test. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, funding dollars for lung cancer research are 1/20th of those for breast cancer despite the fact, each year, three times as many people die in Colorado from lung cancer than breast cancer.

I sat across a conference table from Thelissa and marveled at her passion and determination to raise money and awareness. She achieves each with an annual “The Gift of Life and Breath” 5K walk and run. This year, it’s May 15. Join us, will ya? You can find more info at I’m in to honor my father. He died of lung cancer in 2007. When doctors discovered his tumor, it was stage four too, and too late.

Lung cancer took my father and Thelissa’s husband too early. I know you have similar stories. Who hasn’t been touched by cancer’s devastating effects? Today, although it’s early in development, there is hope. Thanks to Thelissa’s crusade, research is focusing on biomarkers as a possible means to catch lung cancer before it’s too late.

Progress has emerged from Thelissa’s pain. Somewhere from above, you know her hubby’s looking down and shouting “you go girl!” This amazing woman has chosen to become a student, not victim, of her experience. Progress from pain, a lesson we should all take to heart.
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