Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Till the Soil"

It was a typical Friday evening in our Congress Park neighborhood on Denver’s near east side: I’m hanging with the neighbors, having some beers, visiting about the week and having dinner. This evening take-out Chinese was being consumed in hearty amounts – that happens when you have teenagers and invite McIntosh to dinner.

Anyway, after devouring the various delicacies we turned our attention to dessert, fortune cookies. The neighbor’s daughter, a high-school sophomore cracked open a cookie and read some wise words written on a thin strip of paper: “Life does not improve by chance. It improves by change.”

Ah, that was music to my ears and made me think of William Bridges. A former professor of English, the California-based consultant and lecturer is one of the world’s foremost experts on change and transition. His second book, The Way of Transition is one of my favorites and was tremendously helpful in the aftermath of my second painful divorce about ten years ago.

In the book Bridges discusses his own painful experience following his beloved wife’s death from cancer. He was really struggling with her departure and was also beating himself up emotionally because he was the “change guy” but he wasn’t dealing with this change very well.

With these issues as the emotional backdrop, Bridges after speaking on the East Coast was flying back to California. It was a beautiful and clear day across America and from his window seat the Ivy-League educated change expert was glancing down on America and pondering his future. He began to notice our country’s great rivers: The Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri and how each twists and turns on its journey toward its ultimate destination. But something else warmed his marrow. Where these rivers twist and turn is where rich sediment is dropped and a large portion of our nation’s food supply is produced. In other words, the twists and turns along the river’s journey and the sediment dropped provide a fertile spot for growth!

The irony shook him more violently than unexpected turbulence. Could it be that life is often that way? That the unexpected twists and turns, while painful, ultimately can produce rich soil for us to grow into something superior to our former selves?

It takes us back to the fortune cookie: “life does not improve by chance. It improves by change.” But here’s the important point. Life will not improve by change unless we keep a healthy attitude toward it and commit to being a student, not a victim, of our experiences. We all have our stories, right? Has anybody’s life gone exactly the way you planned? I would suspect the answer to that question is, “of course not.”

Life might be taking you on some crazy twists and turns right now. The question becomes how will you handle it? Don’t forget to till the soil of change. Within it might be all the nutrients necessary for explosive and fruitful growth at home, work and elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "Curious, not Callous"

I was sitting with a potential business partner and the conversation turned to how he had met his darling wife. “It’s interesting,” laughed the Texas native. “It was at a social function I didn’t want to attend but decided at the last minute to go. It was the same for her. We’re lucky considering we’ve been together ever since.”

That response brought a broad smile to my face and took me back to one of my favorite stories in my first book, Kids Teach the Darndest Things. It also reminded me of the importance, for all of us, to try our best to keep a curious, not callous, attitude toward life.

Several years ago on a late December Sunday afternoon, just after Christmas, my darling daughter approached and suggested it would be a great day to go shopping. She was armed and dangerous with many gift cards in celebration of Christmas and her fast approaching eighth birthday. But it was a Sunday, and that meant NFL football and a big game for the hometown Broncos. “Rachie,” I sternly announced. “Today is not a good day.” She looked at me with those beautiful eyes and said. “So.” Off we went to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

We hit all the stores: Claires, Children’s Palace, The Gap and many others. Finally, after about an hour and a half, I thought we were done. But no! Rachie informed me we had one final stop: Limited Too. I know it’s been said, “patience is a virtue” but man, guys have trouble with this when it comes to shopping!

Rachel patiently walked around the store, sifting through many items while her old man, frazzled, sought relief in a big comfy chair smack dab in the middle of the store – made for Dads I would suspect. I was throwing a little pity party for myself about the drudgery of shopping, thinking, “how do girls do this?” About ten minutes later, I hear sweet music for my ears. “Okay Daddy, I found something, let’s go.”

We walk to the back of the store toward the checkout stand. I muttering, “I’m missing the Broncos game for this?” when things changed dramatically. The sales clerk is folding the shirt Rachie purchased. Across the front, in big and bold letters it proclaims, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

I would have missed that wonderful and loving moment had I gotten my way and been at home on the couch watching the Broncos. The gentleman I was visiting with would have not met his wife had he decided not to attend the social function. The point is this: Keep a curious, not callous, attitude toward life – home, work and elsewhere.

The next time you sense you’re slipping into that unproductive pattern of being unenthusiastic about things, remember, when you least expect it, wonderful surprises will jump up and smack you right in the face when you embrace a curious, not callous, attitude toward life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

This week's Pep Talk: "The Plumber"

I was sitting in the audience at the Denver Business Journal’s 2010 “Partners in Philanthropy” event and listening to the keynote speaker. The man, a well-recognized and respected leader in the nonprofit world, was encouraging the gathered to embrace a stronger bond between the business and non-profit worlds.

The speaker, Jeff Pryor, concluded his excellent remarks with a powerful story about a woman on Colorado’s Western Slope facing difficult times: she had lost her home and child-welfare authorities were threatening to take her four children. The single mom and the kids had moved into a ramshackle apartment, trying desperately to makes ends meet. The apartment’s hot water heater didn’t work and there was no washing machine. Too often the kids went to school in dirty clothes and authorities were concerned for their welfare.

Well, an incredibly generous woman of that Western Slope community spoke to the mother and learned of her plight: no job, little money and even less hope. The incredibly generous woman called a friend – a plumber – and told him of the woman’s challenges. She also offered to pay for the plumber to fix the hot water heater and install a washing machine in the woman’s apartment.

It was the beginning of transformation. A few months later, the desperate woman reported back that she had been able to keep her kids, had begun classes in learning to become a cosmetologist and had a positive vision, despite the challenges of raising four kids on her own, of the family’s future.

Jeff Pryor learned of this story from the incredibly generous woman and congratulated her for hiring the plumber and paying for the hot water heater repair and the washing machine, “Wow, you really did something amazing for that woman.”

Here’s where it gets really good folks. The generous woman responded, “No Jeff, I did something amazing for the plumber.” Perplexed, Jeff wondered, “What are you talking about?” The lady’s response was awesome, she said: “I gave that plumber a chance to realize the talents and skills he possessed could have a profound impact on another’s life.”

Ain’t that the truth. Each of us has within, unique and valuable talents that can be of tremendous value to others – at home, work and elsewhere. Where might it be time share those talents in ways that honor you, nurture those dependent upon you and add value to the communities you serve? It might be serving on a non-profit board, volunteering to coach a youth athletic team or truly following your heart and pursuing a career path allowing you to really express unique talents that can be a great value to others.

Never underestimate the impact those talents, when utilized in healthy and productive ways, can have on another person’s life – and in return, yours. We are here to help each other and nobody benefits more than us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This week's Pep Talk Blog: "In Whack"

It was a chilly and damp Mile High City Saturday spring day. I’m waiting to fetch teenage daughter from volleyball practice, watching NBA playoff action with my neighbor buddy and listening to the Pueblo native spout this pearl of wisdom: “You hear people talk a lot about being ‘out of whack’ but then that must mean there is an ‘in whack.’ What does that look like?”

I thought it was a darn good question and attempted to answer it. For whatever reason, the six inches of gray matter between my ears focused on a guy I greatly admire – Luther Gulick. 100 years ago, he founded Camp Fire USA, then known as Camp Fire Girls. I admire this organization and proudly served it for three years.

When creating the nation’s oldest non-sectarian youth development organization, Gulick wanted to give young women the opportunity to learn skills that would benefit them outside the home and encourage a value in physical fitness. Now remember, this was the early 1900’s and few saw the value in young girls learning anything but homemaking skills. The Hawaiian-born visionary was thinking way outside the box for his time.

But back to the original statement from my beer-drinking buddy that sparked this Pep Talk. If “out of whack” means times are tough, what does “in whack” look like? Gulick, in creating Camp Fire USA, encouraged girls and young woman, as they learned skills and practiced fitness, to also realize there are three fundamental beliefs that could help them, as I like to say in each and every Pep Talk, “play like a champion in the game of life – home, work and elsewhere.”

Here they are: Gulick, who also played a huge role in the birth of basketball in the late 1800’s, encouraged kids to work hard, make healthy choices and show a little love and respect for self and others. Just my opinion, but seems like a good definition of “in whack.” It’s been Camp Fire’s motto from day one and continues today.

If you happen to feel a bit “out of whack” right now, how about adopting the three fundamental beliefs Gulick encouraged others to embrace? What would “in whack” look like for you right now? Sticking to the diet, exercising more, drinking or smoking less, working smarter or committing better? What would it look like?

Some ideas, philosophies, beliefs – call ‘em what you want – stand the test of time. Camp Fire USA’s “work hard, make healthy choices and show respect” are certainly three as relevant today – perhaps more – than a century ago.

I know “in whack” is not easy. When the challenge seems overwhelming remember this: “Resolve must be firmer, spirit bolder and courage greater when strength grows less.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

New Pep Talk Blog: "Our Influence"

I was driving to work recently when my cell phone rang. “Hey Marko,” announced my stepmother Jo, “Happy birthday.” I was celebrating 52 years on this planet and appreciated her remembering. Our conversation, as it usually does, turned to my late father, her husband of almost 30 years.

What triggered the conversation was my question about Jo’s health, “fine” and what she had been up to, “staying busy.” Then the wonderful woman who had to deal with the McIntosh’s for three decades stated: “You know your father. If he thought for one minute I was down here bummed out he’s gone and not living life to the fullest, he’d be pissed.”

She was right about that. My father, despite a life with more than its share of lemons, always seemed determined to turn those lemons – the heck with lemonade- into sweet and savory margaritas. Actually for him, it would have been a beer or smooth scotch, but you understand what I’m saying.

She then told me a story that inspired this Pep Talk. “Mark, I was visiting with the neighbors recently. The husband was cleaning his golf clubs and mentioned he missed playing golf with your Dad.” I do too. My old man was a fun golf partner, lucky too and a good scramble partner.

Jo continued the story: “John joked that your father’s golfing buddies got together to play but the weather was lousy. Many wanted to sit in the warmth of the clubhouse, play cards and forget about golf.” I knew where this story was going as she proudly boasted, “But one of the guys said, ‘Hey, I know if Mac were here he’d say, I didn’t drive all this way to sit in the clubhouse. Let’s go play.’ That’s what they did.

My stepmother relating this story brought a broad smile to my face and warmed the marrow of my bones with the following truth. We can choose to keep one another’s spirit alive. I had just heard two wonderful examples of that truth. My father passed three years ago this month from lung cancer. But his spirit – my stepmother’s passion for life and golfing buddies braving the elements – is alive and well. It influences me daily too.

Please, never underestimate your influence on others. Through our thoughts, words and actions, good and bad, our spirit affects everyone we encounter – home, work and elsewhere.

This week make sure your spirit honors you, nurtures those dependent upon you and adds value to the communities you serve. I promise, it will have a lasting and positive impact on others, make life fulfilling and probably guarantee a darn good tee time on the other side, maybe in the same group with my old man.
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