Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Give to the Giver

I was speaking to an associate this morning whom I will call John.  John had an interesting story to relate that I present here as food for thought, although I will sanitize some of the identifying content.

John is someone I would call an unlimited giver.  When someone needs help, John is always quick to sign up.  When business associates need assistance within their organization, John often steps in and helps the organizations with whatever help they need (often for free).  When friends or family have issues, John is always in the middle, encouraging calm and focus on finding a solution.

John lives the perfect world.

So I thought.

John had a different side of his life that he relayed to me today.  He was feeling heavily squeezed on all sides of his life and having kept it a secret for so long, allowed his story to explode in a torrent of feelings when I asked the simple question "How's it going today?".

John lives a pretty fast paced life (when I as an ultra type A personality can identify someone else has being fast paced, it must REALLY be fast paced).

Everyone goes to John for everything but the one observation that appeared to be creating angst for him today is this.

Nobody asks John what they can do for him.

So while John juggles a family with multiple kids, multiple clients and a number of personal and professional acquaintances, giving the whole way, he finally decided that the world appeared to want, want, want and not be interested in giving back.  He has gotten tired of people making mistakes that cost him personally or professionally while providing no apology, yet the same people expect perfect results from him, being disappointed in him when he doesn't meet their expectations. 

He says he gets requests on a regular basis from people who ask him things along the lines of "when are you going to do this so that you can get me a job doing whatever" or people who constantly take from his network while offering nothing from their own.

He told me that today, work, personal and other pressures seemed insurmountable and that he saw no reason why he should continue.  Ordinarily this comment would have been something I could have dismissed as the voice of frustration but today it sounded different and we explored together, the importance of perseverance, courage, support, love and the beauty of life.

He thanked me deeply and as we said our goodbyes, indicated that he was headed for a local "place of power", a place where he likes to go to think through challenging things.  I wonder what he will come up with.

I don't know about you, but speaking with John today got me thinking about relationship balance, the notion of giving at least as much as we receive (or giving more if we are able).

Speaking to someone who lives what many believe to be the perfect life and discovering that the perfect life is filled with what is perceived to be loneliness, lack of life satisfaction or "being used" in a series of one-way personal or professional relationships has caused me to review other relationships I have.  Perhaps some of those ultimate givers need a few gifts in return, to allow them to recharge, to let them know that others value and respect them and to encourage them to continue the wonderful giving that they feel compelled to do.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some giving to do.  It's the least that I can do.

How about you?

Yours in service and servanthood.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Seeking Positive out of the Negative

I was musing last night about the commonly discussed notion of making lemonade when the world hands you lemons.

This got me to thinking about an upcoming chess tournament that myself and a couple of my associates have guided since it's inception in 1999.

Allow me a moment to describe the chess tournament with a brief description of its history.  As you read the history of this tournament, ask yourself what opportunities you may have to make your own lemonade from the lemons handed to you.  I first noted the history of this tournament in a speech I made about gratitude a few years ago.  For the text of this speech, please click here.  The speech excerpt follows.

I once worked with a team member in New York City who represented everything positive when it came to thankfulness. Narender had immigrated to the United States to follow his dreams. He married a beautiful woman and had a wonderful home in New Jersey. When he and I worked together, he never had a bad word to say about anyone, although he did teach me how to swear in Hindi. :-)  He looked at life with wonder and it was clear from his actions that he was in awe and in a perpetual state of gratitude for everything he had.

To give you an idea of how pure he was, for fun one time, we put a small porno movie in the upper corner of the software application we were building and we asked him to review our software to find a "problem" that we had discovered.

As he stared at all the screens, we stood behind him almost shaking with laughter, waiting for him to find it. All of a sudden he turned around with pride and said, pointing to the screen, "this word is not spelled correctly". He was right. He never even noticed the porn movie until we pointed it out and then we all had a good laugh.

We organized a corporate chess tournament and he signed up with many others. It wasn't until the tournament started that I discovered that he didn't even know how to play chess. So we patiently taught him and despite our best efforts, he was soundly trounced in every game.

I noticed that the more soundly he was beaten, the more he laughed. At one point, I took him aside and congratulated him for such a healthy outlook and I asked him how he was able to be so happy as he was beaten over and over.

His response summed up thankfulness perfectly. He told me that he didn't care about winning or losing. Spending time in the chess tournament was his way of learning something new and spending quality time with people he enjoyed being with and he respected. He also enjoyed taking his chess stories home and sharing them with his wife. This he said was the secret of life – making the most out of every moment and appreciating every opportunity.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Narender was on the impact floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center and a person who lived such a pure, positive life was physically taken from us.

For about a week afterward, we struggled with trying to understand the meaning of this, how something like this could happen to someone we considered a perfect human being. I then realized that I wasn't going to remember Narender in the way he died – it was how he lived that was important for his memory.

So we organized an annual charity chess tournament and named it in his honor. To play in this tournament, each player pays an entry fee and names a children's charity that he or she is playing for. We have had players from around the world. The top 4 players in the tournament divide 100% of the prize pool between their charities, with all the proceeds going to the charities that they were playing for. Since then, our tournament has donated thousands of dollars to children's charities. Narender's spirit of eternal thankfulness continues to make a difference every year in the lives of sick and needy children.

Narender's attitude was that we should accept that life is filled with good and bad. It's how thankful we are for everything that we are given and what we do with what we are given is what determines the quality of our life and the lives of those around us. He was right.

As I work with friends to prepare for the next chess tournament in Narender's honor, I am reminded how he saw lemonade stands in every basket of lemons.  Many of us, myself included, have much to learn from such a belief system.

While I can't believe it's almost 7 years since Narender was taken from us, the lessons he taught me and others blessed to have come in contact with him remain.

What are you doing with your basket of lemons today?

Yours in service and servanthood.


PS: If you would like to enjoy a friendly game of chess, make new friends and make a difference to others, drop me a note at  I will make sure you are on the list of people who get invited to play when the tournament starts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I had an opportunity today to interact with some business associates who over the years have become great friends of mine, for which I am thankful.  Over the course of the different conversations, they expressed gratitude regarding ways I have helped them in the past or continue to help them, inspire them or motivate them.

I sit here tonight after midnight (as I usually do) the solitude of the early morning providing time for reflection on today's events and I thought of something that crossed my mind as I took the red-eye from the west side of the continent to the east side a couple of nights ago.

As I traveled the 3000 miles to my destination, my mind wandered back through my 42 years of life and I could not help but be overwhelmed by gratitude for what I have experienced.

I have been blessed by incredible friends, business associates, family members and people who were important in my heart.  I have been given the gift of phenomenal professional and personal opportunities.  When I have made mistakes, I have been blessed to be forgiven and when I needed time to correct errors in judgement that I have made, it always seemed that God made sure that I had the time I needed to make things right.  As long as I was taking action, I always seemed to get the support I needed and it always manifested at the moment I needed it, not when I wanted it.

I have been blessed by wonderful children.  While I am not always the model father, through the miracles of Life they are growing up to be wonderful human beings.  They are my legacy, not because of what I do or who I am but because of the gifts that they have been given.

As I sat on the plane the other night, awash in gratitude, I was thinking of the concept of stewardship, the notion of making the most of your time, talent and treasure.

When I looked back over my life, it seems that the times when support and help came to me most occurred at the same time as I increased my stewardship efforts (although I wouldn't have called it stewardship back then).

The more I gave away, the more that came back to me.  The more I accelerated my sharing of time, talent and treasure, the greater the rewards that came into my life (and by rewards, I am not talking about "stuff" as George Carlin describes what we accumulate on earth).  I'm talking about the rewards of knowledge, love, life experiences, laughter, wonderful memories, opportunities to grow as a person, courage, strengthened faith and the other wonderful things we take for granted.

It has been said that we spend far more time worrying about how to spend $24 than how to spend the next 24 hours of our life, while the latter clearly has the potential to have far greater impact on more people.

Our "talent cup" overflows with tremendous talents that exist in unique combinations within each one of us, yet we refuse to acknowledge the abundance and quantity of these talents or their value to others.

We have more treasure collectively (however we define treasure) despite the challenging times before us today, yet more people are in need now than ever.  While we live in a world of abundance, hoarding it produces a feeling of discontent or the need to hoard more, ultimately producing more discontent. 

So many of us are blessed with incredible time, talent and treasure.  Are we really using them for the greater good or are we living for today, blissfully ignoring the fact that for each of us, our end of days will surely come?  If we hoard everything up until the end, we miss out on a tremendous opportunity to have used these gifts we have been given to make a huge difference in the world.

With that comes the last thing I believe we are stewards of and that is relationships - how we interact with the world, how we share our time, talent and treasure and how we leverage our network to increase our contribution potential.  I am blessed with a great network but it is of no value if I choose not to use it to make a difference in the lives of others.  To squander the gift of relationships, whether personal or professional, is as great a sin as to hoard time, talent and treasure and not put them to use on this planet.

The scale of your time, talent and treasure contribution doesn't matter - it's what you do with it that counts.  It's not a contest to see who does the most.

Take a moment and honestly ask yourself this question.  Can I name three or more ways that demonstrate that I am a good steward of time, talent, treasure and relationships? 

If the answer is yes, congratulations.  Please take the time to teach others how to do the same thing.

If the answer is no, think about why this is the case.  When excuses "like I have no time because ...." (insert excuse here - job keeps me busy, family keeps me busy, blah blah blah), look for examples where others faced similar situations to yours and were able to be excellent stewards anyway.

Having given it some thought, make a point of being a better steward of your gifts.  Take a "no prisoners" approach to your stewardship efforts, motivating yourself to share the incredible wealth of gifts that I know you have.

As far as time is concerned:

  1. We start out with a fixed amount of time allotted to us
  2. Once time is used, it cannot be recovered
  3. We don't know how much we have left.

We always hear the phrase "live every day as if it is your last".  Today may actually be your last or mine.

Let that notion put a sense of urgency into your stewardship plans.  That is our obligation as participants in the universe.

In service and servanthood.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Musings on Sour Milk

I returned from a great two-week vacation yesterday, opened the door to my truck and was instantly knocked over by a stench that was indescribable.  Being five o'clock in the morning and being too tired to look for the source of the mystery odor, it was decided that identifying the source of the odor would wait until later. 

Subsequent investigation turned up an open container of milk, left to bake in the truck for two weeks in 80 degree heat.  Having removed the source of the heavenly scent, I wonder how long it will be before the truck is able to shake off the reminder.  In the meantime, I have the constant reminder of the mistake and the potential embarrassment of how it is perceived by others when they sit in the vehicle.

It got me to thinking about the aftermath of a lot of things in life, things that start out well but for some reason, go sour and leave a stench in our life or in the life of someone else.  It doesn't matter if the act was intentional or as in the case of the milk in my truck, completely accidental but profound in result.

It is a reminder to me regarding the notion of living a life more on purpose and less by accident, a life where we are more intentional regarding the actions that we take with the hope that the actions will produce as good a result as possible.  How many times do we take action with little thought regarding the impact or do we take action knowing the potential impact but not paying as much attention as we should (or even caring at all).  The downstream impact on the lives of ourselves and others could be more profound, positive or negative, then we are cognizant of.  Given this, wouldn't it make sense that we would pay more attention to every action that we take?

For me personally, every day brings an opportunity for improvement.  I spend every day trying to improve and while I will never be able to proclaim myself as perfect (or even close to it), I will hopefully be producing a more positive result as a result of striving to do the best I can as a human being.

If we do our best as human beings and we still leave some "sour milk" behind, what do we do?  As with  my vehicle, clean up the "milk" as best as we can to prevent further complications, clean up and air out the "vehicle" in the best way possible and to the best of your ability and then allow time to finish the cleansing process. 

That being said, it is far better to be more proactive in order to avoid the negative result in the first place.  :-)

In service and servanthood.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Finding Joy

Keith B., a dear friend of mine who has recently discovered the joy of fatherhood for the first time, shared a powerful video with me today.

Watching it reminded me of how elusive happiness is for so many of us.  Many of us in the western world live a life of incredible opportunity and abundance and yet we continue our quest to find the sense of joy that eludes us for reasons that we can't seem to explain.

Take a moment to turn up the speakers, open your mind and watch this video.  This video would even make a great day-starting meditation.  Take a peek and then ask yourself - what can I do today to make the world a better place.

The video is here.

To your success in your quest to experience and share joy to its maximum.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

God is not in right now ....

Please try again between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday.

I was taking a photo of a beautiful church today in Calgary, Alberta when I noticed two things:

1. A number of adults who were drunk out of their mind at 2pm in the afternoon right outside the church.

2. The church was locked.

The first thing that came to mind was a variation of the title of my blog - the notion that if they finally realized that they had hit the bottom of the barrel and were open to help on a spiritual level, it would have to wait until Monday. Maybe they could leave their number and someone could call them back - if they had a phone.

It reminded me of the time I was trying to plug into a community soup kitchen last year during the Christmas season and I was told that the soup kitchen does not operate during the Christmas holidays (apparently because during the holidays when the need for giving and comradery is at its greatest, the volunteers at that soup kitchen prefer to spend time doing things other than volunteering).

I understand the reasons why the churches are closed. Acts of vandalism and similar things create the need to keep the churches locked. I also recognize that not every person out there who needs help actually wants help. On top of this, there are incredible people out there who give above and beyond and for those people, we should all be grateful that they serve so unselfishly and we should aspire to model them.

That being said, I wonder what additional service opportunities exist for us to plug into, collaborate on or in cases where there are not enough existing opportunities for servanthood, ways we can actually create solutions to help more of those in need.

Are our churches doing enough to help others? If the answer is yes, then let's salute those who serve and learn from them. If the answer is no, how can we empower our local churches, being a catalyst to make a difference in the lives of others?

Let's not be complacent in seeking solutions to make a difference in the lives of others.

Yours in servanthood.