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I know I’ve written about this before, but this is as much a reminder to me as it is a post to anyone who might be reading.

I used to be in the habit of writing a thank you note to someone each day. I have gotten out of that habit, but I’m restarting this simple gesture. Each day in our lives people help us. Sometimes the help we receive is big and sometimes it’s small. However, we do receive help. It’s good to acknowledge when people make a positive difference in our lives.

I found that when I wrote thank you notes, I would often receive an email or the person would stop by to tell me how much that thank you note meant. A couple of times I had the person’s supervisor come by and say something about how that note brightened the person’s day. The reality is that most folks don’t feel appreciated like they should. A simple note let’s them know that they are thought of and that their contributions make a difference.

With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us here in the United States and the Christmas season approaching, would you consider making this a habit as well? While the holiday season can be a happy time, it can also be a sad one for a myriad of reasons. Your note might make an important difference in a person’s life by reminding them that they matter, that they are thought of, and that there is a reason to smile and laugh. 

I would be neglectful if I didn’t point out that we do feel good when we do something nice for someone else. There is that intrinsic reward, even if we don’t hear directly from the person we’ve helped. So not only will you be brightening their day, but yours as well. Also, the process of deciding who to write a thank you note to will likely stir memories and recollections of when people have done you a kind deed. So not only will you feel good about the deed you’re doing, but you’ll also be warmed by the memory of deeds folks have done for you.

Recovering Progress

I love creative outlets. I’ve write, both poetry and prose. I am a musician (but don’t ask me to sing). Lately I’ve gotten back into painting miniatures. However, while I love these pursuits, I paused most of them with the occasional output here and there.

Back in the spring I was diagnosed with a chronic condition I’ve actually been suffering with for a while now, likely the last several years. I also struggle with migraines. Those issues gradually wore down my ability to do the extra-curricular things I love. Therefore, any progress I was making on projects, on learning, on anything, ground to a halt.

I’ve spent the last six months learning to better deal with the chronic condition. The migraines are what they are and some environmental changes at my workplace and home have made it easier to handle them. That brings me back to progress. Those creative activities I loved, I never stopped loving them. I just found myself unable to do them. Now that I’m better able to do so, I find it difficult to get going again. In short, I’m stuck in a “recovering progress” state.

I want to do everything again, and all right now. That’s not realistic. I need to pick and choose what I will do. My goals have to be less ambitious. I won’t get my flute “chops” back to playing in public again any time soon, for instance. However, I can still make progress.

Have you found yourself wanting to do more? It’s challenging when you want to do more than what you’re capable of doing at the present time. We can get so down about not being able to do it all that we just don’t anything (or very little). That sets up a vicious cycle because we know we’re not doing anything. There’s nothing to show for our desires. Simply, we have to scale back. If you’re like me, that’s hard. That’s not the way I’m wired. But it is better to make some progress than none at all. Make the hard call to scale back. Make progress happen.

“Your history reveals you are good at getting into adversarial relationships.” – Jocko Willink

When I heard these words on Jocko’s podcast (episode 5), I cringed. Jocko was talking about a subordinate who asked him for advice. And Jocko, who could be blunt with this man knowing the words would be taken as constructive criticism, gave him the raw truth. Jocko might have been counseling a fellow SEAL, but I know that over the years these same words could be applied to me. When I go back and I read my old USAF officer performance reports, I saw that I wasn’t that way back then. I was noted for my tact as a junior officer. That means I have changed, and not for the better.

I realize that I’m not alone. I’ve come across many professionals who think this way:

Jocko, in that same podcast, made this observation to that same individual (actually prior to pointing out the individual’s history):

“Creating adversarial or antagonistic relationships never helps you reach end goals.”

He goes on to explain that at best, someone who you are in an adversarial relationship with will simply not get in your way. At worst, they will actively seek to stop you. Therefore, it doesn’t do us any good to create adversarial/antagonistic relationships. We only hurt ourselves.

Now I titled this staying out of those kinds of relationships. The best way to stay out of those kinds of relationships isn’t to avoid people with whom those types of relationships are likely to occur, whether because of them or because of you. Rather, it’s to understand that building a healthy relationship is important for personal success and act on that understanding. Part of that is to accurately assess whether you are being adversarial. Maybe you’ve changed like I did. Maybe you’ve been that way as long as you can remember. It doesn’t matter. What matters is actively seeking to build healthy relationships, not adversarial ones.

When I was 3 or 4, I almost drowned. It was in a swimming pool at our apartment complex. I was in a ring. I slipped through. I remembered being pulled up and thankfully I was fine. My mom was there and I think there was a bigger kid who helped. However, every time I go into the water, I remember slipping through the ring, seeing the water close up the sky, the first big breath of water, and then the feeling of losing consciousness. Needless to say, I still have a big fear of water.

This fear has remained with me despite a beginner swimming course with the Red Cross when I was 11 or 12. This fear has remained with me despite spending a semester in survival swimming with a former SEAL. There were three of us in that class. While I was able to complete all the requirements, including swimming laps and treading water, I never got over that fear.

That fear has been limiting. I still don’t like getting past about calf depth in the water at the beach, though I love the beach. I don’t like getting out of the shallow end of the swimming pool. And I don’t like getting on small boats and I haven’t done any type of white water rafting despite the fact that I’d love to sit on a boat and fish or experience the fun that everyone tells me white water rafting is.

Then I saw this:

That brought me back to my fear, my life-limiting irrational fear. I learned how to swim from a SEAL. He didn’t “drown-proof” us as they do in SEAL and Combat Control training, but he taught us all the basic floats, how to tread water properly, how to swim effectively, and how to survive in the water. Therefore, other than being out of practice, I have no reason to fear. But fear I still do. Time to do something about that fear. Time to get in the pool again. Time to swim and practice until I lose that fear, this time for good.

What fear limits you? What are you doing about it?

As I write this, I’m sitting a park bench, eating my dinner and watching my two littlest girls play on the playground. I have a lot of things I could be doing right now. However, taking the time to enjoy the fresh air, to see my children have fun, and to relax is important. It’s the most important thing I can be doing right now. 

 

Happiness of a child

Happiness of a child

 
If you’re like me, you’re driven to get a lot of things done. You have high goals and you are constantly pushing yourself to be better and do more. However, you have to make time for the “little things” which aren’t so little in the grand scheme of things. Often times, when we don’t make them a priority, our opportunity for enjoying them are missed. Be sure you take the time to enjoy family, friends, personal opportunities for reflection and thought, and other priorities that tend to be shoved aside in the tyranny of the immediate. 

When I look back, whether I look at my IT or ministry career, the common factor I see with every area I went into was I simply got started. I took the first step.

I know that this is common sense, but it is not common action. I can look at a lot of things I have considered doing and realized I simply never got started. I never took the first real step. I continued to research and learn but I never took action. As a result, I never got anywhere in those endeavors. Can you relate?

Here’s some advice from a guy who has seen and done a lot:

You can stall yourself by continuing to try and learn more and more and more. Pretty soon, that research becomes an excuse for why you can’t start. And then you never do.

Start.

 

If you’re not military, you’ve likely not heard of the phrase “Commander’s Intent.” Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Commander’s intent is an intent describing military focused operations and it is a publicly stated description of the end-state as it relates to forces (entities, people) and terrain, the purpose of the operation, and key tasks to accomplish. It is developed by a small group, e.g. staff, and a commander.

That’s a long way of saying that commander’s intent basically describes the what, how, and why of success. In other words, what is the team/department/division/organization trying to accomplish? If you’re in management or in a lead capacity, ask yourself if you understand what the level above you considers success. If you don’t, then that level hasn’t communicated commander’s intent. Obviously, if you don’t know, then the folks who look to you for leadership don’t know, either.

If you do know what the organization is trying to do, do your people? Have you communicated that message clearly down to the level below you? If you think you have, test yourself. Ask your folks specifics about what you understand constitutes success. See if they agree. If the majority don’t know or their answers don’t match up with yours, you’ve not communicated commander’s intent well, if at all. Or you don’t understand it and somehow they do. Either way, that’s a problem.

If you’re not a lead or a manager and have no supervisory responsibilities, ask yourself if you know what the organization considers success. Do you know what your direct supervisor considers success? If you don’t, how do you know you’re doing what the company wants?

Why is commander’s intent so important? When everyone understands what you’re trying to do, you’ve got more heads trying to solve problems. You’ve also got more eyes capable of spotting issues that would threaten your efforts. You utilize more of the intellectual capability of your personnel. That typically translates to better productivity and less roadblocks.

Also, you likely will have more buy in throughout the organization, certainly within your team. After all, people will get the sense that their inputs matter. They are considered important enough to know the direction of the organization and they are expected to help out with it. That is, if you let the capable folks solve problems on their own. Micromanaging will destroy any gains of commander’s intent. More about this tomorrow.