Winter is Dead

“She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor: ‘Winter is dead’.” – A.A. Milne from When we were very young.

Spring is in the air – both literally and figuratively. April showers have no doubt brought May flowers, and the whole world is exploding in the cyclical rebirth of nature’s beauty following its dormant retreat in winter. I love this time of year because it provides the release from “cabin fever” that always results from months stuck inside escaping the cold, dead grasp of winter. But it also reminds us of the cycle of life, and that even in the darkest hours, there is a promise of light and life on the other side of tomorrow. Life has built its entire existence around this seasonal nature of our existence on this beautiful planet we call Earth.

These last few years have reminded us of the seasonal nature of so many other elements of our lives. Not in a literal sense, as annual seasons tend to bring. But in a figurative sense. That there is a cyclical rhythm to our own existence. It reminds us that we don’t live in a world where “spring” is always in the air. Instead, we go through periods when darkness surrounds us. When the world is cold, damp, and harsh, and the prospects for the future look grim. But alas, spring always follows the winter.

2020 seems like that dark, harsh winter we’ve all been hoping would never come. The pandemic brought literal and figurative death to so many of us. For many, it has left lasting heartache for friends and loved ones lost along the way. For most, it left us forever changed in some way, whether it be socially, psychologically, and/or economically. I’ve promised myself at least a dozen times to stop talking about the hardships we all faced throughout 2020. But by not recognizing those hardships, we disrespect the struggle we endured to get through them. And, we lose the relative perspective to recognize when things get better.

Today seems like a million years from this time in 2020. Literally, one year ago today we were in a nationwide “quarantine”, businesses were closing left and right, and COVID cases were increasing almost exponentially. I can only hope that history properly writes the story to convey the physical and emotional toll the past year has exacted on us all.

And as if by some divine intervention, we find ourselves in a very different world today. No, we are not past these struggles, but we are certainly seeing the signs of prosperity that often follow a dark winter. Businesses are re-opening. Mask mandates are abating. Job recovery is on a feverish pace, and there are encouraging signs everywhere. More importantly, we are able to “leave our houses” and rejoin family and friends to reinforce those emotional connections that only physical proximity can provide.

So today’s message is not a lesson in leadership. No, it’s a lesson of life. Of cycles. And of the nature our existence. Its enduring the hardships that allow us to enjoy life’s return.

And knowing that for now, today, winter is dead.

Embracing Uncertainty

“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, everything is possible.” – Mandy Hale

As many of you know, I write these leadership blogs as a way of sharing wisdom on the lessons I’ve learned over the years. But I do so with a twist – each message is carefully scripted and targeted to a person, group, team, or population I feel needs to hear the message. And there are times these messages are written for one specific person. I never tell anyone who that is – rather I hope the message resonates on its own for that individual. In doing so, inevitably the message speaks to others dealing with the same issue.

But today I am going to break confidence and tell you who this message is for. Today’s message is for someone special. Someone I don’t often given enough time and attention to. Someone who is working feverishly to control their own situation in the midst of uncontrollable change. Someone who is impatient and wants things solved today. Someone who needs things in the right place all the time. Someone who is so focused on fixing things right here and now that they fail to stop and see the beauty that uncertainty can often bring.

That someone is me. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Trust the wait. For those of us who are impatient, this statement makes no logical sense. Time kills all things, isn’t that how it goes? Actions speak louder than words? There is no time like the present? And yet, there are times when patience is not only necessary, but often brings a better solution. That doesn’t need to imply inaction, but rather more patient and calculated action.

Put that’s not easy for someone like me to do. I solve things. I fix problems. I take action – now. There’s an old saying my team members would use with me when they would come to me with an issue. They would say “I want to bring an issue to your attention, but you have to promise not to do anything right now…”. Why, because otherwise, I would have the phone in my hand dialing while they were still explaining the situation. In my efforts to be a “fixer”, I never let them get to their solution. I never stopped long enough to determine if it was even an issue. I never thought to see if time might be the solution.

Kip – trust the wait, time might just be the answer.

Embrace the uncertainty. At no time in my life have I seen so much uncertainty in things that surround me. Between COVID, lock downs, economic disruption, social unrest, and a charged political environment, we live in the most uncertain of times. But what has come from those uncertainties? New ways of working. New business opportunities. A recognition of what’s important in our lives. An awakening of the importance of racial and gender inequities. The uncertainty pushed us all out of our comfort zones, and in doing so, revealed new ideas, practices, and beliefs we never knew possible.

This is a lesson my family, friends, and even my own leadership team is teaching me. It’s OK not to always have an answer. It’s OK not to know how it will turn out. Not everything has to fall in place the way you think it does. It may just be the uncertainty that gives those around you the chance to see what others can bring to the table.

Kip – embrace the uncertainty and let the results surprise you!

Enjoy the beauty of becoming. It’s the journey, not the destination. It’s the experiences – both good and bad – that shape who we are. Those experiences make us unique, make us different. They make us who we are.

I have a bad habit of trying to solve problems for others rather than letting them solve for themselves. For example, with my own daughter I’ve spent her lifetime telling her what to do. Mapping out her hobbies, her studies, her friendships, her career, and her beliefs. Even to this day we argue over this. Why? With the best of intentions, my efforts were preventing HER from becoming her (or who she was meant to be). At times, I realized in hindsight that the ability to develop her own thoughts and beliefs without too much input from me, was going to be key to her personal and professional development.

Kip – enjoy the beauty of becoming, and watching others become!

None of these are lessons I’m good at taking. I’ve spent my life planning specifically what and who I would be. Where I would go to college. What I would study. What I would do in my career. I’ve always taken the more certain path. The one I could control. I’ve minimized risk at almost every turn, opting for what’s safe and clear. And to be fair, it’s worked very well for me.

However, there were key moments in my life when I didn’t take the safe and certain path and it often worked out even better for me. Raising my hand to work on projects or run businesses where I lacked the experience I believe the job required forced me out of my comfort zone to both learn from others AND take risks I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. Trusting others to step forward on a different path than my own approach often results in better outcomes. Embracing the process of becoming – both for myself and those around me – results in richer, more fulfilling experiences.

Sometimes it’s best to trust the wait, embrace the uncertainty, and enjoy the beauty of becoming. Because when nothing is certain, everything is possible.

Overcoming Adversity

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

We can and will overcome adversity. In fact, it is that very adversity that can provide us with strength and power we need to reach our goals, to achieve new heights, and to live a more meaningful life. Simply put, this is the message I want to convey today.

This past year has been a true testament to this point. A worldwide pandemic, quarantines, economic shut downs, disrupted holidays – any one of these is enough adversity for any of us to weather. Collectively, they reflect one of the most challenging years of a lifetime for many of us.

For me, this adversity has hit far too close to home lately. I’ve seen far too many family and friends hit with the repercussions of this virus – dealing with sickness, lost employment and business challenges. In fact, I myself spent the week of Christmas alone in the hospital dealing with challenging health complications.

Add to that the social and political challenges surrounding the election. Never before have I seen such division in our country. Friendships lost; families torn apart. Regardless of your political or social positions, this divisiveness will become far more difficult than the pandemic if not addressed quickly.

As if the macro challenges of last year weren’t enough, I’m seeing a number of those close to me dealing with other personal struggles. Strokes, cancer, death. It’s enough to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. I pray every night for all of those dealing with these difficult and personal situations.

I know we were all anxious to turn the page to 2021 in the hope that we would start to see some improvement to the challenges of last year. Sadly, 2021 is off to a rough start. Although it’s nothing that we as a country and people can’t overcome, it’s another hit to our psyche as the struggles continue.

It is in this context that I offer this message – we can and will overcome this adversity. Life will not only return to its normal course, but it will be better on the other side. Lessons will be learned. But so too will silver linings appear. New opportunities will emerge. New perspectives gained. New practices will be embraced.

Many of us will find an appreciation for the things we once took for granted. Health, family, relationships. Others will reflect on what’s important and what’s not and will make decisions that result in a more prosperous and enjoyable life.

But we can only do so if we turn and address the challenges head on. We must look them straight in the eye and face them directly and with purpose. The consequences of this adversity can be used as strength to overcome them. It will take courage, grace, forgiveness, determination, and frankly, a lot of leaning on those around you – but it can be done.

Remember that hopeful feeling we all had when we turned the page to 2021? Remember the things that you wanted to achieve both personally and professionally as you approached the New Year? In many aspects, the events of last year made us battle tested – and dare I say battle ready – for the challenges that we will continue to face in the near term. However, if I learned anything last year, it was that there are many things in life that are out of our control. The best that I can do, and what I hope for all of you, is to not lose sight of that determination to embark on this year with the promise of brighter days ahead.

I love the metaphors offered in the quotes above by Dr. Martin Luther King. Appropriate to be celebrating his legacy this month by reflecting on the wisdom he left us with. He understood the challenges of facing and overcoming adversity. He knew that it would not happen overnight, that it would be a struggle, and that it would take determination and perseverance to overcome. But he also knew what was on the other side. The promised land.

Let’s all dig deep, press forward, and make this happen. We can and will overcome this adversity – even if it takes crawling.

No One Gets What They Deserve

“Don’t focus on what you think you deserve; Take aim at what you are willing to earn” – David Goggins

Recently a friend of mine suggested I read a book called “Can’t Hurt Me” written by David Goggins. His book is a story of heartache and triumph, chronicling the challenges he had to overcome as a poor African American child with an abusive father and an abused mother, overcoming poverty, racism, a learning disorder, obesity, and a congenital heart condition to become one of the most successful veterans and athletes in the world.

To be fair, when I agreed to read the book, I didn’t expect to gain lessons that I could apply to my own life. Frankly, I thought it was just another entertaining book about the strength, grit, and determination of our military, and in particular the Navy SEALs. I thought I might read another heartbreaking while inspiring story of his time served as a SEAL in defense of our country, much like the book “Lone Survivor”. Boy was I wrong. The book and its lessons were far more impactful than that.

What’s interesting about this book is that he makes no apologies or excuses for his background and the challenges he had to overcome to become the man he is today. Instead, he gives insight into the thought process and mental fortitude he developed to overcome those challenges. Some examples:

• He grew up as an abused child – mentally, and physically. For any one of us, that would have been enough to throw in the towel and blame failures on this setback. Instead, he and his mother dug deep and found a way to escape and start a new life.

• As a high school student with a learning disorder, he realized late in his junior year that in order to graduate and enroll in the military, he not only had to bring up his grades, but had to pass a difficult enrollment exam. He found a way to overcome his learning disorder through sheer will, determination, and hard work.

• As a recruit for the Navy SEALs, he was 100 lbs over the weight limit for his height. In a 3 month period of time, he dropped enough weight to qualify and enroll in BUDS training.

• David had to endure the brutal conditions of Navy SEAL BUDS training not once, but three times because of injuries that forced him out before graduation.

This is just a sample of the stories he tells in the book. And to be fair, he gives you the full detail – as ugly as it is. What makes his story amazing is how he learned to unlock his own potential not through inspiration or motivation, but through sheer determination – a fanatical commitment to suffering whatever is necessary to earn the rewards of those efforts.

I’m fairly certain that the entirety of my readership are not aspiring Navy SEALs. Or even ultra marathoners. Most of you are just like me – hard working, determined individuals trying to make their mark in this world we live in. And if you read this blog, you no doubt have ambitions around being successful in your life – whether that’s your job, your health, your marriage, your family, your friends, or any number of achievements that define who you are and what you want to be.

But how many of us do exactly the opposite of David Goggins? We spend all our emotional energy reliving the mistakes, challenges, and setbacks of the past – allowing it to define who we are today? Placing boundaries, restrictions, or limitations on our ambitions because we just don’t think we can get where we truly want to be.

Worse, how many of us believe that the system is rigged – stacked against us in a no win situation? That our background – ethnic, economic, abusive, etc – are to blame for our failures? How many of us use that as a yardstick for what we achieve?

On the other hand, how many of us feel we are somehow entitled to success – as if it’s a God given right? We deserve that beautiful house, that luxury car, that fat bank account, right? We deserve that promotion at work because we have been here longer than they have. Or because we have more experience? Or a better education?

Well I have news for you. Wake up and smell the coffee. You get what you earn, not what you deserve. There is no replacement for determination, fortitude, grit, persistence, perseverance, hard work, and some good old-fashioned suffering.

Take it from David Goggins – if you want success, go earn it!

It’s Time to Embrace Change?

“Its not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change”  – Charles Darwin

“Adjusting to the new norm”. Are you as tired of hearing this new phrase as I am? If you are, I have good news for you. There is no new norm. And I certainly wouldn’t spend time adjusting to THIS new norm, because if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the “norm” can and will change in an instant.

Maybe the better term to use is “Adjusting to constant change”. That certainly seems more appropriate for this year, and if my intuition is right, this won’t be limited to 2020. I suspect the only constant we will have for the foreseeable future IS change. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Continue reading

Surviving The Storm

boat in a storm

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. – Haruki Murakami

I remember the day clearly. I was still in high school at the time, and my stepfather and I had taken our 25’ boat 32 miles off the coast of Galveston, TX, to a place called the Buccaneer rigs for some deep sea fishing. It was summer then, and the weather often unpredictable. But the forecast was clear and the water flat – a perfect day to venture offshore.

It’s a good 3 hour trip to the Buccaneer rigs, so when you go, you plan for the day. And at 32 miles out, you are far enough from the shore to make for difficult times if something were to go wrong. You always plan for the worst – plenty of fuel, food, water, extra batteries, life vests, satellite radio – all the things you might need if you ended up stranded or with engine problems. But that day things were going well. The engine was running as it should, the waves offshore at 3-4’ chop, and the sun was shining.

We made it to the rigs shortly after 9 am, and took in some trolling for amberjack and kingfish before the day got too hot. We had a few strikes early on, but only one Jack Crevalle made it to the boat. They are great fish to fight, but not so good to eat, so we let it go and motored up to the rig for some mid day snapper fishing. As my father edged us close to the structure, I took our 10’ stainless steel rig hook and latched us on. Then, we let the tide drag us until the rope was taught and we began dropping our lines.

For the first hour or so it was fantastic. We were getting several good hits and we found ourselves consumed with the task at hand. So consumed, in fact, that we hadn’t noticed the dark wall of clouds approaching from the West. We first noticed it when we felt the cold breeze that typically precedes one of these summer thunderstorms. Then, the sky turned black and the rain started. And in a matter of minutes, the wind had picked up with such an intensity we were scrambling to put away our gear and batten down the hatches.

And that’s when it happened. I looked up to see the rig we had been so closely tethered to nearly half a mile away. I scrambled to the front of the boat to pull up the dangling rig hook, only to discover it had been nearly straightened by the force of the wind. That’s when we knew we were in trouble. The waves were now swelling with ever greater intensity, and the boat was quickly being thrown about as the wind whipped into a frenzy. We weren’t going to ride this out – our only choice was to turn the boat into the storm and head as quickly as we could for shore.

By now the waves were 10-15’ in height, and the wind was screaming. The rain came down so hard it felt like rocks pelting our faces. The boat was moving as quickly as it could, but with every wave we hit it was with such force I thought I could hear the fiberglass cracking. Lightning struck on each side of the boat – not once, but in constant flashes. I was scared to death, and so was my stepfather.

We went on like this for what felt like days, although I suspect it was only hours. Slam, crack, pop. Waves overcoming the front of the boat and rolling over the back. I shook. I dreaded. I panicked. I prayed. I knew for sure this was the end, and there was no way I would make it out of this. But the only way to survive was to face the storm head on and muscle through it. And so we did.

Somewhere, somehow, and at some point the rain started to subside. It wasn’t all at once, but you could feel things were improving. You couldn’t quite see the shore or even the horizon, but you could tell the clouds were starting to ebb. We pushed forward until we found ourselves back in the safety of the bay with the harbor in sight.

The funny thing about life is it follows this same pattern. For the most part, its enjoyable. Things happen, yes, but the good often outweighs the bad, and the bad isn’t enough to set you back. Most days…

And then come the storms. They often come out of nowhere. Life seems to throw them at you when you are least expecting them. And I’m not talking about the little storms, I’m talking about the big ones. The ones that take the wind out of you. The storms that hit you to your core. The ones that you can’t overcome in a day, or a week, or sometimes in a month.

For whatever reason, I’ve seen friends hit by these personal storms lately, and I’ve even had to endure a few of my own. They aren’t fun, and at times it seems like the storm will never pass. But in fact it will. Not without pain and struggle, but if you push forward with determination, point towards the safety of the shore, and power through it, you will find your way to the safety of the harbor.

The Meaning of Life IS to have Purpose

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

What is the meaning of life? Scientifically speaking, the “meaning” of life is to persist and evolve. Every organism has a drive for self-preservation. Every creature is genetically encoded to replicate, to evolve, and to persist. At the most basic level, that is the fundamental meaning or purpose of life – to live.

But that’s not the kind of “meaning” we’re talking about here. So again, what is the “meaning” of life? Humans have pondered this for thousands of years. It is the very thing that separates humans from other animals…the self-awareness necessary to ask this question.

If you search that question on the internet, you will get back over 2.3 billion results – a clear indication that there is no simple answer. Millions of blogs, articles, even books all claim they have an answer. Read through some of them and you’ll discover a wide range of answers. Some will tell you the meaning of life is to serve a higher power (clearly a spiritual perspective). Philosophers will tell you it’s to be happy (not a bad thought). Academics will tell you our very ability to process thought infers that the meaning of life is the pursuit of knowledge. Overachievers will tell you it is to be successful in whatever you do. And so on… you get the point. Continue reading

Being Present and Worrying Less

“Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Billy Graham

Recently my assistant gave me a desk calendar for my birthday. Knowing I love finding material for my monthly leadership blog, she gave me a calendar that has an inspirational quote for each day. Yes, I know its mid-way through the year, but I’m enjoying flipping through the quotes and finding wonderful nuggets of motivation.

When I stumbled across the quote above, it struck me profoundly. It’s one of those messages that seems simple on its surface, but much deeper when you let it sink in. For me, it speaks to two issues I have been struggling with in my life – being present and worrying less.

Being present is a big one for me. In my work life I have developed the skills of a multitasker. Well, maybe the words “developed” and “skills” are a stretch, but I will certainly confess to being one. The problem is we think that multitasking is a good thing, when in fact it isn’t. I recently read a study that was published that compared men and women to see who the better multitaskers were. Turns out, both are equal, but also equally poor at it. In fact, we are 2 times more likely to make a mistake when we multitask than when we don’t. Continue reading