Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Focus on Giving, Part 2--The Harmony/Main Street Experiment

Helpful Hints from Harmony

“Life is Good When You Live in Harmony”

(A word of explanation: I live in a little place called Harmony, Florida, where life is a bit slower and nature is right outside our door. I’m also familiar with another Harmony, which isn’t a place at all but a way of being. This year I’d like to share 12 simple lessons I’ve learned from my time in Harmony.)

Helpful Hint #3: Focus on Giving, Part 2—The Harmony/Main Street Experiment

Last month I wrote that the happiest people on earth consistently give of themselves to serve the needs of others. I noted the sweet and ironic arithmetic of mindful giving: that both the giver and the receiver are added to and edified by the process.

I’d like to continue that theme in this month’s article by telling you about an experiment I have been conducting with Ryan Ponsford.

Ryan is a financial advisor from Carlsbad, California. He’s a creative genius as well as a generous giver, and I’ve learned much from him.

Ryan and I both work with high net worth families. We’ve each observed that one of the most effective ways to impact the often-jaded lives of affluent teenagers and young adults is through hands-on involvement in philanthropic giving and community service.

That observation led us to a question: Could the lives of teenagers and young adults from "Main Street" be similarly changed by experiencing the giving side of philanthropy, by becoming "philanthropists in training?"

To answer that question, Ryan and I designed a rather sophisticated experiment. We envisioned a process that would bring together small teams of students, their classroom teacher, a financial/philanthropic mentor, generous donors, and front-line charities, all of whom would benefit from this collaboration.

We created a lively ten-week curriculum designed to give young people a real-world immersion in smart charitable giving. The course of study allows students to identify their philanthropic passions; learn group dynamics by working in teams; research and evaluate local charities; raise some of their own money so they have some “skin in the game;” interview donors, volunteers, board members, and employees of charitable organizations; and make a meaningful donation to the non-profits they selected.

Next we formed a 501(c)(3) organization called Main Street Philanthropy. Its purpose is to develop and inspire the next generation of philanthropists by helping teenagers and young adults experience the joy of giving and serving. See www.MainStreetPhil.org.

We contacted generous clients and asked them if they would provide money so each student in our programs could give away a few hundred dollars of real money as a “grant” to a qualified charity of his or her choice in their community. They agreed to fund the experiment.

We also approached forward-thinking teachers and school administrators in Central Florida and Southern California, seeking a laboratory for our project. They said yes. They recognized that this approach just might be a catalyst for an enriching educational experience going well beyond prepping for the state exams.

Then it was time to introduce our fledgling program to actual students. We wondered how teenagers in today’s texting-video game culture would react to our model.

I’m excited to report that our ideas really grabbed their attention and captured their imaginations. Here’s how one student at Harmony High described her introduction to Main Street Philanthropy in her blog:
Setting the scene: a wide-eyed teacher walks into the room with an excited air about him. The teacher, Mr. Hansen, exclaims to our class that we are about to take an incomparable charitable journey.
The class as a whole says nothing, but just stares at him, awaiting more information about this “philanthropic masterpiece of a program” that he seems so eager to begin. Expecting to hear the mundane community service ploy, there isn't an awful lot of excitement. However, instead of going on to glorify another dull service project, Mr. Hansen explains a brand-new concept — Main Street Philanthropy.
The basis of Main Street Philanthropy is that generous donors give money to students for charitable donations. The students learn to donate with knowledge and come across more charities in their local area. Our class was to be the pilot in this area. Let the pressure ensue.
The class as a whole was in awe (which doesn't happen often because OBVIOUSLY teenagers know everything about everything); it was such a new, fresh, and modern way to participate in philanthropic activity. Instead of just being bystanders without the means to be active in donation, we, as high-schoolers had the ability to affect the progress of a group of our own choosing.
Launching the program was exciting and teaching was a blast! Ryan and I loved our roles as philanthropic mentors to the imaginative and energetic students in our respective schools. Their passion for discovering and supporting local charities whose missions aligned with theirs was infectious. We relished each of the weekly sessions.

One of the tools we used in the program was a set of 20 cards visually portraying areas of charitable opportunity or concern. We called them “Make A Difference” cards, but the students quickly dubbed them “MAD Cards.” (My talented daughter Elisabeth from Wilson, North Carolina, created the beautiful artwork for them. Thanks, Elisabeth!)

These cards helped them think about what causes they wanted to get involved with and then helped them identify local organizations that work to address those issues. The simple process of selecting their top three choices out of 20 had an amazing impact on the students. One girl wrote:
My experience using the MAD (Make a Difference) cards was great. I noticed something I didn't have clear in my mind, and that was the urge and desire to help others and contribute to making a difference in the world.
Another student had a similar experience:
I learned from the MAD cards that every single human can make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way. I learned that a lot of other people need help in our world. I learned that I have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life.
We discovered within these young people a deep yearning to make a difference in their communities AND to also make a difference within themselves. One of our students, writing about her hopes for the program said:
I hope to gain a sense of selflessness and to learn more of how I could give back to people who need more than I do. As cheesy as this sounds, I hope I become a better person. Sometimes I feel a bit selfish in certain aspects of my life so I hope I can make a change.
As the weeks progressed, we observed an amazing growth of understanding, maturity, and responsibility in our classes. Their blogs contained statements like this:
We have begun to learn what it truly feels like to give, along with the most responsible way of doing so. Through this project I hope to gain a better understanding of the way in which charities function, as well as a taste of what effect I can have on my community. I believe that this program will also give me a better understanding of the value of a dollar and teach me the importance of supporting our community.
And this:
I cannot wait until Mr. Scott returns this week to continue on with the process, to gain experiences that I would not encounter without the help of Main Street Philanthropy. I want to inspire my peers to help others without an expectation of something in return. I want to make a difference in the community, hopefully being a catalyst in the start of something incredible.
The climax of each program was the day our students presented checks to their favorite charitable organizations in our communities. Our donors sometimes joined the group to see first-hand the results of their generosity. There were lots of tears, and a profound sense of satisfaction. As one young participant commented, "I never knew giving away money could be so hard . . . or so much fun!"

The money given to worthy local charities made a big difference in our communities. But just as big, or maybe even bigger, was the impact in the students’ lives. Consider this observation by a teenager wise beyond her years:
When you change your focus from self to others, you see the positive results of charitable giving. This reminded me of the impact that philanthropy can have on not only the cause being donated to, but also the person donating. Through this program I have been able to see both sides of that impact as we work towards the educated donating of our time and money.
As Ryan and I talked with students and teachers, reviewed student blogs, and evaluated follow-up questionnaires, we could see that THOUGHTFUL GIVING PRODUCES PROFOUND TRANSFORMATION. Minds are opened, possibilities are explored, imaginations are ignited, help is given, hearts are touched, and lives are focused and energized.
In the midst of the program, one young man described the changes he saw in his classmates and felt within himself.
My heart truly beats to put a smile on a hungry child's face or a blanket over a cold woman's shoulder. I am very thankful to be involved in Main Street Philanthropy, as it will benefit everyone involved. There is a heartbeat drumming up in this team to help those who cannot provide for themselves. It is a very beautiful thing happening at Harmony High School, courtesy of Main Street Philanthropy.
Ryan and I learned that “becoming a philanthropist” created a spark of hope, engagement, and excitement in the members of our classes. Our students developed greater confidence, accountability, and direction. They grew in their understanding of group dynamics, leadership, and important financial concepts. Our experiment showed that WHEN WE GIVE, IT CHANGES US!

One of the secrets to the success of this approach is that it first allows each student to discover their passion and then empowers them to act on that discovery. The genius of the Main Street Philanthropy program is that it embodies the wisdom expressed by Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

The results of our experiment were everything we could have dreamed they would be. One of our students described his initial skepticism and subsequent excitement with Main Street Philanthropy:
When I first heard of this off-the-wall idea I thought, “This can't be real,” but I am here to tell you that it is! I never thought I would get this much learning experience out of this program, not because I had low expectations but because it has just blown my mind away!
Pretty high praise from a teenager, don’t you think?
* * *

Looking ahead, Ryan and I intend to create a Main Street Philanthropy “movement” that will change students’ and families’ lives coast to coast and will produce a new generation of thoughtful, generous givers. We believe we need more philanthropists on Main Street as well as on Park Avenue, and we’ve found the way to do that.

Within the next year, we plan to recruit 100 “Main Street Philanthropy Ambassadors,” who share our vision of changing the world by changing the hearts of teenagers and young adults. This initial cadre of MSP Ambassadors will be an elite group who are ready to make a mark in their community, are looking for more energy and purpose in their work, and want to help turn today’s students into tomorrow’s philanthropists and community volunteer leaders.

We envision the role of these MSP Ambassadors this way:
  • They are experienced and successful professionals who step away from their own business for an hour or two a week to work with a classroom full of “philanthropists in training.” • They draw inspiration from the youthful enthusiasm of their students.
  • They understand that thoughtful giving produces profound transformation: it changes the lives of individual students and then the culture of an entire school and community.
  • They rub shoulders with the “movers and shakers” in their community as they identify teaching opportunities, round up resources, and guide students, teachers, donors, and parents to deliver much-needed funds to local front-line organizations.
  • They recognize that being innovative, generous, and well-rounded as they reach out and give back to their community will help their own business to grow organically.
  • They benefit from collaborating with like-minded professionals all across the country to achieve one single audacious goal: to develop and inspire the next generation of philanthropists by helping students experience the joy of giving and serving.
In addition to joining with 100 like-minded professionals, we also intend within the next year to raise enough money to endow this movement with long-term sustainability.We have been given a generous boost in this quest by a donor family who has pledged that for the next 90 days, they will match every dollar donated to Main Street Philanthropy with $1.50, and for the following 90 days they will match donations dollar for dollar. That should get us off and running.

We know we’ve got a lot of toil ahead of us, but this promises to be the adventure of a lifetime. If you want to join us in our journey and you’re not afraid of hard work, I’d love to hear from you. Start by visiting our website,www.MainStreetPhil.org and then give me a call at 407-593-2386.

We are starting to enjoy some wonderful publicity. See the article in the Orlando Sentinel by David Breen, “Harmony High Students Learn How Charity Can Make a Difference,http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-harmony-high-charity-program-20130403,0,6532950.story.

In addition, Ryan and I have been invited to speak on April 25 at the annual convention of the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy in Las Vegas. http://www.advisorsinphilanthropy.org/events/event_details.asp?id=282598. I hope to see you there.

Focus on Giving Rather than Receiving

Helpful Hints from Harmony

“Life is Good When You Live in Harmony”

(A word of explanation: I live in a little place called Harmony, Florida, where life is a bit slower and nature is right outside our door. I’m also familiar with another Harmony, which isn’t a place at all but a way of being. This year I’d like to share 12 simple lessons I’ve learned from my time in Harmony.)

Helpful Hint #3: Focus on Giving Rather than Receiving

Deep and lasting joy comes from giving and sharing. The sweet and ironic arithmetic of mindful giving is that both the giver and the receiver are added to and edified by the process.

Thus the happiest people I know consistently give of themselves to address the needs of others. As they do, they discover that their own needs are abundantly met.

If we give from the heart — regardless of what we give — the very act of giving blesses us in wonderful ways. The generative, life-enhancing power of giving renews us and invigorates us whether we share our time, talents, compassion, or money.

The words of the poet Helen Steiner Rice remind us that we all have great wealth from which to draw, no matter the size of our bank account. She calls these non-financial endowments “heart gifts,” and she urges us to freely share them.

It's not the things that can be bought
That are life's richest treasure,
It's just the little "heart gifts" That money cannot measure…
A cheerful smile, a friendly word,
A sympathetic nod
Are priceless little treasures
From the storehouse of our God…
They are the things that can't be bought
With silver or with gold,
For thoughtfulness and kindness
And love are never sold…
They are the priceless things in life
For which no one can pay,
And the giver finds rich recompense
In giving them away.

Winston Churchill was right when he said, “We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give.” Thoughtful giving makes a person come alive and develops more substance in the giver. Thus those who give are more likely to “find themselves” because there is more to be found.

One of the reasons life is good when you live in Harmony is that being there affords the time and environment to recognize the needs of those around you and the opportunity to reach out and address those needs. There is, indeed, rich recompense in giving away life’s greatest treasures

Focus on Purpose Rather than Pain or Pleasure

Helpful Hints from Harmony

“Life is Good When You Live in Harmony”

(A word of explanation: I live in a little place called Harmony, Florida, where life is a bit slower and nature is right outside our door. I’m also familiar with another Harmony, which isn’t a place at all but a way of being. This year I’d like to share 12 simple lessons I’ve learned from my time in Harmony.)
Helpful Hint #2: Focus on Purpose Rather than Pain or Pleasure
We have an interesting method in our church for raising funds to care for the poor and needy. On the first Sunday of the month, we observe “Fast Sunday,” during which we abstain from food for 24 hours and donate the value of those meals missed (or more) to the bishop as a “Fast Offering.”
Without the right attitude, fasting can be agonizing. As teenagers, my brothers and I felt that Fast Sunday was the longest, most excruciating day of the month. We’d glare at the clock, willing those hands to move more quickly, growing hungrier by the minute. But no matter how much we glared, the time would just drag on and on.
On one of those dreadful first Sunday afternoons, waiting for the clock to strike four so we could finally eat, a younger brother whined to our mother, “But Mom, it’s called the wrong thing. It’s not Fast Sunday, it’s Slow Sunday.”
Sensing a teaching moment, she pointed out that the time would pass more quickly and we would grow spiritually from the process if before we started our fast we would identify a desired blessing or a meaningful reason for our fasting and then focus on that. If we did not, she warned, it would always be an ordeal because “fasting without a spiritual purpose is just going hungry.”
It turns out that Mom’s wise instruction about Fast Sunday is one of the keys to an abundant and meaningful life. Doing just about anything without a deeper purpose will leave us empty, hungry for something more.
In his masterful poem “If,” Rudyard Kipling referred to “Triumph and Disaster” as “two imposters.” In a similar way, I believe pain and pleasure are also imposters: they may seem at times to be what life is all about. If we obsess about either one of them, we miss the real meaning and ultimate joy of life. Focusing on purpose pulls the mask off these charlatans.
Everyone experiences their share of pain. The Gospel of St. John promises that “in this life, ye shall have tribulation.” But it need not crush us. When it shows up, we can bear it and even thrive in it by discovering a deeper purpose within it. I have found that asking myself, “What am I to learn from this experience?” transforms trial into tutelage.
“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl. We can endure any sorrow or suffering if we recognize that it carries us to a higher place.
As for the other imposter, I believe pleasure for pleasure’s sake and a single-minded emphasis on pleasure is a sure recipe for shallowness and eventually emptiness and loneliness.
Please understand that I have no quarrel with having a good time and partaking of the richness that life has to offer. Happy, vibrant experiences are the fortunate by-product of a purposeful life. But when they become an end unto themselves, the pursuit of them drains away the possibility of lasting joy.
I love what Helen Keller and John William Gardner said of the subject. “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” “Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb-twiddling; true happiness involves full use of one’s powers and talents.”
I have found that the key to a rich, abundant life is to find purpose in each moment — whether pleasant or painful — by seeing each within the context of the bigger picture. Without a larger, longer perspective, the particulars of life can overwhelm us. But when we focus on purpose, all the pieces fall into place and make wonderful sense.
George Bernard Shaw got it right when he said, “This is the true joy in life: being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.”

Focus on People Rather than Things.

Helpful Hints from Harmony

“Life is Good When You Live in Harmony”

(A word of explanation: I live in a little place called Harmony, Florida, where life is a bit slower and nature is right outside our door. I’m also familiar with another Harmony, which isn’t a place at all but a way of being. This year I’d like to share 12 simple lessons I’ve learned from my time in Harmony.)
Helpful Hint #1: Focus on People Rather than Things.
When I look for a good place to invest my resources, one of my top criteria is whether it will deliver value over the long haul. By that measure, it makes a lot of sense to invest in human relationships.
I believe that when we leave this life we take only three things with us: our character, our wisdom, and our relationships. It’s pretty certain that we don’t take any of our stuff. I love the way Billy Graham puts it: “I’ve never seen a U-Haul truck in a funeral procession.”
I disagree with the bumper sticker that reads: “Life is a game and he who finishes with the most toys wins.” All too often the holder of the most toys has left a trail of broken promises and shattered relationships. In many cases he spends his later years grumpy and alone.
Unfortunately, toys break, shiny chariots get rusty, and jewels can be stolen. He who spends his strength collecting things may find in the end that he has a large collection of them — but little else that matters.

Don’t get me wrong. I like pretty things and intriguing objects as much as the next guy. Personal objects can often provide the means to engage others and to expand our influence. For example, a good friend of mine uses his beautiful bass boat as a tool to spend quality time with family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But when we set our hearts on things and let them get in the way of the significant people in our lives, we run the risk of damaging what is most important. Rvel Howell said it well. “People are made to be loved and things are made to be used. The greatest tragedy in the world is that we use people and love things.”
I have observed that those who love people, who lift them up and give service back, are constantly surrounded by the warmth of family and friends. They live healthier, happier, and longer lives. They have shelter in the storm and light in the gloomy night.
When we focus on people rather than things, we discover that whatever we have is plenty. A shared loaf is twice as tasty and a shared memory lasts ten times as long. That’s what I call an exceptional return on investment.

Lessons from a Venerable Old Gentleman


One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 is to be more patient and attentive to my dear wife Marcie. Here’s an experience that helped me understand why that is so important.

We were rushing down a narrow road on a sunny Sunday morning. Marcie had taken longer to get ready than usual, and with her arthritis, she requires a little extra time to get to the car. I was intent on making up the time as we left for church.

In Central Florida we often must slow down to accommodate our senior citizens. But when an old timer stepped onto the highway directly ahead of us that morning, it irritated me.

His grey suit was rather worn and tattered and his gait was a bit stiff, but he held his head high. His air of authority left me no choice but to hit the brakes.

“I wish this old fellow realized we’re in a hurry,” I blurted.

“Honey, just be patient,” Marcie counseled.

He walked across the first lane, then halted squarely in the middle of the road, fully erect. A car from the other direction was also forced to stop.

“The nerve of this character!” I said. “He acts like he owns the place. Now he’s got the whole road blocked.”

He looked back over his shoulder. Our gaze followed his to see his partner was a few yards behind him, limping slowly and with great effort.

“Look, he’s stopping traffic so she can cross safely,” my wife observed. “What a sweet, caring gentleman.”

Looking more closely, we discovered why she was hobbling.

I saw she had no foot on her right leg, just a stump. “Oh my gracious, she’s walking on a stump!”

It took several minutes for her to pass in front of us. Only when she was safe did he leave his post in the middle of the road. Then they continued on their way, side by side.

Watching them together, my impatience dissipated and my heart melted at this amazing example of devotion and commitment.

But now let me share with you the rest of the story.

The venerable old gentleman was a sand hill crane. Around here, we see these birds frequently and virtually always in pairs.

That’s because sand hill cranes mate for life. They are fiercely protective of their partners. They care for each other even when their coats are not as shiny and their bodies not as perfect as they once were. They do not abandon companionships that become dated or difficult or inconvenient. They remain loyal to the end.

This gentleman’s example of commitment and compassion and selflessness is one that all of us would do well to emulate. In our culture of throwaway relationships, it’s reassuring to be reminded by a so-called “lesser” specie that, even through thick and thin, marriages can last a lifetime — perhaps an eternity.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Extraterrestrials


No matter where you are, what you’ve done, or what kind of mess you’re in, you can always phone home.
I was enchanted 30 years ago with the Steven Spielberg film, E.T., The Extraterrestrial, and I still am. The tender story of a vulnerable child far from home, yearning to “phone home,” strikes a chord deep inside me.
It resonates with me as I think about my relationship with my children. All six of them are grown now with homes of their own, but I still cherish each occasion when they call. I’m glad they want to share their joys and their sorrows with us.
Over the years they’ve called to let us know they just landed their dream job, or found that “special someone,” or given birth to a new grandchild. They’ve called to ask me to help orchestrate a surprise visit on my wife’s birthday, or to make sure someone knew where they were going on their weekend biking/camping trip and where our “grand-dog” would be kenneled, “just in case.”
Sometimes they call simply to say hello and chat a while. We like those calls.
Our most anticipated gift this Christmas will be a phone call. Our youngest child Paul is a missionary in Vina del Mar, Chile, and he’ll be phoning home Christmas day. We are so excited! We email every week but we haven’t spoken with him since he left in July. We can hardly wait to hear his voice and to tell him we love him and miss him and want to hear all about his experiences in Chile.
Like most parents, we’ve had our share of crisis calls too: news that one of them was getting a divorce, checking into a detox facility, or worried about a very sick baby.
Whether it’s good news or bad, I treasure their calls. Whether it’s a crisis or a celebration, I am grateful every time they phone home.
I also resonate with the story of E.T. because I see it as a metaphor for some of my personal spiritual beliefs.
Like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe that “[w]e are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
I also concur with William Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality. “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar; not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”
Hence I believe that we earthlings are a lot like E.T. We sense that we’re not “from here;” that we are in fact “extraterrestrials;” and that if we “phone home,” things will get better.
Yet unlike E.T., we are not on earth by accident. I believe our presence here is part of a grand design. We are pilgrims on a journey, students away at college. We’ve left our heavenly abode for a season of discovery, learning, growth and testing. In the end, it is our destiny to return home.
While here, we have not been left to our own devices. God our kind and loving Father has extended a standing invitation to phone home. I suspect He likes it when we just want to say hello, express thanks, and chat a while. If an earthly father like me can find so much joy in hearing from his children, then our Heavenly Father must find even greater joy when one of His children chooses to call, for whatever reason.
He wants to hear from His children in good times or in bad. I believe that no matter where we are, what we’ve done, how alone we feel, or what kind of mess we’re in, we can always phone home.
Thankfully, when we call our heavenly home, we never get a busy signal or an answering machine. He always answers. With an understanding ear and love in his heart.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Cranberry Sauce


Add Zest to Life, Whatever Your Role
As we sit down to a bounteous Thanksgiving dinner this week, we’ll be ooh-ing and aah-ing over a beautifully roasted turkey or tasty ham. There will be a special dressing on the table and perhaps a casserole or two. We’ll be saving room for some spicy pumpkin pie or other traditional dessert.
But as we feast, we mustn’t overlook the lesson of the cranberry sauce.
On most Thanksgiving menus, cranberry sauce is not the star of the show. It’s not the highlight of the dessert course. It’s a humble bit player, barely more than an extra. But that doesn’t stop it from being zesty and colorful. What would Thanksgiving dinner be without the tangy, vibrant cranberry?
Life is like that. We don’t always get to be the belle of the ball. Our name isn’t always up in lights. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference and find fulfillment in a “lesser” role.
The trajectory of history is more often cyclical than linear. As the wheel of life turns, sometimes we’re up and sometimes we’re down. So what? We can choose to give our all regardless of the situation.
When geese migrate in formation, they rotate positions frequently. They seem to understand that the flock can travel farther and faster when different birds take turns flying at the point of the V and the one in front falls back into the group.
“Whate’er thou art, act well thy part” was the personal creed of David O. McKay, a noted American church leader in the mid-20th century. He understood that how we serve is more important than where we serve, and that, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the body hath need of every member.
Small and simple acts of kindness add zest and color and make our lives sweeter. We need each one to make the feast of life complete.
This Thanksgiving, let’s relish the “cranberry sauce moments” of our own lives. We can’t always be the main dish, but we can make the most of even the smallest role.
And let’s appreciate those whose tiny but thoughtful service spice up our world and make it colorful and vibrant.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Fishing


To catch a fish, you must see the world through a fish’s eyes.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. More than fifteen million people “officially” make a living by convincing someone else to make a purchase.
But dig deeper and a startling truth emerges: Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales — but so do the other eight out of nine. Whether we’re employees trying to get a raise, entrepreneurs persuading funders, neighbors encouraging recycling, parents and teachers cajoling kids, or lovers wooing their partners, we spend our days trying to move others.
The reality is that selling is something each of us does all the time — whether we know it or not. We are all trying to influence others to see things our way. We are all, as Daniel Pink puts it, in the “moving business.”
So, given that we’re all in sales, how can we get better at it? Here’s my three-word formula for success: Attitude. Empathy. Story.
1. Attitude
First of all, we’ve got to stop feeling embarrassed about being salesmen. In my book Double Your SalesAn Honest and Authentic Approach to Professional Selling, I challenge professional advisors to put aside archaic notions of salesman as glad-hander or back-slapper or truth-stretcher, and to disabuse themselves of the notions that selling is an unsavory business, that “sell” is a four-letter word.
The truth is that no business, no relationship, no organization of any kind, can survive without mastering the art of persuasion. We need to get over our hang-ups.
The capacity to move people, to influence others to take action, is a tool. Like all tools, it is not inherently good or bad. It all depends on how it is used.
Salesmanship is a force for good if used with integrity and with respect for others. If we succeed in creating win/win outcomes that give everyone what they need and want, we should be proud of ourselves, not embarrassed.
2. Empathy
Before we can persuade others to see things our way, we must be able to see things their way. We must put ourselves into their world. We must, as a former U.S. president famously said, “feel their pain.”
To catch a fish, we must learn to think like a fish. Years ago I heard and memorized a clever little couplet that makes this point.
If you would sell
What John Smith buys,
Then see the world
Through John Smith’s eyes.
To move John Smith to action, we must see things from his perspective.
In the early 1980s, the Fisher Nut Company used a catchy tune and a clever jingle in their commercials: “We take the nut very seriously . . . At the Fisher Nut Company.”
John Smith may be a nut, but if we wish to sell what he buys, we’ve got to take him seriously.
He may be right or wrong; his views may make sense or not; his expectations may be reasonable or irrational; but it is his world, and in his world, he is king.
3. Story
So, how do we feel his pain and see the world through his eyes?
The most authentic and reliable information available to us about John Smith’s world is in his stories. As Sartre wrote: “A man lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others; he sees everything that happens to him through them.”
Like all of us, John Smith has assimilated life’s happenings and made sense of them by translating the events of his lives into stories. Over time, those stories became the reality he lives in, much like the water fish swim in.
Paying close attention to his stories — listening with the ears of the heart as well as those of the head — allows us to see how he sees the world. It permits us to understand his worries and concerns. With this insight we can propose solutions that are meaningful and valuable to him.
* * *
Successful win/win selling is ultimately about accurately identifying the other person’s problems and then matching them up with our solutions. As we do so, we create value all around. With a new mind-set, a healthy dose of empathy, and the age-old technology of story, we will succeed in the moving business. .

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Binoculars


The Farther Down the Trail You Can See,
The Easier It Is to Choose the Right Fork.
One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s "The Road Less Traveled." I can easily relate to his dilemma.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
I am thankful to live at a time and place in which we have such a wide range of options in the paths of our lives. But sometimes having choices can be a little scary.
Who has not felt the heart-pangs expressed in these lyrics from "Far From the Home I Love" in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof"?
Oh, what a melancholy choice this is,
Wanting home, wanting him,
Closing my heart to every hope but his,
Leaving the home I love,
While Yogi Berra's famous counsel -- "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." --is good for a laugh, it’s not at all helpful with real-world decision-making. When two roads diverge in the woods of our lives, how do we decide which to take?
I have found two questions that, when used in tandem, give me greater vision and depth perception when I am faced with serious decisions about the direction of my life. Like a pair of binoculars, they help me see further down the forks in the road ahead. They help me study out the question in my mind and get clarity for myself as I prepare to ask for divine guidance
The first question is “What is my purpose?” At my very core, what am I really all about? What was I put on this earth to accomplish?
I am deeply grateful to Mary Tomlinson, my friend and my partner in Legacy Planning Associates, LLC (visit www.LegacyPlans.com), for helping me distill my internal sense of purpose into a clear and succinct personal purpose statement. Her On-Purpose process allowed me to cut through a lot of verbiage and put my finger on the real me in just two words.
Being clear about my purpose has given me greater confidence in my decision-making. When facing a fork in the road I ask myself “Which option is more likely to allow me to stay on-purpose, and which is more likely to pull me off-purpose?
The second question is “How can I serve?” Which option will provide the greatest opportunity to assist others and give back to the world? This second question keeps my life in balance. It helps me remember that it’s never just about me; it’s always about making a difference with the people I love and the causes I support.
This question helps me maintain perspective, a sense of the depth and richness of a life spent helping others. I see the world more clearly because I am not merely looking in a mirror.
Without the second question, I risk becoming a self-absorbed navel-gazer, vainly thinking that the world revolves around me and that this choice is only about my own self-centered happiness. Since a man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small bundle, without the second question I’m in danger of becoming microscopic and irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.
I have found that these two questions, “What is my purpose?’ and “How can I serve?” help focus, magnify, simplify, and give depth to my options. They are like a set of binoculars, allowing me to see more clearly the way forward. With them, the right choice is usually pretty obvious.
I believe the essence of an abundant, joyful life is learning to make good choices. This two-question approach has served me well through the years. Perhaps it may be useful to you too.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Pyramids


Nomads don’t build pyramids; farmers do.

I am fascinated by pyramids and always have been. Going to Egypt is still on my bucket list, but I have made several trips to Central America to explore Mayan pyramids.

Pyramids are the ultimate expression of a legacy in stone. Centuries later, as we gaze in wonder upon their slopes or scale their heights, we want to know their builders’ stories.

Pyramids teach a number of lessons about how to leave a legacy, some positive and some negative, some obvious and others more subtle. I’d like to mention one that is important but perhaps less obvious:
Pyramid builders were not nomads or hunter-gatherers who roamed from place to place. Such transients could never have accumulated the resources required to construct a pyramid.

Before they erected awe-inspiring pyramids, those ancient builders mastered the decidedly un-glamorous work of plowing, planting, irrigating, weeding, cultivating, protecting, and harvesting their fields, season after season. They patiently tended their flocks, year after year. They successfully nourished their families and communities. A long-term commitment to agriculture was a prerequisite to successful pyramid building.

Without crops, there were no pyramids. Pyramid builders were farmers.

They understood and practiced what Stephen R. Covey called “the law of the harvest.” “All lasting results are produced in a sequence, are governed by principles, and are grown from the inside out.” Before you reap, you must sow, you must water, you must weed, and you must cultivate. There are no shortcuts.

This spring I returned to my agrarian roots.

I grew up on a small family farm in Fruitland, New Mexico. When I say “small,” I’m referring to the farm, not the family. The family was large, with 13 children.

We raised much of the food needed to feed so many mouths. Besides milk from our dairy herd, we grew fruit trees and raised chickens, pigs, and a few beef cattle. But the garden was the heart of our self-sufficiency.

For us children, the garden represented endless work: plowing, fertilizing, planting, hoeing, irrigating, thinning, picking, washing, canning. But our parents understood that we needed the food and, more importantly, we needed to learn how to work until the job was done, every day, all summer long.
Since those youthful days, I’ve dabbled in gardening with varying degrees of success, but those early lessons mostly lay dormant. But this year, I was able to secure 2½ rent-a-rows in a local organic community garden and put those long-fallow farming skills to work.

The results were pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

It required hard work, patience, tenacity, and timely counsel from an experienced local. It required steady, persistent attention, week after week, throughout the long growing season. There were no shortcuts. My fellow gardeners who neglected their rows lost much of their crop to weeds, bugs, and poor yields.

These lessons apply to legacy building as well as gardening.

I think the era of constructing stone pyramids is over. Our most important legacies, I believe, will be the impact we have on the people we care about. I agree with Pericles, who said that what truly matters “is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Creating a significant and enduring legacy requires a long-term commitment to our most important associations. It requires that we master the decidedly un-glamorous work of planting, weeding, irrigating, and cultivating the relationships that matter to us most. It requires shepherding our flock with love and patience and kindness.

When it comes to farming and legacy building, the law of the harvest still applies. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes, no overnight successes.

Nomads don’t build pyramids or lasting legacies. The wanderer who believes that fulfillment is waiting just over the next hill or the drifter who thinks the grass will be greener if he moves on to the next hook-up will not, in the end, have the resources required to produce a meaningful legacy.

At the end of his life, the relational gadfly will find himself alone and forgotten. He will discover to his chagrin that a man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small bundle, and that small bundles are seldom noticed or remembered.

The quality of our legacies will be a reflection of the quality of our lives and our relationships. Monumental legacies are left only by those who make monumental commitments to the people they love and then keep those commitments.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Road Maps


If you don’t know where you’re going, any map will do.

One of my heroes died this week.
I was a fan of Stephen R. Covey long before his Seven Habits books made him a household name. When I was a freshman at Brigham Young University his organizational behavior classes were so popular it was nearly impossible to get in. Everyone was talking about how eloquently he taught obvious but previously unstated truths.
I carried one of his earliest books, Spiritual Roots of Human Relations, with me to Brazil. It strongly influenced my determination as a young man to lead a purposeful and spiritual life.
When his Seven Habits of Highly Successful People went multi-platinum in 1989, I felt he finally achieved the world-wide impact he deserved. I thought his ideas were powerful enough to change the world.
Habits One and Two of his Seven Habits were “Be proactive” and “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, the first step is to recognize that you are not powerless; you can decide your course in life. Choose your own destination.
Second, as you move ahead, the direction of your journey and your attitude and comportment along the way should be consistent with the final outcome you desire. Build your life-map based on your chosen destination.
Covey’s principles call to mind Lewis Carroll’s famous conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don't much care where — ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“ — so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you're sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
For Alice, whose only purpose was to get SOMEWHERE, it didn’t matter what turn she took nor what map she used. If you don’t know where you’re going, any map will do.
While it is good to be moving, it is better to be moving with energy and purpose toward a clearly defined destination. This principle applies to matters as small as making a salad for today’s lunch or as large as defining a legacy.
If the end you have in mind is to leave a certain quality of legacy, you must begin by taking steps to tell and preserve your story and by living your life in harmony with that desired legacy. Covey taught that it is not possible to “talk your way out of a problem you have behaved yourself into.”
Living a life consistent with the way you wish to be remembered is the ultimate definition of integrity and the perfect recipe for a meaningful and remarkable legacy. To leave a large legacy, you must live large. To leave a smart legacy, you must live intelligently. To leave a loving legacy, you must live a life of caring and compassion. Wealth counselor Valery Satterwhite says, “The life you lead is the legacy you leave.”
This clever little poem by Benjamin Franklin seems to sum it all up.
If you would not be forgotten,
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
Or do things worth the writing.
My hero Stephen R. Covey did both. He wrote things worth reading and he did things worth writing about. He will not soon be forgotten.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles


It’s a lot easier to keep your balance when you’re moving forward.

I once worked with the head of a large organization with 10 division and 3,000 members. He saw his principal role as chief trouble-shooter and putting out fires. As it happened, there always seemed to be plenty of trouble and fires for him to handle.
He had no clear vision of where the organization was going and was not enthusiastic about defining one or communicating it to the organization. How could he stop and do that, he asked, when he was overwhelmed dealing with problems and putting out fires?
In the meantime, without direction, the organization languished and the people in it were constantly squabbling, getting into mischief, and spawning emergencies. Dealing with these issues took even more of his time and made it even less likely that he would establish a clear vision of where they were going.
It seemed to me that his focusing on problems attracted more of them. At the same time, the lack of forward momentum caused the energy of the organization to be dissipated on petty internal concerns.
I have observed that heads of organizations who lack “that vision thing,” as George H. W. Bush described it, have a difficult time rallying their troops or keeping them out of trouble. King Solomon wrote that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Usually they die from marching in endless circles, from starvation, or from constant infighting.
These officers may be in charge of organizations, but they are not leaders. Being a leader requires purpose, vision, direction, and movement.
My brother Lane is a leader who understands and applies Farnsworth’s First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles. He has led hundreds of horseback trips into the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado in the past 30 years. He knows the mountains and he knows how to handle horses.
Lane has found that horses generally work hard and are well behaved as long as you keep them moving along the trail. However, if you loiter too long at the trailhead or if you stop too long or too frequently along the way, they will start biting, kicking, and shoving each other. (There’s a reason it’s called “horseplay.”) If that starts to happen, Lane says, you must get back on the trail as soon as possible.
In his view, the keys to a successful pack trip are to (1) know where you’re headed, (2) get moving, and (3) keep moving steadily toward your destination.
Farnsworth’s First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles applies as much to humans as it does to bicycles and horses. Successful work groups, families, and individuals know and apply Lane’s three keys.
The concept that it is impossible to keep a bicycle at rest in balance is not very complicated. As a former student once derisively described it, this principle is “stupidly simple and ‘duh’ obvious.” “Everybody knows that!” he said.
I fully agree.
And yet, knowing that, how often do we find ourselves in a swirl of crises because we don’t have a clear vision and purpose?
How often do we get bogged down in a swamp of minutiae and trouble because we forget to focus on our primary objective?
How often do we allow interruptions and distractions to divert our attention and throw us off balance, draining precious energy and resources away from our main mission?
Sometimes, even if we don’t yet know all the answers to how we’re going to get to where we want to go, we just have to put one foot in front of the other and start moving.
Often the answer is to just “do it.”
When we do that, we frequently find that forward momentum itself resolves or makes irrelevant the nagging issues that kept us paralyzed.
Forward momentum itself gives us the energy to break through barriers that once seemed insurmountable.
Forward momentum itself takes us to a place where we can see how to reach our ultimate objective.
Sometimes the solution to our quandary is to simply jump on the bike and keep the pedals moving.
The Book of Proverbs counsels us: “With all thy getting, get understanding.” I would like to add the following to that sage advice:
With all thy getting, get going!
P.S. I recently had a conversation with Scott Rassler, a seasoned financial advisor in South Florida, about the importance of this principle.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Vacuums


Unless you fill your time with passion and purpose, worthless clutter will get sucked into your life.
No matter how you do the math, it always adds up to 168 hours per week. Whether you’re male or female; old or young; beautiful or plain; married, single, or somewhere in between, everyone gets the same number: 168.
The issue is never the number of hours; it is always what we choose to do with those hours.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If we don’t fill our time with worthwhile activity, all kinds of clutter will rush in to fill the void. Before long, all that stuff smothers the life out of us.
During my 60 years on this planet, I have witnessed a quantum leap in the number of ways we can spend our time. While the amount of currency we have in our pockets has stayed the same — 168 per week — the size of the bazaar has mushroomed and the glimmer of the merchandise has gotten much shinier.
Sometimes shinier is not better. Lately it seems that much of what is for sale in the marketplace of life serves only to distract and amuse us, rather than nourish, inspire, strengthen, and connect us.
If we’re not careful, we can end up spending a large chunk of those 168 hours surfing, tweeting, watching sports, working puzzles, playing video games, and mastering virtual worlds. While such distractions may not be harmfulper se, they can cut into our capacity to make a difference in the real world and can prevent us from experiencing a more abundant life.
The hours and the energy we spend killing angry birds (or whatever is your addiction of choice) are lost forever to doing things of more lasting value, like reading to our children, learning to paint, teaching a grandchild to fish, planting green beans, taking a walk with our spouse, strengthening our faith, or sharing stories with a shut-in.
Unfortunately, an inclination to do good is no longer sufficient to withstand the allure of mindless amusement. The siren call of distractions is so powerful today that only those who have found a deeper, more passionate purpose in their being and who use their time to bring that purpose to life are able to resist it.
Discovering why we are here, our purpose for being, is the only sure way to protect ourselves from the curse of shallow amusement. Knowing our purpose fills our life with direction and meaning, and crowds out clutter and drivel.
It also helps us find our passion and learn what makes us come alive. When we are doing what we truly love, we have no need for vacuous distractions.
It is not crucial whether following our purpose and passion is our vocation or an avocation. What is important is that it engages us, inspires us, and drives us to excellence.
When we fill that space at our core with purpose and passion, we eliminate the vacuum that sucks in less meaningful ways of using our time. We are energized and empowered to transform the real world, and we find lasting joy in doing so. The result is a life of greater abundance.

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Peanut Butter & Jelly


Be careful what you spread around, because some of it will end up on you...
When our six children were small, we made a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And as both peanut butter and jelly are wont to do, a lot of it wound up on us and them instead of on the bread. Our dry cleaning bills were astronomical in those days. I guess that's an occupational hazard of raising six children.
I have found that it's not just peanut butter and jelly that end up back on us when we spread them around. The same thing happens with our outlook on life.
Two good friends of mine illustrate this principle.
One - I'll call him "Edward" - has had troubles, but also more than his share of blessings. He has a beautiful and loving family, an engaging career, and plenty of expensive toys. Yet he always seems to see the grey cloud behind every silver lining.
When something goes well, he claims the credit and takes his success for granted. When things don't go so well - which seems to be quite often - he's quick to find fault and play the blame game.
He's also the first to invite you to his own private pity party. There, his tales of woe and his lamentations of life's unfairness are multiplied.
Many of his former friends have learned to avoid him. They don't need the weight of his pessimism to drag them down. As Edward senses their withdrawal, he gets defensive and moody and pulls away from them. His circle of friends shrinks and the downward cycle continues.
He wonders why there is so much negativity around him.
The other - I'll call him "John" - has had more than his lifetime share of deep water, but he always seems to bob to the surface, smiling and grateful. He goes out of his way to connect people in his wide circle of friends, and he's constantly looking for ways to help others get ahead.
The concept that it is impossible to keep a non-moving bicycle upright is not very complicated. he is quick to express. People seek out opportunities to be with him. Not surprisingly, success seems to find him wherever he goes.
He's the first to attribute that success to others and to share the benefits with his team. He seems to have little ego or need to be in the limelight.
For him, life is good.
As I think about Edward and John, I'm reminded of an 1850s trading post in a small settlement in a pleasant valley along the Oregon Trail.
Wagon trains passing through would spend the night and stock up on supplies before heading further west. On occasion, some travelers weary of the long journey would pause to consider whether they should stop and homestead in the valley.
One such traveler approached the shopkeeper and asked, "What kind of people live here?"
The merchant replied, "Well, before I answer that, tell me what kind of people live in the place you just left."
"Oh, they weren't very neighborly. They seemed to only care for themselves, and there was a lot of fussing. We couldn't wait to leave," answered the traveler.
"I think you'll find the people here are a lot like that," said the shopkeeper.
The traveler decided to keep on moving.
The next day, another traveler, also weary of the long trail, asked the merchant about the people living in the valley.
Once again, the merchant gave the same reply: "Well, before I answer that, tell me what kind of people live in the place you came from."
"Oh," said the traveler, "they were kind and generous. They worked hard and took care of each other. We loved our little community and really hated to leave, but there was just no more land available."
"I think you'll find the people here are a lot like that," said the shopkeeper.
The traveler and his family decided to stay and homestead in the pleasant valley. They soon discovered the people there to be kind, generous, hard-working, caring, and loving, just as the merchant had described them.
So often, what we encounter in life is but an extended reflection of ourselves. Are we happy with what we're spreading around?

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership and Roughnecks


Everyone you meet on the road of life has something to teach you; slow down and listen.
The most useful lesson those roughnecks taught me — a once-in-a-lifetime nugget from the most unlikely of sources — came on a blistering August day when I first experienced “pulling a wet string.
* * *
I’m still not sure how I survived the summer of ‘74 on an oil rig in western Colorado. The work was back-breaking and conditions were dirty and dangerous. But it paid well and I needed the money for college, so I stuck it out.
I was the odd man out in our four-man crew. I was an honors student headed to law school who went to church every week and didn’t smoke, drink, or chew. The others in that crew, let’s just say, were none of the above.
On the rig, no one had a name, only a nickname, a nom de guerre. At 22, I was the “Kid.” If I had stuck around a little longer I might have earned a more substantial moniker, but everyone knew I was just summer help.
“The Driller” or “Drill” was in charge of the crew. He wasn’t much older than I but had been working on rigs since he was 14, and he was a crackerjack rig operator. He worked hard and drank hard. On Monday mornings he liked to sing a ragged rendition of James Brown’s “I Feel Good, Like I Knew That I Would.” It was his way of convincing himself that his blood-shot eyes and hangover weren’t all that bad. His goal was to become a “tool pusher,” the guy who got to drive a company truck from rig to rig and bark orders to rig crews like ours.
“Grody” (named for his thick, dirty mustache that seemed to catch a piece of everything he ate or drank) was the other deck hand besides me. He was the old man of the crew, having been around the “oil patch” for nearly 20 years. He was quietly comfortable on the deck operating the tongs and the slips, but had no ambition to be in charge of the crew. He spent most of his weekly paychecks on weekend binges with his girlfriend Teresa.
“Red” (named for his bright orange hair and ruddy complexion) was the one-eyed derrick hand who danced along a narrow perch 50 feet in the air, catching the tongs and the 50-foot stands of tubing as they came up from the well and leaning them back in the derrick. He was a practical joker. He loved spitting Red Man chewing tobacco on Grody and me from above. Grody would swear at him and threaten all forms of obscene bodily harm, but Red would just laugh because he knew Grody was afraid of heights and couldn’t come after him.
I learned some interesting lessons from that colorful crew that summer. One of the most lasting was on the day we “pulled a wet string.”
Normally when you pull the string of pipe from a well (in this case about 12,000 feet of 2 5/8 inch tubing), the pump at the bottom has been unseated and all the oil inside the tubing has run back into the bottom of the well. Sometimes, however, the pump gets stuck and the oil can’t run out, so the tubing is completely full of oil.
That’s what they call “a wet string.
Pulling a wet string is one of the worst things that can happen on a production rig like ours. As the tubing full of oil is pulled from the well and the first 50-foot section is unscrewed at the derrick floor, several gallons of oil from that part of the pipe spray out on the deck hands and the driller. Then another 50-foot section is pulled up and unscrewed and you’re showered again.
By the third or fourth time, your clothes are saturated and oil is dripping from your hair and off your hardhat and into your eyes. Your eyes are stinging and you’d like to wipe them but your gloves are full of oil too. It’s inside your steel-toed boots and your underwear. Everything you have on is ruined and will need to be burned at the end of the day.
The deck and all the tools are slick and oily. Your brain is screaming to hurry up and get this over with, but you have to take it easy so no one gets hurt. It’s like a slow motion dream — the kind in which you’re trying to flee but you’re running through Jell-O.
And then you realize there are still 11,800 feet of wet string to go. That means 236 more oil showers, and it’s not even 9 o’clock yet. Without a doubt today will be one of the nastiest, most wretched days of your life.
* * *
Around noon we stopped for lunch and were squatting in the shade eating our sandwiches with oily fingers. No one felt much like talking. Finally Driller broke the miserable silence.
“Pretty tough day, huh Kid?” he asked.
“The worst,” I snorted. “If I had known this was going to happen, I would have quit yesterday.”
Red chimed in sarcastically. “Hey, don’t forget the extra fifty bucks wet string pay.”
“We get an extra fifty bucks?” I queried.
“Yeah," Red explained. “They say it’s to buy new clothes, but it’s really just to keep the whole crew from twisting off.” (That’s oil patch lingo for walking off the job en masse.)
“Aw, this ain’t nothin’,” added Grody. “You should try doin’ this in the middle of the winter. Happened to me about three Januarys ago over near Steamboat.”
“This is so disgusting. How do you stand doing this year after year? Why don’t you get another job, do something different?” I asked.
Driller scrunched up his face and almost rolled his eyes. “That’s what you ain’t learned yet, Kid. It don’t matter what you do, every job’s gonna have its share of wet string days.
“Every now and again, even if you’re some hot-shot attorney in a three-piece suite at a fancy law firm in downtown Denver, even then, _____ happens. It don’t do no good to try and run from it. You just gotta learn to make the best of it.”
“He’s right,” Grody nodded. “Every job’s gonna have its share of wet string days. Take the good with the bad and deal with it.”
* * *
“Wet String Days.”
Their words still ring in my ears. I can’t say that I appreciated their wisdom that day, but it did stick with me.
Over the years I’ve found it to be true. Even the best of jobs, even the best of lives, have their share of wet string days, days when the wheels come off and everything falls apart.
“Wet String Days.”
I’ve discovered that it helps to have a name for those kinds of situations. When something’s labeled, it’s easier to recognize it, talk about it, and find a place for it.
I’ve learned that life is not about avoiding wet string days, because you can’t. Life is about learning to handle them when they happen and not letting them sour you for the majority of days when the pump doesn’t get stuck in the tubing and the pipes aren’t full of oil and you don’t have to burn all your clothes at the end of the shift.
It’s about finding joy in the journey. It’s about learning life’s amazing lessons from the interesting people you meet along the way.
Bless those roughnecks and the lessons they taught me. I wonder where they are today?