Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Give the Gift of Story-Listening


"One of the sincerest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."
Bryant H. McGill

The last five or six weeks of the year are jam-packed with holidays. Whether they have secular or religious origins, these celebrations bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy part of the year. Perhaps they are designed to boost our morale and lift our spirits when the weather is cold and the nights are long and dark.  

Most of these festive occasions bring together family and friends. Several of them also include traditions of giving gifts. I'd like to suggest a gift that's simple and affordable, yet infinitely valuable. It's something all can give, regardless of age, education, or financial status, and it's a perfectly appropriate present whenever family and friends gather:
My suggestion: this year, give the gift of Story-Listening.

In my work with hundreds of clients, and in writing Like a Library Burning: Sharing and Saving a Lifetime of Stories, (visit our website) I have found that "in millions of ways, large and small, stories matter."  

Everyone is full of stories. "To be a person is to have a story to tell," wrote Isak Dinesen. Those stories have an urgent need to be told. Maya Angelou is credited with recognizing that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."  

Authors Scott West and Mitch Anthony observed:

We all have a biographical impulse that fuels a parade of stories about ourselves, yet we somehow fail to connect the need to tell our own story to the fact that others harbor the same impulse. While every person's story may not be interesting to others, it is interesting to them, and they want to tell it.

If this is true - and I believe it is - then one of the greatest gifts we can give another is to listen with love and attention to their stories. "Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen." Margaret J. Wheatley

Listening in this way is an act of love, an acknowledgment of the inherent worth of the storyteller and an expression of our affection for them. What a sweet gift to give another!

Good story-listeners are intentional about drawing personal narratives out of others. They find and learn to use a handful of what I call "story-leading questions." These are inquiries that invite the other person to answer with a story. These queries exhibit a warm and welcoming interest in the life of another, and invariably lead to wonderful memories and stories.

You may have some of your own holiday-oriented story-leading questions that work well for you; if not, here are some you might try:
  • ·         From your perspective, how have Thanksgiving gatherings changed over the years?
  • ·         What are some of your favorite memories of Christmas?
  • ·         How was Hanukah celebrated in your family growing up?
  • ·         What was a New Year’s celebration that stands out in your memory?
  • ·         Who is someone who gives very thoughtful gifts?  What are some examples you can recall?
  • ·         Do you have some great memories about Santa Clause?  When/how did you find out?
  • ·         Some people take holiday trips to interesting places.  Have you ever done that?
  • ·         What was the best gift you ever received?  That you gave?

This year, give the gift of Story-Listening. Inviting others to share their stories is a welcome and generous gift any time of the year, but will be especially appreciated during the holiday season. It's a small and simple thing, but it will add great joy to their life and yours. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



"I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet."
Chinese proverb

When I was about six or seven, I was a bit jealous of one of my classmates named Robert. While I was one of several children, Robert was an only child. While I had but a few toys, which I had to share with all my siblings, he seemed to have every toy imaginable and he didn't have to share them with anyone.  

My envy of Robert hit a new peak when I attended his birthday party and discovered that he owned the ultimate 1950s luxury: his own electric record player and dozens of records to play on it. Life just wasn't fair.

One of the records he played several times that day was a song by Burl Ives called "Horace the Horse." Horace was a merry-go-round horse who always seemed to be bringing up the rear, which made him quite miserable. I could readily relate to Horace:

Horace the horse on the merry-go-round
Went up and down, round and round
He's been sad since the day he found
He's the very last horse on the merry-go-round.

The music began and away they'd go
High and low, to and fro
Poor old Horace would always say
"I'm the very last horse again today."

How he tried and tried and tried
But he just never could win
Horace cried and cried and cried,
'Cause all the other horses were ahead of him.

The more I listened to Horace's tale of woe and compared my situation with Robert's, the more unsatisfied I became with my own miserable life.  

But then I listened carefully to the last verse.

As its message sunk in and I understood how that lesson could apply to me at that very moment, everything changed for me, just as it did for Horace:

Then came the day on the merry-go-round
Horace turned, looked around, then said, "Gosh, Oh gee!
I'm the very first horse on the merry-go-round
'Cause the others are following me!"

My pathetic little pity party ended promptly when I changed the way I viewed my situation in comparison to Robert's. Sure, he had lots of toys, but he had no one to play with. I had a whole batch of built-in playmates. We could play basketball or football or hide-and-seek or kick the can or Red Rover at our house, but all Robert could do was play records to himself. Poor Robert!

Somehow those words from Horace the Horse and the lesson they taught have stuck with me all these years. They remind me that there is magic - or misery - in the ways I compare myself to others, and the choice is mine and mine alone. If I find myself lamenting my lot in life, I have but to turn around and, if I choose to, I can see life differently.  

Thomas S. Monson said, "Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings." In a similar vein, the Greek philosopher Epictetus observed, "He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."  

This Thanksgiving, I invite you to pause and contemplate your blessings. I encourage you to turn, look around, and say "Gosh, Oh gee!" as you discover how wonderful your life really is. I recommend that you express your appreciation to the people who matter most to you, and give thanks for all we enjoy here in America that others in the world can only dream of having. This Thanksgiving, be grateful.

* * * *

Here's a link for the song about Horace the Horse:  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Here's to the Late Bloomers


"I'll tell you, there is nothing better in life than being a late bloomer. I believe that success can happen at any time and at any age."
Salma Hayek


Last Saturday - November 11 - I planted kale and arugula sprouts in my backyard garden.  

To some, planting vegetables so late in the season may sound foolhardy. But with our growing conditions here in Harmony and my green thumb, there's still plenty of time to produce lots of delicious, healthy crops. In fact, vegetables grow better when our nights get cooler.

On January 2, 2018 - at the age of 65 - I will be launching a new business enterprise.  

Some of my friends have questioned why I would do such a thing when I'm already at an age when lots of folks are ready to turn themselves out to pasture. Time to hang it up, slow down, and learn how to play golf, they say.

I don't see it that way. To me, I'm still in the middle of my growing season. I still have some blooms left in me. I may not have as much energy as I did when I was 35, but I have more insight, life wisdom, human understanding, and useful knowledge. I think I can still bring great value to the table for those who want to get their legal and retirement affairs in order.

Many folks my age have discovered a new passion and have gone on to do exceptional things after "normal" retirement age. For example, Colonel Sanders was 65 when he launched the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. From there, he went on to become a multimillionaire and a world-famous icon. Grandma Moses was 75 when she first took up painting. One of her 3,600 works, Sugaring Off, which she painted when she was 83 years old, sold a few years ago for $1.2 million.  

At my "advanced age," I have discovered a new mission: I want to deliver first-class professional planning services to middle income families conveniently and at an affordable price.  

Middle-class clients today find themselves on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to wills, trusts, and other planning tools: Average consumers consider traditional law firms too slow, too expensive, and largely unapproachable. As a result, many Americans have turned to Legal Zoom and other online services. Sadly, the online route is often dangerous and fraught with serious mistakes. The results can be disastrous.

Case in point: In Aldrich v. Basile (2014), the Florida Supreme Court adjudicated the estate of Ann Aldrich. She intended that her entire estate go to her brother James. Unfortunately, Ann had prepared both a will and an amendment by herself using "E-Z Legal Forms." Both turned out to be defective under Florida law.

The self-made will had no residuary clause, so much of Ann's property was not covered and did not go to James. Ann tried to fix that mistake with an amendment or "codicil," but the amendment wasn't witnessed correctly so the court threw it out.

Two of Ann's nieces who were not included in the will contested the will during probate, arguing that they were entitled to part of the estate that was not specifically included in the document. They argued that because the will didn't have a residuary clause, the unnamed assets should pass through Florida's laws of intestacy.

After more than four years of legal wrangling, the court ruled that much of Ann's substantial estate went to the two nieces, whom she did not like. Although the court seemed sympathetic to James Aldrich's plight, it ultimately found that any other interpretation would require the court to rewrite the will to include provisions that Ann Aldrich did not specify.
Justice Barbara Pariente said the case reminded her of the old adage, "penny wise and pound foolish," for had Ann Aldrich used a qualified attorney to draw up her will, her brother likely would have wound up with the full estate as she intended.

* * * *

Tragic messes like the Aldrich case are all too common and altogether unacceptable. Besides traditional law firms and online services like Legal Zoom and its ilk, I believe there is a third way, a better way. I have discovered that better way and I'm prepared to offer it to the good people of Central Florida in January. I am building my new business around this simple idea:  Middle Income Families Deserve Professional And Convenient Estate Planning and Retirement Planning Services at an Affordable Price.    

So, when is it too late to plant? For me, not yet. I still have some growing and blooming to do. As Robert Frost wrote, "I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,   And miles to go before I sleep."

Can't wait for January.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - I Hope I Never Have to Live Without You


"True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well-being of one's companion. Any man who will make his wife's comfort his first concern will stay in love with her throughout their lives and through the eternity yet to come."
Gordon B. Hinckley

My wife Marcie turns 66 next Tuesday. But unlike most women, she does not dread getting older. In fact, she has always looked forward to being her grandparents' age, perhaps because she had four truly angelic grandparents who doted on her and provided a foundation of love and stability in the midst of her parents' divorce. I too have found wonderful joys with each new stage of life as I advance through the years.  

We especially love being on this journey together. We were madly-in-love newlyweds at age 23, and we're still madly in love after all these years. A line from The Notebook captures our feelings for each other:

You are my best friend as well as my lover, and I do not know which side of you I enjoy the most. I treasure each side, just as I have treasured our life together.

So, we don't worry about getting older, but we do worry about leaving the other alone. Because of our temple marriage for time and all eternity, we know with an absolute certainty that we'll be husband and wife forever after we die. We just hope we can avoid long years of earth-life separation if one of us goes first.  

Winnie the Pooh gave voice to our deepest wish when he said:  

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.

We recognize that's not likely to happen, but wouldn't it be sweet if it did? It would probably be traumatic for our children, but for us it would be prayers answered and dreams come true.

Funny how your dreams change as you get older.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Are You Workin' on Something Big?


"It wasn't no way to carry on
It wasn't no way to live
But he could put up with it for a little while-
He was workin' on something big."
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 
In the chorus of Tom Petty's rather unsavory "Something Big," we find an important bit of wisdom: we can put up with a lot of challenging stuff when we're focused on an objective bigger than ourselves.   

Everyone's path through life has its share of boulders, potholes, and detours. Those who fail to identify their own personal "Something Big" are in for a bumpy, grumpy ride, while those who find a larger purpose discover that the journey is exhilarating and joyful.

If I'm headed to an important meeting, a long-awaited vacation, or a holiday with my grandchildren, I can handle crowded airports, cramped airplane seats, and delayed flights - but only if I keep that more significant purpose in mind. If I lose the vision of why I'm traveling, the flight can become unbearable.  

If I'm working on a new tool or a different direction for my business, I find renewed energy and abundant creativity that pulls me through the rough spots. For me, without the next big idea or project, work gets stale and aggravating. No fun. I've got to have "Something Big" up ahead of me.

So, what's your next "Something Big"? What's going to allow you to "put up with it for a little while" while you're working on your own personal "Something Big"?

*  *  *  *  * 

P.S. I'm working on "Something Big." Something really big! Unveiling in January.