What I’m Proud Of

Day 4 of the writing challenge and today’s prompt is: what is something I’m proud of?

Over 20 years ago I taught math to 2nd and 4th grade students in summer school – and I’m proud that I did this.  My mother was an elementary school teacher and she would often teach summer school in order to earn money while school was out for the summer.  I remember going with her and watching her teach summer school since I was 10 years old.  I didn’t really have a choice as to whether or not I wanted to go – since she was a single mother and there was nothing else for me to do.  Finally, when I was old enough, my mother gave me a chance to participate.  Since I grew up seeing teaching as something important and cool – I jumped on the opportunity.

Every day my mom would give me lesson plans for the day.  It was the basic stuff like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with some word problems here and there.  She set it up so I’d get a quarter of her class at a time and I would teach the lesson.  School lasted a half day – so at lunchtime I’d take the kids to lunch at the cafeteria and then I’d help get them on busses to go home.  As a young man, this role was empowering and meant much more to me than I ever thought a paid job could.

As I was writing this, I realized a couple very interesting things (to me at least).  First off, it really stands out that on summer break that year my most memorable experiences were from unstructured volunteer work and not beach trips or working a paid internship in my field of study (Information Systems in case you were wondering).  Secondly, I’m just now realizing that when I tell people about myself, this accomplishment is frequently part of the story.  Thanks to this writing challenge and today’s prompt – I have better insight into why!

What Do People Thank Me For?


It’s day 3 of the Live Your Legend improve your writing habits challenge – the writing prompt today is: what do people thank me for?

I’m consistently thanked for listening to others and making an effort to understand what they are trying to say.  Which is interesting in two main ways.  First off, despite all my bright ideas, creative abilities, positive energy, and desire to offer helpful advice, people around me tend to find it most helpful when I just shut the hell up and first try to understand what is going on with them.  And second, it’s the effort to try and understand that I’m really getting thanked for.  The perspective I’ve developed over years of professional experience as well as in my study and practice of Zen is nice and all – but when I’m trying to help others that stuff doesn’t really seem to matter.  The thanks come from giving a damn and for trying to understand the other persons point of view.



The Art of Listening

I figured that since people seem to appreciate my ability to listen, I’d offer up a few pointers on how I approach listening along with some tips that you may find useful as you work on improving your own listening skills.

Calm down and quiet your ego – it’s about them, not you!

When I want to listen to someone the first thing I do is chill myself out.  Any needs, wants, or ego-driven thoughts get put on hold.  Why?  I want to give the person speaking to me the physical and mental space to express themselves.  They can’t do this if I’m jumping up and down like a kid waiting to pee ready to blurt out 100 ideas at a mile a minute the moment they stop to take a breath.


One trick I use is to practice conscious breathing – the kind that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “Peace is Every Step”.  In order to make this work you have to breathe consciously in the moment you are listening – as opposed to being seated in meditation.  True – it’s harder to do this in the real world – and it takes practice – but it’s worth it.  You will need to learn to bring your meditation out into the real world if you want to use the fruits of your enlightenment to help others.

Take notes and clarify what you hear

Don’t try to see the big picture while in the moment – just listen and write down what you hear.  Don’t worry about organizing the notes in some intelligent manner while listening, and don’t try to frame them into some sort of general problem statement either.  Just write down what you hear and when the person is done talking take a moment to review what you wrote down by saying something like “Thanks for sharing with me, would you mind letting me reiterate what I just heard you say”.  I’m constantly surprised at how much this simple act helps.

It helps if you actually care

Show the person speaking you care by asking thoughtful clarifying questions.  For example, if someone tells you they don’t like going to the supermarket, don’t just ask “why not?”.  Instead, think about a few reasons why they might not like those visits based on what they are saying and then ask something like “do you dislike the supermarket because you find it uncomfortable there?”.  That’s still a fairly generic question – but it’s likely the person speaking will intuitively find this more caring which will allow you to take the discussion to a deeper level.

Use empathy, spare the sympathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.  Sympathy is feeling pity and sorrow for someone.  Understanding someone’s feelings and helping them do something positive and useful about those feelings is great.  Feeling sorry for someone and allowing them to feel sorry for themselves should never be our goal.  Why?  Feeling sorry for ourselves or others doesn’t improve things – it allows us to accept something we don’t actually want to accept.  This is a form of giving up with an acceptable excuse and if you read my last post you would know that I think this should be avoided at all costs.

Your credentials will bring them, but it takes more to keep them

My professional and personal accomplishments are one of the main reasons people seek me out for advice and help.  As I’ve said before, in order to help others you first have to be strong for yourself and your family.  I think most of us understand this intuitively which is why we seek out people we see as successful for advice or help.  What I’ve found over the years, is that while my credentials bring people to me, they do little to keep them coming back.  Why?  Because it’s about them, not me.  If I can’t listen to the person who came to me and actually do something helpful or useful for them, then I’m of no use and shouldn’t expect a repeat visit.



Let me know what you think!

I hope you found my tips on listening useful and incorporate them into your listening game immediately.  I understand that many of these tips sound simple but can be difficult to effectively use.  If you have any questions or thoughts you are more than welcome to leave a comment here and I’ll be sure to reply to you.

What Really Makes Me Angry About The World


Why write about something that makes me angry?

I’m taking the Start-A-Blog Challenge courtesy of Scott Dinsmore’s Live Your Legend.  It’s only day 2 and this free and totally awesome course has already done more in under an hour to help get my ideas out into the real world than the past year I’ve spent contemplating how to get started.  Each day I’m prompted with a different topic to write about and the topic today is: what makes me angry about the world.



What makes me angry?  When we give up!

What makes me really angry is when people, including yours truly, give up and stop trying.  Whatever the pursuit or situation, I consistently find myself angry at the thought and act of giving up.  I’m not talking about the kind of quitting that Seth Godin talks about in his fantastic book “The Dip“.  Quitting something because it’s not generating the results we want or because our heart is not in it so that we can focus our energy somewhere that matters to us, I call that prioritization.  I’m a fan of prioritization.

The kind of giving up that makes me angry is when we give up on our dreams or quit listening to our hearts.  For example, until recently I deferred my dream of being a teacher.  I thought that I’d start teaching later in life as either a second career, in retirement, when I was rich enough, or after I had completed some synthetic obstacle like getting a masters degree.  Basically anytime except right now.  I learned to look at this as giving up with an acceptable excuse and I was angry with myself once I realized what I was doing.  I was angry because I spent a good part of my life deferring my dream of being a teacher when there was absolutely no reason that I couldn’t do it right this instant.


What I decided to do about my own giving up

I stopped making excuses and I stopped waiting.  Fair or unfair, safe or scary – I just said “whatever, screw it” and jumped in head first.  With all my heart what I wanted was to teach others – so I found a way to do this in my current job.  I made myself available to people who wanted to learn and I developed myself and my knowledge so that I was able to help them in useful and wonderful ways.  No need to wait until retirement or until I had a Masters Degree – nope – I just went ahead and got started.  I constantly ask the people I’m trying to help for feedback and I listen to and act on what they tell me.  I never stop working to be the best teacher possible.

The result?  I’m currently coaching 5 people at my company in addition to working much more closely with my team.  To me, that means I’m a teacher now.  There is also an interesting side effect to this story.  I’m more valuable to my company now because I’m more helpful to those around me.  It’s neat how things work out when you listen to your heart and take positive action to do something about it!

Why I Started A Blog


A Little About Me

Professionally, I’m a technologist and business leader working in the banking industry and helping those around me achieve great things.  Personally, I’m a proud husband and father and part of a wonderful family.  I’m an eternal student and teacher at heart and have a fantastic set of interests ranging from purely artistic to highly athletic.



Why Start A Blog?

I have the spirit of teacher and I started this blog as a way to extend my teaching beyond the people I work and live with.  This blog allows me to get my ideas out into the world and to expand my learning through feedback from a broader audience.  I will never stop trying to teach useful and helpful things to those around me – this blog is my next step forward in this pursuit.