Success is Relative

Easy, now. Put the Sword of Truth down. I have NOT lost my moral marbles.

I said relative not relativism. Support for my claim that there is a distinction comes from the eminent historian Paul Johnson, who, in his monumental work, Modern Times, makes this very point on behalf of no less than Albert Einstein himself. (You know, that guy who came up with the whole “Theory of Relativity” thing?) In the opening pages of the work, Johnson writes:

At the beginning of the 1920’s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly, but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.

No one was more distressed than Einstein by this public misapprehension.

Feel better? If not, consider three broad, simple examples:

  1. Life – for a person in war, success is staying alive. For a person living in peace and harmony in the developed world, it might be a wife [or husband, depending], two kids, and a house with a white picket fence.
  2. Business – some people just want a job, or to get offered a specific job; others want to be CEO and have a 7-figure salary.
  3. Sports – one athlete will accept nothing less than the championship, while some other kid just wants to make the team.

I won’t belabor this point any further.

I bring this to your attention because it bears directly on my purpose here: to build toward a definition of Success, one that you and I can apply to our lives as a whole, as well as to individual events within them.

Specifically, here, I want to answer this question: “If Success is relative, then why bother trying to define it? It’s different for each person, in each situation.”

Well, voice in my head, that seems to be true, but defining success is like setting a goal. It gives us something to work toward, as well a marker against which to measure our progress and stay on course.

I’ve tried to be clear about my position on the whole “success means wealth” thing in previous posts, but if this is your first time joining us, let me repeat: I don’t think money equals success, but it is part of the equation. Or, at least, a certain amount of it makes life a heck of a lot easier. All of that being said, a recent example, drawn from the world of finance, provides a helpful illustration. In his latest book, Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins challenges readers to come up with a number that would provide “total financial freedom” for the them. This is not just paying your bills and basic necessities, but income and wealth that allows you to live the life you otherwise only dream about.

But Robbins goes beyond just the mere suggestion: he actually provides the tool(s) to come up with such a number, through a calculation and formula available in the mobile app that readers get along with the purchase of the book.

Certainty, a form of knowledge, is power. He gives the example of man, who, at one of his seminars, said he needed (or wanted?) a billion dollars to live the life he “really wanted,”  which included travel on private planes, yachts, etc. Tony challenged him on the point, and, rather than just letting him persist with what is, for 99.99999% of people an unattainable (and maybe even inconceivable) dollar amount, he actually went through some real calculation of the cost of such luxuries, and helped the man arrive at a revised 8-figure goal. That’s still a lot – but it’s WAY less than a billion dollars, and significantly more realistic and attainable.

Now unfortunately for me (or for all of us), there’s no formula for determining success in other – or any – areas of our life, big or small. There’s no “app for that.” (They lied to us!)

But I do have a simple formula, drawn from what is, at least to me an unlikely source: my former boss. A smart guy, he began his career in the Air Force and the NSA, and, among other things, went on to be a partner at Deloitte. As we were preparing an investor presentation for our startup company, and I was wondering how to find the answer to a question he asked of me, he told me (maybe a little condescendingly) about his rule for making “directionally correct assessments.” He said you need three “lines of bearing” all pointing you toward, or validating, the same point. Those three lines of bearing are:

  1. Research, Evidence, or Data – this should be some objective source of information that relates to the question you are trying to answer
  2. Experience of Others, preferably someone you know – this should corroborate the information gleaned in your research, but add some “color” to what could otherwise be dull, gray facts.
  3. Your Gut – things may be stronger in (or on?) some of us, than for others, but trusting yourself, and your intuition, should not be dismissed.

If you can, in any situation, take time to understanding what each of those three things tells you, then you’ve at least got a “directionally correct assessment” of what success may look like for you. Or at least you’re in a better position than believing that you need the equivalent of a billion dollars.

In the next few posts, I’m going to going a little deeper, and even use some unconventional ways to help us arrive at our definition of success, including:

  • What prevents us from wanting/trying to define success?
  • What are the “normal” ways people try to define success?
  • Defining success through its opposite: failure

Stay tuned.

-Fred

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Shipping: Day One

In response to my most recent post, Reflection and Resolution, my sister wrote that “it seemed a bit disjointed.” I take her input seriously anyway, but in this particular case she’s managed to capture a larger feeling that I’ve had for some time. I can’t seem to focus on completing individual tasks: I’m always moving from one thing to the next, mentally and sometimes literally.

Do I have adult ADD?? Well, based upon my Wikipedia research, my self-diagnosis comes back negative. Maybe, like Dante, “In the midway of this our mortal life, / I found me in a gloomy wood, astray / Gone from the path direct[.]” Ironically (or paradoxically, or something), I had planned to write a post that used Google Maps, as its framework. (It was also to include references Sun Tzu and Benjamin Franklin. Maybe my sister has a point, huh?)

Clever as I think that post might have turned out, it would have been little more than the “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”

It’s not that I’ve lost my way…I don’t even know where I’m going! It’s not just the blind leading the blind here. You’ve got Captain Wanderlust at the helm, and he’s had a whole bottle of rum before noon!

So I’ve put that aside for the time being, all that talk about “finding the paths formed by the conditions of your success.” Don’t misunderstand me – I still that our working terms of Preparation and Providence hold up. There are numerous ways of saying the same thing(s), which many people smarter and more accomplished than I have done – which leads me to think that my thinking is at least directionally correct, as well as come by honestly.

Rather than persisting in this journey, hoping to bumble way back into familiar territory and the answers I don’t currently know that I’m seeking, I’m hitting the pause button. I want to take a “meta-journey.” Finding my way in order to find my way. If this sounds unnecessarily esoteric and pretentious, well, yeah, maybe. But I’m really concerned with getting all of this – whatever “this” is – right, in the hopes of doing all of us a bit of good for our lives.

Two phrases, borderline platitudinous but relevant nonetheless, come to mind here. The first, repeated to me recently and often by my good friend Deshad, is “Progress, not Perfection.” One day, after discussing that at some length, I told him I wanted to add “Trust the Process” to our list of mantras.

In response to the first, “Progress, not Perfection,” I’ve taken up a challenge, from Seth Godin, to “ship a product,” in the form of a blog post, every day for a week. Read more here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/01/getting-unstuck-a-one-week-challenge.html

Simple, and also maybe a bit trite, but I like it and it struck me at just the right time and in just the right way. Progress. Everyday. At least for a week…

The second phrase, “Trust the Process,” I could attribute to a variety of recently viewed source material, but in the interest of my eternal soul I’ll give it to Oswald Chambers and the My Utmost for His Highest daily devotional, which on January 12 read, in part:

Jesus does not take us alone and expound things to us all the time; He expounds things to us as we can understand them. Other lives are parables. God is making us spell out our own souls. It is slow work, so slow that it takes God all time and eternity to make a man and woman after His own purpose.

It’s slow work, this thing we call life. Even if I thought I could handle the truth God wanted to impart to me, I could not handle it. I’ve got to trust the process. That’s hard.

But wait…are those two statements, and my responses to them – first, to take action, and second, to wait – in conflict? Is this not the palpable tension of Preparation and Providence that is central to this project?

Oh gosh…it’s like this all actually does make sense…I better quit while I’m ahead!

So here’s what we’re going to do for the next few days, and, with any luck (or is it Providence…?), over the coming weeks and months. We’re going to probe the definitional boundaries of the following:

  1. What is Success, both in your life as a whole, as well as being able to identify what that means in any situation you may encounter
  2. How to determine your individual conditions of success, elements of Preparation and Providence
  3. How, once you understand those things, to recognize and apply them in any situation to improve your chances of favorable outcomes

My hunch is this: over time, by going through that process and doing all of that, you’ll stand a greater chance of eliminating situations that you do not choose and find yourself in a greater number of circumstances where your conditions of success are more easily recognized and applied. Now THAT sounds like a goal, one that you can make progress toward each day as well as one that you must trust to a long-term process.

Won’t you join me, Captain Wanderlust, on this meta-voyage?

More soon…

-Fred

PS – we’ve assembled quite the crew so far.

Reflection and Resolution

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About the photo: That’s me, far right, posing with a bottle of “Fred” water along with members of Movers & Pacers, the “influencer-based running group” led by the inimitable Señor Kaos. (Far left, wearing the hat.) I started my new year in the company of new and good friends, people I’m blessed to have as part of my new life here in Atlanta. For more info about Movers & Pacers, including info about when and where you can join us for run during the week, check out the group on Instagram: http://instagram.com/moversandpacers

2014 is gone. You can’t get it back. 2015 is here. What happens during the next 364 days (or however many are left when you read this), is, to are a large degree, up to you.

I want to revisit something I wrote toward the end of my last post. You remember, that one “about” fantasy football? In the section about the Playoffs, I wrote how sometimes a competition really is not a competition. You, or your competitor, has been preparing for the big game, consciously or not, and that will very likely be the deciding factor, not some spontaneous outburst of virtuoso performance. I stand by that, for the most part. You have got to prepare as though you’re going to win, even if the outcome is uncertain. Or, as Winston Churchill said it better, “It is never possible to guarantee success; it is only possible to deserve it.”

Where am I going with this in context of the New Year?

Well, one of the voices in my head is saying, “The calendar is completely arbitrary. Nothing magically changed because it’s January 1st. You still have to live with the decisions – and mistakes – you made yesterday.” And yes, Voice Number One is kind of right. But then Voice Number Two, speaking to me in many different dialects of the same language, says, “Every day starts a New Year. You can’t get back that lost time, but you can redeem it starting now. Make better decisions today than you did yesterday. That’s a New Day’s Resolution.”

I choose that maybe slightly Pollyanish voice of optimism, the belief in the capacity of human beings to make choices – for good or bad – over its dreary opposite. If you’re feeling a little reserved and cynical, or think I’m being naive, then remember what Jesus told us, as recorded in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” That squares the circle, in my mind.

I do believe that we are all fallen, sinful human beings who have an unfortunately seemingly limitless capacity for plumbing the depths of despicability. But I also believe in the ever-available and wholly-redeeming power of God’s grace. If the bad part is always there lurking, then the good is also there waiting. That’s the point where God desires for us to meet Him – at the point of the Grace He offers. But it’s something we must do, that He cannot do for us, if He is a truly loving God.

With that idea of Grace, and of Choices, firmly in my mind, then I feel more resolute than ever to share with you some of these thoughts – gathered from various sources, including my own mind – about a new year, making changes, forming habits, and in Preparing and praying (Providence, remember?) for 2015 to be the best year yet.

First, a word about time.

Recently my friend Matt shared with me an article from The Economist titled “In search of lost time: Why is everyone so busy?” It’s a good read, more for the information than any conclusions or suggestions it provides, as my other friend, Johnny pointed out. One idea that I took away, which fascinates me in its “truth without really being true,” is this: “[Most] people worry over how [time] flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid.”

[Read the rest here: http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636612-time-poverty-problem-partly-perception-and-partly-distribution-why?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/whyiseveryonesobusy]

Think about that: if you are 10 years old, then each year of your life, when graphed on a pie chart, takes up 10% of the graph. That’s a significant portion. But when you are 50? Each year is now 1/50 of the total. What’s one piece matter? Or one more? Each chunk gets smaller as you get older, and each year gets…shorter? Wait, what? How can a year get shorter? It’s 365 days, right? Well, yes, it is. That doesn’t change. But your perception of it, especially when viewed at the macro level, changes, making it seem smaller, to the point that the differences are trivial and they all tend to run together after a certain point. Already at 27 I feel this, as I’m sure we all do to some extent. I don’t have an antibiotic to this time-decay disease, but I’ll share something that I’m doing to help alleviate the symptoms.

It’s called the Five-Minute Journal: http://app.fiveminutejournal.com/

It was first referred to me by Tim Ferriss, and I’ve heard him say that some readers of one of his books are the app’s creators. It builds on the concept of Daily Gratitude that I discussed in my Thanksgiving post. It is a small way to reclaim some of your time each day. Rather than rushing ahead and allowing one day to blend into the next, you’re actually stopping yourself – and time, in a way – to reflect on what you did earlier in the day, and how it might help you think better, speak better, and act better in the next. If it seems hokey to you, fine. I call it a good start, even a small one. Which brings me to my next point…

Another one of my recent favorite authors/thinkers is Ramit Sethi, author of the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog, and publisher of the “Zero To Launch” online course I’m currently going through. In a post from earlier this year, which he recently re-sent as part of his “Best of 2014,” Ramit talks about Motivation and Procrastination, the latter of which is one of my best buds. He (Ramit) talks about the importance of “building systems,” a theme that runs through his work. Here’s an excerpt from one example:

“I want to get fit.” How many millions of Americans say this, then beat themselves up for doing nothing? No, no, no…I want you to be specific: “I want to eat 3 healthy meals per week and go to the gym 2x/week for 15 minutes.” (Notice how I’m focusing on the process at first, and starting off conservative: Anyone can eat just 3 healthy meals in a week. And anyone can go to the gym for 15 minutes. Set yourself up to win, you weirdos.)

(Read the rest here: http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/my-answers-to-your-questions-on-motivation-and-procrastination/?inf_contact_key=db2bef9b57c050d80b3d3d3683818c87869973633bbf140de4db7016a359a643)

Here, and elsewhere, Ramit does a nice job of reminding readers that they probably already know the right thing to do in that situation. The actual problem is breaking the solution(s) down into manageable, repeatable steps that make consistent execution possible and more likely. In other words: habits. This example is particularly poignant to me, because in the “aftermath” of the half-marathon I ran in November, I’ve lost pretty much all motivation to run and exercise, save the weekly Sunday runs I do with Movers & Pacers. Suddenly, as though the clouds have lifted, getting re-started does not seem so difficult, given Ramit’s example.

I don’t have a cool app to share for this section, so I’ll ask you this instead: What whole-life topic/issue/problem do you need to break down into smaller chunks? Are you failing, or even refusing, to get started on something, because you find the whole to be overwhelming? You probably already know the answer, what you have to do, so plan out one thing – just one small thing – that you can do today that would give you real progress toward that goal. It should not take you more than 15 minutes, and you can’t let yourself feel guilty for “not doing more.” Do it. Then tomorrow, do it again. And then the next day. After three days, think about adding something to it – be it time, or another step, and see where that takes you. I think you’ll look back in a month and see something very different from what it – or you – used to be.

(Note: In the hours between when this post was drafted, and before it was posted, I, your author and friend, went for a 1.5 mile run. Now, cue up the transition music…)

“Used to be.” That’s the subject line of this morning’s email from Seth Godin. I have several friends who, for several reasons, can’t stand Seth, and think he is a fraud, a hack, or just plain wrong on any number of topics. And while I don’t agree with Seth on everything (forgive the bland disclaimer), particularly on politics, he’s another writer/thinker who, for my money, re-states the simple and obvious in new and thought-provoking ways. (BTW, “my money” in this case is zero, because Seth’s email list is free.)

Here’s what Seth wrote this morning:

Used to be

This hotel used to be a bank.

That conference organizer used to be a travel agent.

This company used to make playing cards.

Perhaps you used to be hooked on keeping score, or used to be totally focused on avoiding the feeling of risk, or used to be the kind of person who needed to be picked…

“Used to be,” is not necessarily a mark of failure or even obsolescence. It’s more often a sign of bravery and progress.

If you were brave enough to leap, who would you choose to ‘used to be’?

[If you want to read more from Seth, maybe start here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/12/its-not-about-you-have-you-been-to-this-meeting-really-bad-powerpoint-7-years-later-sadly-still-relevant-project-manag.html]

We have all got the capacity to be something other (and better) than what we currently are. We cannot make it happen on our own – that’s where God’s Grace (Providence) steps in, and where we must rely on the assistance of others. (Sidenote: This is the subject of another post I’ve been working on, and will finish  soon, I hope.) But going from “used to be” to “is” IS possible, be it a business or you. Or me.

Let me suggest each of us be willing to write down, alongside our resolutions, what is really underlying those resolutions. Put down on paper – even if you don’t show it to anyone (though that might be good for each of us to do) – those “ugly” things that we know to be true about ourselves, but that we don’t want to own up to. No one should have trouble with this, the difficulty should be in limiting what we choose to include as truly important, rather than merely superficial.

In the interest of transparency, and hopefully as a source of motivation to you in doing this, here’s what is at the top of my list for an “ugly” part of me that I want to work on in 2015: I tend to dominate conversations. Whether it’s with family, close friends, colleagues, or just occasional peers and acquaintances, I make it all about ME. I’m my favorite topic of discussion, just ask me. Or don’t. I’ll tell you about me anyway. Self-deprecation (as an attempt at deflection) aside, I really do feel very convicted about this.

Building on the suggestions provided in the last two sections, here’s what I’m trying to do about it:

  1. The Five Minute Journal is intended to take my focus away from me. Gratitude cannot point inward, it is an outward expression. I want to take time every day, even just 5 minutes, to put the focus elsewhere. Baby steps…
  2. Before every conversation I plan to have – and by plan, I mean when you set aside time to call someone, like a friend or family member, to catch up – I want to think up ahead of time, even write down, a list of a few things I want to ask that person about, and to make sure is covered during the course of a conversation I would otherwise make all about me. I’m not even going to entertain the possibility that this sounds forced, or that I’m not letting my relationships be spontaneous or organic. I’m going to try it anyway. (There are 4 or 5 guinea pigs, errr, uh, friends, who are reading this, who know that I’ll be calling them soon, piece of paper in hand…)

Now I’m not sure if those same people really do think of me as selfish or self-centered in this way. But even if they don’t, the fact that I am conscious of it, places it firmly in the category of who I want to say I “used to be.” (I don’t blame you if that last sentence confused you a bit. I’m scared to re-read and try to edit it…)

Finally, I’ll leave you all with some “quick hits,” from a little mental exercise we did at last night’s (and this morning’s) New Years party. Before the party started, I laid out four stacks of cards, each with a different question printed on them. I asked party-goers to fill out one (or all) of the cards, and to share their answer(s) with someone at the party whom they did not know. It turned out to be good conversation starter. (Or in some cases conversation ender, depending upon the answer.)

So, even if you missed the good times last night, here are the four questions, along with my answers. Enjoy.

  1. The good deed I want to do this year is…………..Time Tithing.

That’s not a specific good deed, I know, but it goes back to what I wrote about out Thanksgiving. I have not exactly been consistent on that one since I originally wrote about it, but that’s what a New Year is for, right?

(Also, I could have put “mission trip abroad” in that blank. I have really felt God tugging at my heart about that one.)

  1. The bad habit I want to kick this year is………………Sleeping In!

Oh, I’m bad about this. I am a Snooze Button Master, one of the greats. (My friend and college roommate Erik will tell you horror stories about this. Pretty sure he wanted to kill me in my sleep so he didn’t have to go through another morning of buzzing alarms scattered through the room.)

  1. The skill I want to learn this year is………………….Reading Music.

Can’t do it. Never learned. Admittedly I never really had a desire to learn, and I’m not optimistic that my inner Mozart is going to pour forth after 27 years of hibernation. Like learning a language, I guess. Suggestions of how best to accomplish this are encouraged and appreciated.

  1. The person I want to be more like this year is……………….Napleon.

WAIT! Don’t leave. Here me out, please. This is not some hitherto latent expression of a desire for Continental domination, nor is it the full and final flourishing of my own delusions of grandeur. Let me explain, this will only take a second:

I’m reading an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “Napoleon, Man of the World,” which you can also read here: http://www.emersoncentral.com/napoleon.htm

Now other than Wikipedia-level details, I admit to not knowing much more about Napoleon, which is why I intend to pick up a good bio of him for one of my next reads. In Emerson’s essay, he quotes Napoleon just so:

” ‘As to moral courage, I have rarely met with the two-o’clock-in-the-morning kind: I mean unprepared courage; that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which, in spite of the most unforeseen events, leaves full freedom of judgment and decision’: and he did not hesitate to declare that he was himself eminently endowed with this two-o’clock-in-the-morning courage, and that he had met with few persons equal to himself in this respect.”

[Note that the first portion is Napoleon’s actual quote, and the latter is Emerson’s commentary.]

For the time being, I’ll let the scholars debate just what kind of moral courage Napoleon had, and if it is worth emulating. Leaving that aside, look at Napoleon’s quote: “unprepared courage; that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which…leaves full freedom of judgment and decision[.]”

I don’t care who you are, or which countries you’re invading (ok, that does matter, actually…), that’s a form of virtue worth aspiring to and cultivating. Because it can be “two o’clock in the morning” at anytime of day, or any day of the year. I worry that I’m not ready for such times. Do you?

So maybe “Napoleon” is not really the answer to that question, about who I want to be more like this year. Maybe, at the risk of sounding selfish, the answer is ME. But not me, as I am currently, but me as I want to be. And I’m trying to be. Every day, setting 5 minutes aside to be grateful, and taking 20 minutes to go for a run, and making sure, when I talk to people, that I’m asking about their lives and how I can be praying for them and helping them, rather than talking about me. That’s the ME that I want to be.

Who do you want to be?

Happy New Year. Let’s talk more soon.

-Fred

PS – For those actually reading, you might note that these last two posts have been a bit different, both in format and content. They’re less explicitly compatible with our topic, the Conditions of Success, I know. I’m probably too aware of that. But I don’t think they’re in any way incompatible. They are more “occasional” in nature, meaning that they have to with things that pop up during the day or week. They are easier to write, for one thing, and will allow me to post more frequently. But, don’t you worry, I’m still working on the longer essay-style posts. (“Oh, uh, yippee!” I can hear you say.) I don’t know if this an announcement of a format change, or what, so you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Is This What a “Real” Blog Post Looks Like…?

Raw cognitive goodness straight from the author. Is that what you want? Well then you’ve got it. All 7 of you. (We might actually be at 7.5, because my sister has been reading these posts aloud to my two year old nephew. It’s not that he’s half a person, it’s just that anything not related to Thomas the Tank Engine deserves only half of his attention.)

I have been struggling to get something posted. Not because I have nothing to write about, but because I’m still very much working through this next post in my mind. It has not yet come together. And since these posts are more like essays, well, it takes time.

Anyway, because the volume of email I’ve received from you, my readers, asking “when will you give us more??”, has been overwhelming, I’m writing a short post to appease you.

This is something I wanted to do for Christmas, but then I threw it aside (digitally speaking) in favor of what will be my next magnum opus.

It doesn’t really have much to do with our topic, the Conditions of Success, save for this: it’s related to my current professional venture, which is very much part of my personal Condition(s) of Success. But hopefully you’ll feel generally edified (if not Fred-ified…) from the reflection that follows.

Here goes…

“Jesus is My Co-Signer”

You know the Christmas song “O Holy Night,” don’t you? It’s kind of a churchy favorite, and I must say I’m annually surprised at the singers who perform it, because, well, it’s pretty much all about Jesus and stuff. I mean good for them, right?

Now, I can’t read music, and don’t really know musical vocabulary (shame on me, I know), so it’s hard for me to describe why I like this song so much. Something about the way the singer’s voice drops, and the intensity, and even severity, of sound that comes with the “fall on you knees/ o hear the Angel voices” line. It always gives me goosebumps to hear it performed well.

But this year I noticed (or focused on) another lyric: “”Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” Wow. But back up one line: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” It’s kinda funny, if you search for “error pining,” you get a message board with some pretty stupid answers as to what that means. I think there’s some implied punctuation in the lyrics that it wouldn’t make sense to emphasize in performance.

Just reading it, you would do so as “error, pining” – as in, “long lay the world in sin and error, pining [longing – for someone or something to save them]” I don’t need to tell you that the comma, as well as the commentary in brackets, is my own. It’s my opinion, but I happen to think it’s a good one.

Now why did that get my attention this year? Well, in my day job (I only play a blog writer on TV), I’m working to set up a new online lending service. The intersection of technology and finance is completely changing how you and I and people everywhere will access capital in the future – in other words, getting a loan does not and will not involve a bank, at least as we traditionally think of them. (In case you missed it, a company called Lending Club went public a few weeks ago…and their stock went up by 54% in the day following the IPO. Check them out. The future is here, my friends.) Make a long story short, I’ve been doing lots of reading about loan underwriting and credit scoring. Basically, how are you and I, as consumers, evaluated by lending institutions, to determine whether or not we get a loan?

Really, we’re all just a pile numbers. Some pulled from here, others from there, and fed into an algorithm (I don’t even know what that word really means) in order to get one final number, usually called your FICO score. Depending upon what that number is, you’ll either get a loan, at certain terms, or you won’t. If it makes you feel a little worthless, well, it should. It’s pretty heartless, really. The interesting that a number of new technology-based lenders are doing – and that our company is looking to emulate – is making more “personal” factors part of the credit-scoring process. It could never replace a face-to-face meeting, getting to know you, the borrower, and your character, but that’s never going to happen, and in any case that was part of the “old” system that added to the cost of doing business that made banks stop doing as many loans.

Back to “O Holy Night,” and to the line from the song: “’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Wow. The soul’s worth. Its value. We may, as a loan applicant, be made to feel worthless. But we cannot, as human beings, ever think that we are not valued – unloved – by God. He sent His Son into the world, in helpless baby form, to remind us how much we are “worth” to Him. Apart from Him, we have no worth. We are just a score on paper, if even that much. But with Jesus as our co-signer, we have perfect credit in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.

Fantasy Versus Reality

I’ve gone a bit heavy in the last few posts, so this week I want to share more lighthearted example of the Conditions of Success in action.

Preface

I’ve tried to convince you (and myself in the process) that the Conditions of Success can come together in our lives in large and small ways – call them Macro and Micro Conditions. I intend to use some upcoming posts to help us identify, understand, and then act within our Conditions of Success in repeatable and accurate ways. But first I want to take a breather. Actually, it’s more like a deep breath and a plunge down in the weeds. Check that: let’s go down into the turf and look at a particular micro example of where, by identifying and following the path formed our individual Conditions of Success, we can realize favorable outcomes – even victory in actual competition. If you caught that “turf” reference, you may be one step ahead of me…

Introduction

We’re coming up on the conclusion of a very important season. No, not Christmas Day. And not the NFL, though that’s getting warmer. I’m talking, of course, about Fantasy Football, which is more important than “real” football, and is the only football-related activity that my 5’9”, 165 pound frame has any business being involved with.

For the last three seasons (including this one) I’ve participated in a fantasy football league along with 9 of my closest friends. We don’t put any money on the line, but it still gets serious – rather, I probably take it too seriously sometimes. I’ve been from the dark valley of a nearly-winless 2012 season, which my friends will never let me live down, to the mountaintop of a runaway championship season just one year later, which I will hold over their heads for the rest of our lives.

Given all of that, I was able to “enjoy the ride” a little more this season, and that’s made this particular reflection possible.

Before diving into the relation between fantasy football and our topic here, the Conditions of Success, let’s go back and review.

First, in my last post I attempted a concise definition of Success, which I’ll repeat:

Success is an awareness of the intersections of Preparation and Providence in one’s life, and a decision to act in ways consistent with the figurative path they form.

Upon re-reading that, or reading it for the first time if you’re new here, you may be thinking, “Well that doesn’t tell me anything about how to be successful.” And on the surface, maybe you are right. I’ve also tried to establish/convince myself that Success is not solely about favorable outcomes (like having more money than the next guy) and it’s not a zero-sum game. Furthermore, and staying solely within my own definition here, Success is not guaranteed when you follow the path(s) that Preparation and Providence form in your life. You can do everything right, and things could still turn out “wrong.” Also, you can occasionally bumble and hack your way into good fortune, but I consider each of those scenarios to be exceptions rather than the rule. Identifying and acting in accord with your Conditions of Success will lead to the doorstep of favorable outcomes – consistently, and with clarity about just how you arrived there, in the hopes of repeating.

(Note: Tim Ferriss makes some of these points both here [http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/e/36335092?autoplay=true] and elsewhere, and since I’ve been listening to him a good bit lately, I’ve probably unconsciously absorbed copied some of his ideas and words. And, like last time I referenced him, beware some salty language and “out there” ideas with Ferriss. But take from him the good parts, which are definitely there.)

There are 3 parts to a fantasy football season: the Draft, the Regular Season, and the Playoffs.

(Another Note: I’m assuming that you, the reader, have at least some knowledge of the rules of fantasy football, henceforth referred to simply as “fantasy.” If you don’t, well, just smile and nod like you usually do when I talk at you.)

The Draft

A good fantasy draft makes Success – in the form of winning a league championship – possible and even likely. It’s almost surely not possible if you don’t draft well.

The Conditions of Success, the intersection of Preparation and Providence, are visible in the Draft as follows:

Even though I tend to list it second, for rhetorical reasons, Providence is really primary, especially here. Providence determines your draft order. And while I’m not suggesting that the hand of God reaches down and grants you the number one pick, it is an element outside of your control and therefore within the realm of Providence. Furthermore, Providence acts upon you through the decisions of your competitors. Each time they make a draft pick – a decision out of your control, save for bribes and blackmail – you have to deal with the consequences and act within the new circumstances.

That’s where Preparation comes in…

At the beginning, all you know for certain is one thing: the order of your pick in relation to others. You may guess, but you do not yet know, which players will be available when your turn comes around. You have to start evaluating your options as they are, or you anticipate them, not as you wish them to be.

Sound familiar? As in, uh, LIFE? We are constantly faced with situations large and small, important or (seemingly) trivial in which we have incomplete information and have to make quick, repeated decisions that will affect future outcomes. And guess what? Once you do that, you have more decisions coming at you, influenced not only by your last decision, but the subsequent decisions of others, those directly or maybe just indirectly involved in your world, fantasy or otherwise.

That’s why Preparation is so important. Once you recognize (and accept) your unique Conditions, you can make a plan to Succeed based upon them, one that includes decision making criteria that can be applied quickly and repeatedly throughout the process at these crucial early stages. What we’re trying to avoid is the “Paradox of Choice,” having too many seemingly good options, and getting “decision fatigue,” where you make poor decisions because you no longer want to make decisions at all.

Those are bad things. But they are avoidable, largely by recognizing your circumstances and then preparing to act within the unique conditions they create.

In future posts I intend to cover how we might develop decision-making criteria, but for the time being let’s move on and be content with agreeing on the importance of having such criteria.

The Regular Season

It has never occurred to me until now, but how underwhelming is that term, “regular season”? I had not intended to include this but it ties in as follows: this is the part of the fantasy season, or a “season of life,” or the bulk of any undertaking or project, that takes the longest and can seem monotonous at some level. Or just routine. Or even boring. But you’ve got to let the season work itself out, and have confidence that the system you put in placing starting with your draft, at the beginning, is a (potentially) winning one. If you don’t, you’ll get in your own head, and you’ll get distracted, scared, or even – a danger in disguise – obsessed with your early quasi-success and have fallen in love with your own ideas.

There are four pitfalls to be found in the course of a fantasy football regular season, as well as on any road formed by your Conditions of Success. In the interest of transparency, I admit that I have and likely will continue to fall into each of them.

1. Trust the Process

I kind of just said this, I know. What it solves for is the danger of overthinking, which is my specialty. In the world of fantasy, this is called over-managing your team. Every week you can look at the numbers and try to identify trends from, say, a single data point. That’s statistically impossible, I’m pretty sure, but I tend to try it anyway and you probably do too.

Trust the process, trust the system you’ve put in place starting with your draft, and gather some real experience and information before looking to make any changes. You’ve got let your players make plays, and have confidence that you made the decisions you did with good reason.

2. Don’t Panic

Assuming your draft was not a complete “butt fumble,” then it is possible for you to lose a matchup or two, especially in the early weeks, and still recover in time for the Playoffs. What you need to be careful of is a “panic sell” in the form of a trade. If your first round draft pick has a bad opening game, then you could start to think that all is lost and try to dump him off on another league member in return for a player you think has more promise for the rest of the season. Take a deep breath, and step away from the side of the fantasy cliff.

Lest you think I’m advising you not to make trades – either in fantasy or in real-life situations – I’m not. There is tremendous potential value in make a mutually beneficial exchange to acquire something you otherwise might not have access to on your own. But make sure that the trade is both of those things: mutually beneficial, and something you absolutely cannot get on your own. Those are the two rules for decision making in this area.

3. Put Down the Shiny Object

This is the “waiver wire” or “free agency,” and it’s a disease affecting millions of fantasy competitors every week. Symptoms tend to flare up on Tuesday mornings.

Why? Because on Sunday, there was some player – a backup, likely, who got his chance due to an injury to the starter. Or maybe it was just some previously unknown secret weapon the team had, and they deployed him this particular weekend, and now he’s supposed to be the next big thing. Everyone is trying to add him to their fantasy roster, and in the process decide which existing, and likely more suitable, bench player to jettison.

Don’t get me wrong – each year there are a few new players who originally went undrafted who turn out to be significant factors week in and week out. But the majority of them are actors out the well-known drama of “here yesterday, gone before next Sunday.” And you just dropped one of your later round, but still valuable draft picks, to get him. Just the movie Interstellar, it ends in regret and shame that you could be so easily duped into thinking that something that appeared so promising could actually deliver.

Think of a free agent as new, untested technology, or some “get rich quick” scheme, or that one unlikely but still longed-for possibility that will absolutely “make all the difference” for you. They usually do not work out as you might have hoped, and are generally not a strategy for long-term, repeatable success.

4. “Idea One-Itis”

I owe my use of this term, “Idea One-Itis,” to Ramit Sethi, author of the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog. I take it to mean those times (more frequent for me than I care to admit), when we get fixated, even obsessed, with an idea and with making it work. Ramit talks about it in context of starting a business – we can think that our idea is so good, and if other people would just see what we see, we would be millionaires! It spills into other areas of life, too, where we think that if this one event would take place, then everything else would fall into place. That’s not likely, and it’s almost certainly not healthy.

In fantasy football it can start with team loyalty, or just some hunch, where we become convinced that a particular player is going to burst on to the scene and make our fantasies (easy, now…) come true. In some especially bad cases, this can even affect your draft, if your conviction about a player’s value causes you to draft him higher than you probably ought.

This is a tough thing to prevent, because it is so deeply personal. Often it requires experience, in the form of hard lessons, to pry your jaws loose from this particular player’s leg – figuratively speaking, of course. (Legal disclaimer: No reference to Michael Vick, express or implied, is intended by that last comment.) If you’re lucky, you may also have the benefit of a good friend who will tell you hard truth that you just might listen to.

The Playoffs

If you made it into the fantasy playoffs, then you’ve either done things right, from the beginning with your draft and then through the regular season, or you’ve gotten really lucky. As we’ve established, both of those things are possible. (As well as doing everything right and NOT making it to the playoffs, but I want us to assume the best here.)

Now you’re at one of those times where Success is more narrowly defined as a zero-sum game. It really is a competition, with one winner and a bunch of losers.

By writing this post, I’ve begun breaking mental ground on a new foundation. I’m actually a bit surprised at how it’s starting to look: more “deterministic” than I expected. Let me explain…

I’ve always been a big believer in the ability of individuals to shape not only their own destinies, but also to impact important events. History is shaped by people, not impersonal forces. I really do believe that. But I’m curbing that somewhat-extreme notion of agency in favor of a more realistic, even tempered, notion of how human beings shape their own futures and the moments that comprise it. I believe it is perfectly compatible with, if not a direct outgrowth of, this idea of the Conditions of Success.

Whenever we as individuals find ourselves in actual competition, the outcome is really more certain than we might think. What I mean is that everything leading up to “that point” has made our very fitness for competition possible. That’s why identifying our Conditions of Success is so important. If and when we do, then we can follow the path formed by the intersection of Preparation and Providence, and when we come to forks along the way, certain binary focal points, then depending on how far along we are in following our path of Success and how intensely we’ve been proceeding down it, favorable outcomes (i.e. winning) are more likely to result.

On one hand that may seem completely obvious, and you agree wholeheartedly. But what about an athletic competition? Say, real football, where a star player makes a never-before-seen game winning touchdown catch? “You can’t practice that,” you say, “You can’t reproduce that outcome no matter how hard you try.” Up to certain point I agree with that. All-star players make big-time plays when the game is on the line. But, if they’re legitimate talent, then they’re a genuine combination of incredible, God-given ability (Providence) combined with relentless Preparation for moments just like that. There are plenty of examples of post-game press conferences with NBA players talking about how they practice full-court “alley oop” passes to tip in a last second shot, and NFL players throwing and catching “Hail Mary” passes in practice. There’s an undeniable amount of talent, but it’s refined by relentless preparation. If only one of the two existed, the chances of making the play when it really matters are greatly diminished.

While I fear that I’ve strayed a bit from my fantasy analogy, I won’t go so far as to insult your intelligence by repeating everything I’ve just written in order to squeeze it into a little fantasy football box. You get the relation, and in any case I’m happy with how this part turned out, lengthy as it may have been.

Conclusion  

(“Finally!”, my mom is thinking. She’s the only one thinking that, not because everyone else wants me to go on, but because she’s the only one who made it this far.)

So you’re probably wanting to know how my 2014 fantasy season turned out. Well, as I told you, I enjoyed this season more than the first two because, after winning the league last season, I felt the stain of my nearly winless first season was mostly erased. I made a number of the mistakes described above, including and especially not really having a plan going into the Draft. I guess it’s only because of failure that I’ve been able to think, and learn, and put this very article together. But failure in this case is kind of relative, because I did manage to get into the Playoffs, and, very nearly to the Championship game. That’s where the final pieces of this puzzle fit in: Gratitude, and a healthy, non-hipster sense of Irony.

I’ll start with Irony, by which I mean “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” You see, in the first round of the playoffs I lost my matchup by a mere 6 points, and I would have won had I played Tom Brady as my quarterback in the first week of the matchup. But I didn’t. And I could not have. You see, that week was Thanksgiving, and you may recall that Brady’s Patriots were playing the Green Bay Packers. If you know me personally, then you know that I’m a loyal Packers fan, which I proudly inherited that from my Dad. I was visiting my folks for the holiday, and there was no way I was going to sit by my Dad on the couch to watch the game and – even quietly – cheer for Brady against the Pack. I’m often more pragmatic than I care to admit, but I couldn’t go there. Instead, I played Tony Romo, who scored a whopping 3 points that week. The irony comes in when you consider that Brady scored 18 (more than enough to give me the win in my matchup) and the Packers won the real game anyway! I could have had everything I wanted, and that’s why it’s ironic. I made the right decision for me, no matter that outcome, because spending that time with my Dad was more important than any fantasy football win. Which segues to my final point about Gratitude.

You may recall Gratitude (or, rather, being “integrateful”) as the topic of my Thanksgiving Day post. Whether it’s that time with my Dad, or the fun of competing in a fantasy football league with my best friends, that is Success for me. I did not win the league this year. I’m one of 9 losers. But I had the chance to compete, and now I’m taking the opportunity to learn from it. There’s a positive, virtuous cycle that Gratitude creates from each situation, big or small, regardless of whether we win or lose. That’s something we must integrate and practice through any type season. It will make us more forbearing in loss, humble in victory, and a Success throughout and beyond.

A Stake in the Ground

I am a legend. In my own mind, that is. It’s really more infamy than legend, I suppose. What I’m talking about is my ability to overthink just about anything, decisions large and small. If you need “character” references, just ask my family, closest friends, or ex-girlfriends.

You see, I’ve been overthinking this whole “success” thing from way back before I ever started this little project. It has manifest itself most recently in my repeated failure, to this point, to define precisely what I mean in using that word. I’ve felt a little weird about it, actually. Could you tell?

But no more. I don’t know that I’ve figured it out as much as the odor of it’s obviousness has finally has finally overpowered the rhetorical air fresheners I’ve been spraying in this digital room.

Success is an awareness of the intersections of preparation and Providence in one’s life, and a decision to act in ways consistent with the figurative path they form.

How-to-Spot-A-Reverse-Merger

So…I have to ask. How underwhelmed are you right now? You may have had greater expectations for this moment, which is something I’m going to address later on in this post.

In order to redeem the word with some majesty – which is in no way lost in that definition, at least to me – let me try to relate Success to its metaphysical counterpoint: Grace.

There are 3 things about Grace that inform our (“my,” if you’re not ready to throw in your lot with me just yet) understanding of Success.

First, Success, like Grace, is available to each of us. It is not, as I’ve noted in a previous post, a zero-sum game. Your success does not preclude mine. Similarly, there is no theological universe in which God says “Sorry, someone already beat you to all of My Grace. No more to give out today.” Success requires an attitude of Gratitude, and of abundance, rather than of scarcity and selfishness. (1)

Second, we each arrive at Success, or Grace, by different paths. Sometimes very different ones. (Actually, I believe that Grace finds us.)  Going back to our working subtitle, “the intersection of preparation and Providence,” this means that your intersections – your conditions of success – are different from mine.

Third, Success and Grace are arrived at only by deliberation and choice. In other words, Free Will. (And that is as far as I will go into the topic of Free Will.) When we’re trying to make sense of how to order our lives or how to solve a problem, all of that thinking (or overthinking) leads to one or often multiple possible conclusions, from which we must choose. It is the same with choosing to accept God’s grace as it is with applying yourself where your conditions of success exist. You either accept, and do, or you do not. It’s a choice, and one that can only properly said to have been made after appropriate deliberation.

Fourth, and finally, a recognition of Success and its conditions in your life should, just like Grace, completely change you. The temporal implications are every bit as demanding and serious as the spiritual ones, the whole eternal life thing notwithstanding.

How does all of that work itself each day and over the course of a lifetime?

Sticking with the Rule of Three, here are the three possible outcomes from acting within your own conditions of success.

Beginning with one I’m intimately familiar with, and a motivating factor behind this whole effort: it is possible for one to reach desirable outcomes without being aware of their particular intersections and acting knowingly and decisively within them. But that’s not success. That’s just being fortunate, or lucky, which are just two ways of watering down Providence. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut,” right?

Next, and within the context of thinking and choosing to act within your conditions of success, when you’re doing something – anything, really – at which you’re both naturally talented (Providence) as well as experienced (preparation), the results tends to be favorable. This is not a revelation, I understand. The assertion is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but I will go as far as to say that it has a higher rate of success than this.

I’m joking. But seriously. From sports, to business, to relationships, to investing, to everything in between – we all know someone who just “has it,” and you could never beat them at their thing, assuming you were in an actual win/lose competition. The point here is not to get discouraged. We all have our conditions of success, but it takes work and some courage to find these intersections and then proceed down this merged path toward Success.

The final possible outcome is the less-than-desirable one. It’s where, despite your conscious efforts – actions in coordination with your own conditions of success – things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And if you thought my last point was underdeveloped, then this one should make it appear airtight. Right now all I have to say is that Success is not a formula. If it were, then there would be no need to waste my time on this blog. You’d just need to figure out the equation for a particular scenario: add “A” parts Providence to “B” amount of Preparation, and you’ll “C” anything turn out exactly like you want it to. Doesn’t work like that.

But, I maintain a high degree of confidence in my original assertion that, acting knowingly within the conditions of your success, you stand a greater chance of favorable outcomes, whatever they may be.

Let’s tie a bow on this by examining two mindsets that I am fighting against myself to really absorb.

My friend and former boss, Chris, recently told me that “The keys to happiness are low expectations and a high fiber diet.” Or some version of that, anyways. And so as not besmirch his otherwise mostly spotless character and motives, I assure you that this was an offhand remark in the context of a flippant conversation. But clearly the quote stuck with me, and for good reason. It actually kind of fits here, with some tailoring.

Rather than having “low expectations,” think about it in terms of “raising your standards.” Standards you hold for yourself, I mean. This is everything from your character and behavior, to those you associate with, to your business practices. It puts the burden where it should be: on you. And me. And each of us. You see, our expectations are 100% within our control, unlike pretty much everything else involving human interaction. But in order to guard against any excess pride resulting from an “it’s all up to me” mentality, or to silence any cynics in the e-peanut gallery, let me play the spiritual trump card and refer you to Jesus.

In chapter 2, verses 24 and 25 of his gospel, John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”

Ok, out of context that actually could sound a bit jaded.

Fortunately, Oswald Chambers, author of the inimitable daily devotional My Utmost For His Highest, has some helpful commentary on the passage:

Many of the things in life that inflict the greatest injury, grief, or pain, stem from the fact that we suffer from illusions. We are not true to one another as facts, seeing each other as we really are; we are only true to our misconceived ideas of one another….Our Lord is so obviously uncompromising with regard to every human relationship because He knows that every relationship that is not based on faithfulness to Himself will end in disaster. Our Lord trusted no one, and never placed His faith in people, yet He was never suspicious or bitter. Our Lord’s confidence in God, and in what God’s grace could do for anyone, was so perfect that He never despaired, never giving up hope for any person.

(Read the full devotional here: http://utmost.org/the-teaching-of-disillusionment/)

Much better. And it’s the ultimate example of unyielding, uncompromising effort in the face of what should otherwise be “hellishly” low expectations.

A final piece of advice about high standards, which you should imagine me saying as though I’m standing in front of a mirror: your standards should be in proportion to the thing you’re evaluating. Ask yourself: “Is this a big deal?” And not everything can or should be. If you have a high (possibly unattainable) standard for everything you do, then you really have high standards for nothing at all.

Which brings me to the “high fiber diet,” or, put a little more palpably, eliminating waste. (On second thought, was that a better way to say it?)

Understanding your conditions of success can be a double-edged sword. It will – or should – present you with an array of possible pursuits. And, like having high standards, you have to choose among and between them. It requires deliberation and choice (remember that Free Will thing from earlier?) to eliminate some and put time and effort behind others. When you do that, you cannot look back and wonder “what if?” Or, seeing someone you know who chose a path similar to one you once had available – and did not take – and who is now enjoying success and earned favorable results, think that they have “won” and you have “lost.” Again, this is not a zero-sum game.

A second and equally important part of eliminating wasted effort requires brutal honesty with yourself and maybe with the help of those who know you best. Admit where conditions of success are not present in your life, despite how you might want them to be. It could be related to legitimate and worthwhile ventures, not just the startup business you’re still hoping will take off and make you rich someday.

In fact, dedicating appropriate time and other resources to the important areas of your life (family, work, etc.) where conditions of success do exist is one of the best decisions you can make, for this reason: despite my previously noted preference for not always talking about things in purely economic terms, you do indeed stand the best chance of getting maximum return, with minimum investment, and the lowest risk, by always working within your conditions of success. It will actually free up more time for your “labors of love,” and eliminate the encumbrances of fear or the guilt that your efforts are wasted or even counterproductive.

And with that, I’ll get back to worrying about and overthinking every word in this post and how much time I’m spending on each of these.

More soon…

-Fred

Footnote:

  1. I’ve been reading/listening to lots of material from Tony Robbins, Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, and their ilk, so both this reference and my last post on Gratitude owes a lot to them. There’s a significant amount of osmosis and regurgitation going on here.

“Pass the Portmanteau” (Or, Trying Something New This Thanksgiving)

Confused by the title? A little scared? Good, that helps with the digestive process, or so I’m told. But don’t worry, purgation is sure to follow.

Given that today is Thanksgiving, you can probably guess my topic: Thankfulness.

I got to thinking about this topic due to a long time, recurring concern that I never really take meaningful time, during the big family meal on Thanksgiving Day, to talk about what I’m thankful. For example, if you were to sit down by me around the table and ask “What are you thankful for?”, I’d probably fumble and fidget around and then give you some stock, droll answer about “salvation” and “freedom.” Mind you, I don’t consider either salvation or freedom to be “droll.” If anything, I’m trying to highlight what is surely my failure to treat them other than as quick, throwaway responses. Furthermore, at the risk of painting them in your mind as bad, selfish people, I’ll tell you that my family, and my parents in particular, have raised me to think, speak, and act in ways that demonstrate an attitude of thankfulness. So, you could say, “Thanksgiving is just a day, stop being so hard on yourself.” Maybe you’re right. Still, the feeling persists, and I want to do something about it, and this post is an attempt to get at that “thing” in both immediate and habit-forming ways.

First, let’s start by defining our terms. You may have noticed that I only used the term “thankful,” or a variation of it, in the last paragraph, when I could have substituted “gratitude” or “appreciation” more or less appropriately. They’re close enough in everyday usage to merit some inclusion to see if they really do mean the same thing, or if any attempt on my part to distinguish between them is just my creating distinctions without differences. Because I know you will do this anyway, I will go ahead and quote you “chapter and verse,” the definitions of each word from Webster’s Dictionary. In alphabetical order, they are:

Appreciation:

  1. a feeling of being grateful for something
  2. an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something

Gratitude:

  1. the state of being grateful
    1. Webster’s defines “grateful” as being “appreciative of benefits received” or “affording pleasure or contentment” and “please by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort relieved
  2. Thankfulness

Thankfulness:

  1. conscious of benefit received
  2. expressive of thanks
    1. Webster’s defines “thanks” as “kindly or grateful thoughts” and “an expression of gratitude”

To be honest, I’m left almost more confused by the circular references, so in order to gain some clarity I’m going to arrange these words according to how I use them and in a way that makes sense to me. If you don’t like it, then go write your own article on thankfulness. (Or is it gratitude?)

I want us to picture these three terms not as being used interchangeably, but in a kind of ascending order, like a pyramid, starting at the bottom with Appreciation, moving up toward Thankfulness, and then finally reaching Gratitude.

Appreciation is, I think, largely an emotional state, a feeling. It’s that “warm fuzzy” you get when someone does something nice for you, usually just a small act of kindness. Or maybe it is not an action performed, perhaps it is the way the sun shines through your window in the morning. You can appreciate that. It’s not meaningless, but also that’s about as far as it needs to go.

Thankfulness is a level above that. You’ve gone from a feeling to some mental engagement. You’re conscious as to why that action or that experience made you feel appreciative, and you can think how you might be less better off had that thing not been given to you or happened to you.

Gratitude is, to me, the highest expression of this idea. I think our usage of the word validates this. For example, we say things like “I [do this] to demonstrate my gratitude…” After feeling, and then thinking, we’ve got to act. It could, depending upon what the situation merits, just be a verbal expression of gratitude. (Yes, we do “say thank you.” This is not an airtight argument, I’m fully aware.) But I do think that, beyond just words, true gratitude must change your behavior in some way. If it’s that important to get to that level, it should change your life, even in a small way.

Going back to the pyramid: one layer is built upon another. The lowest, largest, and probably most frequent experience, is of Appreciation. The next level up, on the foundation and feeling of appreciation, is Thankfulness. It’s smaller, not necessarily because we have less to be thankful for, but that we only have so much mental resource to devote to thankfulness in the way I’m defining it. It’s a process of choosing, and not an easy one. Finally, the pinnacle of the pyramid is Gratitude. It requires both previous levels in order to reach it, and it is by definition the smallest area in the diagram. Not everything in your life can be life-changing. If everything is, then nothing is.

Now that you’ve got a visual, I want you to do something else with it. Let it go. Or at very least don’t get too attached too it. Why? It could suggest – to an extent I do not intend – that Gratitude is a process, that you must first Appreciate, then be Thankful, in order to finally be truly Grateful. Emotion, then Reason, then Action. That is far too linear. I much prefer a holistic view of the idea of gratitude, where the lines are, not blurred, but blended. It’s an integrated approach. It’s being…

Integrateful.

Yep, there it is. I’m pretty sure I can hear you all exhaling. (Did you even know you were holding your breath??) Ingrateful is a portmanteau, in case you’re just joining us or trying to catch up. It’s a blending of two words to make a new one, and something that I try to do as often as possible, much to the chagrin of my friends. (It’s not cathartic sighs of relief I hear from them. It’s their complete lack of surprise at what I’ve done here that is, indeed, deafening.)

But seriously, I chose that “word” for some specific reasons. First, it worked linguistically – I mean, it kind of works, right? You could maybe say it. My only other real choice was “thinkfulness,” but that seemed too easy. Second, as I outlined earlier, I think that Gratitude is the highest expression of this idea, and therefore the most appropriate choice for inclusion. It was at the top of the pyramid for a reason. (Full disclosure: if you Google “integrateful,” you will find a designer on Etsy who goes by that name, but I really and truly came up with this term independent of such search. Just let me have this one, ok?)

Now, why practice being Integrateful? And what does it have to do with our larger theme and purpose in this blog, the Conditions of Success?

I hope that there is not great need to make the case for why appreciation/thankfulness/gratitude is so important to a good and happy life, and to being successful. (I’m only going to use “integrateful” only sparingly from here on out. I don’t want to try your patience, and I’ve had enough Portmanteau. Got to drive home, after all.)

Here are two good reasons to practice gratitude:

First, if you are a Christian, you kind of don’t have a choice. The concepts of grace and gratitude are directly related. John Piper does a great job explaining the relation of the two words in a very old sermon, now available on his DesiringGod.org site. (Unsurprisingly, the article was posted on Thanksgiving!) The sermon is an exegesis on 2 Corinthians 4:15, in which Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Piper shares the following:

“Almost all English translations miss a beautiful opportunity to preserve in English a play on words that occurs in Paul’s Greek. Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as charis extends to more and more people it may increase eucharistian to the glory of God.” The Greek word for thanks is built on the word for grace: charis becomes eucharistian. This could have been preserved in English by the use of ‘grace’ and ‘gratitude’ which show the same original root. So I would translate: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase gratitude to the glory of God.” The reason this is important is because when we try to define thanks or gratitude, what we find is that it has a very close relationship to grace. Unless we see this relationship, we really don’t know what gratitude is.”

I have nothing I could possibly add to that, other than that you can, and should, read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/grace-gratitude-and-the-glory-of-god

Second, Wikipedia (in its entry on Gratitude) tells me that the study of how feelings and actions of gratitude and thankfulness relate to human happiness has been emerging in the field of psychology since the early 2000s. I’m inclined to take their word for it. It stands to reason, to me, that thanking people and showing gratitude is a good thing – both for the grantor and the receiver. It’s the old “the more you give the more you get” mindset. This term Integrateful is intended to communicate just such a virtuous circle – the emotion creates the environment for thinking which spurs action…and on and on and on. One feeds the other until you no longer can – nor need to – distinguish between and among them.

The connection to Success I want to draw is maybe a bit tenuous, at least theologically, I freely admit, but here it is: I don’t think God rewards ungrateful people. He may choose, for reasons we can never fully comprehend, to NOT punish some people who act that way. But there’s nothing to suggest that being an unappreciative jerk is grounds for blessing. What should be easier to agree with is that we as human beings have limited patience for people who consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation, thankfulness, and gratitude. For me, I guess it just comes down to this: if you practice gratitude, including in some of the ways I’m about to describe, then I think you’re creating Conditions of Success for yourself. I believe God will reward your efforts, people can largely overlook mistakes and faults, and you will find opportunities for living a happy, successful, and even more grateful life.

To conclude our time together, I’ll share with you some things that I am going to do starting today, and going forward, to practice gratitude and make it a habit in my own life. I encourage all 4 of you reading (I must have gained a reader since last time) to do the same.

  1. Over your Thanksgiving meal, with friends, family, whoever is in attendance, talk about how each of you understands and uses the words Appreciation, Thankfulness, and Gratitude. If you like, you can spend several minutes having a laugh at my expense about “Integrateful.” Then, go around the table and share what you’re thankful for. Sound hokey? Well, have you ever done it? IAt least as far as memory serves me, this will be a first for me and my family. I think it’s going to be a great thing.
  2. Something I’m going to do for the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas: a 21 day No Complaints challenge. There’s probably a bunch of variations to this that you’ve heard about, but I first learned of this from one of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts. I found this overview (with links) on his site. See here: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2007/09/18/real-mind-control-the-21-day-no-complaint-experiment/ (Note: there are a few expletives in the article, thought I would give you a heads up in case you don’t like that.)
  3. Incorporate Gratitude into your morning routine. Try GEBY, which stands for Gratitude, Exercise, Breakfast, and You. I got that from James Altucher’s podcast, an interview with entrepreneur and investor Noah Kagan about his experience losing out on a lot of money in the Facebook IPO. Cool story, which you can listen to here: http://askaltucher.com/noah/. (Similar warning: there’s a good bit of language there. If you don’t like hearing it, then I suggest you do not listen.) Whether or not you choose to incorporate the EBY parts into your daily preparation, or not, taking time each morning to list out a few things, big and small, that you’re grateful for TAKES WORK. Seriously, I’ve been trying this exercise for a few months, with a fair amount of consistency, and I can tell you that it’s tougher to do than you think. I have so much to be thankful for, but to sit down, calm your mind, and focus on this takes practice. Try it as part of your devotional and prayer time, and, if possible, ask someone to keep you accountable to doing this.
  4. Tithing. You gotta do it. It is a command to those of us who are believers in Christ. I will tell you that I’m pretty consistent with this – giving 10% of my net income to the Church or another faith based activity/group – but I do skip out. Purposely. Lately, having just bought a house, I’ve been trying to rebuild the savings fund as well as buy some new things for my place, and that money that I should be tithing ends up going there. That’s not right. Tithing is a demonstration of gratitude and faith, and is essential to a successful life as a Christian man or woman.
  5. Time tithing. This is a new one to me, but maybe it is not to you. I’m going to try it. As with tithing your money, there’s some debate with whether you base this on your “net” or “gross” free time (whatever that means I’m not sure), but here’s how my calculation breaks down: let’s assume each of us has 6 to 10 PM each weekday as “free” time – it’s after work and before bed. 4 hours per day times 5 weekdays is 20 hours. Add to that 8 each on Saturday and Sunday (since you’re not working) and that equals 36 total hours. 10% of that is 3.6, rounding up to 4. Just to make this simple, let’s call it 3 or 4 hours per week. Can I do that and will I do that? Give 3 or 4 hours of my precious free time to God? I’m going to try, and I’m asking you all to ask me how I’m doing with this in the coming weeks and months. What about you?

This is starting to get serious, huh? I mean, I’ve written 4 blog posts, which at least equals the most time and efforts I’ve ever dedicated to a writing project like this. And now I’m asking myself and you all to start taking action with me, to doing things that I think will radically change our lives if we commit to them, helping us not only understand success (finally!) but also being prepared for it.

More soon…

-Fred