Make Today One of Intense Purpose and Lasting Influence

What Will Your Legacy Be?

It’s graduation time. As students receive their diplomas, they look forward to the next milestone, the next development, the next opportunity. As they walk across the stage, I bet most of them don’t think about how many days they have been on Earth and how many days they have left.

My friend, Robert D Smith, affectionately known as “the Robert D” reminds me of the gift of time. His book 20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Right Now is one I give away to graduates. He shares practical reminders of how to master your life and succeed.20K Simple Truths 3D Left

Understanding your purpose, living each day to its fullest, becoming as productive as possible, and mastering your life are critical to a successful life and yet most of us are so busy with today’s tasks we don’t stop and reflect.

In 20,000 Days, you will find a compelling reminder of the value of time. It’s not a long book, and the message is simple, but profound. A few of the lessons I took away:

  • Eat dessert first.
  • Think of today as your last day and also your first day.
  • Do the thing you’ve been putting off.
  • Invite a close friend to dinner.
  • Go outside and breathe deeply.
  • Read the book you’ve been meaning to pick up.
  • Create a life statement.

 

QUOTES

And some of my favorite quotes:

 

“Winning is defined by the legacy you create.” @TheRobertD

 

“My motivating force: I know I will die, but I do not know how long I will live.” @TheRobertD

 

“I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.” –Golda Meir

 

“No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.” –William Borden

5 Lessons on Innovation from Outlander’s Diana Gabaldon

A Creative Force

One of the most innovative people I have ever met is my friend Diana Gabaldon. Last year, her wildly popular Outlander novels became even more popular as the new television series was released. Whether you are reading her Outlander series or her Lord John novels, you will be hard pressed to categorize her writing. Most critics give up and classify her work with a list of descriptive words ranging from historical fiction and romance to mystery and adventure.

However you describe her novels, you may find it even more challenging to describe the author. Diana is equal parts scholar, writer and historian. Mix in a bit of archivist; stir in comic book writing, and the unique recipe begins to take shape.

When I first met Diana, I had not read any of her books. She captivated me by the way she told a story. How she went from college professor to best-selling author was a story I will never forget.

Here are a few lessons I learned from the impossible-to-describe creative force named Diana Gabaldon:

 

Lessons from A Creative Mind

1. Try….why not take a chance? 

It seems that most people have an idea, think they should do something, and then push that dream into a drawer. They never really give it a go.

Years ago, Diana read comic books. She felt the writing quality was declining and that she could do it herself. Have you ever felt that way? You see something and think, “I can do better.” Most of us have. What sets Diana apart is that she didn’t stop there. She investigated. She found out who was in charge and then turned in a submission.

Years later, Diana would take a different chance. She thought that she would like to try writing a novel. That try, what she calls the novel she was writing for “practice,” became Outlander.

What idea have you had that you have left in that drawer? What could you do to give birth to something new?

 

2. Study…for the love of creating.

Long before her mega success as an author, Diana spent years as a university professor.  She has a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She also holds degrees in marine biology and zoology. That type of academic success shows an underlying love of learning.

And it’s that same love of learning she uses in the meticulous research for her books.  Her fiction books are known for their accuracy, and it is no wonder.  Her personal library includes thousands of books. Her Arizona home alone contains over 1500 reference works on topics such as warfare techniques, poisons and history. Some of the topics are very specific, such as the art of passementarie (the knotted tassels on 18th century furnishings) or the 126 books on herbals. If you have been searching for Sam Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) or Captain Francis Grose’s A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), look no further.

Often people look for the shortcuts to success. You may hear that Diana decided to write a book and then found herself on the NYT list. The truth is that great public success is almost always the result of planting, tilling and working in private.

Diana Gabaldon's bookcase, Used by Permission Diana Gabaldon’s bookcase, Used by Permission

 

3. Fail…and keep going!

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

Peace of Mind wooden sign with a beach on background

How Mentally Strong Are You?

Amy Morin first appeared on my radar when her blog post 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do was published. The post went viral and was viewed over 10 million times. Behind the powerful advice was an equally powerful story, one mixed with tragedy but also with hope and resolve.

Using her expertise as a clinical social worker and therapist, Amy works to help people facing setbacks reach for happiness and success.  Whether you are depressed or doing well, studying these 13 ideas will make you mentally stronger.

After reading her new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success I was so busy talking about it and giving copies to friends that I forgot to circle back and interview her.  I’m now pleased to share our conversation in the hopes it may help others going through tough times.

 

“When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self.” -Amy Morin

 

3 Parts of Mental Strength

How do you define mental strength?

Mental strength has three parts: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Building mental strength involves learning to regulate thoughts so they’re helpful and realistic, understanding how to control emotions so your emotions don’t control you, and discovering how to behave productively despite your circumstances.

 

“Don’t allow inaccurate beliefs about your abilities to hold you back from success.” -Amy Morin

 

From Grief to Mental Strength

What inspired you to first write about mental strength?

13-Things-Mentally-Strong-People-Dont-Do coverI’ve always been interested in psychology and resilience. Over the years as a therapist, I’ve really enjoyed helping other people learn how to increase their mental strength. But in 2003, my interest became personal.

I had been working as a therapist for about a year, and things were going well for me both professionally and personally. But my life changed in an instant when my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. She and I had been very close, and I certainly learned a lot about mental strength first-hand as I managed my grief.

Then, on the three year anniversary of my mother’s death, my 26-year-old husband died from a heart attack. Dealing with such a sudden and major loss in my life was incredibly painful. I was able to take a little time off work, but I eventually had to return to my job as a therapist. Helping other people address their problems in my therapy office while privately dealing with my own grief taught me a lot about mental strength.

A few years later, just as life was looking pretty good again, I experienced another major loss. I had just gotten remarried when my father-in-law, whom I had grown incredibly close to, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Unlike my previous two losses which were both sudden and unexpected, this time I knew what was coming.

As my father-in-law’s health deteriorated I wrote my original list, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” It was meant to serve as a reminder of all the things I needed to avoid if I wanted to face the future with courage and strength. About two weeks after I wrote the article – in the midst of it going viral – he passed away.

 

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” -John Powell

 

Train Your Brain for Happiness

You’ve been through so much grief. Your pain is now benefiting many who are learning lessons from your experience. Part of the subtitle of your book is Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success. How do you train your brain?

Training your brain for happiness and success is not the same as chasing happiness.  When people chase happiness, they give in to instant gratification, and it leaves them feeling unhappier than ever. Building mental strength is about working toward your goals and living according to your values, both of which lead to happiness over the long haul. Training your brain for happiness involves paying close attention to all the choices you make each day and examining how those choices impact your mental strength.

Building mental strength is very similar to building physical strength. If you wanted to become physically stronger, you’d need good habits – like going to the gym. But you’d also need to get rid of bad habits – like eating too much junk food. Training our brains is similar. We need good habits – like thinking positively, but we also need to get rid of bad habits – like shying away from change.

 

“Mental strength is built by regulating thoughts, managing emotions, and behaving productively.” -Amy Morin

The Only Question that Matters in Personal Branding

Managing A Personal Brand

My friend Robert D. Smith is a master of branding and a creative force. For decades, he has managed the career of best-selling author and speaker Andy Andrews.  In addition to his work with Andy, he is regularly sought after by some of the biggest names for his expert advice, creativity, and innovative approaches.

 

“Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” @TheRobertD

 

Recently, I spent some time visiting with him in his home and office in Tennessee.  Most people know Robert as THE Robert D.  His energy is so intense that, to prepare, I downed a double espresso before our interview.  I shouldn’t have bothered because just talking with him is like plugging into an unending energy source.

In our video interview, you will hear THE Robert D’s advice on building a personal brand.

What’s the number one question that THE Robert D asks himself to know whether a person will succeed?  Drum roll….

Are you coachable?

Interestingly, when I hire an executive, that is also my number one question. Because if you are not teachable, it usually means you are arrogant. If you aspire to serve others, you are always trying to remain coachable.

 

“Winning is defined by the legacy you create.” @TheRobertD

 

Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

  • Anyone can have a personal brand. “Whether you think it or not, you are a brand.” How you look, dress, talk is part of your brand.

How to Envision Your Limitless Potential

Hand held medal against a stormy sky

Tune in to the Power of Blind Ambition

Many of us start a new year with a list of resolutions and aspirations.  Those goals can quickly disappear as we replace goals with excuses.  A regular diet of motivation helps me redouble my efforts, so I regularly look for inspiring people, books, speeches, and songs.

That’s why I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia Walsh.  Talk about overcoming obstacles, pursuing dreams, and not letting an excuse derail goals.

At age five, she was blind from a brain tumor.  Later, fighting depression and hopelessness, she made a decision to reclaim her quality of life.  Now, she has written an inspiring book, Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential and Achieve the Success You Want .  She has a successful career as an entrepreneur, a software engineer, and a professional speaker.  And I almost forgot to mention she is a champion athlete.

Don’t listen to the voice telling you to give up on your goals.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Don’t limit your potential.

Instead, tune in to the power of Blind Ambition.

 

“You can never go wrong by lifting someone up.” -Patricia Walsh

 

Shatter Expectations

I’ve interviewed another female Ironman, Chrissie Wellington.  Reading her book was the closest I’ve come to understanding what it takes to compete.  It’s a grueling challenge.  And you’re blind and you did it.  What motivated you to shatter expectations?

I stumbled into shattering: I think my friends and family assume that I set out with a determination to turn the world on its ear from the get go.  Truly the spirit of the initial events was more of a, “What could possibly go wrong?” to which the response was. “Everything could go wrong,” to which I then responded, “Even if everything does go wrong, this won’t kill me.”

My initial motivation was to reclaim my quality of life.  When this all began, I had a smoking habit, was the life of the party, and as a result was overweight and feeling lost in my own skin.  As my dad started struggling with his own health, I realized that my habits and patterns not only emulated his, in many ways they were worse than his.  I started running as an attempt to reclaim my health.  The result after months of trial and error and continuous improvement was not only a betterment of my physical health, but it had become a lifeline for what had been a shattered sense of self.

In completing my first marathon, I proved to myself that I was not and never have been damaged goods.  My sense of ability was through the roof.  When proposed the opportunity to take on ever increasing challenges I jumped at the chances.  After years of marathoning, a friend dared me to do an ironman.  When I took on ironman it was out of a curiosity and a wonder for my own capabilities.  I was in way over my head.  I had never swum or biked.  The amount of help and coaching I needed just to finish was daunting.

Walsh9780071833820It was after completing my first ironman, Lake Placid 2010, when I became the first blind female to have completed an ironman with a female guide, that I saw the opportunity to reclaim expectations.

There is a thriving prejudice of reduced expectations of persons with disability.  I feel it every day.  People are surprised when I am able to order for myself at a restaurant.  People approach my friends and congratulate them on their generosity for taking the blind kid out for an adventure. People do not see me as an accomplished adult.  The challenge for me every day is to fight the impulse to become a defensive person.  When faced with these reduced expectations, my want is to rattle off my resume.  My want is even to make that person feel lower, but what good would come of that?  I know better.  If I were to ever really have that honest reaction, everyone would walk away feeling awful.  I acknowledge my role has to be that of a gentle educator.  After my initial success in ironman, I had the opportunity to race with a hero of mine.  It was then that I saw the gleam of light that I could be a competitive athlete by any standard.

I believed that if I put in the time and effort to be among the top finishers for my age group, then I could offer up an example of appropriate expectations of the blind.  That is to say blind and disabled people are not lesser than, they are equal to, and in some cases even greater than those without disability.  Truly it isn’t about the comparison, it is about the assumption.  The efforts of persons with disability should be taken on their own merit, absent of the expectation of diminished value.

 

“Excuses are a mask for fear and self-doubt.” -Patricia Walsh

 

Finishing my second ironman in 11:40 was groundbreaking for me.  In 10 months I had reduced my own time by three hours.  I had set an example of an athlete with disability who two years into the sport could be ranked among the top 10 finishers for her age group.  I was then recruited to compete at a different distance for the US National team.  My secret hope is to come back to ironman after Paralympics, as I left wanting more.  I know I could be among the top finishers in following my own fuel-fire-blaze hierarchy with the emotionally intrinsic goal of continuing to chip away at the reduced expectations.

 

Limitations and Excuses