How To Enjoy Life And Make A Greater Contribution In The Lives Of Others

Photo by John Catbagan

Photo by John Catbagan

The Starfish Story

This story has been around for some time. Perhaps you’ve heard it before? In any case, I believe this story sets up this post well.

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

The Impact Of A Book

Have you ever read a book, seen a TV interview, or perhaps watched an online video that causes you to have one of those “AHA” moments? You know, when a light bulb goes off in your mind and you feel like a major shift in your thinking has taken place?

This happened for me about 7-8 months ago, when I watched a Youtube video of an orchestra conductor named Ben Zander and then read his book “The Art of Possibility.” You can read my book review on “The Art of Possibility” here.

In several chapters of his book, Ben discusses some of his challenges of being a conductor of a volunteer orchestra. As I continued to read through the book, I kept having these “Aha” moments of realization and learning.

For a large portion of his life, Ben Zander struggled with the drive to be to be successful as well as a fear of failure. He claims that this struggle caused both himself and those around him considerable suffering. The greater his success as an orchestra conductor, the worse this tension became in his life.

The tipping point for Ben came when his second wife walked away from their marriage. He began re-thinking how he was “doing life.”

He came away with the realization that he was living a life of selfishness. He was more inward focused on his own success. When being inward focused, he had more of an attitude that there was always another orchestra – aside from the one he was currently conducting – that he suspected would bring him more success, and so he was never fully present when he was on the conductor’s podium.

When he began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, he found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one he was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you can be a contribution to the lives of others.

A Shift Takes Place In My Thinking

This personally hit home with me about my own relationships within my family, as well as the volunteer orchestra I direct each week. I started asking myself questions about whether I was more interested in achieving success in my family or ministry, or am I truly more interested in living a life of contribution. This subtle but important shift in my mindset has (I believe) created a more enjoyable experience for those that I love and lead.

For example with the orchestra at church, in the past, I would get frustrated or upset with various problems such as excessive absenteeism for orchestra rehearsals on Wednesday nights as well as worship services on Sundays. My mindset before was too focused on having a successful orchestra and the roadblocks (in my mind) that my volunteer members were causing me to be a successful director.

Once I made this shift in my thinking, though, I started focusing on the orchestra members who decided to be present for a particular Wednesday rehearsal or Sunday worship service. I began realizing I could and should be a contribution in their lives spiritually, musically, and personally.

And you know what has happened? I’m enjoying my life and ministry a whole lot more by living a life focused on contribution rather than success versus failure. And, I hope those around me are enjoying life at a deeper level as well.

The Generous Life

Playing the game of contribution should really be of no surprise to those of us who are believers in Christ. The Bible has much to say about living a life of generosity versus selfishness.

In Proverbs 11:24-25 (MSG) we read these words:

The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.

Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. Just like our starfish story at the beginning, don’t get overwhelmed and give up because you can’t help everyone. Focus on being a contribution to the few that you can be.

Questions: Are you living a tension-filled life based on a drive for success and a fear of failure? Is your life enjoyable or full misery? Do you need to consider a shift in mindset from success versus failure over to contribution?






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Book Review | The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander

The Art of Possibility BookDiscovering A Book Through A TED Talk

The information within books has the potential power to completely and radically transform your life.

Over the last few years, I can count a handful of books that made a deep impression that has changed my thinking and ultimately my life in amazing, powerful ways.

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (note: this is a husband and wife duo) is my latest addition to this list of life-changing books.

I actually discovered Benjamin Zander through his amazing TED video (you have to watch this), visited his personal website, and then ordered his book through the Kindle store on Amazon. Money wisely spent!

Benjamin Zander’s biography reads:

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world. With London’s famed Philharmonia Orchestra, he is recording the complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for Telarc, recordings which have been received with extraordinary critical acclaim and several awards. Their latest recording of Bruckner’s 5th Symphony was nominated for a 2010 Grammy, and has received critical acclaim both for the performance and Zander’s now famous full-length disc explaining the music for the lay listener. They recorded their next release, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, in January 2012 and it is scheduled for release later this year.

In 1967, Mr. Zander joined the faculty at New England Conservatory, where he taught an interpretation class, conducted the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted the conservatory orchestras. For the past 28 years, he was the Artistic Director of the joint program between New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School and The Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.

Mr. Zander is one of the most sought after speakers in the world. He gave the opening Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where on another occasion he was awarded the Crystal award for “outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations. In 2002 he was awarded the “Caring Citizen of the Humanities” Award by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 44 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory.

His partner Rosamund Zander and he have collaborated on a best-selling book, “The Art of Possibility” which has been translated into fifteen languages.

Yes, this book has a lot to do with music, orchestras, and conducting.

But, it goes way beyond that. I view this book more as a roadmap to be a successful leader and to live out a life of transformation. Whether you’re a musician or not, you need to read this book. It will turn your life upside down, inside out. The ideas that Ben and Rosamund present here will cause you to rethink your approach to life and relationships.

[PLEASE NOTE: this is not a “Christian,” sanitized book. There is some adult language and themes here and there (especially under Chapter 6: Rule Number 6 and Chapter 7: The Way Things Are). I don’t support or condone the language or subject matter, but I do agree with the primary principles presented here. If you choose to read this book, you will need to keep this mind. You have been warned.]

My 6 Takeaways From The Book The Art Of Possibility

After reading The Art of Possibility, I came away with six actionable concepts that I have already started applying to my life. I’m seeing amazing things happen in my life as a result.

  1. It’s all invented (p. 12). The interpretations of the world vary from person to person, depending on our culture, environment, and upbringing. We all tend to become rigidly attached to certain ways of thinking and specific ways of viewing the world. The Zanders have concluded that “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
  2. Orient your life toward abundance (p. 21). It is very easy for any of us to slip into a poverty or scarcity mindset, thinking that we don’t have enough money or resources to accomplish what we would like. The Zanders encourage us with these words, “you are more likely to extend your business and have a fulfilled life if you have the attitude that there are always new customers out there waiting to be enrolled rather than that money, customers, and ideas are in short supply … resources are more likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. When you are oriented to abundance, you care less about being in control, and take more risks.”
  3. Radiate possibility to everyone around you (p. 65). When the people you lead are not everything you envision them to be, who do you blame? Do you blame them, or do you blame yourself? Ben Zander puts forth the question for all of us who are leading others, “Who am I being that they are not shining?” (p. 74). The only person we can truly blame is ourself. We are the leader who is radiating possibility to others. So how do we effectively radiate this universe of possibility? The Zanders believe that “Purpose, commitment, and vision are distinctions that radiate possibility” (p. 179).
  4. Give people an “A” (p. 26, 39). Too many times, we judge people with very little information. If we feel like they have done us wrong one too many times, we put these people on our “naughty” list. The Zanders challenge us to give the grade of an “A” to “anyone in any walk of life – to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team … When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves … This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
  5. Lead from the second chair (p. 41). There is a disease that infects many music ensembles. This problem is sometimes called “second fiddle-itis.” The problem occurs when people perceive their role in a group to be of little significance (second violins for example), mostly due to the fact that many people are duplicating the same part. This is not true of other key positions within an orchestra, such as the primary brass and woodwind roles. They act more as soloists. But, this in no way diminishes the role and importance of the “second part.” Ben Zander tells us the story of Robert Koff, the founding second violinst of the Julliard String Quartet: “I came away convinced that the real leader of the string quartet is the second violin. Not because Koff dominated the rest of us, but because in his part he had all the inner rhythms and harmonies, and he gave them such clarity and authority that we were all tremendously influenced by his playing. He was leading us from the ‘seconds.’”
  6. Rule Number 6: don’t take yourself so seriously! (p. 79-80). The practice of Rule Number 6 is to lighten up, which may lighten up those around us. We can utilize the power of humor to defuse tense and awkward situations. All of us take ourselves way too seriously at certain times and under specific circumstances. When you find yourself getting way too serious and stressed out, just remember Rule Number 6 and observe what happens!

Questions: Have you ever read The Art of Possibility? If so, what were your own takeaways from this amazing book?






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My Top 10 Favorite Personal Blog Posts In 2013

Photo by iabusa

Photo by iabusa

Preface

During this holiday week, I thought I would share some of my favorite blog posts that I have written over the last year here on my personal blog, larrywjones.com. I believe these posts demonstrate some of my best writing and most thought-provoking information that I have shared with my readers. Please note, this list includes my personal favorites, but they do not necessarily reflect the most popular posts according to pageview traffic. I’m saving those for a post next week.

In order to read each post listed below in its entirety, just click on the embedded links. So, without further delay, here are my top ten favorite posts [drum roll, please]:

Larry’s Top 10 Favorite Blog Posts In 2013

10. Stop Blaming Others And Take Ownership Of Every Aspect Of Your Life. I wrote this post after discovering and reading through the book QBQ! The Question Behind The Question. I was so impacted by the philosophy expressed in the writing of John Miller, that I was compelled to write a post about it. Check out the post and get these QBQ! books. They’re excellent!

9. What Should You Do When You’re Waiting On God For Your Next Move? I decided to include this post in the list, because I received a favorable response from several people saying how much the post personally spoke to them. I believe this post spoke to others because it reflects some of my one personal frustrations as I circle about in my own circumstantial holding patterns. I can speak from the knowledge of my own personal experience.

8. Drawing A Line And Taking A Stand On Debt. If you’re ever going to get serious about your financial future as well as achieving financial freedom, you have to address the debt issue in your life. You have to draw the line. You have to declare your debt dependence as completely over and you’re getting out as soon as possible! In this post, I successfully address the “debt thing” head on, and even use a Bible verse to thump people on the head!

7. 8 Characteristics Of An All-Star LinkedIn Profile. The true, engaged professional has a killer LinkedIn profile. The best profiles are similar to online resumes, but on digital steriods! Over the last two years, I’ve become a huge fan of the various tools and features that LinkedIn has to offer professional business people. In this post, I outline the eight characteristics of the very best profiles out there, today.

6. 17 Strategies To Be Successful In A Continuing Bad Economy. No one really likes the bad economy that has set in over the last 5-6 years here in the United States. But, it’s time to stop whining and complaining about it, and actually get busy doing something about the problem. In this post, I offer up 17 strategies to be successful, even though the economy is still sluggish.

5. 5 Great Leadership Lessons from the Movie Star Trek Into Darkness. I placed this post in the mix of my Top 10 favorites because I love the topic of leadership and I enjoy the Star Trek franchise. I put two great personal tastes together, kind of like peanut butter and chocolate. Doesn’t get much better than that!

4. A Financial Vision For America. Using Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech as a model, I crafted this blog post in an inspiring speech-styled format. Here, I attempt to give a compelling vision of better financial solutions than we are currently pursuing in the United States.

3. What’s Your “Why,” And Why Haven’t You Discovered It Yet. A couple of years ago, I ran across Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk on YouTube called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action?” This is one of those TEDx talks where all the light bulbs go off in your head, but the reality is that Simon is just reminding us of the importance of our “Why” or our purpose in anything we do.

2. 5 Spiritual Lessons On Stuff Management From A Busted iPod. Last year, my daughter dropped her iPod and cracked her glass screen, exactly two weeks after I purchased it for her. Needless to say, I wasn’t too impressed or happy about it, either. So, my solution was for her to earn money to be able to have it repaired. Along the way, I believe we both learned some important spiritiual lessons.

1. 14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director. I’ve been directing volunteer orchestras now for almost 20 years. During this time, through much trial and error, I’ve picked up several important leadership lessons. In this post, I share what I’ve discovered about leadership along the way. Interestingly enough, this post really “caught fire” in my digital circle of influence, and this post was also featured over on the XPastor.org website: A Recent Post Featured Today Over At XPastor.org | 14 Leadership Lessons.

Using Life Challenges As A Springboard To Lead Super Better Lives

Photo by Sander van der Wel

Photo by Sander van der Wel

Post-Traumatic Events And Eventual Outcomes

I believe most of us are aware of the condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This is the condition that many military men and women come home struggling with after being out on the battlefield. People who suffer from PTSD have gone through such difficult life events that it affects every aspect of their lives going forward. They can no longer function as well as they did before the event.

Did you also know that there is a polar opposite condition called Post-Traumatic Growth or PTG? Individuals who have experienced post-traumatic growth have not only gone through difficult circumstances, but they have seemingly come out on the other side of their trauma in better shape then they were prior to the difficulty in the first place.

People who experience PTG are more than just strong, tough, optimistic, or resilient. Post-traumatic growth goes way beyond an ability to resist and not be damaged by traumatic experiences. This type of growth moves these individuals beyond pre-trauma levels of adaptation.

Positive Characteristics Of The Growth Track

Those who have seemingly been able to bypass the psychological disorders that we often associate with trauma and move on to bigger and better things display the following characteristics [source: Wikipedia]:

  • an ability to grieve and accept the trauma
  • an ability to focus attention and resources on the most important matters
  • an ability to disengage from uncontrollable or unsolvable problems
  • a greater appreciation for life
  • a changed sense of priorities
  • warmer, more intimate relationships
  • a greater sense of personal strength
  • a recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life
  • spiritual development

So, How Can You Enter The Growth Track?

Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself: “Larry, how is this even possible? Don’t horrible events leave us scarred for the rest of our lives?”

Yes, you might think this is the case, but it is entirely possible to walk through difficult circumstances and come out better on the other side.

As a Christian, I believe this is entirely possible through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Check out these verses on the subject of growth through difficulties:

  • Romans 5:3-5 ” … we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
  • James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  • Philippians 4:12-13 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

For more information on post-traumatic growth, check out this TED talk given by Jane McGonigal, creator of the Super Better game:

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I can write passionately on this topic because I have personally experienced post-traumatic growth. God has taken me to new heights of growth and opportunity through some dramatic life circumstances.

Interested in learning more about my own experience with PTG? As a result of my life challenges, I stumbled into a 5-Step Action Plan as I worked my way through my brokeness in search of healing. These five steps helped me regain my life perspective. They renewed my faith of what could be possible with God’s help and a lot of hard work.

Over the last several years, I’ve seen many people go through some major life challenges. Some are able to “walk through the fire” and not be consumed. They come out okay, probably even better on the other side.

Others, though, seem to struggle through their difficulties. They can’t get any traction in their lives. They’re treading water and seem hopelessly stuck.

The great news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

So, how can one person emerge victorious from their problems, and another be stuck with little hope of moving forward? I believe my 5-Step Action Plan can give you the tools to move from defeat to victory.

This little e-book addresses the problems and the accompanying solutions. So, do you want to stay stuck where you are right now, or are you ready to move forward?

You can’t buy Moving From Broken To Superhuman in bookstores. In fact, you can’t buy it anywhere on the Internet. There’s only one way to get it—by subscribing to my FREE email newsletter.






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All you need to do is fill in the form above or the one on the top right-side of this page. Once you do that and confirm your subscription, I will email you the download link to this amazing, FREE resource.

If you’re really struggling with major defeat in your life now, here’s an opportunity for you to learn and grow from my experience. What do you have to lose? A better question: what are you losing out on if you don’t get my FREE e-book?

Questions: Have you ever experienced post-traumatic growth in your own life? What was your experience like? To what do you attribute your growth?

Do You Want To Be An Amazing Leader? Learn To Power Pose

Photo by Snap Man

Photo by Snap Man

Try A Powerful Pose

Stand right where you are. Stand tall and proud. Spread your feet about shoulder length apart. Put your hands and arms up in the air in a victorious “Yes! I just won the race!” – type of pose.

Or, maybe instead of putting your hands and arms above your head, try putting your hands on your hips. This is affectionately known as the “Wonder Woman” pose.

How do you feel after doing these poses? Strong? Powerful? Ready to take on any problem thrown at you?

Good. This is how you’re supposed to feel after power posing.

A TED Talk Video

I recently ran across this interesting TED talk given by Amy Cuddy on what she describes as power posing. You can check out it below, and then come on back to the blog post.

In this video, we learn several key thoughts that can help us all be better leaders:

  • We communicate to others through our body language.
  • We communicate power and dominance through opening up and expanding.
  • We communicate powerlessness through closing up and making ourselves smaller.
  • Our gender typically plays a role in our body language. Women tend to close up and make themselves smaller. Men usually open up and expand.
  • Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us.
  • Powerful, effective leaders have high testosterone, a dominance hormone, and low cortisol, a stress hormone.
  • You probably don’t want leaders in your organization who are highly stress reactive. You want laid back, confident leaders.
  • Our bodies change our minds … and our minds change our behavior … and our behavior changes our outcomes.
  • Tiny tweaks can lead to BIG changes.
  • You can “fake it, until you become it” through power posing.

So, What Does Power Posing Mean For You And Me?

Are you a leader in the workplace? Do you struggle with self-confidence? Do you need to “be on your A game” on a regular basis? Are you a key performer or presenter in your area of expertise?

Power posing is a real science that has been proven to work in clinical studies as well as real life scenarios. Many a shy, backward personality has been transformed through this concept of power posing.

The next time you don’t feel very confident in a certain situation, try power posing. If you’re in a meeting, then sit up straight, put your shoulders back and chest out. Think expansion. Sit in a larger stance, not a smaller one. Definitely don’t cross your arms and slump in your chair.

If you’re about to walk out on to a stage to make a presentation, then try some power poses back stage. Look, feel, and act confident before you speak.

If you’re about to go in for a job interview, then quickly duck into the rest room and practice a few power poses. Get yourself into a powerful state of mind before meeting with the interviewer. Raise your testosterone levels and lower your cortisol. Fake it until you make it. Make a great first impression.

This stuff does work. Try it for yourself and find out.

What’s Your “Why,” And Why Haven’t You Discovered It Yet?

Photo by Cea.

Photo by Cea.

The Best TED Talk Ever

Have you ever heard of a guy named Simon Sinek who has this little TED Talk video called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action?” I believe this is the most viewed TED talk to date. In my humble opinion, it’s also the best TED talk I’ve ever seen.

This guy gets it. This guy understands what inspires people to accomplish amazing things in their lives.

Before reading and further, I would encourage you to watch the TED Talk YouTube video link I have embedded into this post.

The Golden Circle

As part of Simon’s research into how great leaders inspire action, he codified the concept of “The Golden Circle.” The Golden Circle is simply a diagram of 3 concentric circles. The outside circle is labeled “What.” The second circle is labeled “How.” And, finally, the inner circle is labeled “Why.”

Photo by Gavin Llewellyn

Photo by Gavin Llewellyn

Simon believes that most people and organizations work from the outside in. They start with “what,” then move on to “how,” and then many times they never even move on to “why.” Most people’s “why” is fuzzy to them anyway. As a result, they aren’t as successful as they possibly could be.

In this video, Simon Sinek lays out the supposition that individuals who achieve great things as well as attract a passionate following start from inside The Golden Circle, and then work their way outward.

They start with their “why,” then move to “how,” and finally “what.”

3 Examples Of Powerful “Whys”

In Simon’s talk, he gives us three primary examples to support this Golden Circle concept: Apple, Inc., the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Apple, Inc. has a cult-like following because they “think differently.” The company’s mantra is to challenge the status quo. Their following is attracted to the company’s “why.” Apple just happens to build great computers, software, and peripherals as an expression of their ultimate “why.”
  • The Wright Brothers had a dream to figure out how to build a flying machine. They didn’t have a lot of money or additional resources. They mostly used equipment from their bicycle shop in Dayton, OH. What they had, though, was an incredible passion to figure out how to accomplish this flying thing. Their “why” was stronger and bigger than the others who were trying to accomplish manned, powered flight around that same time period in 1903.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. He had a long-term vision of a country that had a completely integrated society of both blacks and whites living and working together. People of all colors were attracted to his vision. The peaceful march on Washington, D.C. in 1963 and eventual end of segregation were the direct result of his “why.”

Who Cares? Why is “Why” So Important?

Why is “why” so important? From the standpoint of The Golden Circle, the “Why” of any individual or organization is the driving, passionate, motivating force to accomplish any great movement.

So, what’s your why? Do you even have a why? Do you have a vision bigger than yourself, that it keeps you motivated in your career, business, and life?

If you don’t have a great, motivating “why” for your life, don’t worry. You still have time. Spend some quality time meditating and journaling about what you’re passionate about. Attempt to pinpoint what gets you out of bed in the morning. What motivates you (or has the potential to motivate you) to live your best life and accomplish great stuff along the way?