In life, keep your eyes focused forward


Every exit is an entry somewhere.” 

       – Tom Stoppard




While driving a car, 99 percent of the time your eyes are looking in one of two places: in the rearview mirror or through the windshield.

The rearview mirror only shows where you have been, the past. The windshield shows what is in front of you, including all your options for which road to choose next.

It’s a good idea to look in the rearview now and again, but if you fix your eyes there for too long, you’ll crash.

This is true about life, too. You have the choice to focus on what’s behind you, or you can look forward at what lies ahead, including all your options for what road to take next.

Where do you spend your time looking?

Go ahead: Chase your dreams

ReachfortheStars_009Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. Then go and do that. Because what the world needs most is people who have come alive.”





While visiting Universal Studios in Orlando, my daughter and I watched a fun animal show at the theme park. Afterward, we approached the stage to speak with one of animal trainers, a young man who told us that he loved his job. As a child, he said, his hobby was teaching tricks to the pets of his family and friends, and he spent all his free time playing with animals. Now, he couldn’t believe he was being paid to do something he loved and would do for free.

This young man had found a way to marry his passion with his career. It wasn’t much money, he said, but he didn’t care because every day felt like play. It was clear this guy was living his dream.

This is a great lesson.

It is easy to focus on making money, thinking this is the key to happiness. And while a certain amount of pragmatism is wise – we all have bills to pay – it’s a shame so many of us abandon our dreams when choosing a career.

My parents were both children of the Great Depression, and during my entire childhood they told me repeatedly that finding steady work at a good wage was the key to success. Yes, enjoying my work was a nice benefit, but the most important consideration was making a good living.

It’s easy to see why they were so pragmatic. My father was born three months before the 1929 stock market crash. My mother was born the next year in London and was a child during the most brutal WW II bombings of that city. Both grew up at a time when the key to life was simply providing for yourselves and your family. After college, I was speaking to an older family friend – from the same generation as my parents – who told me to try to get a job at the post office. It didn’t matter I had no interest in the post office, he said; it was steady work, and what could be more important?

When it comes to my daughter, I’ve encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Yes, I’ve also explained that there is a practical side to choosing a career path, including earning enough money to pay the bills. Some balance is important.

But mostly, I want her to spread her wings and fly. I want her to pursue her dreams.

A little rain in your child’s life is a good thing

Littleraincropped “Thy fate is the most common fate of all,

into each life some rain must fall.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



As a parent, it is natural not only to protect your child from harm but also to keep her free from worry or problems. We want our children to be happy and successful – all the time.

As a good parent, we have a responsibility to do something a little different, because what happens to the child who never knows even the slightest disappointment or failure? What if she wins at everything – or always gets her way? She is not prepared to be a successful adult.

This is true because in the real world, your child will not always get what she wants. At some point, she will be disappointed – and at some point, she will fail: it is a function of being human. But it is not the disappointment or failure which will help decide your child’s happiness; it will be her ability to react to it.

Of course, all good parents will protect their children from any significant danger or terrible mistake, and we will do everything we can to help them be successful. But a person who never has to face any disappointment or failure as a child is unlikely to develop the skills needed to cope with these realities as an adult. If a parent gives in to the impulse to allow them to win at every little game or contest, to cure for them every little struggle, to intervene at every little problem, we are simply not preparing them to handle life.

No good parent would allow his child to be battered by a storm, but letting just a little rain into your child’s life is exactly what good parents do.

Honesty is still the best policy


 “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Thomas Jefferson



I guess you’re never too old to be reminded that honesty is the best policy. Consider this story:

My 84-year-old father called to say it was time for him to give up driving a car for good. His memory had started to fade, and he’d begun forgetting things, such as the route to get home from the nearby store.

He asked my help finding a buyer for his car, which Dad seemed relieved to let go. (He also was happy to be rid of a car payment, insurance, gas and maintenance.)

We checked the Internet to get an idea of how much to ask for his car, then took it several places to get the best deal.

At one dealership, the used car manager offered us almost exactly our asking price. We immediately agreed. The manager then handed us a form with a few basic questions and left the room to do some paperwork. We scanned the form and had no issues, until we saw this question: “Have the air bags in this car ever deployed?”

Dad thought for a moment – you could see he was struggling to recall some not-so-distant memory – and then told me, “I’m trying to remember, but I think the air bags in this car did go off once in an accident.”

I was surprised. Dad had said that very morning that he didn’t remember ever being in an accident in this car. Now he seemed to recall an accident that set off the air bags. After some deliberation, his memory cleared and he was certain: a few years ago, he indeed had been hit head-on in this car and the airs bags had deployed.

This was significant because this dealer had a policy not to purchase any car if the air bags had ever deployed, even if they’d been professional repacked. And if this dealer would not buy the car, the next best offer we could find from another buyer was $1,000 less than this dealer was offering.

The sales manager was not in the room when Dad recalled the accident, but he was certain to return shortly. We had a choice to make when the manager walked in: admit the air bags had gone off, lose this sale and eventually end up with $1,000 less for the car, or not mention the accident and make the sale and our full profit.

It’d been a long day and we were ready to sell the car and go home. But Dad and I agreed that we needed to admit the truth about the air bags. If we’d been buying the car instead of selling it, we’d want to know the truth about the car’s history. And it didn’t feel right signing a form we knew to be false.

We told the dealer about the accident and the air bags. He immediately said, “I’m sorry, but that means I can’t buy your car.” After a moment, he added, “Thanks for being honest. I actually could have gotten in some trouble if I’d bought this and the dealership found out later about the air bags.” He also told us that if someone had bought the car and been injured in an accident because of faulty air bags, my Dad’s signature on that paper could place him in a difficult legal position.

In the end, we sold the car to another buyer for the $1,000 less. Driving home, I thought for a moment whether or not we made the right decision, but I didn’t have to think long. I know Dad got less money for his car, but we had something more valuable: peace of mind, and knowledge we had done the right thing.

For us, honesty is still the best policy.

A laminated reflection on life….


   “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
Arthur Conan Doyle





On and off over the years, one of my job responsibilities has been to speak to local community groups and civic clubs about our organization. I give a short speech, usually right after lunch or dinner, and then answer questions.  It’s a great way to meet people from all over the city.

One day I was dispatched to a Rotary lunch meeting of about 50 men, many of them business professionals or retirees. After my presentation and Q&A session, an older gentleman approached me. He appeared to be in his late 70s, and he was well-dressed and well spoken.

He said hello and immediately began to tell me about his own career, how he had been a salesman for Sears & Roebuck some years ago. He said he had been quite good at his job selling appliances and home furnishings. In fact, he told me, one year he had been the top grossing salesman in the entire Southeastern United States. I smiled politely and told him I was impressed.

He then pulled from his pocket a folded newspaper article, dog-eared and yellowed from years of use. He handled the wrinkled paper to me. It was laminated. The article was about 40 years old and came from a small town newspaper in a city I don’t recall. The paper showed a black-and-white photo of a man in a white shirt and dark tie next to a headline proclaiming that Sears, Roebuck & Co. had just announced its salesman of the year. I read the short article, which appeared to be a news release issued by the company and reprinted verbatim by the man’s hometown newspaper. The older man smiled and spoke as if he had won this award just recently, then carefully took the article back from me.

The gentleman was very proud, and it was obvious the news in this article had been the crowning achievement of his career – and perhaps his life. In this gentleman’s mind, this paper represented the definitive statement of who he was as a man.

It made me think of my own eventual reflection:  when I’m retired and a member of Rotary, listening to a young speaker, what will be on the piece of paper pulled from my pocket? What will it say about me as a man?

For starters, I hope the answer says something about me as a father, husband and friend, but what else?

I don’t have the full answer yet, but I’ve started thinking more about the question…..

Time is the coin of your life


Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

Carl Sandburg



I believe two of the most precious gifts in life are good health – and time.

While we cannot always control our health, we can control how we spend our time.

I have found no shortage of people eager to suggest how I should spend my time. Often, it is a casual acquaintance eager for me to spend time doing something I have little or no interest doing. I have learned to politely decline these invitations.

Instead, I prefer to spend my time with family and friends – and sharing it with those who can use a helping hand.

Time is the coin of my life, and I intend to spend it wisely.

Mural provides a simple reminder to never forget

Miguel RamosExactly one week after Veteran’s Day and only a few days before Thanksgiving, some friends and I walked into a lively restaurant/bar in the small town of Isabela, Puerto Rico.

The little hot spot had attracted a good crowd for a Sunday night, mostly locals drawn to the bar’s live music, good food and cold beer. For those looking for a party, the place didn’t disappoint.

Amidst the festive atmosphere was a visual non sequitur: on one wall near our table was a mural of a man wearing a U.S. Army uniform, a smile on his face, his hands opened and palms up in a gentle gesture. The mural identified him as Miguel A. Ramos, born in 1965 in the nearby city of Mayaguez, died in 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq.

The waitress explained that Miguel had served in the Army with the restaurant owner, who had returned safely from the war; Miguel had not. The owner commissioned the mural to honor and remember his friend.

This mural struck me for a number of reasons.

We had walked into this bar right between two days of remembrance, one intended to give thanks in general, and one to honor our military veterans. This life-size mural bridged both holidays.

The image was particularly poignant because Miguel and I were born in the same year. He should have been my age, enjoying life, maybe in the very bar where his mural hung. I noted, too, that Miguel died on May 31, 2005 – my daughter’s 3rd birthday.

I’ve found it easy to move through life worrying about all the little things, but I don’t think I stop often enough to appreciate all the wonderful people and blessings in my life… and I know I haven’t always thought of the sacrificies the Miguel Ramos’ of the world have made – and continue to make – which allow me to enjoy my life.

I’m glad the restaurateur honored his friend this way so that Miguel will always be remembered; I know I’ll never forget.

Behold the eye of the pelican

In need of a break, I took the day off from work to spend at the beach. It was late October, still warm enough to enjoy the Florida sun without the summer crowds. In fact, the beach was deserted. Book in hand, I walked to a quiet spot and settled into my little beach chair, my toes just touching the shallow waves. I was alone.

From the distance, a single pelican glided into view, dipped its wings and landed in the water, not 20 yards from me. She barely bobbed in the surf, slowly rotating until facing me, and then stopped turning – and just stared in my direction.

I stared back.

We both sat on the empty beach, both perfectly still, simply looking at each other. Pelicans have little eyes, but I could see hers clearly, and she was looking straight back into mine. No doubt, she was calm and relaxed.

Only later did I realize that my body had begun to relax, too. I had stopped thinking about everything – my breathing had steadied, my mind was calm. Gazing steadily into the bird’s eyes for what seemed like minutes, all my thoughts had dissolved away. Eventually, my little friend slowly took flight and disappeared, but not before leaving me tranquil.

Only much later did I realize I had stumbled into some form of focal point meditation, with my entire focus centered on the eyes of a pelican.

To this day, when the stresses of everyday life threaten to overwhelm me, I allow my thoughts to drift back to that quiet spot on my empty beach, where I find myself sitting in my little lawn chair, the waves rolling into the sand. I’m sure my eyes gloss over a bit, because while I’m physically present in one place, my inner eye is somewhere else, seeing only calm – and then peace fills me because I’m once again staring into the gentle, quiet eyes of a pelican….

College is about more than finding a good job

DiplomaSome young people today think college isn’t worth the time or money, but such thinking may be shortsighted.

If your only goal in attending college is to land a high-paying job, or if you’re confident you can be successful in life without attending, then I understand why skipping college is an attractive option.

In fact, a wealthy California man is now awarding fellowships worth $100,000 each to 24 young people if they skip college for at least two years and instead spend the time chasing their entrepreneurial dreams. The recipients were selected based on their potential to make major contributions to society without going to college, much like Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to grow

The millionaire offering the $100,000 fellowships is Peter Thiel, who made his fortune by co-founding the online payment service PayPal (after graduating from Stanford Law School).

Thiel’s idea continues a theme which has been building for several years: some high school graduates want to pass on formal higher education and jump right into the working world to make their mark.

While I love the idea of giving young people the means to pursue their dreams, particularly those with great ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, college is more than a means to land a good job. It can help you prepare for life’s challenges.

Most of what I learned in college came from outside the classroom: the discussions in the dorm and student organizations; the debates while out with friends; the exposure to ideas different from my own; the ability to create and grow relationships, resolve conflicts and solve problems; the opportunity to meet and make friends with people whose cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds were different from mine.

Of course, the classroom work was valuable, too, particularly learning critical thinking skills which continue to serve me well both personally and professionally.

I don’t think college is for everyone. And many people, including Mark Zuckerberg, achieve great success without finishing college, among them Mary Kay Ash (of Mary Kay cosmetics), Michael Dell (founder of Dell computers), former ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings, film director Steve Spielberg, and software mogul Bill Gates.

But if you’re not the next Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates – and most of us are not – I wouldn’t pass on higher education. College can be so much more than just a ticket to a good job….

Living life fully means taking some risks

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt


Among friends, I’m not exactly known as a risk taker. Some might politely describe my approach to life as “methodical,” my days a little too organized for their taste.

To a large degree, this philosophy has served me well. (Fate favors those who know what comes next.)

Still, I’ve learned that living life to its fullest requires taking some risks. The common touchstones of life — getting married, having children, changing jobs, buying a home – do not come with guarantees. It would be safest to live life alone in a cave, but that’s not much of a life.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a television show featuring interviews with dozens of people who were all at least 80 years old. Each person was asked: “Now that you are in the sunset of your life, what are your biggest regrets?”

The answers surprised me. Person after person – all octogenarians – said their biggest regrets were not things they had done, but things they had not done… the risks never taken. One guy still remembered the girl he never asked to the high school dance, another woman reflected sadly on the career she never pursued. Rarely did anyone say “I regret something I did earlier in life.” Most admitted to making a lot of mistakes, but time allowed those decisions to be seen in a new light: life lessons they otherwise never would have learned. By taking the risk and failing, they grew.

The thought reminds me of an old saying: “If you’re not failing at some things, you’re not risking enough.”

Of course, some people live life on the opposite side of the spectrum. They live recklessly and never reach the age of 80, or 50 (or even 20). But if you live too cautiously, will you reflect on a life full of regrets?

Over time, I’ve learned that one key to a happy life is to strike a balance in essentially all things, including the amount risk in your life.

My hope is to lead my life to reach at least the age of 80, and then if someone asks “What are your regrets, old man?”, I want to say with conviction: “I have none.”


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