Get into a larger tank

fish in tankThere is a species of fish – the Japanese carp, known as the Koi – that will grow in size only in proportion to the size of the body of water it is in. When placed in a small aquarium the fish will only grow to be two or three inches long. If placed in a larger body of water, it will grow to six to ten inches. When placed in a large lake, it can reach its full size of two or three feet in length.

In like manner, your environment can inhibit and limit your personal growth and development. It may be the job you’re in—although you feel secure and the work is tolerable, you’re stuck in a mind-numbing environment and your head is hitting the proverbial glass ceiling. It may be the town you live in—the provincial mentality is stifling. The friends you associate with may be stymying—you may need a more intellectually invigorating group.

But the right environment can stimulate your growth and help you reach your potential. Fortunately, you do have control over this dimension of life; you can choose where you work, you can move to a city that inspires you, and you can choose friends that will stretch you.

To illustrate this idea, I’ll use two of my family members.

After graduating from college, my daughter, Lauren, made some bold moves that placed her in a “large pond.” First, she moved from a small college town in Texas to New York City. She got a nice and adequate job, but after working there for a few years, she realized she needed a greater challenge, so she went to work at American Express. Soon, AMEX moved her to Singapore for a year, then back to NYC. In the meantime, she completed a master’s degree from Columbia. Can you sense the mix of challenges, thrills, fear, insecurities and joys involved in making these moves?

My son-in-law, Jonathan, is a board certified emergency room physician. He has served two tours-of-duty in the Navy. For one of his assignments he was stationed at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. It was one of the busiest trauma centers in the world. He saw more and learned more in nine months than some physicians would see and learn in a lifetime here in the states. He got into a larger pond.

Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to change environments and the effort it takes to adjust to and flourish in a new one. It can be intimidating and challenging. You may even fail. But it’s worth the risk and effort. Life is too short to waste; it’s not a dress rehearsal, and it’s the only one you get.

You don’t want this written on your tombstone: Died, 55 years old; buried, 70 years old.

[reminder]Share your thoughts about this essay. [/reminder]


What? – Our personal growth and development can be enhanced or stymied by our environment.
So what? – Beware of the times in life when you are too comfortable and unchallenged. You may need to “get into a larger tank.”
Now what? – Analyze where you are in life. Does your environment provide the room and stimulus for personal growth? If not, what will you do?

Leaders – Do you create environments and opportunities in your organization in which people can grow and develop? Consider each member of your team and customize a plan that will optimize their personal development.

Be frugal – get rich slowly



The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket. -Will Rogers

The Millionaire Next Door, written by Stanley and Danko, is full of surprises. The authors’ massive research project sought to determine the profile of the average American family that had a financial net worth of at least a million dollars. They discovered that typical millionaire family members:

  • Do not wear designer watches
  • Buy clothes at stores like Dillard’s and J.C. Penney
  • Drive cars that are 3-5 years old; usually a domestic model
  • Do not live in an upscale neighborhood

One of the key commonalities among this group is that they are frugal and live well below their means.

It pays to be frugal.

Both my wife and I grew up poor, so being frugal was embedded in our lifestyle from childhood. I’m so frugal that I’ve been banned from eating at all-you-can-eat restaurants in 35 states.

  • We still use coupons, shop for good deals, wear clothes a long time, and drive our cars to exhaustion.
  • Every year of our marriage (36 and counting) we have lived by an annual budget. It’s the best way to manage money (which does need to be managed).
  • Every December we do an audit of our expenses, looking for areas that we can tweak and save money.
  • As our income has risen, we’ve kept our living expenses the same and we save the difference.

We’ve discovered that small savings add up to significant amounts of money. Our frugality has paid off. We’re one of the families that Stanley and Danko talk about in their book.

On a commercial level, the benefit of being frugal can be profound. An article in the New York Times magazine noted: “While working the line at Harley-Davidson’s factory in York, Pa., Mark Dettinger noticed a small problem. The plastic piece that held electrical parts to the front of a motorcycle, a piece about the size of a hardcover book, wasn’t fitting correctly. Every time a new bike came down the line, it took a few extra shoves to push it into place. In fact, it took an extra 1.2 seconds.

Dettinger, who had spent some 20 years at the York plant, knew that every second counted. With 400 motorcycles built each shift, on two shifts a day, an extra 1.2 seconds per bike added up to 2,200 lost bikes annually. Millions could be lost in revenue. Maybe it wasn’t such a small problem. [New York Times Magazine, Feb. 2, 2014, pages 16-17, by Adam Davidson]

Benjamin Franklin said, “The way to wealth depends on just two words, industry and frugality.” Stanley and Danko would agree, and so would I.

[reminder]Are there any downsides to being frugal?[/reminder]


What? – Frugality is a good thing and longterm, it makes a huge difference.
So what? – Be careful with your finances. A few good practices (abide by a budget, always get multiple bids, audit expenses, etc.) can make a big difference. It’s never too late to start being financially prudent.
Now what? – Gain control of your finances and be thrifty.

Leaders – When was the last time you intentionally and thoroughly looked at your organization’s expenses with the goal of saving money? Is frugality part of your organization’s culture?

Stop to smell the roses

jonny-smelling-rosesIn a banal setting and at an inconvenient time, would people pause to observe transcendent beauty?

That was the question the Washington Post sought to answer when it commissioned Joshua Bell, one of the foremost violin players of our generation, to play in a Washington subway station during morning rush hour.

Dressed in a nondescript manner – jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap – Bell opened up his case, took out his violin – called the Gibson ex Huberman, handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari – and began to play magnificent music. He started with “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Some have called it the greatest piece of music ever written; others consider it one of the greatest achievements of any human, ever.

For 45 minutes, one of the greatest musicians alive, playing one of the greatest instruments ever made, played some of the greatest music ever written.

Did anyone stop to listen?

It was all videotaped on camera. Eleven hundred people walked by; seven stopped to listen; twenty-seven threw money into the open case for a total of $32.

The night before, Bell had sold-out Boston’s Symphony Hall where the cheapest seat goes for $100. He regularly earns $1,000 per minute for concerts.

What’s the lesson for us?

We need to slow down and “listen to the music” and “smell the roses.” At any given moment, we are surrounded by incredible expressions of the sacred and the sublime but we’ll miss out on the awe and wonder if we’re preoccupied with the mundane.

[reminder]When was the last time you experienced transcendence?[/reminder]


What? – Often, we are so busy that we are unaware of that which is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and sacred.
So what? – As you journey through life, take the time to notice, appreciate and enjoy beauty and transcendence.
Now what? – Enjoy the awe and wonder.

To hear James Ehnes play J.S. Bach: Chaconne For Solo Violin, From Partita No. 2 In D Minor, click here.

Consider the position from which you’re complaining

toilet paperI was on a flight from San Diego to Dallas. I’m a million-miler with American Airlines so I usually request, and get, an aisle seat, but on this flight, I was sitting in the middle seat between two “architecturally enhanced” individuals.

Inwardly, I started to complain.

Then I remembered a thought I had read in Karl Albrecht’s book, Social Intelligence —“Think about the level you’re complaining from.”

This insightful and penetrating statement prompted me to reconsider my grumbling and adjust my attitude. My thought process included:

  • I’m traveling from San Diego to Dallas in less than three hours. A century ago, it would have taken a month or more by horseback. But I’m complaining.
  • I paid $320 for the round-trip ticket. But I’m complaining.
  • I’m inside one of mankind’s greatest inventions — the airplane. I’m traveling 562 miles an hour at 32,000 ft. altitude. But I’m complaining.
  • I just returned from a 7-day cruise. But I’m complaining.
  • I have a nice house to return to and I’m gainfully employed. But I’m complaining.

It didn’t take me long to jettison my bad attitude and embrace thoughts of gratitude and wonder.

Is it ever okay to complain or should we try to eradicate it from the earth?

My perspective is: We all have challenges and problems, and sometimes it helps to verbalize them. In fact, it can be cathartic. And that’s okay. But continuing to coddle complaints ad nauseam is unnecessary and is detrimental to you and your relationships. Undeterred, constant complaining will make you a grouch, and people will avoid you.

My advice to habitual complainers: “If you can’t be positive, at least be quiet.”

What? – We often complain too quickly and too much.
So what? – Excess complaining will sour our dispositions and repel people.
Now what? – Learn how to properly share your frustrations and then let them go.

Leaders – Do not tolerate a complaining culture. Give people the opportunity to vent legitimate frustrations, and properly respond to them, but make it clear that a systemic complaining environment will not be condoned.