Sep 052016
 

There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the “relative value” of a college education, especially in light of skyrocketing college costs and the corresponding student debt.

From my perspective, that’s the wrong debate. Common sense tells me that, if your goal is “to be all you can be” — to do your very best — finishing college is a given and a must. Sure, we have all heard the stories of the brainiac college drop-out who founded the next billion dollar startup. If your son or daughter has that special mix of entrepreneurial brilliance, unquenchable desire to learn on his or her own, and unstoppable drive, ignore the rest of this article. For most, however, I think the debate should focus on whether an undergraduate degree is enough.

Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?

value-of-graduate-degree

After doing a little analysis, the answer is an emphatic “yes“; in fact, I would argue that a Masters (or doctorate) is critical to improve one’s cash flow, reduce chances of unemployment, and have a higher ultimate trajectory in one’s career. A Masters offers more doors of opportunity, more chances to succeed. Unfortunately, opportunity does not always equal achievement. Higher cash flow means you have the opportunity to save and invest more each year, but that does not guarantee that a person makes that choice. You must still execute on the job and make great impressions on lots of executives to have a chance of promotions. And of course, you must recognize issues clearly, actively network, and look for new opportunities when the career track you are on proves to be a dead-end. Lots of people with advanced degrees don’t hit the ball out of the financial and career happiness park.

Most studies seem to focus “how much a person earns upon graduation” because those are simple metrics to find, and then asks how many years does it take to pay back the cost of the extra years of school. I looked at it from an investor’s point of view, including factors such as an increased rate of savings, compounded returns on investments, and improved chances of promotions and therefore future earning potential. I also tried to bake in some insidious realities, the worst of which is that people who make more money often spend more money. In the end, my spreadsheet assumes 50% of your additional earnings will be blown in spending instead of invested wisely.

While it varies by area of study, in general, Masters degrees are worth about 30% more income in many fields. That gap tends to become smaller as the value of on the job experience comes into play, but then widens again when promotions into higher levels of management occur. I decided to keep the 30% gap in the model throughout one’s career based on the assumption that these two factors balance each other out.

The assumptions in my “Is a Masters degree worth it” spreadsheet are:

  • Masters degree graduate earns 30% more before tax.
  • My Bachelors graduate saves 10% of salary and invests it at 7.5% compounding (Why pick 7.5%?).
  • My Masters graduate saves 15% of salary (because of better cash flow) and invests it at the same 7.5% compounding return.
  • Bachelors gets 4% raises annually.
  • Masters gets 6% raises annually (assumes greater promotion opportunities / and factors in better supply and demand aspects of having a Masters).
    Note that there are a number of soft benefits of the Masters baked into this 6% number — for example, having a Masters degree from a good brand name college increases your networking and credibility. Also, if your Masters degree is different from your Bachelors degree, it gives you a broader range of jobs to choose from if times turn difficult in one industry (for ex. the cyclical downturns in oil and gas that we are seeing right now are really tough on a person with only a BS in Petroleum Engineering or Geology). Lastly, your “birds of a feather” networking benefit will give you better connections across companies. All in all, this factor might be considerably higher than 6%, especially if you reach the highest levels of a corporation.
  • The cost of the in-state (yes, price paid for the degree matters) Masters degree is paid back over 10 years with no interest (assumes a loan from family).
  • No inflation factors are in the spreadsheet – but if they were, both savings numbers would reflect it the same so I didn’t see the need to over-engineer.
  • My spreadsheet models working until 65, and assume the student attains the Masters in two years time (works two years less in their professional job than the Bachelors-only graduate).

The bottom line is that the person with a Masters, given the same amount of optimism, initiative, and tenacity in his or her career — as well as equal will power to save and invest — is likely to retire / start phase three with approximately twice as much in savings / investments. In today’s dollars, the end result @ retirement was $2,034,720 in investment accounts for Masters vs $1,071,274 for Bachelors.

For the student, it boils down to this one question: Why not spend 2 – 3 extra years in school to enjoy greater cash flow, have more opportunities, and save at least $1 M more by the time you retire?

Click here to dive into the details of my spreadsheet.  I could have added more fine-tuning but the case is quite compelling without a lot more spreadsheet work. Please email me with suggested improvements or observations.

masters-spreadsheet

Here is a really interesting research paper on the topic, including details by area of study. A Masters is not worth nearly as much in certain fields as in others.

earnings-by-major

Get a Masters. Do whatever it takes. It is not even close. I believe that continuing college, straight through to a Masters, is the best way… because once in the workplace, distractions abound. Discipline is crucial to success in every phase of life, no matter if you are working on your college degrees or your nest egg for financial independence and comfort: It is crucial to start saving and investing right away — starting late makes things much more difficult, because compounding requires lots of time to do its inevitable magic (See rule 21 here within my 22 rules for financial success).

Final thoughts: Given the woeful state of social security and the changes in longevity, I believe that “normal” retirement age is likely to change from 65 to 70 before 2050. In such a case, the Masters advantage will actually become much larger because compounding gains really kick in the afterburners in the latter years of the model. If you missed it, I really don’t believe in retirement as most understand it: here are my thoughts on retirement. Lastly, success and wealth is a broader topic than savings and investments. Here is an article from a few years ago that helps a person take a 360 degree view of everything that contributes to true wealth.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Not every career is impacted by the masters degree equally. I am a professional sales executive in the high-end computer software space, an arena where no colleges (as far as I know) offer any degree. In professional sales, the masters doesn’t help regarding direct earnings which are usually target based, although it clearly does help with promotions and outside opportunities. If you are the parent of a student that seems destined to sell professionally for a living (hmmm, I wonder if there are kids that think “sales” when in school), I would suggest creating your own spreadsheet model and sharing it — I would love to contribute. My gut tells me it is still well worth it, due to the improved odds of moving up into upper management.

Aug 252016
 

Hollywood says that it portrays better equality in the movies, but in truth, they are handily flunking the test. The message in well over 85% of movies is male, and violent, and the prize is the girl at the end of the movie. When a girl is featured, she is usually a warrior dealing out violence as well.

Parents of girls have to see the issues and messaging clearly and do their best to compensate because Hollywood is not helping, or changing anytime soon. An excellent observation in the TED talk below is that this imbalance has an enormous effect on boys as well, and how they view and treat women.

This video by Colin Stokes is well worth your twelve minutes:

colinstokes

Lets make this world better for our daughters than it is today. Every step matters.

I.M. Optimisman 

PS. Here are the previous three articles in my Have a Daughter series:
Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Jul 222016
 

Do you prefer to be told what to do, or sold on the wisdom of doing something?

Imagine that your doctor tells you “lose 20 lbs by the end of next year…” and then walks out the of room. How much commitment would you feel?

On the other hand, imagine that your doctor shows you three new studies that are very convincing showing, given your family history and DNA testing, that losing 20 lbs is very likely to add 5+ years to your life and cut your chances of heart failure by 50 – 70%. Imagine the doctor taking time to explain the new information clearly, giving you the studies, and answering all of your questions, not dashing out the door to meet the next patient.

I think all of us agree that being sold — understand the “why” — makes a positive outcome much more likely.

parenting-telling

So why do parents often “tell” their kids what to do, instead of selling them on the wisdom and logic (and potential consequences) of a given path or choice?  

I believe that if you parent like you might not be around next year, you would take the time to always explain the “why” behind every directive and sell the benefits to your kid. This should be confused with everything becoming the kid’s personal choice — that is a quick train to nowhere good as kids don’t have the life’s experience to always make the wise decision — but investing your time to “sell” will yield many of the long-term outcomes and smart decision-making that you hope for.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 102015
 

Hindsight is 20/20. When I was asked recently for my best advice to a struggling college student (see previous post), the discussion of finding and picking a starting job when graduating came up as well.

picking the first job

Lou Holtz has observed that we should never try to maintain a certain level: as Lou summed it up in this speech, You are either growing or you are dying, there is no middle ground. I believe this is just as true for individuals as it is for companies. I think the graduate should — first and foremost — strive to start her career at a company that is growing rapidly. With growth comes opportunity, happiness in an organization, improved teamwork, reduced politics, and a feeling of success and purpose. A company that is growing quickly — perhaps 20 – 25% a year – hires many more people, creates new teams, and has opportunities for healthy promotion and advancement.

Companies that are running near flat in terms of revenue or profit growth offer few chances for real advancement and expansion of responsibility. This is a hard environment to gain momentum, as promotion usually requires someone in management to leave and vacate a spot in the stagnant org chart.

Working hard in school, participating in extracurricular activities, adding practical experience with internships and on campus leadership positions, and being optimistic will all help expand the number of offers you receive at graduation time. If all goes well, you will have a number of choices to pick from. Pick the job offer from the firm with a healthy, growing environment.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 212015
 

The effects of stress take their toll on us. One of the aspects about stress that is very obvious, however, is that some people seem to handle stress much better than average. In typical American fashion, a great number of people turn to outside substances, be it Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil, alcohol, or others, to reduce the stress that they feel, at least for a bit of time.

I’ve always been a believer that a large percentage of stress can simply go away if you find the right balance of optimism, self-belief, control, and mental perspective. The basic idea that life is 10% of what actually happens to us, and 90% of how we choose to react and what we do next, has always resonated with me.

Steven Covey explained the 90/10 rule this way:

Imagine that your daughter knocks over your coffee onto your business suit at breakfast. You immediately yell at her for her clumsiness, she runs upstairs crying uncontrollably, which results in missing the school bus. Still steaming, you now wind up driving her to school, she fails her math test because she remains upset all day, you get stuck in traffic, you then speed, get pulled over by Officer Smith for a speeding ticket, are late for a meeting with a client, and your boss is less than pleased that your tardiness jeopardized a client relationship. 

The alternative choice that could have been made was to smile, then tell your daughter that “it’s ok, mistakes happen, I have another suit upstairs…” and move forward in a positive fashion from the mishap. All the rest of those negative consequences could have been avoided by making a different choice.

The overall equation to preventing stress is bigger than just the 90/10 principle but 90/10 plays an important part. Below is a GREAT video by Dr. Mike Evans in Toronto, who discusses how we can learn to reduce our stress without chemical compounds. I highly recommend watching it today (full-screen is best):

drMikeevans

Click to play video on youtube

 

If you think you can, you can.

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 282014
 

Nike has sold billions of dollars of shoes and apparel with its brilliant Just Do It campaign. The problem is that most of the people that buy Nike stuff are watching a scant few people Just Do It.

How many people have become better athletes by watching Sunday NFL? How may people become best selling authors by watching more TV? Or learn to play the piano? Or learn a second language? Or become accomplished artists? Or better business professionals? Or started their own company?

people-watching-tv

We have become the “Just Watch It” nation, sitting on our couches eating chips. Watching others do great things is the national pastime. I think it’s the great evil; unfortunately, it is easier to watch now that ever before. There are hundreds of channels. DVRs record all your favorites. If you forget to record it, it usually comes on again, or is available On Demand, or on Netflix, or Hulu, or at RedBox. If you miss the game, ESPN will talk about it all week, so that you can catch up before the next match. All you have to do is use your precious time to Just Watch It.

Consider these stats (Source: BLS American Time Use Survey, A.C. Nielsen Co. 2013):

Total Use of Television Data
Average time spent watching television (U.S.) 5:11 hours / day
White 5:02
Black 7:12
Hispanic 4:35
Asian 3:14
Years the average person will have spent watching TV 9 years / lifetime
Family Television Statistics
Percentage of households that possess at least one television 99 %
Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household 2.24
Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets 65 %
Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner 67 %
Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV 56 %
Number of videos rented daily in the U.S. 6 million
Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV 49 %
Child Television Statistics
Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television 1,480
Percent of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television 54 %
Hours per year the average American youth spends in school 900 hours
Hours per year the average American youth watches television 1,200
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18 150,000
Number of 30 second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child 16,000

 

Nine years of the average life sitting and watching TV! My favorite stat in the table is that kids spend 30% more time watching TV than they invest in school. If you want to make more of your life, putting yourself on a TV consumption diet has to be top of the list. How you invest your time is crucial. If you find the will power to pull back on TV, please don’t substitute with low-value internet surfing like Facebook!

As I’ve pointed out many time in the past, the first step to changing any habit is keeping a journal, no matter if you are trying to eat better, reduce how much you complain, or reduce your TV consumption. Then, the ultimate next step is to use all that newfound time in a positive way, and that takes planning.

Are you going to go along with the herd or are you going to transform yourself from Just Watch It to Just Do It?

No one on their death bed wished that they had watched more television.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 082014
 

Teenage and young adult years are tough on kids, and particularly tough on girls. Peer pressure is as high as it will ever be, fitting in and being popular are deep rooted, if not often talked about ambitions, and confusing messages, painful lessons, and suave one-track-mind guys lurk around every corner.

There is one simple principle that will serve every girl well, but it is hard to remember in the heat of the moment, as those challenging “moments” happen when they are not expected: Stay classy no matter what. When facing any crossroads decision, small or large, remember Coco Chanel’s famous quote:

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
— Coco Chanel

coco-chanel1

Classy doesn’t let you down, doesn’t lead to moments, events, or pictures that you will soon regret. A good life is a life where you are always proud of yourself through success and setback, a life where you take the high road time and again. Sure, there may be a few times where you miss out on ‘being there’ when ‘whatever’ happened, but 9 times out of 10, you will have avoided a ‘whatever’ that could have become a scarred regret. When a girl decides, in advance, to stay classy and chooses to never cross that line, she will absolutely be better off, for the rest of her life.

Here are a few more quotes worth considering:

A guy wants a classy girl who is smart and has goals – someone that he wouldn’t be afraid to bring home to his parents.
— Victoria Justice

I have always believed that if you need to take your clothes off to get your man, you’ve begun to lose the battle. If you pull it off right, you can do it in a very classy way… Being sexy is about suggestion; it’s about the tease. It’s not about being obvious and forcing yourself out in the open. That takes all the fun out of being a woman.
— Bipasha Basu

I grew up loving actresses or actors who were very classy but who seemed a little bit mysterious because you couldn’t grasp what they’re really thinking. I mean, Grace Kelly always looked impossibly glamorous, yet you could always see there was something behind her eyes.
— Diane Kruger

cocochanelquote

Being different doesn’t mean taking the low road. I’ve argued in past posts that personal integrity is a great differentiator. As a parent, teaching this one lesson — always make the choice to stay classy — is a crucial step in making sure your daughter becomes all that she can be.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. If you enjoyed this article, please read Remarkable is Not a Birthright

PSS. If you have not always taken the high road, you can make the choice to start now, this very instant, and never look back. Today and tomorrow matters much more, than yesterday and yesteryear.

PSSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 1 and Part 2.

PSSSS. While the lessons are crucial, don’t take my belief in “staying classy no matter what” as a wholesale endorsement of Coco or any of the authors quoted. The concept is what matters.

Sep 222014
 

Most commercials offer little value. Once in a while, however, Madison Ave manages to capture an idea brilliantly in just 30 or 60 seconds. Here is one such spot well worth thinking about if you have a daughter:

girl-engineer

I hope that you take it to heart. It is really easy for parents to be protective. We have a kid who wants to build, to invent, to have her own tool box. I believe it is time to let her breathe, even if it costs a few bandaids.

Don’t miss Have a Daughter? Part 1, here.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I have no idea how this actually sell more Verizon phones and plans… but I’m glad that they funded it.

PSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 1 and Part 3.

Sep 022014
 

I have two teenage daughters so I’m truly conscious of how difficult it is to grow up in America’s totally faked “what is beauty” ideal. Every TV show, every magazine, every commercial seems to tell girls that they should not be happy with what God gave them and that they should strive for an ideal that is frankly, a mirage.

Here is a typical beauty shot:

covergirl

Dove ran a series of commercials that exposes how contrived the concept of beauty has become in society. Please watch these two videos as a reminder, especially after looking at the picture above:

dove-evolution

Dove Evolution Video

dove-body

Dove Body Video

I hope all parents can convince their kids, and especially their daughters, that beauty starts from inside. What they see, far too often, is skin deep and unattainable without a lot of photoshop distortions.

I.M. Optimism Man

PSSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Jun 212014
 

I think all of us, at one time, had our trust betrayed. When that happens — when someone breaks their sincere word to us — as just happened with my daughter’s coach of many years, it is easy to learn the wrong lesson. At such a seminal moment, most people walk away never able to place their full and complete trust in others again. Unfortunately, that all-too-understandable conclusion hurts the betrayed person far more than the betrayer in his or her moment of weak character. When you lose your willingness to trust, you damage your life’s true potential and promise.

This is a genuinely difficult time to be Optimism Dad.

The coach, who had often promised his loyalty and desire to take my daughter far in her soccer future, had never once pulled her to the side in the last two+ years to ask her to improve any aspects of her play. Not once did he warn us or her that she was “not safe” for next year. Even as he called me to cut her from the team, he admitted that she played nearly flawless games on the field and had done so, consistently, for years. In the end, she broke her leg, he found a replacement, and he simply decided to go with the new girl based on a newfound preference for a larger, sturdier, and currently uninjured kid. After three years of her faithful dedication, I was most surprised that he never talked to her directly in the end, making no attempt to help mitigate the psychological damage.

2014-06-21_0821

My daughter took it very, very hard. At times like this, it is hard to stay true to the optimism that is, in part, a product of the choice to trust. Yet trust is a crucial choice, if you are to get the most out of every endeavor and relationship. When you don’t trust the next teacher, coach, friend, manager, partner, or colleague fully, your odds of great success and achievement are reduced. Not every teacher, not every coach, not every manager will fail a crossroads character test.

She felt safe, secure, valued, and genuinely loved by her friends and the coaches that she completely trusted, only to be ejected by the “family” that intentionally and often sold the “this is a family” concept at every turn. She lost many of her best friends in the blink of an eye. Real families don’t turn their backs on the injured while he or she recovers. This must be what it feels when a spouse is shocked by unexpectedly served divorce papers, without ever having any arguments or counseling sessions. She has played top level soccer for nearly 6 years. At 12, she has experienced this shock twice already: she broke her arm when she was 8 and lost half her job then. She then broke her leg at 12, and lost her job entirely. The second one hurt much more, because she really trusted these coaches and she really loved the friends she had here. I played a sad part as well, telling her many times that I believed this coach was different and trustworthy. I was wrong. Life is not always fair and just.

nike-boot

Why did this really happen? In the end, I would place the blame on misguided raw ambition of the coaches and the few people they look to for counsel. This team is one of the best the coaches have ever had, consistently ranked in the top 5 in one of most competitive metros in America. They, and some of the parents, believe that scoring just a few more goals, or stopping just a couple more shots, or having two more games without an injured keeper — per year — is worth any price. But, blame doesn’t help and forgiveness makes you better, as I have pointed out before.

This is a difficult time for our family and a difficult lesson to teach my kid. I hope to convince her that, contrary to this painful event, life is better when you choose to trust. Through faith in others, greater highs are achieved — you are able to do your very best only through faith and optimism — but that the occasional lows may be much lower as well. Just because the path of trust is right and true, doesn’t make it easy choice to make, given the choices others sometimes make.

When you are faced with similar situations, I hope that you help your kids see the light. Choosing to trust matters, even after those you trusted decide to rip your heart out. Trust is the right decision until you have proof of a person’s poor character — don’t make the same mistake twice in those cases, of course.

holtz-notre-dame

I wish these coaches followed Lou Holtz’s simple formula for success in life — (1) Do Right, (2) Do the best you can, and (3) Treat others the way you would like to be treated — if they did, this event would never had happened. I sincerely hope they learn something from this event and at least pre-warn the next kids, months before they nuke them. For now, I hope that we can salvage a good, important, lasting lesson from this painful chapter.

A quote all of us have heard is:

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson

The same is true for trust. Tis better to trust and lose, than to never have trusted at all. 

The strong can choose to trust, and to forgive, even after the lowest low.

Optimism Dad

Feb 232014
 

Most people realize the importance of this quote:

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

— Will Rogers

Another famous thought that we all can complete is…. “Don’t judge a book by ___  _________.

Will is dead on right. Unfortunately, many people do judge books — and other people — by the cover. More specifically, people judge by their first impressions.

If you want to make an impact, if you want to influence people, if you want to leave a legacy by making a difference, first impressions matter. Second impressions matter too — you have to prove your integrity — but I believe first impressions matter most. What’s fascinating to me is that there appears to be a way that you can improve your chances through your body language.

Please watch this thought-provoking video by social psychologist, Amy Cuddy. Her research on body language indicates that we can change our own body chemistry and other people’s perceptions simply by changing body positions. If true, the potential is awesome for any stressful moment, such as walking into a job interview, or auditioning for a part, or in any situation where you consciously want to make a great first impression.

amy-cuddy

What a great lesson to teach your kid. He or she isn’t going to get this lesson in high school.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 302012
 

There is a lot more to success and happiness than simply having a God-given great computational noggin. It is easy to see that our companies and our communities are not often led by rocket scientists sporting 160+ IQs.

Why is that?

Well, I think the reality of it all is is summed up eloquently by this one quote:

But the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman. These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, perseverance.

— Dr. William Julius Wilson

I personally would add a few more qualities, such as emotional IQ, empathy, experience, faith, optimism, and taking decisive action, to the recipe for success.

When your kid comes home from school, discouraged because she just earned a bad grade on a test, please embrace the opportunity and teach her of what it really takes to succeed, starting with perseverance above all.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jun 042012
 

When I ask people what they would wish for if they had one magic wish, many wish for good health for themselves and their family. This is a wise wish indeed, because nothing else matters if your health is failing.

Do you want to live longer? Are you a parent? Do you want to be a spry grandparent? Do you want to save your own kids? Do you want your kids to live longer and in better health?

If you answer is yes, don’t be an ostrich with your head buried in the sand. Living a longer life while enjoying better health is not rocket science. It isn’t about taking more pills and vitamins. Take a few minutes and watch this video below — it will be the best decision you made this week:

 

Better health and longer life are well within your reach. All it takes is making the right decisions, teaching your kids the realities of our “modern” lifestyle, and building good habits.

I know I can. I know I will. Will you?

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Although all of us understand the ostrich phrase above, it turns out that ostriches don’t actually stick their head in the sand when facing danger. Just an FYI, in case you did not know.

 

May 222012
 

Leadership is a topic many people analyze and write about. There are many different styles of leaders but too many people get confused about what works over the long term and what does not.

It really is simpler than most authors make it out to be.

Creating a shared vision — a brilliant optimistic vision that everyone buys into — will create long term success. Leaders that lead by command and control do sometimes enjoy short-term progress, but over the longer term, few of the most talented troops stick around. You must sell the group on a scenario that is win-win for all. I win, you lose, does not work, and creates distrust.

Leading by example is an important component. Never ask anyone to do anything that you are unwilling to do yourself. Volunteer for the dirty work often enough. It will be noticed.

Celebrate your team members and always think from a “we” perspective. Never say or think “my” team — say and think “our” team — and you are headed in the right direction.

Lastly, it does not matter what your official role is, if you are willing to let others take the credit. Never make the mistake that you cannot be a leader just because you report to someone else. A leader is a person that can influence others to be optimistic, to take action, to be more than they thought they could be, and to succeed.

This is most easily seen in sports. Just because you are bigger, stronger, and faster than others does not make you the leader. The same holds true in every walk of life. In the workplace, the smartest scientists or the most extreme workaholics are rarely the CEO. At 6’1″ and 175 lbs, no one would argue that John Stockton was likely to win many physical battles, but he was unquestionably one of the best leaders the NBA has ever seen.

Here are five great leadership quotes to think about over your cup of coffee today:

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
— John Quincy Adams

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.
— Peter Drucker

To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!
— Lao-Tsu

Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.
— Albert Schweitzer

Parents would be smart to teach leadership — what it really means to lead — to their kids. TV and the movies teach that leadership is for those “anointed” as the general or the president. If you teach them right — and early in life — this knowledge and practice will pay dividends for decades to come. You don’t become a leader when the coach hands you the captain’s armband. You become a leader when you inspire those around, lead by example, and improve everyone’s optimism.

I.M. Optimism Man

P. S.   I add this section not that it adds much to my main points — those are contained in entirety above — but rather to illustrate that you do not need direct reports and a given “title” to be an extraordinary leader.

If we measure by breadth of influence, Peter Drucker may have be one of the greatest “leaders” in modern capitalism and American society. America leads the world in proving that capitalism is a superior social system and America continues to evolve capitalism to new heights. His theories and vision will live on for many generations to come and is seen daily in the actions of business leaders and managers worldwide.

Here is Peter Drucker’s section on Wikipedia. I have excerpted his key ideas from the listing for your convenience but encourage you to read the entire story on Wikipedia to see how influence and leadership does not always require a person to be officially “in charge” or anything.

[start excerpt from Wikipedia]

Key ideas

Several ideas run through most of Drucker’s writings:

  • Decentralization and simplification.[32] Drucker discounted the command and control model and asserted that companies work best when they are decentralized. According to Drucker, corporations tend to produce too many products, hire employees they don’t need (when a better solution would be outsourcing), and expand into economic sectors that they should avoid.
  • The concept of “Knowledge Worker” in his 1959 book “The Landmarks of Tomorrow”.[33] Since then, knowledge-based work has become increasingly important in businesses worldwide.
  • The prediction of the death of the “Blue Collar” worker.[34] A blue collar worker is a typical high school dropout who was paid middle class wages with all benefits for assembling cars in Detroit. The changing face of the US Auto Industry is a testimony to this prediction.
  • The concept of what eventually came to be known as “outsourcing.”[35] He used the example of front room and a back room of each business: A company should be engaged in only the front room activities that are core to supporting its business. Back room activities should be handed over to other companies, for whom these are the front room activities.
  • The importance of the non-profit sector,[36] which he calls the third sector (private sector and the Government sector being the first two.) Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) play crucial roles in countries around the world.
  • A profound skepticism of macroeconomic theory.[37] Drucker contended that economists of all schools fail to explain significant aspects of modern economies.
  • Respect of the worker. Drucker believed that employees are assets and not liabilities. He taught that knowledgeable workers are the essential ingredients of the modern economy. Central to this philosophy is the view that people are an organization’s most valuable resource, and that a manager’s job is both to prepare people to perform and give them freedom to do so.[38]
  • A belief in what he called “the sickness of government.” Drucker made nonpartisan claims that government is often unable or unwilling to provide new services that people need or want, though he believed that this condition is not inherent to the form of government. The chapter “The Sickness of Government”[39] in his book The Age of Discontinuity formed the basis of New Public Management,[40] a theory of public administration that dominated the discipline in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The need for “planned abandonment.” Businesses and governments have a natural human tendency to cling to “yesterday’s successes” rather than seeing when they are no longer useful.[41]
  • A belief that taking action without thinking is the cause of every failure.[42]
  • The need for community. Early in his career, Drucker predicted the “end of economic man” and advocated the creation of a “plant community”[43] where an individual’s social needs could be met. He later acknowledged that the plant community never materialized, and by the 1980s, suggested that volunteering in the nonprofit sector was the key to fostering a healthy society where people found a sense of belonging and civic pride.[44]
  • The need to manage business by balancing a variety of needs and goals, rather than subordinating an institution to a single value.[45][46] This concept of management by objectives forms the keynote of his 1954 landmark The Practice of Management.[47]
  • A company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers. Profit is not the primary goal, but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence.[48]
  • A belief in the notion that great companies could stand among humankind’s noblest inventions.[49]

[end excerpt from Wikipedia]

None of this sounds like rocket science today, because it is now part of the core fabric of business. But it is amazing when you realize that Peter helped develop the foundation for all these key ideas that are now reality.

Dec 202011
 

My weekly readers realize that I believe one’s daily optimism is directly correlated to the level of one’s success in life. Anything that negatively impacts your optimistic attitude must be removed or corrected if you want to achieve your true potential.

I promised to expand on today’s topic back in early October. The topic is a tricky one, hard to put in succinct words — but I believe it is an important consideration as you continue to work on your personal Black Belt in Optimism.

Take a few moments and think of a person that you feel seriously wronged you. It might be someone from recent memory or from far in the past, maybe even someone who is now passed. Please don’t continue reading until you have that name and face in your mind’s eye.

One area inside one’s own mind that is really tough to conquer is genuine forgiveness, especially in our current society. Media has an outsized impact on our society’s “values” and Hollywood continues to pump out films that send the wrong messages. One area where they have it so very wrong is the “revenge is cool / forgiveness is not” theme. Hollywood has released at least one major movie every year for several decades using this money-making mold — Payback with Mel Gibson and Taken with Liam Neeson come to mind, but there are many.

The inability to truly forgive starts with the fact that most people have never been taught by their parents or by schools to forgive while they are growing up — most parents unfortunately don’t forgive other people and therefore set a poor example for their kids. It has become a normal state of affairs, even though lack of forgiveness is a cancer that eats away at a person’s soul. Hollywood’s great misdeed is that they, more than anyone else, are teaching the world to rejoice in revenge.

Yet forgiveness is a cornerstone to achieving a life marked by peace, tranquility of soul, optimism, and happiness. As with nearly everything in our lives, forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling, a skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered.

You must train yourself and choose to forgive for a number of reasons. Here are three good ones:

  • It is the right thing to do. There is true right and wrong, and being on the side of right, matters. When you know you are doing the right thing, you are at peace.
  • Only through forgiveness can we proactively help ourselves. Forgiveness is the bedrock for peace and a positive attitude in one’s life. Without it, it becomes impossible to live a wildly successful life because lack of forgiveness weakens your mental state. If you choose not to forgive someone that has harmed you, the sad result is that you enable that person’s past actions to continue to hurt you in the present. The past is the past, yet a person that chooses to hold on to a grudge thinks about the past and wastes the present. Your weakness, your inability to forgive hurts your life, not the person that offended you. That person has moved on.
  • There is mounting evidence that harboring ill feelings actually impacts your physical health. It shows up as damaging stress, which leads to a host of health problems such as hypertension, reduced immunity, and high blood pressure. Nothing will crush your chances of success more completely than failing health.

So how do you learn to forgive? There are seven steps:

  1. You must figure out exactly what happened and why, without personal bias, and learn to articulate the situation accurately. It helps to tell a couple of trusted optimistic friends or far-off-to-the-side advisors about the situation.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself that you will do what it takes to feel better and put the past behind you. This commitment invariably leads to forgiveness as the answer.
  3. Realize that that your lingering angst is all about hurt feelings, not current events. You are the one choosing to make your feelings an issue in the present. It has transformed from being about the actual event to emotions alone. When you see it for what it is, and the damage it does, it becomes easier to understand that all this pent up worry is not worth it.
  4. Realize that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. You can forgive someone without going back for more. Those are two separate choices.
  5. Say a prayer to God and ask for His help. God can help with all things, especially with cleansing away feelings that are inspired by the dark side.
  6. Remember that all choices are your own. When you choose to forgive, you choose to live an extraordinary life. It is never too late to decide to forgive for even if it took you too much time, the day you do is the day you succeed, the  day you set yourself free.
  7. Learn a lesson from the situation. As with every test in life, learning from setbacks and hurdles is the only way not to waste them. Learn so that you can handle yourself smarter the next time something similar happens.

So far, we have talked about forgiving others but in fact, we are all human, which means we all make mistakes from time to time. Some people don’t forgive themselves. It is incredibly important that we forgive ourselves, learn from mistakes, put yesterday in the past, get back up and try again with all the hope and passion that we can muster.

The trick is to forgive yourself, to adapt and overcome, to learn, and to maintain peace and tranquility in your soul and a blazing fire of hope in your heart through it all. Becoming an optimism master requires forgiveness of all others and of self.

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold happiness and peace.”
—Robert Mueller

Today is the day to forgive that person you thought of at the beginning of this article, once and for all. Take a deep breath and decide to truly and permanently forgive him or her, right now. The next time this topic comes up, that person will no longer come to mind.

In summary, only the strong can forgive—the weak cannot. Lack of forgiveness imprisons one’s own life. Be strong. Be confident. Forgive quickly. Forgive others and forgive yourself, and you will take a major step toward stronger optimism and a life of true success. Lastly, teach your kids to forgive. It will help their lives immeasurably.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 112011
 

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
it was beautiful, magical
and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
joyfully, playfully, watching
me,

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
logical, responsible, practical,
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
clinical, intellectual, cynical…

— Richard Davies and Roger Hodgson

For centuries, we have followed this simple pattern of being born with joy and fun only to have society extinguish most of it, as we graduated into adulthood. It should not and does not have to be this way.

Mencius observed:
“Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart.”

Mencius’ words have stood the test of time as he lived 300 years B.C.

My stepdad was one of the few that did not lose his childlike heart. Even in his 70’s and 80’s, Joe laughed out loud, he got down on the floor and played with my kids every time he could, he enjoyed life with a permanent twinkle in his eye. He was a great man because he never lost his childlike heart. I’m sure Saint Peter swung the gate wide open when he passed away a few weeks ago.

I think we need to take almost everything less seriously and put fun back into our lives. Being fun should not be so foreign a thought when you are north of 35 years old.

Worse yet, we are pushing adulthood seriousness into younger and younger age brackets. Why do parents of 9 year olds take “select club” sports so seriously? They act like every game is critical, coaching her all the way to the field, yelling instructions nonstop every minute played, and then debriefing her all the way home, after calculating the number of minutes she played. In addition to 2 – 3 club practices every week, they take her to special coaches for speed and agility training, and other private coaches for skills that promise to give her an edge. Some even have her practice and play with multiple teams, to keep her options open and to get more “touches” on the ball. Yikes!

These “serious-like-adults” programs are everywhere — soccer, football, softball, gymnastics, academics (after-school Kumon has 300,000+ hopeful future valedictorians enrolled in the U.S., and Kumon is but one of many academic dojos) — our hyper-competitive society is systematically taking the fun out of childhood before it has any chance to blossom. It now starts at 6 years old! Parents are suckers for the sales pitch: you have to give your kid an “edge” if he or she is to be a winner.

By the time kids grow up, fun has been extinguished for almost everyone.

Optimists must take proactive steps to remedy the situation, starting with their own families. Actions speak louder than words. When’s the last time you did anything for the simple fun of it? When is the last time you really engaged and played with your kids — really played their games and got in the middle of the action? It’s a great first step to rediscovering that you too can be fun again. Most importantly, playing with them is real “quality” time — simply watching them play at the park while you read your iPad is not really quality stuff.

If your kids are grown, don’t just meet them for Sunday brunch. Go snow skiing, go sailing, go camping, go fly kites at the beach (yes, adults can fly kites — don’t look at the computer screen so incredulously). Organize some fun for your too-serious-and-intellectual adult friends too — Ultimate Frisbee is a lot more fun than relationships via facebook.

Life’s too short to not have fun. Laugh out loud, for the fun of it.

Here’s to the pursuit of happiness!

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 032011
 

Think back to your youth, when you were eight or ten or twelve. What are some of your most vivid memories?

Please stare off into space for 30 seconds — don’t keep reading until you have at least two clear memories in your mind’s eye.

What events did you think of?

Did you remember the doldrums of homework, chores, or repetitive practice at a sport? Did you remember the countless days of effort that you invested trying to master a musical instrument? I would bet not: Daily life, and the tasks often repeated, leave no lasting impressions. Such regular events leave few memories and have little impact on a person’s development. It is the special, unusual moments that stand out vividly decades later — these are the memories that matter — these are the events that forge our psyche.

I remember simple but personally priceless events — I can clearly remember the day I learned to shoot a .22 rifle for the first time with my grandfather, as well as the first time I beat him in a 50 yard dash (I wonder today if he let me win, but I didn’t wonder back then!), and the evening when he and I caught a 7 lb trout at sunset — those are moments that I treasure. My wife still sees the sunny day in Galveston when her grandmother helped her bring an overflowing box of hermit crabs home from the beach and the perfect hour when Grandma pulled the car over and let her run wild through the irrigation sprinklers of a Kansas farm.

Fast forward to our roles as parents or grandparents today. We are all so busy with our regular daily lives. After working long days and sitting in traffic jams, we serve as taxi drivers for our sons and daughters as we rush them from school to practice or tutors, then back home for the never ending homework, dinners, and showers. All too often, we are unwilling to plan any unexpected, unusual event to complicate the already overflowing schedule. Busy parents are tired, both mentally and physically. If there is any energy left, it is often spent at the gym or meeting the amigos for a margarita at Ole’s.

But fond memories require the unusual — the perfect moments with your kids that leave those indelible impressions many decades later. “I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired” are simply signs of no forethought. There is always enough time for things that are important. All it takes is being optimistic, planning in advance, and committing to action.

Pull out your calendar — yes, I do mean right now — and pick a day next month. Write on that day that you will take a hike with your son or daughter to watch the sunset, or perhaps go watch airplanes land at the airport. Plan something simple, but different from the daily grind. Don’t tell your kid in advance, but make it happen.

Now, flip through the rest of the calendar and mark just five more days for events to-be-determined-and-planned. Six days out of 365 is manageable, no matter how busy-busy you are. The truth is that you have no idea what events will stick, so you must try multiple things. Don’t procrastinate. Kids grow up fast. It is more difficult to make great memories when they are 16 then when they are 8 or 12. Bring that smartphone along and always take a few pictures. Get the best one developed at Costco, framed, and put on the dresser. All part of Memory Making 101.

No one, lying on their death bed, ever wishes they had spent more time in the office. You won’t be the first that does. Don’t decide that you are too busy. If you decide to take the initiative, your kids will have a great number of treasured memories of mom, dad, and family life. Such little moments and treasured memories make a lasting difference because memories like this become the foundation for your kids’ life-long optimism, and optimism is the key ingredient to happiness.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. After your six shared events over this next 12 months, plan at least six more each year — you will not regret it.