Daring Greatly…and Being Thankful

Golden Rule #29: Be Thankful for the Opportunity.

This one is pretty easy, when things go well and you finish a project triumphantly and you get to hear praise for your creativity and hard work and the check arrives and you have the prospect of more wonderful things in the near future. Yep. It really is.

And then there are times when you take on more than you can possibly do, and you know that even your best effort might not be enough. You’re tired, dirty, hungry, and nobody is paying the least bit of attention to you or your work. Instead of feeling good, you’re feeling lousy, and the refrigerator stops working and the car is making a funny noise and that’s an unexpected bill in your mailbox.

How about the times when you have to change course so suddenly that you don’t get a chance to finish what you started? Those might be the hardest ones of all — there’s no closure, no sense of completion.

To all of those, can you say, gracefully, “thank you for the opportunity?” Even bad experiences teach us important lessons, and those lessons definitely stick!

I absolutely love Teddy Roosevelt’s speech entitled “Citizenship in a  Republic.” In part, he said,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

You can’t go wrong being thankful. You just can’t. It catches people off guard. Often they aren’t expecting it. They might think you’re going to ignore them, or chew them out, and instead, you thank them. Try it. See what happens.

copper gaze on bed

Copper embodies gratitude. He thanks me for waking up in the morning, for taking him for his two daily walks, for his food, for his treats, for his school sessions, for making sure he has access to fresh flowing water in the bathtub, and for any number of other things. He sometimes shows it in crazy ways — just yesterday I had to bribe him to release a macaroni-and-cheese print sock of Marley’s, for instance. But there is no “cold and timid” with Copper. I know where I stand with him. His gratitude makes my days infinitely better.


Do the Hard Thing

Golden Rule #28: “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thing.”

A story related to me by a favorite exhibit contractor of ours was breathtaking in its simplicity. When colleagues of his became agitated over something outside their control, he pointed out the obvious. “Ain’t nothin’ but a thing,” he said in his distinctive Alabama drawl. With that, I realized he was absolutely right. The person was assigning the “thing” far more importance than it deserved. Things could be changed, replaced, reworked, or relocated. It simply wasn’t worth the significance it was being given or the aggravation it was causing.

copper and possum

When Copper was younger, he had a habit of destroying things. Shoes. Favorite toys. Electronic devices. Sunglasses. As a result, he learned a few things. He learned the meaning of the phrase “tuck in” when we had to leave him alone. We learned not to leave things where he could reach them. I learned dogs are most likely to destroy something out of frustration during the first 30 minutes they’re left on their own. And I learned that no thing was worth destroying Copper’s trust in us as his caregivers.

Entrepreneur and business strategist Dan Waldschmidt said it this way:

You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.

You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.

You have to give more than you get in return right away.

You have to care more about others than they care about you.

You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore.

You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.

You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.

You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.

You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.

You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.

You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.

You have to search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts”.

You have to make mistakes and look like an idiot.

You have try and fail and try again.

You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath.

You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.

You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.

You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.

You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you.

You have to do the hard things.

The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on.

Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

The hard things are the easiest things to avoid. To excuse away. To pretend like they don’t apply to you.

The simple truth about how ordinary people accomplish outrageous feats of success is that they do the hard things that smarter, wealthier, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do.

Do the hard things. You might be surprised at how amazing you really are.

But always remember: it ain’t nothin’ but a thing. Even if it is a hard thing.

Winging It

Golden Rule #27: Embrace Unexpected Change. I Know. It’s Very Hard.

I have learned every single one of the Golden Rules posted during this 31-day challenge. Most of them, I’ve learned the hard way. You know, not by just hearing about someone else’s experience, but instead, by living them in excruciating detail. Some come harder than others. This one, for me, comes very, very hard.

From the time I was very small, I liked to know what was next. I have a well-earned reputation as a champion list maker. I make lists of lists. My parents despaired of me ever progressing beyond some of those lists, I’m sure, but hopefully as the years have gone by, I’ve made some progress.

It took me a long time to realize, the goal isn’t to fit your life to the plan, or the list. Rather, the goal is to master the art of improvising, adapting, persisting, and overcoming. Bonus points for doing that with a good attitude!

I like plans. I really, really like plans. They make me feel so much better. But sometimes we get so focused on our plans that we don’t open our minds and hearts to the unexpected. Like this week, when I got to spend time with these people:

Marley Ian Silo Jess Tim and HillaryThese are some of my favorite people on the planet: Hillary, Tim, Jessica, Marley, and Ian, with the incomparable Silo in Marley’s arms. We had a spontaneous dinner party at Tim and Jessica’s when Ian and Hillary (literally) flew in for a fly-in. Did we have time for a plan? Nope. We just (don’t groan) winged it. And it was perfection, from start to finish.

So. Plans, even the best-laid plans, can, will, and do change, without any warning at all. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a plan? No, not at all. It means, be willing to wing it when plans change. The best things happen that way, and sometimes we end up realizing, like I have, we dreamed and planned too small!

Copper is marvelous when it comes to changing plans. He adapts on the fly, of course, and is willing to change course midstream. He doesn’t pout or hold a grudge. He puts himself wholeheartedly into the new plan, and frankly, he makes all my plans so much better.

copper blanket swaddle

This is what happens when I plan to change my sheets…

If You’ve Got to Have an Attitude, Make it a Good One!

Golden Rule #26: Attitude Really is Everything. So is Timing.

You hear it all the time: “Attitude is everything.” Turns out it’s absolutely true. You can be less than an expert, or less than experienced, but a willingness to learn, coupled with an impeccable sense of timing, will carry you very far in life.

What is the right kind of attitude? We talk about a great attitude, and a positive attitude, and an attitude of gratitude…we hear about it when we have a bad attitude, too. “Don’t give me that attitude, now.” “Watch your attitude, son.” And somehow we’re expected to wade through the attitudinal minefield and figure out what’s good, and what’s bad.

Turns out our attitude is kind of like a barometer other people use to measure us. Sometimes we control our attitude, and sometimes our attitude controls us. We can blame other people, but in the end, our attitude is our responsibility. We can’t own anyone else’s attitude, but we can certainly own our own. And good news here — attitudes can change! We can actually drive the attitudinal bus! It’s hard. It’s really hard. It takes lots of practice and sometimes even saintly older people have been known to have a less-than-stellar attitude.

I was waiting in line at the eye doctor’s office yesterday, a long line of patient gray haired people stretching in both directions around me, and I heard the girl at the desk say, “This isn’t my job. I don’t usually work here. Everybody is in a meeting. I don’t know where anything is.”

All those things were true. I didn’t see stress levels going up too terribly high among the gray haired group. In particular, the couple in front of me was the essence of patience. Patient patients…sorry…it just tickled me. Anyway, the couple in front of me looked like maybe they were in their 80s. They were old. They were wrinkled. They were bent nearly double. She carried a cane. He carried, very precisely, a checkbook, an appointment card, and a pen. They wore sensible shoes with no laces. I thought, oh boy, this is not who I want to be in a few decades.

And then they reached the counter, and the girl gave her same matter-of-fact speech. And the man looked at her, through very thick glasses, and said, after a moment, “Well, you’re just doing the best you can, and that’s all anyone can ask.” And his wife nodded pleasantly beside him. I could see the absence of stress in them, and the calmness in them, and the way it just flowed around all of us like a smooth wash of velvet. The girl whose job it wasn’t checked them in, and sent them to sit near their doctor’s office door, and I found myself just wanting to be near their reassuring presence.

We could have stomped and blustered and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. The girl still didn’t have a clue, nor did she have a great attitude.  But I took my cues from the couple ahead of me, and I’m still thinking about them today. I’d rather echo their influence than, say, that of the person who tailgated me hardcore all the way home from the airport this morning. People. It was 5 a.m. I didn’t relish being rushed, so I turned down a side street to get out of your way.

Maybe attitude is nothing more than thinking about how you’re influencing the lives and thoughts of people around you. A good attitude will carry you further than a bad one, for sure.


What has Copper taught me about attitudes? It’s rare for me to catch him with a bad one, that’s for sure. Sometimes I know he’s upset, or confused, or disappointed about being left behind (the people in my house tend to come and go. A whole lot.) But he rights himself like a rubber duck in a tub full of water. And I know this for sure: stuff surely does travel up and down the leash. My attitude definitely affects his. All the more reason to have a good one.

Master of the Moment

Golden Rule #25: Enjoy the Ride. The View is Amazing!

Sometimes I think we get so focused on where we are, and where we want to be, that we forget to enjoy the ride along the way. Our life is much more than a series of things we check off a list of things to do each day. So very much more. In fact, I think the best parts of life may be the ones we don’t plan within an inch of their lives. The spontaneous moments that just sort of happen as unplanned happy accidents.

Tonight was just one of those moments. We reunited with beloved friends after several years apart, several years of lifetimes, and the hours flew by much too quickly. We relived old memories and made new ones, and reminded ourselves, there will be a next time, after more moments of lifetimes.

Copper is the master of the moment. He really doesn’t have a visible concept of the past or the future, and he makes the most of the here and the now. It is such fun to see him live his life wholeheartedly — there are no coy games with this beautiful golden boy, and when something captures his interest, he leaps in with all four feet and tail waving gaily.

copper 2

I absolutely love how Jack London puts it:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Use your time. Make the most of every moment you’re given. Make a triumph of every aspect of your life. No regrets! And no dry-rot.

Breaking It Down

Golden Rule #24: Make the Minutes Count. There’s Always Something You Can Move Forward.

You’ve probably heard the adage, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. It’s more true than you know. And there’s this, which is so true it’s not just a saying, it’s one of Newton’s Laws: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

A big job that seems overwhelming can be broken down into many manageable steps. For instance, I’ve been groaning and sighing over the state of my disorganized garage for longer than I can remember. I’d tackle it, make some headway, and then it would drift back in again. It was frustrating, overwhelming, and always there.

This summer, when my schedule turned into a weird blend of quiet weeks alone followed by less-than-predictable days of various family members coming home, I realized I had some say in things. Yes, it was still summer in Florida, and too miserably hot and humid to spend time cleaning out the garage. But if I brought the garage into, say, the dining room, a few boxes at a time, nobody was going to be disturbed. Except me, of course.

It started with nine Rubbermaid tubs. Some had Christmas decorations in them. Some had mystery contents. Nine was a manageable number, stacked against the wall. I could go through three or so in the evening after walking Copper. I set up a work station: the table cleared and ready to accept box contents for sorting. A large trash bag under the table, easily accessed. Empty boxes for items to be donated or sold. And a box for kept items to be organized and labeled for future access. I kept a file box of blank index cards handy for labeling and referencing box contents.

I apologized to the dining room almost nightly, as the piles continued to grow. Bags of trash went outside to the trash can. Boxes were loaded into the garage for yard sales and donations.

The progress, at first, was almost imperceptible. I couldn’t imagine ever getting through the load of stuff lingering in the garage. But little by little, evening by evening, weekend by weekend, it began to happen. At one point I had thirty empty Rubbermaid tubs in the dining room. Yes. Thirty. It was stunning. The decisions began to come more easily. I could lift something up and know almost instantly whether I would keep it, toss it, or recycle it. Turns out I had a lot of stuff that, while still useful, had served its purpose in my life and was ready for a new life with someone else. I could keep the memories without having to keep the stuff. That right there was life-changing!

Three garage sales. Yes. Three. In a single summer. (That’s it’s own post right there.) A plan for reorganizing the garage that, while it’s waiting for cooler weather, is going to happen before the end of the year. And so this massive project, which still would have been waiting to be tackled, is well in hand, thanks to a determination to move things forward even in small increments. It didn’t get the way it was overnight. It wasn’t going to get organized overnight. But it will happen.

How did Copper teach me about this particular life lesson? He knows all about making minutes count. When the prospect of doing 20 minutes of homework every day seemed overwhelming, he could break it down into five-minute increments of having fun together. It was a delight to see his mind challenged and his eyes focused on whatever we were tackling together. And after five minutes, if he was losing interest, it was time to stop anyway, and start again with something else a little while later. It worked beautifully. Over the course of many months, those five-minute increments were resulting in a better trained dog (and handler) than I had ever imagined. Years’ worth of work were managed five minutes at a time.

copper sleeping with canada goose

A Little Extra, For Lagniappe

Golden Rule #23: Be Memorable. In a Good Way.

The original rule reads, “Deliver more than someone expects — better, faster, cheaper, more.” And then the caveat: Be memorable. In a good way.

We’ve all heard the stories about products or service that are so appallingly bad they end up going viral, circulating in the endless stratosphere of the world wide web. You don’t want to end up there.

I dare say no one sets out to end up there. They get there without intending to. They get there because they forget in the end, we are all people, and sometimes the best solution is remembering to treat people like people.

I’ve become familiar with the statement, “Good enough for government work.” It’s kind of a low bar, to be honest. Delivering the minimum, or a shade or two below the minimum, doesn’t do much for your reputation. It makes people hesitate when someone asks about their experience working with you. That hesitation is sometimes all it takes for someone to take their business elsewhere.

These days, it seems like all it takes to really succeed in business is to show up where you say you’ll be, when you’ll say you’ll be there, and do what you agreed to do, for what you agreed to charge. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Just don’t do that.

If you want to be memorable in a good way, underpromise and overdeliver. Give someone more than they’re expecting. Show up early, do more, and invest yourself in their project. Think outside the box. Have a great attitude. Listen to other people, thoughtfully and thoroughly. Make sure you give better than you get.

People are usually surprised, and in a good way, when they get more than they’re paying for. Living in the south, I have learned the word ‘lagniappe.’ It means, in French, a little something extra. In his deliciously readable “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain described it this way:

“It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city [New Orleans]. … If the waiter in the restaurant stumbles and spills a gill of coffee down the back of your neck, he says ‘For lagniappe, sah,’ and gets you another cup without extra charge.”

I love how he defines the word by showing it in action. And really and truly, that’s the whole point: define yourself and your work by showing it in action.

How has Copper taught me about lagniappe? He extracts it from me! Just about the time I think, there, that’s enough of a walk, or a game, or homework, he decides that there’s time or room for just a little more. Is he memorable? You bet! I’ve learned, when he seems unable to settle down, to ask him, what do you want? Or to do a few minutes of homework with him. Invariably his behavior improves, and so does my own outlook.

sunny side up