Category Archives: Transitions

Do You Actually Want What You’re After?

Not long after my family moved to Dallas, Texas, when I was about six years old, I became friends with an older kid who lived down the street. One afternoon when we were hanging out together he suggested we go throw rocks at the windows of a new house being built not too far away. Shrimp that I was, the rocks I threw often did not have sufficient force to break the windows. But that was okay with me. I felt awful the whole time.

Do You Actually Want What You’re After?

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Thank goodness as adults we are better equipped to resist peer pressure. Asked to participate in vandalism, we would decline.

Thinking about this idea over the last few weeks, I thought about how people respond to opportunities. Asked if they want to appear on television, I imagine most people would respond along the lines of, “Who wouldn’t!?”

Notice anything strange about this reply? Someone saying it is expressing a consensus desire, not his own.

Given how often average people are presented in a humiliating way on television, I am skeptical about the benefit of appearing on the small screen (can we still call it that now that large flat screens rival some of those at multiplexes?). And while this example may be too abstract, most of us feel more pressured by our peers than we like to acknowledge. Think about the pursuit of youth by the middle-aged, the desire for an image of prosperity by those who cannot afford it.

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As much as the conformity of the 1950s is derided, it may well have been a genuine expression of post World War II desires. The vast majority of men and women who fought and lived through the war did so while longing to return to their spouse, or get married, settle down and have a family.

As you head toward the end of the year and start evaluating your progress I encourage you to consider whether you genuinely desire what you are pursuing or have a case of “Who wouldn’t!?”

Where do you find yourself at variance with what people typically strive for and what you want?

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How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

In honor of the 4th yartzheit of my father, Gerald Bemel, may he be remembered for blessing, I am sharing a story from his navy days.

Vivid stories of my father’s navy service help me keep his memory alive. One of my favorites is particularly appropriate to the topics of personal development and entrepreneurship.

How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps afforded my father the opportunity to go to college. So in 1954, his degree complete and newly married, off my dad went to his first ship ported in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he headed to the Mediterranean Sea on his first cruise.

Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my father swam, sailed, and lifeguarded his summers away. Comfortable in and on the water, he was at home on the ocean. One day, while off duty, he was lounging on deck when he noticed the ship in imminent danger of running down a buoy.

In those days, France was particular about her buoys (not to mention her gulls, wouldn’t you be?) and knowing this my father sprang into action. Grabbing a couple of sailors they launched one of the ship’s boats intending to remedy the crisis. Motor churning the sea at top speed, boat hook at the ready to move the buoy out of the ship’s course, Ensign Bemel had the situation well in hand.

And then it happened.

Misjudging the distance, dad slammed into the buoy before the boat slowed sufficiently. But the French had little about which to complain. The buoy was undamaged. The boat was not so fortunate. The term my father used was stove in, meaning a gaping hole in its side.

Ignominiously, dad, crew, and disabled boat were rescued. Word was passed. The captain wanted to see Ensign Bemel.

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Standing at attention in the passageway outside the captain’s cabin, me father contemplated his fate. His commanding officer was a mustang, an enlisted sailor who became an officer, in this case for meritorious action during combat operations of World War II. Old salt did not begin to describe his captain. He was harder than 19th century ship’s biscuit, the kind that broke teeth.

The door opened. The Executive Officer ordered my father in, then left, closing the door behind him.

Standing at rigid attention in front of his CO’s deck, my dad presented himself: “Ensign Bemel reporting as ordered, SIR!”

Captain: “Very good Mr. Bemel, have a seat.”

Dad, flummoxed: “Have a seat sir??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, there in that chair.”

Tentatively, my father sat down.

Captain: “Now Mr. Bemel, tell me what happened.”

My father recounted the incident. Then he and the Captain discussed how he might handle a similar situation in the future.

About 30 minutes later the Captain told my father he thought that about covered it and to carry on with his duties.

Flabbergasted, my dad could not refrain from asking: “That’s all Captain??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, carry on.”

Dad: “But Captain, I stove in a boat, damaged navy property, embarrassed the ship. What is my punishment?”

Captain: “Mr. Bemel, I’ve just spent a considerable sum training you. I need you to put that training to work right away. Besides, you have demonstrated the one thing I cannot teach. Initiative. You saw a problem and you acted. You could have done so more effectively, but you acted. I need that quality in my officers.”

Only You Can Take Action that Will Change Your Life

No one breaks a habit through inaction. No business ever started spontaneously. You might stave in your boat, but you will learn valuable lessons. As important, you will show yourself and others, you have what it takes to succeed.

What keeps you from taking the first step

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How to Be Decisive

Do you sometimes feel like the indecisive vultures from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book?

Buzzie:  Hey Flaps, what are we gonna do?

Flaps:  I don't know, what you wanna do?

Military life involves lots of decision making.  And while it may seem that decisiveness increases with higher rank, decisions are more difficult when they affect more people.  So I spend a lot of time helping people at all levels when they struggle to decide something.

As an entrepreneur and sole owner of my company, I determined strategic direction with little input from others.  Then I delegated operational and tactical decisions to my staff.  If I were commanding a squadron or a ship the process would be similar.  But as a chaplain, achieving a consensus of other chaplains and senior enlisted people is crucial.  This process feels less decisive to me but in the long-term is more efficient for getting work done.

This all demonstrates that:

Decisiveness comes from understanding the importance of a decision before you begin deliberating.

These three questions can be quantified quickly and will aid you in determining the gravity of the decision you face:

  1. How important is the decision?  Most decisions are not life or death.  A decision’s place in the continuum from minor to major can be determined by asking:
    1. Who and/or how many people are affected by this decision?  As the closeness of your relationship and/or the number of people affected increases so do the repercussions.
    2. What is at stake?  When the cost to your relationships and financial, mental, and spiritual wellbeing, or that of your organization, gets bigger so does the gravity of your decision.  As the risk to life and property rises, there is a greater need to gather input from others.
  2. What is the context of the decision?  Lengthy deliberations and getting input on choices may be appropriate but:
    1. How crucial is the time factor?  Will you lose the opportunity if the decision is delayed?
    2. How will you implement it?  A military chain of command and a board of directors of a nonprofit are poles apart in making and executing decisions.  The latter generally requires significantly more buy-in from stakeholders.
  3. What are the consequences of a wrong decision?  While the results of your decision may seem permanent, rarely is that the case.  In reality, what is the cost to set things right?

Not only will answering these questions help you decide how much effort to put into a decision, it will also reveal other people with whom you should consult if necessary.  This information enables you to take the next step.

Decisive people self-impose a deadline for deciding.

Having assessed the situation, you can conclude whether:

  1. No decision is necessary.
  2. You must decide immediately, or
  3. The amount of time you should use in the event you rejected options 1 and 2.
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Like so many things, decisiveness comes with practice.  Take every opportunity.  If your family needs to decide where to go out for dinner and all are saying they don’t care, seize the opportunity and decide.  When you are not the ultimate decision maker, offer a reasoned recommendation to the person who will.

Apply this three-step process:

  1. Assess the importance.
  2. Set a deadline.
  3. Make the decision, if necessary.

It will become second nature.  You will also find that most of the decisions you have to make are not so consequential, thereby requiring far less time and anxiety.

Whether in your personal, family, work, or communal life, the time you spend deciding subtracts from the time you spend doing.  In the final analysis, the purpose of making a decision is so you can get on with your life. So . . .

What prevents you from being decisive?

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Pursue Entrepreneurship Like a Marine – II

A few weeks ago I examined how maneuver warfare applies to entrepreneurship. Hopefully, you see it as a key aspect of your plan to more quickly defeat the negative attitudes and uncertainty holding you back.  An essential aspect of employing this concept is determining where and how to focus your effort.  The Marine Corps calls the practice of concentrating combat power the Main Effort.  Let’s translate this idea to entrepreneurship.

Pursue Entrepreneurship Like a Marine – II

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While I advocate living a balanced, purposeful life based on the Three Pillars of Fitness – Physical | Mental | Spiritual, attempting to focus on all three simultaneously will dilute your ability to reach your goals. On a daily basis, concentrate on a single outcome.

The key points of the Main Effort in Marine Corps doctrine are:

  1. Of all the actions going on within your business, recognize one as the most critical to success at that moment. As you work on your business, each day should focus on the activity crucial to moving it forward, be it marketing, sales, product development, or something else.
  2. The Main Effort involves a physical and moral commitment, although not an irretrievable one. While the Main Effort embodies the action you will take, your commitment must be deeper than task completion.  Dedication at the highest level is required to propel you through the inevitable vicissitudes.
  3. Faced with a decision, ask yourself: How can I best support the Main Effort?  Having made such a profound commitment, reinforce it by making all future choices through its lens.
  4. The practice of concentrating all your power toward the Main Effort necessitates the willingness to accept prudent risk elsewhere.  When focusing on a singular direction by definition you are excluding everything else.  This entails some risk.  Occasionally, your family may feel neglected or your fitness may decline.  End each day by assessing your physical, mental, and spiritual resilience so you will know when the risk is no longer prudent and requires a shift in your Main Effort.
  5. As the situation changes, you may shift the Main Effort. Seek to exploit success rather than reinforce failure.  As demonstrated by maneuver warfare, your ability to identify and quickly exploit opportunity increases your likelihood of success.  When you make the inevitable shifts in Main Effort, do not wait for a crisis, rather look for situations in which you can address the issue requiring the change without weakening your overall thrust toward your goal.  Add an extra day or two onto your business trip dedicated solely to time with your spouse and family.  Change a sit-down meeting to a walking meeting.

Essential to unity of effort by your team, as the leader, strive for a clear expression of the intent and expectations supporting your Main Effort.  Then ensure that everyone involved realizes the burden of understanding it falls on all team members.  You must make your purpose perfectly clear but in a way that does not inhibit initiative.

Applying the short-term focus of your Main Effort will dramatically increase your ability to achieve your goals.

What is the Main Effort in your life right now?

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5 Common Career Problems: Which Ones Do You Want to Overcome?

Every problem is a gift - without problems we would not grow – Tony Robbins

Life is filled with problems. In the early days of starting my first business, I learned to call them challenges since those sounded easier to overcome.  Among the worst are career problems.  Nearly all people are fortunate to have within their grasp the ability to choose the set of challenges with which they want to grapple.  Unfortunately, most don't exercise this choice.

5 Common Career Problems: Which Ones Do You Want Overcome?

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When I talk with people about career problems they tend to air the same complaints. Not necessarily in order of frequency, they are:

  1. I don't make enough money.
  2. I have to work too many hours.
  3. I miss too many family events.
  4. I dislike the people with whom I work.
  5. My boss doesn't know what he's doing.

Do any or all of these sound familiar?  Most were on my list back in 1985.  During that year I committed to finding a solution. On February 28, 1986, I started my first business. Being an entrepreneur eventually solved all of these challenges. Here is a rough timeline:

  1. Money:  It took less than two years to generate an income similar to the one I gave up and about five years to get my income to a comfortable level.
  2. Hours:  The first eight years I worked long hours, though rarely as many as at the company I left.  But after ten years this issue was under control.
  3. Family events:  From day one I controlled my schedule.  The flexibility of being self-employed is one of the top reasons for taking this step.
  4. Co-Workers:  Since I had the final say on hiring and firing, I never worked for very long with someone I didn't enjoy working with or who was incompetent.  This is another excellent reason for starting a company.
  5. Boss:  The truth of the matter is my boss, me, often didn't know what he was doing.  In the beginning, I was pigheaded about my ignorance.  But after a disappointing first year, I admitted to myself that I had a lot to learn and started filling in the gaps.  And while I constantly found my knowledge lacking it was within my power to get trained.
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Entrepreneurship won't solve your career challenges overnight.  But the ability to find and implement solutions will be in your hands.  While the business press tends to focus on the financial benefits of startups, I think the lifestyle benefits are much greater.  They will lead you to a more enjoyable life whether or not you have a multi-million or billion dollar IPO.

What is your biggest career challenge?

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