Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Angels in Indiana

With the holidays in full swing, I decided to do something different this week.  What follows is a story by an unknown author about the power of giving that I thought was worth sharing during this season of generosity…

“One morning during the winter of 1960, I woke up to find that my children’s father had left.  I had less than a dollar in my wallet and six hungry kids to feed.  If there was a welfare system in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.

“I put on my best homemade dress, then loaded all the kids into our old Chevy and drove off to find a job.  The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in town.  I tried to convince whoever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything.

“No luck.

“The last place we went was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop called the Big Wheel.  The old woman who owned the place needed someone on the graveyard shift, from eleven at night until seven in the morning.  She paid 65 cents an hour, and I could start that night. 

“After racing home, I bargained with our teenage babysitter to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night.  We agreed that she could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep.

“That night, when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all expressed our gratitude for Mommy’s new job.  And so I started at the Big Wheel.

“As the weeks went by, our heating bills began to strain my meager wage.  I was paying over half my nightly tips to the babysitter, and the tires on our old Chevy had begun to leak.  Each day, I had to fill them with air on the way to work, and again before going home.

“One bleak morning, I dragged myself to the car and found four new tires in the back seat.  There was no note, just those beautiful brand new tires.  Had angels taken up residence in Indiana?  I made a deal with the owner of the local service station to clean up his office in exchange for mounting the new tires.

“Christmas was coming, and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids.  I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning.  Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on my boys’ pants.

“On Christmas Eve, the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel:  the truckers Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe.  They sat and talked through the night, leaving before the sun came up.

“When it was time for me to go home on Christmas morning, I hurried to the car.  I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I could get the presents from the basement and place them under the small cedar tree we’d cut down near the town dump.  It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be some dark shadows in the car.

“I peered warily into one of the side windows, and my jaw dropped in amazement.  My old battered Chevy was filled to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I scrambled inside and faced the back seat.

“Reaching back, I pulled the lid off the top box. Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans in kids’ sizes!  Another box was full of shirts to go with the jeans.  I peeked inside some of the other boxes and found candy, nuts, bananas and other groceries.  There was an enormous ham for baking and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and cookies, pie filling and flour.  There was a whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items.  And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

“As I drove through empty streets with the sun slowly rising on the most amazing Christmas of my life, I sobbed with gratitude.  Yes, there really were angels in Indiana that December… and they hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.”

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on the Live to Give Mindset, because giving isn’t just about gifts.  It’s about offering something, whether it’s food or help or even just a thank you, to remind others that they’re not alone. Happy Holidays!

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Uncork Your Passion!

A few weeks ago, I flew to London to set up a new 7 Mindsets Academy to teach students the 7 Mindsets as part of their school curriculum.  I travel frequently, and was thrilled when Delta upgraded my seat to first class.  With my dinner, I was served a glass of wine called Inception Chardonnay.  I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I do like the movie Inception, so I was willing to take a few sips... maybe seven of them.  That experience inspired this week’s story…  

From the time she was five years old, Andrea was interested in food.  She enthusiastically cooked her way through her childhood and into high school, honing her ability to pick out and focus on particular flavors.  During college, which Andrea attended to study economics and finance, she got the opportunity to take a wine tasting class for beginners at a local restaurant.  She knew nothing about wine, and simply thought the class sounded fun.  Unexpectedly, she found herself captivated.  She was intrigued by the vast range of factors that affect wine character.  Suddenly, her youth spent cooking and thinking about flavor combinations seemed more relevant than ever.

Andrea graduated and went to work on Wall Street in the investment world.  She had been recruited by one of the top investment banks in the country, Morgan Stanley, but while working for them, she was also indulging her enthusiasm for wine.  In her free time, she volunteered at a little wine store called the International Wine Center as a pourer, which allowed her to take classes for free and meet wine makers and experts who came into the shop.

One day, while helping out at a tasting for Krug, one of the world’s most renowned Champagne makers, Andrea had a revelation:  She genuinely loved wine and everything about it, and faced the fact that her career in investment banking was going to become extremely consuming the longer she pursued it… which might eventually get in the way of her passion for wine.  That was just not going to work.

The next day, Andrea approached her boss and said, "I like investment banking, but I love wine and want to try and make a living at it, so I'm going to leave."  To her surprise, he said, "You know, that's great.  I wish I had the guts to do the same."  And that was that.

Andrea bought a Eurail Pass, a youth hostel card, and a plane ticket to Europe.  There, she traveled through various countries for six months, sleeping in cheap hostels and learning as much as she could about wine, from growing and harvesting grapes to barrel-aging to the history and significance of some of the most important winemaking regions in the world.  One of the most interesting things she learned that the Europeans know so well is that wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be really, really good.

Andrea’s impressive willingness to risk her future in pursuit of wine knowledge helped her get a job in a prestigious wine department when she returned home.  She was mentored there by Kevin Zraly, one of America's most famous and entertaining wine teachers, and she went on to become the first female cellar master at the restaurant.  She never looked back. 

Andrea’s list of accomplishments since her days on Wall Street is enormous.  She earned her Master Sommeliers Diploma, making her one of just eighteen female master sommeliers in the world.  She was the first woman ever named Best Sommelier in the U.S. by the Sommelier Society of America.  She is the author of several books, a TV show host, has been a Dean of Wine Studies, and is the recipient of numerous culinary-world accolades including three James Beard awards. 

Today, Andrea Robinson is one of the country’s leading wine educators.  She has her own line of stemware, as well as a video wine education course that highlights her simple, engaging method for enjoying and demystifying wine. She is also the Master Sommelier for Delta Air Lines, and she selects all of the in-flight wine for first class customers.  After just a few sips, I can tell you that she knows her stuff.

Andrea connected her passion to her profession, and wasn’t afraid to make a career change to ensure she was pursuing her dream.  Discover what inspires you, and then make it a major part of your life.  Like a great wine, living your passion only gets better over time.

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Crocodile and the Shark

Ma Yun was born near Shanghai, China.  Short and scrawny, Ma was teased about his size as a kid, but he was energetic and fearless when it came to defending himself against bullies.  There was no one he wouldn’t stand up to, regardless of how much bigger they were.

When Ma was still young, he decided that he wanted to learn English.  Every day, he rode his bike to a hotel 45 minutes away in order to meet and converse with the foreign tourists staying there.  He was charming, offering to guide them around the city for free so he could practice and improve his English.  He also bought a radio so he could listen to English broadcasts.

Although he took to learning another language easily, Ma wasn’t as strong in math.  In fact, when he took China's college entrance exam, his low scores on the math section caused him to fail the test twice.

After rigorously studying, Ma passed the test on the third try and became eligible for college.  He eventually graduated and applied for a number of jobs and was rejected for all of them — including a manager position at Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Eventually, he was able to become an English teacher, due in part to his fluency with the language.  He was earning about $12 a month.

Thanks to a number of economic reforms in China, many of the country’s enterprising citizens began experimenting with new businesses that brought their once closed-off society into closer contact with the rest of the world.  Ma became one such entrepreneur when he started a translation company.  This led to his first visit to the USA, where a friend introduced him to a new technology he had never seen:  the Internet.

Ma’s friend said that absolutely everything a person could think of was on the Internet, so Ma tested out the claim by searching for a number of Chinese products.  He found none, and quickly determined that there was almost nothing about China on the Internet.  When he returned home, Ma decided to start China Pages, the country’s first Internet company.

China Pages wasn’t a success, but Ma learned a lot from the experience, and in no time, he made another attempt.  This time, he gathered 17 of his friends into an apartment to create a company that would let Chinese exporters post product listings that online buyers could browse.  Once their site was online, it quickly started to attract members from around the world. 

Ma Yun, known to the rest of the world as Jack Ma, became the first Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine just two years after founding Alibaba.  But his biggest challenge was still to come. 

The opening of the Chinese market to the rest of the world had caught the interest of the leaders at eBay, the largest online shopping website in America.  They decided to expand into China, first by purchasing one of Alibaba’s competitors, then by opening their own Chinese eBay site.  Jack knew his company was under attack and could lose many of their customers, so he decided to take action. 

He put together a small team to create a new site specifically to compete with eBay and maintain Alibaba’s position as the leading Chinese Internet shopping destination.  In talking about the coming battle between the two companies, Jack said, “eBay is a shark in the ocean.  We are a crocodile in China’s Yangtze River.  If we fight in the ocean, we will lose.  But if we fight in the river, we will win."  What he meant was, if his company tried to do exactly what eBay did, the giant would certainly crush them.  But if he specifically tailored his new site for Chinese users with flashy, fun, human touches, they might just be able to triumph.

Jack’s company went on the attack, using bold business model adjustments, hilarious publicity campaigns and shrewd partnerships to win over both users and investors, and, after a five-year struggle, Jack’s company emerged as the clear winner when eBay shut down its Chinese site.

Jack Ma went from being an unemployable college graduate to becoming a globally-recognized entrepreneur and the richest man in China, with an estimated net worth of over 29.7 billion dollars.  And stunningly, he made his fortune creating and operating an enormously successful internet business despite never actually writing a single line of code himself.  This just goes to show that not knowing how you’re going to reach your dreams will never stop you, as long as you’re focused on why you’re undoubtedly going to succeed.

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Tomorrow is thanksgiving in the United States, and I’m grateful to my brother Jadd for sharing a personal story with me so I could share it with you. In his own words, here’s his story, with a great message as well…

“During the second half of my high school career, I was required to take precalculus to help prepare me for college math.  I’ve always been good with numbers, but I never really enjoyed math classes.  The truth is, it takes a certain level of maturity to look ahead to the future and realize how doing something that isn’t very enjoyable right now may be helpful or useful down the road.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have that maturity, at least not in relation to precalculus.

“By the middle of the semester, I was barely passing.  Then I made it worse by not only blowing off studying for a particular test, but writing answers on the test in the form of notes to my teacher like, “I don’t know math,” “I have no idea,” and “How could I possibly know this answer if I didn’t know the last two?” 

“At the next class, when he handed our tests back, the teacher made a specific point of singling mine out in front of everyone.  I’d received a 4 percent.  Yes, that’s 4 percent out of a possible 100... and truthfully, I don’t even know how I got 4 percent right.

“What’s interesting is how much this motivated me.  Whether it was out of embarrassment or deciding that I didn’t like the thought of my teacher viewing me as a slacker, I decided that I was no longer content to just scrape by.

“For the next test, I buckled down and studied hard.  I went in with confidence, and although I don’t recall taking the test itself, I certainly remember what happened the next day.  Everyone in the class received their tests back with grades written at the top except for me.  Mine had a sticky-note that read, “See Me.”

“After class, the teacher laid my test on his desk.  He pointed to several problems at random, asking me to explain my work and how I’d gotten the answers.  After I did, he looked at me, then took a marker and wrote “108%” on my test.  I had gotten every problem right, plus extra credit problems for bonus points.

“I looked at my grade, then at my teacher, and asked, “Is that the highest grade in the class?”  He nodded.

“I thought for a second, then said, “You wanted to make sure I actually knew how to do the problems, right?  That I didn’t cheat?”

“He looked at me, sighed, and said, “You’re really frustrating,” which I took to mean that it frustrated him that I could do next to nothing for half a semester, then score the highest out of a class of forty students when I actually applied myself.

“Obviously, he had a good point, and I learned an important lesson from that experience.  We all have weaknesses and strengths, but just as important as figuring out our strengths is making sure we’re not wasting them.  What good was I doing myself by knowingly underachieving?  None. 

“When you have a strength, it’s not just a good idea to utilize it, it’s imperative that you do so.  It’s not enough just to be good at something if you don’t contribute that value to the world.  When you unleash your strengths and maximize your value, there’s no telling how great of an impact you may have.

“For example:  People know that Albert Einstein originated some of the most revolutionary scientific theories and discoveries of the last century and a half.  But did you know that, after graduating from college and being certified to teach math and physics, he was unable to find a teaching position for two years?  In fact, he was so frustrated that he finally took a job in a patent office, where he worked for seven years evaluating other people’s inventions and discoveries!  Can you imagine what the last hundred years may’ve been like for humanity without the scientific breakthroughs Einstein made after leaving that job to focus on his strength? 

“In the words of Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”  Aim high with your life!  Dream big, expect amazing things, and don’t hold back.  Your unique gifts may be exactly what the world is waiting for and desperately needs!”

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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