Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Future is in Good Hands

At 13 years old, Jack was a three-sport athlete, playing lacrosse, football, and wrestling.  In football, he was small at his position, which meant getting banged around quite a bit by larger opponents.  Even so, he was a starter every season he played, more than making up for his lack of size with smarts, toughness, and drive.

His determination also translated to wrestling.  Following in the footsteps of his Dad, a high-school wrestler himself, Jack joined his town’s Youth Wrestling Association when he was in the sixth grade.  Wresting isn’t an easy sport to learn.  There are no teammates to lean on for help, and newcomers frequently learn via highly physical defeats at the hands of more experienced wrestlers. 

Being new to the sport, Jack had a lot of long days wrestling kids who were both older and better.  Nevertheless, he was tenacious.  He got more serious in his second year, but was frequently matched against opponents a year older.  At one point, he endured a 20-match losing streak that nearly saw him quit the sport for good.  Somehow, he found the will to keep at it.

Then something unexpected happened.  Jack and his family were out of town for a regional tournament, but the day before his match, Jack injured his ankle jumping in the pool.  Jack decided to give his match a try rather than see the whole family return home early.  With nothing to lose, the young man who rarely won when injury-free hit the mat… and managed to win a medal despite wrestling on a bad ankle. 

When football resumed, Jack was looking forward to another season.  The day before the first game, though, a routine play led to a collision between Jack and a much bigger teammate, sending Jack to the ground.  Thinking that he’d just had the wind knocked out of him, he tried to roll over, but was overwhelmed with shooting pain.  When his parents arrived at the field, Jack was being loaded into the ambulance.  An MRI was ordered, and soon, the bad news arrived:  A vertebra in his lower back was fractured.

Injuries were nothing new for Jack — he had broken his hand twice playing lacrosse — but this one was much more serious.  What followed was a long and painful recovery, made worse by having to miss his eighth grade football and wrestling seasons.

A few months later, in an effort to keep Jack’s spirits up and mind occupied, his wrestling coach suggested he start coming to the elementary school practices to help out.  If he couldn’t wrestle, at least he could stay involved.  It was a tough sell for Jack, who didn’t think overseeing a bunch of little kids could replace actual competition.

That first night, Jack saw that the youngest kids, aged 4 and 5, needed help.  He gravitated to them, and was someone they could relate to.  The experience of sharing some of the lessons wrestling had taught him sparked something in Jack.  Not only did he keep going back, he started to officially help coach. 

Just as things were beginning to look up for Jack, his town was rocked by the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The horrific shooting took place at the very school where the wrestling association held its practices and which some of the team members attended, and the community of Newtown was devastated by the events.  The situation gave Jack new perspective on his injuries, as he saw the outpouring of support coming in from all over the world.

Looking for ways to help through sports, he reached out to the head of Nike asking if the company could make some sort of donation to support the town.  Choosing not to publicize it, the company performed numerous acts of kindness in Newtown.  Meanwhile, the wrestling program remained active in order to give the kids an outlet during the tough times.  Jack was fully involved as he assisted with raising money for the families of the victims, as well as providing support in the form of things like yard work, landscaping, and other chores.

In honor of his resilience and compassion in helping to heal his town, Sports Illustrated named Jack Wellman their 2013 SportsKid of the Year.  And this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Jack when he attended the 2014 Ultimate Life Summit, an event I co-created to teach hundreds of students and educators the 7 Mindsets so they can make positive differences in their communities and the lives of others. 

Meeting young people like Jack reassures me that the problems of the world will be solved through the open hearts and minds of today’s youth.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The World Laughs with You

James and his family moved to Las Vegas when he was 9 years old.  Most of his time was spent running around the neighborhood, playing sports, building clubhouses, and occasionally getting in fights because of his big mouth.  It wasn’t that he was looking for trouble – he just couldn’t keep from saying the funniest thing he could think of, no matter how much bigger and meaner the target of his verbal assault might be.

James was a class clown in high school, and his early-developed humor morphed into a passion for pranks.  He and his friends would spend hours crank-calling strangers and restaurants. They’d send pizzas and taxis to their neighbor’s house late at night.  Their young existence revolved around practical jokes, and if James thought something was funny, he was confident everyone else would find it funny, too.

When James was 16, a co-worker who DJ’d on the local college radio station invited him to try broadcasting.  James knew that his hero, David Letterman, had started on radio, so he immediately took to the idea.  He created a Sunday night interview show on which he would talk to local oddballs.  After the show, he’d come home to find that his parents and friends had all been listening, which only increased his excitement.

While in college in Arizona, James got his first job on a professional radio show, and loved it so much he decided to pursue it full-time.  But pursuing his chosen career path wasn't always easy.  During the next few years, James was hired by radio stations in Phoenix, Seattle and Tampa, but was fired from all of them after only a few months at each.  After a stint as the host of a radio show in Palm Springs, where he famously tortured his sidekick by forcing him into endless embarrassing situations, James was hired away by a larger station.  Things finally seemed to be happening, but then, once again, he was let go before a year was up.

The truth, he finally admitted to himself, was that his practical jokes weren’t always received with laughs.  He was a prankster, and always felt that people would appreciate that he was joking.  He’d do things he thought were funny, like calling his boss’s wife and asking personal questions about him on the air.  Unfortunately, pranks like these made more than one boss genuinely angry, and contributed to his repeated dismissals.

James continued to find opportunities to stay in the industry, often as a producer if not on the air.  He helped several friends land gigs that would eventually rocket them to desirable gigs as MTV program hosts, and while he was happy for them, he felt a bit left behind as his former protégés became famous.  He continued to work hard, and remained passionate about moving up in the broadcast world.  Nevertheless, he wondered when – or if – he would get his big break.

Finally, a TV producer who was a fan of James’ on-air antics helped him land a job as the host of a game show on the Comedy Central network.  He had made the leap to TV; however, the pay was so low that James had to keep his radio job as well.  He would work at the radio station beginning at 5:30 in the morning, then drive to the television studio in the evening.  It was a punishing schedule that left little time for anything else. 

Before long, James came up with the idea for his breakout hit.  Despite critics being divided about the program’s indelicate humor, it was the highest-rated series premiere in Comedy Central history, and its six-season run made James a hot commodity.

By the age of 34, James “Jimmy” Kimmel, co-creator of The Man Show, had fulfilled his decades-old ambition of becoming the host of a late-night talk show on a major network.  Moreover, he’d done so with his sometimes sophomoric but always contagious humor intact.  And this past June, for the first time ever, Jimmy Kimmel led in the ratings over both the iconic Tonight show, as well as the legendary program of his idol, David Letterman.

Your imagination is a powerful tool that lets you visualize your dreams coming true, and you don’t have to be a kid to close your eyes and let your imagination run wild.  Just remember, though – once those eyes are open, it's time to take action.  Play this game often, and soon enough you'll be laughing all the way to the bank!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Whistle While You Work

The CEO of CareerBliss says, “Being truly happy at work is one of the keys to being happy in life.”  CareerBliss is a company that ranks The 50 Happiest Companies in America each year, and it’s a list every business wants to be on.  Why?  Well, a study by the prestigious Wharton School of Business showed that being in a good mood at work helped encourage employees to be more flexible and precise in their decision-making, which of course is good for the company.  Also, renowned research company The Gallup Organization found that disgruntled employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.  Wow!  All of this makes it worthwhile to hear the story of a company that has done its best to remain one of the best places to work for over a century and a half

As a young man in Germany, Karl was educated as an apothecary’s apprentice.  This taught him the names and uses of various herbs and chemicals for medicinal purposes.  He completed high school and came to the United States in his early twenties, and decided to go into the pharmaceutical business with his cousin, a confectioner named Charles.

The two men were able to purchase a small brick building in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1849.  To establish their business, they got to work immediately on their first product, a new version of a medicine called Santonin that Charles, using his confection expertise, infused with an almond-toffee flavor.  The improved taste made the anti-parasite medicine very popular, and set the stage for innovation and forward-thinking in the world of medicinal research.

Over the next several decades, their business grew steadily.  During the 1860s, the Civil War created increased demand for painkillers, preservatives, and disinfectants.  The cousins raised their production to meet the needs of the Union Army, and it more than doubled their earnings.  In addition to medicinal drugs, the company also began work on some of the chemicals used in another important new industry:  photography.  And in the 1880s, the company became America’s leading producer of citric acid, a key ingredient in popular new soft-drinks like Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi-Cola.

The first half of the 20th century saw the company begin to produce citric acid without depending on foreign growers, become the dominant manufacturer of vitamins, and develop a process to make penicillin on a large scale.  Penicillin had only just been discovered, and it was modern medicine’s first major defense against bacterial infection.  Mass-producing it was a critical way to support US troops during World War II, and it was a turning point for the company and for humankind as well.

When confectioner Charles Erhart and chemist Karl “Charles” Pfizer founded Charles Pfizer and Company in their modest Brooklyn building, they couldn’t have imagined that the company would be one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in the 21st century, nor that in 2013, Pfizer, Inc. would be ranked #1 on CareerBliss’ Happiest Companies in America list.  More than 100,000 employees were surveyed, discussing key job factors such as work-life balance, relationships with bosses and co-workers, growth opportunities and company culture.  Pfizer’s happy workplace is maintained through commitment to perpetual improvement, supporting employees in achieving goals, and by letting them fail and learn from those failures.

When employees stretch themselves and strive to achieve new levels of personal and professional success, they’re embracing the Everything is Possible Mindset.  When they not only work together, but also seek ways to empower one another, they are exemplifying the We Are Connected Mindset.  When every employee understands that mistakes are an integral part of success, they are leaning into the 100% Accountable Mindset.  And when leadership in an organization encourages a healthy dose of risk-taking so its people will learn from their inevitable failures, they will collectively succeed.  This is what I call a 7 Mindsets company culture.

Do you own or manage a 7 Mindsets type of company?  Do you work for one?  If so, congratulations!  Your company supports the 20% of people who say that they’re passionate about what they do for a living.  If not, when would be a good time to do something about that?  As we say at my company, The Time is Now.  My personal mission is to create a mindset revolution among students, families, and even businesses and organizations of varying sizes.  I’m looking for others to join me, all over the world, so send me an email, or message me on Facebook or Twitter if you are interested in joining the Mindset Revolution.  Together, we can positively change the world!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Simple Formula

Every week I search for stories that I find inspirational.  Instinctively, I look for recognizable personalities and accounts of how they pushed through adversity and beat the odds to achieve their goals.  However, perceptions of success can vary greatly from one person to another, especially between different cultures.  Success is often measured by fame, but far more frequently, it’s the stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things that inspire us to act with more intention in our lives. Here’s the story of a young man who found success just by trying to help keep his community healthy…

Kenya's people are one of the most struggling populations in the world, in large part due to water scarcity.  Only a small portion of the country's land is suitable for agriculture because of the desert climate, and many populated areas are without clean, fresh water.  During the wet season, rainwater is collected in reservoirs, then stored for use during the driest part of the year.  But the country's nearly bankrupt government can't afford to run pumping stations nor maintain the systems for keeping the collected water clean.

Living in Kitale, an agricultural town in western Kenya, Joel caught dysentery at the age of 16 from drinking contaminated water provided to his community.  His recovery from the illness was slow, giving him time to think about the problem.  If something didn’t change, there was no reason he and others would not be infected again and again.  He decided that he should do something, and began thinking about solutions.

When he got out of the hospital, he started working on a plan.  With the help of some volunteers, Joel dug a borehole on community farmland to get to the fresh water underground.  Still in high school, his life savings totaled around $95, but he decided to invest all of it to buy the pumping equipment needed to extract the water.  The project was a success, and subsequently provided clean drinking water to hundreds of households in his village.

Later that year, while walking in the rain, Joel spotted a water tank next to a closed yoghurt shop.  The tank was collecting the rainwater from the gutters on the roof.  He suddenly had the idea to trap rainwater, store it in a reservoir, purify it and then sell it to the public at an affordable cost.  Despite having no money, he convinced the owner of the yoghurt shop to lease him the tank.  Then he set out to find a purifying machine.  It was an expensive piece of equipment, and Joel spent three months presenting his idea to every local bank and funding organization in the region.  They all declined.  Finally, his thoughts turned to his family land.  It had been lying fallow for years, and Joel persuaded his mother to let him sell it.

Selling the land financed Joel’s purchase of a water purification machine and the operational costs needed to begin production.  During the wet season, the company would harvest rain, then purify and bottle it, and they would market the product in the dry months.  Though it took time, the company eventually gained a foothold against more established competitors by offering clean, locally-produced drinking water throughout Kenya and Uganda at half the normal market price.

The success of that company, Skydrop Enterprise, brought Joel MWale international recognition, several awards and grants, and a place on the Forbes list of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs.  It also brought him to the world stage.  After hearing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg describe a hypothetical start-up that would arise and grow from zero to 200 million users within two years, Joel decided that he would be the person to launch it.  He sold Skydrop for $500,000 and began his newest venture, Gigavia.com, an educational social network that brings social media into classrooms, transforming it from a distraction into an educational resource.  In its first 5 weeks online, more than 1 million people signed up as Gigavia users.

Joel’s story reminds me of a simple formula that has been repeated throughout time.  Find a need in the world and fill it.  Most often, the need is something you can personally identify with.  To live a life full of purpose and meaning, examine where your personal interests, skills and passions intersect with the needs of others.  Once you identify this unique intersection, seek ways to organize your life around those commonalities through employment, entrepreneurship, and even charity.  This is the path to everyday happiness, and very likely will lead to living your own extraordinary life.

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!