Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wading Through Mediocrity

I had an epiphany the other day. I thought a ton about mediocrity and decided that many of us are wading through mediocrity, not realizing there are ways to climb out of the ruts that create mediocrity. Part of the challenge hinges on that we either choose this route or let the route of mediocrity choose us because we fail to do things that vault us toward excellence. Instead of choosing mediocrity, how do we choose excellence instead?

Here are seven ways, one for each day of the week, to help you wade right out of mediocrity:

Remember why you want to achieve—For most of us, we have always had goals to complete something, large or small, to improve ourselves. Some of us wanted to do something spectacular. Growing and harvesting vegetables is spectacular. Playing a musical instrument is pretty cool. Being able to do lots of things propels us forward to do other things. It is an incredible cycle—doing good reaps other good things. Often, though, life’s challenges provide a barrier, artificial or real, that impede our progress. Ultimately, we quit trying because it isn’t worth the effort. Truly, it is worth the effort of accomplishing what we set out to do.

Understand who you really are—All of us have been blessed with powers and abilities from on high. Yes, I believe in a Father in Heaven who gave us abilities to improve upon. The Parable of the Talents is pretty bold in its message that we need to improve upon the skills we are given or they will be taken away. Sometimes, we don’t even try to improve these skills and talents. Rather, we turn our heads the other way and never achieve what we are capable of achieving. We lose. Why not win by understanding who we really are?

Prepare to do and then do hard things—What? You want me to do hard things? Only if you want to progress and grow. Hard things are hard to do because they require huge amounts of effort. But what good thing doesn’t? Ask the current Olympians in Rio. Are they where they are today because they were afraid to do hard things? Hardly. They practiced hours each day and for several years before they won a medal. Doing hard things makes us stronger and willing to improve.

Think positively—Some people may say that power of positive thinking is passé. I still think being a positive thinker is still in vogue. Many of our workplaces and many places in the world are choking with negativity, and it is creating a literal moral collapse. People are afraid to even go outside. That’s scary to me that we have lost and continue to lose the good and positive feelings in the world. Think about the positive people you know? Don’t you want to be around them and enjoy their positivity and then let some of it seep into your life? I know I do. There is something contagious about a positive workplace or a person.

Increase your skills—One of the best ways of climbing out of mediocrity is increasing your skills. Lots of colleges and universities offer courses and credential programs that enhance our skills. Plus, many of the companies you all work for offer courses and classes to help their employees gain additional skills. The key hinges on taking advantage of those classes. Perhaps, setting goals at the beginning of year or even talking to your supervisor who can suggest areas you can improve. Most importantly, though, is your decision to improve and slog your way out of mediocrity.

Worry about what you need to do, not what others should do—Too often, we worry too much about others and what they should do when, in reality, we ought to be focused on ourselves. Perhaps, watching others and pointing out to them their short comings prevent us from having to think about our own frailties. Focusing on self-improvement doesn’t necessarily mean we forget about others. Rather, serving others often pushes us toward self-improvement without us really thinking about it. Our self-absorption really lulls us in to being selfless.

Think lofty thoughts and follow through with them—To quit wandering through mediocrity, we actually have to look up once in a while and see the larger picture, make goals to move ourselves forward, and then actually do something to help ourselves. It does not do any good to think lofty thoughts and allow them to wallow in the “lofty-thoughts-bucket” until they dissipate into nothingness. If we allow this to occur, then we will be mediocre or worse for our entire lives. And that’s no fun at all.

At President Cecil Samuelson’s Inauguration Address at Brigham Young University (BYU), President Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remarked; “Mediocrity will never do. You are capable of something better.”

I believe this. I am capable of doing something better, and I sincerely believe that you are do. Are you ready to leave your wanderings through mediocrity and rise above it?

Good luck!

Friday, July 15, 2016

What I learned about business by mowing lawns and selling night crawlers

It’s summer time, and a host of memories flood my mind, especially about mowing lawns and selling night crawlers.

Fortunately, growing up in eastern Idaho had its advantages. People loved to fish and needed bait, and they had big yards that constantly needed mowing. Plus, night crawlers love big lawns with lots of water. So, when you combine all of these, you conclude that there’s money to be made, and we wanted to make some to buy very important things like motorcycles.

Money was always hard to come by as we were growing up. No gave us an allowance for any of the chores we did. We did them because they were part of what our family did. Now that I look back, it was really part of the rent I paid in order to have food on the table, clothes to wear, and transportation to and from where we wanted to go. Plus, we fished a lot, and Dad covered most of these costs.

So, in order to generate revenue, we had to start our own business without the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and governmental intervention. We just did it the old-fashioned way: We decided on what we wanted to do and just did it. Along the way, we did learn a few things about being business owners. Here are a few we learned:

Business plan—As young boys growing up in a small town, we understood there wasn’t much we could do until we turned old enough to have a driver’s license. Thus, our business opportunities were basically lawn mowing and selling night crawlers by the dozen or in bulk. Our business plan was very simple and not written down: find people who wanted their lawns mowed and would pay for it and gather enough night crawlers several times a week to have enough inventory to sell, especially on the weekends. We also knew we had to capture money to help us get started.

Finances—Oh, yeah, that. Lawnmowers, gas, clippers, oil, night crawler boxes, and other stuff had to be purchased or found. Who knew? Fortunately, our Dad floated us our first round of everything. We had to decide what to charge, how often we cut a lawn, and how much we charged for the night crawlers and what type of box or can to put them in to sell. We saw other signs for night crawlers for $X amount, and we knew we couldn’t truly charge more than that unless we threw in something extra, like a baker’s dozen. The lawn mowing was what the market rate was and what some of our single widows could afford. Dad also made us mow a few lawns for free because it was the right thing to do. What spurred us on was the fact my brother and I wanted to buy motorcycles. We had priced them, and we knew the cost. Just willy-nilly spending money wasn’t going to cut it; so, we made financial sacrifices: not too much candy, pop, or too many Little Jack Horner pies at the Menan Market. Plus, we had to replenish the supplies and gas we used on the job. Fortunately, we understood that we had to earn/save more than we spent. After a couple of years, we had enough to buy each of us a motorcycle—Hodakas!

Equipment and Maintenance—Some businesses required equipment. Ours was one of those. We had to have lawn mowers, clippers, bags, a way to haul our lawnmowers, rakes, shovels, and other lawn mowing paraphernalia, and all of our night crawler things like milk cartons (from the elementary), gunny sacks that keep the dirt cool and wet. The mowers had to be clean; the clippers sharpened, and other tools cleaned. Plus, the oil and gas had to be checked daily on the mowers. The air filter on the mower had to be cleaned frequently. Eventually, things had to be replaced. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anything about inventory control or stuff like that. We counted our milk cartons or cans to make sure we had enough. Thankfully, some of the fishermen brought their own containers, and we saved money.

Employees—My brother and I were the employees and the bosses, and we had to learned to work together although we had some falling outs, a few punches, and few tussles on the lawn. Granted, I didn’t get to mow all the time, and he didn’t have to clip grass the entire time, using actual clippers. We didn’t have weed eaters in the old days. Plus, when we did night crawlers, we had up to four or five others helping us, including our other siblings and friends.

Customers—We quickly discovered that people wouldn’t just call us. We actually had to go out, knock on doors, and talk to people. Some of our customers came from referrals. Then, once we mowed their lawns, there was a certain expectations from them on how it all ought to be done. While I may have thought I knew the proper way to mow a lawn taught to me by my Dad, the customer also wanted their lawn cut a certain way, their edges clipped a particularly way, and their sidewalks swept. We had to adjust in order to have happy customers.

Marketing—Our marketing was weak, especially for night crawler sales. We literally wrote up a sign with our directions with arrows out on the main road. Amazingly, people came to buy night crawlers, and they bought a lot of them. We made a big plywood board sign, painted it, printed words in the best handwriting boys could muster, and placed it in from of our house. Lots of the marketing was just word of mouth: “Hey, Hammons have night crawlers for sale or the Hammon boys mow lawns.” Simple. Marketing.

The hours/scheduling—This might have been the most difficult. Boys have things to do in the summer: ride bikes, fish, play army, fish, play softball, do chores, and complete other tasks our parents wanted us to do. We had to learn to schedule mowing on certain days because our customers wanted their lawns mowed only on certain days of the week. We also discovered it was doggone hot around noon, and it was no fun mowing. So we tried to mow in the early mornings before it got too hot. The night crawler thing only happened when we had watered the lawn and the pasture and at night after the sun dropped way behind Saddle Mountain in the west. We somehow managed the scheduling without any help from an electronic scheduler because we didn’t own a computer; they hadn’t been invented for regular Joes like us. We used the calendar that hung on the wall. And it worked.

Lessons learned—We learned many lessons, mostly that nothing was ever handed to us on a silver platter (my Dad’s words). We actually had to earn money. Granted, Dad and Mom still let us live in their house, eat their food, use many of the tools—the “in-kind” from our parents. But overall, we had to work our tails off to make things work. We could make money if we didn’t spend it all. Diligence and consistency were our allies. Probably, the most important thing we learned was when we worked together, we were a much better team. Fighting between us was always problematic, and we didn’t accomplish as much. I think I am a much better person because I learned how to work. I still get up early, work hard throughout the day, and try to be the best person I ought to be.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”

The following is the graduation speech I gave to the students from the Utah County Academy of Sciences (UCAS) recently. I have taken away all of the preliminary beginnings and gone straight to the speech. 80% of these high school students earned associate degrees from Utah Valley University prior to graduating from high school:

As your graduation theme states, “You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Christopher Columbus).

I have stood on the shore where Columbus built his first colony on his second voyage in 1493. It’s a little town called La Isabela, which is on the northwestern shore of the Dominican Republic. After this colony failed, Columbus and mostly others built Santo Domingo in 1496, which became the new capital of the Isla Hispañiola and has remained the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas.

Your graduation day signifies you had the courage to lose sight of the shore. Your shore was, is, and probably will continue to be in many cases your school district, your public school, some of your friends, and your families.  They are the ones, most likely, that brought you into this life, nurtured you, and helped you see your potential and pushed you probably more than you wanted. Then, a few years ago, you played the lottery, ended up here at UCAS, graduated recently with your associate degree, and now you sit before us all ready to graduate from high school. Many of you have battled the elements of English 1010, Math 1050 and other UVU courses, final exams, and, perhaps, being given grief to by some of your friends and acquaintances by choosing UCAS over one of your shores.

Much to our chagrin and our mothers’ anguish, all of us were born as obscure creatures, mostly hairless, helpless, and hapless and of “no consequence in the world” (Joseph Smith–History 1:22-23). Since that time, many of you have grown hair, some more and dyed in colors different than your parents have wanted; become helpful in positive ways; and have received some fortuitous wisdom along the way. What will matter most from now until the day you die is how you have risen from your initial obscurity to your status in the world–whatever that might be.

Your philosophy at UCAS is unique, one that I hope you have read and pondered: “The Utah County Academy of Sciences (UCAS) is a specialized, magnet public high school that provides an unconventional educational opportunity for high school students who are greatly motivated.”

Utilizing your philosophy and bit of my own that I have picked up along the way, I would like to share with you seven tidbits of knowledge that may help you gain more courage to lose sight of the shores but not to forget your roots.

#1 Remain unconventional—What does that word actually mean? Today’s verbiage or your cultural vernacular would say…idiosyncratic, unusual, unorthodox, odd, eccentric, different, individual, original, out there, bizarre, bohemian, off-the-wall, oddball, out of the ordinary, atypical, just to name a few. Some people call it being disruptive. Being unconventional and inventive and disruptive can lead you to places no one has ever been. Think about that. Some of you are 17 or 18, maybe even 19, but if you remain unconventional and inventive and disruptive—and a host of other positive adjectives—you will go where no other has gone. You will invent and create things not in existence today. You will create businesses that will blow the market wide open. Some of you will become some of the greatest people ever born. But ultimately, it’s really all up to you.

#2 Remain “greatly motivated”—Not highly motivated, the normal use of the phrase, but greatly motivated. Being greatly motivated takes a lot of energy. Will you ever be down, a bit distressed? I guarantee it. But should you become discouraged and disjointed? Never. Perhaps, you can be disappointed and then move on. Don’t wallow in what might have been, could have been, or even should have been. Just get up and get her done.

#3 Get over yourself—Some of you may be feeling right now: “Dude, like I’ve earned an associate degree before I even graduated from high school.” I can also tell you this feeling will last for a year or two, and then many people will catch up unless you get over yourself and continue growing and progressing. There really is no such thing as stagnation. Either you are progressing or retrogressing.

#4 Be a leader in everything that you do—Being a leader does not mean you bully your way to top. My approach has been “bold but not overbearing.” On my email signature, I have placed Rosalynn Carter’s quote: "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."

#5 Don’t become obsolete in today’s ever-changing marketplace— Becoming obsolete in the workplace can only cause pain and harm to you and your career, but learning how to be creative and inventive will propel you along the ever-changing path that will keep your head above the froth of life. Obsolescence does not become you.

#6 Be committed to important and appropriate things—Be committed to a higher power; to your families and your future families; to lifelong learning (so you don’t become obsolete); to every community you live in; to listening and communicating and not just via texting; to being aware you are the puppeteer of your own life; and to being the best, kindest, and most honorable person you can be or your parents expect you to be or think you already are.

#7 Remember that knowledge is abundant but wisdom only comes from the appropriate application of that knowledge. Jaime Escalante, an incredible mathematics teacher whose teaching philosophy and life were portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, had a poster on his wall in his mathematics classroom that read: "Free, Free, Free—Knowledge!  Bring your own Containers.” You have to dig deep, gain that knowledge, and then apply it to real life. That’s gaining wisdom.

Most of us will never tell you to keep lose to the shore or lose sight of it or never to go out and explore. But there are always ways to maintain and enhance your foundation while simultaneously extending your reach like Columbus and many others have done. All of the knowledge in the world is out there….All you have to do is lose sight of the shore, bring your own containers, and fill them up, one at a time.

But most of all—yes, most of all—go….explore….be inventive…remember from whence you came.….be courageous….and ultimately just do what needs to be done!