Legacy

Photo of Bob Isaacson.
Photo copyright ©2015 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?

I have previously written about heroes and role models. One of mine recently passed away. Bob Isaacson. He was 80 years old.

Like many of my friends, I knew Bob from work. Bob was a ventriloquist. He was a staple at the Vent Haven ConVENTion, an annual gathering of ventriloquists from around the world. He was beloved by everyone who knew him.

One of Bob’s joys every summer was to be the Emcee for the Junior Open Mic event at the convention. Occasionally, he would perform as part of his time on stage. But, primarily, he saw his role as supporter of the latest generation of young people learning the art and craft that he loved. He took his role seriously. One aspect he was known to work especially hard at was to pronounce each person’s name correctly as he introduced them. Bob saw this as an important part of showing respect.

Everyone who has met Bob has their own story of why he is so special to them. To me, Bob embodied the term, “statesman”.

Merriam-Webster defines statesman as: a wise, skillful, and respected political leader. If you remove the word, “political” from that definition, you have a perfect description of Bob: wise, skillful, and deeply respected.

Bob was always eager to sit and talk with anyone at any skill level about the art and craft of ventriloquism. He would tell stories from his experience. Then, what made him unique, he would turn the conversation around to you, offering words of encouragement and gentle guidance. Bob had a knack for treating you as the most important thing in the world to him at that moment.

The other word that comes to mind when I think of Bob is, “gentleman”. While I have no knowledge of whether Bob comes from noble birth, he always conducted himself with the spirit of a true gentleman. Again, from Merriam-Webster, “A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior.” He was truly a gentle man.

Much of Bob’s influence was through his skills on stage. He brought laughter to many. But, as strong as that was, his impact off stage was even greater than on. Bob showed me what it looks like to be a kind, loving human being.

That is a legacy worth leaving.

 

Time out

Photo of flags on a flagpole
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When is the last time you called a Time Out?

Like much of America, I’ve been watching a lot of football the past few days. It’s college bowl season. The concept of calling a time out struck me as something that has meaning far beyond football.

In football, the purpose of calling a time out is to give the team a chance to pause, reconsider their current strategy, revise it as needed, and sometimes just to give the players an opportunity to breath before the next play.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often one in which I call a time out – from work. It is a time to pause, reflect, and spend time with my family. Sometimes it is simply an opportunity to breath before launching into whatever is coming next.

When do you call a time out? Is your play clock running dangerously close to zero? Could you benefit from taking a moment to reconsider your current direction?

Give yourself a break. Call a time out. Then get yourself back into the game.

 

Shake It Off

Photo of polar bear shaking off water
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved

How long do you hold a grudge?

I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. This past weekend I watched them play against the New England Patriots. Coming into the game, the Steelers had already clinched the division title. They’ll be in the playoffs. This game was about locking in home field advantage. A meaningful game, but not all that critical in the grand scheme of things.

In the final minute of play, it looked like the Steelers had regained the lead with a touchdown pass. However, after a lengthy review by the replay officials, they ruled it an incomplete pass according to a relatively new rule specific to a pass that leads to a touchdown. The game ended with a Patriots victory.

There has been much uproar among my fellow Steelers fans. Many are still talking about it, stuck in what could (should?) have been.

Meanwhile, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team are heads down, preparing for the next game. They are not wallowing in the defeat. They are not endlessly whining on social media about how the new rule is stupid, or that it was a bad call by the officials. They are moving on.

I have seen this repeatedly while watching my favorite team play. There is a questionable call on the field, or in replay review. It doesn’t go the way I’d like for my team. I get all upset, jump up and down, scream at the TV. I am stuck on that previous play. And there is coach Tomlin, calmly standing on the sidelines, focused on the next play and the next.

How often do we get stuck when one thing does not go as we think it should? That sales proposal we put so much effort into is rejected. Someone cuts us off in traffic. We go for a cup of coffee only to find that somebody else took the last cup and didn’t make a fresh pot. We don’t get the raise or promotion we thought we deserved.

We can’t all have the calm demeanor of Mike Tomlin. We get wound up in the unfavorable ruling on the field, or in the office. We rant. We make a fuss. And while we do, other people around us are moving on, getting ahead.

Not every play is going to succeed. Not every ruling is going to go our way. Not every game is going to end in a victory.

How do you react when things don’t go your way?

How long does it take you to get your head back into the game?

Taylor Swift captured this concept in her hit song, “Shake It Off“. Whether you like her music or not, these lyrics are a great reminder to move on. Let others get stuck complaining. It is better to keep moving forward.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my mind
Saying it’s gonna be alright

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Focus forward. Stay on target. Shake it off.

Truth matters

Photo of soaring bird.
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How important is your integrity?

For me, it is a big deal. Integrity is everything.

Integrity is earned. It comes from repeatedly doing what you say you are going to do. It comes from telling the truth. It creates trust.

Truth, integrity, and trust go hand in hand.

These qualities have been ingrained in me since childhood. The most severe punishments I received as a kid were the result of veering away from these qualities. Telling a fib was simply not tolerated. Punishment for lying about something was far worse than for whatever it was you were lying about.

As a result, if you ask me a question, I feel compelled to give you a truthful answer. Being a magician, this has often caused me a fair amount of stress. Refusing to answer, “How did you do that?” is anathema to lying. Please don’t ask me, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” unless you want an honest answer.

A promise is a promise. If I say I will do something, I won’t stop until I have done it. Or, at least given it my best effort before admitting defeat. To do anything else is the same as lying.

My wimpy way out of this predicament has been to say, “I’ll try.” The Star Wars fans among you will immediately quote Yoda, “Do. Or, do not. There is no try.”

I feel for Luke in that scene. Avoidance of the word “try” is an ongoing challenge for me. If I say I will, then I must. “Try” provides the sense of having a bit of wiggle room.

Do you have friends who are compulsive liars? Liars can be annoying. Liars can also be great fun to hang around.

One of my lunch table companions in high school was well known for his stories. He could take the simplest occurrence from a weekend family trip and spin it into a complex, highly entertaining yarn. There was always the smallest seed of truth in the stories, which made it all that much more fun.

This particular prevaricator would never admit to stretching the truth. He would insist that it was all true. We were highly entertained by these wild stories and urged him on.

The stories were harmless. However, the side effect of this consistent pattern of exaggerating was that we never fully believed anything this storyteller said. He lost our trust.

(Nonetheless, I count him among a small group of dear friends from high school.)

The problem with even a single lie is that it instills doubt. How do you believe anything this person says once they have demonstrated a capacity for telling lies?

At one of my previous places of employment, a guy was fired after making a mistake that caused a major outage in our systems. He wasn’t fired for making the mistake. He was fired for lying about what he did. Mistakes we could learn from and move forward. Being a person we could no longer believe was not acceptable. Lying was a “pack your boxes, there’s the door” violation.

A reputation of integrity and trust takes a long time to establish, and only a moment to destroy.

It seems that, more and more, we are living in a world of outright lies and deception. The problem with this preponderance of lies is that everything is met with skepticism. A healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing. But, not when it becomes overwhelming.

Here in the US, our legal system is founded on a “presumption of innocence.” It used to be this way with truth. I would venture to say that most of us lived much of our lives with a “presumption of truth.” Now, it seems, we are shifting to a world where we assume we are being lied to, and truth must be proven.

This affects all of us.

We can turn this around.

Start in your own small circle. Let’s get back to speaking the truth. Not just try, do.

Truth matters.

 

Tides

Photo of beach sunset
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you ever spent an entire day at the beach?

You arrive early in the day, set up the beach chairs, plant the umbrella, and spread the towels. After lathering up with a good coat of sunscreen, you plop into the chair, crack open a book and watch the day go by.

Ah…

Thanks to my wife, I have come to love spending time on the beach. Writing this on a gray day in early December in Ohio, the draw of sunshine on a warm beach is especially appealing. My thoughts today are not about the sunshine, though, but about the waves.

There is something about the constant motion of the water that is incredibly soothing. And also a great metaphor for life and work.

Have you ever noticed the tides?

People often comment on “high tide” or “low tide” as if those are the peaks of activity or inactivity. If you’ve ever paid attention to the waves, you know that both high tide and low tide are when the water is the most calm. It is the in between times that the waves are the roughest.

And so it is with work.

I love work that comes in waves, or rather cycles of waves, like the tide. I love the onrush of a new project, the buzz of activity, the excitement of doing something new. And I love the lull at the completion of the project, the end of that cycle.

It is fun to play in the waves. And it is fun to float on the calm water.

What is not fun is when either of these goes on too long and you feel like the current cycle will never end. Riding waves is fun, unless they never end. Floating on the calm water is a nice break, unless the waves never kick up again.

Leaders must find a way to manage the flow. If the environment has no cycles, the leader must manufacture them. If it is always roiling waters with no calm periods, leaders must find a way to create periods of rest and calm. I can’t imagine an environment where it is always calm, with no waves, but if that is the case, the leader must manufacture ways to create waves.

If the environment is full of natural cycles alternating between waves and calm, the leader’s job is to remind people that whichever phase they are in at the moment will change. The leader needs to encourage people to keep going through the rough waters, ensuring and reminding them that calm waters are coming. Likewise, when people are getting stir crazy during long periods of excessive calm, a good leader will remind the staff of what is on the way.

Next time you go to the beach, pay attention to the tides.

Enjoy the waves. Enjoy the calm. They’re both important parts of the cycle.

 

Island of Misfit Toys

Image from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer
Image from Rankin Bass Productions. http://rankinbass.com

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when, as a kid, I was teased mercilessly about belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys.

I always knew it was coming. It would start the day after the annual TV broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer“. From that day on, until winter break, someone would ask me if I wanted to be a dentist. At least once a day. Every day.

Why? The other kids decided that I looked exactly like Hermie the Elf on that classic Christmas special.

I don’t know why. I don’t see the resemblance. Do you?

Photo of David as a kid.
David as a kid. Copyright restricted. Unknown photographer.

It bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be a misfit. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted. So I did my best to conform to the expectations of others.

In the show, Hermie also wanted to be accepted. The difference is, Hermie was not willing to compromise. He refused to become someone he was not, to be just like all the other elves. He insisted on being himself.

As a result, he was ostracized by his fellow elves.

Until…

Until he did something that was of direct benefit to them. Then, and only then, he was finally accepted by the rest of the elves for being his wonderful, fully individual, self.

Have you ever felt like you belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys?

It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? We prefer to fit in. We want to feel like we belong. We actively seek out groups that allow us to be one of the gang. If we can’t choose the group, we intentionally mold ourselves to fit in with whatever group we are a part of.

Guess what. People don’t win a prize for being “the most like everyone else”. (Although, we do award prizes for “most conformance to arbitrary expectations”. That is a different matter altogether.)

Take a look at those you most admire. Why do you admire them? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because they are the best at fitting in. No. We admire those who stand out. What we most admire about them are the qualities that make them different.

Lately, I have come to embrace my inner Hermie. It’s taken me a long time. Now I honor him for knowing who he was and what he wanted to be.

As I look back over my life, I realize I have unknowingly made many choices that put me onto the Island of Misfit Toys. When I got to choose the group, it was often a group of other misfits. Those are my people. From my group of friends at the high school lunch table, to the fraternity I joined in college, to the people I most enjoy hanging out with now, I have always been happiest when surrounded by fellow misfits.

Being different can be painful. It can be lonely.

Embrace it.

Come join me on the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s where the fun is.

 

Sticks and Stones

Photo of sticks and stones
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Say it with me… Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Depending on where you grew up, you might have a slight variation on the ending. Any way you say it, the point is the same. When people call us names or say something negative about us, we are to move on and not let what others say rile us.

Eleanor Roosevelt expressed this in a different way:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I recently heard someone use this adage in a presentation. What immediately came to my mind was an additional ending.

Sticks and stones may break my bones and words may never hurt me, but your silence is killing me.

For me, I can handle criticism. I can deal with people telling me where I need to improve, even when it is done in a less than kind way. But, I can’t handle silence. For me, no response is far worse than the most scathing review.

In the words of Jeff Dunham’s character, Achmed, “Silence! I kill you!” For me, it is silence itself that is the killer.

Have you ever given someone a gift and heard nothing from them? I’m betting you assumed they hated it.

At work, have your poured your heart and sole into a project, then when it was completed the only thing you got was your next assignment?

Have you sent a carefully crafted email to someone and received no response whatsoever? Have you posted something on someone’s Facebook wall and waited in vain for them to click “Like”?

Where does your mind go in the absence of a response?

We all crave feedback. Sure, we prefer that feedback to be positive. We prefer praise over criticism. But, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Why? Because in the absence of feedback, most of us assume the worst. Our inner critic shouts, “They hated it. That sucked. You really screwed up that time. You’re going to be fired.”

Maybe you did screw up. Maybe you did disappoint. But, then again, maybe you didn’t. It is difficult to know in the silence.

My first job was working in a bicycle shop. Every bike we worked on was checked over by one of the two bosses. They even double checked each other’s work. The best response you could get was, “OK.” Not, “Good job.” Not, “You do good work.” Nope. The best you could get was, “OK.” I came to shoot for that response as my goal. But, even that “OK” was better than silence.

Are you with me? Do you have this same reaction to silence?

I wish I had great words of wisdom to share as to how to handle the silence and resist the temptation to assume the worst. I’ve got nothing. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, all we can do is to pay attention to when others are looking to us for feedback. Do your part to share honest feedback with them. Be overt in your thanks and appreciation.

Give others the gift of your input. The silence is killing me.

 

Back to the Beginning

Photo of stage
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Where did you get your start?

I recently had the opportunity to go back to where it all started for me as an entertainer. I did a show on the first stage I performed on as a kid. Several people in the audience had even been there for that first appearance approximately 45 years ago. While this show was a solo performance, that first time I was one of many acts performing as part of a youth talent show.

If you’ve ever experienced a youth talent show, you know that the range of talent being shared on that stage was quite broad. That didn’t seem to matter. I remember that every act was met with enthusiastic applause. Every one of us was made to feel like a star. We were applauded – loudly – for getting up there and giving it a shot.

What I do now would not be possible had it not been for the encouragement I received then.

Being back on that stage in that environment was deeply moving for me. It brought back deep-seated memories. It drove home for me the love and support I have been blessed to receive in so many areas of my life. It reminded me that I would not be where I am now had it not been for the encouragement of a countless number of people along the way.

Who has helped you on your journey? Who has been there with a kind word at the very moment when you needed it most? Who has been there for you to lend a hand, to help you up when you stumbled? Who has been there to cheer you on along your journey?

Where would you be now had they not been there to cheer you on?

Like that early talent show, I’m betting that many times you have been applauded even when your act kind of sucked. But, because of that applause, you kept going. It gave you the encouragement to continue. Perhaps you’ve kept going to the point where it (whatever it is that you do) no longer sucks. You might even be pretty darn good at it.

What if you had not received the applause before your act deserved it?

What a shame it would be if you had stopped. How sad it would be for those who now benefit from what you do well.

Take a moment to remember those who have cheered you on and encouraged you, even at a point in your development when it didn’t seem justified.

Now it’s your turn.

Who needs to hear your applause? Who would benefit from your words of encouragement and support?

Cheer them on. Applaud loudly.

 

Judgement

How strong is your competitive spirit? Do you enjoy the thrill of victory? Do you agonize over defeat?

Competition can be good. It pushes us to go farther than we would on our own. It encourages us to improve.

But, it can also cause us to shut down, to give up, to stop trying. We see the competition, realize there is no way we could ever win, and think, “Why bother?”

I have several issues with competition in the traditional sense. The first problem with competition is that it involves rules. These rules are often arbitrary and typically based on what has already been done. They leave little room for true innovation.

The second problem is that competition is relative – relative to others and relative to that set of rules.

Combining these problems, my main issue with competitions is that they do not necessarily measure what is important.

Have you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters?  Great fun, isn’t it?

Who won? I’m betting you have no idea. And I’m betting you don’t care. Because the final score was not the point.

You won’t see the Harlem Globetrotters in the NBA playoffs. But, that doesn’t stop them from filling arenas.

Is winning your only measure of success? Being in it to win it is good. It forces us to take it more seriously, to work harder.

However, especially with a competition where the winner is selected by a panel of judges, winning is often subjective. Those judges may not be the ultimate target (consumer) of whatever it is that you are doing.

Who is on your panel of judges? Who are you allowing to determine whether what you are doing is good enough to win the prize?

As a performing artist, the only measure that matters to me is the connection with this audience, right here, right now. Did this audience have fun? Were they entertained? Did they laugh? Are they leaving the event in a better state of mind than when they arrived? Do they have a renewed sense of hope?

That is how I measure the success of what I do.

What is your measure of success? Look to the right judges.

 

Eyes Front

Photo of road leading to sunset.
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Keep your eyes on the road. Never look back. Eyes on the prize. We’re in it for the long haul.

There are so many cliched sayings on the topic of staying focused on our goals.

Why is it so hard to stay the course when pursuing a long term goal or dream?

I blame Amazon.

Thanks to Amazon, we expect 2-day delivery of nearly anything. In some cases, we can get 2-hour delivery. Or, if you’re willing to pay for it, some items will even be delivered in 1 hour. Quite a far cry from the way I grew up.

Have you ever purchased something on layaway? Does anyone still do that?

The last time I bought something on a layaway plan was 34 years ago – an engagement ring. (I could say, “and I’m still paying for it.” But, the reality is, it remains the best purchase I have ever made.)

How about saving box tops? Do you remember that? This was a common thing when I was a kid. By sending in the tops from boxes of cereal, along with a small amount to cover shipping and handling, you could get all kinds of great prizes.

I got my start as a magician with a trick I got in a box of cereal. Wheat Chex, to be exact. From there, I saved box tops to send away for a full-fledged magic kit. It required 6 box tops. Do you know how long it takes to save up 6 box tops? In our house, it was not a thing to buy 6 boxes of cereal at a time. And it certainly was not OK to open a new box until the current one was all gone. And, no, it was not OK to eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After collecting all of the required box tops, you had to mail them via standard US postal delivery, then wait 6-8 weeks for delivery of your long coveted prize. There was no such thing as overnight delivery. I remember checking the mail every day for the entire time in anticipation of the fantastic prize.

Would anyone do that today?

With instant downloads on the Internet, on-demand streaming of movies, and overnight delivery (or less) of nearly anything, we have been trained to think everything should happen quickly.

With that mindset, we get frustrated by how long things take. We think we should be able to achieve anything by next week at the latest.

I started my career as a software engineer. I used to work on projects that were measured in months, sometimes many, many months. Now when I launch into a new project on my website, I get frustrated when I don’t have it done before lunchtime.

In my current career as entertainer and speaker, I often get frustrated because things are not where I’d like them to be. Why is this taking so long?

Then I pause to look back and realize how far I have come. I watch video from events I did a few years ago and compare that with video from one I did last week. Wow! Maybe I am making progress. Maybe things are on track.

Are you feeling frustrated? Do you feel like you’re never going to get there? (Wherever “there” is for you.)

Try this. Take your eyes off the road. Do look back. See how far you have already come. Acknowledge your progress.

Now you can go back to eyes front. Eyes on the prize. Sure, it’s a long haul. Might as well settle in and enjoy the ride.

And once in a while, check that rear view mirror.