Friday, March 27, 2015

One Last Time

Earlier this week, 149 people boarded a Germanwings Airbus headed from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, Germany. None of them, including the pilot and flight crew, had any idea that it would be their final flight--their last trip anywhere. The co-pilot locked himself in the cockpit and intentionally steered the plane into the French Alps killing everyone on board, including himself. A horrific tragedy, yet one that leaves us with some sobering thoughts.

How many "last times" have you had in your life? How many more will you have?

Some "last times" celebrate victories, like--
  • The last diaper change because your son's finally potty trained.
  • The last cap and gown you purchase because all your kids graduated.
  • The last college exam because you earned your degree.

Other "last times" are a little emotional--
  • The last time your son sleeps in his bedroom down the hall because he's getting married tomorrow. 
  • The last time your father drives a car because you had to take his keys away.
  • The last time you kiss your mother goodbye.
Little did the families of the Germanwings passengers know when they dropped their loved ones off at the Barcelona airport that it would be the last time. And, the families waiting in Dusseldorf for their return didn't have a "last time" to welcome them home.

Wouldn't the world be a softer, kinder place if we lived every day as if it was our last? The Psalmist said, "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). We're not guaranteed tomorrow, but here we are, alive today--one more day to walk in wisdom.
Whatever you do today, it may be the last time. Do what you can to make it last.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Taking the Bite Out of Rejection

Nobody wants to be rejected. It opens the door to discouragement, defeat and low self-esteem. Rejection can become the ultimate dream-killer for a person who hinges his success on someone else's nod of acceptance.

Did you know that Agatha Christie experienced five years worth of rejections before a manuscript was accepted. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series) was rejected twelve times; and Louis L'Amour heard "no" two hundred times before he heard "yes" from a publisher.

Rejection gives us three choices: (1) Give up. (2) Try again. (3) Improve. One publisher rejected the first 100 pages of Peter Benchley's book Jaws. Benchley started over from scratch and ended up selling 20 million copies! He chose door number three.

Recently I've become intrigued with the television show "Shark Tank" - where fledgling business people and entrepreneurs present their ideas/inventions before a panel of five "sharks" in hopes of luring them to make an investment for a percentage of their business. The risk of rejection is pretty high. Not only is the risk high--if the idea is rejected, it takes place before an audience of millions. As if that's not enough, the shows are taped and rerun for the enjoyment of those who lick their chops over rejection left-overs.

The sharks are "self-made million/billionaires" who are ready to pounce on what smells like a lucrative opportunity. The testimonials that are shown periodically certainly indicate that those who are fortunate enough to land a deal really do fare well, thanks to the financial backing, experience and influence of the Shark. However, each investee who enters the Tank takes the risk of being humiliated by public rejection.

Someone said, "Rejection is an imperative test of one's character." Do we give up quickly and skulk away, crushed by words of criticism? Or, do we build on those words and make necessary adjustments to become the best person we can. A mentor once told me there are two types of criticism: Deserved and Undeserved. She said when receiving deserved criticism, take it to heart and learn from it. "But," she continued, "If you receive undeserved criticism, don't reject it. Instead, search for the tiniest tidbit of truth and do what you can to improve."

Shark Tank admittedly exudes more entertainment than it does education. However, some valuable lessons about rejection have emerged from the Tank:

  • Cocky people don't get deals. The sharks can be as snarky as they want; but, if they sense cockiness from an investee, they back off. Like the young arrogant guy who told the sharks he expected them to work as many hours a day as he did. Or the woman who constantly pushed back as the sharks tried to give their input about her clothing design. Who wants to work with an arrogant, unteachable partner? The sharks don't.
  • Don't give up. In one of the earlier seasons of Shark Tank, a man was turned down because, although his idea was great, he didn't have enough information about the business end of his venture. He reappeared on the show a few seasons later and told the sharks, "When I was rejected last time, I walked out and held my head high, but I took your advice and worked on my numbers." He began to rattle off percentages and dollar amounts that were so impressive, four of the sharks ended up fighting each other for a piece of the action. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, "Failures are fingerprints on the road to achievement."
  • If you don't believe in yourself, neither will anyone else. A few times, the sharks have made deals with people simply because they were impressed with the person's enthusiasm over their own product. A teenager who created a cosmetic product and started a fledgling business was mildly mocked by one of the sharks because of her youth and inexperience. After four rejected her request, the last shark standing grabbed on to her enthusiasm and sealed a deal. "I really like your product," he explained, "but more than that, I'm impressed with you and your attitude. I'm going to make you a millionaire." And, he did!
  • Pressure is healthy. Imagine the tension of standing in front of a panel of potential investors with television cameras pointed at your face. On top of that, the sharks are peppering you with questions about your sales, gross profit, purchase orders, marketing strategies and other staggering subjects, expecting you to have it all memorized and ready to recite at the drop of a hat. The sharks want to see if a potential partner will fold under pressure. One nervous woman did fold, crying as she explained, "I'm just a housewife, you know. How can I do justice to this business when I also have to manage a house and a family?" The sharks swam the other way.
The chances of you or me appearing on Shark Tank are pretty slim. But, the chance of us wading through the shark tank of life are pretty definite. Learning lies in the midst of rejection. We can do a "dead man's float" and let the waves of discouragement control our destiny. Or, we can accept the learning curve and swim to success.

Every one of life's bites carries a valuable lesson. I think it's worth being bitten, don't you?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Age of Irrelevance - Part One

In the movie Ocean's Eleven, Reuben Tishkoff makes a deal with shyster Willy Bank to go in half in building a casino. Danny Ocean warns Reuben not to make the deal with Bank, but Reuben responds, "Danny I gotta do dis!" Of course, Bank turns the tables on Reuben and coerces him out of the investment he made. As a result, Reuben slips into a serious bedridden depression, rendering him pretty much useless.

When Danny confronts him about what he did to Reuben, Bank replies, "He's old. He's irrelevant. Let him roll over and die."

The movie is pretty funny, and in the end Bank gets his. However the Reuben vs. Bank vs. Ocean segment is pretty eye-opening.

Who determines when a person has become irrelevant?

An attractive, talented young woman in her 30s lamented that she feels she is no longer needed, convinced that the ship of opportunity has sailed as a younger generation pushes her into irrelevance.

A man in his 50s is a musical genius. However, he has been relegated to working with senior citizens because he is considered too old to capture the more modern styles of music. Now, instead of flowing in his natural giftings, he is forced to function in an area where there may be a need, but passion is lacking.

When did man assume the responsibility of putting a cap on God-given gifts? Some people cap themselves when they become convinced they are no longer relevant, as they glide through a passionless life. Others listen to age-biased, self-serving Willy Bank-type people who squeeze whatever value they can out of a person and then toss the peelings to the side. God never caps His gifts. He grows and inspires and perfectly connects the gifts to the needs.

I'm not going to share my exact age; however, I will admit that I am enjoying the benefits of Medicare. At my senior age, I lead the young adult class at our church. Currently, we are studying the book Experiencing God - Young Adult Version. The book takes the readers through the process of making important decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. When I first started reading the book, panic almost set in as I realized nearly all of my life-affecting decisions have already been made and I am now living the consequences (good and bad) of those decisions. My class, on the other hand, is just at the threshold of facing those important decisions, and I have the privilege of walking through the process with them.

The class doesn't judge me for my age or stodginess, and I don't look down on them for their inexperience and immaturity. We have a mutual respect for one another. They know I love their excitement and energy; and I know they appreciate my wisdom and experience (and my scrumptious brownies). They feed my "I gotta do dis!" passion and I feed their "You better do dis!" need.

Maybe it's time for those who feel they are irrelevant to put the "I gotta do dis!" passion into gear and start making tracks. After all, they've been around the block a few times. And, if the GPS isn't working for them, they can always rely on the good old-fashioned folded paper map to find their way. It's all relevant, isn't it?