Tag Archives: success

Thanksgiving and the pursuit of excellence

I remember the sudden uneasiness that settled one day in the small, city fruit shop where I had my first job. A nearby deli had added a few fruits and veggies to their selection. My employers frowned constantly from that day forward, their faces showing the strain of worry. A month later, they announced their strategy: spying.

Today, competition is not only on the next street corner, it is on every computer screen in the world. When exposure opportunities are multiplied exponentially, is it possible to also multiply one’s competitive edge exponentially? More importantly, is it sane? What of the human factor, or rather human value? Is this not a crucial selling point?

Businesses spend thousands of dollars and much effort toward pushing the competition off the search engine top rung. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website. The higher and most frequently a site appears at the top of online search results, the more visible it becomes to a wider audience of potential clients and customers.

Those for whom this area of expertise is their joy and passion immediately see the possibilities and grasp the challenge. It is a game of words and wit requiring the analytical ability of the general who must plan the next move on the battlefield, foresee the next hurdle and envision the next goal all at once.

Meanwhile, business at street level remains rather simple. Meanwhile, also, business at street level often suffers. By “street level” I mean the interpersonal quality of the business experience as a whole.

Business at street level is about people. It ascends to the top by virtue of the integrity and availability of those who represent the product or service being sold. If you sell potatoes, using the word potatoes 100 times on your website, and in its individual page addresses, may very well bring you closer to the top of the list in web searches but, ultimately, it is how fairly they were treated when they walked through the door and how genuinely they felt they connected with you and your crew that your customers will remember. Then, they will tell friends, who will tell friends, who will tell friends, and so on. This, it turns out, is far more powerful than SEO.

SEO is impersonal. It is a great tool for building traffic, but not a good tool for building loyalty. The tool is not the problem; the real problem is intention.

Efforts to outdo the competition, online or otherwise, in business and in life, will always be a battle without end. Struggle for recognition is exhausting. This in turn affects the quality of everything we do. The pursuit of excellence, free of comparison with perceived competition, affects the quality of everything we do also. The difference is this: the first strategy spans from a desire to have more; the second one spans from a desire to be more.

Where does Thanksgiving fit in all of this? Intention. The Thanksgiving story endures because it is the story of people of diverse beliefs, cultures and goals coming together at the same table with the soul purpose of sharing in the moment, with gratitude. The spelling, soul, is intentional. We return to this table, symbolically, every year.

Competition is an old axiom rooted in the fear of not having enough if others share in the riches. When we focus on the fear of lack, it is not possible to be deeply thankful for what we have, what we do and what we have become. We then operate under the illusion that we are not satisfied yet. Others become a threat.

There must be a deeper dimension to thankfulness, one that extends beyond ourselves. We must be thankful, also, for the joy and success of others; thankful to the point of dismissing our fear of their success.

When we come to the table with our diverse perspectives and skills; when we share in a meal, shed our fear and begin sharing dreams, we also begin to inspire each other. More importantly, we realize that there is room for everyone. We walk away from the table replenished and uplifted. How often do we walk away uplifted after focusing on beating the competition? Never.

Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for all the ways in which you help create a gentler world and for all the ways in which you inspire others to do so as well.

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Of autumn leaves and asking the right questions

Back in June, I had a sudden epiphany about how what we chose to do, or not do, affects our sense of well-being, and I wrote an article about that. After paying attention to mood and productivity swings over several days (alright, over several months, maybe even years), I came to this conclusion: “… I’ve recently identified the three instances when I feel perfectly at peace, and quite uplifted actually: After a good conversation with someone positive, when I help someone and after I’ve completed a project I had been avoiding. And THIS, I know now, is the secret to happiness, since happiness depends not on outside circumstances, but on how we feel about ourselves.”

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There are hundreds of gurus out there who repeatedly warn us, in books, conferences or merely by example, that procrastinating is a) a self-fulfilling prophecy and b) harmful to the procrastinator more than to the avoided task. They break down for us the mechanics of procrastination and provide step-by-step, idiot-proof strategies to be rid of it. Everything they point out is true. Every trick they suggest beams with common sense. Most of us who choose to make the effort to change our ways fall back to old patterns before we reach the last page of those books we had promised ourselves would change our lives.

We know how to not put things off. Each of us can make a mile-long to-do list and pledge allegiance to it, our hearts filled with certainty and dedication. Still, we stumble.

There is another side to this. It arises with the notion, also proclaimed by many influential authors and gurus, and by accomplished entrepreneurs, that the secret to their success is this: “I followed my heart. If you do what you love, you will have success. You have to do what feels good.”

Following a passion is indeed a key to success, and by this I mean personal success. We need not become Fortune 500 executives to have success and we do not need an audience or recognition. Success is an internal feeling, a personal stepping stone, or rather a series of stepping-stones. We know, we feel it, when we get there. That’s enough.

Success is incremental and it begins with choice. When we ask, “What would feel good?” or “Where is my bliss?” we miss part of the equation. It is as though a master gave this formula to his students, hundreds of years ago, and some of the words he spoke then were lost over time, and now the lesson is incomplete. This is why we do not know how to apply the “follow your bliss” method.

Making things, art, is part of my bliss. Yet I get stumped. Even as a hermit with little interaction with the world outside of my work and home, I can find hundreds of distractions from the task at hand. Take these new leaf pouches, for example. I started working on this new design well before foliage season. I just felt stumped every time a prototype did not turn out quite as I envisioned, so I found excuses to avoid this, convincing myself that I was following my heart by allowing more time to pass, but this only added guilt to the equation. Then it hit me…

The profound and more accurate question to ask, every time a task or choice is at hand, is not, “What would feel good now?” It is, “What would make me feel good about myself?”

I’ve played with this new strategy over the past several days and I am stunned. The moment I decided to ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” putting this aside was no longer an option. Not only that, but something shifted, a burst of certainty boosted my confidence. I finished two leaves in a few hours, and the outcome exceeded my own expectations.

Approaching the daily to-do list with this new question (whether the list is merely a thought or we actually put it on paper), changes everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then choose to watch just one more TV show before getting back to a project that truly impacts your life. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then eat an entire pizza to comfort insecurities. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and avoid a career move that could change everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and ignore a neighbor who needs help. And I suspect that you cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and then take anything from someone else or cause any harm.

Precisely. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then take anything from or cause any harm to yourself.

This does not mean we avoid restful and playful interludes, or special treats, at all cost and it does not mean we never get angry or sad either. It means we sharpen our ability to map a constructive and satisfying course.

The new Leaf Gift Pouch is available at Ornament Studio.

Related Article: Why we feel like crap