Life Lessons Learned The Hard Way

Geico is always saying that 15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance. I’m going to boast that by skimming through this list of life lessons you will find at least one good idea you can use—and it will take less than 15 minutes to do it. 


One of the many things I learned from my late friend Sunshine is that we can’t blame our past for our present failures. Sunshine would always say, “You think you had it rough, I was abandoned as a baby and bounced from foster home to foster home. I was widowed three time. My home burned to the ground with everything in it. Still, I believe in abundance, possibilities, and owning my failures and my successes.” What she said.


Not everyone is a morning person, but most successful people are. The truth is, if we don’t do what’s most important by lunch, there’s a good chance we will not do it at all. Also, by doing the worst first (or first things first) we can leave the little stuff to do later in the day and end on a high note by checking off a bunch of easy tasks from our to-do list.


When we don’t know what we don’t know, we won’t grow—and eventually will end up looking like an idiot. It’s actually a show of strength when we can admit we don’t know something and be open to learning it from another person. 


“You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Ricky Nelson sang these words in the song Garden Party, and they still ring true. You can’t live your life trying to please others. Trust me, I’ve tried and failed. It’s so freeing to let go of worrying what others will think of us, or living beyond our means (in time and money) to impress others. Let it go.


If we’re going to do something, we should do it right. Attention to detail isn’t always noticed by others, but sloppiness is. Sure, some things just need to be done quickly, but triple checking we did it right, doing a little something extra to polish it off and stand out, and caring about quality is the difference between good and great. 


The things we use the most should be within the easiest to get access, while the things we need the least can be stored our of reach. Whether you like to leave things out or store your stuff away, if you can find what you need when you need it, you’re organized in my book.


We should surround ourselves with people smarter than us. Better than us. More connected than us. More experienced. Older, and younger than us. Then we need to give to get. Think of it like a checking account. We begin with a zero balance. To build up equity we must do something for the other person first. Only then can we ask for something in return.


If my house were on fire I would grab my wife and kids, my computer, and my idea book—it’s that important to me. Having a place to store good ideas is one of the best pieces of advice I could give someone with vision, ambition, and a desire to be on Shark Tank someday.


In the song, Limelight by Rush they sing, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” If you decide to not brand yourself, someone else will. Decide who you want to be and then live that brand with your words and actions. Dress the part, make your voice mail recording, e-mail signature, social media all match that message.


It’s so simple, treat others how we would want to be treated. This is the secret to being a people person. Everyone wants to be respected and made to feel important. Nobody wants to be be taken advantage of or marginalized. Remembering and using people’s names, listening intently, saying thank you, offering praise when appropriate, and making others feel important goes a long way to winning them over.


No matter what we do for a living, we should be finding ways to do what we do better. It doesn’t have to be giant leaps of insight and big ideas, just making small, continuous improvements over time (compound innovation) makes a big difference.


I have a lot to say about this subject, but I’ll limit it to three main points. The first is, the people we see doing brave things were often afraid, but pushed past it. Our lives grow only as far as we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Susan Jeffers said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I agree. Second, the only time I’m afraid to go on stage and speak to a large crowd is when I am not prepared (which is never, by the way). Practice, prepare, and then push yourself. Third, just say, “Yes!” The more we look before we leap, the harder it is to step off the cliff. Trust me, I know. In Hawaii, when I jumped off of some seriously high cliffs, I always offered to go first.


I have found that the easiest way to simplify things (especially when it comes to decisions about what to do or not do) is to always choose to do the right thing.


We’ve all guessed on a test and then later came back to revisit the question only to change it to something else so it’s not just a good guess. Ha! That change is usually wrong. Our first instinct and gut reactions are usually right. 


Having coached baseball, football, and basketball I’ve come to learn that success comes when we slow things down. Don’t get me wrong I want a fast baserunner, a speedy receiver, and quick point guard, but I’ve come to live by this mantra: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. How many times in life do we rush something and have to do it again. (Measure twice and cut once.) By slowing things down, we can actually save time. 


Some of us suffer from volunteerism. Others want to be people pleasers. And still more will say, “Yes” without thinking. Don’t be afraid to say, “No”. Many times a no to another person is a yes to ourselves. It’s okay to put family first and maybe miss out on going out. It’s okay to work on a personal project instead of trying to help others reach their goals. It’s okay to focus on fixing things in our own lives instead of trying to save the world. Know what matters most and focus on putting that first.  


I’ve been wearing a wrist band for months as a reminder to live in the now. It works. If I find myself feeling bad or mad or guilty about something that happened in the past (which I can’t change) I just touch the bracelet, take a deep breath, and move on. When I start to worry about what may happen in the future, I do the same thing. I know all I can control is what’s happening right now and that that is where happiness is found. 


Earlier in this list of things to do I mentioned knowing what you don’t know. I’d like to add to that. Learn what you don’t know if it’s important to you and involves your career. Try to be the most prepared person in the room. Since I create customized presentations, I often have to do a deep dive into a topic I know nothing about. By the time I step on stage, I can sound like an expert . . . for 30 to 60 minutes. 


What made the late Chris Farley so funny was his self-deprecating humor. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and find the funny in less-than-fun circumstances. Humor also has a way of diffusing serious and tense many situations.


If we want to make a change, it can’t be a complete departure from who we are. For example, let’s say we want to get organized. If we don’t take into account our natural way of doing things, we’ll just end up going back to our old (and familiar) ways. Instead, if there is a pile of stuff by the door, clearly that’s where we want it to go, put a basket or bin there. If we toss the keys on the counter when we come home, put a bowl there. 


Sherlock Holmes said, “You look, but you don’t see.” Meaning, most people miss a great deal, much to their detriment. Pay attention to the details, because details matter. 


I have almost died several times—surfing, diving, boating, cliff jumping, parachuting, off-roading, and the list goes on. One of the reason I didn’t die is I let myself go to the dark side and ask, “What if?” In advance of doing something stupid and dangerous. This is also helpful when I’m traveling to speak. I will ask, “What if they don’t have a Mac adapter?” “What if my laptop crashes?” “What if they forgot to print or bring my introduction?” This forces me to have backups of my backups and be ready for whatever may go wrong. It’s better to be looking at what you need than looking for it.


There’s so much to say on this topic, but I will just mention what I think is the most important part of being a good leader, and it is this: Lead by example. 


People . . . Whatta ya gonna do? People piss us off. People frustrate us. People disrespect us. People do us wrong. I have found that it’s okay to get mad, but it’s better to get even . . . by having success (it is the best revenge). It’s best not to burn any bridges. Instead, use the anger you feel to fuel your fire to succeed.


We should not send an e-mail or text when we’re emotional or drunk. Hit pause, let it sit overnight, and then decide if we should still respond. Enough said. 


In the old days, we could only instantly capture a special event in our lives with a Polaroid picture and view it right away. Now there’s no reason to miss a memorable moment. Ahhhhh, but we need to create memorable moments, and we do this by doing something exciting and new, making sure we are present and appreciate the small things, and go the extra mile to make points in time where people say, “Wow!”


My father would do things like take an old soda container, punch some holes in it, attach a hose, and voila, it’s a sprinkler. I learned a lot from my father about how to be handy—and it’s served me well. They say, necessity is the mother of invention, and being handy is handy. Besides, with YouTube, we can learn to fix almost anything.


Don’t let one bad decision lead to another.


It’s not just what you make, it’s what you keep. There is no shame in getting something you want and need for the best possible price. From what I can tell, the wealthiest people can be some of the most frugal—which may explain their wealth.

KARMA IS A  . . .

If I ever stray from doing what’s right (which is very rare, and usually out of laziness) I pay the price immediately. Karma reminds me that the only thing to do is the right thing—or else there is a greater price to pay. It also works the other way, too. Do good and good comes back to you.


Einstein said, “If you put your hand on a hot stove, one minute will feel like an hour. When you are doing something you enjoy, one hour will feel like a minute.” That’s relativity. Pay attention to the things you are doing when time flies. There’s a good chance it’s what you should be doing more of—and it’s often also your passion. It’s far easier to focus (and focus is the key to everything) when you love what you do.


Think big, but start small. When people ask me how to promote a book, I always reply that it’s like dropping a pebble in a pond. The first ring is  family and friends—promote to them first. (It seems like a small thing, but it could lead to a big break because you don’t know who they know.) I also say, “Think global, but start local.” Start with where you live and then work your way out from there. I guess with social media we can go global right away.

Life Lessons Learned The Hard Way

Dear Father

It was 13 years ago almost to the day that my dad died. I wrote this song (with the help of Danny DiCarlo and Wayne Duncan) and we recorded it and performed it at my father’s celebration of life. 

In addition, I wrote a long letter to my dad in his dying days which my mom read to him. It was one of the best things I ever did. I loved my dad, respected him, and learned a lot from his example, and I wanted him to know that—so I told him in my own way. 

This song is a tribute to my dad (and all of our dads). The song literally wrote itself. It came to me all in one sitting. (Danny DiCarlo later added a bridge and Milton Krasner suggested a slight change, but other than that, it’s exactly how I heard it in my head.) It’s the only time that’s happened to me as a songwriter.

Here’s the music video:

Dear Father

Respect Yourself

I walked past a window the other day and saw my reflection and I did a double take. Who is that guy? (I don’t mean it in a good way.) I don’t always see myself exactly how I am . . . until I look in a mirror or see a photo of myself—or do a Zoom call.

This is nothing new. There is how you see yourself, how others see you, and how you want others to see you. It would be great if all three of those perspectives were in alignment. 

In the last softball game I played in I beat out an infield grounder and the first baseman said, “Your really fast . . . for a big guy.” No respect. And that’s my point. People do judge a book by its cover and if the cover is tattered, tarnished, or tacky, that’s how people perceive us.

I’m going to focus on how I want others to see me and if I’m right, it will help bring how I see myself and what others see together. If I don’t respect myself, how will I gain the respect of others. (I’ll probably only wear black from now on since it’s thinning and hides stains.)  

Respect Yourself

Peer to Peer

I cried like a baby. Alone in my office, late at night, watching The Kennedy Center Honors. There was Aretha Franklin singing, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, a song penned by Carole King—who was the one being honored. What made me so emotional? Seeing a songwriter and a singer both being recognized by their peers as exceptional made me realize it’s that kind of respect I crave, too. I know how that sounds, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way. No matter what you do, don’t you want others who understand (and who matter) to acknowledge you and your work?  

I love what I do and even if nobody noticed, I’d do it anyway. I also really appreciate it when readers, listeners, and audience members take the time to write me a nice note. Still, one of my proudest moments ever was winning the Theodor S. Geisel Award for having written the best book of the year in 2001. Why? It was the recognition (and respect) of fellow authors—who were the ones who chose my book as the best—that made it mean the most . . . and my parents were there to share the moment. More on that in a minute.

At The Kennedy Center Honors the recipients of the award sit in a balcony overlooking the stage, while other artists sing their praises—or sing their songs. Led Zeppelin beamed when Jack Black called them, “The best band ever. Ever!” Robert Plant weeped when Nancy Wilson (of Heart) nailed, Stairway to Heaven. Sting, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney (and many other honorees) got choked up while watching from above. It’s the same reason actors covet the Screen Actor’s Guild Award, it’s a peer-to-peer award.

So how does this apply to us and our work? I think we should strive to do work worthy of recognition—no matter how seemingly small or insignificant it seems—and master our craft (or job) through compound improvement (being a little better every day over time makes a big difference). We should share our successes with pride, but also with class. For example (I hope), my wife was just recognized as HR Professional of the Year from Nordstrom. When others notice our hard work and accomplishments and give us a compliment, we should simply accept it with modesty, but without the, “Ah, it was nothing.” Lastly, we should expand our network of peers and win others over one interaction at a time.

Now back to the story about my big night at the book awards show. I was seated next to my dad (with my mom one seat over from him) at a table in the big banquet hall and I was admiring my award as the winner for the best book in my category, Best Business Book of the Year. I was so proud. The night was wrapping up and all that was left was the announcement of who would win the Best Overall Book of the Year and recognized as the top author of the year. My dad and I were chatting about our boat when the winner was announced. The emcee called the name again. It was my father who said, “Son, I think they just called your name.” I would later learn that he told anyone and everyone that would listen (and even those who wouldn’t) about my big win. It meant so much to me (and him).      

Carole King / Aretha Franklin: Zeppelin / Ann Wilson:

Peer to Peer

Quick Tips to Live Better

On Twitter, I’m tweeting a series of suggestions to make life easier and better. It’s a combination of shortcuts and suggestions to save time and money. Some examples are:

1. If you have seat warmers in your car, put the takeout food or pizza box on the passenger seat to keep it warm while driving home.

2. Before changing into your comfy cozy outfit for the night (or if working from home, for the day) throw them in the dryer to warm them up.

3. When cooking fish on a grill, lay the filet on a bed of lemons to give them flavor and keep them from burning.

4. When taking a photo, get on one knee and look up at your subject. This perspective improves most pictures.

5. Use the dishwasher to clean sweat-stained baseball hats, kid’s toys, rubber flip flops, and refrigerator shelves.

6. A cheap, plastic, folding book stand is perfect for holding your phone while watching a video. 

7. I used to hang everything with a nail or hook. Strong two-sided tape is so much easier. I still measure and use a level, but using mounting tape is a lot faster. 

There’s More on Twitter:

Quick Tips to Live Better

Different Perspective

One of the many thought-provoking things my late friend Sunshine Blake told me when I was interviewing her for a book about her life now seems relevant.

She mused that if society was set up so people were paid for their good deeds with credits they could use to acquire things, we’d be in better shape. Meaning, the more you helped others and made this a better world, the “wealthier” you became.

Instead of hedge fund investors becoming rich, it would be all those people who are out there helping us stay safe, keeping us healthy, and stocking and supplying us in these trying times.

Different Perspective

The Kindest Generation?

Nobody can argue The Greatest Generation is the greatest generation. These were the people who were born during the depression, fought in World War II and Korea, and built our country into what it is today. They sacrificed, and saved the world.

The largest generation today are the Millennials (also known as GenY). This group got a bad rap and were seen as selfish, entitled, and soft. Not true, and they are proving it every day.

This generation may end up being labeled The Kindest Generation after all this is over. Cheering on healthcare workers, staying home to keep others from getting sick, and doing kind deeds for those in need.

The Kindest Generation?

Meet The Founders

I’m Not Just The President

It all started with Hair Club For Men when founder Sy Sperling went on television and in commercials said, “I’m not just the President of Hair Club for Men, I’m also a member.” It seems like lately there has been a lot of founders featured in commercials.

Warby Parker Eyeglasses, Tommy John Underwear, and Shave Club For Men to name just a few. I think it’s great. If you watch “Shark Tank,” you’re probably rooting for the people pitching their ideas, and not the Sharks. We love to learn about people taking an idea or insight and creating a product or service that sells.

It could be that this is the time for us to start our own business or invent and produce a product. There are going to be a lot of opportunities ahead that include distance learning, staying sterile (germ free), and creating content for streaming services–plus many more, I’m sure.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” —Albert Einstein

Meet The Founders

For Appearances Sake

I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, and That’s Okay

From the start, social media allowed us to show off our best moments. That’s still the case, but I am starting to see and hear people post and share some of their struggles.

What I’m saying is, it’s okay to admit everything isn’t great. That we need help, and we’re worried about our health and finances. I believe there is less judgment now when it comes to losing a job, having trouble making ends meet, and scrambling to care for kids who are home from school.

Lately, we’re seeing people wait in long lines to get food to feed their family (often for the first time in their lives) and it’s hard to watch. But it’s something they simply must do. Hopefully now they don’t have to worry what people will say or think of them for having to ask for, and accept assistance.

For Appearances Sake