I have an asparagus fern named Lazarus.
Why did I name him Lazarus? I’ll tell you why.
I named him Lazarus because when I first got him for my batchelor apartment I was sometimes a neglectful caretaker.
I got the plant so there would be something alive in my apartment besides me. It came in a small green plastic pot about the size of a coffee mug and cost two dollars. It was a little green living thing and it kept me a kind of quiet company.
But, I was freshly separated from my wife and I used my apartment mostly as a place to grab a shower and change clothes. So this new little fern got overlooked, sometimes for days at a time.
Sometimes even longer…
Then one day I’d notice that I had a pot in my kitchen window full of dried brown sticks with a little bit of green still showing. I’d panic and water it and give it some plant food and do a little wishing that it wouldn’t die.
And amazingly, it would come back.
In a week or so there would be small tender green shoots with little soft needles on them, and with some (almost) regular watering the fern would gradually fill out.
Then I would cut the dead stalks out and it would become lush and beautiful.
Till a couple of months later when I would take off for a long weekend followed by some busy weeks at home, and more neglect. The thing is, giving Lazarus regular timely attention would only have taken a few minutes a week.
But I would forget, then I would notice that the fern was dead (except for maybe one or two green branches) and I would water it and feed it and pray a little and it would come back.
That’s why I called him Lazarus. Because he kept coming back from the dead just like the guy in the bible.
Lazarus, The Fern That Wouldn’t Die.
Lazarus has been with me for thirty four years, most of my adult lifetime.
This plant has been my mostly green companion through marriages, businesses and many adventures, good times and not-so-good times. He has been moved from house to house and city to mountains and back again.
He spent about ten years in the ground at one house, but for the last fifteen years he’s lived in a pot. Actually a series of pots, each one a little larger.
Now he is about to outgrow a pot that is two feet in diameter and about as high, and his whole setup weighs about forty pounds.
I have to prune his dead stalks at least once a year now. He (and I) have a little age on us, but we’ve been companions together for a long long time.
We’ve just moved him to a new home, in the high desert east of the Sierra Mountains. I watered Lazarus today out on our front porch, where he is adjusting to the hot summer days and the freezing autumn nights, and preparing for the coming winter snow. I don’t know if I’ll need to move him indoors or not. I figure he’ll let me know.
In the three and a half decades that this fern has been with me I’ve been through many of life’s changes — parenthood and loss of my own parents, changes in mates and friends and jobs, and the seasons of a lifetime.
At this point you may be wondering, why am I taking my time (and yours) to tell you about a geriatric house plant?
See, Lazarus isn’t a redwood tree that will live for centuries and neither am I. We’re not gonna be here that long. So it’s important to notice the elements that surround us in life and take what learning is offered.
I’m telling you about Lazarus because I’ve learned something precious from him.
The lesson that Lazarus has taught me (and perhaps you too) is that where there is attention there is life. And where there is neglect things begin to die.
What is not attended to in our lives will shrivel up. These things might be relationships, plants, projects, or our own personal growth practices.
And yet, even when something has been neglected almost too long, there is hope that with attention you may encourage it to come back into bloom.
I’ve learned from Lazarus never to give up on something because it may be “too late to do anything”.
I’ve learned that there is a divine spark of life that comes from somewhere outside of us. And it’s in us too. It just needs a touch of acceptance, of attention. Valuable things in our lives have a will to live, to forgive neglect and to grow new shoots, new ideas and inspirations.
I invite you to think about it. Might there be something like Lazarus in your life that could use a little fresh attention? Only takes a few minutes a week to save something and maybe enrich your own life.
Here’s a tip you can learn from a client of mine without going through his pain. Or mine.
Let’s call him “Mike”.
Mike had a deal go sour and it ended up in arbitration. They came up with a settlement that they both signed but the other guy wasn’t keeping up his side.
Mike and the other guy had been old friends.
Their kids went to school together and their wives were on the same charities.
So they saw each other regularly at charity events and school functions. Mike was pretty ticked off, and wanted to blast his former friend at one of these gatherings.
And that reminded me of an experience I had back when I was running a manufacturing plant. Well, actually it was a hassle but now that I look back on it I can see it as a useful lesson.
And maybe it’ll be useful to you also.
It can show you a way to deal with difficult people, and a way not to.
Back to when I ran a small high tech company.
A man contacted us and said he had a new idea for a product that we might be interested in making. He wanted to meet me to discuss it.
I agreed to the meeting.
Since we would be discussing his idea and perhaps some of our trade secrets in manufacturing I sent him our standard non-disclosure agreement.
This agreement allows two people to share secrets, but prevents either side from using them apart from the other party. It’s to stop one side from “going around” the other.
He refused our form and sent us his form instead.
Our attorneys took a look at his form and wouldn’t let me sign it.
They warned me that it contained so many “bear traps” and setups for penalty that it would be dangerous to even talk with this guy if I signed his form.
I wrote to him explaining this. I said that I would be happy to meet with him under reasonable protections, but that his form would penalize me even for using information after the meeting that was common knowledge.
So we didn’t have the meeting. I wished him well and forgot about him.
Later at a trade show, while I was discussing our products with a customer, this guy showed up and made a nuisance of himself. He claimed — loudly — that we tried to rip him off for his idea.
I got hot under the collar, told him in front of my customer that he was “full of it,” and sent him away.
Although I was in the right, my hot reaction chilled my customer. It probably cost me much of the business I might have done with this guy.
I warned my client Mike about my experience.
I told Mike that even though the guy told lies about me at that trade show, my hot-tempered response when I blasted him back had turned off the customer who witnessed my outburst and it cost me a profitable relationship.
What I wished I had said at that trade show was this:
“Hey, I’m sorry you’re disappointed that we didn’t do business – so am I. My lawyers wouldn’t let me sign the agreement that you sent me, and you didn’t want to sign the more conventional agreement that we sent you. So we didn’t meet and no one got hurt. I know that you and I had a disagreement and I apologize for my part in it. I respect you, and would like it if we can part as friends so maybe we’ll get a chance to work together in the future.”
That would have worked out a lot better than my blast did.
And the customer that I had been talking to might have thought, “Wow, Tom’s a reasonable guy even when there’s a disagreement. Sounds like I could work with him.”
In any event, I’ve learned that a sincere “I’m sorry things didn’t work out” isn’t the same as taking the blame for something. It shows respect for the other person’s discomfort and its not focused on conflict or making someone wrong.
So I told Mike this story from my own past and he did what I wished I had done.
The next time Mike saw his old friend he took this attitude. He told him that he was sorry they were in disagreement. He said he would like to work things out to both of their satisfaction, since they had been friends and were in the same community.
Mike concluded with, “Just because we can’t do business together doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends and neighbors, does it?”
A friend of mine who was at the charity lunch where this took place told me what happened next.
“The other guy’s face got red,” he told me. “He shook Mike’s hand and thanked him for his courtesy, and said that his wife and Mike’s wife had wanted them to get together before this, and that now he would do so gladly.”
“It’s funny,” my friend said to me. “Mike was the one who apologized, but he seemed to come out of it as the winner to those of us who saw it.”
So consider expressing your regrets sometimes, NOT because you were at fault, but just to recognize that the other party may have some regrets also.
By being honest about your regrets you may open up space for another relationship, if not with that person then perhaps with another who sees how generous you can be.
Here’s the big lesson. There are three phrases that only confident people will use freely.
“Please. Thank you. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
Consider where these expressions of respect for others would be appropriate for you. They soften relationships.
Here it is. I’ve been around a lot and have learned quite a bit.
Even as “smart” as I am, occasionally it takes the Universe a LOT of work to get me to see an important lesson.
In other words, sometimes I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Once in a while I get so focused picking up a coin from the ground that I brush diamonds out of my way without even noticing what I’m missing.
In this case, I was overlooking something that could make a huge difference in YOUR life, YOUR business, and YOUR relationships.
Fortunately for me, that’s when the Universe steps in.
I was working on an article – rewriting it actually. It was an article that basically listed the things I’ve learned about living during a long and adventurous life.
Seemed simple. Just type out what I know so others can benefit without having the dramas that have made my life so “interesting”.
I wanted to share the things I’ve learned in a life that included being a teenaged cowboy, military service, work as an undercover agent, a successful inventor, a serial entrepreneur and a happily married grandfather (with a couple ex-wives as friends).
It’s taken 40 plus occupations and what feels like half a dozen lives.
I thought if I could save someone else a black eye or a business failure or a lost relationship, why not?
Then I began to work on teaching others HOW to get these attitudes and behaviors into their lives.
Boy. There’s a helluva difference between “what” and “how”.
I set out to take a half century of learning life’s secrets the “hard way”, and turn it into an “easy way” to get these Tips and Rules of Thumb.
In over my head. Again.
But the most important thing I’ve learned is – don’t quit. Ever. So I kept at it, and I’ve discovered several things that I want to share with you.
The first important thing I’ve discovered while trying to make these principles easy to understand — is that they are not just “philosophies” or wise sayings.
They are the basic Rules for successful living. Physically, financially, emotionally socially and spiritually.
That’s a big claim, but if you try these on and judge from your own experience here is what you will find:
1) These principles will lead you to peace of mind.
2) And more health and energy.
3) You will confidently pass through life enjoying each day and appreciating the others around you.
4) These principles will make it impossible for you to fail in business. Like the casinos in Las Vegas, you suddenly have the “House Odds” of the Universe on your side. You are “favored” to win your endeavors. It may look like “luck”, but it’s not. It’s the force of Natural Law on your side.
5) You will get along better with others. And with yourself.
These principles are the basic Rules of Success and Happiness. And they actually strengthen and support each other. They build on each other.
Things get really easy – it’s downright spooky how easy – when you apply these principles.
I just learned them over such a long period of time that I didn’t really make the connection about how easy things got as I crossed some sort of critical threshold of knowledge.
There are a number of ways to get this knowledge.
1) Anyone can learn these secrets in maybe 20 years if they pay attention. It took me about 50 years, but I was frequently not paying attention, being too “busy”.
2) Depending on your learning capacity, you may need to make some pretty disastrous mistakes. And survive them. I tended to do lots of things the hard way, and that provided me with plenty of opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I made a LOT of them.
3) You would also need to read a lot of books. I’ve read thousands. Or you might REALLY study the Bible or some other world scripture. And understand it. It’s mostly all been said, by people a lot wiser than me.
The most important thing I’ve discovered is that these Principles ARE teachable, in a lot less than 20 years and without the pain and adventure that it took me.
And the most thrilling thing I’ve learned is that — due to sheer good fortune and the persistence of a glacier, I am discovering how to deliver these secrets so that they are easy to get and put to use in your life.
It only takes a few minutes a day – or a week – depending on how interested you are in changing your life.
It doesn’t have to take you 50 years or more.
I’m here to make sure it doesn’t. I’ll tell you more tomorrow.
P.S. If you don’t want to wait, if you’re impatient, you can learn some more here.
Uh oh. Another holiday letter. If you throw this away unread you won’t miss much. Just my story about how Martha Stewart screwed up our holidays awhile ago.
We’d had a great year, actually. Our son Jared (then a teenager) and I didn’t drive each other or Vikki from the house. My business and Vikki’s psychotherapy practice did well. We entered the holiday season full of good cheer and ready to rock the Christmas Muzak and roll out the Holiday greetings to our friends and family.
Then Vikki saw Martha Stewart on TV. Martha showed this neat craft thing that she did by turning picture frames into artistic serving trays. We decided to make a team project out of it and surprise all of our family members with these specially decorated trays.
The project destroyed our holiday season. We worked horrendous hours and I cursed Martha during every one of them. The project seemed innocent at first, but then it got complicated.
It began with the requirement to make picture frames from molding.
Have you ever had to measure and cut 45 degree angles on molding? So that the pieces would fit together? Exactly?
I can’t even use a paper cutter to cut evenly.
So I figured I’d automate — great excuse to go power tool shopping. I decided to buy and learn to use an electric compound miter saw. Good idea, except they come in a pretty big box. I tweaked my back trying to put the crate into our back seat. So before we even start, I’d crippled myself. The resulting pain pill haze makes remembering the whole experience less embarrassing, but also less clear. Probably just as well.
We live in a town house and there’s no room for a work shop in the garage. It’s pretty full with camping gear and suitcases, bicycles and gardening tools. So I had to cart the saw and the pieces of the project in and out of the garage whenever I wanted to work on it.
I worked outside — in our postage-stamp back yard — between rain showers (did you know that wet sawdust makes good garden compost … and floor cover?). In spite of the awkward working conditions I didn’t get shocked by the electric cord more than a few times, and I didn’t get hurt by the electric saw.
No, it was cutting the glass to fit into the trays that almost required a tourniquet. I’d never cut glass before — who would have thought glass was so fragile? It’s also slippery when you need to cut it with hands that are wet and numb.
Meanwhile Vikki turned our kitchen table into an art studio with paint and paper collages waiting for assembly or gluing or drying (or sometimes, repair). For weeks.
We had no lives. We didn’t do letters or cards. We didn’t give parties. We didn’t even decorate our tree till some friends took pity on us and came over and did it for us.
But when Vikki finished putting her art on my craft, I have to say the trays were beautiful. And we still loved each other.
Some of our relatives have the trays hanging on their walls as art. When I see them my back gives me a twinge, and I feel a little swell of pride. And Vikki still watches Martha Stewart, but with a cautious eye.
So in case you’re reading this, Martha, we don’t really blame you for our botched holiday; we DO wish you a Merry Christmas. I just have no business working on a crafts project. Vikki hasn’t made the same mistake since.
In life’s constant stream of experience we can usually find nuggets of meaning and humor, love and joy. It was true for us, and we pray that the year was, on balance, a blessing for you.
Of our many blessings, we are particularly grateful for the wonderful people that touch our lives. Your existence is a gift to us, and to many others around you. Take good care of yourselves and enjoy each other and the Holidays, and have a wondrous New Year.
The words we use either encourage us to be creative and optimistic or they shut us down, give us a smaller view of possibilities, and weaken us.
The words we use define our personal reality to ourselves as well as to others, and they have a very real effect on what we allow ourselves to think. The words we use are the way we tell ourselves what we deserve from life.
Have this ever been said to you? “This is a good idea, but –”
Get it? When I said “This is a good idea” you were probably sorting for some time when you got complimented on an idea.
Then I said “but –” and you had to cringe a little.
We’ve all been taught that no matter what someone says, if they add a “but –” we know to brace ourselves, here comes the little twist that takes away most of the meaning from the beginning of the sentence.
Happens all the time, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that you and I would NEVER do that to others, yet people sure do it to us on a constant basis.
And what’s even more interesting, people do it to themselves! Just listen the next time a discussion comes up about what someone wants, for example:
“I’d like to lose weight, but –”
“I’d like a promotion, but –”
“We could go see your parents on Saturday, but –”
Interesting, huh? What follows “but” is almost always either something that wipes out a compliment, or an excuse for why people can’t get what they want.
So here’s a little tip for you. What happens to these sentences if we substitute “and” for “but”?
“This is a good idea, and –” Sounds like the idea may even be accepted, doesn’t it?
“I’d like to lose weight, and –” And here’s how I’m going to do it!
“I’d like a promotion, and –” And this is how I’m going to get it and why I’m worth it.
“We could go see your parents on Saturday, and –” And we can have dinner by the river on the way home, or we can stop at the new shop you wanted to see on the way there, or whatever alternative comes to mind.
“But” limits possibilities, and tells you what’s wrong and WHY you can’t do something. “And” includes more choices, and leads to thoughts of HOW you will do something.
They are the languages of two different worlds, two different ways of life.
Which world’s language do you prefer??
Which leads us to the next “little word.”
The problem with “why” is that it leads to “because.”
When you ask “why?” You are almost demanding a story that will explain “why” things are as they are. And you’ll answer that question with a story of why things are that way, whether they are really like that or not!
“Why are people such rude drivers?” — Because if I accept the assumption that “all people are rude drivers” I can complain and whine and be miserable instead of just dealing with the reality that some people don’t handle traffic pressures very well.
“I just don’t understand why you would want that –” — Because if you agree to explain why you want that and I don’t want you to have it and you can’t persuade me to accept your choices I get to control you.
“Why can’t I get a break?” — Because I already decided that I will never get a break, so I must be a loser.
The question “why” is useful to two year olds, and perhaps detectives on a case or scientists in the lab.
Not so much for adults.
You want to know what’s an even more useful word for most of us, most of the time?
The word is “how.” As in, “How can I create a break for myself?”
Or, “How can I best deal with a rude driver when I encounter one?”
Or, “How can what I want have any impact on you, and what can I do to ease that?”
Again, two different words from two different outlooks. “Why” invites you to accept whatever the stated reality is, and then demands that you make up a story that explains it.
Probably a waste of time, unless you get your jollies making up stories about unimportant stuff. “Why” turns our view to the past, looking for causes and for people to blame.
On the other hand, “How” is an action word. It looks to the future. “How” can I get what I want?” Or, “How can I mesh my desires with another person’s desires?”
Good question. And it leads you in a direction of action. And actions are the stuff of life.
Okay, here’s the next “bad boy” little word that shuts down thinking.
“I should have done it differently.”
“You should do it like they do.”
“What should I do?”
I want to express a big caution about this word because it comes so often from childish assumptions. We all have a parent’s voice in our heads, treating us like we’re still wearing diapers. And this word is surely a parent’s word, telling us what we “should” do.
“Should” and even worse, “should have” will make you miserable. They are the words of dissatisfaction and helplessness and regret and guilt.
Try this. “I could” instead of “I should.” Or “I want” or “I choose”. Even if you add the same ending, you get more power — more ADULT power, from saying “I could do it differently next time” or, “I want to be on time” Instead of “I should be on time” or “I shouldn’t be late”.
Think about the words you use — both to others and more importantly, to yourself.
Especially these three thought-stopping little words.
Okay, it’s the New Year and we’re still here.
You know, five years from now we may still be here, and there will be NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER in our lives — except for the changes that we choose and take action to create.
A smart guy once told me that if he ran into me five years in the future, the only difference in me would have come from the books I had read and the people I had known.
You might want to think about what you’ll read and who you’ll choose to associate with this year.
Just a thought…
This article deals with time, which is going by too fast anyway. So I’m going to ask just a very little of yours to tell you how to get more out of it. I promise you’ll gain time from the minutes you spend reading this.
Lots of people in my life are going around with lists of To-Do’s buzzing in their heads, and never enough time to get everything done.
My wife Vikki has a chronic complaint – “I have too much to do.”
She has good reason for feeling this way, taking care of our house (and me), operating a fully booked psychotherapy practice, taking care of a couple of grandchildren for some time each week while making time to study and write, and having a personal life.
I take care of fewer people than she does and I still feel like there’s too much list and too little time.
Anyway, Vikki and I discussed this when we were in Reno visiting family a while ago and my daughter chimed in, “Me too!”
Well, she’s a working mother of two daughters, so it’s easy to see how things could pile up for her.
Then I said something REALLY dumb, and I got my head handed to me by both of the “women in my life.”
I said “Well, everyone gets the same 168 hours in a week, and some make it work and some get overloaded.”
“What do you know, you don’t change the diapers and go to the schools to meet the teachers and shop for dinner and ………..!”
Whoops. Right. I don’t do most of the stuff they do.
But hey, I’m still pretty busy myself, as demonstrated by the fact I’m finishing this note to you in an airport, and will send it out when I get home after midnight. And when I’m not being so insensitive I admit that once in a while it feels like “my cup runneth over” and not in a good way.
To make up for my stupid remark, I talked with my wife and daughter and we “unpacked” the experience of being overloaded.
And this is what you might find useful.
When I questioned each of them, I got a description of what goes on in their heads when they think of everything that they have to do.
It was a little bit different for Vikki than it was for my daughter Tracy, and when I studied my own inner experience, mine was a little bit different from the two of them.
But ALL THREE OF US had a lot in common.
So let’s do an experiment – you can go inside your head if you are curious, and really examine what YOU experience when you feel that your tasks are overflowing the time available.
First question: How do you know when you’re overloaded???
Don’t just say, “That’s dumb! I have too many things on my list, and the buggers keep reproducing in the dark! The list gets longer, faster than I can check them off!”
Okay. You’re a little frustrated. Let me share with you what we found out about ourselves, and maybe that would be useful in your own investigation.
When I asked Vikki about her internal experience, she said that she saw oversized playing cards hanging in the space in front of her, like on a transparent wall. They had images of all the things she wanted to do and were flickering and waving back and forth in their places, like they were competing for attention. So no matter what she was trying to do, competing tasks and priorities kept distracting and pressuring her.
My daughter Tracy, on the other hand, saw in her imagination a room with papers overflowing all the surfaces, tables and chairs and on the floor – she said you couldn’t even walk into the room in her mind, it was so cluttered.
In my mind I see movies – not just one but many — on lots of screens, like in the window of a TV store. Each one is a movie of something bad that might happen if whatever I need to be doing doesn’t get done.
Here’s an example of how one of the movies might look. If the task is doing taxes, the movie might be of my opening a notice that my bank account was attached because I didn’t do the taxes right or on time or something.
Another movie might be of someone looking disappointed because I didn’t do something I was going to do for that person. Or an overgrown yard. Or an auto breakdown because I put off getting the car tuned.
See, I really know how to have a good time!
But the thing is, for all three of us, each of our brains had unconsciously developed a way to represent all of the tasks competing for our time and attention – and — THEY WERE ALL JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN OUR FIELD OF VISION ALL THE TIME!
Wow. No wonder we each felt distracted, tired and overloaded. Too many things going on at once for any of us to focus doing one thing at a time.
So here’s what we worked out:
Vikki found that she could imagine that the cards showing the various items on her To Do list were in a stack, with the most important task in front. Her mind seemed comfortable with that, because it “knew” that the other tasks were right there, in the pile in front of her. So whichever task she needed to do next would be in the front of the pile, which let her relax and focus on doing one thing at a time.
Tracy discovered that she could imagine that all the clutter in her imaginary room was in neatly labeled boxes on shelves or in files in the file cabinet. Then, she took a spiral notebook and wrote down all the things she needed/wanted to do. Once they were written down she could prioritize them, and give them numbers. Then she did them one at a time with ease.
Funny thing, I just called her to get her permission to share this with you, and she told me she has adopted the spiral notebook idea in real life, and was telling me how much easier it was making things for her.
I took all the TV screens with the movies on them and did pretty much the same thing that Vikki did. First I turned them all into plasma flat screens (of course), then put them in a pile, front to back, with the most important tasks in front, then immediately behind this article, for instance, is the movie about me unpacking from this week’s trip and putting the stuff for the dry cleaners in a pile by the door so I can drop them off first thing in the morning, then the printing out the notes for my 9 A.M. conference call, etc.
All three of us had different unconscious ways of making our lives miserable, but they had similarities. After making these internal changes all three of us found, in the last week, that we were more motivated and life seemed to be a little easier.
So, how about you? When you’re feeling overloaded, why don’t you take a minute and go inside your own head and notice how your brain is signaling you that there is too much to do?
What’s going on there that you didn’t notice before? Is it some confusing visual image like the three of us had? Or perhaps it’s a crowd of voices, demanding your attention and distracting you from getting the focus you need.
In the case of voices, for instance, here’s what I did with a coaching client. I had him turn the volume down on all the voices but the most important one, and had him assign priority numbers to the other ones. I then asked him what the voices would sound like if they knew they would each get their turn. He smiled and told me that they turned into voices of encouragement.
Believe me, it’s worth figuring out — it doesn’t take long and once you know what the “magic signal” is, you can change it like we did, so that your mind is satisfied that nothing is going to drop off your list, but you only need to focus on one task at a time.
That’s the key, so play with this and see what works for you. When you’re looking for the way your mind is working where you usually wouldn’t notice it, just “slow the videotape or the audiotape” wa-a-a-ay down.
Frame by frame. And you’ll be able to see or hear it. Believe me, it will be some sort of thing like one of the examples above.
My experience is that people’s brains automatically adjust in favor of comfort and effectiveness, once they give their internal process some attention.
Most of us get stampeded and overburdened because we haven’t known that we could actually “get under the hood” and make these adjustments.
Give it a try. You will be rewarded with immediate peace of mind, and you’ll probably be more motivated to do what you choose to do without making yourself miserable in the process. It might even prove to be fun.