Saturday, April 25, 2009

What My Dog Taught Me About Life & Business

On April 24, 2009, Cumberland University's Delta Mu Delta Honor Society inducted me as an Honorary Member. I was asked to address the inductees and their guests - this is my speech...

In just a few short years being a first-time pet parent to a lab named Chocolate Chip, I learned more about life, career and entrepreneurship than I ever expected to learn!
First, there are overarching attributes a dog displays that we humans could learn from:

There is always an Alpha Dog – the Alpha Dog is the pack leader. And even when you think you’re it, someone will challenge you. We learn from leaders. Hopefully, we learn to lead someday. Get to know your “Alpha Dog”. Watch their actions, their decision-making process, watch how they handle challenges thrown their way.

Loyalty – a dog is always loyal to his/her master. This loyalty is unwavering – he/she doesn’t hesitate for a second to decide, “do I like my momma enough today to do what she wants?” I’ve heard complaints that loyalty no longer exists – but, I don’t believe it… I see loyalty between companies and employees –it seems to be lacking but that’s because most people don’t want to stay in a position for 20+ years. So, I encourage you to be loyal – even if you’re only there for 2 years. Be loyal to the hand that feeds you.

Exuberance for life – have you ever noticed that a dog meets every situation with sheer joy and exuberance? The first trip to the dog park was unnerving for me, but my dog had the time of his life! Meet the challenges of your life and career with exuberance. Have no fear! Just dive right in and enjoy the journey. Because at the end of the day – that’s what this is… a journey.

Enjoy the moment – We get so caught up in the rat-race that we forget to enjoy the moment. Not a dog… he finds sheer pleasure in sniffing the grass! He finds elation in that fleeting pat on the head. Oh, and Dear God… if you give him a Kong filled with peanut butter and a cookie… well, he can make that moment last for hours! We need to find more moments throughout our life to enjoy. Celebrate your “wins”! Take a moment to “smell the flowers.” Find pleasure in that moment of recognition, or the determination it took to solve a problem … breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.

Never meet a stranger – Over my 18 year career, I have amassed quite a database of people I’ve met and known. Don’t be afraid to talk to the person next to you waiting for the plane. Don’t be afraid to get to know your co-worker and your clients. Those contacts will serve you well down the road. Don’t forget them.
And, now that we’ve enjoyed a silly analogy, onto the more serious elements of starting your career. My five favorite quips are:

You will learn more from failure than any success you enjoy.
If no one’s mad at you, then you’re probably not doing enough.
Become a student of life – never stop learning.
Work hard, play harder.
And, the Nike motto… Just do it!

I share these thoughts with you today in hopes they help you as much as they’ve helped shaped my outlook on success and career.

The first one taught me that it’s okay to fail, so long as I learn from my mistakes. And, boy do I learn – I dissect and autopsy everything that doesn’t end in success – whether it’s a marketing strategy, a potential sale or something in my personal life. So, when the first 3 businesses I was involved in didn’t succeed, I didn’t get down… I got back on the horse. I learned from the mistakes I made and today I am enjoying the fruits of those labors with a business that is winning. Each start-up business I was involved in taught me a little more that has helped me achieve more success in the next venture.

The second thought has gotten me through the past 2 and half years. We can never please everyone all the time. There will be people who don’t like what you’re doing or how you do it – don’t worry about that. If what you’re doing is right, there will be folks sitting in judgment. The fact that they are talking about it tells you that you’re doing something! If you’re making things happen, people are going to talk about it – good and bad! I have learned to enjoy the positives and assess the negatives – is there any merit? Can thinking about this make me better? If not – I throw it away and press on.

Never stop learning – learn from anyone and everyone you come in contact with, learn from mistakes – yours and the mistakes of others and most importantly expect to learn something from everyone – everyday. If we’re really open to learning – it’s amazing how much we can improve… what can a 2-year old teach me? How about my grandmother, my superior, my subordinate and my peer? What can your dog teach you? There are lessons all around us – listen for them!

I work hard, so I can justify playtime! Enjoy your life. Find and keep the balance between work and play. Never let one become more important than the other – it’s the balance that allows you to achieve success. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was to stop exercising. Creativity diminished, tolerance was reduced and the ability to dissect and solve a problem was lost. When I balance my health (mind, body and spirit) with my career – I’m happier and I accomplish more.

And, when all else fails – Just do it! Don’t wait for someone else to do what needs to be done – just do it! Don’t wait to see what tomorrow brings – just do it! Don’t wait to see if others approve – just do it! I have learned that it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than to wait for permission – our superiors are busy… what’s hot on your plate, is not even on their radar. So… sweep the floor, clean the bathroom, buy a ream of paper, make the coffee and when you are called to lead – just do it!

In today’s competitive business landscape the big question is “what can you do for me?” Solve the problem, be the answer! I wish for you a path that’s challenging, because I’ve learned that the easy path bears no reward. Work hard, play hard and just do it!

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