Thursday, January 7, 2016

It Doesn't Matter Where You Start

On January 6, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Griffey enters as the only No. 1 overall draft pick ever elected to the Hall. He was the No. 1 overall choice in 1987, drafted by the Seattle Mariners. The son of a successful major league great, and no doubt the top prospect entering the draft, his selection was a surprise to no one.

Piazza enters as the lowest draft pick to ever gain election. He was the 1,390th choice in 1988, going to the Dodgers in the 62nd round. This selection was more a favor to Piazza's dad, who was friends with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, than anything related to his ability.

I love to study successful people, to learn more about their path to the top and find nuggets to use in my own life and for those I mentor.

Reaching the Hall of Fame, there is obviously a wealth of lessons in the stories of Griffey and Piazza. A fan of baseball myself, I remember their entry into the major leagues and followed both of their careers. (And of course, I have their rookie cards!) From a baseball perspective, there is no question both are worthy of this honor.

As I begin to reflect on this latest milestone for both, though, I am drawn to their starting point. Drawn to day 1, when they were drafted by their respective teams.

For Griffey, part of the lesson is more in the fact that no other number 1 pick has yet made it to the Hall of Fame than the career of Griffey himself.  I do believe that two years from now, in the 2018 election, first overall pick Chipper Jones will be eligible for the Hall and deserves selection on the first ballot!

But starting with Rick Monday as the first pick in 1965, there were 22 players selected in the number 1 slot prior to Griffey. Each player was deemed the top prospect available to their respective teams that year. For most, you could see at least the potential for a Hall of Fame career.

It’s as if all of these players were put on third base with nobody out, with a myriad of ways to score.

Why, then, was Griffey the first and only to make it home?

For Piazza, I was amazed by his story when he made it to the majors in September of 1992, and into his first full rookie season of 1993. Yes, he had the favor of Tommy Lasorda on his side from the start. But the effort was all his. He had to switch from first base to catcher, learning a whole new position (and in my mind the most difficult) for a better shot at the majors. He needed significant improvements to his hitting.

He had to rise from the obscurity of almost 1400 others selected that year - and a similar number of prospects in the years prior and thereafter - to earn his shot in the major leagues.

Like so many others, it was as if Piazza was constantly at the plate down two strikes against the best of the best. But he took his swings, and no matter the result he learned from each at bat and stepped up to the plate again. And again. And again.

Making it to the majors as a 62nd round pick? Seriously? And then, to have a Hall of Fame career? Who does that?

There are plenty of lessons in the careers of both Griffey and Piazza, and I’ll continue to reflect on each in the days ahead. But given the fact that they were the only two elected this year, as far removed from each other as possible, my first lesson is fairly obvious.

It doesn’t matter where you start – it’s all about what you do with the opportunity you have been given.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Howe/SN Illustration Getty Images)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reach Beyond Yourself

This third and final commentary was originally posted December 6, 2012.

Though written almost 3 years ago, the term “Fiscal Cliff” is fairly fresh in my memory. At that time, I was very aware of how closely everyone followed the news, how it dominated most any conversation, and how most people expressed a concern for how the “cliff” would impact them.

I was amazed at how the conversations were so personal, and the actions were not.

When I shared the thoughts below, I stressed the importance of gaining a better understanding of the key issues at hand, the relationship between finances and freedom, and free enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Three years later, our economy has shifted even further. These topics are just as important now, and they hit most everyone even closer to home. Financial literacy is as critical as ever.

What I most enjoy about returning to this post is the perspective and the call to action that the Centurion Advisory group article provided. As I said below, beyond the education and the guidance to take care of things “at home”, I hope this inspires you to also take the opportunity to reach beyond the noise, and reach beyond yourself, to make a difference in the lives of others.


One cannot develop others in an area he isn’t developing himself. To that end, I have always included a variety of publications and newsletters in my reading cycle that strengthen my understanding of the most significant matters currently driving the course of our nation.

Not the latest trends, and not the messages from mainstream media, but rather the core issues in play, the questions they raise, and the foundational principles being applied (or not) in their solutions. I also enjoy learning from the perspectives of other leaders concerned about the same.

I have always had a keen interest in the history of our nation, and enjoy learning about economic and financial principles. The more I study the two, the more I learn how finances drive freedoms, from our “personal economies” to our national financial systems. This past election, the economy was a core issue, yet our viewpoints on the economic issues showed amazing diversity.

Many viewed the issues from a very personal perspective. Others put aside a concern for personal gain in favor of national strength. Some had short term views, and others looked far into the future. Almost suddenly thereafter, the focus became a pending “cliff” only a couple of months away.

I encourage you to…
  • better understand the issues at hand, learn all you can about them and view them through a lens of sound principles beyond the sound-bites being discussed
  • understand what drives our economy, what drives our freedom as a nation and learn how they are interrelated
  • gain a better understanding of free enterprise and entrepreneurialism, and how integral they are to where our country is headed

But also rise above it. Regardless of the short-term actions taken by the national leaders in the coming weeks, step back and see how little these decisions impact you. Or, perhaps, don’t let them.

In the article below, the Centurion Advisory group adds to their end-of-year outlook a great perspective on inward concern versus outward focus, and the importance of taking actions in both. Beyond the education it provides, and the guidance to take care of things “at home”, I hope this inspires you to also take the opportunity to reach beyond the noise, and reach beyond yourself, to make a difference in the lives of others.

FROM: Centurion Advisory Group, Newsletter, 12/4/2012

Domestic equity markets have followed a very traditional pattern this year. They were up through April, accomplished almost nothing through the end of October, and were up a bit in a volatile November. This pattern generally yields a solid December, but I'm no fortune teller, so we will know for certain the evening of December 31st.

Most investors have made money this year, whether they've invested in stocks or bonds, and regardless of where in the world they have invested. Again, this confirms a very traditional pattern, described by some as the "Wall of Worry". When many are fearful of investing, or concerned that the market will take a plunge, the market can do well. An added complication is that for many of us, the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009 don't seem that far away, and none of us are excited about a repeat. This "Wall of Worry" isn't a perfect pattern, though the general correlation makes for a fascinating study in human behavior.

At the moment, there are plenty of macro issues to worry about, for those who choose to burn through energy worrying about things. Our fearless leaders in DC have gone almost four years without a budget, and they are still wrangling over tax details to avoid what has been called a "fiscal cliff". The U.S., and many other countries, is absolutely covered up with debt, and there is no politician living that is willing to stand in, and help resolve these long term issues. Some wonder what happens to the viability of the U.S. if the U.S. dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency. The Middle East continues to be a milieu of tribal warfare.

If it helps any, let me remind us that there have always been wars, and rumors of wars. Over the last 100 years, there have been two world wars, and almost too many other conflicts to reference. There have been currency implosions, destruction of people groups, tribes, and rainforests, terrorist attacks on the U.S and many other countries, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and hosts of other natural disasters, and on, and on.

In spite of this, and sometimes because of it, "here in Topeka", the screen door needs to be fixed, diapers need to be changed, and meals need to be prepared. Life for most will go on, and these "most" will continue to pay their light bill (Warren Buffett figured this out a long time ago), buy groceries for the family, tennis shoes for the kids, and gas for the car. The well run companies that offer these products and services will continue to be profitable, hire new employees, and expand. As these companies see similar opportunities around the globe, they will expand into enterprises with a global footprint.

So, what does all this mean, and how do you take action at the moment? Let me suggest a dual focus, one inward looking, and one outward looking.

First, know that your personal economy isn't directly related to the overall economy. Most of you reading this have developed some level of skill or expertise that allows you enough income to pay your bills. Provided you have food, clothes, and shelter, the rest of your personal economy is a function of one thing - discipline. Our highest and best recommendation is to spend lightly, save diligently, invest wisely and with counsel, and stay far away from debt. These habits and disciplines, exercised consistently across decades, will yield magnificent results. There is no better place to be financially than debt free, profitable, and cash flow positive, and on this issue, I speak from experience.

Now, what about outward looking? About 45% of voters were pleased with the recent elections, and 45% were displeased, with 10%, and growing, fairly agnostic and cynical about the whole thing. And yet, political outcomes, regardless of where we each fall on the spectrum, are white noise compared to other, larger, issues.

For decades, our country has been the city on a hill, the golden land, which offered opportunity to all. From around the world, immigrants came, seeking a life which was better than the one they left behind. For more than two hundred years, we have stories of those from meager beginnings, from all countries around the globe, finding a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S.

A study of these stories reveals a commitment to work, to give, to share, and to help others. A few of the names are Andrew Carnegie, who built many of the libraries in this country, Nathan Hale, who was saddened that he had only one life to give, and Patrick Henry, whose oratory helped inspire a young nation to freedom.

Others include Abe Lincoln, who was seen as inept, yet governed during one of our country's most difficult moments, George Washington Carver, who applied his God given talents in spite of what many would call built in disadvantages, Teddy Roosevelt, who challenged us with his "man in the arena" speech, Ben Carson, raised by a single mother, yet one of our premier physicians, Shahid Khan, new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came here with little, and Churchill (I know he's a Brit), who through force of will saw a weak England to victory against the Nazi war machine.

Here's the question. What will we choose? Will we choose only to feather our own nest, to hide behind security gates and locked doors, to move only within circles of folks like us? Or, will we choose to reach out? Can we, by example, show the world, even if that world is simply our neighborhood, how to live? Will we intentionally look beyond the belief system, the orientation, the skin color, the accent, the appearance, to hear the story, to offer a word of encouragement, to find a way to help, to be a friend?

Will we bind up the brokenhearted, loose the chains of injustice, help set the captives free? Will we share our food with the hungry, offer shelter to the homeless, and clothes for the naked? Will we choose to restore those broken relationships of our own flesh and blood? Will we choose to offer words of kindness and encouragement, instead of criticism, complaint, and condemnation?

If we will, then we will live in a supernatural light, and will find healing instead of brokenness. We will be given physical strength, and our lives will be as a well-watered garden. We will be called a repairer of broken walls, and a restorer of streets with dwellings.

A Plan for Financial Success

This second commentary was originally posted March 9, 2009.

The nation was firmly entrenched in the recession but by no means headed for depression. I remember the little quip: a recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression in when you lose yours.

When asked by a Senate subcommittee, Ron Blue provided a straightforward “plan” for financial success given the current economy. Think long term, spend less than you earn, maintain emergency savings, and minimize debt.

In reality, Mr. Blue simply provided four sound, timeless financial principles. They were true going into the depression, in the midst of it, climbing out of it, into today and far into the future.

Those who followed these principles thrived. They thrive today. They will thrive tomorrow. Are you following them?

If you are in crisis, there is no better time to start then now.


What if you had a plan for financial success?

Ron Blue recently testified before a Senate subcommittee conducting hearings on “Solutions for a New Era: Jobs and Families.” Mr. Blue was appearing based on his solid reputation of financial expertise.

A Senator asked him what the average American family should do in the current economy. Ron Blue said that the American family could benefit from following a four-part financial plan:
  • Think long-term with goals and investing
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Maintain liquidity (or emergency savings)
  • Minimize the use of debt

Think Long Term: The longer term your perspective, the better financial decisions you will make.

Spend Less Than You Earn: You need to know what you are earning, what you are spending, have a plan and monitor it. Over the long term, this will contribute to financial success.

Maintain Emergency Savings: A reserve will help you ride out the surprises of life and avoid debt.

Minimize and Eliminate Debt: Debt may allow you to have more now, but it reduces your ability to have more in the future. Debt is an obligation on your future income, and because of compounding, it may represent the single most important factor influencing your future financial success.

These four principles work in concert. Together, they represent a formula for financial success.

These principles are so timely to today’s economic climate. Perhaps because they are timeless. They are by no means new; they trace back for thousands of years.

The principles have endured the test of time. They are independent of the economy - recession or boom. They are insensitive to oil prices and the real estate market. Many rich people, and likely many more poor people, can attest to them.

Those that have followed this path in recent years are comfortably surviving - some thriving - in the economic concerns of today. If you have been following them, continue. You will continue to thrive.

If you are in crisis, there is no better time to start then now. You cannot establish a strong financial foundation without them. They will lead you out of your crisis, and help you prevent them in the future.

Note - reference source “Surviving Financial Meltdown” by Ron Blue and Jeremy White.

The Middle Class is Shrinking

A business colleague just sent me a very kind note.

Our recent discussions had centered on financial literacy, more specifically the lack of it. Both of us were amazed at the state of our economy. Our national economy. Our world economy. The personal economies of most everyone who will share a candid conversation on the topic. Without a doubt, the same holds true for many not willing to address it (talk or action) as well.

In his note, my colleague reminded me of several blogs I had posted over the past years on the subject of financial literacy and complimented the fact that the insights were as relevant today as they were in the financial climate in which they were written.

My response? Principles are timeless.

He encouraged me to re-post a few of these blogs and see if they inspire thought and action today. I invite you consider what I wrote, from several perspectives… how they reflected the time in which they were written, how they apply today, and what lessons may apply looking forward.

This first commentary below was originally posted December 5, 2008. One CNN Money article of the day used terms like “indicators in a tailspin” and “very severe recession.” Thankfully, no one was worried about a depression.

Almost seven years later, would you agree that the middle class was shrinking and continues to do so at an even faster pace? What are your thoughts? What actions did you take then? What actions do you plan to take today?

Wealth, poverty, and the group in the middle. There is a distinct division within our society. Though we may debate the actual numbers, don’t miss the point.

We find the wealthy at one end of the spectrum. I reference Robert Kiyosaki and the Cashflow Quadrant for my definition of the wealthy, and the estimate that it‘s about 5% of the population.

On the other end are those below the poverty line. A year or so ago, that was about 15%. What would you think has happened to that number in the last few months?

For now, that leaves the remaining 80% in what would be called the middle class.

Kiyosaki and others have documented what we can see clearly. The middle class is shrinking. Jobs are going away by downsizing and outsourcing. Those reductions have recently accelerated through business failures and store closings. For those that remain, wages are dropping. Add global competition and a transformation of the business world, the rate of change is staggering.

Much of this change, and the impact, is outside of our direct sphere of influence. But not all of it.

I submit that where we find ourselves now (and the direction we move) relates directly to our ability to compete on an individual level. And it’s far beyond tactical execution. As an example, did you know that 80% of people that lose their jobs do so because of people skills rather than technical skills or expertise?

More than anything else, it's actually our thinking, the information that we obtain and leverage, that drives our results.

What I’ve learned is that, for me, I have to constantly develop myself to remain competitive. I have to grow to simply keep pace. As an employee, as an entrepreneur or as a business owner, the story is the same. Stop learning, and you start dying. In this case, that’s financial death and all that comes with it.

So what will you do with this information?

Do you agree that there is a 5/80/15 split?

Do you agree that the middle is shrinking?

Are they moving up to the 5% or down to the 15%?

By default or inaction, most are moving down to the 15%.

Will you follow them...

or will you chart a course towards the 5% instead?

Where are you now…

and which direction are you planning on going?

Will you take action?

What will happen if you don’t?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Do Something

With all credit given to Matthew West for this exceptional song, and the challenge that it asserts, I simply wanted to post it as a reminder to myself and others to LIVE LIFE ON PURPOSE. As author Chris Brady writes, our privileges are not for our pleasure, but rather for our purpose. Let's match our personal gifts and talents with a need...


"Do Something"

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

We are the salt of the earth
We are a city on a hill (shine shine, shine shine)
But we’re never gonna change the world
By standing still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Precious Life - Tony P.

This past Sunday, I delivered the following eulogy to honor my brother's life, and to provide perspective for the rest of us.

We shared a special bond, one that few brothers are blessed to enjoy. Many of you have already shared with me some amazing stories about how he touched your life as well.

Thank you for all of your support, thoughts and prayers.


There are only two naturally innate fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. The rest are learned. They say the #1 learned fear is public speaking, and #2 is death. Go figure, he gives me the harder one…

I’m actually not afraid of speaking, but I’m afraid that I’m not prepared to talk today. I’m not prepared at all. I should not be standing up here. This day came way too soon. But I am honored to be speaking on my brother’s behalf. He has now faced death head on, ending a long and courageous fight.

You may know him as Tony, or Anthony. I always called him Ant.

This is such a sad day for all of us. We have lost a brother, a husband, a son, a father, a relative, a friend. We have lost a true original. I was not the only person at the visitation last night expecting Ant to open his eyes and flash a smile.

This is such a happy day for Ant. He is in the comforting arms of the Father. He put his faith in Jesus many years ago, providing a beautiful testimony at his baptism. He was a great man, and was always striving to be a better man. Like all of us, he did not live a perfect life – before, or after, that day. But through his faith his sins were washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

If you don’t have that faith, get it.

Anyone who has known Ant for a long time remembers a lively, vibrant man. Whether a joke, a skit, or a comment that no one else would think – or dare – to make, you often found yourself shaking your head in disbelief, but laughing to the point of pain and tears.

He often asked why he was given all the bad breaks when it came to his health. He had a lot of them. But he kept his spirit for a long time, and in that he was an inspiration.

In James 1, it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

My brother is now complete. He is in a glorified body, free of all the sickness he experienced here.

One personal note: Mom – I do get the last word - Anthony broke the Dresden figurine.

On by brother’s tombstone, it will say June 24, 1963, the date of his birth. Then there will be a dash. Then it will say October 16, 2013, the date he left us. That dash represents his life. It represents what we are remembering about him today.

If you’ve attended a funeral service before, you may have heard a challenge about life. A challenge about the value of time, the fact that you are not guaranteed a tomorrow. What did you do when you heard that message?  Anything?

You are faced with that same message today. What are you going to take from Tony’s passing? What are you going to do differently today? What real changes are you going to make in your life?

If there is a dream to chase, I’m going to chase it.

If there is something to say, I’m going to say it.

If there is a friendship to repair, I will make the first move.

Frankly, someday may not come. You may hear that there’s always tomorrow – eventually, there is not.

You see, I think we will experience two very different feelings when we face our Lord. As a believer, the first will be the joy of an eternal relationship in the presence of God. The second? I believe we will be shown everything more that we were capable of doing. For many, that will be a very wide, and very sad, gap.

The older I get, the more I meet people my age who express regret for the way they’ve lived their lives.  Sometimes it’s what they have done; more often, it’s what they haven’t.

D.L. Moody said, "Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.”

Let me ask you. What is your passion? What is the purpose of your life?

Are you a consumer, or a producer?

Is your life adding value to the lives of others?

Do you have a mission – a passion?  And do you have the courage to chase it?

I’ve seen firsthand the difference living with passion – living out a mission – has made in people’s lives.  When you are in pursuit of a mission, it’s unmistakable to the people around you. It transforms everyone around you. It’s infectious.  It fills them with the same passion, the same energy.

How does your family see you, every night when you return home from the battle? Even in the toughest of days, do you wear a smile knowing you were in pursuit of your passion? Can your family see it in your eyes?  Can you stand in front of your family and say you gave your all?

Turning that around just a bit can be very convicting… Can your children, perhaps your spouse, say they’ve seen you give your all for them?

You are not guaranteed tomorrow – Ant thought he had more tomorrows.

I wish he did. I miss him. I know you do as well.

What will you do with that feeling? Find what drives you, and chase it.

The great men and women of history were not great because of what they earned and owned. They were great because they gave themselves to people and causes that lived beyond them.

When the paratroopers jumped into Normandy in June 1944, did you know that some men refused to jump? Can you imagine what it was like, the rest of these men’s lives, because of their fear, their refusal to jump? They lived on. But it was said that their lives ended the moment they refused to leave the plane.

We all will die in the end – there’s no excuse to die in the middle! Everyone has to pay one way or another.  You can give into your fears and pay with your life; or you can pay the price of overcoming your fears and live.  It’s your choice.

Sometimes, all the inspiration you need falls into one simple question.  When you reach the end, what story do you want to tell?  When you are gone, what story will others be telling?

Please, in honor of my brother, make a commitment today to live each day to the fullest. When you think of him tomorrow, ask yourself if you’re honoring the commitment you made today.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Lesson From The Kid

What did you dream about when you were a kid?

Bruce Willis plays the adult Rusty (Russ) Duritz in the movie, “The Kid”. Giving credit to the Internet Movie Database ( the main premise reads:

"Russ Duritz is a wealthy L.A. image consultant, but as he nears 40, he's cynical, dogless, chickless, estranged from his father, and he has no memories of his childhood. One night he surprises an intruder, who turns out to be a kid named Rusty, almost 8 years old."

That kid is Russ himself. I love his eight year old summary of his 40 year old self.

“So, I'm forty, I'm not married, I don't fly jets, and I don't have a dog? I grow up to be a loser.”

Are you the person you imagined you would be? Are you living the life you dreamed when you were a kid? Would the eight year old “you” say you grew up to be a loser?

What did you dream about back then? Did you have a poster of a minivan (black light poster, of course!) on your bedroom wall? Did they even make posters of cubicles and credit card debt? Did you surround yourself with such images? NO!

Most guys had the Ferrari - or your favorite Italian car ending in a vowel - along with sports heroes, a favorite band, and perhaps a dream girl or two.

The girls rooms? Perhaps posters of the latest teen heart throb, perhaps a hero. Maybe the room was filled with dolls, princesses, cheerleading trinkets and prom bouquets. Perhaps a musical instrument or a favorite sport.

Memories intertwined with dreams for the future. Not to belittle where life led us, but does it match the life we imagined? Is it a life we actively created, or what simply happened? What would you tell the eight year old you?

Looking back doesn’t change anything. Unless we learn something, and it changes our thinking. And if we leverage that new thinking to take different actions.

If you stay on your current course, where will you be in five years? Do you like those results? What does that mean ten years will look like? If you could shape that future self, create your dream life, what would you do?

If the “you” five years from now could speak into your life today, what would you say? What would you tell yourself to do, starting today? What would you beg yourself to stop doing, today?

Do you hear what you are saying?