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Pilgrims with a bounteous spread. That’s what we think of and imitate at Thanksgiving when we gather people around us and feast and give thanks. It’s delightful, and gratitude comes easy on that day.
But how do we really put that into practice every day? Think about this: The pilgrims were ill and malnourished. They’d had a harsh first winter. Only about half of the Mayflower’s original passengers lived to see that first spring. But they had learned to plant corn, and after a successful harvest in 1621, they celebrated and gave thanks for what they did have.
Even when life is hard—and it often is—true happiness comes when we are grateful for the good parts.
The late Cavett Robert, a popular motivational speaker and the founder of the National Speakers Association, used to tell of a poignant experience that taught him this very thing.
He was running late after a speaking engagement in New Orleans. The meeting had run overtime, jeopardizing Cavett’s chances of catching his flight home. He completed his speech in the grand ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel, then rushed through the convention center and ran to catch the next elevator going down to the ground level.
Once on the elevator, he tapped the “G” button repeatedly, hoping it would hurry the process of closing the doors. As soon as it began its descent, he checked his watch. He could still make his flight if there were no delays with the elevator or the taxi. Just when he thought his luck was going to hold, he felt the elevator slowing for the third floor.
The doors opened, and no one was there. Hurry up! he thought to himself. Hearing someone coming, he impatiently called out, “Hurry—elevator going down!” Then he saw the red tip of a white cane tap-tap into the doorway.
“I’m sorry; I’ll be right there,” came a humble response. Cavett was crushed with humiliation. As the doors closed, not knowing how to handle the hollow silence, he asked, “Well, how are you today, sir?” His voice was now shaky and embarrassed. The reply came like a heavy blow to his soul: “Grateful, my friend. Grateful.”
Cavett Robert, the great teacher and motivator, was humbled to the dust. Suddenly missing an elevator, a taxi, or even a flight seemed trivial. He would later state, “While in my rude haste I was so caught up in my self-gratification and not an attitude of gratitude that I found myself cursing the light as this gentle man was blessing the darkness.”
He said he was never the same after that experience. In his prayers he asked for help to always realize how important a grateful attitude is in life.
Happy Thanksgiving. May this week be a time for true reflection. Count your blessings. Even if you already know what you’re grateful for, try to find just one more thing. We all have room for more happiness.
When you think of the Gettysburg Address, I bet you think of that famous speech by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. Right? Wrong. The Gettysburg Address was actually a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, a highly educated, well-respected politician of the time. He’d been a strong voice in support of the Lincoln administration and the cause of liberty for slaves. At Gettysburg, he gave a stirring speech, perhaps the most important address of his life and career.
When the applause subsided, a tired old gentleman approached the podium as the second speaker. He spoke for only two minutes, including five interruptions for applause. Abraham Lincoln’s remarks were officially only the presidential remarks that followed the Gettysburg Address, but his 272 words that day were so profound that the speech has endured as the greatest American address ever given. Today we all ascribe the title of the Gettysburg Address to Mr. Lincoln.
Even Edward Everett himself acknowledged that Lincoln’s brief words had eclipsed his own. The day following the Gettysburg event, he wrote a note to the president that read, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Abraham Lincoln, through hard study and practice, became a master of profound brevity. He could not only develop and make a point in one or two sentences, he could carry his message on the wings of authority or humor directly to the heart of understanding.
I love Coca-Cola. The real thing. In all its syrupy deliciousness. But I can’t afford the calories. So I have a little trick. I drink half-Diet Coke, half Coke. Had one just today with my lunch at In-N-Out. And you know what? I was a little sheepish about ordering it. I felt silly because of that guilty bit of sugar still having a hold on me.
Come to think of it, that’s kind of the way my workout went today. I was short on time, so I only ran for 23 minutes instead of my usual 40 minutes.
You could say I’m a halfway kind of guy. That’s certainly what it looks like. It’s even Wednesday. Halfway through the week. Hmmm.
You know what I say? I’ve got it about half right today, and I’m happy for that.
I didn’t get 300 soda calories. I only consumed about half that. And it was fantastic. Someday I’ll work up to no soda calories. That will be a great day. But for now, I’m proud of myself for doing it halfway. You don’t know what a big step that is for me.
And my workout? Well, at least I did it, right? I could have easily gotten fixated on the clock and worried about where I needed to be. I could have gotten annoyed that I didn’t have time to run and just hopped into the shower instead.
But I didn’t. I decided that a better-than-nothing run was, well, better than nothing! Those few minutes gave me energy and put me in a good mood (and earned me some Coke calories I’d need for later.)
What I’m saying is, you don’t have to be perfect on the first try. It’s really not an all-or-nothing world. The way I see it, it’s a bit-by-bit world. Greatness happens with little, seemingly insignificant habits practiced over and over again.
Just do the bits you can do, even if it gets you halfway. You don’t have to journal every single day the first week you start journaling. Maybe there’s a bad habit you give in to a little less often than you used to. Awesome.
You don’t have to be better than everybody else or anybody else. Just try to be better than you were yesterday. Keep doing the little bits. Up the ante on yourself every now and then. You’re doing just fine.
There are two common events in life I usually drag my feet to: funerals and weddings. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the parking, or maybe I think by now I’ve heard it all.
Last week on my way to my nephew’s wedding, I admit, that was my attitude. But I always prove myself wrong. That day I had two moments where I realized I had learned something.
The gentleman performing the ceremony looked almost twice my age and proved to be twice as wise. Just about every word from his mouth was profound and beautiful. I found myself smiling and nodding. Not nodding off; the kind of nodding you do when your mind slows down, you look down to the side, and you realize that life really is pretty simple.
After the ring exchange, kisses, and family hugs, we all headed outside for the other reason I drag my feet: pictures. Both sides of both families. Mothers, fathers, grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends filed over to the ideal location, the steps. Not because it faced directly into the sun, but for the stadium effect. Every person, short and tall, can be captured in time.
Can you imagine? I felt bad for me, but I felt worse for the photographer. All those people texting, turning, and talking. She had her agenda, and we had ours.
But our photographer was in charge. She knew that first group pic was critical and that time was of the essence. Folks would soon be peeling off for whatever reason. If she was going to get the big group shot, right now was her chance.
After motioning with her hands for both ends to scoot in, she calmly raised her voice and said, “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you!” And just as if we had all rehearsed the night before, everyone self-adjusted. Heads tilted, backs straightened, and knees bent. I even saw one guy finally remove his sunglasses. The photographer instructed, “Smile, everyone! Three, two, one!” Then click, click, click, and it was over.
What started out in chaos was instantly organized with a simple statement. Up to that point, everyone assumed they were ready and in position, when in reality, many were out of place.
Think about your own life and the things you are going after. Things you’ve planned for, maybe even worked on, like family or business relationships you hope to improve or develop.
Can they see you? I bet right now there’s at least one person you’re trying to reach. When was the last time they had your undivided attention? If you’re nodding your head right now, pick up the phone or get in your car and make that adjustment. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget to smile.
Last weekend my wife Jackie scored us tickets to the James Taylor/Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Utah Symphony concert. It was a magical evening.
James Taylor is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a five-time Grammy winner. He’s been performing for more than four decades, he’s sold close to 100 million albums. No wonder Time magazine heralded him as the harbinger of the singer-songwriter era. Bottom line: the man has skills.
It was amazing to hear him perform with the choir and symphony. After his final song, I got on my feet with the other 20,000 plus people in attendance and gave him an ovation as he exited the theater. We couldn’t sit down. The air was electric. We just kept cheering and applauding.
Then, all of a sudden, James Taylor returned to the stage. He picked up his guitar, leaned into the microphone, and modestly said, “I hope that looked spontaneous.” Everyone laughed. His performance was flawless. He knew he’d nailed it like so many other nights.
It was a priceless lesson to witness how years and years of practice can truly pay off. And then he began singing one of my all-time favorites, Shower the People. I wanted to lean over to Jackie and ask, “Is this heaven?” and then she would say, “No; it’s just Salt Lake.”
What was a remarkable evening for me and thousands of others was a result of one man doing a little each day for most of his life. I once heard someone say, “To do the impossible, you must do the possible in incremental steps over a sustained period of time.”
That’s you. That’s me. We can do that. Doing the possible, one day at time. If you do, you will one day witness yourself doing what once seemed impossible. And like James Taylor, when you’re finished showering those around you with the gifts you’ve developed, you can also be humble and make it seem like no big deal.
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