Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Seven Keys For A Better Life

Welcome to the new age of social media, where people can implode while the whole world gets to watch. Whether it's the Vancouver rioters posing for the cameras or facebookers posting compromising photos of themselves or going on a profanity-laced rant; the bottom-line is that it's people behaving badly.

What they don't realize is that there is always a price to pay for our behavior. That may be immediate, as in the loss of a scholarship for the rower caught trying to torch a police car, or it may come later as in the many who have lost out on jobs because of questionable content discovered on their Facebook page. For many it's the not quite so obvious price of a diminished reputation. What's become abundantly clear is that there's a very real lack of common-sense out there, not only in cyber-space but in the world in general. So here's some advice from the cheap seats that I've picked up along the way. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Live a life of integrity.
Integrity is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. What it means, simply, is to be, in fact, what we say we are. The great people that I've known were not necessarily rich or powerful or even influential, but they were people of integrity. When they gave you their word there was no contract necessary. Even if it hurt them or cost them money, they would live up to their commitments. This speaks of honesty, trust and honour. It is lived out in small things, like being on time for your appointments, paying your bills and giving a full day's work for a full day's pay. It means being the same behind closed doors as we are in public. I love this quote by Robert Brault: "You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest."

Choose your friends wisely.
I was taught this lesson a long time ago. I believe that it was John Maxwell who said that if you want to know what your future will look like, look at your friends. What we're speaking of here are not just casual acquaintances, but those who are involved in your life. Those who are close to you will go a long way in determining what you will become, simply by the power of their influence. The apostle Paul was right when he said: “Bad company corrupts good character.” So, here's the key: when you're trying to find a friend, reach up. Look for someone you relate to, but that you can also learn from. This is particularly important the younger you are.

As we are often reminded, guilt by association can have devastating consequences. If your buddies are involved in activities with which you're not comfortable, perhaps it's time to walk the other way if they can't be dissuaded. If not, don't be surprised if you end up paying the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One question I always ask is this: who's influencing who? Friends are of vital importance, select them carefully.

Choose growth as a lifestyle.
Successful people are almost invariably people who have a strong commitment to personal growth. This is not only reserved for those who can afford University, it is a lifestyle for anyone with a library card or internet access. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, discover your natural giftings, explore a new hobby; read a book. I wish that I had discovered this earlier in my life. The truth is that, until I started college, I hated to read. Now I love to read across a wide spectrum of interests. This point actually builds off of the previous one: if you have friends who value growth, they will encourage rather than discourage this.

Modern technology has made it possible to learn in so many different ways. You can download teaching to your portable device and listen while you exercise. If you prefer, distance education has made a college education easily accessible. Check out what small group studies or book clubs might be available through your church or library. Switch the idiot box to the History or Discovery channel for a change. Try it, you might like it.

Don't compare yourself with others; be the best that you can be.
Sometimes healthy competition can be good for you, but if you constantly compare yourself to others you're bound to fall short. There will always be someone out there who is faster, stronger or smarter than you. Instead, learn how to challenge yourself. You are responsible to do what you can, where you are, with what you have. I've found it helpful to remember some key Bible verses. Jeremiah 1:5 says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." God created each of us unique and has intimate knowledge of us. Psalm 139:14 says, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

Because we are unique; because God created us, we have value and purpose. I may not be the most intelligent person in the world, but I can make a contribution. God may not expect me to be the next Billy Graham, but He does expect me to be the best Tony denBok I can be.

Commit to excellence - be an "and then some" person.
Here's one little-known secret to success. It has been my observation that most people do what is asked of them. They do what it takes to get the job done. Those who are successful are those who do what they have to do - and then some. They've made a commitment to do the best work possible within their current setting and with their current resources. This type of person despises the term "good enough." They demand the best from themselves. These are the types of people who build successful businesses because of their customer service. This reminds me of some good advice I received when I was younger. Someone told me "Find what you love to do and learn to do it so well that people will gladly pay you for it."

Think before you act.
We used to just call this self-control; it's amazing how many people lack this quality. A part of growing up is understanding that actions have consequences, a fact that is no longer taught in many homes or schools. I have a preview button on the screen in front of me as I type this blog. Before I publish this, the preview screen gives me an opportunity to see what it will look like. Wouldn't it be great if we had a preview button in our minds that could show us what will happen if we make a certain decision? No doubt such a device would save us from a lot of trouble. In lieu of that, at least use the "pause" button. Think about what you're doing. Do your best to act and not re-act. Make conscious choices, not reflex actions. You'll have a lot fewer things for which to apologize. As Billy Graham said: "Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything."

Cultivate a positive attitude.
Very simply, if you believe you can't, you can't. Many of the incredible advances in technology were accomplished by people who were thought to be crazy. When they were told it couldn't be done, they went out and did it. The point is that in order to bring about positive change in anything, we must first believe that it is possible. This is where a great many people fall short. Perhaps their childhood was full of discouragement and maybe they grew up with no-one who believed in them. Regardless of our past, we don't have to live there. Change is possible.

There are some very powerful Bible passages related to this. The first is found in Romans 12:2. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Regardless of the die that may have been cast for our lives, we can change. This verse reminds us of the truth that the mind is a powerful thing and is the key to our renewal. Our lives can be transformed by changing the way that we think. Philippians 4:8 gets more specific: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Each of us has so much potential, but many of us are too good at self-sabotage. As the old comic-strip character Pogo said, "We've seen the enemy, and he is us." This was an attempt to help those of us who want to get out of our own way. If you have any other life principles to pass on, feel free. Perhaps it will lead to a Part 2.

Related Articles:
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Minding Our Manners
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