Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Paid In Smiles

I've been speaking professionally for only about 4 years now and loving every 
minute!  For me, this has yet to turn into a highly successful career and the 
money isn't enough to let me go full-time...yet.  Recently, I experienced 
payment that exceeded any I could imagine.  The payment came from budget and 
I am learning that there are budget constraints in every organization and every 
family.  Whenever I am asked to speak the inevitable follow-up is, "We don't 
have any budget for a speaker."  I learned from a great leader that the answer 
is always "Yes, now when do you need me?" 
Gina from a small charter school in Manitowoc asked me to speak to her students 
about ThoughtShredder and overcoming childhood experiences.  Yes, the follow-up 
statement soon followed.  After reviewing a few creative ways to fund the event 
-- asking other schools to join; finding a business to donate; getting me 
contacts from others in the area who could hire me in the future; we settled on 
her researching ways while I committed to speak regardless.  Gina's guarantee 
was payment in lots of smiles.  I'm a sucker for smiles. 
When I arrived I received 2 checks to 'cover my gas expense'.  One was from Gina 
herself and the other from her mother who originally referred me.  Each gave 
from their own pockets to make me feel appreciated.  Without ever witnessing her 
classroom, I knew then I was in front of a great teacher -- commitment, 
sacrifice and appreciation flowed from her. 
At the end of my 90 minutes with the students, I indeed received lots of smiles; 
just as she promised.  Smiles from 45 teenagers who lined up to each get an 
autographed copy of my book; many telling me stories of their own lives, shaking 
my hand and saying, "Thank you!" 
I drove back to my day job after the speech, but couldn't get my own smile off 
my face.  I was filled with a joy that can't ever be attained through material 
things.  Knowing that you fulfilled, even for a brief moment, the passion that 
is deep within you brings a sense of satisfaction seemingly unattainable.  
Two weeks later I received a check in the mail from Gina's school along with a 
note expressing her sincere appreciation.  She noted that the money came from a 
budget that was intended to provide backpacks for some of the students.  But, 
she insisted, "rather than giving them something to carry on their backs, we 
wanted to give them something they would carry forever -- a message of hope."  
That note created more smiles for my wife and I.  I carry it with me to give me 
a smile anytime I need it.  
No, the checks didn't cover the fees I normally charge, but then how do you put 
a value on smiles?  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Perfect Father’s Day…Almost

As I drove to the office alone in my truck with only my thoughts, I smiled at the blue sky that seemed to go on forever.  A lone puffy white cloud held its point in the sky allowing the sun and wind to move it, but not change its purpose.  For a moment I wondered why this day with its crisp cool air was any different than that of a winter day.  Spring is ending in Wisconsin and Father’s Day is almost here.  I looked back at the sky and breathed in the air deeply enjoying the moment in wonder at God’s incredible power and splendor.  I began to appreciate more how much He has given me and allowed me to see.  This day is just another gracious gift from the Almighty.  My mind then drifted to other gifts He has given me.
I thought of my son whom I left laying on the couch sleeping off his first day of Summer Break.  While he lay there, I kissed his cheek and hugged him whispering how much I love him.  His eyes opened slightly with a struggle and he whispered back, “I love you too.”  Then he rolled over and fell back to sleep. 
Now as I continue to drive with all of God's wonder around me, I could feel that love I have for my son.  I could feel comfort, safety and joy within me.  I could feel what he must be feeling also.  I longed to turn my truck around, go back and hug him again and spend the rest of the day with him.  That is how I feel about all 5 of my children.  And then it hit me. 
So obvious and simple was it that I could not see it before.  It was within me the whole time and I was looking outside for it.  I was looking at the sky and the clouds; the trees and the river rushing under me.  I was looking for it in a hug from my son, words from my daughter; praise from my wife.  There it was in my heart all along. 
I said it out loud to myself.  “If I can imagine how good my son feels to know that I love him completely, then know that the same love I have for my son, God has for all of His children.  God loves me the same way and greater.  He gave his son for me.  That’s love.  Stop searching for love outside of you and deepen the love that is within you.” 
As the words hit the air a sense of complete joy filled me.  I have been searching since age 5 for a love from my father that I assumed I never received.  I searched in so many others, finally understanding that they could not give it to me.  They could only give me their love; they could not replace my father’s love.  Then in the moments it takes for me to drive over a bridge God’s message to seek out His love, my Father in heaven’s love, finally hit me and I understood.  I know there will be days in the future when I will doubt again. 
I will work hard to think back on this moment and know that God loves me as I love my children.  Father’s Day was just two days away.  How would I use this new lesson? 
On Father’s Day, I was tempted to do my typical Father’s Day activities getting away from my children and spending my time with me doing what I want – golfing, working out and having others serve me.  Instead, I listened to my wife and used that day to spend more time with my children. 
We drove to the donut store together and picked out donuts for breakfast.  We made an agreement to put the iPods away for the day.   We made eggs for breakfast and cleaned up together.  We went to the golfing range together and all of us hit balls together.  We went to the community pool and swam together.  We went to Grandma’s house and grilled together, played with the dog together and played in the backyard together.  When we came home, we cuddled on the couch together and fell asleep together.  I am confident that we dreamed together before waking up together.  It was a perfect day spent WITH my children as a Dad, not alone celebrating my time without my children. 
It seemed perfect and yet something was missing.  Then I realized the day wasn’t complete.  I spent time with myself reading more of the Bible early in the morning and talking to God strengthening my relationship with Him.  I missed the opportunity to spend this time with God and my children together helping them develop a stronger relationship with Him and not just with me.  God wants to spend time with all of His children.  He provides the most precious gifts we have and all he asks is for us to appreciate, love and follow His word.  Don’t all of us as fathers want the same?  I’ll work on that God!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Finding Your Passion

Have you ever known someone who put their passion into their work, or better yet worked their passion?  I’d like to introduce you to my friend Kevin.  

Kevin and I have known each other for about 12 years now, meeting as we worked together in project management.  I was new to the department and to project management; Kevin became my training buddy.  I shadowed him on his primary accounts to learn the ropes in hopes that I would very quickly take on my own project.  During that training period, Kevin and I got to know each others background to some extent, but like most work relationships, we only shared bits of whom we were and where we came from.  As time went on our careers moved in different directions, but both of us would have similar events bringing us back together.

We both became victims of downsizing and left the organization where we originally met.  Within about a year, we met up again at another company with me, ironically, taking over the role Kevin had as he moved to another division.  I was a consultant and as my project ended, Kevin got caught in yet another downsizing.   We both left that company at about the same time.  

With both of us looking for our next career move, we connected and decided to form an organization on our own.  This organization was called Rise Above and with three others, we helped people who were downsized.  We put on free seminars providing hope along with practical skills around networking, writing resumes and interviewing.  As with any other training, we found that we learned as much by presenting as the audience learned from us; and I learned more about Kevin.

Over the next 9 months, Kevin shared more about his time in the Navy, his childhood years with his sister, mother and stepfather in Ohio, how he met his wife Beth and stories from his alma mater, the Ohio State Buckeyes hated rival of my Wisconsin Badgers.  What really became evident to me during that time was Kevin’s passion for helping others.  How he could make a career out of this inner need, we didn’t know yet. 
I’m a big fan of the Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  We are not all ready to learn at the same time, but when we are ready, it is amazing how quickly our teacher shows up.  This proverb fit Kevin perfectly.  What Kevin didn’t know at the time was that the teacher he needed was he himself.  

As he continued to provide insight to others about how to understand their passion through stories of his own career, Kevin gradually realized that he also needed that advice.  One day he told the story of a meeting he had with one of his leaders.  The leader asked Kevin what he wanted to do with his career.  Kevin answered, “I want to help people.”  

“Well, you’re not helping people here in this role,” was the response to Kevin.  

As he told that story to the audience, it hit him and he looked at me and said, “We have to talk.”  We sat down for coffee and he relayed his newly discovered passion.  

“I’ve made a decision,” he said.  “I’m going back to school to become a nurse.”  

You can imagine my surprise.  My initial thoughts were mixed with excitement and joy for him along with a little bit of doubt.  After a 20-year career in the Navy and business world, this was a significant change.  Could Kevin really make that big of a shift as he entered his forties?  

Within a few weeks, Kevin had completed his research, enrolled in some foundational courses and gotten accepted in an accelerated program through Bellin College of Nursing.  Just two weeks ago, almost 2 full years from our meeting at the coffee shop, Kevin got the news that he passed his board exam.  

Kevin would describe himself as a fairly average guy.  He’s not a Bill Gates, Michael Jordan or Donald Trump, yet he has, in my opinion, made lifestyle changes as dramatic as they have.  Many don’t know their passion or haven’t taken the time to define it.  Most who do know, don’t take actions toward that passion. 
What makes Kevin so remarkable is that he took actions rather than finding the excuses.  He didn’t let his age, shift in career, long nights of study, lost income or any doubters tell him he couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t easy and he went through many struggles, but Kevin never wavered on his goal.  As he confronted obstacles, he pushed through, re-planned like a good project manager and kept taking the next action.  

I am proud to call him my friend and Registered Nurse.  Just imagine the impact he will have on others as he serves them. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Appreciation for Tegan

In my new role at a new company, I have been very fortunate to meet some wonderful people. This week I had a meeting with a lady who is helping me with financial numbers. Her name is Tegan and she has a face as lovely as her name. What I found out during our brief meeting is that she has as beautiful a spirit as well.

I waited for Tegan to get out of another meeting, I noticed a piece of paper taped to her cubicle wall. It had a picture of who I assumed was her family and the title, “Scott Niemuth Benefit”. I asked Tegan about the benefit and found a powerful story.

At age 50, her father Scott has recently been diagnosed with ALS. “Okay,” I thought, “he’s got a struggle in front of him, but that’s what makes life so worthwhile, overcoming struggles.” That’s what I thought, but I am wrong.

As Tegan bravely told me the story of his health struggles over a period of six months until he finally was accurately diagnosed, I could see the pain on her face, but her voice never wavered. She earnestly apologized that she would not be available on Fridays for a while so she could spend time with him on weekends. Finally I asked how the treatments are going. Completely composed, she told me there are no treatments. He visits a medical facility regularly just to understand how the disease has progressed, but in reality he has only 12 to 18 months left if they are lucky. I appeared more broken than she.

You see, I’m the guy who always looks for the silver lining, the lesson, the value in a bad situation. I’m the one who teaches my kids to recite the phrase, “There’s always a solution!” I’m the one who always believes there’s a bucker inside of each of us who can overcome anything we put our minds to.

 I’m the one who just learned there is no solution to this man’s struggle. After hearing the details of her father’s story, I shared the story with my wife. It helped both of us to gain further perspective on what is important in life. With 5 children age 11 and under, our days can get pretty stressed, particularly if we focus too much on what we want rather than what they want.

As I got ready for work this morning, I didn’t get angry about my 4-year-old who didn’t want to put on the shorts we picked out for him. I hugged him instead. As I drove into the office, I didn’t worry about being 3 minutes behind schedule or the long line of cars in front of me at the round-a-bout or even the driver who cut me off trying to get further in front of that line. Instead, I breathed in the cool fresh air, admired the glass look of the river, and listened to the sound of kids laughing and running down the river trail. Even though I was running late, I still stopped at my coffee shop, smiled at everyone who passed me and listened to the funny story from the girl making my coffee. Just before I reached the parking lot, I called my wife just to tell her how much I appreciate her.

These are the little things that could be taken from me at anytime and I thank Tegan immensely for helping me remember that! Her father has never met me and still he has impacted me. To help Scott and his family visit the following link:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Finding Pennies

I pulled into the gas station to fill up the truck for the first time. I shook my head at the price per gallon listed on the pump, and then fell back against the truck in shock at the total price once it was filled. Reaching to put the gas cap back on, I knocked it off its ledge and watched it roll under the truck. “Really,” I thought to myself, “on such a warm day wearing my dress pants and a white shirt, I have to get on my hands and knees to get this cap?” As I reached under the truck, there it was, resting right next to the cap, shining at me. I smiled and picked it up. I turned it over in my hands to examine it further; sure enough, it was a nickel. I hugged it in my hand, thanked God and smiled remembering what my children had suggested about finding money. Suddenly all the problems of the morning were gone. It was 3 months earlier as I drove the kids to school, Lauren next to me in the front seat, Megan and Carson in the back; Carson sitting in the middle to avoid the booster seat he feels he’s too big for. “What’s that quarter for?” Lauren asked referring to the quarter that was sliding back and forth on the dashboard. “I found it outside my coffee shop yesterday.” My innocent response provoked a conversation that changed my view of simple coins. “We sure seem to be finding a lot of money,” Carson said. “Well, I wouldn’t say a quarter is a lot of money”, I replied. “But Dad, we have been finding a lot of coins lately,” Lauren chimed in. “Why do you think that is?” I asked. Megan answered first, “I think God is giving us the money.” Carson agreed. Lauren added, “I think God is giving it to us and telling us that money is everywhere.” “Really, why would He do that?” I asked which continued a conversation that concluded with all of us agreeing on a new perspective on finding pennies. We concluded that there’s an abundance of money out there, you just have to open ourselves up to it; stop blocking it from coming to us with thoughts about not having enough. It’s as if God is saying, “You want more money, here it is. I’ve got plenty for you.” Then He throws coins in front of us to prove it. “What I can’t give to you,” He continues, “are the really important things in life that you have to earn.” Each day I hope to remember that it’s not about the money. It’s about the effects on others. It’s about love, respect, learning, teaching and growing – it’s about Family. It’s about a daughter who sends you a card stating “Father of the Year” and reminds me to start working on next year. It’s about waiting 15 minutes for a 10-year-old and her friend to catch up, and then crossing the finish line of her first 10K run holding hands. It’s about a son who goes to his first football camp and can’t stop talking about it for weeks. It’s about the 4-year-old getting his finger stuck in the truck window and needing some ice, a band-aid and a kiss to recover. And it’s about his twin brother helping him out of the truck and getting the ice for him. It’s about coming home every night to the incredible woman who takes care of all of us and being able to so gratefully call her my wife. How much do you want to bet I find a penny on the street today?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Moving On

Grandma Clara passed away this week. She was 97 years old and the matriarch of the family. She was also the home that brought us all together. She was the definition of persistence, consistency, and stability. Even up to her last days with us, she lived alone in her home, did all her own cooking and cleaning, carried her laundry up and down the basement steps, and maintained a small garden out back.

Grandma was what I would call a perfectionist. Every detail of her house was spotless. She had a way to get everything done and it was her way. Anything that strayed from her way was met with her favorite word, “Awk!” From age 6 on, I thought of Grandma as hard, insensitive and demanding. She never cried and rarely showed a soft, compassionate side. She wasn’t the grandma portrayed on many of the shows I grew up with. But she was my grandma and I loved her.

Over the last 10 or 15 years there seemed to be a change in Grandma. As I sat with her and asked her about her childhood, her family and my family, stories poured out of her. She was a child during WWI, got married and birthed 3 boys in the midst of the Great Depression. Eight years into that marriage with her oldest boy only 7 years old, she lost her husband. World War II was just getting under way and she was left to raise 3 boys on her own.

“That must have been tough,” I noted to her one day. She responded, “Well it certainly wasn’t easy, but you move on.”

After her children were raised and well into starting their own families, Grandma got remarried. Everything was going great until she got the news about her youngest son three years later. At age 28, with five children of his own, he was killed in a plane crash. It took a long time to get over that, but she moved on.

Fifteen years later, her second husband died of a heart attack. Alone again, she moved on. Then her second son died of a similar heart attack and then her third son. She had now out-lived 2 husbands and 3 sons. What did she do? She moved on. She did so not without pain, but without fear and without a why me attitude. She persevered, pushed forward and took what life was giving her.

As she told her stories to me, that belief of her from a 6-year-old mind began to break away. I began to see the compassionate heart. Her lack of hugs was not a sign that she lacked caring, but that she cared in her way. Her critical views became wisdom from years of experience. Her lack of emotion became strength in the face of my weaknesses. As I heard her stories, I began to think, “Wow, grandma is really changing.”

In my last visits during her last days, we talked more about her current interests. She loved to watch the Brewers on TV or listen to them on the radio. She was a big Packer fan, but couldn’t understand why they wore those goofy uniforms sometimes (I explained that they were throwbacks and she said, “They should be thrown away”). I saw her face light up as she watched my kids run around her house playing games. I saw the genius in her card play.

I walked out of her house for the last time to a hug and a kiss on my cheek. I thought, “Grandma really has changed.” Then I put the kids in the van, turned back to the house and saw that familiar figure looking out the screen door and that familiar wave good-bye. I felt like that 6-year-old kid again.

As I drove away, I saw her in a new light. I could put myself in her shoes just a bit and see the world through her eyes. I could feel her pain in brief moments. Then it dawned on me. Grandma hadn’t changed as much as Grandma had changed me. Forgive me Grandma if it takes me a little longer than you, but I will move on.

I never realized until it was too late how I won the lottery by being her grandson.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Just what in the world does that word mean? I heard a doctor once describe this as irritating grains of sand in our memory that get covered with layers and layers of time until they turn into pearls. It seems all the bad memories we had while participating in the events of our past have turned into great memories. I remember bailing hay for my uncles as a kid and hating it. Now, as I drive in the country and catch the fragrance of freshly cut hay being raked in the fields, I wish for one more day on a wagon throwing bails around.

But there are also so many wonderful memories. During Mardi Gras day at our offices, someone brought in rhubarb pie. One bite and the pearls of the past came back to me instantly. I could smell lilacs and taste rhubarb. I could hear the rhythmic pumping of the bailer and the creaking tires and frame of the wagon as it rolled over the uneven field. I could feel the sun burning my back and the occasional breeze cooling me. And I could see my dog Misty barking by the fence with the apple trees letting go of the ripe apples behind her.

Misty is long gone; the lilac bush was cut down years ago; and the old-fashioned bailers have been replaced with modern machines that now roll the hay into massive bails. Everything changes, but our memories are the wonderful keepsakes of those seemingly lost times of our youth.

I love to watch my children now as I think back to those cherished times of my past. I wonder what memories they will cherish. What will become pearls for them? What do they hate now that they will ultimately wish they could do just one more time in the future? Most importantly, what am I doing to ensure I help create these special memories with them? As Carly Simon sings, “These are the good old days.” What can we do as servants to help create the good old days for everyone around us right now?