The most important thing to remember during difficult times.

In January of this year you probably set new goals for yourself. You thought about what you wanted to do personally and professionally. Businesses around the world introduced their 2020 goals to their teams. As we plunged into February the new year-smell was still in the air. Progress was being made. Then came March. COVID-19 forced us back into our caves. Suddenly it became much more difficult to make progress towards our goals. And even harder to choreograph new handshakes with friends.

My Goal

As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency,The Weaponry, my career goal is to create the perfect advertising agency. Simple right? Or maybe not. Because attaining perfection is hard. And elusive. And a Milton Bradley board game that makes you feel as if you are racing the timer on a bomb in your rec room. But creating the perfect agency is my goal because it’s hard. And because achieving it would help make everyone involved (including my clients, my teammates and our families) happy, sought after and prosperous.

Pass The Test

If you are undertaking something hard, and I hope you are, it will test you, repeatedly. Like a diabetic tests their glucose. Your mission is like a boxing match. You step between the ropes and square off with whatever or whoever is standing between you and your goals. And you start throwing all you have at each other. Only one of you will win. It will be the one who wants it more.

The Coronavirus

Today, as you confront your own COVI9-19-era challenges, I have a quote that I want you to put in your pocket. As you fight for your dreams, your goals and your right to party, pull this quote out between rounds and use it as your smelling salts to help shake off the cobwebs and the fatigue.

‘Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other thing.’ -Abraham Lincoln

My friends, Abe Lincoln knew what he was talking about. Though he faced immense opposition, his personal resolution lead to the single most important victory in American history, both for our nation and for us as humans. He also used his unwavering resolve to achieve his other lofty life goals of getting his face on the penny, creating a popular log-based toy brand, and building a car company with Matthew McConaughey.

Key Takeaway

These are challenging times. We are all being tested. We are all experiencing setbacks. Things are hard, and may get even harder. But keep doing the hard things. Keep fighting. Keep your eyes on the prize. Remain resolute. And keep Lincoln’s quote close at hand.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How close to the surface are your failures?

Tuesday night I guest lectured to an advertising campaigns class at Marquette University taught by Erin Napier. I talked about creative thinking and the creative process. I talked about my advertising career path, from college student to Copywriter to Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. I talked about Entrepreneurship. I shared my experience as Founder & CEO of  The Weaponry. And I told them about the time me and Danica Patrick filled a Motorhome with 1.2 million ping pong balls.

Q & A

I showed samples of the creative work I have created, and then I asked if anyone had questions. This is one of the first questions I was asked:

‘What was you greatest career failure, and what did you learn from it?’

Now I am all about learning from your failures. And I am all about turning lemons into  lemonade, like Ralph Lemonader. But I didn’t have an answer for this question.

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This is the class I spoke to at Marquette University. And everyone is still awake. I consider that a win.

It’s not that I haven’t made mistakes in my career. I certainly have. But what I recognized when trying to access my colossal mistakes file, was that I don’t hold my failures close. They are not raw and ready to be examined. I am not dwelling on them, stewing over them of kicking myself because of them. I’m not like that super pale dude from The Da Vinci Code, who was torturing himself with his power slinky. I quickly learn my lesson and move on, better than before.

Maximizer

When I read Tom Rath’s Strength Finders, and took the test in the book (which I recommend you do), it told me that I am a raging Maximizer. Which means I have no interest in analyzing things that went wrong in the past. I simply focus on what we can do from here.

My Biggest Failure Answer

The best answer I could give that Marquette student was that I was pretty sure I don’t know what my biggest mistake was. It was likely something I didn’t do, rather than something I did do. It was probably some path I didn’t take, or some Monty Hall door I didn’t open. I’ll never know where that would have taken me. And I’m not losing any sleep over it. #Zzzzzzz

Learn & Move On

Our failures should be like touching a hot stove. We should do it once, recognize the mistake quickly, file the lesson away, and move on. No dwelling or hand wringing. We just learn our lessons, and get back to life. #BackToReality.

Key Takeaway

Learn from your failures and keep going. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rank your greatest failures of all time. Instead, focus on your successes. Know what works for you. Remember what you did right. Repeat the positive actions. And pass that knowledge along for others to learn from too.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Sometimes the good times are hard.

This is a very good time for me and my business. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is flush with opportunity. The demand for our work is high. The projects we are working on are exciting and rewarding. We met our revenue goal for the year on December 3rd. And we just issued our team new Fight With Your Brain t-shirts. It feels like we are rolling like Tina Turner. Or John Fogerty.

On The Other Hand

However, good times in business can be really hard. The demands are high. Timelines are short. Bandwidths are narrow. Margins for error are nonexistent. During really good times you aren’t just doing your job. You are also juggling, horse trading and plate spinning.

I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane.

Our December is full of airports, hotel rooms and film shoots. I will be working straight through the weekend. The demand for my team’s skillz, experience and thinking will pack all but the untouchable holidays this December.

It is exactly what I have always wanted.

But it is also hard.

Key Takeaway

It is not just the bad times that are challenging. When you are trying to do something difficult the success often hurts. Which is why so many entrepreneurs settle for more leisurely lifestyle businesses. Where they are not constantly pushing and confronting the pain of growth and greatness.

That Ain’t Me.

I want growth and greatness. And challenge. I want to evolve The Weaponry into a better, bigger, stronger, faster machine. I want to scale and improve as we go. So we can become the perfect agency for clients, employees and partners. I’ve never been afraid of pain or discomfort. So I charge into the day excited for whatever comes my way. I hope the day is ready for me.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How to get inspired when you are running behind.

Do you ever feel like you are running behind? I do. All the time. I have high expectations. Which means that I also have goals, lists and timelines. But I find myself running behind my established deadlines all the time. Which means I would probably fit right in at United Airlines.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!

I am frequently behind on both my long-term and short-term goals. I am often behind on my daily to-do list as well. I can’t tell you how many times I have approached the last hour or two of my day at work or home, looked at the list of things I wanted to accomplish that day, and been shocked at how little I had crossed off.

Don’t Give Up

I don’t let myself get discouraged in those moments. In fact, I am thankful to recognize how little I have achieved while there is still time to do something about it. Because in those moments I am always reminded of my 9 years as a track and field athlete.

Life is like a track race.

Over the course of my track career at Hanover High School and the University of Wisconsin I saw amazing things happen at the end of races. I saw runners who looked as if they were destined for last place do amazing things. They didn’t give up. Instead, they kicked.

The Kick

In track and field The Kick is the late race attempt to shift to a higher speed than you were running the rest of the race. The Kick is used to finish strong. It is used to overcome the slower pace you had run to that point that put you behind. In full disclosure, I never had a track kick. I had more of a wave goodbye as other runners left me behind to contemplate my dietary choices.

Inspiration

I saw hundreds of inspiring Kicks in person during my track career. I saw hundreds more as a lifelong fan of the sport. I am always amazed to see how a strong, short, focused effort can completely change the outcome of a race.

Kicking At Work

Today, when I find myself behind late in the day, or late in a timeline, I don’t throw in the towel. I kick. I look at what I can still accomplish. I push distractions aside. I focus. And I sprint.

I have found that these late in the race sprints have the same ability to change outcomes in business and life as they do on the track. A concentrated effort over a short time often produces an entire day’s worth of productivity and progress in just an hour or two. Even better, I have had days where I crossed more off my daily to-do list in the last 20 minutes than I did in the previous 8 hours.

Key Takeaway

It is never too late to Kick. Whether you are talking about daily goals or lifetime goals, career or personal aspirations, your Kick can change everything. When you find yourself behind, use the time you have, to give everything you’ve got, to accomplish as much as you can. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes in the final outcome. And at the end of the day, the end is all that matters.

Here is a great collection of finishing kicks to inspire you today.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

** The cover image for this post is of Sarah Disanza, who has joined me and my team at The Weaponry. She knows a thing or two about kicking too.

Great Advice From Ludacris On How To Create Opportunities.

I study successful people. Seriously. Successful people is my favorite subject. I like it even more than gym class. If I was a contestant on Jeopardy, Successful People would be the first topic I would choose. If I had one last book to read on earth it would be about successful people. Unless that book was on the shelf next to Last Minute Tricks To Get Into Heaven For Those Who Giggled Too Much In Church.

I regularly read about, listen to, watch and ask questions of successful people. Recently I watched an interesting interview with the rapper Ludacris (Christopher Bridges). It was the kind of interview where you are on stage, acting as if you are having a normal fireside chat with a total stranger. Meanwhile, a thousand strangers in the audience eavesdrop on your conversation. But they don’t even hide the fact that they are eavesdropping. #TotallyAwkward

MultiPronged Success

At the end of the Ludacris interview they let the audience ask a few questions. A 20-something woman stepped up to the mic and told Ludacris that she wanted to be like him. She noted that he was a Rapper, Actor, Songwriter, Record Label Founder, Headphone Maker, Vodka Creator, Sneaker Line Designer, Restaurant Owner, Real Estate Investor and Philanthropist.

The young woman then listed all of the things that she was doing. Her verbal resume exceeded the number of titles Ludacris had. Which sounded ludicrous. I snickered at the absurdity of her self proclaimed resume. After sharing her laundry list of titles the unknown woman asked the world famous rapper what advice he had for someone who has ambitions to do so many things.

The Response

Luda might have been tempted to laugh at her. I half expected him to tell her to get out my business, my businasz! Or to Move! Or Rollout! Or that your time and your clothes got to coordinate. I was just hoping he was going to rhyme.

But instead of dropping giggles, verses or hardcore attitude on her, Luda dropped some great advice on the ambitious young woman. He said:

My best advice is to first get really, really good at one of those things. When you get really, really good at something it opens up doors that allow you to do the other things you want to do. -Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges

First Things First

This is excellent advice. You create great value for yourself when you provide the world with great value. You do this by first putting in the time to become really, really good at something rare and valuable. Which then creates opportunities to do other things that excite you.

Don’t be a Jack or Jill of all trades but master of none. Master one of those trades. The world will then ask you what else you want to do. Because if you are willing to put in the work to be great at one thing, you have what it takes to be great at many things.

Key Takeaway

It’s great to be ambitious. But serious success requires serious focus. Start by becoming great at one valuable thing. Use that greatness as a bridge to your next opportunity to create, lead, write, perform, teach, speak, launch or invest. Success sets off a domino effect of actions. But it all starts with that very first domino. That’s where your focus should be first.

How to find your secret language and trade it for wealth and happiness.

My son Johann has always been musical. He hummed before he could talk. He sang before he got his first haircut. And he memorized lyrics to songs before he started preschool. Thankfully, my wife and I were smart enough to pick up on this. We started Johann on piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He took to it naturally. Before he even outgrew his baby lisp he was pounding out songs on our piano at home.

A few months after Johann started playing piano I was tuning a guitar at home. 5-year-old Johey walked past as I was strumming and said ‘That sounds like a G Dad.’  I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said, ‘It is a G!’

But the question was, how did this 5-year-old piano player know this was a G on a guitar? And could he recognize other notes? I then plucked the other strings of the guitar and asked Johann if he knew what they were. Sure enough he named them all with ease. E, A, D, G, B, E.

I quickly researched perfect pitch. I learned that it is the ability to identify musical notes. People with perfect pitch can typically create the sound of a note perfectly without assistance or reference, and they can dissect the notes in a chord. In other words, they are freak shows.

I went to our piano and asked Johann if he could make the sound of middle C. He quickly produced a hum. I hit the middle C key on the piano and had a perfect match. Weird. Then, I tried what seemed really far-fetched. I asked him to face away from the piano. I then played two notes at the same time and asked him what notes they were. He nailed them both. I played 2 other notes. He nailed those too. Then I tried 3 notes together, and he named all 3.

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Johann and his piano teacher Rita Shur, and a bunch of rectangles .

The Secret Language

It was then that I realized that little 5-year-old Johann spoke a language that I don’t speak, and very few people do. In fact, only about 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch.  That’s one for each lake in Minnesota. Typically, people who develop PP (#snicker) have musical training before the age of 6. Unfortunately, we lose our ability to develop perfect pitch after the age of 9.

Recognizing his unique musical abilities and interest, we have leaned into his natural skills and talents. He is now 11 years old, and plays the piano, violin and saxophone. He performs in state piano competitions. And he can do things with a harmonica that make me think he could follow in the lip steps of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan or John Popper.

Your Special Language

We all understand a secret language that most others don’t. Music is just one example. For others it is finance, or sales, or compassion. For still others it may be baking, sports, mechanical interactions or makeup. We all have at least one rare language that we are born with a natural ability to speak and understand.

The key is for you to identify what that is, and lean into it hard. Become fluent. Add value to the world through your mastery of that language. And it is likely to bring you great happiness, and wealth.

Discovering My Language

Johann speaks the elegant and beautiful language of music. God gave me the ability to make wordplay out of anything. Which feels more carny than Carnegie Hall. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I knew as soon as I learned to read that I had the innate ability to create headlines. I loved reading them in newspapers and magazines. I loved the way they quickly summarized stories, with a clever twist. I always thought headline writer would be the perfect job for me. That and chocolate milk drinker.

When I took my first advertising class at the University of Wisconsin I was completely hooked. I got straight A’s in everything advertising related. I enjoyed the strategy and the creativity of it immensely. My college professors recognized my abilities and connected me with Paul Counsel, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of the greatest ad agencies in America. Paul hired me, and I got my start as a writer.

Creating a Career

I have spent my career speaking my secret language. I have enjoyed it tremendously. Clients and coworkers value my thinking. As a result, fun and interesting opportunities keep coming my way.

In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. We doubled in size in 2017. We doubled again in 2018. And we have unlimited potential ahead. All because me and my teammates are specializing in our secret languages.

Your Secret Language

You can do the same thing with your secret language. Pay close attention to that thing that comes easily to you. Discover it. Develop it. And do amazing things with it. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. Tap into your secret language and you will have tapped into your path to greatest happiness, value and financial success.

Key Takeaway

You have a secret language that has been programmed into you. It enables you to perform at a very high level. A level that most people have no chance of ever achieving. Specialize in your secret language and play to your strengths. It makes you feel smart and strong. It makes you feel comfortable. It makes you valuable to others. And when you provide great value to others, it translates to both happiness and wealth. Which are two powerful forces we can all understand.

What do you do when you see a road closed ahead sign?

Yesterday morning my family and I piled into our car to make a 2-hour drive to a basketball tournament in the small town of Freedom, Wisconsin. Freedom is just north of Appleton. If Appleton means nothing to you, Freedom is 20 minutes south of Green Bay. If you are from New York City, or a non-American, Freedom is 4 hours north of Chicago.

The Sign

Fifteen minutes into the drive, as we made our way down a country road, we approached a large sign that said: Road Closed 1 Mile Ahead. Local traffic only. As we approached the sign there was one car ahead of us. Upon seeing the sign the driver pulled to the side of the road, then quickly turned around and headed back the way we came, presumably to find a different route.

I ignored the sign and continued down the road anyway. One mile later, I approached a small fleet of construction vehicles parked neatly on the side of the road. They had clearly been put away for the weekend. Despite the warning from the sign, the road was indeed open and passable, even for non-locals like me. I drove through the hibernating construction site, and within a mile I reached the interstate on-ramp, exactly as I had planned.

Don’t Turn Around, Bright Eyes.

As I pulled onto the freeway, and reached my cruising speed, I reflected on this seemingly small incident. Because it was symbolic of how we go through life. We all see signs that tell us we can’t go this way or that. We are told of rules and limitations and regulations that cause so many among us to stop and turn around. Because most good, rule following  people stop when they are told the road ahead is closed.

But if you want to do great things, hard things or never-done-before things, you can’t follow all the road signs. You can’t pull a u-turn every time you are told no.  You have to question, challenge and push ahead. And when you do, you will be surprised how often the closed path advertised ahead is wide open and waiting for you to take it.

Key Takeaway

If you want to start a business, create an innovative new product or service, or forge a new route, you can’t turn around every time you are told you should. The same holds true in our personal lives. You have to find your way forward. Challenge the rules and laws. Question the assumptions. Don’t just take no for an answer. Find out for yourself what is really possible. Because beyond the no, the stop sign and the dead-end are where all the really great things are found.