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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged inspiration
Your Definition of Success is Too Narrow

Yesterday, my friend Matt Cheuvront posted an "inspiring" video. While the dedication of the student athlete and his physical prowess is admirable, the speech in the video is less than helpful. The story of the young man and the guru is told (which I've written about before) and then the speaker encourages his listeners that in order to be successful, they must want that success more than parties, sleep, or TV. I can surely appreciate the sentiment. I am a big believer that often what stands in the way of us achieving a dream is the 30 minutes lost to a sitcom rerun or the discipline of rising early to carve out time to work on something that matters.

But, where I draw the line is at the notion that success is equal to income. As the speaker in this video articulates with the examples he uses, one will only be deemed successful when they forget to sleep because they are earning wads of money.

That notion of success is too narrow.

Any definition of success that does not include an appropriate valuing of human relationships is garbage and should be thrown out like the trash it is.

Are parties not as important as succeeding, as the speaker suggests? Maybe. But skip every party you're asked to and soon your friends will stop inviting you, no matter how many awards you win. Is money nice to have? Certainly. But it's no fun if you can't spend it on those you love because your life is absent of any significant relationship.

Check out the top five regrets of people on their deathbed. Do you know what you won't find? The lament that they didn't listen to the guru enough and spent more time working.

Screw the definitions of success that are dictated by dollar signs. I say work your crappy, unexciting job if it means you make enough to spend on those you love while spending quality time with them, too. Chances are good that the people who care about you the most don't give a rip what title is printed on your business card (I bet they've never seen your business card). Instead, they want to know that you'll be at dinner, at the dance recital, and at the beach with them next summer. They want you there at bath time, bedtime, and story time.

And if you want success money more than you want relationships, then chances are good you're headed for personal failure. You fail when your life is full of regret. And the best way to live a life as free of regret as possible is to take it easy once in a while. Or a lot of once in a whiles, especially if it means you can sleep late next to someone you love, party hard with lifelong friends, or teach your child how to kick back and do nothing at all.

Don't believe motivational speakers when they tell you that you have to ignore everything else to be successful. They're peddling a lie. Instead, believe your family when they say they want to see you more often.

Go home, take a walk with them at sunset, and breathe deeply knowing that at that moment, you are the most successful person in the world, doing the only thing that matters right then.

What is your definition of success?

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Great Speakers Commit

Note: I'm excited to announce today that I've created a new weekly email for those who are professional or aspiring speakers. Each week, I'll send you fresh tips, ideas, and resources to help you elevate your speaking game. This content won't be anywhere else online, so sign up for Speak UP today! I think that one of the fine lines between a good speaker and a great speaker is commitment. Great speakers commit to their topic, their delivery, and their audience. Here's what I mean:

Commit to your topic

As I'll be sharing at the International Toastmasters Convention in a few weeks, the best (paid) speakers have a core story, often shaped by who they are. This story then lets them find a niche to market to in order to land paid speaking gigs. While stories and topics can change over time, you can tell when a speaker is committed to a topic. She can recite facts and examples with ease, as if lost in a deep personal conversation. She has a treasure trove of resources and anecdotes at her fingertips because she knows her topic so well. She's up on the latest findings and even has her own opinion of them. She's read all the books on the subject and may be working on one of her own. It's part of her. You know when you've seen this kind of knowledge in a speaker and no doubt it's someone who is truly great.

Commit to your delivery

Michael Grinder, who taught me a lot about public speaking, did a bit in one of his sessions. He was extolling us to watch great politicians or televangelists speak (or preach) in order to observe their delivery skills. He then immediately launched into his most saccharine and charismatic impression of a TV preacher. In no time, the audience was laughing, clapping, and nodding along and his suggestion was burned into our memories. He could have said one line in that voice or with those gestures, but he carried on for a solid minute. It was a risk (we might not have been humored), but he committed to the bit and it paid off in teaching a solid lesson.

When you tell a story on stage, commit to it. Retell it as if you were there all over again. Share with the audience the smells, sounds, and sights going on around you. Use the appropriate facial expressions. Pause when things get hectic to add suspense. Yell when intensity calls for it. Commit to telling a good story and you'll stand out and teach your audience a thing or two.

Commit to your audience

Every time I speak, I make sure to have a detailed conversation with my contact person about the audience. Whether it's a college orientation or a nonprofit conference, I treat each gig as unique. I want to know who specifically (if the contact knows) will be in the room. What has gone on in their collective lives or industry the previous six months? Budget cuts? Transition? Confusion? Success? How old are they? Do they have to be at this event or are the freely choosing to attend? Knowing who's in the room makes my talk more relevant, with better key takeaways for those who listen. Speakers with a one-size-fits-all approach rarely move from good to great.

What do you think makes a great speaker?

What qualities do you admire in a speaker who is outstanding on stage? Let me know in the comments below.

And, if you likes the ideas and suggestions in this post, consider signing up for Speak UP, my free weekly newsletter for professional or aspiring speakers.

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The Hero Defines the Superhero

Who is your hero? And who is better than them?

Could you be?

Heroes are a dime a dozen. Well meaning people do something extraordinary on a daily basis. Turn on the news and after all the shootings and robberies, you'll usually find a story about a local business owner or a teacher who is doing good things for other people or the community. They're a hero.

As such, they've just set the bar. They just defined what it means to be great and meaningful. Now it's your turn to up the ante and do them one better if you're looking to stand out.

Thankfully, there are a lot of heroes in the world. But, there aren't too many superheroes. This means that if you're willing to become one, you can rise up and have a tangible, lasting impact.

This is why Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman appeal to us. Sure, they have super-human powers. But they also seem to possess a super-human understanding of justice, compassion, dedication, commitment, consistency, and sacrifice. Anyone can be a hero once. But to do it over and over again? That's...well...super.

We like to think that it's the possession of a secret or super power that makes someone a superhero, but it's not. Name a superhero and beneath the armor or mask or costume you'll find a heart that beats to the tune of unwavering promise and habit. You'll find someone committed time and again to a cause, an idea, a value, or a standard. 

Whether it's Spiderman or the teacher who never gives up on a student (and hasn't for a decade), you'll find the same thing at the core. Strip away the ability to scale tall buildings and you'll see that both comic book superheroes and passionate community advocates do the seemingly impossible every single day.

To me, this is what makes - and can make any of us - super in our heroism: repetition.

You don't start by being super or sewing a cape. You start by being heroic. And then you do that thing over and over again.

Don't worry about the cape. Show up enough and be a hero to someone for long enough and they'll give you that cape. Your job is to be super every day.

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College and University Keynote Speaker

I'm proud to officially announce today that I'm part of the CAMPUSPEAK family. This fantastic organization helps colleges and universities find relevant and dynamic keynote and workshop presentations for students. Learn more about CAMPUSPEAK here. If your campus or students are in need of a message about leadership, community change, or social entrepreneurship, you can learn more about the keynotes I offer.

I'm excited to launch this next stage of my speaking career, helping university students think critically about their future when it comes to how they will use their lives to make the world a better place. 

"Those imperfections are where the beauty lies."

This month's Garden & Gun (by far my favorite magazine) has a profile piece on Capers Cauthen, a furniture craftsman based in South Carolina (link not available). He's known for making fantastic tables and other items out of reclaimed wood. In the middle of the article, Cauthen said why he likes working with old wood:

Those imperfections are where the beauty lies.

Truth from a carpenter.

That thing you hate about yourself? That part of you that you think is ugly, useless, outdated, or less than fantastic? Look again. There is beauty there.

The things we don't like about ourselves can often become the things others adore. Beauty is firmly in the eyes of the beholder; let someone else find the beauty within you, draw it out, and make something fantastic out of what you once thought wasn't good for much.

Something is not beautiful because it's perfect. It becomes perfect for us once we realize it's beautiful.

The Worst Thing You Can Do When Giving a Speech

Other than vomiting on someone (which has never happened to me, knock on wood), the worst thing you can do when giving a speech is to tell your audience to be something. I'm not innocent of this. But, having spoken over 500 times in my life on a variety of topics, I've learned that an audience walks away with less when I tell them to be something. They gain a lot more from my time on stage when I tell them to do something.

For example, after a 30- or 60-minute speech, if the audience is left with any of the following key points, my impact on them has been minimal:

  • Be passionate
  • Be yourself
  • Be the best
  • Be authentic
  • Be ready for anything
  • Be hopeful
  • Be honest
  • Be unique
  • Be a leader

While well-meaning, simply telling anyone the above leaves them no different than when they walked in the room before I started talking. Who among us doesn't want to be authentic or passionate or honest?

Instead, your talk becomes more valuable when you offer ways that people can live out any of the above advice. For example:

  • Don't tell someone to be a leader. Walk your audience through a process to determine ways they can lead in an existing job or social setting.
  • Don't tell someone to be unique. Give her a plan where she can discover her strengths and why those are a competitive advantage to her when looking for a job.
  • Don't tell someone to be passionate. Offer him six questions to consider the next time he feels stuck in life.

The speeches we all remember - and the only ones worth giving - don't merely tell people how to be; they challenge us all with something to do. Then, when we set out on the course offered from the stage, we can finally become who we want to be.

Action shapes being, not the other way around. Inspire your listeners to act - this is your chief responsibility when given the privilege of speaking into a microphone.

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How to Motivate Someone

If you need to motivate someone you manage (or if you could use a little motivation yourself), it seems as though most of us can stay spurred on by two things:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Immediate feedback

On clear goals

Ever started a job or been working on a project and you're not sure what's expected of you? It can lead to a lot of confusion, frustration, and spinning wheels, like George Constanza when he took the job without knowing what he was supposed to do (other than work on the Penske file):

Clear goals give us direction, let us course-correct when needed, and help keep our eyes focused on an outcome. In short, we know where we're going.

On immediate feedback

Why wait until the end of something to know whether or not we did it right? If something is amiss, we'll need to start all over again, which can be crippling to morale and motivation. Make sure you let people know how they're doing as often as possible. If they're doing great, the affirmation will keep them working well. If something isn't going as you'd like, then your team can know to make changes instantly (like when you need to move a couch).

How do you stay motivated?

How do you keep others focused and working towards a goal? 

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Feeling Trapped

I was waiting to board my flight out of Fort Lauderdale, talking on the phone with my friend Adrian and pacing as we caught up, told stories, gave advice, and offered encouragement. And as I walked and talked waiting for boarding time, I heard a bird nearby. Sure enough, two small birds had found their way into the terminal and were chasing each other, flitting about rapidly, resting on a ledge near a big tall window.

I wonder if they looked out the window in between bursts of indoor flight. I wonder if they saw the planes making their way from the gates, revving up, racing down the runway and quickly climbing high above.

And if they did, I wonder if their heart longed to do what they were best at: fly freely.

We find ourselves in similar situations, I’m guessing. We have natural talents or skills we've honed over the years. We each have something we enjoy doing so much that it makes our heart sing. But sometimes, all we can do is look out our window at everyone else who looks like they're making it, taking off toward their dream of doing something great.

And where does it leave us? We feel trapped. We feel misguided by the advice someone once told us to do what we love and what makes us happy. We tried and it just got us stuck somewhere near the Internet and every time we stopped for just a moment it looked like everyone else was taking off while we were stranded, flightless and nearly hopeless.

Take heart. Just because you’re not soaring right now like everyone else doesn't mean you’re ultimately incapable of flying. You know how to increase speed, create lift, and climb higher.

You just need to get out of the terminal and onto the runway.

That’s the hardest advice to come by, truthfully, and I wish I could conclude this blog post with a handful of easy ways to do that. I wish there were a book to read, a video to watch, or a guru to consult to make sure that you’d be at cruising altitude by lunchtime.

But all I can tell you (and tell myself) is to keep trying. Keep flying where you are, even if big windows and a ceiling have you feeling like you can’t escape. Because I really believe (for you and me) that very soon, the door or window will open up and we’ll be free.

We may even find a crack in the wall we can slip through. Our job in the meantime is to make sure we’re ready for flight when the conditions become favorable.

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The Garden Lady

There's a house on our usual walking route that has a lot of flowers out front. They're mostly simple pansies or marigolds, but my daughter is captivated by them. When we ask if she wants to go by the garden, she always answers with an enthusiastic "Yes!" Last night, as we made our way to the garden, we saw the woman who lives there outside working in her garden, either planting or weeding. She saw us approaching and said a gentle "Hello."

We paused, returned the nicety, and paused so our daughter could take in the purple, red, yellow, and orange flowers.

"Take one," the garden lady said.

"Are you sure?" we asked, a bit taken aback.

"Sure. That's what they're there for."

We asked our daughter which one she wanted. She selected a purple one and I knelt to break the stem and hand it to her. We wished the garden lady a good night and continued on our loop back home.

If you create something beautiful, don't be afraid to give it to others. No, you can't always control what they'll do with it, but beauty is too great and wonderful to keep to yourself.

My daughter may never remember this particular walk, but I hope she becomes the kind of person who's not afraid to make beautiful things for others to enjoy.

May you do the same this week, in your small plot in this world.

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These Are the Rules

We were outside at our house after coming home from school. It had rained a bit the previous few days, so her small wading pool had some standing water in it. Knowing the plants would be thirsty as the humidity would be picking back up soon, I began to use one of her buckets to scoop water and pour it on the hydrangeas. Those guys get very thirsty. My daughter saw what I was doing and wanted to help. She reached for her pink plastic frying pan (what it was doing outside is anyone's guess). She filled it with water and gingerly stepped to the tree. At first she held it up to one of the branches, thinking a leaf would literally drink the water. When that didn't work, she dumped it at the base of the trunk and declared, "This tree is so hungry."

Bored with that she then filled her pan again and dumped the water on the ground nearby. Seeing a small puddle form, she determined it was ripe for jumping. She reveled in what happened when her small feet found the pooling water. She giggled at the sound of water being tamped and splashed and repeated the entire process. After a few more rounds, she looked and me and asked, "Daddy jump?"

My first instinct was to tell her, "No, that's too messy. Daddy doesn't want to get his shoes and pants muddy."

Luckily I caught myself and said nothing of the sort. I was mature enough to understand that the point of life isn't to stay clean. It's to get dirty with the people you love. 

For most of our lives, we're given a set of rules. We learn regulations about what's proper, expected, common, or normal. We're told to stay clean, speak softly, eat all our vegetables, and be careful. But I've determined that these are not the rules we should be following.

These are the rules:

Love fully; not halfway.

When you are somewhere, be all the way there. Don't worry about taking pictures of everything with your phone.

Don't worry about what you look like. Worry about who you're with.

Notice people. Don't just look at them. Really notice them.

If you're lost in conversation, it's okay to be late.

Life and its spontaneous moments are a gift. As such, they should be treasured, protected, and shared.

Haters aren't worth your time.

Listen and watch. Then say something.

Don't judge. It's a waste of time.

When you laugh, laugh loud. When you cry, cry deep. And when you do either, do them in the presence of someone you love most.

And when your daughter asks you to jump in mud puddles on a Tuesday after school, jump high.

Speaking Event: Creativity Moves

I'm excited to announce that I'll be speaking at a brand new event in just a few weeks. Creativity Moves is a new event series beginning in Nashville on May 24. The four-day event is designed to uplift and inspire creative professionals to use their tools and art to make a difference in the community.

I'm speaking on the afternoon of the first day, giving a short talk about creativity, art, and caring. Here's the full lineup of speakers that afternoon.

Check out the entire event schedule and if you're in Nashville, be sure to attend the event. And if you're not in Nashville, don't worry. There are talks already of replicating this model elsewhere.

Here's to staying creative!