Breakfast with the Ancestors

This past weekend my wife Margie and I participated in a fun event we call Breakfast with the Ancestors. Margie made a couple of egg casseroles, our friend Mike baked some banana bread, and we took our feast out to a little cemetery at the end of the lake.

It all started many years ago when my sister, Sandy, passed away tragically at the age of 42. My grieving mom didn’t know where to bury Sandy. That got Margie and me thinking about mortality, and where our family might want to be buried someday.

When Margie asked her mom where she and her dad would like to be buried, her mom didn’t hesitate to answer. “On the hill in that little cemetery at the south end of the lake, in the town of Scott,” she said.

So back in the 1970s Margie and I bought five plots in that cemetery—with lifetime perpetual care—for the exorbitant price of $50 each! We got a plot for my sister, Sandy, a pair of plots for Margie’s mom and dad, and a pair of plots for ourselves.

Today, Margie’s mom and dad and my sister, Sandy, are buried in that little cemetery. Plus, there are two empty plots with tombstones that read, “Ken Blanchard, 1939—” and “Margie Blanchard, 1940—”.

Some people think that’s a little sick—particularly when Margie and I lie down in front of our tombstones and pose for photos! But we are enjoying living our “dash”—that interval between the date of our births and the date of our deaths.

Celebration does wonders for the soul. By having a picnic around the tombstones every summer—sharing stories and remembrances of relatives and even beloved family dogs who have passed away—our family celebrates everyone’s dash. How do you celebrate yours?

Mondays and Fridays Are All About Perspective

I was reading recently about how some folks are “Thank God it’s Friday” people and others are “So glad it’s Monday” people.

Some might think that people who are thankful for every Friday must not enjoy their work—or that people who are excited about every Monday must be workaholics. To me, it’s not an either/or choice—it’s more of a both/and situation. I love the weekends for spending time with family and friends and doing things I don’t normally have time to do during the week. But I also really enjoy my work and don’t mind when Monday comes around.

So where are you on the Monday/Friday spectrum? As with anything, it really comes down to your mental attitude. You can choose to be upset and negative about Mondays or you can choose to be positive and optimistic about the coming week.  If you can stay positive whether it’s the weekend, the work week, or what have you—life will turn out to be that very special occasion I like to talk about all the time.

This concept reminds me of the joke about how different types of people perceive a glass that is half filled with water. Optimists (like me) see the glass as half full. Pessimists see the glass as half empty. Realists see the glass as full—half with air and half with water. But professional trainers don’t care—they just know that starting the half full/half empty discussion will give them ten minutes to figure out why their slide presentation isn’t working! (People in the leadership development business will like that one 😊)

I hope you have both a great week and a great weekend!

It May Be Time to Revisit Your Vision

Multiple priorities.

Duplication of efforts.

False starts.

Wasted energy.

 

Do any of these working conditions sound familiar? If so, it may be time to revisit your three-part vision:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What will the future look like if you are successful?
  • What values will guide you as you work toward your picture of the future?

I learned the importance of vision from my father when I was still an undergraduate at Cornell University. It was 1959, and Dad had decided to retire early from the Navy as a captain, even though he could have stayed on and been promoted to admiral.

I said, “Dad, why did you quit early?”

He answered, “Ken, I hate to say it, but I liked the wartime Navy better than the peacetime Navy. Not that I like to fight, but in wartime we knew what our purpose was and what we were trying to accomplish. The problem with the peacetime Navy is that nobody knows what we are supposed to be doing. As a result, too many leaders think their full-time job is making other people feel unimportant.”

Dad’s comments made me realize that leadership—whether you’re leading yourself or others—is about going somewhere. Without a vision, you lose direction. As the author and seminar leader Werner Erhard used to say, “You wind up driving your car down the highway of life with your hands on the rearview mirror instead of on the steering wheel, and you have a lot of accidents and a whole big explanation about how driving is very tough.”

My father eventually did become an admiral, because Congress passed a law that said if you got the Medal of Honor or the Silver Star during World War II, the government would “bump you up” one rank upon your retirement. Since Dad got two Silver Stars, he became a retired rear admiral.

Admiral or not, he taught me the importance of having a vision and keeping it up-to-date.

How about you? Are you focused on the rearview mirror—or the road ahead?

Happy Families are No Accident

Years ago, Peter Drucker said “Nothing good happens by accident—put some structure around it!” So if you want something good to happen, put some structure around it. This doesn’t just apply to business; it’s also for family life. I can name several traditions that are perfect examples of Drucker’s line of thinking.

 

Like many families, we like to get together on every family member’s birthday. As part of the celebration we all sit at the dinner table and, one by one, tell the birthday person what we like about them. Our kids Scott and Debbie used to protest this tradition, but today they encourage their kids to take part in it, too. It’s an easy thing to do and a great way to make someone feel extra special on their special day.

 

Here’s another Blanchard tradition: every Christmas Day, between dinner and dessert, all our family and friends who are gathered share something special with everyone. They can sing a song, recite a poem, or tell us something important in their lives. This not only delights all those who are gathered, it makes the day more memorable and meaningful.

 

We know several couples who plan a date night at least once every two weeks. They make a rule that they can’t talk about work or the kids—only about their relationship. “How are we doing with each other?” If every couple did that 26 times a year, I guarantee there would be a lot fewer divorces.

 

Structure also helps our family business. You may or may not know this, but The Ken Blanchard Companies is family owned. Margie and I cofounded the company almost forty years ago—and Scott, Debbie, and Margie’s younger brother, Tom, joined the company around twenty years later. Sometimes family businesses work well and sometimes they don’t. We didn’t want to run the risk that our family business would mess up our family, so Scott had the idea that the five of us should meet one day every quarter with an outside consultant/facilitator. And what a great idea it was! We’ve been holding our “Family Council” meetings for a number of years now. More recently, Tom’s wife, Jill, and Scott’s wife, Madeleine, have joined us. We all know it’s due in no small part to these meetings that we still love each other and often vacation together, even though we work together almost every day.

 

So follow Drucker’s advice. If you want good things to happen, put some structure in place—it’s as easy as starting a few simple family traditions. When families find new ways to celebrate their positive relationships, life gets more enjoyable.

 

The Precious Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present.”

You may have heard this quotation, attributed to many different people including Eleanor Roosevelt. It reminds me of when I first met Spencer Johnson. He had just finished a manuscript entitled The Precious Present (Doubleday, 1984).  It’s a wonderful parable about a young boy who lived near an older man who always seemed to be happy. One day the boy asked the old man about it.

The old man told the boy that the secret to lifelong happiness was finding the Precious Present. “It is a present because it is a gift. And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.”

“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed.  “I hope someone gives me The Precious Present.”

For years as the young boy grew, he searched high and low, trying in vain to find the Precious Present. Finally, as a grown man, he stopped to recall the things the happy old man had told him so many years ago. At that moment, he realized the Precious Present was just that: the present. Not the past, not the future, but the Precious Present.

It’s okay to learn from the past, but don’t live there. And it’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t live there, either. If you really want to be happy as you go through life, don’t lose what is precious to you. Live in the present.

What a powerful message. I always remember it when I’m feeling bad about something that’s already happened or when I start worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Living every day to the fullest is really the best way I know to be happy for the rest of your life. Thanks, Spencer.