Archives For life lessons

Over the 4th of July drive this past week I listened to the audiobook of Conversations with Major Dick Winters: Life Lessons from the Commander of Band of Brothers.

For those of you who have watched the Emmy-award winning HBO Mini-series, Band of Brothers, or read the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose, you know Major Winters. His life has been well documented to this point through that story as well as his memoirs, Beyond Band of Brothers

urlFollowing the publication of Beyond Band of Brothers, Conversations was a book Major Winters wanted to have written after spending hundreds of hours with Col. Cole Kingseed. There were lessons through Major Winters’ life that needed to be told.

Watching Band of Brothers is something I recommend any person to do whether they are interested in military history, or not. At least do it for the sake of honoring those who served World War II. The book made Easy Company famous. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg through the mini-series helped make the company legendary. Thousands of baby boomers and people my age were given a unique view into their epic journey from Airborne training, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, and on to taking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

In the audiobook, Winters’ leadership principles were shared, as in Beyond Band of Brothers, and I think it is worth sharing with you. No matter your role in life, it is important to understand what it takes to lead. The military life can teach us a lot of things perhaps because the pressures seem greatest.

I have appreciated Major Winters  because of his “quiet strength” as a leader. Actor Damian Lewis played this very well on-screen in the mini-series.

I am humbled because as a leader I have far from mastered these lessons but they are principles that I need to be reminded of and develop on a daily basis. These lessons are applicable to any leader and not limited to the battlefield.

In the words of Major Winters, “Hang tough”.

Leadership At The Point Of a Bayonet

1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.

2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.

3. Stay in top physical shape–physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.

4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.

5. Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.

6. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.

7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.

8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.

9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. They key to a successful leader is to earn respect–not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.

10. Hang Tough!–Never, ever, give up.

2014 brought an uneasy beginning to our family. Just before the clock struck midnight, my grandmother Carolyn Martin passed away. My parents, especially my mother, had worked incredibly hard to help my grandmother sell her home in Wilmington, North Carolina and helped her organize and moved to St. Louis. Grandma was very healthy 93-year old but desired to live closer to my parents in St. Louis and enjoy fun times with them without the travel. Only three weeks later she away passed and even though we were shocked, we realized that she lived a full life.

In my childhood each summer, our family would visit North Carolina and our adventure would begin with Grandma and our grandfather, Papa Jack. We would visit the beach, play golf, work on a puzzle, or walk the neighborhood. What I enjoyed most was asking her questions about life, her formative years, and listening to her wisdom. All of her great-grandchildren called her ‘Gigi’ and she took such a great interest in them. Gigi was already teaching them like she taught my sister and I as well as my cousins.

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Through her legacy, my grandmother gave me five crucial lessons about life.

1. Play for Life

My grandma and my grandfather, Papa Jack, bought me my first golf clubs when I was eight years old. Their message to me was that golf is a game that you need to learn because other sports will come and go but you can enjoy golf until he day you die. Golf is a physical game but mostly played with your head so here I am not playing the sports of my youth but golf I know will be with me forever. My grandmother exercised daily at the Y, played in bridge and Mahjong groups, always had a puzzle up on the table to work on and a book by her side to devour. She knew that feeding her mind was a game and essential to live a full life.

2. Laugh.

My grandmother had many difficult circumstances in her life that give every reason to be full of sorrow yet she always found a way to keep pushing forward. What I will remember most is her laughing at a ridiculous movie or at a joke I would tell her. We can choose pain or we can choose joy. She chose joy as much as she could.

3. Know Your History

It’s no secret that I love history and write about it frequently. My love from history comes from my grandmother. In Wilmington, North Carolina she would take our family to see the USS North Carolina, a World War II era battleship. I was fascinated by the military machinery but also what it went through during the war. I also remember our family taking a trip down to Charleston, South Carolina and her showing us Fort Sumter, where the first official shots of the American Civil War took place. Grandma fed my love for history with books, stories, and encouragement to always analyze things in proper context. Two years ago, I gave Grandma a copy of the book, December 1941 and she took the time to read through the cumbersome 600 pages and share where and what she was doing when the war began. History is a part of us and essential to help us learn from our old mistakes and forge ahead. Grandma’s memory will be with me with each new page.

4. Manners Matter. 

When I was young, to my mother’s chagrin, I had a bit of a ‘listening problem’. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I would defy her and be obnoxious at a table. I think my grandmother could see this on our visits and she took time to show me the importance of proper manners. Grandma shows me which fork was which, how to sit properly at the table, and how to behave when other people were talking. My sweet parents must have been exhausted as my wife and I are now with kids so I can imagine my parents welcomed my grandmother’s counsel with open arms.

5. Never Stop Learning.

When my grandmother retired, she audited courses at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She would take courses in literature, history, and other very unique courses like Feminist Literature. By trade, my grandmother was an English teacher. In her retirement, she tutored for free young disadvantaged women in Wilmington and helped them graduate high school. Her gift was taking her joy of the English language and sharing it with others. After she moved to St. Louis, she was already looking for a new course to audit in the spring semester. I am a writer because my parents encouragement but also because of my grandmother’s example.

The last interaction I had with my grandmother was when she stopped through Nashville and she sat down to read a new kids Bible that we had just introduced to our girls. Grandma kept telling me about how fascinating it was to have questions at the end of each story to help the girls understand the Bible better. I smiled as I listened to her.

I hope to see you again soon Grandma. In the meantime, I will share your legacy with my girls and for those reading this post.

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My mother, me, my youngest Daughter Ainsley, and Grandma in 2010

Gigi blowing bubbles with Madelyn

Gigi blowing bubbles with Madelyn

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Gigi helping Madelyn and Ainsley with their drawings.

If you know me personally or have read my posts before, you’ll discover that my life is shaped heavily by the lessons of Sir Winston Churchill. If you have read anything about him, you probably learned about the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of World War II or the Cold War. Yet, the hidden gem of Winston Churchill is found in his ” wilderness years.”

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In the Spring of 1929 when the Conservative Party lost the General Election in Great Britain and the 54-year old Winston Churchill stepped down as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had served in every major British Cabinet post except Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Churchill was never popular with the Conservative Party’s rank and file or its leaders thus he became marginalized throughout the 1930s leading up to World War II. He was in his wilderness.

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These “Churchill wilderness” years are well represented by history books but my favorite portrayal of him on-screen during those years was by Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). In the movie, despite his political impotency, Churchill is the one of the few who most clearly (and accurately) sees Hitler’s Germany rearming and rising as a threat. By speaking up he becomes marginalized and dismissed as a war-mongerer. In addition, during those years he was having financial struggles and left to determine if he had any life left in him politically. Those were the years of building strength and courage to prepare for what was coming, the gathering storm. Thank God that our brave Sir Winston survived those years as they helped to fully develop the man who would lead (and arguably save) Britain in World War II.

Churchill brings encouragement to me in my wilderness. I have felt lately that I’m in it as well and trying to figure out a next stage of life and what God wants next for me. I am so thankful for this time because I can see God working despite not knowing the ending of this chapter. From one wilderness to another, Churchill is still teaching me. I am thankful for this wilderness.

The wilderness teaches us to

  • See more clearly because we are acutely seeking for purpose. We are thinking about what matters most in life.
  • Become more thoughtful in our writing, our personal relationships, and our prayer life.
  • Seek God for guidance. It is a time to remember that we are not alone. That is why God reminds us of why Jesus went into the wilderness. It was in preparation for something big.
  • Be patient. We need to slow down and embrace life’s meaningful development process.
  • Realize our potential.  God loves seeing victory through you.
  • Be thankful for the journey.

Great stories are written in wilderness. Embrace it.

You will be better because of it. We all will. 

Remember Lewis and Clark?

I, like most of you in the United States read about them in American History classes growing up. I was taught a basic overview of their journey, primarily because I lived in the midwest where they traveled. It was as if they were bullet points in a textbook and I learned the following:

  • They covered a lot of ground in a boat
  • Met some Native Americans
  • Made it to the Pacific Ocean
  • Recommended to the President we go west.

Simple enough but there was little story, only bullet-points. In truth, I thought of them more as a punchline as used in the opening of the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) in the ridiculous Pig in a Polk quiz show opening scene.

Ten years ago, I read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage (Simon & Schuster, 1997), the epic narrative about the American explorers Merriweather Lewis and William Clark. I loved studying history and even minored in it in college, but I had never read any book that was written more as a story prior to this one. It was as if the Lewis and Clark’s almost mythological story finally made sense and I could get the accurate picture of these two explorers as if they were in a movie. I could visualize their adventure, share in their ambitions, trials, frustrations, hunger, fears, joy, and even sadness. History became alive to me in their story.

Their story resonates with me today and is pushing me to ask my question,

“What do I need to discover?”

Last month I read a BBC article titled What Adventures Are Actually Left?. It was about how we may be approaching the end of “discovery”.  According to the article, genuine firsts are hard to find these days. The mountains have all been summited. With GPS, it is hard not to easily discover remote islands in the Pacific or visit Antarctica in the winter with modern technology. It seems as if the ocean and space are the last frontier and are largely undiscovered.

While there less “firsts” for man to discover, the battle for discovery of the heart is at stake for each individual. It is the never-ending adventure of man. We as man are not meant to give up so easily because we are made to reach for the next thing. Discovery-adventure is needed to grow culturally and spiritually. Each person has their own reasons and they real what is true to their heart. Here is one of my favorite.

March 18, 1923 issue of the New York Times. The headline was “Climbing Mount Everest is Work for Supermen.”

Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who was with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highestmountain, in 1921 and 1922, and who is now in New York. He plans to go again in 1924, and he gave as the reason for persisting in these repeated attempts to reach the top, “Because it’s there.

We may never know exactly what was at stake personally for Hillary but his tenacity to achieve such a feat shows that something deep within him was stirring.

I can come up with excuses all day long about why I don’t have time for this adventure and how there is never enough money. My wife and I don’t want to live life with any regret. I think that is why the Pixar movie, Up (2009), resonated so much with me. You watch the main character as a boy growing up to become an old man in the movie. His life, much like yours or mine was not easy and complete with all sorts of unexpected twists. It shows that all we have in life are excuses unless we move our lives into the intentional mode.

My wife and I have realized that if we don’t show our two daughters how to be adventurous, we will all get lost in life’s busy shuffle.

Lewis and Clark, Mallory, and the movie Up, all remind me to not to just “do things” but to do them with a purpose bigger than me. Do them because it matters. Not just to cross it off like a simple bucket list but for the purpose of a story to tell that matters for the ages. After all, God knows what true adventure is and his adventure flows from his story in The Bible. Our real adventure is with Christ and without his purpose, all of this is meaningless, a mere earthly thrill.

What is the adventure in your life?  

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs about adventure. My daughter’s faces were lit up when first hearing the song, Learn Me Right, by Mumford and Sons (featuring vocals by Birdy) in the movie, Brave (2012), It later became a sister song called Not With Haste in their new album, Babel, as well. I may even add it to My Funeral Mix.