Quick Look at Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2018

NOTE: I took longer to finish writing this one than I intended, which is why it’s up today and not the 19th.

19 April 2018

My Wall Street Journal subscription is resumed! I’d let it expire for about 3 months for financial reasons, but with their excellent student deal, I have my treasured 6-day a week, hard copy newspaper again. <3 I just finished reading several of the most stand-out articles from today’s issue, which I’ll discuss below.

Before that: about half an hour ago I got back from RIT, where I enjoyed an optional question and answer session with some of our ROTC program’s MSIV’s (seniors) about their experiences at Advanced Camp last year. Among the protips:

  • Build your credibility by being a subject matter expert on the radio, combat life saving, setting up OE-245 radio antennas, etc.
  • Be sociable, learn names, learn colleges, learn majors: know your fellow Cadets. Don’t be fake about it, but building that rapport will pay off when it’s your turn to be Platoon Leader, everyone’s tired and cranky after rucking around the boonies in wet socks all day, and you need support.
  • Always be making decisions. Even if your decision turns out to have a bad outcome, the Cadre grading you want to see that you’re at least always assessing, thinking, and acting, and have reasons for what you do. You should never be at a loss for what you’re currently doing, Be a leader. Lead. You’re not going to have perfect information or someone to confirm your decision in the real Army either.

There were many smaller, but important tips, and funny anecdotes. I’ll talk more about my preparation for camp later.

Today, I’m focusing on what I read in the good ol’ Journal. Here, I’ll give brief summaries of what I saw as three of the most interesting or important stories, and my thoughts on them.

  1. Yet another Islamist group is rising in Syria. (Original article by Sune Engel Rasmussen.) They call themselves Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, meaning “Organization for the Liberation of the Lavant.” They’re an offshoot of the al-Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. Their main area of operations is the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, right on the Turkish border. They boast “thousands” of fighters, and are fortifying their position in the province, after overrunning (by their claims) 25 villages and capturing tanks and other armored vehicles. Like any other Islamist terror group, they’re enforcing stricter forms of Sharia than the locals want, including shutting down mixed-sex university classes, and prohibiting salons from using makeup. According to the article, there’s pushback from the locals on all that, who are understandably more concerned about having food, water, and electricity than on strict religious observance. Addressing those material concerns, al-Sham has a “civil affairs” type organization called the Salvation Government, that charges people to provide them electricity and water and win over hearts and minds.

My take: I am not shocked by the appearance of yet another new Jihadist group in Syria. With the collapse of ISIS (which the group has also fought against,) it was inevitable that someone else would fill the void. The strength of Good Guys for the U.S. to support in Syria is smaller than ever. Syrian Democratic Forces are squeezed by both Islamists on the one side and “Animal Assad’s” (what a fun Trump-ism!) regime on the other. The further displacement of refugees from Damascan suburbs surely isn’t helping, as unemployed, hungry, pissed off young men tend to be more likely to join radical groups, especially if they have family dependent on them earning some sort of living.

And all this at the same time as the U.S. is winding down from Syria as quickly as possible, concerned chiefly with ISIS being gone, and Assad not using chemical weapons. At this point, and I’m no expert, but I think most likely that Assad, with Russian and Iranian help, is going to retake most of Syria, and we’ll see Jihadist groups, Kurds, and moderate rebels all pushed to the fringes and unable to openly control territory. In this scenario, there’s less risk to the U.S. and other targeted countries from ISIS-type groups, but, Iran’s and Russia’s influence grows, and a horrific tyrant stays on the throne. Basically, we’d get Lawful Evil instead of Chaotic Evil.

Otherwise, especially if we do intervene more to keep the rebels going, we’ll get more of what we’ve had in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, which is a power vacuum with endless bloodshed among dozens of sectarian groups all backed by different regional powers, with millions of hapless civilians caught in the crossfire. It’s hard to see the ideal U.S. outcome (Assad steps down and is replaced with a U.S.-friendly, fairly democratic, inclusive, and competent government) occurring without a massive American invasion and occupation of the country, and between Russia, Iran, and our experience trying that in Iraq, it ain’t happening.

And so, the never-ending game of whack-a-mole continues.

2. European trade debates. (Original Germany/Russia article by Andrea Thomas and William Boston, Europe/U.S. article by Valentina Pop and Bojan Pancevski.) Germany is trying to get the U.S. to exempt some major German corporations, including Siemens, Daimler, and Volkswagen, from America’s latest Russia sanctions. While the U.S. Congress implemented sanctions on Russian individuals as punishment for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, many German companies do a lot of business in Russia, and don’t want to be punished by American law for continuing existing relationships.

Meanwhile, the E.U., apparently spooked by Trump’s tough talk on trade and tariffs, is looking to quickly complete an agreement that would be a smaller and simpler version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Obama negotiated that deal, but never concluded it or got it ratified. Issues on the table include tariffs on cars, agriculture, and industrial machinery. Essentially, Angela Merkel is trying to use the E.U. and U.S. shared concerns about Chinese trade practices as a common cause to get the Transatlantic deal through. France is more hesitant about any such deal, wanting to see Trump give more in exchange, such as the U.S. re-entering the Paris Climate Accord.

If Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs are allowed to take effect in two weeks, it appears that the E.U. has retaliation plans in the works.

My take: The Germany/Russia thing is no surprise. I’d like Germany to take a stronger stand on solidarity with the U.S. on the whole Russian meddling issue, but I completely understand that their largest corporations have big business in Russia, and can’t easily give that up. So, yup, there’s going to be a conflict there. I expect the U.S. will quietly grant exemptions, since so many Americans are invested in German companies and Germany is a good ally, but we’ll see. I don’t expect it to get much time on cable news or social media either way.

On the Transatlantic deal, I take this as further evidence in support of the theory that Trump’s hardball negotiation tactics are working in furtherance of his strategy of a trade balance that favors U.S. exports. We see President Xi in China similarly taking a more conciliatory tone towards foreign investment and trade after Trump raises the tariff threats. (More on that next.) While Trump’s borderline mercantilist policies on trade may hurt international relationships long term, for now, they appear to be gaining him leverage.

It’s early to give a conclusion, however. I’m going to reserve judgement until we see what trade policies are implemented, and how they’re affecting the American GDP and unemployment numbers, several months to a year from now.

3. Tesla successfully bucks Chinese rules for its new factory. (Original article by Tim Higgins)

The Chinese government announced that they’ll let Tesla Inc build electric cars in Shanghai without doing the usual 50-50 joint venture with a local company. This is part of China phasing out that requirement by 2022. By being able to build in China, Tesla will benefit by not having Chinese tariffs slapped on its cars as imports. The plan is to churn out 200,000 vehicles a year from the new Chinese factory.

My take: Awesome. I hope that Trump’s tariff threats helped bring this about. I love Tesla, I admire Elon Musk, and I’m excited to see how this can help them grow and beat the naysayers.

Other interesting news: U.S. shale oil growth is slowing, the U.S. conducted evacuation drlls for American citizens living in South Korea, and American banks have excellent earnings reports and diversified portfolios lately.

Overall thoughts from today’s news:

Mostly good. The American economy is continuing to grow, and, as far as I can tell, it’s based on real sustained production and consumption, rather than price bubbles. Trump’s…unconventional tactics on trade may be helping American companies, but we’ll still need more times to see the long-term results.

 

What I’ll be studying this Fall semester

16 April, 2018

Good evening readers!

I hope you’re all having a stupendous Spring! Ideally it’s warmer and more “springy” wherever you are than it is here in Rochester. We had bucketloads of freezing rain Saturday night: I had to chip my way through this half-inch layer of ice on my car before I could drive to the gym. It was great. And, with the garbage weather, the bulk of RIT Tiger Battalion’s joint FTX (field training exercise) got canceled, and we came home early after some M-16 shooting, and then did a few platoon operations lanes (tactical practice exercises) on Saturday closer to RIT, instead. So I was still wading knee-deep through nearly freezing water, but at least it was closer to home!

On the platoon lanes, I also got my first crack at being Platoon Leader! I really felt the pressure of the command responsibility, but, I had a great support team of my PSG (platoon sergeant,) RTO (radio telephone operator,) and squad leaders, and overall I conducted a pretty good OPORD (operation order) briefing, and ambush. I have room for improvement in handling myself and my unit better under pressure when the pretend bullets start flying, but, that will come with experience and more mental rehearsal. My grasp on the level of small unit infantry tactics required of me is generally good. So bottom line, I’m feeling a lot more confident for ROTC Advanced Camp this Summer!

Now, the main thing I wanted to write about today is what I’ll be studying at RIT in the Fall. For those who are new to my blog or don’t recall me saying this before, I’m an MBA student at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be done with my second of four semesters of my two-year degree program!

This Spring 2018 semester, i’ve been studying Finance, Operations & Supply Chain Management, Strategic Marketing Management, and Organizational Behavior and Leadership, in addition to my ROTC Military Science studies. Overall, I’m enjoying the studies, even if the Finance and Supply Chain can require a large time commitment to master their more technical and math-heavy aspects. But my command of the three major business functions (Operations, Finance, and Marketing) is steadily growing with all the studying and projects I’m doing, and my confidence in my ability to be an effective marketing manager has grown tremendously.

Here are the classes I’ll be taking this coming Fall:

  1. Introduction to Data Analytics and Business Intelligence: Stats heavy class, learning how to analyze “the numbers” of a business and its environment to facilitate good decisions.
  2. Internet Marketing: Strategy & Tactics: Fairly self-explanatory name. This will build on my current marketing course experience, by zooming in the application of marketing concepts to Internet marketing and learning the specific tools of the trade in promoting products, services, and brands online. I’m definitely looking forward to this one!
  3. Design and Information Systems: Basically, this class is about understanding a company’s I.T. situation, and how to design an efficient and effective I.T. system for the company’s needs.
  4. Lean Six Sigma Fundamentals: Six Sigma is a methodology for improving the efficiency of business operations by reducing the number of product or service defects throughout the company’s processes. Lean Six Sigma combines that focus on defect-fixing, with the “lean operations” concept of eliminating the waste from a process. I’d heard the term “Six Sigma” for years in a kinda buzzwordy sense, but from reading more about it, it actually sounds pretty cool and useful for an aspiring manager like myself. This is also an online class, which I dig for my own efficient time management.
  5. Military Science: For Army ROTC, I take various levels of Military Science each semester. As an MSIV (Military Science IV) Cadet, (normally a college senior, but, I’m doing a 2-year grad degree,) I’ll be in the final year of this classroom military education. Also, this year my class will be taught by Lieutenant Colonel Otero, the boss of our glorious Tiger Batallion. In my experience so far, these classes aren’t too tough, but they are greatly informative of military methodology and terminology, relating to the Army’s organization, tactics, and models of good leadership.
  6. Beers of the World: Aw yeah! This and Wines of the World are greatly coveted classes, usually taken as electives, for RIT students. They fill up wicked fast, so you essentially can’t get in unless you’re a senior. I oddly never took a beer or wine class in my undergrad years, but, here I am! I get to drink beer and learn about it every Wednesday afternoon. Plus, three fellow Cadets are in there with me. (We’ll set up a little snobish Cadet corner for ourselves. Aw yeah. Elitism.)

It’s a heavy course load, and I expect to be challenged. But, on the bright side for my studies, I’ll be done with the infamously hard MSIII year and the rigors of Advanced Camp by this Fall, which will leave me more time and mental energy to focus on my studies. I could still have a lot of ROTC work to do depending what leadership position I get assigned, but I’ll find that out this Friday and cross the bridge when I come to it.

Ever upward!

Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Paradigms of Interdepdndence, and Habit 4 – Think Win/Win

Remember this chart of the 7 Habits? The first 3 Habits we’ve covered form that lower pyramid and bring us from Dependence to Independence. That means that we habitually recognize ourselves as the decider in our lives, we keep the big picture and our deepest values in mind, and we organize to execute every day on those values. We build our confidence in ourselves: in our own ability to be disciplined, to be honest with ourselves, and to deliver to ourselves the results we desire most deeply, and not merely moment to moment, or in accordance with the wishes of someone other than ourselves.

Today, we’ll begin the move from Independence, to Interdependence. This means taking the concept of Stewardship Delegation that Covey discussed in Habit 3 “Put First Things First,” implementing it more strongly, and adding overall effective cooperation with others for mutual benefit. We can personally feel great and produce good results at Independence, but, there’s magnificently greater potential in working well with other effective people!

Paradigms of Interdependence

Before getting to the 4th Habit itself, Covey includes an essay that circles back to his earlier discussions of Private vs Public Victory and Personality vs Character Ethic. As you may recall, deep success in life can only come from a deeply effective character: we must be a disciplined, trustworthy, active, kind, person. We cannot merely give the surface impressions of those things because the success that kind of manipulation builds is fragile, and doesn’t give us nearly the satisfaction of victory built on a great character. Further, the techniques of social skills recommended in the personality ethic are far more effective when backed up by a strong character. Build the rock-solid foundation first, then build the pretty house on top.

The mastery of your character in a clear mission, in discipline, in self-reflection: these all add up to a Private Victory. People only get glimpses of it, unless they interact with you deeply and often. The Public Victory comes after, built on the Private, when you’re building those amazing relationships, developing those amazing skills, and producing those amazing, tangible results: in athletic performance, in artistic creations, in the generation of properly-earned profits, in the foundation of socially useful charities that heal the sick and lend comfort to the suffering.

Likewise, you need Independence before you can have Interdependence!

If you try to skip that step, your relationships will be shallow and fleeting, and you’ll often be a drag rather than a boon to others, or their pawn. When two or more Independent people meet and collaborate, that’s a wonderful thing: they can trust each other, they don’t worry about offending each other yet can graciously apologize if needed, they can produce great things and joyfully share the fruits of their labor. When Dependent people attempt to collaborate, they get in each other’s way, they needlessly complain about uncontrollables, they walk on eggshells around each in a reflection of their own fragile egos, and they jealously guard their knowledge and talents, never fully opening up their potential to another person, or even to themselves.

Covey emphasizes that there are no quick-fixes when it comes to relationships with others: you reap what you sow, later words cannot simply erase past behaviors, and personality can at best give a flimsy plaster over character.

The Emotional Bank Account

Covey gets into his metaphor of the emotional bank account to describe effective relationships of all sorts. As someone can deposit money in a bank, watch it grow with interest, and draw from it later, so one can emotionally invest in another person by listening to them, being kind, having fun with them, and building trust. Asking tough favors, picking fights, and violating trust all make major withdrawals. They impoverish rather than enrich the relationship.

Specifically, Covey identifies six ways to make deposits into the emotional bank account:

  1. Understand the individual
  2. Attending to the little things
  3. Keeping commitments
  4. Clarifying expectations
  5. Showing personal integrity
  6. Apologizing sincerely when you make a withdrawal

It should be clear why someone stuck in Dependence and with weak character is going to suck at maintaining a good emotional bank account. These sorts of people project their own insecurities and flaws onto others, they jump to conclusions, they can’t even be honest with themselves or keep commitments to themselves, and they lack the personal confidence and self-image to weather making a sincere apology.

Personally, I think the emotional bank account metaphor is useful to describing all but one time of relationship: the sexual. While the methods of deposit that Covey lists can be compatible with sexual relationships, and certainly a person of stronger character has greater potential for more and deeper sexual and romantic relations, these deposits do not necessarily generate attraction in others. In fact, they often do not generate attraction, and attraction is the key to any sexual or romantic relationship. It is the prerequisite to any lasting success in that regard. It is not everything, but its the foundation, the core, and can make up for deficits elsewhere in the relationship. I argue that it’s the key to any successful marriage, as far as marriage can be successful. Attraction is not negotiable. It’s about what’s sexy, not what we’d like to be sexy.

That arena aside, I like the emotional bank account for friend/friend, sibling/sibling, parent/child, professional/client relationships.

Now onto the 4th Habit itself!

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is the first habit of interdependence. It allows an Independent individual to effectively work with others in mutually beneficial relationships.

Covey identifies six paradigms of human interaction. These are:

  1. Win/Win: Seeking mutual benefit in human interaction.
  2. Win/Lose: Seeking to defeat the other party. Zero sum.
  3. Lose/Win: Being a people-pleaser, or a doormat. Zero sum.
  4. Lose/Lose: Mutually self-destructive behavior, often seen in disputed divorce settlements.
  5. Win: Seeking to maximize benefit for oneself, without concern for the benefit of the other party- you don’t necessarily want them to lose: you simply don’t care.
  6. Win/Win or No Deal: Seeking to achieve mutual benefit, and will walk away if such a deal cannot be achieved.

Out of these six paradigms, Covey recommends that we focus on “Win/Win or No Deal” as often as it makes sense, because doing so produces the most benefit in the long-run, with a balance of P and PC. (Production and Production Capacity.) In some situations, Win/Lose makes sense: if you’re playing football, for example, one team must win and one must lose. Sometimes Lose/Win is acceptable in the short term, to build an emotional relationship in the long-term.

Overall though, thinking Win/Win, and accepting nothing less than a Win/Win deal, maximizes utility for yourself and the other party in the long-run, because it generates the maximum trust and good will. Suppose that you could take advantage of someone’s temporary circumstances to pressure them into a Win/Lose deal: this would generate outsized returns for you in the short run, but, when that other party is back on their feet, they’re going to have ill feelings towards you and be reluctant to deal with you again. Versus, if you only deal Win/Win with them, they’ll be there to cooperate with you in the future.

While competition is an unavoidable fact of nature and of human society, cooperation often produces the greater results for everyone. Much of capitalism is expressed in competition, such as the competition for rival firms to sell to a limited pool of customers. But, capitalism is also based on mutually beneficial deals, in a system of voluntary exchange. When people with different ideas and talents collaborate in a way that benefits everyone involved, they can produce much more wealth than if they distrusted and fought against each other.

How to Develop Win/Win as a Habit

Covey sees Win/Win or No Deal as a deep habit of character, not merely a technique. It’s important for people to analyze their decisions and relationships, to make sure that they are actually doing Win/Win, and not merely talking about it, as could happen in many organizational environments. For instance, Covey describes a business he observed, in which the various sales office branch managers were combative and uncooperative towards each other- the company’s president was puzzled by this, as he always verbally emphasized the importance of “Win/Win.” As Covey discovered, however, the company’s incentives ran completely counter to the Win/Win mentality: each branch manager was in competition with each other for a Bahamas vacation, with only one possible winner. Where was the incentive for any of them to share ideas with each other?! The president had created a Win/Lose scenario, and merely paid lip service to Win/Win.

According to Covey, there are five dimensions of Win/Win which must be present in order to build the habit within an organization.

The first of these is Character: the individuals involved must have integrity with themselves and others, they must be emotionally mature enough to balance between speaking up and considering the feelings of others, and they must hold an abundance mentality, meaning that they think there’s “plenty out there for everybody,” and we can all win together.

The second dimension is Relationship. Individuals must grow their emotional bank account balance with other individuals, and the organization must build its emotional bank account balance with its members. The members must have the history of positive interactions needed to trust each other. They need to know that everyone else in the organization is thinking Win/Win with them.

From relationships flow the next dimension, Agreements. These give the definition and direction to Win/Win, and make partnerships between groups and individuals. The Win/Win agreement must include the desired results for the partnership, the guidelines of how to get those desired results, the resources available, the measures of accountability, and the consequences of success or failure. With all this, the agreements between a boss and an employee, between two businesses, or between a senior and junior manager can be clear, so both sides know what they’re working towards, broadly how to do it, and why. Of course, these agreements can only work when the Character and Relationships are there first!

Moving from the level of flesh-and-blood individuals and into organizational-level concepts and rules, Win/Win depends on good Systems. The incentives in a company must support Win/Win, or else Win/Win isn’t likely to happen. Employees and managers who should be working together should be incentivized in their pay structure to work together. The company’s training, budgeting, H.R., and information systems must all support this.

Finally, Win/Win needs effective Processes. Covey cites the work of two Harvard law professors, Roger Fisher and William Ury, in arguing that effective Win/Win negotiation must be principled rather than positional. That is to say, we must separate the person from the problem, focus on interests and not positions, and to invent options for mutual gain while insisting on objective criteria. You must see the situation from the other party’s point of view, and understand what they want, what they fear. Identify, mutually with them, the key issues and concerns involved, regardless of what any party may want to hold as a position. Then talk about what would be the results both parties want to move to. Finally, together create options to reach those results. This is in contrast to an emotionally immature, dependent, fixation on one’s own positions, without ever finding common ground or opportunities for give-and-take, or entirely new options with the other party.

Application Examples

Covey suggests making a list of obstacles that keep me from applying the Win/Win paradigm more frequently, and then to think about what I can do within my Circle of Influence to eliminate some of those obstacles. Here’s my go at that:

  1. My own anger at people who act rudely. -SOLUTION: Meditate longer and more frequently. I already do 5-10 minutes first thing most mornings, but I should practice more to increase my emotional stability in the face of stress and the irrational actions of others.
  2. My sensitivity and frustration at my own lackluster career and financial success. -SOLUTION: Meditation will help too here, in decreasing stress over this topic. I should also track my finances more, with an eye towards increasing savings and being sure to do all I can to learn about career options and building the skills necessary for success in a lucrative career.
  3. My own need to be liked and thought of as cool, which comes from my own history. -SOLUTION: Meditation yet again. Also, spending more time building an awesome independent life so I can be happier when alone, which, I have gotten better at over time. Also, re-read books and resources on increasing charisma and building connections with others.
  4. My ego-centric thoughts of my ideas being great for the other person. -SOLUTION: Meditation, again. Also, going into meetings with a very open mind, and asking open-ended questions as objectively as possible, to learn about where the other person is coming from and what their concerns and wants are.

 

Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Habit 3 – Put First Things First (Part 2/2)

Happy New Year!

It was poor proactivity and putting first things first to not get this published for you all earlier. But here it is!

To review from the last post, Habit 3 “Put First Things First” is the practical fruit of the first two habits of Proactivity and Beginning With the End in Mind. The first habit has us focus on our ability to make decisions. The second habit has us envisioning the future we desire, and figuring out what is important to us deep down. The third habit is the daily execution, the work, to live the ideals that we set for ourselves. This means discipline. But, discipline is much easier to cultivate if you have an exciting personal mission. A good mission makes it a joy to put in work, rather than slack off, because you know what you’re putting in the time, effort, and sacrifice for. Without a strong mission, it’s almost impossible to summon the willpower needed to exercise consistently, build skills, study, network, and eat right.

The Four Quadrants

Covey talks about how all activities we perform any day can be put into one of four categories, as illustrated on this grid:

http://archives.prudentmoney.com/wp-content/uploads/Quadrants.jpg

A task or activity can be Important or Not Important, and, it can be Urgent or Not Urgent. It’s possible for something to be Urgent but Not Important, or Important, but not Urgent.

Quadrant 1 is the things that are Urgent and Important. These are crises and pressing deadlines. If you’re house is burning down, that’s an urgent and important thing to deal with. If you have a final paper due tomorrow for a college course which will impact your career, that’s important and urgent. You have to deal with these things immediately or suffer bad consequences, but, there are ways to limit their occurrence or reoccurrence, which I’ll explain in a moment.

Quadrant 3 (I’ll get to 2) activities are Urgent, but Not Important. That means many emails, many phone calls, and peer-pressured “hey let’s go party!’ type invitations. Some phone calls and emails are important of course, but we’re talking about the unimportant ones here. You want to avoid these sorts of interruptions, mainly by controlling the flow of information to yourself: when you’re focused on important tasks, silence the phone, turn off computer notifications, slap the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and put your headphones in – don’t mistake perceived urgency on someone else’s part for importance on your part.

Quadrant 4 is all the fun, frivolous stuff – video games, overly long social phone calls, busy work, personal social media, mindless T.V./YouTube watching. These things can be fun and are fine in moderation, but it’s critical to strictly limit the amount of time you spend on them. Spending too much of the day in Quadrant 4 leads to dulled skills, low ambition, and little results.

Quadrant 2, is where it’s at- Important, but Not Urgent. These are the helpful, meaningful, healthy tasks that improve your personal and professional life: exercise, relationship-building, planning, study, deep work spent on programming or writing or building. It can also be important but easy to procrastinate tasks like writing your will, setting up a retirement contribution plan, or cleaning your room. The more time you spend in Quadrant 2, the more in control of your life you’ll feel, the better results you’ll get in terms of output and money, the stronger your Production Capacity (remember “PC,” with the golden goose fable/) will be, and the fewer Quadrant 1 crises you’ll have. Prevention beats a cure when it comes to staying in shape, saving money, and keeping up with an ever-changing economy!

How to Plan

Covey talks about four generations of time management tools, and explains how they have improved with each generation.

  1. Generation 1 is just a sticky note/to do list form of management. It doesn’t prioritize tasks by importance, and doesn’t relate tasks to our values and purposes in life- it lacks leadership. It tends to over-prioritize urgent, but not important (Quadrant 3) tasks by default, as they slip into our awareness the most as we’re making these lists. Gen 1 management is better than no time management at all, but there are better methods!
  2. Generation 2 moves from simple lists and upgrades to calendars and appointment books. This means that its practitioners look ahead, more precisely arrange activities in advance, and spend a bit more time in Quadrant 2. Still, there’s little prioritization here, and little account for the big picture.
  3. Generation 3 is close to what Covey advocates. Generation 3 time management means using calendars, plus taking the time to plan in accordance with values, and prioritizing tasks in accordance with those values. Gen 3 planners set short, long, and intermediate-term goals for themselves. This is all efficient, and more effective than Gen 1 and 2. But, it suffers from the problems of clashing with human interaction for richer relationships, and spontaneous moments. People who are initially enthusiastic about Gen 3 time planning can grow sick of the regimentation, and end up “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and go back to Gen 2 or 1.
  4. Generation 4, which Covey advocates, is about personal rather than time management. It seeks to focus on relationships and results, rather than on things and time – that is to say, managing the P/PC Balance. (Production/Production Capacity.) That is to say, Generation 4 means using all the values and goals based planning of Generation 3, and combining it with a focus on Quadrant 2 activities in particular, on deepening relationships with the important people in our lives, and on getting to effective results rather than only focusing on the time spent on tasks. (If you finish something early, move on quickly to the next thing instead of doing busy work in that extra half hour on your schedule, for instance.)

Principles of Quadrant 2/Generation 4 Planning

The objective of Covey’s ideal way of planning is to manage our lives effectively, with a mission, based on principles, and addressing the urgent while being sure to spend time on the important. This will balance P/PC, and let us build valuable relationships with friends, family, lovers, and business associates. Covey says that a planning tool (that is to say, a physical or digital calendar/notebook) needs to meet six criteria:

  1. Coherence: Includes space for mission, values, and goals.
  2. Balance: Identifies all the current roles in your life, not just one or two.
  3. Quadrant 2 Focus: Encourages you to think weekly, rather than just daily, and include time for valuable but not urgent activities.
  4. A People Dimension: This connects to flexibility, in letting you schedule a life that allows for spontaneity and naturalness in dealing with people, without sacrificing focus on important tasks.
  5. Flexibility: Make the tool your own. Change what doesn’t work in it.
  6. Portability: You should be able to carry it anywhere.

I got a nifty officially licenses Franklin-Covey faux-leather bound plannner in December of 2016, and have sworn by it ever since. They sell those at Staples and the Franklin-Covey website. they’re a bit pricey, (mine was like $45 I think for a 5.5″ x 8.5″ weekly planner notebook in the faux-leather, magnetic-latching case with a business card holder,) but worth it, I think. The weekly planning pages are well-organized for planning in accordance with your own application of Covey’s ideas.

Organizing a Week

Plan a year once a year. Plan a month once a month. Plan a week once a week. Plan a day once a day. Out of those, the week is the most important place to focus, as its a unit of time in which you can accomplish a lot, and build habits, yet isn’t so long that it becomes unrealistic to plan completely in detail. It’s just a reasonable chunk of time, and for many people, it gets bookended by some sort of weekend.

To organize a week, first, Covey recommends identifying the key roles in your life. For me, that means Cadet, Business Student, Writer, Brother, Son, Friend, and Man. Depending on your profession, it might be logical to divide that profession into multiple roles, each focusing on a different facet of the work.

Then, for each role, identify one to three important results you’d like to accomplish in that goal during the next week. (Covey recommends doing this planning every Sunday.) Next, consult with the appointments you already have scheduled that week from earlier in the month/year. Many of those things, like an important client meeting or a time-sensitive doctor’s appointment, will be inflexible. Others may be necessary, or fun, but lower priority than the goals you identified, and conflict with them in timing: in that case, you can reschedule with a clean conscience, to focus on what’s most important.

Find time on the week’s schedule for the tasks necessary to accomplish each of your goals. You’ll often have to estimate exactly how long each task will take, and that’s OK – learn from the experience for similar tasks in the future.

Remember in your Mission Statement how you found the long-term roles and goals for yourself? Have those in front of you as you do all this, to be sure that every week, you’re acting in accordance with those roles and goals.

Each evening, revise the next day’s plan as necessary to address any emergencies or new opportunities. And, day to day, because you have an identified set of principles, personal values, and a mission, you can take longer on a task, or respond to events, in a way consistent with those non-negotiables- and not feel bad about it. For instance, if a friend calls you crying about how they lost their job, are deeply depressed, and in an emotional crisis, you can consult principles to find that it’s worth skipping the gym that evening to go have a beer and talk with him. Bam. Taking care of people.

Stewardship Delegation

Finally, Covey hints at the advances of the next three habits by talking about the value of delegating.

While a single producer can be independent and highly effective in what he personally does, he can also increase his effectiveness by ten, one hundred, or one thousand times by connecting with others. A skillful manager knows how to use the talents of his subordinates most effectively, versus, trying to do everything himself, or wasting time and stifling creative problem solving through micromanagement.

The key of good management, for leveraging your own effectiveness to the max when connecting with others, is Stewardship Delegation. This reminds me of the concept of Mission Leadership in the modern military, in which officers are given a situation and mission, a list of parameters, and given generally wide latitude on how to accomplish the assigned mission. Stewardship Delegation similarly focuses on the results instead of the methods. To do it, you tell your subordinate the desired results, the guidelines, the resources available, the methods of measuring success, and the consequences for success or failure. Then let them go do it. This saves you time on walking the subordinate through every single step, it helps them develop their own abilities and confidence, and it opens the possibility for them, in the thick of things, to find novel solutions that you wouldn’t think of yourself.

“First things first” applies to your entire team, not only your personal actions.

Application

  1. I need a new planner, as I filled out all the pages in my 2017 one. I’m going to get to Staples tomorrow and buy a new one, and begin using it. Seriously, the Franklin-Covey planners are great: classy, clean, and in accordance with the 7 Habits.
  2. Covey suggests thinking of a Quadrant 2 activity that you’ve neglected, but that could have a huge impact in your personal or professional life. For me, this is networking and public speaking, which are closely related. I’m committing now to attending my college’s Toastmasters meetings from 7:00-8:15 on Thursday evenings: I have no class at that time, and it’s going to help me develop the essential skill of public speaking! I’ve put that off for way too long. It will boost my abilities for marketing, and as a future Officer, including during the semester, and at Advanced Camp this summer.
  3. For the past three days, I wrote down in roughly 15 minute chunks how I spent my time: the results were bad. Lots of procrastination, lots of Quadrant 4 times on video games and YouTube. I’m going to keep tracking that, and spend as much time in Quadrant 2 as possible: and be proud of that time and the results it produces.
  4. Covey recommends making a list of responsibilities I can delegate. I can’t do that right now. But, during my Cadet leadership positions, I can delegate attendance-checking and some planning activities to subordinates.
  5. I already have the rest of this week planned. On Sunday, after my Army Reserve drill, I’m going to do a proper planning session with my new planner and post pictures here.
  6. I’ll keep planning every Sunday like that!

 

Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Habit 3 – Put First Things First (Part 1/2)

I’m back! Got sidetracked on projects, important family time, and too much unproductive fun. I just finished a great chest, biceps, abs, and running workout, and I feel great. I spent most of yesterday at my grandparents’ house, but had time to re-read Chapter 3 on the way there and back in the car. Let’s get into it!

Habit 3, “Put First Things First,” builds on the foundation of “Be Proactive” and “Begin With the End in Mind” to bring us from Dependence to Independence. Remember: this independence is broad, covering emotional reactions, choices, goals, and overall our ability to be who we want, do what we want, and earn what we want without needing someone else to give us good feelings, money, motivation, etc. Here’s Covey’s chart of the 7 Habits as a reminder:

 Living the first 3 Habits is a “Private Victory,” meaning that many of its fruits aren’t visible directly to other people. You’ll feel more positive, hopeful, confident of your path, and proud of your actions: all of that is wonderful to feel, and is critical to consistently producing externally tangible results, such as business profits, books, inventions, or successful charity projects. But it will take productive, mutually-beneficial relationships with other people to move up to that Public Victory. We’ll get there later.

Today, the focus is on implementing the daily planning and discipline to carry out the correct actions in alignment with our Principle-Centered Mission Statement.

I’ll paraphrase Covey’s language to elaborate on the relationship between the first 3 Habits:

Habit 3 is the practical fulfillment of Habits 1 and 2. While Habit 1 says “You are the creator,” and Habit 2 is the first/mental creation of the successful lifestyle you envision, Habit 3 is the physical creation of that lifestyle. To master Habit 3 is to master our independent will day to day, moment to moment, in execution of our vision.

Whereas Habit 2 is about leadership, Habit 3 is about management.

Above, I used the term independent will. You may recall that this is one of the four human endowments that Covey cites as critical to our difference from other animals, in allowing us to do amazing acts of creation. The four endowments are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Imagination
  3. Conscience
  4. Independent Will

Independent Will lets us manage ourselves, by allowing us to set goals, and take action in accordance with them, even when impulse and short-term desires may press against us. We are not dogs or cats who get distracted by every toy, treat, or sexy other animal we see. Okay, we do get distracted, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging at the right time and place, but exercising an independent will means that you choose what you want most over what you want now.

How to Develop Independent Will

This human ability is a muscle like any other. It must be exercised, pushed to its limit, but not broken, and given time to rest and recover before the next challenge. Covey says we must use personal integrity in this exercise: that is, making and keeping promises to myself.

“I will work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week.”

“Tomorrow, I will apply to five jobs.”

“I will track my calories every day for the next month, and weigh myself at the end of the month to see the results.”

To the extent that you make and keep these sorts of promises, you are growing your circle of influence (remember proactivity,) acting in accordance with the human principle of integrity, and giving yourself a growing sense of confidence that you can complete your mental creations in the physical world. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with starting small, (“I will meditate for 5 minutes first thing tomorrow,”) and gradually making bigger and bigger commitments as your independent will “muscle” strengthens.

Discipline + An Exciting Mission = Being Awesome

Covey quotes the author E.M. Gray, from Gray’s essay “The Common Denominator of Success:”

The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do…They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strenth of their purpose.

Covey goes on to elaborate on this idea. In order to be successful, you must consistently put in the effort of doing those things that are easy to put off and skip. For example, getting up early to hit the gym, or spending an extra hour studying calculus. Now, we all this know isn’t easy. Many of us may get motivated by a cool YouTube video, the advice of a friend, or the turn from December 31st to January 1st. But, that motivation is fleeting: you need discipline. And that sucks at first, until you build habits. Even then, without a strong foundation, without a strong center, without strong reasons important to you, it is virtually impossible to succeed on our own self-directed will. That will must be strengthened by the Personal Mission Statement that Covey talked about before. And you must review that mission, and all its related big picture goals, regularly in order to keep your motivation fire burning, and combined with your iron discipline to forge the steel of your own personal effectiveness.

Saying “Yes” to something important means saying “No” to some other use of your time and money. It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep saying “Yes” consistently when you have an exciting reason, a mission! Then you can say “Yes” to the gym, to the money-saving, to the job hunt, to the studying, to the music practice, with JOY rather than with moans and groans!

In summary of these ideas:

  1. Putting first things first is the practical fruit of realizing your own abilities of proactivity and big-picture planning.
  2. Without good personal leadership, personal management is meaningless and ineffective, even when it’s efficient.
  3. Success requires exercise of independent will, which means discipline and keeping the promises you make to yourself.
  4. It is virutally impossible to make the tough choices required for success unless you are motivated by a strong, well-developed, and inspiring personal mission statement: remember, doing the important tasks required of your goals always means giving up, at least for the moment, quick pleasures and fun distractions.

I’m going to finish my write-up on the second half of this chapter tomorrow. That will cover how to effectively manage your time week-to-week, day-to-day, effectively and efficiently.

 

Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Part 2 of Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind

Merry Christmas! I spent the day at leisure with my family, so apart from doing a few German lessons on DuoLingo, I didn’t exactly get anything done today. But, I did have fun! My dad got an Amazon Echo for the house, so we had fun playing with Alexa. I got a cool new board game: it’s “Reign of Chtulu,” a Mythos version of “Pandemic.” It’s challenging, suspenseful, and loaded with a glorious Lovecraftian theme. I also got a new Kindle to replace my broken one, so I’ll be setting that up tomorrow! We also ate desserts, and watched the hilarious movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which I greatly recommend! It’s directed by John Hughes, the same guy who did Ferris Buhler and Breakfast Club. All-in-all, not the most proactive day of Day 3/30 of my Proactivity Challenge, but, worth it for a holiday, I say.

Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing a close friend to work on an exciting new business idea. Trust me, you’ll hear about it here once we’re ready 😉

Also in tomorrow’s plan:

  1. A workout for my shoulders, abs, and cardio. (Running.)
  2. Connected to number 1, tracking my food intake with a goal of 160 grams of protein. (~1g protein per pound of body fat is the guideline I go with.)
  3. Practicing harmonica for half an hour.
  4. Rescheduling my Wednesday blood drive appointment to the next day: I forgot to mention two days ago, I was proactive in setting that. Now I’ll have to reschedule since I’ll be visiting with extended family most of that day.
  5. Spending a focused hour on cleaning my room, while listening to a useful podcast.
  6. Earning 100 XP on DuoLingo: half German, half French.
  7. Re-read Habit #3, and write a blog post on it.
  8. Get my Kindle set up.
  9. Buy a new set of calendar pages for my Covey System notebook.
  10. Do a couple hours of UpWork writing for a client.
  11. Do some fiction writing for a client.
  12. Plan an ebook idea I have.

There’s more I’ll end up doing too, but I’d say that’s a good list of worthwhile thinks to accomplish in a day. I’ll be furthering my goals in writing, business, and personal fitness, as well as learning for pleasure and career development. I’ve noticed in my experience since reading The 7 Habits that I’m more productive and happy on days that I planned the day before. It’s that concept I talked about in the last post, of every project and every day having two creations first in the mind, then in reality. Putting my to-do list and my schedule into written form helps implant its importance in my mind, and keep me focused with my longer-term vision.

That brings us to the second half of my exploration of Covey’s second Highly Effective Habit:

Begin With the End in Mind

In last night’s post, I talked about the exercise for imagining your own funeral and pondering how you want to be remembered by your loved ones and associates when you’re gone. From there, I talked about the distinction between leadership and management, and how plenty of people have good personal management in terms of making a schedule and being efficient but lack the effectiveness that comes from a big-picture, long-term vision, in the form of a life plan and personal mission statement. Covey considers personal statements precious, and I’m inclined to agree. If you don’t discover and articulate your own values, vision, and philosophy, (and if the values you select aren’t in alignment with the principles of reality,) you’ll have those things handed to you by other people, and then you’ll be serving their interests, instead of your own. Helping other people is fine, but when I only have this one life to live, I’m living it the way I truly want.

Writing a Personal Mission Statement

Covey contends that a mission statement isn’t something you can just whip up in half an hour and then run your life on. It’s something that takes isolation, meditation, and time to refine and polish. He does offer advice more specifically on how to write your own mission statement.

  1. You can expand your perspective, such as using the “my own funeral” exercise. You can also imagine your future anniversaries with your spouse or your retirement from your occupation. What do you want to have felt you’ve accomplished at those times? How would you live if you only had, say, a year, six months, or a month to live? Values can come into focus quickly when we don’t have much time left.
  2. You can use visualization and affirmation. An affirmation should be a phrase that is personal, positive, present tense, visual, and emotional. Take for example, “It is exciting and fun when I go to the gym to lift weights and strengthen my body.” I can also visualize my next workout: the strain, the sweat, the grip of my hands on the barbell, the movements of my arms and legs in each exercise, the refreshing and nourishing post-workout smoothie, and the glorious feeling of soreness and accomplishment.
  3. You can also go more logical, and think about your roles and goals. That is to say, what hats do you wear in your life right now? Think of family relationships like father or brother, a couple different aspects of your career such as lecturer and researcher, a volunteer role you may work in, or a leadership position in a service organization. For me, I am a son, a friend, a brother, a student, a Cadet, a writer, and a businessman, right now. Some of my goals include a six-figure income by the time I’m 30, having a bodyweight of 180 pounds with 10% body fat, and publishing a novel every year from 2018 onward.

By using these emotional and logical lenses, we can begin to piece together a personal mission statement that weaves together everything most important to us in an emotional, positive, inspiring way. It takes work to get a personal mission statement concise of course, and there are many ways to format one. Like I said…I’m still working on mine. I will get back to you guys on it. I promise.

Covey also suggests making mission statements for your work organization and family. I like that idea. I’ll work on it with my friend tomorrow for our project, actually. Anyway, that’s basically it for Habit 2. I’m going to spend time this week meditating and reading research materials to help me on writing a great mission statement. I’ll also keep integrating this habit by coming back to my long-term goals, and practicing the first, mental creation of each of my days, projects, and activities.

I love this book. 🙂

Learning and Teaching The 7 Habits: Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind

My summary and exploration of Stephen R. Covey’s 2nd Habit of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the End in Mind”

Hello and Merry Christmas! Yesterday, I explored the introduction to 7 Habits, plus the 1st Habit itself: Be Proactive. Today, I’m going to jump into the second habit. This one will take some more time and work to formulate a proper response to some of its actionable steps. That said, I’m going to share with you as I develop my vision of my “End in mind,” including my personal mission statement. Now, let’s get into the chapter!

As I explained in the previous post, Covey has his 7 Habits organized in a sequence that builds on itself. Here’s handy visualization he includes in the book:

As we can see, the first three habits of Be Proactive, Begin With The End in Mind, and Put First Things First bring a person from a state of Dependence to a state of Independence. This second habit, as we can see, combined with the first to form the base of a triangle.

What does “Begin With the End in Mind” mean, anyway?

At the start of the chapter, Covey asks us to make a serious visualization of an event most of us prefer not to think about: our own funeral, three years in the future. He encourages us to imagine how we’d want our closest family members, our friends, our work colleagues, and our church/community members to remember and speak of us that day. What will the impact of our lives have been? What kind of character did we live our lives with? Are we worth being spoken and written about for good reason, ten or twenty years or more down the line?

Covey elaborates that beginning with the end in mind means that we choose and evaluate our actions with that end in mind: the end of our lives. We can be efficient and busy without having a clear vision of what we ultimately want to achieve and how we want to be remembered…but what would be the point? If we’re not working towards something that is consistent with principles, and then on top of those, our own highest values, why expend the effort?

Following logically from the idea of a desired end-state for one’s entire life, is the concept of consciously planning and designing specific activities and creations within that life. You should finish the blueprint before you begin work on the house. You should design your clothes before you thread the needle, as Covey says, and have a plan for your business before you start raising money and hiring workers. As Covey sees it, everything that people create has a first creation, in the mind, and a second creation, in reality. I can see this on the micro level, of planning a speech or a story or an essay before I write it, and on the macro level of an overall life plan.

Backing up to the funeral topic, I’m going to share with you my own thoughts on how I’d like to be remembered. Here’s my response to Covey’s funeral exercise:

 

This exercise asks me to imagine my own funeral three years from now. I would be 28 years, 1 month, 7 days old, at the end of my life. That’s heavy. I’d be in the early stages of my careers in marketing business management, and Army leadership. I wouldn’t have kids yet, or be married, but maybe I’d have a long-term girlfriend. I could have a decent apartment, hopefully in Rochester or Buffalo, and a pretty good car. I’d finally be feeling like a real middle-class, independent American adult, with enough income from my profession to support my necessities, hobbies, and a few luxuries. Maybe I’d be on my first deployment with the Army: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Korea? Who knows.

And then, from a horrible car accident, a North Korean missile, a brain aneurysm, or even a mass-shooting…that life would end. Geoffrey Wilson would be dead. Gone. Inanimate. Cold. Kaput. Done. Hopefully, my brain would be in good enough shape and the response time would be good enough that I could get my body cryonically preserved, as I plan. Whether it’s that, or I’m incinerated in a nuclear explosion with no chance of recovery, I’m dead as far as everyone else is concerned. Is there an afterlife? I don’t think so. Reincarnation interests me more, but I don’t see the evidence for that, either. And again, in any case, I’m dead to everyone who knew me.

So, at my funeral, what do I want people to think of me? How do I want Geoff Wilson to be remembered? Well, first of all, I want the funeral to be fun! Live jazz band, great B.B.Q. food, open bar, people dancing. Pictures of me, my accomplishments, and my goofy and joyous moments. I’d want my friends and family to be recollecting their favorite moments with me, with the occasional chuckle or even uproarious laughter. Yeah, I’m dead, but isn’t it better to focus on the happening of something great,, rather than on its end?

Covey recommends specifically that we think deeply about what we’d want a favorite family member, a friend, a work colleague, and a church/community organization member to each say about us if they spoke at our funeral. I think those are all useful to consider, for giving a “3-Dimensional” view of how I’m remembered when I’m gone:

  1. I’d want my little brother, Alex, to remember me as one of his best friends. As someone who he could have a free-flowing, natural, deep, goofy, passionate conversation with about absolutely anything and everything either of us happened to experience or hear about. He tends to be a socially anxious person, and I’d want him to remember me as one of the people in his life who he could always feel completely comfortable talking, exercising, playing video games, or just hanging out with. I’d want him to remember me as someone inquisitive about the world, and passionate about my goals and efforts in writing, in business, and in the military. I’d want him to have many fond memories of our times together with our fellow Boy Scouts at Camp Massawepie, and of family holidays, like on Christmas mornings. I’d want him to remember me as someone kind, and strong, and worth looking up to. I hope I inspired him in some way when we were growing up, and as young adults. I’d hope he’d share with everyone how good of a big brother I was during our relatively brief time together.
  2. I’d want my best friend, Zach, to remember me for a lot of the same things I’d want Alex to remember me for. As someone he could always turn to, to share both good and bad times with. As a fun, honorable, and mutually inspiring person to grow through childhood and into adulthood with. As a great fellow Eagle Scout. (My brother is an Eagle Scout too, by the way.) As someone reasonable, and kind, and funny. Someone with good tastes in movies and a good ability to talk and argue about them. As someone who took his own creative and professional interests seriously, and who inspired that same enthusiasm in his friends for their own interests.
  3. I’d want one of my future marketing work colleagues to talk about how amazing I was at my crafts of writing, speaking, planning, and leading. To talk about how I always got all my work done effectively and efficiently and then kept working to help my colleagues do even better on their own projects. How I could think on my feet, and do what was best for the client and for our company. How I was a life-long learner and natural networker who inspired everyone in the office and beyond. How I was fun to work with and hang out with at social events. I’d want my colleague to be able to honestly say I was an amazing young professional, and a pleasure to market with.
  4. I’d want my future Platoon Sergeant to speak to my strengths as an Army Military Intelligence Lieutenant: how I pushed myself my hardest to lead the pack in P.T., how I lived the Seven Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed and Officer’s Creed with every breath, how I led from the front and never asked my Soldiers to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself, how I was brave even in scary situations, how I demonstrated servant leadership and prepared all my soldiers for the mission at hand, and how I was a skilled professional in the domain of Military Intelligence, and served my country in finding and analyzing the enemy’s positions, intentions, and resources. I’d want my P.S.G. to remember me as a promising Lieutenant who would’ve made a good Captain, and who worked well with him or her in leading and managing my Platoon’s human and material resources, and making sure that every individual under my command had what he or she needed professionally and personally to do his or her job. I’d hope that there’d many Soldiers and my fellow Officers who commissioned through R.O.T.C. with me attending my funeral.

Geez. That’s all heavy stuff to think about. But important. I don’t know when I’m going to die. And when I do, I won’t have the option of doing things last minute to elevate my reputation: I have to build that reputation now, every day. More importantly than reputation, I have to act in accordance with what I desire to experience myself: what skills I want to learn, what ranks to earn, what money to make, what places to visit, what people to befriend and love and share with. If I don’t begin each day with that end in mind, whether I die tomorrow, three years, or thirty years from now…then what the heck am I doing? I only get one shot at this.

I strongly recommend that funeral exercise. Really take the time to visualize visiting your own funeral,  what you’d want the mood and chatter to be like, and what you’d want those four important speakers from different areas of your life to say about you and how you touched the lives of others. This exercise might just be the kick in the ass you need to rethink your life plan, and really, deeply consider what you want to accomplish in your limited time here, and how you want to be remembered. I know that’s what I’m doing.

Leadership vs Management

Covey distinguishes these two concepts in the following way: management is the bottom line focus, of how best to accomplish things, while leadership is based on the top line, or what we want to accomplish. You, or any organization, need both to be effective, but Habit 2 focuses on Leadership: remember, you can be very busy and efficient, but if what you’re working on isn’t of real value for your life, you’re wasting your time. Companies, countries, armies, and other groups of people need leadership to see and examine the big picture and guide the managers into the right direction of effectively executing plans.

On a personal level, people screw this up all the time by setting goals without clarifying their values. Business managers get so caught up in the micromanagement of day-to-day tasks that they lose sight of the bigger picture of where their company needs to go. Military officers can screw up similarly with a fixation on the details of what every soldier in their command should be doing, rather than focusing on making the bigger plan and then delegating and trusting their N.C.O.’s.

Becoming your own first creator

I love this concept, it speaks to me on a religious level! Covey contends that through imagination and conscience, humans can realize their potential, and plan and develop to reach that potential. If humans do not go through such a process of “self script writing,” we are doomed to be dealt a script written by our parents, the media, corporations, and politicians. Of course, we’ll all be influenced by outside voices, but, with proactivity and beginning with the end in mind, it is possible to create a program for ourselves to follow, and if needed, modify.

Covey encourages the creation of a personal mission statement to help guide us in this sense. He emphasizes that drafting such a document is a long process, and requires much thought, meditation, and reading of inspiring sources, but is well worth it. I wrote a personal mission statement on my first reading of the book, and have revised it since…I want to play with it more before I share it here. You got enough of my personal life with the hypothetical funeral part. 😉

Covey also talks about how a mission statement is a great thing for the effectiveness of an organization, if all the employees involved take part and have buy-in on the values chosen. He also talks about the U.S. Constitution as a sort of “mission statement” for the United States, and recommends thinking of each of our own mission statements as a sort of personal constitution.

A Strong Center

Revisiting the Circle of Influence concept, here Covey talks about what we can place at the very center of that circle: our most basic paradigms, our vision, our values. If that center is strong, it can provide us:

  1. Security
  2. Guidance
  3. Power
  4. Wisdom

If these four factors are present, Covey says they create a great personality, balanced character, and an integrated individual. Neat. That makes sense. We all need to feel secure, to know what to do in different situations, and the energy to actually do the right things. But what should be at our center?

Covey says that people place many things at their center: money, love, pleasure, work, church, friends, enemies…and all of these have their weaknesses. While any of these can lead to us making the best decision sometimes, they can also be fickle and lead to unbalanced lives, or damage our ability to be independent and interdependent.

The better option, Covey argues, is to be Principle Centered. Unlike other people, or money, or pleasures, our principles will not betray or leave us or be destroyed by someone else, unless we let them. If we understand and commit to deep, classic truths, such as excellence, dignity, and honor, we will have Security, Guidance, Power, and Wisdom, even when the going gets tough. When values such as time with our spouse or an important work project conflict, our principles guide us to the right choice, and we can feel more secure and energized in our decision-making.

I like this idea a lot. I mentioned in my previous post, I think principles may be a bit more malleable than Covey believes, or at least, more complex as they interact and sometimes conflict when it comes to doing what is best in complicated situations. That said, I do think there are principles for living the good life as a human being, and that if one also carries a realistic model of how one’s surrounding society and culture works, the discovery of and commitment to these principles can serve someone well.

Whew, OK, it’s past midnight on Christmas. I need to read some Shakespeare and fall asleep haha. I’ll finish writing about this chapter tomorrow.

Reviewing from my second day of the 30 Day Proactivity Challenge:

I completed some of what I set out to do today, but not all of it. I had an excellent chest, bicep, abs, and running workout, which was the highlight of my day. I finished wrapping gifts for my family. I got some German practice in on DuoLingo. I re-read Habit 2. I also spent some quality Christmas Eve time with the family, including eating homemade pizza and brownies and decorating the Christmas tree. I meant, however, to get a lot more writing done, and to practice harmonica., and to get in an hour of room-cleaning. I’m kicking myself for not getting those. I wasted too much time sleeping in, and doofing around doing not much of anything.

So, I was thinking proactive, and that felt great. I got done things that will build my muscle and cardio abilities, and improve my understanding of a great book, and build the value of my blog. But I gotta keep my commitments to my to-do lists, for my own good! Begin with that end in mind: what I want most, (wealth, amazing muscles, many published books,)  not what I just want right this minute! (sleep, distractions, memes, video games.)

Welp.

Merry Christmas everybody!!

Learning and Teaching The 7 Habits: Introduction and Habit 1 – Be Proactive

Getting Myself Unstuck: Re-Reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I’ve felt stuck lately. Truthfully, I have felt stuck on-and-off for years. I felt the crushing disappointment earlier this year of failing out of my financial sales job, and I have not been nearly as consistent as I’d like on good habits such as meditation, exercise, musical practice, and practice on social dynamics. I did have the achievements of getting into a good business school for my M.B.A, and earning an R.O.T.C. scholarship. But, I want to do better, because I know my potential! So, I’m re-reading and finding new self-development books to break out of old ways of thinking and doing, and getting myself moving again on an upward spiral of development!!

I’ve written before about Stephen R. Covey’s classic 1988 self-development book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. An excellent former work colleague introduced me to it, and I’ve found its lessons useful and well-communicated. Today, I want to begin a small project, of re-reading the book and writing my findings in a blog post series here. Covey suggests in his introduction that The 7 Habits is worth re-reading and studying thoroughly, with a mind towards teaching its lessons to someone else. The purpose of this and the other posts in this series will be to increase my own understanding of and commitment to the 7 Habits, and to help other readers get a deeper understanding.

I’m not going to belabor Covey’s explanatory stories and personal experiences. I’m writing with the expectation that the reader has read The 7 Habits, or plans on likely reading it in the near future.

Yesterday, I read the introductory sections of “Inside-Out” and “The 7 Habits – An Overview.” Today, I read “Habit 1: Be Proactive.” Let’s start with what I got from the introduction.

Character Ethic vs. Personality Ethic

“Inside-Out” and “An Overview” explain Covey’s approach to successful living, starting with its foundation. Central to this approach is the difference between what Covey terms the Personality Ethic and the Character Ethic. The former is surface level, seeks shortcuts, and focuses on techniques. The latter runs to the core of how a person thinks of himself and tends to behave when no one is watching and is perceived on a deep psychological level, e.g. what he “Is.” This Character Ethic is based on the principles that govern human effectiveness.

Closely related to these two Ethics is the difference between Primary Greatness and Secondary Greatness. The former can come only from character, and is the glory of internal consistency with oneself and with principles in thought, feeling, and action, and the influence of this greatness in the lives of other people, while Secondary Greatness is merely the externally visible results such as financial success, popularity, or the movement of people to one’s will through insincere interaction.

Covey fully recognizes the importance of technique: social skills, positive thinking, development of one’s personality. But, he finds that these are all secondary to Character; to the deep core of who and what someone actually is, as this will determine whether they actually end up happy, and whether other people ultimately see them as a great person when all is said and done. Fakers and cheats almost always get found out eventually. So the Character Ethic, that focus on starting with the principles and one’s worldview and habitual thoughts, can create Primary Greatness, and then techniques can work more effectively, when propelled by the energy of a strong character, to produce the Secondary Greatness of social influence, money, career positions, and all the rest.

Personality Ethic Character Ethic
Popular in the past 100 years, as seen in numerous books, videos, blogs, and talk-shows. Supported in Ancient philosophy, some traditional religious views, and self-development writers such as Benjamin Franklin.
Focuses on technique and outward personality. Focuses on character and principles.
Can produce secondary greatness in externally visible rewards. Can produce primary greatness in enduring admiration and personal satisfaction, plus give a firm foundation for secondary greatness.
Promises quick fixes to problems. Promises a long process of honest reflection and habit development.

Paradigm Shifts

The modern concept of paradigm shifts comes from Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm is a worldview: the lens which colors and affects how one sees the reality in front of them. Paradigms in science shift as skepticism and experimentation reveal new information: the Earth at first appears flat but it is not, the Sun at first appears to orbit the Earth but the opposite is true, the Newtonian Model of physics appears to precisely describe reality until relativity and then quantum physics shake it all up again, etc.

Covey sees paradigms operating and shifting in the social sciences, too: he points to the foundation of the United States as a paradigm shift in Western Civilization, as democratic republicanism replaced the divine absolute rule of kings. Critically, the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic are both social paradigms. Covey observes with displeasure that the Personality Ethic seems to have become more popular in the past hundred years, as self-help books have grown more popular and people have sought “quick fixes” in a rapidly changing and competitive economic environment.

Covey emphasizes that one what paradigm one holds is critically important to one’s attitudes and choices. Paradigms virtually never describe reality perfectly, they are maps, and reality is the territory. That said, a map of Chicago will help a lot more than a map of Detroit when you’re trying to navigate the city of Chicago! So, it’s important to be open to the possibility that the way you currently view the world isn’t the final say: you must honestly test your paradigm, and when necessary, change it so it better describes reality.

The paradigm that Covey urges the reader to shift to is the Character Ethic Paradigm: he finds it superior to the Personality Ethic for the reasons I described above. It is effective because it is based on principles

Principles

Covey argues that as there is an objective reality in science, even if our perception of that reality is imperfect, there are also realities in human thoughts, feelings, and social relations that remain true across cultures, even if cultural practices may subvert or suppress these human realities.

These realities of humanity he calls Principles, and he gives as examples fairness, integrity, honesty, human indignity, and excellence. Adherence to these principles leads to good outcomes for the people involved, and violation of them leads to bad outcomes. In response to questions of these principles’ fundamentality,  he asks us what would happen if we tried to live a life based on their opposites: unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity, or degeneration. These would lead to the opposites of happiness and success.

Covey also addresses values. Values differ from principles in that values are concepts, personality traits, or physical things that individuals and groups of individuals hold to be important, whereas principles are important – the former doesn’t necessarily conflict with the latter, but it also doesn’t necessarily align with it. Thieves can have values, but are not acting according to principles.

Beginning with the Inside-Out

Concluding this introductory chapter, Covey explains that his approach with the 7 Habits reflects his focus on Character and Principles. While many people hold a paradigm that all their problems come from “out there,” with their boss, their spouse, the government, or the economy, Covey encourages us to shift our view on our response to external factors, and on our own adherence to principles and development of our characters.

To sovle the problems “out there,” you must first solve the problems “in here.” The 7 Habits begin with developing internally sound practices, and expand outward. Covey believes that much of this truth is common sense to most people on a deep level, even if they lose sight of it through the way they’re raised or have conditioned themselves to think.

An Overview of the 7 Habits

We next move on to Covey’s overview of the 7 Habits he finds critical to personal effectiveness. Covey defines habits as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is what to do, skill is how to do it, and desire is the motivation. You need all three to form new habits, and this is easier said than done: Covey likens the starting of a new habit as the lift-off of a NASA rocket out of Earth’s gravity: it takes a massive amount of effort to break free of that gravity, but once you’re out there, you can move whatever direction you want pretty easily and get to amazing places.

The 7 Habits take someone through a progression of maturity, from Dependence, to Independence, to Interdependence.

The first three habits are Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and Put First Things First. These three get someone to Independence: at this point, the person has attained a private victory, and possesses internal control over their thoughts and actions, along with a plan of what they want and how to achieve.

The next three habits are Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand Then to Be Understood, and Synergize. These take the Independent person to Interdependence, where he can maximize his potential through useful relationships with other people.

Finally, the seventh habit is Sharpen the Saw, which encircles the other habits and helps maintain the individual’s emotional, physical, spiritual, and social effectiveness over time.

The P/PC Balance

Continuing with his description of effectiveness, Covey enters the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. In this story, a farmer owns a goose who lays one golden egg per day: this is, of course, wonderful for the farmer, and he’s getting richer and richer every day. But, the farmer gets greedy and impatient, and decides to kill the goose and take all its eggs at once…only to find that there are no eggs stored in the goose, as they’re produced singly each day: he’s lost his source of income, in his efforts to get too much too fast.

Similarly, Covey cautions, we risk our Production Capacity (“PC”) when we try to Produce (“P”) too much too fast, without putting effort into the investments and maintenance that provide the PC. We can see this with someone working himself to death on a project, with no sleep, no exercise, and no quiet time for meditation or other resting of the mind.

Conversely, some people go to school forever without ever beginning to produce anything useful: they are overfocsued on PC, at the expense of P.

So, having a good balance between P and PC is critical for someone to be most effective in producing wealth and creative works, in having good relationships with friends and family, in staying healthy, and in overall being happy with one’s current status.

Work hard and smart with a plan, and take time to rest, reflect on what works and what doesn’t, and expand your knowledge of your field.

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

As I mentioned above, Covey organizes the Habits sequentially, and this first habit, Be Proactive, helps form the foundation for the rest. The essential lesson Covey wants us to take away in this chapter is that human beings, unlike other animals, can choose our response to stimuli. That is to say: we experience something, we can think about how to respond, and then respond in the way that will align with principles and our goals. Personally, I think Covey doesn’t give enough credit to of the more intelligent creatures out there, like crows and chimpanzees, and, I think humans are more instinctual than he cares to admit, but, his point stands true and useful in the essentials. If you can control your response to stimui, you are that much more independent from uncontrollables such as the weather, the economy, and how much people like you.

Covey tells the inspiring and true story of psychologist Victor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Frankl experiened the absolute horror of most of his family being worked to death and gassed, and he suffered the cruelty of beatings, starvation, and frequent hateful verbal abuse by his Nazi captors. But, Frankl, drawing on his knowledge of psychology, came to realize that the Nazis could never take away his core individual identity, or his choice of how to respond to his circumstances. Frankl chose to not be mentally broken, and he was not: he kept his hope in the future, and the happiness and purpose he would regain when he would someday leave the camp and be able to write about his experiences and teach new psychology concepts to his students.

https://www.acetutors.com.sg/Viktor-Frankl-Men-Search-For-Meaning

So that’s a major aspect of “Be Proactive:” no matter what horrible things may happen to us, we can still choose how to respond. You can give up and sink deeper into your despair, or build on a glimmer of hope to take the positive action that can get you to a better place. You can choose where to focus your attention.

Another major concept for explaining proactivity is the Circle of Concern vs the Circle of Influence. Covey describes this with two overlapping circles: one contains everything we have direct or indirect influence over, and one contains everything we have some mental or emotional involvement in. Some people choose to focus on the things they’re concerned about, but can’t control: these people diminish their own influence, as they do not put energy into the thoughts and actions that can give them greater control over their lives.

http://www.crowe-associates.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Circle-of-influence-and-concern.png

But, the people who see the potential for distressing or awful things in their circle of concern, yet realize that they only have so much influence, and then choose to focus on what they do control, will tend to grow their influence. They make the plans, learn the lessons, network with the people, to improve their situation. Their first response to setbacks and challenges is “How can I do this better, How can I get what I want, Let’s find the best route, I’d prefer that this not be so difficult …” Effective people don’t focus their blame on their boss or the government, even if they do recognize that thoe external factors have a bad impact on them. They find the tiny footholds of influence and build on them.

Actionable Steps for Habit 1

Covey gives us solid advice on how to build our Circle of Influence. It all starts with commitments and promises. We can make commit to goals, and keep promises to ourselves: working out on a fixed schedule, applying to so many jobs per week, keeping to a new diet, building a monetary budget, beginning to keep a journal of our thoughts and feelings of each day. With these incremental, internal steps, we can begin to grow that circle of influence to encompass more of our circle of concern and thereby feel more confident, comfortable, and in-control of our lives.

As a challenge of proactivity, Covey challenges us to take a 30-day proactivity test. This test consists in every day paying attention to your mental and verbal language: how often do you use counterproductive phrases like “If only,” “I can’t,” or “I have to”? Even if your circle of influence is truthfully very small, you must begin with it in order to grow that influence. During this 30-day test, you must also track how you feel your circle of influence expanding or shrinking, as you change your thinking and actions.

I’m going to publically commit to this challenge myself today. From today, 23 December, through 22 January, I will focus on my Circle of Influence, and on proactive thought and action. I’ll write the results of that here, as I continue with my re-read and summary of the rest of the book. 

To start this, I’m going to respond publically an application suggestion Covey gives at the end of the chapter.

This suggestion is to think of a potential near-future encounter that could lead to me behaving reactively, rather than proactively, and then think through how to respond proactively, and imagine how the encounter would go.

A situation I can think of is the challenge of applying to summer internships. Internships are important during my MBA program to help me get the experience and connections for a full-time job when I graduate. But, I have the unusual challenge of needing to do ROTC Advanced Camp for a month out of this summer: many employers will want an intern for the entire summer, and may have a hard time accommodating my situation. Furthermore, the entire process of applying for jobs and internships can be frustrating, with “quirky” online entry forms, bizarre personality quizzes, and unreachable hiring managers. The way I could react to this situation, if I were to be reactive, would be to throw up my hands and declare that business employers and H.R. workers are all inconsiderate jerks with no respect or consideration for R.O.T.C. Cadets, and how Millennials have it so hard in this economy and that I might as well not even try for an internship in the first place, because what are the odds it’s gonna be paying, anyway?

That is not a helpful response. It guarantees that I won’t get any kind of relevant work experience over the summer, and will leave me feeling more frustrated and depressed about my career prospects, further hurting my motivation in the future!

A proactive way to respond to the challenge would be to talk to the co-op and career services folks at my school, to see what students in similar situations have done. I could also work on perfecting my resume and cover letters, and try communicating through phone, email, and in-person as much as possible with the companies I’d want to intern for, to get a conversation with someone relevant and see how I can work for them around my irregular summer schedule.

I could still fail to get a good internship. Many of the problems involved are indirect, meaning I don’t have personal control over the outcome. But, I’d have a far, far better chance than if I just let my frustration get to me. And even if I failed, I’d at least know I did everything possible to try.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue with Habit 2 – Begin With the End in Mind, and, I’ll update you on my 30-day proactivity challenge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. I’m having a good time rereading this book and explaining it! How will you choose to respond to your circumstances? Reactively, or proactively?

What I learned at Army ROTC Cadet Basic Camp 2017.

31 July, 2017

Hooah! I’m back home from Fort Knox, and feeling fine! Army ROTC Basic Camp was one Hell of a way to spend a month: it was at times grueling, glorious, tedious, exhilarating, and above all, fun. Did it suck? Of course. But I also learned a lot about the Army, officership, and myself. I made lifelong friends. And I feel more confident than ever about my life’s trajectory. I had life-changing experiences, and I want to share some of my reflections on these with you. I’m especially honored to be part of the small percentage of Americans who have the honor of experiencing military training and service. Basic Camp was only the first step on a long journey, but it was a big step, and one that leaves me feeling warmed-up and fortified for the road ahead.

 

First, let me be clear about what training program this was. I’m enrolled in the U.S. Army’s ROTC, (Reserve Officer Training Corp) which was created originally in 1916 as part of the United States’ buildup for entry into World War One. ROTC operates nationwide through civilian colleges, to train student cadets into new Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard officers. The combination of military training and their respective college degree programs gives these officers diverse skillsets: commissioned officers hold degrees in fields ranging from mechanical engineering, to business, to biology. Cadets engage in physical training, classroom military science classes, and field training exercises, all while gradually assuming command responsibility, and being evaluated on their leadership performance. They concurrently take the same college classes as other students in their degree program, and are encouraged to participate in university sports, clubs, and activities. The commissioning process is competitive, and cadets earn Active Duty spots in different branches of the Army (Infantry, Armor, Engineering, etc.,) concurrent with their grades, physical fitness, and leadership skills.

 

ROTC is typically a four-year program, wherein the cadet typically earns a scholarship in exchange for a contractual term of military service. But because the Marketing MBA I’m pursuing is a two-year program, I’ll be completing all ROTC commissioning requirements in two years. The training I did this summer at Cadet Basic Camp allows me to “catch up,” since it fulfills the requirements that four-year cadets knock out in their first two years of the program. Also, because I’m on a Minuteman Scholarship, I’ll be serving in the Reserve concurrent to my time in school! If anyone is considering ROTC, I strongly recommend considering the Minuteman and other National Guard/Reserve options through the Simultaneous Membership Program: whether you go Active or Reserve after college, your Drill Weekends and Annual Training will get you extra “on the job learning” that most of your peers will lack. You’ll have extra time on technical skills such as weapons and first aid, and you can learn from the experienced Soldiers in your unit. Plus, you get paid, and it’s fun.

 

Anyway, Cadet Basic Camp is the first fully immersive Army experience most cadets have, in the sense of living on an Army installation in full uniform and conducting daily training for an extended period. If rumor serves me well, this initial cadet training used to be a lot easier, but the new Commanding General of Cadet Command turned up the heat significantly a couple years ago. We had mean Drill Sergeants who smoked us daily and pushed our physical and mental limits, in an excellent program of improving our individual discipline and unit cohesion. We learned basic soldier skills of marksmanship, weapons maintenance, land navigation, first aid, radio communication, squad tactics, drill and ceremony, and more. And we got to take turns stepping up to lead our fellow cadets on the Team, Squad, Platoon, and Company levels, through daily tasks, and field exercises. While Cadet Basic Camp is admittedly a far cry from the Army’s Basic Combat Training (which all enlisted recruits go through) in terms of duration and harshness, (4 weeks versus 10,) the program was clearly designed to test our intestinal fortitude as prospective leaders of the United States Army. I feel confident in saying that all of us who stuck it out came away a little grittier, more Soldierly, and with a few extra ounces of that precious resource fundamental to the success of all great armies throughout history: Discipline.

 

For me, Basic Camp gave me so many minute lessons and precious experiences, that I can’t possibly recount all of them here. And I’m honestly not sure that I’d want to give everything away: some stories are exclusive to me and my battle buddies, and would decrease in value if they were over-circulated. What I’ve attempted to do here is narrow it down to a few of the big picture, thematic lessons. On top of all these, one of the biggest realizations I had was how little I still know about truly being a great Soldier and Officer: character transformations take time, sustained effort, and the kind of experiences you can only gain in the thick of things, out there.

 

That said, here it goes …

 

Always have your battle buddy’s back, and always be disciplined.

 

For those who don’t know, “smoking” is when the Drill Sergeant orders a large quantity of exercise which often only ends when the recruits have been reduced to a flailing, jittering mass of exhausted muscles, heaving lungs, and dirty sweat globules. Each iteration of these extra exercise bonanzas is known as a “smoke session.” You know the smoking’s about to commence when you hear the dreaded command of “Half-right: face!” (“Turn diagonally to the right so you all have room, in theory, to drop down and kick your feet back into pushup position without clocking the guy behind you in the face and getting your fingers stomped on by the guy in front of you. In theory.”)

 

And if there’s one thing that anyone who’s ever been in the military, known someone in the military, or even seen a war movie knows about Drill Sergeants, it’s that those loud gentlemen in the Smoky the Bear hats love to smoke recruits for seemingly anything and everything.

 

Cadet Johnston didn’t shave this morning?! I can fix that. Johnston: you have twenty seconds to run inside and grab your razor. Everyone else: Half-right, face!

 

Oh, Cadet Winston thinks he can move at the position of attention?! Well, sounds like all are restless, guess ya need more exercise! Half-right, face!

 

Falling asleep during your four-hour classroom lesson on the 7 Army Values?! On your feet! Half-right, face!

 

It’s your birthday, huh? How old are you? That’s how many eight-count push-ups we’re doing! Platoon! Half-right, face!

 

While the severity of the sessions can vary, getting smoked generally sucks. You get extra sweat, extra dirt on your recently cleaned uniform, your sore and tired muscles get even more sore and tired, there’s mental stress on top of mental stress, and bloody hands from doing pushups on gravel. You learn eventually that getting smoked isn’t the end of the world that it feels like at first, and it can even become funny in some circumstances, but it still always kinda sucks.

 

Why do the Drills do it? Are they just sadistic demons who like to watch you suffer? Believe it or not, Drill Sergeants and their methods exist to instill discipline, both on a team level, and on an individual level. Ever since Baron von Steuben helped Washington train his frozen and starving Continental soldiers back at Valley Forge, the U.S. Army has treasured discipline. It keeps units together in the face of enemy fire and tough environmental conditions, it overcomes individual fears and doubts, and it allows an army to out-coordinate and out-fight its enemies on the battlefield. All the fancy technology and military theory doesn’t mean a damn without discipline. George Washington said it best:

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”

In training, as in battle, if one member of your platoon screws up, it means you’ve all screwed up. The Army is a team sport. Battles and wars are won and survived as a team, and one screw-up by one member of that team means unnecessary pain for everyone. And in war, that pain can be a lot worse than push-ups. That’s the lesson Drill Sergeants are burning into you when they make you drop and do push-ups for seemingly small things, like someone’s flag patch being crooked, or someone missing their cadet handbook, or someone dozing off during class instruction. Being lazy about attention to detail, both for yourself and your buddy, puts you all in danger. You make sure your shit is squared away, and you make sure your buddy’s shit is squared away, so that when you meet the enemy, you all have the best odds possible of defeating that enemy, and coming home in one piece. Your radio, vehicle, armor, rifle, ammo, gas mask, and mental alertness all need to be as perfect as possible. And your buddy’s better all be that way too, or you, him, his family, and the rest of your unit are paying the price.

 

We each learned that if we screwed up as individuals, our whole team was going to pay for it. And, if we wanted to minimize smokings in the future, we had to look out for each other. That means making sure your buddy’s uniform is all squared away, that he (or she) has all his gear, that he doesn’t nod off during lectures, and that you, he, and everyone else get to every single formation prepared and on time.

 

None of us arrived at camp as the perfect cadet. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We each kept dutifully on top of some tasks, while slipping up on others, and that’s where that critical Looking Out for Each Other rose to prominence. We covered each other’s individual weaknesses with our respective individual strengths, and that kept our unit stronger, whether we were cleaning the barracks, choking on tear gas, or running through tactical exercise lanes. No, I didn’t necessarily like everyone in my platoon: one or two of them were downright irritating and unpleasant, to be completely honest. I’m sure one or two people didn’t like me! Personalities clash! But no matter how frustrated we sometimes got with each other, we were still battle buddies, and still looked after each other so we could rise to each challenge and make it through as a team, with a minimum of unnecessary pain. (And I gotta say, the vast majority of my platoon were and are champs!)

 

By the end of Camp, when one of us screwed up and had to do push-ups, we would voluntarily and almost immediately all drop and join them in the suckage, without a word from Drill Sergeant. We functioned automatically as a unit, and were each stronger individually for it.

 

That’s a profound lesson, and one I know I’ll have reinforced throughout my Army career.

 

Embrace the suck!

 

Basic Camp was fun. It also sucked. It sucked really bad sometimes.

 

It didn’t suck at first. We didn’t have drill sergeants during the first three days of Camp, we just had reception battalion NCO’s and officers. They yelled at us, but only made us do a few pushups a couple of times. Some of them were cool and gave good advice, but those first three days were mostly boring and full of hurry-up-and-wait. Exceptional bright spots included an interesting speech by Commanding General Major General Hughes, and some useful mental training by contracted civilian sports trainers.

 

Then, on the fourth day, at 0400, we met our drill sergeants. Without any overt warning the previous day (though we figured they had to arrive sometime) those screaming, terrifying tyrants stormed into our rooms, flipped on the lights, and used their impressive motivational skills to persuade us to quickly exit our bunks, get on our shoes, and stand at formation outside in the dark of the morning. Hooah!

 

Once outside, we were thrust into a barrage of physical activity (push-ups being the dominant theme) that lasted for most of the entire day, and left our hands cracked and bleeding from all that lovely gravel and broken asphalt. (“Rock star hands,” as our ever-comedic Drill Sergeant remarked.) Through the constant experience of harsh voices and harsh exercise, we began to learn the necessities of moving quickly, sounding off when you’re supposed to, shutting up when you’re supposed to, and above all staying motivated and disciplined throughout training.

 

Overall, this was physically exhausting, painful, and tested my willpower. For these first couple days, the Drill Sergeants made our lives absolute hell, and combined the physical challenge with reminders that we didn’t have to be there, and could get on a plane the next day and be home watching Netflix and eating and drinking whatever we want. This was of course all part of the mental games that Drill Sergeants employ to weed out the undedicated and begin the age-old process of instilling discipline in recruits. I reminded myself of why I joined, and kept my eyes on the future prize…but, in the moment, sitting there in the front-leaning rest position, sweat drenching my body, arms shaking with exhaustion, hands burning, I considered quitting. At least for a few seconds. All I’d have to do was stand up. But I made giving up an impossibility in my mind, and reminded myself that the only way out was through. I kept going through the suckage, got stronger, calloused up my hands, learned to move fast and work with my platoonmates, and in a few weeks, I graduated.

 

You know what the key is to make it through all the Suck of military training? Embrace it. Embrace the Suck. Embrace the pain, the exhaustion, the fatigue, the hunger, the tedium, the frustration, and all the taunting, enraging failures that come before the final success. Yeah, the situation you’re in sucks: what are you going to do about it? Get frustrated, get sad, cry, complain…or ma up and do something. Don’t just endure the suck, embrace it! Laugh about it! Let it make you stronger. Live all those stories that you can tell later: the stories that prove you refused to take the easy way out, that you stepped up to the challenge to pursue something important, met some tough resistance along the way, and kept going even when it hurt like hell.

 

Embrace all of that, I found, and it makes the next challenge that much easier. When you wince, and cry, and bitch and moan about it all, it just makes the next challenge agonizingly more difficult. On deployment, I know that a lot of things are going to suck a lot worse than they did in training, and it’s going to be harder to accept the bad situations, but the same dynamic applies. There are situations you can’t change, and challenges you can’t escape. So, you soldier on, play the hand you’ve been dealt, and find the humor where you can.

 

Some of the many other things at Camp that sucked included:

  • The CS tear gas chamber, where we felt the effects of tear gas with and without our equipment. (Spoilers: the equipment works great, but without it, tear gas SUCKS.)
  • Our 12km night ruck march up the infamous hills of Fort Knox.
  • The habitual lack of sleep throughout camp.
  • The habitual hunger while at camp, especially in the field. And that one time the DFAC ran out of food.
  • Getting smoked for stupid, stupid (Mine or someone else’s.)
  • The combination of all the little discomforts of heat, sweat, dirt, and the need to focus while tired.

 

The further into the month we got, the more we all learned the wisdom of embracing suck. I’ll always remember that.

 

Never, ever quit, and you’ll learn just how far you can go.

 

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never- in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. -Winston Churchill

 

The U.S. Army Soldier’s Creed contains the Warrior Ethos, which reads as follows:

 

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

 

During my time at Basic Camp, I gave 100% to living that ethos, and learned a lesson about those middle two lines. As I previously mentioned, Camp was tough. The thought of quitting crossed my mind: first, during our initial hours with the Drill Sergeants, and second, during the hilly 12-km ruck march back from the field. The temptation to quit slithered its way into smaller moments as well, with the urge to sleep when I had to pay attention, or how much easier it would be to stop doing so many pushups and just drop to my knees.

 

But, other than allowing myself a few moments to wallow in self-pity, I always pushed through. I pushed through the pain, the fear, and fatigue, and found success, pride, and strength on the other side. The pressures of Camp; from drill sergeants, from my encouraging platoon mates, and from my own revved up drive to make it as an Army Officer: these pushed me past the mental barriers that I too-often allow to stop me in my life back home. Had it not been for my decision to join the Army and embark on its training, I never would have learned how far I could go when I refused to accept surrender or defeat as possibilities in my reality.

 

Our last night in the field, our platoon of about 40 cadets was set up in a patrol base: that’s a triangular formation, set up for concealment, rest, and defense while on missions in hostile territory. We all lay prone, M-16’s at the ready, keeping guard out into the darkening woods for any sign of hostile movement. I, being part of our platoon’s weapons squad, had the duty of guarding the chief apex of our base. This apex was the entrance and exit point of our formation, and it was the job of me and my battle buddy to challenge anyone who approached (“Halt! Who goes there?”) and have them give the correct password before we could let them in. Plus, I had to keep track of everyone who left. While hostile activity (aka drill sergeants testing our defenses) could come from any direction, this apex would be the most likely avenue of approach for any (simulated) insidious insurgent treachery.

 

I knew that if I screwed up, my platoon would be smoked like a chicken at a July 4th barbecue. In the “real world,” we’d all be dead. So, being the cautious cadet that I am, I kept guard even longer than required throughout the entire night. Since our squad was working in security shifts to allow sleep time, this probably wasn’t necessary, but in my head that dark, dark, night, I entertained thoughts of imminent enemy assault from any angle, or at the least, tricky drill sergeants sneaking in where someone fell asleep. And so, I lay there, scanning the inky blackness with no flashlight or night vision, rifle ready to “BANG BANG BANG” at any bad guys. As the night went on, from all around the patrol base I periodically heard others’ reports of baddies moving out there, maybe surrounding us for an assault, and at the least checking on our security. On top of that, my fatigue, combined with habitual lack of sleep, and the darkness, and the S P O O K Y nocturnal noises (coyote howls and yelps, the heavy panting of a huge deer,) all conspired to keep me extra paranoid. It’s amazing how much your mind can play tricks on you when you’re tired, nervous, and staring into the dark. Every tree became a potential (ridiculously tall) bad guy, lurking to attack.

 

I think I slept about two hours that night. The next day, which was mostly spent on more tactical exercises, began with my thoughts slopping about my head like a dreary November slush. I could barely function at first, and wondered how I’d possibly make it through the day. But to my surprise and pleasure, this improved as I warmed up and got some food in me, and I ended up doing a good job as a squad leader on an ambush mission!

 

Then, that evening, testing my endurance yet further, we did a 12-kilometer ruck march back to garrison from the field. I got about a half hour nap in before that, and then our company was on the road, marching from 2200 to about 0100 in helmet, camouflage face paint, 40-pound rucksack, and weapon in hand. The route was hilly, dark, and we were moving at a moderate pace, on two tactical lines on the side of the road. Like any road march of this type, we had to maintain spacing of 5 to 10 meters with the soldier to the front and back of us, which often involved speeding up to what felt like an uncomfortable pace on the frequent hills. We went over two of Knox’s infamous three major hills, Heartache and Misery, the latter being absolute murder of a quarter mile up: my lungs were burning, my heart was pounding, and it felt like a Herculean effort to keep putting each foot in front of and above the other, up that stupidly steep incline. That was the only point on the march where I was truly having thoughts of just flopping over to the side and giving up. But I pushed past that weakness of thought, and made it back to the barracks sweaty and triumphant, where we stretched, ate Pop Tarts, showered, and slept before 0600 wakeup the next day.

 

I even tripped and fell at one point during the march, with my canteen and weapon hilariously flying away from me as I sprawled out, loudly uttering an expletive. But my drill sergeant and comrades got me back on my feet in seconds, I was uninjured, and I kept going. I saw what I could do when I refused to quit.

 

I’m Happy with the Path I’ve Chosen

 

The path I’ve chosen won’t be an easy one, and I’ve only just begun. It’s going to get a lot harder, in the advanced stages of ROTC training, especially Advance Camp next summer back at Knox, and then on deployment in distant and dangerous places.

 

But it’s a path that I couldn’t be happier about choosing. The Army, despite its problems and for all the blunders of American foreign policy, is a great institution. It’s the greatest army in the history of mankind, and stands proudly alongside the Ancient Romans and 19th Century British as the dominant military of its era. America, for all its flaws, is the greatest nation in the history of the world, and it’s an honor to serve in the Army which has protected that nation and won its wars so many times in our over 200 years of history.

 

And, the Army is a lot of fun. Life is dull without challenges, and the Army presents plenty of those, physically and mentally. I’ve already gotten to learn the basics of moving, shooting, and communicating, I’ve made new friends, I’ve used new professional lingo, and I have so many more technical and leadership skills to learn throughout the rest of my time in ROTC and beyond. I will have to use those skills in dangerous and unfun situations. But the overall satisfaction of growing stronger and beating challenges in the name of such a worthy cause is without question worth all the risk and pain for me.

 

The alternative path would be one of ease, and regret. The ease would come from never having to rise to a physical challenge if I didn’t want to, or face violent danger, or maintain my physical readiness and combat effectiveness. I could and probably would still do so for reasons of my own health and personal security, but, it wouldn’t be so definite and duty-bound as in military service. The regret would come after spending years building a successful civilian career, with a growing income and personal opportunities…and waking up to realize I’m too set on that path or too old to embark on military service. To get to be thirty, thirty-five, forty, and have no exciting stories from my youth, of when I really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, when things really sucked, and I persisted and got the job done.

 

No. I refuse the easy path.

 

I took the leap. I signed the contract, I stood and raised my hand, and swore my oath. I will be a United States Army Officer, and happily accept everything that title comes with. I’m especially proud to be carrying on family tradition: just as my uncle is retiring from a 30 year Army career as a full bird Colonel, I’m beginning my own journey, to be a new Lieutenant Wilson. My month at Fort Knox in the summer of 2017 was a glorious, dirty, humbling, proud step towards my commissioning day. There’s no turning back. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

An excerpt from The Devil and the Doctor

25 May, 2017

Click for the direct link to Amazon

An excerpt from 

The Devil and the Doctor

My new novel came out: it’s on Amazon, and on the site of my publisher Dark Moon Press. It’s a supernatural thriller. I’ve been talking about it a while, but basically, it’s about a modern incarnation of the Jersey Devil, who has to save the world from a doomsday cult. Many monsters, blood and guts, and magic ensue. It’s pulpy and fast-paced, and I drew a lot of inspiration from Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft so if you enjoy that kind of thing you may enjoy this.

Here’s an excerpt from early on in the story, when the shape-shifting protagonist, Malcolm, and his girlfriend, Alleena, are setting forth on their quest to the cult’s nasty little town of Newbrooke, NY.

 

Not many people were up on an early Saturday morning in Chepston, so the car passed through Main Street quietly. The long drive up to and on the Interstate passed uneventfully. Bizarrely uneventfully, seemed to the two of them, considering recent events. All the rest of the world remained unaware for now, though the story of the kidnapping might reach the news in a day or two. A growing number of cars and trucks filled the highway, especially when passing the exit for New York City, but it was all essentially smooth sailing as the minutes and hours passed. Alleena took advantage of the time to nap. When she wasn’t sleeping, she told Malcolm more about Newbrooke.

The best known landmark of the isolated little New York town was the Newbrooke Infirmary, started by the infamous Doctor Benedict Holt towards the end of World War I. The “doctor,” who in fact lacked full-fledged medical training and whose true profession was fire and brimstone preaching, advertised his hospital far and wide as a healing sanctuary for the physically and mentally damaged. This included the criminally insane, war veterans, children stricken with infectious diseases, drunks, industrial accident victims, as well as unruly teenage girls conveniently branded as insane. Holt gathered many followers, who joined him in his declared goal of not only immediately healing the sick but also of more widely purifying society of the sins that led to sickness in the first place. All of it was in the name of the Lord. The Reverend-Doctor as people began to call him, increasingly combined religious ideology with his practice of medicine. Rumors, Alleena described, began to spread, of unnecessary surgeries, radical “therapies” more akin to bizarre religious ritual, strange chanting in the night, grave robbing, patients mysteriously vanishing from all sight and record, and horrific screams emanating from the asylum’s tower. The tower loomed over the town, and the rumors to this day spoke of it as Holt’s haunted and secret operating room, where he performed his most ghoulish disfigurations and tortures, pushing human bodies and minds to and then beyond the limits of their sanity.

Eventually, the Reverend-Doctor died in a mysterious accident which many suspected to be revenge, and the lid blew off the whole grisly affair. The Feds came in force, raided the asylum as well as the meeting places of the Order, (as the group was then formed and called,) and arrested as many members as they could. Interrogations of the fanatics revealed much of their true ideology, as Holt’s followers felt no need to hide what they saw as the most sacred truths; openly boasting of their crimes, and declaring their shared confidence in the Doomsday to be wrought by the Shining God Thag-Mishaolath . Those ravings were dismissed as madness, of course, but nothing could ever scrub from the eyes and minds of Hoover’s boys what they found in the operating rooms, altars, and labyrinthine tunnels of that asylum. Experienced crime-fighters, who had cut their teeth cleaning up the mean streets of Chicago and New York, vomited and fainted at the sights, smells, and sounds of variously disfigured, sewn together, frozen, burned, opened up, and blinded victims, some scarcely recognizable as human beings, from the way their flesh had been twisted. The lucky ones were dead, some of those killed at the last minute by their captors as the Tommy guns opened up and the doors were battered down.

As for the survivors of Benedict Holt’s reign…well, it was easy to keep things out of the papers back then, and no one from the Bureau ever offered any comment on the black clouds of foul-smelling smoke billowing from the closed-off crime scene for days on end. The same went for the other things found in Newbrooke Infirmary, beyond the implements and victims of the tortures rivaling what would take place in the death camps the second time the world went to war. Those other things, and the word “things” was the best anyone could manage for something neither animal, human, nor vegetable, scuttered and zipped about the hidden recesses of the Infirmary, always just out of sight, always watching, throughout the entire investigation. Some of the Feds swore they saw as well as heard them, throughout the grisly process of photography, body removal, and evidence collection. They only ever saw the things in quick glances of the peripheral vision, except for the one rookie who wandered off alone down the tunnels, was sent home instantly and quit the force weeks later, after he was found in a puddle of his own piss, babbling incoherently about “The Eyes beyond the walls,” “Hoary gory,” and a random mix of English and words in a language no one recognized. But he was just an orphan rookie with no family, and again, the press didn’t need to know such details.

The prosperity of the rest of the Roaring ’20’s passed the town by without a second glance, and the Great Depression slammed Newbrooke, down like an emaciated boxer knocked out by the heavyweight champ of history. Order members had been a bigger and richer share of the population than outsiders realized, and those who weren’t in the electric chair or jail cells laid low out west and down south. The bloody history chased away and kept out even the boldest entrepreneurs, plus, old folks and children alike whispered that the things that once went bump in the rotting rooms of the Infirmary, now went bump in the alleys and woods, on moonless nights. Maybe that’s why no one found the political will to “just go and dynamite” Holt’s damned old hellhole, as some suggested: whatever ghouls and goblins the Order loonies had called down, raised up, or stitched together didn’t feel the need to confine themselves to a single vacant building when they had whole abandoned blocks of town to themselves. The evil was out there now, and, some of those old houses hadn’t felt the warmth of a human family in many years…besides, TNT cost money that no one cared to spend, if they even had it.

And so Newbrooke Infirmary lingered and rotted like a dead parasitic worm, infecting and killing the host around it. The rest of the country quickly forgot about what happened there, exceptions occurring a couple times in the 1990’s and 2000’s as authors and paranormal investigation reality shows paid visits. All the while, the scattered remnants of the Order sought to reassert themselves. Holt’s original devotees, or their children and grandchildren, trickled back in among the tiny stream of oblivious fools who looked at the rock-bottom real estate and saw only dollar signs. Those devotees included Alleena’s parents, and so she found herself throughout childhood in the clutches of that cult, learning its scriptures and prophecies, witnessing its rituals, and carrying all the scars to this day. And now, on a dreary and drizzly October evening, she returned to where the horror began, and where, if there were any sanity or justice left in the world, it would finally end …

All this information Malcolm received from Alleena as they drove for the final stretch. They’d long since left New York City behind, and as cars and road signs became fewer and fewer, one could be mistaken for thinking one had traveled back to the times of the first Puritan colonists. It was nearly as poor and as Natural as the area of the Pine Barrens Malcolm had left, though more of the trees were deciduous. Just the same, Malcolm found no ability to admire the bronze and scarlet fall foliage as he reflected on the history of their destination, asking questions of Alleena here and there. He felt deepening disgust and dread in his chest, and it struck him as bizarre how utterly the crimes that took place in this tiny upstate town had been scrubbed from the popular conscious, in contrast to those of so many serial killers, terrorists, and gangsters. You’d think you’d hear more about it…but wouldn’t the Order want it this way? But then he was thinking like an Illuminati conspiracy theorist, and he didn’t want to think that way any longer. Instead, he focused on knowing his enemy, and the battlefield of the conflict to come. He wished he knew more about himself, but again, that wasn’t helpful thinking.

The drizzly rain grew into a downpour, and the sky exploded with lightning. The great cannon fire of thunder shuddered through their chests. The half-obscured exit for Newbrooke led them down a narrow gravel road. They passed a few farms which had seen better days, and then the cornfields and cow pastures were again replaced with trees and looming hills which closed in with each passing mile, forming an increasingly muddy valley. The headlights, even with the high-beams on, were as useful as a glowstick tossed into the Marianas Trench.

Malcolm slowed down to avoid hitting any obstacles, as much as to preserve traction on the pebble-and-mud river flowing beneath his car. His natural night vision didn’t do much against solid walls of icy water.

Shit, I can barely see out there,” Alleena said, her voice barely heard over the constant hiss and roar of the rain. “I I’m sorry…I think we missed the last turn.”

You sure?”

She stuck her face close to the window-glass and squinted. “Yes. Yeah, we missed the crossroads. Slow down, pull over here.”