The Surprising Truth About Achieving The American Dream

Recently, I read an article by Glenn Stanton in The Federalist summarizing some fascinating research on the pursuit of social justice, one of the most hotly debated topics in American society. According to this research, the biggest difference-maker in achieving meaningful progress in social initiatives like income equality, educational success, upward mobility, mental and physical health and personal happiness isn’t exactly revolutionary, non-traditional, or innovative.

It’s marriage.

The well-documented, decades-long research confirms that getting and staying married is the most important ingredient not only in rising above poverty, but also in making a positive and defining difference in the world, regardless of race, ethnicity or social status.

While that probably sounds like the typical conservative Republican narrative on solving the vexing problems surrounding social inequality, the research totally transcends political divides. For example, Jonathon Rauch, a liberal writer for the National Journal, wrote that “marriage is displacing both income and race as the great class divide of the new century.” This conclusion was echoed by the Brookings Institute (not exactly a conservative group) which declared that “the proliferation of single parent households accounts for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since the early 1970’s.”

I remember hearing about a 1990’s article by Professor Bill Galston, domestic policy advisor in the Clinton Administration, in which he shared three important but very simple steps every young American needs to follow to avoid poverty:

  1. Graduate from high school.
  2. Marry before having a child.
  3. Have that child after age 20.

People who follow all three steps, he reported, have a 92% chance of of avoiding poverty. According to recent research by the Brookings and American Enterprise Institutes, it remains largely true today.

As author and social critic Eric Metaxis reports on the Break Point Podcast, none of this should really come as a surprise. “The family is one of the foundational building blocks of any society. It is where children are born and raised, men and women encourage and bring out each other’s best, traditions are made and passed on, and where belief in God is first transmitted and lived out.”

In his Federalist article, Stanton makes a similar, compelling point about the pervasive influence of strong marriages on broader society:

“Today, many unfortunately believe that to be concerned about what kinds of families adults create and raise children in should be no one’s business. It’s a personal matter. Such people have no idea what a family is or does anthropologically. Each family is as much a public institution as is it private, if not more so. It’s strength and weaknesses are felt throughout each community in countless ways. Government expands as marriage declines.”

In sharing these conclusions, I am in no way suggesting that public policy through government involvement has no place in addressing social justice. It certainly does. But we live in an age in which the institution of marriage is under attack as modern culture redefines its very meaning while greater numbers of young people ignore it. And yet, as Metaxis points out, in light of the fact that so many in our society decry the lack of progress in “social justice,” there is clearly a connection many seem to ignore.

For the past 8 years, I have been privileged to be a Foundation Board member for our local community college (one of highest-rated in the nation). The mission of the college, shared at nearly every meeting, is to equip students to create social and economic wealth in their lifetimes. And while access to education plays a significant role in the pursuit of this worthy and inspiring mission, strengthening marriage, an institution that dates back to the dawn of history, may well be the most important mission of all.

Did you grow up with examples of strong marriages in your life? Or marriages that weren’t so strong and healthy? What influence do you feel these marriages had on your own relationships, both growing up and into adulthood? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Go For It! A Powerful Strategy to Win at Work and Life

Ever since I started running more than 25 years ago, I’ve been a dedicated fitness enthusiast—a choice that has added energy, health, and adventure to my life. Along with running, I have enjoyed biking (both mountain and road), cross-country skiing, triathalons, and more recently, Crossfit.

And although I’ve enjoyed some more than others, there is one step—one “best practice”—that, in every pursuit, propelled my success, personal growth, and enjoyment.

I signed up for competitions.

As a runner, I entered 5K’s, 10K’s and half marathons. When I turned 30, I completed the New York City Marathon, which was the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. When I discovered mountain biking, I did the Ice Man, one of the most physically demanding endurance events I ever completed. Similarly, when I took up  freestyle skiing in my early 40’s, I entered the North American Vasa. And three years ago, when a frustrating battle with achilles tendonitis sidelined me from running, I jumped into Crossfit, a high intensity combination of Olympic Weightlifting, gymnastics, and boot camp-style training. Each of those years (including this year),  I signed up to compete in the Crossfit Open, an international competition with more than 350,000 athletes.

Regardless of how I finished, I’ve never regretted these experiences. Here are 3 reasons why stepping into the competitive arena, regardless of your skill level, always makes you better.

1) Competition will bring out the best in you.
No matter how committed they are, people give less than their absolute best effort when no one is keeping score. It’s human nature. Signing up for a competition, even if you’re competing against no one but yourself, creates a level of emotional engagement that drives you to bring your absolute best. For example, you can run recreationally by yourself or with a group of friends, but when you line up with hundreds of others at the start of a 5K or 10K race, there’s a “game on” switch activated in your mind, propelling you to push harder and finish stronger. It creates a new, higher standard for yourself.

2) Athletic competition spills over into every area of your life.
As a partner in a company with hundreds of employees, I have witnessed the  mindset similarity between athletic or artistic pursuits that require continued practice, perseverance, mental toughness, etc. and success in the workplace. Many of our top performing salespeople, for example, played competitive sports in high school and/or college. Although the dynamics of training for a half marathon and leading a project team at work may seem completely different, the lessons learned in one spill over into the other. For example, research from Cornell University found that students who played sports developed stronger leadership skills, worked better in teams, and demonstrated more confidence than those who didn’t.

3) Signing up for a competition pushes you out of your comfort zone… a great place to be.
Ask any high performer and they will tell you their greatest growth came when they had to overcome something–fear, adversity, naysayers, etc. Author and success expert Brian Tracy writes, “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” Indeed, the happiest, most successful people I know tend to live at the edge of their comfort zones. Signing up for a competition, especially for the first time, signifies a bold step from the relative comfort of the sidelines to the bright lights of the playing field, where exposure and risk of failure can create tension and even anxiety. My advice: Lean into this discomfort! Though it will be simultaneously stressful and invigorating, you will unearth a level of competitiveness and self-discovery that you rarely tap into, bringing deeper satisfaction and fulfillment in your life.

Last spring, my wife, Debbie was invited to train for a half marathon—something she had never considered. Although she exercises regularly (she owns a Peloton bike), running has never been her passion. Inspired by encouraging friends and the prospect of raising funds for African water wells, she jumped in with both feet, training all summer long  at distances of up to 12 miles per session. On race day, facing blustery winds and unexpectedly hilly terrain, she finished strong, completing the 13.2 mile race among the best in her age group. “Since I never thought of myself as a runner, I never would have considered a half marathon,” she said. “Signing up for the race definitely pushed my comfort zone, but the experience was exhilarating and I’m planning to continue running.”

If you’ve been indecisive about signing up for that 5K or 10K run, mountain bike race, YMCA basketball tourney or tough mudder, I want to encourage you to put your fears aside and go for it! Remember, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

Are there any competitive experiences that have positively impacted your life in recent years? What would it mean to you, and to the quality of your life, to enter the competitive arena? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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What Extreme Athletes Can Teach Us About Overcoming Our Fears

I love the Olympics. From the opening to the closing ceremonies and all the exciting events in between, I enjoy the collective experience of watching these athletes come together to proudly and expertly compete. I also find myself thinking about how incredible it would be to represent your country in such a physical way — a feat many Olympians have been training hard their whole lives to be able to do.

We can learn so much from those who are dedicated to pushing the limits — physically and mentally — continually striving to better themselves, overcome their fears and reach their full potential. When I saw this article from MichaelHyatt.com contributor Andrea Williams, I thought it was great timing to share with you as we cheer on the athletes during these last few days of the 2018 Winter Olympics. I hope you’ll be inspired by it, too!

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At twelve years old, when most girls her age were learning algebra and crushing on the members of NSYNC, Samantha Larson was preparing to conquer a fear that few adults would face: climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. By eighteen, Larson had also successfully climbed each of the Seven Summits, ascending to the tallest peak on each continent and, at the time, becoming the youngest person to achieve the feat.

The first time Larson felt real fear was at the bottom of Kilimanjaro, when she and her father (who completed all of the climbs with her) met a gentleman who had gotten sick because of the change in altitude and couldn’t make it to the summit. He warned them that they, too, would probably struggle. But instead of backing out, Larson committed to pressing forward.

“Fear is such a personal thing, but in a lot of situations, fear is just a reaction of the human brain, which is wired to convince us that what we may want to do is a bad idea,” says Larson. “When we face fear, we have to ask ourselves how badly we want that thing that we’re afraid of, and how can we learn to work through the fear when we feel it.”

Trust in the face of fear

We typically assume that the opposite of fear is courage or bravery. But according to the popular saying, it’s actually trust that arises when fear is absent. And this is certainly the case for professional slackliner Heather Larsen.

Slacklining is the process of walking across a tensioned cord that is suspended between two anchors, similar to a tightrope (but with more slack in the line, hence the sports’ name). So what’s the key differentiator between slacklining and the standard, circus-variety tightrope walking? Some slackliners, also known as highliners, choose to trek across canyons, carefully balancing on lines that are literally hundreds of feet from the ground.

Despite built-in safety mechanisms (participants typically wear a harness with a leash that connects to the line itself) highlining definitely falls on the extreme end of the sports spectrum, with risks that include fractures, sprains, broken bones, and even death. For Larsen, who was introduced to slacklining through climbing, the ability to overcome the fears associated with traversing a 2.5-centimeter wire high above the ground is based on her assurance that she will remain safe even if she falls.

“I trust the gear, my rigging team, and my partners, and I trust my skills and abilities to walk the line,” Larsen explains. “[When I first started highlining], I think I easily trusted my gear because of my familiarity with building climbing anchors in the past, and I trusted my friends because I was aware of their experience. I now also have the knowledge and experience to evaluate my environment and the teams I work with.”

Whether you’re an extreme sports athlete, a newlywed, or a startup entrepreneur, being able to rely on a partner or team to carry part of the burden and minimize some of the risk certainly helps to mitigate fear. But this trust doesn’t develop overnight—nor does it develop without personal effort.

“I am constantly learning from others in the slacklining community; my friend just taught me a new knot that is much easier to check and very clean for rigging highlines,” says Larsen. “I think that in order to develop and maintain trust, you have to be willing to be a student [of your industry] and the groups you work with, as well.”

Preparing for victory

Ultimately, the more you study, the better the perspective you have for your circumstances and the greater the likelihood that you will be able to adequately prepare for what lies ahead. U.S. National and World Champion powerlifter Robert Herbst admits that youthful exuberance may have blinded him to the fact that he could be injured while competing. But with age and a twice dislocated sacrum (due to scoliosis that developed when he was a child), Herbst credits preparation for the confidence he feels each time he hoists a bar—weighing more than triple his own body weight—over his head.

Herbst recalls seeing a competitor ahead of him blow out his leg while lifting a weight less than what Herbst was about to attempt. Yet, because of his focus on both physical and mental training, Herbst was more than prepared to make his lift, even in the face of fear.

“Preparation reduces risk because it enables you to deal with situations as they arise,” says Herbst. “If you are prepared, then you know you have the answer, and you can rely on their training. There is then less to fear as you know you can cope.”

According to Herbst, preparation also allows you to ignore the possible consequences and risks when action is needed. You have to be aware of the potential to lose your 401K when launching a business, or the chance that you may alienate your customer base when introducing a new product, but once you have accepted those risks and prepared as much as possible to avoid them, ignoring fears isn’t naïve. It’s calculated and strategic.

“After my deadlift at the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Championships this year, I had broken blood vessels on my face as if I had been punched,” says Herbst. “If during those lifts, I had thought that I might tear something, I maybe would have subconsciously backed off and not have been able to give the same effort. And I think other people in extreme situations know that once they have committed themselves, they have to focus on the moment and what needs to be done, and not worry about extraneous things such as risk. Otherwise, they may not be as effective or successful, and they will still be exposed to the risk anyway.”

Mindful fearlessness

Mountain climber Samantha Larson has come to understand the difference between real, flight-or-flight danger and the mind’s natural tendency to default to the path of comfort and least resistance through her path toward mindfulness. And more than just the buzzword on every wellness guru’s lips, mindfulness can mean the difference between failing to reach our fullest potential and living the lives we were divinely created for.

“More often than not, when we feel afraid, we’re actually safe,” says Larson. “Mindfulness techniques can very helpful in working through fear in almost any situation, and that means going through the process of recognizing that you feel afraid, analyzing whether you are actually in a dangerous situation, using that analysis to consciously decide how you want to navigate the situation, and then trusting in that decision and acting on it with purpose.”

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28 Top Books to Get Ahead in 2018

I’ve been getting some inquiries lately about business book recommendations. When I saw this excellent list from leadership consultant and friend, Robyn Marcotte, I knew it was worth sharing! Any titles you would add to her list below?

28 Top Books to Get Ahead in 2018

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2018 is an open book of possibilities, and it’s time to start reading! Reading is known to be one of the primary habits of ultra-successful people, and can open up a world of new ideas and new possibilities.

Start off the New Year right by resolving to read! Here is a list of 28 business books to add to your tablet (or your night stand):

  1. Outside Insight: Navigating a World Drowning in Data by Jørn Lyseggen
  2. Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer
  3. Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh
  4. Selling Vision by Lou Schachter and Rick Cheatam
  5. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.
  6. The Startup Hero’s Pledge by Tim Draper
  7. Leading Through the Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance by Elise Mitchell
  8. Surviving the Tech Storm: Strategy in Times of Technological Uncertainty by Nicklas Bergman
  9. Performance Partnerships: The Checkered Past, Changing Present and Exciting Future of Affiliate Marketing by Robert Glazer
  10. They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
  11. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change by Ellen Pao
  12. The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant
  13. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  14. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero
  15. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
  16. Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker
  17. Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  18. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West.
  19. The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker.
  20. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone
  21. Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins
  22. What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data by Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig, and Ben Pring
  23. Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything by Ulrich Boser
  24. Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm by Christian Madsbjerg
  25. Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success by Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch, Sean Lynch and Frederick W. Smith
  26. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach
  27. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
  28. Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention by John Ruhlin

That should get you started for a great year of exploring new ideas and experiencing new challenges!

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