Sometimes you get lost at the worst possible time.

A few years ago I was asked to edit an Excel document as part of a skills test for a possible contract position.  It was an intricate exercise, one that involved copying formatting from one Excel workbook and the content of another into an entirely new file with three worksheets.

Does your head hurt yet?

BDr7sR6KjraTo accomplish this task I spent several hours focused on the details.

My process included making sure all of the columns and rows were the same width and height, that the fonts and cell alignments were identical, that there were no spelling errors, and that there were correct comments for specific cells.

I even made sure there were 1,925 rows in one document — more than 1,000 of which were blank.

I also made sure to replace one phrase with another wherever it appeared (as I had been instructed). Remember that part (hint: foreshadowing).

When I thought I was done I looked it over. And then looked it over again. All of the content seemed to be in the right places; nothing appeared out of sorts. Apparently, however, I am blind — even with my glasses.

Remember how I mentioned foreshadowing? Well, as it turns out, much like those signs that read “Keep of The The Grass” I overlooked several instances where one word needed to be swapped with another.

One word. That I missed. Completely.

When I looked again with fresh eyes it jumped out at me from its hiding spot in the main headers. But why hadn’t I seen it before? And then I discovered the quote below from Khalil Gibran, which seemed to explain my experience:

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” — Khalil Gibran

Sometimes, in the heat of a matter, we forget the simple things — we lose sight of the forest for the trees. It’s easy to get caught up in details and forget the bigger picture, but doing so is important.

The goal, it would seem, is learning how to simply express the obvious; to become more aware by stepping outside of our focus and then refocusing.

Have you had a similar experience? If so, what strategy do you recommend to avoid making similar errors in the future? Maybe the answer is to focus intently on not focusing?

Have you declared your independence from indifference?liberty-bell-656871_640

Today, as Americans celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, many of us repeat the following passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thinking about the “pursuit of Happiness,” I find myself wondering if indifference prevents people from experiencing the happiness of  their life’s purpose? This leads me to ask questions like:

  • How many of us truly pursue that which makes us happy?
  • How many of us have a longing for something greater?
  • How many of us envision a path we have not pursued?
  • If obstacles were removed would we pursue our dreams?
  • Do we limit ourselves with fear and excuses?

Like the character Neo in The Matrix, there are times when we sense something is not right, but we choose the blue pill because we fear the reality of the red pill. Fortunately Neo embraced the unknown, but not everyone makes the same choice.

In his inspiring TED talk, Why we do what we do, Tony Robbins argues that, despite tremendous obstacles, we all possess the power to realize our dreams. Robbins explains that we fail to achieve our dreams not because we lack resources, but because we lack resourcefulness — the emotional ingenuity to achieve our dreams:

Consider the seemingly insurmountable odds America faced when it declared its independence from England.  The odds of success were minuscule, but those odds discounted how driven to dream the colonists were. But they weren’t naive either; instead the colonists embraced the philosophy that would later be defined by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties – and at the same time – confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Certainly, we all face limitations, but I encourage you to look to what is, rather than what is not. The past two years have been challenging and rewarding to me personally and professionally, but I continue working on moving forward rather than back.

Reinforcing this philosophy, Fortune Cookie: Discover the Power within YourselfI recently received a fortune cookie that read “Discover the Power Within Yourself.” As trite as this message sounds, it inspired me. Taking those words to heart I continually re-frame my situation to see it realistically while retaining faith I will prevail in the end.

So, whenever you find yourself encountering adversity, I encourage you to declare your independence from indifference and discover the power within yourself to achieve what you dream!

Although the “New Year” is an arbitrary point in time chosen to indicate the end of one cycle and the start of another, it remains a worldwide moment of personal reflection and planning. In that spirit, a few days before the end of 2008, social media expert Chris Brogan posted a tweet on Twitter as follows:

Thinking hard about what my 3 words for next year should be. Pick 3 guiding principles to shape your actions/decisions. Boil down to 3 words.

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After carefully considering which three principles reflect my goals for 2009, I have decided  to be Affirmative, Generative and Transformative. Here’s why I picked each one:

  • Generative: This word fundamentally defines and guides me. The many definitions for the word generative reveal the most basic meaning to be “creative.” The word “generative” forms the foundation of of generative learning which Peter Senge claims “enhances our capacity to create.” Engaging in generative learning involves linking existing knowledge of a subject with emerging ideas, resulting in a more individualized understanding about its systemic significance.  It is for this reason that I am motivated by the motto “learn continuously, live generatively.” In 2009 I will continue contributing ideas and knowledge for the benefit of the greater good.
  • Affirmative: In its simplest definition affirmative means “positive” and that is what I will be this year. I am naturally predisposed tobeing cynical (in fairness, sometimes it is for humorous intent), but I will make an effort to re-frame a situation to see the good, not the bad. I’ve gone through some very trying experiences in the past few years (including almost losing my younger son several times and dealing with my older son’s diagnosis of autism). However, I recognize that focusing on the negative aspects of a situation won’t reverse its polarity to positive!  Two quotes come to mind when I consider this goal:
    • From John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book 1, lines 254-255):  “The Mind Is Its Own Place, and in It Self / Can Make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
    • From Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy of @LizzHarmon on Twitter): “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
  • Transformative: With the election of Barack Obama, the theme of “change” is foremost in the minds of many people. However, I desire something more than change, which merely implies something different (not necessarily better).  I will work towards being transformative which promises a marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better. That is my desire for this year: a significant evolution — perhaps even a revolution — on a personal and professional level. I am ready for that “next step” and ready to engage the energy around me and leverage it beyond my wildest expectations.

Now that I’ve revealed my three guiding principles, I invite you to share the ones with which you most strongly identify in the comments area below.  After all, nothing helps you achieve a goal more than writing it down!