December 2010


You hear them every year – I’m going to lose 15 pounds this year… I’m going to put more money into savings this year… I’m going to spend more time with the kids year…   The words New Year’s and resolution are almost as inseparable as Brad and Angelina.  I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions.  Primarily because they usually don’t make it past Elvis’s birthday (look it up).

This year, I think we should forget the New Year’s resolution and focus instead on what I call New Year’s execution.  The problem with most resolutions is that they focus on what we want to do.  That’s a good starting point, but if we don’t think about how we’re going to do it, then our probability of success is low.  That’s where the New Year’s execution comes in.

Say your resolution is to lose 15 pounds.  If that’s the end of your planning, you’re not very likely to make any progress toward your goal.  When there is no progress, there is no motivation.  When there is no motivation, there is no commitment.  Without commitment, you give up on your resolution and fail.

We need to think about execution.  Everyone knows that in order to lose weight, you need to exercise more, change your diet, or some combination thereof.  How each person achieves the goal of losing 15 pounds depends on the individual.  If you already exercise five days a week but eat like a racehorse with a tapeworm who just competed in Survivor, then more exercise is probably not your best plan for weight loss.  The obvious best execution strategy is to eat better. 

Each person’s New Year’s execution also needs to take into account what’s going on in their lives.  Sometimes this means scaling back expectations or making contingency plans.  For example, for most of the past year, I exercised intensely for about six hours a week.  With a new job, graduate school, two young kids, and volunteer activities, that level of physical activity is probably not going to be sustainable in the New Year.  Instead, I will just focus on execution.  I’ve decided to start getting up a half hour earlier during the week.  On days that I’m feeling good, I’ll spend that half hour working out.  On the days that I’m feeling sluggish, I’ll gulp down some coffee and get in a half hour of studying, freeing up some time to work out at night after the kids are in bed.

Maybe your resolution is to give an extra $1,000 to charity.  Without an execution strategy that may seem like an intimidating goal, but with a plan it suddenly becomes attainable.  If you just identify a way to reduce spending by $19.23 per week (brown bagging lunch, making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks, going to the library instead of buying a book, etc.) then you will have an extra $1,000 to give away at the end of the year (and it’s tax deductable).

So don’t waste your time worrying about what you need to do.  Instead, focus your efforts on how to do it.  Who knows… with a good execution plan you may find that your resolutions really aren’t that challenging.

Keeping with my tradition of rewriting a Christmas song each year, I decided to incorporate something else that is popular this time of year – holiday travel.  One of my many frustrations of flying is the people who somehow believe that their Buick-sized luggage will fit into the overhead bins.  I wonder if these people also store their luggage in their kitchen cabinets at home and repeatedly slam the doors on them hoping it will eventually fit.  Here it is… sing to the tune of “Let it Snow”.

Oh the security lines are frightful, 
And the agents are not insightful,
And since we all want to go,
Let It Stow! Let It Stow! Let It Stow!

The guy doesn’t show signs of stopping,
Although the overhead bins are popping,
I might as well fly on a crow,
Let It Stow! Let It Stow! Let It Stow!

When he finally gets it right,
I feel really mad and forlorn.
And if he takes out his bag mid-flight,
All of my nerves will be worn!

The plane is up and flying,
And this guy is still implying,
That the bin could never overflow,
Let It Stow! Let It Stow! Let It Stow!

Here’s a quick update on my upcoming trip to Nicaragua.  I went to the health department last week for my immunizations.  First, I sat in a waiting room full of sick people.  Everywhere I looked there were people sneezing, coughing, and holding babies whose noses had been replaced by snot-spigots.  There were so many germs in that place, they had organized a government and opened up a Starbucks.  After waiting, I got more needles stuck in me than Arnold Schwarzenegger during the Conan era.  

Actually, it wasn’t that bad.  I got shots for typhoid and hepatitis along with some malaria medication.  The most painful part of the whole process was the almost two-hour long consultation that apparently is mandatory for visitors of third-world countries.

I have my plane tickets and am leaving in January to spend a week in Nicaragua.  I didn’t think that through because I’ll miss the college national championship game while I’m gone.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to catch the game in Managua and practice my Spanish while listening to the commentators.  I wonder if they say “GOOOOOAAAAALLLL, GOAL, GOAL, GOAL, GOAL!!!” every time a team scores in the futbol Americano games.  If so, those guys are going to lose their voices in an Auburn vs. Oregon game.

After spending our first night in Managua, we plan to spend some time in the rural area around Jinotega.  This is where we plan to do most of our work.  We’re looking for the potential for some upcoming water and sanitation projects and will begin planning our next medical mission.  I’ll have the opportunity to spend some time in the villages and see the current housing status firsthand.  Most people in the rural areas live in houses made of scrap pieces of plastic and metal. 

One of the things I am most excited about is the opportunity to meet with government officials and local business people to develop small business training programs.  In my opinion, this is where the future of our relief efforts needs to be.  Seventy percent of Nicaraguans live on an income of less than $2 per day.  Sure, we can go in and donate money and goods (and that still needs to happen at this stage), but donations will not generate any income for the people.  My goal is to access their needs, attributes, and potential to determine how we can help them develop profitable businesses.  They do need aid, but they also need knowledge and training.  With the right knowledge and training, they will be able to improve living conditions on their own.  Not only does this give them opportunity to constantly improve (even when we’re not there), but it also gives them the dignity of developing brighter futures for their children through their own work.

I’ll give another update when I return from my trip in January.  Until then, think of those around you who may be struggling this Christmas.  It doesn’t take a trip to a third-world country to see opportunities for you to apply your time, talent, and treasure to brighten some else’s day.

When I was a kid, I eagerly counted down the days to my birthday.  December was great because I got to celebrate my birthday and 17 days later, it was Christmas.  Now, birthdays sort of sneak up on me and before I can blink, it’s Christmas. 

I know many of my readers are older than I am, so it may sound silly for me to think of myself as getting up there, but this birthday (Wednesday) officially puts me in my late thirties.  That just sounds bad.  I used to get fun birthday gifts like video games.  As I age, the gifts become much more functional…, and the functions they serve were unnecessary in my youth.  For example, a couple of years ago, my wife got me an ear and nose hair trimmer… and I needed it.

Actually, I don’t mind aging.  My car insurance has never been lower, I think I’m becoming wiser, and after years of experience, I’m finally mastering the process of putting up the Christmas tree (the key is to start at the top and put the lights on as you add the branches).  Sure my knees creak more now and I used to be able to watch a football game after 10:0o without dosing off, but I wouldn’t go back to an earlier age even if I could. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve made some mistakes that I wouldn’t mind getting a do-over on (investing in IPOs right before the dotcom bubble burst… reading Twilight because my wife told me it was a great book… and I’m pretty sure I had a mullet in the 80’s), but every mistake I ever made contributed to the person I am today.  I’m not perfect… I’m nowhere near it, but I’m much wiser today because of the mistakes I made yesterday and the mistakes I’ll make tomorrow will make me even wiser in the future. 

That’s the funny thing about life.  The wisdom that will keep us safe and happy tomorrow often comes from today’s pain and strife.  Who knows what mistakes we’ll make this year.  There will be challenges and difficulties – that’s just how it works on this side of Heaven, but ask yourself the following question.  Can you ever recall a birthday when you felt that you were less wise than the one before?  I doubt it.

So let’s embrace our aging, learn from our mistakes, and constantly strive to improve.  Who knows, some kid might actually learn a few things from us and avoid the mistakes we’ve made.