The Power of an Apology

November 9, 2009

I had an interesting experience recently while swimming.

As I was preparing to get into the pool, another swimmer was getting into the same lane at the opposite end. As is the normal etiquette, I waved to her indicating which side of the lane I’d take, and she waved back. As I started to slide in, I realized I’d forgotten to shower so I went back into the locker room, took a quick shower and hopped into the pool

The other swimmer was about mid-way up the lane, semi-stroking, floating along on her back as I pushed off. As I passed her, she let out a screech and started screaming at me. “What are you doing? You scared the hell out of me! Why are you in my lane?!?”

I wish I’d had a picture of my face. I came out of the water like a jack-in-the box, jaws wide open, eyes bigger than my goggles. What shot through my head and hit the tip of my tongue was “You stupid &!*#! What do you think I’m doing? I waved, you waved back. I’m swimming my laps! What’s with you? What are you doing in a swim lane if you don’t understand proper etiquette?”

What actually came out of my mouth was “I’m sorry. When I waved and you waved back I thought you knew I was sharing the lane with you. I didn’t intend to scare you. It was my fault. Do you mind if I share the lane with you?”

I don’t remember the response other than anger and dismissiveness as she bee-lined for the lifeguard to report me. I found out later that she was a first time swimmer and thought I was just waving earlier to be nice. When I ducked back in for my shower, she had thought I’d left and she started swimming.

When she finished her tête-à-tête with the lifeguard, she got back into the pool in another, now-open lane and we both went about our work-out. When I finished, I went over to her again and repeated my apology, almost verbatim. I genuinely was sorry that I’d startled her. She scolded me slightly and accepted my apology. I said, “Thank you. Take care.”

To be honest, I was slightly irritated that I was taking the rap for doing what was a normal custom. But, what the hell? In my mind, I startled her and I didn’t want her to feel she was under any kind of threat. Was there any cost to me to be kind rather than acting defensive?

The next time I swam, she was a couple of lanes over and waved at me as I popped up between laps. Later, in the whirlpool, she laughed at a story I told a buddy and we chatted like we were old friends. Again, to be honest, I found myself wanting to defend my actions and let her know that I’d been right in following decorum. After all, who was she to question me? Hell, I’ve been swimming for years. I know the rules!!! Like, who are you, lap-queen?

At the same time I was thinking, “You know, this is childish. Who gives a crap? Let it go and just be friendly.”

One of the greatest realizations I’ve come to through the years is that most of the baggage people carry through life is of their own choosing. And most of that weight is caused by lack of forgiveness over relatively small matters. Most problems come down to simple misunderstandings between people, over who’s following the proper “rules.” But through listening and not being defensive, even the most complicated problems really aren’t as complicated as they’re made out to be, once people just take the time to understand one another.

Anyway, I think I have a new pool buddy. Her name is Sandra.

Charles Gupton

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Passion for Pop

November 8, 2009

Frostie cap sign from the 1950s

When I was in the six- to eight-year-old range, one of my favorite treats was to have a Frostie brand root beer. I remember it as being especially smooth and creamy with lots of sassafras flavor. This was the real thing, boys and girls. Finding a soft drink that’s not made with high fructose corn syrup anymore is extremely difficult.

It’s a shame what we’ve done to our food system. And it’s even a greater shame what we’ve allowed government backed big business to do to make small businesses work harder to gain a foothold and survive. But when a small business owner finds a niche and a passion for a service, then a market gets well-served.

In this video of John Nese, the owner of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles, I believe you’ll find a passion for soda pop and delighting customers that will inspire you to carry that same passion over to the people you serve.


John Nese, Galco's Soda Pop Stop

I probably don’t drink more than one or two soft drinks a year. Watching this video got me teary-eyed and made me want to hop on a plane for LA.

Now, where can I find a “Frostie”?

Charles Gupton

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Are You Playing to Win?

November 2, 2009

What I appreciate about athletics – tennis in particular – is that sheer persistence, just keeping the ball in play, can often win the point and eventually the match. But there are times as well when one just needs to put the ball away. ‘Cause if you don’t, your opponent is going to. Trouble is knowing when to play it safe and when to go for a riskier, winning shot.

I decided some time back that I was going to play every shot that I could, as aggressively as I could. Even when I couldn’t get a clear winner out of a shot, I was going to try to set up a play so that the next shot could be. But my problem is that I lose a lot of points on very close shots. The upside is that when I win the point, I feel even better knowing that I wasn’t playing safe. Whether I win or lose the match, I go home with the knowledge that I played my heart out.

What’s required most days in my work, though, is persistence. Keeping at the tasks of the day – keeping the ball in play, as it were – is what keeps my day in motion rather than slamming one or two big projects or goals and feeling like I’ve scored a winner. What troubles me about a persistence mindset, however, is that it can draw me into a play-it-safe attitude, and I know after many years in business that playing it safe is one of the biggest risks one can take.

Playing it safe virtually eliminates exploration, which shuts down creativity. You can’t create without trying new things, which is what exploration is all about. And in this economy, when so many people are playing it safe on every front, what better way to set yourself apart in business, and in all of life for that matter, than being creative, attempting the unexpected? In other words, going for a winner, which is what taking risks is all about.

So how about you? Can you afford the risk of not taking risks? Are you playing to win or to just keep from losing?

Charles Gupton

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Not Without Hope – Greg Ferguson

October 21, 2009

I met Greg through my involvement with Toast Masters, an organization committed to helping people build their confidence in giving presentations and public speaking. Greg has been engaged in public speaking for over twenty years and has recently published a book sharing his knowledge gained on the subject.

Greg always has a positive, focused approach to everything he does. So, as the economy slowed, he turned his attention to reaching another one of his personal goals so that time and energy wouldn’t be lost or misguided. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been encouraged by the manner in which he uses his abilities to help others in the community serving as an advisor in the civic and business arenas.

I trust you’ll be encouraged by his story as well.

Charles Gupton

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Greg Ferguson leading a ToastMasters meeting.

Greg Ferguson leading a ToastMasters meeting.

Every adversity carries with it the seeds of an equal or greater opportunity.

I am in the residential development business, and as I write this, our local construction output has dropped 75% from its peak before the national economic meltdown.  As a result, our projects have generally been on hold for the last six months.

During this time, it has been nearly impossible to do business the way I have done it for the past twelve years.  There are few buyers and there is virtually no money available through the traditional channels.  We have had to resort to coming up with different assumptions and different actions to be able to move forward.  This takes time and it takes skill in convincing others that there will be a fundamental change in the way we do business in the future.

This downtime in activity has allowed me to re-examine my personal goals and to get focused on them again.  My “chief aim” in life, as Napoleon Hill calls it, is to help others help themselves.  One of my goals has been to write books to help others.  I am glad to report that my reduced business activity for the last six months has given me the time to write my first book on public speaking.  It’s called “How to Give Your Best Speech or Presentation Ever.”

My second book has just gone into the proofing stage and should be available shortly, and I’ve already begun the research for my third book.  Once I broke through all the reasons for not beginning to write sooner, it has become easier and easier to keep my momentum going.  Writing is much like public speaking—the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I expect that real estate development will pick up again in the foreseeable future.  This slowdown has been painful, frustrating, and downright scary.  But in the long run, I believe I will look back on this gap in activity (and income) as a blessing that allowed me to fulfill one of my long time personal goals.

If you are finding your circumstances different than they were a year ago, I encourage you to examine your purpose in life. Recognize this time of challenge as a blessing, and recognize that it carries with it the seeds of opportunity. ~ Greg Ferguson

Are You a Crazymaker?

October 12, 2009

Every family has them. So it also seems with every office, church, PTA, community group or anywhere there are a handful of people gathered in real or virtual proximity.

They are crazymakers.

I got the term from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and they’re people who seem to have too much time on their hands to mind their own affairs, so they focus their attention on minding other people’s business to the point that it seems they stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. In Cameron’s words, they are “charismatic but out of control, long on problems but short on solutions…the kind of people who can take over your whole life. Crazymakers like drama…everyone around them functions as supporting cast.”

I hate to admit it, but when I first read the term I thought, “Ouch, I resemble that.”  Creative people, I believe, are especially prone to become crazymakers when they become focused on something besides the work they need to be creating.

A number of years ago, I was cranking out a lot of very profitable but less than inspiring images in my work. Even though I was shooting a good number of photographs, very few of them inspired or even involved my heart. That seemed to leave me plenty of time and energy to “make crazy” in the relationships around me. Few people were safe.

Fortunately, I saw the problem in time enough not to dismantle all my relationships. What that period did do for me was cause me to see that: 1) my creative energy and direction was more important than merely focusing on the financial goals and 2) even more importantly, to recognize other crazymakers for what they are so that I can avoid being drawn down into their pit of uncreative despair.

This doesn’t mean that crazymakers aren’t creative – it’s just that most of their creativity goes into their drama rather than productive work.

All of this came up because a couple of crazymakers in different compartments of my life recently raised their heads and tried to make crazy. In the past, I would have reacted and been drawn into their game. But, being a recovering crazymaker myself, I called their bluff and turned back to the work before me.

So I ask, are you doing the work you need to do to keep you from making crazy in the lives around you? Or, are there crazymakers around you whose emotional baggage you need to jettison to make the way easier to be more productive in your work?


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Will Falling in Love Make You Creative?

October 7, 2009

In the past week I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ASMP sponsored presentations by photographers Paula Lerner and Gail Mooney. Although I saw them on different nights, in different cities, I was not surprised to learn that they occasionally do presentations together. Both of them come out of a still photography background and have moved in the direction of coupling their knowledge of stills with video and audio skills to create incredibly moving multimedia pieces.

What continued to move me after both nights was more than the beauty of the work they’ve created. What added inspiration to my heart was their continuous passion to pursue their individual vision. Each of them showed personal projects that were obvious labors of love. But just as exciting were the commercial projects that revealed their love of communicating a story. The key in both

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

instances was not just their technical skills but their passion as storytellers. The love they have for their work is palpable.

Their photographs were still playing in my mind this morning as I was reading a story at about one’s creativity being enhanced by falling in love. As I scrolled down the page, my perspective on the creative process got dialed in a little tighter. In essence, the research the article is based on looks at the global processing that our minds do when we engage in thinking about love from a long-term perspective. This is in contrast to the local processing that we do when our minds focus on short-term sexual desire. The hypothesis is that a long-term passion/perspective produces a more sustained, creative outlook, whereas a short-term, more “casual-sex” perspective produces a more analytical, less creative approach.

A couple of paragraphs into the article, I pictured an analogy to different perspectives towards business that I often witness. One is the short-term focus on getting the next project/client that (hopefully) will pay the over-due bills sitting on the desk.  It is analogous to the “one-night stand” approach to relationships that may bring an immediate relief to the need to pay one’s bills but seldom leads to long-term satisfaction with the body of work that’s being created.

The other perspective, of course, is a longer-term relationship with one’s creative vision motivated by a passion to see that vision realized. That work is hard, but we make it even more difficult when we attempt to go it alone. I’ve come to believe that building a relationship, even with our own vision, requires a commitment to building relationships with other people. Finding other creative collaborators to work with allows one to focus on the big-picture, long-term view of a project without getting bogged down in the details that can rob one’s vital, creative energy. Plus it allows for other perspectives and objectivity in the work we’re doing.

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Paula made a comment during her talk indicating that her business model had transformed from one of shooting many assignments for myriad clients to a model of fewer clients wanting a deeper, more intimate body of work to use to tell their story. That change is allowing for a richer, more rewarding relationship with her clients and her vision.

As I meet with business people in dozens of different fields, it’s readily apparent to me whether they are taking a long-term approach to their business and relationships or a short-term, “I need this deal now!” view. As desperate as these economic times seem to be, I believe it’s the global, big-picture view that will produce a greater contentment and a better body of work to offer our clients.

What’s your take on this?


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Hustle Doesn’t Require Talent

October 6, 2009
Lady Vikings Tennis Team

Lady Vikings Tennis Team

For the past several weeks, I’ve been driving up a couple of days a week to work out with the girls’ tennis team at Northern Vance High School. My buddy Jeff Arthurs invited me to help out with some of the drills and offer general encouragement. What’s been amazing to me is how much I enjoy the time hitting with these ladies as well as how emotionally involved I get when I watch them play.

One of the most gratifying feelings a teacher or coach must experience is when students “get it” and begin to apply their newfound knowledge.  I come home from each practice just totally rocked because one or two of the girls has made progress on her ground strokes or volleys. Although I want to see each of them “kick butt” in their matches, what I really want to see long-term is for them to develop into well-rounded, well-grounded, confident women. I believe that when one’s confidence grows in one area of life, it builds a foundation for confidence in other areas as well.

One of the aspects of tennis, and athletics in general, that I appreciate is how much of competition is psychological. It’s a head game as much as it is a physical one. As I watched matches at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, I saw the pros affected by their mental lapses just as much as these high school players are. And I’ve seen how much of an emotional/mental bounce comes from a well-hit winner.

Other life lessons I’m reminded of each time I go out to the courts are the importance of persistence and conditioning. In sports, it’s usually called hustle.

I’ve found that it’s difficult to consistently hustle on the court without conditioning – both mental and physical. Too often we mistakenly believe that more talent or knowledge is all we need to succeed in our endeavors, but as I recently read on a t-shirt, “Hustle doesn’t require any talent.”

That’s not to say that talent isn’t important, it’s just that persistence and conditioning can prepare the way for talent to show itself as it develops. My high school coach made us chase down every ball that came over the net and hit it back with the reasoning that even if we didn’t get to it on the first bounce that time, by developing a “get to it” mindset, we eventually would.

I still remind myself that I can’t hit a winner if I don’t get to the ball.

Joining these ladies on the court has been a blast for me. Don’t know how much I’m helping them but they allow me a great opportunity to learn from their growth.

More to come…


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