Help Yourself

As children, we knew the world was our oyster. The journey began with a single step: “I think I can.” The goodness from the banquet table of life waits for us older kids to help ourselves!

Banquet Table of Life

After a short pause for an expression of thanksgiving, Dad would raise his head to look at us and say, “Help yourself!” We would survey the table for the serving dish to our right, make a choice of portion, and then pass it to the left. As our hands offered one, we prepared to receive another.

That was in the day when families gathered at home for the evening meal; a meal that was prepared by Mom with loving effort. In fact, the abundance on the table was a portion of the wealth produced that day: Roast beef, potatoes, salad, vegetable du jour, warm bread, cold milk and a cookie for dessert.

We were connected to the land and understood the importance of working, if we wanted to eat that evening!

Advance forward a couple of generations, and we find a society of fast food and slow thoughts. Diminished are the thrill of the hunt and the sport of accomplishment. Instead, we find whiners with an attitude of entitlement. Unless everything magically appears on a silver platter, they are clueless about their survival. Instead of wanting a hand up, they want a hand out.

The real joy in life is discovered when we understand, “Help yourself!”

Of all creatures, humans are the most helpless at birth. Choices are made for us, and care is provided to us, by parents. Before we can talk, though, we are reaching for that spoon to do it ourselves. For the next five years, we fear little and do everything. We delight in our accomplishments and learn the most from our mistakes. We help ourselves.

Then, we start school. We are taught that there is a right way and a wrong way: Our way is wrong and the right way is only known by those with the answer key. Funny thing, though; that key only works for one set of questions.

Life is different!

After twelve, sixteen, or more years, young adults tip from the conveyor belt of modern education into a world with more pop-quizzes and test-questions than they have answers.

One of two things happen: Either, they realize the extent to which they don’t know what they don’t know and begin to “help themselves” learn it. Or, they point fingers of blame and expect someone else to compensate for their lack of resourcefulness.

I admire the first group and, thoroughly, tease the second about their “Stinkin’ Thinkin’!”

All we do begins with a thought. The most important thought of all is: “I think I can.”

At that moment, we tap into the childhood belief that the world is our oyster; just waiting for us to pry into it for the pearl discovery. We don’t want anyone else messing with our project. In time, we might discover that we need a little coaching on technique. If so, we ask for it; or, we struggle through to re-invent the wheel. Either way, the prize will be ours.

As we sit at the banquet table of life, only we can know what is best for ourselves.

The only way to discover That is to “Help Yourself!”

www.kimfoard.com

White Lines & PAWS

“Just keep your eyes on the white line, until you drive back into blue sky and sunshine.” From the PAWS of a puppy and kitten are lessons for us.

Dog Cat and White“Just keep your eyes on the white line, until you drive back into blue sky and sunshine.”

In some parts of the country, people drive for days to get out of the city. In Montana, we drive for hours to find one. Unless we’re driving at least 300 miles to do something, it’s probably just not that important!

It was Thanksgiving Day and Family was gathered 350 miles away. My first clue to a little excitement for that morning was at 3:30 AM, as I read the online Severe Weather Alert for blowing and drifting snow in an area known for high winds. The image that came to mind was of the log chain—that the community uses for a wind sock—popping links into snow drifts.

The reality was much different from the imagination. Before I even made it to the area of predicted severe weather, there was no hope in seeing anything on the side of the road. The road had disappeared into a white nothingness.

Blowing and drifting snow?! Who knew, or cared. The world had gone, white!

Visibility was zero. Now, wait. There was visibility. All white! White snow; white air; white road; and a few splotches of white lines were visible. We take them for granted most days: those solid white lines down the edge of a highway. That morning, they were the difference between moving forward and hibernation. A simple stripe of paint offered hope of progress.

It only took another 100 miles and 4 hours, until I drove into blue sky and sunshine.

Eventually, I drove right into the ranch yard and open arms of Family. A special Thanksgiving Day it was. In addition to the traditional fare of food and drink, this day included an opportunity to Meet the Parents. My daughter and her sweetie bravely hosted an event of Thanksgiving for their parents, who had yet to meet.

The meeting, and visiting, was made easier by George and Indie. You see, George is a big, old, grey cat; Indie is a small, young, red-heeler dog. Hence the expression, “Getting along like cats and dogs.” Oh, they get along just fine. Deep down, I do believe there is affection between the two. It’s the expression of the emotion that is comical.

Much more than the yelps and growls, it’s the PAWS which offer the love pats!

While we can learn much from two-legged folk, the lessons tutored by George and Indie made sense of my earlier morning experience of White.

Planning
Action
Will
Stories

Planning ~ You can see it in their eyes, as they think of the next episode of feline and canine adventure.

Action ~ They, literally, spring into it. Any doubts or reservations are pushed aside and they launch full-bore into the episode at hand.

Will ~ Fun will be obtained, by any means necessary to that end. Any resistance to great sport is overcome by sheer willpower.

Stories ~ We will remember, forever, the Day because it is wrapped in the ribbons and bows of the narrative.

My morning of Montana adventure contained all of the elements of PAWS. From the bag of winter survival gear to the full tank of fuel, planning and preparedness were the order of the day. Sitting beside the road in hopes of a kinder and gentler Mother Nature was forgone in exchange for moving forward, one mile at a time. Will-Power was my co-pilot, although, He was white-knuckled and wide-eyed, at times. Then, there are the tall tales—stories to tell the grandkids!

When given the opportunity of the impossible, let’s focus on the solutions available within our PAWS. By putting our hands to the task of finding joy by doing, and our feet to the path leading us to the discovery of an adventure, we find a priceless treasure that is ours, forever.

www.kimfoard.com

Two Farmers

From the farmlands of Montana, a story is told of bountiful harvests and sturdy homes, which come wrapped in the joyous ribbons and bows of doing, learning and growing!

Harvest

In the fertile valleys of Montana, harvest is almost complete. Malt barley is headed for the breweries, hard winter wheat is destined for the flourmills, soggy steer calves are trucked from the Red Lodge mountains to feedlots on the plains, sugar beets provide a poignant aroma to the air of Billings as they are processed into sweets for treats, and ear corn waits on the stalk to be picked.

The secrets to life can be found in the sixty miles from Red Lodge to Billings, Montana. This is a story of two farmers, Tom and Fred.

Their farms sit side-by-side, with a fence between them. Fred is a man of few words, while Tom likes to talk. Early morning, finds Fred at the kitchen table with a cup of dark, rich, coffee, as he plans his day. As dawn gives way to the first light, Fred is preparing his tractors for the circles they will make. Here comes Tom, with a little hair of the dog that bit him from the night before, to lean on the fence and begin his stories of high adventure.

Fred understands the benefit of crop rotation. If he wants to grow corn in one of his fields, he plants corn seed. For the sugar beet fields, he plants those little sugar beet seeds. In his wheat fields, he plants kernels of wheat.

As the spring rains stop, Fred is ready to start his irrigation to provide water for the crops. In early summer, the weeds are in competition with his crops; so, he cultivates. When the calves sneak through a hole in the pasture fence, he cowboys them back home and fixes the fence.

Tom watches Fred work. While continuing to lean on the fence day after day, Tom has all kinds of advice for how Fred should do his work. Fred just nods. In fact, Fred nods and waves as he puts his grain in the bin, steers on the truck, beets in the pile, and corn in the crib.

Then, one fall day while surveying his barren fields, Tom is in, especially, fine form. He walks up to his favorite leaning post and waves Fred over to the edge of the field. As Fred idles his new tractor down to a gentle purr and steps from the cab to learn what is on his neighbor’s mind, Tom says, “You’re sure lucky!” Fred just nods and says, “Yep.”

We harvest what we plant.

The shorter version of the story is the proverb: “Some sow their wild oats and then hope for a crop failure.” Those are the lucky ones. Lucky in the sense that less bad seed is blowing in the wind to cause harm for the neighbors. Un-lucky, since the real joys of life are discovered by doing, learning, and growing.

In this era of fantasy, when: work is spelled l-u-c-k; wrong is thought to be right; and, black and white are old-fashioned; how can we know good people from the bad ones?

Again, from agrarian principles, comes the answer.

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

… He taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers…

In returning to the story of our two neighbors, Tom is a Talker and Fred is the Farmer. Talk is easy. Work is hard. Or, is it?

Maybe, the moral of the story is: Easy is hard — and, Hard is easy.

As for me, I enjoy full bins!

www.kimfoardcpa.com

Post Turtles

The greatest dangers in life are Pedestals, Ivory Towers and White Horses. What goes up must come down. Rather than perching, let’s all get down to the business of living!

Post TurtlePedestals, Ivory Towers, and White Horses

A country doctor is suturing a laceration on the hand of an old Montana rancher.

Rancher: “At least this hurt comes from building something. Just imagine the pain of a post turtle.” 

Doctor: “Oh? What is a post turtle?” 

Rancher: “Well, when you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top. That’s a post turtle. You know he didn’t get there by himself; he doesn’t belong there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and, without help to get down, he’s stranded!”

How often do we get stuck?

Do we ever consider: “Why?” Is it because we allowed someone to place us on a pedestal, in an ivory tower, or on a white horse? It is one thing to work hard to earn our place in the world — it is quite another to be placed somewhere. Even more dangerous than the physical geography is the mental fantasy. It can be our mind playing tricks on us — or, the imaginations of another person.

From our earliest memories we are indoctrinated with the propaganda that, to be somebody, we must rise above. Movies, novels and childhood stories revolve around the themes of a princess in an ivory tower attracting the knight in shining armor who gallops in on his white stallion.

What goes up must come down. Down to the reality that the greatest joys in life are found by serving — not swooning. Life is all about attitude — not altitude. Love is defined by giving — not getting. Let’s all get down, to the business and pleasure of accepting others for who they, really, are — not who we want them to be.

While the grandeur of heights is intoxicating, the grounded efforts of servants produce harvests of abundance. Those who are the greatest, purposefully, take the lowest rank. They are recognized as true leaders by their efforts to serve.

They are the ones who know where they are; how they got there; why they are there; what they are doing there; and, who have absolutely no fear of falling down. When they stumble, it is to learn a new lesson on their way to another opportunity, of service.

www.kimfoard.com

Young Pilots

With our hands on the yoke, wheel, or mouse, we learn by doing and the fun is in the doing. Let’s have fun learning, to fly, drive and click our way to success!

Pilots at the Controls

At The Controls

The hand of the young businessman reluctantly reached toward the mouse. After he swirled it a few times to synchronize his mind with the cursor, he looked at me for the flight coordinates. We were ready for a new adventure!

Yesterday, he was sitting behind my desk in my executive chair and I was standing beside him, to be his guide. Waiting for us was an unexplored frontier, which I wanted us to look at together. As the CFO of a family business for the last couple of years, he has done everything asked of him, plus some. Rather than more words of instruction, I wanted him to have the experience of sitting at Command Central.

Since we learn by doing and the fun is in the doing, the purpose of our mission was to have fun learning!

A conversation with a businesswoman, earlier this week, is also a facet of this Thought du Jour. Recently, she enjoyed the opportunity to experience an aerial tour of a project, on which she is working, as a passenger aboard a large corporate helicopter. Part of our conversation included a discussion of best practices for bringing the next generation into an existing, and very successful, business.

How can we expect young entrepreneurs to captain the large ships of industry, when they seldom have the opportunity to sit at the controls?! That helicopter pilot learned the basics by flying small machines and, eventually, worked his way up to mastering the big ones. Guaranteed, he did not learn artistry of his craft by someone telling him how it is done!

Classrooms are not the same as Boardrooms; Professors are not the same as seasoned Veterans; and, Talking about something is not the same as Doing.

Young pilots, in training, sit at the controls. Next to them, in the co-pilot seat, is the instructor. The primary job of this instructor is to engage in a wonderful combination of activites which will build student confidence and scare them silly. The instructor will: by their words, tell their students what they need to know; by their actions, show them how to do it. Then, the real education begins, as the student learns by doing.

Typically, as in everything, the first few attempts are ugly. Improvement is made by practice, until the student thinks they know it all. At that moment of pride, their instructor makes a new believer out of them; by introducing an element of surprise. In the world of business, that is commonly referred to as a Variable.

For instance, a “stall” in the air is similar to one in business. The first time it happens to a young pilot and the new entrepreneur, hearts stop and breathing ceases. Same reaction: “Now, What?!” Same response: “Nose down, throttle up, regain composure and let the universal laws of physics and finances be your friend.”

Speaking of which, another conversation this week yielded, yet, one more gem of wisdom related to the importance of “hands on” education and experience. As a young man, my friend worked as a horse wrangler on a large ranch, which operated primarily for the benefit of encouraging and empowering adolescents.

The young people who came as guests, all, had one thing in common: they suffered from the insecurities of never having accomplished anything on their own. For six weeks on the ranch, they had a project and a choice. The project: a horse; their very own horse. The choice: work to connect with the horse as a friend; or, endure the relationship with the horse as an enemy.

As parents, we think training wheels on bikes are helpful and cute. Believing, they are a facet of building confidence. Generally, they are a crutch. The real joy on faces, only, comes after we provide the freedom to fail. Oh, sure, there are the looks of pure terror as our young people wobble, and crash. Yet, there are no words for the exhilaration of finding that first balance, on their own, and the accomplishments, which follow!

Later, our teenage student drivers discover a similar feeling, in the course of earning a license. The foundational principles learned in the classroom are important; what is practiced behind the wheel with an instructor, even, more so.

As we transition from the stories above into the world of business and finance, these same principles have merit. For instance: Spending an allowance is different from Budgeting a net employee paycheck, or business profit. The first is analogous to training wheels given to us; the second is the reality of producing results with our own hands on the yoke, wheel, or mouse.

As my young student clicked the last window closed and leaned back in my chair, our conversation turned to his frustration with some of his peers, who fail to consider the effect of key universal financial principles. When I asked him how he learned them, his response was, “You taught me.”

What began as a routine training exercise ended with a glimpse of the heavens; my spirit soared.

Let us, always, encourage our young people to fly!

www.kimfoard.com