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We don’t have kids, something we came to terms with relatively early in our marriage and have accepted as part of life. While it means missing out on a range of incredible experiences, we’ve been able to do things for others (particularly our niece and nephews) that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The net of it is accepting what life hands you and making the best of it.

Last year, our niece Valerie called and asked to speak with me. This was unusual, but as I’ve written before, Valerie has lived an unusual life. That includes getting married initially in a group wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day 2008 at Loveland Pass. This was an event the family first learned about when my mother-in-law saw it reported on the Weather Channel!

When Valerie began talking about a second wedding ceremony where friends and family could be present, I was hesitant since we’d have to play a big role in putting it on.

As the phone conversation began, I told her our ability to help was limited since her cousin was getting married about the same time and we might have to get Valerie’s grandma to it. While stating my case, Valerie interrupted to ask, “Would you walk me down the aisle?”

091212-MeAndValWalking a bride down the aisle was something I’d long ago come to accept as an “I’ll never get to do it” moment. Suddenly my tone changed and being able to do something I never thought I would do completely changed my perspective. I was all for wedding ceremony #2 and making it happen.

The life-changing lesson here is the important reminder to remain perpetually hopeful. Things you think can never happen can happen. If there are possibilities you’ve shut out of your life, maybe it’s time to open them back up.

And in true Valerie fashion, she followed her life-changing comment with another incredibly touching one. As we were getting ready to walk into the ceremony, she told me, “Who else would I have asked to give me away. With everything you guys have done for me, you’re like my father.”

That’s Valerie!

Wrap-up: Hope you enjoyed this series on life-changing words!  Have a great holiday and rest of 2009! Thanks for reading Brainzooming!  – Mike Brown

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091212-HigherMoralGroundBob Nugent was a year behind me in grade school. We didn’t really have much contact until college where we were both involved in student government and wound up spending lots of time together as part of an interesting (at least to us), somewhat nerdy political clique.

At one point, several student organizations found themselves embroiled in what passed for college campus controversy in those days. Let’s just say, it was quite a bit less important than the anti-war protests of our predecessors on campus years earlier.

As various groups and individuals were angling for the upper hand in what might be the ultimate resolution of the issue, Bob talked about the necessity of “maintaining the higher moral ground.”

By this phrase, he meant the importance of displaying the upright conduct that allows you to deflect criticism potentially coming your way. The phrase “higher moral ground” resonated so strongly, I’ve used the idea repeatedly in reminding myself of the importance of not extending your own moral point of view beyond a standard against which you are willing to be judged.

Years later, I discovered the concept addressed in a New Testament passage from the letter to Titus:

“…show(ing) yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect, with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be criticized, so that the opponent will be put to shame without anything bad to say about us.” – Titus 2:7-8  

When I first heard it, I was clear this was a description of the “higher moral ground.” Bob’s words from college came full circle for me as a foundational life practice.

Maintaining the higher moral ground is a challenging standard for anyone, but in an age when there’s such interest in seeing people fall, it’s never been more important to be able to live it out successfully.

Note: This is one of a series of posts on life-changing gifts. – Mike Brown

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When I did the “12 Days of Gifts” series last year, a post about my grandfather showed up from who knows where, since I hadn’t even contemplated it when the series started. Today’s post was similarly unanticipated, especially since in a string of posts about gifts of life-changing words, this one was life-changing, but not necessarily a gift!

Early in high school, I was talking with another student on the steps outside school. During the conversation, he asked, “How many times has your nose been broken?”

I told him, “Never.”

091212-AdamEveStatueThe question started me thinking  though about what was wrong with my nose to prompt his query. It was one of those “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” moments, where all of a sudden I realized my nose was crooked and kind of big.  Considering I wasn’t all that pleased with my looks anyway, it became a defining moment in confirming some negative and lingering self-perceptions.

While I advocate living to serve others, it needn’t mean letting them define you. That’s certainly easier said than done, and to show I don’t only share challenges I’ve already conquered, here are questions for all of us: Are there comments others have made that we’ve let define ourselves negatively? If so, why are we still hanging on to them?

Maybe now, after all these years, it’s time to flush them and redefine ourselves in positive new ways.

Note: This is one of a series of posts on life-changing gifts. – Mike Brown

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” begins with its narrator, Nick Carraway, recounting his father’s admonition that not everyone in the world is provided the same advantages. The comment led to Nick’s inclination to “reserve all judgments,” a “habit that…opened up many curious natures” to him.

This opening passage of “Gatsby” has shaped me dramatically. Amid growing up in an environment of clear rights and wrongs, these words were a reminder to delay judgment in order to better understand people, even those who are objectively well outside my behavioral beliefs.

Given the importance of suspending judgment in the early stages of originating new ideas, this practice has been fundamental to helping businesses imagine new possibilities for potential opportunities. There’s a time for judgment, but initially, ideas have to emerge and “breathe” first.

It isn’t all glorious, however, when you reserve judgments. As Nick notes, it led to him being “the victim of not a few veteran bores.” I’ve certainly found that to be the case. It’s also led to having a diverse set of friends (really fun) who at times can’t stand one another (not so fun). Their distinct differences, which I tend to overlook, often make them incompatible.

In all, delaying judgments is a beneficial practice. So what do you think? Are there a few situations in your life right now where you’d be better off to suspend judgment and see how they play out first? The interesting things you’ll experience and learn will FAR outweigh any bores you might encounter. Just go with me on this – okay?

BTW – Want a little “fun” with “The Great Gatsby”? Watch this video of Andy Kaufman trying to read the book to a reluctant audience. You can skip ahead to 2:40 to hear the passage that inspired this post!

Note: This is one of a series of posts on life-changing gifts. – Mike Brown

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When Cyndi signed me up to work out with a trainer in 2006, the first meeting included a diet inventory. This entailed listing everything typically eaten throughout the day along with other food and cooking preferences.

As the trainer reviewed the responses, there was apparently a problem with me eating homemade ice cream for breakfast every morning. I had done so for years because it was quick, tasted wonderful, and even I could prepare my own breakfast when all it amounted to was scooping ice cream.

The trainer commented sternly, however, “You can’t eat ice cream for breakfast.”

I was shocked that eating ice cream every morning was THAT big a deal (hey, it’s dairy – which IS a food group). Yet having someone challenge me on it was a huge part of making me take a step back and change my behavior. I subsequently completely revamped my health practices, started eating the right things, cut food portions in half, and exercised regularly to lose more than 25 pounds.

Do you know someone who is going blissfully along, unaware he or she is doing something potentially damaging? If so, do the person a favor and challenge them on it. It could be a life-changing moment. – Mike Brown

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Early in college, I’d hit a major rut, dissatisfied with myself and an inability to effectively interact with people who were unfamiliar or encountered during casual situations. It was the first time the challenges many introverts face became overwhelming. After one particularly frustrating incident, I gave in to my father’s long-term urgings to embrace self-help books and agreed to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.

The book changed my life by pointing out the value of focusing on other peoples’ interests, concerns, and motivations instead of my own as a fundamental principle in advancing ideas and accomplishing success. One of the most memorable suggestions was, “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”

While acting on the book’s ideas required working hard to become more outgoing in new interpersonal situations (something which has taken years, and is still an ongoing effort), Carnegie’s emphasis on listening to others played to an introvert’s strengths. All of a sudden a situation that seemed hopeless became very much in reach to start improving right away.

My recommendation to you? If you’ve never read “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” get a copy and put it into action. Although it’s decades old, it’s a fundamental handbook for creating successful, important relationships. And for me, I’m going to review it as a refresher for both IRL interactions and to consider how I am doing in translating the ideas into the social media world. – Mike Brown

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My dad came back from Ed Foreman’s Successful Life Course in the mid 1980s with a new favorite word, “TERRIFIC!!!” as the all-the-time answer to the question, “How are you doing?”

Back then, it was bothersome to me because it was clear he wasn’t always TERRIFIC. Years later after listening to some of Foreman’s tapes and seeing him live, I finally understood the reason for saying “TERRIFIC!!!” all the time. The point is words precede attitudes and attitudes precede actions. Saying you’re TERRIFIC gets you in the mental mindset that will ultimately lead you to act as if you are TERRIFIC!!! all the time.

I got it and tried to embrace the belief, yet couldn’t get myself to say TERRIFIC. My version is, “Wonderful!” It’s certainly more understated, yet still far more positive than I would have ever answered previously. I’ll admit I don’t always come off sounding “Wonderful,” but the greeting does stand out and helps keep me honest about being thankful for the MANY truly wonderful aspects of life.

So, how are you doing?

Note: This is one of a series of posts on life-changing gifts. – Mike Brown

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