Looking for a breakthrough in your personal habits and effectiveness?

Change your habits with Gretchen Rubin's "Better Than Before"

Read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before.” And you will be.

By Roy Harryman

All of us have experienced the back-and-forth of trying to make or break habits.

We want to start doing something good, stop doing something bad or both.

New Year’s resolutions are common times to attempt these things. I have yet to hear about someone actually making and then achieving one of these.

Once we get up the resolve to attempt a positive change, it seems the entire world conspires to break us down.

That’s why I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before.” It’s not a new book. But it stands alone in its category.

In my experience, most self-help books oriented around habits generally end up saying, “Try harder.” And of course we all try harder for a week or so and then flame out.

Gretchen, on the other hand, brings some new insights into the process of changing. (Gretchen is from Kansas City. Yay! Points for a hometown author now living in the Big Apple.)


You must be you. But the best version.

A key is that we must recognize our individuality.

For example, there are numerous inspiring quotes about how people who get up early in the morning set the world on fire. Gretchen, however, contends that night owls cannot become morning people. Of course you don’t have to stay up until 3 a.m. But, in general, some people’s body clocks run faster at night and sluggishly in the morning. Don’t fight it. Make it work for you, she says.

In addition, we all have different motivations. She identifies four types of people:

  • Upholders respond to inner expectations and the expectation of others.

  • Questioners respond to inner expectations but resist the expectations of others.

  • Obligers respond to the expectations of others but resist their own personal expectations.

  • Rebels resist the expectations of others and themselves.

This was a breakthrough for me in understanding why some people can decide to train for and run a marathon all by themselves and others can’t seem do anything without a supportive group around them. It’s simply how we’re wired. An extremely athletic person may hate working out or jogging. But she may thrive in a softball league. It comes down to what motivates us and tugs at our heartstrings.

Understanding these motivators can also help us to protect ourselves from over-commitment (or lack of commitment). Upholders may have trouble saying no. Rebels have trouble saying yes. Knowledge of self is invaluable.

Gretchen’s book is so chock full of insights there’s no way I can do it justice here. Get it. Read it. But I can’t finish without a final word (from Gretchen).

Making decisions is exhausting. Habits should require no deliberation. “Am I going to get up at 6 a.m. or 6:30 p.m.? Can I have fries today? Should I go to the gym?” These inner conversations wear us down. Effective habits have no decision, no internal dialogue. You just do them.

So get the book.

Roy Harryman is the principle of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, a firm that helps small business and non-profits communicate their unique value to customers and prospects.


How about writing like a real person?

Photo courtesy of  EssayOnTime.com

Photo courtesy of EssayOnTime.com

There’s nothing impressive about jargon-laden, incoherent babbling.

By Roy Harryman
Principal, Roy Harryman Marketing Communications

In the 18 inches between the brain and the keyboard, a terrible thing happens.

There’s something about the act of writing that creates a disconnect between the way we normally communicate and the way we create text. The result: mind-numbing incoherence. That means your customers don’t get the message you intend for them to receive.

For some reason, many of us take on a dual personality when we write. People who are clear communicators in person turn into acronym-spewing, jargon hawking bureaucrats of the worst order when they use the keyboard.

I don’t know where or how it started. But if I did, I’d hop in a time machine and snuff it out.

I vividly remember experiencing this phenomenon with a colleague. In person, he was crystal clear and the opposite of stuffy. However, his public speaking and writing personas were completely different. He used words and phrases he would never drop in a conversation. It was an impenetrable block of text.

Write like you wish you could speak. Photo courtesy of  Gavin Llewellyn

Write like you wish you could speak. Photo courtesy of Gavin Llewellyn

Cheese anyone?
Let me give you an example from a Monty Python skit. In it, John Cleese enters a cheese shop and says:

“Well, I was, uh, sitting in the public library on Thurmon Street just now, skimming through ‘Rogue Herrys’ by Hugh Walpole, and I suddenly came over all peckish. And I thought to myself, 'a little fermented curd will do the trick', so, I curtailed my Walpoling activites, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some cheesy comestibles!”

“Come again?” the shopkeeper responds.

“I want to buy some cheese,” Cleese replies.

This is not a far cry from many blog posts, press releases and copy for websites. They are simply indecipherable.

Higher education is partly to blame. Many highly educated people write like this (although they generally don’t speak like this). The idea may have trickled down that we must be unintelligible to sound impressive.

However, it’s actually much more difficult to write simple, clear prose than to grandstand with acronyms, arcane vocabulary and other gibberish.

There’s much that could be said. But for the sake of a short post, here are some correctives.

1.    If you would not speak it aloud, do not write it.
If you would say, “I’d like to buy some cheese,” then do not write “I’ve infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some cheesy comestibles.”

2.    Write like you wish you could speak.
We shouldn’t try to write exactly like we speak because our spoken words are imprecise. They are interrupted by rabbit trails and our thinking process is compressed because of time demands. However, if you had the luxury of formulating each spoken sentence, you would probably say things differently than you do. When ordering food, you’d likely say, “Um, I guess I’ll have the chicken sandwich with the – can I get curly fries with that? – OK, with the, um, curly fries.” In a perfect world you would say, “I’ll have the chicken sandwich with curly fries please.” But you would not say, “I humbly request a poultry-based menu item carefully placed between two square-shaped products of the Kansas wheat field including the condiment that comes from the seed called mustard.”

3.    Write for your audience. That means you have to know who your audience is. Are they lay people? Or are they industry insiders? That makes a world of difference in what and how you communicate. Give them what they need, not what you want to give them.

Thus concludes today’s lesson.

Cheese anyone?

Roy Harryman is a former journalist who is thankful for the excellent editors who have helped him keep growing as a writer.


Presentation for KC Real Estate: Outstanding Personal Branding

brand boots.jpg

Your personal brand is who you are, what you do and how you present those concepts with media.


I had the opportunity to speak to an audience of real estate agents on "Outstanding Personal Branding." Thanks to Kansas City Real Estate for the opportunity to present.

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, a firm helping small businesses and non-profits to reach their "suspects", prospects and customers. He feels that building a personal brand is a process, but one we should enjoy.

So who is a success, anyway?

Wikimedia, Matthew Yohe

Wikimedia, Matthew Yohe

Our common cultural measure is out of whack.

By Roy Harryman
Principal, Roy Harryman Marketing Communications

I want to be cautious with this opinion, since all family relationships are complex and I wasn't there. However, there has to be at least some truth in what Lisa Brennan-Jobs shares about her famous father Steve.

"This is the first time Brennan-Jobs has written in depth about her father, who initially denied paternity and refused to pay child-support payments to her mother, Chrisann Brennan," reports Business Insider.

In her retelling, Jobs once told his daughter, "You're not getting anything. You understand? Nothing. You're getting nothing." She added that her father had not been "generous with money, or food, or words."

In our broken society, this is – unfortunately – fairly common. Dads are often AWOL emotionally, financially and physically. There, but by the grace of God, go I.

However, what makes Jobs’ case different is the common conception that he was a superhuman, tech-savvy, genius, hipster, savior of the world. If there is a definition of success, then Steve Jobs is it. In this manner of thinking, Jobs borders on the divine.

The problem with this adulation is that it takes too narrow a view of achievement. It's a common workplace sentiment that if you're good at your job, then you're a success – period. You may be sexually harassing your staff (think #metoo), beating your wife and cheating on your taxes. But doggone it, you invented a microchip that's going to speed up the Tesla. So let's have a party, you incredible piece of humanity! (BTW: No one is suggesting Jobs did these things; I list them here only for examples.)

There are two issues here:

  • Can we truly call someone like that successful? A common mantra in business is that people are our most important resources. Well, if we really believe that, we won't treat them like inanimate objects. Or worse.

  • This model insists that workplace success can exist in a vacuum with a strict wall of separation between home life, relational conduct and personal moral convictions. This is bologna.

As we know from #metoo, who we are (our personal character) is ultimately far more important than what we do (what we get paid for). We can try to keep the two apart, but who we are we eventually catch up with what we do. And when it does, colliding worlds make for a spectacular, career-ending supernova (for exhibit A see Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, etc.).

So should we hold back at work? Phone it in? Absolutely not. I want excellence in what I do and in those with whom I work. But excellence shouldn't begin and end at work.

It should begin at home.

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, a firm helping small businesses and non-profits to reach their "suspects", prospects and customers. He strives for a balanced view of success, but admits to being a work in progress.

Audio and Video for Serious Non-Professionals

I'm delighted and honored to speak at KC/IABC's upcoming lunch training. Here are the details from the e-newsletter:

Thursday, March 16, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Grunauer in the Crossroads

The ability to communicate with audio and video is quickly moving from a bonus skill to a must-have competence for communicators at all levels.

Many don’t have the budget or staff to delegate this area to specialists. Yet, to stay relevant to the marketplace, we must break new ground or get left behind.

Roy Harryman, principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, will speak on “Audio and Video for Serious Non-Professionals” at a venue that is new for KCIABC, Grunauer in the Crossroads.

Roy brings 25 years of DIY experience as a journalist, cause-based communicator and now independent consultant for small businesses and non-profits.

In this fast-paced, practical seminar, he’ll cover:
1.    Why your equipment isn’t as important as your approach.
2.    Should I create a podcast, video or both?
3.    Nuts and bolts of how a podcast works and how you can record one today.
4.    Basic video essentials, including using your mobile phone.
5.    Editing and uploading audio and video (including hacks).
6.    A few recommendations about gear and budgets.
7.    Some examples of economical audio and video projects.

I had coffee with a bomber

Dr. Dan Erickson, receiving and giving grace at his office-away-from-home at Starbucks.

Dr. Dan Erickson, receiving and giving grace at his office-away-from-home at Starbucks.

A grace bomber, that is.


My friend Dan Erickson shakes up the room at Starbucks – in a good sort of way.

"You know, you're the best," he tells the hard-working baristas.

They're used to it.

"No, you're the best Dan!" they respond.

He tells me the same thing (along with "Do you know how much I appreciate you?"). And ditto for his grandchildren. And countless other people.

Dan tells you this so often that you start to believe it. 

Because of failing health, he can no longer drive. So when we were planning some time together he asked, "Can we go to Starbucks? I have a ministry there."

And boy does he. Not only does he know all the staff, he knows many of the customers. As we were talking, a surrogate granddaughter of sorts ran over and embraced him. As I returned from the restroom he was introducing me to yet another friend.

When Dan says "you're the best," he is not engaged in flattery. He means that all of us have intrinsic, unshakable value because we are creations of God. This God delights in us, even when we fail to delight in Him.

Dan is engaged in "grace bombing." Grace, in the Christian sense of the word, is an idea that is completely original and was introduced in the New Testament. It's rich with meaning, but can be defined as "unmerited favor." That is, I've done nothing to earn your favor. Maybe even done some things to spurn your favor. But you give me favor anyway. That is the grace of God.

And it's what Dan dispenses at Starbucks.

There's also a second-part to Dan's pronouncement, which he will share if you get to know him. It's this: "You're the best. Now be who you are." Translation: Live up to your calling. Make the best choices. Treat others with honor. Be selfless.

Dan is battling ALS, so he doesn't get to Starbucks as often as he'd like. But he wrings the most out of every trip. As the coffee drips out, so does the grace.

"You know I love you, don't you?" he says to a slightly embarrassed male customer. "Same to you," the man responds. More grace.

What if you and I decided to take grace on the road every time we ran an errand? Had a meeting? Went to a family gathering?

What keeps me from doing it? That's easy. It's me. If I'm bogged down with my own concerns, I'm unlikely to engage others.

What I really need to do in those times is drop some grace bombs, like my friend Dan.

Ready to join the brigade? Let's light 'em up.



How to manage email without losing your will to live

Got a love-hate relationship with your inbox? Time to make up.


With Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and texting, email is so passe.'

And yet so necessary. It's still one of the top ways people communicate. Especially on the job. Yet the flood of messages makes us want to give up.

Or possibly worse, we throw ourselves into our inbox with reckless abandon and never get anything else done.

There is a better way. Yes, you can manage email and make it work for you.

Don't engage constantly
Many people have their email notifications set to “ding!” every time a message appears in their inbox. When that happens, they stop whatever they are doing to respond. It's Pavlov's dog in the 21st century.

"But it might be important."

Well, the huge project that sits before you might also be important and you're stepping away from it every time you get an alert. Maybe email is the excuse you need?

Instead, teach people to actually pick up the phone and call if they have a need that is truly urgent and important. You can even put that into your email auto-response. By reacting instantly to every random message, you're communicating that this is how you operate.


Oh, and turn off the Pavlovian alerts.

A few other tips

  • Set scheduled times each day to engage email. Then stick to it. I'm not advocating a policy of sloppy or slovenly response. You do need to get back to the sender in a timely manner.
  • Never use your inbox as a to-do list (talk about inefficient).
  • Use the folder organizing systems available in Outlook, Gmail and other email clients to organize messages so you can respond later (a folder for personal messages, one for professional development, etc.).
  • Stop spamming everyone with reply-all messages. Don't be part of the problem.

Use email to your advantage
Instead of simply trying to beat back the batch, look at each email as an opportunity to meaningfully connect. What relationship can you build? What need can you meet? What problem can you solve?

I recently took just a moment to write a colleague and thank her for her work on our association's e-newsletter. I was shocked at how much that little note meant to her.

Understand that email is also part of your professional reputation. The way you communicate matters. People still like it when you use their name, so be personal instead of impersonal.

Write in complete sentences, not a series of digital grunts and half-baked, half-finished sentences. 

Never, ever try to resolve a conflict through email. Get up the guts to look the person in the eye or at least call them.

Finally conclude each note with something positive. I stole “Have a Wonderful Day!” from another colleague of mine.


Now turn off those alerts, schedule specific times to respond and live more productively.

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications.




The free branding opportunity that got away

Most people miss this low-hanging fruit. Pick it. Now.


What if there was a totally free branding opportunity that reached dozens – if not hundreds – of customers and prospects every day?

Would you take it? 

You have the opportunity now. But you’re probably missing it. 

What could this be? It’s your office voice mail/auto attendant: It blows.

If that's not true, I apologize. But in my experience, that assessment is 99% correct.

When you call a business and don't reach a human being, you're going to get a message from an auto-attendant. If a live human answers the phone all day, then there’s still likely an after-hours message.

Depending on the size of your business, that could be hundreds of calls a day. But it doesn't really matter how many. This message is a free and easy opportunity to promote your brand. 

It’s a first impression of your company.

But not only are most of these opportunities missed, the caller's experience is usually negative.

The dynamics of a dismal message
To begin with, most of these messages are an afterthought foisted on some beleaguered office hand against her will. They're recorded with monotone delivery with all the enthusiasm of a license-bureau employee.

Here's a sample.

“Hello, you've reached the office of Widget World, where we've lost our will to live. Our office hours are 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. If you know the party you are trying to reach, please dial their extension at any time. However, our extension options have changed (back in 1998). Please dial 1 for green widgets, dial 2 for yellow widgets, 3 for pink widgets and 4 to bite down on a cyanide capsule. If you want to talk to anyone about anything else, you're out of luck.”

OK, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I think you get it.

This can also extend down to individual voice mail boxes.

“Hello, this is Roland Smith, and I’ll be out of the office six months ago so I won’t be able to return your call until 5 months ago. And, as you can tell, I don’t pay any attention to my voice mail message whatsoever.”

At one organization I worked for, we were ordered to update our voice mail daily and were told exactly what to say. That little detail gave the perception that we were on the ball (whether we were on top of things is debatable). 

I’ve given you the do-nots. So what should you do? In 13 seconds, here’s the gold standard:


The bottom line:

  • Be friendly.
  • Be cheerful.
  • Be up-to-date.

If no one in your office has the chops to do this, then hire someone. Or ask your nephew, or your mom. 

It may seem like a little thing. But then, are there really any of those?

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.
— Bruce Barton





A Man Who Lives His Words? Indeed.

Dan Erickson matches message with action.


There's a tiny universe of people who impact us to the point that we remember their words and recite them.

Quotations from authors would be at the top of the list. Or maybe it's an actor's punchline from a movie. But what about the words of people whom we've actually met? And beyond that, people whom we actually know?

I think all of us have experienced the letdown of having our heroes cut down to size by meeting them. 

But there remains that rare breed of people whom you actually admire more by meeting and observing in real life. My friend Dr. Dan Erickson is one of those chosen few.

If you know Dan, then you know that he was recently diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. But understand right here and now that this is not a eulogy (nor is it the first blog post I've written about him). Dan is fighting the good fight until God takes him home, whenever that is.

I'm praying that God gives Dan many, many more years because his life is the definition of inspiration. I rarely get through a week without being reminded of some of his original quotes:

  • “I don't fear failure. I fear succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.”
  • “Let God turn your mess into His message.”
  • “Don't peck with the turkeys, soar with the eagles.”

I could go on and on. Friend him on Facebook if you want more.

Dan's singular message is: Your life matters, so make it count.

He's a great author and speaker. But more importantly, he lives his message. 

In the last decade, he's probably accomplished more than he has in his entire life. But in order to do that, he had to quit a steady job and go out on a limb. In the same period, he's been hit with open heart surgery, financial challenges and the endurance test of being a road-warrior on the speaking circuit. And I'm leaving out numerous other trials.

Yet Dan's never too busy or burnt out to be found at his “office” at Starbucks meeting with someone to breathe courage into their lives. He treats the staff like royalty, praying for and with them them. 

As I describe Dan, I don't want to idealize him beyond recognition. He's human just like us. We've all got our baggage. But he hasn't let that luggage keep him from loving people and making an impact.

It strips away all of our excuses doesn't it? He recently wrote a book called “Ready to Fly.” Dan's life and words remind that, whether I feel ready or not, it's time to fly – to make a mark, to love people.

It's only fitting to close with a Dan Erickson quote: “Imagine the possibilities.”



If mentoring's not on your menu, you're out to lunch

Forget piles of cash. Without a successor there is no success.


Whenever I hear “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin I am challenged to emulate a role model in my life – John Belushi in “Animal House.”

Belushi, who plays Bluto Blutarsky, is seized with rage when he passes a folkie strumming an acoustic guitar.

In the blink of an eye Bluto grabs the guitar, smashes it to pieces, hands it back to the strummer and says, “Sorry.” 

I'm still looking for an opportunity to destroy the instrument that plays Chapin's song. Why? The sad, sober reality of it is almost more than any parent – or anyone seeking to be a role model – can take.

Values are much more likely to be caught than taught. But it’s sure a lot easier to teach them than to model them.

We all know the drill. The office team heads to a Kumbaya conference on team building and everyone goes home encouraged. But by 8:45 a.m. the next day, the boss has already shut someone's head in the file cabinet and Gunter is complaining bitterly that we're out of decaf French roast.

From throttling to modeling
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we face a crisis in modeling values to our children, employees, volunteers and leaders.

But there is hope. The first step is to understand the need and method of modeling values – whether these principles are personal, faith-based or the embodiment of a company's mission statement.

It won't just happen, no matter the 400-point-type of your giant mission statement on the wall.

Modeling comes down to:
1.    Teach it
2.    Watch me do it
3.    You do it while I watch
4.    I give you feedback
5.    Now you start by teaching someone else ... wash, rinse, repeat

So simple to say, so hard to do. There is no app, training manual or webinar that can replace this human-to-human approach. If you want continuity in your family, church or business, you must mentor. Does it work? Absolutely. Can I prove it? Absolutely.

Tim Honeycutt: Champion Mentor

Tim Honeycutt: Champion Mentor

Mentoring changed me
I am exhibit A.

Tim Honeycutt is the most important mentor I've ever had. When I was a wet-behind-the-ears pup of 23, he took me under his wing at Lee's Summit Community Church. But I didn't know he was doing it. I wasn't a project. He just spent time with me – time he had to take away from other urgent things – and showed an unhurried, genuine interest in my well being.

There was no lesson plan. Yet there was one: He was it. I spent time with Tim at church and saw how he handled people and challenges. I spent time with him at home and saw how he loved his wife Gayle and his two children, Emily and Zach.

He invited me to training events and then gave me responsibilities such as leading discussions and greeting newcomers. He also gave me feedback.

“You're scaring people,” he once told me gently and with a smile. He didn't put it this way, but honestly I was the church greeter from Hades – stiff as a board and welcoming as Jason Bourne.

He gave me a book called “Be a People Person,” which I did not read. Because I didn't have to. All I had to do was watch Tim.

I watched him get soaked in the rain as he walked out with a golf umbrella to usher frazzled churchgoers to and from their cars. I'd never seen it before: 20 years later I was still doing it.

You can be an introvert and still love people
Amazingly, Tim is not a classic “people person.” He's a quiet gadget guy who would probably be content to stay to himself. But he loves God and people, so he doesn't. You would never know he wasn't a social animal.

This, too, has rubbed off on me. At one point I was one oddball introvert and had the people skills of a brick wall. But then I met a guy. Now people are surprised to find out I'm actually a member of Introverts Anonymous.

Tim's gone through some hard times of late. He lost his irreplaceable wife Gayle last year. He's had to struggle to find a new mission and identity.

But he's never stopped mentoring. One of his grandsons is moving in with him, and it's not just so Grandpa can spoil him. Mentoring is on the agenda.

Or I should say, the curriculum of Tim is about to be opened once more.

How to close this column? Simply this: Who is one person whom you can invest in at home, church, work or in your community?

Now get started.

Roy Harryman is the principle of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, helping small businesses and non-profits reach their customers, prospects and suspects.

Enough with the freakin' vanilla

The world was never changed by cautious copycats. Don't be one.


Like vanilla ice cream?

When’s the last time you raved about a shop that has the absolute best vanilla?

I thought so.

I recently heard Seth Godin mention how vanilla is everyone’s second-favorite flavor. 

Surely no one – artist, business, non-profit, or human being – would want to be everyone’s second-favorite _____________ (fill in blank here)?

But in fact we do. Why?

Safe and lame
It’s safe being vanilla and second-best. No one will say “that vanilla is too outrageous” or “that vanilla is obviously not for my demographic.” Nope, we expect vanilla to be nothing more than it is. Expectations are low and, if for some reason we don’t like it, there are hundreds of other ways we can get a dang-near similar concoction. 

It’s easy to succeed at being a bland also-ran. But the impact is low and it’s not any fun.

Bust out the lavender
If you decide to follow Glace’s lead, however, and create Lavender-Honey flavor or Butterscotch Bourbon, someone – maybe most people – are not going to like it. But there will be an enthusiastic core of Butterscotch Bourbon fans that go to Glace because it's the only place that offers it. 

Glace is fascinating (again, not to everyone) because it’s not DQ or 31 Flavors or the soft-serve machine in the back of the fast-food joint. It’s because you can get a Salted Pretzel Root Beer Float. Which a lot of people won’t like.

It’ll probably never franchise or expand to a 15,000-square-foot mega mart with a drive through. If it did it would no longer be Glace.

It might go out of business someday (I hope not). But while alive, it truly lives. At its only location, people stand in line to get the goodness.

Enough with the freakin’ vanilla
So, my friend, don’t be vanilla. You are a unique creation. There’s a gift that only you can give the world. 

I’m talking about your sense of humor, personal experience, talents (yes you have many) and the way you relate to others. Some people won’t like it. 


Fitting in never wins accolades. But everyone is desperately trying to do it. Take tattoos. At one point they were for counterculturalists and old Navy vets. Now they’re for moms who drive SUVs. They’re even in stock photos for churches!

Trying to stand out or be hip with a tattoo? Think again.

Trying to stand out or be hip with a tattoo? Think again.

The work only you can do
Be true to who you are in your personal life, hobbies, business and profession. Take a risk, roll the dice. More importantly, make a difference.  

Quit worrying that your brand is not universally lauded like water, copy paper and soap. That’s kind of selfish.

There’s a book to write, a child to raise, a house to paint and a world to change.

As Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson, “There’s not a moment to lose!”

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, a firm helping small businesses and non-profits connect with their customers, prospects and suspects.



The lost art of being present

Our choices, not technology, have reduced communication to a Pavlovian digital drool.


“To be interesting, be interested.”

I was recently reminded of that quote from Dale Carnegie. And I can’t help but wonder if the quality of being interested – also referred to as being present – is going extinct.

It’s always been in short supply. When Carnegie first wrote his famous book in the 1930s, one of his anecdotes was the importance of not answering the phone when you have a personal visitor in your office. That was the 1930s.

Now, with cell phones and mobile devices attached to us like a third arm, many of us have become like Pavlov’s dogs – jumping to answer or respond no matter what else is going on.

I’m not even going into the likelihood of us killing or maiming ourselves or others when we do this in the car.

But I will say the habit is killing and maiming our relationships.

I’ll give some credence to generational differences in the way we communicate. But it’s not merely a generational issue. People of all ages are becoming programmed to respond on command to any digital alert.

We may plan ahead for weeks to meet someone for coffee. Yet when we arrive, the meeting is sabotaged by “Sorry I’ve got take this” and continual back-and-forth texting. Before you know it, time’s up and much of the potential for interaction has been burned up.

It makes you want to grab the phone and throw it against the wall.

Contrast this with the last time someone gave you their complete attention. Can you even remember when that was? It’s a rare and beautiful thing for someone to fully listen, understand and respond. Feeling we’ve been understood is an oasis on a desert highway of digital noise.

Not only is being present the polite and the right thing to do, it is advantageous in friendship, marriage and business.

The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you.
— Leo Tolstoy

No one ever says, “You know she’s really nice and all, but she just listens too much. I wish she’d interrupt me and at least respond to some texts while I’m talking.” Or, “That sales guy wasted my time actually trying to understand what problem I want to solve. The audacity!”

If you’re at a social gathering that feels awkward, you can never go wrong by showing genuine interest in others. This is something we can all learn how to do.

I’ve certainly been guilty of not being present. While someone’s talking, my thoughts have often raced ahead to what I’ve got to do next.

But at the end of the day, life is about people – real, authentic, non-virtual relationships. Digital connections are a supplement, not a substitute.

I appreciate the sentiment of my friend Dr. Dan Erickson: “If I could live life over again, I would be more thoughtful, feel more intensely, speak more tenderly and live more intentionally. But I can’t! So I will begin today.”

All we really have is this very moment. It’s unlikely someone will die or the office will blow up if we put the phone away while we have coffee with a friend.

Missionary Jim Elliott said it best: “Wherever you are, be all there.”

Excuse me. … I have to get this.



Wanted: Fanatics

If this is fanaticism, I want some.

If this is fanaticism, I want some.

If you don't know when to quit, you might change the world. Like Rick.


My friend Rick Friesen is a fanatic.

And I’m glad he is.

First, let’s define terms. A fanatic is someone who is “filled with or expressing excessive zeal.”
Fanaticism is generally frowned upon. To call someone a fanatic is to say they are detached from reality. This criticism is often an attempt to discredit a cause. That label was thrown at William Wilberforce, a stalwart and ultimately successful opponent of British slavery.

If to be alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics.
— William Wilbeforce

Fanaticism, then, is often in the eye of the beholder. A fanatic can simply be someone who stands for a cause someone doesn’t like or understand. 

Without fanatics, the world would be in dire straits. Because it takes excessive zeal to fight poverty, racism, slavery and corruption. The world system brings tremendous pressure upon anyone who wants to shake things up. 

And that’s what Rick does. His fingerprints are all over the globe.

He’s been a businessman, a police officer – and for the last couple of decades, a pastor. When I joined his church staff a few years ago, I received an abrupt email one snowy day: “All male staff, get your boots and shovels. We’re going out to serve our community.”

And boy did we. All morning long we frantically dug out the driveways and sidewalks of widows, the elderly and pretty much anyone who moved. That’s Rick’s style: all in.

In his role at the church, he took the opportunity to invest in Christian humanitarian work worldwide. Eventually he left the staff to work full time developing nutrition centers, schools and churches in Africa.

Rick, somewhere West of the Pecos, raising money for kids in Africa.

Rick, somewhere West of the Pecos, raising money for kids in Africa.

That effort included a coast-to-coast bicycle ride to raise more than $100,000 for the cause. At that point, Rick was in his 50s and hadn’t even biked much. Somewhere in the desert Southwest, he had a major crash and almost got killed by a truck. After a short stay in the hospital, he was back peddling across America. I asked him, half-jokingly, if he was insane.

When I ate breakfast with Rick recently, he had just finished a 24-hour walk to raise funds for other projects in Africa. His Achilles tendon was throbbing, but he shrugged it off.

In the midst of those things, he started a church in Belton, Mo., that is actively serving the area as well as supporting orphanage work in Africa. 

It’s simply not possible to quantify the good Rick has done. But if he weren’t a fanatic, it wouldn’t have happened. 

And Rick’s going to hate this column because he’s fanatical about not accepting praise. But I share it to inspire others to join the bandwagon of the crazy that includes the Underground Railroad, Susan B. Anthony, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and both Martin Luthers.

Here’s what the latter, Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say on this topic:

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank God for people who don’t know when to quit. 

And thank you, Rick, for continuing and modeling this proud tradition.

If this is success, I'm not interested

Our culture's dominant view of achievement is criminally insufficient.


Western culture has an extremely narrow idea of success.

You're usually considered a success if:

  • You make a lot of money.
  • Others acknowledge your talent and skills (“American Idol”).
  • You have access to the high and mighty (this explains all the photos on people’s walls – “Look! It’s me standing next to Oprah!”).

I preface this next statement by saying I'm not playing politics. Heck, I’m not enthusiastic about any of the remaining candidates for president. But Donald Trump is exhibit A. Because he’s successful in business, he’s a “winner.” Those who are not are “losers.” 

Although she’s not as prolific in insulting people, the same arguments could apply to Hillary Clinton. No matter the ethical liberties she has taken over the years, Hillary seems to believe she’s America’s last and best hope.

This is a convenient definition of success. It leaves out our personal lives, the way we handle money and the way we treat friends. It does not assess our gifts to charity, our commitment as parents or grandparents or the way we treat (or mistreat) our spouses.

What matters is that you reached the top of the corporate, government, athletic or entertainment ladder. The trail of carnage behind you is an acceptable degree of collateral damage, because you had to do it to become a “winner.”

If this is true, then I want to no part of success.

Thomas Merton, a theologian and monk, wrote: 

“If I had a message to my contemporaries it is surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success . . . If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

To that I would simply add that we should seek success, but in all areas of our lives. Not just one.

Exhibit A for true success is … my parents, Leroy and Dee Harryman. Next week they will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary. Mastering a task or a job takes repetition and perseverance. But we never master the art of human relationships. 

19th and 20th century journalist G.K. Chesterton addresses this point:

I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when compatibility becomes questionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.
— G.K. Chesterton

There’s no one-size-fits all manual, no re-set button or changing of batteries. Relationships requires unrelenting commitment, a willingness to be wronged (but not abused) and the humility to admit we were wrong. It means working hard to pay the bills or to find a job that pays them.

It means standing by your spouse during a struggle with depression, a fight against cancer or the agony of caring for aging and sometimes unappreciative parents. It means a commitment to resolving your conflicts no matter how long it takes.

I've seen Mom and Dad do all those things. They certainly didn’t do them perfectly. Oh yes, there were days when the sparks flew. Sometimes they felt like giving up. But they never did.

That’s love. That’s success. It isn’t the made-for-TV kind. It’s better.

It’s a “reality show” based in reality.




Will You Crack Under Pressure?

Where is your line?

Where is your line?

What principles are you willing to pay a price for?


Do you have a conviction you will pay a price for?

Vladimir Bukovsky does.

I must admit I had never heard of him until I read this article.

Bukovsky got booted out of the Soviet Union for agitating for democracy. He started being a problem for the state – get this – when he was 10 years old and quit the Communist Party. Its youth branch, Young Pioneers, required him to unjustly punish a classmate: He wouldn’t do it.

I’m sure he was partly pleased to leave his native land. But before the ejection he was imprisoned for 12 years in a labor camp and bogusly placed in a psychiatric hospital (a common way to torture dissidents).

Bukovsky landed in England and kept up his drumbeat of criticism. This isn’t appreciated back home, to say the least. Just ask the late Alexander Litvinenko.

It seems that the payback machine is still going strong. Bukovsky was recently accused of crimes related to child pornography on his computer. But wait.

Bukovsky says he is completely innocent and he went on a month-long hunger strike to protest his indictment. The British government responded by postponing the trial.

Bukovsky said, and I agree, that this bears the marks of classic Soviet-era retaliation. “The KGB didn't change … it only renamed,” he said.

If Russian agents can get a tightly controlled radioactive element into his colleague’s cup of tea, then they can dump files onto Bukovsky’s computer.

When you read these lines from his essay, “The Soul of Socialist Man,” you can see why the Russians consider him dangerous:

"Why should I do it?" asks each man in the crowd. "I can do nothing alone."

And they are all lost.

"If I don't do it, who will?" asks the man with his back to the wall.

And everyone is saved.

Bukovsky’s resolve to pay a price for his convictions inspired and sobered me. I’d like to think I have convictions and ideals worth suffering for. But when push comes to shove, will I give ground?

How about you? What principles are non-negotiables, regardless of any retaliation or defamation you may endure?

Let Vladimir Bukovsky give you courage.

"Frankly, I don't care about the risk of being sent to prison. I have already spent 12 years in Soviet prisons having committed no crime in my life, I don't expect to live for very long, and it makes little difference to me whether I spend the final few weeks of my life in jail. However, what is fundamentally important to me is defending my reputation."

Fight on brother.

Get out of line and into life

It's time to discover and do what you were put on this earth to accomplish.


Many of us are in a career assembly line that’s producing unremarkable results.

We know it, but it’s too hard to step away from the machine because the widgets keep rolling out.

We long to use our potential and passion, but the risks seem too high. We can’t afford to be idealistic dreamers. Or can we?

Watching an interview, I was freshly motivated by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a key investor in Facebook.

He earned a prestigious law degree, went to work for a New York law firm and then a Big Apple bank. But he hit the brakes and did a u-turn. Why walk away from pre-programmed success?


“But I had a quarter-life crisis where it made sense to do something with your life where, if you didn’t do it, it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “That’s versus these tracked careers where if you didn’t do it there are a hundred other people who will take your place.”

At his law firm, about 80 new attorneys would join the ranks each year. After working feverishly for nearly a decade, a handful might get the opportunity to become a partner. But even then, the prospect of making a significant impact was a gamble at best.

“What’s amazing about these top institutions … is that from the outside everyone wants to get in,” he said. “But on the inside it’s very constrictive. It ends up involving a ferocious competition for what I think are relatively small stakes.”

The impact on those who scrape and claw to get up the ladder? “It (zeal) gradually gets rung out of them.”


Thiel, instead, took a gamble and a contrarian path. He didn’t want to occupy the chair that 99 others were waiting to move into.

The result: “It’s been a wild 25 years.”

Thiel reminds me of my friend Kaye Carter, who left a prestigious career in medicine and law to concentrate full time on writing a Christian book and encouraging people with the insights she has discovered. She, too, gave up her chair. And I’m glad she did.

Each of us has a unique contribution to make, not just in our paid vocation, but in life. It may be as a volunteer, a neighbor, an elected official or a parent. In order to make an impact, there will be risks to take and fears and adversity to overcome. 

But, as Seth Godin points out, the cost of failure is usually quite low – much lower than our self-preservation instincts tell us. Do your homework, seek a little advice, roll the dice and sample the risk. Don’t give up just because the going gets tough or feels wrong.

This could be the beginning of your “wild 25 years.” 

The world needs you. You're not like everybody else. Don’t let us down.

P.S. If you need a little musical inspiration, here is The Kinks classic, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else."