Choose a Great Lover With These Four Simple Questions

Are you lonely?

Are you stuck in a relationship that’s gone flat? Is that person on the other side of the bed, or the table, or the room, just not right for you?

Do you want to find someone special to give your love to?

I have three kids all in their young adulthood. This is what I tell them in order to find someone they might just want to give their love, and their life to.

Here’s how to stop wasting time with losers and find the man or woman of your dreams by the third date. It won’t take any longer than that, and you’ll be 99.9% sure, if you ask yourself these four questions about them:

  1. Are they awake, or asleep? By this I mean are they the kind of person who takes their life seriously, or not? Someone humble enough to recognize that, like the rest of us, their lifespan is short and personal power is limited, but also courageous enough, like a few of us, to make the most of themselves in the time they’ve been granted? Do they know themselves well enough–strengths, weaknesses, and preferences–to know you are right for them? Or are they still asleep, and hoping you might simply be someone who is willing to come along and feed them and change their diapers and tuck them in and make them comfortable while they snooze? Stay away.
  2. Are they a giver, or a taker? Is their basic orientation to other people to serve, or to be served? Maybe you think life is all about “give and take.” You’d be getting warmer, but not quite spot on. What you want is a giver who is also a receiver. Receivers have no expectation of getting, but are open to your giving and often slightly surprised and always grateful for it. On the other hand, it’s easy to spot a taker. They have decided that they are the core of the universe. Everything, including you, is an object to be manipulated to their own satisfaction. Manipulation is the use of power to dominate others. It takes many forms. It can be jealous, angry, or violent. More often, it masquerades as diabolical seduction, or bribery, or some other form of deception. Givers are better than takers, but watch out for the “pure giver;” they are often takers in disguise. Think about people who need to give in order to place you in their debt. Back away carefully.
  3. Are they authentic, or fake? Do they love themselves, faults and all? Have they forgiven themselves for being human, and therefor imperfect? Do they accept themselves, and see themselves as acceptable? Look for this marker of authenticity: if they are grateful for their blessings, they are. If not, they will find it impossible to love and accept and be grateful for the blessing of you. Walk away.
  4. Are they growing, or dying? I know, this sounds a bit stark. But in this universe, it’s one or the other. Are they responding to the universe as it unfolds around them, and adapting to the changes brought about by age, challenges, and others’ needs? That’s called “response-ability.” Or are they avoiding short-term pain and discomfort by staying inside their comfort zone and refusing to grow? That’s called “slow death.” Slow death always ends up creating far more pain than was ever avoided, and not just for them, but for anyone around them, especially their lovers. Beware. Never get caught in the gravity field of someone else’s slow death. It’s a black hole. Run away.

That’s it. Never go out with someone casually. Always evaluate their behavior against these four questions. Love everyone, even the broken ones, with that universal regard and respect that rules the universe. But never love someone romantically until you’ve answered these four questions to your satisfaction.


Stored Value

In this post I explain what money is. I also explain most of what you need to know about Value Creation, Marketing, Finance, and basic Psychology, too…in under 600 words.

Money is an idea to help people exchange value. We thought it up (an invention) and promise to keep certain rules about it (a convention). Therefore money is a convenience and a promise, designed to store and transport value across space and time, resting on trust in that promise.

For example, if I have something that you value that I can afford to offer you, but you have no object or service to exchange with me today that I value, money comes to your rescue. The money you “pay” me can be stored in my pocket or bank and used to buy anything else I might value (across “space”), or saved for later (over “time”)…as long as everyone else agrees that the money represents an intrinsic value that persists reasonably well over time.

So, in order to understand and master money, you must first understand value.

Life sets up a host of goals ranging from raw survival at its most basic, to spiritual transcendence at its most advanced, and everything in between. An important goal not yet achieved is a need. Needs ascend from requirements to expectations to desires. People share many common needs, but value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is an individual’s pleasurable subjective experience of satisfaction from fulfilling a need. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a powerful breakthrough in thinking about the structure and sequence of people’s needs. Study it.

Dissatisfaction is the painful subjective experience of having unmet needs. Like all organisms, people’s motivations move them towards pleasure and away from pain. (“Motive,” and “Emotion,” both come from an old word meaning ‘movement’). Unmet needs move us. Met needs don’t. There is no value in trying to satisfy a met need. To make money, you must create value, and value is found nowhere but in satisfying unmet needs. Helping people achieve important unachieved goals delivers a benefit. If you master beneficial actions you will become relevant, one of the two pillars of brand strength.

The other pillar is equally important. To prosper, you must also be different while being relevant. How? By offering an advantage that distinguishes you from the many relevant competitors you can expect to have in life. Without a point of difference, you will blend into the crowd, fight for every chance to deliver value, win infrequently, and your price will always be under downward pressure. You will be caught in the commodity trap. With differentiation, and especially if you can maintain such superiority over time, you will create loyalty. Loyalty gives you lots of demand, automatic repeat sales, referrals to new customers, and a price premium for the value only you can uniquely deliver.

That kind of loyalty comes from value delivered in this formula. Study this, too:

V = (B/C) > CA, where

V = Value

B = Benefit, the satisfaction (pleasurable fulfillment) of an unmet need

C = Cost, the sum of price paid and other direct and indirect costs necessary to realize the benefit

The dividend of (B/C) must be greater than

CA = Competing Alternatives

To succeed in the world and be paid money for it, you must create value. That means helping others achieve their goals in a beneficial way that your competitors can’t easily copy. That takes concentrated attention, thought, care, and energy–all of which are your life force.

Therefore, the money you earn is the stored value of your purposeful, other-focused, concentrated life force.

Study this.

Appreciate The Ride

I am one of those people who love words. There’s something cosmic about what words actually do. Words are like Star Treks “teleporters”—uniquely human inventions that allow you to transport what’s happening in your subjective experience over to me, and me back to you again. Spoken words, and later written ones, were a product of the relatively new (in evolutionary terms) pre-frontal cortex in our brains. Somewhere along the line, two of our brainier ancestors discovered that they shared a common understanding of what a bunch of squeaks and squiggles actually meant. The rest is history. Words are a form of telepathy, conveying meaning from one mind to another. That’s simply awesome.

Unfortunately, the meaning of words is subject to the corrosive power of misuse, over-use, or other forms of abuse. Here’s an example: “Awesome.” It used to mean “the capability of inspiring a reverent sense of dread of the supernatural.” Today, “Awesome!” means something akin to “That’s nice.”

These days, we often speak to each other using words that have been drained of all but the most superficial meaning, and end up experiencing bland and boring versions of each other’s lives as a result.

Those who wish to live an elevated life are the sworn enemies of bland and boring.

So, more often than not, I find the need to return to the original meaning of words I wish to use. In this post, I want to teleport over to you the four powerful ideas packed into one mighty little word that is your starting point to elevate your life. What does it mean to APPRECIATE something?

Appreciate (uh-pree-shee-eyt) verb:

  1. To be fully conscious of; to be aware of; to detect
  2. To value and regard highly
  3. To be grateful or thankful for
  4. To raise in value

Take a minute to re-read, and appreciate, each definition. Can you see that “to appreciate” means to gain a completely new perspective about a thing? Don’t allow that perspective, or “new view,” to go undetected and slip by you. It may seem superficial, but that thin slice of incremental awareness is the key to living an elevated life.

Let’s consider the idea of a gift. When you become conscious of a gift in a new way, you begin to value it at a higher level. And when you realize such a gift is an unmerited expression of someone else’s regard for you, you are prompted to be grateful for it. Rather than take it “for granted,” i.e., given and taken without much thought or appreciation, you’ll want to thank the person who had the consideration and thoughtfulness to match the qualities and benefits inherent in the gift with your happiness. If the gift has the qualities of an asset, such as money or a rare collectible, and if you’re smart, you’ll want to invest the gift in order to raise its value over time.  Wow, all that from one little word. That’s awesome, don’t you think?

Appreciation is your starting point for “living it up.” Living life at a higher level requires that you “tune in” to the awesomeness of the gift your life itself represents. Think about it with a deeper awareness; a new perspective: how improbable is it that you are alive? I mean you—not the brother or sister that may have been conceived that night your parents got together, were it not for the fact that a single tiny yet determined sperm cell—the “little engine that could”—made it over the hill and delivered all those irreplaceable and unique genetic goodies that became Y.O.U.  And somewhere in that body that breathes and eats and sometimes cries and occasionally, very occasionally busts an awesome move on the dance floor—somewhere in there is a “self” that actually is consciousness. You are not only here, but you are aware you are here. And that is indeed a rare collectible, if you ask me.

In this little corner of the unimaginably vast universe, life seems to be limited to Planet Earth. And conscious life—life that is able to think it through, reason it out, plan for the future, and imagine really awesome dance moves—is rarer still. Rarest of all are the elevated life forms that are able to “tune in” and consider themselves as utterly unique expressions of the creative power of the source of all creation. How many of them have gained awareness of how incredibly fortunate they are to experience the cosmic ride of a lifetime on the 13 billion-year old roller coaster we call The Universe? How many of them have come to see that they actually are the universe, now conscious of itself within their consciousness? OMG, now that’s truly awesome!

And if all that weren’t rare enough for you, my incredibly fortunate friend, let us now mark a moment of silence for the millions of brothers and sisters who vied with you to become conscious that night you were conceived, but whose irreplaceable and utterly unique genetic codes are lost forever, never to be duplicated again.

Does thinking it through and reasoning it out with this fresh perspective cause you to value your life a little more highly? Aren’t you at least a little grateful for your life? Might it not be worth investing in this asset to cause it to grow?

Yes, the awesome ride on the cosmic roller coaster is very short, and it includes some terrifying falls and bone-rattling twists and turns. And it ends. But it also has a few scintillating climbs and some breathtaking heights. And all your friends and family are on this train and in these cars on this particular ride together with you, holding on for dear life, while trying to enjoy the rush of the wind as the next hill takes us even higher. As the ride ends, isn’t our fondest wish to be laughing and clapping together with tears in our eyes? Short and brief makes it rare and precious. Let’s make the most of it. Hang on. We’re going to “live it up!”

A Friend for Life

I don’t know who said it first, but I have always appreciated the validity of this quote: “A proper perspective is worth fifty I.Q. points.”

Perspective. Interesting word with several shades of meaning. In this case, it means “a view of things in their true relationship or relative importance.”

In my quest for a life of meaning–rich in personal growth, sustaining relationships, and fulfilling work–one particular view of things has inspired in me a high degree of curiosity, optimism, and enthusiasm throughout my life. I’m not sure it’s made me any smarter cognitively, but it has brought true joy into reality for me. It is a perspective that most of us avoid like the plague, but my hope in sharing it with you is that you’ll benefit in the ways I have. If you’re put off by what I’m about to say, I urge you to keep reading anyway. Here is the perspective that is a key to my life’s inspiration:

1. Death could come at any moment.

That’s right. Death. The perspective that I could die at any moment has breathed life into my life. I came to understand this incredible pearl of wisdom at the age of 13. That year, I was a “Paper Boy”–I carried the afternoon edition of Washington, D.C.’s The Evening Star and the gargantuan editions of both The Star and The Washington Post on Sunday mornings. It was 1968, a year of death. Every day, and all year long, I carried the stories of murder and mayhem to my customers’ front doorsteps. Vietnam, where both my father and brother served, and the Tet Offensive in January; followed by Dr. King’s assassination and riots in April; Bobby Kennedy’s murder in June; the “police riot” in Chicago at the Democratic Convention, mining disasters, sunken submarines, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the Zodiac Killer.

Shoved into the middle of that year of chaos, late in July, the papers carried the story of the local killing of a young 17-year old boy named Frank Koerner. Seems that Frank and his 18-year old brother Paul were out drinking beer and cruising with friends the night before when an altercation ensued with another group of joy-riding boys. After a long car chase across Northern Virginia, a confrontation with a machete led to Frank being stabbed several times in the back. Paul’s thumb was nearly severed as he tried to stop the drunken, enraged 20-year old who would later spend his best years in prison. Why did I care? I knew both Frank and Paul. They were the brothers of my best friend, Marty. It was just nine months later when Paul, having recovered from his wounds only to be drafted, followed Frank in death, succumbing suddenly to bacterial meningitis while in Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The night before Paul’s funeral, at the visitation at Murphy’s Funeral Home in Falls Church, I was stunned and reeling. Paul’s body, in full military dress, was laid out in a glass-sealed coffin as a precaution against the disease that killed him. Hundreds of friends joined the Koerners for the second time in a year to mourn the loss of another boy. Crowded out of the viewing room by the throng, unable even to see Marty, I stood in the hallway, not knowing what to do or say. That’s when kindly Mr. Murphy himself, immediately recognizable as one of the pillars of our church and school just up the street, took me aside and asked if I were okay. He engaged me in a long conversation about the tragedies of these two deaths, and what it all meant to him, as a man engaged in the business of helping people over the roughest days of their lives. As we talked about his perspectives of life, death, and life beyond death, he led me on a walk through the operations of his business, including the casket showroom, and even the room where he and his staff prepared bodies for viewing and burial. This story has come across as macabre to almost everyone I have shared it with. But to me, Mr. Murphy had done me a great kindness; he introduced me properly to death and to his worldview about life. In so doing, he had demystified death and drained it of its terrible power.

If two guys I knew well, just barely older than I, could be gone so shockingly and so suddenly, what was my response to be? And not only them but too many others, as well. Over the course of the next fifteen years, I would lose four other friends to accidents and cancer. Noreen was struck and killed instantly by a car her boyfriend was driving. Jim stumbled drunk into traffic. Mike drowned in a Cancun riptide on Christmas Day, and Scott contracted liver cancer and was gone in three months.

The spirit that came over me from this perspective on death was one of appreciation and gratitude:  “Live NOW. Don’t waste a minute. Life is fragile and all-too brief, so embrace and celebrate it. How fortunate to be conscious! What a rare thing consciousness is, and here I am, a winner in the DNA lottery. Not only that, but I was born into THIS great country at THIS particular time to THESE terrific parents with all these TALENTS and GIFTS. Who the hell am I not to use them to their fullest? Life may be difficult sometimes, and the days are long, but the years are short. Live high. Live mighty. Live righteously.”

So for me, death has not been an enemy, but rather a friend. By making a friend of death, I worry little about the future. I am free to concentrate on now. (I also want to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that Marty and I remain good friends to this very day).

Here’s another perspective that has kept me “livin’ large” as I get older:

 2. Aging beats the alternative.

So many people I now know fail the perspective test on the topic of aging. They erroneously compare old age with youth, and thereby place themselves in a sad state lamenting the loss of their beauty, vigor, and stamina. But here again, the way they choose to look at it makes all the difference. Instead, they should see that the alternative to aging is oblivion.

Looked at in this way, it’s easy to welcome each birthday, along with all the new wrinkles and grey hair. I don’t mire myself in the past, regretting lost youth. I get on the with the beautiful mess we call “life.”

Tell me what you see. How do you see things like death and aging?

How about these things?

  • Demanding customers: Unfair adversaries, or partners who want you to improve?
  • Complaining employees: Malcontents, or committed associates who care enough to complain?
  • Troubled teenagers: Lazy ingrates, or kids crying out for guidance and protection?
  • Life’s problems: Unnecessary burdens, or opportunities for growth?

Your point of view is your pivot point.

And it makes all the difference.

How to Succeed in The Pursuit of Happiness: Stop Doing It.

For a country who wrote its founding creeds 236 years ago on the right to pursue happiness, you’d think we’d be better at it by now. Consider these facts:

There’s a 60% chance that, on average, we post-modern Americans will be clinically depressed at least once in our lifetimes; many more than once. According to psychologists, that’s up from 3% at the turn of the last century–my grandparents’ generation. And no, it’s not because of “better reporting” these days. It’s been statistically proven to be a real increase. A pandemic, actually.

I also saw data that the richest 1% of Americans are barely happier than the 99% of us down here in the trenches. So much for money as a path to happiness.

And get this: A year after the big event that changed their lives, both lottery winners and quadriplegics report that they’re just about as happy as they were before the event. That’s right, both groups adjust back to their pre-existing states of happiness after about a year.

Pursuing happiness is the central concern for most of us, yet based on my read of much of our history, and my own personal experience, few of us succeed at it. It’s like we set up a national pastime that only a select few ever win. If happiness doesn’t depend on how much money we accumulate, how much stuff we acquire, how many pleasures we enjoy, or even what tragedies might befall us, what should we be doing with our time? Those who pursue happiness most avidly and directly seem to be the least happy, most depressed, and emptiest people I know. Admit it; I’ll bet this is true for you, too. The direct pursuit of happiness a dead end.

So I have a suggestion: Stop it. To have a chance at being truly happy, stop pursuing happiness. There’s a better way to live. But first, there are at least three big problems with pursuing happiness:

  1. What’s the meaning of this? (That’s what my eighth grade teacher used to say when my friends and I were pursuing our version of happiness). The word “happiness” has so many meanings that most of us think we know what we mean when we use it, but we don’t. When we say we’re “happy,” it could mean almost anything. It might mean that our current emotional state ranges from momentary feelings of self-esteem (“I look hot in this dress.”) to fleeting sensations of pleasure (“Happiness is a warm puppy.”). Or, we might be describing that sense of gratification gained through hard work and achievement, made either by ourselves or people we love (“Happiness is a job well done.”).   At the top of the happiness thermometer, we could be experiencing a sense of fulfillment, joy, and even spiritual rapture. No wonder we get a little confused when pursuing happiness. We don’t even agree on its meaning.
  2. There’s no “there” there. Happiness as a concept is slippery. It seems to elude us when pursued directly. Go ahead, give it a try: Be happy. Come on…we’re waiting…Are you happy yet? I didn’t think so.  Like a bar of wet soap, happiness eludes our grasp and the harder we squeeze, the more it slips away. It has helped me to realize that happiness is a byproduct of the pursuit of a limited number of other things. But we have to be careful here, because…
  3. It’s a ‘bait and switch’ game. Not only is it impossible to find happiness in happiness, there’s ample wisdom to suggest that the direct pursuit of happiness is the shortest, surest path to unhappiness.So many things we pursue happiness through end up making us unhappy. Take “hedonism”–pleasure of the appetites or senses; we love the pleasure of food, but too much leads to obesity, disease, and misery at the end of a shortened life. The same is true with any source of hedonism pursued to excess. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll–take your pick. Too much of a good thing is what we used to call “lust.” If over-stimulated or artificially triggered via any sensory experience, the pleasure center in our brains adjusts to accommodate the pleasurable input, and resets itself at a slightly higher level. That means we need a slightly higher “dose” of pleasure to gain the same “high” the next time, leading to a soul-crushing cycle of frustration, escalation, and degradation. Serious addictions start this way, and there’s no fate as miserable as that of a hopeless junky. Let’s face it, hedonism creates momentary pleasure, but never truly gratifies or satisfies. Pursued for its own sake, hedonism only leads to depression or worse. I think that’s why so many Americans have become obese, addicted, and depressed; the pursuit of that kind of happiness is killing us.

Wow. We spend our lives pursuing something whose meaning we can’t agree on, and might just be a mirage or a trap. That’s why I say “stop.”

I’ve got a better way to live. Instead of pursuing happiness, try practicing “appreciation.”

Great word. Appreciate. It has four distinct definitions:

  1. To become fully conscious of; to detect.
  2. To be grateful or thankful.
  3. To value or regard highly.
  4. To raise in value.
Tomorrow’s post will unpack this mighty word, and I’ll show you how “appreciation” is the key to living a life of true happiness. Until then, “have a happy day.”

What If?

Let’s play “What if?”

What if you knew the secrets of happiness and fulfillment that few others realize?

What if you could find a way to spend the rest of your life…

  • Pursuing a clear mission that represented the purpose that you, and you alone, were meant to fulfill in this life, based on how you are created, designed, and “wired?” (That’s “wired” and not “weird”—although the two are the kind of the same thing, right?) I’m talking about coming to understand and order your life around a compelling cause that inspires you, fires up your imagination, and kindles your passions.
  • Playing to your own special gifts, talents, and signature strengths? “Signature” strengths are those specific “go-to” plays that deeply express the unique creative force that is you, at your best. They are the contributions you just seem to be great at, love to do, and when you do them, everyone around you wonders “Wow, how can that person be so good?”
  • Enjoying more and more of your time on this planet getting better and better at what you love most and are best at doing, flowing into and losing yourself in your work, knocking off for the day tired but never depleted, and looking forward to tomorrow most every day?
  • Applying your growing competence to the needs of others around you such that they felt you were one of the special ones that are so hard to find these days—people who understand how to deliver value with exceptional excellence and passion for their work. These are the kind of people in high demand as employees, free-agent contractors, artisans, and entrepreneurs. They thrive despite economic ups and downs. In fact, they are the ones the emerging global economy will reward handsomely.

How does THAT sound to you?

But wait! There’s more:

What if I told you that if you were willing and able to concentrate your best efforts on this “happiness path” now, in ten years you’ll be considered one of the world’s top authorities in your field of interest? It’s very likely that at that point, money worries will be a thing of the past. The world will be throwing money at you by then.

After that, of course, you’ll get to lead the rest of your life living true to what life itself designed you to do. You’ll be in a position to make a big impact on our world as one of its bright stars. You’ll have the power and perhaps the position to change this crazy, needy world for the better.

What if I told you that what you’re reading right now, and the exercises and wisdom to be found on posts to come, can help you achieve all this cosmic stuff, and even help you in your very next job interview?

Wouldn’t that be remarkable?

That’s the promise of Burn Bright.

What if we begin right now?

Tell me this: what do you want out of life? Think about it. Write it down. What’s your “Bucket List” look like?