How do you get a street named after you when you weren’t a city “father”, a major philanthropist, a company founder, a celebrity, or the person who once lived on the developed land?
Put another way, how does an “ordinary” man get a street named after him (and another street named after his grandson)?
I am becoming obsessed with the stories of people who aren’t famous but make a significant impact on people and communities. Fortunately for me, I grew up with an uncle who was just such an “ordinary” man.
This is a story of Denny Darnold, a not-so-ordinary man, and four lessons we can learn from the way he lived his remarkable life.
Until a couple years back when you Googled “Darnold”, you didn’t get many results…the Darnolds aren’t exactly the Rockefellers or Kardashians (thank God). Of course, distant cousin Sam recently elevated our Google prominence and taught people how to pronounce our name.
We Darnolds aren’t generally headline seekers, we are more folks who sit on the end of docks with our grandchildren. Thanks to Uncle Denny (and of course my Father), I understand the beauty and power in a humble strength approach to living though their example.
Lessons on Living From Denny Darnold
1. Live With Great Integrity
While eulogizing my Uncle the Mayor of Hudson Wisconsin listed Denny’s many accomplishment and awards (see a nice story about Denny’s accomplishments here). However he also emphasized one word, integrity. I think he said it ten times. And for good reason…integrity, and care for family, were the values most enacted in Denny’s life.
The Mayor told a story about a man who interacted with Denny on a regular basis professionally. That man told the Mayor upon my Uncle’s recent retirement that he was happy Denny was retiring because he could now buy Denny a beer.
He was a city planner and he wouldn’t allow vendors, contractors, etc to even buy him a beer because he feared it would mar his reputation for integrity!!!
The Mayor also told a story about the only time he saw my Uncle lose his temper. You guessed it, someone challenged Denny’s integrity.
Denny understood that in his role, one of public service, he must never be seen as beholden to anyone but the citizens. He knew that if his loyalty to the people was clear he could be effective for them and that he and his family would never be embarrassed by some negative story that would come to light.
“A Man of Integrity”
I believe we are all called to live with great integrity. Claim the right values and align your actions with those claimed values!
2. Value Function Over Form
I drive a Honda Accord because of my uncles (Tom factored in here as well) and I probably will until Honda messes up their value proposition.
In my opinion, the only reason to own something is because it meets a need (broadly defined). If an attribute of a thing doesn’t cause it to better meet a need, why pay for it. The logo doesn’t add tangible value…only symbolic value. Some needs are met by symbolic value…not very many of mine.
Denny modeled this for me at an early age.
Buy Function Not Form
I remember when Denny first saw me pull up in my Accord. He was proud! At the time I found this strange. Now I believe he saw this as a sign that I had grown into a man who valued the important things. In his view (and mine), Honda Accords have the features you need and they function efficiently…they just run. The things that are important in a conveyance for an office worker.
Honda has become the symbol for me – contradiction intended – of valuing function over form.
3. Have and Share Personal Passions
Denny was a man of many passions.
Denny was a childhood athletic prodigy in a tiny town in Southwest Iowa. He loved the communal nature of sports. He played golf almost literally until the day he died. Many golf buddies came to his funeral and were some of the most sorrow filled non-family members in attendance.
He used his passions as means to build relationships. He was on the shy side so I believe that having connections to people through common interests was especially important to him.
Denny and I both went to Iowa State and he loved to follow Creighton basketball as well. He and I connected through these common interests. But more importantly, we connected early in my life through golf. This is odd because I don’t think we played more than a few rounds together in my entire life. I only remember one.
We connected because he brought me along as a caddy. I went to visit him for about a week most every summer and he would take me along to some tournament. I did nothing but hurt his chances of winning. I know for a fact that he was distracted because of me during a match play final (match play is where two players are going head to head). However, he never got angry with me and had me caddy for him again the next year and the next.
I loved this in real time and in hindsight this was amazing! I learned so much about how to relate to people at these tournaments and I bonded with my Uncle.
I wasn’t the only one who experienced this.
Denny bonded with his in-laws by becoming a huge Packers fan when he moved to Wisconsin.
Denny bonded with his father in-law through fishing.
And most importantly, he bonded with his children through their interests. He coached their youth sports and shared his love of art most especially with his son.
Don’t be selfish about your passions. Use the energy they provide to build relationships and influence others.
4. Be a Person of Few Words
Meaning > Multitude
I am still trying to live this lesson.
My Uncle lived with a humble strength that allowed him to make an huge difference in the world.
The people of Hudson valued the way he lived his life as much or more than the zoning decisions he recommended.
I believe humble strength is how an “ordinary” man gets a street named after him whether it be literal or metaphorical.
I think we all need to be mentored by these “ordinary” people through their stories. I aim to tell these stories in a way that helps others grow. I wrote about my Grandfather in “My First Minimalist Management Mentor” and I am proud and humbled to pay tribute to my Uncle Denny in this post. He was a remarkable man!
He is one of the many additional people I should have discussed in my TedX talk if it weren’t for that pesky time limitation.
Who are your “ordinary people” and what life lessons can you learn from them?
I find that back to school season is a great time to reflect. Mostly because I can’t think until my kids are back in school. Heading into this particular summer break I felt particularly fried. I was busy all summer, but didn’t feel productive. Maybe you can relate.
When the kids headed back to school I reflected on the summer. I tried to make sense of my lack of measurable output. I barely wrote at all. I kept the balls in the air at work, but didn’t really score many goals.
I truly came to terms with the fact that my progress stalled. I bet you have felt this way a time or two.
I realized I never really took a summer break this year. We took some long weekends that were sandwiched between work travel, the daily grind, and youth sports, but I never really took the time I needed to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus.
That was a big mistake!
I came to realize that the sprint I made in the spring left me empty in many ways. I was submitting manuscripts, recording a podcast, trying serve my team, teaching a new course, and delivering a TEDx talk. In many ways last spring culminated in a mountain top moment for me. But we all know the problem with being on a mountain top…
My metaphorical finals week left me drained despite earning good grades.
For those of us who are parents, teachers, coaches, etc we can all see this in the children and young adults around us. They lose focus, their tempers get shorter, they make more mistakes…just like all of us when we run out of juice. If you can’t relate, congratulations, you are super human.
I needed a summer vacation to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus.
At the beginning of any good summer vacation – whether it is a week, a month, or the whole summer – you just need to relax. Kids need to swim, run through sprinklers, play games, watch movies, and eat ice cream with their friends.
I personally need some serious kayak time, preferably with fishing involved. I need a few good camp fires with my wife and friends…and of course a few beverages help the cause.
What do you need to relax?
Unless you give yourself some time to decompress you won’t release the pressure that has built up. This will eventually lead to an explosion!
However, summer break cannot just be about decompressing if we are going to use it as a time of growth and refreshment. We can’t live on ice cream alone…some of you might debate me on this point.
As we begin to release pressure we need to take time to strengthen ourselves through nutrition and exercise in order to thrive in our next. Many of us, myself included, can get into some bad eating habits when we are stretched too thin. Don’t even get me started on my exercise routine when I am in the worst phases of the grind.
Kids eat and exercise naturally as long as we provide a conducive environment. The key for them and us is the conducive environment.
Breaks allow us the opportunity to focus on what we need to strengthen our bodies and to reclaim healthy habits.
What habit do you need to reclaim/start to strengthen your body? What needs to change in your environment to keep your body strong?
Physical nourishment isn’t all we need refresh, recharge, and refocus.
At the end of my last sprint my mind was a pile of goo suited for little more than Candy Crush and running errands…
Fortunately breaks allow us time to feed our minds what they need to grow. Our brains are especially receptive when not cluttered with the day to day.
What do you need to learn? Do you need inspiration? Do you need to dream?
Books, documentaries, the theatre, lectures, podcasts, and conversations with thought partners can all provide what we need. We must use our breaks to learn and grow as thinkers and dreamers.
I find that campfires are catalysts for great conversations.
As a Jesus follower I also need breaks to help me get back in touch with my creator and God’s creation. I need time to reconnect with Jesus and to reflect on what he wants for my life.
I often neglect prayer, study, and reflection when I get busy. Although busyness is not an excuse, once I am out of the habit I need time to get refocused. Without reconnecting, refreshing, and refocusing spiritually I don’t feel well directed to move forward.
What do you need to do to reconnect and refresh your soul?
We all need breaks to relax, refresh, recharge, and refocus, but then we need to return.
Refueling is a waste if you aren’t going to burn that fuel. By the end of summer I can always tell that it is time for my kids to go back to school. They are stir crazy, bouncing off the walls, focusing their energy poorly…it is time for them to get back to work.
The same is true for us. I believe we are all called to work while on this earth. We should refresh, recharge, and refocus with the aim of returning to serve our people.
If you want to understand Minimalist Management living and leading, this blog, and to a large degree…me… give this a quick watch. I hope it is helpful to you. The key themes are purpose, mentorship, self-reflection, faith, gratitude, wisdom, leadership and of course minimalism. I am honored to have shared the TEDx stage with so many amazing people. Check out tedxcreightonu.com!
Stuff … stuff … and more stuff … I am amazed at how much stuff comes through my front door.
Junk mail, papers, tchotchkes, candies, toys … the clutter keeps piling up. And this stockpiling of stuff doesn’t come only in the physical form – there’s also the mental stuff. The emails, the priorities, the inner dialogue, the to-do lists… this type of mental clutter can be just as taxing as the physical.
That’s why, earlier this year, I set a goal to get rid of the mental and physical clutter that prevented me from achieving the goals I had set for myself — the clutter that had been staring me in the eyes for years, daring me to go toe-to-toe with it.
While this goal was certainly nothing new to me, the time and intention I was willing to invest in it was.
You see, I seem to go through a cycle of decluttering every few months or so, only to find myself back in the very same place I started. The cycle goes something like this …
Stage 1: The Overzealous Purge
Nothing is safe or sacred at this point! I’m determined to get rid of all the items I haven’t touched in months and to clear my agenda of any activity that doesn’t help me achieve my goals.
Stage 2: The Rational Purge
Ok… let’s be reasonable. I can’t be irresponsible by getting rid of things that would cost money to replace. I bet I’ll use these in the future, or even better… maybe I’ll save them for a garage sale.
Stage 3: There’s No Time to Purge
Sigh! I’ve run completely out of time, and now all my items and thoughts are scattered. I’ll quickly put them back in their place and get rid of them next weekend.
So, this year … I was (and still am) in the process of doing this differently. How?
Enlisting the help of my husband and children.
Typically, my decluttering activities are a solo sport. But this time, I thought it was important for us to participate in it together. Because we all have different reasons for keeping particular items or doing particular activities, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t placing judgment on things they valued.
Now… some of you might be thinking, “How in the world does your whole family have time to declutter life together? We can hardly find time to eat together.” Well, we had to get creative.
While I had increased my time commitment to this activity, not everyone in the house had that same luxury. So, I made sure to actively involve them when I could, and I set key items and questions aside for them to review when they had the time.
Being more intentional about ‘how I decided’ to get rid of stuff.
I was never good at getting rid of items I haven’t used in a year; after all, we don’t always keep possessions because of their practical use. We keep them for deeper reasons, as well. So, rather than repeating the same old thought process, I decided to apply the five purposeful questions shared in a previous Minimalist Manager article.
I asked myself …
Does this bring me joy?
Does this help me live out my values?
Does this help me employ my strengths or mitigate my weaknesses?
Does this help me fulfill my purpose?
Does this help me execute my strategy?
Asking these questions made the world of difference! Especially when it came to items that I saw as ‘junk’, but my husband saw as ‘joy’ (or vice versa). Or activities that some thought were a ‘waste of time’ and others thought were ‘helping them employ their strengths.’
By understanding each other’s perspectives, we stopped complaining about the things ‘we needed to get rid of, but never did’. Instead, we saw their value for what it was… meaningful in its own way.
Prioritizing the most important and realistic areas to declutter.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of taking on too much at once (a common theme you’ll notice in future posts). Because of this massive undertaking, I tend to move the ball slightly forward on a lot of things rather than fully forward on a few.
Having recognized and acknowledged this personal tendency, I decided to prioritize the most important areas of my life that I needed to declutter. I achieved this by noting the way particular rooms, activities, surroundings and people made me feel.
Then I asked myself … “can you realistically improve this?” If the answer was ‘yes’, it made the list. If the answer was ‘no’, I moved it down the priority list until something changes.
I also used the five questions above to guide which activities were most important. While I might want to clean out my fridge, clearing out junk in my office is more likely to impact the success of my goals.
Where are you?
We are all on separate paths to decluttering our lives. Whether it is the physical junk that has been sitting in the corner of our room, mental clutter that blocks our creative thoughts, or activities that keep us from what is most important, we all have different ‘stuff’ we need to tackle.
Whatever ‘stuff’ is holding you back from fulfilling your personal goals, I encourage you to think about what you can declutter to get yourself back on track.
I don’t know about you but I get drained. When the battery is running low I lose my focus on my purpose and I am more likely to do things out of line with my values. We all need energy to move forward.
At the conclusion of a recent work trip I had my Uber driver drop me off at a favorite spot on my way from my hotel to the airport. I was there for about an hour and a half, then headed to the airport. It made all the difference in the world…battery was charged and (or because) I connected with God through God’s creation.
I would encourage you to try to replicate this. Find an hour to stop, reflect, and recharge. You might not be going right by LaJolla. But I bet there is a great park near your path home. Give it a try. I bet you will find it helpful.
I believe it is high time that we managers have something we can point to when we are feeling violated and that those we manage can throw in our face when we are not living up to our duty to help our people flourish.
I believe that these “Rights” are applicable in most any context whether it be work, home, play, or service. While I suspect I will not be an originalist when it comes to this Bill of Rights…meaning it will likely change some over time, RIP Justice Scalia…, I certainly believe that these Rights are important because substantial evidence suggests that when respected these Rights lead to motivation and satisfaction. If these rights are respected I believe fantastic things will happen for Minimalist Managers and their people.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to strive toward something personally meaningful.
Everyone deserves to have clarity of task and purpose.
Everyone deserves to believe that they can successfully complete their work.
Everyone deserves to have their efforts recognized.
Everyone deserves to receive both positive and constructive task focused feedback.
Everyone deserves to have the resources they need to complete their work.
Everyone deserves to work with people of integrity.
Everyone deserves to work with people who stimulate them.
Everyone deserves to work with people who support their personal and/or professional growth.
Everyone deserves to have the actions and attitudes that affect them guided by evidence verses bias and tradition.
I will do my best to help those who strive to be Minimalist Managers live up to this Bill of Rights by providing support for these Rights. In particular, I aim to help people with Right 10 by providing research evidence that will help people live and manage in line with the The Minimalist Management Manifesto and this Bill of Rights.
What did I miss? I would love to engage in conversation around this Bill of Rights!
In order to better manage ourselves and others information is often helpful.
If you are like me you hate when you are not working toward something meaningful and/or not living up to your God-given potential. I live with the desire to avoid these situations. Personal strategic planning is a tool that I believe can be helpful for each of us.
As I wrote in Why You Need A Personal Strategic Plan, creating and owning a strategy provides many benefits to successful organizations and I believe many of these same benefits are available to each of us if we employ a tailored version of these same planning tools.
I was due for a plan refresh and decided that working through my personal strategy would be the best way to model a simple but effective way for people to build their own plan. I hope you agree.
Here is a link to the Personal Strategy Template. It should be downloadable and editable. This tool is simple, but much reflection is required to arrive at something that will be meaningful and motivational to you.
If you haven’t reflected on what you truly value then you have some work to do. I don’t like the idea that we should all run to some predetermined set of values and just pick a few that feel right to us. Although this might be helpful for some, I think it is most useful to put what you value into your own words so you know exactly what you mean.
If you don’t understand what you value then you cannot successfully determine your purpose or strategy.
Simply understanding what you truly value will lead you to clarity that will improve prioritization and decision-making.
Here are some questions and resources to use as thought starters.
These are all worthless if you are not honest with yourself. After you develop your values I suggest running them by someone who knows you well so that they can call BS if you are off base…the same is true of the subsequent parts of the strategy document.
What do you hope people will say about you when you die?
Write your own obituary.
What do you want carved into your tombstone?
When do you feel most like your true self?
When do you feel most alive?
Describe the personal characteristics of the perfect person.
Mountains of research suggests that when you are working in your areas of strength you will be more effective. Also, and contrary to some people’s/organization’s beliefs, your weaknesses matter as well.
You need to bolster and work from strength while mitigating weaknesses so they do not become fatal flaws.
Once you understand your personal strengths and weaknesses you can better determine which opportunities are a good fit and what might derail your pursuit of a given opportunity. Furthermore, you will better understand which tasks you should take on yourself vs. those that require you to ask for help (delegate, partner, hire).
Questions and tools to help you determine your strengths.
What do people regularly compliment you on?
What activities lead to positive feedback?
What do other people see as your strengths (hint, ask them)?
What attributes do you have that are fairly unique (skills, degrees, experiences, certifications, personal networks)?
Questions and tools to help you determine your weaknesses.
What tasks or situations most frustrate you?
What tasks or situations lead you to most frustrate others?
What tasks do you hate?
When do you most lack confidence?
What do other people see as your weaknesses (hint, ask them and stress that you need to know the truth)?
What habits do you have that lead to frustration (missing deadlines, arriving late, being unorganized, miscalculating)?
I believe lives are clarified through purpose driven work. This can be work that is done for a business, not-for-profit, your family, or for yourself. When people have a sense of purpose they are more motivated and effective.
I believe that you need to have a purpose statement that is informed by your values and strengths then drives your personal strategy. Some people might prefer to call this a mission statement and that works too if it is authentic and/or meaningful to you.
The statement does not have to be fancy. It should be short and clear. People who know you should see it as authentic.
I believe we can all determine a purpose that is inclusive of our entire lives. However, it will take several drafts and will likely change over time as circumstances change and you better discern your values, strengths, and weaknesses.
Some questions to help guide you to your purpose statement.
What value do you want to provide (your family, your work, your community, the world)?
Which of your activities provide the most value to the people you care about?
What do you desire to do in and for the world?
I am a big fan of Collins and Rukstad’s, and Lafley and Martin’s work on strategy creation. That said, their full treatments are probably overkill for most beginning personal strategists. As long as you have discerned your values, strengths, weaknesses, and purpose/mission I think you can write your strategy statement with just a little further effort.
You need your object, scope, and advantage (Collins and Rukstad).
Objective = A specific and measurable goal that will drive you into the future.
Mine has two parts because it is mine and that is what I need, but don’t go much beyond two or three parts or it will lose its ability to provide focus. Make yours meaningful to you!
Scope = Where you will take action (context, “customer”, activity areas, market, industry, etc)?
Advantage = What unique contribution(s) will you make that will allow you to meet your goal? You have a contribution to make!
Then combine these into a concise statement.
What specific, measurable, and challenging but achievable goals do you need to meet in the short-term (one year) that will lead to you meet your strategic goal(s)?
These goals should guide your monthly, weekly, and daily (to do list) goals.
If these goals are properly aligned with your strategy you can monitor your progress via the completion of these goals. Three is probably not enough for me given my strategy, but I think that is a good starting point.
I hope this is a helpful starting point and I would love to help you continue on your journey. Please post questions and eventually your strategy statement as a comment to this post on the Facebook page. I would also love to hear about your successes and setbacks. I believe a Minimalist Manager Community would be helpful to people. Let’s get one started on Facebook.