Author: Erick Rheam

06 Nov 2017

Are You a Consumer or Producer?

Our culture promotes and celebrates work.  In fact, it’s a badge of honor for one to work long, hard hours and success is too often measured by time worked versus what’s produced.  I recently read biographies on the late Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, and Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla.  Both men are known for their superhuman work ethic and inhumane workload that they expect of themselves and of those that work for them.  However, I contend that this is not the way to long-term and robust success.

There’s ample examples of the meteoric rise of young entrepreneurs that worked insanely hard and achieved fame, financial success and received the accolades that come with such success, but is it sustainable?  Is it worth the cost?  There’s also tons of examples of cautionary tales on successful men and women who crash and burn after achieving profound success.  For every great story on Steve Jobs’ impact on our world, there are an equal number of stories of broken relationships, bad health, and regret because of Jobs’ lifestyle.  The same goes for Elon Musk.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this, in my current phase of life.  I work hard and can find myself plugging away on weekends or during family time; however, I’m focused on improving in this area for I know it’s critical for my ultimate success.

What drives us to work long hours at the expense of our health and our relationships?  Is it because of the money, the recognition, or because we don’t know better?  I had a great discussion with my friend, Jack on this subject.  He noted that the world consists of two types of people, consumers and producers.

Most of us are taught to consume.  We are taught to pursue things and to consume them for our own edification.  This consumer mentality requires us to work more so we can consume more.  Producers; however, think differently.  Producers don’t work so that they can consume, they work so that they may create and bring something meaningful into the world.  Producers strive to bring value.

When I began to study producers, the ones that achieved long-term success, I was surprised that many of them didn’t work long hours, they focused on intense work over a few short hours, but did so on a consistent basis.  Studies show that our energy and brain power is a finite resource that must be carefully considered when approaching each day.  We only have four to five hours of daily peak performance available to us.  So, as I consider my life and where I want to go I must ponder what some of the world’s greatest producers had in common.  People like Edison, Einstein, Churchill, Kennedy, or Beethoven.  They all were deliberate with how they invested their time.

I want to do more than consume my way through life.  I have a strong desire to produce and bring value into the world, so as I study other great producers, I’ve discovered four common traits that’s worth considering:

1. Routine – The greats were maniacal about their routines.  They had a rhythm to their days. Most started early, which allowed them to unleash a creativity that benefited the world.  American President, John F. Kennedy, retired to his bedroom, at the White House, for a nap after lunch every day.  Famed fiction author, Stephen King, breaks up his days in two parts.  The first half he writes new material, the second half he rests, recreates and writes correspondence.  Routines free our minds and remove the drain of making daily decisions so our minds can remain fresh to ponder the critical issues of the day.

2. Focused work – I was amazed to discover that many of the greatest producers didn’t work long arduous hours.  Many focused on their most critical work around four to five hours a day, and then spent the rest of their day on less critical tasks.  They protected those hours and didn’t allow the world to penetrate their psyche.  Famed poet, Edgar Allen Poe, would lock himself up and separate himself from the world so he could remain creative and write great prose.  We don’t have the benefit of an infinite amount of creative energy, so when we spend that energy, we must do so on the right tasks that will make a profound difference in our lives and on those that will benefit from our work.

3.  Rest – Some of our greatest leaders made rest a priority.  It was a skill they harnessed to ensure they could remain sharp.  British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, would take two hour naps in the middle of the day, during WWII, even during Nazi Germany bombing raids on London.  He recognized the need for rest and its impact on his mental health and energy during a critical time in history.  Thomas Edison napped often, throughout the day, so he could recharge his batteries and continue his experiments.  Rest is a critical element to creativity and must be respected as a vital tool for success.

 4. Exercise – Long walks and other forms of exercise are paramount to rejuvenate the mind and spirit.  Studies show that exercise allows the brain to continue to work on problems and to reformulate solutions on obstacles encountered throughout the day.  Producers leverage the habit of exercise to help them remain creative and sharp.  Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Facebook founder, is known for taking long walks and holding meetings with critical personnel or new hires during these walks.  Many of the locals in Maine and Florida often spot Stephen King walking along the local roads while reading fiction and enjoying some fresh air.  Exercise is a key tool for producers, because of its contribution to health and creativity.

I don’t believe anyone pursues life in search of insignificance, quite the contrary.  I believe we all want to have an impact.  None of us desires to reach the end of our life only to discover it meant nothing.  To have an impact, we must become producers and create things that may help others.  To be a producer, we need to tap into our inner creative spirit, that little gift that God bestowed us when He created us.  Consider the four elements that many other great producers leveraged before us and we’ll have a shot at creating something that will outlast our days and will indeed have an impact on this world.  Which of these four elements will you pursue today?

30 Oct 2017

How To Communicate Effectively

The more I speak in front of groups of professional men and women, the more I appreciate the power of communication. This year, I’ve expanded my speaking opportunities and have traveled the country speaking to hundreds of professionals on human dynamics.  It’s been great to have the work and humbling to know that people value my presentations.

Recently, I reviewed past surveys to see what people liked or didn’t like about my presentations.  I noticed a trend where my delivery style got the highest marks.  I decided to breakdown my delivery style and evaluate what seems to work with audiences.  Based on the written feedback from previous events, I’ve boiled it down to these six elements:

1. Energy.  If I’m not passionate about my topic, why would anyone else care?  I’m usually exhausted after a speaking gig, because I expend so much energy during a talk.  Energy is important when communicating a message.  Show energy when you communicate with others and it will become contagious.

2. Conversational style.  My lovely wife, Alia, gave me the best advice when communicating with others, especially groups of people.  Have a conversation with your audience.  Engage them, be interactive, be relaxed, like having coffee with a friend.

3. The use of first names.  I once read that a person’s favorite word is their own first name.  People like to hear their name and they respond when it’s used.  I’ve made a point to learn people’s names and try to use their names as often as possible during a talk or conversation.  Folks approach me after a presentation and state how they liked that I used a person’s name in the audience during my talk.  Using names personalizes the interaction and enhances the experience.

4. Action items.  People are busy, so don’t waste time and add value.  I provide tangible action items that will enhance the lives with those that I interact.  Bring value when you interact with others.  Offer solutions.

5. Be organized and focused.  I don’t ramble.  I get to the point and I’m organized with my thoughts.  I deliver my message, offer value, and I move on to the next topic.  Be prepared when you converse with others.  Don’t speak for the sake of speaking unless you have something of value to add.

6. Gratefulness. I appreciate when someone gives me their time and attention.  I try to never take someone’s time for granted and I approach each interaction and presentation with a spirit of gratitude and then proceed to deliver the best message possible.  Never waste someone’s time with empty words, or unorganized thoughts.  If you appreciate their time and are grateful for their attention, you communicate more effectively.

My job is to communicate.  I’m paid to deliver effective messages that will leave an impact on others.  I truly value and appreciate the power of communication.  If done correctly, words can truly alter human behavior, inspire change, and transform opinions.  Success is never too far when you master communication.  Which of the six elements of effective communication will you implement into your next interaction?

03 Oct 2017

If You Could Do It Over Again, Would You?

There’s nothing more majestic than a crisp, fall, Saturday afternoon at West Point, nestled off the Hudson River, among the rocks, deciduous trees and the fall colored leaves welcoming the changing of the seasons.  The sights and sounds of a collegiate football game fill the air as I sit with my longtime friends and enjoy the pageantry that comes with a gridiron contest, a tradition nearly as old as West Point itself.

Jason Stewart, the Captain of the 1993 sixth place finishing NCAA national college men’s cross country team, is the reason I find myself reminiscing with some of my closest and dearest friends this afternoon.  We descend upon the Academy, 24 years after our journey began, to celebrate Jason for being inducted into the Army Collegiate Sports Hall-of-Fame, with five other well deserved former Army athletes that make up the Hall’s class of 2017.

It’s an emotional and inspiring weekend filled with hugs, smiles, and old stories that bring a flood of memories back to the surface, allowing me and my teammates to reconnect and rediscover our forgotten youth.

I find myself sitting with my longtime friend and teammate, Jack Swift, during the football game.  We share a bucket of popcorn and a bottle of water.  We cheer on the Army football team and catch up on our families, careers and lives.  As always, when I gather with this group of men and women, I reflect and take account of my life since I graduated from the Academy.  Jack and I engage in a genuine conversation about life and compare our thoughts on the world, our accomplishments, and our dreams.

I turn to Jack, during a pause in the action on the football field, “Jack, let me ask you something.”

He turns and smiles, “What is it?”

“If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you?”  I scan his face and wait for his response.

“Definitely.” Jack states with confidence and without hesitation.

“Why?” I ask, probing his answer.

“Because this is real.” Jack gestures to our friends and teammates talking and laughing with one another in the stands. “What we have is real.”

“What do you mean?”  I ask.

“So much of our world is fake and only surface deep.  A kid goes to Harvard, because of his dad’s money.  Some rich guy buys a nice place on the beach in Malibu, but there is no true value in it.  Not the kind of value we developed as a team, as brothers.”  He pauses and looks over at me.  “I’ll take what we have, our relationships and our experiences.  You can ask anyone of these guys for anything, and they’ll give it to you, because we love and support one another in any situation.  Yup, I would do it all over again, no doubt.”

Our group rented a house overlooking the beautiful Hudson River.  We gather each night in the living room around a roaring fire and share memories, discuss current events, and debate politics and social issues.  I cherish every moment of it and feel honored to be a part of such a great group of people.

Eventually, like all good things, the weekend comes to end and we hug one another and say our goodbyes. I head home inspired to know that I’m a part of something special, and yes, something real.

I ponder my conversation with Jack on my flight home.  He’s right, our group has a deep and meaningful connection that time nor controversy can destroy, but why?  What makes our connections real, what makes anything real?  I believe it’s because of four simple, but powerful elements that true friendship provides:

  1. Grace – Our group extends grace to one another. We come from all walks of life and have varying backgrounds and beliefs.  We respect each other’s opinions, although we may not agree, and we accept each other unconditionally, despite our flaws and past mistakes.
  2. Respect – We respect each other for who we are as people. We laugh and joke with one another, but there’s always an underlying respect for every person in the group.
  3. Unconditional Love – There’s a basic, simple, and foundational love we’ve built over the years that’s undeniable. We cheer for each other’s successes and we feel each other’s pain.  We don’t keep score nor do we manipulate each other.  We simply love one another and truly enjoy every interaction, every moment, and every memory we share.  We embrace each other as brothers and sisters, as a family.
  4. Servanthood – Above all, we serve each other. We approach our interactions with humility and search for ways to help others in our group.  Whether it’s tickets to a game, sharing reward miles for cheaper flights, lending money for business ventures, offering advice on life, or simply showing up and supporting each other in times of joy and sorrow, we continually serve one another without expecting anything in return.

I’m blessed to call my former Army teammates and classmates my friends.  I’m honored that they accept me for who I am and love me, despite my flaws.  Most important, I’m blessed to have something real in my life.  In the end, I’ve come to my own conclusion that if given the choice, I too, would do it all over again.  How about you?  Would you make the same decisions, or choose the same path if you could do it all over again?  If your answer is, no, then what do you need to change in your life to make it more real and worth choosing again at the end of it?

18 Sep 2017

Stretch Yourself To Success

I developed a love/hate relationship with the nurses at the Eskenazi Burn Unit during my recovery and physical therapy after my fire accident.  Twice a week I would make the journey up to Indianapolis and meet with my burn team that oversaw my care and welfare.  They would greet me with a smile and then proceed to remove my bandages, exposing my injuries, and aggressively clean my wounds, not seeming to care or notice that it hurt me.

My wounds continued to heal and new skin begin to replace the old skin that was damaged or lost due to the fire.  The new skin on my right foot looked and felt like thin paper.  It seemed fragile as one of the nurses poked and prodded the skin to assess its condition.

“I need you to point your toes.” The nurse politely commanded.  I responded by pointing my right foot away from my body.  However, the new skin resisted and so I stopped.

“Keep going.” She stated without looking up at me.  I refused her command, my new skin was tight and I was afraid to stretch it.

“I know.” She looked up at me with an empathic smile, “It feels like your skin is going to rip or tear, but it won’t, trust me.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Positive, everyone feels the same as you, but this exercise is necessary for healing and growth.  We need to stretch your skin so we can make it pliable and allow it to expand across your wound. Now, point your toes further.” She commanded and looked down at my foot.

I wince as I point my toes as far as I can, hoping that my rigid new skin could handle it.  My skin resisted and it was painful as I stretched it through the exercise.  Sweat found its way to my forehead and trickled down my face and dripped off my chin as I pushed my skin to stretch out beyond comfort.  I was relieved when the nurse told me I could stop.

“I know it’s uncomfortable.” She smiles and stands up.  “You need to do this twice a day so you can train your new skin, ok?” She waits for my response.  I nod and look away from her.  I’m annoyed by the request and not overly pleased by her insistence that I continue to push my skin with this exercise.

I reluctantly follow the prescribed exercise regime, and over time, my skin no longer resists but becomes fully pliable and functional.  Now, I don’t notice it as it’s fully healed.  I can run and exercise, just like new, and I regained full range of motion.  My skin resisted at first, but over time it stretched and adapted to its role on my foot.

Stretching out of our comfort zones in any part of life is uncomfortable, if not painful.  My skin was new and felt fragile.  Everything in my mind told me not to push it, but my veteran nurse knew better.  She knew my skin would stretch and pushing it with my physical therapy was necessary for growth and to ultimately get it where it needed to be so I could lead a healthy life.  How often have you resisted growth and failed to push yourself in some area of your life?

I was convinced my skin would tear if I stretched it too far.  I would’ve let fear hold me back, if my nurse didn’t encourage me.  I had no experience that verified my fears but just assumed my skin wasn’t ready.  We give too much power to our fears.  Many fears are unfounded and not logical and based on emotion.  Our lives, like my skin, are more resilient than we realize, yet we fall short of stretching ourselves to new heights.

Today, my new skin is discolored and it’s evident that I was involved in an accident.  Life is a lot like that.  When we stretch ourselves, it changes us and alters our personality, our character, and our behavior.  Change is uncomfortable but necessary for growth and success.  What area of your life are you resisting change?  Is it time to stretch beyond your comfort?

05 Sep 2017

The Day We Met an Angel in NYC

My family followed me down the steps into the busy underground enigma that is the New York City subway system.  The sounds, the smells, and the visuals are like no other experience on earth.  The mass of humanity and the stale air can be daunting to outsiders, like me and my family.

We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty that day, a must-see experience for every American.  I decided to lead my family underground and try my hand at NYC’s infamous mass transit system.  I stared at the signs and attempted to make sense of it all.  I was confused as I tried to decipher the signs and the colorful maps that seemed to mock me.  My wife, Alia, and my kids stood patiently behind me as I tried my best to put on a confident demeanor and hoped that they didn’t pick up on the fact that I was clueless.

“You need some help, Buddy?  Where are trying to go?” A determined voice interrupted my thoughts.  I looked up to find a man in his mid to late 40s standing a few feet away and staring at me with an impatient look on his face.

“Um, yeah, I’m trying to get to the Statue of Liberty.” I respond meekly.

“Follow me, I’ll take you where you need to go.” The mystery man responded and turned away and confidently motioned me to follow.  I paused and looked back at Alia.  She shrugged her shoulders.  I found myself following the man as he weaved around other travelers navigating the platform of the subway tunnel leading us to the train that would take us where we desired to go.

The stranger, an average sized man about my height, was casually dressed in flip-flop shoes, loose fitting designer shorts, a Tommy Hilfiger long sleeved blue collared shirt, and a white fedora hat with a colorful band wrapped around it just above the brim.  His hat was jammed on top of his disheveled peppered grey hair that playfully peeked out of the bottom and haphazardly laid over his ears.  He looked like a retired mob boss, and dressed like he should be betting dog races down in sunny Florida.  His playful smile and kind eyes drew me in, so I continued to engage with him.  He found a seating arrangement on the train for my family and proceeded to plop down next to me and engage in conversation.

He introduced himself as Matthew, or “Macky”, as most call him.  He’s a writer, a Vanderbilt University graduate, and a lifelong New Yorker.  He asked where we’re from and what we’re looking to see on this trip.  I explained all the sights we were attempting to take in that day, at which he enthusiastically responded, “Look, I’m off work and heading home.  If you like, I can show you around the city, from a New Yorker’s perspective, are you interested?”

Alia and I made eye contact and were skeptical, what did he want from us?  “Hey, I’m not here to scam you, friends.”  Macky smiled, as if he read our minds, “You seem like nice people, and I’ve got nothing else to do until about 5 pm, when I’m scheduled to meet up with the boys for a few drinks!” He peeked over at me and winked, then playfully jabbed me in my ribs.  I decided to give Macky a try and I agreed to allow him to escort us around the city. “Great!” Macky claps his hands and briefed us on his plans and the various stops he would like to show us.

We found ourselves in the heart of Chinatown with Macky explaining various facts and interesting tidbits about the area.  Macky was a congenial fellow and seemed to enjoy showing us his city.  He pointed out various landmarks and carefully explained where we were going next and why.  He slowly gained our trust as he shared more about himself, joked with my kids, and expertly navigated us through the various obstacles of the city.  He seemed to know exactly when to jump on the subway and which ferry to take and the best route that would maximize our tour.  He stopped and took pictures for us and found the best New York hotdog in town for us to feast on and keep up our strength.  At one point during the tour, my son, Adrian, puked due to over stimulation and low blood sugar.  Macky didn’t miss a beat.  He guided Adrian to the nearest bathroom and took care of him.  After he returned, he gleefully announced, “I think Uncle Chuckles is going to be ok!”  We all laughed at Adrian’s new nickname and continued our tour.

Eventually I asked Macky how we could compensate him or return the favor for his generosity.  Macky smiled, “No need, I’m happy to do it.”

“But, why?  Why would you take your time to show total strangers around town like this?” I asked.

“All ships rise in a high tide, my friend.”  Macky turned towards me and gently patted me on my back.  “Visitors, like you and your nice family, are critical to our city and it’s important to me that you have a good time.  I hope your kids will remember this and one day go out of their way to help those around them too!”

Macky took us through Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge, past City Hall, and on a Ferry, that sailed us right next to the Statue of Liberty, allowing us to take great pictures along the way.  Whatever we wanted to see, he obliged us and took us on the best and most fun route he could find.  Over a four-hour period, Macky entertained us with jokes, educated us on fun facts about certain landmarks, humored us with our silly New York questions, and did it all with a joy and kindness that I was not expecting from a native New Yorker.

When it was time for us to head back to our hotel, Macky guided us back to the Subway and got on board with us and made sure we knew how to get back to our hotel.  When the subway car slowed, and stopped where Macky would depart us, he shook my hand, patted my kids on the head, and politely kissed my wife goodbye on her cheek.  He tipped his hat to me and my family, winked at us as he stepped out of the subway and yelled back, “Until next time!” and then he disappeared among the mass of humanity exiting the train.

My wife turned and smiled at me as our train car jerked back to life, “I miss Macky already!”  I nodded and agreed with her.  What an experience and a life lesson Macky taught us that beautiful day in the heart of one of the busiest places on earth.  Despite being busy and having his own life to lead, Macky chose to slow down and show up in our lives and extend a kindness that left an impact on my family.  I’m sure Macky had several things he could’ve done that day, but he spent his afternoon with us instead.  Hundreds of people passed us by in that Subway, but Macky chose to stop, to slow down for just a moment, and to sacrifice for us.

The ultimate expression of love is through sacrifice.  The most precious commodity we have on earth is our time and our health, both are perishable gifts that we must steward and carefully expend on things that matter.  What better way to spend one’s time than to spend it loving another human being.  Macky didn’t know my family and had no reason to stop and help us, but when he did and proceeded to give us four hours of his life, he showed us the greatest example of love and made a life-long impression on us.

The world can be very dark and there are indeed evil people that walk among us, but for every evil soul that occupies this world, there are dozens of Macky’s spreading love and kindness that will ultimately defeat all darkness.  New York is a better place because Macky lives in it, and my family and I are grateful we had the pleasure to experience true kindness and love from a lifelong New Yorker that we’ll never forget.  Thank you, Macky!