Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stained Glass Art - I Decided to Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Over 30 years ago, I...
  • Lived near a Tidewater inlet to the Chesapeake Bay in Seaford, Virginia.
  • Was a lieutenant colonel in the Army.
  • Ran 50 miles a week training for the Marine Corps Marathon.
  • Had two teenage sons.
  • Created this unusual stained glass piece.

It was the only stained glass art work I ever created. Today it's displayed in our master bathroom and looks great in the afternoon light.

My ex-wife was the real stained glass artist - not me. She was very accomplished and passionate about her work until the day she concluded that our culture would never value this aspect of art enough to appropriately pay for the hours it took her to create it. She could make ten times as much money cooking french fries at McDonald's. So she got rid of all her equipment and left all that behind her, never again to create anything in stained glass.

She didn't get a job at McDonald's, however. Instead, she went back to college, maintained a 4.0 average, and graduated from the College of William and Mary business school, magna cum laude.

But during the years that she worked as an artist, I sometimes assisted her in the menial set-up work.

Inevitably, I wondered if I should try creating something myself. I knew I would only do it once, so I decided to do something ambitious. I decided on an impressionistic, symbolic approach. This meant that instead of a few dozen glass pieces soldered together, I would have to use hundreds. The project took me four months to complete.

The image represents universal energy, whether on a cosmic scale or an atomic scale.

So over 30 years ago I put on my uniform and performed my military duties, and none of my colleagues knew I had created this unusual piece of stained glass art.

Today, I'm still pleased with the result. And I'm still fascinated by the cosmos.

Each morning while I'm shaving I see this image in the mirror. It reminds me that I have the potential to be creative, an essential inspiration because I'm challenged more than ever to exercise this strength in my work.

It's a testament to what an ordinary guy can do if he dreams big and doesn't give up.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Obsessively Hard Work Earned Me an A in Typing

When I told a friend that I made an A in every course I took in high school, he asked me, "Which course did you take as a senior that turned out to be the most important to you?"

Good question. I had never considered it, so I thought about the courses I took, many of which prepared me for my courses at West Point, which challenged me on another level.

Finally, I said, "Typing."

He laughed. But I wasn't joking.

Typing was a skill course, attended almost exclusively by girls. I remember thinking (in 1962), well yeah, if you're going to be a secretary you better know how to type.

I was the only male student, but my thought was that I'd have to write for many of my college courses. Back then, there were no word processors or electric typewriters - only mechanical ones. So students weren't expected to submit typewritten work. But I figured a typewritten paper would be looked upon favorably by my professors. As it turned out, this assumption was valid most of the time.

Also, as the only male student in the typing course, I wanted to show the teacher and all the girls that I could do as well as they could, or even better.

The classes consisted of drills, and at the end of every hour, we were given a timed 5-minute performance test. All uncorrected errors were penalized by subtracting 5 words from the total words typed. The net total was divided by 5 to get the words-per-minute (wpm) score. To pass, a student had to turn in at least five 45-wpm scores. For an A, five 60-wpm scores.

I took this course so seriously that I practiced at home, doing drills and 5-minute tests. I didn't know it, but all this repetitive typing activity was wiring my brain for typing skill. By the end of the course, I had fully ingrained my ability to type. I could do it at very high speed without thinking about what my fingers were doing. I submitted at least five scores above 90 wpm without errors and of course got my A. My teacher thought I was some kind of typing prodigy.

Truthfully, I just worked harder at it than any of my classmates.

Now, of course, I type on a modern keyboard and my brain wiring for typing is quite well insulated after decades of doing it. I'm sure that most of the time I type faster than 100 wpm.

And this skill, more than anything else I learned during my senior year, has helped me be successful.

I'm not sure my other teachers or my principal, who introduced me at my valedictory address, would have appreciated knowing this.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thanks to Coaching, I'm Back on Track as a Writer

I'm a writer. Writing gives me more satisfaction than anything I do. And there are things I care about, things I want to write about.

But I'm also a small business entrepreneur, a product developer. During the past several years I've been working with my team to develop an online virtual coaching system that helps people ingrain new skills and make permanent changes in behavior. That system is called ProStar Coach. I've also been heavily involved in the marketing - trying to get the word out. It has been a very satisfying project because it has the potential to help people of all ages and walks of life get stronger for the challenges of life and work.

But all this good work had a bad side effect for me. For years now, my work days were all about product development, not about writing books. The completion of the ProStar Coach project left me with all the time I needed to write, but I discovered that I no longer had the work habits of a writer. My old habits were kicking in and at the end of the day, I hadn't produced any writing.

I talked with my colleague and good friend, Meredith Bell, about this problem, and she had a suggestion. It was along the lines of "Physician, health thyself." Or, "Walk your talk."

What she was referring to is an ebook I recently wrote called Support Coaching. The book, along with nine companion videos, explains what a caring individual can do to help someone who wants to improve a skill or change a behavior pattern. The key element is coaching. The resources explain what anyone can do to support and coach a person involved in skill building, personal development or change.

What Meredith suggested is that I get an "accountability coach" to hold my feet to the fire, to do what a writer is supposed to do and actually get done what a writer should produce. An accountability coach is someone who agrees to contact you regularly and ask detailed questions to determine if you did what you said you were going to do. All successful athletic performance, weight loss and addiction recovery programs use accountability coaching. When you know you'll have to face someone who will want to see your results, it's a powerful motivator to do what you should be doing. Without accountability, it's all too easy to rationalize, make excuses and put things off.

Meredith's message: "You wrote the piece on accountability coaching. So get one. Use one."

My reply: "Will you be my accountability coach?"

She agreed, and we set up a twice-weekly phone call. I outlined what I would do and accomplish, and during the calls I emailed her the chapter I agreed to write.

It worked like magic. Before long, I had some new work habits in place and was producing chapters at a rapid rate.

The recent addition of the "Support Coaching" resources to the ProStar Coach system was a huge breakthrough, because it empowers ordinary people to do the simple things that add up to the kind of coaching a person needs to make a change. Virtual coaching is now enriched by coaching from real people. Now, anyone can be a support coach. Anyone can get the kind of coaching they need.

The resources are so important that we decided to make them available free to anyone who wants them.

They helped me. Maybe they can help you, too.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Hall of Fame" - Music to Fire You Up

Life is hard, and then you...well, that depends on what you do next.

The next time you've done your best and it didn't work out and you feel down in the dumps, watch this.

It will FIRE. YOU. UP.

Some lyrics from "Hall of Fame - The Script" (2012) by feat. will.i.am.

You could go the distance 
You could run the mile 
You could walk straight through hell with a smile 
You could be the hero 
You could get the gold 
Breaking all the records that thought never could be broke 

Do it for your people 
Do it for your pride 
Never gonna know if you never even try 
Do it for your country 
Do it for your name 

Cause there's gonna be a day 
When you're standing in the hall of fame 
And the world's gonna know your name 
Cause you burn with the brightest flame 
And the world's gonna know your name 
And you'll be on the walls of the hall of fame 

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Favorite Quotes from Socrates: An Examined Life

I recently reread this quote by Socrates, Greek philosopher and teacher of Plato. It's one of my all-time favorites:

“An unexamined life is not worth living.”

In my life I've tried to surround myself with people who question things and are serious about improving "who they are." Still, I know more than a few people who live unexamined lives, who are willing consumers of whatever the culture dishes up.

Marble bust of Socrates - Louvre
While we think of Socrates as one of the great minds of human history, in his own time only his students and a few close friends appreciated his wisdom. Those in power in Athens resented his unconventional views and his sarcasm. Ultimately, he was found guilty of impiety and corrupting the youth and was sentenced to death. His friends believed they could free him, but Socrates refused. His rationale is revealing:
  • He believed escaping would indicate that he was afraid of death, and he believed that a philosopher should not be.
  • He felt there was no profit in escaping. He would be seen as an iconoclast and provoke the wrath of authorities wherever he went.
  • As a citizen of Athens, he had agreed to accept the city's laws. He felt that violating this social contract would be an unprincipled act.
  • If he let his friends help him escape, he would be putting them in danger of punishment.
Besides, he felt he was ready to die. He had had enough of the world.

I wonder if someday I'll feel that I've "had enough of the world." It's certainly a troubled world, nearly as primitive as the one Socrates lived in. But I'm not there yet.

A few more of my favorite quotes from Socrates:

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."

"The perfect human being is all human beings put together, it is a collective, it is all of us together that make perfection.

"Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue - to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”

"Know thyself."

"Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

"In life, there is only one good--knowledge. One evil--ignorance.”

"Wisdom begins in wonder."

Words spoken 2,500 years ago, still fresh and appropriate today.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .