The Life Squared Challenge Part 5 – Let’s Get Physical

Life Squared

At the end of part 4 of your Life Squared Challenge you were presented with the assignment to think about the window on your Life Squared Structure that is labeled Physical. Here’s that window once again in case you don’t recall what it looks like:

Figure 5_1The Physical Window

The Physical window is the place you spend most of your time standing in front of either peering out into the world through or looking into with either retro or introspection. Since it’s the window you are likely to be most familiar with, it will be your starting point for the next few challenges to follow.

We are first and foremost physical creatures. Biologically speaking, this is how we tend to relate to the world at large and compare ourselves to other living things and other human beings. For example; we arrive at our work in the morning just like we usually do. There’s nothing unusual about this day but upon being approached by a co-worker or acquaintance we are asked , in what we take to be more than usual curiosity, how we are doing. Most of us think immediately in terms of our mental or emotional condition, but often it’s our physical composure and how we appear to others that bring up the question in our own mind of “How do I feel today?  And our immediate response is usually something like, “Oh fine, and you?”

Even as the question is being asked about how we are feeling we begin to quickly take stock of our current physical condition. That’s the reason we ask the question back. It gives us a split second to analyze our situation. “Am I dressed appropriately? Did I remember to put on deodorant? Has the slight limp I’ve developed, brought on by these new tight shoes, been detected? “I really feel like crap because of my lack of sleep and eating supper so late last night, but does it really show that much?” Our physical insecurity mounts and all those things we know we could and should do to physically improve ourselves begin to trickle into our mind.

And it only gets better as an individual, whom we happen to physically admire, catches our eye and we find ourselves momentarily sidetracked as we jealously marvel at their composed, well dressed and relaxed presence.  They give us a pleasant smile as they effortlessly glide past, without even the slightest hint of a limp in their step. Our left shoe suddenly seems tighter, our foot hurts worse, and we know inside that we really don’t feel fine at all. “Did I remember to put deodorant on? Another lovely day ahead”, we think, as we limp off to our work, shoulders slumped, self image bruised and most definitely not in the mood to speak with or be seen by anyone for the remainder of the day. The physical flood gates have been opened.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, rest assured that you’re not alone in your insecurity. We are mentally and emotionally assaulted by a barrage of expectations that we not only place on ourselves, but that society in general and the marketplace in particular places on us. Unless we look, smell, act, associate or recreate a certain way, we are deemed not good enough to be counted among our peers. That’s the message anyway, and it’s one that keeps us on the verge of anxiety about our physical well being most of our lives.

Remember that assignment at the end of part 4, where you were asked to think about how you feel about yourself physically? What is your health like? How are your eating habits? Do you get enough rest or exercise? Did you happen to complete that exercise? If not, I encourage you to do so now, because the first thing that we’re going to discuss when it comes to our physical window on the world is discipline. It rests atop your foundation and forms the base and basis for everything to come. It serves as the starting point for changing your life for the better.

When we look at our Physical window we see Discipline at the bottom, Appearance to our left, Health to our right and Control at the top. There’s no randomness to this order. Discipline is at the bottom because it’s where we are going to begin. Control is at the top because it’s our primary goal. We want to Control how we look, how we feel and how others perceive us. Appearance is opposite Health because in order to feel and look good you have to actually be in good health. The way you Control people’s initial perception of you is through your physical Appearance and Health. If you recall from part 4, it’s a sad fact that many people determine whether they are going to like you or not the instant they lay eyes on you. If you want to be in Control of the acceptance by others and influence their perception of you at first glance, then your physical Health and Appearance must be the best they possibly can.

Let’s step back from our window for a moment and take stock of your Appearance and Health. Are there areas you’ve identified, through completing the last exercise that pointed to specific things you can improve?  Be realistic with yourself. Start with the most obvious things like eating well, drinking enough water and getting enough exercise and rest. These four basic things; nutrition, water, exercise and rest are the foundation for your physical well being. Without taking a disciplined approach to getting the right amount of each of these, you’ll never feel or be in the best physical condition possible. It can’t be stated any simpler than that.

You can try every diet known to man. You can eat the best organic foods around. You can spend ridiculous amounts of money on personal trainers and gym memberships, but if you don’t have a disciplined approach and attitude towards reaching your goals then it is all for nothing. Discipline is the key to success, period. When you have Discipline you have set into motion a plan for progress towards your personal goals. Without it your life is like a sailing ship without a sail. The winds of opportunity can blow all they want, but if you don’t have the Discipline to raise your sail, you are destined to bob around on an ocean of waves that will carry you up and down but not provide the required momentum to move you forward.

Discipline begins with a plan. Think of this like planning a journey. To begin your journey you must know where your destination is and you have to map out how you will reach that destination. How can you possibly get to where you want to go without knowing how to get there?  Deciding where your destination lay is your next challenge, along with creating the map that’s going to get your there.

The destination you are headed towards is a combination of physical Health and Appearance. Let’s call this destination Controlled Presence. Controlled Presence is that place you reach that determines how you appear to others. You will know you’ve arrived when you are viewed in the eyes of others exactly as you intend to be viewed.

Taking the list from part 4 of this challenge you will now put measurable amounts to each of the questions you answered. You can think of these measurable amounts like you think of the distance you must travel to reach your destination. These amounts will be measured in terms of pounds, inches, hours, miles, calories, carbohydrates, or whatever measurement fits reaching your destination goal best.

Let’s take something we are all familiar with. When it comes to our weight we all know this is measured in terms of pounds or kilos. If you know that part of your destination is to either take off or put on a certain amount of weight, then that part of our journey will be measured accordingly. The same with sleep for instance. If you know you are not getting enough rest, then part of your journey will be to determine how many hours you need to get refreshed to adequately continue your journey. Put numbers to your journey so you can plan on how long it will take you to arrive at Controlled Presence.

Physical health, nutrition, sleep and water are four very important and much discussed topics when it comes to improving your health and physical appearance. I’m not going to provide or suggest specific quantities, plans, strategies or methods for attaining success in these areas other than to tell you that whatever you decide to do, it will require Discipline.  There are plenty of resources available to help you determine the proper measures you need to get to Controlled Presence. To my knowledge there’s no “one size fits all” plan when it comes to attaining personal goals in Health and Appearance.

It is important for you to know what kind of physical shape you are in at the outset of any plan so I do recommend that you research and discover, on your own, what type of exercise and diet modification is appropriate for you. This is best determined by having a physical checkup performed by a licensed physician and seeking health advice from a trusted medical professional.

The key to a Controlled Presence is determining the numbers for those personal physical challenges you’ve identified and then disciplining yourself to stick to those numbers until you’ve reached your goal. The good news is isn’t as difficult or as hard as it may seem to determine these numbers create a plan. I can tell you from personal experience that once you‘ve disciplined yourself to begin and then stick to the numbers you’ve identified as being in your best interest, physically and otherwise, it gets easier to stick with the plan.

So make a list in your journal, (you are keeping a written journal right?), that looks something like this for each of your Health and Appearance goals:

  • Name of Health/Appearance Goal:
  • Form of measurement to be used:
  • Where I am at this time:
  • Where I want to be:
  • The current difference between now and my destination of Controlled Presence:

Time frame for reaching my Health/Appearance Goal: Your list might look something like the example below:

Figure 5_2 Physical Goal Roadmap Example

When you combine your Physical Goal Roadmap with a calendar to keep track of your progress then you are on your way to creating a disciplined approach to your Controlled Presence. I would recommend an actual physical calendar instead of a digital one.  You can then hang this calendar in a place where you will see it every day as a reminder of the distance you have to travel, and even more importantly, the distance you’ve come and the progress you’ve made towards reaching your desired Controlled Presence.


There’s a magical quality to actually seeing the effect your goals are having and the progress you’ve made towards achieving them. Once you begin to see progress, whether it’s in the reduction of a waistline, a better posture, or feeling more rested and fit, you begin to transform yourself into a believer of yourself and that increases self confidence.  Once you believe you can accomplish what you set out to do, because of the results you physically see, a natural competitive drive comes in to play and you start to challenge yourself to do even more and become even better. This is the magic of the Life Squared Challenge. Once you truly begin to see results, and to challenge yourself in even greater ways, you will be amazed at what you are able to achieve.


As humans we are meant to push ourselves, to challenge ourselves and each other so we can travel beyond our perceived limits. It may seem unbelievable but there was a time when we could only dream of running a mile in under four minutes. It was impossible. There was a time when ascending into the sky on artificial wings and traveling at incredible speeds was also just a dream. It’s become routine as walking across the street now. Not so many years ago the idea of breaking the bounds of earth’s gravity and travelling to another celestial body orbiting our sun were the things of science fiction. My question to you is “What’s next?” What will you do, improve upon or help achieve in your community or perhaps in the world at large? Challenge yourself now. Make the Life Squared Challenge a habit and discover what incredible things you have to offer mankind.


Your assignment now is to complete your personal Physical Goal Roadmap and in the next part of our Life Squared Challenge we’ll discuss a few stumbling blocks and detours that can potentially slow down your disciplined journey to Controlled Presence.


As always, If you should have questions, comments, concerns or criticisms please don’t hesitate to be in touch. You are welcome to post your comments here or please feel free to email me at  I’d love to hear from you, good, bad or indifferent


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

© 2016 by Michael D. Davis – All Rights Reserved   – The Life Squared Challenge is copyrighted material and cannot be copied or reproduced for commercial use, in part or in whole, in any printed or electronic form whatsoever, without expressed written permission from the author.



The Life Squared Challenge Part 4 – Raising Your Windows

Life Squared

During part 3 of your Life Squared Challenge you were presented with the idea of setting footers on your foundation as support for what will come next. These footers, Abilities, Hope, Education and Discipline sit at the outer edges of your supporting foundation like so:

Figure 4_1 The Four Foundation Footings

Remember. This is a bird’s eye view of the floor plans for your personal Life Squared structure.  Your foundation has been determined, and who you are at your very core been established, by answering the twenty questions presented in Part 2 of this challenge. You’ve also been challenged to have the same questions about you addressed by two people who know you well enough to give you their personal opinion as well.

This first challenge is so important for you to accomplish before you go any further. I can’t stress enough how important it is to solidly set this starting point, this foundation, for you to build upon. Put your unfounded fears aside and complete this first step if you haven’t already.

If you are not willing to face yourself in the mirror and be honest in assessing your strengths and weaknesses you have made a decision that will prevent you from being the very best person you deserve to be. If you are fearful of having someone who knows you well write down their opinion then just know that they already have that opinion and there’s nothing your fear of what they think or feel can do to change that.

George Addair said, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” George knew well what he was talking about. During the American Civil War he found himself on the losing side as a Confederate sympathizer, which I’m sure was a fearful position to find himself in as the outcome became clear and Atlanta burned. Yet in spite of his personal setbacks he went on to become a successful real estate developer and politician in the South.

I certainly don’t condone George Addair’s siding with the Confederacy. It goes against my own belief that freedom and the pursuit of happiness is a right we all deserve. But I also know that each of us make mistakes and we all have our faults, whether they are personal, social or philosophical. Admitting our weaknesses as well as our strengths makes us more open and willing to consider the changes necessary in order to become the best version of ourselves. Often a guiding force for fear in our life is the idea of facing change. I like to think that’s what George Addair meant when he made his statement.

Once you’ve established your foundation it’s time to take a closer look at the footings you’ve placed on it and the correlation you’ve made between them and the answers you derived during your assignment from part 3 of The Life Squared Challenge.  Let’s start by making a grid consisting of four lists in our notebook, one each for our foundational footings of Abilities, Hope, Education and Discipline.  Under each of these headings we are going to place the answers we arrived at during our self evaluation, which will give us a grid that looks like the filled in example below:

Figure 4_2 Self Assessment Grid

Your personal grid will have the answers you came up with during your own assessment of course. Note that the top part of the grid are the things that you are good at or consider positive character traits, while the bottom half of your grid will be the corresponding areas that you have identified as being specific things you will benefit from once improved upon. You may have more or fewer entries in each area of the grid depending upon your answers to the twenty questions. The more detailed you can make your Self Assessment Grid, the more benefit you will receive from the Life Squared Challenge.

What we are going to do next is begin to erect the four big picture windows that make up the sides to this amazing structure that will ultimately become your new place in the world. We’re not going to be erecting walls, as most of us have been very crafty at putting those up around us our whole life. Instead you are building picture windows that allow you to see out into the world and for the world to peer into and discover who you are as a person.

The analogy I encourage you to grasp here is that of tearing down the old walls that are keeping you separated and isolated from not only the world, but yourself, and replacing them with windows that allow you to see the bigger picture and give you a complete view of your place in society and the world.

Sitting on your foundation, and the four footers we’ve established of Abilities, Hope, Education and Discipline are four windows that give us a clear view into who we are and what we see when we look beyond ourselves. Anchored firmly to the Abilities footer is a window titled Social. It is framed on the left side by a support named Associations. The top horizontal support is named Actions and the left support is Activities. This is how it looks as you are facing it sitting atop your foundation:

Figure 4_3 The Social Window

This window gives you insight into your social interactions. These are the abilities you are known for and exercise when in the presence of others, like who you associate with, the activities you participate in, and the actions you take that are socially motivated and in social settings. The Social Window gives us and others a view into how you interact and participate in society.

The next window we come to is seated on the footing of Hope and is named Spiritual. It looks like this as we stand in front of it:

Figure 4_4 The Spiritual Window

The Spiritual Window encompasses all that you believe in when it comes to things like Hope, Faith, Meditation, Prayer and Love. It doesn’t matter whether you practice a particular faith, have certain beliefs or don’t believe in anything spiritual at all. This isn’t about religion. It’s about your own personal beliefs. There’s no judgment here except for the judgment you place on yourself. Atheism is a belief, Animism is a belief, so is Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any of the thousands of other beliefs that make this world of ours so rich with varying ideas, perceptions and understanding. You may be someone who only believes in yourself. That is still a belief system and that makes you spiritual.

We all experience hope, love, faith, and belief and each of us takes time now and then to deeply ponder such things. Some call this meditation, others call it prayer. Some people practice it for the benefit to themselves while a number do it solely for the benefit of others. As a human you have a spiritual side to you whether you practice it or deny it. It exists and science is well on its way to proving its existence. It’s one of the things that, as far as we know, separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are aware of ourselves and our place in the universe, and more importantly, we ask the question why. Whether we are asking ourselves or someone or something else, we are on a spiritual journey.

The next window that we stand in front of is sitting on the footing of Education and its name is Mental.
Our attitudes about what we learn, our thoughts about anything and everything come from the inner workings of our mind. We derive our inspiration from what we learn and this education is what helps us make a living, create things, keeps us from getting bored, and what allows us to make things that protect and harm our fellow man.

The most powerful weapon on this planet isn’t any weapon of mass destruction we may create; it’s the tool we have used to create it with. The human brain is the most complex, amazing, and wonderful and terrifying tool we know of. Learning to put it to good use is one of the most important accomplishments you will ever achieve in your lifetime. Here’s your Mental Window:

Figure 4_5 The Mental Window

As we turn the final corner at the base of our foundation we find ourselves standing in front of the window most of us relate to more often than any of the other three. You are peering through the window sitting atop your footing of Discipline and its name is Physical. This is the window that we usually face and stare through most of the time. It’s how we see ourselves, how others see us and how we look at others and the world around us. Here’s your Physical Window:

Figure 4_6 The Physical Window

We have a love / hate relationship with our Physical Window. We like looking at others through it but don’t like what we see when that window becomes a mirror and reflects our own physical image back at us. We begin to feel self conscious when others stare at us through this window. We feel we are being judged and, in truth, we are being judged.  The first impression that anyone has of us is by looking through our Physical window. “How tall are they? How do they dress? Are they pretty or handsome? Are they the right size, shape or color? What do they sound like? Do they look like a friend or an enemy? Am I someone they want to get to know and to like? Will they like me? Will I like them? Will I want to like them?”

It’s said that the average human takes less than ten seconds to decide whether they like someone or not at first glance. It seems a little unfair doesn’t it? I mean how could someone know what kind of person you are from such a brief encounter? Ask yourself this; how many seconds does it take you to size someone up?  In a July 2006 article written by Eric Wargo which appeared in the Association for Psychological Science Organizations ‘Observer’ magazine, a series of experiments conducted by two Princeton psychologists is described as having revealed that it actually takes just a tenth of a second to form an opinion about a person from their face; one whole tenth of a second!

If you wish to improve your chances of making a good first impression you are going to spend a fair amount of time in front of this Physical window. I imagine many of you already do; but what about the other things that matter? This is where that footing of discipline comes in. Holding that window of Physical in place is not only Appearance to the left, but also Health to the right, and atop those sits another part of the frame that’s just as important. Its name is control. That’s self control if you haven’t already guessed.

When we stand back and look at this structure we are building we now see that it is one giant clear cube, perfectly square on all sides. One side isn’t any bigger or smaller than the other. It’s a perfectly square structure and this is what you are being challenged to create for your life. It can be seen through for a reason. Sometimes you will find yourself on the inside looking out and at other times you will be on the outside peering in and judging your own perceptions and thoughts, attitudes and understanding. Here’s a drawing of the cube you are being challenged to build.

Figure 4_7 The Life Squared  Cube

Now here’s an easy assignment that only requires you to exercise your creative imagination. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine your own personal Life Squared Structure as if it actually existed and was physically real and about the size of an average house. In your mind I want you to place your cube in the surrounding of your choice, during the time of day and season that you find most pleasant and inviting. Create an environment in your mind where the sights, smells, sounds and feel of everything surrounding and inside your personal cube relaxes you, puts a smile on your face, and makes you feel happy, protected, content and satisfied.

Let this vision sink in for a moment or two. Sear it into your mind. Make it real to you in every way, from how things look to how it makes you feel when you’re inside and outside of it. This is your mental tool that you can come back to when you need to visualize a physical representation of what your completed Life Squared Challenge goal looks like.

To make things easier for the creative folks who are participating in this challenge, and to help those of you who would like an actual physical model that represents your Life Squared, I’ve provided a project that you can cut out, put together, and place on your desk as a visual tool. All you need is a laser printer, a photo quality piece of heavy mat printing paper, a pair of scissors and some clear tape to put your own visual tool together. Below is the tool template that you are welcome to download and print:

Figure 4_8 Life Squared Model Cutout

Once you print it, cut around the outline and fold on the inner black lines to form a cube. Tape it together from either the inside or the outside to bring it all together and that’s all there is to it!

Here’s what your cube should look like when it’s done. Notice the crappy tape job at the upper left on mine where the seams don’t quite come together. But hey it makes a great conversation piece, gives your finger some exercise and hopefully will get you thinking every day about this Life Squared Challenge thing.

Figure 4_9 Life Squared Cube Photo

The final part of the part 4 challenge is to begin considering the window support topics you find around the outer edges of each pane of your Life Squared Cube and their relation to what you discovered during your strengths and weaknesses assessment. I’m sure that you can think of even more strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement now that you have a complete physical representation and tool to visualize.  You can now begin to see where things might fit on your personal Squared Away Life Cube.

Let’s start by giving serious thought to the Physical window on your Life Squared structure since that’s what we’ll be discussing during the next part of this challenge.

Here are some specific things to think about:

  • How do I feel about myself physically?
  • What’ my health like?
  • What are my eating habits?
  • What habits do I know for sure I need to modify or give up all together to be and feel better physically?
  • What are my greatest physical challenges?
  • How do others perceive me physically?
  • How does the way I dress or groom myself affect how people perceive me?
  • Am I in control of my physical appearance and health?
  • Do I need guidance or help in improving physically?
  • Do I get enough exercise, sleep, good nutrition and do I drink enough water?
  • If I were standing in front of a full length mirror and I could see myself as exactly the way wish to be. What would I see that’s different than the way I am right now?

You have your next challenge, so now’s time to get to it. If you should have questions, comments, concerns or criticisms please don’t hesitate to be in touch. You are welcome to post your comments here or please feel free to email me at  I’d love to hear from you, good, bad or indifferent. I won’t ignore you. I promise.


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

© 2016 by Michael D. Davis – All Rights Reserved   – The Life Squared Challenge is copyrighted material and cannot be copied or reproduced for commercial use, in part or in whole, in any printed or electronic form whatsoever, without expressed written permission from the author.

The Life Squared Challenge Part 3 – Building Your Support Footings



In part 2 of your Life Squared Challenge we discussed the importance of having a solid foundation upon which to create a plan for life achievement and balance. The metaphor that we’re using is that of building a physical structure. The idea is to make it easy to mentally visualize this process for creating a focused approach to reaching and maintaining your goals throughout your life.

You were given your first two challenges; the first being to begin keeping a written notebook or journal as you build your personal plan for achievement and balance. The second challenge is a thorough self evaluation consisting of twenty questions that will identify your perceived strengths and weaknesses, both in your opinion and the opinion of two people you trust and who know you well enough to honestly tell you what they think. If you completed these first two challenges you are good to continue on. If not, then you must complete these two challenges before proceeding.

Here’s a little encouragement for you if you are struggling with the first two challenges. If you should choose not to evaluate yourself you will be like the person in the previous part of this challenge who built their hopes and dreams on a foundation that could be undermined and washed away at any minute. You will have nothing tangible or realistic upon which to build the life you desire. I encourage you to overcome whatever is holding you back from moving forward, look past your fear and procrastination and make a choice for positive change.

Often your lack of action is a result of your lack of confidence or even fear at confronting what you know to be true. I get it. Fear has a very controlling influence on decisions throughout your life and it’s up to you to be in control and not let fear take away your freedom to choose what’s best for you. There’s an old saying that gets right to the heart of the matter; “know thyself”.  It’s time you got to know yourself so you can get on with building the rest of your life. What? You thought this would be easy? Nothing of true value is easy to come by. We are destined to struggle in this life and often the most difficult struggles we face are those we create through our own thoughts and fears.

Now that you and your evaluators have answered those twenty questions, and you have written proof of what you have to work with and build upon, it’s time for the next step in your challenge: Laying the footings on the four sides of your foundation that you will begin to build your Squared Life on.  Each of these four footings has a specific name. They are Abilities, Hope, Education and Discipline. Each footing lies atop one of the edges of your foundation, so if this were an actual physical structure you were building, and you’ve rolled out the architectural floor plans to look at, this is what you will see looking straight down onto your foundation.


Your foundation is made up of who you are at your very core. Each of the twenty questions you and your evaluators were asked to answer about you are integrally tied to these four footings. Your strengths and weaknesses can all be addressed by assessing your abilities, beliefs, education and how disciplined that you are.

For instance, if you have a specific physical ability that you excel at, you have most likely learned as much as you can about how to perform this ability through reading about, listening to or watching others that have perfected this ability to the level you aspire to. That’s the education footing. You probably have practiced many hours to perfect this ability and that takes a footing of discipline. This ability makes you feel a certain way about yourself and to believe in your ability and to desire even more. This builds confidence and hope within your mind. You may even have felt a strong emotional or spiritual connection in some way while performing this skill or ability. A strong symbiotic relationship exists between each of the four footings that sit upon the core foundation of who you are. It’s time to begin setting those footings in place.

The next challenge in getting your life squared away involves understanding the relationship between these four footings of Ability, Hope, Education and Discipline and relating them back to your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, goals, opportunities, challenges and preferences. Taking the information you’ve discovered through the twenty questions you and your evaluators addressed in the last part of this challenge, you will now go through and honestly evaluate the answers you received or gave for each of the questions, basing your evaluation on each of the four footings.

Let’s take question six for example. “What do I need to improve at?” How do the answers you recorded in your journal concerning this question converge or diverge with your abilities, hopes and dreams, education and discipline? Could you be more capable, think differently, be more educated on or disciplined in your thinking and approach to improving in the specific areas you wish to excel at? Do this exercise for each of the twenty questions and any others you may have added along the way.

Take your time and really think about your answers to these questions and how the four footings relate to each. This isn’t a speed race to see who can get done quickest. This is a challenge by and for you, so challenge yourself by applying adequate time and effort to your answers. This challenge isn’t a quick and easy solution to magically changing your life. You will find the pacing to be steady and planned so that you can give yourself time to get it right. I’m not offering you a process equivalent to a get rich quick scheme. This is a planned process to create not just results, but a mindset that will become ingrained within your life to help you achieve your goals. There are plenty of other people peddling stuff that will claim to give you instant results. This isn’t one of them. This is a disciplined approach with a realistic and achievable purpose. You just need to do the work required to get you to your desired destination.

I’m reminded of the California Gold Rush here in the United States during the mid 1800’s.   James W. Marshall started a movement that eventually brought 300,000 people to the Sutter’s Mill in hopes of making their fortune and seeing their dreams come true. It wasn’t easy and hardships abounded. In truth there were only a handful of the “forty-niners” who really struck it rich. Most returned home empty handed and broke. I’m sure many were discouraged beyond recovery and groveled in their bad fortune for the rest of their lives. And then there was John.

Like most young men John heard about the gold rush and became enamored by the stories of men striking it rich. Heck, the way the newspapers and personal accounts he’d overheard made it sound you could walk down a stream and just pick up huge nuggets by the hands full! He didn’t have much to begin with but being ambitions as well as impatient, he somehow managed to scrape together and borrow enough money to purchase ship’s passage to California. The trip wasn’t easy and what he found when he arrived was anything but what he had been lead to expect.

It seemed like most everyone he met was looking to rob him one way or the other. If it wasn’t through gouging him for the purchase of simple supplies it was literally wanting to physically rob him for whatever they felt he had of value upon his person.  Just to take a warm bath or get your clothes washed cost an unbelievable amount of money and he continually had to keep a look out and his wits about him to survive. Disillusioned, but not discouraged, John bought some meager supplies and a slow wagon ride deeper into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He was headed to a claim in a hidden valley that he was assured by the seller would bring him incredible fortune. He was headed to a new life and he was excited to begin this new adventure.

John found himself pretty much isolated and to himself for the next year. From sun up to sun down he toiled away with a pick, sluice pan and shovel, only taking a break now and then to wonder at the beauty that surrounded him. Wildlife was abundant so he didn’t go without food. He was beside a creek with abundant cold mountain water and tasty mountain trout so he didn’t lack the necessary resources to stay alive and even thrive. Sure he didn’t always have the flour, salt, coffee, beans and rice that would have made for better meals, but he discovered what he could harvest from the land, hunt and trap wild game and he became proficient at doing so. He learned how to make fire without matches and a solid shelter to stay dry and warm in when the summer and winter storms rolled through.  As he grew more accustomed to his surroundings he began to appreciate the values of hard work and planning that went into each day’s survival in the wilderness.

Unfortunately the one thing John did not find in any great abundance was gold. Weeks became months and the months became a year and soon John had to admit that when it came to finding riches all he’d struck was dirt for all his hard work. Tools would break and he’d have to learn a way to fix them and make them useful again. Some things he didn’t own and would have to create from scratch, recalling what he could remember from school and experience working on a farm for a little while. He learned a lot about what didn’t work and then figured out ways to make things work. Most times his efforts paid off, but there were others when he just couldn’t find a workable solution no matter what he tried.  That’s when he was reminded that patience is a virtue. When he really became frustrated he’d vent his frustrations by tossing large rocks. He made a game out of it, trying to toss larger rocks each time he got frustrated. He worked his way up to some mighty large rocks over the months but the action and challenge was enough to put his frustration back into perspective and even clearer headed thinking.

He’d always been somewhat of an impatient soul, which is what led him to California in the first place. It was tough for him but John finally had to admit to himself that this gold rush had been a personal bust. What did he have to show for all this work? How could he face the people he’d left back home when he arrived empty handed? What would he do for a living? These questions began to bounce around in his head, causing worry and even fear at what would happen next in his life.  He gathered up his meager belongings, and a small pouch of nuggets and gold dust panned from the beautiful stream nearby and took one last look at the land he had called home for the past several months. He began to feel somewhat sorry for himself. Not just at his inability to striking it rich, but with leaving this place that had been so accepting of him as an outsider and provided him with so much. With mixed emotions he headed back into civilization.

John’s meager nuggets and gold dust were barely enough to provide a few warm meals, a hot bath, a change of new clothing and passage back to the East Coast. During the passage he took note of the fact that many of his fellow passengers seemed much worse off than himself. Tattered clothing, gaunt faces and bodies, stories of being claim jumped and worse filtered through his senses as he compared them to his own experience. A seed of awareness began to form in the back of his mind.

After an uneventful trip back to port in Boston John was able to work out rail passage home for the price of one last nugget he’d held back for emergencies. Now, penniless and humbled, he arrived back at his home town, not knowing what to tell the people who knew he’d left home with such lofty ideals of striking it rich on the West Coast. His homecoming was quite unexpected and greeted with enthusiasm by his friends and family alike. Everyone wanted to hear his stories and an explanation of how he, a somewhat unassuming physical figure in town before, had managed to morph into such an amazing physical specimen, tanned, fit and with a calm sureness about him. He hadn’t possessed these attributes before he left. It seemed everyone wanted to know his secret.

The town had a small church that sat on a hill on the outskirts of town. This church was used for spiritual sermons on the Sabbath and social gatherings on other important and celebratory occasions.  The bell rang to call people to worship, to warn them of danger, and to bring them together for celebration.  John’s return was deemed to be one of these celebratory occasions and soon after his return he found the bell ringing in his honor as he stood, somewhat nervous and fearfully, before the pews, filled to capacity, with the people from this little town he had left almost two years before.

So many thoughts glided swiftly through the recesses of his mind as people settled into the little church to hear about his great adventure. What could he say that wouldn’t be a disappointment to them as well as to his self? He had failed! He hadn’t struck it rich. His travels were for nothing. Yet, as he looked around the room he knew he couldn’t let these people down. They expected something amazing once he started to speak and he knew he had to deliver or risk being viewed as fool and a failure.  As he pondered these thoughts that little seed of awareness came back once again, and as he stood there, that seed began to bloom into something he didn’t comprehend just yet or could ever have expected to happen.

He looked out into the excited and expectant eyes of those who sat before him and nervously began to speak. At first he stumbled over a few words here and there, but he noticed quickly that no one seemed to even care.  As the seconds turned into minutes he found a surprising confidence and the words just came spilling forth as if from nowhere. More importantly, the more he spoke the more his thoughts became clear.  He told how his original expectations were set in the wrong direction. He explained his initial disappointment at finding that the truth of the gold rush was quite different than he had been lead to believe. He related the hardship and the difficulties, the fears and frustrations experienced during his adventure. He described the beauty of the land and how he had learned so much and eventually fallen in love with an environment and a way of life that, although much harder and difficult than he could ever have expected, was intoxicatingly exciting because it was new and different. Not a single person fidgeted or became bored as John spoke of his personal gold rush experience.

While he spoke John began to feel a strange sensation. It was if a rising tide of emotion took over and washed over him as his memories came flooding back while describing each in detail to his listeners. At times he was serious, even sorrowful as he described his difficulties, then he would laugh as he shared moments of delight and wonder and eventually tears began welling in his eyes. It was all he could do to maintain composure and contain these waves of reverent acknowledgement for the memories he now knew he was blessed with. It was these shared feelings that he sensed and felt and saw in the faces and eyes of the people who listened that finally took to full blossom in his mind. John realized that he had not failed at all. He had truly lived an adventure and that each person listening to him desired to have a similar adventure as well. John had given them a gift far greater than any amount of gold and he finally realized that he was given a gift that you cannot not put any price too. After finishing his talk, and while people sat stunned by what they heard from a once unassuming impatient young man, now a fit and confident individual, John slipped outside for a moment, tears streaming down his face, now fully aware of the priceless gift he’d been given.

John lived a full life, going on to open his own successful business providing provisions and supplies to people who sought their own adventures either close to home or in far off places around the world. He travelled widely, speaking often to groups about how his fortune was found during the gold rush in California. He encouraged the young and old alike to find their own claim by the stream of life and whether they ended up tossing boulders, learned new skills, or worked hard at reaching their goals that they would always look for the adventure in life, because that is where the true gold is to be found. When he died he requested that his grave marker read; “The riches you deserve in this life and wish to find are not to be found above or below the ground, they are instead waiting for you within your mind.”

Each of us has our own Gold Rush Adventure that deserves to be lived to the fullest, and then shared, so as to serve as an inspiration to others. Challenge yourself to do just that.


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

© 2016 by Michael D. Davis – All Rights Reserved

The Life Squared Challenge Part 2 – Foundation

Life Squared

First off let me congratulate you for making the personal choice to take the challenge! Very few people will ever do more than just give this idea of squaring away their life more than a passing thought. You who have decided to step forward and do something meaningful and valuable for not only yourself, but for those friends, family members and the community at large, are an exceptional group of individuals. Give yourself a pat on the back for making a wise choice.

Before anything stable can be built, there has to be a solid foundation upon which to create the structure you desire. In the case of an actual building, whether a simple home or a giant skyscraper, it is important to know what is below the surface of the structure you will create. In the case of The Life Squared Challenge, you form the foundation which everything will be built upon.  So, just like a site planner and construction contractor does when making their plans, you must self evaluate yourself as the foundation to be built upon.

This is the first step in your Life Squared Challenge and one of the most important. What you determine during your self evaluation will identify the areas in your life where you are strongest and those where you are weaker. You will be challenged to ask yourself some tough questions and to be forthcoming and honest in your answers. This exercise alone gives you the opportunity to consider things about yourself that you may not have contemplated before, or had the slightest desire to ever contemplate frankly.  Honesty and integrity are two words you will become intimately familiar with throughout this challenge and now’s the time to exercise those admirable character traits.

In order to keep track of your progress I want to introduce you to two of your best friends throughout this challenge. Your number one friend is going to be a notebook and your second best friend is a writing utensil, also known as a pencil or pen.

 Yes, you read right. This challenge is going to have you relying on some time tested, age old technology, and eliminate a myriad of problems inherent in modern popular technological devices. You won’t ever have excuses for not completing a self assignment. You will avoid having to tell yourself things like it isn’t your fault you didn’t complete your assignment because your device needs charging, it broke unexpectedly, it came up missing or was stolen,  you lost track of time surfing your favorite social sites or playing some game. You will never have to worry about your attention being taken away from what’s most important here; you!

I guarantee that by the time you are well into this challenge your notebook will become far more valuable to you than any piece of technology ever has or ever will be, unless that piece of technology happens to be a pacemaker. The physical act of creating something by hand from your own thoughts is very powerful. It’s so powerful in fact that the mere act of writing something down, making it physically real to you, is enough of a catalyst to move you to further action. You will need as much of this catalyst as you can create, so the first step is to get yourself a good, non-loose leaf notebook and a dependable writing utensil.  If you need a suggestion I’d recommend the good old 100 sheet, college ruled, composition books by Top Flight. Their website is, but you can find them at virtually all the top stationery and mega-everything mart stores across the nation.

Okay, you’ve gone out and invested in your low tech recording materials, so now what? Your first exercise is going to be a tough, honest self evaluation. Here are twenty questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. What am I good at? Not what do I WANT to be good or better at, but what am I REALLY good at?
  3. What do others tell me that they envy about me and wish that they were as good at as me?
  4. What are my weaknesses?
  5. What do I truly suck at and feel ashamed of because I do?
  6. What do I know I need to improve at?
  7. What would make me happy if I were better at?
  8. What do other people, like family, friends, co-workers or teachers, tell me that I need to improve or should improve on in my life?
  9. What do I like about myself?
  10. What do I hate about myself?
  11. What have I accomplished so far in my life that I’m proud of?
  12. What do I have yet to accomplish that I haven’t so far?
  13. What have I done in my life that I’m not so proud of?
  14. What goals do I have for my life?
  15. What am I doing when I feel the most alive, happy and at my very best?
  16. What’s most important to me in my life?
  17. What do I think I need to do to become the best I possibly can at what I love to do?
  18. When I look at my future self, five, ten, twenty five years from now, who do I see, what am I doing, and where am I headed?
  19. When people who know me come to my funeral, what do I want them to say about me?
  20. In ten words or less, what’s the most important thing for people to know about you?

There are so many more questions you can ask yourself. I suggest you begin with the ones above and then add ones that spontaneously come to mind. This isn’t going to be a quick or easy task, but again, it’s the most important first step in this challenge. Think of it like going on a long adventurous road trip. You wouldn’t want to leave home without knowing where you’re currently at on a map and the route you need to take to get where you’re going would you?  In the same way you need to know where your foundation is currently located, what shape it’s in and how to proceed to best build upon it to create a sound and solid structure. Find a quiet place alone where you can give these questions the proper thought and time they deserve. It’s perfectly fine if you need more than one session to complete this in. The important thing is that you do complete it before moving further along in this challenge.

This is truly where your Life Squared Challenge begins. You will potentially discover things about yourself that you’ve never given much thought to before. You may get angry, embarrassed, frustrated, confused or even refuse to answer some of these questions. You may also find that this is a way of clearing the air and your conscience by admitting to things and facing challenges you have never had the opportunity or desire to face or admit before. Keep tissues handy. You’ve been warned.

The second part of this exercise is going to require you to be humble, open and very brave. After you have finished answering these questions, take only those having to do with how you feel about your strengths and weaknesses and have two people, who know you well, and who ideally don’t know one another, and ask them to evaluate you using these same questions. This can be a parent, a best friend, co-worker, mentor, coach or teacher that you’ve known for some time who is willing to give you, in writing, an honest, unbiased, assessment in their words. It’s not recommended that you share the personal assessment you wrote about yourself with these people. That’s personal and no one’s business but your own. The idea is to get the opinion of others, who see you from their perspective. Other people will always view you in a unique way that you won’t be able to, but that you must take into consideration if you are to complete your foundation honestly and fairly.

I’m sure that your evaluators are going to want to know what’s going on and why you’re asking them to spill their guts about how they REALLY feel about you. Just tell them that you’ve accepted a self help challenge that requires you to get other people’s opinions about your character and personality with the goal being personal improvement. If they ask more questions please feel free to direct them to this Life Squared Challenge. Who knows, maybe they’ll be asking you to evaluate them at some point!

A foundation is the most important part of any physical or social structure. Without knowing what that foundation is made of and what areas will benefit from improvement it’s impossible for you to build a solid, sustainable, sound structure upon it. I’m reminded of the story of two people who built houses near the same beautiful point overlooking the ocean. The weather was good and although storms regularly rolled through, one of the two people disregarded the advice given to build further up the beach on more solid ground. In their excitement and haste to have the most sought after, envied and beautiful spot, they built a huge elaborate structure right on the beach with the waves nearly lapping their door at high tide. The other person who built, having learned to be wiser, heeded advice from those who had experienced the strong storms to come, and chose to build their house further inland, on a hill far away from but still overlooking the waves. The storms eventually came, and sure enough, the person who built their house right on the beach saw all their hard work and efforts washed away by the thundering waves, while the house on the hill stood tall and solid, unscathed under the onslaught of rain and wind.

Unfortunately the story usually ends here, with the moral being to take heed of the actions of wiser more experienced people and don’t be a fool by building on shaky foundation.  What isn’t told often enough is what happened shortly thereafter. When the house on the beach was washed away, leaving the person who foolishly built it there homeless, helpless and without a place to stay, the person on the hill, seeing what had happened, even though it was obvious why it happened, welcomed the less fortunate person into their home. They let them stay not only until they could once again build, this time on solid ground, but actually helped them rebuild in a safer place.  You see what the once foolish builder on the sand didn’t know is that he wasn’t the only person who’d been foolish in the past and been taken in by kind strangers after making a bad choice. The person who built wisely on the hill had learned a valuable lesson from their own foolish mistake in years past and that’s how they knew where to build.

I hope you will be back next week for Part 3 of the Life Squared Challenge, when you’ll discover the four important sides making up the foundation you are preparing to build upon. In the meantime and to make this challenge a fun one I’d like to suggest a movie for you to watch from 17 years ago. It’s a great story that contains an allegory that I think you’ll like, involving the building of a house or the upkeep of one anyway.  The name of the movie is Unforgiven starring Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. It won an Academy Award for 1999, but it’s a timeless story.  As always I appreciate your comments and questions. Please let me know how you feel about The Life Squared Challenge. I’d love to read your comments and to hear from you.


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

The Life Squared Challenge

Life Squared

In last week’s extended Friday edition of The Daily Chalkboard I wrote about how cool it is to be square. I’m sure the title was enough to raise an eyebrow or two among some of you as you began reading, given the connotation of “being square”. The idea of a regimented, unwavering, un-cool and disciplined lifestyle has often been associated with being labeled a square. Compared to being free spirited, creative and open to new ideas, being square just doesn’t hold much appeal for most people. I get it. Nobody wants to feel like they are not cool. But there’s another way one can look at being a square.

Let me suggest that you begin by throwing your perception of being a square out the proverbial window along with any other pre-conceived ideas you may have of what it means to truly be liked and successful in your life. Often these perceptions we learn and adopt have been conceived by someone with ulterior motives involving the desire to gain power, control and persuasion over us. This is one of the reasons that the idea of being square has received such a bad rap to begin with. Compared to a life of sex, love and rock and roll being a square doesn’t hold much appeal for the average person. But as many have discovered, there can be a heavy price to pay when letting others do your thinking for you. So, let’s begin with a clean slate, or in this case, an empty chalkboard, if you will.

There’s a difference between being regimented and being focused, being uniform and being disciplined, and between being a square and having a “well rounded” lifestyle. The fear and dread of being the round peg forced into the square hole has stuck with us for a long time and unfortunately been turned into a mindset of fear adopted by many when it comes to their consideration of ending up mismatched with a job, a peer group or any situation in life that does not appear at first glance to be the best fit for them. Often we relegate good, sound principles to the trash heap just because we’ve been told they’re not cool and we should. I encourage you to consider all things for yourself.

The idea of living your life by walking a path focused on being squared away isn’t a new or original idea. My introduction to it was years ago, when I was given a book by William H. Danforth titled, “I Dare You”. The book was a challenge to me to be the best person I can possibly be by giving equal importance and attention to four important facets in my life; the Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual elements of being a human being. The book, while being a great primer for getting your “shtuff” together and being a good example to others, is a bit dated in light of how society’s sensitivities have changed over the years. After all, it was written in the 1930’s, during the American Depression, when many people were feeling the economic woes of political and financial policies gone awry. Jobs were tough to find, people had little hope and the news was full of negativity and despair. On the other hand, perhaps is beginning to sound somewhat familiar to you.

The fact is, life happens and whatever it brings to our table, or doesn’t bring, there’s no excuse to be anything but the best we possibly can be. Whether this is for the sole purpose of setting a positive example to ourselves or our peers, the fact remains that regardless of how bad others may view things, we alone have the power and the right to control our thoughts and actions, and therefore to change things for the better. My purpose, as I have determined it should be, is to help send a message to anyone who will listen to or read it, that true success starts with a thought that then migrates to an action, with the outcome being whatever we have determined it will be. This has to be accomplished through the application of our whole being. Success is a journey that requires we be “squared away” physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. These four things make up who we are as individuals and how seriously we are received and accepted by others. It is cool to be square and I challenge you to begin thinking in these terms if you haven’t already been doing so.

Consider yourself having been challenged. You have four areas of your life that need to be considered, nurtured, grown, attended to and balanced if you truly wish to be happy and successful. I call this “Finding Your Smile”. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young. Your economic and social status holds no restriction to your ability to participate in this challenge. If you accept it and follow through you will see results that you can be proud of because you have decided to make adjustments and changes in your life to become the best person you possibly can. This is when you will truly find your Smile. What could be better than that?

Over the next few weeks I’ll share the details about how you can put together a personal program to get yourself squared away. This is going to require a commitment in time spent both in thought and action on your part. It will require some changes in your habits and how you choose to spend your most valuable asset, your time.

Don’t kid yourself, this won’t be easy and you will be challenged. I’m going to be honest here and tell you up front that most people who begin probably won’t see it through to the end. Exceptional people are not normal people. Exceptional people don’t follow the rules, they make them. Exceptional means just that, you are an exception to the rules that apply to others. You are anything but a square, although because you have the guts and desire to lead a life of discipline and focus you may appear to be to others who are not.

I feel something needs to be clearly stated at this point. This is a sales pitch, but not the kind you may be familiar with. What I want to sell you is you, and your ability to be a better, more focused, happy, secure, successful individual who will make a difference in the lives of others.  I promise you I won’t be baiting you with teasers for a full, more detailed program, and then attempt to switch you to some “inner circle” that pays a monthly fee to get the rest of the plan, along with my multiple thousands of dollars in “bonuses” for one low monthly payment that somehow always seems to end in a seven. I personally deplore this type of tactic and feel in many cases it walks a very thin ethical line. I cringe at the thought of so many well meaning people getting sucked into some redesigned money pit formula created for the purpose of enriching the thought guru who cooked it up or borrowed it from elsewhere. Most of these self professed gurus have purchased the plan from some other person anyway while doing nothing more than peddling it under a different product name. We have way too many of these folks, well meaning or not, operating within our midst. I’m not one of them. Yes, I too have to make a living, but I’ll tell you up front when I’d like you to pay for something. I won’t tease you and then dump you like a bad date because you won’t or can’t pay up. This is yours, free and clear to make what you will of it.

I will say this though. If you feel it’s good or bad or can be improved in some way I’d love to hear from you. No one is perfect and I can learn as much from you as you, hopefully, will learn from me. If you feel this information can help someone else you know, whether a friend, colleague, associate or family member, please, by all means feel free to share it with them. Send them a link to my page here so they can begin their personal journey to getting their “shtuff” squared away. If you have questions, please ask. If you have comments, please share them. All I ask is that you be civil and positive in your comments and concerns. I truly want to help you find your Smile and the best way I know how to do this is to be smiling myself, so please don’t make me frown, unless you’ve got good reason for feeling you should.

What you are reading is a true reflection of who I am and what gets me up in the morning. No, literally. I write each of these pieces in the morning, right after I get up. I prefer it to a doughnut along with my first cup of coffee and my body thanks me for it. But more about that later. The Daily Chalkboard is one of my personal disciplines and the focus for my desire to help make this world a better place. I’m just one guy with one voice and an internet full of people like you who I hope to virtually touch with caring and love in a positive and meaningful way. That’s my motive, my purpose and my challenge. Help me meet my challenge by accepting your own Life Squared Challenge.


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

When It’s Cool To Be Square

Life Squared

In last week’s extended Friday edition of The Daily Chalkboard I wrote about how learning to read has helped shape my life. Once a poor reader, I was fortunate to end up with a grade school teacher who took the time to help me decipher the mysterious symbols that make up the English language and put the magic and power of reading literally in the palm of my hand. It began my journey to a greater understanding of the world, the people in it, and how our perceptions are shaped by those who challenge themselves to make it a better place to live. What I didn’t understand at the time is just how the valuable underlying lessons I was being taught would eventually shape my direction in life.

As I was being patiently tutored by a caring teacher who took her time to find the potential in an awkward, over talkative kid, with few friends, and a passionate desire to be one of the popular students, I was learning a valuable lesson in what it means to accept a personal challenge, to challenge others, and the importance of being a good mentor.  Inside that boisterous, energetic little boy was someone with a goal. It just took the right person to help me discover and channel that goal in a positive and meaningful direction.

We are all mentors to someone. Most often it’s our children; or a spouse, our friends, team mates, co-workers, or the stranger in the street who observes our interaction with them or others as we go about our seemingly mundane daily tasks. We are all unwitting mentors whether we desire to be or not. Each word, action, interaction and step we take has an effect on someone either physically, mentally, socially or spiritually. Our responsibility extends beyond our self and into our surroundings. Each person we associate with is affected by our actions or lack thereof. Each life we touch is another opportunity and challenge for us to leave someone with a favorable impression.

As related in last week’s editorial I was the recipient of a book that has reinforced my understanding of the importance for each of us to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be. The book, written by William H. Danforth, the founder of the Ralston Purina Company, is titled I Dare You!, and has shaped my understanding of how to become the best person I can be through a simple process of balancing four important areas of my life. The book, written in the early part of last century, is somewhat dated in its use of language and reference as compared to today, but the essence of the book remains intact as a formula for a success driven life. The book can still be purchased today and I encourage you to consider obtaining a copy for yourself. If you do, read it and consider how your adopting its straight forward and simple method for challenging yourself to be the best version of yourself can positively affect your life and the lives of others.

In short this simple book lays out a lifestyle that makes being square really cool. If implemented in a disciplined manner it will improve your overall well being and balance in four major areas of your life. These make up a square whose sides are comprised of the Mental, Physical, Social and Religious facets of an individual’s life. If your life is in balance, the assumption is that each side of the square will be equal, not skewed by one or two sides being longer or shorter than the others. In other words if you have your life “Squared Away” you will keep all four sides of your life equal. Your physical health, education, social interaction and spiritual endeavors will be in balance, therefore making your life complete and square.

This is where the challenge comes in. Few people can truly claim to have a balanced life. We can all improve in at least one of the four areas identified in Danforth’s square. By the way; take a look at any product packaging from Ralston Purina and notice the checkerboard motif which is their trademark. That trademark came from the culture of a balanced life that Mr. Danforth encouraged within the employees throughout his company. It’s an interesting legacy to a man who accepted the challenge by his teacher in grade school to be the best version of himself that he could be. I can personally relate to that story as I’m sure other readers of this article may as well.

Consider taking up your own challenge to make being square cool in your life. Not so many years ago the connotation of “being square” was a derogatory remark used to describe someone who was too regimented and unbending to enjoy life. We’ve come around full circle it seems. Today there is mounting evidence that even within the most seemingly laid back company cultures and pundits of spontaneous creativity there’s an acknowledgement that self discipline and personal challenge are the keys to many success stories. Without focused direction it’s impossible to navigate a course for reaching your desired goals. Being square just might be the roadmap you are seeking to help you stay on the path to your desired destination. What could be squarer than that?

When I learned to read I was also taught a valuable lesson about how important it is to have the right mentor in my life to help me reach my desired goals. If it wasn’t for someone who took the time to be passionate about helping me in my time of need things could have turned out much different for my life. If it weren’t for the countless mentors I’ve had a privilege to know, and observe, and read about, I would not have the examples upon which to base my personal challenge to myself physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. Mentors are important and, wittingly or not, we all end up being a mentor to someone. Our example makes an impact on someone’s life every day. There’s always someone watching and listening who we influence intentionally or otherwise. By making it cool to have your life squared away your mentorship will be the example needed to challenge others to be the best they can be.

As a mentor it’s my goal to share something with you each week that is helpful to your becoming the best version of yourself. It’s my passion and desire to help you find your “Smile”, which is to say, find the thing that drives your passion to connect with others and create a better community and world. You’ve got it in you, whether you realize it yet or not, and I believe in your ability to make an amazing and positive difference in your life and the lives of those around you. So, let’s work on getting you squared away. Shall we?


“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD

How Reading Changed My Life

The Power of the Written Word

I have a confession to make. I wasn’t the best of students in grade school. I was slow to learn how to read for whatever reason and because of this was held back a year in second grade.

When I was growing up, in the mid-sixties and seventies, this was something that could have a devastating effect on a young student and determine how a person’s intellectual, not to mention social status, was perceived by their peers, teachers, parents and friends. The power of early success or failure in school academics and sports is what hung many a young student’s later role in his social circle in precarious balance. Try as we may I don’t think we’ve moved too far from these notions and perceptions in the past fifty plus years in our public school system.

It wasn’t until something happened along about seventh grade that things begin to change for me. It was never a matter of my dislike for school, attention span or lack of an ability to absorb and learn. It may have had something to do with the fact that I’m more of a right brained, creatively visual learner than an inside the box, follow the crowd, type guy. I also think it had much to do with some of my teachers that weren’t so quick to give up on a kid that was a bit different than the rest. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me to this day. We celebrate diversity, except when it comes to how people learn and excel. Our public education system isn’t the best at identifying and handling the students that don’t tow a middle line in the learning spectrum.

For whatever reason I ended up an honor graduate out of high school and then it was off to the military where my education continued in many different ways. But that story is for another day. What I really want to explore is importance of one particular skill and its contribution to the continued opportunity to learn and grow throughout your life. This skill is the ability to read, comprehend and extrapolate meaning and concept from the written word. It’s what I originally struggled with, was able to overcome and it has been the fulcrum on which my personal education and desire to be a mentor is balanced.

If I could somehow magically give every person a special gift, it would be the gift to read and write well. To read is to expand one’s mind beyond the walls of social and physical limitation, to write is to put in one’s own words and share their personal understanding and relationship to the world around them. Reading and writing are the true gateway to freedom. Without it we would not be able to understand the importance that each of us holds in this world and the responsibility we have to care and nurture each other. The strength and power of the written word can never be taken for granted. It changes perceptions and people’s lives every single day.

I’m very concerned about how younger people and everyone in general currently perceive the importance of the written word. Today, we write in shorthand, listen in shorthand, watch in shorthand and act in shorthand with much of the imagination going by the wayside. We are viewers not participants in a society that would rather let someone else do the thinking for them than exercise their right to personal  thought, opinion and action.

If you need an example you need not go any further than music videos, which became popular when I was in school. It used to be that a particular song would be a reminder of a certain time and events in a person’s life. When you heard it you would be transported to a moment in your life when the song was popular and it would act like an audible snapshot for your memory, taking you back to relive a point in time that has personal meaning and importance. When music videos came along they uprooted much of this by creating a link between another person’s imagination and creativity and the song in question. Your imagination was replaced by the visual cues created by someone else. I know this might sound a bit trite, but in reality what it did is dumb down a person’s ability to imagine anything other than the strong visual imagery of someone else. We learn visually much faster than any other way, besides hearing, and we’ve been schooled in other people’s corporate brand and marketing oh so very well.

When a person reads a book, whether it is a work of fiction or of fact, they are given the opportunity to mentally visualize and exercise their own unique imagination. Watch a video or a movie and it’s done for you. A percentage of personal enjoyment and creativity is missing.  Is it any wonder that people who enjoy reading find themselves disappointed when a favorite book is made into a movie? It’s not the same as they imagined, and imagination is what helps to satisfy our need to be personally creative.

Reading also helps to level the playing field when it comes to the perception of social, educational and cultural similarities and differences. My personal feeling is that a good book on a subject of personal interest will do more to excite a person’s desire to learn more about the world around them than watching something with the visual cues already established. Read a book and your curiosity is piqued. Watch a movie or program and your sense of having been there and done that is falsely established. Living life vicariously is a poor substitute for personal discovery and exploration.

Books don’t require any special set up or apparatus to enjoy. They are physical and engage a reader in a tactile way, where watching a video does not. The very act of turning a page, actually physically doing something, makes a book a better tool for learning than a video. The more senses a person engages while learning helps in the retention of ideas and concepts. Reading also improves the abstract and critical thinking that is necessary to creating ideas of one’s own.

So, where am I going with all this? I am encouraging you to read more, and to realize how important that reading is to  young and old alike. A book can transport a young person to worlds of imagination and reality that they would never otherwise conceive for themselves. A book can release an older person from the loneliness and isolation that physical limitations introduce. Read yourself, read to your children, volunteer as a reader in school, read to an elderly person whose eyesight may not allow them to any longer. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Your time, your voice, your companionship, combined with the strengthening of their imagination will not be forgotten. In essence you will be creating your own living legacy.

Now I’d like to share a personal example of how a book can be powerful enough to change a young person’s life. When I graduated from high school I was the recipient of an odd little award.  The official title of this award was “The I Dare You Award for Qualities Of Leadership”. This award came with the challenge to “Aspire nobly, Adventure daringly and Serve humbly.” It was accompanied by a book written by William H. Danforth, founder of the Ralston Purina Company. Written over eighty years ago, it is considered by many to be among the best self help books ever authored. You can still purchase it today from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Mr. Danforth helped launch the American Youth Foundation in 1925 as a resource for encouraging young people to become the best they can be in life. I believe it’s the first self help book I ever read. I haven’t stopped reading them since. It changed the way I began to understand my personal ability and responsibility to contributing to the well being of others.

If a book can change the way a young person thinks and acts for the rest of their life it is powerful indeed. If a book can change an adult’s life to be the best they can be for the rest of their life, that’s just as powerful. I encourage you to consider beginning your own library of books that will act as a personal inspiration to you. Here are a few suggestions:

The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Les Hewitt

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander

The 360̊ Leader by John C. Maxwell

Blink by Malcom Gladwell

Selling The Invisible by Harry Beckwith

Maximize Your Potential, (part of the 99U series), edited by Jocelyn K. Geli

If you have a special book that has helped you in your personal growth please feel free to share it with me. I’d love to hear your opinion on the importance of reading along with your personal story of how reading and writing has affected your life.



“I simply write what I feel, because it matters to me. Hopefully some of it will resonate with and matter to you as well” – MDD