Is There A Dog In The House?

My adopted pup Louie and I had a phenomenal summer and hope you did as well. We were very busy and enjoyed many wonderful adventures with the alpha pups, Evi and Mea. We’re glad to be back, and while Louie may have been on summer break, we were never short on lessons. We are looking forward to sharing more of Louie’s wisdom (and shenanigans) with you over the next several months.

It has been four years almost to the day since I adopted Louie. The memory of our first few weeks together brings a smile to my face even now! We almost didn’t have a “first few weeks together” because of his challenging behaviors, but we pressed through.

When he first came to live with me, he would roam around my house, sniffing and whining. I wondered if he needed to go outside, so I would take him out, let him do his thing, and then bring him back in. A few minutes later, he would run upstairs and then downstairs, whining. “Again?” I thought to myself. “Does he have to go out again? What’s with this dog?” He whined constantly and seemed to be searching for something, anything, familiar to him.

Louie’s visit to the vet, Dr. Paul, for his first health checkup was interesting. Lou whined and shook with fear, but Dr. Paul compassionately continued. “He’s a pretty healthy pup. Any issues that you notice?”

“Yes! He whines! Incessantly! I’ll be working in my office and Louie will be checking out my home. He’ll pop into my office, look around, whine, and go back through the house, whining, whining, constantly whining.”

“Well,” said Dr. Paul, “don’t let him run loose through your home. When you’re not there, crate him, and when you are there, keep him close to you. But don’t let him run through your home.”

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s simple enough.” Because I work from home, I made a bed for him right under my desk and blocked the stairway to the upstairs level. I kept a close watch on him and interacted with him when I was able to do so. Amazingly, his whining and desire to roam around the house stopped, and the sighs and active dreams of a happy pup filled my office.

All Louie needed was a little watchful supervision. He needed to know I was close by. He needed to understand his boundaries and just how far he could safely explore without wandering too far away or getting lost.

Isn’t this just like those we lead? When they first engage with our organizations, we think we are doing them a favor by letting them “roam.” They spend their time “onboarding,” which is good. Yet, much of their time may be spent looking for anything that seems familiar to them, which could cause frustration. Like Louie, they just need a little watchful supervision. They need to know their leader is close by and available when needed. They need to understand their boundaries and that if they make a mistake, it’s OK because, hopefully, the problem is easy to rectify.

The fourth section of the LOUIE leadership model is “I” for investment. The time that I poured into helping Louie build trust and confidence and making him feel safe was an investment. It took some time, but the investment was worth every minute. Leader, you will never regret investing the necessary time and tools in your team to build trust and help them feel safe and to know they are valued.

As I type our first blog of this season, I have no idea where Louie is. He’s in my house but not under my feet. In fact, he is never under my feet these days. Many times, I stand by my front door, hands on my hips, loudly asking, “Is there a dog in the house?” No answer. “Any dog? Is there any dog in the house?” No answer. “Is there any dog in the house who would like to go for a walk?” With that, I hear the rumblings of four squatty little legs running to the front door from any one of his favorite places. He is either upstairs, looking out at his kingdom through the second story window, downstairs in his crate (voluntarily), or out on the deck, sunning himself.

I don’t recommend developing someone to “disappear” as Louie does. Based on The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Situational Leadership II program, you do want to invest the time to develop them to be a self-reliant achiever or peak performer. Louie has developed and progressed enough that he no longer needs my watchful supervision while we’re at home. He trusts that if anything changes, I’ll inform him. For now, he’s just fine—wherever he is!

DID SOMEONE SAY WALK?

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From Little Reminders to Lifelong Memories

It’s not been that long since Louie’s friend Sammy passed. Every time we walk by Sammy’s home, Louie will check out the stake in the ground and attached leash or scope out a lingering smell that I’m sure reminds him of his friend. I can’t help but wonder what he remembers and what he thinks as he looks toward Sammy’s front door. Does he wonder why he hasn’t seen his friend in a while, or does he somehow know Sammy won’t be coming out to play? He seems satisfied with the little reminders of Sammy as we move on with our walk.

I know Louie has a great memory because of all the issues we’ve dealt with over the years in getting him to think differently about people coming to the door, the smell of cigars, or other triggers. I’m sure he remembers Sammy prancing outside to play, Allie greeting him with lots of kisses, and Khaki regally sitting atop the hill, waiting for Sir Louie to arrive. The little reminders of his friends who have passed on seem to fill Louie’s heart and spirit with joy and fondness.

Sometimes we humans tend to rush right past those reminders because we don’t want to dwell in the past, or it may be too painful to park there a moment. But they are nestled in our memories and, many times, those reminders are necessary for our well-being.

I recently visited my brother and his family in Phoenix and had the pleasure of bringing my granddaughter Evi with me. What a joy! In addition to the beauty of Arizona, we really enjoyed visiting Mark, Agnes, and Christian. More times than not I would look across the table at Evi and swear I was looking at her mother, my daughter, Marisa. Mark and I both caught ourselves calling Evi by the endearing name my family calls Marisa—Rissy!

What sparked this thirty-year lapse in memory? The twinkle in Evi’s eyes, her contagious laugh, the way she holds her hand up to her mouth as she tells a story, her facial expressions, and her tone of voice. Her face alone is a replica of Marisa’s—oh, the little reminders.

But it goes deeper. I see my mom in so many ways when I look at Marisa and Evi! And when Mea, my youngest granddaughter, crinkles her nose when she laughs, I see a glimpse of my mom who did the same thing. All these reminders fill my heart with lifelong memories. Those memories open the door to a better understanding of the wisdom that has been passed down through the years. I hear my mom’s voice as I am reminded of the life lessons I’ve learned that have been passed to my daughter and now to her daughters—wisdom like this:

  • You can do whatever you’d like as long as you understand the consequences and are willing to face them (I wish I would have listened to that wisdom a bit more carefully).
  • You don’t need a thousand friends (and this before Facebook). You do need a few good close friends (two to four) with whom you can trust and share life.
  • Look people in the eyes; show them they matter.
  • Never be so upset with someone that you won’t say hello (a kind and genuine hello) to him or her in public.
  • Family matters.

Whether across the table in Phoenix or every time my brothers and sisters share funny stories of our youth with my granddaughters, Evi and Mea, I see my mom and I hear her voice. Through such small and seemingly irrelevant reminders, my heart soars to the heights of a lifelong memory of my mother. I have been blessed that my mom spent significant time with Marisa before she passed. And now I am blessed to share life with my daughter and grandchildren and to watch Marisa blossom into a wonderful, loving mother.

Yes, I am sure Louie relishes the little reminders of his dear friends who have passed on, and it must bring him joy as he taps into a lifelong memory. I see the joy by the way he walks and even in his face. And I have to smile every time I know Louie is enjoying a wonderful memory.

Don’t rush by the little reminders that pop up in the daily haste to the next thing. You’ll be missing a soul refresher, a spark of a wonderful, lifelong memory. And in our hurried world, we all need these refreshing little reminders.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms making memories (doggie moms included).

 

Mick reminding Louie it is good to slow down!

For Louie’s faithful friends…Thank You!!

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Will You Please Stop Whining

A passing thought drifted through my mind the other day: I will miss all the love and attention I have received over the past few weeks. But since I would rather hear “Wow, you’re doing so well” than “Oh, gee, sorry you’re still struggling with your recovery,” the thought passed quickly, never to return.

Because I’m ready to close the chapter on my accident and subsequent surgery, my passing thought is not what the subject line is referring to. This is a blog about my persnickety pup Louie and his ever-increasing need to whine. While I know he suffered trauma over the past couple of months along with me, his whining seems to have increased exponentially rather than to have subsided as I would have expected. I soon discovered his behavior has nothing to do with my injury. Instead, Louie is reacting to a new dog in the neighborhood.

This new dog represents everything Louie hates. The dog is a male, he’s bigger than Lou, and he’s . . . shhhh . . . not neutered. The last issue sends Louie into a tizzy even before we walk out the door. His hackles go up, and he puffs out his chest and huffs as he walks out. But then the incessant whining begins. And once he starts that, it’s tough to get him to stop.

One morning as we exited the garage, we made a sharp left turn out of our driveway and hurried away from where the dog lives as quickly as a girl with a cane can manage. Louie looked back, whined, and seemed disoriented. I tugged on his collar and gave a stern command, “Leave it,” which he immediately obeyed, but his memory is keen, and it quickly took him back to the dark side. I was hoping he would find a new smell to distract him.

Thanks to Zig our dog trainer, I learned a long time ago that Louie whines out of fear, so I have to step up and walk with confidence. That’s tough to do considering I’m still healing, but I did the best I could. Louie suspiciously eyed the cane, and then looked back at me with a face that said he was not convinced I could protect us both . . . and I didn’t blame him.

As our walk settled into a more relaxed pace, I reflected on why some people, like Louie, seem to whine so much. Do you have a few whiners on your team? It’s easy to get frustrated and dismiss them, but there is usually something deeper going on that we may never uncover unless we take the time to do so.

Fear is a big issue for Louie, which is why he whines. Fear is a big issue for people as well and could be the reason some folks whine. I have learned to counter Louie’s fear, not with my confidence but with love. Love is the first step of the LOUIE Leadership model:

  • Love is foundational to building trust and integrity for a personal or professional relationship to flourish. Without love and trust, our relationships are like fragile shells that have nothing inside of them and with the slightest amount of pressure, are easily shattered. Because of the love I have demonstrated for Louie on a regular basis, he has learned to trust me. [For more on Leading With Trust, see this article by my friend, Randy Conley, Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies.]
  • A teammate may whine because the team is experiencing a daunting and uncomfortable change. Loving people through such change does not mean we coddle them. It means we shed light on the situation, we share the truth, and we press through together.
  • Love is more impactful than complaining to others that someone is a whiner.
  • Our society tends to misuse the word love. In fact, very few understand the strength and character it takes to love others. We have fluffy commercials about it, emoticons, and Facebook posts. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • And who can argue with this verse: “Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His (God’s) perfect love.”

I doubt Louie will be able to love the new dog in the neighborhood anytime soon. In fact, I’m sure he is hoping the dog moves away. In the meantime, I’m working on loving Lou through this ordeal and rebuilding his confidence and trust in me so he knows I will never allow another dog to threaten him.

But Louie is a dog and as humans, we can choose to love. You can be the change agent for someone by removing fear of punishment or detrimental consequences and instilling love instead. Such love is the gateway to experiencing God’s perfect love and the cornerstone on which excellent and effective leadership is built.

NOTE: My friend T.D. Hughes knows how emphatic I am about leadership and love and recently sent me an article I thought you would enjoy as well. It’s Okay to Love Your Employees

**Speaking of love, Louie sends his love for a wonderful Valentine’s Day**

Picture compliments of Louie’s favorite place, Best Friend’s Pet Center

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Back to Normal, Whatever That Means!

Our last blog detailed a journey I’m glad to say I am more than halfway through. If all goes well, my release date from all restrictions is February 1, 2017. I am off all pain medication, and I took my first solo drive yesterday. I am beginning to see some normalcy slowly trickle back into my life. Again, I am completely humbled by the continued outpouring of love and encouragement. Thank you!

And then, there’s Louie! Louie was as traumatized as I was through this journey. He had to adjust to my being gone for two weeks; friends coming and going, walking and feeding him, playing with him, all while he constantly watched the door with the hope I would walk through it any minute.

Now that I’m home and he’s learned to trust my erratic movements with a cane, he seems to have settled back into some interesting habits: growling at people who come to my door (even his dog walkers) and jumping on the couch to sit directly across from me (better to watch me, he says).

One evening, a friend came by to take Louie for a walk. After they finished and she came in to sit with me for awhile, he ran into the house, checked on me, and then ran upstairs, where he ran the length of the hallway several times. Then, I heard a big commotion, and from where I was sitting, I could tell what that little rascal was doing. He was getting into my clothesbasket in my bathroom and taking all the clothes out of it, having no consideration whatsoever for the amount of time it took me to get the clothes into that basket.

His continued motion, which was evident even though he was a floor above me, indicated he not only removed the items from the basket, he was also rolling in them—all of them! Some time ago, I explained to Zig, our trainer, Louie’s annoying bad habit of rolling in the dirty laundry. I assumed it was because he wanted to surround himself with my smell, weird as that is.

But Zig assured me that was not it at all. Louie was getting his smell on my clothes, showing his dominance over me. WHAT? Now that is a really annoying bad habit that makes me realize we are back to square one. There will be no dominance of Louie over me.

But this is not surprising. When it takes all my energy to walk from the living room to the kitchen, disciplining a dog is not high on my list, especially since we’ve been through this before. The pressure was off of Louie to behave well, and when the pressure is off, he reverts back to his old habits.

That is so like us. A while ago, I wrote a blog about something I learned from my time with The Ken Blanchard Companies about the dynamics of change. One dynamic is that when the pressure is off, we revert to our original behaviors. Well, the pressure was definitely off, and Louie was back to some of his old habits. We will need to spend time correcting that. But rather than lament, I reflected on what this means as far as my recent journey and getting “back to normal.”

Finally being able to drive did give me a sense of life getting back to normal. Getting off medication, walking better, and looking forward to some normalcy were great goals for recovery. But did I really want normalcy to be my goal?

Not this time, not this year. I am going to be intentional (keeping the pressure on) about breaking past the norm to live a well-meaning life by doing the following:

  • pruning activities, objects, and even some relationships, all to devote precious time to what matters;
  • being kind in thought, word, and deed, whether people deserve it or not. I don’t mean just merely being nice (and sometimes superficial and phony), but being authentic and loving—speaking truth in love and showing those who differ from me, or have differing viewpoints, the compassion that only comes from faith in God;
  • taking time to listen in order to learn—and not rushing to the next project;
  • being still and having plenty of margin in my life;
  • laughing more; and
  • dancing (okay, that one is normal for me, but now takes on an even more special meaning). I will take time to dance more with my grandchildren and even my adult daughter because that’s what DiStasi kids do. My niece Sara is getting married in September, and she has promised we will dance the night away. That is my goal for 2017.

Be intentional about breaking past the norm. Life is too short and too easily interrupted for us to stay stuck in the status quo. And you are never too old to take that first step to crashing through the “same ol’, same ol’.”

As for Louie, we have some work to do. As I have been writing, he slipped into my laundry room and pulled out a dishtowel. He is so bad. I know he has a large fan base of people who love him, but this annoying little habit just makes me shake my head. I suppose being intentionally kind starts now with little Louie DiStasi!

 

 

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Has Leadership Gone to the Dogs?

lou-as-prezThe subject line might offend Louie. In fact, it might offend you as well. But let’s face it—in the heat of the recent political battle, many of us are shaking our heads while trying to understand what just happened. One thing I do know is that disrespect for people with differing opinions is at an all-time high.

The rude rhetoric on all sides of the political spectrum gave me pause and made me think of Louie and some of his not-so-friendly foes. I am convinced that if people were to act the way our pets do, we would all get along better. For example, sometimes Louie might see a dog that challenges him. The two will snarl and growl and perhaps even bark at each other. However, the minute we walk side by side with the dog and its owner, they seem to get along. There is something about being intentional and walking alongside someone you have a disagreement with.

Louie has done this with my niece’s dog, Buddy. Those two little boys will scrunch their noses, curl their lips, show their teeth, stand their hair up, and bark in such a high pitch that people turn their heads with a look of concern. Andrea laughs, assuring everyone in sight that the dogs are actually cousins and are fine with each other. It sure doesn’t seem like it when they are img_4896facing one another. However, as soon as we start walking, they are fine together.

Louie also behaves this way with rambunctious Claire, his other cousin Noli, his neighbor Snickers, and a new boxer in the community named Socks. What is it about being side by side with their supposed nemesis? I think there are several things:

  • It is less threatening.
  • They are on equal ground.
  • They see the same vision of what lies ahead.
  • They walk with the same pace.
  • It is easier to carry the other’s burden. (Okay, this one relates to humans, not Louie.)

What if some of our leaders were intentional about walking side by side instead of duking it out? I am reminded of an article I wrote in 2005 when I worked with Ken Blanchard titled “Leading with Your Heart Takes Humility.” Although it was written over eleven years ago, the premise holds true today: Humility is the key to excelling in leadership. And servant leaders are humble enough to walk beside someone they disagree with.

I won’t share the full article here (you can find it at this link), but here are some of the highlights:

  • Something is glaringly missing from leadership today. Sadly, many leadership programs are missing just one key ingredient: the heart. Not just the heart of the issue or the heart of the matter—the heart of the people.
  • What gets in your way? What truly is your motive for being a leader or wanting to lead others? Is it for selfish gain or to better others?
  • Many times, our ego gets in the way and what bubbles up out of our hearts are things like pride, selfishness, and even fear.
  • How can you push past what holds you back? In getting past the barriers, is the challenge as a leader to balance confidence with humility to fight ego issues? Ken Blanchard often uses the quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” Every time you make a leadership decision, are you thinking of yourself or others?
  • Confidence does not come from being in a dominant position and leading by intimidation. Doing this will cause you to lose respect from others, and any talk about values or integrity will be ignored. Humility, however, is not something they teach us in business schools. It is a character trait that is honed over time with truth and love.

img_4750Our businesses, organizations, and families are hungry for leadership coupled with humility. It takes commitment to make the necessary changes to have a healthy culture and humble leaders.

Perhaps our world could learn a lesson from Louie about being intentional and walking side by side with others rather than snarling at them. While Louie doesn’t understand humility, his actions speak louder than his woof. He is more than willing to walk alongside others. As I watch his actions, I am convinced that we humans have much to learn from our dogs.

 

 

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Louie, Your Reputation Precedes You

IMG_3098If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know Louie has a habit of whining when he sees his pals. You can hear him all the way down the street. People will turn and wait as Louie’s whines get louder and his tail wags faster. He’ll run towards the person or one of his furry friends. He excitedly greets them and then BOOM! He’s on to the next friend.

People know he’s going to do that to them. They watch him run and hear his excitement and after a few doggie sniffs he quickly moves on. My neighbors fully expect him to behave this way because they’ve witnessed this so many times. And now it’s the talk of the neighborhood…how snooty little Louie DiStasi can be.

I make excuses and justify his behavior by saying things like, “He’s very focused on his walk,” or “Don’t take it personal, he’s anxious to keep moving.” It is obvious his reputation clearly precedes him as we walk through the neighborhood.

This behavior has me ponder the importance of our reputations. It is much harder to build a reputation than to destroy it. Building a good reputation requires patience, solid values, intentionality and time. Destroying a good reputation only requires a single moment’s mistake. To build a good reputation, be a person who is worthy of one. Demonstrate the characteristics you want others to associate with you.

I had the honor and pleasure to work with Ken Blanchard in early 2000. During a Lead Like Jesus workshop in 2001, he shared a memorable exercise that left an indelible imprint on my mind and heart.

Ken told a story about Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who invented dynamite in 1866 and became rich. Nobel was as interested in drama and poetry as he was in chemistry and physics, but it was in the sciences that he made his fame, and by the time of his death he held more than 350 patents and controlled factories and labs in 20 countries.

When Alfred Nobel’s brother died a newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred that emphasized the fact that he had invented things that blew up and killed people. Nobel, not wanting to be remembered in that way, pledged his wealth toward the betterment of humanity. In his will he directed the establishment of a foundation to award annual prizes for achievement in chemistry, physics, literature, and efforts toward international peace, which is known as the Nobel Prize. This award is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the world and includes a cash prize of nearly one million dollars.

Ken asked,What do you want your obituary to say about you?” He had the participants write out their thoughts. And then he asked, “What do you have to do today to be the person you want to be remembered as?”

That exercise had a profound effect on me then and still does today. I don’t want to be gone and people have to drum up something about me being a compassionate and deeply caring person. I commit to living out those characteristics today.

I encourage you to do the exercise Ken has had so many people around the world engage in doing: write your own obituary. Take time to figure out how you want to be remembered and then commit to being that person today!

As for Louie, it may be too late. It seems his reputation precedes him and not in a good way. We’ll have to continue to work on his relational skills and how he engages with others. Stay tuned!

**Louie and I hope you and your family will join us in remembering the countless men and women who have fought for our country. Give thanks for those who have given their lives and always thank a veteran and those currently serving!**

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Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.

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Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager

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Leaders Encourage Others To Dream

One chilly Saturday afternoon, Louie and I were enjoying our favorite things – I was writing, and Louie was napping. As I watched Louie, I noticed he was dreaming. But this was not his usual dream where his legs twitch, and I shake him awake. Instead, his legs were moving in slow motion – almost like he was running gracefully. And rather than his usual abbreviated breaths, he breathed deeply and looked like he was smiling. I watched for several minutes as he kept “running.” For a brief moment, I was standing on the sideline watching my pup with a long sleek body and long stretched out legs running gracefully around the track as I yelled his name while he neared the finish line. I could hear the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background. I dared not wake him because he clearly was enjoying the dream.

This reminded me of another runner named Louie, whom I recently read about—Louie Zamperini. You’ve perhaps seen the recent movie or at least heard about his story depicted in Unbroken. I read the book first because I think my imagination is better than a Hollywood replication. Though I have yet to see the movie, I understand it is excellent. Louie began his life with very little hope. He was a petty thief and well on his way to a dead-end life of crime. But his older brother saw him run and realized that running might be Louie’s way out of his circumstances. Louie ultimately competed in the Olympics held in Munich. He set his sights on the next Olympic Games, determined to bring home the gold medal. But all that changed when WWII broke out. It was during those dark days of first being lost at sea for more than a month and then held prisoner by the Japanese that he began to dream. His dreams actually kept him alive: he remembered what it was like to run and win a race; he dreamed about the next Olympics; he recalled the scent and flavor of his mother’s pasta; and he encouraged his fellow prisoners to dream as well.

The human spirit cannot be easily broken, but at times it takes something beyond our own capabilities to dream what may seem impossible. As we begin a new year with a clean slate, we may be tempted to be discouraged by dreams that started with a “what if” and faded into a “maybe someday.” We must renew our passions and revisit our dreams if we want them fulfilled.

I dreamt long ago of being a writer. In fact, in 7th grade I gave my sister a book of poems only to take them back because I wanted to improve upon them. I’ve written many stories and worked on projects in my younger days and realized my dream of writing a book could come true. So I started to take the steps to learn how to write well. And as in any story, there’s a villain! A dream slayer; someone who does not want you to realize your dream. They mean well, I suppose. My dream slayer was someone who was incredibly critical of many things, but especially my writing. I am not talking about constructive feedback—we all need that in our lives. This person looked for ways to criticize my writing and then let everyone else know about a mistake I made.

Another dream slayer is our own self-doubt. As the dream begins to formulate and take shape, our minds tell us, “You could never do that,” or “You’re not that good; no one wants to read your writing.” But we have the power to change our thoughts and do away with doubt altogether.

I’ve also been blessed by people who cast vision for me; those who planted the seeds of a dream before I even saw it. They recognized a talent and passion and encouraged me to follow that dream. One of those people was Ken Blanchard, who loved my book ideas, and eventually endorsed them. I am so thankful he encouraged me to take the next step in realizing my dream. Thankfully, the people who have encouraged my dreams outnumber the ones who have tried to slay them. And similar to Eric Liddell when he referred to running in his famous quote from Chariots of Fire, I truly believe I feel God’s pleasure when I write.

As leaders, we must be intentional about seeing the talent and passion in others and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Louie Zamperini held onto his dreams and had hope for a better day. That was all he could hold on to, and it helped him survive grueling, inhumane circumstances. We all need to dream and reach beyond our capabilities as it says in one of my favorite verses, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Beware of the dream slayers on your journey. They will disappear as you take the next action step in realizing your dream.

My little Louie finally woke up from his afternoon nap. As his tongue rolled out of his mouth, punctuating a huge yawn, he looked at his paws stretched out in front of him. He looked up at me as if to say, “Mom, I think my legs are just a bit longer, don’t you?”

I just shook my head and smiled.

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