Call Yourself What You Want To Become

When I was in graduate school, I got a funny call that ended up being very meaningful. It taught me a lot about the power of our words.

“Hello?” I answered the phone. “Vaughn,” the voice on the other line said. “This is Mike. We’re having a huge pickup game of football on Saturday.” “Oh, cool,” I said. “I’ll have to come watch it.” “No, man,” he said. “We want you to be our quarterback. We heard you had a rocket arm.” I almost laughed out loud. Rocket arm? Not so much. More like pipe cleaner arm. I could barely throw a decent spiral. “Um, what’s that?” “Yeah,” he said. “Word around campus is that you’re the rocket in the pocket.” I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. So I went along with it. “Uh, yeah.” I said. “I can pitch the rock.” “Cool!” he said. “Then you’ll be on our team? See you Saturday morning.” I have zero idea how such a rumor spread on campus. But at least once a day until Saturday, somebody said, “Hey, It’s Elway!” or “What up, Montana?” or something like that. It was truly bizarre.

But here’s what was amazing: I started to believe my press. I started thinking, “Well, maybe I can really throw the ball well and never thought I could. Maybe I missed my calling as a D1 and #NFL quarterback!” Ridiculous? Yes. You know what’s even more ridiculous? I played like a MAN ON FIRE during that pickup game. Dropping back. Then scrambling. Short pass. Then long bomb. Tight spirals. Laser-precise accuracy.

It. Was. Crazy. And it made total sense.

Look it up and you’ll discover there’s a #psychological principle called #Labeling. Simply put, if you continue to “label” someone, and if enough people do it, there’s a strong compulsion for that person to believe it. As you expect, it has potentially tragic consequences, as when a person is labeled by another as a LOSER. BUM. UNDERACHIEVER. ETC.

But think of the power for good! How could you influence someone if you labeled them VALUED, PROMISING, or LOVED?

Guess who else you can label? The person who looks back at you in the mirror. How are you labeling yourself? LAZY? UNFOCUSED? Why not label yourself DISCIPLINED, DARING, and DOMINATING?

Call yourself what you want to become!


How To Infuse Every Encounter With Magic and Meaning

You ever wonder what it would be like to hop in your DeLorian, go back in time, and witness the first meeting of two people who met when neither was successful or truly great; but that largely because they met each other, they went on to live life-changing, legendary lives?

The other day I read that Steve Wozniak remembered that one of his friends said, “You should meet this guy.  He’s good at electronics and he likes to play pranks.”  Well, that person he met was, of course, Steve Jobs.  And that was the catalyst, the super-energy-charged moment, that ended up making an incalculable impact on their lives and the future of the world.  But if we were to have witnessed the meeting when it happened, there would probably not have been any special feeling about the moment.  It wouldn’t have had some mystical aura.  If we were bystanders, we probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it at all.

I want you to think about the people you run across on your average day of living.  The people who you say “hi” to or ask “how are you doing?” I’m talking about the people with whom you interact, even casually.  What would happen if we considered every one of those interactions an appointment? What would happen if we regarded each encounter as a meeting that was pre-arranged for a specific purpose…orchestrated by God, the universe, the Force, whoever.  Whatever.

What would happen?

If you approach every encounter like that, I think the sheer numbers would favor extremely positive and even life-changing results.  Because if you approached EVERY encounter like it was an appointment, a pretty good number of those appointment would reveal themselves as opportunities.  Like the two Steves, you and that other person would click and whirr, and your relationship would form the catalyst of something life-changing and history-making, even if the only life changed was yours and the history made was the legacy of your life.

So here’s a challenge: whether you’re in a conference room at work with visiting clients, or you’re at a coffee shop hanging out, or passing time in a doctor’s waiting room…transform the way you think of the people in proximity to you.  Don’t think of them as random encounters.  Think of them appointments that can become opportunities–for mutual success and happiness.

Bottom line: Close your magazine.  Turn away from the TV screen.  Put down your phone. Reach out your hand.  Introduce yourself–and immediately infuse into every encounter a dynamic of magic and meaning, a sense of destiny.

When you greet them for the first time, say: “There are 7.4 BILLION people in the world. It’s great to FINALLY meet YOU.”


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The Lowest Ebb Is The Turn of the Tide

It’s a paradox that is hard to understand but one that I’ve discovered to be undeniably true:  Struggle comes before strength. We have to be thoroughly emptied before we can be genuinely fulfilled.  Somehow the mountain top experiences of life are made richer, more powerful and meaningful, only after we have walked awhile in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  In short, life requires Crucifixion before Resurrection.

So have you been brought low?  To the end of yourself?  Good.

Here’s what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in “Loss and Gain”:

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

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A $5 Gift of Extraordinary Grace

When people hear the word “grace,” they often think of prayers before dinner, the poise of a ballerina, or the amazing words of a famous hymn.  Me?  I think of a Port-a-Potty and a $5 bill.  I have my late, great grandfather to thank for that.

Richard Frederick Lotter, whom we called Pop Pop Dick, was a factory worker and custodian for most of his life.  Although he never earned a lot of money, he was rich in generosity—and I remember him as always being kind and patient with his grandchildren.

I also remember him coughing—a lot.  From years inhaling smoke and chemicals, he developed emphysema, and the summer of my fifth grade year—1985—he was dying of it.  He came to live with us and eventually he got so weak he could hardly move—except to slink in and out of bed to use the portable toilet in his room:  The Port-a-Potty.

One day, my mom asked me to empty that toilet.  It was a simple task, really, which consistent only in dumping a bucket into the toilet in our bathroom—but I dug in my heels and grumbled about it.  “That’s gross,” I said.  “Why do I have to do that?”

“Do it,” my mom said.  “And be quiet:  If Pop-Pop hears you, he’ll feel like he’s a burden on us.”

I knew that was true.  I think Pop-Pop was embarrassed that he had to be served.  But that didn’t change the fact that I walked into his room irritated, indignant that I had perform so menial—and fecal—a task.  My Pop-Pop deserved better.

I entered the room in full brat mode, though stealthily masking my poutiness—or so I thought.  Once I had emptied the bucket and returned it to the Port-a-Potty, Pop-Pop called me over.

“Hey, Vaughn,” he said.  “C’mere for a second.”

Okay, Pop-Pop.  What do you want?

He smiled at me through his coughing.

“Emptying that pot,” he said.  “It’s gross, isn’t it?”

My heart took the escalator into my throat.

Oh no, I thought.  He heard what I said to mom.

I braced for a lecture, a tongue lashing.  I don’t know why, since that wasn’t like Pop-Pop at all.  But I deserved one—I think I knew that.  That’s why I expected a blow to come.    Instead:

“I’m sorry you had to do that,” he said.  “Thank you.  I appreciate it.”

Thank you?  Pop-Pop’s response to my complaining was…gratitude?

But Pop-Pop wasn’t done.  He stretched out his arm, still lean and muscular from all those years of factory work.  His hand was closed tight.  He held something.  He motioned for me to hold out my hand and I did, not really knowing what he was doing.

I put my open hand under his closed fist.  Slowly, weakly, he opened up his fingers and I felt something folded and papery and crisp fall into my palm.  I took it and looked down at it laying on my palm.

It was a five dollar bill.

Five dollars! Am I dreaming?

That was 1985, not 2013!  Calculating inflation and the various economic factors, $5 back then would be worth a lot more today.  Probable…like…


Well, okay, maybe not—but that’s what it felt like at the time.  $5 could almost buy you two G.I. Joe figures.  It was only $2.99 short of the price of the A-Team Moving Target Game.  And, good Lord, do you know how many Pixie Stix and Razzles I could purchase with five guacamoles?  My candy supply would be funded through the end the month! The year!  Heck!  Through the end of Reagan’s 2nd term!

As I was reveling in my bounty, my grandfather spoke up again:

“Thanks again, Vaughn,” he said.  “I think you are a great grandson.”


That’s when it hit me.  My grandfather had responded to my complaint with thanksgiving.  My reprobate attitude had been met with reward.  I couldn’t have told you—at that very moment—what had brought conviction to my heart and melted it.  But I felt it.  And, every time I think of this story, I am still moved to tears.  Because what my Pop-Pop exhibited in that moment was what the world needs more than anything else:


Unmerited favor.  Something richer and greater than mercy:  that which response to aggression and hostility…with undeserved kindness and lavish love.

Life is a grace.  The death of Christ is a grace.  Everything from the hand of God is grace.

As Christians, Jesus calls us to “love our enemies.”  Whether your enemy is a terrorist, a political opponent, or even—God forbid—your own spouse, the Lord calls us to live and act with grace.

It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s impossible—apart from the grace of God.  But it is the one thing—the only thing—that can possibly heal the hurt and pain that we inflict on one another.  It is what will restore shalom to our families, our neighborhoods, and our world.

Today, if you use a $5 bill, don’t think of payment, but reward.  Don’t think of earned wages, but of unearned kindness.  And don’t think of money, but of the priceless gift of God’s grace.

Thanks to Pop-Pop, I know I will.

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Self-Deprecating Humor is a Powerful Tool of Influence

Self-Deprecating Humor is a Powerful Tool of Influence

To influence others, you have to establish a rapport with them.  One surprising, but effective way of doing that is by poking fun at yourself.  Self-deprecating humor is a powerful tool of influence.

Influence at the Irish Rover


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Several years ago while I was still in seminary, a small group of my classmates and I went to eat at the Irish Rover Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky.  We arrived, sat down to eat, and in a few moments, the waitress came to take our order.

She began cheerily enough.  But then she asked us if we were students at U of L.

“No,” I said.  “We’re students at the Baptist seminary over on Grinstead.”

“Oh, she said, he facing dropping.  “So, y’all are ‘Bible boys.’  Well, what do you want to drink?  Probably water, huh?”

The waitress’s curtness was uncalled for and unprofessional, but we let it slide.  Although there were some of us who could be uptight and pompous, the guys that I hung out with were genuinely sincere in their desire to love and accept other people no matter what.  But she didn’t know that.  Maybe that wasn’t her experience with Christians.  Maybe she had the Christian parents from hell.  Who knows?

Either way, when she came back with our drinks, one of my friends, John Gallman, spoke up, “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Tina,” our waitress said.

“Tina, that’s great,” John said.  “Tina, I need your help with something:  I have to make a tough decision.”

Tina furled her brow, pursed her lips, and put her hands on her hips.

“Oh yeah?” she asked.  “Fine. What’s that?”

“Well, I got two possible careers and I’m wrestling with which one to choose,” he said.

“Okay, what are they?”

“The first one is a pastor,”  he said.

“Great,” she said.  “Have fun with that.”

“Yeah, see here’s the thing,” John said.  “I don’t know if I’m cracked up for it, you know?  I’m a pretty messed up guy, you know what I’m saying?  Not sure I got the Right Stuff. I’m one fry short of a Happy Meal.”

Tina shook her head and tried to hold in her chuckle.

“Okay,” she said.  “So what’s the second option?”

John grinned.


Tina lost it.  She let out a belly laugh that echoed in the restaurant.

And with that, her whole disposition changed.  By the end of the night, she was epitome of “service with a smile.”

How did John do that?  How did he effect such a radical transformation in our server – taking her from Ice Witch to Miss Congeniality?

He didn’t take himself too seriously.  He playfully poked fun at himself.  He harnessed the undeniably persuasive power of self-deprecation.

Here’s why self-deprecating humor is so powerful:

Self Deprecating Humor is a Powerful Tool Because It’s Rare. And What is Rare Captures the Attention.

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Amy Schumer is a stand-up comedian, writer, producer, director, and actress.  The star of the film Trainwreck, she has received all sorts of critical acclaim, awards, and rave reviews.  Popular audiences love her. In this video posted by The Hollywood Reporter, she is asked why she thinks people resonate so much with her humor.  She says, “So many people today are so hateful.  We’re all so ready to burn each other at the stake.  So I thought I’d just burn myself.” She’s definitely gotten people’s attention.  Her approach is so unique and successful that she just sold the rights to publish her book for $10 million.

Self-Deprecating Humor is a Powerful Tool Because It Combines the Attractive Qualities of Confidence and Wit.

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Poking fun at yourself shows confidence?  Yes. It does.  We’re not talking about beating yourself up, okay?  This isn’t the same as someone who says, “Poor me. I suck.  I’m such a loser with nothing to offer the world.”  A truly confident person can have his imperfections and eccentricities roasted and not wilt like a flower in the sun.  They see their own foibles and and have the strength of character to laugh at them.  And they often know themselves so well that they are highly skilled in self-roasting.

Abraham Lincoln, certainly not known for his good looks, consistently ranks among the most popular Presidents and influential leaders of all time.  He was a public speaker without peer.  He was also self-deprecating.  Accused of being insincere by a political opponent, he asked, “If I was two-faced, would I wear this one?”  It takes a confident, witty person to zing themselves.  And those are the kind of people others are drawn to.

P.S.:  For what it’s worth, self-deprecating humor – a la the kind commonly modeled by Hugh Grant in his romantic comedies – is supposedly the most effective kind of humor for charming a woman!

Self-Deprecating Humor is a Powerful Tool Because It Disarms People, Establishes Trust, and Opens Them Up to Relationship.

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Schumer is right: Too many people in the world want to burn others at the stake.  No matter who you are, all of us have walls.  For you to be able to connect with others in a meaningful way, and exercise influence in their lives, those walls have to come down.  Well, there are few better ways to establish trust with another person than to use self-deprecating humor.  When you do that, the person knows that you’re not itching to fire bullets at them.  Why?  Because you’re firing them at yourself.

In the same way, poking fun at yourself shows them that you obviously don’t take yourself too seriously.  That means that you’re not an egomaniac.  You’re not self-centered.  You are other-centered.  Reassured of this, they are far more likely to drop their guard, trust you, and open up to you.  That is the moment when real connection occurs and you can exercise the most effective influence.

How well do you know yourself?  Are you aware of your own eccentricities and imperfections?  Well-versed in your failures and foibles?  Use this knowledge as ammunition–against yourself.  It will arm you with real firepower to impact and influence others.