What a Chevy Nova taught me about life

I bought it at one of those buy-here, pay-here car lots. It was a red 1989 Chevy Nova and looked similar to a Ford Escort. It had two endearing qualities. First, I could take the key out of the ignition and engine continued to run. Second, once a cassette tape was inserted into the stereo, it was impossible to eject.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to a tape in a car, you know that it overrides the radio. Since the tape was stuck, I had two options: stereo on or stereo off.

The only tape I owned was “Chicago’s Greatest Hits”. Nope, not proud of it.

I had two jobs at the time, both requiring lots of driving time. The first 50 hours or so of Chicago were unbearable. So I tore out the stereo, pushed the tape out from the back of the deck and reinstalled it. I asked the owner of the company at my day job for a tape and he gave me a Zig Ziglar cassette. I listened to that tape for 10 months. Over and over. For hundreds of hours while I delivered pizzas and sold fire alarms door-to-door.

The broken stereo changed the way I saw the world. I listened as Zig taught me:

-That a goal set is halfway reached.

-To get everything in life you want, help enough others get what they want.

-Failure is an event, not a person.

-Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking.

That Chevy Nova lasted a year until the engine gave out (never did get the ignition fixed).

But the car changed my life. For $3,500 I received the incredible gift of repetition. Zig Ziglar showed me a new way to see the world, to value others, to think positively, and to set goals…over and over and over.

The downside of the Nova? I still recoil when I hear a Chicago song and have nightmares about eject buttons.

Getting your safety message through when no one cares

No one even looked at him.

He was standing with a clipboard in the middle of a busy airport terminal. He tried to engage with passersby, something about an airport survey.

No one stopped. No one cared.

If you’ve been in the EHS profession for more than a week, you’ve felt this dejection.

Robert Cialdini, author of “Pre-Suasion” and “Influence”, writes about ways to create a space for not only getting people to listen to your message, but also to positively receive it.

Cialdini cites a study where researchers asked people to participate in a marketing study and only 29% said yes. However, when the researchers began with, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” the number of volunteers went to 77.3%! The people said yes because of their need to be consistent. If they considered themselves helpful, then (to be remain consistent) they must also say yes to help with the survey.

How could you use this idea in your work?

The world wants you to settle

You may have received this feedback from supervisors;

“You’re doing great, keep it up!”

Or, “Focus on this one thing (e.g. communication, education, experience) and you’ll continue to be fantastic.”

Never believe your supervisor’s feedback.

Why? They want you to succeed.

But who succeeds in any organization? The majority (see the Normal or Gaussian Curve).

So this well-intended feedback they gave you is for success and the majority…because your supervisor wants to be right.

The world hopes you’ll settle too. Natural forces grind down mountains and flood low-lying areas. It seeks the average. Because the average live on and survive to reproduce. Maybe that’s why exercise hurts, eating vegetables is less appealing than sugar, and sleeping in feels better than waking before the sun. The world is hoping you’ll settle for average.

If you want more than average, to make more of a difference than the mean, to change through innovation rather than incrementalism, to go farther and fly higher, listen to the feedback…but remember it’s only a step in the right direction. It’s the minimum bar to the club of normal.

NOTE: My feedback is also average and often intended for the majority to succeed. Remember no one else can tell you how to be your best. It’s something you find out for yourself.

You can’t ride a bike


Four-year olds have no self-doubt. They do crazy things like learn to ride bicycles without training wheels and swim in water that could drown them.

And no one tells a four-year old they can’t ride a bike.

Yes, it’s difficult to learn to steer and brake. It’s even more difficult to balance at the same time. But eventually, they’ll pick it up and race down the street with a huge smile.

After biking comes swimming, video games, tree climbing, and (for the lucky few) fishing.

Kids pick up new skills and abilities nearly every day.

Then it changes.

The unheard voice of self-doubt becomes louder, we internalize failure, and learn to protect our ego.

We learn to quit.

We quit math, organic chemistry, relationships, driving a stick shift, and even exercising. If it doesn’t come easy, it’s not meant for us right?

Tell that to the four-year old. Tell her she can’t ride a bike because she doesn’t have the talent for it.

In a week, she’ll ride past you, two wheels spinning so fast that you’ll forget what it was you wanted to quit.

What if your work disappeared tomorrow?

When days in EHS feel like endless to-do lists, separated by various last-minute emergencies, and bookended by meetings, program evaluations, and quarterly reports, I find it easy to imagine it all disappearing.

And priorities once again become clear.

What if you walked into your office tomorrow and found no trace of EHS in your company? Your desk is gone. No programs. No compliance. No OSHA posters and no one remembers the last time your company had a safety director.

It’s all gone.

But your CEO sees you and thinks you might be useful. She read somewhere that safety is important, and while she’s not sure why, she hires you.

What’s the first thing you do? What’s the single thing you would do to make the biggest impact that first day? The first week?

Write down a few ideas.

Compare this very short list with your to-do list from yesterday and the day before. Are they similar?

If they aren’t…are you doing what matters?

Or have your priorities drifted from what makes the biggest impact to what makes the time pass by quickly?


Tying Shoelaces (Life Lessons)

This week, I spoke with a colleague who was going through some work issues. They’d received a new work assignment across the state and weeks later it was changed, delayed, forgotten about, and eventually cancelled. This was followed by a strong rumor of an overseas transfer.

She was a mess…and justifiably so. No organization that espouses their people as the most valuable resource would do this, right?

This morning I was unlacing my running shoes in preparation for the workout (yes, I’m the lazy guy who slides off his shoes post-workout). I pulled the wrong lace and it knotted up. So I pulled another lace and the knot grew tighter. Now these laces aren’t your normal round laces…they are fancy oval laces made for running. And when they knot, they almost glue together. I frowned and pulled the knot apart with my teeth. Success!

The next shoe knotted as well, but I didn’t pull. I held the shoelace loosely, looked at it, and the tangle of shoelace easily fell apart.

Life is like this. It will get complex. It will go wrong. It will knot up. It can be taken personally and we can rationalize our justification. We can pull, get mad, make it tighter, and feel righteously indignant. (Teeth optional)

Or we can hold it loosely, look at the situation, and allow the knot the fall away.


Four Questions to Increase Clarity in Life (and EHS)

Morgan Housel, writing for the Collaborative Fund, suggests writing is a way to increase clarity in life. Specifically, Morgan recommends writing out the answers to four questions. Below are the questions and my responses. What are your answers? Feel free to post them here…looking forward to learning from you!

What is your edge over competitors?

In safety and professionally, our work depends on our ability to connect the art and science of safety to management and the worker. My “edge” is that I wake up focusing on that connection.

Also, I learned a decade ago that I can’t change the entire world. But I do have the opportunity to inspire, develop, and encourage safety professionals, and together we can do amazing things (and change the world).

How do you react to unforeseen risk?

I’ve learned that unforeseen risk is part of iteration and learning. I now take more in stride and accept it as a part of the learning cycle, changing what I can and (learning to) accept what I can’t. It’s a journey.

What have you changed your mind about recently?

Two things.

First, a quote from Todd Conklin. “You’re not ever going to be able to stop an accident. You can directly change the way the accident affects your organization, your workers, and yourself.” I spent many years feeling failure every time I came into the office in the morning to see another incident report. Todd’s words refocused my energy on the incident outcomes, not the error itself.

Secondly, I’ve changed my mind about high personal standards. For years, I was counseled by supervisors that my standards were too high. They said I was setting myself and my teams up for failure by setting the bar so high. I almost fell for it. To my core, I now believe high personal standards are foundational to every small amount of success I’ve managed to achieve.

What part of your job are you not good at?

This question is the easiest…there are so many areas. I get lost in strategic policy decision conversations. My personality wants to move on, implement, and move on again. I’m not good at data entry work. I’m worse at reviewing multiple editions of company regulations….my mind seems to get lost in the many versions. Program sustainment…yep…not so good. I’m fantastic at conceptualizing, designing, and implementing. I’m not the one to maintain the program. And, I’ll stop there in case any future employers see a conflict with my resume. 🙂

Link to Morgan Housel’s original article on writing.

What are your answers?

Bad things happen to good people

It’s easy to see it.

The inattention. The lack of competency. The hurried state. The fatigued mind.

And then the injury.

In the mind of many managers (and even some safety professionals) the injury is a result of being a bad person.

“How could she do that?”

“What was he thinking?”

“Didn’t they know that would happen?”

“Weren’t they paying attention in the training class?”

If the supervisor thinks back, she knew it was coming. She’d seen the signs. Why didn’t she do something previously?

It’s a lie. It’s THE lie. It’s convenient to line up the dominoes and cheese slices post-incident. It’s mentally convenient to assign blame to that domino, that piece of cheese, or that bad worker.

Bad things happen to good people.” As EHS professionals we must believe this simple statement to move past the blame and the fault-finding to a place where the worker is once again the most valuable and necessary piece in the system. And we cannot get there by attributing incidents to bad people.

Congratulations to Cas Caruso for winning the subscriber’s giveaway! Cas will receive a set of SPAN study workbooks for the new Safety Management Specialist (SMS) certification. Want to be included in the next giveaway? Subscribe here.

No endorsement of study material is intended by the giveaway.


Just Give Up

Giving up. It’s like quitting. Turning the other way and saying, “Enough is enough.”

Do we do that?

Maybe we should give up more.

Achieving everything you want in life isn’t about wanting it more. It’s about wanting other things less.

I found out I couldn’t read the books I wanted to when I had a cable TV subscription. So I gave up cable. I’ve also given up on conversations involving reality television. I just don’t get the inference.

I couldn’t find time to take classes at night. Between work and sleep, where would school fit in? So I gave up a few years of 8-hour rest cycles, adjusted my alarm to 0300, and finished the graduate degree.

What do you want? And what do you want less?

Are you willing to bear the loss of reality TV for your dream?

Giving up. It’s how you turn, “I don’t have the time” into, “This is my one chance and today is the day.”



Do you want more pot?

Greenhouses and nurseries are filled with them.

Plastic pots, filled with soil, a bit of gravel, and a tiny seedling. The seedling grows quickly with the moisture and stability provided by the black pot. As the seedling adds leaves and height, the roots curl around the bottom of the pot and, for a moment, the plant stops growing.

Expert gardeners maintain development by giving the plant a larger pot. They know plants will grow tall in a small pot, but their stalks remain weak from coiled root balls and limited exposure to the elements. So the gardener’s hands gently break apart the coiled roots and place the plant into a larger container. The transition is tough at first, a little wilting is normal during repotting. After a few days, the roots find their place and growth begins once again.

Are you deliberately repotting? Or is a coiled root ball lulling you into a stability-fueled plateau?

Do you want more pot?

You know, you don’t need to grow old to die. I was dying at the age of 20 as a result of no direction and no purpose.” – Grant Cardone