March 6, 2014

the six keys to a breakthrough business blog post

I don't read a lot of business blogs. Business blogs are like cable TV: content gets created solely to fill empty bandwidth. This results in posts like Being on time can be improve punctuality or Lunch is your employees' most important midday meal.

(Note to self: Write those posts.)

Unlike cable TV, however, business blogs occasionally feature some incredibly insightful and thought-provoking ideas. Most of these ideas drown pointlessly in a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and passive voice. (Too many businesspeople learned communication in business school.)

Most of you know that I write novels. With writing, I've put in my 10,000 hours and then some. Surprisingly, that doesn't diminish the respect I get in my day job, where I run some of the biggest and most complex workplace giving and corporate volunteer programs in the country.

Being #1 five years in a row puts a guy in demand. Thus, as co-chair of the advisory council for the Charities @Work conference, I've written a few blog posts about employee engagement and what the millennial generation are looking for. I was a little surprised when these posts got picked up by more than one CSR news feed, and each link was tweeted or retweeted to over 60,000 Twitter users.

What drove that response? I think it was these six things:

1. Be interesting

Don't talk yourself into thinking your topic is interesting if it really isn't. Has it been done a hundred times before? Does it just rephrase something that's already commonly understood? Then for the love of all that is Strunk and White (see item #3 below), don't post it.

Your idea probably is not revolutionary. Revolutionary ideas are as rare as a Tea Party candidate on the Berkeley City Council. But every good idea has a twist; grab that and twist it harder. If you want to get people's attention and make them think different, go against conventional wisdom. If possible, refute conventional wisdom. Tell the reader they're wrong about something. Then tell them why.

2. Be accountable

Don't hide behind weak writing
and buzzwords. (I took this photo
in Nepal, by the way.)
Corporate-speak was invented so cowards could hide in a cloud of meaninglessness. Don't be a coward. Own your words. Write in first person. Saying "I" a lot in your blog posts does two things: First, it makes you mean what you say. Second, it tells the reader you mean what you say.

Use active voice. If you don't know what active voice is, read this excerpt by Stephen King, then read the book it came from.

Eliminate jargon and buzzwords if at all possible. You can use jargon and buzzwords as convenient shorthand for well accepted concepts (like "employee engagement"), but like cliches they carry no weight. They're like the coworker who comes to lunch with the group but always seems to leave his wallet at the office. What a drag.

3. Be brief

Omit needless words.

4. Use data wisely

Remember back in #1 when you told the reader he was all wrong? Then you had to tell him why? Data is your answer.

Strip down data to its simplest form and display it in a way the reader can understand in a glance. In my intro I mentioned my workplace giving campaign has been #1 in the country five years in a row. Data, simplified and cited with a link. I could also present it as a graph (see the graph).

Make data understandable and clear.
Use bullet or numbered lists to present your most compelling points. People skim text, but they pay attention to lists, so use them wisely.

You can use your own data, as in my post on employee engagement where I cited research from my own programs, or other people's data. As long as it's real, true, and compelling, use it. Your own data is exclusive, and it tells the reader you not only know the topic but you research it in new and interesting ways. Using other people's data tells the reader you're an expert on the topic, up to date on current research. Always give proper credit if you use someone else's data, though, and get permission if you need it.

Finally, always be true to the data. Don't cherry-pick facts to make a point that isn't really provable. Then you're just lying to the reader, and that's morally and ethically wrong. If you don't have facts to back up what you're saying, you shouldn't say it. You probably shouldn't even believe it.

5. Focus
Don't throw everything into your
post. Focus on the job at hand.

I've found that someone with something really interesting to say often has a lot of interesting things to say. But no one will listen if they try to say it all at once. Writer's block hits me hardest when I'm trying to fit too much into a small space. Focus in on a single point and argue the hell out of it.

6. Be arrogant

There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance; what you're looking for is the voice of authority in your writing. Everything above supports this. If you're brief, write in first person, use active voice, stay focused, and back it all up with data, people will believe you, right? Maybe. But they want to know that you believe you. If you can't write a first draft full of arrogance, then you can't revise it to a final draft that sounds filled with confidence. If you can't write a first draft filled with arrogance, then perhaps you need to rethink your whole concept.

Do you have other tips for writing a good post for a business blog? I'd love to hear them in the comments... or you can join me at the Charities @Work conference in New York City April 3-4 to talk about this or my next blog post on the Charities @Work blog. Or tweet me at @dudleypj.

January 27, 2014

Do smart people make stupid parents?

Having kids changes everything. But does becoming a parent make people stupid, or is that caused by society on a bigger scale?

I'm referring, today, to this blog post by KQED which skims the surface of a serious epidemic facing today's middle class families: The overwhelming academic pressure that teens face these days.

For you non-parents, and you parents of younger kids that haven't yet hit high school, this is totally a thing.

Parents want the best for their kids. They want success for their kids. They know success comes from hard work, but it also comes from having opportunity. Opportunity comes from having a degree from a prestigious college. Everything good parents do comes from the well intentioned quest to give their kids the best opportunity for success.

So when we see things like this (from the UCLA admissions FAQ)

The average admitted applicant to UCLA for the Fall Quarter 2013 had a weighted GPA of 4.41, an unweighted GPA of 3.89, an SAT Reasoning Test score of 2055, an ACT Assessment composite score of 30, 21 semesters of honors/AP course work completed between 10th and 12th grades, and 53 semesters of college prep coursework overall.

That's the average admitted applicant. Average.

It's no wonder that parents go a little out of their minds when they see such statistics. It's no wonder they start pounding on their kids to study harder and do more homework and stop being children when they're still in fifth grade. Because by the time they're a freshman in high school, if they're not on a path to complete 21 semesters of honors/AP classes over the next four years, they might not get into that prestigious college.

Thus, they project a crushing fear of failure onto their kids. They don't stop to think about other options, only that a 4.40 weighted GPA might not be enough to get into UCLA these days. The kids pick up on this fear but don't have the maturity to self-regulate. They're just kids. And they're under this impression that their lives will be over if they get a B or don't score in the 90th percentile on the SAT.

I'm a reasonably smart guy. I graduated from UC Berkeley with an engineering degree. Maybe that opened some doors that wouldn't have been open had I gone to a school with a less grand reputation. Then again, maybe not.

At work, in my neighborhood, at my kids' schools I'm surrounded by smart people. Many went to colleges I'd never even heard of before. Some went to "party schools." A few never went to college at all. Yet they have good jobs, nice homes, great kids, comfortable lives.

What goes wrong in a parent's brain that allows them to think 12 hours devoted to schoolwork every day is a good thing? That missing family dinners for studying will lead to a better life? What lets them torture their own kids with this crushing fear of a potential failure that, quite frankly, isn't even real? What makes them think they're competing against other kids, rather than against this mythical ideal?

Better to try to guide teenage kids into adulthood by letting them understand that finding the right fit is more important than squeezing into a prestigious torture chamber. We spend so much of our energy trying to be "the best" as defined by rankings and tests and brand recognition that we forget that we should be focusing instead on being the best "me" we each can be.

It's difficult as a parent to break away from the overwhelming social pressures. But ultimately our children's success and happiness will be best served by helping them learn how to create their own path that is the right path for them. Yet even some of the smartest people out there seem to turn stupid when it comes to their kids. Love them. Guide them. Coach them. Push them to be the best they can be.

But don't hold them to arbitrary measurements that don't fit them in the hopes that they will become something they're not. 

January 23, 2014

Be the first to review this item

The Bad Lie, my new kids book with a golf theme, is now available at Amazon. I haven't published the ebook yet (not sure if/when), but if you absolutely, positively must have an electronic copy for yourself, comment here or email me and let me know. I'm happy to send you a file, in the format you want.

All I ask in return is that you post an honest rating and review to the Amazon page or the Goodreads page. And, if you really like the book, tell others about it.

I'll send signed copies to a random selection of those who post a review to Amazon or Goodreads before February 1, 2014. Spread the word. Thanks!

Where to get it:

January 12, 2014

I'll have a new book out soon. You can get a free preview.

I have a new book coming out this week for kids in the 3rd to 6th grade range. It's about a kid who has to make some tough choices about friendship, honesty, and his future, all staged in a golf setting.

If you've read my other books, you know this new one is outside my usual audience, but it was fun to write. The idea popped up last spring when a colleague decried the dearth of good golf-themed books for kids. Yes, she really was upset by that. I did some research and had to agree. So I decided to write one.

I gag when I read sports stories that are all about the main character winning the game in the end to become the hero, and I'm bored with sports stories that focus too heavily on the sport itself. So when I sat down to come up with the right story, I thought about my own experience with golf.

I am not a golfer. I have hacked around in the past, and I still enjoy a round with friends from time to time. Years ago, a good friend who is a great golfer watched me hit a bucket of balls at the driving range. He finally shook his head and said, "You have a beautiful swing. I have no idea why you can't hit the ball straight."

So you can see why I had no interest in writing a story about the highly technical nuances of the sport. But golf is so much more than just the physical activity. Golf is a connection between friends, between family members, between the individual and nature. Golf is as much about the bonds we create while playing as it is about the competition. On the flip side, the game itself is one of personal skill, concentration, and integrity. It's a very introspective game, and it can also be a lonely game.

Those are the very human elements of golf that drew me into this story. Jay, the main character, is a very good golfer for an 11 year old, but he's got real-kid problems. Parents recently divorced, peer pressure, the general stresses of growing up. He's faced with tough decisions that test his character and his relationships with his parents and his friends. Golf is central to so many part of his life, and when he's faced with losing that, it means more than just some game.

The book is scheduled to be available January 16 (print only), but recent crazy weather may push that out to the following week. In the meantime, I'm making free e-copies available to anyone who promises to post an honest review to Amazon or Goodreads by the end of January. Simply email me with the subject The Bad Lie Preview and let me know what e-reader you have, and I'll send you the file.

UPDATE 1/13/2014: The weather has indeed caused a delay. The book, originally scheduled to be available January 16, will now be available on or after January 22nd.

January 9, 2014

Lipsticking - my thoughts on writing and publishing

I have admitted in the past that I subscribe to a blog called Lipsticking, though I do not read every post that shows up in my inbox.

Today, one of their authors published an interview I did for her a few months back, about my experience with writing and publishing. Everything in it is totally up to date except the "what I'm working on now." That says I am about 10,000 words into the third book in the New Eden series, but today I'm actually done with the rough draft of that book. Everything else I say? Timeless and classic wisdom.

You should check it out.

And you should subscribe to the Lipsticking blog. There are some pretty smart and eloquent ladies over there.

Go read the interview now!

January 5, 2014

Day trip to Ensenada: totally worth it, but never again #travelogue #travel

Last night we got home from a 1,500 mile road trip over nine days. We saw many cousins, visited a college, toured Universal Studios, visited a missionpartied in Los Angeles, walked around downtown LA, and saw a space shuttle. A pretty busy trip. But the crazy bit was our day trip into Mexico.

Originally, we thought we might drive across the border and down to Rosarito Beach or Ensenada. A lot of people told us not to do that, though. They said we'd get beheaded by drug cartels. A bunch of googling, though, made us believe that there was virtually no actual risk in going... but I didn't want to drive my new car in a foreign country, so we looked into other options.

Our timing was bad for a tourist bus from San Diego to Ensenada (only Tuesdays and Wednesdays that we could find), but more research showed another "easy" way to get there: Walk across the border and take a Mexican ABC bus to Ensenada.

It should be said here that I did zero research. Maria learned everything and planned everything. So I was going in blind, essentially, hoping it would all work out. This is my positivity strength working full force.
So we left our cozy, beachfront timeshare in Dana Point about 8 a.m. and drove an hour to the San Ysidro border crossing. We figured getting into Mexico would be easy, and it was. A few armed guards eyed us as we came through the building on the Mexican side, but no one asked for papers, no one asked if we had anything to declare... no one asked us anything.

And there we were, in the middle of a chaotic, crowded, noisy city. Maria tried to navigate to the bus terminal from the one blogger's directions, which were accurate but not as detailed as one might have hoped. But here are the correct walking directions thanks to Google Maps, at least as of January, 2014:
We walked back and forth until we figured out we had to go over the sky bridge across the highway.
Once we got over the highway, it was easy to find the ABC bus terminal: Past the tourist shops and restaurants, past the taxis, left through the plaza to the tall mirror-glassed building. The bus was there, but we were confused about the price. It was twice the price that we'd read online. After some calculations and a quick stop at the exchange counter for some pesos, we realized we misread the blog posts. Still a $110 round trip total for four people didn't seem outrageous. So we took the 11:45 bus from Tijuana to Ensenada.

At the time, we did not know that part of the coastal highway had fallen into the sea just a week before. We might have rethought this whole trip had we known. Or maybe not. We're reckless that way.

Anyway, the bus was comfortable and smooth for the 90 minute ride, and it dropped us at the Central station in Ensenada. A ten minute walk to the ocean got us to the tourist district, where we had lunch and bought a few souvenirs. We didn't know the return bus schedule, so we figured we'd try to get back to the terminal around 4 p.m.

We got totally lucky, walking onto a bus at 4:15 p.m. that got us back to Tijuana just after 6:15 p.m., well after dark. I admit to a little unease as we navigated the streets back to the border crossing--the place had a tweener feel to it like most tourists had left for the day, but people were still preparing their shops and bars for Friday night. If we'd missed that 4:15 bus, I figure we'd have reached Tijuana after 7:30 p.m.

We had no idea what to expect at the border. Maybe an hour or so wait in line for returning US citizens with valid passports, right?

We were so very, very wrong.

We wandered around trying to figure out the protocols, and ultimately one semi-friendly woman and a local official helped us understand that we had to stand in the "general public" line, which stretched up and away from the border farther than we could see. We began walking back along the line, which had not moved one inch in the ten minutes we wandered around, when a guy came up to us and offered to shuttle us across the border.

I was skeptical. He said it would take 30 minutes or so, dropping us on the other side of the border. The walking line looked at least three hours long. Probably more. (No exaggeration here. It's dreadful.) Ten bucks a person for the shuttle. He wanted to leave right away, had four seats. Ten bucks each.

I am always afraid of getting scammed in an unfamiliar place. Chaos all around. If it was so quick and cheap, why wasn't everyone doing it? Or at least a few more people abandoning that four hour line?

But he had a laminated official badge on a lanyard around his neck. His shuttle was a 15 passenger van, already nearly full of people, parked right next to a couple of Mexican border police. I set aside my skepticism and hopped in the van with Maria and the boys.

Best $40 we ever spent. The shuttle took us on a 20 minute drive to the Otay crossing, where we got out and went through a 20 minute line across the border, then picked us up on the other side and drove us back to our car at San Ysidro around 8 p.m.

All in all, this was a great experience. But it could have gone really wrong at multiple points. We got lucky with the border crossing shuttle, and with the timing of the return bus. The reroute due to the freeway collapse was a harrowing ride over the mountains on a windy, crowded precipice road without guardrails. And of course there are the beheadings, right?

Ensenada was fun--great food, of course, and typical tourist shops. The cruise ship wouldn't arrive until the next day, so it felt like we had the town to ourselves. But the people were friendly, and the walk to and from the bus station showed us a look at Mexican local city life. An experience I am glad we had, but I wouldn't do it again. Not as a day trip. If we were going to stay for a couple of nights in Ensenada, I would definitely consider doing the ABC bus again. But not for a day trip.

Lunch, with Super Donkeys! (i.e. big burritos)

Tourist section, without many tourists.

I'm guessing this place rocks when the ship is docked.

Souvenirs included Baja shirts, a blanket, and a little ceramic skull.

Local business.

On Avenida Riveroll, walking back to the bus station.

December 13, 2013

Health can't be measured by a bathroom scale

About eight weeks ago I sprained my MCL, and I haven't been able to play soccer since. And ever since summer, I've skipped my early morning gym time, choosing instead to work on the third novel in my Semper - Forsada - To-be-titled series.

This means I haven't seriously exercised in a long, long time. But I know I'm still in great shape because the bathroom scale says I've only gained a pound or two in all those months. Right?

Actually, that's a pretty stupid conclusion. It would be like saying the economy is strong because the stock market is high.

Truth is, I am still reasonably fit, and if I only look at one indicator (the bathroom scale), then I think things are going great. But to judge my real health, I have to look at many other indicators and all the things that go into health--diet, activity, stress, etc. Same thing with the health of any complex system. I've blogged about this in my day job. You can't take one indicator, as important as it may be, and understand the full health of a complex system like a human body, a workforce, an educational system, a government, or an economy.

In the USA, we have a addiction to primary indicators. By that I mean we obsess over the one magical number we can use to grade everyone and everything. We see it in our obsession with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which leads every business news report but really doesn't tell us very much about the health of the economy overall. We see it in standardized test scores like the SAT, which determines so much about a student's college admission but really doesn't test education or ability; it only grades whether the child has the prepared to take the SAT. We see it in consumption, where price alone drives so many of our purchases.

Take, for example, the omnipresent fast food "meal deal." Most places offer options to upsize your meal, and the price delta is minuscule compared to the base price. Pay $6 for the regular, $6.70 for the medium, or $7.15 for the large. Or, "add chips and a drink" for just two bucks. Notice they call it a "meal," not "the healthy addition."

The American psyche looks at that and quickly calculates that the price per increase is negligible compared to the initial buy-in. Virtually no thought is given to how hungry the person is; the only indicator that matters is price. So naturally, most people size up. Best decision? Probably not, even though it might seem to make economic sense to get a lot more of something for just a little extra spent.

Because that makes it really hard to keep the bathroom scale steady.

December 9, 2013

Sometimes my son hates having a writer for a parent.

Out at dinner the other night, my younger son finally got fed up.

"Sometimes I hate having a writer for a parent," he grumbled.

"Only sometimes?" I asked. I got all warm and fuzzy. Not just because I succeeded (again) in ruining my children's life, but also because he recognized and appreciated the word-nerd sarcasm I had just unleashed in a teachable moment disguised as humor.

See, I love to call out two ambiguities in particular, and he had just stumbled into one of them.

One is the misplaced modifier, as in

Ugly and ineffective, teachers shun corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool.
Okay, I admit the above sentence is actually unambiguous. But how often does the speaker really intend to call teachers ugly and ineffective, do you think? (Hmm. Maybe I should have used a different example.) Anyway, I usually just enjoy these gems quietly, without comment.

The other one I love is more than/less than, as in what my son had just said:
I like bread more than my brother.
Even within the context of our conversation, the ambiguity of this sentence gave me pause. Did he like bread more than he liked his brother? Or did he like bread more than his brother liked bread? This was a toss-up, so I asked him, and we got into a lengthy discussion of the possibilities of this construction.

A particular pet peeve of mine is the frequent misuse of "more than me" when "more than I" is intended. Take a simple example such as
You like fish more than me.
While it may be true that the listener prefers the company of fish to spending time with the speaker, usually the speaker means that the listener enjoys fish more than the speaker does. If that's the case, the speaker should have said
You like fish more than I.
(Kids especially hate this because it sounds awkward and stilted, so they think it's wrong.)

The simple test here is whether the sentence holds its proper meaning if you add the verb phrase at the end. As in:
You like fish more than I like fish.
If, however, you really mean that the listener prefers fish to you, then go ahead and use the object "me" here. And of course, You like fish more than me like fish makes no sense.

Besides providing a way to titillate grammarians, this rule can also come in handy when ambiguity is what you're looking for. For example, if you wish to tell someone who doesn't like cheese that you find them distasteful, you could say something like this:
I like cheese more than you.
The listener will heartily agree, thinking that you meant to recognize their dislike of cheese. But you and I both know you meant something different. And who could blame you? I also like cheese more than people who don't appreciate this grammatical concept.

And no, I never did find out whether my son liked bread more than he liked his brother.

And finally, because I had no photos of fish or cheese handy, here are some kittens I've shown before:

December 6, 2013

how to waste a lot of money self-publishing a book

PAID FOR, biatch.
Last night I updated my spreadsheet totting up sales and downloads of Semper and Forsada. It never takes me too long; these are not big numbers. But each book earns enough profit to pay my whiskey and Starbucks bills while I write the next book. And that makes me happy enough, for now.

Between the two titles, my name adorns over 16,000 books out in the wild. I'll gladly admit that more than 15,000 of those were free downloads. Which proves that you don't need to sell a lot of books to make a profit when you self-publish. (My publishing goals are modest; I'm sure I could sell far more if I invested in promotion, but my life is focused elsewhere right now.)

Not a wheelbarrow
My point is that you don't need a wheelbarrow full of cash to self publish a book, and I get really frustrated when I hear people spending thousands of dollars to do something I did for a couple hundred.

A writers group I know of, for example, expects to spend $10,000 to publish an anthology. They're not paying the authors; just the opposite: they're asking friends and family to chip in. It appears, from what I can discern, that the majority of this huge wheelbarrow of cash is going to the consultants who are helping the group self-publish their anthology.

Granted, they definitely need an editor. And they certainly need a cover designed. And they probably need a layout tech. I'm just having trouble adding that up to get to $10,000. Maybe they're planning one hell of a launch party.

Anyway, if you want to waste a ton of money self-publishing, just hire a consultant without understanding what, exactly, they're producing. Anyone who tells you that self-publishing is hard is probably trying to overcharge you, and anyone that tells you they can make your book successful for some fee is probably lying. There is no need to spend a bunch of money on consultants.

Meanwhile, I'm raking in the profits like the guy who cleans coins out of the fountain at the Motel 6 in Soledad. Admit it. You wish you were me.

Not sold out. Copies still available.
The third book will be out in the first half of 2014.
I have an email list. Sign up for it. In six months, I've sent exactly zero emails to this list. But I have two books coming out in the next six months, and you might miss them if you don't sign up. So go sign up now. Before you forget and stuff.

November 26, 2013

Empowering others to their own self-empowerment

Yesterday a friend pointed me to a link with seven awesome affirmations, reasons to "stop proving yourself to everyone else." There are great points there for everyone to remind themselves of from time to time, especially in the Internet era.

But as I read it, I thought about how these lists are like Twinkies for the psyche--good for the sugar rush and quick calories for one's confidence, but not enough to overcome true self esteem difficulties if the environment around you pushes you down all the time. It's easy to tell yourself to be who you really are, find your own path, own your happiness... but if those closest to you don't give you the space and support you need, you'll keep getting dragged down.

As a parent, youth coach, former scout leader, and manager in the workplace, I am constantly focusing on empowering others. I believe in all seven points in the article and use my own version of them to guide me in coaching, managing, raising my kids, talking with friends--everywhere I interact with people. Maybe that's just my positivity strength, but everyone is capable of being a force for empowerment.

With that in mind, here are seven points for those of us who want to empower others to grow, to accomplish all they can, to be happier, to suffer less stress.

1. Don't compare them to someone else.

Being compared to someone else sucks, especially if you're the one that falls short. Celebrating the abilities and accomplishments of others is wonderful, and we should do that. Saying that Susan's husband is a great cook, however, is different from saying, "I wish you could cook like Susan's husband." Being happy your son's friend got straight A's is different from saying, "I guess you're just not smart like he is."

We all have different talents, strengths, likes, and dislikes. The girl that can't spell might be a dynamite poet. The boy struggling in Chemistry might be a whiz at Physics. Instead of pointing out where you think they're falling short, focus on what they do well. Recognize their talents. Don't get mat at your kid if he'd rather socialize than bury his head in a book; chances are, the parents of the bookworm wish their kid would be more outgoing and social. Love them for who they are, acknowledge and understand their strengths, and guide them in a way that will help them harness those strengths.

2. Understand, then embrace, their dreams.

Popular culture is full of stories of parents forcing their kids into certain careers or molds. Sometimes it works out, but come on. If you were forced into a career you hated, how happy would you be?

People perform better and live happier if they can pursue what they love. What they love, not what you want them to love. Maybe you think you see them being successful in a particular path if they'd only commit themselves to it. But they never commit, even if they've tried it. Frustrating, right? Forget it. Their dreams are not about you. Their dreams are about them. They won't commit to your ideas because they're your ideas, not necessarily their ideas. Instead of trying to fit them into roles, help them figure out for themselves what they love. Then, embrace it. Support it.

3. Illuminate their path, but don't walk it for them

We all know the term "micromanage" as a bad word. For good reason. Not only does a micromanager frustrate the people they're controlling, but they're also creating stress and stifling growth. This is true both with leading teens and managing the workplace, where we strive to develop and grow talent while simultaneously accomplishing the work that needs to get done.

The manager's job is to set up the tasks, then provide the tools and materials for the worker to get the job done. Get out of the way and let them do it. Maybe they'll do it a different way from your way, and that's okay. If they seek help, give it. Shine a light on the path so they know where to go, but don't control every step of the way. People perform far better if you let them unleash their own creativity, and they take far greater pride when they know they've accomplished something on their own.

Micromanaging says I don't trust you to do it right. Handing them the keys and giving them a map says I know you can do it. Which is more empowering?

4. Make sure they stop looking up for a bit.

We're all under such pressure to reach a consumerism-defined version of "success." It's so easy to look at those who have more than we do and think we're not as successful as we should be. Nicer cars, bigger houses, brighter jewelry, fancier clothes. Don't feed that monster. It's just one more way that society makes us feel less than we are. If you think about it, advertising exists to make us think our life sucks, and to make us compare ourselves to some consumeristic ideal that, when you look at it, is all veneer and no structure.

If you know someone perpetually feeling stressed about their wealth or feeling inferior to those who have more things, help them stop looking up the economic ladder for a bit. Help them look down and see how high they really are. (With 1.6 billion people living without electricity, if they can read this blog post they're already in pretty good shape.) Then, go a step further and help them understand that they should not define themselves by the things they possess. And prove it by caring about them, not about their things. Be a good friend.

5. Be patient.

Not everyone develops at the same pace, so be patient. I see parents getting so frustrated with their children because things seem so much easier to adults than to kids. The kid has only 15 years of life experience instead of the 40 or 50 the parent has, after all. The kid isn't going to automatically know or be able to do things adults take for granted. It starts early, with new parents fretting that their baby isn't walking as early as those other babies... give it a rest. All kids grow up. Parenting is a constant exercise in seeing the world from the kid's perspective and helping them grow up. Same thing is true with adults. We are all growing and developing every day, facing new challenges and trying to learn new things. Don't get frustrated that they're not expert in everything right now.

6. Let them fall... but be ready with the first aid kit.

We've all seen the graphics going around the internet that success can't be reached by a straight path. Success is reached through a multitude of missteps, learning with each one. Parents and micromanagers have difficulty seeing their children and workers fail. It could be because they think the failure would reflect badly on them as the parent or manager. Or it could be that they don't want the task to go undone or be done incorrectly. Or, they might just be uncomfortable seeing their kid or worker feel bad at falling short of the goal.

But if you do everything for them, they'll never grow. They'll never feel the sting of losing or the elation of achievement because it will always be dampened by the knowledge that someone was there to fix it and make it all right. Sometimes, you have to be there to catch them before they get hurt. Other times, though, it's more important to stand by and watch, then pick them up and apply the first aid afterwards. Either way, you have to let go and allow them to grow. But let them know you're nearby.

7. Don't try to make it all about you.

It isn't about you. So don't try to make it about you. When they're telling you something, don't hijack their story and tell your own. When they're telling you what they want out of life, don't compare it to what you want out of life. When they're working out a problem, don't try to make them do it your way. So what if they want to load the silverware into the dishwasher upside-down? So what if they want to drive the back streets when you would take the highway? It's not about you, and you can't successfully make it about you. When you try, all you do is make people feel that you care only about yourself and don't care about them.

And maybe that's really the case. But it doesn't have to be.