Jay Rifenbary

Jay Rifenbary's Blog

Take Home Your Own Gold Medal

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Reflecting on the Sochi Winter Olympic Games I once again was amazed at the power and strength of the human mind, body and spirit. With countless examples of perseverance, stamina, grit, glory and heartache the journey each athlete pursued to arrive at such a venue of human potential was inspiring. Of course the principles and character traits needed to succeed on the snow and ice are the same needed to succeed at any life endeavor. To be the finest artist, musician, teacher, soldier, doctor, cook, author and parent for example requires hard work, taking risks, thinking outside the box, personal sacrifice, honest reflection, emotional vulnerability, determination, and personal accountability.

I seriously doubt any athlete was expecting someone else or some outside entity to do their event for them. Nor would I expect any successful Olympian to be whining about what he or she cannot do, and making excuses. Although there may be reasons for added challenges such as weather, illness, flaw in a suit design, etc., at the end of the day how one reacts to the challenge is as telling of an individual's character and values as how one reacts in victory.

As a society, how are we reacting to challenges, and how are we doing in regard to personal accountability and taking ownership for our future? Are we whining more, blaming more and becoming less independent? Individually, would you be on the medal stand? You are the primary instrument in orchestrating the life you want, whether you want to believe that or not. Life is filled with struggles, trepidation, failures and disappointments, but it is in the overcoming of those challenges that develops the personal and professional character in each of us.

There is little debate that increased dependency on an outside entity for individual fulfillment is debilitating to self-respect, and to the very fabric of a free and independent society. There are many in need and as a society we have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves. There is also a strong argument that as a society we are becoming more dependent on government involvement into our lives, and for many not by choice. As American economist, social theorist and author Thomas Sowell stated, “Helping those who have been struck by unforeseeable misfortunes is fundamentally different from making dependency a way of life.” To assume that the government is there to provide everyone everything will be a social and economic disaster.

It is critical for an athlete to have a team of supporters behind him or her. A coach, mentor, trainer, therapist, family & friends are all part of that team for example, but in the end it will be the individual performance and choices made by the athlete that will ultimately determine victory or defeat. It is also critical that their are elements of government that provide a team of support for society, but like an athlete, it will ultimately be individual performance and choices that determine one’s future. A healthy, free and independent society is created when there is a proper balance between the role of government and self-determination. Dependency is a catalyst for apathy, a lack of individual initiative, generates an increased sense of entitlement and lack of personal responsibility. Most importantly it undermines and underutilizes human potential and achievement. Pope Francis stated, “In Europe first and now in America, elected men have taken it upon themselves to indebt their people to create and atmosphere of dependence. And why? For their own selfish need to increase their own personal power.”

You have the potential to win gold medals that reflect the many victories in your own life. However, that cannot be achieved if you fail to persevere, disbelieve in yourself, and become dependent on someone else to create the life you want. The core values that you stand for and believe in will be the lighthouse that guides you through those foggy and stormy days of self-doubt and self-defeat. It is the collective practice of those values that structure a strong and resilient character to cross the finish line in personal victory. As Confucius said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.



The Attack On Attention Span

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How vulnerable are you to distractions? Are you better able to focus on the priorities of your day today than you were five years ago? As technological advancement continues to evolve are your listening skills and those of your children improving? According to Wikipedia, “Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals.” There is little doubt that an attack on the ability to pay attention is occurring. By all accounts and research the average attention span for young and old alike, particularly over the past decade, has significantly decreased. This is attributed to the technological expansion of external stimulation and distraction. The addictive need to check your smart phone, email, text, post on Facebook, Tweet what you had to eat, be entertained, and get to the next level of that video game are examples of both stimulation and distraction.

This also adds to the perceived necessity to do things quickly as you believe you have less time to be able to pay attention, because of the next upcoming stimulation or distraction. To feel you have to rush through housework, homework, lifework, and job related work all within minutes provides a minimal quality of life. Even with all this multi-tasking are you closer to your goals then you were this morning? Could you have made greater progress if you gave greater attention to a couple of important tasks, than a plethora of meaningless ones? How many of the tasks you do support and develop your core values for a successful future? Do you even know what values are important to you, and if so have you been focused and attentive to live those values? Without an understanding of what you stand for and believe in, the more susceptible you are to being distracted and inattentive because you do not know what is most important in your life. The ability to multi-task is an exceptional skill, but not at the expense of thorough thought, proper planning, efficient execution, thoughtfulness toward others and purposeful achievement.

The ability to pay attention and focus on a singular goal is critical to the accomplishment of that goal. For example, how many Olympians, chief executives, engineers, doctors, sales professionals, actors, musicians, artists, students, and parents succeed when they lose focus or become inattentive? From a value perspective, what occurs when you lose focus on what is truly important, and are distracted by fun, frolic, and deviant temptations? Heartache, misery and despair always follow. As Steve Jobs so simply said, “Focusing is about saying No.”

In addition, the belief that our youth need to be constantly entertained in order for them to learn is only adding to a growing inability to focus, pay attention and listen effectively. Why? What happens when they are no longer being entertained? The inability to be attentive will also add to more shallowness in regard to human relationships as the decade’s progress. Part of the human experience is the ability to genuinely and deeply feel for another. That cannot happen if you cannot focus and pay attention to the other person. It also hinders your ability to be empathetic and respectful of another, because you are less likely to listen and be attentive to the needs and thoughts of others.

A scattered brain behavior also undermines the fundamental courtesies of human interaction. Manners, etiquette and thoughtfulness are all negatively impacted. I may be older, but how many of you cringe when a child is ill mannered toward an adult, parent or grandparent because their smart phone is more important? Parents who believe that this behavior is insignificant might want to reevaluate their own value system in regard to what makes a socially respectful society. It is essential for all who believe in the depth of humanity and the spirit within all of us to make a concerted effort to be an example, a teacher, and a leader as it relates to the ability to focus, listen and be attentive. It will not only enhance the development of a more learned and accomplished society, but a more humane one as well.



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