Under pressure? Flip your thinking


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Even those who aren’t big NASCAR fans were on the edge of their seats during the last 10 laps of the Watkins Glen International race. Winless Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, was in the lead. The race was his 99th start in the NASCAR Cup series, and he was still looking for his first checkered flag.

Martin Truex, Jr., in the No. 78 car was right behind him. He was close. Too close. Not quite enough speed to overpower the No. 9 car. But enough speed to hang with him and wait. Wait for the slightest miscalculation from Elliott, a tiny flaw in judgment that can happen at top speeds on this winding road course, a high-pressure error that would crack open a window of opportunity to allow Truex to sail by and sink Elliott’s 99th attempt to win his first Cup race.

Life can be plenty difficult sometimes.

What was Elliott thinking during those final laps? It would be easy to curse the competition. To grumble about not being able to shake off Truex. To even allow negative thoughts to creep in of losing it just before the finish line.

Turns out he flipped it.

Not the car. His thinking.

Elliott had recently watched a video clip by Georgia coach, Kirby Smart. He talked about the enormous expectations of his football team. Last year, they played in the championship game and lost to Alabama in overtime. There is pressure for a repeat trip to that final and decisive game and this time, to come out the victor.

The coach quoted tennis legend, Billie Jean King, when he told his team that, “Pressure is a privilege.”

We tend to think too much in this world about how to remove stress and stressful expectations from our lives—that pressure is a burden.

But what if we thought differently about stress? And expectations? And pressure?

Elliott ended up winning that race. And in the post-race interview he said that pressure is a privilege.

The only reason he had pressure at that moment was because of where he was—a 22-year-old race car driver racing with the top professionals in his sport. His determination and skill set got him to the big league. It was a privilege to be among the elite. He embraced it, even though that privilege came with enormous pressure.

And he wouldn’t want it any other way. The alternative—having no stress or expectations—would not have led him to that moment. Pressure is part of accomplishing great things.

Very few are professional race car drivers, but many have pressures. Pressure to raise our kids well, to the best of our abilities, knowing that they truly are our future. Pressure to succeed in our job or our business because, at a minimum, it keeps a roof over our head and more so because we have goals we want to accomplish. Pressure in navigating the ebb and flow of personal and professional relationships.

Imagine if we had no stress or a life with no expectations placed upon us. At first, the idea of a non-stop vacation might sound pretty appealing. But after a while, we’d want more. We’d expect more. Otherwise, the days would float by in a meaningless way.

We can flip our thinking about pressure when we realize that our journey prepared us for the challenge at hand. Our life experiences build and lead us to pivotal moments, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It means we’ve done a lot of things right to get there. And whether we win or lose, we’ll come out better for it—better prepared for the next challenge.

Then it clicks that pressure isn’t a burden, but instead a privilege.

One that we’ve earned.

After online shopping

online shopping

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The social act of shopping is disappearing. And it’s happening quickly.

Just a decade ago, it was common for Olivia and her “mothers” to make shopping trips to regional retail locations. She and her mother, godmother (aunt) and grandmother all hopped into one vehicle and made the enjoyable one-hour drive together. Looking back to that time, nobody would be able to remember the purchases that were made. It was the windshield time—the chatter and storytelling—that was valuable.


Multi-generational shopping trips are diminishing. Instead, we have Amazon.

In CNBC’s 2017 All American Economic Survey focusing on holiday shoppers, it found that about half the consumers in this country do the majority of their purchasing online. Of that number, a whopping 75 percent shop on Amazon most of the time. Online purchases through Walmart ranked second—at a distant eight percent.

After online sales, big box retail stores came in second and department retail stores were third.

Brick and mortar businesses have an immense challenge before them. It will be interesting to see the adjustments these businesses must make to stay profitable ten years from now. Many are already choosing to partner with Amazon and make their products available online through this colossus. For businesses like Toys R Us and Younkers, it’s too late.

Online shopping is pervasive, and it’s here to stay. In fact, it’s already morphed into another creation with online personal shopping services like Stitch Fix and Trunk Club. Personal stylists use information from your completed questionnaire to regularly choose and send clothing items to you.

Now, we don’t even have to “shop.” All we have to do is “get.”

Still, there’s no need to resist or protest all this online business. There are a lot of benefits to online shopping, and you can’t stop progress.

Consumers point to efficiencies and time saved as one reason to shop online. That’s understandable, as long as time saved is time spent in another social manner. In other words, we’re saving all this time—but for what?

If it’s freeing up your time for more interpersonal relationships—face to face time—that’s a good thing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s 2015 American Time Use Survey found that average, daily time spent socializing is 41 minutes.

That doesn’t seem like very much time to make personal connections with others. Texting, tweeting, emailing, Snapchatting and Facebooking don’t count. Social media and all digital communication is useful and has its place. But there’s no comparison to being fully present with the person in front of you versus making and receiving electronic comments.

Olivia is grown now and on her own. Her mother recently needed a dress for an upcoming wedding, and it would have been great fun for them to go shopping together. But the mother, one Saturday afternoon at home and alone, decided to spend a good chunk of time searching online for dresses. She found one she liked and screenshot it so she could show it later to her daughter.

On a summer day on a historic hotel porch with rocking chairs, she pulled out her smart phone and showed her daughter the digital dress desire. The daughter approved. The shopping is likely done. They shared a laugh about the new, and now much shorter, mother-daughter shopping experience.

But then they left their cozy, white-washed porch and headed out. They were going to see a play that night.

Still having adventures together—just not as many shopping ones.

Blum’s seat is curiously called “most vulnerable”

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The most vulnerable U.S. House of Representatives seat is located in Iowa. That’s what Roll Call, a leading provider of congressional news, recently said about Iowa’s northeast district and its seat holder—Rod Blum.

Iowa is a swing state. Elections, here, have an element of uncertainty. But to be labeled “most vulnerable” out of 435 districts is something. Not everyone in Northeast Iowa resides in the 1st Congressional District, but all should wonder about the makings of the most vulnerable House seat in the country.

According to Ballotpedia, there are two big determining factors: election data and candidate viability.

Election data shows that the party of a newly elected president can be more vulnerable at mid-terms. That vulnerability increases if you’re a Republican representative running for re-election in a district that voted Democratic in the last presidential election. That’s not the case here, as Donald Trump won the district.

Trump’s win over Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, in that district was a narrow one, though, and the district voted for Barrack Obama in the previous two presidential elections.

The margin of victory from past congressional elections is also considered. Slimmer wins increase vulnerability. Blum beat his last opponent by almost eight percentage points—a comfortable victory.

The data shows some signs of vulnerability, but isn’t overwhelming. It’s hard to understand how it places the district more vulnerable than hundreds of others.

Then there’s candidate viability. A strong candidate needs a minimum of three things: a message that resonates with voters, a history that instills confidence and approval, and enough money to run a successful campaign.

Challenger Abby Finkenauer’s message is that she will fight to improve the standard of living for hard-working Americans. This sounds awfully close to fighting for the “forgotten ones” that Trump campaigned for in 2016. His message resonated, and voters put him in office.

The cause was a good one, and we’re beginning to see some positive results. According to Trading Economics, a provider of historical data on economic indicators, wages increased 4.56 percent in April, over the previous April. In fact, since December 2017 monthly wages have consistently been four percent higher than the previous year.

There’s room for improvement, but paychecks are already increasing.

The candidates’ personal histories sharply contrast. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the majority of representatives in the U.S. House are now millionaires. Rod Blum is one of them. To his credit, though, he became a self-made millionaire in the private sector before going to Washington, D.C. There are many government servants who become millionaires during their public service.

Finkenauer’s history is as a solid public servant.

She had previously worked as a page in the Iowa House of Representatives and after graduating from Drake University, she worked as a legislative assistant. In 2014, she was elected as a representative to the Iowa House and won re-election in 2016.

Blum is a success story from the private sector. Finkenauer is a success from the public one. Voters are more frequently choosing outsiders—those who aren’t career government individuals—to fix what’s wrong in Washington.

Strong candidate viability also requires enough money to run a successful campaign. Finkenauer has raised more than a million dollars, keeping her campaign on a level playing field with Rod Blum’s. And according to the Washington Post, the Nancy Pelosi-connected House Majority PAC plans to spend a half million dollars in television advertisements against Rod Blum. There will likely be a healthy response from Republican political action committees.

Finkenauer’s candidacy is certainly viable, but doesn’t seem so extraordinary that it would catapult the 1st Congressional District to most vulnerable status.

Anything can happen in a swing state, but the district’s “most vulnerable” ranking is a head-scratcher.

Rankings and polls, though, are slippery words in politics. Results are concrete.

The sunset deliverer


The shacks, peppered throughout St. Pete’s Beach, are for housing beach chairs. But these hardy Midwesterners saw them as the perfect windbreak from Florida’s unseasonably chilly gusts, even for January.

Sunsets here are renowned, and it was our last vacation night. My husband and I made our way through the squeaky, white sand and hunkered down by our windbreak. Once out of the wind, we could relax and look to the horizon. The sun was on the move.

That’s when the sunset deliverer appeared.

With mixed drink in one hand and a smart phone in the other, he ambled over to the windbreak. I guess he knew the value of a good beach chair shack, too.

He’d been here before. Many times.

Our middle-aged visitor lived just on the other side of the highway. It was an easy walk to get to one of the plentiful beach bars and wind up his day with a favorite drink. He was a bachelor and didn’t have any other family with him. His mother lived in the Midwest. And she worried about him.

That’s the thing about mothers. Even before you were born, she was worrying about you.

We learned a lot about each other in those few minutes. Funny how that can happen with complete strangers. But we weren’t there to talk. The sun was meeting the water. We strode out and clicked away at the colorful sight before us.

Walking back to the windbreak, he got busy texting and attaching his sunset photo. He sent it to his mother.

He does that every night.

It lets her know that he’s ok. I’m guessing his elderly mother sends a quick acknowledgement back, letting him know that she’s ok too.

Maybe he’s not the best at making phone calls. A lot of people aren’t. I got the feeling that many days could go by without a visit on the phone with his mother. With the distance between them, personal visits had to be even tougher to accomplish.

The natural order of life is for our kids to grow up and become independent adults with productive and busy lives of their own. We parents wouldn’t want it any other way.

But no matter how spectacularly autonomous they become, mothers still worry about them. Are they happy? Are they lonely? Are they safe? Are they healthy? The list goes on.

The sunset deliverer knows this. He’s figured out that a mother’s love will also include unnecessary worry over a grown and capable man. It’s all a package deal.

And so even though he doesn’t call, he sends a stunning sunset.

Every night.

Some might feel he’s doing the bare minimum for his elderly parent. Others will see the act as one of great thoughtfulness. It’s not everything, but it’s something.

I watched the sunset deliverer trudge through the deep sand and return to his bar stool, where he comfortably struck up a conversation with the fellow next to him.

It’s sundown at St. Pete’s Beach, and all is well. His mother needn’t worry tonight.

“Right to Try” needs a rewrite


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The “Right to Try” bill makes some procedural changes, intended to help the terminally ill. But without addressing core issues, it could be tough to meet the end goal of giving these individuals what they want and need—a chance.

The proposed federal legislation aims to expand access to experimental or investigational drugs that have cleared phase one testing. The current procedure is to contact the Food and Drug Administration, where a compassionate use request may be made. The new bill could allow that request to be made directly to the drug company.

The bill seems sensible. Patients gain quicker and greater access to experimental and potentially life-saving drugs, and manufacturers are protected from lawsuits if these drugs—not yet approved by the FDA—fail or accelerate the terminal diagnosis.

But although patients may request access to these experimental drugs, there’s no requirement that for-profit companies must grant those requests. In fact, the Senate’s version states, “No liability shall lie against a sponsor, manufacturer, prescriber, dispenser or other individual entity for its determination not to provide access to an eligible investigational drug…”

Dozens of states have similar legislation. Iowa’s law, “…does not require a manufacturer of an investigational drug, biological product, or device to provide or otherwise make available the investigational drug, biological product, or device to an eligible patient.”

Drug companies can’t be forced to provide a developing and preliminary product.

There are several reasons why a manufacturer may deny a compassionate use request for an unapproved drug. One thing that’s certain is that marketing and profitability come only when proven products receive official FDA approval, and that currently requires rigorous, controlled clinical testing.

The standard approval process includes a minimum of three testing phases on humans. Phase one tests 20-80 individuals and emphasizes safety and the discovery of side effects. Phase two tests hundreds of individuals with the disease or condition that the drug hopes to successfully treat. Typically, these are controlled tests with some receiving the experimental drug and others receiving a placebo. It tests for effectiveness and monitors safety. Phase three tests thousands of individuals under controlled conditions where safety and effectiveness continue to be monitored.

There is an accelerated approval program designed to fast-track drugs for life-threatening illnesses. But the fast-track approval process may still not be fast enough for the terminally ill.

And it remains that—despite this legislation that advocates for expanded access of unapproved drugs—the FDA continues to require the manufacturer to successfully finish phase two and three controlled clinical testing in order to potentially receive official drug approval.

It’s not clear, either, whether these separate compassionate use experiences could derail drug approval. The Senate’s version states that it will not use a clinical outcome associated with the use of an investigational drug to delay or adversely affect its review or approval. But the sentence continues with an “unless”—unless the clinical outcome is critical to determining the safety of the eligible investigational drug.

That provides zero clarity and assurances for manufacturers.

The House and Senate have passed their own versions on the “right to try.” Much more thought is needed as they work together to pass a bill that helps the terminally ill.

Consumer safety and company profitability are key in successfully bringing a drug to market for issues that are not life-threatening. The system in place can work well when time is on our side.

The terminally ill, though, need a second system—one where they can request access to a hopeful but unapproved drug and then have that request granted because it’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to do so.

The current bill doesn’t address this problem. For every person battling a terminal illness, I wish it would.

Effective teachers are key in solving school safety issues

teacher and student

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The United States may be the Wild West of the civilized world. Many perceive us as a nation of freedom-loving gun-toters, and it has its perks. It takes a gritty spirit to successfully defend the homeland. We have been unconquered. Not every nation can say that.

Some want to strengthen the Second Amendment, and others want to weaken it. All, though, can recognize the need to balance our freedoms with public safety.

The aftermath of a school mass shooting rightfully focuses on the immediate loss of innocent life. The long-range view, though, is dire as well.

Our schools are already struggling. According to the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranked 30th in math and 19th in science out of 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

It’s a challenge to find and keep high-performing teachers in the classroom. They deal with multiple frustrations daily—some students who don’t apply themselves, a lack of tools they sometimes need to be successful in their job, and no increased financial reward or recognition for excellent performance.

And now we must add a sense of lack of safety to the mix.

A 2013 School Improvement Network survey reported that 31 percent of educators felt their school was not safe from gun violence. Now, that number has jumped to 69 percent.

At some point, these high-performing teachers will make the reasonable conclusion that they can take their skill set and be equally or more successful in another endeavor. And feel safer.

Our country can’t withstand that loss. A report entitled, “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” published by the Council on Foreign Relations, states, “Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

In order to keep our best teachers in the classroom, we must ask them what they need in order to feel safe and keep their students safe. It also wouldn’t hurt to survey our high-achieving college students who are pursuing teaching degrees.

We need to listen—and then deliver to the best of our ability.

There have been many suggestions to make our schools safer: Secure entrances with locked doors that require the individual to be buzzed in, increase police or security officer presence, utilize metal detectors at entrances, strengthen background checks for firearm purchases, allow concealed carry permits in schools, raise the age to purchase certain firearms, eliminate certain firearms, conduct active shooter drills, address mental health and social breakdown issues, educate all that when you “see something, say something,” and hold accountable authorities when they drop the ball.

Some of these solutions must be debated and tackled at the federal or state level. Others can be considered now at the local level. For every solution, there’s the potential of an unintended consequence. And nothing will make our schools 100 percent safe. But teachers’ voices should be one of the loudest when we aim for that goal.

In Iowa, a child who has reached the age of six and is under sixteen years of age by September 15 is of compulsory attendance age. Unless home schooled, kids have no choice and are required to be in these school buildings.

Teachers, though, choose to be in the profession of teaching. And they can choose to leave.

A loss of effective teachers from our schools would be harmful to our nation. A poorly-educated populace could lead to a different kind of Wild West—one that none of us wants.

Nonprofits needn’t worry that fewer will itemize


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The recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (affecting 2018 taxes) will help most middle-class wage earners keep more of their hard-earned dollars. It would be nice to celebrate this tax cut, but those who oppose the law are trying to take the fun out of it with their premonitions of significant drops in charitable giving.

That’s because the standard deduction has doubled to $12,000 for an individual and $24,000 for a married couple. Those are big numbers. Fewer will meet the threshold of $12,000-$24,000 in deductions—such as charitable donations—that bumps them into itemization. Instead, the better deal for this group will be to take the standard deduction.

And so, fewer will itemize.

But the rhetoric surrounding this issue tries to make you believe that charitable giving is the same as itemization of giving. It’s not.

Charitable donations will still happen, whether or not they’re itemized at the end of the year. Potential itemization is not the first or most important thought of donors when they’re considering whether or not to make a contribution.

According to a 2106 Gallup poll, “Donors invest money and effort in charitable organizations when they feel a strong emotional or psychological connection to them.” Also, a 2016 Holiday Giving Survey by World Vision reports that, “Roughly half of Americans (52 percent) would choose to donate to charities that support a cause they are passionate about, and more than one-third (35 percent) say they would choose a charity they have a personal connection to.”

Without surveys and polls, we know this makes sense when we think about where we send our charitable donations. Perhaps believing that no child should go hungry prompts you to donate to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. Or, maybe the spirit of doing “the wave” at an Iowa football game propelled you to make a financial contribution to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

On the flip side, there may be nonprofits that would never receive your donation dollars—no matter how great the itemization reward. If you’re not a fan of the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood, benefits of itemization wouldn’t be enough for you to write the check.

It’s the heart muscle that gets used when donating. It pumps successfully whether using the standard deduction or the itemization process.

Charitable giving depends upon three things. First, citizens must have a disposable income strong enough in order to be able to give. The new tax law helps with that, by allowing individuals and married couples to keep more of the money they earn. Secondly, there must be a strong emotional connection to a cause. There are tens of thousands of worthy nonprofits in the state of Iowa. Pick one. Or two, or four, or more. Lastly, the donor must feel confident that donation dollars are being used wisely by the nonprofit. A 2015 poll conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy states, “When asked about factors that influence their giving, the biggest portion, 68 percent, said it is very important that the charity has evidence that its programs are effective.”

Instead of worrying about the itemization detail, nonprofits should focus their attention on successfully addressing a need that people in the community care about and then being transparent in how donation dollars are spent.

Many people give, but not all need to itemize.

The recent tax cuts were a win for the middle class. Nonprofits can be happy for these taxpayers.