The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective


Archive for March, 2011

March Madness – Final Four

You may remember me mentioning how much I enjoy college basketball this time of year. For a few weeks the intensity of competition is raised and sustained unlike any other seasonal sport we enjoy.  Oh, other sports have big games; but we’re talking about dozens of big games played back-to-back in a “Win or go home!” setting. 

So what makes March Madness so different?  Why do we watch tournaments when we might be less avid fans during the regular season?  And why do we celebrate “Cinderella” teams in NCAA basketball, while we berate as pretenders the same “Cinderella” teams in NCAA football?  (There is only one Cinderella, isn’t there?)  Is it that we are attracted to the heightened level of competition?  Win or go home!  I love the competition, don’t you?

There are many parallels between sports competition and business competition.  We relate because we compete in our jobs on a daily basis, yes?  Of course, maintaining a high level of enthusiasm, maintaining our “edge” can be difficult day in and day out.  Hence the average business person in general and the average sales person in particular have a continuous need for motivation.  OK, then what are common motivational sources?  Here’s Scott Deeter’s view:

Our competition got me out of bed in the morning; paranoia is a wonderful motivator.

Paranoia – now there’s a source of motivation!  Lord knows I have felt paranoid on more than one occasion when I’m trying to get that big deal; finish that big project; or win recognition from my Manager.  However, we might all agree that a little paranoia probably goes a long way.  If we get too carried away they might start padding our cubicles.

Let’s think about other sources of motivation we can draw on.  How about the personal pride we gain by not giving up; not quitting; staying the course no matter how difficult, until we reach our goal. That mind set can be very motivational; and we can leverage it individually as well as with a team.  We see that “never give up, never give in” mentality on display by teams in the NCAA tournament.  How fun!  And we occasionally see those with weaker mental toughness, and we see them collapse in the face of competition.  “Over-rated” they get labeled.   “Pretenders”.

Same thing can happen at the office and when it does, those of us that are committed get mad at those that give up, don’t we?

There’s only one thing worse than somebody who quits and leaves – and that’s somebody who quits and stays.

                                                                           Kevin Davis

Getting the job done right; contributing to the best of our ability; being a dependable teammate; helping the company; our department; and ourselves win – that’s motivating!  And when we’re with our family; at a cocktail party; or in any other social setting, we can tell the people who have great pride in their work and the company they work for.  We’re attracted to them.  These winners stand out.  And no matter how difficult the tasks can be at times, they are motivated by a “never say die” attitude.  Maybe they take the perspective from Jean Girandoux to heart:

Only the mediocre are always at their best.

So let’s enjoy some round ball and leverage the hype of March Madness towards meeting our business goals.  And every day I’m going to visualize success by repeating the mantra over and over and over again in my mind – nothing but net!


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If you’re like me – well – God love us for our quirks! 

Recently, I was invited me to find new employment (yep, I was fired).  I had the opportunity to join the traumatized, fearful ranks of the unemployed, wondering how I will put food on the table and keep my home from foreclosure.  Fearing the worst comes easy sometimes, doesn’t it?

I say I had the opportunity to join these fearful ranks, but actually I didn’t in the way you’re thinking.  Oh I had fear alright; at my age, with the state of the US economy, and my wife’s four horses in our backyard eating while we sleep, there are plenty of reasons to have fear.  But the source of my fear was different – it was quirky.  But fear just the same, and: 

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is. 

                                                                            German Proverb

So there I was; 8:30 Friday morning, losing the job I liked and felt very competent at, and facing a downward, spiral staircase of fear, the wolf right behind me.  What will I do now?  How will we get by?  What will our horses eat?  I only took a few steps down that staircase, however.  You see, by 5:00 p.m. on the same day, I had two job offers and after three weeks of mutual due-diligence, I accepted an offer to join a terrific company, working for a terrific boss, and engaged in a role that I’m a perfect fit for.  Here’s to Seneca:

Our fears are always more numerous than our dangers.


Yet I still had fear then; have it now, too.   In fact, at one point my fear grew so large that I almost didn’t take the job.  You see, I feared success.  Funny thing about fear in the business world; we can fear failure; we can fear losing our jobs; we can fear all of the bad things that may happen.  We can also fear success.  We can fear greatness.  I guess if we leave it up to us, we leave ourselves no place to hide from fear, yes?  Quirky!

Actually, there is no place to hide; no way to avoid danger; no guaranteed contracts (unless you’re a ball player or an elected official).  We will just have to do our best to do the job that we are hired to do and take our chances.  And you know what?  Maybe our hiring managers see the qualities we have even more clearly than we see ourselves.  Maybe they knew what they were doing when they hired us.  Maybe if we stopped fearing and looking over our shoulder for a moment, we can be the great contributor our companies think we will be.  Maybe…

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens most of us.  We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”

                                                                           Nelson Mandela

OK, OK – gorgeous and fabulous may be a stretch.  But maybe we really are brilliant and talented.  And maybe our companies; our clients; our manager; and our staff really are fortunate to have us.  Maybe there really aren’t any wolves chasing us.

So here’s to our boss who wants us on the team – quirks and all.  And here’s to going out every day to be brilliant and talented (and maybe even a little gorgeous and fabulous, too!). 


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Wisdom and IT and logic…

Wisdom (n.) – knowledge, understanding, good judgment

Logic (n.) – reason, judgment, common sense

Wisdom in the IT arena – add in a few sales professionals and we get quite the (logical) combination!  Here’s an example:  I have made a living selling some of the most advanced technology to very smart and totally experienced customers, even though I am actually technically challenged myself.  I know how systems work; I don’t know how to work systems; which is not wise; but is logical, yes?

One of my favorite IT gurus wrote for ComputerWorld magazine and here is what he said about the wisdom IT leaders should not lose sight of:

Conventional IT Wisdom:

  • Free anything… isn’t…
  • If nobody else is trying something, there’s usually a reason.  Maybe not a good reason, but a reason…
  • “We’ve never done it that way before” is a more powerful argument than any cost/benefit analysis…
  • It always takes longer and costs more to do it later.
  • A good idea is no match for a bad habit.
  • The hardest problems get solved last.                                                                                                      Frank Hayes

There is a both wisdom and logic in Frank’s list; and logic can be an interesting and powerful phenomenon.

Take “Free anything…isn’t…” for instance.  That has wisdom in a business setting.  Although we sales-types have been schooled in the art of leveraging ROI calculators and often use phrases like, “this system will virtually pay for itself…” when ink and contract on a “freeware deal” finally meet – money will ultimately change hands, don’t you agree?  As sales professionals, we’re counting on it, even if the customer isn’t (which is only logical).

“We’ve never done it that way before…”  Now there’s wisdom (and logic) that is powerful.  In my career, I have witnessed the customer modify the new application to make it look and operate just like the old application, time and time again.  I call this the “IT Programmer & Outside Consulting Firm Full Employment Act”.  If we asked the customer why they spent the extra money to avoid using the new system in the new way that is was designed to be used, we might hear (you guessed it), “Because we’ve never done it that way before”.  Which of course is more powerful than the cost/benefit analysis of replacing the old system in the first place; and – here we go again – logical.

What about sales people?  When asked to embrace our company’s new, sales force automation system, we are very adept at providing all the excuses why we should “do that later”, regardless of how much later or at what cost, aren’t we?  Isn’t it amazing that a group of people in a profession built around the premise of selling “change” to our customers are so change-averse ourselves?  I suppose we fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” category, which of course may not be wise, but is (yep) logical.

In the eddy created where business people, technology people, and sales people all come together in the same place at the same time, logic can sometimes replace wisdom.  Sound decision-making can sometimes be swept away.  At those moments, good judgment; common sense; and even understanding may be overpowered.  The IT transactions that result may not always include wisdom, but they almost always include logic – and logic, if not wisdom, contributes to the “Sales Person Full Employment Act”.


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To my friends Matt, and Nancy, and Tony, and…

“You have cancer.”

Is there a worse phrase we can hear?

To Woody, David, Matt, Nancy, John, Tony, Lisa, Tracy… and all who have heard that phrase, our hopes and prayers are focused on you.

In 1959 my Mom heard that phrase, too.  She was thirty nine years old.  Fifteen years later, she succumbed.  But it was weeks and years longer; a lifetime longer; than the doctors predicted.  Remembering her spirit today brings to mind Charles Richards:

There are only as many days in the year as you make use of.  One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.

Live she did; a full life – one week at a time.  She had things yet to do; her family to care for; things to see; things that awakened her inner strength and incredible will to live.  And her powers were amazing.

That terrible phrase has remained a part of my life since I was a child.  Unfortunately, today many of our friends and colleagues and even family members are hearing it.  How many do you know?  Go on – take a moment and think of them; offer them a prayer.  You see, we can help them as they seek the inner strength to live.

In 1959, I don’t think we knew a lot about cancer.  It seemed fairly black or white back then:  either you had it or you didn’t; and if you had it, it was described by the part of your body it was found.  My Mom’s started with breast cancer, but spread into all kinds of new locations and unusual combinations.  Today, medicine has come a long way in early detection and more granular categorization.  My friend told me she has Sarcoma of which there are some 43 categories.  She said her doctors couldn’t categorize hers calling it instead “unclassified” – a 44th she supposed with a smile.

When it comes to cancer, it seems the more we know, the more we don’t.  One thing we can agree on perhaps was said by this Unknown Sage, “Everyday things become of little meaning in the face of death.”  What becomes important is family, friendships, personal perspective on life – the part of life remaining to live.  In times like these we realize we are all destined to die; it’s just the how and the when that differs.  But I’m not trying to bring us down; just the opposite!  Mark Twain said:

Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

OK – so let’s not get mired in thoughts of the undertaker.  Our friends, family and colleagues need our help with their thoughts of life!  Even modern medicine acknowledges that we all have incredible, unknown strength and unbelievable wills to survive deep down inside.  And each of us has the power to awaken and inspire this will to live in others.

So if you know someone that has cancer, help them be strong today.  Help them face their treatments this month.  Help them heal this year.  Think of them this week; write them; call them; text them; go see them.  Tell them:

Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.

                                                                          George Washington

And to my wife and everyone else who has summoned that power and are now cancer-survivors – God bless you!


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Taking my breath away

An Unknown Sage once said, “Life can be measured by the number of moments that take your breath away.”  Based on that metric, I enjoy a very, full-measured life.  The 19th of this month marks my 38th wedding anniversary to my high school sweetheart.  She still takes my breath away.  Happy anniversary, Debbie!

Over the years, I have occasionally rocked the foundation of our comfort zone – failed investments; family feuds; job changes; you know, the usual stuff.  There have been happy surprises, too – President’s Club trips; family celebrations; flowers with a nice card, just ‘cause.   Being part Irish, I know I have provided my wife many opportunities to invoke that Irish Blessing:

May you never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is worth forgetting.

So permit me to pause from the weekly drum beat of business, finance, sales, and the pursuit of career fulfillment and devote a few thoughts toward never forgetting what is worth remembering, OK?

Relationships – whether formal or informal; between husbands and wives; among parents and their children; bonds between brothers and sisters; shared with colleagues; or with our BFF’s; no matter.  Let’s pause for a moment to focus on those special people we know that have taken our breath away.  Yep, it’s time to give them a call (no voicemails please); write them a letter (texts or emails don’t count – they deserve the ink!); and let’s give out plenty of hugs – just ‘cause.

Relationships – family, friends, colleagues.  The currency of a fulfilling, meaningful life, don’t you think?  And like any other “bank account”, there are deposit and withdrawal transactions that relationships have on the depth of our lives, yes?  I have benefited often from many deposit transactions from those relationships that surround me.  And in so doing, each of these special people enriches my life.

Relationships – it’s too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our careers.  Often our jobs hold a powerful grasp over our minds, bodies, and sometimes even our souls.  Our daily routine gets captured.  Oh sure, we have good intentions; we just seem to run out of time or run short of energy, and we don’t get to those special people in our lives before bedtime.  We can easily wake early the next morning and repeat the pattern.  Before you know it, time has passed between meaningful interactions in our lives. 

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe that being successful is very important to those that have emotionally invested in us.  It’s very important to them to see us succeed.  We’re one of their sources of pride and joy.  So they don’t complain often (if at all).  They’ll just silently wish us well and wait for us to focus on them once again someday.  And when we do – it warms their heart!

Relationships – today I’m focused on my wife of 38 years – staying married to me, she has certainly earned it!  And I’m thankful to have her, my family, my friends, and my business colleagues in my life – they have made me a rich man.  And I salute those of you who enjoy long-lasting, loving marriages, too.  Perhaps we would agree in Harold Nicholson’s revelation:

The great secret of successful marriage is to treat all disasters as incidents and none of the incidents as disasters.

Let’s go buy some flowers and a nice greeting card for our wife (or husband, or significant other, or BFF) – just ‘cause.


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March Madness and pretending

March Madness – a time for greatness on the basketball court!  One of my favorite times of the year.  But where does greatness originate from?  And how can we leverage March Madness for our own benefit?  Well, I always believe in starting at the beginning.

First, how many people do you know who have achieved greatness and didn’t believe they were capable of being great?  I’m not talking about their outward-facing appearance and their image ranging from modesty to arrogance.  I’m talking about how they think of themselves inwardly.  Don’t worry about having self-doubts; guilt; second-thoughts; reservations; fear.  I’m simply asking can we achieve greatness without believing – or at least pretending to believe – we can and should be great?

Pretending to believe; take the James S. Hewett basketball story:

Former NBA center and coach Johnny Kerr said his biggest test as a coach came when he coached the then-expansion team the Chicago Bulls and his biggest player was 6’8″ Erwin Mueller.

We had lost seven in a row and I decided to give a psychological pep talk before a game with the Celtics, Kerr said.  I told Bob Boozer to go out and pretend he was the best scorer in basketball.  I told Jerry Sloan to pretend he was the best defensive guard.  I told Guy Rodgers to pretend he could run an offense better than any other guard, and I told Erwin Mueller to pretend he was the best rebounding, shot-blocking, scoring center in the game.  We lost the game by 17. 

I was pacing around the locker room afterward trying to figure out what to say when Mueller walked up, put his arm around me, and said, “Don’t worry about it Coach.  Just pretend we won.”

                                                                           James S. Hewett

Jerry Sloan, one of the “Original Bulls”.  He may not have been the best defensive guard in the NBA.  But he achieved greatness, don’t you think?  Jerry’s fame comes mostly from his coaching success with the Utah Jazz.  Consistency; team-play; fundamentals; toughness; his teams had these admirable qualities throughout his coaching career.  Oh, he had a few great players, too but they never had the best talent in the league.  So how did he get his players to believe they could be great?

Coaching in the sports world and leading in the sales world have many, many parallels.

So what makes great coaches and great sales leaders?  Well, I may not be able to articulate a specific list of skills, characteristics, and attributes, but I know a great coach and a great-coached team when I see one.  And whether they are truly great, or just pretending to believe they are truly great, the leader makes a big difference on the ultimate outcome. 

Bum Phillips had coaching success with the then Houston Oilers of the NFL, even though his teams were never thought of as having the best talent in the league.  The ultimate tribute to his coaching greatness was once described this way:

He can take his and beat yours; and then he can take yours and beat his.

                                                                          Unknown Sage

Just like the March Madness teams that are hearing their coaches tell them to believe; that they have the magic; that theirs can beat yours in this year’s tournament – I believe my 2011 will be a great year, too!  And even if I’m pretending to believe that will work, too.  How about you?


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March Madness and Tenacity

Boy do I love this time of year!  College basketball – prime time, baby! (as Dick Vitale would say with great enthusiasm.)  B-Ball Baby!  College; High School; NBA; what a great time of the year!  When we think about basketball and how the great coaches coach and the great players play, we can find many cross-over-lessons for business and life, yes?  

Take Al McGuire and his Marquette Warriors for example.   If you remember his image; his approach; his shtick on TV after he retired from coaching; you probably remember a successful man whose teams were consistently, tenaciously competitive.  Even so, only once could he claim the crown of NCAA Champion.  Many heart-breaking defeats, one magical season; his last season as head coach.

His teams had few true super stars as compared to UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, and other top programs.  No, they weren’t the “Little Sisters of the Poor” but clearly they had to win with something beyond having the best, physical talent.  (“Aircraft carriers” he called the big men.)  So how did he do it?  How did he beat teams with better players?  What were his keys to success? 

I would suggest that tenacity was one key to Al McGuire’s success.  It’s a cross-over-key we can take into our jobs and our lives, too.  Not the only key, of course – skill, knowledge, education, and many other elements will contribute to our success.  But what do we draw on during times of failure?  When in doubt, think tenacity.  Convincing ourselves; summoning an internal self-image of obnoxious arrogance; being totally unwilling to give up on ourselves; that’s a good place to start.  And role models surround us during March Madness.

Yes, tenacity – here’s Al’s description:

Al McGuire, former head basketball coach of Marquette University, once said, “A team should be an extension of the coach’s personality.  My teams were arrogant and obnoxious.”

Ok, arrogant and obnoxious – maybe not what a prospective customer wants from their sales rep; probably not what a customer wants from their client service rep; and definitely not what your family and friends want from you.  But no worries, tenacity takes many forms. 

I bet you know many tenacious people from all walks of life.  What do they share in common (even if they don’t show it like Al did)?  Well, one thing is the ability to overcome defeat in order to achieve victory.  They never “give up” and always have somewhere inside of their personality an element of obnoxious, arrogance continuously telling themselves they are winners!

Returning to March Madness, here’s another example of a world-renown, round-baller and the tenacity that contributed to his success:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.           

                                                                  Michael Jordan

Michael developed a very “user-friendly” form of tenacity, yes?  But tenacious he was!  So don’t get hung-up on the “packaging”. 

However you find the tenacity inside you; however your tenacity is displayed to the outside world; whatever your pursuits in life may be, you can always think of March Madness, basketball, great coaches, and great players and find sources of strength (tenacious strength) to overcome a few failures in your pursuit of success .  Jimmy V summed it up best:

Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.


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Leadership Communications

To me, Leaders are fascinating people.  Some Leaders have been the giants of our history; other Leaders have simply been the business person I reported to at the time; and a few have been my coaches in sports and mentors in life.  Wherever they fall on the spectrum of fame, they definitely stand out as Leaders and don’t just blend in as Managers.   I bet you know the difference, too.  If you pause for a moment I bet you can remember that special person, a Leader, who impacted your life, yes?

One of my favorite hobbies is reading about leaders – current leaders; historical leaders – leaders from business; politics; sports; the military.  I like working for business leaders who seek my contributions toward the improvement of their team; their department; or their company.   I like to observe how leaders operate – how they think; what they value; how they act; the frequency and tone of their communications.  Not just any kind of communications – Leadership Communications. 

There are many dimensions to effective leadership (and corresponding leadership communications) and many examples of what not to do.  For instance, there is the delta between someone’s words and their actions.  Many of us have been exposed to that person in a leadership role whose words and actions don’t align, true?  Such as a CEO who proclaims the need for world-class customer service or temporary, financial frugality during some web-meeting or conference call; but then proceeds to off-shore the company’s customer call center to the cheapest bidder, while jetting around the country on a company plane.   Words vs. actions!

For every true leader there are followers, don’t you agree?  Followers have certain common characteristics, too.  For example, followers like continuous reinforcement from their leaders.  I believe followers want continuous Leadership Communication stating, “Here’s where we’re at; here’s where we’re going.  Here’s where we’re at; here’s where we’re going”.  Although this cadence can be annoying if it’s coming from your Tom-Tom while driving in a car, such repetitive assurance is often welcomed in the workplace, especially during times of change.  Leaders provide us such ongoing reassurance; managers say it once and “check it off” their list.  They want to move on and simply assume that their followers got it.  (I guess they’re in a hurry to catch a plane.)

And of course, the Leader is not necessarily the one with the highest title in an organization, are they?  John C. Maxwell relates one example:

During the final seconds of an especially tense game, Boston Celtics coach K.C. Jones called a time-out.  As he gathered the players together at courtside, he diagrammed a play, only to have Larry Bird say, “Get the ball out to me and get everyone out of my way.”  Jones responded, “I’m the coach, and I’ll call the plays!”  Then he said, “Get the ball to Larry and get out of his way.”  It just shows that when the real leader speaks, people listen.

You’re right, leadership communication during a time-out at the end of a basketball game is not quite the same as during a company’s new, go-to-market strategy, but you get the point.  Larry got the ball; everyone got out of his way; and the team took its chances on their best odds of winning.  And win or lose, followers can give their all to their leaders if they just have the clarity and the confidence of knowing, “Where we’re at; and where we’re going”.                                        


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Pursuing happiness

Posted Mar 3 2011 by in True North with 4 Comments

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.


It’s amazing how hard people work today.  Extended business hours during the week; taking work home on the weekends; accepting increasing levels of stress; truly amazing.  And with our smart phones, we never get away from the office, yes?  It seems that there is no place to hide.  I see people with their phones while working out; in the grocery store check-out line; checking messages while in the bathroom; on the golf course; everywhere.  I have mine on too.

Rationalizing this phenomenon, some people defend these extra efforts.  “My company cut staff, so those of us left have to pick up the slack.”  “I need to pay off my college loans.”  “I have kids’ college educations to pay for.”  “I have to do this to compete for my big promotion.”  Others simply respond, “What do you mean?  This is what I’ve always done.”

And families?  I listen to the schedule some kids carry (with their parents usually in tow) and it’s even more amazing.  Advanced placement classes; extracurricular activities; sports leagues; instructional sports leagues; traveling sports leagues – WOW!  I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of kids in the neighborhood playing a pick-up game of softball.  Do you remember Hide-and-Seek; Statute-Maker; Red-Light-Green-Light?  Now studied by college students as a part of their anthropological history and ancient cultures curricula, I think.

Here’s another example – the circus.  When was the last time you went?  Me?  Well, as I write this little ditty, I’m looking in the mirror.  Guilty as charged!  So here’s my pledge:  The next time the circus comes to Denver, I’m going.  (And I’ll write to you about it too, OK?)  Now before raising any excuses or objections, let’s take heed of what Robert Fulghum said:

When the circus comes to town, go see it.  It’s the circus – does everything need explaining?

Agreed; making a living today is challenging.  There are also many, many exciting, rewarding and fulfilling pursuits that can really rev our engines up, too.  If you’re like me, you love your work.  Sometimes we might exaggerate the burden of our stress, the extra hours, and our extra effort when speaking to others because in our heart-of-hearts, we love our work.  We love the fruits of our labors, too: traveling; nice cars; beautiful homes; clothes.  Yes, we are blessed to be living in such a time of wealth. 

But how are we living?  What is the condition of our health, for instance?  It seems that I have more and more friends and colleagues my age and younger that are suffering from serious health afflictions; in some cases, life-threatening.  Even those of my friends that are workout nuts (more disciplined and in better shape than I ever have been), often look aged beyond their actual years.  Their talk of future goals now includes hip and/or knee replacements. 

Finding peace, happiness and fulfillment can be quite the mystery sometimes, don’t you agree?  When I think back to the last time I truly felt relaxed, content, secure, healthy, and fortunate – well, I think that was the last year I went to the circus!          

About Life:

Why do we work?  We work to make a living.  So if we aren’t really living, what is all this work for?

                                                                          Amy Robertson

Here’s to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – just what Amy and our Founding Fathers had in mind.   


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