Letters for My Daughters

Life Lessons Worth Passing Along From Generation to Generation

Letters for My Daughters Has Moved

We're movingIf you’ve read these letters in the past (or just arrived here now), you can read new and updated life lessons at


Originally, I started writing these for my two daughters, Chelsea and Brooke as they were completing college and starting life as young adults, but I stopped because I wanted them to be for more than the two of them—but for their families and my nieces and nephews and for their friends, etc.

Finally, after seeing several of my nieces and nephews at Brooke’s wedding, I decided to create a new site that wasn’t focused on just Chelsea and Brooke but had a broader application. Over time, I’ll take the lessons from this site and make them more generic so they apply to everyone, plus I’ve already started writing some original content (and have hundreds of other ideas in the hopper).

So, head on over to http://www.TheJohnsonLetters.com and enjoy new and updated content there!

To your accelerated success!


P.S. If you’ve been receiving these letters by RSS email feed, make sure you join again at the bottom of any post (just enter your email address, submit, click the confirmation link in the confirmation email and you’ll be in again).

Flickr photo from Andrew Huff


To Accomplish Anything Significant (That’s New), You Have to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

While most of us don’t like to admit it, we all prefer stasis (even those of us who are change agents). It’s comfortable to remain as we are—especially since over 90% of what we do is done on auto-pilot. In other words, we all establish habit patterns and routines that, we believe, serve us well, which is why we do them.

Fish-jumpingFor example, you both have daily routines—from the moment you get up until the moment you go to sleep. You generally get up around the same time. You eat the same kinds of foods. You interact with the same kinds of people. You carry on the same kinds of conversations. You do your work the same way. Etc. Every day, it’s basically the same (even your variations are similar).

However, if you want to create any significant change in your life, you’ll have to learn how to fight that natural pull of inertia that wants to keep you and your life the same. Why? Because if you don’t, you’ll never achieve anything significant. You’ll be forever captive to the gravitational pull of comfort and conformity. In other words, you’ll remain stuck.

But to get to anything better in your life, you’ll have to learn how to consistently break free from your own self-imposed comfort zones. For example,

1. If you want a better job, you’ll have to choose to be willing to leave the comfortable job you’re in right now (or, if you remain with the same company, the comfortable job you’re in now to move to a new position with that company).

2. If you want a raise, you’ll have to be willing to leave the comfortable place of letting your boss decide on your raise, and instead, ask him/her for a bigger raise. (more…)


Never Ask a Question If “Yes!” is the Only Answer You’ll Accept

Relationships are difficult. The potential for conflict is always present. But relationships are made all the more difficult whenever one party asks the other a question and the only answer that person wants to hear is, “Yes!” In this case, the person asking the question isn’t really asking a question, are they?

question-mark-4No, they’re actually making a demand, disguised as a question.

Whenever you’re asking a question of someone (not a content question like “What do you know about XYZ” but a request question like, “Can I borrow your car tomorrow?”), the other party always has four options at their disposal.

1. “Yes” – the affirmative answer you’re seeking.

2. “No” – the negative answer you don’t want to hear.

3. “Maybe” – the optional answer that could turn into either option one or two above.

4. “Later” – the postponement answer that again, could result in either option one or two above.

The key is that when you ask a question, you need to be willing to accept any one of the four options.

If you remember our conversation about goals and desires, you should remember that any action or decision that another individual has some say or control over is at best a desire, not a goal. Why? Because you and I can’t control other people. We can only control ourselves. (more…)


Never Be Defensive

Whenever someone accuses you of something, confronts you about an issue, says something mean that’s meant to hurt you, or makes an unflattering comment about you, the natural instinct both of you will have in this life will be to retaliate and be defensive—which is exactly why you have to fight those urges and do the opposite.

conflict-resolution-1Very few people ever learn this lesson, but it’s invaluable. In fact, let me suggest a number of reasons why you’ll want to make the non-defensive choice.

1. You don’t want to let anyone control you. Whenever you get defensive, you’re allowing the other person to control you and your emotions. You’re allowing them to get “under your skin.” You’re allowing them to control the conversation. And you’re allowing them to control how you feel. Why would you ever want to do that?

2. There may be some truth in what they’re saying. Whenever you get defensive, you immediately stop listening and start defending yourself and your actions—and that’s a problem.  Even if someone has a bad motive for saying what they’re saying, that doesn’t mean there might not be something truthful in their comments. Of course, if you’re too busy defending yourself, you’ll never hear what they’re saying—which means you’ll have missed a great opportunity for growth.

3.You never want to appear as a fool. Solomon got it right when he said, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Proverbs 29:11. Whenever you get defensive, you allow your anger to blind you—which then usually leads to conflict and words poorly spoken (because they haven’t been thought through), which then makes you the person in the wrong. (more…)


If You Don’t Evaluate Today, You’re Doomed to Repeat It

While the two of you have spent the better part of your first two decades of life in school, the reality is that an educational institution is not your best source for learning. There is one source that is infinitely better and more important than any school on the planet–and yet it is the one most people ignore.

Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Yale can’t compete. Even better, this primary source of learning is virtually free. It’s costs you only time. Yet, it’s not a true cost because the value you receive from this source of learning more than compensates for any time invested.

You don’t need a professor or a classroom—or even a textbook—to take advantage of this source of learning. You don’t need to wait for a semester to begin or to even worry about whether you’ll be able to register for this class this semester :-).

All you need is your brain, some time, and a place to record your thoughts. That’s it!  So what is this absolute best source of learning? It’s the time you take to evaluate your experience.

And therein is the problem. Most people go through life, from experience to experience, and rarely ever stop to evaluate that experience—which is why most people get stuck doing the same things the same way—over and over again! (more…)


Always Focus on Interests, Not Positions

Invariably, the two of you are going to run into conflict virtually every day for the rest of your lives (between roommates, bosses, fellow employees, teachers, family members, neighbors, etc.). But don’t worry, it’s not personal–it’s just part of the human condition. Everyone (including the two of you) is hardwired for self-interest–which means that, at a minimum, you will experience some level of conflict everyday because at some point of everyday your self-interest and someone else’s self-interest will be (or at least appear to be) at odds.

Now, most people think they can avoid the reality of self-interest by simply wishing it away (shouldn’t we all just get along), but they’re wrong. We’re hardwired for it. We can’t just wish it away. It is what it is. So, the better question that the two of you need to ask yourselves is, “How can I work with other people’s inherent self-interest?” That’s a good question.

And the answer to that question can be found in a wonderful “old” bookentitled, “Getting to Yes,” by Ury and Fischer, which is a lay version of the Harvard Negotiation Process which was used in creating the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt.

The basic premise of Ury and Fischer’s book (that changed how I think about and deal with conflict) is that the reason most conflict doesn’t get resolved is because people continually fight about their positions. (more…)


Master the Different Myers-Briggs Temperaments

As you both know, I’m a huge fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory® (MBTI®), but what you may not know is why. Back in the early years of my former career, I was getting tired/exhausted from all the conflict. No matter what the subject, it seemed like someone always disagreed–which often lead to letters (this was pre-email), meetings, messy relationships and sometimes people leaving. I tried to calm and reassure your mother that this was true of every church (it is). And I even took out five year’s editions of a pastoral leadership journal to show her that virtually every edition had at least one article on church conflict.

However, after two or three years of this, I was getting tired of it. Then I read a book by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates entitled, “Please Understand Me: Character and Personality Types,” and everything changed. Using the major Myers-Briggs types they helped me to understand that most of the conflict that people have in relationships isn’t over what most people think it is–the issue. Instead, most conflict is over how they see the world differently. Once I understood that, the world changed. And the more I’ve read and studied the Myers-Briggs types, the more I’m convinced that anyone who wants to succeed (at home, at work, or at play) really ought to own some kind of personality inventory (of which I think the Myers-Briggs typology is the best option).

What amazes me is that the whole of life (yours/mine/everyone’s) is made up of relationships, yet very few people take the time to really study them and, more importantly, to understand how to work with people who are fundamentally different than them. The person you will marry someday. The kids you’ll have. The bosses you’ll work for. The employees you’ll lead/manage. The neighbors you’ll live next to. As well as the friends/colleagues/clients/classmates/acquaintances/etc. that you’ll meet along the way—all of them will be different than you.

So how can you short cut the learning process in order to quickly figure out how to work with people who are different than you? Exactly! By finding and mastering an inventory like the Myers-Briggs types to give you a head start. Now, as you’ve repeatedly heard me say, “A typology is not meant to be prescriptive, but descriptive (i.e. just because someone has a natural tendency to do something doesn’t mean they have to act that way. The most obvious example of that is me. Even though, as you know, I’m an introvert by nature, most people who interact with me think I’m an extrovert. Why? Because I choose to act in a way contrary to my nature in order to be what people need me to be. After all, this life isn’t about us, is it?). In other words, you don’t want to put people in a box. However, the MBTI® will give you a short cut for understanding the myriad of relationships you’ll encounter between now and the time you die.

That said, here are some of the things you can short circuit and get to know quickly about the people you encounter–if you master the MBTI.

  • What they’re probably good at doing
  • What they’re probably weak at doing
  • What probably drives them
  • What they probably like
  • What they probably don’t like
  • What they probably need
  • What kinds of environments they’ll probably flourish best in
  • What probably stresses them out (and how they’ll probably respond)
  • What they probably value
  • What probably motivates them
  • What probably de-motivates them
  • How to improve communicating with them
  • How they’ll probably act in meetings
  • What kinds of projects to assign or not assign to them
  • What kinds of activities that they’ll probably enjoy or engage in
  • What kinds of work they’ll probably find most fulfilling
  • How they’ll probably get re-energized
  • How they’ll probably process information
  • How they’ll probably make decisions
  • How they’ll probably like to order their life

That’s a pretty impressive list, isn’t it? Now, if you could know all that information about virtually anyone one you meet (in a short span of time), don’t you think that would be valuable? And if you not only knew their personality type, but your Myers-Briggs type as well, don’t you think that would help you know how to resolve conflict better? Or lead/manage them better? Or communicate with them more effectively? Or work with them? Or find common ground more quickly? Absolutely!

So my recommendation to the two of you is to pick up a book on the Myers-Briggs types (or some other personality inventory) and begin to own them. While I started with ”Please Understand Me,“ there are plenty of good books (and websites) on personality types. In fact, ”Do What You Are,“ ”Type Talk at Work,“ and ”The Art of Speed-Reading People,“ are a few of my other favorites. Make your own ”cheat sheets.“ Test your ideas. And then use the Myers-Briggs typology as a framework to help you build better relationships–as well as to figure out how to untangle those relationships when conflict does occur (because it will).

Since the rest of your lives will be filled with relationships, I cannot overstate the importance of this practice. Avoid it at your peril!

Note: Myers-Briggs®, Myers-Briggs Type Inventory® and MBTI® are all registered trademarks of CPP, Inc.


If You Want to Get Where You Want to Go Faster, Plan

I know that the two of you have a personality preference for spontaneity over planning, for acting by the “seat of your pants” vs. taking intentional and deliberate pre-thought steps, but if you want to get where you want to go faster or accomplish something faster, then  you’ll want to add planning and project management to your list of core competencies. Note: In Myers-Briggs language, this is not a “J” vs. “P” issue, this is a life and career management issue (i.e. don’t pass by this lesson).

So, why is this a life and career management issue? Simply put, planners get more done-–and they get it done faster. In the world of time management, the generally accepted time difference is that ONE hour in planning saves THREE to FOUR in execution. Now, think about that statement for a moment. By simply taking the time to plan what needs to be done, you can literally save yourself hours of time that you would have spent just doing/executing (which, over the course of a lifetime, is equivalent to YEARS of time savings)

For example, let’s say you’re working on a project for work. If you don’t take the time to plan, you’ll come up with some general ideas (in your head), make assumptions about what should be done and when (in your head), and then dig in to whatever part seems most interesting to you—which may not be the right place to start or the best way to accomplish your objective.

If, on the other hand, you take the time to plan, you’ll get more clarity on the result you want to accomplish (which may actually change the project). Once you have complete clarity on what the actual result is that you want to achieve, you’ll then figure out what’s the best way to get there, you’ll figure out how to coordinate the different parts of the project so that they work best together in the best sequence, you’ll have a better timeline of what needs to be completed by when (and then work backwards to be assured that everything that needs to be accomplished is accomplished by the right dates), you may find some parts you can delegate out, and finally, if you need to go out and purchase a number of different items, you’ll be able to coordinate the purchase of those items and make one trip vs. multiple ones. At every level, planning achieves a better result—and faster!

Now, I know the two of you tend to think that this is just a dad/INTJ kind of thing—but it’s not. Planning is nothing more than taking the time to get clarity on where you are and where you want to go, and then figuring out the best way to get there. Even though the word, plan, is technically a four letter word, it is NOT a cuss word. Remember, personality preferences aren’t meant to be prescriptive, they’re meant to be descriptive. So, in general, the two of you prefer to be spontaneous. That’s wonderful!

However, your personality preferences aren’t meant to be determinative of your behavior. Just as I have to move outside of my “introversion” preference to interact with people, the two of you have to move outside of your “P” preference to do what is best for you. Even though you may not like lists, don’t fight something that can help you get where you want to go. I guarantee you that you’ll get more done, faster and better, with a list/plan, than you will without one.

Hopefully, I’ve modeled that for the two of you over the years. And while you may feel that planning “isn’t you,” I seriously want to encourage both of you to add more planning into your lives. Trust me on this—it’ll have a positive affect on your relationships, your work, your career, your interests/hobbies, your finances, your dreams, your health, etc. Everything gets better the more intentional you are.

So, please, don’t push this lesson aside. Your life, your career, your time—they’re all dependent upon you adding this core skill of planning and project management to your list of core competencies. You’ll get more done. You’ll get it done faster. You’ll get it done better. You’ll create more time and space for other things. You’ll avoid making a lot of mistakes. You’ll avoid wasting a lot of time. You’ll avoid massive amounts of conflict and miscommunication. And you’ll succeed at a higher level.

With all that at stake, hopefully, you’ll want to add this core skill to your core competencies (and not just think this is a dad thing—because it’s not).


As Within, So Without

If there’s ever anything that you’re not happy with or want to change on the outside of your life, then the place where you need to begin the process of changing it is on the inside—not the outside. Why? Because of the Law of Correspondence.

What is the Law of Correspondence? It’s an essential life principle that states that what takes place on the outside of your life, corresponds to what’s taking place on the inside of your life. For example, you’ve probably observed over the years that when you’re feeling a little blue, you probably tend to wear sweats and “baggier“ clothes. Why? Because what happens on the outside corresponds to what happens on the inside.

Once you begin to understand this principle, it’ll change how you go about creating any kind of change in your life. For example, if you notice that you’re not utilizing your time well (e.g. choosing to watch a lot of TV rather than doing something you know you should do or doing meaningless activities just to use up time) then you know that something is amiss internally. If you try to move from poor use of time to good use of time, it probably won’t work. Why? Because there’s something going on internally (in your beliefs or attitudes or self-esteem etc.) that is causing you to make poor choices about your time.

Or back to the dress illustration. If you notice that you’re consistently choosing to wear sweats (note: forget about work because work requires you to wear nice clothes, I’m talking about when you’re in complete control of your wardrobe choices), then you know there’s something going on inside. Just to go from sweats to nice casual isn’t the answer—there’s something going on inside that’s causing the behavior. If you change the belief, then you can change the behavior.

This is why it’s so incredibly important to continually work on developing high self-esteem. How you feel about yourself (from your character to your physique to your intelligence to your work to your relational abilities etc.) drives just about everything in your life. The better you feel about yourself, the better you’ll do in just about everything. Why? Because of the Law of Correspondence. If you feel good on the inside, you’ll perform well on the outside.

In addition, whenever you want to change something in your life, you always want to dig down deep and discover what beliefs you have about that area. Why? Because beliefs (internal) determine behaviors (external)—what happens on the inside will work itself out to the outside.

For example, right now I need to lose a few pounds. Using the Law of Correspondence, what’s on the outside is driven by what’s on the inside. Just trying to change the outside by going to the gym and eating healthier is a strategy doomed to fail. Why? Because I have a set of beliefs and emotions that have gotten me to this point. Just trying to change the outside, without working on changing the inside is pure foolishness.

This is why you’ll often hear people say, ”You need to change the picture you have of yourself!“ Why? Because if you change the picture (for ex. from ”I’m not successful“  to ”I am successful“), then you can change the behaviors (from self-sabotage to self-enhancement).

So never forget the Law of Correspondence. If you want to change anything on the outside of your life (i.e. a behavior you don’t like), then make sure you start by looking inside (your beliefs, emotions, self-esteem, etc.) … because ”As within, so without!“

The two of you are both so incredibly talented. There’s virtually nothing that you can’t do. But to get there, you’ll both need to do some head work because the Law of Correspondence is inviolate-able. As within, so without,” is a rock solid principle you need to own and use to your advantage.


There is No Success Without Sacrifice

As I’ve mentioned before, most people like the idea of being better or being more successful or being fit or being happy or being in a great relationship—but yet they don’t really want those things—despite what they might say. Why do I say that? Because they’re not willing to do what’s necessary to obtain the very thing they say they want.

I’m sure you’ve observed this phenomenon among your peers. You probably have friends who’ve told you that they’d like to get good grades, yet they’re not willing to do the hard work necessary to get good grades. Instead they continue to play and party all day and night with their friends. Or you probably have friends who say they’d like to get healthy and in shape, yet they aren’t willing to change their eating habits or get up early to go to the gym. So do they really want to be healthy and fit? I don’t think so.

If you really want something—and it’s more than just a “like to have” or “sounds like a good idea” kind of thing—then you’re going to have to avoid doing what most people choose to do—and instead make some sacrifices. Why? Because there is no success without sacrifice.

The American ideal of, “You can have it all!” is a flat out lie. No one can have it all. In order to obtain anything worthwhile in life, you have to make sacrifices. You have to give up something NOW in order to obtain something that you perceive to be better LATER. It’s always been that way and it always will be. Remember, first you make your choices, then your choices make you.

1. If you’d like to be healthy and fit, then you have to be willing to say, “No!” to most of the food choices put in front of you. And you’re going to have to give up some other activities (which could include some sleep) in order to get some exercise in. No one gets healthy and fit by eating whatever they want and not exercising. Sacrifices have to be made. Why? Because there is no success without sacrifice.

2. If you want to be a successful employee, then you have to be willing to do some of the things most employees won’t. You’ll have to sacrifice some of “your time” so you can do work before or after the hours you’re required to work. You’ll have to read more or take more courses. You’ll have to say, “No!” to getting together with friends from time to time in order to get a project done or to volunteer for an extra assignment or to make sure you get to bed on time so you can be fully engaged at work the next day. Why? Because there is no success without sacrifice

3. If you’d like to be in a great relationship with a guy (yeah, I know, I can’t believe I just wrote that either :-), then you have to be willing to make some sacrifices. One of the things we clearly learn from Jesus’ example is that love is all about sacrifice. Love is not about convenience (a mistake too many people make). Love is about putting someone else’s needs above your own. Note: don’t read anything more into that statement than is intended. Your needs still matter and you shouldn’t be in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t get this principle. Love is a two-way street full of mutual love and sacrifice. And hopefully, your mother and I have modeled that well for the two of you.

4. Finally, if you’d like to change anything in your life that you don’t like, then just realize that you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. The bottom line is this—if you could be different just by wishing you were different, then you’d already be different. But you’re not, because you can’t just wish to be different. If you want to be different, you have to give up some of the things you’re currently doing, in order to get something better in the future. It’s always been that way, and always will be.

If you want to succeed at anything in life–and I don’t care if it’s playing the piano or starting a business or getting straight A’s or winning a tennis tournament or being a great parent someday–never forget the title of this post. Make it one of your mantras. Write it on a bunch of stickies and place them around your home and workplace. Why? Because there is no success without sacrifice! Period.

P.S. And as Zig Ziglar likes to say, “You don’t really pay the price, you get to enjoy the price.”