Ashes to Diamonds – A Story About Life and Love

One of the largest diamonds ever found. Source: U.S. Dept. of State.

When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure (Peter Marshall).

People are like diamonds, you know.

We are birthed under pressure. We are formed from ashes.

The life cycle of diamonds … and people

Diamonds begin as pure carbon. Some say from coal, but coal is a sedimentary rock formed from decayed vegetative matter. Diamonds don’t come from coal.

Diamonds lie much deeper than that. They are birthed from carbon trapped deep underground at the time of the Earth’s formation.

Diamonds may be FOUND in close-to-the-surface sedimentary layers, but their home is 90 miles beneath the surface of the planet, in funnels contained within hard, igneous layers of rock.

Temperatures are over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit there, and the pressures are immense.

People can be found in soft places too. But is the hard and hot places in life that form character. Ease of life tends towards a sense of entitlement and a lack of humility.

Those who have been under pressure, who have endured testing and trials, cut their fellows some slack. They tend towards gratitude and generosity.

Diamonds don't come from coal. They come from people.
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A true story (sad, but true)

I used to deliver mail for the USPS (talk about pressure).

One of the largest diamonds ever found. Source: U.S. Dept. of State.

One of the largest diamonds ever found. Source: U.S. Dept. of State.

Each year, we would hold a food drive. People would leave bags of donated food on their porches, and I would load them in my mail truck for delivery to a collection station.

If I happened to be working a route in a middle income or poorer neighborhood on that day, I would several times have to stop mail delivery to take truckloads of food to be sorted and taken to the food bank.

If I was working an upper class neighborhood, though – a place where people could AFFORD to give food away – I wouldn’t have to make any special runs at all.

The few paltry bags I collected took up hardly any room in my truck.

Isn’t that sad? Ask any letter carrier. I’ll bet you will hear the same.

How do diamonds get to the surface of the Earth?

Diamonds buried 90 miles deep under dirt and rock are still precious, but they don’t bless a single soul with their splendor. They have to get to the surface, and they have to be found.

Nature helps that process by volcanic eruption. A passage develops up through the Continental Plate from a pressure point in the Earth’s Mantle. As molten rock (magma) rushes through the funnel it picks up diamonds and ferries them to the surface or near the surface.

Diamonds on the ground were catapulted to the surface. They were unable, on their own, to move a single inch. But Nature prepared a taxi ride wilder than any New York City driver could provide.

Diamonds come “Special Delivery.”

The poorest person in the world is the one who has but does not give.
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Have you ever found a diamond on the ground?

Do you know how to identify a diamond? Would you know one if it got caught in your shoe? Most of us would not. We would curse the pebble and pitch it away from us – into the brush or a lake.

We do the same with people, don’t we? Rather than appreciate their beauty and the rare gift their struggles can bring us, we consider them ugly, worthless, and in our way.

We consider them throw-aways – only obstacles in our path to riches.

Where can you find diamonds?

Between 1869 and 1925, Russell Conwell delivered his “Acres of Diamonds” talk over 6,000 times. The Baptist minister traveled the globe with his story of a man who wanted diamonds so badly he sold his farm and devoted his life to searching for them – only to die alone and impoverished.

One day, the new owner of the old farm was watering an animal in the creek. The shiny rocks he saw there were diamonds – and thus was the beginning of the richest commercial diamond field ever found.

You see, the prospector missed the diamonds that had been there – right in front of his eyes – for years.

Where do you and I go in search of our diamonds? Vacations to resort hotels? Relationships based on physical attraction only? Alcohol? Church?

Anything, anyone, and anyplace can be a lure that pulls us away from the diamonds at our feet: Our children, our spouses, our work, our home.

Do you know how to make a diamond?

Modern technology can bypass the time requirements for birthing a diamond. You don’t have to wait and hope and search. You can make a diamond. All you need is carbon and pressure.

That’s not hyberbole; it is true.

Diamonds and humans, it turns out, are made from the same substance.

Watch this…


Doing versus Being

Walter Bond, former NBA shooting guard, posed a question this week that took me back to my journey as a Religious Studies student and my introduction to the writings of the enigmatic monk, Thomas Merton.

Bond says that what he misses most about playing professional basketball is being a member of a team bent on believing they are “the best in the world.”

Walter Bond’s Huddle

To regain that camaraderie, he has just launched a project: The Peak Performers Huddle — and he asked me to help with the copywriting.

Walter Bond super coach

Walter Bond

A job like that, of course, is right down my alley. Thinking and writing about how people make “roadturns” in their lives is the foundational topic of this blog.

Bond holds a weekly conference call with Huddle members. He goes over a section of the game plan, answers questions, and gives the team their weekly assignments. It’s a powerful time of getting together and committing to action.

Last week, the idea of “Doing” and “Being” came up. Now, you might expect an NBA shooting guard to preach the virtues of doing what it takes to win. You know, daily time in the gym and on the court … sacrificing everything for the game.

That’s not what Walter Bond said, though.

Bond says we must first “Be” before we can adequately “Do.” He says it is vital to aim for excellence in all areas of our lives — in our families, in the community, and in our spiritual lives … not only at work.

I came away from that Huddle with a renewed determination to put prayer and meditation in front of my day. By personal experience, I can tell you there are no more important actions I can take than to pray and meditate. By personal experience, I can also tell you those are actions I take least in my life.

So far, this week, I’ve kept my resolve. Walter Bond’s Huddle has a private Facebook Group where we hold one another accountable. That has helped.

And knowing that 6’5″ Walter Bond is watching my performance … that has helped.

But there’s one more thing that is keeping me on track with this roadturn — something my college professor (who knew Merton personally) told me, something Tom Merton harped on repeatedly:

Don’t just do something, stand there!

Until I have become centered, until I remember who I am and where I am headed … my frantic actions become a “beating at the air.” For real progress, my very first action is to stop.

Wishing you great joy and success.



The Truth About the Workplace

Your business just turned two years old, and you are holding a party to celebrate. Beginning with just five employees, you now have triple that many.

Tonight, you are asking yourself one question: How can I hire more people like the 10% or so who are working hard to help this company grow, engage the ones who are lukewarm, and get rid of the rest?

Does that sound a little harsh?

The truth is, that for most companies, the bulk of employees would just as soon be working somewhere else.

It sounds incredible, but …

Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workplace report, found that 65% of the world’s workers are “not engaged” on the job. They are there only to take home a pay check.

Moreover, said the study, 24% are “actively disengaged.” They do what they can to hurt the company they work for. They are internal termites who would destroy everything you have worked so hard to build.

The bottom line: By getting your employees to either engage or move on, you can make a real difference in bottom line results.

How to tell which employees are engaged and which are not

Think of the best hotel stay you have ever experienced. For me, it was 30 James Street, the home of the Titanic. Not only is the property incredibly interesting and historic, the staff are obviously pleased to be there and to be of service to guests.

You can feel the difference when engaged employees are on duty.

 Signs of engagement include:

  •  Engaged employees come a little early and stay a little late. Disengaged workers straggle in and can’t wait to get back out the door.
  •  Engaged employees speak will of the company – both to customers and to fellow employees. Disengaged workers badmouth the business and complain at every opportunity.
  • Engaged workers want the company to sell more and grow more. They see every customer interaction as a way to help you succeed. Disengaged workers see customer interactions as just another hassle. They would as soon your customers take their business somewhere else.
  • Engaged workers recommend other excellent recruits to you. They want to help build staff, so they refer the best people they know. Disengaged employees either don’t recommend anyone at all or send in unqualified prospects just like themselves.
  • Engaged employees are eager to help and don’t always need to be in the limelight. Disengaged employees always want to know where the advantage is for them.

How to help raise the employee engagement rate at your company

Companies generally turn to paying higher wages and offering better benefits – thinking that is the way to attract and keep the best workers.

Research studies show that wages and benefits are important, but there are other factors equally as critical to engagement – and most of them don’t require extra money. Rather, they require extra care.

  • Everyone wants and needs to be heard. Invite feedback from your employees … and really listen to them when they provide it. Shoot for a bottom up leadership style at your company. Management is there to help the workers with the tools and information they need. Management is not there to drive or cajole them.
  • Show employees you care. Give credit where credit is due, and know about their lives. Include their families in company functions. Praise them in front of their families. Let them know you care about them off the job as well as on the job. Get a company baseball or bowling team going. Put their smiling faces on the side of a city bus and show the entire city you care about your people. The more you build fellowship and comradery into the mix, the better work will your teams produce.
  • Offer plenty of advancement opportunity, but don’t force it. Allow your people the ability to grow into positions of greater responsibility. Give them the training they need, but don’t push them into jobs they aren’t ready for. Just knowing there are options can keep an engaged worker on your payroll instead of someone else’s.

Employee engagement: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. That’s really all there is to it. Be the kind of job people want to keep … and they will.