Redefine Your Dreams

8 responses.

Redefine Your Dreams

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Dr. William Werther was chatting with my father.

Redefine SuccessBill was telling my dad that his greatest goal in life was to be a philanthropist. And even though Dr. Werther knew that he had helped scores of students throughout his career, his biggest disappointment was that he hadn’t earned quite enough money to build a powerful philanthropic machine.

My father asked Dr. Werther for his definition of a philanthropist.

Bill said a philanthropist was a person who worked diligently to give money away with the intent of making the world a better place.

My father nodded in agreement. Then he asked Dr. Werther why that definition precluded him from being a philanthropist?

Bill repeated that he didn’t have enough money to give away and maintain a sustainable fund.

My dad paused for a moment before responding.

“Who told you that you have to give away your own money?”

From that day forward, Dr. Werther and my father partnered to create the Center for Non-Profit Management at The University of Miami. Over the next ten plus years the center operated the pair educated thousands of non-profit professionals. Their mission was to teach non-profits to “manage for results.”

Thanks to their commitment and hard work, the attending organizations raised millions of additional dollars and helped enormous numbers of underserved communities. And because the Center was cause-agnostic, Bill and my dad reached every part of the community and every demographic.

From advocates for immigrant farm workers to teams repairing inner-city homes damaged in Hurricane Andrew to prisoner education programs, to free clinics to foster care organizations, their good works impacted an entire community.

Simply put, lots of great people did lots of great work. But if the pair hadn’t redefined their definition of the word philanthropy in the first place, none of these good things would have happened.


Because based on the traditional meaning of the word philanthropy, Dr. Werther didn’t think it was possible that he could live his dream and become a philanthropist. Clearly what was holding him back was a definition, not his abilities.

That obviously brings up a question: What outmoded definitions are holding you back from doing the things you want to do?

What do you need to redefine?

When I was a little boy on Miami Beach, the most important thing in our lives was sports. My friends and I would suffer through our classes just to get to recess. Then we’d go outside and play ball. And the minute we got home we’d run to the empty lot at the corner to play football, softball, kill the man with the ball, or whatever was in season.

Now I come from good, strong athletic stock. My dad played basketball in New York in high school and college and pitched in the men’s night league. My younger sister was the best athlete in our elementary school. My little brother Doug is a natural athlete who can play anything. And my mother was a terrific tennis player. But despite all my genetic potential, I couldn’t even throw the softball past the girl’s line in the President’s Physical Fitness award competition. Worse, I always came in last in the 50-yard dash.

I was the worst athlete in the school. But as an adult I’ve finished three marathons and scores of half-marathons. I’m a regular at the gym and spend my weekends cycling and scuba diving.

What changed?

At some point I decided to redefine my definition of the word athlete to focus on participation and not outcome. And by doing this I redoubled my efforts to stay in shape and enjoy physical activity.

Changing your definition of the words that hold you back is simply another way to rebrand yourself. It allows you to reestablish what matters in your life and what you’re going to do to benefit from it. Just like the citizens helped by my dad redefining Bill Werther’s meaning of the word philanthropy or my blood pressure and waist line benefiting from my redefinition of the word athlete, there’s something out there just waiting for you to redefine whatever’s holding you back from accomplishing what you want to do, too.

  8 Responses

  1. Jeanna
    on March 22, 2017


    Redefining my “successful career” from “doing well working for someone else” to “doing well working for myself” has been life changing, but you were one of my believers. Thanks for always changing my context about simple things, because often, they turn out to be the most important things.


  2. on March 22, 2017

    Excellent thoughts, as always, Bruce. I believe most of us can relate. What you’re describing is also what is (way too) commonly referred to as “thinking outside the box.” The box we’re all trying think outside of are simply our pre-existing beliefs, assumptions, or definitions, about the topic we’re focused on. Assumptions are like a brick wall – we can’t see through them. But when we start to “redefine” (examine our beliefs), we begin removing bricks. We start to see glimpses beyond the wall, and new possibilities reveal themselves. (There are techniques we use in SmartStorming that make the process easy!)

    I believe that, at the end of the day, “redefining” is primarily what innovative, creative people like you, actually do. Of course, we all possess the ability to think creatively – and we’d all benefit from exercising that ability more frequently.

    Thanks for yet another provocative read!

    Keith Harmeyer
    Partner, SmartStorming

  3. on March 22, 2017

    Bruce, as you know I had the good fortune to speak at many of the seminars for the Center for Nonprofit Management. You always drew a diverse group and I could tell they appreciated all you dad and Dr. Werther did. What vision. Dream big.

  4. on March 22, 2017

    Bruce, while I enjoy and benefit from all of your teachings, this one hit me in an extra-special way this morning. I loved both Dr. Werther’s definition of philanthropy, and I especially loved how your Dad asked the questions that helped Dr. Werther reframe/re-define his answer and conclusion into something that was now completely actionable. And, then those two great men took action and touched the lives of countless people through their work. What an inspiring story of how – through checking our premises and re-defining our terms (and the meanings we unconsciously give “things”) – we can not only improve our own lives and businesses, but make a huge difference in the lives of others. Thank you!!

  5. on March 22, 2017

    Bruce, I love how your blogs make me see old ideas in new ways – very TED! I’ve always wanted to be a philanthropist, too. Now I see the ways in which I’ve already fulfilled this goal. Imagine what will happen once I can add huge monetary donations to the mix. Terrifically stimulating post. Keep ’em coming!

  6. on March 22, 2017

    I just read your latest email and it is so similar to my experience. I thought you might be interested in reading

    This all began after I wrote my obituary over 30 years ago. At the time I was a public servant and was determined to be remembered for more than my work protecting taxpayers.

    I look forward to your emails.

    Thank you for sharing your profound insights.

  7. Charles
    on March 22, 2017

    Perhaps there’s also a law of unintended consequences by not over developing musculature and your hand eye coordination for sports that part of your brain was able to be rewired to play a mean mouth harp. And the feeling one gets with all the members of the band hit a set out of the park is not unlike the warm and fuzzies I get to when my sofball team nails a triple play off my fly catch.

    OK so the metaphor’s a little left field but you get the idea.

  8. David J. Hawes
    on March 23, 2017

    Bruce: This is a book just begging to be written.

    Hope you do!


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