Have you ever chased a ghost?
This week I went “Ghost Hunting” for the first time in Key West, Florida.
I’ve just returned from my first-ever trip to Florida’s southernmost point which lies only 90 miles from Cuba. Although the island was small in size (only a few miles long and one mile wide) it was packed with a large amount of history. Nicknamed the “Conch Republic,” Key West is a visiting place for Presidents (Truman established the “Little White House” there), a discovery point for buried treasure (Mel Fisher discovered the 300 million dollar treasure of the Atocha) and a place you could get a cheeseburger in paradise.
I particularly enjoyed this trip because I went in mostly “blind.” My wife and I visited for three days to celebrate our friends’ 25th anniversary and because I had been so busy with work, I did not research the area beforehand. Although from previous knowledge I expected to hear Jimmy Buffet’s songs playing (which I did), was aware you could go big-game fishing (which I didn’t), and was advised to get a t-shirt from the Hog’s Breath Saloon (I got a hat instead), I was pleasantly unprepared for many other surprises the island had to offer.
Two things that stood out most were the Chickens and the Ghosts. Minutes into the Uber ride from the tiny international airport, I was surprised to see huge roosters and chickens all over the place. The more I saw the “gypsy” chickens roaming the island, they somehow helped me relax. Hearing the roosters crowing each morning had me wake with a smile.
Since you may have been aware of Key West’s chickens, you are now probably wondering about the “ghosts.” Although there weren’t any ghosts flying or haunting in the traditional sense, you could still feel them everywhere in Key West. Every home, restaurant and boat had a sense of history. From the Key West Cemetery to the monuments, photos and quotes found all over the island, you had no choice but to constantly think about ghosts of the past.
I have never been a “ghost chaser,” but there was one apparition I wanted to conjure: Ernest Hemingway. You are probably familiar with the Pulitzer and Noble Prize winning author and might have been “forced” to read some of his books in your youth. Like me, you may have also heard legends of his spying, fishing, boxing and wild exploits. What I didn’t know was he spent some of his best years writing in a house near my hotel in Key West!
When I heard you could visit his home, I had to go. The Ernest Hemingway House, (now a museum that was declared a US National Historic Landmark in 1968) was Hemingway’s home from 1931 to 1939 and open to visitors. In the hours I spent there, I sat by his swimming pool (the first-ever in Key West), walked the area he had set up a boxing ring for matches and petted the descendants of his six-toed cats. The rooms where he ate and slept were lined with interesting photos of him with famous stars and big fish, but the room that inspired me most was his writing studio. On top of a separate building, this studio was where he would painstakingly spend 6am until noon hammering out only 400-600 words on his typewriter to produce some of his best work. (To shed light on his attention to detail, this email is over 1300 words!)
As much as I am a fan of some of Hemingway’s books, his dedication to the craft of writing is what intrigued me. I spent time that day reading about his thoughts on the discipline of writing from a book I picked up at the gift shop. By the end of my visit, I felt more connected to his ghost. Hemingway and I were both well traveled, had spent years boxing and fishing and also liked cats. Because of these similarities, his ghost pushed me to challenge my own dedication to speaking and writing.
Until this visit, I had a hard time thinking of myself as a professional speaker or writer. When I examined my current schedule, however, I realized I spend a large amount of my time speaking and writing. Now with 11 books published, 100’s of thousands of copies sold and 100’s of speeches delivered around the world, I realized how long and hard I have worked on my craft. As I read Hemingway’s “secrets” about writing that day, I recognized I too had learned a few “tricks” to being both a better writer and speaker.
Of the secrets on writing, I could easily tell you to study vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. But for my three biggest speaking tips, Hemingway’s ghost reminded me of a lesson I’ve heard many times. As the story goes, a visitor is walking through New York City. He sees a man sitting on the street and asks him, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The man looks up and says, “Practice, man, Practice.”
Or as “Ernie” more eloquently wrote, “There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring.”
So what are the three best ways to exchange time for getting good at anything?
My first-ever book manuscript was a disaster. When I received the first draft of Training For Warriors back from the editor, there was more red print on each page than black. My first-ever speech was a disaster too! Although my “firsts” were my “worsts,” I now realize they were the ones from which I learned the most. And my biggest lesson: if I wanted to improve, I had to practice more.
Want to get in better shape? Well, reading about fitness or nutrition isn’t going to work. Want to become proficient at fishing or learn to box? Well, like “Ernie” knew, sitting on the couch won’t get the job done. Want a Pulitzer or to give a Nobel Prize acceptance speech? Then it is going to take three things: Practice, Practice, Practice.
Your speaking and writing practice, just like Hemingway’s, should follow a process. Hemingway often declined to talk about his process because he thought it was bad luck. Because I am often asked how someone can be a better speaker, I decided to share my process while I am still around. Now, after a year of development, I am proud to announce my step-by-step process to be a better speaker called Presenting Greatness. On this course, I feature my “6 P’s” of public presenting and as you may have guessed, Practice is one of them!
With over 60 videos and 8 hours of content that follow a specialized speaking manual, Presenting Greatness is designed to take you from idea to standing ovation.
Have you ever wanted to be a better speaker or writer? Would you like a “sneak peek” at my new course?
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What ghosts are you currently chasing? Whoever they are, it tells you what you want to do with your life. My advice? Whatever it is you’re chasing, get started. Each time you practice is another step closer to where you want to be. Keep going and don’t quit. You’ll be amazed where you might find yourself in a couple of years.
And who knows? With enough practice, maybe someday people will visit your home chasing your ghost to figure out the secrets how you did it.
Yours in Strength,