Category Archives: Blog

Transitioning from survival to thriving

Over the past several years, my wife and I have been fighting. Not with each other, but against the grind of trying to survive the world. We made some stupid decisions when we first got married (bought a house we couldn’t afford, racked up a ton of debt, stayed employed at a job that I should have left). We are in year 11 of our marriage and are finally starting to see some real progress.

 

That’s an advantage of getting married at 23, you can screw everything up for the first decade and still be in your early 30s. Of course, had we waited, maybe we wouldn’t have been so young and dumb.

 

Over the past few months though we’ve really seen some good things happen and our focus is now able to start shifting from fighting for survival to fighting tactically. And as I look around at people that are in similar situations, I realize that there are lots of us that don’t understand that switch is needed.

 

Have you worked so long in “panic mode” that when things are relaxed you feel like you’ve missed something that needed to be done? I have. When bills are paid and there’s money left over in the savings account I feel extremely uneasy. After becoming accustomed to money always being tight, as we’ve started to do a little better, surplus money feels like I’ve made an error.

 

Do you sometimes self-sabotage things because if there isn’t a crisis you don’t know how to stay on track? I keep using money as an example because it’s so familiar to me. Have you ever been financially on track and then go buy something frivolous that messes everything up? Afterwards you think, “Why did I do that?” but then you take a sort of sadistic pleasure in bearing down, tightening up, and out working your mistake? I have. As a matter of fact it happened this week. I decided I wanted a Playstation 4. And instead of waiting, like an adult, until I had saved the money, I just bought it. Childish urges ruin me sometimes.
But as we continue to do well, I can understand that I haven’t worked on the skills that are necessary to make decisions when decisions aren’t cut and dry. Several years ago we would have been making a choice between food and electricity or a Playstation. That makes decision making easy.

 

The lesson here is to keep looking for skills that you haven’t developed as you move into a new mode of life. Because you will not be equipped for new phases when you get there. We are all learning on the fly.

The Right Way for Me, May Not be the Right Way for Someone Else

This young couple should get my prayers, not my criticisms.

This young couple should get my prayers, not my criticisms.

A quick reminder to everyone including myself, just because someone isn’t doing something the way you would do it, doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing the right way for them.

This week a friend of mine’s daughter is getting married, after a very short engagement, on a Wednesday, at the age of 18. I immediately started thinking about all the reasons why I would never advise anyone to do this. And then I was reminded that her father has cancer – and it’s been a tough battle so far.

And all of a sudden every bit of it felt right to me.

All of a sudden I realized that my pretentious views on someone else’s life don’t matter. It’s amazing how quickly I was to judge when I am standing on the mountains of mistakes that I have made. I wonder why I should be so quick to act is if I’m right.

I’m wrong a lot. A whole lot. And I will continue to be wrong.

So instead of being judgmental, as soon as I have the ability, I will be giving the young couple a few books that have helped me. I’ll pray for them. I will try to live my marriage in a way so that when other newlyweds glance over and copy off my sheet, they will find more right answers than wrong ones.

And hopefully, in many years I will see a 50th anniversary notice in the local paper.

My congratulations and best wishes to the bride and groom.

The Proof of the Power of Incremental Change: Starting School on August 1

This girl can't believe school starts 5 weeks before Labor Day

This girl can’t believe school starts 5 weeks before Labor Day

How did we get to a point where school starts 5 weeks before Labor Day, and what should that tell you about how to reach your goals?

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend, who made a comment that struck me: They told me that that they don’t believe that small changes ever amounted to anything. This friend believes that a person achieves their goals only by making big, important changes.

This conversation reminded me of an experience that took place during my high school years (in the late ’90s). An English teacher by the name of Mr. Brown told all of the students in my class that there was an idea floating around about swapping over to a year-round school calendar. Naturally, my fellow students and I rolled our eyes and groaned at mere thought of going to school all year long. He explained that this idea is based on the concept that, by starting the school year earlier and scheduling more breaks during the academic year, kids would learn more and do better in school. Being in high school, we all thought the idea of year-round school was nuts. Why would anybody in their right mind want to go to school year-round? Surely we did enough school already. More than enough. Mr. Brown patiently explained to us that we wouldn’t be required to go to school for more than the 180 days that we were currently suffering through, but that those 180 would just be spread out over a longer period of time. This logical explanation fell on deaf ears.

Well, in the 15 years since that heated discussion in English class, the school calendar has indeed changed. Once upon a time, the first day of school took place on the earliest Friday before Labor Day (the popular philosophy at that time was that the upcoming three-day weekend would allow students to gird themselves for an actual week of class while shopping for the supplies they would need for the year after receiving specific lists from their teachers). That first day of school, however, has slowly started working its way backwards to take place earlier in the year.

At first, that “Friday before Labor Day” became “the Monday before Labor Day”. Then it became the “Friday before the Monday of Labor Day”. Bit by bit, year by year, that starting date came just a little bit earlier. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving break (which was originally a three-day week) turned into a 5-day Fall Break. Then a winter break appeared in February. Staff development days (which allowed students to stay home on a Monday four or five times through the year) became week-long breaks. Students in my day looked forward to three major events to break up the monotony of the school year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break. Kids today, on the other hand, enjoy a week-long break every other month.

Over the course of about 15 years, we can see the ending result of this calendar shift. School starts now on August 1st and practically goes year-round, with approximately an eight-week break in the middle. The change didn’t happen from the end of one school year to the next; rather, it happened gradually, allowing parents, teachers, and students time to adjust and even grow to appreciate the new calendar. That is the power of incremental change.

Of course, that’s also the power of not calling it year-round school. Instead of using that inflammatory phrase that had the power to turn my English class upside down in a hot debate, school officials just quietly started shifting the year a little bit earlier… and a little bit earlier… and a little bit earlier. As people went through the system, they didn’t know any better. For example, if you were a freshman in high school when this process started, it didn’t really feel like there was any big change. If you’re going into school now, you probably don’t realize that it used to be different.

If you think about it, this is the way every major change in America has happened. For example, the history-making event of a woman becoming the Presidential nominee of a major political party didn’t just occur spontaneously. Before that, women ran for the vice presidency. Before that, women fought for the right to remain in the workplace and seek educational opportunities when their men returned from fighting overseas. And before that, women organized to fight for their right just to vote in elections.

Marriage equality in America didn’t just happen all of a sudden. Rather, it came about after a 30-year conversation about homosexuality actually being a “thing” in America. That conversation moved through various twists and turns all the way to a Supreme Court decision allowing homosexual couples to experience the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Incremental change is the only thing that makes lasting difference. There’s that old joke that asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time.” As a leader of an organization, group, or of your own family or personal life, you must look at the big things that need to change and try to identify smaller, incremental, everyday changes that you can make to reach the end result you have in mind.  In the end, those small changes will have made a lasting impact on your journey to achieve your goals.

If honesty is the best policy, act like it

Let me take you on a mental road trip back to my sixth grade classroom. The first thing that happened in any classroom on any given morning, of course, was attendance: the teacher would call out each name and mark whether the student was present or absent. On this particular day, my teacher called out names until she came to my friend Eric. Their conversation went a bit like this:

“Eric, you weren’t here yesterday. Do you have a note from home?”class-1459570_1280

“No ma’am, I do not,” Eric answered.

“Why were you not in school yesterday?” she replied.

Eric said, “Well, yesterday morning – early – the water pipe under our sink broke and the house was being flooded with water. So I had to help my dad get the water turned off, move all the furniture out of the rooms, and help him dry, clean up, and repair the pipe.”

My sixth grade teacher looked at him and said, “Well, that’s not an excused absence.” Her implied meaning was that because it was not an “excused” absence (made official by a note from home detailing whatever calamity may have befallen that student that would prevent them from attending), Eric would get zeroes for all of the work he missed by being absent.

A couple of names later, she called my name. Like Eric, I had been absent the day before; however, I was absent because I just didn’t feel like going to school that day. I told my mom, “I just don’t feel like going. Could you write me an excuse tomorrow that says, ‘Brian had a head cold and just did not want to go’?” She agreed- reluctantly. Therefore, when the teacher called my name and asked if I had a note from home, I was able to say, “Yes I do.”

I handed my teacher a note that said, “Please excuse Brian for being out yesterday. He had a head cold, and we thought he might be more sick that he was. Sincerely, Sheila.”

My 6th grade teacher looked at my note and said, “Well, being sick is an excused absence. Get with one of the other students to look at all the work that you missed, and have it made up for me by tomorrow.”

I remember going back to the table and sitting down and thinking about what had just happened with me, and also what had just happened with Eric, and realizing that I was going to make up the work and Eric was not. I would like to tell you that I was mature enough to understand what had just happened there:  that if somebody could lie and get rewarded while somebody else could tell the truth and be punished, then the system was really messed up. Sadly, that’s not the case. All I really took away from that situation was that lying pays off.

In his book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley, Dr. Stanley studies the habits of millionaires (first-generation millionaires, to be precise). These are people who were not born into wealthy families, but who went out and did things that made them a millionaire. “These things” are primarily hard work and starting businesses. As a matter of fact, Dr. Stanley found that an extremely low percentage of first-time millionaires inherited their wealth. Dr. Stanley looked at all the common traits of these first-generation millionaires, and the one common trait that came up over and over and over again was this: integrity.

First-generation millionaires typically have extremely high levels of honesty and integrity.

So if that’s the case, and our goal in life when teaching children is to set them up to be as successful as they can with their talents and their abilities, then why do we drop the ball when it comes to simple honesty?

Think about my story for just a moment. First of all, what would have been the harm in Eric making up the work? I remember Eric. Eric had better attendance than most of the people that I ever went to school with. His parents believed in education, and hard work, and learning, and being honest. They were God-fearing people. While the official reason for his punishment was the lack of an “excused” absence as recognized by an authority figure in the school system, we can see beyond that and realize that Eric was in reality being punished because he was helping his family during a crisis- and that they were honest about it.

I, on the other hand, was rewarded for my dishonesty. Because I managed to convince my mom to lie on my behalf and come up with an excuse that would satisfy school officials, I got away with it. What a message to send to a kid! I learned something important that day that served me well in the coming years. I remember lying a lot from that point on. If I felt that a lie would prove advantageous to me as a kid (and later on as a teenager), I told it.

And I got really good at it.

Over the years, I stopped relying on lies. However, I didn’t give them up cold-turkey. I slowly had to start realizing that, as an adult, telling the truth was not just okay. It was expected. Unfortunately, I had to transition out of an ingrained habit that I should have never been led into, however inadvertently.

We are all familiar with the concept of peer pressure, usually as it relates to kids starting on drugs and alcohol. But the truth of the matter is that I feel like I was pressured more by adults when I was a kid than I was my actual peers.

If we’re going to set kids up for success, we need to re-examine the small things we teach them. For instance, they need to know that lying is not a normal part of the real world. While I appreciated my mom’s interference on my behalf as a kid, it would have done more for my character if she had refused to write that letter and let me accept the consequences of missing school for no good reason.  Even small lies, such as this one, reinforce the message that lying gets you what you want without the benefit of hard work.

If you personally believe that lying is, in fact, an okay way to get what you want… well, then you’re part of the problem. We’ve got to slowly untangle the mess that we have created in this world, and I believe that by understanding that honesty and integrity are key parts to it – and making sure that that’s the message we are sending to our kids- we’ll get there.

Remember, being a leader is not always about spotting the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong. Being a good leader is usually spotting the difference between what’s right and what’s almost right.

Stop embarrassing others for what they enjoy

 

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My daughter Hazel assisting me.

A few nights ago, for the first time ever, I brought my five-year old daughter to assist me at a trivia game I was hosting. She was there because we didn’t have a babysitter. She stood on stage with me, helped me set up, and also cleaned out the box of supplies I keep with me.

When the game started, she danced to the music that I played. There was probably about 85 to 90 people in the restaurant. At one point, she stood next to me, late in the game, and I made a joke. The joke was a self-depreciating joke about me. I use self-depreciating humor to make people laugh and have a good time. But she’s five and didn’t know what they were laughing at. She incorrectly assumed that everybody was laughing at her. She thought that I had made fun of her. She started crying, ran to the back of the stage, hid in a corner, and sobbed for the rest of the game.

I felt crushed. Even though I had not done anything wrong, the mere thought that I had hurt my daughter in that way made me feel awful. After the game was over, she started to understand what had happened and that I had not made fun of her. And the joy started coming back into her life. She was happy for the ride home.

A thought then occurred to me. It made me realize that it’s never okay to poke fun at something that somebody enjoys doing. She danced literally every song for 16 straight songs.  The people in the crowd noticed and thought it was cute. But nobody pointed anything out to her or said anything. She was on the stage, and they were playing trivia. She was not bothering them. They were not bothering her.

I get online this week, and I realize that there are people making fun of other people for playing the new Pokemon game. Now, I know very little about Pokemon. I’ve never played Pokemon. I know some of the characters just because of them being in the mainstream areas of my life, but I don’t know very much about it at all. But I have seen people making fun of other people playing Pokemon.

Why are we doing that? What is it giving us? What is it accomplishing? Why are we taking something that somebody enjoys, that frankly doesn’t bother anybody else, and make fun of people for it?

With shame I must admit that I am just as guilty as anybody else. I’ve made fun of people for really liking professional wrestling. I have made fun of people for live-action role play. I’ve made fun of people for being extremely geeky about stuff, or having tattoos. And as I watched my five-year-old cry her eyes out because she had thought I had made fun of her, it was a big lesson that I don’t need to do that.

Now, am I’m going to be perfect overnight no? But I do think we need to stand back and realize that when we are actually harming society by telling people that they should not enjoy their hobbies. Especially when these hobbies do not infringe on anyone else.

Hobbies, games, and having fun in general, stoke the creative flames inside of all of us. And with all of the problems in our world that need solutions, we need as many creative fires burning inside of us as we can possibly get.

Do people occasionally take hobbies to unhealthy extremes? Yes. But that’s not the situation I’m talking about here.

We need to remind ourselves as a society when something comes out as a fad, we shouldn’t really make fun of people who do it. If they’re getting enjoyment out of it and they’re doing it responsibly, then let them. Nobody understands all the things that I do and I’m not going to understand all the things everybody else does. But if we sat back and we just let people enjoy this short period that they have on Earth called life, I have a feeling they might also be better producers and leaders.

Go catch ’em all.

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