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All aboard! We’re following the leader!

If you read the tag line of my blog you will see the statement “I believe everyone is a leader”. I absolutely believe that! I also believe that leadership has many forms and functions. Watch this short video to see what I mean…

How to Start a Movement!

I have always considered myself a first follower. I am a creative person. I love to start things. I love the excitement of a new venture. I am usually pumped about change. And I like getting other people excited and on board with a new idea. But, truth be told, I am not much of a visionary. I don’t have much experience or success with looking out too far into the future to plot a course. That really frustrates me sometimes, because I see the people who are really good at that and I think that I have just as much talent, education, passion, drive, etc. as they do, so why can’t I do that??? The reality is that I’m just not wired that way. I can learn the same skills, read the same books, or attend the same conferences as a visionary but I would never apply my thinking the same way they do.

I had a mentor describe leadership once as being like a railway company. Some people have the job of surveying the land and planning the course for the track layers to put down the tracks. The track layers look at the surveyors map and figure out the best way to make the course work for the engineers to drive the train. Engineers see the track, understand the lay of the land and determine what it will take for the workers to make the train move on those tracks. The workers get direction from the engineer and do what it takes to make the train move and deliver their cargo safely. As with any analogy, this too will breakdown at some point, but you get the idea. The point is that it takes many people to make a train run well. Every job is essential. And it takes a wide variety of personality types to fill those jobs. If you put a visionary in the back of the train to watch the rear wheels they would go mad in no time. Likewise, if you put an engineer out front to survey the land you would never get any plans made.

train

The reality is that we all have probably done all of these “jobs” at different times in our lives, but most people tend to settle in to one primary role eventually. For example, I know I have done all of these “jobs”, but I see myself fitting into the role track layer quite nicely. Once I catch a vision for something my creative juices start flowing and, for better or for worse, I can be tough to stop once that happens. But like I said, this can be frustrating, also. Because there are times that I want to be a visionary. I want to be way out front deciding the course for myself. I just don’t think that way, though. That doesn’t mean I can never make any plans of my own or that I can’t ever do my own thing. It just means that I need to be aware of this fact and that I need to team up with people who do naturally think and act as “surveyors”, “engineers”, or “workers”.

So my homework for you is this, using the train idea, think about where you see yourself. Are you a visionary, a track layer, an engineer or a worker? Remember, none of them are any better or worse than the other. And as I said earlier, we will likely do all of these “jobs” at some point in our life. But we tend to naturally gravitate to one, or maybe two, of them. Once you think you have it figured out explain this train idea to a friend or family member then ask where they see you and why.

Alright, let me wrap this up by saying that I didn’t just write this post to babble about leadership and trains, or share a funny video. I struggle with this issue all the time. I’m almost 50 years old and I still don’t feel like I have ever decided what I want to do when I “grow up”. I constantly think about the possibility of changing careers or starting my own business. Then I start doubting myself because I’m not much of a visionary. Some days I’d rather just help someone else build their dream than take the risks to build my own. The thought of doing my own thing is kind of scary for my non-visionary, track-laying mind! But as I get older I am realizing that time is passing anyway, so I might as well build MY dream with the time I have left! And writing things like this reminds me that I don’t have to do it alone. I know visionary “surveyors” that can guide me through the planning process and level-headed “engineers” that can teach me the practicalities of running a business day-to-day. So I guess that just leaves actually doing it then. And that’s the easy part… right? ūüėČ

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Just when you think you have it all figured out…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post declaring that I had it all figured out. (Read it here) I had sifted through my options. I had evaluated my resources. I had carefully and thoughtfully come to the conclusion that I wanted to invest my available time and money in persuing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training. I was all set to jump into classes this week and (re)embark on my jiu jitsu journey. Everything was looking awesome. My plan was coming together. And then… it wasn’t. And the kicker is, I don’t even really know why that happened. Two weeks ago I was stoked to spend hour after hour in the gym drilling and sparring. I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else with my free (and not so free) time. Sure it would have involved some sacrifice, but I thought I had wrestled with that issue and come to grips with that fact. Apparently I hadn’t. Go figure!

confused

But a few days ago, as the time approached to actually commit to signing up for bjj classes, I started to have some doubts. And then I just had an awesome weekend hanging out with family and friends, and it really hit me hard that I would have to give up a lot of these experiences to invest the necessary time required to advance at jiu jitsu the way I would want to. Here’s how my thinking works on this; bjj is a substantial financial investment. Which doesn’t bug me at all. Anything worth learning requires an investment. And those that teach well deserve to be compensated appropriately. So paying for classes isn’t the issue. The issue, for me, is investing in something monetarily that I will invest my time in as well. So in my mind, paying the require fees to only attend class twice a week is tough for me to justify. The rift occurs when I realize that I probably won’t be able to consistently invest more than two days a week for training. So then I begin to second guess signing up for classes at all.

I honestly thought I had worked through all of this stuff in the weeks leading up to my previous blog post, but it doesn’t seem that I have. Some people might read this and think that I’m just being lazy or that I don’t want to put in the hard work to learn and advance in jiu jitsu. While being lazy is always a possibility (and a temptation, frankly) I don’t think that is the case. I still feel that the over-riding issue for me is not wanting to just pick one thing to focus all my time and energy on. I have too many interests and hobbies to land on only one. I can’t even begin to tell you why this is such an issue for me, but it just is.

A lot of the sentiment from my last post about being too busy still rings true to me, though. So maybe I just need to spend some more time thinking about this and whittling away at some the peripheral interests and activities that I do, instead of just going cold turkey on picking only one thing to focus on. One of the activities from this weekend that sparked ¬†a lot of these thoughts for me was going to Venice Beach with my wife. I started to realize that I would have less time to spend at the beach once I started classes. And I didn’t like that thought at all! We haven’t been spending enough time in or near the ocean as it is. Maybe this all just means I need to go meditate at the beach for a while and see what comes to mind! ūüėČ

beach meditate

Anyway, I write this today to encourage you to know that it’s OK to not have everything figured out all them time. There are things in life that we need to make sure are taken care of; bills are paid, food’s on the table, the kids have clothes to wear and a place to sleep, stuff like that. But there are some things in life that don’t need to be “figured out” right away, if at all. Life is a journey, and we all take different paths. If you’re the type of person that is motivated and driven to be the best you can be at one thing then that’s awesome. And if you’re like me and want to sample every thing at the buffet before you settle on your main dish, that’s OK too! It can be frustrating at times, but I am more and more making peace with the fact that I really wouldn’t want it any other way!

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Busy, busy, busy!

Whew! It’s been a while. I hope you are all still up for reading my posts? Sorry for the gap in my blog activity. Things got a bit busy for a while there. I had a little vacation to celebrate my anniversary. Then things at work got pretty hectic with having to cover for people who were out for a variety of reasons. But hopefully I can get back to posting at least once a week again now, maybe more.

busy

It wouldn’t be totally fair to say that this busyness wasn’t at least partially my fault, though. This morning I was thinking how my previous post, Minimal Inspiration, applied to this issue. I have always been a person with many and varied interests. The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” is definitely fitting for me. I get hooked on new interests or hobbies, and bored with old ones, very easily. My love for reading was severely injured during grad school. But it is returning lately and I tend to have at least two or three books on a wide range of topics in process at any given time. It’s also no secret that I am Disney freak and spend anywhere from 5 to 15 hours a week at the local theme parks. I have been obsessed with working out for about 5 years now and spend roughly 15 to 20 hours a week engaged in some type of fitness activity. One of the longest running obsessions I have in my life is bicycles, and on a good week I can spend up to 15 hours riding and/or maintaining my bikes. I have a mild obsession with surfing that flares up once in a while and makes me feel guilty for not spending enough time in the water getting better at that sport. A recent addition to my interests over the last couple years has been jiu jitsu. I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 2 or 3 years ago. I am not currently enrolled in classes, but I will be soon. That can easily occupy 6-10 hours a week, not to mention the hours I spend watching related YouTube videos. When you factor in my work schedule and my family time I often wonder how I can squeeze out enough time for sleeping or eating some weeks! I say all this just to point out that much of my busyness is self-inflicted. And to be honest, much, if not most, is probably unnecessary.

Getting back to my blog post on minimizing, though. I have been going through a shift in thinking, not only about the stuff I own, but also how I spend my time. It has taken me years to figure out what most people probably know instinctively… the more time you focus on one thing the better you get at it. I know, I can be kinda dense like that sometimes! I mean, I “know” this intellectually. But I don’t KNOW it personally. It has always been something I have struggled with my whole life. A quick review of my resume will show that trait has carried over into to my work life as well. But this is something I want to change now. I actually WANT to choose just a couple of things to focus my time and energy on. I want to get really good at something and not just have enough knowledge about it to carry on a conversation at a party or mildly impress the uninitiated with the information I know. I am valuable as a partner on your Trivial Pursuit team, but beyond that…???¬†I often tell people that I graduated with honors from the “Cliff Clavin University of Useless Information”! And I’m sure that joke dates me, horribly.

So, what I have been doing over the past few months is evaluating how I spend my time. What activities give me joy and add value to my life? What activities are just there, but don’t really excite me? And what activities take away from my time and energy, but don’t add any real value? I have come to the conclusion that jiu jitsu is the thing I am most passionate about right now, so I will be focusing on that as my extracurricular activity. I am jumping back into formal training in just a couple of weeks. But what I have realized is that I can fulfill a bunch of my other interests through this one activity as well. I have already started reading books on the art form. And not only jiu jitsu books, but topics related to it as well! Fitness, nutrition, mobility, meditation, and anything else that will improve and enhance my jiu jitsu ability and experience. All of my workouts now include movements and exercises that will help improve my jiu jitsu performance. I have also started taking steps to transition to (mostly) full-time bicycle commuting for my daily activities so I can still get my fill of that, too. The really tough part though is admitting that there are some things that I will just have to give up. As much as I enjoy surfing, I know I cannot invest the necessary time in that along with everything else to get as good as I would like. So I will have to be satisfied with occasionally body boarding during our beach days to get my wave sliding fix. And as much as it pains me to say it, I will also need to cut down on the number of hours spent frolicking with Mickey and his pals if I want to get better at jiu jitsu.

Like I said above, this is a lesson that a lot people learn early in life. I wasn’t one of those people, so I am having to make these decisions now. I don’t really regret the way lived in the past. It made for a very interesting ride and has allowed the ability to make friends in many communities that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. But I think it’s time hone my focus a bit more and stop letting myself be distracted so easily. ¬†There is enough busy noise in life already, there is no reason for me to voluntarily crank up that volume knob up to 11 all the time!

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“Fake it ’til you make it!”

Have you ever heard the phrase, “fake it ’til you make it”? Has anyone ever told you to just “put on a happy face” when it’s pretty obvious that “happy” isn’t what you’re feeling at the moment? Some days I’m just not feeling it. I don’t want to smile. I don’t want to pretend. I don’t want to try to be something on the outside that I’m not feeling like on the inside.

fake it mask

Unfortunately, this phrase has become popular in the church in recent years, also. It was an especially favorite response from youth pastors when their students said they didn’t feel like singing or even standing during youth worship services. I know this is true because I used to do it myself as a youth pastor. And I probably owe some of my former students an apology for doing that.

I know, I know, there are always things that we NEED to do even if we don’t WANT to do them. I get that side of it. I got out of bed at 5:15 this morning to go to work, and trust me when I tell you that I did not WANT to do that! I never WANT to hand over my hard-earned money to the car insurance agent, but I do it anyway. As a functioning adult in our society these things are just part of life. I get it!

But we do ourselves and others a huge disservice when we apply that logic to everything in life, especially when it’s our feelings and emotions. And when we do this in the context of our relationships it can be incredibly dysfunctional and damaging. I know my kids were never happy about doing their chores (unless it was allowance day!) and for me to expect them to wash the dishes or take the trash out with a smile on their face, just because, would be setting us both up for disappointment. We both knew how they felt about it. The important thing was that the task got done. It didn’t matter what the expression on their face was. On a more “adult” topic, my wife knows I hate talking about money, or our lack there of. And she doesn’t expect me to talk about our bills or budget with a smile on my face & a song in my heart. But she does expect me to talk about it. I don’t have to fake or stuff my feelings about the discussion or the topic to get it done. In fact, being honest about it has been better for our relationship because it gives us a better idea of when and where to have those discussions. By the way, first thing in the morning, in a crowded Starbucks, is NOT that time or place, in case you were wondering! Returning to the youth pastor example I used above, this can also be applied to our relationship with God. We don’t need to “fake it ’til we make it” in our relationship with God. If I can handle my kids not being thrilled to spend time with me, but still want to spend time with them, then I’m pretty sure God can handle us being honest about our moods and feelings, also! There are plenty of days that I go to church and don’t sing a single line of a single song, or speak a single word during the common prayers. But I still know that God wants to be with me just as much as anyone else. Whether I’m too angry, too sad, or even just plain too tired to utter a single word or crack the faintest smile, I am confident that God is still thrilled that I chose to be there with my faith community. And since that’s the case, my mood or facial expressions shouldn’t really matter that much to anyone else there either.

So while there are some things that we need to just do whether we feel like it nor not, faking our feelings and emotions aren’t among those things. I’m not saying that I think we should all just be rude and mean to people whenever we’re in a “mood”. I am saying that we would all be better off if we were honest with ourselves and others about our feelings and emotions. We need to learn to give others the space they need to experience and express their emotions on their own terms. So next time you see one of your friends looking sad don’t just tell them to “put on a happy face”. Ask them why they look sad. And if you can’t do that then at least give them the space they need to be sad. Don’t try to change their behavior in the moment just for your own comfort. Because, I don’t know about you, but when I’m in one of those moods I really don’t have the energy to “fake it ’til I make it” and that’s the last thing I want someone to tell me to do!

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Different roads, same destination.

Way back when I used to earn a paycheck as a pastor people would often ask me how they could tell what their “calling” was. My typical response was usually ¬†along the lines of, “Imagine something you love as much as breathing. Something that, if you weren’t doing it, you would feel like you were suffocating.” For me that thing is teaching. I don’t necessarily mean the typical type of teaching we often think of when we hear the word. Standing in front of group with a board full of scribbles behind me and text-book in my hand. Although I do enjoy that sometimes, what I mean by teaching is the process of helping someone learn something new or figure out a solution to a problem. And for many years, as a pastor, that most often took place in the form preaching from a pulpit.

pulpit

I served many years in church leadership positions as both a volunteer ministry leader and a professional pastor, working with groups of people ranging in age from elementary school students to senior citizens. And in all of those roles I had the honor and pleasure of being able to teach, preach and speak to various sized groups. Sometimes it was a dozen junior high students. (Don’t tell anyone, but those were usually my favorites!) Sometimes it was a couple hundred adults or more. But the size and demographic of the group didn’t really matter much, because I loved doing it no matter what the audience was like. Which is kind of surprising if you think about it. For a someone like me to enjoy public speaking is a bit of a lark. I was always the awkward, fat kid, that didn’t wear the cool clothes, wore thick glasses, and was even know to stutter a bit when nervous. I spent most of my school days just trying to be invisible. But now here I was, getting up to speak in front of people… on purpose. And loving it! Some¬†people even tell me I’m pretty good at it, too! Go figure. And my usual response when I’d get a compliment like that was, “It’s my calling. It’s like breathing, I feel like I’m suffocating if I don’t do it.”

 

Here’s the rub. I’ve taken a bit of a detour lately. It’s been a few years since the last time I stood in front of a group to teach. And guess what? I didn’t suffocate! I’m still here. I’m still inspired to teach. And I still feel like I’m living out my calling. It just looks different now. What I realized was that even though I identified my “calling” with being in the pulpit, it was actually the teaching process that I was called to. Sometimes that process looks like me standing in the pulpit with a bible in my hand. Sometimes that process looks like a casual conversation with friends over a beer (or two). And sometimes that process looks like writing a blog post that my wife and maybe one or two other people will read. And that’s cool with me. As much as I loved teaching groups of people, I am finding out that some of the other roads of this teaching process have some pretty incredible pit-stops and scenic views that I would never get to see on that other road I was on for a while.

 

Whether you feel like you’re called to be a teacher, or a business person, or an entertainer, or whatever, I encourage you look at the map creatively and realize that there are usually many roads that will get you to your “destination”. Some are like a highway, direct and well paved. They’ll get you there quickly and with relative ease. Some are like old country roads, dusty, crooked and way out-of-the-way. Both types of roads are OK. But you should never feel bad about choosing or having to take the long way around, because you’ll probably pick up some cool snap-shots and stories along the way that you would have missed from the highway!

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Minimal Inspiration!

I thought a good way to start off this blog would be with a review of the movie that inspired me to jump back into blogging again. That movie is Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I highly recommend it. This documentary follows¬†Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, also known as The Minimalists, on a tour to promote their books and the minimalism movement.

minimalism

As you can probably guess from the title, the movie is about downsizing your life or at least the physical “footprint” that your life leaves. What you might not understand from the title is that this is not just a movie, or a movement, about merely throwing stuff away and de-cluttering your personal space. Instead, the Minimalists encourage you to ask yourself a question about everything you own and do… does this item or activity add value or joy to my life that I wouldn’t have without it? You might be thinking, “Well, everything I own brings me joy, that’s why I own it!” But when we are honest with ourselves, many of our possessions might make us happy occasionally, but so much of the stuff we own just sits around taking up space waiting to be used once in a while. In the movie one of the authors shares a story of when a person asked them if they needed to throw away their extensive book collection. The author asked if the collection added value to their life. The person responded that their books brought them great joy, connected them with their friends through book clubs and lending/borrowing clubs, and that they often sought out old books they had read in the past for information when reading about other topics. This person’s collection obviously added value and joy to their life. So there was no reason to get rid of that. The crux of the minimalist movement is not to own the least amount of things possible, but to only own possessions that add value and joy to your life.

 

So why should we be concerned with how much stuff we own? The authors answer this at their events with an exercise for their audience. They say…

¬†Imagine a life with less. Less clutter. Less distraction. Less debt. Less waste… Now imagine a life with more. More time. More available resources. More authentic relationships. More of the things that are really important in life.

Their reason for having¬†LESS stuff is so they can have MORE of what really matters. There’s an old adage that says “the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.” That is true for the vast majority of people. We have bought in to the lie of the “American Dream” that we need to work hard (or go in to debt) to get more stuff so we can be happy. That way of thinking is completely backwards and a lot of people are waking up to that fact! To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club…

I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables ‚Äď slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Most people in our country live to work, they do not work to live. Logging excessive hours on the job is commonplace just to support the lifestyle they think they need. Debt acquisition is welcomed as a necessity for being a good, productive member of society. This lifestyle is killing us. Cases of stress related heart disease have skyrocketed. Disparity between the upper class and the lower class is constantly growing. And self-medicating with alcohol and recreational drugs to ease the tension of that realization is accepted as normal. The Minimalists and the minimalism movement are offering an exit ramp from that hamster wheel existence!

 

So, somewhere in the process of watching this movie I was inspired to give this over saturated blog-a-sphere another shot. And here’s why, writing adds value to my life and brings me joy. Sharing my story with people adds value to my life and brings me joy. And if my writing or my story can help someone else, that adds value and joy to my life. There is no doubt that to do this blog well I will need to remove some other stuff that is taking up space and time (without adding any real value or joy), but I am confident that it will be worth the trade-off!

 

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I’ve seen some stuff…

Yeah, I’ve seen some stuff. And I’ve done some things. And I’ve even managed to learn a little bit here and there. So I figured I’d start sharing some of it with people that want to read about it. I know what your thinking, “What makes this guy think he has anything to offer?” I get it. So the official resume type answer looks something like this… I have a bachelors degree in leadership and a masters degree in leadership and personal development from Vanguard University. I have 15+ years experience in a very wide variety of church/ministry leadership & development. Beyond that I have 15+ years of leadership and management experience in the retail and automotive industries. The not so official, more realistic answer is that I’ve seen, and done, some stuff. My interests range from punk music to religion. From meditation to action sports. My hobbies include a variety of things from trying to surf to learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. From cycling to weekly Disneyland visits. I have attempted a lot of different ventures in life. Some were successful… many were not. But they all taught me something in their own way. And as much as I appreciate and respect my formal education, the diploma I earned from the “School of Hard Knocks” is just as, if not more, valuable to me than the one in a frame on my wall (and that I will be paying for for years to come).

cropped-me-and-cup.jpg

So here’s the deal with this new blog. I want to share some of the stuff I’ve seen. One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that when you start talking about leadership development or life coaching or anything like that, most people automatically assume that kind of stuff is just for the suit and tie crowd. The upwardly-mobile, corporate-climber types. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that EVERYONE is a leader, or at least has the potential to be. The guy fixing cars at the corner service station can have just as much impact on others as the CEO that owns the Mercedes he’s fixing. The lady who owns a food truck can be more of an influencer than the real estate mogul that owns the office building she’s parked in front of everyday. But very few people ever learn how to use that influence to make the world a better place. The average person is never offered the opportunity to develop their skills, traits and potential to be the best leader they can be.

What I want to do with this site is provide some bits of information, insights and lessons from my life and lives of others that might be helpful. I plan to tell my own stories, review books, movies, videos and other media that I found helpful and tell the stories of people that are on a path of self-development, who are learning to lead and grow themselves.

So I invite you to grab a cup of coffee or a beer (if you don’t know me, you will quickly find that those are two of my favorite things in life!) and enjoy reading and commenting as we learn and grow together.