Obscurity

We’ve all been there. We’ve all shown up to a new place where no one knows us. They don’t even care to get to know you or what you have to offer.


Now the question is “what do you do?” Should you stay in obscurity? Do you create a platform for yourself?


Living in obscurity is rough. It’s a tricky part of life. No one wants to live in obscurity. I don’t know a single adult who would wish to relive their middle school years. However, some of us find ourselves living in obscurity anyway.


While it’s difficult, there can be beauty in obscurity. (Enter the motivational posters of “The journey is the reward”). Journeying through obscurity is not for the faint at heart though.


Over my 38 years, I can reflect and see seasons of nothing but obscurity. So the question is, is obscurity something everyone HAS to go through and endure? If so, what are the best practices to journey through the darkness well?


In 2007, I started a new job in a new state. When I arrived at my new job, I was ushered into a training lab. I went through my orientation. During my week of orientation, I wasn’t even allowed to see the area of the production plant where I’d be working. It was strange, for sure. When I arrived, the people I would be working with didn’t care that I was there. Several of them reminded me many times that ‘they had been doing the job longer than I’d been alive.’


I had positional leadership. My job was a leadership role for the team. Most of my team didn’t care about my title. I foolishly believed that my title would open the gates of influence and leadership. I thought that I would give instructions and these instructions would magically be followed.


That did not happen.


I had to make a decision early on in this job. I could put my hours in and appear to be a leader and collect my paycheck and never gain leadership influence or, I could go through the long awkward path of obscurity to gain influence.


It’s possible to create a platform of influence without selling out.


Following are the lessons I had to learn and relearn in seasons of obscurity. This journey is more like a dance than it is a hike.

3 Things to work on in seasons of obscurity:


1. Focus more on becoming than doing.
A person of character is a rare thing these days. Take responsibility for your actions, words and results. When you screw up, admit it.


If you say you can submit a report by the end of the day, do it.


Your actions should match your words and your words should match your actions. No one admits to being a hypocrite, but we all are. We all struggle at keeping our word.


Excuses may help us feel better about ourselves, but they leave us lacking. It’s tempting to focus on tasks and getting things done. This temptation leads to our business. The business will lead to burn out and cynicism.


Being a person of integrity means to become a whole person. It’s tempting to compartmentalize our lives. We want to think we can become a person of integrity at work without it affecting our personal life.

Compartmentalizing our lives can lead to voids in our lives. We can have the appearance of substance, but in reality, be puffed up without content to support it.


Integrity comes from the Latin word “integer”. Legend has it that clay potters would put an “I” on pots after they went out of the kiln. This was done only if they were to be whole and complete without void.

Become a person without void.


If you say you’ll do something, do it. If you say you won’t do something, don’t.


If you want to take your wife on a date, do it. Plan ahead. Do it. Date your wife. If you don’t someone else will.


Be the person others at work can trust.


2. Clean your desk/workspace each day.
It’s tempting to allow the craziness of your life to keep you from organizing your work area. Don’t let it.


Take 5 minutes each day to clean your crap up. File paperwork. Throw trash away. Leave your area clean, especially if you share a work area.
Schedule time to file emails away as well. Don’t “check your email”.

Checking your email leads to so many other distractions. If possible set times in your daily schedule to ‘file emails’. Filing emails is a push to read, respond to the email and file it away.

How many times have you checked your email and read the email. Then never actually responded or carried out a task listed in an email? As a result, you show up to a meeting and realize you showed up unprepared. You neglected to prepare, which is what the previous email explained. You didn’t bring a report. Submit a requisition request prior to the meeting or inform someone else of the meeting etc.


Organizing your space not only clears your mind and helps reduce clutter. It communicates something about your work ethic and responsibility.
You can’t gain influence quickly. You gain influence and leadership through the long game. Winning the long game requires consistency and responsibility.


3. Turn your focus on getting results.
So, there’s this harsh reality in the workplace. There aren’t participation awards. Mean people called ‘bosses’ do this ridiculous thing like holding others accountable. ‘Bosses’ give paychecks out for an agreed-upon pay. They actually expect results from that so-called work.


In a previous job, I had to attend weekly meetings. In my weekly meetings, my boss would explain our goals as a department. He would also share his expectation in regards to— safety, quality and production ratios.


I would show up week after week reporting how I was trying to motivate my teams to meet these expectations. I would list out all the excuses I could come up with. We had no parts. We didn’t have packaging to put the assembled parts into. It was too hot. Etc.


After a few weeks, I realized this wasn’t gaining any results so I did something different. When we would run out of parts to assemble, I would communicate to the people in the previous process what I needed. I’d ask for an estimated update on when we could expect pieces. I kept a report in my notebook and reported my responses to the issues of why we couldn’t hit our production ratio.


It’s so easy to play the victim role in the workplace. My boss is so mean, clients are unrealistic or the economy is changing, etc.


You don’t control the majority of what happens to you. You do control 100% of how you respond to those events. Focus on how you respond. Your response should be focused on gaining results, not making excuses.

A guy named Todd stopped me after one of our weekly meetings. Todd said very little, but what he said was full of wisdom. He told me that no one cares about how much I try to get results. I won’t get a ribbon for trying. He told me that I should report on what I’m doing to get results.
My area sub-assembled components. Individual stations completed the sub-assembled products for the next process.


I communicated to my team that changes would take place.
I started tracking individual results.


We would hold each other accountable to the expectations. Every Monday, I posted the updated results from the previous week. Each person’s name was listed next to their production ratio. Anyone that didn’t achieve the expectation had to report to the team. They would say what kept them from attaining the expectation. They would also explain what they were going do to meet the expectation in the future.


Things were uncomfortable and awkward on Mondays. Something happened though, Mondays become my favorite day of the week. Our team held each other accountable and knew what results were needed to improve.

Best practices were shared.

We accomplished goals.


Obscurity is challenging for sure. It doesn’t have to be a place where we get lost and forgotten though. These actions have helped me and so many others. I recently asked this question on social media and the input from everyone was so helpful, I had to add a bonus.


Bonus:
Embrace the season and wait. The waiting isn’t passive waiting, it is waiting with anticipation.


Think of sailing a ship. If you’re out at sea and your sails are down and the wind does come, how will you move?


The list above isn’t exhaustive. I do believe it can help you start the process of raising your sails to journey well through obscurity.

Photo by Edgar Guerra on Unsplash

Cellphones the new cigarettes?

We’ve all seen science fiction movies that depict our earth worse than we currently live in. The cities look more polluted. It’s almost a prerequisite that our computers and machines will be ruling us.


There’s an old saying, if you want an apple from an apple tree, the best time to have planted that tree was twenty years ago. The next best time would be now. Here’s the reality. We aren’t on this earth on our own. We aren’t floating through time and space on our own either. We have a connection. We have a link with other human beings. We have a connection to previous generations of humans.

We are also connected to future generations.

Have you ever wondered how small decisions impact our lives? What we do today does affect our grandchildren.


I’m sure our grandparents dreamed of what the future would look like. My grandparents moved from Chicago to north central Indiana. They did that for the sake of their future children and future grandkids. By my grandparents making the choice to move, it meant that I would grow up in the city or house that I did. What decisions did your grandparents make that may have made that currently affect you today.


My wife’s grandmother recently passed away. At her funeral, someone mentioned how many events she saw in her lifetime. My 38 years don’t even come close to seeing the vast advancements she witnessed. I believe my grandchildren will see the same amount of technology in their lifetimes as well.


I was born in 1981. The same year of the floppy disk. I graduated from high school in 1999. I know how to use a rotary phone unlike these guys.

Let’s also take the evolution of music for example. Throughout my 38 years of life, a person could listen to music on vinyl, 8 track and cassette tapes. Compact discs eventually became accessible and affordable. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a CD. I don’t know the last time I bought an album. I now pay $10 a month to listen to the music I enjoy.

I am confident that some of what we have become accustomed to is beyond their imagination. Our ordinary, everyday lives displayed as science fiction a few decades ago.


So let’s play a game. Fast forward 100 years. What do you think we’ll see? Here are my top 3 predictions of what we’ll learn in 100 years.

1. Cell phones will be the cigarettes of our generation.


We really don’t know the health impact of cell phones yet. We are pretty early in the life of smartphones. All the signals that are going from and going to our smartphones have to have some impact on our health. There are some studies already about health impacts. A Google search of ‘potential health impacts of smartphones‘ renders 10,5000,000 search results!


Will future generations look back and wonder what in the world were we thinking? How could we have seen this as ok?


I’m wondering if the French government isn’t onto something. They have banned cell phones at their schools. I spend at least one day a week at a local school. The cell phones rule the classrooms.


I used to work at a manufacturing plant. One of the biggest struggles I had with my team was over the use of their smartphones. I fired so many young employees during that time. One of the main reasons was because they couldn’t keep their phones out of their hands as production ran.

2. Plastic will be our generation’s black smoke clouds of the industrial revolution.


Single-use plastic is killing our planet. We have to realize this. Most of us reading this blog live in a world where we ship our trash off. Someone picks up our trash and removes it from our house. That trash has to go somewhere though.


Last week, I met the owners of a new company in our area. Reeden Company is creating sustainable solutions to replace single-use plastic options. Let’s face it, we use single-use plastic because it’s cheap. Sustainable solutions will be an investment for us.

Volunteers try to clear a dam which is filled with discarded plastic bottles and other garbage, blocking Vacha Dam, near the town of Krichim on April 25, 2009. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

Our current reality was largely influenced by our grandparents. What kind of world do we want our grandchildren to live in? What kind of apple tree will you see in twenty years based on your investment? What are you willing to invest today for a better tomorrow?


3. Future generations will reject social media.


Social media as we know, will end. Facebook is only 15 years old. Instagram is only 9 years old. Snapchat is only 8 years old. Twitter is only 13 years old. I know it seems like we can’t survive today’s culture without these platforms. When will we stop caring about everyone’s approval and NEED to see everyone’s posts?


One of my friends Torrey said she only remembers this routine.

Wake up.

Grab her cell phone.

Open Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and see what she missed out on while she slept.

As a result, Torrey deleted all her accounts. She now has more mental space and the ability to focus throughout her day.

Will employers force employees to leave smartphones at home instead of at work?


Social media will go away completely. Future generations will learn to break from the addiction we can’t seem to shake.


I am extremely hopeful about our future. I believe that we are one generation away from greatness. Imagine if we as adults can model how to use technology with balance and boundaries. Future generations can build on our example.If we as adults can model how to use technology with balance and boundaries, future generations can build on our example and use technology to plant, cultivate and prune a culture that will embrace our full potential.


What seemingly simple decisions can you make today that will empower future generations? What simple decisions could you make that will plant the seed for a tree that your grandchildren will benefit from?


Don’t hope for it.


Don’t wait for it.


Do it.

Photo by Dexter Chatuluka on Unsplash

The Middle Phase

In 2015, Heather and I (Marc) were wrestling through what our next step as a family was.  We sensed God leading us away from a church and community that we were extremely comfortable in.  We had friends and support systems. We loved the city and we loved the people. We thought we’d retire there.  However, it became crystal clear that God was moving us away from the comfortable toward an unknown future.

The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.  

In August of 2015, we found ourselves driving through Northwest Indiana with a couple of shady characters, Tom and Sarah Cochran.  We stopped at a Merrillville Elementary School, Salk Elementary School. While walking around, I was praying the whole time.

I don’t use this term flippantly.  I sensed God leading us to Northwest Indiana to start a church that unchurched (we define “unchurched” as people who have never gone to church, people who have stopped attending church, find church to be irrelevant or feel like the church has given up on them) people would want to attend.  Herein lies the problem and the challenge. The reality of any business is that any long term success comes when people who don’t currently use your product start using your product.

Business leaders, we must realize we aren’t selling products.  We are selling solutions to problems. You might be selling drill bits today, but once someone discovers a new more efficient way to make holes with accuracy, your drill bit business will be scrambling for business.  As a church leader, I face the same issues.

It’s so tempting to think that our organization is selling or offering a product.  I’d encourage you to think through what problem your organization solves and how you can leverage your organization to solve problems.    

As you start the adventure of exploring what problems your organization solves and offer solutions for them, you might start a new ad campaign or you might discover your products don’t actually offer solutions to any problems, so you revamp your product line.  You might realize that there is a completely different market in the process. You also might discover that your passion isn’t in this field and start a new adventure in a different field. No matter what, there is a rhythm that most likely will take place. There will be a launch phase, a middle phase and a peak phase.  The key to finding lasting success is repeating this process in the right time.

Plenty has been written about the launch and peak phases.  I’ve not come across a lot of material on the middle phase however.  I find myself leading an organization in the early stages of the middle phase.  

As we do this, there is a fun part of the process.  At the launch of any new business or church, there is a lot of energy…then the middle phase hits.  Expenses build up and you spend the same amount of energy and money attempting to generate the same amount of results you accomplished in the launching phase…and It just doesn’t happen.  

You must create more energy.  

Actually, what I have found is that we should create systems instead of products and campaigns.  Systems take a long time, a LONG time to get started. The beautiful thing about systems is that once they are up and running, they will accomplish more results than you ever expected.  

Rich Birch, a seasoned church leader who has served in three innovative culture-shaping churches, uses the example of a flywheel or a merry-go-round.  In the beginning, it seems that nothing is going to the thing moving, but when you stick with it, momentum starts to build up. After a while, momentum takes over and eventually keeping that momentum going isn’t difficult.  

A leader should be strategic and intentional about when to interject to keep the momentum going once the systems are in place and creating momentum.   

This is exactly what happens when the right systems are at work for any organization.  

In the middle phase of the process, the most important and yet most difficult questions to answer are “which systems do you put energy into?”  

I love watching productivity increase while mistakes and process defects decrease.”

You might just have a solution that would solve their problems, but they don’t know you offer it, because of how busy you might be at improving your system.  If you aren’t careful, that focus will be the end of your organization.

We might be working at improving our systems and miss a huge opportunity right in front of us.  In the 90’s, there wasn’t a weekend that I didn’t head to the local Blockbuster Store to rent a movie.  When I was in college in the early 2000’s, I spent most of my Saturdays doing the same thing. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie rented from Blockbuster.  Why is that?

There was a little start up in 2000 called Netflix.  Founder, Reed Hastings, approached Blockbuster’s CEO John Antioco about purchasing Netflix.  Blockbuster didn’t see the potential in Netflix. They couldn’t see that there would be a new way of watching movies in the near future.  They were focused on improving their systems within Blockbuster and they missed a chance of a lifetime.

Blockbuster filed bankruptcy in 2010 and now Netflix is no longer a fledgling startup.  They have moved well beyond that. They are assessed as a $28 billion company which just happens to be 10 times what Blockbuster was worth!  

The laws of thermodynamics remind us that any system left in isolation will always reduce to zero.  Entropy always increases in an isolated system. The beautiful thing about that law states that any system can come back to life by introducing a new life.  (And all the sales people rejoiced!)

I have a tendency toward creating systems.  I use my time and resources to ensure I have the right systems in place to reduce waste, increase productivity and become efficient.  This simply helps me manage assets we have as an organization. This is a worthy cause. It’s necessary.

I’ve learned, however, that if I am not intentional about ‘selling’ RE.THINK Church (sounds worse than it is), new life will not get introduced into our system.  So, I intentionally put myself in places and environments to tell others about RE.THINK Church.

I refer to these places as my “tribes”.  Author and marketing Jedi master, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.  I am heavily involved in the chamber of commerce in our community. I spend a lot of time at luncheons and networking events. I am part of a community within the chamber called, EPIC (Engaging Professionals Inspiring Change).  I love telling the story of RE.THINK. I love connecting with these people.  

I also spend time at a local coffee shop.  Connecting with the baristas and the other regulars helps me tell the story of RE.THINK in our community as well.  I’m actually writing this blog in this coffee shop right now.

Each Wednesday, I have lunch with a group of fifth graders at Merrillville Intermediate School. Here’s a blog I wrote about that experience. As a church, we have adopted MIS to love on. We bring snacks to the teachers throughout the year.  The generosity of the people of RE.THINK is poured into our community in various ways like providing lunches for the teachers and staff of MIS.

I’d encourage you to find opportunities within your community that you could simply tell the story of your organization.   

The best method of telling your story starts with identifying problems people face that your organization offers solutions for.  

As a church, we have identified that people are searching for solutions for such problems as hopelessness, isolation, judgmentalism and loneliness. Many people also feel that they are simply a cog in a machine, living for a paycheck.  The solution we offer people is to engage with RE.THINK Church where a person has the opportunity to find hope, community and purpose.

I do honestly believe that RE.THINK Church is the best church in our area for people who are looking for a safe place to explore their faith.  It is the best church for someone looking for community to connect with and to find purpose in their life beyond a paycheck. I remind myself that RE.THINK Church’s vision is from God.  That vision is to help unchurched people explore their faith and mature in a relationship with Jesus.

We’ve created systems within our church’s organization that offer solutions to these problems.

I bet you believe the same thing about the solutions your organization offers as well.  

Certain days it feels like I am running in circles.  I am continually putting my figurative “salesperson” hat on, taking it off 15 minutes later and putting on my figurative “systems” hat.  

This is the story of most entrepreneurial people.  If we spend all of our time catering to current customers without being aware of people who don’t currently use our services to solve their problems, we might have extremely efficient systems but no customers.  

If we ignore systems, we might have an amazing amount of customers, but it might cost us more money, energy and effort to keep them than it should.  Eventually, our inefficiency will cost us customers.

There is a double-edge sword here.  Seth Godin, reminds us that it costs us more to generate new customers than to get an already existing customer to reengage or buy again.  Remember, we shouldn’t be selling products, we should be offering solutions to people’s already existing problems.

The challenge for us entrepreneurial people is that we must wear both hats of the salesperson and systems person.  How long and often we wear each hat is determined by our current reality.

The middle phase of any venture, in my opinion, is the most difficult to push through.  I believe breakthroughs, innovations and advancements have been missed by millions of people because they gave up in the middle phase of a venture.  The middle phase is where thousands of great dreams, inventions, skill sets and innovations lay because people gave up in the middle of the process.

This is even true for people who aren’t necessarily looking to start a new organization but maybe a new habit or skill set.  There will still be a launch phase, middle phase and a peak. I believe that people might miss the opportunity to develop new skill sets because of the middle phase.  

Let’s use the idea of creating a system to help crush the middle phase.  

For example, a leader encourages an employee to give a presentation at the next staff meeting.  The employee is nervous but does it. Everyone comments on how great the presentation was. The employee believes for a minute that she could give more presentations in the future.  This would be a great skill to have as she was hoping to advance in the company. She gives the next presentation and people comment, but not as vocally about how great the first one was.  The employee finds herself a little discouraged. She’s asked to give a third presentation. As she considers it, she decides to do it but doesn’t get her hopes up. She believes it’s not going to be as great as the first one.  So, she goes through the motions of the presentation. No one comments good or bad. She decides that must mean she’s not good at giving presentations. So when she’s asked in the future to give presentations, she brushes the opportunity off because she doesn’t want to set herself up for failure or disappointment.  

So what is needed in this scenario?  The answer is simple. A system.

They need a system that will enable them to push through the middle phase.  Remember, it’s easier to stay in the comfort of the known. The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.

The innovator or inventor who gives up in the middle phase of a process should set a system in place that rewards him for accomplishments.  They could be arbitrary rewards, but rewards are still rewards. Who doesn’t want a reward?

I remember a time when I was in the middle phase of revamping a production system.  This process was a long one, like 10 months of innovations, trials and testing processes etc. The company I worked for followed the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) system.

I decided to break down the end goal into attainable steps.  I also decided to mentally break the processes into steps that would allow me to test any and all options.  My reward system was not based on how many successes we discovered as a team, but on how many options we tried.  If we as a team tried at least five options per week, I bought everyone on my team orange Hostess cupcakes from the vending machine.  If we tried ten options, then I bought everyone pizza. When we found what worked along the way, everyone got a five minute longer lunch break.  Eventually we changed gears and our reward system was based on finding success.

Like so many leaders have pointed out, great is the enemy of good.  In the early phase, we needed to find good not great or perfect. In this scenario, we continually improved on our changes.  We realized that continually improving was the key, not perfection. This is also known as kaizen.  

The same system could be modified for the person who is stepping out to start a new venture or company.  Creating a reward system based on how many customers you call or how many flea markets you set up your booth at.  I have created a system throughout my week that once I meet with three leaders in my organization for the purpose of leadership development, I allow myself to watch youtube videos for 15 minutes throughout my workday.  

The Middle is brutal.  It’s relentless.

So, for the employee who is wanting to acquire a new skill set that would help her in her promotion path, she would need to create a system that allows her to develop her skills in a safe environment.  Employers who help create those safe environments will benefit tremendously as well. If she will find moments throughout her week to work on small aspects of a skill set, it will lend to massive development in a year.  

Let’s take the skill of giving a presentation. There are so many skills that could be developed in weekly chunks.  For example, the art of breathing while giving a presentation, the pace of speech so that you’re engaging, but not speaking too fast that no one can keep up or the tension of looking at notes too much or not using notes at all.

I think the tension comes because people become disappointed that success doesn’t happen right away.   Why? The middle phase is brutal, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Taking the time to create a system helps us push through the middle phase.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

D I S A P P O I N T E D

We’ve all been there.  A new chance or opportunity arises and we start to hope.  We dream. We love thinking about the possibilities. We take the chance.  We apply for the job, share our feelings with the girl, put our name in the hat for a promotion –and we wait.  If you’re a person of faith, you might even take a season to pray about the possibilities. You might also use the phrase, “it’s God’s will…”  So you apply. Pray.

There is a part of life that happens to everyone. No one likes to talk about it.  We all put on our happy faces and pull up our big boy or big girl pants (a phrase no guy should use outside of this blog).  

And wait.

Then the door is shut and we’re told no.  We didn’t get the promotion, new job or the girl doesn’t want to go out on a date with us.  

One of the biggest hurdles in moving forward when we are disappointed is the mental game we have to play.  We dreamed up all the possibilities. We thought of what our life would be like if this or that happens and then we are left lacking.  We are left realizing, not today. That possible job isn’t God’s will. You weren’t chosen.

The underlying hurt of disappointment is the reality that you weren’t chosen.  No one comes out and says that, but it’s the truth. The company or girl chose someone other than you.  That reality is painful.

It can be crushing.  It can derail us, but it doesn’t have to.  

As I reviewed my 38 years of life, I realized there had been several moments that could have crushed me; however, I learned a life lesson by watching my mom.  She continually moved forward in spite of being disappointed time after time. If anyone should have given up, it would have been my mom.

Her father died when she was just 2 years old.  Her mom died when she was 6 years old. Her aunt and uncle raised her.  The man she married (my dad) divorced her after admitting he had been having an affair (if not multiple).  My mom worked several jobs at one time to provide for our family. Watching her resolve, I’ve learned several lessons that have helped me in my times of disappointment.  

It’s easy to say it doesn’t have to derail us, but in reality, it’s difficult to live out.  So how can we keep the disappointment from crushing us or wrecking us?

1.  Don’t let it crush you.  

Sounds simple, but you can mature.

My friend, Lynn, said that she pauses so that she can respond, not react.  There is so much wisdom in Lynn’s words. Respond instead of reacting. It’s not easy or natural, but it’s the mature thing to do.

How often have you sent back an email “REPLY ALL” and added a few names or maybe even put a person’s name in the BCC line (nice move, the original audience will never know)?  You react and in bold all caps unleash your reaction through the email. And even worse, actually clicked ‘send’ without reading through it. That’s a reaction.

Take a moment.  BREATHE. Decide how you WILL respond.  One of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn and relearn is this.  The way I leave a situation and how I behave, is how someone is going to remember me.  So, if I react and unleash a fury of insults at them, ten years later that’s exactly how I will be remembered.  

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a guy named Joseph.  Joseph’s life is one disappointment after another. His brothers want to kill him, but they settle by selling him into slavery.  He’s falsely accused and thrown into prison. In prison, he helps a friend out, but ultimately he’s forgotten. His perspective on life is life-giving for sure.  Instead of allowing the pain and hurt of disappointment to crush him, Joseph decides to move past the disappointment. He chooses to remain helpful. When he’s finally called upon to help Pharaoh, he doesn’t unleash his fury of hurtful words and ‘burn any potential bridges.’  He remains humble and useable.

I think we see someone’s real character once they are told no.  It’s easy to act mature or act like we have it all together. It’s more of a challenge, however, to remain that way once we’ve been told “no”.  

2.  Learn from the process and move forward.  

Evaluated experience is how you mature and reach potential.  John Maxwell says, “Experience isn’t the best teacher, evaluated experience is.”  

I’m not sure what you need to learn from or what your specific experience might be, but I want to point you down the right path.  (Kind of like Obi-Wan or Yoda pointing Luke Skywalker in the right way or like the Fairy Godmother helping Cinderella.) Here’s the thing that guides realize in this process.  Guides might have some experience that might help you. Part of that experience is that you have to evaluate your experience.

Albert Einstein is usually credited in saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  

Be honest with yourself.  Are you continually doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results? Are you changing jobs, schools or environments but not changing your behavior and habits?

My friend, Nick, wisely said on a recent Facebook post that he stops and thinks about why he is disappointed. He thinks about who he’s disappointed in.  Is it someone else or is he disappointed in himself?

In the process of moving forward, I’d encourage you to ask those questions.  Be honest with yourself. We tend to lie about ourselves making ourselves out to look better than we are.  The problem with that is that it hinders our progress.

In my own life, I see my years as “Before Maturity” and “After Maturity”.  There were so many situations where I kept myself from maturing because it felt better to blame others for my disappointment.  I would unleash a fury of insults or backhanded compliments towards others who left me disappointed.

I used to explain away my brash vulgar way of speaking as ‘it’s just who I am” or “if you don’t like it, too bad”.  I would make myself out to appear better than I was in situations.

Have you ever walked around with your zipper down?  That’s just what it felt like. Everyone else could see my downfall but I couldn’t see it myself.  I just needed someone to tell me. I needed a helpful guide who would say to me, “Hey Jackwagon, your zipper is down!”.

Disappointment happens to us all.  There is no shame in admitting we are disappointed.  There is shame in lying to ourselves to make others look bad and ourselves look better.  

At the same time, I realized for me to be disappointed means that someone had to be the ‘bad guy or lady’.  I was never going to allow myself to be the bad guy, so the other person became the bad guy.

I would explain situations away like, “They can’t accept me for speaking the truth” or “I guess they’re too weak to have someone challenge them”.  

I’d encourage you not to do that.  Avoid that at all cost. The sooner you can be honest with yourself and eventually others, the sooner you’ll be able to indeed move past the moment of disappointment.  

Evaluate your experience.  If you are a manager that struggles at retaining great employees and you’re disappointed because of the employee turnover, maybe it’s not the company, pay or the employees. Perhaps the issues lie with how you lead.  It could be in the way you communicate. Maybe the problem lies with you.

3.  Take a moment and mourn it.  

Growing up, I was taught by either society or my mom’s example to put one foot in front of the other no matter what might have caused my pain.  While I admire this trait, especially watching it lived out by my mom, in my life this was coupled with not processing and not allowing my emotions even to approach the surface.  I would bury them in business, productivity and ice cream. Lots of ice cream.

If I walked away from a situation and was disappointed, I believed that I didn’t have time to mourn the pain of that moment.  Life was moving forward and so should I.

The problem was that I was carrying around a load of bricks that I didn’t realize.  It was as if every time I was disappointed, I picked up a brick and put in my backpack of life.  After a while it got heavy. Others saw it in my life. I didn’t however.

It wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I realized I had this backpack.  I was talking with my counselor about all the times I had been let down or disappointed.  He pointed out the weight of those moments.

Allow the decision that left you disappointed to affect you.  Process it, journal it and move on. Set a deadline and after that time, mentally move on.  

Several years ago, I applied for a job I really wanted.  The job was within the same organization I was currently working in but in another department.  The decision makers seemed to be excited about me applying for it.

After applying and interviewing twice, I waited to hear back from them.  

After about three weeks, I finally heard back.  I didn’t get the job.

My response must have caught the person on the other end of the desk off guard.  He was shocked that I didn’t react. I merely responded, “thanks for the opportunity.”  I genuinely meant it. I was disappointed, but I realized there was nothing else I could do.  

He asked me why I responded the way I did.  When I asked him, “Would throwing a fit or whining change your mind?”, he laughed and said ‘no.’  

Afterward, I processed with my wife and some wise friends.  My wise friends helped me to feel the moments. I tend to push forward and find the next hill to climb.  Even after an expensive counselor, I still have a habit of doing that. My friends slowed me down and allowed me to process the entire situation.  

The beautiful thing that happened was that my friend suggested that I put a deadline of when I wanted to move on.  I threw out a random date. After that date, anytime I began mentioning anything about not getting the job, MIke would stop me.  

Let’s go back to my friend, Nick.  He tracks the root cause of his disappointment.  Has something from his past risen back up to affect him?  Is he currently dealing with something that he can work through?

To indeed move on, we must identify who and what we are disappointed in.  I’d go as far as to say you should name a person.

4.  Don’t stop dreaming.  Take the next chance.

You might ask,  “If we are all going to be disappointed, why should we even try?  What’s the point of trying if we are only going to be let down and have our feeling hurt?  Shouldn’t we grab Ben and Jerry’s and dive in and eat our way to ‘happiness’?” As tempting as that sounds, I don’t believe it’s the best option for any of us.  Sure diving into our favorite vice might allow us to feel better, but is that how we mature?

Diving head first into your favorite vice might result in you being dependent on that vice to function.  You might end up only being able to fit into sweat pants as a result of eating all the things. You might binge drink on some New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon and find yourself out of a job, friendless, etc.  At least you’re ‘happy’ right?

Giving up isn’t the best option for you.  Giving up might protect your heart from being hurt or let down.  C.S. Lewis said it best.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”-C.S. Lewis

To advance in life, humanity must dream.  It must pursue possibilities.

Dream again.  

In the pursuit of making his dream come true, Thomas Edison seemingly failed to invent the light bulb.  Time after time his attempt to create the light bulb failed. It wouldn’t produce light. The prototype wasn’t successful at holding the light.  Finally, however, he made a prototype that kept the light. It was ultimately successful. Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times.  Edison replied, ‘I didn’t fail to invent the light bulb, the light bulb took 1,000 steps to invent.’

Human history is full of leaders who should have given up.  They were disappointed many times for sure. Let’s look at Abraham Lincoln for example.  He lost eight elections, failed at business more than once and was heartbroken when his fiance got sick and died. He should have given up.  Human history, however, wouldn’t be the same if he did. We are better off because of his pursuit of greatness.

What will human history say because of your pursuit of greatness?  

Don’t allow disappointment to crush you.  Take steps to mature. Take steps to move past it and improve human history.  

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Edited by @Tammy Oswalt

Flossing changed it all.

It’s that time of the year again, January, which means everyone is bragging about what goals they are going to accomplish by this time next year.  Can we take a moment and acknowledge that it’s going to be 2020 next year? It seems like just yesterday that we were singing along with Prince about partying like it’s 1999.

Most of us have quit our New Years Resolutions by now.  January 17th is Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day.  But maybe this is the year that is different for you.  

A leader I admire, asked me a question recently, “who did I want to be in 2020?”.   It took me off guard for a moment. I had to think that through. When I asked for clarification, he pushed in a bit more.  Who do I want to be? Do I want to be a healthy person in 2020? Do I want to be a great inspiring leader in 2020? Do I want to be a loving husband and father in 2020?  

I kept shaking my head each time he asked.  I had no idea where this was going. He pushed in a bit more on me.  He asked me what systems I’d created to make sure I’m all those things in 2020.  

I told him I work out four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  I also listen to podcasts and read books several times a week. I love my wife. I serve her. I date her.  I provide for my sons. I hang out with them, etc.

He pressed the conversation a bit more.  This leader asked me to honestly evaluate the systems I have to see if those systems would help me become the man I want to be in 2020.  

During my evaluation process, I realized I had goals.  I even created habits that helped me accomplish them, but I had not established a system that would help me achieve the kind of person I wanted to be 365 days from now.  

Let’s use my workout routine for example.  I workout at least four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  

That’s not a system.  It’s a statement.

So, the system I’m establishing starts with the kind of person I want to become by 2020.  I have an ideal weight. I have the ideal body fat percentage I need to be healthy.

Now the system I’m creating around my habits moves to the next stage, which is evaluating my current patterns.  When I recognize a ‘bad or ineffective habit,’ I need to change that pattern in my daily routine.

For this, I reached to a past lesson I learned while working at a manufacturing plant.  To reduce production defects and improve customer satisfaction, we initiated a system of quality checks after performing the tasks required in an assembly process.  Some quality checks were referred to as a “point and call out” check. The associate would point at a bolt, fan assembly or whatever and verbally confirm ‘full seated’ or ‘not cross-threaded.’  Yes, a person might feel foolish for saying these things, but the reality of the situation was that we needed to improve our quality record drastically. This meant we needed to change our methods radically.  

With my own routine right now, whenever I am tempted to eat a donut instead of an apple or when I’m tempted to skip leg day (NEVER SKIP LEG DAY!), I verbally remind myself who I want to be in a year.  I want to be the healthiest 38-year-old husband and father for my family. That little verbal reminder resets my system.

A decade ago, I started on a journey of becoming the healthiest person I can be.  I was encouraged to start with the smallest habit I could control that would help create the system.  I evaluated my life and my routines looking for the smallest thing I could change to improve.

Every night I floss my teeth.  If I skip flossing my teeth, I feel horrible because I’m not taking the best care of my teeth.  One of my friends who is a dentist reminds me all the time that ‘teeth are treasures, not tools.”  Every time I skip flossing, I hear Emily rattle that little saying off. So, I floss every night. Ten years ago, however, I didn’t have that habit.  Flossing was the habit I decided to change in 2007.

Once flossing became a habit, it was then considered part of an established routine.  I now needed to focus on creating other habits. The idea of working out however in a new gym was a bit intimidating.  The concept of not eating ice cream each night seemed foolish.

So, I decided to pair new habits with already established patterns.  Every night while flossing, I reminded myself I wanted to be a healthy person, a person who weighed 100 lbs less than I did at the time.  That simple verbal reminder triggered me to lay out my workout clothes and shoes before I went to bed.

When I woke up, (an old habit) I visually saw my workout clothes.  I’d remind myself of the kind of person I wanted to be. I’d get dressed (an old habit) but I’d wear workout clothes (new habit).  I’d go to work (old habit) and after my shift I’d change from my work uniform into my workout clothes and go workout. I had a very set schedule.

I paired working out with the end of my work shift.  

This routine is the system that works for me.  It’s called habit stacking. I partner an old habit that I already have as part of my life and when I accomplish that already established task for the day, it triggers my new habit.  Instead of hoping I can fit a new pattern in, I simply a attach the new habit to the end of the old habit. I made a system that helped me accomplish ‘good habits.’

At the same time, I created a system that made accomplishing ‘bad habits’ more difficult.  I used to eat a bowl of ice cream each night… not joking. I loved it too. I would take ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate, maple syrup and mix it all together. I would eat my bowl of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser.  

Once I started on the journey of losing 100 lbs, Heather and I made the intentional decision to make eating ice cream more difficult.  If we wanted to eat ice cream, we’d have to go out to a restaurant to eat it. One time I tried to reduce the amount of TV I watched during the day.  I unplugged the TV and would only plug it in if I knew what show I wanted to watch.

Creating a system that allows effective or ‘good’ habits to be made and wrong or ineffective habits less accessible is critical to your success.  

This system might be foolish to some, but this routine is what started me on the journey of losing 100 lbs.

Now, like I said, this system is a system I’ve created over the last ten years.  I am not done creating this system either. When I get frustrated because I want results faster than what I’m experiencing currently, I remind myself that ten years ago I couldn’t see my feet… among other body parts.  I tell myself that I was completely unhealthy. While I might not be the healthiest person I can be, I’m not what I used to be. Each year I change one or two habits that help me become the healthiest person I can be.

This year I’m changing the times that I eat.  I tend to snack late at night. So, this year I’m not eating food past 8 pm.  

Who do you want to be in 2020?  

What systems do you have in place now to help you become that kind of person?

What already established habits could you partner new habits with to create a system that would help you accomplish those tasks?  



Bears. Trains & You

Have you ever heard the story about two guys in the woods and a bear? The bear walks up to them and is clearly hungry.  The two guys look at each other and run. One of the guy’s motivation is to outrun the bear. The other guy’s motivation is to simply outrun the other guy.  Why? It’s pretty simple. Once the bear catches up with the other the guy trailing behind, he won’t pay attention to the other man who is still running because he’ll be eating. 🙂 

As I start this process of raising up leaders for our organization, I am sometimes tempted to lead out of the mindset of the man who just needed to outrun the other man in the woods.  Can you just outlast or outrun the others in your generation?

As younger generations start to emerge in more prominent positions of leadership, it’s easy to look down on them thinking there isn’t a lot of hope or that their generation is lost.  It’s an arrogance in our own thinking that young leaders can’t do things as well or better than we can simply because they accomplish things differently than we do.

I think it’s time to help train young leaders to outrun the “bears” around them, not just others in their generation.  

So how do we do that?  

I think young leaders could lead in amazing ways, probably even better than we can.  How do we set young leaders up for success?

I personally have 19 Habits that I bring any leader through.  This is something I started doing when I worked at a manufacturing plant assembling automotive parts.  I’ve used these 19 habits in both manufacturing and church settings.

When you envision a leader in your influence being successful, what helped that leader become successful?  What habits, attitude, or thought process helped them succeed?

If you lead others, I think it’s crucial that you plan ahead.  It’s so easy and tempting to simply live and work in the daily grind of life.  Things happen, but if we never take time to plan ahead, we’ll fail. Let’s look at the industrial revolution as an example.  Imagine if the inventors of the locomotive spend so much time, energy and resources into this invention that had the potential to change the world, and that’s it.  They never spend time thinking or planning for how the train would get from point A to point B. They had a well-oiled machine, but nowhere to go, because there wasn’t a method to transport the well-oiled machine.  

Take trains and railroads for example.  In the 1800’s, the railroad was the latest technology that changed the world, especially the United States.  

In the early stages, companies had to focus on the train itself.  Without a method to transport the train, it was pretty useless. So, the next thing they had to think about was the railroad.  This was the platform to transport the train from the east coast to the future destination. Once the train and railroad were developed, they needed a destination.  

Head West Young Man!  

That’s exactly what happened.  The railroads headed west. The way humanity moved at this point was on land by muscle, either human muscle or by a horse.  The invention of trains literally changed the world. Places like the Hamptons became destinations for the wealthy people to escape the city with more ease.  In 1869 on May 10th, our country was changed forever. The ability to head west from the east coast was made possible with ease upon the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  

Railroad companies spent time building trains, railroads and future destinations.  This process has transformed America in more ways I can explain in this blog. Suburbs became a reality due to the ease of commuting from work to home.  Vacation destinations, like the Hamptons, became a reality. Time zones were established based on the train schedules for arrivals and departures.

Leaders, as we develop other leaders and the processes we will use in our workplaces, schools and families, don’t expect instant results.  We might underestimate what the rewards of long-term faithful obedience in one direction could be. I’d encourage us to stay faithful in developing leaders and our processes. It’s so tempting to jump ship because we might not see the results we are hoping right away.  The reward for sticking to a plan is there. Don’t give up because you might not see the results right away.

Leaders, we need to spend time developing our product, our delivery systems, our future destinations and goals.  Helping develop young leaders is one great way to help that process take place. Empowering young leaders will carry our mission further and faster than we ever expected.  

As we develop young leaders and focus on the product, systems of development and future destination, we help our leaders outrun the “bears” they’ll face in the wild of the emerging economy and culture we live in today.  

Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash


Lost Art Form

Every Wednesday night, I’ve been hanging out with a group of guys to discuss what we have read in the Bible during the previous week.  I love hearing their insights and watching the discussion take place around the Bible and what the Bible says, and what it doesn’t say.  

 

We recently just finished reading through the letters of John and Jude.  One of the parts of our discussion is around what will we actually apply in our lives.  It’s easy to read the Bible and walk away with more knowledge but not use the truths we find in the Bible.  So each week, we discuss what truth we’ll apply and how we’ll apply it that week.

 

A 19-year-old guy challenged me in a good way.  His application was brought to light from the ending of 2nd and 3rd John, John ends those letters by saying that he has so many more issues to bring up, but he’ll do it ‘face to face’ rather than with ink and paper.  This young man in my group, because of reading these passages, decided that he would start having conversations of substance with people face to face rather than online or via social media.

 

What would happen if we reserved certain parts of our conversations and opinions to the moments we were face to face with people?  

 

As a pastor, people ask me over and over again what my stance is on ____?  I know that as a pastor my opinion might carry more weight for some or others may not like the answer and misquote me.  I’m learning to respond by saying “ ____ is a topic that should be discussed over a conversation or multiple conversations, not necessarily a stance to be taken.”

 

Instead of shooting off a strongly worded email to a co-worker, what would happen if you sat down face to face and had a conversation?  

 

It’s easier to react and lash out on social media about a person, topic or stance someone else has taken. It may even make us feel better, but can the reader really hear and understand our emotions?  

 

Having face to face conversations might be the mature thing to do rather than through social media. We may not get the instant justification we feel when we send a text or an email, but we’ll learn to fight for the relationship rather than be proven right. I think we can learn a lot from this 19-yr-old’s truth application. Don’t just send a text or an email unless it says “hey let’s talk… face to face” and have that conversation in person.  

 

It still surprises me when people ask me my stance on something, and I respond with ‘let’s have a conversation’ that they rarely take me up on it.   

 

I’m not sure what the implications of that reality are, but I’m wondering if it doesn’t say something about our culture.  Have we lost the art of conversation? Have we learned to talk at each other rather than talk with each other?

 

Let’s revisit, relearn and rethink the idea or the art of a conversation.  Let’s learn to listen. Let’s learn to say difficult things with respect. Let’s relearn the art of giving a compliment.  

 

Photo by @rutch_johnson