Friday, December 30, 2016

Finishing Strong Beats Starting Strong

We live in a world that values first-impressions.  Probably too much.  I'm all for making a good first impression, but what comes next?  If your answer is mediocrity or diminishing performance, you might as well save you energy on the good first impression.  

I saw this principle lived out yesterday as I watched the Belk Bowl.  Yeah, I still can't believe that's a real bowl game, either.  But it is and it looked like it might be a good one - Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech.  Arkansas dominated the first half.  So much so that they were up 24-0 at halftime and many of the VT "fans" left. (I guess that's another article for another day).  But here's the thing. Football games have two halves, not one.  Notice how the scoring went, quarter-by-quarter.  Even though Arkansas won the first half 24-0, they lost the second half 35-0.  That's a 35-24 loss in a game that looked like it was in the bag.  What happened?  Well, someone that follows Arkansas football would tell you that this second-half implosion was not at all uncommon for the Razorbacks this season.  Many would say this team lacks heart and has some underlying character issues.

What about you?  How many times have you experienced a loss in a relationship that you felt was in the bag?  A marriage.  A parent.  A child. An employer.  An employee.  A friend.  These are all relationships that can start strong and diminish - even dissolve - over time if you lose heart or if there are some holes in your character.

Here's a question for you to consider very seriously.  Do your relationships and your standing with people who matter most to you tend to be stronger or weaker, three to five years after they begin?  If you've seen a pattern of relationships trailing off for you, this is NOT something you can blame on other people in your life.  It should be a red flag for YOU to address some very real character issues in your life.

The best place to start is to ask a couple trusted friends for some honest feedback about their perceptions of you over time.  It's going to hurt, but if you'll invite the feedback and embrace it, you'll begin to see some lasting change.  You'll see it in your friendships, your job, and your family relationships.  We start a new year in in two days.  Isn't it a good time to get this part of your life on the path to health?  Of course, it's much easier to start strong than it is to finish. But, if you're going to finish, you have to get started.  Will you start today?  Who will you call right now?

If you need some more help in getting to know yourself and becoming more self-aware, read this article from a few weeks back.  Enjoy.

Friday, December 23, 2016

5 Ways To Love Your Family This Holiday Season (Living In Alignment - Part 4)

Hey, we're deep into the Christmas season and you know what that means.  You're either going to be surrounded by family you struggle to tolerate or you're missing family who is far away. Today, as we continue the conversation about alignment, let's focus on loving both of those types of family members.  Just to review the idea of alignment:  When we are aligned in various areas of our lives, we're going to be healthy, when we're misaligned, we're going to be unhealthy.   Think of your car.  If the wheels are aligned properly, the ride is smooth and you get maximum life out of your tires.  If the wheels are misaligned, the ride is rough and your tires wear out prematurely.  Misalignment = pain.  Alignment = full functionality.  I think all of us can say we have some family relationships that contain some pain and dysfunctionality.

Disclaimer:  I'm not great at this and I don't always do what I know is right.  These are just some principles I've learned through trial and error - mostly error.  I hope they are helpful to you.  One more thought for you too.  If you read all these and automatically come back with, "Yeah, but you don't know my family", you've totally missed it and you're more of the problem than you can imagine.  All of these principles are about taking responsibility, not casting blame.  Enjoy. 

5 Ways to love those family members, both near and far:

  1. Put yourself in their shoes.  Here's the problem.  We get so annoyed by those insufferable family members because we filter all their behavior through our own situation.  We think, "I would never act like that."  Well, you're right.  But you're also not in their situation.  Try imagining what life is like for them this Christmas.  You might even ask them about their situation and try to understand.  Imagine that.  I heard John Maxwell say years ago, "Hurting people hurt people."  Do you really think your relative who deals out pain like second nature is doing it so you can have an unpleasant time?  Isn't it more likely that they are hurting and you might be able to help?
  2.  Think of yourself less often.  St. Francis of Assisi brilliantly prayed, "O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood than to understand."  This plays off the one above and could be a brand new way to relate to your family.  I understand where you are because I'm the same as you.  I go into almost every relationship, family or otherwise, with the filter of how that peson is efffecting me on.  But, what I've learned is that is the wrong filter.  You should learn this too.  The more you go into your family relationships thinking about yourself and how it all makes you feel, the more frustrated and unfulfilled you will be.  That is a fact and you can't change that.  What you can change is how you look at those family relationships. Change your thinking.  How are you making them feel?  Not how are they making you feel.  
  3. Limit the visit.  This is purely practical.  Even if you masterfully employ #'s 1 & 2 above, things don't become magically perfect.  Why?  Beceause you can only control 50% of the people in every relationahip you have.  There is still the variable of that family member you're having trouble with.  So, let's get practical.  If you know someone is tough for you to handle, limit the visit.  Three hours is going to be a better experience than eight.  If they are far away, a two day visit is going to be better than five.  You can set yourself up for success or shoot yourself in the foot.  Which one sounds better?
  4. Invest in the connection.  These last two are about those far-away family members we miss so much.  My wife, Sara, has really taught me this lesson and I'm so grateful to her.  When we moved to Oklahoma seven years ago, that put us anywhere from 1200 to 1600 miles away from all our family.  I assumed that meant that we would be mostly relegated to phone conversations.  Here's what Sara has shown me and what we've done.  We've invested significant time and money into keeping those relationships alive, in person.  For seven years now, almost every single family vacation and break has been one that involves significant travel to visit family.  I'm talking abut six of us in a minivan covering 4000 plus miles in a 10-16 day time-span!  I haven't loved every minute of it, but I've learned that the payoff is worth the cost.  Giving up your time and money to be wth your far off and beloved family is worth all you'll spend.
  5. Move.  Not possible?  I beg to differ.  Like I said, seven years ago, we moved to Oklahoma.  Six years ago my parents did the same.  Yes, they moved 1200 miles to be near us.  They gave up jobs and sold two houses - one they lived in and one investment property - so they could be near us.  It wasn't all roses.  They've had some significant personal challenges along the way, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard them say (my dad, especially) something like, "I'm so glad we moved here.  I just couldn't bear to be away from you guys."  We live in a huge country, but it's a free country.  You are free to move if you choose to.  It's not an impossibility.
Family is tough, isn't it?  I hope these thoughts on family alignment are helpful to you this holiday season.  What else would you add?  I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Are You In the Right Job? 5 Questions You Must Be Willing To Answer (Living in Alignment - Part 3)

Let's continue the conversation about alignment.  The basic idea is that when we are aligned in various areas of our lives, we're going to be healthy, when we're misaligned, we're going to be unhealthy.   Think of your car.  If the wheels are aligned properly, the ride is smooth and you get maximum life out of your tires.  If the wheels are misaligned, the ride is rough and your tires wear out prematurely.  Misalignment = pain.  Alignment = full functionality.  

This week, we're talking about vocational alignment and I'm going to make a pretty bold statement, but I bet not many will disagree with me.  Vocational misalignment is probably the #1 contributor to you wearing out prematurely.  Think about the car illustration above.  I'm talking about extreme frustration, burnout and even depression related to your job.  Can you relate?  If this Forbes article is even close to being true, many of you must be able to relate, because it says over 70% of people hate their jobs!  Now I know that the HR gurus out there will say that these workplaces need to have better training and incentive programs and that will improve morale.  While that's true, to some degree, let's go a little deeper than that.  Let's talk about the root of it all.  The root of the pain is the misalignment.  

How did you decide to go into the field of work you're in or even choose the specific company you work for?  Please don't say because of the pay.  As shocking as it is to me, it seems like many (maybe even a majority?) of people are looking for an easy job with good pay.  That is almost psychotic!  Think about this for a minute.  You're talking about a place you spend at least 40 hours per week at.  Many of us spend well above 40 hours, but let's just say it's 40 hours.  That's over 2000 hours per year, probably more time than you spend in any other one place.  And 70% of you hate it!  Let's be real.  That's just plain stupid.  Now, I know you're not stupid.  So why do smart people do stupid things?  Because they don't know what else to do.  Let's look at 5 questions you must be willing to answer if you're going to have vocational alignment.  Remember, misalignment = pain, alignment = full functionality.

5 Questions You Must Be Willing To Answer
  1. Do I fit here?  Just because you can do the work and you get paid well, it does not necessarily mean you fit.  Fit is about culture and every workplace has culture.  Some cultures are healthy, some are sick, but they all have culture.  Do you fit with the culture?  I had a friend put it this way.  He said, "Sometimes, you have to be willing to say, nope, not my kind of place."  He's absolutely right.  Is it your kind of place?  Does the culture of your company uphold the kind of values that are important to you?  Is your conscience completely clear when you consider all the aspects of your job?  Do you like your co-workers and believe they like you?  If you answered no to any of these, you may not fit and you may need to figure out what it means to move on.  
  2. Am I good at my job?  Well, are you?  How will you know?  Many employers have a regular review process.  That's one good indicator.  Another is whether or not you're getting promoted.  I know we all want to blame inter-office politics, and that is sometimes the case.  But the bigger truth is that players make it onto the field.  If you're a player, you're probably going to be promoted at a reasonable rate and to a reasonable level.  You won't get promoted to CEO of the drafting company just because you do a good job answering the phones.  But you will get promoted to some higher level if you're truly promotable.  There's also the gut test.  In your gut, you know if you're good at your job or if you're not.  There's almost nothing as de-energizing as working in a role you know you stink at.  I know because I've been there . . . and I left. 
  3. Does this energize or de-energize me?  There's this huge lie floating around that work is always going to suck and you'll only get pleasure and energy out of other pieces of your life.  Over 2000 hours per year of de-energizing life-suck and you'll make up for that in other ways?  Good luck with that.  Not every aspect of your job is going to be energizing, but if you finish most days dreading the next, you're de-energized and your need to figure out what it means to change roles or move on.  
  4. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?  You may be in a spot where your work is not all that energizing, but you do like the culture of your company and your boss has shown you a road forward to more energizing and fulfilling work.  If this is the case, good for you.  Keep up the good work and enjoy the promotions when they come.  I've also been in this place before.  It has its challenges, but overall it's a good situation.  However, there's also the other side.  You may be in a place where the work and the culture are not energizing and there is no next step forward.  They call it a dead-end job for a reason.  Get out.
  5. Do I need to reinvent myself?  Sometimes you're at a pretty good job that's been a pretty good fit, but you feel some kind of internal restlessness. That's ok and that's normal.  Don't ignore this.  It's a noble idea that you'll be the loyal and faithful employee for 30 years, get a gold watch and retire with a nice pension.  The reality is that most of us will change jobs many times and even change careers a few times.  Don't run from that.  Take the proper steps to explore what that restlessness inside of you means.  
Of course, these questions only help if you're willing to be honest and follow your honest answers to their logical conclusions.  Many times, as I stated in several examples above, the logical conclusion is to move on.  That's a daunting and scary prospect.  Believe me, I know.  I've been there and done that.  Let me give you three tangible steps you can take if you think it might be time to move on and get more vocationally aligned.  
  1. Get to know yourself.  There are lots of ways you can do this.  I wrote about it last week. Give it a read here.
  2. Birkman Coaching.  The Birkman assessment and the corresponding coaching that goes with it is the single most effective tool to help you get to vocational alignment.  You can get more info on Birkman coaching here.  
  3. Life-Planning.  This is going to be especially helpful with #5 above.  I am facilitating another Life-Plan retreat for men March 22-25, 2017.  More info here.  
Vocational alignment.  It's one of the big ways we need to be aligned to be healthy and productive.  I hope this is challenging and helpful.  I'd love to hear what you think about these ideas in the comments section below.  Next week, I'll be posting an article all about family alignment. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

5 Ways To Know Yourself - Living in Alignment - Part 2

I wrote last week about the idea of alignment.  The basic idea is that when we are aligned in various areas of our lives, we're going to be healthy, when we're misaligned, we're going to be unhealthy.   Think of your car.  If the wheels are aligned properly, the ride is smooth and you get maximum life out of your tires.  If the wheels are misaligned, the ride is rough and your tires wear out prematurely.  Misalignment = pain.  Alignment = fully functional.  Alright, it's pretty easy to see that alignment is a good thing, but how do you know if you're aligned or misaligned?

Let's start that conversation with talking about personal alignment.  In the coming weeks, we're going to explore what it looks like to live in alignment vocationally, with your family, geographically and spiritually.  However, in order to gauge your alignment in all these areas, you're going to need some basic understanding of who you are.  We'll call this personal alignment.

Socrates is credited with the saying, "Know thyself."  He was right.  That is the basis for all else in this life.  But, I'd venture to say that most of us do very little, if any, work to figure out who we are.  That's not just a shame, it's a tragedy, considering that God has created each of us as completely unique individuals with a unique purpose in life.  Some reasons we skip "knowing thyself" is that we're busy, we're uninterested or we're afraid of what we may find - all real (but completely invalid) reasons.  However, my experience with people shows me the biggest reason, by far, that you don't know yourself is that you don't know how.  Where do you start? Good question.  Before we get into the how I need you to know that it's going to cost you.  Time, money and effort. You're going to have to invest all three if you really want to get to know yourself.  Below I'll list five ways you can get to know yourself.  Some are free, some are not, but regardless of the financial cost, they will all require you to invest and they are all worth the investment.

  1. Counseling - If you have deep emotional wounds or scars, this probably should be your beginning point.  Let me help release the stigma for you.  Counseling is not for crazy people.  Counseling is for very sane people who recognize their need to heal from past experiences.  If you make the effort, you can find both free and paid versions of counseling.  Many churches offer what is called "pastoral counseling" where you can meet with someone on the pastoral staff at the church.  This is helpful in varying degrees, depending on your issues and the skill and experience level of the pastor doing the counseling.  This could be a good place to begin and a good pastoral counselor will be able to tell you pretty quickly if you need to take the next step and see a professional counselor.  If you know you've got some wounds to heal from, I highly encourage you to start with some counseling.  
  2. Free Online Assessments - Did you know there are different personality types?  Like I said earlier, you're unique and once you understand some of what makes you unique, you can get yourself aligned in various areas of your life. There are many types of personality inventories and assessments.  For simplicity's sake, I'm going to recommend your begin with one.  It's called the Myers-Briggs and it will help you understand some of your tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses.  You can do a free 10-minute version right here.  I'm an INTJ.  What are you? Let us know in the comments below.
  3. Birkman Coaching - The Birkman assessment and follow-up are much more in-depth and will require more of an investment, both in time and finances, but the payoff is more than worth it.  A Birkman assessment with a couple follow-up coaching sessions has been a game-changer for countless people.  It's especially helpful when considering vocational alignment.  At Solace Church, where I serve, we use Birkmans extensively with our staff to help us understand ourselves and one another.  It's been hugely effective.  You can begin the Birkman process for you or your organization here.
  4.  Speak the Right Language - We all speak a certain language when it comes to how we express and receive love.  Gary Chapman's book, "The 5 Love Languages" has been huge for my wife and me since before we were even married.  This is going to be most helpful to you on the relational and family alignment areas, but it also helps in your vocational world.  How helpful would it be to know how your boss or your spouse best receives love and appreciation? How helpful would it be to know that about yourself and be able to communicate it to the people who care most about you?
  5. Life-Planning - Life-Planning sounds like a big deal because it is.   Earlier this year, I began facilitating 2-day LifePlan Retreats.  It's too much to try to explain here, but the long and the short of it is that you'll get incredible perspective on who you are and incredible clarity on where you're going in the next three years - personally, professionally, and spiritually. You can click here for the basic information.  I will be running my next LifePlan Retreat March 23-25, 2017.  Unfortunately, this one is just for men and is limited to the first twelve who register. I should have registration info posted very soon.  
Well, I hope this has been helpful.  If it seems overwhelming, just pick a place to start.  You don't need to do it all at once, just start someplace.  I'd love to hear where you start and what you're learning.  Leave us a comment below.  Good luck knowing thyself!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Living In Alignment (Part 1)

*This is the first of several pieces I plan to write here on my blog which may also appear on the 320 Coach blog.* 

Living in Alignment - An Introduction

A couple months ago I was in a fairly serious car accident.  My son, Colin, and I were at a near standstill in rush hour traffic when we were rear-ended by a Ford Fusion at about 65 MPH!  It felt like our whole car exploded.  As we were almost instantly sent flying into the car in front of us, our front airbags deployed and we did a one-eighty.  Within a half-second, we were left facing backward on the highway, car filled with the dust from the airbag and the horn blaring continuously.  It was pretty much like a scene out of a movie. Thankfully and miraculously, neither Colin nor I were seriously hurt.  I had some bruises and a weird burn all the way down my left arm and was extremely sore for a few days and Colin hurt his thumb.  I think his airbag caught it on the way out.

Although we were both alright, we wanted to get checked out.  We saw a doctor who thought we were fine, but he suggested we go see our chiropractor too.  The next week, we were at the chiropractor and Colin was asking how the chiropractor fixes your back and neck.  I explained it this way.  He doesn't actually fix your back or neck, he aligns it.  If it was truly damaged (broken bone, torn ligament, etc) you would not want him to touch it.  However, what usually happens is the vertebrae, which are pretty free to move and pivot, sometimes move and pivot in a way that gets out of alignment.  When they get misaligned, they put pressure on a nerve and this is where you get the proverbial "pain in the neck" or back or whatever,  So, as I explained to Colin, when the chiropractor realigns those vertebrae, it allows your body to achieve the natural state of health it was designed for in the first place.  Misalignment = pain.  Alignment = fully functional.

That conversation got me thinking about other types of alignment.  Shift with me now.  I'm no longer talking about physical alignment in your body.  Let's think bigger than that.  What other types of alignment are there?  What else needs to see proper alignment in order to avoid pain and be fully functional?  I can think of a few and I plan to give you some more specific and in-depth thoughts about what these particular types of alignment may look like and how you can achieve them in your life.  But those are in the future.  For today, let me just share with you the types of alignment I want to cover in the coming weeks.
  1. Personal - Do you know yourself?  Most people don't.  Until you do the work to get to know yourself, you'll be misaligned in many of the specific areas we'll hit on in the coming weeks. 
  2. Vocational - You are gifted and well-suited for certain types of work in certain fields.  If you hate your job, it's probably not because the job is so bad.  You are probably misaligned.
  3. Family - Famiy dynamics are tough to figure out.  Most often, we assume our famiy members should be just like us and we try to fit them into that mold.  That's misalignment and conflict ensues.
  4. Geographic - Do you live in a place that feeds your soul?  We don't think about this much, but I'm looking forward to exporing how geographical alignment can be a game-changer for you.
  5. Spiritual - There are many different churches and communities of faith with many different doctrines and cultures.  If you're not in one that fits, you're misaligned.  You'll want to blame the church, but it's probably just a bad fit.
I hope this has sparked some new thoughts for you.  My plan is to write five more posts specifically exploring each of the five misalignments I listed above.  Are there other areas where alignment is vital?  I'd love to hear from you.  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.