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  • Citadel: First Colony
    Citadel: First Colony
  • Citadel: Paths in Darkness
    Citadel: Paths in Darkness
  • Tin Man
    Tin Man
  • College Made Stupid Simple
    College Made Stupid Simple
  • A Little Bit of Everything
    A Little Bit of Everything
  • Getting Gone
    Getting Gone
Books in Print
  • Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
    Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
  • Citadel: Paths in Darkness (Volume 2)
    Citadel: Paths in Darkness (Volume 2)
  • College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
    College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
Friday
Apr262013

startitude

Some days are easier than others. And some days, it's like trying to drag a toddler out of a toy store. You still feel the love, but you'd rather be anywhere else. 

Days like that, it would be easy to roll your shoulders and say, "That's OK. I give it a good effort every other day. I can slack off this time." Maybe you're blocked. Maybe you're tired. Maybe you just have  nothing to offer.

Days like that come around more often than I'd like. This is one of them—a day when I've started this post three times, and even with a pretty good chunk of stuff written I've scrapped it because it wasn't honest or it wasn't my best work or it wasn't moving me forward. But then I think about why I do it, and that does tend to push me forward. 

My first and highest rule is to do what I do to glorify God. That ain't easy, especially in an age where friends and family may roll their eyes or condescend or flat out tell you that you're a nut for believing in this "God stuff." 

My second rule is to do what I do to help you. Yeah, you specifically. I pray about you, did you know that? I pray, before starting every one of these posts, that God will give me the words to glorify Him and to reach you. I want you to get something meaningful out of these posts, to take something away with you that makes your life better (even if just a smidge) and that you can spread around to the people you love, to help make their lives better, too. 

So if what I'm writing doesn't do both of those things, in my estimate, I scrap it and start over. And if I can't think of something that will meet both of those criteria, it can put me at a stand still. 

What I've discovered, though, is that if I start the work in honesty and earnestness and with those goals in mind, it tends to form itself despite me. Yeah, I may scrap the work a few times. I may have to shift and go in a different direction. But the work is still there. It still makes its entrance.

One of the most important things you can do to be successful and accomplish your goals is to start. To try, to push through when it's hard. This isn't new advice, right? You've heard this before. I have, God knows. Every day, practically. Start. Try. Push. 

You have to actually have a goal, of course. You have to have a direction. But if you don't take a step, even if it's the wrong step in the wrong direction, goals tend to be dreams more than reality. Moving from dream to reality takes action.

You may go backwards for a while. That happens, and it can be frustrating. But when you know where you're trying to go you can more easily judge whether an action is a step in the right direction or just a wrong turn. You can correct course easier and faster. And sometimes, going in the wrong direction for a bit gives you a chance to see things from a new perspective, to appreciate the journey more, to learn something knew you can bring to the game.

This morning started off as a tough one for me, just because I didn't know what I should actually write about. But once I started, and restarted, I found that I had a message after all. I had part of the story to tell. I could move forward.

Know where you want to go. Know when you need to be there. Know why you want to make the journey. Map out a route. And then take a step. Start moving, and even if your destination changes along the way you'll have a whole lot of new experiences and accomplishments under your belt, teaching you new ways of thinking and giving you new tools for dealing with the next challenge you encounter.

Like "What should I blog about today?"

Thursday
Apr252013

dream jobification

Sometimes my day job can be such a day job. Meetings and deadlines and demands and fielding some weird combination of professional concern and personal anxiety from all corners and from everyone in the office (including me). There are days when I wake up thinking, "Wow, I used to love this job. Right now I feel like I could be happier working on a pig farm." 

Except I wouldn't. I know I wouldn't. Because frankly, there are aspects of my job that make it the best job I've ever had. I'm respected by the people I work with. I'm known to be a contributor, a hustler, an asset to the company. I'm an influence on company culture here, and I've been told I'm a good one. I feel vital to the company's goals and mission, and that's an amazing feeling.

Of course there are days when it's hard to face the work. Any time you're doing something worthwhile, something that builds and grows and makes the world better even in a slight way, eventually the adversary of us all will take notice and try to flick you off track. But let's say you don't "buy in" to Kevin's "wacky Christian philosophy"—in that case we'll just say that sometimes even the best job has challenges we don't really want to face, and that makes it tough to get out of bed.

It's especially tough when your job, even if it's a great job, isn't really your dream job. If you have a dream that doesn't involve working for someone else, or involves working in a different industry or doing a specific kind of work, and your current gig doesn't seem to support that, all of the challenges start to feel pretty heavy. 

In his book Quitter, Jon Acuff writes about the concept of thinking of your day job as an opportunity to practice for your dream job. I had never quite put it into those words, but that's a great way of thinking about my "recent" (as in, over the past four years or so) approach to my career.

I'm a writer. When I was a kid I wrote a book on both sides of about five pieces of lined notebook paper (top that, other second graders!). I used to dictate Encyclopedia Brown-esque short stories into a tape recorder and play them back for the amusement of my mom as she washed dishes. I wrote short stories that my step-dad actually found moving enough to include in our family Bible study. Some of my stories and papers got kudos and approval from my teachers, and I actually won a scholarship for something I wrote off the cuff in less than 10 minutes (because I had forgotten to do the assignment during the week prior). So you could say that my whole life I wanted to be a writer, wanted to tell a story, wanted to move people, and I've done that.

But I never wanted to be a Copywriter. I never wanted to be a Creative Director. I never wanted to work in advertising or work for a software company. These weren't on the list. And for a while there, some of these realities seemed to work against my dream. I became bitter and resentful and flat-out angry because "All of you are dream killers!"

Except they weren't. And the dream wasn't dead. I kept at it, in fact, in my spare time. And over time, it sort of ... changed. Most of that change was due to the fact that what I thought was my dream was really just that ... a dream. It couldn't be real, because it wasn't realistic. I had dreamt of essentially waking up to find whole manuscripts sitting there waiting for me to fire off to a publisher, who would gleefully print them without any further work needed on my part, and then send me gobs and gobs of money that I'd use to buy my exact working replica of the Starship Enterprise, so I could sail into the far reaches of space with Spider-man and Alyssa Milano as my companions in adventure. I love my dream.

What my dream became, though, as I learned more about the work, about the world, and about myself was the realistic version. I could write books, and I could sell them. That's real. But I'd have to work at them. I'd have to craft them. I'd have to work hard and learn and apply what I'd learned, and be prepared for my attempts to meet with failure. Failure has always been a possibility. It just doesn't have to be an end.

And my day jobs? I hadn't realized it before, but every day job I've had, every dream-killing block of work I had to endure, has actually been practice for my dream job. I've learned how to have a work ethic, how to manage time and resources, how to do research, how to build and lead a team that can support me. I've learned how to overcome my own laziness and do the work I have to do, to meet deadlines, to get along with co-workers, and to be honorable in what I do.

It's true, the day jobs aren't always ideal, or fun. But that's mostly because I'm the one making them torturous. If instead of ticking off each day on a mental calendar of anguish, counting down to the weekend, what if I spent those days thinking in terms of "How can I use this as practice for my dream job?" What if I looked at tiffs and dust-ups with my team as practice for dealing with clients or publishers or agents or readers? What if I looked at each day as an opportunity to get my "brand" in order, to establish how people think of me and what they come to me for? What if I used each day as a way to define myself to myself? 

I do this now, and have for a while, so I can cheat and give you the results up front: This friggin' works. 

Seriously, it works. It works so well you'll start wondering why you were dumb enough to do it another way all along. You can use your day job to fine tune your life and prepare for and build to your dream job. You can turn something that seems hard and useless into a challenge with great worth. 

So what's the trick? 

Caring. Loving. Looking. Listening. Paying attention and giving focus. Pausing before speaking, responding from a place of love and understanding. 

Easy? Nope. Hard. Really hard. That's why we're calling it "practice."

You will likely mess up from time to time or all the time. But when you do, you can take a few minutes to analyze that mess up and learn from it. You can try again the next day. If your screw up causes you to lose your day job, you can learn from that too, and take that knowledge into your next job.

I'm not just blowing smoke here, I've done this. I was let go from a couple of jobs because of my attitude. I was, at times, lazy and angry and rude and egotistical. I regret it all. But beyond regret, I learned from it all. And now I'm much better. And getting better all the time. Because I've had practice.

And when it's time for my dream job to become my day job, I'll be ready for it, because I didn't let the dream die while I learned how to live it. 

Now it's your turn.

Wednesday
Apr242013

focusitivity

One of the recurring bits of wisdom I keep reading about is focus. The quickest and easiest analogy is always a laser—a highly focused beam of ... wait, you know this, right? You've heard of a laser? Why does everyone always feel the need to define what a laser is when they use it in an analogy? Hasn't the laser been around since the 1960s? We know what this is now.

I digress.

That's easy to do, actually. Digress. Get distracted. Get off point. We live in a world of instant facts and information. The answer to any question (such as "when was the laser invented?") is just a few key taps away. So is our ability to get buried in so much detail we lose track of what we were looking for. We keep losing the needle of our attention in haystack of data we pull onto ourselves.

Most of the authors I admire are big advocates of focus. If you can focus your energy and effort on something, and give it enough intensity, you can accomplish things you might have thought were impossible before. Writing a book, for example. Rebuilding a car engine. Walking a tight rope. Focus and intensity for the win.

God is always talking about attention in the Bible. There are ten instances of the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" In Luke 22:46 Jesus reprimanded the disciples for sleeping instead of remaining alert. All throughout the New Testament Christ informed the disciples that the message was hidden in plain sight, and that it takes focused attention to receive it. Check out Matthew 13:18, where Christ says, "So listen to what the story means, about the man who sowed the seed." He was about to lay down some sweet God wisdom on these fellas, and he wanted to make sure they were paying attention. 

I have a tendency to tune people out, especially if they aren't saying something I find interesting. The problem is, they may be saying something they believe to be vital. It's improtant to them, and by being dismissive or inattentive I'm essentially saying that they aren't important enough to me, and I don't care what they think is "vital." 

I'm working on being more focused when I listen. I'm starting by asking, "What is this person really trying to say, and what is their motive for saying it?" Knowing the "why" of things, or at least being interested in learning the why, helps you to be more focused and attentive. It's a step toward caring for others. 

I have this belief that the Word of God is all around us, in everything we encounter in our day, and wisdom is the tool we use and the treasure we gain when we start focusing on finding God's Word in our daily life. So let's focus and concentrate on being attentive, on listening, on learning. Let's focus on being faithful and compassionate and caring and wise. Let's be lasers.

 

Tuesday
Apr232013

dreamification 

I recently started listening to Quitter, an audio book by Jon Acuff. I'm not far along with it yet, maybe around chapter 2 or 3. But I've already heard some things that have me thinking (always a good sign). I'm kind of impressed by the fact that his path to becoming a writer is pretty close to the path I took. I can learn a lot from the guy, I think.

At the moment I'm reading about "rediscovering your dream." Acuff draws a nice distinction between "finding" your dream and "rediscovering" it. Chances are you probably already knowsomewhere in your brain, among the pop culture references and all that useless "job" stuff you have to remember—exactly what you love to do. Writing, interior design, business accounting (really?), landscaping, public speaking, teaching ... You get the idea. It's probably something you did, at least in small part, when you were a kid. It's likely the kind of thing that was "beaten out of you" by the "real world" and "helpful advisors" and other stuff I have to put in "air quotes" because they're such "stupid reasons" to give up on something you love.

Look, I get it. Sometimes the dream is just that. It's something impractical. Something that won't pay the bills. So you can't justify dropping everything and pursuing it full time. You have to make a living, that's a given.

God really blessed me. My dream happened to click conveniently with a career path. Unfortunately I spent most of my career being too stubborn to realize that was the case. I fought to be everything but the thing I'd dreamt of being. I spent some of that time avoiding writing as a career path because I didn't want to "soil the dream." Big news flash, Kev—dreams packed in a box might be clean, but they also get kind of musty.

Later I spent a lot of time being irritated that, despite the fact that I could make a living as a writer, I wasn't writing what I WANTED to write. I was being "forced into a mold" as a writer. I started writing copy for ad agencies and clients so I could keep food on the table, and I didn't feel like it was a creative venue. It felt crushing at times. I hated it at times. If this was "writing for a living," I didn't want it!

Then I wrote a few things on the side. A book, at first. Then another. And some articles. Some blog posts (oh the blog posts). Here I was able to stretch my legs a bit as a writer by spending some of my time outside of the office doing more of what I was doing inside the office. Different focus, sure. Different results. Different all around. And yet ...

Funny thing, suddenly my outside writing was getting better. I was becoming better at noticing flaws, fixing errors, spotting flubs. I've never been a very good copy editor. Not patient enough. But I have gotten better at it over the years, and largely thanks to the copywriting jobs I've held. Trust me, lose a copywriting job because of your editing skills and you suddenly start to pay more attention to typos and grammar goofs.

So my inside writing was starting to change and improve my outside writing. But wait ... there's more!

I was spending more of my outside time writing the stuff I love. Fiction, mostly, but I discovered I kind of enjoyed writing non-fiction, too. I liked writing blog posts that were useful and helpful. I liked contributing something to the world through my writing, and because I was focused more on that I also started focusing more on doing that work to the best of my ability. What good would it be to write something helpful if it's full of typos and goofs? 

Granted ... I'm STILL plagued by typos and goofs. But I've dedicated myself to learning from each one, and fighting hard to avoid those mistakes in the future. I have gotten better. Much better.

And then I started noticing another something weird. My inside writing was starting to improve. The "fun" outside writing I was doing, that work I was pouring my passion and heart into, was suddenly becoming a means of honing and improving my inside writing. 

My headlines became funnier and more effective. My body copy became more concise and influential. My ability to organize my thoughts became razor-honed. Heck, my ability to turn out copy fast, with ever-increasing deadlines, was a direct result of the fact that I was doing more outside writing, trying to cram as much into the short gaps between work and passing out from exhaustion as I could. Thanks to my outside writing, my inside writing was becoming more polished and professional. And people were starting to notice.

It helps to know that writing is that thing I love to do, and will likely always love doing. It helps to know that my dream is still there, still intact, still serving me.

You probably have a dream, too. It's likely to be something you loved doing as a kid, but put aside by the time you finished college or started your career. Maybe you loved to dance. Maybe you loved painting. Maybe you loved counting seeds in a sunflower. Doesn't matter what you loved, it only matters that you loved it.

And here's where dreams meet reality: You may not be able to make a living from following your dream. That's true. It's very rare that people become highly paid painters or sunflower seed counters. However, that doesn't mean your dream can't fuel you to success.

Excellence breeds excellence. Accomplishment breeds accomplishment. Doing something that energizes you on the outside can give you greater strength and fuel for becoming outstanding at what you do on the inside.

 

Monday
Apr222013

succesification

I read a lot of books about leadership and success. I also read a lot of "self help" books, geared mostly toward changing the way you think and behave. I read tons of biographies and case studies. I may or may not read more of these things that you, but I like my odds. 

The thing is, it's not like I started reading these over the weekend. I've spent years reading about ways to improve myself, in every avenue of life. And yet, for the longest time, even though I knew a lot about how to reshape my life into what I wanted it to be, I spent a great deal of my time doing and being the opposite of what I wanted.

Why?

There's a pretty simple answer to that, and it's one that makes me want to *head desk.* The fact is, reading tons of books about leadership and success and personal growth is a wonderful tool for getting your brain in gear and learning how to better yourself. But nothing you read is going to matter one bit until you DO SOMETHING.

The secret ingredient for success is action.

It took me a long time to get to that idea, even though I can specifically remember saying it, even as far back as my early 20s. I knew, even then, that knowing something wasn't enough. Acting on what you know is what gets you past ho-hum and into ho-boy!

Goal setting is another area where I've always fallen short. Every single book you read about leadership or sucess of personal growth tells you to write down your goals and revisit them often. I've written down goals over the years, but never really focused on them. I never revisited them. So what good were they? Until I'm ready to review those goals and take action on them, the answer is "not a lot."

As part of goal setting, I've read a lot about creating a "vision board." This is sort of a visual cue for your goals. You create a space where you can hang magazine clippings and photographs and small visual things that remind you of what you're trying to achieve in all areas of your life. Pictures of cars or houses you'd like to own, the physical fitness you'd like to achieve, careers you'd like to get into into. It seems strange, and the idea has been co-opted by some from the "new age" set, but the truth is vision boards are simple marketing in action.

I work in marketing. I know from experience that if you can get someone to identify with your product or service on a personal level, to connect to it through as many senses as possible, they are going to be far more likely to buy it. Ad campaigns use photos and video of happy people doing fun things, whether or not those have anything to do with the product itself, so that you can start to associate the product with "the good life." How often have you seen a commercial for a medication that never actually shows the medication? Instead you see happy, healthy people surfing and mountain climbing and playing in a park with friends and family. Message: "If you use this medication, your life will be as good as this one is." 

So having a vision board is like creating a marketing campaign for your own "product," your life. Set your goals, and then reinforce those goals by creating a vision board—your own "marketing campaign"—so that you are constantly giving yourself the message, "If I work toward my goals, I'll have the life I want."

The other side of this is adjusting as you go

Sometimes you think an action will lead to achieving your goal, but discover that things don't quite work the way you intended. Because life is inherently unpredictable, you have to be open to trying a new tactic when you don't get the result you want. Study what someone else is doing, through books and films, to get a result you'd like to have, and try it their way. If it doesn't work out the way you intended, study someone else, take what you learn, and try again. Measure what works and what doesn't, and adjust course until you get the result you want

The final bit is a piece of advice for getting where you want to go is something I actually fight with folks over. Seriouslythey see this as so profound, so revolutionary, so insane, they can't believe it would ever work in millions years. I hesitate even to give you this secret, for fear you'll scoff and never believe me again. But here goes. Deep breath ...

If you want something, ask for it.

See? Told you it was radical. Some people have been known to hear this advice and run, screaming "heretic!" all the way. 

But the truth is, most of the time we could easily have exactly what we want in our lives if we'd just take a chance and ask for it. I have seriously put this into effect in my own life. I ask for a better deal in stores. I ask if I can have something for free. I ask for a better position or a pay raise. 

The biggest barrier? Overcoming the sense that I'm somehow being offensive by asking for what I want. We are so accustomed to just taking what we get, accepting every price, accepting every offer as "the price, the offer," it actually offends our sensibilities when someone asks, out plain, for what they want! If you can get over that irrational fear, you'll find yourself getting more and more of what you want out of life. 

Sometimes, all it takes is to ask and you'll get it. Other times, you'll get a counter offer, which is equally as good. The guy at the store says, "You can't have it for the price you want, but if you bring in a coupon from online or come in next week you can get it on sale." Your boss says, "You can't have a raise, but if you give me a sales goal and meet or beat it in three months I'll raise your salary." Counter offers let you know the "rules" for getting what you want, and knowing those rules lets you map out the steps to acheiving your goal. See how that worked out? 

There's actually a Biblical grounding for asking for what you want:

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? 10 Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 11 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask.

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, search, knock. Sounds like action steps to me. Success in any part of your life requires you to take action and go out and find it.

Everyone wants a formula for success. Turns out the Bible has had one all along. But it helps to have things broken down for us into easy, step-by-step chunks. So I've worked up a formula that may be helpful:

Goal setting + Education + Reinforcement + Ask For What You Want + Taking Action + Adjusting Course  = Get the outcome you want

I think this is pretty simple. And I'm seeing results from applying this formula in my own life. But here's a little extra bit, a multiplier, that will accelerate and even exponentially increase the results you get from the formula:

Get the outcome you want X Glorfiy God in all you do = Get more than you ever dreamt possible!

Success isn't really that hard to achieve. Yes, it can be hard work to get the exact result you want, but the process is simple and straight forward. God wants more for you than just success, though. He wants to multiply your success, and give you a life above and beyond your own intentions. God has an intended life for you that is levels and levels above what you intend for yourself. So take action, but take action that glorfies Him. You'll find your success multiplying daily. 

That's math even I like.