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Entries in God (37)

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. 

Friday
Apr192013

breviticipitation

Yesterday I talked with three different friends on three different topics. A couple of them came to me for advice and counsel, one was just offering encouragement. But all three ended up giving me counsel and inspiration in areas of my life where I hadn't even realized there was a need!

That's the way it works when two or more gather in His name.

When two or more Christians come together, they feed and strengthen each other. Their intention to help each other and to serve and glorify God creates synergy (I know ... over-used word from 90s business. But as one friend points out to me, words matter. Words have power!). Christians, coming together with their minds open and their hearts willing, can make anything happen.

My friend Rick called to chat about a few things he's interested in. He wanted some practical advice, and I am always MORE than happy to give that, even if I don't have any! But it turned out that I did have some things I could contribute, and in our sharing he said some things that gave me a great sense of joy and strength. I felt closer to God by being closer to one of God's children. 

At one point I quoted my favorite Zig Ziglar quote:

You will get allyou want in life if you help enough other people get what they want. 

—Zig Ziglar

He immediately saw a connection to a quote from Norman Schwarzkopf:

"You can't help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself."

—H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Bam! Two Christian brothers share two quotes that express one idea to rule them all. I like that. And I might never have encountered that quote, and might never have gained a bit of "wisdom reinforcement" from it, without putting heads together with a Christian friend.

Another of my trusted Christian friends, Marshal, gave me some wisdom about the length of these blog entries, and that is (in part) why I'm about to wrap this up for the morning. He was gracious enough not to out-and-out call me a windbag (though he's not one to shy away from telling it like it is), but he did say that there are times when I could have ended a post a bit sooner than I did. It's the kind of brevity-through-editing that I require from writers who work for me, so how could I demand any less of myself? 

I realized that he's right, and that I need to take a closer look when I'm writing these posts, the same way I look at work I do for my work, and find where the "fat" can be trimmed. 

But he also said that sometimes the message may not be FOR him. And that makes a lot of sense to me, too. Sometimes, when I'm reading, I think, "Yeah, yeah, Author X. Enough already. I get the point! Move along!" That's me filtering the work through my own knowledge and experience. But another reader, someone who hasn't been exposed to the ideas as often as I have, may find it vital, even enthralling, and may need that extra verbiage to really get a full grasp of the concept.

So if I go a little long at times, just bear with me. When I write these posts, I pray first, and ask God to give me the words that will glorify Him, reach others in His name, and reach me as well. Somtimes that will mean that what I'm writing isn't meant for you (or isn't entirely meant for you). I may actually be talking to me!

The short of it all is this: Even if you don't feel you need counsel right now, talk to your Christian friends. Look into their needs. Offer them everything you can. Do it in God's name and to His glory. Because you'll likely find that they can offer you strength and encouragement in areas where you didn't even realize you needed it.

Thursday
Apr182013

opportuniticity

Last night, in week four of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, one of the things we discussed was "opportunity cost." I've heard of the concept before, but in light of the things that have been on my mind lately, and the changes that are happening in my life, it struck a chord with me on more than just the level of financial education.

Here's a simple definition to start with:

Opportunity cost  n. The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In other words, what are you giving up when you make the decision to buy or do something else? 

From a money perspective, this is a handy way to talk yourself out of making a significant, pricey purchase of something that doesn't add value to your life. "If I buy this television, I lose the opportunity take a trip to Disney World." Or maybe "If I buy this car, I lose the opportunity to put a down payment on a house." Or maybe "If I spend $30 on lunch at this restaurant I'll lose the opportunity to take my wife to a movie tonight." 

This idea makes great sense to me. I'm a "consequences" kind of guy. I know that every action has a consequence, and the secret to having a good and happy life is to decide, in advance, the types of consequences you want to cultivate. So thinking in terms of opportunity costs works well for me.

It isn't limited to money, of course. Everything in life is an opportunity, and most of the time accepting one means losing out on another.

If you date this cute girl, you miss out on the opportunity to date her best friend—so which girl do you like or connect with better? 

If you choose to gossip about someone, you miss out on the opportunity to build a strong friendship with them—so do you want to be their friend?

If you choose not to exercise, and instead eat lots of junk food and do nothing but watch TV, you miss out on the opportunity to be fit and attractive and have lots of energy and strength—so do you care more for chicken wings and the latest episode of "Complete Trash: The un-Reality Show" than for your own body? 

If you cheat on your wife, you miss out on an opportunity to have a loving and trusting marriage—so do you love your wife more than the affair?

Looking at life from the perspective of "opportunity cost" can change your perspective on daily decisions, big and small. This is long-tail thinking, far-reaching perspective. This is you looking ahead at the life you want, rather than the life you have.

I'm a believer, so I see this from the perspective of God's will for my life. I think that one of the best ways to weigh opportunity costs for my daily decisions is to pray for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. With God's Word as my guide, I have something to weigh my choices against. It gives me a compass point, a life to aim for.

Maybe for you, that isn't the case. Maybe you value family values or professional success or personal integrity more. I respect that, because I know how powerful those things can be as motivations. I think, personally, you'd get all of those as part of a strong relationship with God, but I understand if you see it differently.

This is life-changing advice, and it's advice I'm following myself. Look at every decision in your life from the perspective of opportunity cost, and ask yourself if what you're choosing is leading you away from or toward your goals.

Which begs the question: Have you set any goals?

You can't weigh your opportunity costs without knowing where you're trying to go. This tool only works if you have a plan. So sit down, right now, and jot down three things you want to accomplish with your life. They can be anything, from "Lose 20 pounds in six months" to "Win a Pulitzer Prize before I turn 30."  Just make sure they're specific and that they have a timeline for completion. 

Once you have those three goals, use them to determine the opportunity costs of your decisions. Will Choice A get you closer to or further away from your goals? Will Choice B? Go with the choice that gets you closer, and you'll never regret the choice.

Last parting advice—choose the opportunity God has opened up for you. This is a chance to have a life that outlasts your time on Earth. It's a chance to have joy that makes your best memories seem like the least of your good days. It's a chance to experience love that goes deeper, farther, higher, and wider than any you've ever experienced, or ever thought you could. 

If you need help or advice about reaching this opportunity, let me know. I want to help you see it, if you're curious. And maybe I can help you see some other opportunities in your life, too. Sometimes we need someone who loves us to point out what's right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.