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    College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma

Entries in joy (5)

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.

Thursday
Mar282013

wisdomification

I'm 40 years old, and I'm pretty sure I haven't done my best at being a steward of the gifts I was given. Some, yes, maybe. I've definitely nurtured skills such as writing, marketing and strategy, self improvement, knowledge about innovation and technology and leadership thought. My education in those areas isn't "complete." There's always more to learn and more ways to grow, but that's true of any field of expertise. I spend a lot of time growing in these areas.

I've fallen short in a couple of major areas, though. Money ... that's a big one. I had a lot of wrong-headed thinking about money, all through my 20s and 30s, and that has lead me to be deep in debt, with nothing put back for rainy days or long winters. I'm changing that now, growing in my financial education and developing the long-abused self discipline I need to be better with my finances, and to build a better future.

I've also fallen short on my health. I'm actually pretty "healthy," in that I'm not suffering from anything debilitating or inhibiting. I do have a pacemaker, but that's actually improved my health and physical stamina, rather than be a debit to my health account. Where I've fallen short is in diet and exercise, of course. I'm about 70 pounds overweight. I get winded walking from my truck to my office, or taking small flights of stairs. I'm chronically fatigued a lot of the time. I suffer from indigestion and other digestive irritations. In general, my energy and my stamina are low, and the way I look actually impacts my self esteem. I'm working to change these facts, too, by changing the way I approach food and by taking opportunities to move more, any chance I get. 

In both of those areas I have a ways to go. I have miles and years of damage and abuse to undo. Maybe some of it will never be undone, but I don't think that's true. I think that if I turn to the source of my strength, if I trust and rely on God's strength instead of my own, I'll be able to accomplish anything that brings good and joy into my life, and the lives of others.

The other area where I see need for change is my ego. I am utterly self-centered and selfish, much of the time. I know that my focus should be on loving and helping others, as often as possible. This is my mission from God, the commandment I can't avoid whenever I open my Bible or simply look around me. If I'm going to glorify God in all I do, I have to start with the one indomitable command He's given. I have to love others as I love myself. I have to help others the way I would want others to help me.

If I concentrate on that, it's possible ... more than possible, likely ... that the other areas of my life will fall in line, and even with all the work I'll have to put into it, they'll seem easy to me. 

This morning I started reading Proverbs (actually, I started listening to it from the Bible Gateway app ... worthy). I've read through it before, but this morning I approached it with new focus. I had read about Solomon, who was told by God that he could have any one thing he asked for. He could have asked for long life, or for all the earth to come under his command, or for more gold or more power, or for any number of things that might be attractive to anyone, even a king. But what he asked for was wisdom.

The result of that wisdom, beyond becoming a ruler who has become the benchmark for wise rulers throughout history, was the book of Proverbs. It's a treatise of Solomon's wisdom. It's written in simple language that, somehow, hides more truth than it reveals, and that can only be dug up through repeated reading and study. It's a guide for anyone who wants to improve his or her life, to get on a path that leads to greater life, to better health, the increased wealth. Looking for the ultimate self-help book? It was written a few thousand years ago, in the format of a letter from father to son. 

In Becoming a Millionaire God's Way, Dr. C. Thomas Anderson writes that if you want to improve your life in every avenue, if you do nothing else, read, study, and dwell upon Proverbs. Follow the wisdom there and you'll start seeing positive results in your life. I already am.

It's not all about money, obviously. Money is just a tool for reaching goals, helping others, serving God. It's not all about health, either. We need strong health to have the energy and physical reserves to do what's good for us and for others and for God. Really it's all about gaining wisdom, and using that wisdom to glorify God.

Pray for wisdom. Ask for it right now. I pray this prayer throughout the day:

Lord, change me. Give me wisdom. Increase my faith. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Show me how to glorify you in all I do. Amen.

Pray. Study. Pray and study. 

And it's not just about the Bible. Solomon studied the literature and wisdom of Egypt and other nations. He wrote about it all extensively, along with his insights and interpretations and ideas. He used what I call the REAL Word of God.

According to John 1:1-5 The Word was with God in the beginning. It was God. Ultimately, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, the Christ. So the Word is more than just the Bible. It has existed, exists, and will exist in all of creation and eternity. Which means you can find the Word, and wisdom, anywhere you look. So look broad and wide. Think about what you're seeing, consider it through the lens of your faith, and suddenly Wisdom starts to show herself.

Wisdom is the path to wealth, health, long life, and happiness. Wisdom is the road to God's kingdom. Trade everything for it. Forget feeling low about the failures of your life. Learn from them, grow from them, use them to cultivate a nice crop of wisdom. Every garden needs fertilizer.

I'm working on those rough patches in my life. I'm praying for God's wisdom and guidance, and that I wil receive increased faith and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And ya know, I can see it happening. I'm making a lot of progress, every minute of the day. I'm already well beyond the man I was just a couple of months ago. I'm grateful for God's touch on my heart and my life. I feel sorrow for those times I let Him down, and grieve the Holy Spirit, but I feel joy in His mercy and grace, and in the wisdom I'm seeing build slowly in me.

Wealth, health, and happiness come from love, righteousness, and wisdom. God wants us to seek all three, and he wants us to help each other in the search. I'll help you walk if you help me walk. We'll make the trip together.

Wednesday
Mar132013

christian lifestyle design (or "how I spent my 40-year vacation")

I first came across the term "lifestyle design" in The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss. This book changed  my perspective on work and career, especially when it comes to "retirement." It helped me figure out a better way to handle outsourcing and contract work (both as a contractor and as a contractee), and it has served as a catalog of resources that I can draw on when I need it. I've read this book dozens of times now, and I learn something new every time.

(Just a side note: I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version as well as keeping a print and/or ebook version around for reference. Scott Brick does an outstanding job of narrating this book, and I've found that LISTENING to a book like this has more impact than reading it from the page)

The short definition of lifestyle design might look like this: Instead of locking yourself into a "typical" 40+ hour workweek for 40 to 50 years, working toward a cash-strapped "retirement," you should use every resource at your disposal to create a more "unconventional" lifestyle and career, and take lots of "mini retirements" along the way. 

The REALLY short definition might be: Use your brain, be creative and innovative, do what you love, and work becomes a joy instead of something you endure.

I love that whole concept. It's rooted in learning and growing, experimenting and playing by a different set of rules. I've used a lot of the techniques I've learned about marketing and strategy to make my career more unconventional than most. Even now, as I work full time as the Marketing Creative Director for a software company, my career is on a different track than just a few years ago, and it's far from conventional. 

But there's been a slight deviation from the 4-Hour plan. 

I really didn't see my lifestyle change much until I made a couple of key choices. It's hard to say which of these came first, because they're both so intertwined. I know which is the more important of the two, and which is the stronger guiding principle in my life now, but I can't remember exactly when I made the commitment to either. So I'll just list them from least important to most important.

Positive attitude

 How cliché is that? Very. And for 35+ years I felt it was too obvious, too pat, too eye-rollingly bleh to give it any real consideration. I agreed with the idea, and all the adages. "Your attitude determines your altitude," and the like. I agreed 100%. I just wasn't putting it into practice.

Actually, I did TRY to put it into practice. I just wasn't very good at it. And that's because I was missing the point.

Having a positive attitude isn't the full story. The real power behind this little "secret" is all about your choices (this sound famliar?) Being positive in a general, Pollyanna sort of way gets you nowhere. Eventually the smile you have plastered on your face will fade. The internal dialog of "just feel joy!" will peter out. Nothing about this empty, hollow decision to "think positive" has any power at all. 

Real positive attitude comes from making a conscious choice to put the needs of others above your own. It's called "love." And when you exercise it, the thing gets muscles like you wouldn't believe. If you're only focused on yourself, your own needs and goals and desires, you can only stay positive for so long. Eventually greed and selfishness and self-centeredness become the rules of your life. Eventually you get your true, deepest wish, which is to be alone with yourself, with no one bothering you.

Making the effort to put someone else in front of you, to do whatever you can to help someone else achieve what they want or need out of life, puts you in a different head space. It's the most positive head space you'll ever manage to reach. Your heart is in it. Your very soul is in it. 

I love to quote Zig Ziglar on one specific topic, and anyone who knows me will know what's coming next:

"You can get everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

How can you not be positive, when you're thinking like that?

God as the center of your life

This was the biggest change, the most important change of all. And it has made all the difference in my life and my career.

I was always a Christian. I just wasn't very good at it. I spent a large chunk of my life searching for something that would give me inspiration and a sense of purpose, but the only place I was willing to look was inside myself. 

Turns out, that's a pretty limited field to search.

I don't have what it takes to be successful or brilliant or a perfect Christian. Only Christ has that kind of strength. So this whole time, as I've focused on "improving" myself by focusing ON myself, I've really robbed myself of any power to change. 

But recently I made the decision, finally, to turn my life over to Christ. I emptied myself out and chose to study the Word, to engross myself with God, to fill myself ... well, actually, to ask God to fill me ... with the Holy Spirit. I asked Christ to increase my faith. I decided to stop relying on the Power of Kevin and start relying on the true and real Power of God.

Having God as the center of my life, making the choice to glorify Him with EVERYTHING I do, say, think, feel ... that has made all the difference. Three or four years ago ... three or four MONTHS ago ... I might have agreed with this with my mouth, but I didn't agree with my heart or my soul. I believed, if you asked me. I didn't believe, if you studied me. "You'll know them by their fruits." That's the trick. You can't judge a book by it's cover, but you CAN judge it by the impact it's having on the world.

I was an ineffective, loudmouthed, self-centered jerk. I paid lip service to all the good and positive things that I'd always HEARD could make your life (and the world) better, but I wasn't living what I was knowing. God changed that.

I had my crisis of faith. A couple of them, actually. It happens. It shouldn't have to, but it does. And now I know, I KNOW, that the way for me to be happy, to have joy, to achieve more in my life ... it's all in who I'm focused on. 

Focus on me = struggling, sinking, drowning

Focus on God = Standing, Walking, Performing Miracles

Christian Lifestyle Design

I've started putting things together, thinking things through, and I'm coming around to a new idea. I think that lifestyle design is a good plan. It's good to want to accomplish things. It's good to want to have a lifestyle that makes you feel fullfilled, that brings you joy. It's good to want wealth, even. Its good to want to do as much as you can.

It's better, so much better, to want all these things to bring glory to God. 

True lifestyle design, effective and empowering, will only come from glorifying God with everything you do. So that's what I'm going to focus on. I'm going to use all of the things I've learned, through all of my years of study into marketing and strategy and innovation, and I'm going to apply all of those to the principles that God has laid out for me in His word. 

And I want you to join me. I want to help you get what you want out of life, what you NEED out of life. That's the mission God has put in front of me, and this blog and my books and all the things I do an create, they're all tools for that mission.

So let's get started.

 

Monday
Mar042013

responsibilitation 

The hard part about being responsible is sometimes you have to take responsibility for something you may not necessarily feel responsible for. Let that one spin around in your noodle for a bit.

Arguments. Who needs 'em? Nobody, that's who. And sometimes we have them even when we don't know what we're really fighting about. And I'd be willing to bet, if we could do some sort of study, that "we don't know what we're really fighting about" more than likely fuels a high percentage of the arguments we have. 

In the past 24 hours I've taken responsibility for two very different arguments. For both, I didn't particularly feel that I was the cause, that I had instigated, that I had provoked. But it hit me at some point (maybe about two sentences ago ... sometimes I'm slow on the up-tick), I may not be the CAUSE of the argument but I am, somehow, RESPONSIBLE. It has somehow fallen to me to resolve the conflict, to make the apologies, to smooth the ruffled feathers. Because I can. 

My first instinct, when I realize this, is to think, "Why should I?"

I don't want to. I want to storm out, log off, slam a door, click "block user" or a dozen other things that could be "solutions," could absolve me of responsibility, could end the argument without me having to bend or take a bruise to the ego or feed some future justification for arguing with "evidence" of me having once been in the wrong.

That's unfair. And unfair ... that rankles me. I have this inflated sense of "justice," but it apparently weakens as it radiates further from me, here at the center. Justice for all, but mostly Kevin.

Thing is, I've taken on a role of leadership in my life. The adage is, "Leaders are made, not born." Made by choices, made by decisions, made by actions, made by responsibility. You can choose to be a leader, even if no one wants to follow you. This is the route Kevin has chose. He speaks of himself in the third person so that it sounds as if at least ONE person is following him. 

And if I'm going to be a leader, I have to take on the onus of leadership, the responsibility that comes with the gig. Sometimes, the leader has to bear the brunt of the ego bruising and injustice. The range of the leader's "justice field" has to increase, radiate further out. If you're going to be a leader, you're going to have to ditch pride and take more responsibility.

God makes it clear that leadership is what we're doing here. Leading in our family lives, leading in our communities, leading in our own inner thoughts and struggles. Leading means being responsible, even when it's unfair.

Arguments. I hate 'em. I am not a big fan of conflict, and my primary tool for dealing with it is avoidance. But I can't do that. Avoiding it means saying, "This isn't my responsibility." It means I'm a follower, not a leader. So it's up to me to step in, to diffuse, to apologize, to suck it up and acknowledge, to myself, that even if I don't think I'm in the wrong, the only way to be in the right is to be the peacemaker, the bringer of justice, the equalizer of joy, the responsible one. 

That's not easy. It never will be. And the only way it works is if I surround myself with people who can be my strength and guidance when I need it. That's what God was going on about, with the whole "fellowship" thing. One thread is weak, many threads, woven together, can be strong. 

So what is being a leader, after it's all said and done? It's being a part of greater leadership. It's being responsible, even when you don't think you are, and it's being a part of a strong rope woven of other leaders. Leadership isn't meant to be a lonely, solitary role. It's meant to be a fellowship. It's meant to be a community. Every thread carries its own weight, but helps, too, to carry the weight born by all the other threads.

That's what leadership means. Time for me to start weaving. 

Thursday
Feb282013

patiencity 

Patience isn't the kind of thing I've spent a lot of time cultivating. Doesn't move fast enough for me. 

Get it?

But it is something I've seen as a weakness in my character. And with it comes a whole slew of stuff that I have to fight to overcome or apologize for after. I can be a jerk to people, when I'm annoyed. As my wife puts it, I "go for the throat." I don't just bite, I try to tear people apart for daring to offend me. 

And there could be a long line of things for me to deal with, spiritually and emotionally, before I'm free of that kind of reaction. But I think somewhere near the top of that list is patience.

This morning I was sitting at a light. 

Oy. I could break off into a tirade about this, because it wasn't JUST a light. It was a light made of stone. It was a light frozen in time. It was a light that, despite the very NATURE of light, was a solid presence in my morning, going nowhere. As cars whizzed by me on my right, free as birds, and as no traffic whatsoever passed on my left, I sat at this turn signal, waiting. Aging. Becoming furious.

My first instinct? "I should write to the city about this thing. I should stand out here some day and shoot some video, showing how many cars stack up, how long it takes. I should get a pellet gun and take a pop shot at this thing! I should drive my truck into the pole! I SHOULD SMASH! KEVIN SMASH!"

I'm a writer ... coming up with absurdly over-the-top scenarios is what I do.

Thing is, I had also just spent the morning reading about change, about how God wants to live within us, and what it means to surrender to Him. I had prayed and asked, point blank, that God would give me plenty of opportunities to change my attitude, from negative to positive. I had actually awoken this morning thinking about something that I could always rely on, in the past, to get me riled up and angry, and I had prayed then and there for the strength and courage and wisdom to stop, to choose a different reaction, to focus on something good instead of something that robs me of thought and power.

And here I was at this light.

I could feel the knot tightening. That old, familiar knot that binds me up pretty good when I'm angry. I could feel the tension. The sickness in the pit of my stomach. The muscles pulling in my neck. I was getting mad. I was starting to get impatient. 

And then I saw it.

Past that light ... literally in the same eye line, but just beyond, was the sunrise.

Clouds rippled, and sunlight blazed through patches, but it was the gradients of color that made it so ... so ...

Stunning. 

Reds. Purples. Blues. Yellows. Hues and shades, gradients and hints of color. It was a panorama of beauty, stretching out bigger than I could take in all at once. It was glory and power and movement. 

And even though I as looking in the exact direction I'd been looking a moment before, I no longer saw the stop light. Instead I saw the light of the day. And in that instant I shifted from "KEVIN SMASH!" to something ... different. Peaceful. Patient. Happy.

The knot loosened, along with the muscles in my neck and shoulder and jaw. The sick twist in my stomach unraveled and faded. The building rage turned into a lighthearted laugh. Just like that. 

All it took was looking past the obstacle to a wide open world.

I want to start looking past the obstacles that are in front of me, and to the wide open world beyond. I'm looking past the little light and into the bigger light. I'm looking past what stops me and into all the potential I have ahead of me. 

I know that not everyone who reads my stuff is a Christian. Some of my friends are vehemently atheist. Dedicated atheist, really. And in my time with them, I never push them to believe, because I think it's up to them. God will call, but we answer. It's a two-part process. And the command I have from my Lord is to love everyone like I love myself. I fail at that, oh yes. I'm BAD at that. I have a critical spirit that's fueled by vanity and ego and narcissism. But I recognize the command and power of one who is greater than me by far. And I saw that in evidence this morning. I see it every day. Noticing it ... that's a different story.

But I hope that right now, if you are one of those friends who doesn't believe, that maybe you might hear a tiny voice, feel a tiny tug. Maybe. Maybe. Or maybe not. But if you are stuck, and can't focus on anything but the obstacle in front of you, then whether you will believe in God or not, I hope you'll take one of His lessons as your own. Look past the thing that's blocking you, and look into the wide open world beyond. Look in the direction you want to go, not at the thing that keeps you where you are.