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

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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
Mar192013

communityness

I'm easy.

Down boy, I mean I'm easy to rile up or stress out or otherwise get button-pushy with. My close friends used to have a little gag they'd drag out whenever they wanted to get me going on something. They'd make some ridiculous statement, then I'd rush in all angry and annoyed and righteously indignant and go on a rant for several minutes. To REALLY get under my skin they'd pretend to tap some unseen buttons in the air before them and make beeping and whistling noises. Pushing my buttons.

It always worked. I'm easy, like I said. I have a hair trigger, especially when it comes to things that I think I'm an expert on. Really it comes down to a profound arrogance on my part. I think I'm better and smarter, and anything that counters my POV is wrong, wrong, WRONG!

It's one of my more disgusting personality traits, and one that has held me back for decades. And it's the one that I'm attacked on constantly. When sin starts trickling out of me, its source is usually my arrogance and narcissism. 

So counter to what I want to be. So counter to who I really am, deep down. I'm someone who wants to love people, to help them, to protect them, to encourage and inspire them. That's my role in life, I think. I am the man who looks for ways to build people up. If I spend all my time building myself up instead, what good am I? Who am I helping when I'm only helping myself? Who am I encouraging when I am only boosting my own ego? Who am I, if alll I am focused on is what I think I know, and how much I think I'm better than you?

Nothin'. Nobody. Not worth the time of day.

The whole point of life is to live in community with others. We're built for community. We're social animals, dependent on each for strength, support, validation. God built a pretty good machine, when He built each of us. But he built an infinitely pliable and powerful machine in community.

That's why I'm struggling, daily, with bringing myself around to a new way of thinking. I want to change that part of me that thinks "me first" all the time, and start nurturing the part that asks, "How can I help? How can I serve? How can I love?"

People will sometimes take advantage of your good nature, if they know that your goal is to help and to serve. That's OK. It can't last. It seems weird, and somehow contradictory, but in my experience the people who take advantage of you most will often just wander away. They don't trust that what they're getting is the real deal. They start to think that somehow you're pulling one over on them. Nobody is THAT helpful, right? 

The truth is, we see in people what we see in ourselves. We relate to people by looking for those traits we share with them. That's how relationships start. "You like Doctor Who? I like Doctor Who!" And a friendship is born.

So people who cheat or steal from others will most often see everything as an attempt to cheat or steal from them. And if you are offering them a hand, with nothing asked for in exchange, then it's probably because you're running a grift. You can't be trusted. So they cut you off.

Same can be said of the arrogant. My biggest complaint about people? "They're selfish. They only think of themselves. They just want me to pay attention to their every word." And in my most honest moments, I can look at myself and see that I am the person I'm describing. Selfish. Self-centered. Self-motivated. 

Changing that means embracing a couple of tough ideas. We're made for community, but we're also made for service. 

Loving others the way you love yourself—in Romans 13:8-12 the Bible tells us that love is the fulfillment of the law. Basically, if you are concentrating on loving your neighbors, you aren't concentrating stealing what they have, committing adultery, murdering someone, or any of the other laws you could be breaking. Love them like you'd love yourself, and you don't have to worry about "right and wrong/legal and illegal." You're fulfilling the law and the greatest commandment from God.

Cool, huh? 

Loving others like I love myself—that's a lot of lovin', for sure. If I spent my time focusing on encouraging and building up others the way I try to build up my own ego, I'd have more friends, I'd have more opportunities, I'd build a bigger, stronger community that could back me up in my time of need. A community of like minds, always thinking about each other, always sure that others are up to somethin', alright. Up to somethin' good. 

Thursday
Mar072013

encouragmentacity

Today I got a word of encouragement.

So it's a funny thing, but I don't actually take encouragement well. I mean, I'm grateful for it. Love it, actually. I do like knowing that I'm doing well, that I'm appreciated. It makes all the difference in the world.

But what I mean is, I don't have a canned response for taking a real, genuine compliment. I can accept praise for something I've created. I can quip about deadlines or workload, and the super heroics needed to master both. I have responses for almost any casual question you can ask. But tell me you're proud of me? Man, I nearly dissolve into a blubbery mass.

We don't always know just how desparately we need that word of encouragment. Just a simple, "I think you're doing a great job" is enough to turn the tide and make a day go from so-so to so-yeah!

And maybe it's good that I don't have a canned response for that. It has a deeper impact. It means the praise is genuine, and therefore more heartening.

Sometimes we start to feel that no one is noticing those little things we do throughout the day. The "get by" syndrome we all seem to live in tends to make us numb. We forget that, just like our kids or our friends or our spouses, we need to hear something good about ourselves, too. If we don't, we start to doubt, somewhere inside, that we're doing things right. We start to wonder what everyone is saying about us, and we become more and more certain that it's not good.

God has a word for us, I think. Our problem is we don't spend enough time listening for Him. We get into our own heads, our own routines, our own funk, and we forget that there's a voice there, calling gently, saying that He loves us.

Don't forget that. You're loved. Really. Truly. Without doubt. And if you need that word of encouragement in your life, I can honestly tell you ... you are wonderful. You are beloved. Thank you thank you thank you for being YOU. God loves you. I love you. And you are doing an absolutely fantastic job with your life.

Tuesday
Mar052013

changeocity

I'm thinking about change a lot this morning.

It happens. Sometimes we don't get much of a choice in the matter. And at that those times we have a tendency to push back. We like forward trajectory, after all. We like to continue momentum. Change means discomfort, effort, anxiety.

Even good change can bring on a little bit of a panic attack. Having a baby? Getting a new job? Having corrective surgery? 

How we deal with change is the very definition of our character. If you want to test who you really are, who it is that lurks deep within the folds of your brain, what the color of your soul may be, change is your chance. Nothing will tell you more about you than you during times of change.

I like deliberate change. Those changes you've planned, plotted, strategized, chosen. You don't get many of those ... well, you get as many as you want, but most people tend to avoid deliberate change.

I'm like that. Or I have been, most of my life. I flow with whatever's happening around me, adjust to itbellyache about it, but mostly just go with it. I've spent a considerable amount of my time on Earth just waiting things out. You could almost call it patience, if I weren't so busy complaining about it.

The thing, the idea, that I've come to, though, in my daily thinking, in my new perspective on the world, is that change is meant to be deliberate. We are meant to choose and grow. God built us to be choosing, changing machines. 

I picked up an adage somewhere along the way: "See a task, do a task." See a job that needs to be done? Do that job. See some trash on the floor? Pick it up. See someone who needs help? Help them. 

I don't always get that right, but I try to at least tip the balance into upper 50% territory. 

That's one way, on a moment-by-moment basis, that we can effect deliberate change in our lives, and in the lives of others. I think that comes from the highest command we've been given, which is to love each other like we love ourselves. 

How good at it are were going to be? Not so good. We're going to fail. You probably know that, instinctively. See, that's the point though, isn't it? You know, without doubt, that you aren't always going to do the right thing, make the right choice, take the right path. But you make the effort anyway. You make the choice anyway. And then, things REALLY start to change. 

There's another adage: "Be the change you want to see in the world." I like it. It's nice and positive. It's not a bad way to live. It's, again, the choice you make every moment of every day. 

Change is going to happen. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad. It's almost always anxiety-inducing. But how we deal with change is the test of our character that we need to set a few benchmarks and goals, to find the leaks in our character, to start making choices and start making change a more deliberate part of our lives. 

Choosing would be nice for a change.