In the dark, your next step matters most

When all is going well, days are bright and things are looking up, it’s a wonderful feeling to dream about the future and look towards exciting days ahead.

But when a storm hits your life and you’re walking through a dark season, you need to keep your energy focused on making sure that your next step is on solid ground.

Any dark moment can hit you unexpectedly; whether that’s a divorce, loss of a loved one, or perhaps unemployment. When it does, you feel tempted to keep going at the same pace you’ve always been moving; showing everyone around that you aren’t phased.

But admit it to yourself: The light at the end of this tunnel feels very far away. Hope isn’t part of your vocabulary these days.

You’re new reality is that you are in the dark. It’s time to slow down. There’s no escaping this season without stepping forward carefully. So stop and look around.

Take stock of where you are. Process what’s happening to you and accept that you aren’t functioning at 100%. Be patient with yourself. Be content that you only checked off a quarter of your to-do list today.

This season will pass. A bright hope and future will come. But it starts by finding the next solid step to take.

Take it well.

 

If I Could Live 2016 Over Again

I know that the year has just begun. But what if you could live it over again? What would you regret not doing when you sit down next December 31st and countdown to 2017?

A while back, I posted about beginning each day with the end of the day in mind with a post entitled, ‘If I could live today over again I’d …’.  It’s a simple Stephen Covey principle but it works to help keep me on track. Each day, before I walk into any meeting I still ask myself, After I’m finished this next conversation that I’m about to walk into, what do I want to be walking out with? What is my destination over the next hour? 

If I don’t know my destination then how will I know if I’ve gone off track?

Since it is already early into the new year of 2016 I do have a list of resolutions started. It’s an overwhelming inventory of challenges that no single human being could accomplish in a year. But it’s how I like to begin. Get it all out of my mind and recorded somewhere.

Then I run my goals through my own filters of understanding how I’m wired, and of acknowledging that one person can only do so much in a single year. So I ask myself, which of these things would I regret the most if I didn’t do them? In my case, it means that my itch to play the Ukulele gets bumped down below my desire to spend more time reading scripture with my wife, Cheryl. Thankfully that’s an obvious one.

In the end, I naturally settle on a few resolutions that mean the most to me. I don’t always do a great job of following through on them 100% of the time and I never end up with a perfect year – who does – but I like having a road map to refer to when I need a reminder of what matters to me.

So here’s to 2016! May we all look back on it with pride!

 

 

Don’t be so quick to hang up

Sometimes we judge people too quickly and risk missing out on great relationships. We allow ourselves to be turned off by appearances, by language, or even by perceived lifestyle differences. As a result, we don’t get past the “book cover”, so to speak and our assumptions rob us of opportunities to include potentially valuable people into our lives.

Recently, I was on the wrong end of this when someone calling into my office quickly hung up on me simply because of how I greeted him. My greeting wasn’t rude or off-putting, from my perspective. But it was, however, an overly-lighthearted, “Good afternoon . . .” followed by a slightly awkward laugh and then a correct statement saying, “. . . I mean, good morning.”

The next thing I heard was the dial tone of denial. Ouch!

Now that’s my interpretation of what happened. I know that it’s entirely possible that the person on the other end of the line had to run because of some emergency. But the evidence suggested that he prematurely decided that conversation was over, after hearing my greeting.

The worst part of this happening is that I have no way of identifying my mysterious caller. I don’t know who he was, and I have no record of which number he called from. I’m just left wondering why he gave up so quickly.

Unfortunately, we all do this too often. We look at someone’s appearance or listen to their conversation and assume that we’ve gathered enough information to pigeonhole them. They may even remind us of someone else we know, which causes us to pile on many more assumptions.

How do we so easily miss the uniqueness of each person and decide their value in a split second? Isn’t there something wrong with this?

I am convinced that if my incoming caller had let me converse with him on that day, that I would have been able to meet whatever need he was phoning me about. I work really hard for my clients and it’s too bad that he didn’t give me an opportunity to start a great business relationship.

Maybe he will call back again. Maybe not. I may never get an explanation. Perhaps I judged him too quickly.

But the event did leave me wondering how many times have I done this to others? Are there growth lessons that I’m missing out on because I’ve labeled someone before giving them a chance? Do I do this to even those closest to me? Do I tune out too quickly?

Perhaps I should pick up the phone now and give someone a call.

When I chose NOT to forgive

When I chose not to forgive

I’m usually the forgiving type.

When someone causes hurt, I work to try and understand them; meaning that I don’t immediately write them off as wrong. Instead, I attempt to look past the emotional reaction of that person and quickly consider the different views of a situation. I also take time to ask myself those tough questions like: Am I really the person they are describing? Did I mean to hurt them? Were my intentions malicious? What do I need to change if they are right?

However, there is a downside in this approach. If you don’t process the situation maturely and with humility then you can begin to let resentment towards the person set in and/or you can begin to let the unwarranted opinions about you fester and remain in your thoughts. This can lead to a deeper unforgiveness because you’ve now given that person undeserved power over you. ‘Failure’ is a message that you will feel anytime you are challenged in a similar way in the future. As one popular quote says, you are essentially allowing that person to “live rent-free in your head.” – Ann Landers.

When I ran into someone who hurt me years ago.

An event that brought to light some unforgiveness in my life happened a few months ago. I attended a large social event and recognized someone who spoke hurtful words to me many years ago. I’ll call her Jane. This person and I were both involved in the vision and direction of a multi-faceted organization. If I were to be any more specific then my Jane will lose the anonymity I’m trying for. The point I’m trying to make here is that she spoke some words at a meeting once that cut me deep. I felt personally attacked and I spent quite a bit of time questioning my leadership abilities and my character after the encounter.

My reaction at the time was to not say anything. I didn’t give in to believing the worst of Jane, and even when I eventually moved on to another organization and a new leadership role I didn’t feel hatred towards her, but I never really let go of her words. I didn’t really deal with the hurt and forgive her; and in moments of insecurity I would occasionally hear those words again challenging my ability to succeed.

So not surprisingly, this led to a visceral reaction that I felt when I saw her again at this function many years later. Some flashbacks hit me hard and I was a little awkward as I approached her to say hello. I still didn’t feel any anger, but I did have that sense of disappointment like I was a kid walking into the dentist office the week after Halloween. I felt exposed. Vulnerable.

Talk about unexpected!

Then it happened. I walked over to her, curiously seeking closure that would free me from her voice in my head. I reached out my hand to say hello and she . . . didn’t recognize me. Now don’t misunderstand me. She didn’t do any sort of double take that turned into a pleasant greeting. She really did not know who I was. I was a stranger. To make it worse, when I asked her how things are going in her life, she pretended to know who I was and gave a vague response to my questions. My heart sank a little.

I was shocked. This voice that had been a negative anthem in my mind was just that, in my mind. She probably never thought of it again. And even if she did, why did I give it so much power?

I walked away thinking of the time that I wasted letting her words echo in my mind. I thought of the hours of energy I used up letting Jane live in my head during crucial decision-making moments, when she probably never gave that night a second thought after that meeting. More importantly, by not letting that moment-of-the-past go, I allowed myself to believe that I was still that person for way too long. Even if all of her words attacking my character were true back then, I’m years removed from who I was at that time and I have grown since. I have navigated countless other leadership scenarios and allowed myself to learn new lessons along the way.

In that moment, one quote stood out more than any other,

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

The only person I was holding captive by not letting her words go was myself and perhaps you can relate. You have people in your past who still reappear as negative thoughts when new challenges are put before you. You haven’t been able to forgive and the pain is reoccurring. Don’t hesitate to free the prisoner so that you can move forward today. You are just holding yourself back by hanging on to yesterday’s opinions of you.

So it’s time to Forgive.

Forgive so that you don’t let the emotions of the past dictate the reality of your present therefore limiting the potential of your future.

Forgive.

 

 

If I could live today over again, I’d . . .

Did you get the right things accomplished today?

If you are reading this then you might be one of two types of people. People who I’m going to call, for some real excitement, Person A and Person B. I know it’s not that creative but it’s what we’ll go with.

As Person A, you are someone who lived today with gusto and accomplished more than you set out to do. Your to-do list has been marked off and it’s been triumphantly ripped up and tossed into the trash can; unless your organizer is an iPad or phone. It’s probably not good to throw them around. You worked hard today but I expect that most of the people you came into contact with were just ‘projects’ that needed to be checked off your list rather than humans. At the end of your day, before falling asleep, you have a sense of accomplishment in your work but you contemplate what else you could have done.

If you don’t relate to that profile then you could possibly be Person B: Someone who will fall asleep tonight from fatigue, stress and just plain being busy with who-knows-what. You carry some guilt for not being as successful with your priorities and your to-do lists are probably scattered on your desk, behind your desk, under your brake pedal, or maybe that’s what the dog was choking on earlier. You started the day out strong with your coffee in one hand and your beeping, buzzing, ring-toning iPhone in the other. But many times in the day you question your choice of that now-annoying ringtone and your too busy to Change it. People, procrastination and petty procedures stole this day from you. What day is it anyway?

I’m sure that I could also describe Person C,  D or Q to fit your specific description of how you busied yourself today but you get the picture. We all awoke to the same sunrise. We all stopped at similar coffee shops. We all had an equal quota of time, the only currency that we’ll never get back. But each of us has a very different feeling of success or fulfillment when we eventually and hopefully find at the end of a long day.

So what does all of this have to do with trying to live today over? Good question.

What if tomorrow, when we all wake up, we choose to live it backwards? What if we start the day by thinking about it as already complete, already in the past? What would you and I do differently? Or let me say that another way, what if you started tomorrow by listing all of the things you would do if you could do today again?

It’s an interesting idea and it comes from Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Vienese psychologist who worked with depressed and suicidal patients. His theory and approach has helped tens of thousands of patients who needed rescuing. What’s remarkable is that so many people came to him for help and not one of them ended their own life while under his watch. In fact, many improved significantly thanks to his guidance. Donald Miller also references this theory on his website and it’s a core starting point for his learning tool for productivity called The Storyline Productivity Schedule: The One-Page Key to Increased Productivity.

Today as I write this, it is February, and in this part of Canada many people I’m running into are beginning to feel the ‘dead-of-winter blues’. Christmas is gone, spring isn’t coming soon enough and the days are still cold and grey, not to mention snowy.  There’s a depressing tone in many people’s voices; and perhaps yours is one of the loudest. This causes many people to struggle even more in feeling productive at all with their day. Work tends to feel like drudgery at it’s peak.

If you can relate to any of the situations or emotions of the people I’ve mentioned, I would like to challenge you that you can make today count even more just by reminding yourself what deserves your attention today.

Try shaking up your morning routine tomorrow by spending a few moments, before checking your phone or reading any emails, and focus on your day ahead while your mind is it’s freshest. Your mental energy will slowly drain throughout the day so grab it before it get away. Sit down and write a list of four or five things that answer the following question: If I could live today over again I’d . . .

As Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule suggests:

Asking yourself what you’d do differently if you were living today over again is one of the keys to living a more meaningful life and assessing priorities

Yes it’s a psychological mind trick! But in doing this you might realize that some of the things you’ve worried about are not worth it and some of the relationships you have could probably use more of your attention.

In fact, you might just turn some of your projects back into people.