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’til We Meet Again??

Parting is such sweet sorrow…breaking up is hard to do…this isn’t goodbye, but until we meet again…

However you want to say it, the end of a relationship can be hard. I’m struggling with how I should feel as I end a relationship that has brought me a great deal of joy, but has devolved into stress.

A year ago, I met a new friend. He’s someone I had watched from afar for a long time, someone that I had tried to meet before, but the timing never seemed to work. Finally, on November 2nd, 2012, I mustered up all my courage and introduced myself to…

The Marginal Writer…

Our friendship grew quickly.  He was eager to share his thoughts, words tumbling effortlessly onto paper, expressing his emotions freely. He made me laugh with his humor…sometimes he was deeply thought provoking, other times he just made me smile. A couple of times, he even brought a tear to my eye. But he was never shy about sharing what was in his heart. The early months of our friendship were rich and rewarding.

But a few months into our relationship, I started to notice that something was wrong. He didn’t seem as open as he had once been. He stopped coming around as often. And when he did, he had trouble sharing like he had before. I tried to figure out what had changed, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was…different.

I wondered if I had done something wrong. Was I becoming boring? Had I said or done the wrong thing? Was there someone else? I couldn’t figure it out. And as time went on, he became even more distant.

I started becoming stressed. I felt pressure to continue the relationship…to make it work. I started forcing myself to be who I thought he wanted me to be. And yet, as time went by, it became clear that my relationship with The Marginal Writer was over. So today I am breaking up with The Marginal Writer.

I’m not bitter…I’m actually relieved. When a relationship ends, the closure and the finality is painful, but it allows for a new start. And I am moving on. I know that I will write again in the future. But I will no longer impose a deadline that increases my stress level as I have done for the past year. I’m excited about some of the new opportunities that have presented themselves…I’m busy. I’m content.

I’m relieved.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Self-discipline, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Paralysis Analysis

Indecision can be a crippling thing. The fear of making the WRONG choice often leads to making no choice at all. Procrastination ultimately makes the decision for me, and when the results do not play out the way that I intended for them to, I lay blame at the feet of “circumstance,” neatly sidestepping my own responsibility for the outcome.

I do this frequently, and I hate it. Rarely are the decisions about life-altering events.  More often they are about things for which there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, there is simply “Choice A” and “Choice B.” And yet, I work myself into a worried frenzy over which choice I should make-convinced that one choice is better than another.

Case in point: I am going to Atlanta for a conference next week. The decision I am facing is simple. Should I drive or fly?

I live in the Chicago area, so the drive will take 12-14 hours. For many people, this might be a no-brainer. The thought of driving that far is mind-numbing. Most people would have bought their plane ticket months ago.

Not so for me. You see, I love to drive. The thought of all that time alone in the car, driving through the mountains in the midst of the changing fall colors, listening to music and uplifting tapes and audiobooks…that’s very appealing to me.

So then, why the mental wrestling match? If the drive is not drudgery but rather a joyful experience, why is this even an issue for me?

It’s the car…

My 12-year old Buick Century has more than 200,000 miles on it. The car is a tank; it took out a huge deer a couple of years ago and barely flinched…But she is getting long in the tooth, and I’m starting to sense that her age is catching up to her. I think that she’ll be good for another year or two, but a drive through the mountains, 1500 miles round trip, feels like a bit much for her.

The decision I am wrestling with is financial. Airfare is more expensive than driving…unless the car breaks down. A catastrophic breakdown in the middle of Kentucky (or worse, the mountains of Tennessee), would be very expensive. And of course, even if there are no mechanical problems with the car, the wear and tear of the drive will definitely make an impact.

I find myself frozen with fear. The indecision is palpable. If I make the “wrong” choice, I will be doomed to destruction. I will have carelessly spent money in folly, never able to recover from the error of my tragic mistake. Paper or plastic becomes a moral dilemma. Should I drive the van or the car? Should I drink coffee or tea? Should I go to the Starbucks in Merrillville or Crown Point? Should I, should I, should I…

I’m a drama queen, I admit it. I take seemingly small decisions and I inflate them to critical choices that will surely alter the course of my life in some irreparable way. Life is about making choices, deciding and moving on. And procrastinating my way into making a choice is a decision in itself. It’s the decision to be reactive instead of being proactive. It’s the decision to let life happen to YOU, instead of YOU happening to life.

The truth is, I went to sleep last night racked with indecision about this simple choice-fly Southwest, or drive to the south and the west.

I woke up with the decision made. Sometimes it really is good to “sleep on it.” But even if I hadn’t made a decision in my sleep, I would have still needed to make a choice this morning.

Because I’m tired of being passive-of letting life happen to me.

I want to HAPPEN to LIFE

 

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Chasing Down a Dream

I can put the napkin down…I do not have egg on my face. And I am so relieved.

After highly publicizing my intention to run a 5K race-something I have NEVER done before in my life-yesterday, I did it…and I finished.

With a good luck kiss from my wife, and the encouraging words, “just don’t throw up” echoing in my head from my good friend Rachael, I was off. And my life was changed forever.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You see, when I weighed 360 pounds and I could barely walk up a short flight of stairs without stopping because of severe knee pain and extreme shortness of breath, running a road race wasn’t anywhere on the radar of plans for my life. In fact, I genuinely believe that if I had tried to run at that point, I probably would have had a heart attack.

And I was probably right.

But that was then…In the last four years, I have lost weight…close to 100 pounds.

And with the loss of fat has come a gradual gain in self-confidence.

But it was a series of challenges that brought me to the point where I am able to write this particular blog post:

  • Steve challenged me to run one mile, because he saw my lack of belief in myself;
  • Larry, Bryan, and Mark challenged me to run a 5K with them;
  • And I challenged myself to risk looking like a fool if I failed by telling anyone and everyone who would listen what my goal was.

So here I am, 24 hours later, reflecting on my first 5K. The race route has been cleared, the road has returned to normal, and the only reminders I have of the race are a couple of tired legs, some great memories, and a few nice pictures.

And, oh yeah, I also have more than 100 comments and “likes” on Facebook from well-wishing friends and relatives. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

To be honest, I was a little bit surprised at the massive groundswell of support. People who had friended me and then disappeared from my Facebook feed are popping back up to congratulate me or to tell me that they are inspired to set a similar goal.

You know what that means?

It means that during a time when the stock market is down and gas prices are up…when the politicians on both sides of the aisle can’t stop the attack ads and negative campaigning…when the Middle East situation continues to spiral out of control…

People from all cross-sections of society NEED to hear a feel-good story.

As I ran this race, I was energized by the people along the 3.1 mile route, shouting encouragement, clapping for the runners, handing out cups of water, and even spraying willing runners with a hose to cool them off.

I joked with a couple of people sitting in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway that I would trade places with them if they wanted. They laughed, politely declined, and encouraged us to keep going. As I approached the finish line, the race director was standing at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement, “Keep going! You’re almost there! Good job!”

And then I heard the calls from my friends, my wife, and my kids:

“Keep going, Jon! You can do it! Go Dad! WOO HOO!!!” I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and was immediately mobbed by my favorite people in the world…my family and friends.

With my son, Andrew, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me. 🙂

And as I thanked them for their encouragement, I also thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I could never have done on my own.

So now I have done something I never IMAGINED would be possible…I’m looking for my next challenge…and I’m excited to figure out what it will be.

In the meantime, I am planning to run my next 5K. It’s at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival. And it’s in three weeks.

I guess I better keep running.

Because I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m not willing to chase them down.

 

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It!

I’m experiencing great distress at the moment…

I’m not supposed to feel this way. Today is my day off. I’m sitting in my favorite chair, at my favorite Starbucks. I’m enjoying my favorite cup of coffee, mixed specially by my favorite barista. The sun is shining, the sky is blue…I think I even heard a bird chirp.

None of this matters, because…

The internet is down.

HORRORS!

At first, I thought that it was my computer. I shut it down and restarted it…wouldn’t connect. So I grabbed my iPad, opened it up, and tried to connect.

Nothing…

I feel so lost and alone…disconnected from the outside world. My mind starts to play games…

Maybe it’s a solar flare whose electromagnetic resonance has destroyed the ionosphere, shutting down communication worldwide. I can’t know for sure that this isn’t the case…because I can’t communicate with the outside world.

Oh wait, my cell phone still works…never mind.

Maybe the rapture occurred and I have been left behind.

Probably not…

Maybe the wireless connection at Starbucks is on the fritz…

That’s the most likely scenario.

Whatever the cause, I find it very annoying that I cannot connect to the internet. I have important things to do…

Like defending monkey towers from invading bloons…

Or taking my turn in my latest Scrabble game…

Or even replying to the latest e-mail from that guy in Nigeria who is going to give me $9,000,000…as soon as I send him my social security number.

Yes, I am a very busy guy with very important things to do…

And I need the internet…

SIGH…

Still not connecting.

Guess I’ll do something productive…

What’s this thing in my backpack?

I remember this! I think it’s called a “book.”

I wonder what it’s for…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Focus, Procrastination, Uncategorized

 

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Guess What? I’m GOOD at Something!

If you’re good at something and you know it, is it tacky to acknowledge it?

I’m not suggesting that you display a lack of humility or brag about your abilities. That is clearly rude.

But if you have struggled with self-esteem issues most of your life-if you have honestly felt like you weren’t good at anything-and then evidence begins to mount that suggests that you ARE talented in a certain area, is it okay to accept it? Is it okay to step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I’m good at something!”?

I think it is…

I have faced this struggle for many years.

As a kid, I was frequently picked on and beat up by the neighborhood bullies, no matter where I lived. It seemed like whenever we moved to a new place, the bully radar would go off, and they would come flocking to my front porch.

When you consider that I went to six different schools between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, there were a lot of bullies who took their turns beating me up. As a result, I always suffered from low self-esteem…

And I never believed that I was good at anything.

This belief persisted throughout my youth and early adulthood, and well into my career as an educator. For the first several years of my career, I was a high school teacher in Gary, Indiana. My students all liked me well enough, but I never thought my teaching ability was anything special.

Then I started teaching at a university…what a world of difference that made.

Faculty members at universities are required to focus on three things: research, service to the university, and teaching. It is the utmost desire (read: requirement) of the university administration that each faculty member be very good to excellent in at least two of these three areas. Since I am not a researcher, I have focused on service and teaching.

Since we are “encouraged” to be very good to excellent in these areas, there are a number of metrics that are used to measure our progress toward these goals. We are evaluated every semester by our students, we are required to submit an annual report to the administration that details all of our service, teaching, and research activities for the past calendar year…

And there are awards…

In 2001, one of my students nominated me for the top university teaching award. I decided not to apply. I didn’t think that I could win. Awards were for the really great teachers…

A dear friend, Dr. Robin Hass, encouraged me to apply. She had won the award previously and was the chair for the teaching committee. She told me that she had heard good things about my teaching. Robin was an exceptional teacher for whom I had an enormous amount of respect. I applied, more out of respect for Robin than because I thought I could win.

I won.

I’ll never forget the day that I ran into Robin in the stairwell and she told me that I had won the “Founder’s Day Teaching Award.” I was stunned…I honestly thought that I had no chance to win. And I thought that it was probably a fluke.

But I was grateful.

A year later, I won another teaching award, and a couple of years after that, another. Other faculty members started asking ME if I could observe their classes and write a teaching recommendation letter…even some of the Ph. D.’s! And as I looked at the people who were asking me to write letters for them, I realized that they were people for whom I had a great deal of respect…because they were excellent teachers.

And now, these people that I believed were excellent teachers were asking ME to write THEM letters of recommendation as they applied for other teaching awards, as well as promotion and tenure. Now, I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I could see that there was a connection here: good teachers don’t ask bad teachers to critique their teaching.

So I’m a good teacher…I accept it. And I am grateful for the abilities that God has given me.

And now I seek to serve others through teaching whenever I have the opportunity.

What about you? Do you have a skill, a talent, or a gift that you have never fully shared because you just didn’t think you were really good enough? Are you hiding your abilities from those you might really be able to help because of fear or insecurity?

Keeping our talents to ourselves is selfish…the greatest act of generosity is to give freely, expect nothing in return, and celebrate with the recipient when our gifts are received.

So will you be selfish? Or will you be generous?

Choose. Now.

 

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When You Don’t Feel Like It…

I have a problem…You see, I’m a writer…and a writer is supposed to, well…WRITE. But I’m not feeling inspired to write at the moment…

That’s not exactly the problem. The problem is that, whether I feel INSPIRED or not, I need to write anyway.

And I haven’t been.

You can’t get away with that in most other professions.

For example, just because I don’t feel like teaching my class doesn’t mean that I don’t show up and do it anyway.

If people didn’t show up for work, society would fall apart. Patients would die while their doctors hit the golf course. Retailers would lock their doors because no one came to work to take care of their customers. The transportation system would grind to a halt as drivers and pilots took the day off.

So why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?

Is it because I somehow view my writing as less important? Do I think that what I have to say doesn’t matter?

Or is it because I am just undisciplined…

That’s a statement, not a question.

It also answers the question, “Why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?”

I’m undisciplined. My days blow by without a plan. And, as the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

In a recent blog, Michael Hyatt writes about the importance of getting a handle on his schedule. He even includes a link to an excel file that lays out his “ideal week.” I encourage you to read it. You will benefit immensely, believe me.

What tools are you using to become more productive? Have you ever laid out a picture of your “ideal” day, week, or month? Please feel free to share how you are maximizing your time more effectively.

Because I need all the help I can get.

 

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No Way Out: How I Am Forcing Myself To Be Accountable

The key to accepting responsibility for your life is to accept the fact that your choices, every one of them, are leading you inexorably to either success or failure, however you define those terms.

-Anonymous

I have never been a particularly “self-responsible” person. That’s not to say I do not take responsibility. Most people would say that when I screw up, I will own it. And when I am leading a team and the job doesn’t get done, I take responsibility for getting it done or accepting the consequences of failure.

But when it comes to self-responsibility, I have never been the model to follow. This is evidenced by my repeated failures in the area of personal fitness, my seeming inability to ever satisfactorily close out a project, and my general laziness. Even when I have been in accountability relationships, my accountability partner has usually become tired of trying to keep me motivated. They seem to think that their inability to help me reach the goals to which I am being held accountable means that they have somehow failed…so they give up.

But I have discovered an accountability method that keeps an accountability partner from becoming worn out: I call it “multi-lateral accountability.”

Some people call it “not putting all of your eggs in one basket.” Seth Godin calls it building a “Tribe.” However you want to label it, there really is “strength in numbers.”

Case in point: I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race.

For those who don’t know me, I used to weigh over 360 pounds. I developed diabetes, I could not walk up stairs without huffing and puffing, and I had pretty much resigned myself to a shortened life span because of my obesity. I have since lost 90 pounds, my diabetes is under control (without insulin), and I have a renewed sense of purpose. At one time, the very idea that I would EVER be training to run in any kind of race was laughable.

So, where was I?

Oh yes, I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race….

The key words in this sentence are “widely publicize.”

I didn’t just tell my wife…I didn’t just tell my closest friends…

I posted it on my blog. I made it my status on Facebook…I am telling anyone who asks…I am telling anyone who DOESN’T ask…I’m basically putting myself so far out on a limb that if I DON’T run this race, I will lose all credibility with just about everyone I know…

And even some people I don’t know…

Because, you see, the coolest thing happened to me the other day…

One of my Facebook friends (Mike) “liked” my post…and one of Mike’s Facebook friends-someone I don’t even know (let’s call him Jerry) saw my post. And Jerry wrote me to ask how I was losing weight.

Wow…

Someone I didn’t know wanted to hear my story…

And I couldn’t wait to tell it to him. You know why? Because I’m just an average guy, like everyone else. I have my struggles, like everyone else. Like so many people in our country, I have struggled with obesity, and I never saw a light at the end of the tunnel…I never saw a future where I could ever be anything more than the “beached whale” that so many of my classmates called me in high school.

And then something changed…

And now, someone I have never met has asked me to share with him how I’m doing it.

You know what else is cool?

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to meet “Sam,” another guy that I don’t know. Sam learned about me from another mutual friend, and he is driving up from Lafayette so that we can meet and talk about what I’m doing to get fit.

As I was exercising this morning, I was thinking about all of the people who have been encouraging me, offering me exercise and diet tips, praying for me, and cheering me on (One friend from church even said that she was going to come to the race on August 11th to support me). And I realized that I had never experienced this kind of accountability before. This isn’t a private conversation anymore. This is a developing community of accountability partners who are cheering me on and encouraging me in the fight.

And I want to say thanks.

I also want you to be on the lookout for other people like Jerry and Sam. If you think that they would be encouraged to know how someone else is fighting the same battle, please share this story with them. I want to be able to encourage as many people as I can.

And it never hurts to have a few more accountability partners too. 🙂

 

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