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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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The “Domino” Life

When I was young, I watched a TV special about these guys who wanted to set a world record for tumbling the biggest field of dominoes. They spent weeks and weeks meticulously setting up dominoes, one at a time. If their placement was off at all, it would cause a failure in the pattern, and not all the dominoes would fall. On the other hand, if, during the setup, they accidentally knocked over a domino, it would cause a cascade effect that would cause hundreds of dominoes to fall early. They would frantically find a place to remove a domino somewhere up the line that would stop the untimely chain reaction, and then they would have to clear the fallen dominoes and start to rebuild from the point of failure.

As I reflect on the patience one must have to undertake such an effort, it reminds me of my life. I spend a lot of time trying to maximize my effectiveness in so many areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational…and when one area of my life is not going well, it tends to cascade over into the other areas of my life, like dominoes that aren’t meant to fall until the entire “puzzle” is set up just right.

Recently, I have been struggling mentally. As the summer semester draws to a close, I find myself completely drained. I’m having mental lapses, making careless computational errors (not good when you’re a math teacher!), and just having trouble focusing in general. This has made it difficult to run.

Yes, I said run…

You see, I have come to realize that what everyone says about running really IS true. It’s all mental. In the last couple of months, I have increased my base running distance from one mile to two miles. And it has been that mental focus that has enabled me to do that. Being mentally drained from teaching has made it difficult to run.

Being the emotional person that I am, this has been discouraging for me. I have felt slightly depressed over the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it is rooted in my self-perceived lack of progress with running. I have my first ever 5K in just nine days, and I do not feel ready for it. This makes me worried, draining me emotionally.

Being drained emotionally has made it difficult to give to my family in the way that they need me to. I am a husband and a dad. My wife and kids require and deserve that part of me which meets their emotional needs…and it has been hard to give the way I need to.

And when I am having trouble meeting the demands of life, I often find myself being frustrated with God. I ask Him to give me the capacity to meet the challenges of daily living, and yet, at the end of the day, I look back and see a series of little failures along the way that add up to a non-productive day.

Does anyone see the problem here?

I believe that the victories in life flow from my spiritual relationship with God first and foremost. When I look back at what leads me to ultimate spiritual frustration, I recognize that it is because I am coming to God with the scraps that I have left at the end of the day. And I’m mad that the scraps are not pleasing to God.

My most useful, productive days are those where I place God at the forefront of my day, where He belongs. Drawing on His strength enables me to be more focused and mentally tough. And then, like the fall of the dominoes, the rest of my day cascades into place.

And when the dominoes fall the right way-the way that they are intended to fall-it creates a beautiful design…one that I can look back on and say, “Thanks for using me today, God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Top Tip for Newbie Bloggers With Format Fever

Turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! I know this to be true…because I am that old dog…and I just learned a new trick!

Veteran bloggers will probably scoff at me for this. They have probably known this for years. But I don’t care…because this is something I figured out for myself. And it makes so much sense.

I just finished writing another blog, and I was thinking about how to format it-images, hyperlinks, etc. I was also thinking about how “in the zone” I was at that moment…ready to write some more-brimming over with ideas, and I hated the idea of stopping that flow of ideas to format my next post…

Then it dawned on me…

Why would I stop the creative process to work on the technical aspects of writing? Accessing the creative process is the hardest part of writing for me…and here I am-staunching the flow of ideas to insert some html for a post that was already “in the can.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid…

It makes more sense to “open the floodgates” and let the words flow fast and furious…maybe I’ll write 2 more blogs…maybe I’ll write ten. But I can format them at the same time and schedule them at my convenience…

After the flow of words starts to slow.

LESSON FOR THE DAY

Don’t slow the flow…when you’re ready to grow, you’ve got to let it go. Then you’ll have something to show. And all your friends will say, “WHOA.” And your foes will say, “OH NO.”

Okay, that was really lame…maybe I should have slowed the flow a little sooner.

Anyway, write as much as you can when the creative juices are flowing. You can always format later.

The End.

🙂

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Focus, Self-discipline, Writing

 

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Teach your Children Well…


In the classic film, A League of Their Own, Manager Jimmy Dugan, a washed up, alcoholic, former major leaguer, is hired to manage a traveling women’s baseball team during World War Two. At the height of the movie, Dugan, played by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, explodes on his right fielder for making a bad throw. She responds by bursting into tears, eliciting Dugan’s now famous rant: “ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”

I’m no Jimmy Dugan. And I don’t coach baseball. But I learned one very important thing this afternoon…

There IS crying in SOFTball. A LOT of it…at least when you coach 10-12 year-old girls.

I’m not denigrating my team. I love these girls. And I may have learned more about leadership in one afternoon on the softball field than I did from all the speakers at the daylong leadership conference I attended the day before.

But there was a LOT of crying.

We got beat. 17-4. It was not pretty. It can’t be when you lose 17-4. But it was an incredible learning and growing experience…

For me…

I learned that there are a lot of parents who apparently derive their own sense of self-worth from the successes (or failures) of their children. I watched my third baseman make the RIGHT PLAY with a runner on 3rd, but because she did not make a good throw, her parents yelled at her that she should have made a different play…

Even though it would have been the wrong play to make.

My third baseman was in tears.

My catcher was in tears because she asked her mom to stop yelling about the misplays…to which the mom responded, “FINE! I’m never coming to another one of your games ever again!” before stomping off to the concession stand.

My catcher was in tears…

I saw my own daughter miss a couple of balls at first base. She tried…but she missed them.

She was in tears.

I saw a girl strike out, but she forgot to run when the catcher dropped the ball. You can run on a dropped third strike in softball. Everyone was yelling at her, she became confused…and burst into tears.

I saw my shortstop burst into tears of anger because the other team kept their best pitcher in the game for another inning, even after we were losing by 13 runs.

Yes, I saw a lot of crying in softball today.

But you know what else I saw?

I saw a catcher who fired up her team with motivating words when the score was getting out of control. I saw one of the youngest, and least experienced, players on the team start a rally by running as fast as she could to eke out an infield single. I saw the girls start to get excited as a few runs came across the plate. I saw a player hit a two-run double and stand on second base with her arms raised in triumph. I saw my own daughter make a couple of very nice plays at first base. And I saw a lot of the critical parents start to cheer.

What are we teaching our kids?

Are we teaching them that the only time to encourage them and root for them is when they are doing well? Are we instilling in them the idea that success, not honest effort, is the most important thing to be gained? Are we seeing our own failures in our children when they fail? Are we making it about OUR success, instead of about THEIR fun?

I used to be that way…When my kids would succeed, I felt like I had succeeded. And when they failed, I felt like I had failed. And no one wants to fail. So I would get mad at them because they had made me look bad. I took it personally when my son would lose a match in Tae Kwan Do, or when my kids would make a bad play or not run in soccer or baseball.

And then I started coaching kids’ softball.

And I came to realize that the kids just want to have fun. Most of them want to get better, hit the ball farther, run faster, and score more runs…but they mainly want to have fun. And we, as the adults, have made it all about winning.

I’m as guilty as every other parent.

After the game, I sat in a circle in the outfield with the team and we talked about the game. One of the girls suggested that we go around the circle and have each person say something good that one of the other players did during the game. It was a sweet time. Some of the girls were shy…some of them repeated what another player had said.

But they were a team. And they were encouraging one another.

I know that there are some parents who probably wish I was a more aggressive, “in your face” kind of coach. I question whether I need to be more hard-nosed. I hear the coaches of the other team yelling at their players, and I wonder if I’m not getting the best athletic performance out of my players because I’m not tougher with the players.

But one mom came up to me after the game was over-after all the players had left and I was shoving equipment into the bag, and she said six words that meant the world to me.

She said, “I’m so glad you’re their coach.” She emphasized the word “you’re.”

Being aggressive and “in your face?” That’s just not my personality. I am an encourager. I like to motivate people, and I like to help them recognize the situations that they are in so that they can plan their next steps.

And I’m okay with that.

There will be those people who are not fans of my coaching style…Most of those people are parents.

But when I took my third baseman by the shoulders, looked her in the eye and told her, “You made the right play. Don’t let anyone…ANYONE tell you otherwise,” she started to cry again.

Except this time, they were tears of relief.

And seeing her accept that was more important than winning a softball game will ever be.

 

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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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The Quest for Mental Toughness

Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, defined Mental Toughness as “sacrifice and self-denial combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”

I know many who fit this definition. Among them are cancer survivors, pilots, businessmen, marathon runners, sky divers, pastors, missionaries, scientists, professors, rugby players, professional speakers, authors, actors, and soldiers. They come from diverse backgrounds, experiencing life in its many facets, drawing from their experiences and sharpening their minds and their bodies, refusing to give in to the obstacles that they face, and overcoming them through sheer self-discipline. They believe without a doubt that they can accomplish their objective, and, invariably, they do so…because they will themselves to do it. They are mentally tough.

I am not mentally tough.

I am usually the first person to quit when things start to get hard. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…and I get going in the other direction. I want to be comfortable, and pushing myself beyond my limits is not comfortable.

So I stop.

I have always believed that being mentally tough is something that you are “born with…” that it is just a part of how you are wired from birth. Those of us who don’t have it can never get it, and those who DO have it will always come out ahead of those of us who do not. It’s the way of life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My friend Steve pushed me back hard on that idea. Steve falls into a few of the aforementioned categories, and I have always admired his ability to get things done. I have also felt a little envious of his ability to set and accomplish goals. He is currently training to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and he recently passed the six mile mark in his training schedule. When I commented that I had never run a mile in my life-and that there is no way I could ever do so-he said, “Oh, yeah, you could run a mile. Running is all mental. You just have to put your mind to it.” (I found that humorous, because whenever I see someone running, they are using their legs…but I digress.)

He pointed out that the “pain” one usually associates with running is really just fatigue. And telling yourself that you are not in pain, but that you are just tired, is a mindset that you have to develop. “It’s all about becoming mentally tough,” Steve said.

Last month, shortly after Steve issued his challenge, I ran my first mile. I can now consistently run two miles (I topped out at 2.3 miles this week). My first 5K is in four weeks, so I am right on target to make my goal of 3.1 miles.

You know what I have discovered since I started running a month ago?

I AM mentally tough…because the first ½ mile of every run is the worst part of the whole experience. My calves start to burn, I get winded, my knees tighten up a little bit…

And I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But then I remind myself that I have already done it many times…that I’m not really in pain…only a little fatigued…and I push through it. This happens every time I run.

And every time I reach a pass a previous running milestone and venture into the new territory of a longer distance than I have ever run before, I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But I push ahead anyway.

Running has strengthened my mind…something I never thought possible.

And it has opened up a world of new possibilities.

What are some of the areas in your life where you need to become mentally tough? How are you strengthening your mind? I really want to know.

Because becoming mentally tough is a new challenge for me.

And I need the help of my friends to build up my brain muscles!

 

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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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