The 3 People We Need In Our Lives

We hear a lot about “mentors” these days.

It’s a great idea, because there are people who know more than we do about a lot of things – including life in general.

We’re encouraged in articles, blogs, sermons and podcasts to find someone in that position, and try to develop a mentoring relationship with them. They agree to meet with us on a regular basis, and we learn from them and grow faster.

They’re the mentor. We’re the mentee.

It’s a fast-track to growth and success.

I’m a huge fan of the process, and have been in both roles over the years.

But sometimes, expectations can be misplaced. I’ve seen mentoring relationships where it’s one-sided, where the mentor is expected to give and the mentee is expected to receive.  The mentoring flows downward, from them to us.  It becomes more of a transaction than a relationship.

But that’s not how real life works. One-way relationships aren’t real, and they don’t last.

I not sure that mentoring only takes place from older to younger, from wiser to less experienced, from successful to a starter.

I think it happens when different people do life together.

Mentoring takes place any time two people come together in a real relationship, and have the humility to learn from each other. We’ve all had experiences that another person hasn’t had.  When we just simply listen to each other, we become different people.

It’s not a formal structure; it’s organic. It just happens because we care.

I’m not against formal mentoring at all. But if that’s the only way we define it, I wonder if we’re losing some priceless opportunities to impact others – and be impacted by them.

The purpose of a mentoring relationship is to “get better” and grow. Having (or being) a formal mentor is one great way to do that.  But in addition, there are three other people we need to have in our lives:

  • Someone we can follow – maybe someone older who’s further ahead on the path.
  • Someone we can walk with – a friend who’s in the same life stage we are.
  • Someone who we could lead – a person who is younger and further back on the path.

We’d revise the idea of just one person pouring into another person. It would involve just being friends – and changing because we’re traveling together.

Someone said that if two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary

So what if we intentionally connected with others who are at different stages on the journey, and just walked with them?

Maybe we’d all get better.

 

Thoughts?

The One Problem with Mockingbirds

It’s June in Southern California.  That means it’s mockingbird time.

As we sat on the patio for dinner tonight, a mockingbird serenaded us.  I’m always amazed, because they have so many different songs in their repertoire. They’ve been created with the ability to “mock” other birds, duplicating up to 200 different calls – clearly and loudly.

It’s the aviary version of having a Kindle.  You get hundreds of bird calls for the price of a single bird.

Turns out it’s all about romance.  Most often, it’s the male that makes the most noise, trying to attract the attention of the females.  They often sit on the peak of a roof or the highest branch of a tree.  They want to be seen, and they want to be heard.  They’re not shy about advertising their presence.

Sounds like some guys you’ve known, right?

During the day, it’s amazing to listen to.  I often take my work outside so I can hear the serenade.  It doesn’t get much better than that, listening to a bird do exactly what it was created to do – and do it well.

But there’s a problem: They often sing all night, too.

At 3:00 AM, I’m not nearly as amazed.  Their song isn’t very relaxing when I’m trying to sleep. It’s very well done, but I don’t care.  I want it to stop.

It’s all about timing.

That’s true with people, too.

We have a lot of things to say – words we think others will want to hear.  Sometimes, it’s exactly what they need – and they appreciate those words.  But sometimes, those good words are spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances:

  • Giving advice when someone just needs a listening ear.
  • Suggesting solutions when someone just needs empathy.
  • Focusing on our own problems without noticing the pain in another person.
  • Making it all about us instead of about them.
  • Assuming that they want our opinion instead of seeking their perspective.
  • Talking about tough stuff first thing in the morning when they’re a night person (or vice-versa).

See the common thread?  It’s listening.

Too many people are like mockingbirds – talking all the time, sharing their opinions from the rooftop, hoping to attract the attention of anyone who will listen.  But when we talk before we listen, we can’t discern when our words are needed.

That can be irritating.

Someone said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

In fact, the biblical book of Proverbs reinforces the importance of timely communication:

  • “Wise people always think before they speak, so what they say is worth listening to.”
  • “Fools have no desire to learn; they would much rather give their own opinion.”
  • “It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.”
  • “A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up.”
  • “Observe the people who always talk before they think; even simpletons are better off than they are.”

We all think we have good things to say, and that other people need to hear them.  It’s probably true.

But listening is what gives us an audience with others.  It builds trust and credibility, and we earn the right to share.

Mockingbirds don’t know any better.

But we should – and can.

Go listen to someone today that you really care about.  Don’t have an agenda; just listen.  Period.

They might actually want to hear what you have to say.

Introverts Don’t Need to Be Healed

I was always intimidated by Jack Barnes.

Jack was the quarterback on our high school football team. Tall, good-looking and always had the right thing to say. Nice guy.  Articulate.

I was short and played in the band, and never knew what to say.

Jack and I would talk occasionally, and I was always amazed at how quickly he could think on his feet. He would ask me what I thought about something, and my mind would go blank.

That is, until about 30 minutes later. Then I had the perfect response.

I wasn’t shy; I just couldn’t think fast enough. I was tongue-tied when a teacher called on me for an answer. I couldn’t hold my own in tough conversations, and always came in last during debates.

I thought there was something wrong with me, and I needed healing. Jack never seemed to mind. I felt intimidated, but he was a good guy and always overlooked it.

So I went to the bookstore to see if there were any books on effective communication. There were, but they were mostly filled with tips and techniques for becoming more assertive and bold.

I felt like these books were written by Jack, teaching me how to communicate more like he did.

It was like a bird teaching a turtle the best way to get around.  If I was going to be successful, I had to become more like him.

Years later, I discovered the truth: I was a practicing introvert, while Jack was an extrovert.

It didn’t have anything to do with being outgoing or not. It’s about how we process information, and where we get our energy

Extroverts think by talking. They form their thoughts aloud, shaping their ideas as they come out.  Introverts think first, then talk. They need time to process their ideas before expressing them.

Extroverts usually think faster. Introverts usually think deeper.

Extroverts go to a party, wondering how many people they can talk to before it’s over. Introverts pick one person they can have a deep conversation with for the next hour.

When an extrovert is in a noisy crowd, their energy rises – and it’s depleted when they’re alone. An introvert can function in a crowd for a while, but it drains them – and they need time alone to recharge.

Here’s the problem: Extroverts seem to have it easier in society, and introverts wish they could become more like them.

But we need both.

Jonathan Rauch, a columnist for Atlantic Monthly, said that introverts are “among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.”

Healing an introvert is like an oak tree becoming a sailboat. It’s just not going to happen, and will lead to frustration if we keep trying.

Instead, we need to celebrate our strengths. I couldn’t imagine participating in a political debate.  But give me a couple of days to put my thoughts in writing, and I’m all in.

We need proficient talkers in society. But we also need reflective thinkers. Together, we can take a synergistic approach to solving the world’s problems.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s OK that I don’t have quick answers. I’ve learned to say, “Hmmm . . . that’s really an interesting perspective.  I’m going to have to think through that before I respond.  Let’s revisit this the next time we talk, OK?”

Jack Barnes passed away recently. I really wish we could have had a few more conversations.  I think we both would have enjoyed the dialogue – in our own, unique way.

Someone said, “God don’t make no junk.”

‘Nuff said.

 

If you feel like you’re at a disadvantage because you’re an introvert, there are several recent resources that celebrate the value of the quieter temperament. My two favorites are Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — and Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

You Can’t Rush Change

When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a tiny, old cottage in Redondo Beach, California. We painted the house, put in a lawn, and planted flowers. The soil was rich and loamy, and everything we planted flourished.

We assumed it was because we were such good gardeners.

Two years later, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. We moved into a new home in the desert and assumed our gardening skills would transfer there. But the clay soil was like concrete. I had to buy a pick just to break up the ground enough to plant snapdragons (they died).

Our intentions were good, but we knew nothing about growing things in the desert.

We needed help.

“Citrus,” the nurseryman said, “grows great in Arizona.” So we bought an orange tree, a lemon tree, and a grapefruit tree. We dug the holes, added the mulch and nutrients, and planted the trees. We watered them and waited, anticipating the day when we would serve fresh-picked fruit to friends on our patio for breakfast.

The trees grew well, but there wasn’t any fruit. The same thing happened the next year. We had lush foliage but nothing to show for all our work. So we went back to the nursery for advice.

“Time,” the nurseryman said. “It can take three years for fruit to appear on newly planted citrus trees in Arizona.” That wasn’t the answer I was hoping for, but it gave me hope. That second year, we had one small orange, a couple of anorexic lemons, and one Texas-sized grapefruit. But the third year, the sweet smell of citrus blossoms gave way to dozens of fruit on each tree.

During those initial years, I really wanted the fruit and it was hard to wait. I could have gone to the grocery store and purchased a bag of oranges, a bag of lemons, some grapefruit, and a roll of tape, and just taped the fruit onto the trees. Then I could honestly say there was fruit on my trees.

But I would be rushing the end result, which would have defeated the purpose of the tree.

Trees aren’t supposed to display fruit; they’re supposed to produce it.

As much as I wanted to see results, I knew that I had to wait. The tree had to become healthy and mature before it could produce the fruit, and that takes time.

That’s true in our relationships as well. We would love to see people “shape up” and fix the problems in their lives right away. But it takes time for real change to take place, if it happens at all.

To keep from being emotionally trapped and frustrated by other people’s lack of progress, we need to accept the reality that growth and healing often take time.

Comedian Bob Newhart once did a classic routine where he played the part of a psychologist. Every time the woman in his office began describing her symptoms and phobias, Newhart would yell, “Stop it!” That was his solution to every problem: “Just stop it!”

We love watching that in a comedy routine, but it’s probably because we recognize that tendency in our own lives. We see someone trapped in a behavior that’s causing pain for themselves and everyone around them, and we think, “Why can’t they just see what they’re doing and STOP IT?”

But we also know from personal experience that it’s almost impossible to just stop something that has been a pattern in our lives for years. Once a pattern has taken root in our lives, it’s like yanking a fifty-year-old oak tree out of the ground. It’s possible, but it takes time and usually involves dealing with one root at a time.

Got someone in your life that bugs you, and you just wish they could get their act together?

Give ‘em time. Give ‘em grace.  Don’t let your happiness depend on them changing, because there’s a good chance it won’t happen.

Instead, work on changing the one person you have control over:

You.

Give yourself time. Give yourself grace.

Work on the inside, and the outside will take care of itself.

Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.

——————–

That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

How You Can Change the Nation in 4 Years

The US Presidential election is over.

There are millions of people who are extremely happy.

There are millions of people who are extremely discouraged.

This country was founded on the right to think and feel differently.  That means it’s OK to disagree with each other.  “Free speech” in a democracy has always allowed people to hold different opinions without forcing them to change their perspectives.

But that’s changed.

We’ve come to a place where there are only two options for dealing with people we disagree with:

  • We’re afraid of them.
  • We hate them.

We’ve lost that ability to still have healthy relationships with people who we disagree with.  We’ve lost honest dialog and conversation.  We’re talking more and listening less.

We’ve stopped loving.

Today, we begin a new season for our country.  It’s more divided than it’s ever been.  Tolerance is no longer about people thinking differently; it’s become about people villainizing others that they disagree with.  It’s magnified in the media, as divisiveness is seen as the new normal.

It’s easy to feel hopeless: “What difference can I make?  I’m only one person.”

But that’s the only way change ever takes place – when individuals start making different choices.

Want the next four years to look different?  It can . . . and it starts with individuals.

It starts with you. And me.

What if we found someone we strongly disagreed with on some major issue, and took them out for coffee?  Not to change their mind, but simply to have human moments with another traveler?

What if we looked at their heart instead of their opinions?

What if we saw them as someone with God-given value, instead of a project to argue into submission?

What if we just cared about them – period?

If we do it with one person, it can change that relationship.  When it does, it gives us both permission to try it with others.

It can spread – one relationship at a time.

Society isn’t changed by angry demonstrations where people try to out-shout each other.  It’s changed when we treat others in the exact way we would like to be treated.

It’s called the Golden Rule.  And it’s been around for a really long time, because it works.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” He wasn’t kidding.

Try it with one person on the “other side” of your perspective.  Just one.  Listen to them, love on them, and enjoy them in spite of their position. Agree to disagree, because the relationship is more important than the issue.

It’s the way for us – as individuals – to make a serious difference in society over the next four years, no matter what happens in Washington.

 

Share this with your “tribe.”  Try it yourself, then come back here and share the results.

You Can’t Rush Carrots

When my daughter, Sara was about three years old, she wanted to plant a garden.

I’ve always enjoyed planting things and watching them grow. Sara enjoyed being my helper as we watered and pulled weeds and harvested a little crop, so it made sense that she’d want to try it on her own.

“Carrots,” she said. “I want to plant carrots.”

I’m not sure she even liked carrots. But they were easy to grow and they were fun.  We could watch the green sprouts appear, then turn into a soft, dense plant.

At harvest time, the magic would happen. Yank out the green plant, and a bright orange carrot would appear.

So we bought carrot seeds. She dug a long little trench with her finger, then carefully and evenly spaced the tiny seeds.  She covered them with dirt, patted them down, and used her little watering can to give them their first drink.

Then she waited.

Every day, she would go out and check on her carrots. She made sure the ground was moist so the seeds could wake up underground.

A week went by. No sprouts.

Two weeks went by. No sprouts.

I’m sure it must have been discouraging, but we had talked about how long it would take for those sprouts to appear. She knew that it might be close to three weeks.

Every day, she would toddle out to the garden to check on her babies. I could see her out the kitchen window, standing with her hands on her hips as if to say, “Well? Are you coming up, or not?”

A few days later it happened. “Daddy! Come look!”

Sure enough, there were tiny spears of green that had broken through the surface. Her patience had paid off in a long row of green fuzz.

They grew quickly, and Sara kept asking, “Is it time?” I reminded her that the patience she used to wait for those little sprouts would be necessary before harvest.

But something was wrong.

The green tops at one end of the row were starting to whither. As the days progressed, it seemed like they were dying gradually, starting from one end of the row and moving to the other.

Was it gophers? Was it something in the soil? Was it some type of fungus or insect?

A few days later, looking out the kitchen window, I found the culprit.

Sara was kneeling in the garden, doing her daily inspection. She reached down to the next “healthy” carrot, yanked it out of the ground, examined it to see if it was “done” yet . . . then stuck it back in the soil.

She couldn’t wait. She had to know.  And in the process, it disturbed the growing process.

People are like that, too.

  • We want healthy relationships, but the other person doesn’t cooperate.
  • We want our toddlers to quit having tantrums.
  • We really want our teenagers to mature and act like humans.
  • We want our spouse to realize how much those little habits drive us crazy, and we want them to stop.
  • We want our friends to get through the things in life they’re stuck on.

But we can’t rush growth. If we try, we only get frustrated.

All of us are on a life journey. We know how hard it is to change ourselves, and wish it would happen faster. So why are we so impatient with others when they don’t make the changes that seem so obvious to us?

Because growth is a process.

So how do we handle our frustration with that process, in ourselves and others?

I think it’s a two-part perspective:

  1. Loving people (including ourselves) completely where they are right now.
  2. Not giving up on their growth.

If we miss the “loving” part, they become a project. If we miss the “not giving up” part, we lose our influence.

Green tops means we’re growing. But the bright orange takes time.

Got somebody you’re frustrated with? Tell them today that you love them. Tell them today that you believe in them.

It’ll help them grow a little taller tomorrow.

 

 

A Different Approach to the New Year

As I was scanning my email this morning, I expected to see a lot of posts on New Year’s resolutions . . . and I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a common theme, of course.  No matter how last year went, there’s something “fresh” about January 1st.

If we had a good year, we want to make it better.  If we had a crummy year, we want a “do-over.”

So everybody has ideas on how to make resolutions stick, and they post them online.

I saw one that said we should only have one goal for the year.  Another said we need multiple goals, but need to prioritize them.  Others talked about setting goals, but then ignoring them and focusing on the activities that will get you there.

Who do we believe?  And how come we keep trying every year, but never quite succeeding?

I think it has to do with willpower.

dog_and_cat_at_table“Resolution” comes from the word “resolve.”  I looked resolve up in the dictionary.  It said:

To decide firmly on a course of action.

That’s willpower.

Willpower means we think, “I just need to make a promise to myself to do better, starting on January 1.”

So between now and then, we binge on bad choices.  After all, it’s our last chance to eat the things we’ll never eat again, buying things we’ll never buy again, and doing things we’ll never do again.  We know our bad habits are going to be conquered soon, so we don’t try to control them.

It’s our Mardi Gras before lent – a chance to live the way we want before the restrictions start.  We don’t have to exercise willpower for a few days, because we know it’ll soon take over our lives.

But there’s a problem . . .

It means we’re committing to pain, starting on January 1.  Willpower means we can’t do what we really want to do.  It’s a total commitment to the negative.

Willpower means committing to eating celery in a room filled with freshly-cooked bacon.

That can’t last very long, and it usually doesn’t.  A month from now, the bacon will still smell amazing – and the celery will be . . . well, celery.

So, what’s the alternative? 

Reframing the whole concept of New Year’s resolutions.

There are habits that need to be broken and changes you really want to make in your life.  That’s OK – but don’t make those your resolutions.  Work on those later in the year.

Look at New Year’s resolutions as a chance to make a few simple tweaks in your life, not a major overhaul.  Pick 2-3 things that you could do that would be sustainable, and that would actually make a difference over time.

A few tips:

Make positive resolutions. Sure, bacon isn’t the best for you – and you might want to deal with that later.  But for a New Year’s resolution, decide to drink 8 glasses of water every day.  It takes less willpower to add something positive than to eliminate something negative.

Track choices, not results.  If you want to lose weight, don’t focus on the scale – that only reflects what you’ve already done.  Focus on behaviors that you can control, like walking 10 miles this next week. You can’t control the past, but you can make choices about the future.

Start today.  January 1 is an artificial date; why not start today?  Pick two or three simple things you’d like to make a pattern in your life, then start immediately.

No, it won’t feel the same as in past years.  But how effective have these annual do-overs been in the past? You’ll be giving up the traditional resolutions, but doing something that might actually stick.

Maybe it’s time for a new way of jump-starting your success!

 

What simple thing could you commit to in this next year?  Comment below . . .

Don’t Let Your Crazy Person Ruin Your Holidays

Who irritates you the most?

Don’t overthink this . . . but who’s the first person that pops onto your radar that makes you frown instead of smile? I’m not thinking of public figures or politicians that drive you crazy (that’s another blog post). This is someone you know personally:

  • An overbearing friend.
  • An extended family member that you’ll see at a holiday meal.
  • A boss or co-worker that drains the energy out of you.
  • Your teenager who seems to be in the “pre-people” stage of development.
  • Your spouse – who changed since your married them.

Got them in mind?

OK – how do you feel when you think about them? If it’s negative, you might have given them control over your emotions. They can’t ruin your life unless you let them.

We have the ability to choose our how we respond in any situation. It just seems tougher when we see them often, like barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner.  We feel like there’s no escape from their craziness.

So how can you begin taking control? Here’s one simple place to start, and you can do it today:

  1. Write down the five things that bug you most about them. Seriously – write them down.
  2. Ask yourself if you can change those things. Probably not. It’s hard enough to change ourselves, much less someone else.
  3. Now write down five strengths that person has – things you’d be grateful for if the negatives weren’t there.

Those things that irritate us might be accurate. But focusing only on those things gives us a lopsided view of another person.

The best people have faults, and the worst people have strengths.

We need to see both.

stainsFocusing on the negatives is like seeing dark stains on a white sheet. When we focus on the stains, we don’t even notice the rest of the sheet.  The stains are real, but so is the sheet.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the negatives.

But they lose some of their power when we see the whole person, not just their issues.

Will this solve the problem? Probably not.  But it can give us perspective.

Try it before they show up during holiday celebrations.

You might just feel a little more in control – and you won’t have someone else ruin your holidays.

 

How do you keep your sanity when others try to steal it from you?  Share below in comments . . .

How to Actually Change the World

When my son, Tim was about 10 years old, we went to a sporting goods store and tried on ski goggles. Each one had a different color lens.

The clerk suggested that amber-colored lenses gave the best visibility in poor weather conditions, such as fog or haze. When I put them on, the entire store became brighter and sharper.

The problem was that everything was yellow.

We tried on other pairs of goggles, and found that the color of the lens impacted how we saw things. Red goggles made everything red; blue goggles made everything blue.

Tim put on blue lenses, and I put on red. I saw a jacket on a rack across the room and said, “Tim – what color is that jacket?”

“It’s blue,” he said.

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s red.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “It is not.  It’s blue.”

Finally, we took off our goggles.

The jacket was white.

kids-gogglesWhen we looked through those lenses, we were actually seeing the jacket in those colors. We believed we were right.  We couldn’t understand why the other person didn’t see it the same way, because it was so obvious.  We could have argued all day, trying to convince each other of our position.

But the lenses didn’t change the reality.

The jacket was still white.

Sound familiar? When we have people in our lives that we disagree with, we’re often on a mission to convince them that their position is wrong, and ours is right. We use logic and passion to explain why our position makes so much sense. We do it on Facebook and politics and marriages and work relationships.

They do the same thing with us.

How many times has your mind been changed in that way? Probably none.  We want to get our point across, so we say it louder or use more logic.

But as someone once said, “If I believe I’m right, do I really want your opinion?”

We’re not caring about the other person. We’re only focused on getting them to change and agree with us.

Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening.

On the other hand, think about a time when someone deeply listened to you. They didn’t agree with your position, but they let you talk.  They gave you a chance to share your position instead of forcing theirs. They gave up their agenda of changing you and switched to an agenda of caring about you.

They looked through your lenses.

How did that feel?

When we listen, it builds trust.

When trust is built, relationships grow.

When relationships grow, we feel safe looking through each other’s lenses. We can still disagree, but it doesn’t divide us.

It connects us – and opens the door for genuine dialogue.

Want to make a difference in the world today?

Talk less. Listen more.

Make it your mission to love somebody, no matter what they think.

Maybe they’ll do it back.

Are You Talking to an Extrovert or an Introvert?

A Simple Test

Fifteen years ago, you didn’t hear much about introverts.

Everybody assumed that extroverts had better social skills, and that introverts were shy and needed to be healed. It seemed like they were lacking the tools to function well in society.

But in 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an essay for The Atlantic that went viral (before we knew what that meant).  He said that introverts make up 25% of the population, but are among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America – possibly the world.

He put words to what introverts were thinking, and started the dialogue. That was followed by Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World that showed how introverts had a distinct place in society.

  • Extroverts tended to think faster, but introverts think deeper.
  • Extroverts are like solar panels – energized by group interaction. Introverts are like rechargeable batteries – they recharge when they’re alone, which allows them to function in groups.
  • Extroverts tend to think by talking. Introverts think before talking.

In 2013, Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It quickly hit the bestseller list, because introverts were given a voice.  She told us that introverts had the strongest role in making a society solid, and they could make a serious difference in the world.

It’s a great book, if you haven’t read it. She’s the voice that extroverts are actually listening to, and her TED talk is a now a classic.

I’ve written a lot about introverts and extroverts in my books. As a practicing introvert, I’ve learned that we can actually celebrate the way we’re wired.  We have no desire to become extroverts, because it robs the world of our unique contribution.

Relationships get interesting when you mix and match temperaments.

  • Put two extroverts together, and the energy is nonstop.
  • Put two introverts together, and the connection runs deep.
  • Put an introvert and an extrovert together and it’s . . . well, interesting. If they don’t value the differences, they’ll be constantly frustrated with each other. If they learn to celebrate those differences, the potential exists for a world-class relationship.

So, how can you tell if someone is an introvert or an extrovert?

eye-contact-1Pick up Cain’s book or read Rauch’s article and you’ll gain a wealth of wisdom on the topic.  They’re a great overview to understanding the differences.

But here’s one simple thing you can do to test it out in a conversation.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s an interesting place to start.

The next time you’re sitting across a table from someone at Starbucks or a restaurant, observe their eye contact.

  • Extroverts usually make really good eye contact with you while they’re talking, and tend to look around more when they’re listening.
  • Introverts tend to break eye contact when they’re the ones talking, but give solid eye contact when they’re listening.

Why? Because we make eye contact when we’re comfortable. 

When an extrovert is talking, she’s in her “sweet spot.” It’s what she does best, so it’s natural to focus her attention on the other person.

When an introvert is listening, that’s her unique sweet spot for the same reason.

Like I said, it’s only a place to start. Observe someone for a while, then talk together about it.  Ask them to do the same for you.

Isnt’ that what healthy conversation is based on?

Paying attention to each other, and talking.

Sounds like a good reason to go to Starbucks . . .

How Will You Be Remembered?

I lost at Monopoly.

And I loved it.

Last weekend, our 11-year old granddaughter, Averie spent the weekend with us. We rotate having all three grandkids, and it was her turn.

It was an amazing weekend.

We finished a jigsaw puzzle.

She and I went to Starbucks at 6:00 AM, and sat outside and just talked while the sun came up. Then we went out to breakfast.

We went to a home and garden show.

She and Grandma made a “spa day,” then worked on sewing a skirt together.

She baked. She drew.

Then we played Monopoly.

monopolyMost people either love Monopoly or hate it. In our extended family, Averie and I are the only ones who really like playing it. She got out the board, set everything up, and the three of us sat down to play.

She managed to buy every property on the cheapest row – from Mediterranean Avenue to Connecticut Avenue. She quickly put up hotels on each property.  They must have been really nice hotels, because I stayed at all of them multiple times.

I managed to buy every property on the most expensive row – from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk. I couldn’t buy hotels because I kept spending my money to stay at Averie’s hotels.

Averie won. Grandma and I lost.

It was awesome.

Partway through the game, Averie told us about playing a video version of Monopoly with a friend. She described all the things that happened that were unique.

“When you land on “Go to jail,” a big cage slams down over you,” she said. “Then a crane picks you up and carries you across the board to the jail square.”  She described how different characters move across the virtual board, and the cool things that happen when you draw cards.

It sounded great, and I’d love to try it with her. It would be fun to play it like that and see the clever things they’ve built into the game.

I thought about that for a few minutes, and realized that I’d still rather play the board game.

  • When you’re playing a video game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at a screen.
  • When you’re playing a board game, you can still talk – but you’re looking at each other.

I realized why I love playing Monopoly so much that day – because of the dynamics that happen between the people who are playing.

Whenever Averie made a good move, she would glance up at us to see how we were reacting.

We made eye contact. We laughed.  We talked.

We were playful about our facial expressions, acting frustrated when someone hopped right over our best property.

We were being entertained by each other, not distracted by animation.

I spend my life looking at screens. I’m looking at one right now while I’m writing this.  For many of us, it’s our default setting.

Screens aren’t bad. But someday when I’m gone, I don’t want Averie’s mental image of me to be where I’m looking at a screen.

I want her to remember me looking in her eyes.

Producers of video content know exactly how to grab our attention with the right kind of graphics and movement and content. It’s not that it’s bad – but it can easily distract us from what matters most in our lives.

Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

We focus on the things that we love and value the most.

Where are you looking?

How will the most important people in your life remember you?

Maybe it’s time to play Monopoly with someone who means the world to you . . .

What Cows Can Teach Us About Tough Conversations

I don’t know much about cows, except that they seem really peaceful when I see them on the side of a hill munching grass.

Low stress. No hurry.  They’re just enjoying being cows.

But they don’t like rain.

The other day, I read about a rancher in a Midwestern rural community who has hundreds of cows. His cows roam freely over miles of pastureland, and they lead pretty comfortable lives.

At certain times of the year, cloudbursts come through on a regular basis. They only last about five minutes, and they move pretty slowly.

But the cows don’t like those mini-storms. So they try to run away from them.

The problem is, cows don’t run very fast.

The storms don’t move very fast.

So the cows run along with the storm, and they get soaked a lot longer. If they just stood still, the storm would be uncomfortable – but it would be over a lot quicker as it moved over them.  By running with the storm, they prolong the pain.

Relationships are like that.

When there’s something uncomfortable that needs to be addressed, we don’t look forward to it. We put off talking about it.  We procrastinate. We hope it’ll just get better.

The longer we put it off, the more it grows – and the worse it becomes.

By putting off the tough conversation, we prolong the discomfort.

We run with the storm.

It’s uncomfortable to deal with tough issues when they first surface, but it’s the best time to address them. If we wait, it always gets worse.

Issues that are procrastinated on are always magnified.

Cow runningAre you dreading a tough conversation? Now’s the time to make it happen.

Don’t be a cow.

Don’t run with the storm.

Deal with it now, and it you’ll get past it more quickly.

Maybe it’s time to mooooove into the conflict.

(Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

For Women Only . . .

"I Wish He Had Come with Instructions"

Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of do-it-yourself furniture. It’s become a familiar process:

  • Open the box
  • Look for the instructions
  • Lay out all the pieces
  • Try to follow the instructions
  • Get frustrated
  • Eat cookies

The instructions read as though they were written by someone who had never seen the actual pieces. Their “step-by-step” process becomes more like “stop-by-stop.”  We think, If I stay focused, I’ll figure it out.

But it doesn’t happen.

Women – does it ever feel like the same thing is true of men? You find one you like, and the picture on the box looks promising.  But when you look inside, there are no instructions.

“That’s OK,” you think. “He comes preassembled.” You won’t need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

But it’s not just the instruction manual that’s missing. There’s also no operation manual to describe how he works:

  • You can’t find the power button.
  • He turns on all by himself at random times and turns off suddenly when you least expect it.
  • He usually seems to work OK, but there seems to be no way to control him.

Most of the time he does what you expect him to do. But there are those unexpected times when he doesn’t cooperate.  You think he’ll help with the housework, but instead he plops down on a couch and plows through a bag of Cheetos while watching people run around a field on a big screen.

That’s when you notice the warning labels on the box that you overlooked:

  • “Fragile” (he needs an ego boost to keep functioning)
  • “This end up” (if he gets upset, he doesn’t work right)
  • “Batteries not included” (he runs out of energy at the worst times)

So, what do you do when there’s no operation manual? You end up writing your own.

Most women have experienced something similar with the men in their lives. So they talk to each other, trying to figure out what their men are thinking. But without knowing exactly what’s going on in a man’s mind, it becomes an exercise in futility.  They write their own operation manual from their own female frame of reference.  It’s what they know.

That can be dangerous, because those male differences can be seen as problems to solve. I’ve seen a number of books that focus on two approaches:

  1. Fixing those differences
  2. Coping with those differences

Both of those can be unhealthy.  They ignore the fact that differences are essential for a relationship to grow and thrive.  That’s the third option:

Embrace the differences.

When I was getting ready to write my latest book, “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions: A Woman’s Guide to a Man’s Brain,” I went to the bookstore to see what had already been written.  I found two categories:

  • Books written by women about how men think
  • Books written by men giving advice to women

I decided to fill the obvious gap – a book about a man’s brain, written by someone who’s lived in there for a long time.

My wife, Diane started me in the right direction. “There are too many books written by men telling women what to do,” she said.  “Men don’t know how women think, either – so they shouldn’t be giving them advice like that.”

Bechtle_Instructions.inddSo, in this new book, I’ve chosen to simply be a tour guide. I’ll take you on a journey of a man’s brain so you know what’s going on.  I won’t tell you what to do.  I’ll just show you the scenic lookouts and the switchbacks on the trail and the toxic waste spots to avoid.  I’ll just walk with you on the journey.

It’s an understanding manual, not an instruction manual.

It was a fun book to write – and I think it might be my favorite. It’s gotten some great reviews already, and I’ve had some pretty energetic media response during interviews.

Now, it’s your chance to find out for yourself . . . and I’d love your help getting the word out, so others can benefit.

The book launched this week. The first couple of weeks is important for the success of a book, because it shows how much interest there is in the book.  The more “buzz” that takes place initially, the better the chance of it taking off.

Since you’re the people that have allowed me to have good conversations with you every week or so, I’d like to ask your help. Here are some things you can do as part of my “team:”

  • Buy a copy for yourself (you can purchase or download it here), and maybe an additional one for a friend.
  • Rank it with “stars” on Amazon. (Yeah, I look at those, too when I’m buying things.) Add a short review if you’re so inclined. That also applies to Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
  • Let people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. know that you’re reading it. Add a cat video to capture their attention.
  • Share this blog post with others and invite them to join our discussions.
  • If you have a blog, post something about it there. If you use guest posts or author interviews, I’d be happy to drop by. If you do book reviews, I’ll get you a copy to give away. We’re in this writing thing together, and I’d love to help you out.
  • Donate a copy to your church or public library. Or put it in your dentist’s office so people have an alternative from reading a copy of Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Let me know your thoughts as you read. I’d love to hear your input, especially how it helps you understand the men in your life.

And if your man reads it, that’s OK. It could make for some interesting discussions!

Thanks – just know how much I appreciate the chance to connect through this blog every couple of weeks. Soon, you’ll see a new website and a new approach – so stay tuned!

A Tale of Two Brains

Our brains are pretty amazing.

There’s a part of the brain (we’ll call it “Brain 1”) where we make decisions, solve problems and come up with creative ideas. When we have jobs, our companies are renting that portion of our brain.  It’s where we make intentional choices.

There’s another part of our brain (we’ll call it “Brain 2”) that runs pretty much on autopilot. It’s a wonderful part of our brain, because it helps us develop routines and habits that guide us through our lives.

Got a relationship problem you have to work out? Brain 1 goes into action.

Want to improve your life? Call on Brain 1.

When we read self-help books or inspirational books that motivate us to grow and become more effective, it’s Brain 1 that’s impacted.

Brain 1 helps us change. It helps us dream.  It helps us become better than we are.

Hooray for Brain 1 . . . !

two_brains_FIBrain 2 isn’t nearly as flashy. It runs quietly in the background.  But we couldn’t live without it.

Brain 1 says, “Let’s try something new.” Since it’s new, it takes intentional thought and effort.  But the more we do it, the less effort it takes.

Over time, it becomes routine.

It moved into Brain 2 – and we didn’t even realize it.

Remember the day you drove to your current job for the first time? You had to use your GPS, study every turn, figure out where to park and enter the building, and how to find the correct office.  Every step was intentional, and took your whole focus.

Now, you show up in your office and never thought about how to get there. You just did it.

That’s Brain 2.

That’s why they say it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Every habit starts in Brain 1 but eventually becomes the “new normal” in Brain 2.

Both parts are important, because they do different things. If we’re being chased by a hungry tiger, we don’t want to use Brain 1 to make a list of my five best responses, then prioritize and take action.

We just run. Brain 2 made that happen.

So, I’ve been thinking about life lately. It seems like the older we get, the more we live in Brain 2.

We’ve figured out how life works, and we get comfortable.

We find routines that keep us in our comfort zones, and follow those patterns day after day.

We find what works for us and stick with it.

We eat meals at the same time, have the same type of conversations with our families and watch the same shows every night.

We stay in Brain 2, living by default instead of design.

But we weren’t designed to live comfortable lives. We were designed to grow and change and make a difference.

Wilma was in her 80’s when I was in my 30’s. Everyone at church knew her for her energy and spunk.  Whenever she saw me, she wanted to know if I was still growing.

“What are you reading right now?” she would ask, sneaking up behind me and slapping me on the shoulder. No matter what I answered, she would tell me the best book she had read recently, and why it was so good.

“You said you were going to get your doctorate,” she would say. “Have you started?  Why not?”

“Are you treating your wife well? So, what have you done for her lately?”

Wilma was growing. She was involved.

She was living from Brain 1.

Here’s a simple question for today: Are you living your life from the comfort of Brain 2, or the vision of Brain 1?

There’s nothing wrong with Brain 2. We need those comfort zones as a place to rest and recover.  It’s the “home base” where we build the foundation for our life journey. It’s where we rebuild our courage and strength.

But it’s our launching pad, not our landing pad.

So, how are you going to stretch today? How will you use Brain 1 to learn or grow or make a difference?

It’s worth some intentional thought.

Why Negative is Stronger than Positive

(and what to do about it)

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my surgeon’s office for my post-op visit (it’s been a month since I went under the knife).

After hearing the “all clear” pathology report and getting staples out, I asked the good doctor a question:

“So, do you ever take it for granted that when you perform surgery on someone, and it goes well – you get the cancer out – that you’re actually saving people’s lives?”

Long pause.

“That’s a really kind question – and a good reminder,” he said. “Yes, I guess I do take it for granted.  Usually, I’m just thinking about how amazing it is that I get to do this job that I love so much, and people actually pay me to do it.”

“I know,” I said. “I got your bill.”

He continued: “But you know, what really sticks with me are the ones that don’t go well, and I know the patient isn’t going to make it. Those keep me up at night.”

Why is it that we focus so easily on the negative, but we take the positive for granted?

When I was researching for my latest upcoming book, I ran across some interesting data from neuroscience:

Our brains are wired toward the negative, not the positive. We’re naturally drawn to it.  Avoiding pain is a stronger motivator than seeking pleasure.

Someone said, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”

Here’s an example:

Whenever I’ve taught seminars, participants fill out an evaluation form at the end of the day. I might have 50 people in a room, and 49 of them give scores of “9” or “10.”

One person marks a score of “4.”

I’m depressed. I lay awake thinking, “I got a 4.  Why did I get a 4?  I need a different career.  I’m not cut out for this.”

One out of 49, but my whole focus goes there.

Here’s what happens inside our brains:

  • When we hear bad news, it takes 3-4 seconds for it to go into our long-term memory.
  • When we hear good news, it takes 12 seconds before it drops into our long-term memory. If we get distracted before the 12 seconds is up, it doesn’t go in at all.

happiness-1What’s it all mean?

If we’re not intentional about focusing on the good things in our lives, we’ll automatically focus on the bad things.

Think back over the last 24 hours. Has your mind been filled with the things that are going wrong in your world?  Or the things that are going right?

Now look at the upcoming 24 hours. What if you were intentional about focusing on the positive things – instead of taking them for granted?  You wouldn’t be ignoring the negatives – just keeping them in balance.

There’s an old hymn that says, “Count your blessings – name them one by one.”

Grab a sheet of paper or pull up a new note on your tablet. Start listing the positives that are present in your life.  Make it your goal to fill the sheet before the end of the day.

Your brain will fight you on this. But you don’t have to give in.

Don’t take your blessings for granted.

We can change our focus – 12 seconds at a time.

 

What’s positive in your life?  Share in comments (below) . . .

Don’t Forget to Remember

When Diane and I first got married, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a tiny house in Redondo Beach, California.

Tiny, meaning 450 square feet. That was it.  It’s what we could afford.

It was a fixer-upper, and we saved rent by agreeing to do some repairs and restoration ourselves. We worked together to put in a lawn, paint the house and install flower beds and plants.

It was a lot of work, but we didn’t care. We were in L-O-V-E, and we did it together.

The house was only a few blocks from the beach, so we’d often walk down there in the evenings. It didn’t cost anything, and we could just hold hands and talk.  We couldn’t afford to go to the movies or out to dinner often – but that was OK.

We were just grateful to be together.

CansFor our wedding, someone had given us several large, heavy boxes for a gift. When we opened them, they were filled with dozens of cans of food – but someone had taken all the labels off.  “What a clever gift,” we said.  We laughed because it was so random.

We tucked those cans away in the top shelf of our kitchen cupboard, wondering what we would ever do with them. At least up there, they were out of the way.

But in that first year or so of marriage, there were more than a few times when we ran out of money and the refrigerator was empty. So we would select three cans, shaking them to guess what was inside.  We would set them on the table with a can opener, and say grace over them – thanking God for our meal.

Then we opened them.

It wasn’t unusual to have a meal of canned peaches, beans and olives.

I don’t think we would ever go to a restaurant and order that combination. But we always remember those meals – not because of the randomness of the food, but because of the gratefulness we felt for provision.  It was there when we needed it, and we never took it for granted.

Next week, we’ll celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.  There have been ups and downs in every area of life – but we’ve worked hard to stay grateful.

All of the cans in our cupboards have labels today. When we plan a meal, we know exactly what’s coming.  There’s something comforting about that.

But it’s not nearly as exciting.     

At the beginning of a relationship, most people have more time than stuff.

Later in a relationship, most people have more stuff than time.

Stuff isn’t bad. But it’s easy to take it for granted when we have a lot of it.

Time is good, because it’s where we live. But it’s easy to let time get crowded out by stuff.

Maybe it’s good to think back to the beginning.

  • What was your relationship like when you had more time than stuff?
  • How is it different now?
  • What choices could you make to find more time in your relationship?
  • How can you become as grateful for the present as you were for the past?

Now, there’s a dinner topic . . .

Why They Don’t Have Books at the Getty

I tried to like the Getty. I really did.

The Getty Museum is a world-famous art museum perched high above the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. It contains priceless paintings and sculptures, and people come from all over the world to visit.

You can’t live in Los Angeles very long before someone says, “Have you been to the Getty?”

I have good friends who can’t get enough of that type of art. Debra is a major patron of the art community in Phoenix.  Jenni tells of using high-quality photo books of those masterpieces with her kids, then sharing their excitement when they visit a museum to see them in person.  Another friend (unnamed) sneaks away from work just to visit art museums.

“You just have to see it,” people would say.

It’s not that I don’t like art museums. I just don’t have an emotional response to what I see. I’ve even stood in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  I saw people in tears because they were so moved.

I was impressed at being there, but I wasn’t moved.

And I felt guilty because of it.

I’ve always wanted to appreciate fine art. But I’ve never felt the emotion that so many people describe.

So when my sister and her husband were visiting, they wanted to visit the Getty. I had heard that the building cost a billion dollars to build, so I wanted to see what made it so valuable.

We drove up there on a Saturday. Once inside, she led the charge.  We followed her from gallery to gallery, trying to keep up and listening to her commentary on everything she saw.  The further we went, the more excited she became.

Bless her heart – it was so much fun to watch her excitement.

But I didn’t share it.

We had a great day being together, and I learned a ton from her. But I still felt guilty because I seemed to be missing the “masterpiece” gene.  I resigned myself to living a life devoid of culture.

———————

A few weeks later, a large box was delivered to my door. I was expecting it, because it comes every year.

Inside were a couple dozen new books.

For the past 25 years or so, I’ve been one of the judges for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s Christian Book Awards. It’s the most prestigious award given to the top books in that category, and I’ve been privileged to participate.  Every year they send me a shipment, and I have the chance to vote on the best of the best.

So I lined them up on a shelf. Each morning, I’d settle in as the sun was rising with a cup of coffee – and read a couple of chapters.

What a great way to start the day!

Book - FoundOn my first day of reading, I picked up a book called Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer
from an author I didn’t recognize named Micha Boyett.  I turned to the back cover for context:

“. . . she’s passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith . . .”

I wasn’t hopeful, and it sounded stuffy. I took another sip of coffee and started reading.

That’s when it happened: her writing caught my heart.

Just reading her first few paragraphs sucked me into her world. Somehow, I wasn’t reading any more.  I was there.

I know that different people are impacted by different books at different times. Maybe that was my time.  But I felt the sheer joy of reading words that had been so well-crafted.

Was it the best book ever written? Of course not.  But on that day (and the days that followed), Micha took my on a journey of her life as a wife and mom in San Francisco. She made me feel the fog and taste the bagels and hear the swings creaking on the public playground.  She just put the words together in a way that captured my emotions throughout the book.

From my perspective, I was reading . . . a masterpiece.

I was having the emotional experience that eluded me at the Getty. It came as ink on paper rather than oil on canvas, but it was still the expression of an artist.

Great painters and great writers both use their tools of expression, and they both touch the heart.

They both create masterpieces.

Here’s what I discovered: Books are my Getty.

I have art-loving friends who can’t get excited about books. I have author friends who can’t get excited about paintings.

It’s OK.

We’re both impacted by a masterpiece.

I can’t wait to take my sister to a bookstore for the day . . .

 

What’s your Getty?  Share in the comments (below) . . .

Off the Road Again

I miss writing.

There was a time when I used to say, “I don’t like writing – I just like having written.” The process was tedious, but I enjoyed seeing my words in print.

That’s changed. It’s probably because I’ve taken a break, and I miss moving words around to express something.  I’ve missed writing these posts, and especially the interaction with you – my readers.  It’s like not seeing good friends for a while.

The break wasn’t by design. It started with a wake-up call last September that involved an ambulance ride while on a business trip.  I didn’t see the effect that years of travel was having on my body.

But it was there, and it was real.

So the past nine months have been a “do-over” (as Jon Acuff would say). I’ve taught people for years how to live a balanced life, but realized that I needed to pay attention to my own precarious position on the high-wire as well.

That meant looking at everything I was doing – my job, my schedule, my exercise, my choices – everything. It meant starting from scratch and rebuilding.

Finally, I’m starting to practice what I teach. It’s certainly not perfect, but I’ve made some major changes.  I’m eating differently.  I’m exercising consistently.  I’m sleeping more.  I’m keeping the little stuff little, and focusing on the few things that matter most.

And I’m coming off the road.

After 28 years of travel and 3000+ days standing in front of corporate audiences, I’ve changed jobs. I’m working from a home office, coaching those people who are still training within their companies.  I’m taking my years of experience and helping them make an impact within their organizations.

My travel each day is about 50 feet.

Which means I have quiet early mornings to watch the sun rise while I sip java in a ceramic mug – instead of chugging out of a paper cup on an LA freeway. And evenings to read and talk and relax instead of mapping out logistics for the next day’s commute.

And it means I’ll have time to write.

That’s become one of my favorite early morning activities – crafting words while the world around me is still in their jammies.

This new job itself is more intense than anything I’ve done – but it has a beginning and an end each day. I have to fight to keep to keep that balance.  But setting boundaries is becoming a small price to pay for quality of life.

largeWhat will that writing look like? I’m not sure.  But it does mean I’m going to start connecting with you again.

I’ll probably do some magazine articles, and I’ll start thinking about another book. (My newest will be in bookstores on August 6.  I finished that one shortly before my ambulance ride.)  I’ll also be building more of an online platform, since I’m not standing in front of live audiences as much.

If you’d like to come along for the ride, I’d love to have you on the journey.

So, get your coffee. I’ll get mine.

Let’s slow down and just talk.

It might just save you an ambulance ride.

 

 

What We See in the Darkest Night

It’s easy to take earthquakes for granted when you live in California.

If I’m sitting quietly in my home office, I’ll feel a little jolt once or twice a week. It catches my attention, but I go right back to what I was doing.  Sometimes it’s big enough to rattle the windows, and I’m more engaged.

But when a big one hits, it changes everything.

Most people were asleep at 4:31 AM on January 17, 1994. That’s when the “big one” hit in Northridge, California.  It lasted 20 seconds, and nobody slept through it.

I know I didn’t.

Freeways collapsed. Buildings crumbled. Almost 60 people died.  Hundreds were injured. Adrenaline flowed like a river.

And then the lights went out.

Massive power outages took place throughout Los Angeles. In the predawn hours, major sections of the city were powerless. People scrambled in the confusion and rubble, trying to find flashlights and candles.

Outside, there were no streetlights, no signals, no neon signs.

It was just . . . dark.

Later that day when the sun rose and the power gradually returned, the Griffith Park Observatory began receiving dozens of calls from people who had seen a huge, silver cloud floating over the city. Some feared it was related to aliens, while most simply wondered if the earthquake had somehow impacted the atmosphere.  As the sun rose, the cloud dissipated.

After hearing similar descriptions from callers, the observatory staff finally realized what the cloud was – what the people had actually seen.

It was the Milky Way.

GalaxyPeople who had lived in the distraction of city lights for decades saw stars and constellations they had never seen before. Those stars had always been there, but the lights overpowered their view of the galaxies.

The darker the night, the easier it is to see the stars.

As a child, our family used to drive across the Arizona desert in the middle of night to escape the heat. I would lay in the back of our station wagon and look at the stars out the back window.  I remember wondering why there were so many more stars in the desert than in the city.

The stars are always there. But when the lights are bright, we can live under them for years and never notice them.  It takes our world being shaken and the lights going out for us to really see.

For me, it’s a reminder that we’re surrounded by wonder. But our lives are so filled with trivia and schedules and shiny objects that we forget that it exists.

Nobody likes dark times in life. But if you’re in one, look up.

Some things can only be seen in the darkest of nights.

That’s where we see the wonder.

Take a break.

Take a breath.

Get perspective. Listen to someone deeply.  Remember the things that matter most.  Tell someone you care.

Look for the silver cloud.