Admirals and Captains

Laura & I recently started watching the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. It’s the first time we’ve seen some of these episodes in years, and my inner nerd was pleased to find that they’re better than I remembered (although not nearly as good as the show became in later seasons).

Last night I was thinking about Captains Kirk and Picard, and the fact that they were both so well-suited to sit in the captain’s chair. If you’re a Star Trek fan like me you’ll recall that Kirk had been promoted to Admiral by the time the first movie came out, only to eventually wind up being demoted back to Captain a few movies later as a “punishment” for spectacularly breaking the rules in order to save humanity from itself (again). Naturally he was thrilled because, as Spock put it so well in Wrath of Khan, “Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.”

Not everyone can or should sit at the top of the chain of command. Not everyone should have responsibility for logistics or long-term planning. Some people just need to be out exploring. Some people come to life when they have a mission and the inner drive to fulfill it. Some people are just meant to be captains.

Finishing

I’ve been exploring some of the tools and resources Amazon provides for self-published authors. Evidently I was supposed to have started my marketing plan several months before I published my book…whoops. How typical of me!

After I clicked “submit” on the CreateSpace website, I told myself “I’m finally done!” Now I’m beginning to wonder if the self-published author can ever consider a massive, personal project like this to be truly finished. When I “finished” the first draft there was still a year of editing ahead of me, and it’s not like I can just sit back and wait for the 5-star reviews to start rolling in (although I wish I could).

Today’s excerpt touches on finishing, and the fear that so often prevents us from doing so. Have you been held back (or holding yourself back) from finishing something important to you? Are you willing to share your story of finishing (or not) here?

Saul may have exceeded his countrymen in height but he was equally reduced in stature in response to Goliath’s physical presence and bluster. Even if the strongest and most battle-hardened members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were ready to fight, I wonder if their comrades – or even their cowardly king – held them back out of fear. Apparently everyone forgot that God was stronger than any Philistine…everyone except David, whom his brother criticized for hanging around like a groupie in order to see the army at work.

I believe there are battles like this playing out every single day on little battlefields everywhere: in churches and offices and schools and homes and courtrooms and boardrooms. People find themselves confronted by an intractable enemy, one that has called them out and found them lacking in both the tangible and intangible qualities that the world uses to define success. For the Christian there may be every head-level reason to believe that God is in control of our situation (as opposed to the immovable obstacle in front of us), and yet our heart falters and we hesitate; we check email instead, or do a little more research, or think of a reason to put off making that hard decision, or having that hard conversation, until tomorrow.

As battles go it’s most definitely a battle of good vs. evil because there is an enemy that is attempting to stare us down (literally or metaphorically) and prevent us from doing the right/best thing, and yet it’s also much less meta than that. So often the battle boils down to a fundamental willingness to choose the courageous path and trust in God to do what seems impossible, maybe even a little crazy. That’s what I regularly told myself I was risking by not finishing this book: because of my fear, someone won’t read these words and won’t find the inspiration to do the crazy things that God is urging and prompting and equipping them to do. I know that sounds egotistical, but the sentiment can’t be dismissed as ego if it turns out to be true!

#created2create

My church (Gateway Community Church in Austin) recently completed a message series that emphasized the fact that we are created in the image of a God who is marvelously creative and imaginative, which means that we were made to be creative and imaginative as well. Creative outlets are as varied as creative people, but the pressures and expectations of the daily grind often leave us feeling like all of our creative juices have been mercilessly squeezed out of us.

One of the major themes of Leadership In Doubt is that each of us has a unique story to tell, and therefore each of us should find a way to share that story with others. It’s all too easy to listen to voices – external and internal – that insist we have nothing worthwhile to say. I’m not talking about political rants on Facebook or Snapchat photo essays from breakfast, but a lasting, creative legacy. Today’s excerpt touches on that theme, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on personal creativity.

I am an artist. We all are artists, with a creative side we long to explore, even as most of us fail to do so. God is the most creative, imaginative being in the universe, so it follows that, being created in His image, we share in that part of His nature. As kids we find all kinds of ways to be creative, and the older we get, the harder the world tries to beat us into submission through conformity and coloring within the lines.

Is building a really cool spreadsheet art? My friends at work know how seriously I take building a good spreadsheet would laugh and say that, if it helped them do their job a little better, it certainly was a masterpiece of function, even if it’s not on display in the Louvre.

Laura recently built a coffee table. She found an outlet for her creative side and brought it to life in our home. She used her own two hands and sense of adventure to build something that most people would buy at the store.

My point is this: how many people long to express themselves and choose not to because they don’t really believe that they’re the kind of person who does that? In particular, how many stories are left untold? How many people look at old family photos and lament the fact that no one knows the story behind where that trophy came from, or why their great-grandfather was shaking hands with Ernest Hemingway, or how could she be smiling after everything she went through? What would happen if anyone who had a story to tell took a chance and told it? Hurting, hopeless people would benefit from tales of overcoming challenges, defying the odds and good triumphing over evil. Storytelling is not reserved for the powerful or privileged; it is one of God’s gifts to each of us, and the world doesn’t get to decide who is allowed to tell their story, or how or when or why to do so.

Write, Relax, Repeat

Once the book was published I imagined that it would be easier to find the motivation to write on a regular basis. I think the sigh of relief I breathed may have been too big and relaxed me a bit too much, as that old familiar laziness has crept back into my bones. Blogging to stay sharp and share some of the big ideas from my book make so much sense, but like books, blogs don’t write themselves. Or can they?

Over the next few posts I’m going to share some excerpts from Leadership In Doubt. I hope they generate some discussion and pique your curiosity, and if you find any elements of your own story within mine, I hope you’ll be encouraged to explore how you might bless others by finding your own unique ways of sharing it.

“For years I tried to talk myself out of writing this book; in fact, for a long time it felt very scary even calling it a book, because books are meant to be written, not talked about in the abstract. The sad truth is that I didn’t really believe that I would – or, if I’m being totally honest, could – do it. Why put myself through a lot of anguish and give myself another reason to be self-critical? But this dream stubbornly refused to die. As I reflect on the unfolding of my life during the four years of my life when the dream started becoming reality (2011-2015), I believe that every experience of consequence was part of the preparation necessary to move me from a nagging, ever-present disbelief in myself, to an active belief in God’s relentless, unstoppable desire to transform me into the kind of person who doesn’t hide his light under a basket. This process has involved a lot of very painful pruning. I’ve had to admit a lot of unpleasant things about myself. I’ve had to learn to stop taking myself so seriously. And I’ve had to come to terms with the surprising truth that I have a story worth sharing, one that came to be shared in my own voice at just the right time.”

POV

Trust and doubt. Fear and peace. Faith and work. Simple word pairs. My life and leadership journey have led me to explore the wide, frightening valleys that exist between the distant peaks of those small words. Through this exploration I’ve learned a lot about myself, but I’ve learned a whole lot more about God and His astonishing love for me and each of us. Learning happened during seasons of intense struggle and fierce spiritual opposition that repeatedly told me “your story is not worth sharing.” But my story is worth sharing. My story is relatable because I’m an everyday leader and person – no fancy titles, no advanced degrees – trying to use the gifts and passions God gave me to be successful and make a difference. God equipped me to do things I never would have thought possible – run a call center, launch a technology project and write a book – after I invited Him into every part of my life. He never gave up on me, even when I was ready to give up on myself.

What’s your POV? What’s your story and who will benefit from hearing it?

“Why is your book different?”

That was an excellent question, one I was happy to answer because I had been waiting for someone to ask it. I was attending the weekly breakfast meeting of a local civic organization. I had been invited to speak to them a couple of times before, and while I wasn’t there to speak that day, I wanted to let them know that I had finished writing the book I had mentioned on my last visit. As the meeting concluded, the gentleman sitting across from me began asking questions about the book, the last of which was “Why is your book different?” I offered four reasons (in no particular order of significance):

1. Unlike any other book you will ever read, Leadership In Doubt is my story. That may or may not mean much to people, but that certainly qualifies it as different.

2. I’m not a CEO, a 4-star general or a championship coach. I’m middle management. I’m an EOL – an Everyday Ordinary Leader – a voice that’s not often heard or considered in discussions about leadership.

3. I imagine that most leadership books are written from a perspective of personal strength; my story is fueled by my weaknesses.

4. It was those weaknesses that drove me to cry out to God in the darkest, lowest moment of my life, and in response He lovingly challenged me to trust Him in ways I never had before. By inviting God into my work life, my leadership journey went in unexpected directions as I explored what it meant to live and work with God at the center.

What I love most about leadership is the privilege of building into the lives of other people, the way that great friends and mentors did for me during formative seasons of my life. This is what motivated me to share my story in such a personal and risky way. My prayer is that God will use it to help other leaders like me chart a better journey for themselves and the people they lead.

The book is out

Leadership In Doubt is now a real book that anyone can buy and read. 8 years and 57 days elapsed from President Kennedy’s famous speech about putting a man on the moon (5/25/61) to the date of the actual moon landing (7/20/69), which isn’t that much longer than the time from the original inspiration for my book (1/19/09) to the date of its publication (2/20/17). That is a handy dose of perspective.

I self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace tool, which proved to be an easier process than I imagined, although I won’t say that it was without some challenges. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to publish their own work. If you’re interested in learning more about my book you can check out my own eStore at:

https://www.createspace.com/6752991?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026

The book is also available through Amazon.

When I launched this blog on Election Day last year I had big plans to get back into blogging, in part as a way of setting the stage for the eventual publication of my book. I was very deliberate about my choice of that day because, in my mind, it was illustrative of the dearth of principled leadership in our country; many of the events of the past few weeks (both originating from the White House and in response to them) have reinforced this belief. Adults acting like petulant children are encouraging other adults to adopt a similar attitude, and it feels like you and your side are losing if you don’t.

Where are the voices of reason in all of this madness? Where are the voices that can unite people around shared values? Do those values even exist any longer?

President’s Day doesn’t mean much more to many people than a day off from work or school. I didn’t intend to publish on that day but it feels right to have done so. We have a right and an obligation to expect and demand better from the people who lead us, but if we keep putting bad leaders in office we should not be surprised at the mess in which we live.