Time Mis-Management

Anyone else finding it hard to stay on top of everything important in your life? In addition to trying (not hard enough) to promote a book and write a blog, we have a side business selling antiques and collectibles. Despite my fervent desires, these things do not happen by themselves. The time required to make any of these successful comes after working a full-time job and being a husband and father, which encompasses meeting the needs of my family and such glamorous duties as grocery shopping and doing the dishes. On top of that, the first time I wrote this paragraph I completely failed to mention the importance of spiritual growth through prayer, study and service. How can anyone find adequate time for some of these things, much less all of them, especially now that The Defenders is out on Netflix?

I don’t want to bore anyone with a post about having a finite number of non-sleeping hours in a week and having to be wise in our choices of how to use them, so I’ll just ask the question – how do you do it? How do you make time for what’s important in your life?

Creativity Block

I set aside time each morning for writing. I put in on my calendar because I lack the discipline to follow through consistently. But putting something on the calendar doesn’t automatically make ideas flow. As often as I have an idea but lack the will to write I experience the opposite problem – a desire to write without any clear idea of what to say.

I’m certain that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’d be very interested in how others overcome this. When you’re feeling moved to create, but you lack a specific vision, what do you do? Do you create something, even if you don’t feel much inspiration behind it, because it’s better to use those creativity muscles? Or does it feel contrived to try and force creativity?

I’d love to hear how others approach this.

A Brief Reflection on Charlottesville

[Jesus said,] “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:43-48‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The dehumanizing of people is a cancer in our culture. It permeates attitudes and ideas across the political and social spectrum. People are lumped into categories and viewed with contempt through a narrow lens that diminishes them as individuals; when we do this we fail to realize that we are also diminishing ourselves.

Even as we pray for healing, strength and unity in response to the terrible spectacle of this past weekend, we must also pray for those enslaved to poisonous ideologies. The corrupting power of sin can’t be broken by laws, programs, rallies or coercion. Sick minds and sick hearts need healing. Sick people need a Savior.

Q&A – 3

Hard to believe that my presentation to Job Seekers Network was less than two weeks ago. It feels longer than that, perhaps because I’m already working on my next presentation, which is about 5 weeks away. The focus of that message is the power of storytelling, something I am constantly refining in my own life as I try to explain to people why I wrote a book and what the book is about.

What are some tips on journaling?

The best advice I can offer is simply to make it a priority and stick with it. The primary reason I have kept journals in the past is to process my emotions, experiences and questions in a safe place. Those pages are mine and mine alone, although I chose to incorporate a lot of journal content into my book. I journal when I need to, not just for the sake of doing it, although someone who aspires to write for a living probably ought to need to more often!

Because the journal is for your benefit, and should be for your eyes only, it’s important not to self-censor. If you’re mad at someone, get it out of your system. If you’re scared and confused about a turn of events, describe why and see if any insights emerge that can help you push through it. Lack of honesty in your journal is the same as writing a work of fiction.

I like keeping a paper journal, as opposed to using my computer. It’s easier to carry around, and there’s an emotional satisfaction in seeing the effort that went into the transference of ideas from mind to paper; I suppose it’s an act of therapy. The downside to paper is that I have terrible handwriting, and if I don’t keep my pencil sharpened it gets harder to read the longer I write. Also, there are times when I feel like my hand can’t write fast enough to keep up with the flurry of thoughts in my head.

Re-reading journals from past years has helped me remember who I was and what I  experienced during those times. I can see patterns of growth I might have otherwise denied or forgotten. But that wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t willing to be really honest with myself, so if you’re going to start keeping a journal please don’t ever be afraid to be your most authentic self. If you can’t do it there, where can you?

 

Q&A – 2

After my presentation last Monday, the Director of Job Seekers Network asked people to raise their hands if they had been working on (or sitting on) a writing project of their own. Quite a few hands went up, which helps explain why most of the questions I received related to writing. It makes me wonder how many books and other writing projects never see the light of day because people give up on them.

How did inviting God into your workplace impact the people around you?

God’s transformational work in me was a gradual thing, spread out over many years, so I doubt anyone would say they perceived any real difference in the way I conducted myself from day to day (although if any of my former colleagues reading this feel otherwise I would love to hear their perspective!).

I think I can best answer this question by sharing a story. One of my supervisors came into my office one day, terribly upset as the result of a recent, unexpected tragedy. While she sat in a chair alternately talking and sobbing, I knelt on the floor in front of her, just listening and holding her hands as needed. I’m probably exaggerating but I feel like we talked for at least 30-45 minutes. Afterwards I wasn’t worried about the cramps in my legs or the impact on my day; I felt honored to have been entrusted with her grieving, and I don’t think the person I was a couple of years earlier would have been.

Walking with God in my workplace opened my eyes and ears to the real needs of the people around me. I initially cried out to God because I was so wrapped up in my own pain and sorrow; He made it possible for me to care about and enter into the pain and sorrow of others, which made me a much more effective leader and person.

Q&A – 1

After my presentation to Job Seekers Network on Monday morning I got to do a short Q&A session. Most of the questions were about my experiences writing & publishing. As noted in my last post I want to share those questions and some brief answers to them.

How did you write a book while working full time? Did you use your blog to develop ideas & content?

I’ve been an early riser for years, so writing in the early morning before starting work has become my primary habit. After a full day of work I just don’t have the mental (and sometimes the physical) energy to be creative and thoughtful. I like being the only one up when it’s quiet and dark in the morning and my mind feels fresh.

What’s important is finding a time that works and making it part of your routine. For a while I was able to grab some additional writing time on Sunday evenings after dropping Parker off at church for youth group; rather than go home and drive back to church an hour later I’d go down the street to Starbucks and write. Recently I’ve tried to get more disciplined about writing by blocking time on my calendar, but I never felt the need to do that while working on the book.

I’ve never blogged consistently enough to mine that as a source of content. However, a lot of what I wrote in my book came directly from, or was written in response to, my journals. I haven’t always consistently kept a journal, but being able to go back and re-read what I wrote about my experiences, feelings and thoughts during different seasons of life was invaluable in organizing my story in Leadership In Doubt. I am such a strong proponent of keeping a journal that I’m writing a short e-book on that very topic, and will share some of the content through this blog in the weeks ahead.

How many times can I re-launch a blog?

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the weekly meeting of the Job Seekers Network. The mission of this organization is fairly straightforward:

Job Seekers Network is dedicated to providing comprehensive job search programs and services and emotional and spiritual support to unemployed and underemployed adults in Greater Austin to support, equip, and enable them to find a better fitting job faster.

Having lived through an unexpected layoff myself two years ago I understand the powerlessness one can feel in the midst of these circumstances. If you or someone you know in Austin needs a fresh start in their job search, check them out at http://job-seekers-network.org/.

***

Once again I’ve fallen off the blogging wagon. I go through periods where coming up with ideas for topics – and writing on those topics – comes easily, but then I lose the momentum and it’s very hard to pick it back up. I built time for writing into my personal calendar, but it’s not a lack of time but a lack of fire that’s stopping me from creating anything. Even though I long to make writing and speaking my full-time gig, once again it’s become way too easy to settle into the routine of everyday life. It’s hard to stand up in front of a group of people and credibly talk about this crazy dream of mine if I’m not doing much in pursuit of it.

I have another speaking opportunity coming up in about 6 weeks. The content will be very different and I have a lot of work to do in preparation. If I’m going to encourage people to check out my blog, I ought to have some recent content for them to read, so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be answering questions I was asked during yesterday’s Q&A session. If this series prompts any questions of your own I hope you’ll post them in response and I’ll definitely answer them!

 

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.