Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making the Most of a New Year

There is much to worry us at the beginning of the new year: bombings in Russia ahead of the Sochi Olympics; health insurance questions; what will the economy do? It's a new year but the same questions remain.

It's a new year: it's that time when the Y will be packed with people - for about 3 weeks. I can put up with it for that long and then get back to having a lane to swim in and weights to lift without waiting. Just because a calendar page turns doesn't mean anything is new.

We all know that New Year's resolutions don't work. I've made them - you've made them. And we've all blown them.

If only it were as simple as flipping the page - or getting a new calendar. Wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. The problem is, we take ourselves into the new year. That's why shifting furniture, moving to a new job, making any kind of change often turns out to be the same. We're still there! We're still there with all our habits and hang-ups, with our blindspots and inconsistencies.

I've found some tools over the past couple of years that have helped me make the most of a new year rather than settling into old routines that didn't work before and won't work in a new year. We all know the definition of insanity:

Doing the same thing but hoping for a different result

How do you make 2014 different than other New Year's? You may find some of these helpful like I have:

1) Ask & Answer Questions. I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt. A few years ago he shared some questions to ask for the new year. I have found them helpful and then added a couple. I shared them recently at a dinner with friends and we had a great time with the first one: "If the last year of your life was a movie, what would the genre be?"

We quickly got off the "genre" and onto actual movies! "The Temple of Doom" - scary adventure with a good ending. I might have to add that twist to my list.

I added these questions for my own life, making a total of 10:

  • What leadership lessons did you learn in the past year?
  • What rhythms will you keep in the next year that were helpful during the last year?
  • What 2-4 things would you add to the next year and why do you think they will be helpful? Perhaps stated in the form of goals.

The point is not so much what questions you ask but do you ask questions that help you reflect and gain perspective? The principle I've learned for leveraging the new year: ask and answer some questions about my life and experiences and what I want in a new year.

2) Get a Coach. This past year I did something out of the box and insanely helpful. For my continuing education, I went through the training for an Executive Coach with Sherpa Coaching.
What I learned about myself was more impactful than the skills and strategies for coaching others. It made me a better leader, a better person, a better follow of Jesus.

Interestingly, the key to being a great coach is learning to ask great questions. Considering my first point, it may have fit more than I realized at the time.

There is great value in having someone who will help you get through what is tapping out your leadership abilities. This isn't about life coaching. Executive coaching is about getting rid of the business behaviors that keep holding you back. Home and personal life will benefit as well, but the focus is what's holding you back. We all need someone else to peer into our lives, underneath the outer shell, and help us break free.

The principle: deliberately engage with someone who will challenge your assumptions and give you the tools to climb the next mountain.

I have some guys in my life who help make sure I don't live a sloppy life. But the coaching piece takes it to a new level for a few months that gives life-long impact.

3) Subtract or stop something. I have found that a new year is a great time to jettison something that I don't want, that is holding me back from my goals. It might be a grudge or some unforgiveness. It might be a habit, even a relationship.

2013 brought some significant changes to my life, one of which hit the bank account. Taking a significant pay cut meant finding some ways to make up dollars. So I made a spreadsheet with the starting figure the amount we would be missing through the end of 2014. I'm proud to say we're making incredible progress thanks to the Lord's blessing.

But what I've found is that the presence of the spreadsheet keeps me emotionally anchored in the events of the past. I don't want that going into the new year. So I'm deleting it.

The principle: you don't have to change everything to change everything. Think systemically. Changing one thing in your life will automatically shift most other things.

Don't take everything with you into the new year. Gid rid of something. Don't try to make a list of all the things you think you want to get rid of because you won't get rid of anything. Target one thing.

4) Add something. A consistent encouragement I offer to people is go on a mission trip. Over 26 years, the evidence says that taking 1 or 2 weeks to enter into another culture has the potential to change a person's life forever. Adding something radically different than you've done before gives you new eyes to see life. It just might give you a new heart as well.

Choose something - a routine - a habit - challenge yourself. But first ask this question: What do I want to be different at the end of this new year? Choose something that will help you get there.

The principle: adding the right thing, just one thing, can set your life on a new trajectory. Draw yourself out of your comfort zone, like a mission trip.

What will be different in your life at the end of 2014? The choices you make today will help determine what it is. If you do nothing, then nothing will change.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Betrayal of Christmas

Candles and presents, shopping and lights, trees and food. Family, vacations, breaks from school and work all comprise the Christmas season....o, and, of course, Jesus too.

He's almost an afterthought in our consumeristic world. But He is more of a thought at this time than any other during a year. People do think of Jesus, if only a passing thought. It's why it's the best time to make a connection with those who have made it through another year without the influence of Jesus in their daily lives. I've encourged the Church I lead - The Park Church - to invite and actually bring their friends and relatives and co-workers to worship on the 23rd and 24th. To do anything else would be a betrayal of Christmas.

In the past few days, I've been encouraged and challenged by a most unlikely gathering of people. Their lives would possibly never connect except in "the cloud" and in this heart and mind from what I read. Together they've helped me think more deeply and see more clearly.

Pope Francis has intrigued and challenged much of the world with his fresh simplicity and heart for the poor. In responding recently to a headline grabbing critic, he said concerning the bad side of capitalism:
The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.
Our lives were meant to overflow, not simply increase in the capacity to hold - hoard - hang onto. It's a betrayal of our Creator when we enlarge ourselves, making us impotent to transform the world.

John Bogle helped me traverse the financial needs of college and early marriage. We've never met, nor do I expect to, but due to my father's good guess (oops, savvy investment prowess), The Vanguard Group, founded by Bogle, would be a important part of my life. In a recent article out of Harvard Business Review, the author commented on Bogle's ability to make even what is intended to be about him, to be about others. It was not a surprise. That's been the way he's scaled the ladder of greatness. 

When others on Wall Street we're enthralled only with making themselves richer, Bogle got rich (but not to the same degree he could have) by putting the consumer first. Without going into the whole story which you can read here (HBR Blog), Bogle's moves actually created an inability to amass enormous wealth on the scale of most financial execs on Wall Street, due in major part to concentrating on the mass of normal, everyday investors. It's made him a legend of enormous influence. He made it not about himself.

I finished a book on a recent trip, The GO Point, by Michael Useem. He gathered together 50 decison making templates, or axioms/principles, for better decisions. In the sixth chapter, Transcending Personal Profit, he writes:
Nor do American values, especially business culture, actively promote self-sacrifice in the interest of the common good. Yet no capacity is more essential for attaining the right go point. (183).
He goes through some of the glaring historical opposites like Enron and Tyco. In essence, the leader who doesn't have the interests of the customer first, has betrayed what he or she was supposed to do. In other words, "it's not about you."

In this soup for the soul I found myself drifting toward thoughts of Christmas. When we seek to gain all we can no matter what the impact, we are betraying the heart of the One who created us. He is a giving God first and foremost. I've never felt put in second place. Christmas is a celebration of His self-sacrifice (a thought often reserved for Easter) to become like us so that we might be with Him. When we put self-serving above self-sacrifice, we're in the same seat as Herod who wanted nothing else than to hold onto power, threatened by the baby born King.

I wonder. Do we perpetuate a self-serving Christmas when we have our children make gift lists, as if that has become the first thought of the season? Do our modern Christmas celebrations take us down a path Jesus wouldn't travel? I fear we become unknowing participants in a conspiracy perpetuated each Advent season to stuff our trees and our stomachs, effectively enlarging the glass that was intended to hold only so much so that it could overflow to the poor.

Live more simply so others might simply live. It's the theme we're trying to live in my home. It's the focus we're bringing to our community through our Church. It's one way to make sure our lives overflow rather than simply allowing the glass grow. Send me a note if you'd like to learn more. Together we can change our world - one life at a time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Live Simply - A Christmas Carol

On Thanksgiving weekend we enjoyed A Christmas Carol @ the Playhouse in the Park here in Cincinnati. I've seen it several times over the years, an inconsistent family tradition. This year I heard the story anew, with fresh ears, the words filtering through Live Simply. Live Simply is simple:

live more simply so others might simply live

The words of Dickens' story rang at a new depth to my heart. I had never seen the extent to which Scrooge's obsession with gaining wealth ruined his relationships and ultimately his life, until that Christmas Eve was interrupted by those other worldly visitors.

"what good does it do for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul"

I was drawn away in my thoughts as I listened and watched Scrooge throw away the love of his life for the pursuit of riches. The play perfectly contrasted the elder Scrooge watching the younger one make such a blunder that would lead to misery. How wonderful - and gut-wrenching - is the gift of hindsight!

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into
many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people
into ruin and destruction.
- 1 Timothy 6:9

With our move this summer to the a new town, new house, new church, new surroundings we have had the opportunity to make decisions about some of our worldly possessions. Perhaps it's because the process of cleaning out my parent's house (albeit 5 years ago yet fresh in my mind) was a shock to how much stuff we keep that we don't need. Now my father-in-law is moving and the process begins again. And this church doesn't have an office so all those things have to come into the house and there simply isn't room. How quickly we become attached to our things!

Live Simply is about a lifestyle shift. It goes against our consumer mindset. What I am calling for is a radical shift, not a seasonal placation for our hearts. When living more simply is caged in the Advent season, I don't think it goes far enough. Living Simply is year round thinking. It is behavior that transcends a season and embraces a life.

Here are some things you might consider:

  • sponsor a child in Haiti (or somewhere else) through Starfish Kids. It can become a year round project for the family - praying for your child and making plans to visit him or her.
  • Cut in half what you would normally spend on Christmas gifts. Or go all the way and give no gifts.
  • Send a note to relatives and friends and tell them you've made a donation to Live Simply in their honor. Make that your gift to them.

Living simply for us means buying used cars, using coupons at restaurants, combining trips, eating in and so many other daily decisions. It's our daily decisions that lead to simplicity, giving us the margin to be generous. Living simply year round keeps Scrooge from encroaching on our hearts.

If you'd like to participate in The Park Church's Live Simply Project, consider a financial gift which will go to help build a house in Haiti and support a local shelter called Bernie's Place. Our address is: 5788 Zoar Rd, Morrow, Ohio 45152. Clearly mark your envelope and check "live simply." Together we're going to change our world and our own lives along with it.