Monday, January 5, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Left Side

Unexpected insights from unanticipated circumstances. I learned some lessons recently from an experience I never thought I'd have. 

Part of my weekly routine of physical exercise involves both swimming and raquetball at the local Y. This particular week held a surprise. The two partners available came with injuries, both to their right hands. To play fair I played left-handed with them.

How awkward it felt and how awkward we must have looked to those walking by, glancing into the court through the plexiglass wall! I'm convinced that my left side can't jump as high as my right side. I missed far too many overhead lobs that I normally get. I found it to be a reasonable explanation!

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, right alongside the calculations going on in my brain to translate a shot from "left brain - right-hand," to ", "right brain - left-hand." To know me is to know that I may actually have two left brains.

The list of what happened is long:
  • I made more mistakes
  • I completely missed the ball multiple times (we always encouraged each other with "good form!")
  • I found it more difficult
  • I used less skill - more shoulder and arm turn than wrist snap
  • I ran more
  • My left arm was sore
  • I ran into the other players, hitting one of them in the head, two different times, with my racquet
A few lessons learned along the way:

1. Do what I know how to do.

No matter how skilled I am at a craft, shifting hands or sides is more difficult and doesn't accomplish the same result.

There's a well known exercise, asking people to write their name with the dominant hand and then with the other. It's more difficult. It takes more time. It's not nearly as clear as the "stronger" hand.

Always listen, be open to learning but know my strengths and build on them. 

2. Shoring up my weaknesses is a helpful thing

I participated in a continuing education class this year that stretched me in new ways, teaching me new skills and shoring up some weaknesses. Honestly, it was one of the best - if not THE best - since Graduate School days. This particular process of executive coaching concentrates on owning and getting past weaknesses. But to be a good coach one must own his or her own weaknesses and know their own strengths, otherwise, as a coach, you'll fall into those comfort zones and be of no help to your client.

Weaknesses will eventually cap your leadership capacity, because strengths will take you only so far. Therefore, to level up your leadership, you must deal with your weaknesses.

3. Spending too much time worrying about my weaknesses can be harmful to those around me. 

Just as I hit one of my partners - twice - if all I do is spend time worrying about my weaknesses and trying to be better at _________________, it can damage relationships and have a negative impact on business.
This is NEVER me!

I'm glad I had the experience. I'll try anything once and my competitive side was determined to figure it out. But once the injuries healed, none of us has considered it as a viable alternative.

A wise friend said to me: "Do what you can and don't worry about what you can't." I could have complained or refused to play left-handed. But why? Learn something new. Deal with the ensuing deficits. Be aware of your weaknesses but don't use them as an excuse. By doing something about them you will get out of your comfort zone and into the learning zone. Life will grow larger.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

5 New Year Questions for Marriage

If you don't pay attention to something, weeds will grow, deterioration will gain the upper hand. Every body needs a check up, every car needs a tune-up, every house needs maintenance. As important as those things are, the closest of relationships - marriage - deserves our utmost attention. Without the closeness of a loved one, our health, a car or a house mean so much less.

The New Year gives the perfect opportunity (or excuse) to ask some questions to tune-up your marriage and take it to a new level.

Ask a question about your hopes and dreams:
  • Is there a dream you have that you're not pursuing? How can I help you pursue it?
  • Name 5 words/phrases you want to describe our marriage 5 years from now?
  • What is something we could do together in this new year, some activity that doesn't take a ton of time but puts us spending time together, unplugged from "screens?"
Ask a question about your physical health:
  • What is one thing you would like to change about how you take care of your physical body? How can I help you in that?
  • What is a way we could eat differently, healthier? (It's impossible for one spouse to do this in the same house - two are needed)
  • Would you be willing to try a plank challenge together? (Decide on how many days - and how many minutes each day - grow the number - and what time each day)

Ask a question about your spiritual lives:
  • How can I pray for you?
  • Is there a way we could serve our community, together, that we're not presently doing?
  • What do you think about participating on a mission trip this year?
Ask a question about your physical relationship:
  • What do you like about our sex life?
  • Is there anything you would change?
  • Where would you like to go for a weekend, just the two of us? (Make plans with a calendar in hand. Invest in your marriage - the time and money required will come back to you 100 fold)
Ask a question about your financial world:
  • What do you think about the level of our generosity?
  • Are we saving enough for what we want life to be like in the future?
  • What would it take for us to get out of debt?
  • How should we participate in the Live Simply Project: to live more simply so that others might simply live?
  • How can we help our children develop good financial stewardship habits?
A key habit of great leaders is planning the next day's priorities the night before; a key trait of leaders is taking time away to plan and think (1 hour per day - 1 day per month - 1 week per year is a good pattern). So it is with great marriages, taking the time to talk and think will reap great rewards.

What question(s) would you add?

Everyone should be
quick to listen,
slow to speak &
slow to become angry.
James 1:19

Friday, January 2, 2015

Things to Leave Behind in '14

The most wonderful time of the year is followed immediately by the most irritating time of the year - at least for those of us who are year round exercise enthusiasts. January at the local Y is summed up on one word: irritating. It's full of New Year's Resolution Maker's who are trying to get in shape but come February the crowded space opens up, the cardio/weight/yoga/zumba rooms clear out and it's back to normal save a few new friends who follow through.

What do you do with a New Year? How can you take advantage an opportunity to "turn a new leaf," one that won't fail like a list of Resolutions?

I've used a helpful approach the past 5 years, answering these questions:

1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be?
2. What were the three to five major themes that kept recurring?
3. What did you accomplish in the last year that you are the most proud of?
4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren't?
5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience during the past year?
6. What was missing from the past year as you look back?
7. What were the major life-lessons you learned in this past year?
8. What leadership lessons did you learn in the past year?
9. What rhythms will you keep in the next year that were helpful during the last year?
10. 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.

This year I'm adding an 11th question. "What are some things I'd like to leave behind?" Leaving some things behind will make a big difference, be they small things or big things. What I've learned over my years is this: 

       You don't have to change everything
                    to change everything

Even one small change in a habit or life-pattern will shift the entire system, creating a wave of more significant changes.

I started to make a list of 14 things to leave behind and quickly noticed (a) I had trouble coming up with more than 7 and (b) 14 is too many things, which means I'd have a good chance of doing none of them since I couldn't do all of them.

I broke them down this way:

Physical: I'd like to leave sugar behind. I deal with imbalanced cholesterol numbers; not high, but the good is not high enough and exercise (6-10 miles each week in the pool plus some weights) hasn't helped as much as I need. Meanwhile, I'm trying to stave off the medications. Research says the culprit might be sugar, acting as an inflammatory that causes cholesterol to "stick" around.

Mental: Screen Time - I watch too much TV and spend too much time on the Internet. I've been good about taking Sabbath days from work; now I need to add a Sabbath from screens. Replacing screen time with books (I used to be a consistent reader) I have little doubt will invigorate both my heart and mind.

Spiritual: Comparing - my competitive nature finds a comfort zone in the habit of comparison - like the church that betrayed us; or the individuals who gossiped or spoke ill of us. My sin nature rears it's head when I'm tempted to rejoice in doing better than another, or in the stumbling of another:

                     You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune,
                     nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction,
                             nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. Obadiah 12

The Holy Spirit has used a recent song to encourage me. The chorus is: "I don't need my name in lights. I'm famous in my Father's eyes." Comparison doesn't help my heart focus on eternal things. Life is about who He makes me not what anything temporary can describe.

Each New Year provides a chance to start something new, for things to be different. I can't do 2 of these without help. I need my wife and I need my trusted friends to hold me accountable. Less screen time is a choice of self-discipline. That's why Resolutions don't work - no accountability. I watch it every year at the Y, people who want to, people who need to, start in January clogging up the locker rooms and the machines, but they don't stick to it come February.

Grab a group, make a pact. Bring along some friends, join a team. No matter what method you choose, turning over a new leaf isn't normally done by yourself. There's a hard way and an easier way - make 2015 different by making some choices today.