September 25, 2011

Does your career define your family, or does your family define your career?

We cannot assume a correlation between the level of success we achieve in our careers and what is best for our family. Even if we are in careers that provide some benefit to society, reaching the next rung on the ladder of influence or impacting one more life does not necessarily mean that we're doing the best thing for our family. We are blessed if we have the opportunity to do what we love to do every day, but even then that does not mean we can assume we are doing what is best for our family. We might be the best in our group, company or even in our industry, but being the best does not invariably mean we are doing what is best for our family.

The most important question to ask oneself, therefore, is not:

-- What is my five-year career goal?

-- What can I do that will result in the greatest social or financial ROI?

-- What do I enjoy doing?

-- What is the next big industry and how can I make big money in it?

-- In what area can I become a thought leader?

The mosts important question to ask oneself is:

-- What is our family goal?

Your career is a vehicle, not the finish line. It is the means to an end, not the end. That's not to say that your career is not important. It's also not to say that no great thing can be accomplished in and through a great career. What I am saying is that everything should begin with family. It's our first and greatest responsibility; and it's the only thing we will one day regret not spending more time on.

Once you identify your family goal, then the challenge is to find a vehicle (career) that can take you there. This is where, for many people, the paradigm really has to shift significantly. You see, what many of us seem to put our passion, sweat, and money into more than anything is our career. Our LinkedIn profiles (meaning: progression in our careers, our resumes) have, for many, become a measure of success. We ask each other: "What is your dream job?" This really means: "Where are you headed based on your career being the defining factor?" But I rarely hear people ask: "What is your dream scenario for your family? How is your family defining your career?"

An important piece of the paradigm shift is this: the best thing for your family might be for you to make less money or take on a role with less responsibility, at least for now. Or the best thing for your family might be to explore opportunities you've never considered before. What's most important is the lens through which you evaluate opportunities. I believe the lens should be a "family goal" that you use to evaluate every decision you make for your career. The question to ask is: "Will doing this allow me to take a step closer to the place we want to be as a family?" The family goal trumps financial and/or social goals. It also trumps any feeling of impossibility -- no matter how "stuck" you might feel in the career you are in, the family goal challenges you to look beyond your immediate circumstances. The family goal is the lens through which you should evaluate career decisions and career success.

The goal should not be developed within the restrictions of your current life or within the limitations you might have in your mind regarding what is possible. The goal for your family should be unrestricted and should be whatever you believe would be ideal. That's the stake in the ground. That's the finish line you drive towards; it's the finish line worth driving towards.

There is no social impact great enough, no pay day big enough, and no role grand enough to be worth exchanging for your family goal. On the flip side, there is no rut you can't climb out of and no cycle you can't break out of in order to pursue your family goal. The danger is in allowing the career you are in -- whether you love it or hate it -- to define (restrict) what is possible for your family.

Your career is a vehicle that should take you where you want to go. I believe you can be passionate about what you do, bless others, and earn a sufficient (even significant) income while still doing something that allows you to do everything you want with and for your family. What's your family goal? What do you want to be able to do with your family and for your family? That's where you don't compromise. Everything else is up for evaluation. Instead of allowing your career to define what is possible for your family, you can determine that your family will define what is possible for your career.

September 21, 2011

Your Life is Not a Space Shuttle. Your Life is a Bicycle.

A significant amount of thrust is required to lift a 4.5-million-pound space shuttle off of a launch pad. In order to do so, the shuttle's main engines must build up to 90% of maximum thrust before takeoff. Then the solid rocket boosters are ignited and the journey begins.

On a bicycle, the journey begins when your foot pushes down on the peddle. Prior to exerting force on the peddle, there is no movement or build up of energy. Nothing happens until you push the peddle, but as soon as you push the peddle the bicycle moves. 

Your life is not a space shuttle. Lift off does not require that 90% of maximum thrust be achieved before takeoff. 

Your life is a bicycle. Movement will not occur as a result of you thinking harder, meditating more, planning better, researching deeper, studying longer, considering one more option, or doing 100 jumping jacks and hopping on one foot 5 times before climbing on the bicycle. Movement occurs when your foot pushes down on the peddle.

Your life is not a space shuttle. There is no pre-launch checklist that can assure you that everything will be OK if you move forward with the mission.

Your life is a bicycle. Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? Or maybe you remember teaching a child how to ride one. Some lessons from that first attempt:

1. Training wheels are OK. Lose the ego, put on the training wheels. 

2. You will fall. Wear a helmet, but get back up and try again.

3. You will never move forward if you don't push the peddle.

4. You cannot prepare to ride a bicycle for the first time. You just do it, and learn while doing.

What do you feel you are not ready to do, but would love to try? What have you been putting off your entire life because "now" is just not the right time? Have you always trained, but never entered the race?

Your life is not a space shuttle. You are not going to reach your dreams sitting on the launch pad hoping to build up enough thrust to one day "shoot into outer space in T plus 45 minutes". You are not going to grow and change as a person while sitting on a launch pad. You will not be challenged, you will not get hurt, you will not fail (or fall), or learn while sitting on a launch pad. There is no amount of running around in a circle you can do that will result in you shooting out of that circular pattern and suddenly taking flight toward your dreams. There is no amount of thinking you can do that will provide the answer to all your questions or planning you can do that will develop the "treasure map" that leads you to all you hope to achieve. You will not find whatever you are looking for while sitting on a launch pad.

Your life is a bicycle. You will find answers, find yourself, and reach your dreams when you start to peddle. 

September 8, 2011

Direct Correlation Between Our Level of Anxiety and the Degree to Which We Focus On Ourselves

I am discovering that my level of anxiety is directly correlated to the degree to which I focus on myself. The more I focus on myself, the greater the possibility that my anxiety will be high. The more I focus on others, the greater the possibility that my anxiety will be low.

A wise man recently told me that God brings us into contact with others for a reason. Our purpose should be to discover what is that reason. We are detectives or treasure hunters or research scientists, searching for the purpose held within every interaction. There is purpose, deep purpose, that all too often lies untouched when two people engage. When two people with real pain, worries, joy, and dreams engage each other and all that is left from that interaction is a forced smile and a "have a good day" comment (if that), I fear we miss the entire purpose of our lives.

When my end goal becomes to discover how I can specifically reach into someone's life and bless him in such a unique way that it reaches to the core of his specific hurt or joy in that moment, then my life stops being about me and begins to be full of purpose. We cannot find "fulfilling purpose" in a life that is all about ourselves. And, yet, the correct response to this truth is not simply "denial of self" but, much more importantly, a laser-like focus on others.

Imagine with me waking up each morning with only these thoughts on your mind: Who might I encounter today? What is the likelihood that I might have the opportunity to engage on a real level with the person behind the cash register as he swipes my groceries through the scanner? What is the possibility that today I might be able to help others move their agendas forward? Where and when today might I ask someone just enough of the right questions to be given the privilege to encourage her in such a way that she discovers an extra bounce in her step?

This is not about asking questions in order to lead people to talk about the things we want to talk about. This is about asking questions in order to find out what they want to talk about and what they need to hear and how we can bless them. If we woke every morning with our sole focus being to reach into the lives of the people we encounter with the purpose of blessing them where they are at in any way we can, then I believe we'd live life in all its fullness. We'd experience peace and joy in ways we haven't in a long time, maybe ever. And we really would worry a lot less.

It's a requirement to worry when thinking about oneself, isn't it? Not always, of course, but at some point and on enough days, when we think about ourselves the thinking has to eventually lead to anxiety. In contrast, when we begin our day with the mission set in our minds that we are going to discover how we can specifically bless each person we encounter, then there is nothing to worry about. Our minds are not set on what could cause us anxiety, but instead on what might be causing someone else anxiety. Our minds are not set on our own joy (finding it, keeping it, protecting it, getting it back), but on what others are rejoicing that we can rejoice with them.

The question is not "How am I feeling today?" The question is "How is that person feeling today?" The questions that really matter are not the ones that help us better understand ourselves. The questions that matter are the ones that help us understand others.

September 2, 2011

Why Can Life Be So Hard?

"Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest."

A friend of mine has been grossly mistreated by her bosses at her place of work. My good friends in Taiwan have a baby whose birth weight was less than two pounds. We have two special needs children. A friend's husband left her and their kids. One couple we know struggled for years to have children of their own. Another good friend has a three-year-old son battling leukemia.

Why does God place a dream in our heart and then allow life to be so hard? Why do some people find themselves walking along what they believe to be their God-given path only to suddenly find themselves upended by pain? In the midst of our painful circumstances, I believe seeds of opportunity are planted that can grow into great harvests. But the planting can be very difficult. It requires a willingness to risk, to work, and to persevere even though no immediate return is seen.

We see this in the business world. If you have ever tried to start a company, you know that a great deal of pain and sacrifice is involved. And there is no guaranteed outcome. A business builder takes significant risks and sheds great drops of sweat in order to labor toward the birth of her dream. She knows the pain required to complete the journey. She has mapped it out, day-by-day, every step of hardship and struggle set out before her. And she takes it on without regard to her comfort or present joy. She almost rejoices in the pain because of the dream set in her heart. She counts the cost and considers it a price worth paying.

I believe that our deepest dreams wrap themselves around people, not around money or numbers or houses or cars or trips or position or fame or knowledge. And because our dreams are wrapped around people, as we allow ourselves to pursue them, pain will occur. But I don't believe that the pain is a stop sign on the road to our dreams, maybe just a detour. And maybe the detour is essential.

The road that leads to any dream worth pursuing will not be an easy road. "Friends" will not understand or question your sanity or simply not be there to support. But other friends will understand, they will ask genuine questions because they know who you are, and no matter what, they will be there to support you. There will be times when you feel lonely, betrayed, abandoned, angry, confused, sick, hurt, tired, overwhelmed, and more. But that's part of the journey to the dream and, really, those experiences are what make the dream reality.

We might not pursue our dream because we know the path is not easy. We know the road is hard. We might feel it would be easier to take the road "more traveled by" instead of "less traveled by". At least, then, no one can call us crazy. At least, then, we lower the risk of getting hurt. We also know that the road that leads to our dreams is not a short one; it's not something that can be traveled in a day, a month or even a year. Only people with self-control, resolve and commitment can achieve their dream. Only people who are willing to pay the price. And it's an expensive price. So the question really is: if God put a dream in your heart, but the price is high to realize it, are you willing to pursue it anyway?

What dream are we building with our lives? Do we avoid the pain and, therefore, avoid the dream? Or do we boldly step out and go confidently in the direction of our dreams? My passion is that every individual know that God put a dream in your heart in order for you to pursue it. And I am learning this: the journey is so much more valuable than the destination. If you choose to pursue your dream, certainly keep your eyes on the goal, but also rejoice in the moments that occur every day. The moments that overwhelm you and shake you and scare you and make you question why you ever decided to take the road less traveled by; rejoice in the moments that confuse you and make you angry. It's these moments that truly make the dream. It's these moments that make life so hard, but also make life so worth living.