What you Don’t Value Until it is Gone

I haven’t been writing here much. Maybe its the hustle and bustle of work, maybe it is outside of work things seem pretty great, maybe its self-centeredness, maybe its just laziness. Any excuse will do. The reality is that it is probably most closely linked to undervaluing daily mindfulness; all of those other things are just contributors to that core problem.

This week, however, my family has been gone visiting grandpa and grandma so outside of the 8-5, I’ve had a lot of quiet, alone time. I’ve had some really meaningful conversations with friends I haven’t talked to in awhile. I’ve been completely on my own schedule. And I’ve probably done more self reflection than I’ve done in a long time. This morning, I went for a slow, quiet run on this final Saturday before they get home, and it dawned on me…

You don’t really value things appropriately until they are gone.

I undervalue sitting and reading a book with my kids or running a few errands with them on the weekend. And they’ll both be gone from our home in less than 10 years. I hadn’t thought about that until I didn’t have the luxury of their time this week.

I undervalue a 10 minute conversation with my wife about something that is important to her or important to me. And when we don’t do it, those 10 minutes are gone and wasted. I longed for just a few minutes after dinner with her every night this week.

I undervalue the importance of writing in my life to express things that are in my heart, not just in my mind. And every time I don’t write it down, I lose a little bit of the passions of my heart.

I undervalue sitting still and being quiet even when there is a long list of things to do. The list of things to do will never be gone, but quiet moments are fleeting.

I undervalue the beauty of the place I live and take it for granted when I don’t stop to appreciate the blessing of our home. And the place we live is ever changing.

And I undervalue the importance of allowing my passions to be a more central part of my life; casting them off as “dreams” or “things I like to do when I can.” And opportunities to purse our passions don’t stay open forever.

I’d like to sit here and say “NO MORE!” I’m not sure that is realistic. Life gets going fast sometimes and takes us on wild rides we don’t anticipate. But I will sit here and say I will try harder. I will try harder to be more reflective and value mindfulness more regularly. I will try harder to slow things down in life and appreciate them for what they are before I lose them. And I will try harder to develop a consistent and deliberate appreciation for those things that are right in front of me and may soon be gone.

Advertisements

Everybody’s Busy

timewheel

I often vent here, but I try NOT to make it overt and directed, more veiled in my own challenges and weaknesses. Today, however, I’ve reached a bit of a frustration point with people who are “too busy” to slow down, or have fun, or be thoughtful about a project, or enjoy their life – even the work part of their life.

Everybody’s busy. I get it. What I don’t get is why that has to get in the way of enjoying life. There are VERY FEW jobs that are truly life and death. ER doctor, surgeon, airline pilot, maybe a firefighter or police officer on occasion. The rest of us are working at jobs that generate value for society or our company or ourselves, but we don’t have actual life and death hanging in the balance of our day to day. I’m not trying to minimize the importance of ANY job. I want my kids’ teachers to take their jobs seriously, and I appreciate the Duke Energy employees that keep the juice flowing to my house. My colleagues and I provide an important service to our clients by helping them advertise their businesses so they can be successful and support themselves and their employees. We’re all a part of a big economic machine and have to do our jobs to keep the machine running.

Yesterday, however, I was on the brink of confronting two different people about chilling out, so I thought it would be a lot more productive to share some thoughts on the topic here that might actually be a reminder to people who care instead of arguing with people who clearly don’t care. The first guy was sitting next to me on the plane on the way home. I saw him first in the terminal in Madison, WI, talking loudly on the phone about work while he also pecked away on his laptop. I have no idea what sort of business he was in – some sort of insurance. Of course, he ended up next to me in first class (I got upgraded, he’s very important so I’m sure he paid). He was on a call as he boarded the plane, leading him to act like a jerk to the gate agents, flight attendants, and all of his fellow passengers as we all boarded. As he talked, he looked at email and texted so I’m fairly certain he wasn’t exactly engaged with the client on the phone. This continued the ENTIRE FLIGHT. He never took his headphones off. When he couldn’t talk on the phone anymore, he switched over to music loud enough that I could hear it and continued to peck away. Even as we landed, having a beautiful view of Uptown Charlotte, he never rested his mind – played Candy Crush on his phone instead and didn’t even look up. I pitied this guy really. I pitied his clients and colleagues. Most importantly for me, it was a reminder to JUST SIT AND BE QUIET a few minutes every hour.

The second near confrontation came on the bus ride to our cars. As we were driving to the parking lot, one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in awhile was washing over Charlotte. It was every shade of red you can imagine. I just sat there and enjoyed it, then looked around the bus to see if anyone was sharing this with me. None of my 6 fellow passengers had a clue – every one of them had their eyes glued on their phones. I looked over to the woman next to me and she was very engaged with her Facebook feed. I leaned over and said quietly, “quite a sunset” and pointed out the window…she looked up for a second, said “uh huh,” and went right back to her phone. All I could do was smile; and I decided just to enjoy the sunset.

Life’s fast, I get it. But we don’t all have to be running at that same speed. We all have things that seem urgent and important in our lives and work. Nearly all of us are “busy.” Let’s just all remember to stop and enjoy the world going on around us and enjoy one another. Be engaged with whatever you are working on, whether personal or professional. We’ll all be happier and more productive in the process.

Community

brr-team-pic.jpg

This past weekend, a friend of mine convinced me and seven other insane guys to run the Blue Ridge Relay. As the sign above states, this is a 208 mile relay run that includes 27,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of 24+ hours (it took us 33 hours). I did this because I have found that if I do not have some sort of audacious goal in front of me from a fitness standpoint, I am a lot less likely to stick to an exercise regimen, so this sounded right up my alley. I had no idea why these other guys were into this; I didn’t know any of them other than my friend, the ringleader, until 2 months ago. What I got out of the weekend was very unexpected.

The word community is thrown around a lot these days. You hear it in churches, city council meetings, neighborhood associations, and book clubs. It seems to be something a lot of people are seeking in their lives. I guess I’d never really gone looking for it. Over 33 hours in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I believe I found community in its truest form in several places.

Dictionary.com defines community as:

“A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or 
interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger 
society within which it exists.”

I’ll go along with that, but I think there is a little more. More importantly, I think I learned this weekend a couple of secrets to actually ACHIEVING community.

The Blue Ridge Relay requires a massive amount of volunteers to pull it off. Every 3-10 miles, there is an Exchange Zone (EZ) where one runner finishes his/her leg and hands the team bracelet to the next runner. There are 36 of these zones and they are at rural churches, community centers, fire houses, elementary schools, and small businesses scattered all along the route between Grayson Highlands State Park (VA) and downtown Asheville (NC). At every one of these exchange zones, I saw a glimpse of true community – people just helping out others who wanted to be a small part of their town or area. There wasn’t really anything in it for them, they just did it because they cared about their little corner of the world and wanted to share it with others. Some of these people were standing outside at 3 a.m. directing traffic. It was NOT glamorous. What I learned about community from these gracious individuals is that when you have it, you just pull together and get things done because you’re proud to be a part of this THING and you want to show others what being a part of it means.

For me, however, the real lesson of community last weekend came from the 8 guys I shared this experience with in the mountains. I had an inkling a month ago when we got together for a training run up in the mountains that I was going to like these guys. We had fun, laughed, and talked easily about work, running, and life. I had no idea how sharing the incredibly challenging experience of running for 33 hours straight with little or no sleep would deepen those relationships and develop true community. During the course of the weekend, we each had little victories and defeats. Some legs you felt great and came off the course beaming and proud. Other legs it was all you could do to drag yourself to the exchange zone and you just wanted to collapse as soon as you handed off the bracelet. In both cases, these guys were there to greet each other, provide encouragement, and share in either the victory or the challenge. You knew they understood because they were going through the exact same thing. And they knew you didn’t need a lecture, just a shoulder to lean on and someone to hand you some water. As the day and night wore on, we all started to smell, hurt, gripe, and long for it to be over. But we pushed each other on because the task of finishing could only be done together. And as we stood together at the finish line for the picture above, it dawned on me – this is what TRUE community really is – people who commit to a common goal, participate equally according to their strengths and abilities, push each other on in the tough times, and share in common victories together.

It takes being willing to take on something REALLY TOUGH together to create genuine community. I’d love to see our churches, city councils, neighborhood associations and even book clubs truly become the communities they talk about by taking on something REALLY TOUGH together. I believe that if a group of 9 guys who barely knew each other a month ago, certainly didn’t agree on everything, and had lots of different motivations can come together, create genuine community, and accomplish something audacious, then ANY group willing to attack something tough together with a commitment to not quit, will realize not only community, but amazing things.

Cheers to my new friends and being a part of a new community. I hope you will find one too!

Nobody Cares

jack

The other day I was sitting in a meeting listening to someone babble on and on about something that was VERY important to them and the thought crossed my mind: “Nobody cares.”

In the next instant, it occurred to me that I do a lot of babbling on and on about things that are important to me and the reality is that NOBODY CARES.

I don’t mean that nobody cares when a child falls down on his bike like my son did above and needs someone to help him up. Instead, I mean that nobody really cares about all of the reasons, excuses, needs, wants, and hopes that you have unless those are also relevant to them. The only person that cares about all of that is the one who is running their mouth. For everyone else, they want to know what this has to do with them or they are waiting their turn to talk about the stuff they care about.

I started to write today about how we need to be more conscientious of each other’s feelings, genuinely listen to others we are with, and bemoan the fact that everyone is just so selfish that they don’t care about what other people have to say. But you wouldn’t really care.

Instead, I’m going to commit to only opening my mouth when the things I’m going to say are something that the others in the room have a genuine stake in. I’m also going to try to kindly hold other accountable to not blabbing on and on about things that no one cares about.

The Lonely Extrovert

extroverts

Somewhere in your life there’s an extrovert that you think has it all together. Great family, great job, fun to be around. When there’s a party they are always having a good time – smiling, laughing and flitting around like a butterfly. If you work with them, they don’t ever seem to have any trouble at networking events and they always speak up in the Monday morning meeting. If they are your neighbors or parents of your kids’ friends, they always seem to be running the best family on the block. They are the first one you call when you feel like you just need to get out of the house and “do something” because they’ll always say yes. And they will help out with any side project or business idea you’ve got!

Here’s what you might not know…some of these people are extremely lonely. I’m not talking about the “I’m sitting at home alone in the dark brooding” kind of loneliness. Us extroverts don’t get like that too often because we get energy off of other people, so we just naturally get out and about, do stuff, hang out with friends and acquaintances, go to lunch with colleagues, or just talk to strangers if we have to. It is how we fill our emotional tanks.

The kind of loneliness I’m talking about is the kind where you realize the importance of deeper, rooted, more in depth relationships and then look around to find that you don’t have many. For extroverts who come to that realization, lonely takes on a much deeper, more difficult meaning. It becomes disconcerting because it doesn’t go away with more people, which is always our first response. It creates the same feelings that I imagine introverts feel at a 3 hour cocktail party with a bunch of strangers – How do I get out of this?

To be clear, this loneliness is not usually something that can be filled by a spouse or children. Those people are central to our lives and relationships with them are much more about interdependence and the deepest kinds of love than they are being “just friends.” My wife is the single most important person in my life. Period. Friend doesn’t begin to describe our relationship, and she is ALWAYS there for me when I need it, but she cannot fill my every need emotionally.

I’m talking about the kind of relationship where you wade through your extrovert’s small talk and conversation to get to the really mucky stuff going on in their life deeper down. The kind of friendship that has the patience to let you peel off all of their layers of extrovert protectionism until some of the soft and sensitive stuff starts to show up. The kinds of friendship that isn’t afraid to just cut right to it and ask them how things are personally, on the inside, because you don’t really care about the big deal they’re working on at the office or the kids’ latest exploits. What you care about is YOUR FRIEND. These are hard to come by for all of us. I’ve only got three of them in my life and they’re all in different states. They’ll read this and know who they are and probably call to make sure I’m ok. And we’ll talk about our upcoming trip together or agree that we have to find a time to get together – that’s the trick. These are the kind of friendships that get to the core quicker when you’re together, but they are challenging to dig into via text, phone call, or Facebook. We extroverts NEED these face to face moments because we’re so good at the bullshitting that it takes looking us in the eye and asking those challenging questions to get under the surface.

So when you run across your friendly neighborhood extrovert today, give them a hug and ask them how they’re really doing. You might be surprised at their answer and they might really need a friend. Or they might just want to go have a green beer – Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Audio OFF

audio-off

It’s been a noisy few weeks. The start of a new job has led to lots of meetings, phone calls, and interruptions. The holidays brought the in-laws for two weeks and our house was buzzing the whole time the kids were out of school. Snow days this week meant more madness in the house and business is off to a crazy start for 2017. So today, after I dropped the kids off, I decided I’d just turn the AUDIO OFF for the drive to work.

Of course, the fates rewarded me by giving me the longest commute yet since I’ve started working uptown again. I was 10 minutes late for a meeting I should have been 20 minutes early for, and traffic was bumper to bumper which led to a general insanity on the roadways. My patience was tested. More than once I wanted to peek at my phone, or flip on NPR to hear the latest news, or simply jam out to some music. But I had decided to turn the audio off for a reason and I stayed strong.

A few weeks ago, my good friend, Dr. Jason Pittser, told me that sometimes on his drive to work, he just turns everything off and spends those moments with his thoughts, clearing his mind, and reflecting. I really felt like I needed that this morning, and I’m so glad I did it.

Not having the noise and distraction of the radio, email, phone calls, texts, etc in the car made me hyper-aware, but also allowed me to explore some thoughts and feelings that I’ve been ignoring. It was a bit disconcerting to have the full attention span to realize how many people around me were paying very little attention to their driving. I watched in the rear view mirror as the guy behind me texted, smoked, talked on the phone, drank coffee, played with his GPS, and jammed out to the radio; praying all the while he wouldn’t rear end me. I saw a guy get so frustrated with our slow moving line of traffic that he drove on the shoulder, through the grass in the median, and around 2 cars to get into a lane he thought was faster; I passed him 5 minutes later. I could hear the rumble of the radio in a Tesla driven by a woman WAY TOO YOUNG to be able to afford a Tesla while she applied her make-up to the booming bass. All the while I had to resist the temptation of thinking how much better of a person I was than all of these morons. Fact of the matter is, I’ve allowed most of these distractions and more. I’ve experienced those same frustrations. I’ve allowed outside forces to dictate my mood. But not this morning.

This morning, as I sat quietly in the hum of life around me I was reminded how fortunate I am. I was reminded that my worries are not the worries of the world, nor should I treat them as such. I was reminded of the value of dreaming and wishing and hoping. I was reminded that I have been ignoring exercise so far in 2017 and need to stop making excuses. I was reminded how thankful I am to have healthy kids and a healthy wife. I was reminded that when I slow down and practice a little mindfulness, my heart rate slows and my blood pressure drops, and I allow room in my brain for thinking about things bigger and more important than a random meeting; things that affect my health, and family, and joy. And I smiled a lot.

If you are reading this, I want to challenge you to do something, right this second. Shut off every thing that can make noise or create distraction around you. Shut the door to the room you’re in. I know you can do this because a few minutes ago you were surfing Facebook or Twitter and ended up here, so you’re not THAT busy. Just turn it all off for 5 minutes. You don’t have to meditate or come up with anything profound, just sit and BE for a few minutes. Focus on your breathing and let your mind wander just a little. Close your eyes, and smile. When the audio is off, there is room for more than you can imagine.

Sun____

sun

What’s better, a sunset or a sunrise? One thing I love about both sunrise and sunset – they have their own beauty and are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Is the picture above a sunrise or a sunset? Does it matter? For as one sun sets, another prepares to rise. Each with her own grandeur.

In the last week of this year for me, I am reflecting on the setting of 2016 and anticipating the rising of 2017.

2016 has been a beautiful and complicated year. As I watch it’s “sunset,” I am in awe of everything that has happened to me and my family this year. We went through a family medical trauma, didn’t get what I thought was my “dream job,” sold a house, bought some land, learned the value of quitting, bought what we think of as our “dream home,” endured some stressful interpersonal relationships with family members, moved our kids to a new school, quit a job I loved to start one I never imagined would be possible, renovated a kitchen, lost our family dog, got a puppy for the first time in 15 years, and had a very full year of fun and frolic with our friends far and wide. We hiked, camped, fished, kayaked, laughed, cried, danced, and generally lived a full life.

What a beautiful sunset I’m watching on this year!

And the sunrise of 2017 is about to start peeking over the horizon. In a few short days, she’ll pop up her first few rays of light. Who knows what the day will hold once that sun is up in the air of 2017. The sunrise of each new year is like the sunrise of each new day – beautiful and filled with unlimited potential. It is likely that the year will have mountaintop moments and emotional valleys. I’m sure we’ll have some adventures that we’ll never forget and make some decisions we wish we could go back and change. It could be the best year of my life or the worst 12 months ever. Today, it is just starting to become a reality; the sunset of 2016 is much more real and relevant right now.

There’s one big difference, though…sunsets are for reflection, sunrises are for anticipation. And while I enjoy reflecting on 2016, I am energized with the  potential of the coming sunrise. It looks like it could be beautiful.