I LOVE my job. I HATE my job.

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Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t at some time HATE their job? I’m not talking about perpetually disliking what you are doing, wanting to quit, gotta get out of here feeling, I’m talking about the days or stretches of days that pop up where you just feel like you’re being ground up. Where you can’t get in the groove and gain traction. I’m having one of those stretches of days. My response has been to just put my head down and keep grinding. Now I’m not so sure that is the right thing to do.

I love my job. And I realize that the opportunity to work in sports on some of the coolest stadium and arena projects in the world (see below) is a responsibility that MANY people would trade with me. So why the rut that I can’t seem to grind myself out of?

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When I sat down to get started at work this morning, I had this thought run through my head: Does my career bring me satisfaction and add value to my life? Like many big questions that hit me like that, the best way for me to process it is to write. I guess I’ve not had too many big questions in my head recently since I haven’t written a blog post in over 3 months. Hmmm, maybe there is a correlation here.

Since mid-May I’ve been pretty bogged down in the weeds. We had another awesome year of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp in June, but there were a lot of little details we had to work through the last few weeks of May leading up to it. It was time consuming and mind numbing. At that same time, we have been working through the final phases of three huge projects at work. The end of projects for us is always when we’re looking at the details closely, figuring out what we’ve missed, trying to fix little bugs, and going over software incessantly trying to find those bugs. It is exhausting detail work that can only be done onsite and requires regular uncomfortable conversations with clients who want everything to be perfect the first time.

On top of all of those mind-numbing, detail driven work, we bought a new house, which we love, but it was painfully slow to get it closed and it is a lot of work.

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So I’ve been in the weeds. I’ve been moving information around. Sitting on conference calls to discuss details. Working in the minutiae. It’s been a long time since I sat 30-40 minutes aside at the beginning of the day to be mindful, ponder some big question, and write down my thoughts. It seems like a long time since I climbed up to the second floor of life and looked out at the horizon.

On the horizon you can see that there are great things coming – you can see the sun rising to a new day, you can see the beautiful mountains in the distance, you can see the vast lake reaching out before you. And in life you can see all of the opportunity that is out there. You can see the new challenges and new projects that are coming your way. You can start to think about how you are going to win the next great project or be a part of something innovative.  The horizon is what energizes me – it’s what makes me excited to get to work each morning.

If like me, you’ve been sitting in the weeds dealing with details a lot lately, do what I’m going to do the rest of the week – fill your open moments with time looking at the professional horizon because there is so much great opportunity out there and you can’t see it if you’ve always got your head down. And when you allow yourself to look out at the horizon, you might realize, like I have, that you actually LOVE your job.

Leadership that Lasts

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In a world of never-ending corporate sell-offs, sports organization shake-ups, constant political jockeying, and increasing religious in-fighting are we losing sight of the importance of Leadership that Lasts?

I’ve been reading my dad’s book, The Resilient Pastor, and came across a quote this morning that got me thinking about the staying power of leadership in our culture today. He says,

“In life and leadership, it is not so much about the beginning as the finishing. Many begin well; too few finish well.”

I’m not a pastor and I’m not reading my dad’s book just to be a good son. What I’ve found as I’ve worked through his practical ideas for pastors to put into place in their lives to weather the storms of leading a church is that if I replace the word “pastor” with “leader” throughout the book, the lessons and guidance are universally applicable. The fact of the matter is that today’s leaders – in business, in politics, in sports, AND in the church, are facing some serious challenges to their ability to LAST for long periods of leadership. While the details that create these challenges might be different, the core factors are the same:

1) Leaders are often unprepared or underprepared for the challenges of being THE LEADER.

2) Leaders often have a weak or faulty personal foundation.

3) Leaders succumb to unrealistic or false self expectations and try to take short cuts to meet them.

4) Organizations fail to support and encourage leaders through periods of challenge which limits a leaders’ willingness to take risk.

5) We, as a culture, have become enamored with brevity in our communication, our patience, and our view of change, expecting organizational change and growth to happen in that same brief cycle.

As I look at my own life, I see places where I have fallen victim to these challenges myself.

I look back on my hopes and dreams from just 10 years ago and I am thankful that I wasn’t thrust into more visible leadership roles. It is only with the gift of time that I can look back and recognize that I didn’t have the foundation that would have made me a great leader at 30. While I do believe my foundation is still being built at 40, I also know that I am much more prepared today for formal leadership than I was 10 years ago.

In much the same way, my own leadership ability has been shaped and strengthened by personal challenges. Having kids, buying and selling homes, working through marital struggles, persevering during lean financial times, and sorting through my own personal strengths and weaknesses has made me a more stable person with a stronger personal foundation. By going through those things I’ve been able to put solid bricks into that foundation.

It is the mark of a successful leader to be driven to succeed in their chosen field. What I have recognized, however, is that I can’t do it all. I was having a laugh a few weeks ago with a good friend of mine who has taken a position that I used to have. I was sharing with him some of the stupid things I used to do in that position because I thought I could, and should, do it all. Staying at the office at all hours of the night to put together a scorecard for the next game because I had sold it that way seemed like the right thing to do at the time. In my mind, I was being a good leader by making sure that our organization did what we told the sponsor we were going to do. As I think back on that now, it seems so silly. The only reason I put those unrealistic expectations on myself was because of immaturity. Thankfully, my friend is older and wiser than I was when I had the position and understands that if you’re majoring in the minor details as a leader, you’d better look at how you’re doing things because that is a recipe for burn out.

I’ve also been a victim of organizational management that created an environment of fear for its leaders. It is important for any organization – business, political, sports, religious to remember that expectations that you STATE and the actions that you TAKE have to be in sync. A few years back I was handed the reigns of a failing, dis-functional sales organization and told to rebuild it for long term success. Too often in both sports and business, the initial expectations that we lay out for our leaders quickly change to “Just win baby,” and that is what happened to us. As soon as the organization saw early positive results from the first phases of my re-building, the expectations shifted to setting sales records. The plan was derailed because the team wasn’t stable enough yet for that kind of pressure and we ultimately failed. My confidence as a leader was shattered.

Last, but not least, I’m guilty of not taking a long view. If you look back at the picture accompanying this post, it illustrates what I’m TRYING to do in my leadership life now. That picture is of my dad and my daughter standing on the top of Stone Mountain, GA a few years ago. Just like in this picture, my dad has been holding the hand of young leaders as they go through periods of fear and excitement, looking out on their possibilities for over 40 years. Before I was born, he was forming his own leadership foundation, making his mistakes, and faithfully leading where he was instead of worrying about what was next. It is my hope and prayer that I’ve reached a point in my life that I can start holding hands as well. I’m sure there will be times that I’ll have to run back to daddy for support when I get too close to the edge or have a scary stretch, but like my daughter in this picture, I’m going to keep my head up, looking at the long view of leadership and understanding that it isn’t so much about the beginning as it is the finishing.

Thanks dad for that great reminder today.

I DO Care, But I Still Love Him

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“I don’t care if my kids play sports, I just want them to be happy.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say this, often some of my best friends, and almost always the parents of kids who are playing sports and loving it. This comment is usually a part of an explanation as to why they have their kids playing a sport year round at 9 years old or when they are telling me that their kids WANT to participate in 2 different leagues that require practice 4-5 nights a week. Essentially, it is always the parents whose kids ARE playing sports who say they don’t care. And always I wonder…would they say that if their kids DIDN’T play sports?

Tonight, as I was walking around the neighborhood after dark on a pretty crisp January night for North Carolina, I heard the bounce of a basketball. I followed the sound until I found one of the neighbor boys, a middle school aged kid, shooting baskets in his driveway by the light of the streetlight by himself. I was instantly taken back to my middle school days when I would shovel the neighbor’s driveway in the winter so I could shoot baskets on their garage hoop because I didn’t have one of my own. They had a light on the corner of the garage that lit up just enough of the driveway to see and I knew how to get in the garage and turn that light on (and they were patient enough to let me keep on shooting). It was where I first started to really love the game, where I first honed my skills, and where I first dreamed of playing college basketball (for Lou Henson and the Flying Illini!) Watching that boy shoot hoops in his driveway reminded me how much joy the game brought me as a youngster.

My wife and I both achieved many of our athletic goals – we were both scholarship athletes in our sports in college, we both coached at the high school and collegiate levels, and we both worked in big time college athletic departments. Sports were and remain a big part of our lives and who we are as people. To this day, I earn my living working with sports organizations at the college and pro level.

The thing is, despite our passions, abilities, and interests, our kids (ages 9 and 6) don’t play sports. Our kids aren’t even really that interested in sports. We’ve tried to make them play…not interested. It isn’t that they aren’t athletic – both are in the top 10% of height and weight for their age and both run and play around outside all the time. They just don’t play sports.

And I DO CARE! It bothers me. It makes me sad that I don’t have to call them in from the driveway for bed or tell them we have to stop playing catch because it is getting dark. It makes me sad because both Jessi and I have experienced first hand the value of team sports and are the people we are today because of our sports. But as I walked home tonight, I also realized that I LOVE THEM ANYWAY.

The picture above pretty much sums up my son, Jack. He’s happiest in a book store, sitting quietly by himself or playing in his imagination in a solo world. My daughter teaches her baby dolls all sorts of lessons and tags along with her big brother on his neighborhood exploring, which seems to be her happiest moments. And I’m learning to appreciate what makes them who they are and what makes them happy. But I’m not going to lie about how I feel about them not playing sports – I do care, but I love them anyway.

I hope that parents who say they don’t care will just stop and instead admit that they DO CARE and stop apologizing for it. It’s just what they enjoy doing right now and all you really should do is love them. Just be sensitive to what they really WANT to do and when they do want to stop playing sports, whether they verbalize it or not, let them. While they do want to play, encourage them but don’t overdo it, because when they stop you’ll realize that your really DO CARE and it may make you sad when they don’t.

Very Important Insignificant Speck

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Last week, my wife and I were very blessed to have the opportunity to travel to London and Rome to celebrate my 40th birthday. As I reflect on the trip and all of the amazing things that we saw and experienced, it is difficult for me to sum up into a few words the most impactful parts of the trip. This morning, as I got back into my routine with a Monday morning run it finally started to become clearer in my mind. This trip taught me that I am a Very Important Insignificant Speck of life in this world.

There is perhaps no greater place to feel insignificant in this world than in Rome, Italy. As you stand in places like St. Peter’s Basilica Square (pictured above), The Sistine Chapel, The Pantheon, The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, or any of the thousands of amazing churches around the city it is humbling to remember that you are only ONE of hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years who have stood in those places. Think about that…The Pantheon was completed in 127 AD – less than one hundred years after the death of Christ – as a temple to the Roman gods of the stars and sun. There have been people worshipping in that building daily for almost 2,000 years. Talk about making a guy feel small!

Then we visited the Sistine Chapel. Built a mere 700 years ago, this building has one of the largest single expanse vaulted ceilings ever constructed. This slight detail added incredible complexity to the job of Michelangelo when he was commissioned in 1508 to paint the ceiling. Often forgotten in this masterpiece is the fact that Michelangelo had to first engineer a scaffolding that would get him up to the ceiling for the painting while at the same time allowing the chapel to continue to be used for services. As Jessi and I stood in the middle of this room with thousands of other people, and looked up at this view, my personal speck started to feel even smaller.

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And then we came home. In over 9 years of being parents, we’ve never been away from our children for more than 3 consecutive days. Our week together was amazing, re-affirming of our relationship, and a shared experience we’ll never forget. It was great to spend so much concentrated time together. We talked a lot about our kids while we were away, like any parents would do. Then, when we walked in the door last night, we were met by this (and hugs and kisses):

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So this morning, as I dropped the kids off at the bus stop and then ran one of my usual routes as a pretty insignificant speck after our trip to Europe, I suddenly started to feel pretty important. I’m important as a emotional and physical partner to my wife. I’m important to the growth, protection, support, and development of my two kids. It is important for me to be a good son, brother, and friend to those I care about the most. My health is important so that I can physically and emotionally care for my family and loved ones. My work is important to sustain me emotionally, my family financially, and my clients and colleagues professionally. And it is important to play and have fun and to share those moments with the most important people in my life.

My daughter’s welcome home picture reminded me of all of these reasons that I am important because despite all of the amazing things I saw over the past week, that simple sign meant the most. Her innocent and unconditional love came through in an act of caring and kindness that made us feel like the most important people in the world, and the excitement of her and her brother to hear all about our trip was the highlight of the trip by far.

The reality is that we are all pretty small and insignificant specks of human life in the grand scheme of global history. While we often act like we’re at the center of the universe, our daily lives and actions really don’t have a lot of impact on very many people. That doesn’t matter though, because to the people we do impact, we’re all very important. And it is to those people that we should give our time, attention, love, caring, energy, and concern. Every speck counts.

Reflection

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Since November 17, 2009 I have been keeping a journal – very much off and on – that I have titled “Things Dad Learned” for Jack Searby. Today, I was writing in one of the last pages of the journal so I decided to flip back through it and read a few entries from the past 6 years. What ensued was a lesson on the power of reflection.

Looking back across these entries that are intended to be shared with my son when he heads off to college, I came to realize something in a very powerful way: it is very difficult for us, in the moment, to realize the insignificance or gravity of a situation.

Two examples drove this home for me. I came across an entry where I put on paper a very emotional passage about how trying my son, who was 4 at the time, was being to his mother and I. It was laden with a ‘woe is me’ tone about how hard he was making life by being overly emotional and getting in trouble at pre-school and on and on. As I look back on this, I almost have to laugh at how trite I was being. Jack, at age 4, was a new brother, in a full day pre-school because both of us were working full time, dealing with me being on the road a lot for work, and he was 4! I know that I thought it was a big deal at the time because this journal isn’t a “recap of my day” type of ledger. But with the passage of time and maturing of both Jack and I, it is obvious that the moment was insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It made me wonder what things in my life today I’m making more out of than I should. What “stresses” in my life today should I just let go of because they will seem so silly 5 years from now?

The second example was a series of entries that focused on a fear that I was moving too fast with a small business that I had started and self caution to not overextend myself financially with the venture. They were almost footnotes to their posts, but showed up 6 or 7 times over a 6 month period, as if I wrote them as reminders. Reflecting back, I now realize the gravity of those self-reminders and wish that I had recognized their wisdom. Instead, I plowed ahead on emotion pursuing the dream of owning a successful small business with little regard for the larger financial picture. Because of my blind faith, it all came crashing down – the business failed, we closed up shop, and I left a trail of financial wreckage that had to be dealt with (and is still being dealt with). THIS caused me to pause as well and consider what seemingly ‘little things’ in my life seem to be continually itching me that I need to pay closer attention to? I have been feeling my age lately and telling myself I’ve got to be more moderate in my diet and portions. I keep telling myself that I need to be more gentle and caring in my conversations with my kids. I regularly come back to the idea of dwelling on the joy in my life more and sharing these joys with my wife. These nagging thoughts may carry more gravity than I realize…and I probably won’t know for sure for years.

The reflection on my journal was healthy. It made me realize that I still have a long way to go to being the man I want to be and that I keep repeating some of the same mistakes. But it also made me realize that I have grown a lot in the past 6 years. The key will be what I do with these realizations over the next 6 years. Today I will take a step towards joy and gentleness in hopes that those small things carry great weight.

Restless

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It seems that about every two years I find myself really restless. I can’t put my finger on what causes it, but I can usually sense it coming on. And then the restlessness comes to head and I feel like I’m standing in front of the sign above trying to make a decision about what to do, but no matter what I do I can’t settle on a path.

When I’m in this restless state I find it hard to practice any sort of quiet meditation and my mind races in 10 different directions any time I try to focus. I’ll turn my attention to work, but stare at my daily planner and think how benign every single thing I need to do this week looks. I’ll get out of the house and try to change the scenery and just waste time in a fruitless effort to try to get my focus turned to something. I’ll get 3 or 4 different books going at once because none of them can seem to keep my attention. I’ll drag my family around looking at houses or bore my wife with stories about exotic ideas of living somewhere else. I’ll sit down to write and it will come up stream of consciousness (just like this) and feel disconnected. It can be maddening.

So, what to do?

Apparently this is a thing, because if you google restless life syndrome, you get a lot of results.

However, does knowing that I’m not the only one that suffers from this make it better? Nope. In the past when this has happened, it has often lead to a spiral of restlessness in my life that causes me to chase change for change’s sake. If I look back on the most severe cases of this strange phenomenon that I’ve experienced, they led to me moving to Colorado, getting out of coaching, taking a job that just about crushed my marriage because of all of the travel, starting a small business, and uprooting my family without hardly consulting my wife or giving any concern to how she might feel about it. Not all of those turned out bad, but to some degree they all caused pain that was tough to fight through.

I’m thinking that this time I’m going to behave differently. We’ve got a great house (with 2 brand new air conditioners), a great life (with a new used car that’s super cool), two great kids, two great jobs, and not much to complain about. It would be pretty stupid to blow all of that up just because I’m feeling a little restless. Instead, I’m going to soldier through. It will be uncomfortable and unnatural for me. I like change. But I think it is an important discipline for me to learn to stick.

I fully expect that my mind will continue to wander, my focus will be challenged, and my work for a time will be uninspired. I am hopeful that on the other side of this bout with restlessness I am going to find a peace that I’ve not experienced before because I’ve always given in to the urge to make a big change. I’m sort of excited to see what that peace is all about.

That seems like a much healthier thing to be restless about.

Returning to Beginnings

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About a year and a half ago, on a business trip to San Francisco, I decided that I ought to start writing down my thoughts and publishing them on this blog. Originally, it was just a way to formalize something that a few acquaintances and I had been doing on Facebook – documenting the cool places we got to run when we traveled for work. For me, it has progressed quite a bit from that.

This week, I was back in San Francisco for business and went for a morning run again down on Embarcadero Avenue that runs down along the waterfront. This was the place that I ran the first morning before that first blog post, and I saw a lot of the same sights. I thought it was the appropriate time to revisit some of the beginnings of these ramblings and remind myself of the state of mind and areas of focus I was dealing with back then.

The thing that struck me the most about reading those entries I wrote when I first decided that it was important to share my thoughts was how my beliefs haven’t shifted much, but how I have drifted from the focus I seemed to have back then on those beliefs. Specifically, I still feel very strongly about the importance of stillness, being quiet, being present in the moment, and being mindful at all times. However, reading my own writing from the fall of 2013, I can see that at the time, living that out daily and reminding myself daily to be focused on those things was key to my emotional and mental well being and a priority in my life. During the past 18 months I have allowed those things to be less central in my day to day routine.

I could wax on and on about how much more complicated life is since those beginning posts – I’m approaching 40 years old, I’m 2 years into a career instead of 6 months and have a lot more professional responsibilities because of that, my children are getting more and more busy and time consuming all of the time, my relationship with my wife has grown over the past year and a half which leads us to more and deeper conversations and connections, and I’m no longer training for a marathon and having hours on end of solitude while I run. These, however, would all be excuses.

The truth of the matter is that, as is so often true with all of life, our priorities, and the things we focus on, go through cycles. Various factors influence these cycles, but in the end it is natural for us to realize ebbs and flows in our life when it comes to emotional, relational, spiritual, physical, and mental well being. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about not being where we were a year ago or 5 years ago in any of those areas. We should, however, return to beginnings occasionally and see if there are things of value from those beginnings that we can try to bring back in to our lives that will benefit the here and now.

For me personally, returning once again to San Francisco, running that same route along the Bay, and re-reading what I wrote when I started morningrunguys reminds me that although a lot of circumstances of life have changed in that short period of time, I still need to MAKE TIME to be still and quiet on a regular basis and I need to be more disciplined about not only taking regular morning runs, but also allowing time to reflect on the things that go through my mind on those runs. As I read back through some of my old posts, it is clear to me that when I allowed for this time and reflection, it had a positive impact on my personal and relational life.

I don’t know what the rest of 2015 will hold, or where I’ll be mentally or emotionally when the 2 year anniversary of these musings rolls around. But I am going to commit to returning to the deeper reflection of the beginnings of this blog, because when I return to the beginning I can see that they had an impact on how I expressed myself and I want that depth back to my soul.

Slumps

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This picture is what a slump feels like to me – a long path in front of me, no end in sight, no one to talk to, only the path to keep running. What I have learned about slumps, and what I am having to do right now as I go through one, is that all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and move on down the path in the moment you have right now.

Slumps come in a lot of different forms and in various parts of our lives. When we’re experiencing slumps in multiple parts of our life at once it can start to feel overwhelming. When only one area is going through a slump, we often think there is something we can DO to get out of it if we just work harder, push harder, focus our effort. The reality about most of the slumps we go through in life is that there isn’t much we can DO about them, we can only keep moving forward.

Life is pretty good right now. My wife and I feel like we’re in a real “sweet spot” in the parenting of our 9 and 6 year olds (if you haven’t hit these ages yet, they are the easiest to date). After a major physical wake up call, I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds in the last month and feel healthier than I have in a year. Spiritually and emotionally I feel as peaceful and tuned in as I can remember in my adulthood. Financially our family is stable and comfortable and we live in a great neighborhood with a lot of luxuries that many others do not enjoy.

Yet still, despite all of the good in my life, I’m experiencing a business slump. Almost daily I spend some time wondering why I’m on a cold streak of closing new business deals? I start to analyze what I’m DOING and questioning whether I’m working hard enough, making enough calls, reaching out to the right people, saying the right words. All of my insecurities revolve around some failure on my part to not DO THE RIGHT THING or enough of it. I feel like my business prospects are like staring down this empty path – no one to talk to or no one to listen to me, no end in sight, and no opportunities in view. It is maddening and disheartening. Sometimes I exacerbate the situation by trying to DO something else unrelated to work just to get the satisfaction of accomplishment. Maybe if I can successfully plan a family trip that will make me feel better. Maybe if I can get a good deal on a new car I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe if we moved to a new house the change of scenery would jump start things! It snow-balls quickly…

Here is the reality I recognized this morning as I finally sat quietly and examined my thoughts (crazy thoughts about uprooting my family in hopes a change of scenery would help)…slump-busting isn’t about DOING. Breaking out of a slump is about staying on the path, putting one foot in front of the other, and staying true to who you are and the values you hold true. Slumps are a normal part of life, family, sports, and business. Jon Doyle, from BaseballTrainingSecrets.com, said this about hitting slumps:

Most people actually think slumps are created by the hitter doing something wrong with their mechanics. However, what usually causes an ongoing slump is how the hitter is affected mentally.

I believe business slumps are the same. As I reflect on this slump I’m in, I realize I’m not doing anything different than I was doing 6 months ago when we had so much business coming in we couldn’t keep up with it. No, what I’m doing is allowing my focus from a business standpoint to wander to other solutions, looking for an action that will fix things. Like a hitter who starts by moving back a bit in the box to get a split second longer to see that ball, I started with trying to get the ‘feeling’ of winning a deal a different way and focused energy there instead of plugging down the path. As a hitter’s slump continues, they often make more and more drastic changes in an effort to break out of it until pretty soon they’re using a different bat, eating a different pre-game meal, and shopping for new cleats. All along, for hitters, and for me, the solution is in our head. And it isn’t a solution at all…it is just getting all of that other junk out of our heads and focusing on the moment we have right now.

So today I’m going to stop worrying about the details of that family trip that is months away; email those car dealers back and tell them I’m not buying after all; and I’m going to throw away those real estate listings on the coast that I’ve been fixating on for that past few days. Instead, I’m going to focus on staying in the moment with my clients which leads to meaningful conversations. I’m going to talk freely and without pressure to prospects about the value our company can bring to their projects. And I’m going to keep my mind and eyes open for possibilities for business and explore them when they come, not choke them when I see them. I know that less DOING and more BEING PRESENT MENTALLY will break this slump.

Selling Widgets

Tim

by Dr. Jason Pittser, Fellow Traveler on the Path of Simplicity and Awareness

This past Saturday afternoon a great friend and I, along with our wives, were at a downtown Nashville honky-tonk. It was the typical downtown Nashville atmosphere – people from all over, great live music, drinks flowing. Interacting with the crowd between songs, the lead guitar player (above) asked if anyone was in Nashville on business, “trying to learn how to sell more widgets.” My friend and I laughed and agreed that to a man who plays guitar for a living, most of the business world must look like a chaotic mess of people rushing around trying to sell more widgets.

When you take a mindful look at it, selling widgets is exactly what many of us do in our professional lives. Some widgets are more important than others and some widget-selling is more meaningful. But when you boil it down, it is still selling widgets. My friend is a contractor and I’m an optometrist. Having shelter and being able to see are important, but custom homes and high-end eyewear are nothing more than widgets. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, holds the NBA record for most consecutive winning seasons and is one of only five coaches in NBA history to win five or more championships. In an era when professional sports franchises change head coaches on a whim, he just finished his 19th season as the Spurs head coach. P. J. Carlesimo, one of Popovich’s former longtime assistant coaches, was asked what has made Popovich so successful for so long. His first response? “He has a lot of interests outside the game of basketball.” Before his team played an Elite Eight game in the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was asked if a win and a trip to the Final Four would validate him and cement his legacy. He responded, “As long as I can look into the eyes of my wife and children and see that I’m okay, that’s all the validation I need.” Two of the most successful coaches in the game seem to have an awareness that coaching basketball for millions of dollars, on some level, is nothing more than selling widgets.

What occupies much of our attention in our personal lives amounts to selling widgets as well. Ask the parent of a terminally ill child how important it is to get your child onto the best youth sports team or into the best private school, and I bet you’ll hear something similar to selling widgets. Arguing about what religious denomination has the right formula to get you into Heaven? Selling widgets. Wearing the right clothes or driving the right vehicle? Selling widgets. Getting into a back and forth about politics? I’m not sure that even reaches the level of selling widgets.

Widgets matter and selling them matters. Both may improve our life situation, and as in all things, we should always sell widgets to the best of our ability. Widgets aren’t good or bad, and neither is selling them. What is bad is losing awareness that we are merely selling widgets. And contrary to what our unobserved thinking tells us, maintaining an awareness that we are simply selling widgets makes us better at many things – including selling widgets.

Distracted by ME

ME

There are all sorts of distractions in this world. I can only imagine the new distractions that will be around by the time my children become working adults. Regardless of what new technology or work expectations they may have in 10-15 years, however, I’m certain that the “Distraction of ME” will still be there.

The Distraction of ME is a selfishness and self-centeredness that I struggle with a lot. It isn’t just being selfish with things or even with time. It is easy to want to spend time with my friends and family. No, it is worse than that because it is an obsession in my mind with my own story, my own problems, my own desires, my own fears, my own thoughts.

Here’s an example…you get to the gate at the airport for your flight (which I do regularly); as soon as they even mention your flight you’re up and jockeying for position so that you can get on the plane and get a spot for your carry-on in the overhead. Once you’ve finally sat down, the phone comes out and you get annoyed and bothered every time someone brushes you with their bag as they go down the aisle or a seat mate asks you to get up and turn your attention away from your precious phone for a few seconds (don’t they understand how important it is for you to respond to this email RIGHT NOW!?!). Now the flight is up and away and you can’t get any work done because there is a baby screaming right behind you and the flight attendants keep smashing your shoulder with the drink cart. You finally land and push and shove your way a few rows forward because YOUR connection is the most important and you can’t be late. The whole experience is all about ME. Despite the fact that the airport is packed with people and the plane is completely full, our own problems, needs, and concerns trump everything and the fact that no one else recognizes this becomes infuriating.

Here’s another way I get Distracted by ME…I’ve been working with a client for over a year, we’ve done the first few phases of work, but the real ‘good stuff’ of the project (read: part where I make the most money) hasn’t been completed. Every time we talk they’ve got some excuse as to why it is delayed and as soon as I start to hear them, I shut off and stop listening. I can’t understand how they don’t see that the finished product that will come from completing this project will totally change their organization for the better. How am I going to continue to explain to my boss that I’m still confident we’re going to do the project even though they keep putting it off – don’t they understand it hurts my credibility internally when I delay like this? Don’t they understand that I’m serious about not being able to meet their timelines if they don’t contract it this month? What is going to happen if this doesn’t close this quarter and we don’t hit our number? It doesn’t take long for the focus to shift from the client to ME. Who cares about why they are delaying, I need to get this deal done!

What I have found as I have practiced mindfulness is that I catch myself having these thoughts that are totally focused on ME. Observing that I’m having these thoughts allows me to push them away, thus shortening the Distraction of ME. It doesn’t necessarily stop them from creeping in, but instead of spending the entire plane ride consumed by my own needs, I can step back and realize that there are other people around me who have needs greater than mine.

What I want to do on a regular basis is spend more time thinking about others. Starting with my wife and kids, I want to dwell on the feelings and needs of those around me. It is my hope that if I can focus on thinking of others, my own junk will fade into the background and not become a distraction. This is hard. Today, I’m going to start by turning my thoughts to others FIRST and continue to recognize when the “ME” gets in the way. Recognition that the thoughts of ME are creeping in will help me eliminate it as a distraction much like you would turn off a ringing phone. I’m convinced that the less I’m distracted by ME, and focused on others, the better husband, dad, friend, co-worker, and servant I’ll be to those around me.