Snow Day

snowday

We don’t get too many snow days here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but when we do, they are AWESOME! My kids have both pretty much been raised in the South, so snow is definitely a novelty to them. The fact that we have THE BEST sledding hill in the neighborhood is a plus. (You just have to make sure you bail before you hit the lake!) Snow days for my kids are simple – sleep in, more media time than usual, read some good books, and hit the snow for a day of fun before it melts tomorrow. It got me thinking about the value of a mental and emotional “snow day” for me too. And I needed it.

As an adult – a parent, a husband, and a leader in my organization – I feel like I have a lot going on. I’m certainly not the busiest man in the world and I try very hard not to project to anyone that I am too busy for them. But the reality is, I get mentally and emotionally tired sometimes; then I come home and we run around all weekend with family and kid activities. And then on Monday, we’re back at it. Sometimes us adults need a snow day too!

I woke up this morning thinking about what am I going to do with my snow day? Here’s what I came up with…

Rest. I laid in bed a few extra minutes and just rested my mind. I tried to control my breathing and think of nothing. It was calming and opened me up to the possibility of the day.

Read. I have a few books I’ve wanted to get started and I know today will be a great day to do that. Usually once I get started on a book, I make the time during the week to continue it and I almost always feel better about reading in the evening than I do watching tv.

Write. I don’t know why it is so hard for me to make time to write in the midst of the regular week. I know I enjoy it. I know that it makes me feel good. I know that it helps me work out my thoughts and feelings better than just stewing on them. Yet I still don’t make it a priority. I think that part of me feels like I need to be unhurried and clear minded to write well and I don’t have too many of those moments in the week so I just don’t do it. This morning, when I knew I would have some time and nothing really rushing me, it was one of the first things that popped into my head.

Organize. I have a few places at home that I’ve been meaning to organize and clean up but always feel daunted by the task. Today I’m going to tackle at least one of them and I know I’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish.

Play Games. The whole family will be at home all day and I’m sure we’ll get on each other’s nerves a bit. What we will most likely do to relieve that is play board games. It is a trick to get the kids to hang out with us and each other, but it usually works and nearly always leads to laughing, talking, and sharing in ways we don’t during the regular week.

Think. Today I will have time to just sit and reflect. Drink a casual cup of coffee and think about stuff. Think about my family. Think about my friends. Think about work. And dwell on how much I have to be thankful for in this life. And dream about what else I can accomplish.

As I refill my coffee for the third time and tap out these words I pause and reflect…

What stops me from doing this stuff during a regular day? Yeah I’m busy. Yeah the family is busy. Yeah I have a lot of responsibilities. But how much time do each of these things really take? My phone told me I averaged almost 3 hours of screen time per day last week. Of that, over 8 hours of it was on social media. I’m pretty sure I could have cut that in half to rest, read, write, organize, play, or think.

It’s really all about priorities, isn’t it? I have placed more value on scrolling through social media than I have on those six things above that make me a better person in some small way. It’s an indictment on my own depth as a person that I value “liking” a funny video someone posted or checking out the latest outdoor gear on Instagram over feeding my own soul. So for my snow day, I’m going to take advantage of this time to unplug and recharge. I’ll check back tonight to see how many of you “liked” this post! 🙂

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Audio OFF

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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.

Courage to Step Away from the Work

I wish that I could say every morning I make time for prayer, quiet, and reflection, but I don’t. This morning, however, I did and a phrase popped into my head that had never been there before – Courage to step away from the work.

The context of this phrase came as I was thinking about, and praying for, my brother and several friends who are going through periods of intense work pressure or work-related stress in their lives. While each situation is very different, all seem to be wading through an overwhelming stream of work, an uncertainty about a work future, or a dissatisfaction with their current work that they can’t seem to escape. As I asked a blessing for strength on them, it dawned on me that they probably don’t have the strength to endure these situations.

Work can be both intoxicating and addicting, leading us to feel like if we just put in 30 more minutes tonight or return 5 more emails or complete one more report we’ll feel really good. I know this to be true because I’ve been there. I’ve sent emails to colleagues at 8 o’clock on a Friday night when I should be enjoying a movie with my family. I’ve texted my wife that I won’t make dinner because I have to finish a project. I’ve returned to my desk before bed for a few hours of “uninterrupted work” only to find that I can’t sleep because I got my mind racing with the things I have left undone. And I still do these things on occasion.

So today, my prayer for myself, my brother, these particular friends I have in mind, and anyone else that thinks they have too much work to do to relax is this: I pray that we will have the courage to step away from the work because the work is not worthy of our worship and it is robbing us of our peace and joy.

I fully appreciate that hard work is necessary and I even believe that work can be an act of worship and praise. However, our culture has placed an undue value on “putting in time” at work. My technology makes me completely accessible to my colleagues in Portland, OR, Australia and Europe any time I allow it. If you look at the time zone map, you’ll see that as a worker in the American East, working for a company based in the American West, with colleagues and projects going on in both Australia and Europe, I could, theoretically, work 24 hours a day and be engaged during someone’s work day that needs me. I choose not to do that.

Instead, I choose to focus on engaging with my far flung colleagues only in thoughtful and meaningful ways. This sometimes demands that I hop on a call with Australia at 11 o’clock at night or support a conference call with European clients at 6 in the morning. Last night it meant an important phone call with a team member in Portland, OR at 8:30p my time as he drove home from work. The key is that I focus on MEANINGFUL interactions. Rather than respond to every email from every time zone every time, I select ones where I can add value. Instead of making myself available to anyone who wants me at any time, I define my availability based on when I can be attentive and engaged. And often, I spend time during my typical workday here in the Eastern Time Zone doing things that are personal tasks, family obligations, self-improvement, or just fun.

It takes courage to step away from work, but it is wholly necessary. The word courage is defined by Oxford as “the ability to do something that frightens one.” Walking away from the work definitely frightens me. It can be terrifying to think about what Monday might be like if I don’t check off everything on my Friday list, or what my boss might think if I don’t respond to his email within 5 minutes on a Sunday night (which is Monday morning in Australia), or how a client might react if I don’t pick up their phone call from California at 6pm Eastern time as we are sitting down for family dinner. Still, we must act in the face of that fear and walk away, hit ignore on the phone, or shut down the email.

You see, while we all inherently know that we need space in our lives for fun, family, friends, hobbies, or relaxing, we somehow give these things second class status to work. So we press on, trying to squeeze work into every nook and cranny of our lives. All the while, we are missing out on the joy that comes with allowing space and time into our days.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your volume of work today, stressed out about your work situation, or just looking at a to do list that seems insurmountable, have the courage to step away from the work. Unless you are a surgeon, it is unlikely that anyone will die from you not getting back to them or not attending to their need (want). Don’t fill your time away with anything that even feels like work. Instead read a book, go for a walk, sit at a bar, talk to your spouse, enjoy your backyard, or just sit quietly. You’ll find that not only will the work still be there, but you will be refreshed and re-energized when you return to it after your courageous hiatus.

A Case for Downshifting

chair

I have an amazing job, which I love.

I have some really great clients who are passionate about what they do and some amazingly talented colleagues who are some of the most professional and fun people I’ve ever worked with in my life. I work hard, and I have fun working. Over the past 4 weeks I’ve been gone from home 12 nights and kicked off 5 new projects. But I’ve also had the opportunity to attend 2 Division 1 college basketball games, 2 MLS Soccer games, a NHL hockey game, and an NBA game during that same stretch that were all ‘work related.’ It has been a blast, and I have been running at high speed for a month straight.

This morning, as I was sitting in my chair in my office (pictured above), enjoying a cup of coffee, reading, and reflecting I came across a quote from John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping that really spoke to me:

“The main thing you bring home from work is not a paycheck. The main thing you bring home from work is a soul.”

Now, more than ever in my life, I feel like I’m bringing home soul from work. I am energized and inspired by the work I do and while the travel can be tiring, it is exciting and fun for me most of the time. I am engaged on some fun projects that stimulate my creativity. If I’m not careful, I can find myself WANTING to work so much that I can wear down and start to miss out on bringing home a healthy soul from work.

So I am going to downshift to a period of rest. This rest is not particularly because I’m exhausted or run down right now, but because it is the right and healthy thing to do. I’m not intending to lay around in my pajamas until noon for the next two weeks or sit cross legged in a dark room chanting “ohm.” Instead, I’m going to downshift. My motor has been revving pretty high for the past 4 weeks and serving me well. For the next two weeks, I’m going to slow down the engine and be more deliberate about both work and life. I’ll be in the office for the next 4 week days and I intend to be productive. I have things to do. But I’m not going to worrying about starting or ending at a certain time, I’m just going to do what I need to do and be done.

Then, next week, I’ll shift down again. At the end of the week, I’m taking the last two days off and taking the family camping with some good friends for a long weekend. For four days there will be no agendas, no meal times, no to do lists, and most importantly no cell phones with texts, emails, tweets, or Facebook posts to interrupt. We’ll enjoy the company of people we love and our kids will play with friends they’ve known their whole lives.

By the end of this stretch of down shifting, not only will I look forward to jumping back into work, but I will have relaxed my engine without strain. When most people take vacation, they spend the 2-3 days before the vacation trying to work like crazy and jam in 5 days of work into 3 so that they can feel better about taking the time off. They run their engine at its hottest, forcing their mind, body, and soul to work overtime in order to earn a cool down. The problem with this thinking is that much like an engine or our bodies after exercise, we need a cool down period or a downshift for the lowest gear to be effective. If you are racing down the interstate in fifth gear going 80 miles an hour, you can’t all of a sudden hit the clutch, shift down to first gear, and then release the clutch to go back to driving. If you’ve ever done this, you know that the screaming and grinding sounds your transmission makes are hideous and terrifying. So it is with you soul and your mind. You can’t expect to actually relax, slow down, and refresh your soul on vacation if you are working overtime and scrambling all over the place the night before you leave. You need a downshift period to truly see the benefit of the rest.

So if you need me for the next 5-6 days, I’ll probably be in my chair in the office catching up on reading my trade magazines or maybe responding to a few emails or sitting on a conference call or two. I may lounge around the house all weekend or go for a lazy bike ride with the kids for ice cream. In any case, I’ll be downshifting so that this time next week my soul will be fully present with family and friends and reaping the benefits of a truly re-charging time.

Alone and Together

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I mostly run alone for a lot of reasons – some time to be quiet and reflect, the ability to be distraction free and observe the world around me, the chance to run as fast or slow as I want depending on how I feel that day, and the focus it creates for me on being my best regardless of what is going on around me.

Partially because I run alone, I also enjoy races. I don’t run races every month, let alone every weekend, but I try to make them a regular part of my running life. Being Together with other runners reminds me that I’m not insane – that others value testing their bodies this way. I enjoy running in races because the conversation and camaraderie with other runners on the course is fun and engaging; it inspires me to keep going sometimes or speed up sometimes. Running in a race is so different than my daily running alone, that I get a lot of enjoyment from it and make it a priority.

Life is the same way. I have to do a lot of things alone and I choose to spend other time alone. A lot of my work, whether it be from my home office or on the road traveling to be with a client, involves being alone. I used to dread this, felt like I always needed people around me. Now, I enjoy it, even savor it, because I recognize the value of being alone. Being alone and quiet in life has become something I prioritize and work to make a part of my life, for much the same reason that I run alone. 

Most importantly, being alone in my daily life creates a greater appreciation for times I get to be together with my family and friends. The picture above is from our family visit to the US National Whitewater Center’s Green River Revival for St. Patrick’s Day and it was great to be completely focused on that time together, enjoy the conversations with my kids, and share in some pure fun. I’ve had some great opportunities recently to see friends that I don’t see very often and those times together have made me more appreciative and thoughtful of them when I’m alone.

I look forward to my alone time this week and I’m also looking forward to some upcoming “Together Times” with my family and friends. BOTH are valuable parts of a healthy life and must be protected and prioritized.