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.

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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.

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.

The Devil is in the Details

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The Devil is in the Details

This common phrase likely originated in the mid-19th century. It is debated whether it was an art critic or an architect who coined the saying, but either way, today we commonly understand it to mean that it is the small things, the details, that make a task difficult or challenging.

Last night, as I was making dinner, I opened this bottle of wine and there on the cork (seen in pic) was that saying: “The Devil’s in the Details.” I’m almost certain the makers of Handsome Devil Malbec had in their minds to communicate that their attention to detail in the winemaking process is what turned out this fantastic wine (and it was a nice wine). However, it got me thinking about details a bit differently…

In my life, it really is the small things that make life both difficult AND amazing. My daughter walking in to my office to give me a kiss before she leaves for school in the morning, my wife telling me thank you for loading the dishwasher (which I should do regardless), and my son telling me “I love you too” when I tuck him in at night are all relatively insignificant things that really make life amazing. Contrarily, I also let some of the most mundane things make life difficult. People driving slow when I’m in a hurry, someone being a few minutes late for a meeting that has been scheduled for weeks, and forgetting something at home that I intended to bring on vacation are all really small things that sometimes drive me crazy. 

But here is the amazing thing about enhancing your self-awareness – you STOP seeing the Devil in the details and you START only seeing God in the details. The quote was actually bastardized and has been modernized by a 20th and 21st century society that has chosen to focus on failures and difficulties that arise from small things rather than celebrate the beauty that can be achieved by attention to detail. Gustave Flaubert, the writer of Madame Bovary, coined the phrase “the good God is in the details.” Flaubert was noted for being a perfectionist and he felt strongly that only attention to small things allowed you to truly find God. Improving my self-awareness has helped me realize that this is true. When you start to become aware of your own thoughts, you suddenly have the ability to ignore the ‘detail’ thoughts that focus on negativity and enhance the ‘detail’ thoughts that bring joy to your life. The more you bring the joy-filled details out and focus on those, the more at peace you feel and it is in that peace where you often find God. 

So yes, The Devil is in the Details, but more importantly God is in the details. No amount of ‘self-improvement’ will help you achieve peace and joy because you will only focus on fixing the negative details in your life and you’ll always be looking for the devil. Enhancing your self-awareness gives you the ability to choose whether you are looking for the devil or God in those small, insignificant things that fill our daily lives. When you choose to look for God in the details it is really hard to see the devil.

Real Facebook Friends

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I’ve oft bemoaned the damage that Facebook and other social media tools available today have done to the self esteem and self awareness of our generation. My gripe is that the generation I am a part of (Generation X) already has enough hurdles in front of us…from being the first generation to earn less than our parents, to being the lucky group that were the primary recipients of the genius of the banking industry called the “interest only loan,” to being the victims of the greatest scam in American automotive industry – the new car lease. The last thing we really need is a place to post all of the greatest things in our lives and make each other feel worthless because our lives aren’t even remotely as rich, fun, happy, full, or exciting as all of our ‘friends’ on Facebook.

But there is hope, because here is the reality – for most people, Facebook is ONLY the highlight reel of our lives, and no one who really cares about us only wants to see only the highlight reel, they want to see the full season because that is the only way you really understand what is going on. Like any good highlight reel, many of our Facebook lives leave out the bloopers, the blunders, the stupid mistakes, and the missed opportunities. All of our family bickering, money problems, marital stress, gossiping about friends, complaining about work, and generally mundane and unhealthy parts of our lives end up on the cutting room floor. This begs the question: Are the lives we live on social media our real lives, are our friends there our real friends, and is it mentally and emotionally healthy to be friends with people whom we are only wiling to share our highlight reels with each day?

So, what to do? I love Facebook! It allows me to stay connected and updated on the lives of people I truly care about but don’t get the opportunity to see or talk to as much as I’d like (the guys above, for instance). But I want to have REAL Facebook friends. Here’s what I’ve decided to do about it. I went through my Facebook friends list and thoughtfully considered whether or not I would actually be friends with them if we lived in the same town and had the opportunity to have a more connected personal relationship? Would I invite them over for an impromtu Saturday bbq, would I call them for support if a member of my family died, would we have coffee together once a month just to catch up, would we meet at church and want to be in a small group together, would we get together as couples and have a quiet dinner, would our kids play together so we’d get to know each other, would we call each other for Friday Happy Hour at the corner tap, or would we be running buddies? Wherever the answer to any of those questions was YES, I kept them as a Facebook friend, where it was NO, I unfriended them. I am sure that I unfriended a lot of good people – it isn’t personal. I just have decided that I am not going to have any friends on Facebook that I don’t consider REAL.

I’m sure I’ll still post lots of pics and posts about all of the cool stuff that our family experiences. I probably won’t post any pictures of my kids throwing a temper tantrum right before church as I scream at them to GET IN THE CAR SO WE CAN GO WORSHIP JESUS! But that happens. I will probably continue to flaunt all of the fun places I get to visit and go for runs in as I travel for work. I may not post pictures of what I look like when I stumble off a red eye flight home after a long week. But that happens. I will continue to post pictures of the rare and special nights when my beautiful wife and I get to go out to eat alone with no kids. I probably won’t post pictures of the stand off at the dinner table that I have at least once a week with my seven year old when he doesn’t want to eat vegetables. But that happens. And I’m sure I’ll post pictures of fantastic vacations and getaways like the one above. I may not post any details of our conversations about whether or not we’re putting enough money away for retirement or our kid’s education because there just doesn’t ever seem to be the surplus we’d hoped for at the end of each month. But that happens. Life happens to all of us. If we’re going to be Facebook friends, let’s be REAL friends and encourage one another, listen to one another, share tough times with one another, and share honestly with one another. 

I’m not his friend, but I’m not the enemy.

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I’m not his friend, but I’m not the enemy…I’m his dad.

My own journey towards greater self awareness always seems to hit a speed bump with my kids. Yesterday was a long day at work. I don’t do anything that is saving the world or curing cancer, but just like everyone else, I sometimes have long and challenging days at work. At the end of the day, as I was preparing to get dinner started I asked my son to get his homework started before dinner and get as much done as possible. Tantrum ensued…

My first instinct was: “you’re not his friend, that is an INAPPROPRIATE response to a simple request! Correct this reaction with an equally powerful CONSEQUENCE!!!”

And for the first time I paused (the self awareness creeping in), and a second thought crossed my mind: “you’re not the enemy either, redirect his response and work with him to get him to do what was asked.”

What I realized that night as I tucked my firstborn in and discussed his day is that I’m his dad, and that noun does not have the word ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ in the definition. I often wring my hands at today’s Generation X Parent who out of a desire to be their child’s ‘friend’ becomes permissive, smothering, and protective. I now realize that in reaction to that, I have often taken on the role of ‘enemy’ by lashing out in harshness, elevating my own status to make sure I get what I want, and fighting anger with anger in battles with my kids.

I love them, have always loved them. But from now on, I’m going to strive to be dad, not friend or enemy. I’m going to correct without anger, react without overreaction, support with expectation, and love without obsession.