Your Plate

Some mornings, I sit down at my desk to this:

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An empty plate is not a bad thing. I can attest to the fact that starting a day or a week with an empty plate can be both invigorating and challenging (particularly for goal oriented people like me). It can be fun to have to really WORK to make things happen in your business and get things moving. On a personal level, having an empty plate for me usually means things are clicking along with my family, our finances, and friendships without much conflict or stress.

Empty plates can also cause me anxiety if they stay empty too long. Here’s where the danger comes for me – when I sit in front of an empty plate too long, I start to put things on it; often without considering if they go together or not. Pretty soon, I end up with this:

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As I start my week today, my plate looks a lot more like this mis-matched pile of goodness. Lots of great stuff on there to work through. For me today, I’ve got both personal and professional opportunity on my plate. I’ve got big potential changes for our family. I’ve got two huge projects wrapping up at work in the next month and two great opportunities to pitch this week. On top of that, I’ve piled on some extra work by teaching a college class this semester and we’re in the final planning stages of this year’s Jay Bilas Skills Camp. My gravy is dripping off the side!

A full plate can often be overwhelming. I’ve had nights where I wake up at 3am just thinking about everything that needs to be done. I’ve looked at “to do” lists on Monday that seem never-ending and just wanted to procrastinate it away. I have felt the stress of family and financial pressure pushing in all at the same time as the “gravy” of life spills over.

And this is what I’ve learned: The only way to clear the plate is one bite at a time. Furthermore, it is important to enjoy and savor every delicious bite. This week, as I sit here today staring at my plate, I’m going to slowly work through this full plate of responsibility, opportunity, fear, and possibility until it is cleared and I am satisfied that I’ve tasted each task or challenge to the fullest. And I’ll take my roll and wipe up every last drip of gravy that life has poured on top.

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Kid Pictures

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I don’t think there are many adults alive who would argue that we could all use a dose of childhood on a regular basis. Kids care about each other, adults are selfish; kids are honest, adults hide the truth; kids stay in the moment, adults worry about the past and future while they often ignore the moment; kids have genuine emotions of both joy and sadness, adults try to hide all of their emotions, or at best, control who sees them.

This past Thanksgiving Weekend, I became aware of another thing we adults need to learn from kids in the attempt to take some “Kid Pictures.” Like many families around the country, we got together with the entire clan for several days and as our kids and their cousins don’t get together more than a couple of times a year, we wanted to mark the occasion with a Facebook worthy picture, suitable for framing. Needless to say, the kids had a different idea, and I think we need to learn something from them when it comes to pictures (whether they are actual pictures, or the emotional pictures that we snap when we’re together).

We had bought the requisite matching outfits – striped shirts for the boys, cute flowered print shirts for the girls, all in matching orange and blue (for Auburn or Florida, depending on who you ask). It was a beautiful fall day at my brother’s Florida home and we placed the wicker sofa in just the right spot on the lawn for the ideal picture. Should be simple to then get an 8, 7, 5, and 4 year old to sit together for 30 seconds to take a picture, right? Nope, didn’t feel authentic to the kids. So they did what they wanted to do – piled on top of each other in a laughing, screaming mosh pit with the oldest cousin on the bottom and everyone sitting¬†on top. Luckily, we snapped the above shots anyway and captured what life is really like for these 4 when they get together for family gatherings – it is just having fun being together. No pretenses, no false selfs involved, no talking behind each others’ backs. They just play together when they want to play together, get away from each other when they’re tired of each other; they laugh, they argue, they cry, they share; all along they are developing real relationships.

We adults ought to stop trying so hard to make every picture – literally and figuratively – a presentation of the self we want the world to see too. We ought to be ok with spending time together and spending time alone near each other. We ought to stop trying to accomplish our agendas when we get together and start just being together developing real relationships. Life is messy, we don’t always agree and we don’t always get along – even with family. That is ok, it is what makes life interesting and fun. But we need to recognize it and appreciate it, not hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I dearly love my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew. I don’t agree with my parents or brother on everything and that is fine with me. We have interesting conversations with divergent points of view and I appreciate those. I don’t live my day to day life the same way as my brother and his family and our family dynamics are different. That is ok, and it makes our time together interesting for parents and kids alike because they get to interact with a different way of doing things. Everything in life doesn’t have to be neat and organized, scheduled and set. We certainly don’t all have to have the same methods to get to the outcomes we’re seeking. So let’s continue to celebrate the fact that we can just get together, pile on top of each other with laughing, screaming, and crying…and enjoy living in each moment. Oh, and let’s make sure we take some pictures of it that way so we can show each other how similar we actually are in our dysfunction.

Weeks are Slow, Years are Fast

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Yesterday my little girl turned 5 and then I had a 2 hour homework battle with my 8 year old son. Having both of these experiences helped me realize that time is a crazy thing because weeks seem to drag on, but years seem to fly by.

Maybe our house is completely abnormal, but most weeks feel like a never ending Civil War skirmish where one side fires a volley and wounds a few soldiers, retreats into the woods, and waits for the other side to come charging out in response so they can wound a few soldiers and also run back to the woods. I don’t know if my wife and I are Union or Confederate, but it seems like no one ever wins, there is always pain and suffering (to a minor degree), and we almost always realize that we’re fighting with family in the end.

On the other hand, when I take the time to just sit and watch my children play, or see them open birthday presents on their big day, or sip a glass of wine and catch up with my wife after they’ve gone to bed it seems like time is just a blur. Where in the world did 5 years go?

The lesson I pondered last night after my skirmish with my son as I reflected on my daughter’s quick 5 years was this…EVERY MOMENT is valuable. I have to continue to discipline myself to stay in those moments because none of us ever really know the long term value of the moment we are in now. The Battle of Gettysburg happened when and where it was fought by chance when a skirmish turned into something bigger. The generals on the field of battle those 3 days in July 150 years ago could not have imagined the importance of what they were involved in at the time.

In the same way, we cannot know the importance of our daily skirmishes, quiet moments, fun, and toil with our friends and family so we owe it to each moment to treat it as if it is the most important moment of our lives; because it is, it is the one we have NOW.

When travel pays off

Traveling for business can be a bear, and it can be a blur. Often, it is hard to remember when you’re in the moment that there is a greater purpose for that travel and it is rooted in the importance of CONNECTING, really CONNECTING with people. This can only be done face to face, in conversation, talking about projects and opportunities.

Today, when I got confirmation that those CONNECTIONS made last week are going to lead to contracted business, it was a great reminder. It is the reason why staying in the moment when traveling can lead to such beautiful results both personally and professionally.

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