Nobody Cares

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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.

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When Life is a Treadmill

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I’m on record that I hate running on treadmills. I’m going to amend that to include when work “feels” like a treadmill as well.

It seems like there are just phases of life where every work day is pretty much the same as day before. Where you feel like you’re running a good pace because you’re getting tired, but not really going anywhere. No measurable victories, no significant losses, no new challenges, no change in scenery. Generally, it is like your work has been put on a treadmill.

The reason that I don’t like running on treadmills is that even though you consciously know you’re doing something, sub-consciously it feels like you’re standing still. The scenery never changes so your mind doesn’t measure the work that you’re putting in. It is mindless and boring to me. I like to see new things, experience new places, and face new challenges when I run. I desire the same things in my work – new challenges, different day to day schedules, and new clients and colleagues to engage with in meaningful dialogue.

So, when my work life starts to feel like a treadmill it feels mindless and boring to me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on one of those work treadmills – several big projects are rolling along without too much of my interaction required; we’ve put some great proposals on the street and it isn’t time to “push” those opportunities yet; there don’t seem to be a ton of new projects on the horizon; AND I work from home, so no one just to grab coffee with and brainstorm about new ideas. It is just plowing along, putting in effort, but sub-consciously it feels like it isn’t going anywhere. BOOORRRRRINNG!

So, what to do? I guess there are a few options:

  1. Take a vacation. I actually did take yesterday off since the kids were out of school and I’m taking next Monday off for the same reason. I hope we’ll be able to share some experiences together to get my mind off of it.
  2. Take on a new challenge. Seems like I don’t ever have to look very far to find a new project or challenge around the corner. I have a new opportunity to teach a college class again this semester and I’m finding out about new and interesting things in my world every day just by opening my eyes it seems. (Trick is to not take on too much)
  3. Feed my mind. I’ve checked out some books I’m interested in and I’m trying to catch up with some friends I haven’t talked to in awhile. Writing and reading are good distractions for me.
  4. Push on old business relationships. This is hard to do when things are busy, so I’ve reached out to some past clients just to see how they’re doing and fill them in on what we’re up to at Downstream.
  5. Consider the obvious. Am I getting the kind of “work exercise” I want and need? Is it time for a “new type of training?” I’m still grappling with this one.

What I don’t want to do is sit around wasting time surfing the internet. I don’t want to become a micro-managing part of my team just because the rest of the team is hard at work on the projects we closed at the end of the year and my “heavy lifting” is on a break right now. I don’t want to get dis-enchanted with what I do if this is just a spell.

So, even though I find treadmill running incredibly boring, I’m just going to accept today that sometimes its cold outside and if you want to work up a sweat, you just have to hope on the treadmill and run. And so it is in work as well.

Work v. Passion

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Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel and champion of the working class has a now famous quote from his TED Talk:

“Bring your passion along with you, but don’t follow it – be happy first!”

What?!?! Don’t follow your passion? Isn’t that counter to everything we’ve ever been taught. Perhaps, but I think he’s on to something.

Recently, I served as the Camp Director for the Jay Bilas Skills Camp, an ‘old school’ camp that is focused on teaching the fundamental skills of the game of basketball. Preparing for the camp and then the three, 18 hour days in the gym reminded me that my passion is teaching – teaching and leading coaches, teaching young people the game of basketball, and teaching life changing lessons through sports. I know it is my passion because not once did I think twice about putting in the long days; not once did I ask myself ‘what are you doing here?’; not once did I wish I was doing something else with my time; not once did I wonder how much I was going to get paid for the work. I was all in, all out, for the entire camp…because it is my passion.

But my passion isn’t my job. Does that make me a failure? Shouldn’t I have a job at 39 years old that allows me to make a living following my passion? I agree with Mike Rowe on this point and say NO! That doesn’t mean that I don’t love my job and it doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard at my job. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not happy. I have a great job working every day with sports teams to help make their facilities more beautiful and engaging. I earn a good living and have a balanced quality of life. I have time to spend with my family and friends. And  I still have time for my passion. I don’t work in my passion everyday, but I do bring it along with me to my job.

Here is what I have observed about people who follow their passion (including me in the early stages of my career). They eventually burn out, they destroy their relationships, and they become imbalanced and dependent. The reason for this is that when you are working at your passion you don’t ever want to stop. You believe so much in what you’re doing or love your work so much that you’ll do anything to keep doing it. No amount of hours is too many; no request from the boss is unreasonable; no sacrifice is too large. I know, I followed my passion for coaching for 10 years and I have countless friends who have done the same thing. The road I was going down, and the road I have seen many others go down leads you to ignore your health because there isn’t enough time for silly things like working out and eating right. It causes you to ignore relationships with your spouse and family and often leads to divorce and loneliness because your job takes priority whether you want to admit it or not. It creates an emotional roller coaster where your happiness is ONLY tied to success in your job, often leading to addiction in an effort to find some calming or numbing place. Following your passion can be very dangerous.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t love what you do and be passionate about it. And I’m not suggesting you should abandon your passions. What I believe is that if you blindly follow your passion into a career, there are risks that you should be aware of and guard against. I also want to stress that I do believe that it is important to pursue your passions, even when they aren’t your job. If you love art, keep creating and sell or give away your art. If you love to travel, find a way to spend your available time and money out on the road. If you love music, keep playing as much as you can as long as you can. If you love sports, stay involved in youth sports or an adult league even if you can’t find the right job in the industry that makes you happy. And most importantly, whatever you end up doing for your JOB, bring your passion along with you, but be happy FIRST.

Don’t Keep Score

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I’m an athlete and I love to keep score. I wear a GPS watch on all my runs so I can record my distance, time, and pace to see if I’m getting better. When I coached, I tried to make as much of practice a competition as possible so that my players would work hard for the experience of ‘winning.’ As a sales professional, I work with a weekly ‘scoreboard’ that our company calls a dashboard and shows how much each person has sold in relation to one another and towards our personal goals. I love to keep score because I love to win.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that there are certain areas of my life where I shouldn’t be keeping score. I was using a scoreboard in every part of my life and it was putting strain on relationships. Yesterday, I was perusing a craft shop in Asheville, NC and came across a piece of art that had “The Golden Rule” in 12 different religious backgrounds. In my faith background, Jesus told his followers: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:30). What is sometimes overlooked are the verses leading up to this powerful statement that include instructions such as “bless those who curse you…if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also…give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” It sounds to me like Jesus is saying: “Don’t Keep Score.”

There are 4 areas in particular that I am trying to stop using a scoreboard.

My marriage – When you keep a marriage scoreboard, both teams lose. Whether it is keeping track of how many times you’ve done the dishes or laundry and using that to guilt him in to washing the dishes for once or reminding her how many ‘girls nights out’ or ‘fun weekends with her friends’ she’s had so that you can justify spending an entire Saturday at the golf course; keeping score in marriage is dangerous. Your marriage scoreboard starts to lead to keeping records of hurts as well and hurting back to even the score, and it leads to arrogance about how good a parent you are because of all of the time you’ve spent with your kids and disgust with your partner for how absent they are with the family. Fortunately for me, my wife allowed me to invoke the ‘mercy rule’ a couple of years ago because I was getting slaughtered so bad I could never catch up. Ever since, I’ve just tried to remind myself of this Shinto teaching: The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.

My kids – If my parents had kept score of all of the stuff they’ve done for me, all I’d do the rest of my life is try to repay them. I have decided the only way I can repay them is to do all I can to give as much love, caring, discipline, and direction to my kids as they gave me. Our children take so much of our time, there is no way they can ever give enough back to us to make things even, so instead I choose to keep in mind the words (slightly altered) of the philosopher Seneca: Treat your inferiors (children) as you would be treated by your superiors (parents).

My colleagues – For a long time, I kept a mental record of every good deed and favor I did for a colleague with an expectation that it would be paid back in some way. What I realized is that is a pretty miserable way to go through my work life. There are people that we work with that are not in a position to ever really help us – we should help them anyway. There are people who we work with who always need something from us and never offer any assistance our way – we should help them anyway. There are people who we work with who take advantage of our drive to succeed and take credit for our work – we should help them anyway. A good reminder in the workplace comes from Jainism: In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.

My friends – Friendships are hard enough without a scoreboard. If I ended every friendship that had a scar from a pain inflicted by that friend, I’d be a pretty lonely guy. If my friends only called me when I first called them, we’d never talk. Friendships will result in pain because friends can say things to one another that no one else can say to them and sometimes that hurts. Friends go through life together no matter what the other person’s life season is doing at the time; that means that sometimes one friend can’t pay for the boat rental because things are tight, but friends share experiences together anyway. Sometimes that means a whole weekend is spent discussing one friend’s personal or marital struggles and it monopolizes the conversation, but friends share grief and pain together anyway. Sometimes that means a friend has to say something to another friend that makes them mad, but friends hold each other accountable anyway. I think Islam gets this one right when it says: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

I’m still a competitor, probably always will be – so I need scoreboard. I’ll keep checking the sales scoreboard to keep me working hard, and I’ll always look at my watch to try to make my next PR in a race. But I’m done keeping score in the rest of my life. I’m just going to stick to what Jesus said in Matthew: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”