A Good Daddy Would Help His Son

There is nothing better than your own bed, particularly when you have been working late nights all week long.  So when I lay my tired body to rest last night, I was one happy dude. I immediately faded off to sleep. Peace.

At about 3:30 in the morning, I heard the whisper of a six-year-old boy: “Dad. Dad. My blanket won’t work. I can’t fix it.”

What?” I groaned back to him.

“Dad. My blanket doesn’t work. I can’t put it on my bed. I need help.”

Are you kidding me? I looked at the clock across the room. The red digital lights screamed out 3:32. What’s wrong with the blanket? How does a blanket fail to work? I will solve this: “Son, your blanket works fine. Just pull it up. You can do it.”

“But … Dad …”

“Son! Go back to your room. It’s night time.”

Although I couldn’t see his face or body, I knew he walked away rejected. I’ve seen the look before. He won’t remember, I reasoned to myself, because it’s the middle of the night. I rolled over, thinking I could still get a few more hours of good rest.

My wife whispered in my ear. The words pierced my eardrums and went straight to my heart. She was right. I jumped up quickly and ran down the hall.

The rejected son had his door shut, but I could see the light peering from underneath. I quietly opened the door and he stood the end of his bed. I now understood his dilemma. The top blanket was on the floor and the sheets were wrinkled up in a knot at the bottom edge of the bed.

“Need some help?”

His smile was all that I needed to see to reassure me that he was okay. “Yes, sir.

I threw him on the bed, hugged him, and gave a few tickles. “Hold still now.” He spred his body out and I lofted the top sheet up in the air. It landed perfectly over his body. I tucked in the bottom and edges. I took the top blanket and did the same. I saw his homemade quilt from GG lying on the floor. Better add that one, too.

“Is that better?” I asked.

“Yes. Thanks, Dad.”

I gave him a wink. I mouthed the words “I LOVE YOU.” I turned out the light and walked out the door.

Not even the best sleep could replace that feeling of joy I then experienced. And all because of that little whisper in the ear from my wife. Wanna know what she said?

A good daddy would help his son.

Opportunity For Growth Begins with Three Parts of Stress

The past few years have been a roller-coaster of emotional turmoil.  You name the stress, we experienced it: sick children, financial binds, cancer, broken friendships, heart attacks, car troubles, college searches, etc.

sadness

The last few  months have been particularly difficult as my wife was been tending to both of her parents out of town with significant health challenges. During those months where  my wife was nursing her parents, may people called me Mr. Mom or Single Dad.

At first, I called it, hell!

Now I call it Opportunity for Growth.

You see, stress is an interesting word.  The Middle English meaning denotes hardship or force exerted on a person for the purpose of compulsion; while the Latin origin is strictus, meaning tight, compressed, or drawn together.  WebMD defines stress as “the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response.”  A combination of these definitions leads to one conclusion:

Author Andrew Bernstein once said that stress “doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.”  If stress truly comes from our thoughts about our circumstances—rather than from the circumstances themselves—then we can transform those thoughts to be an opportunity for growth.

John Maxwell calls this big picture thinking.  It brings wholeness and maturity to a person’s mindset. It brings perspective.  Big picture thinking allows you to take your “hell” and turn it into an “opportunity for growth.”  You start to focus on the whole timeline, and not just the heart ache, failure or challenge that brought you to your knees.

Preparing for Rain

Juggling Requires That You Actually Have a Plan

If you want to successfully juggle your family, career and life, at some point you have to begin preparing for rain. With your family, you can no longer check-out all week and check-in only on the weekends.  You won’t survive…they won’t survive.  In your career, you can no longer view the mounting pile of work and attack only the emergencies.  You have to implement a plan to get caught up and stay on top of the pile.

rain

So, what does it really mean to prepare for rain?  

Although I love Any Given Sunday (for its action) and Waterboy (for its comedy), my all-time favorite football movie is Facing the Giants (for its passion). Wanting to encourage the defeated coach with a few words of wisdom, the local pastor in FTG recounts the following story:

“There were two farmers who desperately needed rain in a drought. And both of them prayed for rain, but only one of them went out to plow his field to receive the rain. Now, which farmer trusted and believed that it was going to rain?”

In your life, are you preparing for rain? Unfortunately, there is not a quick-and-easy formula that will make you an overnight success at work and home. However, there is one major thing you can do to prepare for a drenching: draft a plan.

As a busy construction lawyer and husband and father of seven children, my time is limited.  I find myself in “emergency mode” on most days.  I tackle the deadlines, workload, and problems for that particular day, as well as those issues that land in my lap at the moment.  This is not to say that I do not plan for my caseload or family challenges, but I often seem to be living too close to the present without enough reliance on planning for the future.

That’s where Living Forward—a new book by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavey—has helped me identify a plan to get back on track: professionally, personally and spiritually. Even after reading the first chapter, there was a spark in my belly that started to inflame my desire to change. Here’s just one little nugget that I learned within the first few pages: “You may feel that you’ve drifted too far of course to get back on track, like the shore is just too far away. Perhaps you have given up hope and don’t believe things can ever be different. This is simply not true. It’s never too late. Be encouraged. You can’t change the past, but all of us have the power to change the future. The right choices today will radically alter the shape of tomorrow.

This book is about experiencing the life you want, while navigating all the distractions, difficulties, and demands that pile up day-by-day, year-by-year.  It leads you through a simple step-by-step life-planning process so every day adds up to the life you want now and creates the legacy you want to leave behind.  I am currently on the second draft of my plan for the second half of 2016.  Now’s a good time to start.

If I had one bit of encouragement during this process, it would be to keep plowing ahead. You cannot be discouraged by the drought in either your career or family life. I remember the late nights as a young attorney in Washington, D.C. Often I would climb into bed with my wife and groan, “I can’t do this any more.” She would always whisper words of encouragement: “Honey, just a few more days and you will be prepared for this case. And when you win, we can go celebrate as a family.”

Let me whisper in your ear: Keep plowing, keep preparing for the rain…you can make it!

Why Do You Do What You Do?

The Most Important Question to Answer Every Day

Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed.  As you commute to work, thoughts of deadlines, marital disputes, financial stresses and sheer exhaustion consume your every thought.  It is during those times that I ask myself, “Why am I doing all of this?”

why

Many years before my first law school class, I thought I was ready to practice law. At the time, I was already working as a law clerk at a law firm interviewing witnesses, preparing discovery , and drafting legal briefs. Among these tasks, I enjoyed legal writing the most. In fact, I had drafted hundreds of trial court briefs, administrative agency statements, state and federal court appeals, and even a brief to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

Based upon all my work leading up to that time, I was confident about my preparation for the practice of law. However, a few stumbling blocks remained in my way to becoming a successful attorney, including a bar exam, many non-billable articles and conferences, hundreds of soiled diapers, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Ultimately, I survived law school and my first twenty years of practice by answering the question, Why do I want to be a lawyer?  Although I wrestled with that question for many years, it finally came down to the following two words: helping others. 

I determined early on in my career that I wanted to be a construction lawyer to help others use best practices and technology to resolve their problems. I am exactly where I want to be in my career and family life—right in the middle of the adventure. Leadership guru John Maxwell teaches that “success is not a destination thing…it’s a daily thing.”

And that “daily thing” has taken so many turns. For example, in the legal profession I went from from university student, to law clerk, to law student, back to law clerk, to associate attorney, and finally to partner at two different law firms. I initially characterized law school as a temporary layover to my destination of becoming a succe$$ful lawyer. (You knew that success is spelled with two “$$s,” right?) I soon learned that the only $$s in my life as a young attorney were the $$s that I owed someone else for letting me attend law school. Long hours, intense cases, neglected family members, a couple of grumpy bosses, late time sheets, uncollected invoices, etc., soon followed. While you might think these issues became less demanding (or more controllable) as each year passed, it simply has not been the case.

For me, answering the Why? question enabled me to continue in my journey as an attorney, a husband, and the father of seven children. When I finally answered the Why? question, I realized that many of my so-called stumbling blocks were actually stepping stones to a more fulfilling career and life. You may think you are not getting enough experience at this stage in your career. You may be overwhelmed with the huge deadline due tomorrow.  You may be questioning your job, your marriage, or both. Whatever your circumstance, I would challenge you to continue your journey and find success professionally and emotionally. 

You can (and must) make tough choices, which involves a significant juggling act with work, family, finances and health.  And while you have all of those balls in the air, let me ask you: Why do you do what you do?

The Importance of Juggling

Mentorship Is More than Just Seeking and Giving Advice

Someone once joked, “If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice!” That may be true, but you need more than just advice to make it in this world.  You need a good mentor to reach your potential as a leader, successful business owner, or spouse/parent.

mentor

I remember my first mentor in the law—a generous attorney who had developed a large personal injury law practice in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. For him, family came first. To be home for dinner by 5:00 p.m., that meant he would often be into work by 6:00 a.m. If there was a deposition out of town, he traveled early on the day of the deposition rather than spend the night away from his family. As I departed this first pre-lawyer job to enter my first year in law school, my mentor gave me a check that would help pay my first semester’s living expenses. My early mentor required me to pay him back in a unique way: he asked me to pay it forward to someone else as my career developed. (And that was five years before Pay It Forward hit the movie theatres!)

A mentor does not have to be involved in your day-to-day life, business, or family affairs.  For example, Cordell Parvin graduated from the same law school that I did, but many, many years earlier. (Sorry, Cordell!) He was a Richmond Spider—so was I. He was a construction lawyer—so was I. He was successful—well, I want to be! One day, I called Cordell, introduced myself, and asked for some advice. More than five years later, I am happy to refer to Cordell as a mentor and friend.  And we have only met in person a few times over the years.

You see, throughout my career I have always relied upon different mentors to help me grow as an attorney, husband, and father. It is important to have a variety of different advisors because, frankly, our lives as attorneys are comprised of so many roles. We have to be good researchers and writers. We have to be good time-keepers. We have to be good telephone-call-returners. We have to be good money-handlers. And, if we go home each night to a family, we have to be good encouragement-givers and storytellers.

Consider yourself a juggler with too many balls in the air.  Every other day, a ball may drop to the ground. You stop. You pick it up. And you start juggling the balls again. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of those balls. I think the answer is to learn how to better juggle. There are many people who have done it right and there are many people who have done it wrong. The key is to build a relationship with someone who can (and wants to) invest in you—whether you need business advice, practice area advice, or even marital and parenting advice. Then, one day, you will be the one teaching another person how to juggle.

Are You Walking Alone?

Why Leaders Need Friendships for Character, Health and Balance

You can imagine all the free time I have with a busy law practice, an active spouse who runs marathons for fun, and seven kids at home. So much so that when I get home from a long day, get kids fed, showered, tickled and put to bed, many days I have enough energy to simply crawl into bed myself.

alone

This schedule has taken its toll on my personal friendships, which I truly did not think I needed for the past few years.  So when I had a chance last week to meet up with some friends, imagine my frustration when I could not find any one friend to escape with for a bite to eat.  I had none. I had not invested in any friendships recently and it showed.  I was alone. (…big sigh, little tear…)

It was not that bad, but the evening made me realize how important friends are to the development of a leader’s character, health, and balance.  Here is why:

  1. Relationships develop your character.  Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  And we do that through walking with, side-by-side, other people.  You live and learn through your experiences with others.
  2. Connections feed your body.  A recent study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with fewer friends by more than 20%.  But why? Not only does the empirical data suggest that friends encourage you to live healthier lives, studies show that loneliness often has a taxing effect on your health.
  3. Friendships spur balance.  When you are overworked, and you add the stresses of family or personal life, your friendships can keep you grounded.  You see, true friends challenge you. They tell you the words you often don’t want to hear: “Spend more time with your children” or “Take your spouse out on a walk” or “Call you parents just to check on them.”

“Your best friend,” Henry Ford laments, “is the one who brings out the best in you.”  And don’t you need to be at your best in order to juggle family, work and life?  Take the time to invest in your friendship—it will be worth it.

Three Practical Ways to Kill Your Child’s Joy and Excitement This Holiday Season

There is nothing like a 45-minute commute on your way home in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a cold Monday evening to stifle your holiday cheer.  As I unpacked my briefcase and pulled off my tie, Jackson (my fourth child) came running into the bedroom wearing a chef’s hat.  He cheerfully said, “Dad, I’m in charge of dinner tonight.  I made a menu and I’m ready to serve you.”

jack

I grumpily walked down the stairs to the kitchen, where I saw that the table had been set (…with various sizes of plates and different cups…). On the counter, Jackson had pulled out all the leftovers from the refrigerator.  Since we have been dealing with a family crisis and I have been playing single parent for the past few weeks, its no surprise that every one of the leftovers was old and moldy.

So, I threw away Jackson’s dinner.

He sat at the table with a crossed-look of horror, sadness and disappointment as I threw out his dinner.  And rather than console him, I legitimized my actions: “Jackson, the food was rotten.  Get over it.”  (Ouch! I actually said that.)

I realized my mistake later.  Not when I was making his favorite sweet potatoes and marshmallows.  Not when we were saying prayers and reading in bed that night.  Not the next morning as I walked out to work with a kiss on his forehead.  But, later, as I was driving home the next evening—stuck in traffic again—and preparing for a better evening.  It dawned on me that on the previous night I had killed my child’s joy and excitement.  Here are three practical ways that you can do the same this holiday season:

  1. Put on your frown and ignore smiles and laughter.  There is no better way to kill joy when you come home from work, with a room of children excited to see you, than to “wear your day” on your face.  If you have had a bad day, and your face shows it, and you ignore the fun and excitement of seeing your family in the evening, then you will surely set the tone.  Your frown can be infectious, and lead to a handful of frowns on your spouse and children.  Try it.
  2. Focus on your day, rather than their day.  Another practical way to kill the joy of your family when you come home from work is by stealing it, tying it to a concrete block and throwing it into a lake.  In other words, you should steal the opportunity from them when you walk into the house and focus on your day (whether good or bad).  Don’t let them tell you about the dragons they slayed, the forts they built, the knock-knock joke they made up.  Keep it all about you.
  3. Don’t ever say sorry. Sometimes you will realize that you are crushing your children’s joy and excitement and you will have the urge to correct yourself.  But don’t.  Instead, rationalize your actions, tell them to “Grow up!” in a stern voice, and bury any desire to apologize.  Kids are smart enough to know when you messed up and they never need to hear those weak words, “I’m sorry.”

If you add family health issues, work demands, financial stresses and everyday family squabbles to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, you have a recipe for imbalance.  In our household, while we experience all of these pressures right now, our kids need joy and excitement.  And so do yours.  So ignore my words.

Five Things Not to Say During a Presentation

Earlier this year I was speaking at a national construction conference when I made a huge speaking mistake.  At the onset of my presentation, this crowd of more than 200 future leaders in the construction industry was rather quiet. I had to engage them; I had to get them to interact; I had to break the silence.

speech

I was talking about the importance of “communication” in retaining good employees.  The first question I asked was: “Have any of you been through a merger of two companies?”

The question I asked was simple, but not one person responded.  Not one person had been through a merger.  Not one smile—not one hand raised.  The silence was deafening.  In my attempt to make a connection, I lost all connection to the audience.  Everything I said after those words appeared unimportant.

Later, as I thought about the presentation, I realized that details matter…the small things matter…the polish on the speech matters.  Here are five things that I have learned not to say during a presentation:

  1. “Have you ever….?”  The problem with this type of lead-in is that sometimes not one person in the audience will have experienced your lead-in.  You can still share the story you intend to share, but introduce it a little different.  Rather than on open-ended question, tell the audience about the story and the lesson learned.  Use the story to make the connection; use details they can connect with; use common phrase to which they can relate…even if they have not experienced the same event.
  2. “I was so *^?!@*#~ upset…”  Yes, that is right, you should refrain from colorful words.  You may think that society is now more accepting of four-letter words, but you’ve heard me say it before that words matter!  The chances that you will offend someone (…who may even be your next client…) are far greater than you making a real connection with someone because you added a few vulgarities to your speech.
  3. “I did not have time to prepare, but…”   You should never start a presentation with excuses.  Even if you were just added to the roster, or you are not feeling your best, you should give it your best!  The editorial comments that “explain away” your circumstances detract from your message, no matter how prepared you may be.
  4. “I will keep this short.” I cannot tell you how many presentations I have seen where the speaker starts off with this broken promise.  As a member of the audience, I don’t really care.  I came to learn something, or be inspired, or be informed.  You should pick a different intro, such as, “I am going to change how you look at construction law” or “Today you are going to learn how to grow your business by treating your employees differently.” Don’t make your introduction about the length of your presentation.
  5. “As the slide says, …”  Never, never, never read your slides.  In fact, I am a large proponent of slides that do not contain words, or very little words.  The audience is there to hear you share with them a great speech.  They did not come to hear you read your slides to them. If you spend more time de-cluttering or de-wording your slide presentation, it will pay off in the long run. If you have to include detailed information, provide a hand-out or article at the end of your presentation.

Questions:  What mistakes have you made in a presentation?  What have you learned to “never say” during a speech?

Now That You Are Fearful, You Can Let the Courage Take Over

Tired? Restless? Fearful? Can’t sleep? Ready to give up? Overwhelmed? Hurting? Numb? Lost? Betrayed? Angry? Just getting by? What’s your pain? Better yet…What’s your plan?

Fear-Courage

I’ve been there. I understand late nights. I appreciate what if feels like to be alone. And, yet, through it all, my tormented mind always came to the same resolve: What’s your plan? What can you control? What can you not control?

Michael Hyatt believes that “…Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.” For Hyatt, the particular lesson was about a fear of confronting a demanding client.  His torment was real:

I had to make a choice. I could let it go, hoping he would improve without intervention … or I could speak up. I wrestled with it all night. I tossed and turned. I got sick to my stomach. I played out every scenario. Finally, things came into focus: I could either be brave and call him on it, or I could be a coward and stop growing as a leader.

In the end, Hyatt confronted the fear and learned to press forward.

What about you? I imagine that your torment feels absolutely overwhelming right now. Why else would you be staring at the computer screen or thumbing through your phone, mesmerized by the words on this page.  First, you are drawn to the fact that you are not alone…some one else has been here before.  Second, you find hope that there is a way through it:  Courage is the willingness to act in spite of your fear.

Now that you are fearful (or tired…or restless…or angry…or betrayed…), you can let courage take over.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” So, what does it take to live through this horror?  Here are a few tips:

  1. Recognize you are not alone. Let me say that again, you are not alone.  Money problems? Marital conflict? Jobless? There are thousands and thousands of people who have been through (or going through) the same torment as you.  Seek them. Find them. Walk next to them.
  2. Control that which you can control.  You may not be able to control the manner in which your boss talks negatively towards you, but you can finish that report on time.  You may not be able to change the mortgage payment, but you can sell your baseball card collection.  You may not be able to heal family wounds that have festered for years, but you can love your children unconditionally so as to change their family tree.  Make a list of the things you can control, and focus on them.
  3. Give up control where you have no control. At the same time, make a list of the things you cannot control, and give them up.  I often use the analogy that you cannot push a wet noodle up a wall.  Likewise, you cannot change your spouse.  You cannot make your children sleep.  You cannot force someone to do something to improve your circumstances. 
  4. Pray or meditate on your resolve. Whether you are talking about fear, anger, frustration, or any other emotion that builds inside you, find solace and refuge in a quiet place.  For me, it looks like finding a passage from the Bible that helps sustain my journey: “Do not fear for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:10).  For you, it may be a time of mediation and prayer.  Focus on the result and allow your courage to press forward.

Question: What helps you live through the torment and horror?

Image: Star-Dust

You Bring Your Work to Home, So Why Not Bring Your Home to Work?

My credenza does not normally look like a construction site. (…What am I saying? I am a construction lawyer!…) Let’s say my credenza does not normally this cluttered. However, this is what it looks like after having brought two separate kids to my office recently on two separate days. Joy.

Kids at Work

Since I had to get some work done on the day after Thanksgiving, I brought Jack into the office with me.  He’s our tornado.  I knew I would not be interrupting other people’s work schedule because no one in their right mind works on Black Friday.  The entire professional world is shut down.  It’s one of those freebie three-day weekends.  And I brought Faith to work a couple weeks later because my wife had her hands full and just needed some help.

The point is that so many times we bring our work home to the family…so every now and then we should bring our family to work. The kids love it!  Happy Holidays.