Are Your Failures Active or Passive?

As my wife and I lay next to each other at the end of a busy day, one of the most often pondered questions is, What are we going to do with our lives?


Okay.  I admit it.  That is my question every evening.  She smiles.  She already knows.  But me … I am overwhelmed with the idea that we, as a family, are not playing to win.  We are simply going through the motions of life, homeschooling, work, church, etc.

Ever feel that way?

King Saul probably felt that way, only he took a different approach to resolve his problems.  When the Philistines pursued Saul and his family, they eventually caught and killed Saul’s three sons.  A fierce battle ensued and ultimately Saul was wounded by the Philistine archers.  Left with what he thought were very few options, King Saul took his own life.  

Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)

Did you catch that?  The scripture says that Saul’s failures were not only active, but were also passive.  He not only did wrong—he failed to do what is right! Saul not only sinned by his actions, but he also sinned by his omissions.

For me and my family, it is not good enough to simply avoid what is wrong.  That is fairly easy…don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal.  That’s what we teach our kids.  We need to seek more!  We need to awaken our passive nature and actively pursue what is right.

So, when I ask my wife, What are we going to do with our lives?, that’s what I mean:  Let us do more than get by.  Let us pursue, chase, run, sprint towards goodness.

Image: Tim O’Brien

You Know You Are Grumpy When … You Dream in Grumpy

Over the past few months, I have been so stressed that my wife cornered me on more than one occasion to let me know how “grumpy” I have been with the children and with her.  My first reaction … No way!  You’re the grumpy one, chica!


I soon realized that my wife was right when I started dreaming in grumpy. Last week I woke up at about 3:00am with anger in my mind and a frown on my face.  I woke up from an insanely realistic dream where I was yelling at my children, picking apart my wife and kicking the cat.   I woke up and wanted to run away from myself.

Language studies show that if you begin to dream in a foreign language, then you are comfortable with the foreign language and may be on the verge of fluency.  So what does it mean when you dream that you are angry and “on edge” with everyone?  I think it means you are angry and “on edge” with everyone … and on the verge of hurting those you most care about.  Here is what you can do turn those dreams around?

  • If you’ve yelled at your kids, it is never too late to apologize. Even where a few days has gone by, my children truly appreciate (and understand) when I take them to the side to “say sorry” for being grumpy.  Addy Joy, do you remember when Daddy yelled at you two days ago for getting out of bed?  Well, I am sorry.  I should not have yelled at you.  It is your job to stay in bed and it is my job to teach you to obey instructions.  But it was wrong of me to yell at you.  Will you forgive me? Those words can make a huge impact on a child.
  • If you’ve been short with your wife, it is never too late to open up to her. Just because my wife is an adult, I cannot assume that she will fully appreciate the stress that consumes me during the day.  I am learning to make a concerted effort to take a few “moments of silence” after pulling into the driveway to prepare for my entrance into the home.  Again, the words are simple: Honey-babe-schmoopy-pie … I am sorry for not understanding how my stresses affect you and the kids.  It’s been tough on me for the past few days and I forget that we are on the same team.  Will you forgive me? Most of the time, she will embrace you with open arms.  And by the way, sweetie, wanna make out?
  • If are you dreaming in grumpy, it is never too late to change. Luckily for me (and for my family), I have only had one grumpy dream.  But it was a huge wake-up call (…pun intended…) that I needed to change my attitude toward my children.  I realize that my grumpiness is not going to solve the stresses that are making me grumpy.  Does that make sense?  If eating ice cream is not going to help you lose weight, then why would yelling at your kids or spouse help you with the stresses at work, or the financial strains, or the problem you may be having with a friend.  It won’t.

Are you dreaming in grumpy?  If so, how can you turn those dreams around?

Image: sokab

If You Can’t Lead Your Family, How Can You Lead Your Business?

People often ask me how I have time to practice law, raise a family, run a construction law blog, and then open my book of life and share some lessons here.  Jokingly, I respond, “I simply don’t sleep.

But that’s not really true. I suppose the real answer is that I find the time. You see, lessons in leadership are just as applicable to running a business as they are to raising a family. To me, I often ask myself, “If I can’t lead my family, how can I lead others, whether in a business, a church, a community organization, or other group?”

Most of the following lessons I have learned within my own family, but they equally apply when working with any group of people.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are able to apply these tips to your personal life, it will make it easier to lead others to the water.

  • Leaders are humble. “All great leaders are humble,” says leadership guru John Maxwell. “Instead of talking about their accomplishments, leaders are looking to give the team credit.” In the family setting, this means that you don’t always have to be right with your kids.  You eat the peanut butter and green bean sandwich for your rising chef.  You say sorry when you yell.  You humble yourself for your family.  In business, you lift up others and make it about the team.
  • Leaders are fun. In my family, I tend to be the disciplinarian. However, on most occasions, I am the class family clown.  If the goal of parenting is to reach their heart, then you will not reach it by force, loud words, or through submission.  You will reach it through a giggle or a smile.  Businesses are the same way.  In his book 1001 Ways to Energize Employees (affiliate link), Bob Nelson says that the “power of positive reinforcement” is common sense, but “not common practice in most organizations.” You need to find ways to connect with your group in a fun way, and the rewards will follow.
  • Leaders are forward-thinking.  As a father, I want to make sure that my children are mature and well-adjusted when they leave our protection.  I don’t want to settle for just getting by with a few rules.  I want to envision the challenges that lie ahead and prepare for them.  In business, you should be looking at industry trends and identifying the future problems so that you can develop solutions ahead of time.
  • Leaders are planners. When it comes to family matters, I can only speak on this subject from the wrong point of view (i.e., the failure to plan is a plan to fail).  For family trips, my wife plans our vacations 10 years in advance.  I let the kids know where we are going after we get there, we’ve bought the trinkets and we are on our way home.  While there may be something to “living spontaneously,” a true leader plans … makes lists … organizes details … and develops contingencies. 

While this list could go on, the important take-away is to understand that you have a tremendous opportunity to tear down the walls between your personal life and work life. If you have tension and struggles within your family, I would suspect that you will find the same hurdles in your job arena.

On the other hand, if you can lead your family, you can lead anyone.

Question: What other words do you use to describe leaders? Leaders are ________.

Image: thirtyfootscrew

The Day We Buried Sarcasm, Yelling and Bad Attitudes

Ever had a family burial ceremony?  We did last Fall.  No, it was not for the hermit crab (…he died years ago…).  No, it was not for the water frogs (…inexplicably they are still alive…).  It was for a few invited guests that we let come into our house.  They have overstayed their welcome and we were ready to kick them out.  Do they live in your home?

Sarcasm. Yelling. Bad Attitudes.

It started with a sit down family meeting.  I apologized to the kids for my sarcasm and yelling.  I told them that I did not like raising my voice to get them to listen to something.  I told them that my words had not been sincere when they asked me questions.  I told them, “I’m sorry.”  Finally, I told them I was willing to give up sarcasm and yelling.  We spent the next few minutes talking about things they were willing to give up, too.  One said, “Yelling at my sisters.” (…I guess you can “catch” behaviors…).  One said, “Bad attitude.”  One said, “Pizza!” (…We’ll give her a couple of years to catch up…).

We then drew a picture of our sacrifices on a 3×5 card and proceeded out back to the burial site.  We dug a hole and we placed our cards in the hole.  We talked to the kids about making choices in life and how can accept our bad behaviors or get rid of them.  And in the crisp, cool weather that afternoon … we buried sarcasm, yelling and bad attitudes.

When you decide that you are tired of just “getting by” with the same old attitudes, then you can do something about it.  When you are ready to “play to win,” then you can make a change.  If you are ready to make a change in your life, I suggest that you have your own burial ceremony.  Here are few things to remember:

  • It is never too late.  A habit is never too old to break.  It may be difficult, but you can decide to change your patterns of behavior whenever you want.  You also don’t need a house full of children in order to decide to change.  Your behaviors may affect a spouse or a friend.  They may affect your health or your work.  The important aspect is that you can decide to change … today.
  • It takes a plan.  Concerned about my sarcastic words, I knew that I needed to do something more than stop talking.  (…I talk for a living…).  Instead, I knew that I had to write down on paper what I was willing to set aside for my children.  I had to admit that I was wrong.  I then had to take a physical act of abandonment.   You may not need a ceremony.  Perhaps you want to reign in your spending—try freezing your credit card in a bag of water in the freezer.  Addicted to swear words?  Set up a “swear jar” and donate some Benjamins every time you cuss.  Make a plan and stick to it.
  • It may fail, but stay focused.  Finally, realize that you are human and that you are likely to fail.  In fact, just a few moments after I buried sarcasm yesterday, I found my silver tongue snapping at my wife about something she had asked me to do weeks ago.  Luckily, she was smart enough to remind me about our burial ceremony and she put me back in place.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.”  When you realize that you are going to fail, you are free to succeed.  Henry Ford failed numerous times in business before he finally went on to build the Ford Motor Company.

Question:  What have you let in your home that needs a burial ceremony?

Words, Tones and Looks Are Game Changers

It’s no secret that the words you use with your spouse or children have a tremendous impact on your relationship with them.  But did you know that the tones you use or the looks you cast have the same meaningful impact?

As I was hanging an over-sized dry erase board this evening, I gathered all the right tools to make it a quick install: the stud-finder, the large level, the tape measure, the drill, and a handful of screws with washers.  I was marking the wall with the stud-finder, a nifty little grown-up toy that caught Dylan’s attention.  As I got the first few screws in place, Dylan broke the silence.


“Yeeeeeesssss, Dylan?” I snarled back, eye brows pitched and eyes rolling.

“Um … Nevermind.”

I looked down at him and saw that I had changed his entire thought process with two small words, stated angrily, coupled with a facial expression that crushed his enthusiasm.  I had to act quickly.  I jumped down from the step stool, dropped the drill and got in his face with a smile: “What do you want, son?”

“Nevermind, Dad.”

Was I too late? Did I truly steal his question from him?

“Dylan, I am sorry.  This project is not more important than you.  Your question matters to me.  You matter to me.  What did you want to ask me?”

“It’s no big deal. I just wanted to know how that thing finds wood behind the wall.  That’s all.”

“That is a big deal … and a great question!  I am sorry I tried to steal that question from you.”

We spent the next 15 minutes laughing and giggling about the stud-finder.  It was close, but I almost put another wedge between me and another kid in my family.  I’m good at that … are you?   As you think about your words, tones and looks, remember these tips:

  1. Words are alive.  When I think about the negative words I use with my spouse or kids, my mind often flashes to my dad and his father, who chastised dad every time he spilled his milk as a child.  It became a prophecy of milk-spilling because my dad had heard those words so many times.  Those words from granddad were alive…they pierced my dad’s young mind and heart…and they grew inside him like a tumor.
  2. Tones and looks change the words.  You can say the same word, “Yes”, with 20 different tones and have 20 different meanings.  You can roll your eyes with sarcasm or gaze softly, each sending a distinct message.  People easily pick up on your tone and if they think you are unapproachable, they will stop approaching you.
  3. All of them are game-changers.  Negative words are discouraging and positive words are encouraging.  When you realize that your words, tones and looks can tear down your spouse or children, as well as build them up, there is not much of a choice to make.  Proverbs 17:22 says that a “joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which do you want?  You can make a difference.  You really can be that parent who runs up and down the soccer field screaming “Go! Go! Go!”  You really can be the spouse who says, “Great job with the kids today. I know it’s hard, but great job.”  To be joyful is to be ready to spread encouragement, enthusiasm and positive words to others.  Are you game?