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.

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.

When Work Gets Hard, Some Times You Just Gotta Pull a Tooth!

I was driving home last night after my fourth marathon workday. Yep, left the house before the kids got up and returned after they had gone to bed. (…You ask: I thought this guy had figured out work-life balance?…Me too…). In any event, I was talking to my wife on the phone about the week’s victories and tragedies in the home when she abruptly stopped mid-sentence: “I gotta pull Dylan’s tooth. Bye. She hung up.

tooth

She was not mad. She was not angry. Most of the other kids were already asleep. But, as a-matter-of-factly as she could, my wife dropped everything to attend to another something. I continued my drive home thinking of those words…gotta pull a tooth…

Sometimes, when work gets hard, you just gotta pull a tooth. In simple terms, that means the following:

  • You will experience toothaches.  Whether it is now or later, you will face adversity: a work crises, a financial hardship, a health challenge, a problematic co-worker or boss.  Whatever the obstacle, you need to recognize that life is full of these aches.
  • There’s not always a clear choice.  When you experience a challenge, you will have many avenues. Don’t over-analyze those options, but be mindful of the choices and the consequences of each choice.  For example, I have made a conscious decision to work very hard during the week so that I can play very hard with my kids on the weekend.  That decision does not make the late nights during the week any easier, though.  In your life, you may have many options before you and the pathway may not be clear.  But press forward.
  • Eventually, you must do something.  For my son and his loose tooth, that time came last night at about 9:00 p.m. when my wife made a decision to just pull the tooth. That sucker had been rolling back and forth in my son’s mouth for numerous days.  He giggled. He whined. And again, not out of frustration, but out of resolve, she acted.  You will need to do the same.

In his post about working hard and playing hard, Chris Brogan answers the frequently asked question about how to get so much done all the time.  His answer: “I’ve learned how to really put a lot of hard work down into a really short period of time, so that I can free up more time to pursue my passions when I’m done my other work.”  In other words, sometimes you just gotta pull a tooth…step up…work harder.

Question: What tips can you give when work gets hard? Leave a comment here.

Image: Alex Barth

Luck is the By-Product of Busting Your Fanny

Our Sunday meal this past weekend at the local Chinese food restaurant ended with the kid’s favorite pastime…the opening of fortune cookies.  We each take turns ripping open the plastic wrapper, breaking the sugar-laden treat, and giggling about the words inside.

What is your fortune?

This week, the small fortune in my cookie represented a long-held principle of mine for finding a successful work-life balance:

Luck is the by-product of busting your fanny.

When it comes to family, I cannot tell you how many times that some one meets our children and the words blurt out: “Wow! Your children are so well-behaved.  You are so lucky!

I don’t want to be a downer, but I totally disagree with those words.  First, our children are the same as yours.  They scream. They cry. They whine. They hit. They poop, pee and puke…anytime…anywhere! Did I say they scream?  Not a day goes by without my wife or me saying, “UGGGGHHHH!”

Second, it’s not luck.  We work very hard to be purposeful in our parenting.  We want to instill character and integrity in them.  We teach them virtues like patience, including workable definitions for even the young ones to understand.  We practice “sit time” in the home so they know how to sit still in real life situations.  If they say something wrong, we make them say the correct words…over and over again…until they say it correctly.  (Translation: “Yes ma’am.”)  Even when a child decides to throw trash in the middle of the living room, it is guaranteed that we will make them pick it and throw back down ten times just to teach them a hard lesson.

The same goes for your work life.  Most successful businessmen and businesswomen that I know are “bust your fanny” hard workers.  Sure, there are a few exceptions who were born with the silver spoon in their mouth, but most entrepreneurs have a strong work ethic. They are willing to go into work early.  They are willing to stay late in the evening.  They are willing to teach others how to do it right, even when it is sometimes easier to do it themselves.  They are willing to walk in a room full of strangers and get over their fears by extending a hand with a warm smile.  All of these take hard work.

Now, if you want to have a healthy family life and maintain a successful career, it is going to take a lot more than luck. Even though it will be difficult, when you reach balance, you will find comfort. In what Seth Godin calls the hard parts, “it’s the difficult work that’s worth doing. It’s worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing.”

Questions: Do you think people are just lucky in success?  Other than “hard work” what else contributes to success?  Please leave a comment here.

Image: Tom Giebel

Five Tips to Plug Back Into Work After a Vacation

Last month, we drove 20 hours to Santa Fe, New Mexico as part of our family vacation.  On the way home, my wife snapped this picture of the beautiful New Mexico sunrise.  It was a peaceful moment amid the soft little snores of children in the back of the van.

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And while most people would enjoy that scenery, my mind raced with questions resulting from being away from the office for so long (… a whole week…).  What about all the missed phone calls?  What about the documents that needed reviewing?  What about the articles that needed to be written?  What about the . . . ?

Plug Back In.

If you are one of those people who can easily turn on and off their working mind, then you probably need to read no further.  But if you need some help plugging back into work after a vacation, here are a few ideas:

  1. Plan a “transition” day before your “work” day.  If you have to be back to work on Monday, then do whatever is possible to schedule a day between your end of travel and your return to work.  This will allow you to unpack and unwind.  This will allow you some downtime as you “recover” from your vacation before you start back at the office.
  2. Map out your “work” day during your “transition” day.  After you had time to recover from your travel demands, find a quiet corner in the house and plan what you are going to do when you return to the office.  Pick a time when you will go into the office, pick out your clothes, and pack your beans and rice if you are on the Dave Ramsey lunch protocol.  Don’t waste time on your first day back at work getting “ready” when you can do so on your “transition” day.
  3. Start your “return to work” earlier than usual.  Set you alarm a couple hours earlier on the first day back.  Beat your co-workers into the office, which will allow you to acclimate to the work environment.  Don’t jump into the piles of work just yet, but plan how your day is going to transpire.
  4. Meet the team with smiles.  Whether your team consists of just you and one assistant or a larger group of people, set aside water cooler time or chat time.  Use one window of time to talk about your vacation.  And then return to your office and shut the door.
  5. Mark you exit time.  Can that be right on your first day back?  Yes.  Unless absolutely necessary due to a deadline, you don’t need to work until midnight on your first day back.  If you set a deadline for leaving the office, it will give something to look forward to during the day.

The first day back after a vacation is often the hardest. If you are like me, these are all great “ideas” for returning to work. But if we want to find that proper work-life balance, then we should try them out.

What do you do to plug back into work after a vacation?

Five Tips to Plan Away from the Office

Summer is a time of fun, and giggles, and vacation, and if you are lucky…trampolines.  Hopefully you will get a chance to get away from your office or your studies for a little vacation this summer.

Although it can be difficult, you can successfully be away from the office to focus on your family.  Here are a few tips to help you plan for your time away from the office, whether for a vacation, business trip, or new addition to the family:

  • Plan ahead and schedule your days away. The real point here is to actually “plan” you time away from the office. When you are talking about a vacation, mark the time off on your calendar, even if you are staying in the area. When you are going away for a business trip, block off at least one-half a day on your calendar for “prepping” to leave.
  • Tell your clients, customers and colleagues in advance by email. Whether you are an attorney, a business executive, an educator, or any other professional, you should tell your closest relationships about your expected absence. Even if you don’t have time, make sure you set up your email to send an automated message about your time away from the office, informing them of the date you are expected to get back and giving them an emergency contact number.
  • Schedule your “away” work and deadlines before you leave. If you find that you have a deadline that occurs while you are away, either finish the project, assign it to your closest colleague, or get an extended deadline … all before you leave. If you plan to work while away (which I would not advised while on vacation), then prepare folders for each individual task. That way, you can grab a folder if you have a spare couple of hours to work, whether on a plane or in a waiting room.
  • Find access to wi-fi connectivity. Most hotels, vacation hot spots, and even hospitals have access to wi-fi. But you should make sure ahead of time. If you cannot find wi-fi access, there are numerous applications that can turn your mobile phone into a modem for your laptop.
  • Pick an “ally” in the office to help you during your absence. It is important to have a strong network of co-workers in your office. Although your customers or clients will be aware that you are unavailable (or have limited availability) while you are away, there are situations where emergencies may occur. In such a case, prepare a trust-worthy co-worker to help you while you are away, whether it involves your regular work tasks or things that need to be done on an emergency basis.

Question: Do you have any “away from the office” tips?

My Transition from Blogger to WordPress … Why?

If you don’t have a technology background, it is difficult to surf the waters on your own when starting a blog. When I first started blogging years ago at www.growingandgrowing.com, I signed up using Blogger.  But I had many friends who touted WordPress.

Last year, I moved from Blogger to WordPress last year.  Why?  According to Google, there are more than 43,200,000 reasons why WordPress is better than BloggerFor me, there were a select few good reasons for changing from Blogger to WordPress, including:

  • WordPress is more robust.  When I started blogging here, it was simply a family website where I had posted a few family pictures along with some funny stories about my kids.  Then, a few years ago my father had a near fatal car accident and the blog became a conduit to communicate with family and friends throughout the country.  It also became an outlet to describe the tremendous trials that our family faced.  Over the past year, www.growingandgrowing.com has become a platform for me to share some best practices about leadership and life.  For this new platform on leadership, I simply needed a new blogging platform.
  • WordPress is more functional.  At first, I was using Google’s free hosting on Blogger.  There were a lot of constraints and limitations from Google during those first few years.  I felt that I was just using the “freebie” blogging platform.  However, on the self-hosted WordPress blog, I have found that many of the prior limitations are no longer present.  I now have access to literally thousands of “plugins” that allow me to control the functionality and usefulness of the blog.  Consequently, I have received numerous comments about the “professional” feel of my new platform.
  • WordPress allows ownership.  It never happened to me, but I have heard many stories about bloggers whose blogs have been marked as SPAM by Google bots.  It could take hours or days to get control back.  Some report that when Blogger flags your blog, there is no person to contact and no easy recourse.  Now that I own my content on a server that I can control, I am more comfortable.

I may not be blog-saavy enough to understand some of the technical differences between Blogger and WordPress … and I understand that Blogger has taken great measures to add new functionality to its platform over the past year … but I have to say that the transition just feels right!  Do you know what I mean?  Take a look around and let me know whether you agree.

I will soon be launching a new e-newsletter using Mail Chimp’s plugin.  I will be updating the commenting section using the Disqus plugin.  These are just a few options that I am excited about on a WordPress platform.

Question: Have you recently moved from Blogger to WordPress?  What tips can you share about your transition?