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.

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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!

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.

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

Gail and Michael Hyatt Ask: “Are You A Student of Your Marriage?”

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I agree.  Courtney and the kids have been out of town for the past week visiting family and the dead silence in the home felt nice … for about … an hour.

Home

Over the past few days, however, I heard the return of voices every night I came home after a long day of work. The voices were not those of children giggling, fighting or running amok. They were my own voices:

  • Matt, how’s that juggling thing going?
  • Matt, are investing in people as much as your work?
  • Matt, do you know your spouse better today than when you married her?
  • Matt, are you playing to win? Or just playing to get by?

That last one has been haunting me for months.  You see, as a busy construction attorney and father of seven, it is easy to put on my work boots and trudge to the next deadline and task.  I tell myself that my wife and kids will be there when I get home, no matter how late.   Not so … this week.

I found great solace this morning in a two-part podcast by Gail and Michael Hyatt, called Help, I Married An Entrepreneur. You don’t have to be a businessman or woman to find these messages relevant.  All you need is an open mind and heart to seek some great wisdom from this married couple of over 35 years.  It is definitely worth listening to both sessions, and here is what I learned:

  1. You need to be a student of marriage.  Gail makes this point very clear, in that a successful marriage for them did not happen by chance.  They sought mentors. They read books. They talked with each other regularly.  For me, it means “playing to win” in your marriage.  It is more than just going through the motions of living life with your spouse.  It is attacking your marriage with the same passion as your work.
  2. Marriage is hard work.  Michael and Gail share about some of the valleys they experienced in the early years of marriage.  Perspective and commitment were two recurring themes that enabled each of them to work through the difficult times.  Michael shares that in 2001, he put his business savvy planning into his personal life by writing down a vision for his marriage, family and personal life. (You can get a copy of his Life Plan e-book for free.)  Again, the lesson learned here is: Successful businesses require hard work. Successful marriages take hard work, too.
  3. Words matter in marriage.  As businessman, Michael shares that “encouragement [from Gail] has made all the difference” in the world.  They talk about the importance of appreciation and affirmation.  Appreciation is thanking your spouse for everything brought to the table, whether big or small. It is communicating to your spouse that their sacrifices do not go unnoticed. Affirmation, on the other hand, is focusing on what you love about your spouse.

I would strongly recommend Gail and Michael’s message no matter what your career or circumstances.  If you want to play to win, you need to be purposeful in the steps you take.

Question: As a student of your own marriage, what have you learned?

Image: Powderruns

Top Signs You Know Your Work-Life Balance is Out of Whack

One evening after I returned from an extended out-of-town work trip, I overhead my eldest daughter Alex tell my wife that she (my wife) would make a great single mom.  Ouch!  That’s not something you want to hear when you are married to this supposed single mom.

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While my daughter meant no harm by the statement, it’s the underlying meaning behind the statement that was important.  Here are some of the top signs you know you work-life balance is out of whack:

  1. Your family jokes about your absence.  Alex is quite the comedienne. But underneath the laughter there is a grain (or sandbox…) of truth.  You see, in my daughter’s eyes, my wife has carried the brunt of the family workload over the past few weeks.  In my daughter’s eyes, my wife has been living like a single mom and doing a great job at keeping the household together.  In my daughter’s eyes, I have been absent from the family.  That’s a sign!
  2. You see disappointment in little faces.  Just last week as I was heading out the front door at about 6:00am for an early morning of work, my second daughter Addy ran downstairs to give me a hug.  I filled up with joy as I heard those first few words, “I love you! Have a good day!”  Then, as a took a step away from my home life and towards my work life, I saw and heard her disappointment, “See you tonight…maybe…”  That precious 8-year-old voice crushed me with a boulder of truth.  By saying “maybe” she knew that I was not going to be home another night.  And that’s a sign!
  3. You miss details of family life.   You certainly may be busy with work obligations that keep you from home activities during the week.  But when you get home,  you have to check-in to your surroundings  If you find that you missed a soccer practice, or a birthday party, or a family outing to the park, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOUR SPOUSE TOLD YOU MULTIPLE TIMES, then that’s a sign.

You and I can make all the excuses we want about how much work has to be completed during the week, but if we miss the signs and details of what is happening at home, we cannot find balance.

Question: What signs tell you that your work-life balance is out of whack?

What Happens When You Drop the Work Ball?

I regularly write about work-life balance. Not because I am an expert at finding the correct mix, but because I am right there in the middle of the challenge…the same as you.  So when a leadership guru like John Maxwell provides good insight on juggling priorities, we should all listen closely.

glass

Maxwell recently recounted a university commencement address by Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, who spoke of the relationship of work to your other commitments:

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

As Maxwell suggests, it is not selfish to take care of your family, relationships, health and spirit.  The work ball will bounce back if you drop it – these others won’t.

Question: As you view your priorities, have you made your work ball out of glass, crystal or some other precious, breakable material?

Image: Eric Petruno

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?