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.

Can You Say “Dude” When Praying with Your Kids? Yes!

I have been praying with my children a lot more recently.  If the kids are sitting down for breakfast and I am running late to work, I stop and pray over them God’s blessings.  When there is a stubbed toe or cat scratch, we pray before finding the Barbie and Superman bandages.  And when we do our evening tuck-ins,  prayer comes before books, songs or tickles.


Sounds like I got it all together, right?  NOT AT ALL!  You see, I am the same as you.  I raise my voice at the kids (…a/k/a/ scream at them…).  I fail to take out the trash.  I don’t give my wife the encouragement she needs everyday.  But, like you, I am a work in progress  learned about praying with your kids: 

  1. Make it about God. Remember the ultimate point of the prayer . . . to communicate with our Creator . . . to praise Him for all things . . . to thank Him for the blessings he bestows . . . to ask Him for wisdom . . . to hand Him your worries . . . to claim His healing.  Your children need to hear these words on a regular basis so they “get it” later in life.
  2. Make it about the child. After giving thanks and praise to God, we then pray about other friends and family.  Then we conclude with our own desires and struggles.  For each of my children, I use age appropriate words and always pray for: (a) their past day; (b) their evening protection; (c) their tomorrow’s blessings; and (d) their future contribution to the Kingdom.
  3. Make it fun and joyful. Last time I checked, there was not an Eleventh Commandment — Thou shalt not have fun. Instead, we are to go to the altar of God with our “exceeding joy” (Ps. 43:4).  To me, this means having a joyful and vibrant voice of excite when I pray with my kids.  Be animated.  Let them experience joyful prayer flowing from your lips.  It’s perfectly okay to say “dude” in your prayer with your six-year-old boy, which sounds something like this:

God, I just thank you for the strong little man that you gave to our family.  I ask that you continue to strengthen Jackson in all that he does.  Build him. Use him. Make him into a great, God-loving, change all nations, people leading, prayer warrior dude!!!

When I see the smile on the little one’s face as we say Amen . . . I know that I reached his heart and mind. There are really two major reasons to pray with your children.  First, to communicate with God as a family.  Second, to teach your little one how to pray.  If you are just trying to check “pray with kid” off your checklist, then your heart is really not there.

Question: Are your praying with your children?  Why not?

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.

mia

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?

Lessons from a Father and His Blind Son

Some time ago, I saw a man and his young song walking along Broadway Street in downtown Nashville.   I witnessed a great lesson in parenting … leading with love, standing side-by-side, and pressing forward.

Leading in love, side-by-side, pressing forward.

The extraordinary thing about this event was that the young boy was blind.  It appeared to have been a recent condition because the father was trying to teach his son how to navigate with a walking stick.   As exhibited by this father, parenting involves the following:

  1. Leading with love is about reaching the heart of your child. Too often I get caught up in the outward behavior of my children and forget about the inward heart.  I’m learning that if I reach the heart my children, and teach them the lesson that will be forever pressed in their soul, then their “good behavior” will follow.  This father did not waste any time, energy and frustration just to get his son to walk straight and avoid objects like street signs and benches.  He was focused on his son’s challenges and building his heart and esteem to face those challenges.
  2. Standing side-by-side is right where your kids need you to be.  For this father helping his blind son to walk … there he stood right by his son’s side.  Leading him … hand to arm … arm to hand … down the street.  Then the father would let go, while continuing to walk by his side.  As parents, we need to not only stand beside our children, we need to get down on their level and talk to them eye-to-eye.  I mean this literally and figuratively.  Literally, our kids need to see our eyes when we talk to them (and particularly when we talk about life issues).  Figuratively, they need to know we understand what they are saying.  For instance, if your young man is excited about his green bean, pickle, and peanut butter “Alien Sandwich” … then so should you.
  3. Pressing forward means we must continually grow. In life, our children will be challenged to accept mediocrity, the norm, or the worldly standard of what is considered “right.”  As parents, we have to push, press, encourage and in some instances force them to reach for excellence.  Notice I did not say, perfection, but excellence. We must not get caught up in the mistakes we have made in the past.  Press forward in all things.

As I watched this father lead  his blind son along a busy street in downtown Nashville, I wondered truly about the father’s resolve and the son’s reliance.  Certainly, this man could have bullied his son to use or rely on that walking stick.  But that is not what I witnessed.  And the son, at some point in this experience, ultimately had to come to the realization that he was going to rely on his father’s leading.

Question: Are you leading your children in love, side-by-side, pressing forward?

Image: justinknol