“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing” – Abraham Lincoln
I remember it was back in May 2007. I sat in a room with nineteen other colleagues from various divisions of my current company. We were all in a training known as “Project Team”. This is where newer employees came together to learn about the company, meet the executive management team and engage in four days of intense training and team building. One session that I will never forget was led by one of our senior vice presidents. He started out the class, which focused on leadership, with a question. He asked, “What does every leader need to have?” As I thought for what seemed like an eternity, I blurted out what I thought was an intelligent and logical answer. I yelled out “FOLLOWERS!”, with some initial confidence mixed with a little uncertainty afterwards. To my delight, he affirmed my answer was spot on. Not that I necessarily required his affirmation, but after all, it was his class and there are many accepted interpretations for the word leadership. The knowledge that I acquired from that training, along with what I already knew and continue to learn about leadership today has helped me to check and recheck my own capabilities as a leader and to glance back periodically.
The most significant fact that I took away and frequently use to this day is to reflect often, look back to see if anyone is actually following me. If there is no one there figuratively or literally then can I still call myself a leader, or have I simply become a lone ranger? Perhaps I still have a mission, but the message may no longer provoke others to change, or my stance on life has become so commonplace that no one longer hears me or chooses to listen. Or maybe you have lost credibility with your audience, family or circle of friends that once believed in you, due to specific circumstances. There could be a host of legitimate and illegitimate reasons why people choose to not listen or adhere to your once influential message. One thing is for sure, you would be in great company (well maybe great is not the correct word to use in this case) if you fall in this category. In the recent past, names like politician Anthony Weiner, Tour de France competitor Lance Armstrong come to mind, just to name a couple. As I write this post, and research names, the list could would range in the multi-thousands if I were to go back in time. From TV evangelist, famous athletes, celebrities, noted politicians, and other prominent people, including everyday folk like me, or perhaps like you. The point is many have fallen from grace for a host of reasons and returning to that place of prominence is almost impossible depending on the circumstances. So what about those that do rise again? How did they do it and what are the steps to restoration of what was once seemingly broken? What causes someone to be worthy of following, even after experiencing obvious failure?
Although I cannot place my name in this category of people, they are nonetheless worthy of mentioning. People like Steve Jobs, who was fired from his own company; Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison before becoming the President of South Africa; and Maya Angelou, poet, author, speaker and civil rights activist, who had turbulent beginnings as a nightclub dancer. How do these individuals and people like them persevere through the storms of life and cause others to want to follow them? As a Christian and person of faith, it would be easy for me to say it was God, and although I do believe that is true, I must dig even deeper and expose tangible facts or truths about how we start over after calamity has hit our lives. After all, if faith is the substance of things hoped for, I want to clarify the substance piece. The “things” we must all hold onto when facing unrelenting doubt, troubling adversity and overwhelming unbelief. How do we rise from the ashes of destruction and believe again?
Have loyalty for yourself
One of the hardest things for us to do is believe in ourselves after we have failed, experienced major trauma or turmoil. Although there should be a time for recovery, many times we will place ourselves on an overextended timeout. We will position ourselves in the corner of life and place a muzzle over our once grand ideas, explicit plans and expressive descriptions on what we were going to achieve. How quickly we lose our confidence and become reluctant to share words of encouragement, although in times past we were someone else’s cheerleader in their time of need. Why do we fail to take our own advice during this time? I believe the same type of loyalty we will convey to a best friend in their time of need we must apply that same love and loyalty to ourselves. Lick your wounds, cry, get therapy, but by all means quit punishing yourself over things you can no longer change. And recognize what you can change is what lies ahead of you.
Owning the outcome
At the end of the day, the results are ours to own. Nothing spells R-E-S-P-E-C-T like a person that takes responsibility for their actions. Whiners and complainers fail to win support, especially when it is apparent they are primarily the ones at fault. This is not the time to seek out sympathy or attempt to build an alliance, however you may gain an alliance by taking the right course of actions. Prior to owning the situation, we must first fully understand what we are taking responsibility for. This means we must carefully study the facts that led to the outcome and distinguish the role you played in the situation. Even if you find you’re one of many that are at fault, when you own the part that is yours, the steps for corrective action will not be so convoluted. When we make the choice to own something, we inevitably are making the distinction that we are leaders.
Develop a game plan
How will you rise from the ashes of your expected demise? One of the greatest teachers in life is failure. It’s precise, direct, unforgiving and unbiased, but one thing it is not is final. In the famous sermon from TD Jakes, “Failure is not Final”, Out of failure a better and more cohesive plan can be birthed. Lessons learned are critical parts to starting over. So the important question to ask is how will you approach the mission this time. Whether pursuing a career path, higher education or a personal relationship, developing a game plan that includes an improved process will prove to be a critical piece to the overall plan. Since you cannot afford to repeat the same errors from the past, be strategic by listing all of the reasons why the plan failed in the past. Understand what will be different this time around and more importantly know why it will be different.
Be ye transparent
No, this is not a quote from the Bible, however you should take it as gospel. Being one that fully understands firsthand the impacts of choosing a seemingly easier path that is far removed from authenticity, my warning to others is do not go down that path. The truth will find you out and expose you when you least expect it, leaving you vulnerable (in a very weak kind of way), embarrassed and less credible to everyone. The best thing you can do is be honest., no matter what it is. Perhaps all the facts should not become privy to the entire world, but make certain those that matter are fully aware. Everyone respects honesty especially when you are swearing to your pain, versus attempting to accomplish selfish gain by looking good. I admit the temporary fix (of lying) can be tempting, but at the end of the day it will serve you nothing but more setbacks. Even if the truth creates inevitable delays, at least what your building on will hold up under the test of time. So speak your truth.
At the end of the day, none of us are perfect so we will inevitably make poor decisions. Some of these decisions will hurt only us, but most will unfortunately hurt others as well. So the goal here is not about living an impeccable lifestyle, (although strive to get as close to this as you can) but rather one that is worthy of following. Whenever I heard a person telling story about how they overcame a situation or pressed through something very difficult, I was rarely moved by their lack of mistakes and poor judgement, but I was more influenced by what they did after they found their face on the floor. This is the person that I can relate to. I believe that he or she can really tell me how to get to the next step and improve on my life, with tangible steps that are far removed from ridicule. But are rich in thoughtfulness, sincerity, empathy and honor. This is a person(s) worthy of following.
“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.” – Pierre Corneille
Like most people I love receiving gifts on my birthday, holidays or the “just because” ones are the best. The thoughtfulness behind someone taking the time to give you something meaningful to them is a priceless moment to experience. As I lived a bit and experienced the turmoil and joys of life, I have come to appreciate many different types of gifts. Ones that I receive as well as ones that I give. They may not have any material value, but they are indeed valuable nonetheless. I have come to understand that I have had the opportunity to acquire and learn many of my most precious gifts as a man living my life. These are unplanned events that seemingly just happen. But they don’t, because nothing just happens. In some form or fashion I have relegated an action towards myself by my disposition and choices, or I have inflicted this on someone else by my own recognizance. What is key for me is always understanding the why and/or the what. Our roles in life can be the key indicators to where we are on the spectrum of wholeness and the tell-tell sign of where we’re going, or not depending how we’re functioning in them.
I have had several roles in my life. I’ve been a son to two great parents, a brother to three beautiful sisters, a father to three wonderful children, a close friend to a few special people, an employee at a great company for almost ten years, a mentor/big brother, and one day soon I’ll be a husband again to an amazing woman. All of these roles have forged and continue to do so, something deep in me that has made me a better man, albeit usually combined with great pain, disdain and many hard learned life lessons. For each learned lesson (and I emphasize learned, because there remains many that I am still working on) I am grateful for the wisdom and insight that I now possess. It’s as if each nugget of wisdom has produced a new gift. A gift that I gladly submit to the world daily.
It’s not that I feel I have finally arrived at a place where I’m sharing an endless amount of insight for the world to attain through me, but I have arrived at some place. A place where I recognize I am more than what I was three to five years ago. A place where I understand my ability to discern, administer patience and recognize potential pitfalls is finally clearer to me now. A place where I no longer allow fear to be the impetus of my decision-making. And finally a place where my past desire to appease others or seek approval at my own expense is no longer a factor for how I live my life.
Now when you typically think about gifts, the aforementioned is probably not what you think about. But if you humor me for a minute I’ll explain. Webster defines the word “gift” as something that is given to another person, group or organization. I’ll add that it is something usually desired, preferred or needed by the recipient. That said, when I think of a gift in this context, I believe making a decision to grow as a person can result as gift to another. Not in an arrogant or insensitive way, but with humility and grace.
There are endless articles regarding broken relationships, heart-break, hurt families and people acting out in mean and cruel ways, specifically in hostile or unpleasant environments. It leaves us numb, callous and distrustful of others, but what would happen if people chose to act out in a different way? In a way that was positive, with respect and that gives dignity for all involved, even in an unfriendly situation. I believe it would provide a very tangible heartfelt gift to the recipient of otherwise bad news.
Rudeness and bad news should not go hand in hand in a relationship.
Now I understand when someone treats us poorly, whether through breaking trust, mean-spiritedness or physical and emotional abuse, our instinctual response is to retaliate and protect self. And in no way am I saying we should not protect ourselves or excuse behavior that is hurtful towards us, but what I am saying is that we should decide what category our response should fall under based on the spirit of the act or accusation. When we make the decision to retaliate solely out of anger or our pain, we ultimately hurt ourselves in the long run. There are no gifts to be found there. Only more grief, even if it feels good at the time. What I also understand is emotions can be crazy and seemingly uncontrollable in the heat of the moment, but when you consider the many heinous acts that have been committed during the heat of passion, you have to ask yourself, “Was it all worth it?” Hopefully your answer is no.
So as a recipient and perpetrator of both I am fully aware of how it looks and feels to be on both sides. I have hurt others out of ignorance, selfishness and immaturity, and I have equally been wronged for the exact same reasons. What I have come to learn is there is a better way. I don’t claim perfection in this area of my life, but I do recognize that the gift of truth and honesty our by-products of a healthy and whole spirit and produce respect and honor. My point, retaliation, vindication and unforgiveness are indicators of brokenness within us. The other person(s) may have their issues, but when they are allowed to push our buttons, this becomes about us and not them. That is when we have to ask ourselves, “What is going here?” Why are they still able to get under my skin? Why do they make me so angry still, or how is it they can disrupt my day and they are dead? When we begin this work versus simply reacting to these types of questions, we give ourselves a fighting chance towards becoming whole and having better relationships in the future. Like a gift we literally give to ourselves.
So as we approach fall and winter and the amazing holidays that come in this time of year, I hope that you will enjoy every good gift that you receive and I equally pray that you will become the giver of the best type of gifts. The ones that are not necessarily earned or expected. And at times to the most undeserving.
“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way” – Wayne Dyer
For years I have taught classes and spoke with people about their life callings and purposes for living. It’s a challenging topic to engage in because many individuals have no idea what they are living for or what their lives are truly about. And if you’re anything like I was, you lived a great part of your life for someone else versus living for yourself. That said, there can be complex layers to uncover prior to revealing the true source of the hinderance. Whether it stems from childhood rearing, which may generally cover all the issues that could exist, but not to negate the others, such as the fear of failure, ambitious distractions or bliss-less ignorance. They can all play a part in the demise of us setting personal goals or living a purposeful life that lines up with who we are at our core. Whether professionally or personally based, living outside your purpose just doesn’t feel right. Something always feels out of alignment or off kilter. So what does it take to get there? All I know is my own story.
It happened one day about ten or twelve years ago. One of my former pastors gave me a book that literally changed my life. Actually it wasn’t that the book actually changed me, but more importantly it was how it inspired me and resonated with the core of who I was and am today. I was teaching a class at my former church that involved leadership development for service and this book articulated a thought that spoke volumes to my spirit. I had no idea how this new revelation would impact everything about me, but it opened the door to many of my most rewarding experiences as well as many of my most difficult challenges. That said, although discovering your purpose will undoubtedly bring you the most joy in your life, it can equally bring you the most challenges. Typically because it is usually the road less travelled, therefore there might be a few naysayers living in your corner (including ourselves) trying to convince you why you should place that new mantle on the shelf and continue life as normal.
However, once you discover your passion for life, nothing is quite as exciting and all you want to do is begin the journey and see where it takes you. So as I was teaching this class to existing and new leaders within my church at the time, I was equally learning a great deal concurrently. I discovered many new things about myself, like my desire to really help people move from a place of ignorance to understanding and assisting them with the discovery of their gifts and talents. Additionally I discovered my propensity to understand why people (me included) put up walls or defenses about who they are. It was this book and class that led me on my journey of discovering my creative purpose.
Now I have added the word “creative” because we can all have purposes that may line up with each other, but what you have is unique to you and only you. In other words your creative purpose will open doors that are meant for you only and impact specific people who fit into your life’s journey and destiny. The key is not to shy away from it or allow others to talk you out of it. You must see the significance in what you do and realize the greater purpose for doing it. If not you will certainly end the journey prematurely.
Your purpose is like a leaf falling off of a tree, although it may have a similar shape as another leaf from the same tree, when it falls to the ground, the wind, it’s weight and overall makeup will cause it to fall in a different location even when falling from the same starting place.
For a moment think of all of the people who have impacted your life in a way that forced you to learn, grow and reflect on what is truly important to you. I have a few of them in my head as well and although each person may not have meant me well, at the end of the day I was placed in a position to reckon with what really matters to me. If it weren’t for them, I cannot imagine where I would be today. Well actually I could. Most likely I would have remained in a place of ignorance to things that I am now aware of, which has enabled me to continue help others more effectively, make better decisions and live a more meaningful life. So as I am grateful for those individuals who have blessed my life and continue to do so, I equally see myself as that person for others. And it is not whether I get confirmation from them of this fact or not, for it is knowing that I am living out my creative purposes, therefore I undoubtedly know it must be happening. It is also important to point out that living my purpose primarily has nothing to do with anyone else, so I remain content in the space that I currently live.
One of the most daring things that I did once I discovered my purpose was I quit my job of thirteen years. I was not unhappy and I had seniority at the company, but like that statement I made earlier about things seeming off kilter, I was there and there in a big way. It was time for a change and I was primed to make it. During that time, now almost nine years later it felt right, but it was equally scary. I did my homework on where I was going next, but there was still more unknowns than what was apparent to me. So I prayed, trusted my gut and took the leap. The rest is truly history, for not only am I closer to authentically using my God-given gifts daily at work, I immensely enjoy what I do and I have the wonderful opportunity to help people grow, and every once in a while I even get to travel the world for work that seems only like fun at times.
Now obviously I was not prepared to handle this type of situation overnight. It required many years for me to come to this understanding and to be ready for a decision like this. I can even say that I learned the hard way, because many years prior to this I did something similar that did not work out so well. Quite honestly it badly backfired on me, but it taught me some invaluable lessons. So I took what I learned and applied the lessons learned, but it all had a purpose and overall plan for what I was experiencing in that moment. And perhaps without the prior failure, my current career may have seemed like a long shot.
So today I am thankful for the many twist and turns that I have experienced in life. I am thankful for the many opportunities to discover something new, or rediscover something old that I missed the first time seeing it. Each occurrence has taught me many great lessons.
Discovering your purpose is like walking a staircase, all the steps are essential in order for us to arrive at the next place.
As you journey through life doing what you do, don’t neglect to realize a purpose for doing whatever it is. If you don’t, the meaning will erode over time like it never existed at all and you will find yourself only going through the motions. Perhaps there is a season for even this, but ultimately it will not satisfy your soul or give you fulfillment long-term. That said, never allow the potential of failure to persuade you from a goal that has significant meaning to you, or concede that mere ambition is the cure-all for success, for although it may take us somewhere, it may not take us where we ultimately desire to be. And lastly, living in ignorance will not release us from the hardship of ignorance, it’s just another hard road. Recognize that living your creative purpose lies in the balance.
This is so exciting to me, to be writing my first Blog. “Hello world!” I have so much to share, so much to say, that I almost became paralyzed on what to blog about first. Then one day (just recently) I was driving in the Humboldt County hills with my daughter and son in the car on a winding road and my 9-year old asked me a profound question. She asked, “daddy, how do you know where we’re going?” It was in that moment my first official blog came to me like a light. You see I had no idea where we were going, and I didn’t care to know. I simply wanted to drive and discover what was around each bend in the road. I’ve always been a guy that needed to know, understand or make sense of a situation, but as I have grown, matured and stop taking myself so seriously I realize sometimes it really doesn’t matter. Knowing everything in the moment that is. So there it was my first topic to blog about right in my face, literally. As I gathered my thoughts to reply to my daughter in a way that she could relate to, I pulled to the side of the road, stepped out of my vehicle (as she followed me) took a few pictures (the one on this post along with a few others) and I attempted to answer her question. I said sweetie, “sometimes you don’t have to know exactly where you are headed and there may be times when the answer and the joy lies in discovering something new and unplanned”. Kids have a way of making things very clear with simple questions.
My life has taken so many turns in the last 7 years or so. There was a season that I would consistently ask myself, “How did I get here”? And make statements like, “This was not supposed to be my story”. But it was my story and I needed to learn how to embrace it and quit beating myself up for things I couldn’t change or people I have hurt. The Upside of Down came to me like an epiphany one day and just like that bend in the road, I had no idea where I was going or what lied ahead, but as I continued to drive I found adventure, beauty, places to stop and enjoy the amazing scenery and perspectives I had never saw before. How does this all happen and why? I mean this was not the first time I drove down a winding road with a picturesque landscape. What made this different for me? Like so many of our life journeys it’s not so much about the road we’re on, it’s about the person driving the car, or better yet you and me. What we can see or hear is all about the place we are in emotionally, psychology and spiritually. Negatively, this place will either cloud our judgement, dilute our definition on what is beautiful or perpetuate a numbness that life will always be like this. All this can lead to are fear-based decisions that in turn lead to more disappointment. I became so tired of being in this place. Positively, it can cause us to see the beauty of what surrounds us, the love that we want and deserve and a relentless hope that is as real as our own heartbeat. I wanted to see! Really see, live, hear and touch the beauty of the world, all for the very first time! Finally I am doing that. Like someone once told me, “do it afraid”. I am living that life, no longer on the sidelines watching, but I’m in the game man! Making it happen, giving my best and expecting the same in return. I still fail, screw up and fall short, but now I get up quickly and remember the journey versus the destination. I have also learned to bloom where I am planted.
I am smelling the roses of life (literally and figuratively) and nothing has quite prepared me for this place like hardship has. Man did it hurt! Thought I was going to die, but I didn’t and like Celie said in the movie the Color Purple, “I’m here!” I am equally here, on the upside of down. Who knew it would be at the bend in the road, I would find my best life. Are you ready to drive?
What is your bend in the road? Did you stop short of the turn due to fear, betrayal, death, a knuckle-head or getting in your own way? Whatever the cause I encourage you to get up off your tush and return to your journey. Your best life awaits you around the bend. I don’t say this without empathy. I’ve been down, very down and lived at that point on my knees crying, depressed and ultimately paralyzed by my own doings. I stopped short. In that season of my life I became like a dormant tree. The interesting point to make about a dormant tree is it may look dead, but it isn’t. It’s preparing for the inevitable, to bear fruit. Strengthening itself for what lies ahead. That said, don’t be discouraged in your still/quiet moments. Things are still working on the inside, below the surface. Bloom where you’re planted and soon you will be back on that road to discover what lies ahead. There’s a saying that “time heals all wounds”. I have always whole-heartedly disagreed with this statement. The human body has the ability to heal itself, but it’s not the time that heals it. Time is a significant part of the formula, but it’s what happening deep inside that actually causes the healing to occur. Like our bodies, it’s the work we do below the surface in the time we have that allows the healing to actually manifest. Whether counseling, prayer, surrendering, joining a group, church, taking long walks, sharing with friends or reading a great book, it’s the work we choose to do that infuses us with the power to press ahead. Press ahead to our best life. Now…get to the work. Someone is waiting on you to move.