A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the upper lobby of the Marriott in Kansas City with Stadia’s marketing and events team. We’d been meeting for several hours the night before and that morning preparing for the future, evaluating the past and figuring out ways to be better. We had just returned from lunch and weren’t quite ready yet to dive back into work talk. Plus, my boss, the inimitable Tom Jones (not the singer) stopped by to have a chat with us and encourage my team (and me).
My colleague Phyllis proposed we all answer a question she uses whenever she is conducting a job interview. The New York Times is printing a full-page advertisement for you, but it can only have three words on it. What three words would you want on the advertisement to describe you so that the Times’ readers would know what kind of person you are.
Everyone in the circle had to answer, including Tom. It was awesome. It really gave a killer picture of how each of us saw ourselves and perhaps more importantly how we want to be seen by others. I’ll let you ask Tom, Phyllis, Janie and Abby about their three words on your own, but I’ll share mine here.
Hospitable: I feel like I am and I want to be known as the person at the party that is having fun but more importantly making sure everyone is having fun; even that new guy your other buddy just met and randomly invited. I want to be the person that makes sure everyone who has something to say at a meeting, small group, whatever, has the opportunity to say it. I want to make sure everyone is engaged. Sometimes that means making the comfortable, but in some situations, it means making them uncomfortable.
Driven: I think if you know me, this one is evident. I feel like I am and I want to be known as someone who theorizes, perseveres and accomplishes.
Agile: I want to be known for my ability to change course when I need to. When I worked for Siemens, I was on a small, very agile team in a humungous, not very agile organization. It was awesome. When I had to be in Malvern or Princeton and endure the corporate bureaucracy, I felt like I was drowning. I champion not falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy and am ready to move in order to accomplis
h the things I’m driven toward through my work, my ministry or my own ideas.
Flip the script and the three words I would not want to be known as are Disloyal, Unprincipled and Boring.
I strongly encourage you to go through this exercise with your friends, family and coworkers. Knowing how others want to be seen helps you see them that way, and when you see them the way they want to be seen, you develop a new found respect and/or love for them. You also are more equipped to help them, lead them, love them, be led by them, be in relationship with them.
So, now you know my three. What are yours?
I move forward. Quickly. And in the wake of that motion, sometimes, things get messy. Literally and metaphorically.
And eventually, the chaos created by the swirling air in my wake wears me out. I wake up with an uncertain, imprecise feeling of dread like I’m missing something, forgetting something, failing at something but unable to put my finger on what it is. I can look around and look back and count the good things, but that feeling remains.
I’m not made for looking backwards. I have a very good memory (which drives my wife crazy). I love to tell stories, which pull from past experience. I love learning, which pulls from past experience. But I’m not particularly nostalgic. I move forward. I think I’m above average at at evaluating situations, envisioning potential outcomes and developing a path from where I am toward the best outcome. Instead of nostalgia, I am focused on and excited for what’s next.
And I am starting to think (or maybe remember) that my imprecise feeling of dread occurs when I can’t focus on what’s next because of the chaos left in the wake of my forward motion.
Last night, instead of soaking in the pleasure of playing music with the Revolution band, I felt distracted. Last night, I had a trying night (thanks dogs and Rex). This morning I woke up with that tension in my heart, that dread. But I don’t have the time to let it work itself out on it’s own, so as usual, I’m moving forward.
Between Zoom calls, strategic planning for Stadia bookkeeping, building relationships for Stadia’s marketing team, I’ve been self-evaluating and cleaning up the chaos of the last few weeks of forward motion and arrhythmic calendars.
My office is also my dressing room, rehearsal space, luggage storage location, Stadia supply room, and so on and so forth…. And dude, those spaces have become a disaster. Some small, non-vital tasks have been put off, ballooning my inbox. As I sat down this morning, I realized I could not see the short-term pathway forward. Dread.
Today, I cleaned my desk, organized my calendar, reviewed my notes (just finished the last page of my Moleskine), finished all but one of the non-vital tasks (my inbox is at 7…no, 10…no, 12). That sense of dread is fading.
Time to move forward.
What do you need to clean up in your physical and mental space in the next couple days so you can move forward?
I love to laugh and make others laugh. Many of my best memories of the last couple years involve sitting around a table with friends with variations of giggling, chortling, and guffawing. These are the moments that I crave; the moments that encourage me even when I’m burdened; the moments that strengthen me in times of weariness; the moments that make me feel connected; the moments that propel me forward.
Becky and I are passionate about encouraging couples in ministry, especially lead couples and double-especially (is that a thing?) church planting lead couples. Yes, we both have jobs in church planting that we get joy and fulfillment from, but it is the moments we can encourage and engage and connect ministry couples that we feel most like we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as a couple. We have been eyewitnesses to the damage that can be done in a marriage, a family, a ministry when ministry couples’ fall apart. We’ve seen the damages of infidelity, burn-out, depression, boredom…
And we’ve developed a dream to create retreats for ministry couples and a philosophy for “retreats” that are much more about laughing around a table than they are about teaching, like your typical Christian “retreat.” Let’s face it, we have world-class teaching at our finger tips at any moment via YouTube, Netflix, various podcasts and many other sources. Becky and I believe that what ministry couples need most is connection and community. They are already accomplished learners, but so many couples we talk to are feeling lonely.
I’ve been experimenting with this “around-a-table” retreat idea with men I’m connected with for almost two years, and Becky and I are now getting ready to pilot our first gathering of couples for a retreat. There are timing and funding issues that we need to figure out, but we are passionate about this, and we feel that it is important. We feel we have a gift for gathering people, and we have a sense that people want this.
It’s time to evolve in our thinking of what constitutes a “retreat” (and a conference for that matter, but that is a different blog). We need to start addressing the needs people have that they can’t get on their own instead of just retreading the same pathways of teaching, small group, planned itinerary. In our hyper-connected social media world, we’re actually not all that connected, actually. Almost everything we “connect” about on social media has already happened (read more of my thoughts on that), and what Becky and I are craving and perceive our friends are craving is real-time connection that encourages, strengthens and propels us forward.
What are you and your spouse passionate about? What is your shared mission?
Who wants to gather around a table and laugh with Becky and me?
In my travels over the last several years, I have dined alone on a regular basis. Eating dinner alone is a weird thing but something I’ve come to find an unexpected amount of peace in doing. My top favorite way to eat alone is to find a nice grocery store (like Wegman’s or Whole Foods) and make a large plate, grab a cold bottle of beer, then return to my hotel room to enjoy, usually while watching the Travel Channel or the Food Network.
My second choice when a fine grocery store isn’t available is to sit at the bar of a local, ideally non-chain restaurant. I love watching how bartenders work, and when the place isn’t busy, I love talking with them.
While I eat my buffalo chicken sandwich (wishing it was grilled instead of fried and covered with 31% more buffalo sauce and had cucumbers instead of lettuce), they serve dozens and dozens of drinks (all but one or two to other people) without any obvious system for knowing who is next but almost always getting it right.
All the while, they listen to stories from those of us sitting at the bar, bringing them back up and remembering many details when our turn comes to have our drink status checked. This has been my experience as the norm. Crappy bartenders have (thankfully) been the exception.
It makes you feel special.
When I’m doing my job, I’ve discovered I’m pretty good at making clients, customers, partners, and colleagues feel important and special while prioritizing them, reprioritizing them, and checking in on the ones that seem to be good just to try to anticipate coming needs. I’m not perfect at this. I miss people “at the bar” occasionally, but mostly I’m good. When I do miss someone, I go out of my way to make it up to them.
Unfortunately, in my workplace experiences, the bartender mindset and craft has not been the norm. The people made to feel special are often the squeakiest wheels or the biggest wallets. I get the tension in that, but I believe the best “bartenders” deal with those customers in a special, deft way that doesn’t take away from the experience of the rest of their “customers.”
How often do you ask yourself, “I wonder what the people I’m in relationship with at or through work are feeling?” If it’s not often or the only faces that come to mind are squeaky wheels and big wallets, may I humbly suggest that you are not doing it right.
Be a good bartender not a typical cube dweller.
“Know-it-alls don’t like being told what to do; they avoid the company of wise men and women.” Proverbs 15:12 (MSG)
Almost every morning, as I brew a half pot of decaffeinated Maxwell House coffee (delicious!), I say, “Alexa, play Jeopardy.” I then get six answers for which I have to come up with he corresponding question like on the show. My favorite board game is Trivial Pursuit. Going to trivia nights with my friends are moments of great joy.
Know-it-all, one-upper. These are stinging adjectives that others have used to describe me. I like being right, and I’m right a lot. I like telling stories and sharing what I know and have experienced (especially if I think it will get some laughs). But do I have to be so pushy about it?
Probably not. I’m trying not to be a “know-it-all” or a “one-upper.” It isn’t easy because a crucial element for avoiding becoming one of those is listening. And listening can be hard when there are so many distractions.
I try not to avoid the company of wise men and women, and when I am in their company, I try to listen. I want to be perceptive and intelligent, not a know-it-all. I’m lucky to work with and be friends with several very, very wise people who are generous with their time and wisdom.
“An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.” Proverbs 15:14 (MSG)
“The empty-headed treat life as a plaything; the perceptive grasp its meaning and make a go of it.” Proverbs 15:21 (MSG)
“Listen to good advice if you want to live well, an honored guest among wise men and women.” Proverbs 15:31 (MSG)
“Try” is a pretty important word in this blog. I am not always (often?) very good at listening, but gosh darn it, I’m trying. I’m sorry to everyone I’ve been a know-it-all toward. I’m sorry for the times I have attempted to one-up your story rather than celebrating your story with you. I’m sure I’ll do it again, but I’m trying to be better. Feel free to encourage me to listen and keep my mouth shut…just don’t be a jerk about it, ok?
In what areas of your life are you TRYING to get better?
I spend a lot of time lying to myself and mostly it starts with, “You suck…”
When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to say something “sucks” or “sucked.” “Suck” and its various conjugations were up there in the minor swear words like crap, fart and Uranus. Now, of course, I say all those words around my kids. On the way back from an Orioles’ game last week, Ariella told me she didn’t like the word “sucks.” My first thought was that I suck as a dad.
By many measures, I’ve been pretty #blessed. I’m 36 and working at a high level in an industry I’m passionate about. I’m doing things I never thought I would be able to do. Today, I had a meeting with an on-air personality from the NFL network about how we can work together in our industry, and next week we have a follow-up meeting. Seriously?
But every time I think about it (which is often), I think about how little I deserve to be here. I work with some of my heroes, and some of them treat me like a peer. Seriously?
I didn’t go to school for this. I don’t study hard enough. I don’t come from an associated lineage. I have an above average memory and a penchant (gift? curse?) for making decisions quickly. I’m good at faking that I know what I’m talking about while I figure out what I’m talking about. I have a strong intuition. And that’s it.
Or at least that’s how I feel a lot of the time. That’s my inner monologue.
And that’s why I’m thankful for God.
When I tell myself that I suck, He says, “So what?” And thank God for that.
Thank you, God, for reminding me that my insecurity is an unreliable mentor. Thank you for reminding me that in the areas that I do actually suck, you can use me anyway. Thank you for grace. Thank you for connecting me with the amazing people I’m connected with.
What lies do you tell yourself? How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?