Personal Growth

I am Not What I Do – and Neither Are You

My Executive Coach encouraged me to read Terrence Real’s, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. The post that follows is indebted to this book. 

There is desire inside me that craves being fed. Reading the latest book satisfies it. Writing a blog post does as well. Exercising is another way to earn a check mark. 

Such is the reality of performance-based esteem. 

Ever relentlessly check your email? 

Ever fail to officially stop working? 

Do you rationalize that this is what you have to do? As if what you do is not replaceable? Take it from me. You are replaceable. I know I am. Hoffer Plastics had one of its best months ever the month that I was in the hospital for a week and gone for two more. This realization is not depleting. It is actually freeing. 

I do not have to hide. I am not what I do. Neither are you. 

The things that we do to conceal the inner-self, the addictive defenses, are often shields. But what are they shielding? 

All the “to-dos” that I do, especially the good ones, what are they hiding? 

Perhaps, nothing? 

Perhaps, everything? 

Shame?

Why is it that when I hide my true self I am tempted to show grandiosity externally, and yet feel shame inwardly? What am I hiding? 

My inner-self wants to hit delete rather than “post” this right now. It feels like the plank is coming to its end and it is time to jump. But, where does the jump lead? Does it lead to the deep end? Is the deep end safe? Or, is the preoccupation with being safe the problem? 

What is the point of all this anyway? 

Why do I care so much about what others think? Acceptance, and popularity, actually never satisfy. 

So, I will ask again, what is the point of all this anyway? 

My self-critic just said that is what you all, the readers, are probably wondering, “what is the point?”

Am I the only one that has a self-critic inside my head? I doubt it! 

I was not depressed when I started reading this book, but it uncovered something. Maybe this post is doing the same for you. 

If so I am sorry. 

Ok, maybe I am not sorry. 

I have discovered that much of my doing is nothing more than a vain attempt to placate the noise of my self-critic. The reality is that I am self-critical and at times shameful. I am more aware of my inner-dialogue now. Some say this is enlightenment. 

Perhaps. 

It feels like there is a lot more discovery that needs to happen for that word to be used. Maybe that is the self-critic winning again. But, this is a start. 

As I peak inside, there is also pain from the past. Some of it brought on by my own decision making, some brought on by others. 

Lord Jesus, help me forgive both myself and others. 

Help me be restored. 

Help me find peace in you. 

Help me realize this peace comes from “being” with you, and not “doing.” 

Help me stop. 

A final note. 

Wherever you are …….. stop. 

Ask yourself where you are on the continuum of shame and grandiosity. 

What are you hiding? 

Anything? 

If not, just be. 

If so, what is it? 

Next week we can go back to focusing externally, but for now, have the courage to look inwardly. 

I feel the discomfort too. 

Let your emotions out. Get help if you need it. Discover you, the authentic you. 

The point in doing so is not to end there, or even to be fixated there. But rather to be begin living outwardly, focusing on others. 

It is brokenness to wholeness to otherness. 

It is the start of healing. 

It is the process of self-leadership. 

Doing the Hard Work

To be someone worth following, you have to first be healthy yourself. While the physical part of your health is critical, I want to focus this week on the emotional state.

What follows are questions I am asking myself so that I know the state of my inner being. I have listed a lot of questions below. The expectation is not to answer all of them, but only those that stick out. Be honest. Do not hide. This is difficult, but worthy work. 

Before diving in, I would encourage you to talk through selected questions with your support groups. For instance, I am talking about them with my Executive Coach, Accountability Partner, and group of men I meet with twice per month. I would also be inclined to get professional help if it was needed. There is no shame in this. The goal is to get real, know yourself, and heal. 

These questions are listed in no particular order. 

What about my past am I embarrassed by? 

What event do I want nobody to know about? 

How often do I think of that event? 

Is it something I should talk to someone about? 

How do my childhood dreams, if I can remember them, compare to the life I am currently living? How does this make me feel? Really?

Who wronged me in the past? 

Who do I need to forgive? 

Who have I wronged? 

Have I forgiven myself? 

What, or who, sets off my anger? 

What does that anger look like (imagine you were just observing it)? 

How does that anger probably feel to others? 

What am I really angry about? Is it really the situation I described above, or is there something deeper going on? If so, what? 

Is anger what I really feel? Or, is some other emotion present (sadness, fear, anxiety, or something else?). If so, what is it? 

What does my eating say about my emotional state? 

How often do I self medicate? 

Do I turn to alcohol, or other mind-altering drugs, for an escape? 

Really? 

Could I live without my drink of choice for a year? 

Do I need to talk to someone about my drinking? 

How much sleep do I get? 

Is it restful?

Is it enough? 

What would enhance my nighttime routine: Less screen time? Going to bed earlier? Setting the alarm later? 

Do I sleep through the night, or wake up many times throughout? 

Is sleep positively, or negatively, impacting my emotional health? 

Do my credit card statement(s) tell a story about the state of my emotional health? 

Am I buying things unnecessarily? 

Do my thoughts turn frequently to positive experiences, or things, that I could purchase? 

Do I search google for the best deal so that I can justify the need for buying whatever it is that I am buying? 

Do I search Amazon at odd times for odd things? 

Do I buy things when I am also engaging in some other activity like drinking? 

Am I in debt? 

Do I have a plan to get out of debt? 

Do my eyes turn frequently to social media? 

Do my posts portray an inaccurate version of my life (either good or bad)? 

Do I evaluate the posts of others in comparison to my life (their “highlights” to my “lowlights”)? 

Do I get angry, anxious, or sad while looking at social media? 

Have I setup any time limits, or safeguards, around my use of social media? 

Would this be helpful? 

Do I show up to work with energy? 

Does my hard work mask some insecurity? 

Am I judgmental of the success of others on the team? 

Am I secure enough in myself to give others credit? Really? 

Do I want the best for my coworkers, or do I secretly want to be number one? 

Does my work get the best energy I have to offer while my spouse and kids get what is left over? 

Or, is it the other way around? 

Do I have a real stop to my work, or does it just gravitate back to home in the evening? 

Have I informed my mind of the stop time? 

Do I resent those that do not work as hard as I do? What does that say about me? 

Will I be able to really retire? Or, is retirement predicated on some sort of external factors that aim to bring a lavish lifestyle? 

Would I be okay just being? No experiences or toys, just being with others? 

Am I afraid to die? 

Have I come to grips with my own mortality? 

Is this something I should talk to someone about? 

What are my thoughts about what really matters in this life, its origins, God, and salvation? 

Have I decided? 

The list of questions above are not easy. My goal in asking them is to get the readers of this blog to know thyself. Like everything else I write about, I am spending 2021 asking myself these questions. 

It is hard work. 

But, it is necessary. 

To lead others you have to first lead yourself. 

These questions are part of that journey. 

In a Funk? Shift Your Focus.

I have been in a little bit of a funk lately. I have felt more anxious than normal. My sleep has been less than desirable. I am tired. I feel like I am sort of at the end of my rope. And, I also feel like my emotions range from depression, to happiness, back to feelings of sadness all over the course of a twenty-four hour period. 

Before I get a bunch of emails, I have talked to my doctor about all this. I have also relied heavily on the social support systems I have built over the past decade: a couple’s community group, a devoted accountability partner, and a group of guys I meet with every other Thursday to talk about life. If you can relate to anything I have already shared in this post, but have not talked with your doctor and/or your social network, please start there. These are very important steps. 

Continuing on with my story, I discovered that the more I focused on myself, the more anxious I felt. The same could be said for all the emotions above as well. The doctor even prescribed medication to help me stabilize my moods, but to no avail. For me, and what I was experiencing, medication did not help. 

In my daily time of prayer and silence, I was reminded to get outside of myself. My Bible reading plan was going through the Gospel of John, and among other things, I was constantly being reminded of the One whose primary objective was to lay down his life for all. 

The disparity struck me. Jesus gave his life, while I sought, and even clung, to mine. While I do not fully get how it works, my life has been a reminder that real life comes when I let go of it. 

“Letting go” can sound too spiritual for application. So, here is what I mean: 

Rather than focusing on myself, I start looking for others to serve. 

Rather than looking to feed my ego, I look to encourage others. 

Rather than sulking, I look for someone to give love to. 

Rather than hiding, especially when that is what I feel like doing, I lay down that preference and engage with the community around me.  

Rather than seeking measures to reduce, or even take the edge off my pain, I sit inside my grief, fear, and sadness. 

Rather than run, I sit and rest. 

This is all counter-cultural. For, we live in a world that puffs up, explains away, and promises that happiness is on the other side of following your heart. 

My life suggests that following my heart has often led to me losing any sense of life altogether. This does not mean that “dreams” and “aspirations,” are wrong. Rather, it means that “dreams” and “aspirations” rooted in the exultation of self are tricky at best, and dangerous at worse. So, proceed with caution. 

I have rediscovered that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24). For, the extent I focus on loving and serving others is often the measure of peace I have in my soul.

You might not be a follower of Jesus. All this talk might have you wondering what this blog is even about. It is about encouraging you to live your best life, be someone worth following regardless of your position, and to find peace in doing so. 

We seem to live in a selfie, me first, world.  

The invitation is to live for something bigger by loving others first.  

Join me in doing so. 

Together, let’s brighten the days of those around us. 

Give Yourself Some Grace

I write these words towards the midpoint of another year. A year that was supposed to be easier than the previous one. It is not. It is hard, and the challenges may be different, but they are still present.

I have noticed a shared fatigue setting in with our team. Burnout is real. People are often on edge. I think this is because we were not created for sustained long-term stress. In short, nothing about life is easier today than it was a year and a half ago. So, the tread on the tires is showing. 

I see the tread when I look into the mirror. My face looks tired. I am aging. Of course, I am always aging. But, I am in the express lane right now. 

Last week I had a good talk with my doctor. It was just a check-in. They asked about my experience during this whole deal, and talking about it was almost out-of-body. There has been a couple deaths, a hospital stay for me, and various business challenges. And that only takes the story up to last October! 

The doctor looked at me and said two things worth sharing. First, he said that the mental toll of this ordeal is far greater than anyone presently realizes. Second, in this doctor’s opinion, we are collectively experiencing “post traumatic stress disorder.” 

I have to be honest with you. I have yet to take full stock of this reality. Last year, I gave myself a lot more grace and despite the hard challenges mentioned, was better for it. This year, on the other hand, I have gone back to being hard on myself. The result? I am more tired, anxious, and stressed, than I care to admit. I share this because many of the subscribers to this blog are similar to me in being “Type-A” driven leaders. 

Together, we need to give ourselves some grace. 

Ponder that for a minute. 

Let this sink in: 

Give yourself some grace. 

And here is the personal realization that led to me writing this post. It is a truth that you and I need to own in order to move forward in 2021. 

The most important muscle right now is our “showing up muscle.” Regardless of how hard things are, we need to keep showing up. People like us show up for people. People like us show up to love those people. People like us dust ourselves off when we fall down. We even put a band-aid on the scrapes and cuts. But, we keep showing up. Day after day, we keep showing up. When we are sad, we show up. When we are anxious, we show up. When we are joyous, we show up. We just show up. 

This is what counts these days. In twenty years, we won’t remember all the intricacies of 2020 and 2021. But, we will remember whether we showed up. So will those who follow us. 

So, go easy on yourself. Simplify your expectations for what can, and even needs, to get done this year. But, above all else, keep showing up. 

It is the most important muscle to flex in 2021. 

Taming the Email Beast

I often come home bragging about all the killer emails I wrote in a day. I tell my wife, “you would have been so impressed if you could have read the works of poetry I was dishing out to the team on email”.

Not exactly. 

Not only is the fake scenario above a little creepy, it also is not true. Email is not the best part of my day. In fact, as I have shared often on this blog, the best part of my day is meeting one-on-one with others. Meetings are humane, efficient, and one of the signposts of effective leadership. 

All that being said, we live in a world of email. Since the onset of the iPhone, email has been in our side pocket whenever we feel the urge. Think about that, for centuries managers tried to find effective ways to manage workers around the clock, but it took Steve Jobs (et al) to design something really cool for it to happen. Obviously, you accessing your email is not the same thing as you being managed, but, here is a question to ponder, who is in control when you “have to” check your work phone around the clock?

I know the answer to that question because I am writing this blog post on an iPad. It might not be the weekend, or at night, but it might as well be. When I am on this device, it is not long before my thoughts turn to work. This is not always bad—I like what I do—but, working 24/7 is not sustainable, nor, is working 14/7.

So instead of pontificating any longer about email, I have decided to break the rest of this post into three sections about email: What am I going to stop? What I am going to start? What am I going to keep? The idea is to lead yourself in email, so that you have the energy and attention to lead others in person.

Stop

The best thing about email is that it is asynchronous. You can send me an email today, and I can respond later. Therefore, I am going to stop checking it around the clock. I stop responding after 5 p.m. (unless the email is an emergency or from a friend that I want to connect with) and I stop checking altogether at 8 p.m. I also stop checking at all times throughout the day. For example, when I am having a one-on-one meeting, I turn Outlook OFF. It is silly, but it reminds me that I control email, not the other way around. Determine what is best for you, but keep in mind it helps to put limits on your email. There are things you just have to stop. 

Start 

During COVID, I started having all the memos I write (shared via email) proofread by others. This sounds simplistic, and it is, but it is an important behavior to start because email comprehension is on the decline. What I mean is that as the average number of emails rise, and as the amount of time during the day stays constant, people are reading email faster than ever before in order to simply to get through all the email. Hence, there is a great likelihood for misunderstanding. So, the wise thing to do is to write important emails carefully. Words matter and can easily be taken out of context. 

The even better thing to do, therefore, is to say all important things in person when possible. In fact, I often ask myself this question before writing an email: “Is this a conversation I would dread having in person?” If the answer is yes, it is usually because there is conflict. 99.99% of the time, I am better off having that conversation in person. If, on the other hand, I am letting my sisters know of an upcoming vacation (a conversation that I would not dread, and is just a reminder of sorts), then an email is sufficient. 

Keep 

A number of years ago, I stopped responding to a lot of emails. I know this makes me sound like a jerk, but I simply cannot respond to over 150 emails each day and the number keeps growing! The point is that I am going to keep NOT responding to all emails. This includes text messages, LinkedIn messages, and all other messages electronically. Please hear me, I do not intend to be a jerk, I intend to build directly into the lives of those I lead. This takes time and attention and email often robs me of both. 

I have found these email strategies to be helpful in creating time to do what matters most in leadership, which is meeting one-on-one with those you lead. I challenge you to determine what you can stop with email, what you can start, and what practices you can keep. Then you will manage email rather than letting email manage you. This will create the time necessary to build into other people.

Regret: The Price of Being Human

What if the idea that you can live with “no regrets” is a lie? What if regardless of your best human efforts, some regret in this life is the price of being human?

These questions came to me very early on a recent Monday morning. I was alone in the gym and my thoughts turned to the past… 

I grew up playing competitive golf. I was not pushed into this, but I did come from a family of golfers. In fact, my father was quite accomplished: First Team All-American at Purdue University, United States Mid-Amateur Champion, Walker Cup Team Player, and my personal favorite, 1984 invitee to the Masters.

He never pressured me with golf. I want to make that clear before going on. That said, I always wanted to be accomplished like him. But, by the time I finished my high school career, I did not have the drive to keep playing competitive golf. So, I declined an opportunity to “walk-on” to Purdue University’s golf team.  

Fast forward to the present. The day prior to my Monday morning gym experience, I had played an abysmal round of 9 holes of golf. It was so bad that I found myself doubting my self-worth and whether I was good enough at anything in my life. As dramatic as that sounds, golf sometimes brings this kind of darkness out of me.

Then, my mind went back to Purdue. Before long, I was in a mental free-fall conjuring up all my past regret around not playing golf there. The coaching, along with the practice it would have taken, would have helped me mature as both a golfer and as a man. More importantly, this realization left me with the reality of never knowing what my potential could have been. 

Can anyone reading this post relate to feeling a similar kind of regret about the past?

Is there a moment of your life where you would like a “mulligan?” 

The example I have shared above is just one of the many examples of regret I have. There are things I have said, and things I have done, that I would love to take a “mulligan” on. Trust me, a few are more consequential than golf. 

But, life does not come with “breakfast balls,” or do-overs, does it?  

So, maybe the price of being human is living with some amount of regret. 

My goal in writing weekly posts is to encourage leaders. Leaders, at the most basic level, are people others follow. One reason this is so is because leaders care for other people first. Unfortunately, this care for others can tempt leaders to brush aside things like regret. Let’s be honest, caring for others is noble, while dealing with past regret is messy.

As I have argued repeatedly on this blog, leaders need to first lead themselves. In regard to regret, this means that leaders need to get acclimated to what they are feeling around regret. 

Personalizing this, and adding to what I have already shared above, this means I have to get real in regard to my past about golf in general and not basing my self-worth on performance. 

Below I will share two things I do to gain perspective and move past regret. 

First, I spend time reflecting on the kind of regret I have in my life. Admittedly, not “walking-on” to the Purdue golf team is kind of like a “first world” sort of regret. While I do legitimately regret it, it is not the kind that will haunt me on my death bed.

A thought that struck me in between sets at the gym on that Monday morning was this: Allow yourself to have regret over the right things and peace over the better. 

What that meant to me is that golf falls into the “right” category, meaning it is a “good” endeavor, but not a “better” one. For me, “better” equates to my faith, marriage, parenthood, and relationships with family. 

So, with this renewed perspective not only can I move past regret, but I also have a perspective to share with others that might be encouraging to them. 

Second, my faith in Jesus is also instructive on this topic. I do not believe it to be coincidence that my Bible reading this same Monday morning was Matthew 11. Specifically, the verses between 25-30. It highlights that the Father (God) revealed the Son (Jesus). Jesus said, “all things have been committed to me by the Father” (verse 27). Therefore, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST” (verse 28, emphasis mine). 

At the risk of sounding a little strange to some, this scripture reminded me that rest is found in Jesus because all things have been committed to him. 

By its nature, regret is opposed to rest. No one says they slept well after filling their minds with all their past regrets. To this end, any advice around not thinking about regret is also not helpful. As the scripture above reminds, we have to place it in the hands of a “higher power”. We simply cannot let go of things like regret on our own power. 

While I cannot speak for you, I can say that in Jesus I have found peace in all aspects of my past. This most assuredly includes all the things I have regret over. I share this because I never knew how much my past weighed me down until I gave it to Him. His assertion, therefore, in verse 30, “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” is the culmination of living in this reality. 

I have found these two ideas to be helpful starting points in regard to regret. Leaders are the kind of people others follow because they are worth following. But, we cannot give what we do not possess. So, I guide you to stop toiling in yesterday’s regret. Rather, let’s come to a place of internal peace so that we can share the peace we discover with those we lead. 

Return on Anger

It is not an over exaggeration to say that our current times might later be classified as the age of rage. As divisions over almost everything mount, we are becoming a more angry society. 

Like most posts I write, the idea of this post came to me because of something I was experiencing. While I do not think of myself as a naturally angry person, I have to confess that I have seen it bubble up more frequently in the last year. 

Am I alone? Or, does any of the following get your blood boiling? 

COVID-19 restrictions 

Lack of COVID-19 restrictions 

People that preach the vaccine 

People that preach the vaccine is a Government take-over 

Politics: Right, Left, or anywhere in-between 

The lack of anywhere “in-between” politically 

Politics coming into every aspect of life 

Your pro baseball team’s lousy hitting

Okay, maybe the last one is not something you get worked up about, but I would imagine you have feelings, perhaps even strong feelings, about all the rest. Perhaps these feelings even lead to anger. 

Notice, I purposely did not take a side on any of the issues listed above. I suspect that even mentioning them gets people a little agitated these days.

I do not know a single leader in any position of authority that does not do a return on investment (ROI) for a capital expenditure. So, here is my question for today’s post, when was the last time you did an ROI on anger? 

This is the question I posed to myself last week when I felt angry after reading the latest Wall Street Journal article on another political divide. My answer was that I never get an acceptable return on my anger. 

Let me repeat for impact. 

I never get an acceptable return on my anger. 

What about you? 

The more I thought about it, the more anger costs me. 

For example, 

When I am angry, I do not serve my spouse, or my kids, well. 

When I am angry, I come to work with a demeanor that can be off putting to others. 

When I am angry, I can make bad decisions. 

When I am angry, I can say hurtful things. 

When I am angry, I am sinful. 

You might not like the word sinful. As a follower of Jesus, however, I want to be clear that I am not judging you, or anyone else. Rather, I am just confessing that anger separates me from God, which is what sin does. When I am angry in the ways described above, I am not righteous. Rather, I am separated from God and sinful. In effect, I am saying to God that my way is better and my thoughts on a particular issue are supreme. 

None of this is true. Regardless of what I am angry about, I am not fully in the right and my way is not entirely right. 

I am simply not God. 

Coming back to leading others, it is important to turn away from this kind of anger. I say this with conviction because leadership is about serving others. To be someone worth following, then, a leader needs to set aside their preferences for the greater good of those they lead.

To this end, can’t we all take a collective sigh, and for the good of our organizations—the area where we actually have influence—lead with humility? Perhaps, even lead in a way that is welcoming of diverse thought and diverse views? 

I believe that is the way the One I follow would want me to lead. Note, this does not mean I do not have convictions, or even strong points of view. It simply means that I can hold those, while simultaneously being open to the view of others. This open-mindedness opens the door to a reality that is less about anger and more about love. 

I know this is counter-cultural, but this is why I pray for those I do not agree with. Please note that these prayers are NOT about God somehow changing the people I disagree with, but rather about God changing ME. 

I pray: 

“Lord, I do not agree with so and so about the particular issue of X. That said, I pray that you bless them. That you give me eyes to love them. Help me discern where they are right, and where I am wrong. Most importantly, lead me to your Truth in this situation. Help me also to be humble. Help me to live according to your Word only, and not to anything less than your Word. Help me to love others as you love me.” 

You see I have come to discover a truth shared long ago: love has an acceptable ROI, whereas anger does not. 

Therefore, the more love I bring to my spouse, kids, and work, the better off I am in the long run. 

To do this, I admittedly have to monitor what I am turning my mind to. This may mean signing off social media or ignoring the latest Wall Street Journal article, but my life is better for it. 

Please understand that this is a constant struggle. The constant bombardment of messages sometimes gets the best of me. It is at these times when I return back to some kind of the aforementioned prayer I wrote above. 

Leaders, I will ask the question one last time that I started with post with. When was the last time you did an ROI on your anger? 

My suspicion is that any type of ROI on anger is going to teach you that it does not give you the return you need to be an effective leader. 

On the other hand, love has an unlimited return to the leader focused on serving other human beings. 

Choose which return you want. 

But, as for me and my house, I am serving the Lord and building my life on irrational love. 

Especially for those I disagree with. 

Processing Bad News

Yesterday, I received some bad news about someone on our team. It has nothing to do with health, or any other external circumstance, thank goodness. Rather, the news is that their role, and the hours worked, need to change because of some external factors. 

This post will explain the things I did the last twenty-four hours to deal with the change. My preferred course would be for this person to stay in their position as is. This transition is not preferable for me, but out of care for them, I have to find a mutual path forward. 

Isn’t that what leaders do?  

First lesson: I have been taught that anger can be an emotion that covers up either fear or sadness. In fact, I have frequently written this blog about how I find it helpful to ask myself what am I afraid about, or sad about, when I feel angry. In this situation I feel both fear and sadness. I fear losing a top performer in the position they are in and I am saddened to lose them as well. Acknowledging this has been helpful because I am not really angry about the situation. What I am feeling is a little fear and probably more than a little sadness. Yet, I was acting angry yesterday afternoon when I learned about it, so this clarification helped. 

Second, something I heard Colin Powell advise in a talk that I attended years ago helped me yesterday when I learned about the situation. The line was this: “Things will look different in the morning.” I think what Colin was pointing out was that our minds can think more clearly after a good night’s sleep. So, after thinking about this news for several hours, I put it in the “Do Not Disturb” part of my brain and went home. Confession: this part of my brain has a VERY WEAK door, meaning things usually do not stay in there long! This is why I could not stop here.

Three, I shared all of the above, especially my emotions, with my wife, Sarah. I am a verbal processor, so Sarah hears it all! I am the complete opposite of most guys that I know in that I have to talk things out. Otherwise, my thinking will go into over-drive (and the door of the “Do Not Disturb” portion of my brain will be blown off its hinges). Had I been on the road yesterday, I would have had to journal about the situation to get it out of my mind. The point here is that until I talk about it, or write about it, I will think about it. This may be the one thing you take from this post: get whatever is in your mind onto a piece of paper, or talk about it with a trustworthy person. This will help settle your brain and will help you think clearly about an issue. 

Fourth, I prayed about the situation. This is not a token gesture, I pray multiple times a day. So, with Sarah, I prayed through the acronym I use (C – confess, H – honor God, A – ask God for help, T – Thanksgiving). I confessed my fear, and even my lack of faith. I also confessed my selfishness, meaning I had only been thinking about the situation from MY perspective, not this person’s needs. I asked for wisdom. I also asked God to bless this person and give them wisdom to handle the troubling external situation they were in. Finally, I thanked God that this was the problem I was dealing with. What I mean by that is that this person is a great person on our team, and the problem is not a health problem, or something really dire. So while it is still a problem, it is one that can be dealt with. 

Fifth, after prayer, I drank a glass of good wine with Sarah and watched a light-hearted T.V. show to wind down. Do not miss this step, especially the wine! 

Sixth, I got up bright and early the following day, did my Bible reading, prayed again, and then went to the gym. I worked out hard, which allowed me to further get out of my mind. I had music blaring and got in a good sweat. An hour later, I was ready to tackle the day. 

Finally, I went to work. 

You know what? Things DID look different than the day before. 

I do not know how this whole scenario will play out, but I wanted to use this week’s post to share what I have done the last twenty-four hours to process this “bad” news. I use quotation marks because after doing all the things listed above, I have gained some perspective. While I do not prefer this news, it is not the worst kind. In fact, I think there is a mutual path forward where everyone will win. 

Thank God for his wisdom.  

I will eventually talk to the person I am keeping confidential. I will close by saying this process has allowed me to get back to a place where I am FOR them and not against them. Yesterday, I was in a place of fear and sadness that would have shown up in anger had we talked then. That would not have ended well. I am praying I can lead myself through the fear and sadness, with the Power of God, and build this person up as we, together, figure out what the next steps are.

What Is Success?

WHAT is success?

If it is a list external accomplishments set by the collective “we,” will it be worth the toil?

If it is some desire in the soul, perhaps recognition or title, will it ever satisfy?

And if it is a set of uncontrollable circumstances, like a healthy family, it may be grasped but never fully attained.

For, we are never in control.

What IS success?

Is it the next breath?

Is it the next leap?

Is it the next conversation?

Does it have anything to do with the next?

Is it a person?

A moment?

An event?

Or, even an accomplishment?

What is SUCCESS?

Perhaps, it just is.

Perhaps, it is now.

Alive.

Breath.

Present.

Today.

Success is now.

It is not yesterday.

Nor, is it something in the future.

Success is the moment in front of you.

This road.

This moment.

These people.

Stop striving for somewhere else, and start living.

Welcome home.

How To Counter Anxiety: 3 Helpful Disciplines

Anxiety. 

Am I the only leader that struggles with saying the word anxiety? It is as if by saying that you are anxious you are automatically “less than.” But this is a boldface lie. In the last year it has been hard to not be at least a little anxious. So, before going further, I want to speak directly to the type-A leader. Lean in and listen. 

It is okay to admit that you are anxious. 

What I am going to do with the rest of today’s post is share ideas that I have found to be helpful when I am anxious. To be sure, there is a plethora of things I do. For example, I start each day in God’s word because I need to get my mind right. I also pray a LOT. I emphasize “LOT” not to show you how spiritual I am, but to show you how DESPERATE I am. Desperate people pray. I wear my desperation with a badge of honor because I need help. 

I have also found that listening to classical music, especially while I write, calms anxiety. And if all else fails, drinking a good glass of red wine can also help calm my body, mind, and soul. 

See, I am not “holier than thou!” 

I am human. 

And here is today’s starting point…

So are you. 

I am not going to dwell on all the reasons you probably are, to some degree, anxious. Rather, I want to spend time in today’s post outlining three helpful disciplines I have turned to this year. By adopting them, you will find help battling anxiety as well.

Silence

A few years ago, my Executive Coach challenged me to take inventory of all the “inputs” in my life. By “inputs,” he meant things like text messages, emails, podcasts, books, news, social media, etc. In short, anything that created noise inside my brain. What I discovered was that my entire day revolved around information. All this information, as good as it might have been, was overwhelming me. 

I then discovered all the noise was my attempt to cover up the insecurity inside my soul. I thought if I answered every email in 2 minutes, read all the latest leadership books, and kept a cool Instagram, I would be “enough.” By “enough,” I mean that people would like, respect, and appreciate me. I even expected to feel good 24/7! 

I learned that this was a fool’s errand. But I could only see so in hindsight, when I could see the impacts leading to large dips in energy, and even sickness. Since then, I have become more cognizant of the number of inputs in my life. 

What does this have to do with anxiety? 

Everything. 

Living in the information world, where more is always shared, tweeted, and expected (especially of leaders), your anxiety could just be a result of too much “inputs.” The antidote to this is, you guessed it, silence.

Silence requires stopping. You cannot be silent on the “go.” Further, silence requires a belief that you can stop doing whatever it is that you are doing. You can put down the book, turn off the podcast, and just be.

Being allows your self to catch up to your life.

Don’t believe me that silence helps? Over the next twenty-four hours, take inventory of all your “inputs.” Pay special attention to your phone, what you do in the car, and at night. How much time are you in complete silence? 

In case you struggle with English (don’t worry I did, which is why I am being blunt here), complete silence means complete silence. 

I am inviting you to turn your phone off, turn your computer off, to pull over if you are in your car, and to just be. 

That’s right. Just. Be.

As I am writing this post, I have done some form of this for 27 days straight. I am using the timer app on my iPhone and timing myself in complete silence. I aim for somewhere between 2 to 10 minutes per session. I share what I am doing because if you are like me, your brain is telling you right now that you do not have time to do what I am suggesting above. You might even be thinking that I am some kind of weird monk, or hippy. I do not think I am, but that is probably up for debate.

The truth, however, is that you have time to do this 2 to 10 minutes per day, especially at the office, where the benefits on the other side of silence are staggering. For example, I have discovered that after being silent for five minutes I can re-engage positively with just about any kind of problem.

That’s right, silence leads to better on-the-job-decision making.

There is so much to share about silence that I will devote a future post to it. For now, start small, but be consistent (consistency trumps duration in almost any discipline). And most of all, be graceful to yourself. 

Take ONE day OFF per week

For many, this is called the Sabbath. But, do not let that word freak you out. What I am referring to is not a day of extended solitude and silence, although that would be really beneficial! Rather, I am referring to ONE day per week that looks COMPLETELY different than the other six. 

As you probably can guess, I have read a lot of Christian books about the Sabbath. Most make me feel like a failure for blowing past God’s limits for life. But lately, I have read more helpful advice about taking one day a week off. Here are some notes I have jotted down while reading those books: 

  • The Sabbath is a gift. It is a no obligation day! 
  • Four words to think about in relation to the Sabbath: Stop, Rest, Contemplate, and Delight (have fun!) 
  • Useful ideas for me: Grill a good dinner for the family, play golf and do not keep score (no measuring your worth in performance this day), and exercise outdoors.
  • Take a nap!

I am sharing the above because I used to think that taking a day off was torturous. I have discovered, however, that it should be fun and something I look forward to. 

Notice: I did not list “check my email” in the above list. I am not going to lie and say that I don’t (especially talking about the Sabbath!), but I do try to limit it as much as possible. 

One last bit of advice that I found extremely helpful is that your “day off” does not have to coincide with a normal 24-hour period. What I mean is that I sometimes take my Sabbath from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday (or something like that). The reason being is that it allows me to get my chores done Saturday morning, and then also allows me to get prepared for the work week to come on Sunday night. The point here is that you (your body, mind, and soul) need ONE day off in a week. 

Prioritize it.  

Journal

When all else fails journal. At least that is what I tell myself. I say it this way because journaling does not come natural to me, yet I see its profound impact every time I do it. 

I have shared multiple times in these posts that I have often used Pete Scazzero’s “iceberg exercise” when journaling. By this, I answer the following questions: What am I mad about? What am I said about? What I am anxious about? What am I glad about? Writing the answers to these questions often uncover the root cause of my anxiety (and anger). To that end, I encourage you to get your thoughts down on paper. Or, as I mentioned in last week’s post, share them with a trusted friend.

The three disciplines shared above are obviously not an exhaustive list. So, I challenge you to experiment and find what works best for you. 

I have allotted the last two weeks to anger and anxiety because I struggle with them. By sharing some of the disciplines I have used to battle them, I hope you have gained a couple tools to help you in the process. I also hope that you follow my lead by owning your struggles.

Remember, you cannot treat what you do not think is a problem.  

I hope and pray these two posts have been helpful. My goal in writing these posts remains to encourage leaders to become the kinds of people others want to follow. To that end, we (you and I) need to own what is going on inside us for that to happen. 

Please feel free to send me an email at alex@alexhoffer.me if there is any way I can help you, or pray for you, in that pursuit.