Thursday, December 31, 2009

That Was The Year That Was

And so another year - indeed, another decade grind to an end. I sit here in New Home as I write this evening, the sound of fire crackers punctuating the windy, cold evening silence.

And what a year it has been: laid off in January, getting a new job in a new state in June, living alone until August, moving the family to New Home in August, selling the house in Old Home in December. Almost entirely in a single year, the warp and woof of my life has been completely altered in ways that I suspect will only make their impact known in the years to come looking back.

A humbling year as well. I have never been in the position of losing my job not by choice, nor of the futility of not having another one just "pop" into place - indeed, almost feeling like one was begging to get one. It was humbling as well to have to rent a room, living in a space that was not in anyway my own, away from my family for 2.5 months. And the whole house sale - being completely dependent on the bank to make their decision to allow the sale of my house to go through -was not only a good reminder of the Biblical adage "The borrower is the slave of the lender" but, again, a humbling experience of coming with hat in hand.

It is of passing note for introspective purposes that in fact our net worth is actually less than when we entered this decade. Even in the financial realm, it's as if a great wave washed through and washed out the last ten years.

A great wave. It's an apt metaphor perhaps for the Greatest Wave of all: The Sovereignty of God.

Because, deep down, I am forced to confront the fact that in spite of all that I have done and not done, of the errors created and successes achieved by me, all of this has occurred according to God's plan. I cannot see it, nor can fully ascertain (if I ever will be) what all has occurred.

But it does give some comfort that, surrounded by change in virtually every aspect of my life, that God is still in control of this as well, guiding things for His eternal glory and my temporal benefit, even if I cannot see it. And it fills me with a sense of anticipation for next year, to see why God brought us here and disrupted (from a human standpoint) our lives.

And I suppose that is not an entirely unfitting thought to end the 2009 blog year - a year of change but a year of God's sovereignty revealed.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bookstore Bonanza

Yesterday evening I did what for me is the equivalent of binge drinking: I went to a used book store having a 20% off sale by myself, with no timetable.

Dear Lord, the intoxication of it all.

I have reached the point at which used bookstores hold a greater hold on me than new bookstores. Why? One of course is price: a used hardcover can be had for $6.00? $7.00? Try that at a new bookstore.

The other - and perhaps the more engaging reason - is that it's a great adventure. I can pretty well predict what I will find in any new bookstore; used bookstores, not so much. Who knows what editions I will find, what off the wall subjects I will suddenly become interested in, what old books from 30 years ago I will suddenly remember by seeing a cover and triggering a memory? The voyage of discovery alone is worth it.

And 20% off? Try that at a new bookstore.

I ended up acquiring my usual miscellany of subjects: Lew Wallace's Ben Hur, Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries, Osaka 1614-1615: The Last Samurai Battle, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Japanese Art of War by Thomas Cleary, and The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for Transformation of a Culture by Vindal and Ruth Mangalwadi. It will keep me busy over this long holiday weekend with a lot of reading and pondering.

There is not a better feeling in the world than walking out to the car with a pile of books you paid only $26.00 for.

Except for the thought, "You know, the sale runs until tomorrow..."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Virtual Monday

So it's arrived: The virtual Monday of the last work week of the year.

I could tell I was back by the fact that my ability to sleep through the night magically went away and I woke up far before the alarm instead of gracefully coming out of sleep.

In a way, I can tell my time away was a good one simply because I did not think of work once. Not a single time - no "I forgot to take care of this" or "There are five things I have to do when I get back". Which is great for vacation of course - but it all comes rolling down on your head all the harder when you get back.

Which, I suppose, should tell me something else.

I read Gene Logsdon's The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life which I got for Christmas yesterday. I love anything that Logsdon writes so that alone was a pleasure; the fact that the book chronicles the fictional life of a young man who essentially comes back to traditional farming as a career and the life he and his extended family live over a forty five year period. There is something in reading his books, even in going up to The Ranch, that gives me a deep sense of rootedness that I fail to get when I contemplate leaving this computer and getting ready to go to work this morning.

Just random thoughts on a virtual Monday I suppose. But the thought still nags me: in the past decade, I've had 6 different jobs, bought two houses and sold one at a loss, and now lived in four different locations. For guy that (apparently) values rootedness and stability, I don't seem to be living my conviction.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Old Home Farewell

On 24 December 2009 at 1030, I left the last part of 5 years of my life behind. We packed up the last garden items into the truck and left Old Home for good. The house recorded later that day.

It was a bizarre feeling: we walked through the house one last time, where 4.5 of our lives had been spent. Going through sparked different memories: a spirograph that Nighean gheal had left on her window when we moved; the dirty spot right above the baseboard in our closet where my desk was and where I rested my feet; the bedroom that I had painted and then told The Ravishing Mrs. TB "You watch - we'll have to move out of state; the asparagus in back, dormant for the winter, waiting to be cut back and then be cut in spring for the first time. All of this mingled in the background of family events and Thanksgivings and Christmases and Nighean dhonn's birth, loomed over by the specter of The Firm, which had made it all possible.

And so out the door we went, shook hands with our Realtor, got in the truck, and drove away.

I've been asked numerous times since then "You must feel a great sense of relief". My response is always the same: "Not really. It's been so distant to me for so many months now, sort of dragging on out of my control, that it's less a sense of relief than a sense of 'one more thing off the list.' As an event, it simply is not registering."

But there is a sense I suppose - a sense that is not quite fully registered yet - of finally being at an end: an end of The Firm, an end of 5 years of self-imposed financial instability, an end (if I think about it) of a period of whipsawing back and forth between careers and directions. 2010 will be, if nothing else, a year of new beginnings.

And perhaps that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Passionlessness

I am fighting with a bout of passionlessness this week.

About everything: work, home, family, relationships, activities, just life in general.

Let me clear: it is not depression - or at least, not directly. It's a sense of doing things - anything- and taking no pleasure about it.

It is what drives mid life crises, I thing: a combination of realizing that the payoff to almost everything we do in our day is much less than we thought it would be, a knowledge that the things that we believed when younger which we would have turned to to stave off these feelings will not change things significantly as we used to believe they would, but the desire to feel about the things in our life the way we used to.

I am realizing that I want to be passionate in my life. I want passion: raw, throbbing passion. I want to be excited about life, not simply existing in it from day to day. I want to be enthused, to be touched in the deep core of my being instead of just exist from day to day on the outskirts of myself, going through the motions of daily living .

It's as if I feel like I am disconnected from my own emotions, that they have gone into some big void in my center and have not come out, replaced by the ability to get through each day - maybe even a defense mechanism created by these same emotions to deal with the fact that they lament where I am in my life now.

But passion is not emotion. I can still experience emotion - more often anger or depression than anything else these days - without any greater sense of being passionate after the fact. In some ways it almost feels like an semi-automated response.

But it's a fair statement to say I have no desire to go on this way. It's like digging through the rind of an orange which only seems to continue to get thicker every day without getting to the fruit.

Again, I think it is was drives the middle age crisis - especially for men: that grasping after something, maybe indefinable for them, that they felt the experienced once but can no longer feel, and the desperation to do anything - anything!-to find that passion once again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The House

We got word today: House in Old Home will close on Thursday. An ironic Christmas present?

Ironic? Yes. This is forcing me to confront (once again) all of my old ghosts from The Firm.

Simply put, this was not the way things were supposed to end. This house was emblematic of my new career and new started: the house (paid off by now, of course, due to superior planning), a successful fellow in my new field, well on my way to achieving financial independence.

Needless to say, things have taken a different path. As a point of comparison, our net worth now is less than it was 10 years ago.

I just feel...spent. Collapsed. Happy...Happy? Happy is not really the word. Not even relief, I suppose - just a weary sort of sense that it's done. At last. A tired end to a five year saga.

What happens now? I don't really know. I have been consistently shocked by the amount of damage my unemployed period did to our finances. I had thought that it was blip in our year; the reality is, we had redlined things so much that it will take us far longer than I had anticipated to dig ourselves back out.

Another house? I laugh to myself. I figure at this point, my credit is somewhere next to that of a change machine in a supermarket.

Which is an odd place to find myself again. It's as if the one thing that I have desired, stability, has been moved out of my life.

Or pride perhaps. Going through this process has been a humbling experience - although probably not humbling enough! You become dependent on so many things: the buyer, the bank, the kindness of so many that have helped this process go through.

I'm undecided if I'll go back to see the house one last time as we visit Old Home this Christmas. In so many ways, it represents a failure to me - not only a failure to hold the line, to provide, but a failure of dreams and aspirations.

And those are the hardest failures of all.

Christmas Again

And so here we are at the week of Christmas again.

In speaking with The Ravishing Mrs. TB this weekend as she made her trek back to Old Home, she commented that she would be driving by where we vacationed last January and could she Na Clann the area we were in. Her comment was "Wow, a lot has sure changed in a year."

Her comment gave me pause for thought as I sat here in New Home with myself, the dog and the rabbits, waiting to trek myself. A huge amount of things have changed this year - if we're blessed, by the end of the year our lives will essentially have completely made over in the course of a year.

Made over? We live in a different place, attend a different church and different schools, have a different job, are separated from our families which for most of our lives have been within 2 hours of us, and are (finally) digging out of the last elements of a decision with the Firm made 5 years ago.

And then comes Christmas.

Christmas, the annual of reminder of Emmanuel (God with us), God reaching down from Heaven to us, reaching us where we are.

Where we are. Even if we're not where we've been, even if the rhythm of our celebrations is completely changed, even if it doesn't "feel" right.

It's a guide beacon for the year, even as Sunday is a guide beacon for the week: a place and time that brings us back to something beyond ourselves, forcing out the year and its events back to the back of our consciousness for a time, forcing us to focus on the realities which exist beyond those things which are our daily (or annual) grind.

May this Christmas find each of us stopped in our lives, even as the shepherds were, looking at The Star.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Idleness

"I do think one of the worst sins a man can be guilty of in this world is to be idle. I can almost forgive a drunkard, but a lazy man I do think there is very little pardon for. I think a man who is idle has as good a reason to be a penitent before God as David had when he was an adulterer, for the most abominable thing in the world is for a man to let the grass grow up to his ankles and do nothing. God never sent a man into the world to be idle. And there are some who make a tolerably fair profession, but who do nothing from one year's end to the other." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Star Trek and Better

I watched the most recent addition to the Star Trek last night which came out this year. I was not necessarily interested in seeing it - I am a child of the original series, so of course everything that thinkers with the original concept is always a bit suspect in my book -but none the less (at The Ravishing Mrs. TB's prompting) went ahead and watched it.

How pleasantly surprised I was - beyond the effects (which were very cool), I found a relatively engaging story that was (I think) pretty true to the original concept of the franchise. Yes, I know, they've overused the time travel thing a bit, but at least less so than they did in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series.

But the thing that was most engaging to me - almost surprisingly - was the concept of James T. Kirk as a young man who, wandering off into the land of wasted dreams, is challenged by Captain Christopher Pike to live a better life "Your father saved 800 lives. You can do better."

It had a strong resonance within me, especially as I look at my day to day existence, where (especially at work) I can almost palpably feel the bar setting getting set lower, as the realities of completing things seem to take over those "lines in the sand" that I continually draw. It's as if I am settling lower, not higher, in my daily existence.

But I should tell myself with Pike "You can do better."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fog

I wish I had something meaningful to say, Lord:
Something of value, something of glory to you.
But instead, today, I have gray.
Big puffy clouds of gray that swirl with moisture and humidity,
or maybe with my tears and frustration.

That's what it feels like, Lord: A fog.
A sightless, amorphous fog
which obscures shapes and clouds vision,
deadening sound and light,
leaving only a sense of oppression of spirit.

As the sun behind the clouds,
shining though not seen,
so too are you here now Lord,
are present behind all that is now.

But right now, I cannot see or feel that:
I can only feel the clinging dampness
and smell the mustiness
and see, not the Son shining in glory,
but only gray.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Integrating the Whole

I'm locked in a battle this morning as I sit here this morning: on the one hand, the load of all I have to do this week is mounting up; on the other, the sense that I need to choose to react differently.

React differently? By the time I get to work, get the computer on, and make coffee, the fix is generally already in: too much to do, too little time to do it, what won't I get done today, what emergencies will occur, how long will I have to stay. And I haven't yet logged in.

What that creates, it occurs to me, is a sense of futility in work (and to a lesser extent, in life) as well as preparing my mindset to be in the defensive mode. What I need to do is change that to something else (I won't be bold enough to say positive at this point - just something else).

So here's the crux: how do I do that?

I can assure you that PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) is not enough. That has been tried numerous times, and inevitably gets wiped out as soon as the first big emergency occurs.

Scripture works better - maybe holds out until Tuesday, until it, too, gets overtaken by the realization that trying to have an attitude as a good worker does not make the work any more interesting or even doable.

So what is it? I think I know.

Perhaps it is simply the process of not investing ourselves so totally in our work that we only come to confuse our work with our lives.

By the time I am midway through the day, I am equating myself with my ability to complete everything on my plate. My whole world is essentially focused around this sliver of life (I say sliver because, when I go [as inevitably will happen], all the effort that is not self knowledge will simply turn to paper dust) instead of life as a totality, an integrated whole.

And I want that so badly - that life as an integrated whole - that perhaps I try to substitute the activity that I spend the most time at as that integration instead of putting work into the larger context of my life.

Wow. That's a pretty deep thought for 0600 in the morning.

But that's it, isn't it - or maybe part of it anyway. An integrated life. A sense that who I am and what I do are internally consistent, instead of trying to straddle parts and collapsing into the middle.

So how does one integrate - or in my case, step away from the cliff?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time and Money

I had mentioned last week that I have been working more - closer to 50 hours a week than the standard 40 - and feeling a bit run down, behind the eight ball, and just downright miserable - but after all , you have to do it: you know, take one for the team, not getting paid by the hour, etc. etc.

It bothered me to the point that I started noodling figures around in my head. So I did a little subtracting and dividing. And gave myself the shock of my life: for every week I "donate" my time, I cut my hourly pay and salary by 21%.

I say the shock of my life. I mean it. If someone came up to me and said "Hey, I have an investment that will yield 21% less than what you put into it" I'd call them a fool. Apparently when I do the deed myself, it's no big deal.

The other thing that shocks me is that I willing to put 20% more effort into someone else's pocket but not my own. What is it about me that enables me to not do the one instead of the other?

Confidence maybe. Ease of taking the road more traveled: work is laid out and I know what I have to do. Personal things engage me 100%, including providing leadership and tasks for myself (which again is a confidence thing: if you're not confident you can make good decisions, you tend not to make them).

I'm not sure, but this bears more thought -and action. Donating 20% of my potential salary to someone else will run my bank account - and personal energy account - down quickly.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Telltale Coffee

Yesterday I came up with the single greatest indicator of how any company truly functions. I believe it can be applied across the board to any company, any industry, any size.

It's coffee.

More specifically, it's the coffee supply, be it in a pot, a carafe, or an airpot.

How can this be, you ask? How can a simple liquid in a simple container tell me everything I need to know about a company?

It's how often it gets filled.

Think about it. What did you learn in kindergarten (I mean, other than naptime is at 1:00)? The lessons that were reinforced at home: If you use something, put it back. If you make a mess, clean it up. Treat others as you would be treated.

But this rule apparently does not apply to coffee.

Think about it: how many times have either come to a coffee dispenser or simply watched one and found that it was empty? What was the reaction of the user - did they stop and make another pot, or did they just continue down the line of coffee dispensers (finding them all empty), shrug their shoulders in disgust, and walk on?

More often than not, they walked on. Because making coffee is not something that "important" people do - and by default, most people in their mind are "important".

If people will not do the simplest of tasks (coffee, filter, water, button) - especially after they use up the last bit - they communicate both that their needs, wants, and goals are primary and that service which may not directly benefit themselves is not a critical issue.

Too simplistic, you argue? My response is simply to look at the business or place of employ: where is the focus of the employees? Is it on service - both to customers and fellow workers - or is it merely those things which will advance first the individual involved and then the company, with fellow employees or customers being last (yes, "service" can be included in here, but it's not sincere)?

Watch carefully. And then go look to their coffee pots.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time and Priority

I met with An Dagda Mor yesterday concerning the task list I had provided him the day before. I was hopeful that it would allow some items to be removed from it, lessening my work load.

That is not what happened.

He first of all thanked me for putting the list together ("very useful") and then showed me his redline assignations of priority levels: 1, 2, 3. His comment was "Do them in priority of the number. 1 before 2, then three." He suggested a column for "action", listing what action would be taken. We talked about blocking out sections of time, even closing the office door to get things done.

You've noticed by now that nothing has come off of the list.

He then said a comment in passing that I just let lie there "You could also work a few more hours a day". He didn't dwell on it, I didn't point it out (I already work more than the standard every day), and we went on. I didn't think much of it until speaking with Fear Mor and Fear Beag, when Fear Mor said "I don't think that was an idle comment but a suggestion."

My afternoon went somewhat downhill from there.

Priorities. The priorities of life. The priorities that I set - and the priorities that are set for me. Time is finite and there are only so many hours in a day (24) or week (168) to accomplish anything.

If you're familiar with Stephen Covey, you'll know his four quadrant system: Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important. Under this system, the priority of the item (urgency and importance) should determine what amount of time we spend on it. Covey's point is that the most people live in the crisis mode (always fighting the Urgent and Important) or the retreat from reality (the Not Urgent and Not Important). Only by pulling time from the other areas in quadrant II, the Not Urgent but Important, can we begin to be truly effective.

Which is where it breaks down for me. How do I tell people "Hey, your urgency does not trump my important. I'll get around to it". You know what happens: they go make commentary, and suddenly you're getting the call or the e-mail from a superior "You need to make this happen."

Likewise, how do you effectively tell work "Hey, my family takes priority" when the constant fear of not having a job looms over your head?

Like everything else, theory is great: how do I turn it into practice?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Time and Efficiency

A windy morning as I sit here in front the computer in New Home.

The wind seems to match my mood this week: blown hither and yon by elements beyond my control. There's a very real sense in my life that I am so often in very small control of events that impact it, and more often it's riding the waves rather than directing them that is the task of the day.

I know. This disagrees with most of the success literature you will read: "Control your time! Do high value items! Choose what you engage in for maximum effectiveness"! And so on. And maybe that's true in some things. But not nearly most of them.

I had to do something yesterday I have seldom (if ever) had to do: talk to my boss about work load, simply saying that "I can't do everything that I've been tasked with." I hated doing it - it's like an admission of guilt, of laziness, of failure - of putting myself one step closer to that line of being first in the event of a layoff.

But the reality is that I simply can't. Thanks to keeping track of time (see yesterday's post), I've got a better of sense of how long things take - and guess what, they inevitably take longer than someone thinks. However, I seem to consistently carry around this burden of guilt that I should be able to, or can - that somehow I can increase my efficiency to 110%, which I suppose I could do if I cut off every activity not directly related to accomplishing a needed task.

The ironic thing about that last thought is that even if I did that, it still would not necessarily correlate to efficiency. Why? Because I am still at the mercy of those winds not of my choosing.

And there is nothing sillier than being efficient at a useless task of no importance.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Use of Time

In an exercise partially driven by anger (look, there it is again) I started tracking my time at work. Nothing too complex, just 10 or 12 categories covering my general job duties. I wanted to have something to throw up the next time "how I'm using my time" came up.

What has been revealed is (to me, anyway) nothing short of amazing: I can't do everything I'm asked to do. There simply isn't enough time.

The thing that has really become evident is the extent to which those things which require time that you wouldn't expect. For example, I have a category for my direct reports. I spend about 5% of my time a week interacting with them: not necessarily about work per se, but about items of work or not even work related. Sure, I could gain back this 5% (2 hours a week, if you were counting) if I wanted - but I would lose the relationships that both make work a pleasure as well as keep the wheels greased for when emergencies truly arise and we need to call forth the extra effort.

Or the popular "other" category"- getting a drink, visiting the local restroom, even just getting up and moving around. Again, about 5% a week. Could I cut that down to 1 hour? Would it matter if I did?

What leaps out at me is that even as I look at my use of time, what I find is that time can never be used as productively as one might think when 1) You are not really in control of it; and 2) When you cannot dictate your own priorities.

"Work on higher value activities" the books say. This tends to work if you can determine your own higher value activities rather than have them determined for you.

The other thing it raises is that I may be creating an impossible situation for myself with impossible hopes: I cannot do everything. I cannot do close to everything. I can only do what I can do. More efficiently? Yes, possibly. But no level of efficiency will make all things possible, or doable - or more importantly, build the relationships that are the most important when those things disappear.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Christ and Motivation

Where is Christ in my daily life?

I get so bogged down in the "realities" of dealing with life and business - schedules and timelines that have to be met, things that have to be accomplished, even trying to get a decent amount of sleep - that it feels like He often gets removed from my life -or at least shrugged off.

I suppose part of it is my own problem - after all, am I truly trying to integrate God into my day and "Live for the glory of God" in a conscious way, or do I seek to put Him into the cracks or even try to integrate Him at all?

It so often feels hard - the slowing down of activity for even a second just consciously think "God, what would you have me do here?" Or then I just get frustrated with everything that is going on, somehow associate this "fault" with God's will, and say "Fine then, I"ll just slog on through", muttering "Glory to God in the Highest" through clenched teeth.

I try to make myself angry, because at least anger I can feel and it pushes me to do something. God wants me to motivated, but not angry. The problem is, motivation is a much more difficult target because I have to find something to be motivated about. Anger, I can self create pretty effectively.

So how do I compile these two items - living to glorify God consciously in my daily life, and being motivated, not angry? I don't know, but at these two lies the fork in the road between a useful life to God and a wasted life.

A thought: What if my circumstances have been created for me to take action and I misinterpret them as being given to me to suffer through? Does God always require submission to the circumstances or action against them?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Job Fear

Another blazing light in the trail of things that are/are not important to me in a career: I don't like living in fear.

Not the general fear of business, you understand. The fear of the market, the fear of not making payroll, the fear of being laid off (although see below). These are all just part and parcel of the whole employment experience.

No, the fear I'm referring to is that fear of not performing well and being let go. Not performing well? Surely you jest - after all, I've never had a less than good review, and am generally respected and liked by my coworkers. Surely I can't be referring to me?

But I am. There is a sense at my current employment, something I've not (ever) sensed before, of always being on the radar, of the good not being recalled and the bad being emphasized, of being one step away from receiving a box for your personal things. In a kind of small way, it feels like The Terror in Jacobin France, never knowing at what hour one could get dragged away.

But to be fair, maybe feeding into this is the fear of layoff. I am surprised at the visceral reaction I have to the concept of another layoff. I understand it could happen, but there is again almost a sense of sheer terror when I contemplate it. Part of that, I suppose, is due to to where we are, which is not in a nearly as good position as in January - and the ramifications of that. But the other is a sense of helplessness that stems from the fact that it may happen again, and I can do nothing about it.

So what? Well, I think it means that I need to pay attention to another two things when I am considering a job or any career:

1) What is the history of the company? Is there open communication? Recent departures? How many and why?

2) What is the state of this industry and the company? Position of strength or weakness? What do they do and is there a demand for the next five years? Have they had layoffs, or their industry? Why?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

People or Position

I made an importantish (as C.S. Lewis would say) discovery yesterday about my career: I don't want (or need) to be a senior level executive.

(Yes, I know, you ask why I say this now in my lowly position. Stick with me.)

The realization burst on my consciousness yesterday as I was sitting amongst some coworkers at lunch, chatting about different items. Suddenly I realized: anyone above a managerial level doesn't get this.

They never get to eat lunch with the people that work under them - and when they do, the conversation is so often not free flowing but forced. They often really don't understand what is actually going on at a company: they set policy and goals, but too often don't have a pulse for what is going on beneath them, like living in California but not knowing what the slow but steady tectonic plates are doing underground.

Simply put, they just lose touch with people.

And that is actually part of my job that I like - not so much the enforcement that goes along with it, but the being able to stop by anywhere and simply have people be themselves as you interact with them, not suddenly becoming stiff or fearful or just clamming up.

Does that mean I don't ever want to be in charge? No, not saying that. I enjoy being responsible - but as long as I have the authority to go along with the responsibility. So being in charge of myself or a few others is not something to continue to work for - it's just where I do it.

What it does mean is that the idea of me continuing in industry with the hopes of rising to the senior "C" level is against the grain of what I value in human interactions and therefore not a direction to pursue.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Excellence

"Excellence, like mediocrity and poor performance, is a habit. Quality breeds quality. Do one thing well, and you will want the rest to come up to the same standard. Make habit of cutting corners, and you may begin to doubt whether you are capable of doing quality work. This is one reason why it is vital that you do your best, even if you do not view the work you are currently doing as important or meaningful. Once made, habits are difficult to break." - Laurence G. Boldt, How to Find the Work You Love

Excellence - a concept that transcends what you do, or where you do it, or with whom you do it.

And yet how seldom practiced in my own life. How often do I do something "with excellence"?

Excellence: The quality of being excellent

Excellent: Superior (archaic use); very good of its kind: eminently good.

(Both definitions from merriamwebster.com)

Part of the problem for myself personally is that perhaps I think that excellence should be recognized and rewarded by others. The sad fact is that in fact excellence is seldom rewarded.

But that's not a reason to do it - as David Eddings' character Silk says "Sloppiness makes bad habits". If I allow myself to be guided only by what others will recognize, mine would be a pathetic life indeed.

The one place that it may impact my life immediately is the excellence of those around me i.e. do I work in a place (or have I ever done so) where excellence was the goal? More often than not, I'm forced to respond that the answer is usually no; the goal was to do the minimum in order to meet whatever requirements were there. Has there ever been somewhere I worked where excellence was the goal?

Once. Long ago, when I was doing performance music as a part of a musical group. We expected that we would do our best. We aimed towards that and were satisfied with nothing less.

Possibly my first two industry jobs as well, where I was a manufacturing grunt. But that (as I think about it) was largely driven by my managers, who had high expectations. And maybe my first job after The Firm, where again my manager would have been the driver. The companies were perhaps much less driven than I thought.

But those are both long gone, 10-15 years ago. Since then, it seems that it has been a stream of companies (including The Firm) where excellence was proclaimed but acceptability was the accepted standard.

Yes, excellence is something that I need to choose and practice (and write more about, perhaps) - but what does that say about how I choose employment now, even as I start to work my way through my spot in life?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Swift

"Those who postpone the hour of living as they ought are like the fool who waits for the river to pass before crossing; the river glides, and will forever." - Horace

Two reminders yesterday -as if I needed more - that life is swift:

1) One of my old senior manager's husband passed away last week. He was 64 years old.

2) In Old Home, an acquaintance of The Ravishing Mrs. TB was killed in a car crash yesterday. He had five children, including a baby.

Swift indeed. Memento mori - Remember you will die.

Which makes living each day to the fullest extent possible all that more important.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Work and Despair

Wretched Songbird and Uisdean Ruadh! This is all their fault!

In a burst of epiphany last night at 10 PM, I think I figured out why we're here in New Home, why we picked up and moved halfway across the country - or at least one of the many reasons we did so.

It all started with Songbird on Thursday night. "I'm worried" she told me. "You're sad. I can see it in your writing. You're cyclical too. Maybe the big "D" word - depressed."

Depressed? Me? Other than the fact that The Ravishing Mrs. TB would confirm that in a heartbeat, and (apparently) I meet most of the criteria for a melancholic major depressive event (8 of the 9 items), I had no idea what she was talking about.

Depressed about what, I wondered.

Enter Uisdean Ruadh last night.

"I think I'm depressed" I said.

"Really? Odd, I hadn't noticed" he replied. "Give me some of the signs."

I went through the list. "You know" he said, "You've had most of those since I first met you 28 years ago."

"Your point?"

"You've had this problem for a long time. Trying to live the dreams of others, coast on the enthusiasm of others. Of all the things you've tried, there's one - your harp playing - that has always impressed me the most."

"My harp?"

"Yes, because it was the one thing that you did for yourself. No-one else was doing it and you decided to join in. You just picked it up and went with it yourself."

Silence from my end. "You know I don't really care for my career field."

"I've known that since you started in it " was the semi-smug reply.

"Kind of unfortunate, it being a recession/depression and all to figure this out."

"Yes, but tell me: how is your family life? How are you?"

"Not good. Not good at all."

"Then it's not really worth it, is it?

Compounding this sense of a fork in the road was a book that I picked up yesterday called "How to Find the Work You Love by Laurence G. Boldt. Yes, I know I always go bonkers over new books, but it came at the right time for me. Essentially, the book posits the truth that we will never be truly happy until we find the work that reflects who we are - quoting Aristotle, "Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation."

A few so far:

"Spending most of your life doing something you don't enjoy or believe in to buy a little freedom on the weekends seems a terrible bargain indeed."

"The individual who continues in work that he hates, is bored with, or is merely indifferent to, or who resigns himself to being treated like a cog in a machine loses self-respect. His self-confidence evaporates. He beings to feel bitter and resentful or beaten and depressed."

"We are not here to be someone else or just to be with someone else. We're here to be ourselves, to make our unique contributions to the world".

Yes, I know that this is not the end all/be all to my problems - but is it conceivable that, failing to get my attention any other method, God decided to uproot everything to make me focus?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

So here it is: Thanksgiving 2009. A very different Thanksgiving than one I've ever had.

I've had a few unusual ones. The year I was in Ireland for school and one of our fellow students organized a Thanksgiving feast (apparently finding some of the trimmings overseas was a bit of a task). The year we celebrated at Carl's Jr. on our way back from Disneyland (burgers are no substitute for Turkey).

But this one is different indeed. Different because for the first time, a family Thanksgiving is going forward without us - all the family as it turns out, as my in-laws are going to have dinner with my parents at The Ranch.

In a way it is very relaxing - very little to get prepared for. Instead of scrambling around trying to get things ready to leave, I'm lounging in our front room on my laptop, listening to Handel's Messiah, with a sense of almost relief. Syrah the Mighty has been laying behind me looking out the front window, but then abandon me as Na Clann came thundering through, hoping their course lay for the kitchen and snacks, then wandering back sadly as her hopes are not realized.

"Glory to God in the Highest" sings the choir as I write this.

It's sometimes hard to keep perspective on thankfulness, because I so often equate thankfulness with my feeling good and fulfilled. But we truly have so much to be thankful for: I have a job that continues to pay well, even if it's not what I really want to be doing; we have a place to live and food repeatedly on the table; we're all in good health; The Ravishing Mrs. TB is doing well in her business and will get to go to Mexico next year; Na Clann have good schools and have adapted quite well to New Home; we are attending a good church; it appears the house in Old Home will finally close in December; our extended families continue to enjoy good health. In a word or two, our lives have completely changed in the course of 12 months but nothing bad has really happened.

And that in itself is a thankful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Dream

Over the last week, I have been having a series of amazingly vivid dreams. Mine last night was so vivid - and might even mean something to me -that I am recording it.

For some reason, we were back to living in Old Home State but not Old Home - more along the Northern Coast. I was apparently supposed to be on a religious radio show, one that I recognized. I went by driving, consciously remembering not to take a bridge over a river (which was the shorter way) but drove around.

I arrived at the home of the radio host, which apparently was where the show was broadcast from. It was the host and three guests - one of whom was my current manager. I was surprised by this, but apparently he played the harmonium and so was invited.

The radio program went on. My role in it was subdued - I was asked a couple of questions about some general knowledge, and that was it. One of the subjects of the program was a boating association that maintained a series of houses and docks on the river, and how they were in the process of fighting a legal battle. I remembered the river, because over this river was the bridge that I had not wanted to cross.

During the break, we stepped outside (apparently it was a long break) to look at the mountain chain in the distance. The host asked me where my water supply was coming from. I responded that we did have to depend on runoff, that my parents were low enough in altitude for a water column. The host responded "Don't worry - someday, you'll have that too" or something to that effect.

Then back to the radio program, this time with a studio audience that appeared, but had no interest in myself or my boss, who sat overlooking the entire thing. We were sitting on what resembled a giant sleigh, and at one point we were completely packed in by individuals who really didn't seem to notice that we were there.

When the program ended, I decided to walk home. I was walking along suburban streets and came to the bridge of our discussion. It was built across one of the pine clad mountain canyons from Old Home that I am familiar with. There were low lying houses built on pillars connected by bridges, but I was actually on a large platform (brown, for some reason) with a small shed which led to a long green bridge and a green house and platform on the other side. The bridge itself was wooden and green, about 3-4 feet across without rails and fairly long. I started out on the bridge, got maybe 4 feet, then turned around terrified, feeling like I was going to fall off the bridge and went back to the platform - I actually had to pull myself up on the platform because of my fear of falling.

So I decided to walk home. But apparently, walking home constituted walking through a series of essentially closets, out into the homes of others, looking for the door to the outside. In some cases, their houses were located in the houses of others, so I would open a door into another house. I seemed concerned about worrying people as a thief but the few I saw just directed me to the outside.

Finally I made it outside with Syrah the Mighty, who apparently appeared from nowhere, and off we walked to get home. I was carrying a load of figs which I apparently picked up in some one's house. We turned down one street, saw a car, and had to step to the side, dragging Syrah. It was an overgrown lot with a tree in which the figs got stuck. I remember looking at the overripe figs as they hung there, thinking "I don't even like figs".

A couple walked past. It was an middle aged woman in a robe and hair curlers obviously upset, followed by a man who was apparently upset with her and arguing. I remember seeing them in one of the houses I had gone through.

Finally, by wandering of many streets, I made it home. The Ravishing Mrs. TB began to tell me about Na Clann's school day. They apparently got a new music teacher at school - my boss.

I went and asked him why he was teaching music. His response was that his wife had decided that he needed to do something with his musical talent.

And then I woke up.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anvil bound

I am feeling the flatness and heat of God's anvil and the relentless pounding of His Hammer. This is not something that I remember asking for (at least consciously, like one of those "Lord, give me patience" prayers) - but then again, I have prayed for God to guide me.

It feels like I am being stripped away, layer by layer: all the things I used to do and enjoy, all the activities I was involved in, indeed many of the people in my life - gone. He is constantly pushing me back to core issues.

Money? Everything I dreamed off almost 6 years ago when we started The Firm has gone. Indeed, when I was talking with The Ravishing Mrs. TB yesterday her comment was "It's humbling". And it is. We are now, for perhaps the first time in six years, seeing our financial lives clearly for what they are.

Involvement? I went from being on the Worship Team of a small church and involved to becoming a member of a much larger church where, for the moment, I am a face in the crowd. Not that that's bad, and you can always get involved later, but it suddenly feels like my usefulness in God's house has abruptly ended.

Dreams? I don't know that I have any at this point. Everything I did dream about was predicated on being in Old Home, or on scads of money. Now both of those are far off, at least for the present time.

Activities? For having moved, I seem to have even less time, even as I am made aware of the fact that Na Clann need me more than ever. And time not being a fungible commodity, for me to do something, I have to surrender something else.

The most dangerous thing in all of this is that I settle for the idea that this is only temporary, always looking for the way out or the end of the trial: "Okay Lord, I've learned enough. Let's get on with the program." The reality is, when the metal goes on the anvil, it does not come off in its own time but in the smith's time, when the project is finally done.

Lord, keep me on the anvil until I am the project you envisioned.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bondservantship

Between a series of circumstances and conversations, it was brought to my attention that my attitude and actions at work are hardly as Christlike as should be expected. I am somewhat slothful, bitter, and engage in forms of gossip, backbiting, and discontent spreading, all in the name of building relationships and being "honest". It's not Christlike - references include:

"Bondservants, be submissive to those who are your earthly masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God form the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is slave or free." - Ephesians 6: 5-8

"Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is now partiality. "- Colossians 3-22-24

"Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of the consciences toward God one endures grief and suffers wrongly." - 1 Peter 2: 18-20

- and those were the ones I could bring to mind without trying.

So I tried today. I said nothing negative about anyone. When presented with work, I executed it to the best of my ability instead of complaining about the tasks. I made a real effort to constantly be doing something. I tried to not be bitter.

Was there a perceptible change? I'm not sure. How do I feel?

Exhausted.

Honestly, I had not anticipated h0w emotionally and mentally challenging it would be to not defend myself, do all that I was asked, and not say anything negative about anyone one or. The result was I worked. And worked. And worked. Which, ironically, is precisely what I am supposed to be doing. It's amazing how difficult it becomes to not defend, to say "yes" and nod and then go about it to the best of your ability rather than walk away and complain later or be negative.

How is it that trying to be more Christlike feels more exhausting?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Message

Joseph floated into my mind last night. "Go look up Joseph in Genesis" was the prompting. "The chapter about him in Potiphar's house and in prison (that would be Genesis 39).

The original reason I had intended to go there was almost because of a counter-reaction to the recent spate of materials I've been reading concerning success and achievement. The thought ran something like this: "Hmmm. I wonder how Joseph, who obviously had access to any kind of literature about how to succeed, yet even in Potiphar's house and in prison, he did. I wonder if there's anything there for me?"

So I went and looked - but got the answer I did not intended at all. Essentially, the chapter says three things: Joseph trusted God, God blessed Joseph, Joseph was diligent ("whatever they did there (in the prison), it was his doing" - verse 22)- and the intermediate reward in both places was prison.

That's not what I really wanted to get out of it.

So I went and grabbed Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness by Charles Swindoll and went to those two chapters for additional insight. Surely I had missed something?

Nope. Swindoll actually spends most of the chapters dealing with resisting temptation (Joseph and Potiphar's wife) and Joseph's faith in prison, otherwise known as doing the right thing and then being seemingly forgotten for it - and how he refused to be bitter, but trusted God alone.

From Swindoll's book:

"He knows just the right message at just the right time, and all it takes to receive it is a sensitive, obedient, trusting heart. Not one preoccupied with revenge or bitterness or hostility (or having to be dislocate from your life -TB), but a heart that says 'Lord, God, help me now. Right at this moment. Deliver me from my own prison. Help me to see beyond the darkness, to see Your hand. As I am being crushed, remold me. Help me to see You in this abandonment, this rejection" (pp. 53-54).

It's interesting to me that (once again) the focus is about God, seeing Him and glorifying Him, rather than the situation.

Hmm. Maybe there is a message there - as long as I'm willing to accept it as it is rather than try to pour my own meaning into it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Audit

Hello Monday.

Another Monday of client audits. If you've never done a client audit, they're splendid. They come in two varieties: the "We're here to dig through your systems and approve you" audits and the "We're here to find a problem/justify my salary/add notches to my belt" audits.

The flow, over 12 years, is inevitably the same: a brief presentation, followed by a tour, then hours of endless review of documents, then questions, then more documents, then a brief conversation concerning any deficiencies and promises "to respond within 30 days", and then the cleanup - of course, followed up by all the work that you didn't accomplish during the audit.

The worst part of the day is that post-collapse, when the auditor is gone and you collapse with a sigh around the table, hopefully having fended off any observations, and you realize that the very thing you often hope for - change of the system - will not happen once again because you have done everything to defend and explain the system to avoid an observation. It's as if by doing your job, you are thwarting the doing of your job.

My only consolation is that, having spoken with other auditors, it is the same everywhere. We all fight the same battles.

It's just that it makes the exercise of what one is supposed to do very hard.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whose Life?

Whose life is it?

The question came to me last night as I was fussing about money and time: what to do, what not to do. In my planning and concerns, is it God that I am taking into account or only myself?

Hudson Taylor, the founder of Inland China Mission, was convicted by the fact that in the mid 1800's 12,000 Chinese citizens died every day without Christ. That number has swelled since that time - does it bother me the way it should?

Is it possible that all that we have been provided now is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing for what has been provided that is needful, a curse in what we have lost by following ourselves rather than His guidance?

How do I ensure that it is God's life Have I been used to being "in charge" so long that I have forgotten how? How do I live like the Israelites of old, looking to the cloud and pillar of fire, rather than to the times and the seasons?

Attitude, goals, heart - this thought affects none of those things except to redirect their guidance to coming from God?

Who am I serving this day - in fact, no just in profession?

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Have Decided

I have decided:

- that I will do instead of beg.

- that I will choose my attitude consciously rather than letting my emotions set it for me.

- that I will seek excellence in every part of my life.

- that I will do those things that I am called to do without thought to money or reward.

- that those things I choose to do I will be the best at.

- that I will mature, not grow old.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is Attitude?

What is an attitude:

Merriamwebster.com: "Attitude: a : a mental position with regard to a fact or state; b : a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state."

I'll be honest - when I got the definition, I just sat and looked at it for a minute. That is not at all what I was expecting as a definition.

Two parts: 1) A mental position or a feeling; 2) a fact or state.

The language implications boggle the mind. Note that the mental position is "with regard" to a fact or state, while the feeling or emotion is "toward" a fact or state. There's a separation there, subtle but present.

Why? I think the reason is that the difference lies in whether the attitude is a mental position or a feeling.

A mental position implies that at least some level of thinking/reasoning has gone into the formation of that attitude (even if it's bad thinking). Feeling is an emotional reaction that more often than not is simply arrived at without thinking/reasoning.

The difference is that emotions can change with one's circumstances, physical state, or even the cast of the sunlight in a particular moment, while mental positions (if correctly done) are not subject to the vicissitudes of such events because they have been founded on a thought or reason which can discount the temporary circumstances because they are focused on the fact or state regardless of temporary interruptions or circumstances.

In that light, how many attitudes have I known - indeed, how many have I personally exhibited - that are based on feelings? How many of these were mistakenly believed to have been built on reason or thinking?

But that of course implies that the attitudes are arrived by thought and reason - can I truly say that I have made that effort in my life? If not, why not?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heart in It?

In speaking with Otis this afternoon, he relayed a comment to me that Buttercup had mentioned to him after my visit this weekend. "Maybe", she hypothesized in that simple way that she often uses in her writing to cut to the heart of the matter, "he feels disconnected from his job because his heart is not in it. When his heart is in what he's discussing, he's passionate."

The next sound you hear will be that of my head hitting the keyboard at the revelation of a simple truth.

"Yes of course" I say to myself, "that's absolutely true of course. If you're heart is not in something, of course it is not something that you will be passionate about."

But the simplicity of the thought and the statement take my breath away.

When was the last time I truly had my heart in my job - indeed, about anything in my life? I'm ashamed to admit, I cannot truly think of a job I've held where that was the case. And in my life? The list of things is frighteningly small -yet interestingly, they are usually things I end up not doing as much because they're not career oriented.

It's been said that if you identify your passions and do those, the job will follow. I've heard it, but could it possibly be true?

Attitude

Quietly pensive this morning. A little bird at work (whom I greatly respect) wandered by and commented that the change in my attitude at work had been noticed, and not only by her. "You were on fire when you got here, and now you're sliding into bitter" was the comment. "Just so you know."

I've been struggling with that comment, all the way home from work, all the way through the evening, and all the way into this morning as I got up. I've been struggling with two things really: 1) When did my attitude begin to slip; and 2) What can I do about?

When did my attitude slip? I don't know if one can either relate it to a single incident or a general malaise. The incidents tended to center around realizations of my true ability to affect change and my place in the structure. The general malaise came, I think, from a general sense of combined fear due to the economy and seemingly constant need to fight rearguard battles and sell the need of what I do.

What can I do about it? This is the even more confusing part. I've tried contemplating just muscling myself over to a different attitude through sheer willpower. That didn't work. I've tried doing inspirational reading to jump start my attitude, which again did not have the intended effect. I've tried to sell myself on the concept of being a thermostat, not a thermometer. Again, my attitude kind of looked at the concept, gave a disinterested sigh, and turned away.

There is something down deep, below all this, that is waiting to be awakened. I can feel it. My frustration is that I have no idea what I can do to wake it up and have it last.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Training and Education

"Training teaches you how. Education teaches you why." - Jeffrey Gitomer

A gem from last weekend that I have been pondering, especially as a fairly large part of my job involves "training". We train for everything - train on documents, train on processes, train on training in some cases.

However, as I considered what we do and why we do it, I was suddenly confronted by the idea that training is a weak concept, especially for any person or company that seeks to be the best.

When I train on something, I am (as Gitomer notes) merely training on how to do something (presumably correctly). It denotes no sense of understanding why I am doing it, the implications for doing it, the history of where it comes from, or often the impact of doing it. It merely is the execution of a task to success. In contrast, education (in its best form) gives many of these things: an understanding of why I am doing it, the implications of doing it, the history of where it comes from (so often there is a history) and the impact of doing it.

The reality is, so often companies and individuals settle for training - the learning equivalent of "the quick buck". "Tell me", they say, "how to do this. We don't need to clutter the minds of everyone with the whys or wherefores (besides, they get easily bored). Just what they need to do and we'll be off." The problem is, this breeds a mediocre mindset, whether individual or corporate.

Because the reality is most individuals at best only want to be trained instead of educated (better yet, entertained rather than trained). Education calls upon us to understand, to contemplate, to engage in original thought to make those concepts our own. But as it often has no immediate payoff but often costs in terms of time or money, most individuals (and the companies that manage them as resources) simply try to do as little as possible.

Companies I cannot change, except to make note of those that value training above education and act accordingly. For my own role at such companies, I can engage in the practice of education instead of training in everything I do.

But most importantly for myself, I can accept the fact that I should always pursue education. Training has its place to be sure, but it is is a poor substitute for education. Education can subsume training, but training seldom subsumes education.

Am I seeking in my own life to be trained - or educated?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Time Out

I'm calling a time out until the end of the year.

No, not a writing time out (I don't think I could - I'd probably go crazy!), but a life time out. One thing that my fabulous weekend at Otis and Buttercup's made me realize was that I am clinging to a great number of activities and lifestyle things because I always have or think that it is something that I want. One thing that amazed - and surprised - me was how when I was relaxed with not a great deal to think about or really do my creativity burst forth. My journal is full of ideas and haikus, introspections and thoughts - all from a 3 day jaunt, but a jaunt where literally I had nothing to do except read, relax, and think.

Can I get that here in New Home? Not at the same level, of course - Na Clann and The Ravishing Mrs. TB are here of course, as well as work and church. But what does not have to be here, which I can put to the side, is the plethora of activities which I seem to need to drive myself to do.

So it's a time out. I'll continue do exercise of course (if I can get to regular exercise, that alone will be a victory). But the time in the evening will be converted into a time of reading, thinking, and writing. In line with my thinking that this in a great number of ways represents a sort of tabula rosa for us, I want to start 2010 fresh out of the gate with a clear and burning vision of what I am to be about. And now, I believe, I have the key to starting that whole process.

A Brief Update

A brief update as to the weekend:

- I had a fabulous time at Otis and Buttercup's, who were extraordinarily gracious hosts.

- It was one of my best non-vacation vacations ever.

- It was a great seminar - so great, in fact, I have been digesting it for four days.

- A lot to think about, a lot to do.

I promise, more to to come.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Arete

Arete - The Greek word for goodness, excellence, or virtue. Originally it was intertwined with the notion that of fulfillment of function or purpose, of being to greatest extent of one's own potential. It originally dealt in courage and strength, but was later expanded to include a broader range of concepts ( the Wikipedia discussion is here).

Excellence, simply put, is something which we have largely lost sight of. It's something that individuals, organizations, and companies proclaim as their end goal, but fail to back up with words and deeds.

How did we lose this quest for excellence? More importantly, how did I lose this quest?

It starts from two roots: one, when we surrender our own personal quest to achieve excellence because it doesn't immediately provide gratification in a way that we often see those around us enjoying; two, when we realize that if we aspire to less than excellence, the ability to move forward is increased.

Excellence is hard. It requires commitment to something often unseen, often unrewarded, and often contrary to a world where efficiency and urgency are rated as far more important. "Excellence is important" one will often hear; "but we need to be practical and get things done."

Excellence requires thought. It requires planning. It requires persistence toward a goal which is often unseen by others. It requires an unyielding dedication to achieve something which is of infinite worth though not of measurable value.

If I practiced excellence in my life, if I limited myself to those actions and activities where I actively sought to achieve excellence, what would my life look like?

When did I learn to settle for mediocre?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Five Things

That's my goal coming home from Otis-land on Saturday. I need to have five things - five things to do, or five goals in hand, or even just 5 things to change in my life. But I need five things.

This represents the possibility of a great sea change in my life: 3 days without work (but getting paid!), with a great friend, listening to a motivational speaker, then having two days of nothing but conversation, coffee, maybe a little outdoor hiking and used book stores, perhaps a beer or two, and the luxury of thinking through and talking out the issues I see in my own life.

I'm excited. I really am. I have high hopes for the results of this weekend.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Otis-land and Efficiency

So my weekend with Otis rapidly approaches. I'm very excited - mostly at the prospect of seeing Otis, but also at the process of clearing my head.

Even with just a Monday under my belt, I am already feeling the strain of the week. My days have come to be filled (simply) with too much work and too little time. And the work is not added to the special "projects" with which I have been blessed - I am falling into the strange category of having to be both a "working" manager and managing the extra projects to move us towards more efficiency, which seems to guarantee that I am good at neither.

Efficiency. There's a word I've heard a lot of recently, along with the it's sister term interchangeability. It is (apparently) the answer in today's world of economic downturn and instability, a sort of magical "let's make it so" word in which the solution to anything is to time more effectively on the important things (or have the flexibility to allow others to do it). The odd thing is that efficiency presumes well developed processes and no emergencies, which we seem to be sadly lacking in.

And so the trip to Otis-land is all that more eagerly anticipated. As I told him this weekend, it's not so much that I need to "do" things while I there as much as I need to get my head clear about a number issues. As I pointed out to a co-worker, in the course of 11 months I have been employed with a house, been unemployed, been employed in New Home separated from An Teaglach for two months, tried to sell my home, and had to move - it's been a bit of a year!

I keep trying to get my level of motivation up, but the reality is I almost always collapse in a heap at the end of the day, really feeling the urge to do nothing after being pummeled by projects and people all day - and in many ways, projects that do not have a long term impact on the lives of others, let alone my own life. I keep trying to put on my game face, yet continue to keep finding that my game face is not enough to keep me motivated to truly succeed (because I do believe you will only succeed in what you are truly interested in).

Two more days (he said, keeping up the mantra). Two more days...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pretending to Work

So I did it again this weekend. I brought my computer home for work to "work".

I swore I would be diligent about it. "No worries", I told a co-worker, "I'll just work on things for a couple hours and be ahead." And, sure enough, it sat there in the bag all weekend.

Why do I do this? It seems to stem from two streams within me, one the rather shocking and simple fact that I am not using my time at work as effectively as I should, the other that I feel like I need to compensate with more "work" time.

The reality is this: it's not that I need to spend more time working on work (in fact, I should be spending a little less) but that I need to be more effective when I am at work. I keep confusing activity with action, or as one wag put it, "A rocking chair can move very quickly and exhaust you, but it goes nowhere."

One of the biggest confusions within myself is the role of relationships and work. I work in a position that is highly relationally dependent to be successful. The split I need to make is the difference between building those relationships and using them to keep myself from working on things I don't desire.

First things first: No more bringing work home.

Second things second: How do I change how I work so I don't feel compelled to do this?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Motivation

Motivation is the key.

I find that the tasks I have to do don't really change, but the motivation behind them can. I can do something because I have to do something, I can do something for grudging reasons, or I can do something because it will serve a greater purpose.

Motivation is the key.

Why am I doing what I am doing? Too often it seems like it is out of habit or out of perceived necessity. In some cases - work for example - I will continue to have do the tasks, but I can change the reasons for doing the tasks.

Necessity is a poor long term motivation tool. It leads to shoddy work and shoddy activities because everything gets put to the level of "Good Enough". On the other hand, I've been in the situation of pouring excellent work down an endless tunnel and having it wasted and myself exhausted and drained.

I need to see the next two steps - not only the "Why am I doing this (beyond necessity, of course)" but the "What will this activity or item contribute beyond the immediate reason I'm doing it?"

For example, I practice Iaido not only because I enjoy it and it's an excellent low impact sport and a good workout, but because it is teaching me things about myself, reacting to situations, and how I present myself in life. I enjoy it (so I'm motivated to practice and go), but I'm motivated also because I can see what else I am getting out of it.

How do I translate that into my everyday activity? To the extent that I can do that is the extent to which I will achieve excellence in my life - and motivation.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Administrivia

New Home weather - at least fall weather - is seeming to mirror my moods of late: something with a chance of change.

I have been struck again this week with how I am dealing with stress and my work environment. I'm not sure why the change has occurred - last week, I felt confident, armed with my list of tasks as I checked them off. This week, there is a major loss of momentum, as I struggle to do the most mundane of tasks while freaking about the state of my industry (something which I cannot impact, by the way). I had alluded to a sense of powerlessness yesterday - that feeling seems to continue on.

In the midst of this, where is my faith in God, the One who says "All things work for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose", the One who is sovereign over the whole universe? How do I incorporate that into my daily life - it's fine to say "I believe God is in control" but hard (at least for me) to implement that into a day of paperwork and meetings of seeming little import - the horror of bureaucratic limbo, generating things that generate other things that end up in a box stored away.

As Otis often reminds me, I am to be a light - but I struggle with the fact that I don't just want to be, I want to do/product something where the output is something meaningful, not just useless administrivia to eventually (or not so eventually) be boxed up and shredded.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stressed

I need to find a new way to handle my stress level.

I have been fighting an increased sense of powerlessness in my life, a sense that I much of what I do on a day to day basis has little or any impact on the outcome of my day, my life, or my output. Yesterday reached what seems to have been a temporary climax - and I melted down near the end.

This cannot continue.

Here is my dilemma: I am in a position on several levels of my life where I am responsible for decisions and outcomes but seemingly have very little power to implement anything to change them - more of a "Here's what you will do" option is presented. In the very worst cases, I end up acting as cover; in the best cases, it seems like I am acquiescing to choice A - or choice A.

My response to this point has been to revert to those things I can control - typically food, but sometimes anger at some nebulous "thing" which I can combat. Neither of these are particularly helpful or useful.

So what do I do?

I can counsel myself to only worry about the things I can control, but that feels like nothing at this moment. I can counsel myself to be bold and sail into the morning breaking doors and taking names, but that will not get the results I desire. There is a third thing here, a thing which touches on one reason I went with the Firm: Control of my own destiny.

Yes I know, there were plenty of things we couldn't control (although how helpful it would have been!), but there was a sense that I could control a great deal of the occurrences in my day: what we did, what results we could harvest, even (though apparently to an illusionary extent) what the direction of our life would be.

How do I use this stress? How do I deal with it? How do I take control, starting with the little things, and moving on to bigger things?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday Monday

Yesterday was just one of those days - one of those "There's a pall hanging over the building and I can't quite seem to shake it" days. Part of it could have been the weather, of course - a dark blustery day that made it seem like 0600 until noon. Part of it could have simply been the fact that once again, the weekend seemed far too short (although in fairness, at least weekends feel like weekends now and give me a separation from work).

I think a great deal of it was due to yet another announced merger in my industry and the resulting expected layoffs - with this second one in approximately two weeks, 27,000 + layoffs are expected. I'm not really sure what attracts me to such news - a morbid interest, or simply remembering the pain each and ever time I read of a layoff - but that, combined with a general mood of futility, made for a long - and not productive -Monday.

The other thing I found nagging at my mind is significance. Watching the tide of paperwork rise and then recede from my desk, I was reminded again of the significance of doing something that matters. These papers that I agonize over, cajole for signatures and corrections, and carefully preserve from harm will eventually get thrown into a box, placed off site, and eventually destroyed. The materials that they represent will be consumed, perhaps in testing for the discovery of a major cure, but just as likely for experimentation which will again be forgotten.

I'm finding that as I go, life is going faster and faster not slower, and my need (can we say need?) for performing something of significance becomes deeper, if for no other reason the realization that most of this life consists of dust blowing in the wind, and I am so often too dense to grasp the spiritual realities around me. It makes for an interesting paradox: trapped in a whirlwind of the transient which obscures the permanent.

In such moments, how does one focus?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Evident to All

"Meditate on these things, give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all." - 1 Timothy 4:16

If we are to live the missionary life in a world that at best is disinterested and at most is hostile, how am we to interpret this? "Evident to all" would suggest not just those who are Christian (who would understand) but those who are not.

It seems that this is a promise as well (if you're curious, the preceding verses 12-14 call for Timothy to be an example in word, conduct, faith, love, spirit, faith and purity, and to give attention to reading, exhortation, and doctrine), that if we meditate on these things and give ourselves entirely to them, our progress will be evident to those around them - an evidence of the Spirit at work in our lives.

Evidence -the thing that so often our testimony lacks. How often have I been guilty of saying one thing and doing another, giving lie to my "Christian" testimony by my actions?

How do I fight against this? I believe that Paul gives us the method. If we are meditating on something (i.e. thinking about it all the time, dwelling on it - see yesterday's post) and giving ourselves entirely to it (really committed to implement it, trying to put it into practice on a daily, even hourly basis), then we will move in the direction of what we consumed with. And the evidence of that change will indeed be right there for everyone to see - it is easy to argue with words, but it is hard to argue with a changed life.

Now the hard part: if I am willing to commit myself with intensity to temporal goals, why do I so often lack the same intensity for eternal goals?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Repeat and Commit

When was the last time I really committed to a goal?

I'm reading The Instant Millionaire by Mark Fisher. I've read the book before actually, so this is more of a reacquaintance with it. Overall I enjoy it (the whole subculture of success stories written as parables is an interesting one) although there are things I think are...well, a bit hokey or even wrong (surprise - me have an opinion!).

Last night I was going through a part where the Instant Millionaire is relating to the Young Man his "secrets". One of them, he states, is that you need to pick a goal, pick a date, and then repeat that goal and that date every day until it burns itself into your brain. Your brain ("the unconscious") will take that input, like any other input, and begin to process it. At some point by essentially hard wiring it, the mind will become convinced that it can.

As I mentioned, I've read this book before so the concept was not foreign to me. But just for fun, I thought I'd try to exercise. So I did it: I picked my goal, I picked my date, and I started repeating it verbally x amount of times a day.

The thing that hit me this morning after I did it was the sudden sense of being committed to that goal, to doing that. Which made me then think "How have I committed to goals in the past? Have I been?"

What is the process of commitment to a goal? I can think of scores of things that I have wanted to have or accomplish as goals, but very few that gave me the sensation of what I have experienced over the last few days - again, that sense of commitment, the sense of "I can". Is it as simple as fooling your mind, or is it something about the process of putting the parts together (goal + time frame) that does it? Yes, of course I know thinking it is not the same as doing, but I also have plenty of experience knowing that without truly being convinced you can, you never will.

And if it's that simple, why haven't I done it more?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meeting Fear

Yesterday afternoon, within my last 1.5 hours of work, an issue came up - the sort of issue that leaves you dreading coming in the next day because of the e-mails you fear will be in the box and the meeting you inevitably know will be coming.

Yes I know, this is what I get paid for. At the same time, it has been an interesting item to mull over as Syrah the Mighty and I went for our walk this morning.

Initially the thought discussion was all about the (almost inevitable) meeting, where suggestions would be made that we were withholding information, why didn't we bring this up earlier, this affects the timeline, and was this really a big issue? The mind instantly races, finding counter arguments to each and every point, try to defend my concerns, wondering who I can enlist as an ally, and what impact this will have on my career there.

And then my mind did a yottsu te hanasu - a "win by four hands" technique discussed by Miyatmoto Musashi in A Book of Five Rings where he says when opponents are equally matched (as in wrestling), to drop that strategy and win by some other means. My mind went off completely on a seeming tangent: "Why are you so concerned about this and what they think about you? Why are you so afraid and tense with this?"

"What do you mean?" I asked my mind.

"Simply that it seems your focus is on the wrong place. Sure, people will be unhappy and sure, they will say your over reacting and maybe even blame you. But the real issue is your fear."

"My fear?"

"Your fear. Can they physically hurt you? No. Can they spiritually hurt you? No. Can they emotionally hurt you? Possibly, but that's you allowing them to hurt your feelings. The issue is your fear - you're afraid that they will do these things, and you're afraid that this will impact your career."

"Well it might."

"Yes, it might -at least at this company. If that's the case, you have two other questions to answer: What can you do to alleviate that fear, and how do you remove that power from them?"

I thought for a minute. "Hmm. I suppose I can alleviate the fear by ensuring that I am constantly at the top of my knowledge base and a resource. It won't change the situation of course, but at least it will alleviate the fear. As to the second, I'm not sure. What can I do?"

My mind smiled (or I think it did - it's hard to interpret facial expressions of the mind). "Again, two thoughts. The physical one is difficult but easy to say: make sure you reach a position in your life where that is not possible. The mental one is less easy: deny them the power."

"The power?"

"Your fear is based on your perception that they won't like you, won't value you, will mock you, will not value you or your work. The reality is their opinion does not change your self worth. Even it you are overridden, it still doesn't change that - unless you let them change that in your mind. So many other people have no problem acting or expressing their opinions simply because people that suffer from fear like yours allow them to do so. When will you face your fear?"

It has me thinking anyway - if people cannot do physical, spiritual, or emotional harm to me, why do I fear them?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Man of Twilight

"I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory." - Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I have been thinking a lot of the past lately, especially of how I act in day to day life. I seem to be caught with two models, neither particularly helpful: one the somewhat overly silly and perhaps a bit over the top guy (because that's how you got attention), the other one the serious fellow who took to heart a manager's comment that one needed to "act" like management if one wanted to be management. In both cases, these behaviors are seemingly driven by people and circumstances long gone - a sort of "Night of the Living Dead Behaviors".

This comes up in the context of being in New Home, where literally no-one knew me when I arrived. On the one hand I am relishing the freedom of being able to create my own image; on the other hand, I'm alarmed that the image seems to be drawn from two wells, neither of which may be particularly useful or even healthy at this point.

And then this morning, I read Stephen Covey's quote. Or to move it over to the Christian realm, I can live in Christ instead of out of memory.

Somewhere buried in here is a third fellow, neither totally over the top nor totally serious, the man that wanders in the twilight of my imagination. He occasionally comes out, but often seems to take a back seat to those other two. Who is he? He largely seems tied up with living a Christian life but not on the terms of the world, being forced into the mold of what a "Christian" should act like (that thought is a concept rich for meditation). He is that hearkening back to an older, nobler, more honorable sort, the compilation of those that I read of and loved (and still do): John Carter, Walter Scott's heroes, The Forty Seven Ronin, Knighthood in general, the Irish Heroes, Tolkien's Elves, more recently John Galt and Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia. The funny thing is, I thought that I could not bridge the gap between what they represented and the world that now exists and I live in. What a surprise to realize that the boundary is self imposed; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". (Philippians 4:13) I can be who God calls me to be, that third man on the borders of my mind, instead of what is imposed on others -or indeed, what I impose on myself.

The world needs examples of Christians who are reflecting Christ uniquely, as He designed them. As M. Scott Peck put it (my paraphrase), we are all lanterns uniquely shining God's light. We didn't start the light nor can we maintain it (that is God's doing); all we need do is shine, and in our shining some unique aspect of God or His dealings with the universe will be revealed which could be revealed by no-one else.

Being a unique light bearer of Christ, defined by Him and His creation of me. What could be more desirable than that?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtues

"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge perseverance, to perseverance self control, to self control godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 1:5-8

As I have been going through the exercise of memorizing this verse, I was reminded this morning of the fact that it feels like the modern church has abandoned the idea of virtues as a whole. I can think of any number of times that I have heard "Be loving" or "Be holy", but seldom any kind of categorization or additional suggestions as to how to get there.

I love these verses from Peter because, among other things, they are linear: faith, virtue, knowledge, perseverance, self control, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. It's a plan with steps (I love steps). It suggests, on the whole, what virtues we should pursue and apparently in what order.

It also has a promise: if these are ours and abound, we will neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ. Think about it: if I pursue these as I pursue God, He says that I will be fruitful in knowledge and good works, bringing glory to God and honor to myself (Paul pursues this point in 2nd Corinthians 5:10).

So why don't we hear more about them?

If I had to theorize, I would think it is because they are hard. Think about it: how much with the sense of "God made accessible" today would the concept of building the virtues really be accepted? If you've ever tried to develop your faith, virtue, perseverance (there's a tough one) or self control (again, not fun), you know how hard and seemingly unrewarding it can be. If God is accessible and loves me, why should I have to work so hard?

How is it we are more willing to spend time sweating to build up our physical bodies (which will eventually die) than we are to spend time sweating to build up our spiritual virtues (which have eternal rewards)?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Missionary Zeal

I've been grappling with Otis' thought that I really need to look at my job as a missionary endeavor - that I have been placed in this location to be a light for Christ.

I've tended to resist this idea in the past a great deal, mostly from the the thought that I can't believe that God would have me be somewhere less than what I perceive to be the "perfect" job for me. After all, if God had wanted me doing "religious" work, the pastorate thing would have gone a different way.

But as I grappled with the thought further, what I suddenly realized is that it is because it would cause me to have to not be about me.

It seems to me that for any individual to be a missionary anywhere, let alone at work, that it would mean surrendering a great deal of selfishness. For me, that would be surrendering this imaginary or illusory life - call it "fantasy" if you like - about how people look at me, about life as I want to be perceived and living it. In fact, it would require not thinking about any of that at all, instead focusing on how by serving others I can at least demonstrate God's love and God's reality to them.

It would require acceptance of the fact that this life is not my life ("You were bought with a price" says Paul), and that I have no right to ask for anything beyond what I'm given - that my purpose is not about me, or about making my life better or more comfortable, but about making God great. That in the end, the results are not about me or how people think about me, but what they think about God.

"Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."

The part - beyond the initial "But what about me?" part - that gives me pause is that slightly wicked part of my brain that says "Fine, let's go with that thought. Let's let it be all about God and making Him important. What does that do for you? All you'll end up with is the reality that your life really is small and insignificant. Great and glorious, or small and sticky. And who, in this orgy of being "all about God', will take care of your needs and wants? Trust me, you're not one of the greats, a Hudson Taylor or George Muller or C.S. Lewis. Emptying yourself will simply point to the fact that, in fact, your life is empty . At least with your dreams, you have something to tide you over."

Unflattering thoughts to be sure - but I'd be a liar to say they're not there. If I was a "missionary manager guy" and that's all I was for the rest of my career, never rising above the level I am at now, is that okay? Or is the fact that I struggle with all of this just indicative of the fact that my selfishness and lack of grasping of God's greatness runs much deeper than I like to think?

Write!

There are some moments when one comes to the computer to type, and finds nothing.

How can this be, I ask. Surely there is enough going on in my life - in fact, I know that there is - that would merit a post, a thought, an amusing anecdote? Yet there I sit, the cursor blinking in front of me, saying "Type something. Type something".

I wonder if my lack of typing is created from a true lack of material to type on or a kind of unconscious reticence to write about certain subjects. Not about others - I think long ago I gave up the ability to really concerned about such things, and have reached sufficient ability to speak generally.

No, it's reticence about myself, coming only during periods which seem to mirror when I've discovered either unpleasant truths or pleasant ideas which will require me to act on them.

We will not change until the pain of inaction becomes greater than the pain of action. Some really smart person said that (or words like it) once. How amusing (in a sick sort of way) that I keep getting reminded that it's true.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

500

Something funny happened last night when I was on my way to the blog - I hit 500 posts (technically, this is 501).

No-one is more shocked than I, frankly. I am not one who is know for his ability to persevere in an activity for any great length of time - especially if there's not food involved! - so the fact that this has been kept with (more or less) for 4 years is something of a surprise.

So thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read or comment or just snicker. Here's to 500 more!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monomaniacal

I talked with Otis driving home from work today, trying to begin the process of walking through my experience of the last five years. One comment I had - one that had come up when talking with Uisdean Ruadh the previous night - was that part of thing that surprised me when I thought about the totality of my experience was the vehemence when I began to dwell on the relationship of Himself and me during the experience.

I say vehemence since I have not physically interacted with Himself in for 3.5 years, and not heard from him at all in 3 years. Yet when the subject comes up, I almost become monomaniacal in my sudden need to know, to find out.

At the least, it's not healthy.

Why is this? What is it about this relationship, or about the circumstances surrounding it, that make it so intense? If I have to sit and think about it, what comes to my mind is the need to feel like I ...

I need to be approved.

I have, deep in the bowels of my soul, this incessant need to be liked, to be recognized. When I reflect over the final failure of The Firm and the dissolving of the friendship thereafter - a friendship of 13 years prior spanning 3 states and 5 moves - one of two thing comes to mind: I was either of no use or not enough success minded. Either of this makes me feel like I lacked value - something that someone who desires to be liked cannot bear more than anything. Thus, I seem to cling to shreds of facts, hoping that I can find some clue as to why I was "abandoned".

This is obviously only my side of the story, of course (there are always two), and I am sure that Himself had a set of useful and good reasons why he chose the actions that he did. Much as I like to think of myself as the "practically perfect" friend, I've got flaws running through my soul like faults through the earth.

But if I look at that - this need to be approved - how much of my life and where I am now comes from decisions made on that need? When I started the Firm, why did I go - was it truly for the best reasons, or was it because I felt like if I didn't jump now, I would be abandoned - and thus not approved. Are the other decisions in the last five years - maybe the whole of my life - that relate to this need to be approved?

And if so, how does one combat this? How does one make approval something less than necessary?