There are moments that define you, experiences that make you who you are, and decisions that change the course of your life. I’ve been thinking about that. What about you?
Have you considered your personal story line, your legacy, and your points of impact on your family, friends, and workplace? Are you making every day count? Are you growing, loving, and experiencing joy?
Easy questions to write, but not so easy to answer.
If you’re even a smidge self aware, you should know a good bit about yourself. The good the bad and the ugly. If you don’t know those things, it’s time to do a personal inventory. Do it with a searching heart, not a condemning mindset. Write it out on paper, type it up, and make note of it. It’s ok, you don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want too. But, be honest with yourself.
I’ll go first.
When I reflect, I see all kinds of junk. Lots of bad and ugly. In fact, I’ve been a lot of undesirable things. A workaholic, a perfectionist, an empire builder, an intimidator, a neglectful husband, and an absent dad just to name a few. I’ve been uncompassionate, unbalanced, and unloving. I’ve been mistreated and hurt in countless ways. I’ve been the target of an alcoholic father, unfair business partners, dishonest co-workers, a sexual predator, an armed robber, and a wide range of haters who attack who I am as a person. I’ve lost businesses, amassed huge debts, endured hurricanes, neglected friends, struggled and lost loved ones.
But that does not, and has not defined me.
And I know you’ve experienced something similar and possibly far worse. But it doesn’t define you either.
All my life I’ve always felt like I could be more, could be better, and while it was counter-intuitive I was certain that the apple could actually fall far far far from the tree. As a result, in all the bad things I’ve been and all the bad things I’ve encountered I somehow refused to accept it as my lot in life nor let it define me as a person. Even as a child I reflected on things, asked what my purpose in life was, and looked for answers.
With a view for the future, I grew and tried to keep a vision for a good life even if I didn’t really know what it was nor how to attain it. And, for most of my life I wondered what I was made to do, who I was supposed to be in this world, and how to “get there”, whatever that means.
As I reflect on my life, thanks to another birthday, I can’t help but see the diamonds in the rough that have come to surface over the years.
Here are some personal gems I’ve discovered along the way that have made serious impact on my life. I hope this can benefit you in someway.
- No name calling. Ever. Almost 20 years ago I told my girlfriend (now wife of 15 years) that no matter what – in fun or in anger – we would not do any name calling. And, it has been one of the biggest influences of our marriage and life together. We often point back to this simple decision as one of the best things we could have done for our relationship. We set this precedent in our house as a family with our two boys as well. I’ve applied this to the rest of my life with friends and co-workers. It’s amazing how impactful this is – and how respectful and dignified your approach to relationships can become.
- Be a good lover. No, not sexually, but in all of your life, in all that you are. We live in a world where we “love” everything from pro sports teams, to cars, to colors, and everything in between. And beyond the dilution of “love” in such informal ways, media, advertising, and all kinds of things on the web flood us with sexy images of love and attempt to turn love into sensual pleasure. This sort of love (eros love) is not the definition of love. There is a far greater love we must learn for ourselves. Like the Beatles said, all we need is love. This love is the love Jesus spoke of (agape love and philos love). This is the love that sets you free. For me, I had to first learn to love myself before I could love others because I realized a few years ago that I didn’t know what love, true love, really was and I didn’t love myself. I discovered this when I deeply reflected on my life alongside a few characteristics of true love; it’s patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices in truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails. For me, I lived for nearly 30 years without even the most simple awareness of this kind of love. It has become one of the best discoveries for my life – ever – and it continually informs the way I live, learn, grow and of course love.
- Give and give some more. Taking is easy, effortless, and perfectly self aligned. Real growth, joy, and success come from giving. And I mean, truly give. Give time, give money, give your skills and talents to something beyond yourself. This eluded me for years and I was such a selfish taker, but I didn’t know any better. I foolishly masked my taking as work ethic, as a “look out for number one, because no one else will” mindset, and as a protection and self-preservation mechanism. And, while I had learned the value of giving in the context of sales and marketing, it was merely a tactic to success, not an outflow of a healthy heart and mind. And then, as I understood more about true love, I understood more about giving. And my cold shielded heart began melting. Turns out giving is a spiritual muscle that, when flexed, has profound impact on the giver and receiver both. Now, instead of taking, I look at giving where ever I can. This can be as simple as actually talking and listening to another person without an self agenda, it can be doing something for someone in kindness, doing the thing you get paid for without accepting payment, giving money to someone in need, covering the tab or going on a mission trip or helping a good cause. Learn to give, it will truly change your life and how you encounter the world around you. You’ll find a surprising amount of abundance where you always thought you were in such short supply.
- Decide to do good. And actually do it. When you do an inventory of yourself, you’ll find all kinds of ugliness that needs attention. So do something about it and chip away those things. Forgive yourself and others who have hurt you. If you need more time with your kids, decide to do it in a tangible way, and actually do it. If you want better friends, decide to be a better friend yourself and by all means, get away from unhealthy relationships. Create a new perspective where you look for the good in things rather than the bad. Look for new opportunities to do good things, to curb bad habits, to discipline yourself.
- Take criticism. Don’t be so sensitive when you get feedback you don’t like. This is one of the hardest aspects of my life, and always has been. I was dependent on praise, on acknowledgement, on being seen as important and valuable. My defenses were always up, quick to justify and defend at all costs. And this is still something that registers on my radar. But once you accept that you are not perfect, but a work in progress, then you can value what others have to say in critical moments. Trust me, your wife, your boss, your child are not clueless and what they are saying can be extremely helpful and insightful if you are willing to hear it, reflect on it, and do something about it.
- Be a lifelong student. Read, learn, chase knowledge and apply it. Do not be distracted and marginalized by a pure consumer life of television, media, and empty distractions. It turns out that we can easily be blocked from the kind of learning and truth that will change our lives for good. All we have to do is… nothing. Just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Yep. It’s so easy to go each day and just “make it” another day. And, if you’re ambitious, it’s easy to only learn within your profession and to only focus on your career. But the best way to flourish in your career, family and life is to constantly grow as a complete person. This includes your passion areas, your communication, your behavior, your lifestyle, and your whole self. If you don’t learn new things, you stagnate and struggle. For me, I discovered leaders were readers back in 2005 and despite hating to read and never owning any books outside of college, I picked up a book, The Richest Man in Babylon, and read it. And I decided I would read other business books. I eventually read a couple hundred books from writing, sales, marketing, psychology, leadership, management, and entrepreneurship. I experienced amazing career growth. But it was lopsided and only focused on my career. I had become a better professional and it had positive impact on my personal life, but there was more to my life than my career. But I didn’t know that for a long time. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began reading and learning in more personal areas of my life – and this became true gold for me. I started looking for help in all areas of my life – my marriage, my family, my finances, and my spiritual self. The impact of a whole-life diet of books, seminars, and activities beyond my career have been phenomenal catalysts to a far better way of living. I’ve become a better husband, a better dad, and a better person. All because I was willing to be a lifelong student. And you should too.
- Be present. Where ever you are, be there. Put the smartphone, ipad and ipod, down. Slow down and be where you are. At dinner, be at dinner and enjoy the company and food rather than multitasking and juggling tasks. When you’re at work, work. Get off Facebook and personal emails and personal chatter and focus on the work at hand. Give full attention to where you are and you’ll discover that every moment is better, more precise, more rich. People will experience your presence and benefit from your full attention and you will too. Especially in the company of loved ones whom treasure your time with them, your eye contact, your conversations and attention. If you struggle here, have time-outs from your phone, laptop, television, and so on. And make the best of those time outs. You’ll find new life and fulfillment will come with relatively no negative impact on all those things you’ve been so distracted by.
- Build, create, and Invest. Make something! Give to the world, or your family, or someone you care about investing in them in someway. And, build or create something for yourself, it will bring an amazing sense of satisfaction. This can be anything – write a book or a blog post, design something, plant a garden, start a business, make a tree house, cook a new meal, or draw something. Better yet, meet someone who is doing one of those and work alongside them and help them build or create something! Find new ways to release something new and beautiful into the world around you. This can be simple or complex, but purpose yourself to be a creator and builder – and do it – and don’t stop! We are built to be creative, to create and build, and to leave a mark in the lives we live. And don’t underestimate the value of building and investing in another person. Be a mentor, a coach and an influencer in someone’s life. This can be the most amazing invest you’ll ever make, one that makes you better while also positively shaping the life and future of someone else.
- Be a man. A real man. No, not the kind of man that has a beard and chops down trees or the kind that has all the money and nice things in life or the kind of man that attracts women left and right. I mean a real man. You see, being a man isn’t just being a male, hitting a certain age, being able to impregnate a woman, or have a job or own a house or call the shots. Being a man is something else entirely. We live in a world full of adult children masquerading as men but who are still acting like childish teenagers or dependent children – not at all a real man. So, I say, be a real man. One with integrity. One with impact and accountability. One with the ability to love, to honor, to respect, and to stand tall in hard times. The kind of man that surrenders selfish motives, the kind of man that hugs and kisses his children and wife, the kind of man who has accountability and authority but doesn’t throw his weight or position around. Be the kind of man who leads at home just as well as he does at work. Be the kind of man that laughs, cries, and opens his heart. The kind that helps others even if it’s uncomfortable and the kind that doesn’t give up from what is right and true. This is an area that I was slow to learn. I essentially spent most of my twenties figuring out what a real man was. I chased it at work and to some degree at home, but was never really a complete man. It wasn’t until I decided I wanted to be a great husband, a great dad, and a spiritually whole person that I learned to be a man. In fact, so much of my discoveries of true manhood is based on learning to love and deciding to be a student interested in more than just my career. The truth is, I’m not sure I’ve got this all figured out, but I can tell you I’m much more of a real man than I was even five years ago. And none of this would have happened had I not desired to really step into manhood and be a better man for the sake of my family, my marriage and myself.
- Continually Invest in your marriage. Your spouse matters – every day – even when you’re having a bad day and especially when they are having a bad day. The marriage is the easiest place to go on auto-pilot and let things ride. It’s so easy to become cohabiting partners rather than life giving lovers and friends. It’s so easy to neglect the other person, heap on expectations, be short and unkind, and dismissive. Its easy to feel entitled and unappreciative and take your spouse for granted. But don’t. Your spouse is the foundation to an amazing life – a long life, and one rich with experience and love. The things you two will do together are amazing. You’ll endure hard times and good times. For me, I’ve been with my wife nearly 20 years and we’ve experienced a lot of seasons. For years we didn’t have kids and it hid how poorly I invested in us. I mean, we did a lot together, but I had a lot of freedom and often took a lot for granted and created a lot of bad situations and hurt feelings. I usually just shrugged and figured it would work out because I loved her. But after about 10 years, we had our first child and suddenly I realized how unprepared I was. My first child was one of the key reasons I began looking for the good life because I was so out of control and I didn’t even know it. All my habits and behaviors were selfish. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been learning how to truly invest in my family and marriage. And to do that, means I spend more time listening, not “being right”, not trying to take for myself, and not being clueless to what’s going on around me at home and in my non-work life. It means I take phone calls I used to send to voicemail, it means I come home even though I still want to work, it means I eat better because its better for us not just me, it means I don’t drink to get drunk, don’t stay out as late, and don’t jump so quickly at any chance to spend time away from home. It means I turn the TV off, I have family dinner, and attend family functions and our kids events. Which has a significant impact on my marriage and my wife’s sense of comfort and security and feeling like I value her and our family and children. And this is where the marriage is more than myself, and to invest in it means to do more than “just be married”, but to be engaged in it daily. To refuse to be on auto-pilot and be mindful of the promises I’ve made to be a good husband and good father. To do this requires awareness and intentionality. I’m still working on all this, and by all means not a master, but I’m much better today than I have ever been. And for me, areas that were hurting in me became better and better the more I invested in my marriage. And I know this investment will always pay dividends and is absolutely part of my journey to the good life I want to live.
- Discover your spiritual center. This is the key to your best life, the only way to truly rise above yourself and discover your purpose and what will make you whole. I wasn’t whole for a long time. In fact, I’ve been slow to this party and it blows me away how much I’ve missed out on, how much junk I was mixed up in, and how much pain I could be free of. You see, for me, I think I’m smart, talented, and successful. Even inside my pain, my struggles, and my failures, I looked good to those around me. A great career, people who respected me, and lots of things accomplished – but all the success, all the accomplishments, and all the nice things I wanted didn’t fill me up and make me feel good about myself or others. I was hurting inside, feeling unloved, and generally feeling like I was missing something even though I had all the things I was told mattered – job, money, car, home, wife, children, and my own freedom to do as I pleased. But it wasn’t enough. I was unhappy and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. It wasn’t until I found Jesus and discovered the truth of his teachings and what the Bible has to say about the good life that I began to thrive as a complete person. It was my spiritual self that was starving and hurting and I never knew it or understood it. But, I can honestly tell you that the good life is a product of knowing who we are as a son or daughter of God and living a kingdom life rather than a self-centered life. There is a profound healthiness and wellness that comes from discovering your spiritual center and learning to feed yourself spiritually. And, if you’re like me, it wasn’t the first, second, or ten thousandth place I looked because I thought, no I knew, that I didn’t need God – I could take care of myself. I’m glad I let go of that pride and “intelligence” and began looking to heaven instead of myself. This is the single most profound wisdom in my life and it continues to give me new gems of truth and glimpses of the good life daily. I encourage you to look and learn for yourself. It may not make sense – and it will be counter intuitive, but you’ll be amazed by what you find. There is a God that loves you and counts none of your faults and failures against you who is anxiously waiting for your heart who wants to show you truth, life, and love at levels you’ll never understand on your own. See it for yourself, don’t just take my word for it. Go look at Mathew, Mark, Luke, and (my favorite) John in the Bible. See what Jesus said about life and living. Amazing stuff.
I hope all this speaks to you and there is something (or several things) that help you on your journey to the good life you always wanted. I hope you see that we’ve all got issues, but there is more that we can become and we aren’t defined by all our mistakes and failures.
I hope you’ll reflect and see where you can apply positive direction and change to your life. I know you can.
And, if this is a message that resonates with you or prompts questions let me know in the comments below or email me. I’m happy to hear from you. And share it with a friend if you think it may make a positive impact on them.