How does your hero act when he or she is NOT in the game?

I couldn’t pick a better sports hero for my kids to follow than Femi Hollinger-Janzen. Like any soccer player worth a good nickname, he’s known as just plain Femi.

Femi

Femi is a backup striker for the New England Revolution in North American Major League Soccer. He has a grand total of 2 career goals in the MLS (stat page). He also happens to be a graduate of the small school where all three of my boys will attend this fall. Since going pro, Femi has made visits to the school; my kids have gotten to meet him.

I wouldn’t say I know Femi’s family well, but his father, Rod, is executive director at AIMM, an organization I partnered with a few years ago when I took a trip to Congo to lead some seminars on leadership coaching.

Last year, I took my son JJ, a budding junior high soccer player, to Chicago hoping to see Femi play against the Chicago Fire (the nearest MLS team to us geographically.) Normally I root for Chicago sports teams. I was born in central Illinois, after all. But on this day we were New England fans. Alas, Femi was injured, and he did not even make the road trip to Chicago with his team. This did not stop a whole section of people from our small town from chanting FEMI-FEMI-FEMI. (Ok, maybe we weren’t that boisterous, but we did hold up big pictures of his face on cardboard stock.) We had a great time with Femi’s parents and other people from our hometown and from Africa, at a Mediterranean restaurant after the match. Mmm. Kebabs. Kebabs made the whole trip worth it.

New England plays in Chicago again this August 5th (Saturday) and we’ll be in the stands. I’ve told my boys that you won’t often get to see a professional athlete from your own very small school play a major sport in person.

Of course we know that Femi might not get in the game at all. His stats show that he’s started only one of New England’s twelve games  so far this year. Will he get to sub? Might he score a goal or an assist?  Or will he get injured, God forbid, during warm-ups? The whole thing could be a bust. But we’ll have fun anyway.

As I think about what I hope my kids will learn from watching a professional athlete from their own school, I’m reminded that Joe DiMaggio once said, when asked why he hustled so hard to make a difficult play in the outfield, on a day when the New York Yankees were getting blown out, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”

First, I don’t want my kids to think that they could do what Femi has done: star at Indiana University. Get drafted. Make the team. Make big bucks. (The internet tells me Femi makes just over $50k. This is a decent salary in our town, but not big bucks.) Femi is one in a hundred thousand, and the coaches at our school knew his potential when he was 12. My kids aren’t likely to be professional stars.

I do want my kids to think about how they owe their best to whomever is watching. Whatever job they’re doing. Whatever project they’re making or class they’re taking. Every move they make, every breath they take, Sting will be watching them…

I mean, uh, God, of course, though I don’t want to put that out there in any sort of heavy-handed way, for my kids, or for you, dear readers. But then, isn’t character all about what you do when nobody’s watching? I don’t know what kind of character Joe D. had off the field, but he sure knew what to do with a baseball bat and glove when people were in the stands.

Then a second question comes to mind: what if you aren’t in the game at all? How do you live life at your very best, when you’re sitting on the bench? This is harder than anything, for an injured athlete, for anyone who has a passion they’re not able to exercise. Your character gets tested more when you’re NOT in the game. A lot more. How does your hero act when they can’t get in the game? When they’re injured? And how do you act, when you can’t do what you’re great at, be in the spotlight, when things have all been taken away from you?

Somebody’s watching you, it may be your kids, or your neighbor. People know when you’re sidelined. Are you going to whine about it? Or are you going to do what it takes to stay sharp, to be ready at a moment’s notice, “Just like a minuteman” as the band Stavesacre said. (Click the link to Stavesacre video if you want to know what kind of positive rock I use to get fired up.) Here are the lyrics:

I have to be ready
Said the minuteman
One mind when I hear my name

Cause all of it matters
The war and the battles and
This life is a means to an end

To inspire a dream
That when realized you attack
What kind of loving is this?

(Chorus)
But I still believe, and baby I’ll fall or I’ll stand
But this time I finish, I finish
I want to be ready just like a minuteman
One mind when I hear my name

She offered her hand
She whispered “be a man”
But when I woke from sleep
There was only me
But I’ll be ready…
I’ll be ready…

All that I want to know
Is why would I want any more?

–“Minuteman” by Stavesacre, from the Speakeasy album

 

What is (and was) Plow Creek?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Plow Creek was just water flowing downhill. Land to the south, land to the north. One old farmhouse, hillsides covered with deciduous forests. Oak, maple, hickory, walnut, birch. The creek was too small for significant fish, no bass, rainbow trout or catfish, but minnows and occasionally crayfish were there. Shy animals. Skunks, possum, deer, coons, over-hunted, over-roadkilled. Cats and cows and pigs. Mice, both the field and the house versions. Songbirds in the morning. Cicadas at night. A whippoorwill in her nest.

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Somebody owned it. I don’t know who. They had farmed it, at least some of it, I guess. They got old and died. That’s what happens. Before them, somebody else farmed it, back to around 1834. Before them, Indians. Along with finding crawdads in the creek, you might find a knapped piece of flint: an arrowhead.

Then came the Jesus Freaks. People wearing a lot of brown and rust colored bell-bottom slacks and huge fashionable collars… but not because they were fancy dressers. Lots of thrift store finds. Plaids so bad they’d make a Scotsman blush. Unlike the hipsters of today, they were looking for ways to be cool after it was cool. It was the 1970s, and not entirely unlike M.L.K. Jr., these young people had a dream.  A dream of being the church of Jesus Christ in a different way. A counter-culture. What would really be cool, is if people really cared about each other instead of their clothes. Instead of their bank accounts or cars.

What would impress other people was not being out to impress anyone. Sharing what you had to the point of (nearly) doing away with ownership itself. Laying down your life for a friend, like Jesus said, and did. Instead of concerning yourself with ownership, you joined this weird group called Plow Creek Fellowship. And you sang: “Will you let me be your servant? … Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.”

The land owned the Indians, not the other way around. That’s how they thought about it.

The Jesus Freaks called Plow Creek a “Fellowship”. The land didn’t own the people, but the people lived in Fellowship. It meant more than “going to” church. It meant more than stewarding a chunk of topsoil together. It meant more than a shared meal. It meant more than games on the broad meadow. It meant so much more than any and all of that, so much more that nobody’s really been able to describe it. Some very good writers came along, living, writing, “fellowshipping”. Now, at the end, we very good writers write our blogs, but … the better you are at fellowshipping, the easier it is to be at a loss for words.

It’s telling that Creekers verbed the word fellowship. According, at least, to the WordPress spell-check function, “fellowship” isn’t a verb. I just learned this today. That’s how much this word, as a verb, was ingrained in my vocabulary. But as any Creeker knows, it wasn’t somethign you just joined. It was something one did, one lived, one became woven into.

The land owned the Indians.

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The Fellowship owned the Creekers. Or at least, the Creekers themselves didn’t own much. (If you’re an outsider, please understand: nobody was forcibly part of this thing. It was voluntary to the nth degree. This is more about that willing servant thing.)

Years came and years went, and for a variety of reasons, each as unique as the individual, people also came and went. Did some of them leave joyfully, and others wounded? Of course. Nobody stopped being human. But, when they left, they didn’t stop fellowshipping with each other, either. They met up with each other, in Iowa, or New Mexico, or Chicago, or Indiana or just anywhere. You couldn’t really un-weave yourself from the pattern. The Fellowship wove its own way into your life, and not just you into it. That’s why I say it’s not only something you did, but something you became. If you didn’t fellowship with the same people on the same land, you still felt hungry for it, sought it elsewhere.

You returned to the land. Sometimes. It owned you, too, not the way it owned the Indians, but… It was, in some ways, the most concrete representation of the Fellowship itself. Nobody had to be there for you to love walking the woods. You could be an extreme extrovert and spend hours with yourself and your memories and you’d still be fellowshipping down there at Plow Creek. Fellowshipping includes remembering. (Do this in remembrance of me.)

More years came and went. Many of the people had left the land. They continued to find each other. Technology blossomed, and with it, Facebook reminded people of their fellowshipping of long ago.

Fellowshipping became an acquired taste. Like people from France who know the flavor of the cheese in their home village, or of those truffles underground, maybe. You could leave this land and still be hungry for the fruit that grew up on it in those days.

How did you get there? Maybe you were young. Maybe you were lonely or hurting. Maybe you were just unsatisfied with what the American Dream had offered you, but once you found Plow Creek, you realized that your personal American Dream meant fellowshipping. 

People didn’t stop fellowshipping. 

But they did leave that land, and went to other places. Looking as they went for some sort of significance in life. Connection. Meaningful relationships. Other bits of land to care for. Other bits of humanity to love.

And then there was a remnant, elderly super-fellowshippers. People steeped in fellowship like tea, the creek flowing with this essence, no longer water. And, there was a church, too. People still joined the church, and fellowshipped with each other. But, they joined in a new way, and not in the same way, and the old way of life couldn’t be carried on. And the remnant, those steeped in the meadow like mint in the sun, they went down the river. Their lives complete at something around four-score years, more or less, they went to be with the old farmer whose name was forgotten, who used to live here, and the Indians, and with Jesus in Heaven. Perhaps some of those field mice are there, too. Where they are fellowshipping at this very moment without obstacles, without traps set for the mice. The true utopian society, they have up there. Remember what I said about how they didn’t leave and stop fellowshipping? That goes for those who left in a coffin, too.

One of the other writers said that Plow Creek is dying. No doubt this is how she feels.

Yes, Plow Creek’s legal entity is dissolving. Somebody else will use the land. Those who chose fellowship over ownership will  now have to go somewhere else, and that hurts.

It has been a luxury to be free to go back to the land, to the Creek. I was about 23 when I found my first arrowhead, that would have been 1997, 20 years ago. Our family had moved on, 10 years earlier, but I was back, I don’t remember why exactly, but probably just to fellowship for a few hours. The Indians had probably been gone for 163 years or more.img_4142

 

What will happen next? Who knows for sure? In another 163 years, a mere eight generations, yes, let’s say it’s the year 2180: someone will drop by in their flying car or spaceship, and they will find something one of us left. Perhaps the head of a broken hoe in the strawberry fields. The empty shotgun shell of the last Creeker-approved venison kill. Or, someone will come along and buy some of that acreage, or all of it, or the whole flippin’ county around it, and they’ll invite some friends to live with them and try to be unified and harmonious and be each other’s servant and have the grace to let you be my servant, and fail at it all, and try again and pray together. We can hope, anyway. We can hope that, because, although Plow Creek as we knew it, as we know it is dying…

Fellowshipping is not.

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The picture above wasn’t taken at Plow Creek. This is me fellowshipping with my wife Megan, in Thailand last February. We’re keeping the dream alive. No matter where we go.

 

How little things can get big results

I recently fielded a call from an international client; my wife and I do marriage coaching for the couple together.* They are on a retainer that’s paid annually. It’s a rather large chunk of money out of their pocket at one shot. This month, when the invoice for the next year arrived, the husband and wife had a discussion about it. What’s the value of paying a big chunk of money to talk with old friends? Of course we keep the discussions focused on them; my wife and I are not burdening them with concerns about the problems in our lives. Like any good coaching conversation we stay focused on what they need to do to maximize their growth and impact in the culture where they serve. It’s much more about them than it is about us. It’s slightly unusual in the sense that they are a little more likely to ask us what’s going on in our lives, but even then we try to keep our sharing abbreviated so we can make sure to focus on them.

So my friend called me. He wanted to acknowledge that it was a lot of money, but then began to highlight a variety of reasons why they were continuing a professional relationship with us, their old friends. 1) The fee holds them accountable to show up. 2) They could have a similar conversation with other old friends, but would they? It would be easy to schedule a call with some other friends, but it would also be easy for one of them to postpone (I almost never postpone a scheduled call. It would have to be an emergency. I show up and do my job!) Once a conversation gets postponed for a month, it’s easy to go three and then six months without talking. 3) We’ve known them a long time and I’ve been to visit them, so I’m one of a very few people who has been alongside them for a week in their cultural context, meeting many of the people who are key players in their life. 4) We worked together a few months back on an issue that was causing a variety of problems in their family life.   A certain level of detail is necessary here. The couple is a missionary couple, but they aren’t exclusively attending one congregation for worship every Sunday; they work with leaders from several churches so they move around. Essentially the issue had to do with when they decided which church they would attend: would they decide on Sunday morning where they were going, or earlier, like Friday evening? Deciding at the last minute was causing some friction in their own family. They came up with a solution and decided they’d work at making this weekly decision two days ahead.

Helping people do little things so that their family life runs smoother has broader implications. In this case, after recapping all the reasons they were going to continue working with me for another year, my friend said, “Remember Joe*?” (*name changed)

“Sure, he was the young guy who … ” I recalled what I knew of Joe.

“Yeah, well, Joe has a lot of leadership potential, but we realized he hasn’t been going to church anywhere. Once we disciplined ourselves to make plans on Friday instead of Sunday morning, I began to call Joe and invite him to come with us. He finally responded with ‘Yes!’ and I got to take him with me for the first time in almost a year!”

So a little thing that seemed like it was an internal, family issue, ended up being a major piece of encouraging a young leader … helping them do their job, putting together a piece that helps them fulfill their stated mission.

Stories like that gets me excited about doing what I do.

*The information in this post is shared with permission from the client. Normally my client conversations are confidential; I don’t share anything, even success stories, without permission.

 

 

 

Book Review: Fire in the Dawn

fire in the dawn cover

Justin Fike contacted me in the summer of 2009. It had been a little while since he’d graduated from Brown University and he was trying to decide whether or not to commit to being a writer. He had a book in process, but the vision was huge. It might end up being a trilogy, he thought, and it seemed like a lot of work. Could he really make it as a writer?

I did five coaching sessions with Justin (he’s given me permission to share that publicly) and he did decide to push on. Some time later, he asked me if I’d write a letter of recommendation for the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Oxford University. I felt a little under-qualified, but I did it. Justin got in, graduated… time went on… he still hadn’t finished that book.

Justin and I have been in touch ever since. In 2016, we met again at a conference in Thailand, and decided to write a series of action-adventure/comedy books called the Stetson Jeff Adventures. Our main character is a cross between any Chuck Norris character (he really only plays one guy, right?) and Forrest Gump, three books have been published and several more are drafted as I write this.

But that story he was working on in 2009 still wasn’t done, until this weekend Justin finally published Fire in the Dawn, the first book in his Twin Skies Trilogy.

I give you all this background just to say that sometimes people with huge ideas and lots of talent can take a LONG time to get that book out. This in itself commands my respect.

I have learned a lot from Justin about story beats: the aspect of writing that involves keeping the reader engaged, tools and techniques to make you want to turn the page. Justin is whiz-bang at this, and I have a feeling that by the time we’re done with 9 Stetson Jeff books and he finishes the rest of his Trilogy, he’s going to be at a level we’d have to call masterful. So here is my review:

Fire in the Dawn is set in a fantasy world similar to Medieval Japan. Justin taps into a deep knowledge and understanding of cultures to construct a world that feels real, with a political landscape that has treachery on every side. There are social and racial themes throughout that keeps you guessing about how his main character will be able to accomplish his goals, and intriguing alliances. Like any good fantasy story, there’s a bit of magic thrown in that refers to the power of qi but some deeper magic too.

All told, if you’re a reader of lots of fantasy lit, you’re going to love what Fike has done with the genre. He’s gotten away from the trolls, orcs, dragons and wizards, and done something exceptional, fresh, and exciting.  And if you’re not into the fantasy genre, that’s okay– Fire in the Dawn has a literary quality that’s appealing to a broader-than-fantasy-readers audience in a way that’s similar to how I experienced George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Justin’s work isn’t as gory and doesn’t have the perverse sexual violence of Martin’s Game of Thrones, nor does it have the same immense complexity of a cast of characters of hundreds you have to track, so it’s definitely lighter reading in several ways. The comparison is being made strictly based on the fact that it’s literary. Fike’s world has plenty of depth and texture to explore, and a certain amount of intrigue. He keeps the action moving, so you never bog down with lengthy explanations of the world. The first few chapters you may find yourself wondering what is going on, and where you are, so it will be helpful to refer to the map!  I’m eager to read the second book in the trilogy.

Also, check out that sweet cover art. Top notch professional work!

Justin’s promoting Fire in the Dawn on Amazon for free at the moment, but the promotion ends today, so get it now!

Also, if you’d like to check out the work that Justin and I have done together, here’s the link to The Stetson Jeff Adventures, Volume 1, which includes “Beatdown in Bangkok”, “Mayhem in Marrakesh”, and “Pandemonium in Paradise” plus a bonus short story, “A Very Stetson Christmas”, available in paperback and as an e-book.

New Release: Positive Cultural Impact

You’re leading a team: could be you and one child, or you and a sales team, or you and a massive corporation or nonprofit institution. In any case, you have a culture you want to build, values to instill. But how?

For the last few months I’ve been blogging less as I was working to refine a concept into a concise e-book which details my formula for making a positive cultural impact in the form of a cycle which I very creatively decided to call the Cultural Impact Cycle.

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Last Friday I published this e-book, reasonably priced at $2.99 USD. Here’s the link: How to Make a Positive Cultural Impact.

In a recent discussion with a random stranger, I told the stranger I am a life coach.

“What do you teach people?” he asked.

“Coaches don’t teach… but I’m also a writer,” I said, and proceeded to give him the elevator version of the cycle and the book.

“So, it’s the simple things,” he said.

Yes… it’s simple. The concepts here aren’t complicated. It’s implementation that may be difficult… perhaps even challenging enough you’ll want to work on them with a coach.

There’s more to come. Soon I’ll have a video course available for purchase that includes a workbook and an online forum. In the meantime, you can check out the book itself, it’s a short read at 8,300 words.

Enjoy!

–Adam G. Fleming

Positive Cultural Impact (A Formula)

The following is an excerpt from a longer e-book I’m working on which should be published by the end of May, 2017:

If you are a leader who wants to make a positive cultural impact, you’ll need to manage your energy and focus your consumption so that you can leverage time differently. With the time you free up, you need to exercise your empathetic and creative muscles so that when the time comes to re-articulate values to your team or community, you’ll be able to do so with excellence. This is the formula for positive cultural impact.

For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to focus on why you need both empathy and creativity working in tandem, like iron and carbon coming together to form steel. The coming e-book will give people handles on how to do it.

Empathy without creativity results in a message that gets you less attention and lower retention. Think of this as sermonizing without excellence in storytelling. For example, a recent blog by Michele Perry in praise of the film “The Shack” notes that “…many Christian films miss the point of being films and are actually thinly veiled sermons that dismantle whatever creative effectiveness their story line might have had.” In context of my theme, Michele has pointed out that whatever empathy Christian filmmakers (previous to The Shack) may have had, (I have no doubt that their hearts ache for humans to find our Way,) has been compromised by poor storytelling, favoring empathy above creativity rather than melding the two. I have not yet gone to watch The Shack, perhaps because I’ve become wary of films branded as “Christian” for exactly the reason she pointed out. In fact, most of those films fail to get my attention. I won’t go see them. Fortunately for The Shack, reviews like Michele’s are going to buoy it along, and I’m now interested in seeing it.

Now let’s consider the flip side. What if your attempt to impact culture is heavily weighted toward creativity but has little sense of empathy? It’s no surprise to anyone that artists are interested in influencing culture; their motives may be rooted in empathy or something more self-serving, for example, fame or self-glorification. In the Modern Art movement, artists began speaking to an ever-narrowing, increasingly esoteric group of elites. Most of my friends scorned artists like Thomas Kinkade throughout our twenties, but as I’ve thought further about his work, I realize that his idea was to communicate to a much broader audience who wanted to look at something pleasant, welcoming, relaxing and inviting, images of cottages where they could imagine themselves at peace. And Kinkade cared about people who wanted that. Those same people never felt that Modern and Postmodern artists cared one whit about whether or not they “got it.” Kinkade’s commercial success was looked down upon by the elite postmodern highbrow gallery artists, but out of a certain empathy he spoke to a broader audience, using a great deal of creativity in the process, and earned both attention and a certain level of retention, too. Here’s a blog that’s a couple years old, but was published three years after his death at age 54, noting that his signed and numbered lithographs are likely to continue increasing in value. Long term, that remains to be seen, and monetary value is only one way of measuring retention. Another way to look at it is that if the monetary value is going up, that means people are keeping their lithographs — which means they’re either speculating, or they genuinely continue to appreciate his message and the values his work spoke about. Some might put his work in the same camp as those cheesy Christian movies which do a poor job of storytelling, but the truth is that Kinkade was a masterful painter whose technique may have been formulaic, but whose storytelling moved a generation of people to buy his paintings when other painters struggled to get any attention. (And when it comes to formulaic storytelling, Hollywood is all about that, so formulas are not a problem. Experimenters can search for new formulas, but there’s nothing wrong with using a recipe whether you’re baking chocolate-chip cookies or telling a story.)

I know, that’s a lot about art, and may mislead you to think that you will have to make a movie like The Shack or paint like Kinkade to make a positive cultural impact in your family, on your team at work, in your nonprofit organization. Not so. Use what you have, both exercising and building the muscles you have for empathy, and also those for creativity, so that your message will be driven by caring for others and delivered in a way they can appreciate, enjoy and remember for a long time.

Going back to the iron and carbon makes steel analogy, a good steel is both stronger and more flexible than either of its two main parts. The fusion of empathy and creativity will give your leadership both strength and flexibility, too.

Soon I’ll be releasing a how to course online, complete with a longer e-book, videos, a workbook, and a place for community.

Note — if you’re in the Goshen, Indiana area and would like to sit in on the live audience  video taping of the course instruction, that will be happening at Art House on April 18 at 7 PM, and is free for the public to attend.

Second note — if you’d like to get a copy of this e-book when it’s done, please email me at adam.fleming.lifecoach@gmail.com, reference this blog post, and I’ll put you on the email list for a FREE copy!

 

Perspectives from Cairo

There wasn’t much mental space for poetry or writing much of anything while I was in Egypt. I also had technical challenges to dumping pics from my camera to the blog.

It was a whirlwind of making connections, tourism, eating amazing food, meeting new people, and so on. My hosts (people I met in Thailand last February) even commented on the last day that they thought I had made the most of my time. All my meetings went as planned, and I was even invited to lead a five hour training for two groups.

The opportunities in Cairo are daunting, like looking at a pyramid and thinking about climbing it. (These days you are not allowed to climb the pyramids at Giza).  But they’re also exhilarating and the doors are wide open for doing some things there that would be very new for Egyptians. The opportunities are huge, but whether or not I can handle it is simply a matter of perspective. Pick up a pyramid and stick it in your pocket.

There’s a lot I can’t discuss publicly regarding my trip, but here are a few pictures from my time in Egypt that give you a bit of flavor.

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above: meeting for dinner and finishing up with some sweet mint tea on the Nile with a new friend. You can see some river cruise boats in the background.

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training group: I spent one day working with this org. and several of their non-Egyptian friends (none are pictured) and we all had a blast (and also some really deep moments).

I’ll post a bunch more photos on the next blog.

 

 

Cairo Update

I have ten minutes before I head out the door to lead a training from 10-3:30. I have virtually no idea what I’m going to do, besides the obvious: wing it.

Of course I have notes, but to get a good flow you have to be the riverbed. You have to find a way to become lower so others can move like a river to the ocean. That’s not a new metaphor for me in my work, but I certainly get to explore it at a new level today.

This will be my first attempt to teach coaching methodology entirely through an interpreter. I have no idea what the education level of my trainees is, how much of my English they will understand before it gets translated.

It will be important for me to establish for them why coaching is a Biblical model for leadership development. It’s not listed in Scriptures, only hinted at. But they are a group of Christians, so putting it in a context where they can embrace it is very important. Once I’ve done that I’m going to go with my gut about what to teach next, picking exercises out of the old hat that is my memory. The thrill of spur of the moment decisions.

As soon as I’m done I head off to Alexandria for two days. Now that I’ve seen the Nile, I’m excited to follow  the river down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War… oops, slipped into Paul Simon there for a minute.

Alexandria sounds cool to me. The place where the world’s largest library once existed, a sort of World Wide Web in one place, a place where learning has been cherished. I’m excited to see what I will learn there.

It looks like I will do another one of these trainings on the 9th, again from 10-3 or so. It’s fun to be invited for stuff like that after meeting people once.

The meetings I had yesterday were amazing, but I’ll have to save that update for another time.

Sorry no pics, I’m posting them to Facebook and Instagram but I don’t have a good way to move them to my tablet.

Exchange Value like a Dollar Does

Arrived in Egypt. My hosts told me not to change money at home or the airport. A quick Google search reveals the Egyptian Pound exchanging officially at 8.8 to the dollar. In reality, if you know the right people you can trade USD for 12:1. This stretches my dollars enough that the first street food I bought, a bbq chicken schwarma with yogurt to dip, cost 25 pounds or just a fuzz over $2. At 8.8, the same schwarma is a lot closer to $3. That difference over an eight-day stay is going to be huge, yoooge, in my favor.

For all of Americans’ own concern over their own political process right now, a concern the rest of the world no doubt shares, that dollar is still viewed as a stabilizer, so much so that people who are creating value here in Egypt (and therefore have a profitable enterprise of some sort) are willing to pay a premium to get these dollars and stash them.

It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with Americans who get into buying silver as an investment; they too are hoping to have something stable in reserve if the other collapses.

There are a couple principles we can draw from this. One of them is that there’s always going to be something people perceive as “more stable” than what they have. But there’s an even more important principle driving the whole thing: you’ve got to be able to produce something valuable, and as long as you are able to do that, you can be profitable.

Looking to any sort of currency for long term stability is spiritually risky. I’m not saying that a savings plan is wrong. The danger zone seems to be in the area where we rely on what we’ve saved more than on what we can make, and on what we can make more than on faith.

When you’re afraid, somebody is going to benefit from that to your detriment, just the way I’m now benefiting from a 12:1 ratio.

In our work, we need to focus on creating value in the moment. Even if the dollar collapses, our ability to create value will live on. In our rest, however, we have to focus on faith. If we focus in our rest on what we’ve saved aside, hoping in our stockpile… we won’t really be resting. You can’t rest in the future, only in the present.

(artwork: weaving done with Egyptian materials by Anneke Price, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Review: S.S.B.’s “Wild Edges”

I’m about to take some road trips; I have some speeches to give and seminars to lead. Shiny Shiny Black’s new album, Wild Edges, is going with me. (If only they could come play live at my speaking gigs.)

One of the best things about taking a road trip is finger food. Crackers are a good place to start: I always liked Ritz crackers or Wheat Thins. My problem is that I just keep eating them until I’ve eaten a whole sleeve, or a whole box. They’re just kind of there in your lap and you keep on munching. That’s the snare drum on this album, it just keeps popping into your mouth and you can’t get enough. You’re going to eat the whole box, and you know it when you turn the key in the ignition, before you back out of the garage. You can’t help yourself.

Shiny Shiny Black’s entire sound for not only this album, but the previous one (Travelers) as well, majors on this guitar that I want to call twangy though it’s nowhere near country-western. Among the tags SSB uses on their own website (how they define their own sound) are labels like Rockabilly and Americana. The guitar sounds very rockabilly indeed, but I think of that genre as being a bit faster-paced. Now, when this guitar comes in on track one (Gone) it’s like putting a thick slice of garlic venison summer sausage on your snare drum-Ritz cracker. I mean, they just go together, and you can just keep eating that until you’ve eaten all the salami, too. That might sound like something you’d get tired of, but it’s only five songs (plus a bonus track) so it doesn’t get old before it’s over.

Other than the snappy drum and clean reverberating guitar, there’s not a ton of instrumentation on the album; at least not in any sort of prominent way. There’s a bit of Hammond organ, which I really like, maybe a touch of banjo. But my favorite part of the mix is Amber’s voice (blended other female voices, Nate tells me) backing vocals. They’re mixed in perfectly: the harmony is tight, her voice is as smooth as ever, and the volume level is perfect too. Your ear’s going to enjoy that vocal and the organ here and there like a Starbuck’s Frappucchino: when you’re listening to an album that feels like it’s precisely designed for a road trip in the car, you need something that eats up time, but keeps you awake, too. That’s what the touch of organ and the backup vocals do for this album: they are the caffeine. They make you listen closely, just the way caffeine helps you watch the road.

In  simple yet poetic language, the lyrics give you the dynamic tension between wanting to always be away and a hunger for home. This is the perfect album for a “third-culture kid”. It’s said that children whose parents are from one culture, and who are raised in a different culture, are most at home in airports. They have a sort of perpetual wanderlust. Lyrically this album should appeal to everyone who has been raised in different cultures than they inhabit, left home, made peace with those cultures, and somehow found their way back home. Or, at least, people who have made a nest inside of different cultures that fits them, like one of those Russian nesting dolls. The track “Hallelujah” speaks of finding something good out of a wacky culture.  Overall, the first five tracks take you away from home and bring you full circle back. The bonus, a nod to making music while raising children, teaching them to shoot for the stars, gives us a reminder that no matter how road weary, how much we’ve found our home, there’s always something new to wonder about.

There’s one change I think I would have preferred: I would have used that soft Hammond organ on track six instead of the guitar. They could get a sound that’s a little less percussive than the arpeggio plucking of guitar strings, and capitalize on the fact that the organ was there in the first place. It would have been cohesive and a bit softer.

Nate Butler has been around a bunch of different musical styles. I wouldn’t say he’s played everything, (I don’t remember seeing him in a tux playing William Tell’s Overture on the timpani, though I’m sure he could do it) but for those who remember his Frequency Theater days, and who may have missed SSB’s first album, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. The Butlers haven’t. In fact, Nate, especially, has taken a lot of back roads to get on this Interstate, or Intergalactic highway, steered his semi straight, and he’s going to get that million miles behind him. What I’m saying is, he’s found his truck, or his route, or his Millenium Falcon, and they’re in hyper-drive. They are cruising. SSB says this is their best effort yet. I’m not sure it’s better than Travelers, but that was a really great album, more songs, which equates naturally to perhaps more depth and variety. Lyrically, Wild Edges has every bit as much depth as you can cram into an EP. I’m also a fan of simple, non-esoteric lyrics, and they’ve nailed that.  This sophomore album is so consistent with the debut, it’s clear they’ve not only found the niche (Americana) but developed a trucking brand. Shiny, Shiny Black, y’all: not a product of luck; rather, a product of sweat, high polish, spit-shine, time, and drive.

Why you should buy this album: If you are a blue-blooded American, there’s a good chance you take a road trip now and then. You need this album for your next road trip. “The best place I’ve ever been is on the road.” If you don’t have “Travelers” you should pick that up for your road trip, too.

Here’s where you can preorder the album, a whole variety of stuff, including tickets to the album release show, signed drumsticks and other whatnots. Available through September 23. This is not a Kickstarter– the album is happening no matter what, so they’re using a different service, but similar.

Here is the band’s website.

Album release party info for people in the Goshen, IN, area (or willing to drive or fly in, I’m sure you’re welcome!) is available at this facebook link.

I was not compensated by SSB to write this review, although I was of course given a pre-release copy of the CD.

 

 

 

Review: Future Past Present EP

As an entrepreneur it’s easy to get lost in my own world. I’m engaging my business with a great deal of focus. When I do get a break, it’s often the world of literature where I find a breath of artistic fresh air. So being asked to review music by my good friends Jason Ropp and Jonathan Reuel was a jolt into a different world, because the opening riff grabs you and makes you sit up straight.

The first piece is not just two guitars. It is a composition for guitar, that’s what brings me into a different world. It’s a sad sort of feel, reminds me of Hawaiian slack-key playing, and a bass line surges up at you like a wave swelling up on the beach, then smoothing out, washing you up to your ankles, or your chin. No matter how deep you are, you’re at least a little bit wet. Then Ropp jumps in with some vocals. Those guitars carrying you back up the beach, Ropp’s voice just confirms which way is up and which way is down as you body-surf through the first track. If I’m drowning in this first track, called Graveyard, it might be a good way to go.

For Some Dreams, Reuel starts with a little growl, “Arright” like a bear waking up from hibernation. When was the last time he put together a record of any length, with anyone? Seems like he must be hungry. The guitar is plugged in, but it’s a sound clean enough to eat off. There’s something about this track that makes me think it’s what you’d see if you saw Paul Simon’s song Graceland in a mirror, or in a reverse negative photograph. There’s no frenetic pace, there’s no drums. There’s no attempt to go find a place where you’ll be accepted. Instead, there’s a sense of being stationary and accepting yourself and what’s come your way. Reuel asks us to embrace our dreams and climb right where we are. I would have liked this song with a fuller band, it’s very stripped down, but within the scope of this recording it fits, and allows you to engage the poetry, which is the point.

Ropp’s approach to the vocals in Carry On have a little Springsteen in them. Perhaps the train has begun to move again, and one of these two vagabonds grabbed a harmonica to mark their motion.  We carry on even if we don’t want to go anywhere. If the train is moving, it’s going about as fast as you could walk alongside.

Finally, we get Reuel singing Green while Ropp plays the piano, and we get this anthem that gives us a feel a bit of the Beatles’ Paul McCartney, crossed with what you’d hear if you went to a Mennonite church specifically to listen to what the church bulletin would call “special music.” That may sound like an insult, but really, if McCartney or someone remotely as talented came to play that interlude, the Mennonites would appreciate it many times more than they would appreciate anything Warhol did. “Special Music” is a showcase piece that allows a single, talented Mennonite musician to do a performance piece you’re not supposed to sing along with. That’s a big deal. It takes a lot to keep the Mennonites from singing along. The entire EP feels like maybe you shouldn’t sing along, but rather use the space to contemplate motion and lack of motion, growth and decay, the green of leaves and the red of blood, in a way that doesn’t leave you wanting to run away, but to simply hold your ground and climb up the tree or the wall or surf the wave that came your way.

A cohesive analogous story this EP might tell:

The Mennonite goes to Hawaii, perhaps to do a DTS, or to Saipan to work with MDS (if you know what that means, you’re from his world, if not the explanation would be anticlimactic) then returns home to sit and look out his window. They may be about to bury his grandfather, or his grandmother. It will be hard. He should stay home to help out. Helping out is important. It’s more than helping. Helping OUT means staying in your place. It’s a noble thing. Godly. He realizes that this place is really what he dreamed of after all; it will be more challenging after all to stay at home and live out his calling. A dream of simplicity, like a dream of borcht. He might go away, he thinks about it, and after thinking he might even board a train, sit in a boxcar and think about leaving, even roll with it for a few yards, listen to that lonesome whistle and all, and finally decide that the best place to be is at home, with his people, in a country church where they’ve allowed the piano (and this sound is genuine, the sound of that piano in an austere room)… but perhaps he’s had to leave his guitar in the boxcar. Well, that’s all right. Home is home. It’s the best place to share your gift. He stands up and sings three hymns and then goes forward while they pass the plates, humbly shares his gift, standing by the pianist, not really facing the congregation, singing to the window, and they have that funeral, and they sit down to eat together and celebrate life.

Of course these are only the feelings the album conjures in me. This has nothing to do with the lyrics. Not directly.

Why should you buy this album? It’s time to experience the world of Special Music without going to a Mennonite church and listening to the sermon. You might find it better than church. You will find yourself thinking “I wish I could just sit and think about this without being interrupted by the sermon or whatever comes next” but of course someone will come along and share their opinion with you soon enough.

 

Buy it here.

***I was not paid to write this review.

Need To Know Basis

We’re all on a need-to-know basis all the time. Life is so crowded now that information accessibility has reached an all-time high, that we’re self-selecting in this regard.

Information used to be carefully guarded. There are still things that governments hide, places where you can’t just walk in and find out anything you might want to know.

Conversations I’ve had the last two days have alerted me to the fact that we really need to choose what information we put out about ourselves: what we’re thinking, what we’re planning, what good word we’re trying to spread.

The key to selling what you really want to sell is not putting out more information than necessary to allow a buyer to make a decision. Everything else muddies the water. Other information becomes on a need-to-know basis to keep buyers from being overwhelmed.

This blog, for example, is a catch-all for my writing. If you’re really concerned about what I believe and think, I may not submit to a twenty-page theological and philosophical interview to work with your organization, but everything I put out there is just that: out there. Draw your inferences.

It has been said that you should not throw your pearls before swine. One way to look at that is to only share the information that’s relevant to getting the job done. If a plumber comes to your house and says “I can fix this pipe” you say “great, do it,” but if they then begin to tell you how you might also want to consider replacing your windows, and they can do that too, you’re liable to become overwhelmed. “Which one should I fix first?”

If I tell a prospect I can do motivational speaking (this is an example of a mistake I’ve been making!) but also life coaching, they may wonder which I do better. And if I’m an expert at one and not the other, why mention it? They’re much more likely to hire a motivational speaker who only does motivational speaking, or a coach who only coaches. The reality is that most coaches will do some speaking, and many speakers will interact with you personally, but it’s rare that someone is equally skilled at both. Give the information that’s needed. Not more.

 

Start Writing, don’t stop rolling.

You want to be a writer but… what are the five things a writer does?

Then,

Intimidated by the great ones,

Scared of vulnerability.

You must start to write!

The great ones started writing one day, and refused to stop.

They found their way to vulnerability perhaps by writing about stuff that mattered.

Seth Godin always talks about working on things that matter.

You know why I hardly ever write stuff specific to my industry? You would think that matters, but I rarely write about it.

(If I did, the titles would look something like “Five Ways a Life Coach Can Help Blah, Blah.”)

Actually, I do write about stuff that pertains to the industry:

I write about stuff that happens while I live my life, to the full extent of my ability to embrace the epic nature of each day I see before me, sitting on a counter top like a knife, ready for me to dissect and slice, not for the science of it, but to cook, to eat a satisfying meal. To be filled with the goodness of life.

A coach embodies and models living the life you’re made to live, so instead of writing “Five Reasons a Coach Writes Poetry Blah, Blah,” I just do it.

Want to be a writer? Write, and keep writing.

Want to be alive? Start living, stop explaining the five things alive people do. The five things they do don’t matter if you don’t do them.

That’s why my coaching blog is full of poems: I’m full of living. It’s awesome.

Join me. Start living.

 

Learning to say I have enough

About a month ago an old acquaintance sat down with me and asked what I was doing.

Coaching full time, I said.

How many clients do you have?

Not enough, I replied, feeling like Eeyore again.

Five minutes later, I turned to him and apologized. I’m sorry, that’s a really negative way to look at it. God is providing what I need, when I need it.

I have enough. And I always want more!

Now, “I want more” still sounds like I’m discontented, but that’s not the attitude the statement carries in my mind.

“I want more” not because I’m greedy for the money that a fuller coaching load would bring. It’s because I have time to spare, and there are lots of people to care for. out there I want more, because I have so much more to give.

The Tao Teh Ching says “He who knows when he has enough is rich.”

Most of the people who can read this blog are rich. You have enough.

This change in attitude has been really helpful for my sense of internal peace. Coincidentally (?) within two or three weeks of that penitent moment, I landed several new clients.

Pickets

Marcella uses the hand shears rather than a power weed-eater

so the white pickets won’t stain green.

At dawn she is up watering the roses, red and white ones

in front of pink shutters.

Now, the sun rises in the late July sky

to wick the water from the soil,

drawing it up with an invisible straw.

You can only be so meticulous, then, once in a while you have to act and pull a weed, even if it uproots something nearby.

Her muscles tense, she bends, digs, tugs. She is strong today. The roots come clean.

She looks at the sun. “Scorcher,” she mutters, and drags out the hose for another round.

 

Then

 

Marcella gets on the bus and goes downtown

and stands and links arms with her neighbors:

African-Americans or girls dressed in rainbows.

She passes out bottles of water, reminds them to hydrate,

there is a chance of bloodshed so she is ready with a medical kit

in a fanny-pack, to keep the blood from staining

the streets. And even

when the sun goes down she stands erect, waves her carefully-lettered picket sign,

feels the burn on her shoulders, revels in the blisters on her heels

waits to go limp in the arms of an officer and (hopefully) a gentleman,

who will take her down to the station and book her. Meanwhile,

Marcella worries only about

the roses at home, red and white and

the people on the street, black, and blue, and LGBTQ.

She is strong today, but– did they get to the root?

Have they gotten enough water? Are they thirsty still for justice?

 

When your last one wasn’t good

“That last one I did wasn’t very good” is an easy thing to think. We can dwell on it, especially when critics rub our faces in it.

The antidote is to start working on the next one.

It’s not to go back and try to redo.

It’s not to listen to the critics.

The only way to really get away from the past dragging us down is forward motion.

If your last poem or blog or piece of furniture or customer service call or seminar or class wasn’t the best, do another one.

Horse riders have known for a long time that if you’ve fallen off, the best thing you can do is to get back on right away. It’s conventional wisdom, right?

What if doing it again isn’t possible (you’ve fallen off a horse and broken three bones, or you messed up again and got fired)? Are you doomed to sit and wish you could have another shot for the rest of your life? No! Now’s the time to try something different and new!

By the way, if you try something different and new, you can expect your first one to not be good… but then you can cycle back to the top of this blog and repeat the process.

PS- I love to share the photo(shopped image) above because my son is learning to use Photoshop, and I’m encouraging him to keep trying and playing with it! He’s particular and detail oriented. I’m sure someday he’s going to be a heck of an editor.

Mercury Rising: Metz Wedding Poem

Knap an arrowhead from a piece of flint

sharp on each side leading up to the point

Wonderful but useless until the projectile is launched

properly: shot so that it goes twisting

through the air.

Distance is determined not by the clean-cutting edge at the front

but by the purity of the axial rotation all along its trajectory.

The razor edges jigging around each other in a tight spiral

the body, like a javelin, purchasing lift from the air itself.

A winged foot lent by Hermes takes you across borders you never thought to cross before.

You fly, you travel far. You hunt love and trade in love. You make ordinary love look shabby, and even mythical lovers sit and write songs about your love.

Trust the mythical lovers who watch in awe to write the songs.

We will do it. We will sing them back to you to Godspeed you ever higher.

What prey can you pray for,

of any value, I mean,

that can be hit at such a short distance that your rotation

is of no consequence?

None. Everything valuable is deep, underground, distant, far, high, lofty, up in the storm-clouds, awash in lightning, shrouded in thunder, in short: anything but near at hand.

So the dance is everything.

Therefore, yes, you are sharp, but if you had not launched with your feathers

skyward, spinning, thrice propelled, by string and song and wedding feast! If you had not, old poets would come along and say “Alas.”

Well, then. Here they are, those old poets. We know that if you had not,

This voyage would have been but a crooked flight, a glancing strike, a blunt trauma.

But you did begin as you should: with the flourish of Robin Hood. cloaked and pranking evil, the eye of a kestrel darting, instinct of a barn swallow dive-bombing, an essential arc, a primal aerodynamic path, a minimized drag, a fletching set at an angle to your longitudinal axis, we digress, we have all become rather excited researching the flight of arrows and we geeked out on it at 3 AM, because we now see, and by “we” I mean that the ancient poets and muses all have agreed with me, that because you began this way:

You will soar,

I say, we all say, you will soar high

and you will pierce even darkness, which, as we know, has not understood any of this.

May the flint strike and drive through even steel

sparking a fire,

so that you find your hearts kindled even far off in the distance, across many seas.

The future awaits. Stay sharp and dance together.

Hone yourselves, but above all, dance together.

For God’s sake, smile while you dance, you fools,

whirl about one another and be in love.

 

Why we need vacations

Why do we need vacations? Because we need different perspectives. It’s not because we need rest, although that’s certainly an element of vacationing.

when we pack up and leave home, we give ourselves a chance to experience the world from a different angle, like a sculptor looking at a model from all sides. To get a good handle on how we really want to live we need to see our homes from a fresh vantage point.

It’s often said that the best part of vacation is coming home. That’s true, and that’s because the purpose of a good vacation is to come  with a fresh perspective.

This summer I’m only getting away for three days. It seems like I’m getting lots of opportunities to debrief my clients after their vacations or even sabbaticals. That’s been fun, but I’m looking forward to getting away, if only because I want the joy of looking forward to getting home again.

Making it Hard to Shoot People

The officer approaches my car.

I place my hands on the wheel. Don’t want to make a false move.

“Sir, were you aware of the art you just drove past?”

“Was there art? Sorry, I missed it, I was in too much of a hurry, I guess.”

“Well, sir, it’s not just a local ordinance, it’s a state law to come to a complete stop at the art.”

“Right, right.” What was it? A freaking miniature? An Orthodox icon? A Van Gogh reproduction painted on the head of a pin by some insomniac convict? Jeez. They should make it bigger. All the art should be so big you can’t miss it. Right?

“Well, I’d give you a citation but since I’m holding this book of poems, and my partner back there in the squad car is busy painting a watercolor, I’m going to go easy on you and give you a recitation instead.”

She reads me Maya Angelou. I am late for an appointment. Goddam. How long will this poem take? Maybe it would be faster if I just had the citation without the “re”.

“Sir, what’s the theme in that poem?”

Seriously? I wasn’t really paying attention. “Um, Black Lives Matter?”

The officer smiles, a bit condescendingly, I think. She thinks about my answer for a minute. A long minute. Finally: “More or less. That will do. Sir, please, slow down and pay attention to the art. It’s a grave matter of public health and safety. Next time, we’ll have to have you come in on weekends to paint the county courthouse pink with green polka dots.”

That doesn’t sound like it would even match! Maybe we should elect a new Art Commissioner. Crap. I’m too busy to vote. Never mind. Just get me out of here.

Chagrined, I arrive at my meeting twenty minutes late. Apologize.

“I blew past the art and got pulled over. I had to listen to poetry.”

Everyone shakes their head. They’ve done it too.

Pursuing Lifelong Goals

Publish ten books. That’s one of my lifelong goals.

I’m at 23.33%. (I count the recent release of Beatdown in Bangkok as one-third of a book  based on the fact that after we have three Stetson Jeff Adventures on Kindle we’ll make a paperback version, Volume One.)

I’m 42 years old. I was 38 when I published my first book. Will it take until I’m 54 to finish the task? Perhaps; there are plenty of ways my progress could derail, unforeseeable major life stressors like a death in the family. But I’m working on a lot of stuff. Right now, I have a book of poems that’s perhaps 40% complete. And a long literary novel at 115,000 words. And the rough draft for Stetson Jeff adventure #2 in the can. I have MOMENTUM! 

I have to yell it or I forget. I was probably around 34 when I began book one. The first twenty percent of a goal is the hardest part! It took me seven years to finish that first twenty percent. But after that, you find a groove.There’s a good possibility I’ll get to sixty percent in another two years.

Numbers aren’t always a writer’s best friend, but do the numbers: if you begin working and you stick with it, attainable lifelong goals can and do happen!

How to Tell Compelling Stories

Telling a compelling story isn’t easy, but it’s how everything gets sold. Do you need to get more donations for your nonprofit? Do you want to up-sell customers some accessory for your basic product? Do you want to entertain with a book or movie script? Children’s books that don’t do beats well but rely on children liking the pictures or something else drive parents crazy. There’s books I just don’t want to read my kids.

In my first novel I may have done things with beats instinctively, but I was fumbling around as a storyteller, learning how to write a novel by just writing a novel. I think this is a great way to write your first novel: don’t worry about what you don’t know, just write. I see writers all around me spending  way too much time studying beats and structure and so on, and not learning how to tell a story by telling a story. That was great, but not enough. My first book is pretty good, and if you like literary fiction you’ll enjoy it. There are some real positive reviews. But it’s not the best I can do.

As I began to think about a proposal I submitted to our county’s Community Foundation to teach storytelling to nonprofits for their fundraising, and at the same time began working with Justin Fike to co-write a comedy adventure series of short novels (check out Beatdown in Bangkok: A Stetson Jeff Adventure on Amazon this July 4th) it became clear that I’d need to understand story beats a lot better, moving from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent.

Working with Justin, who has a Master’s from Oxford U in Creative Writing, and knows beats like a grizzly bear knows how to catch salmon, has really pushed me to the place where I realized, man, you have to learn this stuff. So I began reading up on it too. And it confused me for a while.

Here’s where I see an opportunity to clarify something for everyone, because I was really struggling with it as I read a bunch of blogs on this topic: No matter what titles you give to the beats there are some basic things that have to happen. At first I thought they just referred to the overall story arc in a macro sense, but my real eureka came when I saw that the beats could be repeated in miniature within a chapter, or paragraph, or even a sentence!

You have to show how things were. This is the Prologue, How it Was.

Then, something has to change. This is your Inciting Incident. If you’re running a nonprofit, this might be the day when you realized “This is wrong, something must be done.”

Someone has to make a choice. This is the Doorway of No Return. “I will do it.” It’s much more difficult to write a compelling story in which the main character says “I will not do it,” but there are some pretty darn good ones in Hebrew scriptures, such as the story of Jonah. Think of any major disaster or alien movie. When everyone else is running away, the Main Character runs toward. They are getting involved.

“Mastering this won’t be easy,” I said to myself. “It’s complicated when you begin to see that there are beats for the whole book, beats for a chapter, beats within a paragraph!” I still don’t know if I’ve got it all down. But that’s  the point in my story where victory isn’t assured. Someday I hope one of my books will really take off, but I’m going to have to put in some effort to learning this stuff. So I attacked it, and felt that the realization that you could do this on a macro or micro level meant I was entering upon another piece of a lifelong learning process. Bring it on. I’m up for the challenge.

Eventually there’s a Crisis, Showdown or Climax,

Then a Resolution of Dawn of a New day.

So this is the path I’m on, and I’m always practicing. In fact, I want to invite you to read this blog through again and see where the beats are. I told this as a personal story rather than just a how to, and I did that on purpose so I could practice putting the beats right in here. Can you see in my own story where I showed you:

How things Were

An Inciting Incident/ Doorway of No Return

Build-up

Crisis, Showdown or Climax

Resolution/ New Dawn.

I may not be great at it yet, but I’m definitely conscious of my incompetence and working on it.

 

 

Death by Pen

I’ll take this deadly weapon, the pen.

You can have your firearms, go–

bear them in your well-regulated militia–

while I bare my soul instead.

We shall see who leaves the

more indelible mark.
Perhaps someday my pen will kill me.

That would be no accident,

even though I have this bad habit

of leaving the safety off.

Counterfeits

One way to look at authenticity is to examine what it is not.

In any sort of currency there is a potential for counterfeit. Something that looks like the real deal, but isn’t.

If you get a huge flood of counterfeit, then, society has two choices. First is to accept the counterfeit as indistinguishable and therefore equal to the authentic, so that it becomes immaterial. The second reaction is to become suspicious of all currency, meaning that not only do you not trust counterfeits but you also become wary of the authentic.

Counterfeits are wolves in sheepskins. Either way you react, they damage the authentic.

There are counterfeits in terms of more things than monetary systems.

Think about counterfeit love. (love on the internet)

Think about counterfeit community. (community on the internet)

I’m not indicting the internet on purpose. The results speak for themselves. The internet has some great means of sharing love and building community. More often than not, it’s used for counterfeit expressions.

Think about how counterfeit churches, false prophets, and other theological misrepresentations damage the authentic expression of a loving community. Jesus knew his own words would be twisted.

You have to be a judicious reader. You have to consume information intelligently. You have to look for underlying principles: are they real?

In today’s world there are more counterfeits than authentic connections. Scams-a-million.

How are you finding real gold? Where’s the silver you’re after? Is it real?

A reason to live

I was asked to write an article for an online mag, and the theme was “What keeps me up at night? What gets me up in the morning?” This is such an intriguing opportunity. Often times I do a variation on the theme, but this month the theme really attracted me so I went straight after it.

What keeps me up at night: I sleep soundly, and I’m good enough at having home/work life balance that I can model that for my life coaching clients. This isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally work in the evening, but that’s usually balanced out by comp time during the day. I stay up to work on my writing projects that don’t always have an immediate financial payoff, but that feels more like hobby time even though it’s work, too. Besides the idea that something keeping you up at night is workload execution, there’s another definition for “what keeps you up at night.” Those are the things that worry you: they keep you up not because you’re working, but because you’re worrying. There are two basic categories that come to mind here: somebody’s after me, or I won’t get what I need tomorrow. These are fear-driven worry issues. The first one is an integrity issue, which could include indebtedness of a variety of kinds. The second is an issue of faith that I’ll have enough. I don’t really like the word “faith” whether you apply it to a higher power or simply to faith in yourself to go get what you need (new contracts or clients, etc.) In fact, just this week my wife and I were up a little later than usual chewing over some of these things. Business is tough, and summer is my slow season.

“I don’t need more faith,” she said, “just more work.”

I’m happy to say that I rarely have trouble sleeping because a) I don’t have too many integrity issues, enemies, or debtors, b) I work really hard so I trust that will bring results when I need them, and c) back to the top, I don’t often work late at night because I have decent work/family life balance. A few days after the hard conversation I had with my wife, things are remarkably different. I had a meeting with a major prospect who may close by the end of the month. Just in the nick of time. You have to have guts, sometimes. Faith other times. Integrity all the time.

What gets me up in the morning? That one’s easy. When the entrepreneurial journey gets tough, sometimes we talk about going back to a factory job, working for the man. The pay is steady, at least. Then we remember how miserable that makes me. I get up in the morning because I absolutely love what I do. I get to provide life coaching, lead an organization, run a business, set my own schedule, write all kinds of books, articles, blogs, and work from home. As I write this my wife is working elsewhere, and my children are home. We don’t have them in daycare. They are unfortunately being babysat by the glowing, one-eyed monster called television… But at least I know what program they’re ingesting.

I have a vision of a different world where everyone has at least one good friend. That’s why I train more coaches; a coach has many roles in terms of accountability and planning, but can also be your friend and peer when your role leaves you peerless. It’s lonely at the top. I make it less so for lots of people, and I love that. I get to deploy my creativity on a regular basis. I love that. I get up in the morning because I love my life, and my work doesn’t (usually) feel like work!

Coaching biz: build a niche, or brand?

 

Notes from my webinar hosted by CCNI on June 7. Many thanks to CCNI, and to all the folks who joined in to hear what I have to say!

I want to share a bit about my personal journey as a coach at the outset so you know who I am, where I’m coming from and what I really have to offer here (and what I don’t).

It’s been brought to my attention by a peer that I struggle with coming across as either arrogant about what I have achieved or whiny about what’s not going well. That’s a major growth edge for me, and in fact it can sometimes mean that I create stumbling blocks for others even as I promote my own coaching business. This friend noted that when people do get to know me they find that these first impressions don’t hold up, which I of course knew; however, what I’m not always aware of in the moment is how others perceive how I present myself. In fact I feel I’m a much better writer than verbal communicator and that’s because I feel like I can massage things better when I have a chance to edit my thoughts.

So by way of introducing myself I want to be clear that any discussions of where I’ve done well or where I’ve been weak in my growth as a professional coach, those things I hope will edify you, not turn you off.

 

The next thing to say about myself by way of introduction is that yes I am a CPCC with CCNI and this call is the one place where I feel that doesn’t need further explanation, you know what it means and what it takes to get there. That’s a journey I’ve been on since 2007, when I was only 33 years old, a very young age to start a coaching career. However, I do not come from a background of church work, and often feel like an outsider; I don’t have megachurches banging down my door to lead coach training classes or coach their entire staff, but I don’t quite fit in the business world either. I’m in the art world, but that leaves me with a ton of cool contacts who can’t afford coaching! I identify strongly as an artist, poet, writer, prophet in the Ephesians 4 meaning of the term, and as such I’m a pretty nonlinear thinker. That has implications for what I write and how I write it, which we’ll come back to.

What I can tell you about the niche and branding discussion is borne of experience in being honest with myself, which is a major success. It is not born of a success in building a financially successful coaching practice. I suspect being honest with yourself is the first step to fruit, in fact I believe it enough to preach it to you without the fruit yet. Also, it makes common sense. Now that you know what to expect, let’s dig into that a bit deeper.

I was always told you need to pick a niche. I will tell you that my niche is at the crossroads of faith, the arts, and entrepreneurship. My favorite clients to work with are entrepreneurial Christian artists: people who are trying to make a living and be missional with their art. In the process of trying to build websites and manage blogs, I was gradually getting more and more blogs and websites, some of them trying to put me in front of artists, and others to attempt to attract business clientele, etc. Until one day, a friend of mine said, “just focus on your personal brand.” One website, one whole person. Let your personality show in one central location online, What I came to understand, and this is a key, is that putting yourself in a niche is actually making yourself generic. The problem with going to a networking event and saying, for example, “I am a health coach,” is that people will say “so what? I know fifteen other health and fitness gurus in this city.” And the same goes for business coaching… to a lesser extent creativity coaching. And you’re back at square one, trying to show people how you’re different…. Without coming across as arrogant or whiny. At least that’s my challenge, because I know I’m one of the best in Northern Indiana and I whine about how those other coaches aren’t really coaching!

It’s been helpful for me to think in terms of how Jesus met people. I’m going to give only one example and I’m sure you can come up with others.

Jesus had a definite niche, and he knew what it was. And that was okay. He focused there. In Matthew 15:24 he was on a vacation, but started getting pestered by a Syrophoenecian woman. So he told her what his niche was. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

She said, “lord help me.”

They argue a bit, and in her persistent faithfulness, which we could talk about in coaching speak as a high degree of buy in, he decided to give her his help.

It wasn’t Jesus’ niche that preceded him and gave him a reputation in Tyre.. it was in fact what modern marketers call a personal brand.

So the point is not that we should eschew niches. We need to know where we focus. But, if we’re dedicated to helping people who have a high degree of buy in, no matter what, when they ask for it, then we can answer that call a lot more often when we’ve focused on a personal brand.

As you know the coaching skill set gives us tools to work with anyone. But one thing I learned from attending networking groups such as BNI is that saying “I can help anyone” gives your listener nothing to focus on. And that’s a niche thing. It’s a lot more effective to say “ can you think of someone who wants to publish a book” than to say “ I can help anyone who wants to work at creative ways to promote themselves.” But while we’re asking for referrals in a niche or two, our personal brand will attract people from well beyond our niche, who will come say “please help me.” Isn’t that ultimately what we want?

Now I want to share about how this impacted my authorship and how I develop my values.

Last year I put a book proposal together for a publisher. I noted that there were lots of great books about how to coach. I have not yet seen one that came from a poetic nonlinear thinker, and I wanted to write one that way. I believe there’s power in artistic treatment of any subject matter. I got the book deal and wrote The Art of Motivational Listening: Creative Ideas for Effective Leaders. I don’t know if I ever would have conceived of, proposed or written this book if I had not come to understand that my personality was something worth celebrating. And that’s all branding really is. Think about branding commercials with no call to action. Huge companies do this. McDonald’s and Coke. They spend a lot more time celebrating a lifestyle than they do with specific calls to action within a niche. The illusion, in this case, is that their products will enhance anyone’s lifestyle! Really there’s only one person whose brand truly enhances anyone’s lifestyle. That’s Jesus. So whatever we do with our personal brand it needs to reflect what Jesus has placed within us as a calling and member of his body.

For me, a second question that rocked my world last fall was “if you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” it’s a long story of loneliness and rejection, but my answer was simple and immediate: everyone in the world should have one good friend. I want my clients to experience friendship as I deploy my creativity in pursuit of their destiny. My brand is about friendship. That’s what Jesus is to me, and what I want to reflect of him. That’s why I’m not a counselor. It’s even to some extent why I’m not a pastor. I’m a Barnabas and I’m so glad that I found coaching as a channel for my life’s work. I’m discovering this prophetic and poetic element, and exploring that deeper this year, but it feels like I’m just beginning on a long journey with that, embracing the poetic/prophetic aspect of my call, and really an entertainer aspect to that, learning to speak and perform as well as I’ve learned to listen. Thanks for taking the time to come listen to me today, the best place to get my book The Art of Motivational Listening and other books I’ve written is on the bookstore. I’m happy to answer questions or comments.

ps: some great comments and questions came up. One of them was “what’s your creative definition of brand?” And my answer went back to the idea that branding is celebrating your unique personality. This might be the most important takeaway. Please do feel free to comment on the blog as well.

Motivation Myth #1

Let’s bust some myths about motivation.

Here’s the first myth: Motivation is supposed to be like a big secret. It’s something somebody else out there has, and you don’t, something elusive, mystical, a mythical super-quality carried by super-speakers and super-coaches, something people are maybe born with. You have to have charisma, and if you don’t, you can’t do it. We’ve fallen in love with this idea that a lucky few are born with mystical super-qualities, and we think it’s like being an artist, which is code for “that’s not me”. That last part is the myth.

It may seem off topic but bear with me for a minute because we’re coming back to motivation, I promise. To bust the myth, we have to look at what it means to practice an art.

Who knows that General Custer nearly failed West Point? That he was at the bottom of his graduating class?

Was he a bad strategist? Arrogant? Poor grades in tactics? Did he have Badly grammar? No. it’s because Custer refused to learn how to draw. Not his firearm: I’m talking about draftsmanship. Back then there was no such thing as photography. You couldn’t stick a camera on a satellite and fly it overhead to see if the enemy had weapons of mass destruction. An officer on the front line had to be able to see what the situation was and draw, yes, with lines and shading and all that mystical art stuff, draw the battlefield accurately and quickly to dispatch a scout over to their commanding officer to give a report and then get instructions. To be an officer in the United States Army, sketching was a must. Not a mythical thing, it was something they knew you could learn to do and assumed you would learn to do if you wanted to succeed. It didn’t mean majoring in art, but you could get the job done when it was time to represent reality in two dimensions with pencil on paper. What I understand from a little research on Custer is that he thought there were only two places in a class, the head and the foot. He later became known as a great self-promoter, someone who could always find a way to get himself in the news. Being the head of the class is noteworthy, but requires a lot of effort and brown nosing. He was bound and determined not to be the head, so he earned himself 726 demerits in 4 years at West Point, that’s one roughly every other day. I’m fictionalizing his character now to make a point: Why should I learn to draw? I’m a winner, drawing is for planners and organizers and people too scared to just act. Sending reports to the commanding officer is for people who can’t figure it out themselves. Besides, I’m going to be a General. People will report to me, they’ll be serving me, I’ll be in charge. I won’t have to report to others. Drawing is for second-rate, second-tier commanders, middle management… those guys are all losers Good guys finish last. I am not a good guy, I’m the best.  Ok, I don’t know what his deal was, but we can guess. There was something he didn’t value about being able to draw. He was motivated by being well-known, a.k.a. notorious. It was more important. So he didn’t learn to draw!

What do we learn from that? First, that nobody thought the basic elements of drawing were hard to learn. There was no mystery about drawing in those days. Nobody thought art was a mystical thing only a few gifted people could do. But that idea was growing. Before TV and mass media, everyone danced at a party. After mass media, everyone said “I can’t dance like Fred Astaire, so I won’t dance at all”. You’re missing out! Some will do it with more beauty than others. Chef Gordon Ramsay plating food makes it more interesting than me nuking a burrito – but I can cook, okay.

You can learn the basic elements of drawing or cooking, if you want to. We’re going to see that motivating people works that way too. It has very little to do with having a big-stage personality. In fact, sometimes that big-stage personality doesn’t work as well with normal people. Are you aware Michael Jordan ended up being a lousy basketball executive, he couldn’t put a team together because all he understood was superstardom? Have you ever met a sales manager who was massively successful as a salesperson but they couldn’t understand why half their team wasn’t breaking records every quarter?

We’re very progressive as humans, which is why we now believe that not only drawing,  dancing and cooking but motivation, as well, are in the realm of the mystical and artistic and require a super-human to do it. I bet you know some names of motivational speakers who are more famous than I am. But it’s a myth that you need a superstar with personal charisma out the roof. My assumption is like West Point’s assumption about learning to draw: The best motivators are pretty normal people and they understand the struggle the average person on their team is dealing with. They might not even be team leaders, but they’re going to be motivating others by the end of the day, and that’s going to motivate them in return. The process for motivating superstars isn’t different. But if you can motivate normal people, your superstars will get inspired by that!

 

Hedgerow Time in Early May

In my book the Art of Motivational Listening (and in earlier blogs in their pre-edited form) I talked about the value of hedgerow time: time spent in creative relaxation, just exploring, not trying to make something you’ll sell. Photography is a great way for me to get expressive without worrying about selling my work because I place myself squarely in the position of amateur. Still, I hope you enjoy these!

 

Are you Gucci?

I have a recent customer who’s hired me several times. This young lady calls me “Gucci.”

Did you know Gucci was back? Did you know that means I’m high class? (I had to ask. Wasn’t sure if I was being insulted or not.)

It’s funny because I associate it with knockoff handbags made in sweatshops sold by people (usually immigrants who can’t get other work) who lay them out on blankets at the beaches in foreign tourist destinations. Malaga, Spain, comes to mind. Not high class at all. Cheap imitations. I spend more time in those kinds of places than on Fifth Avenue.

Be the real deal. Be yourself, not an imitation of somebody else. Otherwise you give everybody a black eye: both yourself and the famous guy. Let other people compare your work to the big names, but only because you have unique class, not because you ripped off their brand.

Coach training, Congo update

Monday I spoke with Jacques Luwaku, one of the trainees from a class I led in Kinshasa last September with Charles Buller and Jeannette Buller Slater. Jacques (pictured, in the middle of three men seated behind the table) works with Leonard Kiswangi (pictured, seated to my immediate left) at the Kinshasa office of African Enterprise, an international organization based in South Africa, and also pastors a congregation in Kinshasa.

Jacques said, “I’m going to give you a coaching testimony. Recently, I got a call from a young husband in my church (and he filled me in on their positions, the wife is in the women’s council, I missed what the husband’s position is, but these things are culturally important in Congo, everyone has some position or title) and the man said ‘No, pastor, my wife and I, it’s not working out, we are just going to get a divorce.’ (Jacques did not say what their dispute was about.) So I called the husband back, and I called the wife, too, and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any counsel to give you. But I have a question for you. If I asked you to give counsel to another young couple who was thinking about getting a divorce, what would it be? What should they do? Get divorced? Or stay together? Please reflect on that together, then you tell me.’ and they called me back later and said, ‘No, pastor, really, we’ve thought about what advice we would give; we’re going to stay together.’ They solved their own problem, they have walked away from the door of divorce. When I am coaching, I am second, and they are in charge.” Jacques went on to say that he hadn’t had to stress out about it and was glad to see the couple find their own solution.

I felt excited for him. I told him, “But Jacques, you didn’t even use the Panic Technique.”

“What? The Panic Technique? Oh, no,” he laughed, “I did not use the Panic Technique.”

It’s gratifying, and that’s an understatement, to see that the training we did in Congo last fall is bearing fruit in very real ways. Coaching saves marriages.

This story is shared with Pastor Jacques’s permission.

I continue to coach Jacques occasionally, pro bono, with your support. It seems like a good time to remind my readers that if you’d like to support our work in developing nations, training leaders like Jacques Luwaku to use coaching techniques, you can do so at Evergreen Leaders. All contributions are tax-deductible.

 

Five Options Coaching Technique

My client has been trying to get a meeting with his own boss to discuss the business’ mission so he can better understand it and his work can build into it. His tactic has been to just try to catch the boss in person, since they have offices next door to each other. But the boss is never there.

“Give me five more options for how you can get this message to your boss,” I say. “It’s okay if they are crazy, we’re not judging whether or not they’re good ideas yet.”

“Ok,” he says, and proceeds to rattle this off, “One, call his cell phone; two, text him; three, email; four, leave a note on his desk; five, carrier pigeon.”

[Ideal client!]

“Great,” I say, “that was quick. Can you give me five more?”

“Sure. Send him a letter in the mail. Put a poster on his door. Hook up a sensor so that when he walks in a recording plays ‘call M.B. for a meeting’, put a whoopee cushion on his chair with a note, put a decal on his car.”

I get the idea he could do this all day long. I ask if he minds if I write a blog about it.

People ask all the time if I give great advice. No, I don’t. I get them generating their own ideas. It’s far more effective. Last night someone asked if I just tell people to follow their hearts. I said, no, I don’t tell them anything. So the same girl asked, what is your best advice? “Follow your heart,” I said, using her words. That’s what coaching is about.

Also, if you vote for Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Blog: Post #172!

A hallmark number, to be sure, the number 172. Nice and round, full-bodied, plus-size, curvy, sensual…

It’s the one-year anniversary of my blog. That’s a post on a whopping 47% of the days in the last year. There are posts from Congo and Thailand, as well as a lot more from my desk in Indiana.

What did I learn?

When you write you will mostly get ignored. Maybe this is why Jesus did not write. It made more sense to relate to a small number of people in a short time span.

When you write something controversial, more people will read it, but they might not even let you know they have a problem with what you’ve said. My most-viewed blog to date elicited a response from a local pastor, and I’m very glad he said something. Being misunderstood isn’t the end of the world– it’s the beginning of finding your voice!

When you stop caring if people will like it, and beyond that, whether they will even read it, you’ll write even more. Develop thick skin this way, and when you start getting negative reactions, you’ll see that people are reading it, and you’re probably not saying anything new, just more clearly, and you’ll know you’re on your way.

Don’t post just to post. It’ll be crap, and not get you anywhere. With that being said, post to write, and do it often. It still might be crap, but it’s better than posting just to post. If you don’t see the difference, it’s as simple as this: work on your craft. Make, and make again. Make yet again. Make art. Write.

I care less now about being famous and more about being productive than I did a year ago. That’s good because that’s something I can control.

I learned I am also a poet. That’s exciting, somewhat frightening new territory. Missed reading my poems? Here are a few of my favs from the last three months:

April

March

February

 

If you’ve enjoyed my blog, today’s the day to pick up one of my books. They’re available on Amazon or at my bookstore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseballs in the street

Driving down Twyckenham last weekend, at the corner of Angela Boulevard, outside Notre Dame’s center field fence, I saw baseballs littering the street as though they were red Solo cups at Legacy Village on Sunday morning. If that’s too esoteric, let’s just say “off-campus party” and you get the picture.

It’s strange to write a college piece twenty years after being in college.

What would a collegiate writer say about baseballs in the street?  Something more esoteric?

Would my college self be concerned to know that twenty years later I’d still be unsure whether the balls were laying or lying there? Or would my future self worry him even more if he found I still did not care? That I would look it up only halfheartedly and with a sense of obligation to the long-dead masters of our craft? Would he mind that I would begrudge him for not having learned it then? (Obviously not, because he didn’t.)

Would he have picked up the baseball? Or let them all lie like sleeping frat brothers on Sunday morning? (Yes; No.)

I  steered my car over, popped the door open while waiting for the red light, picked a ball up like a sea turtle eating an immortal jellyfish (not esoteric if you read my blog frequently). Brought it home, put it on my desk. Thinking about how there just isn’t much profound here. I found a baseball and brought it home because that’s what you do. It’s what I always will do.

Maybe the key difference is that my quest for profundity is changing. I used to want it so badly. The atmosphere, I mean the very sky, was laden with it. It lies heavily upon a campus. Brick buildings dated in the early 1900’s do that to you, when they’re covered in ivy and you’re still roughing out a beard. So you want to chew that profundity like a piece of bubble gum, over and over, until it’s flavorless, and spit it by the weeds grown up along the backstop. It’s still gum. Like, profundity is no worse the wear, though you’ve sucked out the flavor.

Maybe I’ve done that. Life is profound, sure. But a baseball in the road just means it’s spring. I’ve seen roughly twice as many now and they are all pretty good. You still pick up your balls and carry on, but it doesn’t really mean anything that spring has returned. At least, it doesn’t mean anything more than it used to mean.

Also, baseballs never grow beards. So they’re symbols of youth. Who cares.

I still like baseball, but it’s been years since I just went to a whole game and sat there and drank it in like … hell, never mind what it’s like drinking. I just get deep droughts, you know. Metaphors are for people who chase profundity.

I need to go watch a ballgame, and I know it, because last week my son and I stopped for a moment at my alma mater to watch the boys play. This is what I see: Our side is batting, guy Strikes out, with a man on first. Then a grounder gets through the right side. Next, a line drive scores the lead runner. I turned to some men and ask them what score, what inning. I can’t read our dinky scoreboard. We are watching from the far left field corner, the scoreboard is in right. Bottom of seven, two outs, after that last hit, we trail by one, they say. A double into left center. Tie game. A play at the plate! We win! We win!

I jumped, arms in the air. With two outs my alma mater trailed 8-6, scored one, then in a matter of another ten seconds managed to win 9-8, and I was caught up in the moment. Now their record is 17-27, but 9-9 in conference. They are not particularly good, but it was a great seventh inning. Maybe that was enough baseball to satisfy those thirsts. I don’t have to drink as much spring anymore to remind myself of its cool, cold-brewed Rocky Mountain flavor. (Not a metaphor, just a longish adjectival phrase.) I never got drunk on it, anyway.

Finding a baseball in the street reminds us we can still get caught up in the moment. It’s not so bad.

Saturday night I picked up two guys. One played for Boston College. Left field. Lost to Notre Dame, I think, or maybe they won, who cares. Drunk, he talked with his buddy about his girlfriend who wants a ring. If I had to bet, I’d say he will marry her. How well will it work out? I don’t know; do you really consider an 82-80 record a winning season? The rest of what he said I figure is reserved for the sanctity of the Uber-confessional.

Maybe someday he will find a baseball in the street and scratch his beard and say to himself or even to his wife, well shit, look at that, wouldja. It’s spring again.

The Immortal Jellyfish

There is a species of jellyfish whose cells get younger every day

A real-live, genuine-article Benjamin Button.

As far as anyone can tell, this means it lives forever.

Yes, that’s what they say.

Scientists, I mean. Not just anyone.

I wonder if there’s a species of sea turtle that likes to eat

really juicy and fresh jellyfish

Maybe those turtles don’t even know it yet

but one day, when these particular jellyfish

are good and young and finally ripe

 

*CHOMP*

 

They say the jellyfish may be immortal and I’m telling you

someday they are going to be tender young things indeed.

It sounds marvelous. One might even say… heavenly.

Alive, on the Road Not Taken

My dad posted Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken this week on Facebook, in honor of the poem’s 100th anniversary.

I did not realize this poem was so old; as with many things that occur before our own time this poem was lumped in with “old stuff” in my brain and is kind of like my parents in that sense. Of course I know they lived through the Vietnam War but not WWII. I’ve seen my kids do this lumping thing with movies, “hey, was that movie made when you were a kid, dad?” (Um, no, Casablanca is a little older than I am.) All they know is it predates their own birth. So we all do this. There are only “before” and “in my days”. Before, there was Casablanca, Frost, Shakespeare, Lincoln and the Magna Carta. “In my days” includes things like Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth less than two months after I arrived, Nixon resigning less than six months into my stay on this blue and green orb, then, not soon enough, Vietnam evacuations. I don’t remember it, I just know it was in my days. Something I lived through, albeit unaware. Let’s call that a grey area, perhaps, I was young and it was my time but all grey until Reagan was shot. Then I begin to remember. After that it’s not old stuff, it’s really my stuff.

But my father loves this poem (I did not realize how much until now) and in fact he enjoys a fair number of poems. He even committed some French poetry to memory. Je mis mon kepi dans la cage et je suis sortie avec l’ouiseau sur la tete… I remember him reciting it, it’s so funny, you see, because he does all the voices, the birdie and the commander, too.

I’m reflecting on the difference that it made, this path my father took. A way leads to a way and you never end up going back to try the other. Frost says it with a sigh, but I wonder, could it be a sigh of contentment? Sure, the poem seems to speak of potential lost, but, many choices, ways and ways down the Way, is one so disappointed?

Dad chose Mom, then, with Mom, to go to Africa when I was in a vulnerable stage, then to move to an out of the way town in Iowa. He chose to become a nurse and care for people who were dying, many of them living with great regrets and bitterness, but he loved them. He chose to live in a town, not a city, in a forest outside the small town. He chose to love his neighbors. Sometimes they didn’t appreciate him, or his best friends. Some of his friends, people he chose, were losers. He did not fall into bad company; he chose them as friends, another way among many ways, to love them. He chose to burn wood to warm his cottage like some kindly pauper in a fairy tale. He sharpened his chainsaw and hauled timber with a two-wheeled hand cart. The more ways that he chose along his Way, the deeper he went into the jungles and along the ponds and beside still waters and tucked in among the trees in an orange cap and knee-patched jeans and steel-toed boots. The more he chose these things, the less he aspired to anything some would call “bigger”. His father lived in Texas, where bigger is better. He chose smaller, instead. He acquired love like a real estate mogul acquires land, with ease and without a second thought, and with interest compounding. He spends his money now to visit his grandchildren. Compounding love is all.

Or did he choose? Was the poem itself ever really about choice in the first place?  Maybe  we’re all reading it wrong. [the link above takes you to an interesting article on that question.] Oh well. This has become more about my father and less about Frost now, so we leave Frost at this crossroad to debate the meaning of his poem posthumously with living academics, and move on. If it’s true that Frost thought we really didn’t get to choose, and it was all the same, well, he never met my Dad.

When ways have led to other Ways, and we find we can’t go back and be someone we never were meant to be anyhow, (or when we find that the choices were intertwined with destiny) why would the sigh be anything other than one of peace, of having come so far only to find that, way back when, sometime after Casablanca and before the internet, we made a choice and it was good and had much laughter and a good wife and friends who we never would have met, if we hadn’t chosen to meet them, and so we kept choosing them every day, drifting back into history with the great poems, eventually to be lumped into “before”, but not quite yet, and even when those friends we knew die and we miss them so, we know they never would have been what they are to us without us having taken the Way we took.

Sigh, old men, but not with regret. Some of your laughter may already be in the grave in the silent mouths of friends gone before, but much of it follows you from points along the path where you made those choices to know and be known; you thought you had moved on, but the forks along your paths are tuned to a resonance that harmonizes with the chuckle in your throat which I can hear and will be able to hear so long as it is my time. You laughed when I said “are you waking up yet, Daddy?” and you still laugh when I amuse you, I can hear it in my ears whenever I have been humorous or clever. I can hear it in my heart when my son does the same. Because whenever I come to those forks myself I can hear you laugh, so, then; I weep with joy. Sigh, old women, your childbearing is done and your gardens can feature flowers instead of food. Instead of preserving for winters to come, you can paint pictures of desert sunrises because the sun keeps coming over that horizon as it travels on its own way. The earth herself makes no choices, she turns and turns, and “by turning, turning, she comes out right.” You have chosen a Way. I have heard the sigh, and no matter how you meant it, I interpreted it as one of peace with each decision, for that is how it appears to me, so therefore, I will follow it. My brother and my sister will follow it. You have shown us what is good: To love justice, to desire mercy and to walk humbly with your God. It’s all lumped in with the “old stuff” and that’s just fine with me in my days.

When the world is in possession of the Way, 

The galloping horses are led to fertilize the fields with their droppings. 

When the world has become Way-less, War horses breed themselves on the suburbs. 

There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough. There is no evil like covetousness. Only he who knows what is enough will always have enough. –Lao Tzu

Should I tip my ride-share driver?

Here I come in my Lambo with Godzilla, trailing flames. In my other life as a super-hero, I drive at night on weekends for a popular ride-sharing platform, keeping regular citizens safe from their worst enemy– themselves. The platforms say “no tipping” as a policy, and while I may have some vested interest in this, here are a few reasons why you should be prepared to tip your driver. I’ll also give you some suggestions, er, tips, for how much is appropriate.

Ride-sharing platforms are an interesting blend of free-market agorism (libertarianism) and raw, unabated, greed-driven capitalism. They fight against the legal system to allow anyone to turn their car into a business. They say it isn’t a cab and part of their argument could be founded upon the fact that nobody’s really making more than expenses. If they have to, in court, they could demonstrate that, I’m sure of it. The South Bend airport features a motto that “there’s no stopping an idea whose time has come” and ride-sharing has arrived. People want it. It’s not going away.

In that way, you’re really “sharing” the car, as if it was a carpool. But we all know it isn’t a carpool. It’s rare that I pick up a rider who just happens to be going my way. I’m not out at 2 A.M. to just have fun or to find someone going my way who will help cover some of my expense. I’m there to make money. But the platform pays enough to cover expenses, and that’s about it. What this means is I can make my car payment and take care of the vehicle, then write it all off, and that’s about all I get. Which is great. For now…

The way I figure it, the profit’s all in tips. If I drive 30 miles in an hour and get $15 for it, that’s covering my expenses. If I was charging you cash, I’d be asking for $30/hour. Even that’s break-even money if we’re zipping along a highway doing 60-plus mph for that entire hour.

Here’s my tipping suggestion. Carry some singles, and always give your driver a minimum of $2. A lot of riders in my market go only a mile or two. Might not sound like a big deal, but I can only do about five of those in an hour, since it almost always takes ten minutes to go complete a pickup, and deliver them a mile away, if not a little more. The longest part of the trip is often waiting for them to get in the car after I’ve arrived. Be ready to go and communicate your location clearly. (last weekend, when I requested a more accurate location, a rider texted me that they were “outside” and I replied that “‘outside’ is a very big place”.) At normal (non-premium) rates at that distance, I’m grossing $2-3 per ride, and that’s $10-15 in a really busy hour. I drove about 17 full hours last weekend, and only two of those hours paid out more than $22.

Add $1-2 if you’re in the car over ten minutes, or five bucks if you ride over twenty minutes to a half hour. A longer ride, say 45 minutes, you may want to consider $10. Remember, your driver has expenses to come pick you up, which may be equal or greater than the expense of taking you somewhere (that all depends how remote you are and how far you go). Either way there’s no compensation from the platform for going somewhere to make a pickup, which is not a big deal if the driver is five minutes away and you ride for 45 minutes, but it’s a big deal if you take a short ride. Five short rides in an hour means almost half of that hour is uncompensated.

Pay attention to how long it takes your driver to arrive. They are not dawdling. If it takes more than ten minutes, it means they’ve probably spent $2-5 to come get you. If you then take a short ride (under ten minutes) it’s almost certainly a loss for the driver. That means you’re what I call “remote”, and you may want to consider increasing your tip appropriately, another $2.

I know that the whole idea of ride-sharing is you don’t have to carry cash, and it’s nice that you aren’t obligated to tip, but until the platforms significantly increase how much they pay the drivers, it’s the right thing to do … and it will keep good drivers in business.

What I mean by good drivers is this: people who are conscientious and take pride to do their work well. Once the ride-share platforms begin to attract only the lowest level workers, people who can’t do math and realize they’re losing money; people who don’t care about you getting where you need to be in a safe, efficient manner, you’re not going to get much in the way of great service, either. Tipping will keep good drivers on the road. Tipping will make this a job people want to have, not just a job people do because it’s the only thing available to them.

Don’t let a driver tell you they won’t accept tips. They are taught to say that. Insist, and believe me, they will accept it. Leave $2 on the seat if you must. They will not throw it away.

Consider being ready to tip a larger amount in the event that you get excellent service. There are ways people can go above and beyond. They sit in a drive-through with you for ten minutes? Yes, the meter is running, but the pay for time only isn’t much. You can offer to buy tacos, and your driver may accept, but cash is king. They help you load something heavy into the car? They get you somewhere in the nick of time? What’s it worth to be treated like family to you?

Should you tip if prices are surging? I’m a little ambiguous on that. If it’s at 1.5 x, maybe yes. If it’s over 2 x, maybe not. Or maybe you should figure that it helps compensate for the hour or two that driver sat, doing nothing, just to be available when things got hot and you suddenly needed a ride. If that driver is your super-hero of the moment, then compensate accordingly.

Are you pure blooded?

While doing some research on the first people of Long Island for the literary fiction I’m working on, I found an interesting paper online from The Hudson River Valley Institute by John Strong. If you’re interested in history you may want to read the whole article. I promise it’s not dry. I guarantee it’s more interesting than your seventh-grade history textbook.

In a nutshell, Strong’s paper debunks two myths at once, the tribal myth and the myth of extinction.

Schoolchildren on Long Island to this day are taught that there were thirteen tribes on Long Island when Europeans arrived. They are given a map with the island chopped up into thirteen geographical areas as though Long Island was a section of Europe, with clearly defined boundaries, the French here, Italian there. The truth is, native Americans lived in bands and thought of themselves more in terms of family and clan. Long Island is better understood as a place where the eastern part of the island had several dialects of the Algonquin language similar to the people in modern-day Connecticut, while the western Long Islanders spoke something in the Delaware dialect more similar to the peoples of what is now known as New Jersey. There was some linguistic crossover in the Hempstead region. The whole idea of tribes is a European concept designed to classify and control the people they encountered. The concept of “tribe” (at least in Long Island) doesn’t seem to predate Europeans at all! People didn’t say “I’m a Shinnecock” the way they would now. The just said things like “My family lives by the water abundant in clams” or something. (I made that up but you get the idea.)

That myth feeds into a second myth, which is that the native Long Islanders are extinct. They are not. White conquistadors  have always assuaged guilt with such myths. “Oh, it’s sad, but they’re all gone now.” Except they aren’t.

The article includes some discussion of what makes one an American Indian, or, for that matter, how do we decide at all what race you identify with. As a melting pot, we’re going to have to move more toward self-identification and we desperately need to move away from other-identification. I sure don’t want some yahoo from the federal government dropping by to see if I’m Swiss-German enough to qualify for some benefit or avoid a penalty. The most striking quote from this article to me is from C Mathew Snipp. “American Indians are the only group in American society for whom bloodlines have the same importance as they do for show animals and racehorses.” (American Indians: The First of this Land, 1991) That’s a shocking indictment.

My conclusion is that if you’re a fan of books like Lies My Teacher Told Me, or if you’re simply interested in the broader topic of race in America (if you’re an American, you should be!) then finding and reading articles like this one is a helpful way to educate yourself.

If you read the Strong article I’d love to hear your comments!

He’s more afraid of you

Late Saturday night becomes Sunday morning. It’s about 3:45 A.M. I pull into McDonald’s on Michigan, south end of South Bend. I order a six-piece Chicken McNuggets. I think about a McFlurry, but it’s too many calories.

“Please pull around to the first window.” There is a car ahead of me. I wait behind, my window still down. Fresh spring air wakes me up for that forty-minute drive home.

Footsteps rushing at my car. Startled, I jerk my head to the left as a kid screeches to a halt. He is maybe seventeen or twenty, has a little mustache. He recognizes immediately that he made me jump; he saw the surprise on my face.

“Whoa, no, no,” he says as he throws his hands out to the side, “Look, I ain’t got no gun or nothin’, look, see?” Puts his hands behind his head as though I’ve arrested him. Panic on his face. Approach the wrong car that way and he’s maybe dead right now, and he knows it. “No, I’m not… I just, I’m hungry, I wanted to ask, could you get me just like a chicken sandwich or somthin’. I’m not, look, I’m sorry. I just…” Sweats at nearly half-mast, hoodie not really enough for the cold. It’s April 3 and we somehow had a mini-blizzard that decorated the daffodils, the roads are icy tonight. Lots of accidents out there. “I’m hungry you know? I don’t get my paycheck til Friday, and, anyway I’m not homeless. Well, mostly not.” Kid needs to just ask for the sandwich and shut up, let me draw my inferences. He doesn’t even know how to beg, and that’s clear more by the way he rushed my car than anything else. He’s new to this. Paycheck? Friday? I sort of doubt it.

“Hey kid, you gotta be careful. Come on, walk up here with me.” I roll up to the window, ask the lady to add a chicken sandwich. It’s under $2. At these prices anybody can afford to eat this shit, can’t they? But not this kid. He’s not anybody.

Over at Notre Dame the kids about his age go to the bars and blow hundreds in a night. This kid could buy dozens of hoodies at Wal-Mart for the price of a single black party dress the young ladies wear, shivering, colder than he is, with their legs exposed, but unconcerned about what they will eat and where they will sleep, clothed to impress, not to survive. Those kids are anybody, they are somebody, when they want a chicken sandwich they just get one.

The other McDonald’s employee comes up and tells the girl who took my order, just loud enough for me to hear, “we’re not supposed to serve walk-ups, that’s how we got robbed the one time,” but I am there, so I instruct the kid to walk up ahead into the parking lot and I’ll meet him there.

Later I realize that kids like this are like little animals, like a fang-less garter snake or a bunny in a cage, hearts beating two-hundred times per minute, and when you are a little kid and nervous about touching the pet, your parents tell you, “he’s more scared of you than you are of him,” and it gives you courage to reach out and touch the thing and you find that it is smooth or furry and not bad at all. Just scared, just like you. Human, really, in that way.

Why do we go back to being afraid of people as adults? Because they make sudden movements? Because they don’t look safe? Because they dress funny? Because they’re nocturnal?

No, I think it’s because we have some sort of cognitive dissonance between the rhetoric that “our nation is founded on equality and the public education system making it possible for anyone to succeed,” versus the reality that there are lots of people who don’t have jack squat, zilch, a big X, for opportunities. That’s what scares us. It means we’re all closer to the bottom than we care to admit, because until this moment we preferred to believe there is no bottom. And we’re afraid of people because we’ve forgotten that when it comes to those who are at the bottom, usually they’re more afraid of us than we are of them. The Psalmist said “the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27) But we fear the bottom.

I give him a sandwich and he is Jesus, I have given Jesus a sandwich, and so now that I am on the upside of the deal, not at the bottom, only encountering it briefly, and somehow I think I’m in a position to advise, I’m no longer afraid. So I tell him “be careful out there, don’t scare people so much, you could get hurt,” because that is what I always tell Jesus. I, too, am closer to the bottom than I care to admit, and I am very, very tired when I get home.

 

Success and Your Values

Last week a client who is a perfectionist (which is not a dirty word) told me he’s very success driven. With a perfectionist that almost goes without saying. However, it did get me thinking.

What is success, really? Is it being on deadline? Is it making lots of money? Is it having time to spend with your family, taking them on a fancy vacation? Is it producing the highest quality or serving your customer better?

Here’s the thing most people don’t understand about success. Success in and of itself is not a value. Sure, you can value being successful, but look a layer deeper and you’ll see it:

Success is a result of values well lived.

What doesn’t work for most people, certainly not for very long, is a pursuit of success driven by a value you don’t truly hold.

Does that mean you always get what you want? Or that you can’t? Or is it just that, as the Stones said, “if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”?

I don’t completely know. It gets philosophical pretty quickly. People have wrestled with this for three or four thousand years at least.

When shopping for a gift for my wealthy grandparents we used to say “what do you get someone who already has everything they need?”

The Preacher / King said “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good … nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities…”

Lao Tzu remarked “As for holding to fullness, far better were it to stop in time! … Fill your house with gold and jade, and it can no longer be guarded. Here is the Way (Tao) of Heaven: When you have done your work, retire!” I should note I think this meaning of the word “retire” is that of taking your rest in the evening. It’s frightfully imbalanced to think that we’ll rest once we’ve quit our job for a life of leisure. I think we function best in rhythms of work and rest, rather than one long workaholic push followed by a total letdown. That letdown often kills people, the obvious and ironic tragedy being that they never enjoyed life during those working years.

What are your core values? Many people can’t say. Some think they can, but they’ve just skimmed the topic once or twice without putting in the hard work of articulation to really get down to their bottom line.

When I was on an installation crew that primarily did customer service, I ended up getting screamed at and cussed by a Manhattan real estate mogul who was a fairly frequent customer. The owner of our company called him and said “We aren’t selling to you anymore. We don’t treat our people that way.”

Living your values well means you might fire a customer on principle. You may make less money for a time, but you’ll be a success. Even a hero!

 

Like this post? Then you might enjoy my book The Art of Motivational Listening. Check it out in my Bookstore in the sidebar. Thanks! –Adam

Hard to do Stuff

Some stuff is hard to do

Like making it rhyme

But some of the stuff that’s hard isn’t always necessary, either,

Like making it rhyme, again.

The harder part is figuring out what to omit,

whether it be words not needed in a poem

or actions useless for living.

Leaving out the right stuff will make it rhyme

even when it doesn’t.

Pity The Fool

Fools have been around since before fire, before writing, before ceremonial burial, before baklava.

Fools were involved, even important, in the invention and discovery of all the ten thousand marvels.

Fools, I tell you, come in all sorts of packages.

They may arrive via the postal service in a plain brown wrapping,

They could be nestled in among their fellows like sardines, smokes,

There is a high probability you’ll find one the next time you surf

across the broad ocean of information, miles of content without surface tension, holding nothing up, just filling a gaping digital void, so that you can’t see the sea floor of your soul. A Foolish illusion.

There is a pretty good chance they will invite you to join them,

to sing for them at their next party. A gig! You wanted a gig, right?

It’s really sad how fools flock like sparrows, warming their feet

on the current that zips through the wires,

chatting you up, inviting you to electrocute yourself.

As though you were a bird-brain too, and could just flit away.

Despicable? Yes. We all know that.

Harmless? Yes. Perhaps. No. I mean yes. I mean, no; yes, harmful.

There appears to be some confusion about that.

Let me just say that I pity the fool who comes to me

and invites me to have my hands bound with black tape

to be thrown into a trunk

to be taken down to that river

to be slung in without ceremony.

“I will break your face, fool.”

What the fool doesn’t realize

(and this is what makes the fool a fool)

is that

I might even come along, but

Could the tape be silver instead of black?

Could the gag be made of phyllo, marzipan and honey,

so the river bottom would taste sweet?

No, it sounds fishy. Come on, fools.

Do I not at least deserve some ceremony?

 

Happy April 1st.

 

Soup in Spring

I ate three bowls of soup tonight

The best ham and beans and broth I have ever tasted

it reminds me of how I wooed my wife, one autumn,

With poems about the comfort of mom’s

Winnie- Ther- Pooh tomato soup recipe

and that in turn led me to ponder:

What is soup? It’s not food and it’s not drink

it’s Something in between I think

So in the spring and in the fall

I like soup the best of all

It’s in between the great extremes

It’s not just food, it’s made of dreams.

 

So I read it to her, and she says “hmm, kind of cliche. It’s an everyday poem.”

Then she kisses me.

Cliches can work, sometimes.

 

 

Love

Love is simple

Relationships are complex

Marriage is for life, even if you

divorce you will always have an ex

Family is as strong as its root system,

weak as the rottenest branch,

Wild as a pack of wolves,

or Cultivated as the roses of a manor,

depending on how they’ve established a culture.

But Children are always the future.

Children are always the future.

That’s because

Children remind us that

love is simple.

 

 

 

The Way

When you begin to follow the Way, you think that It will be tubular, like a wave to surf or like a water slide at an amusement park, the excitement mounts as you swim out, or as you climb the stairs, and you anticipate that with a whoosh, stomach dropping, you’ll arrive at the end of the run, just letting It do Its Thing. It should not be difficult, should It?

But the Way is not tubular, dude, it’s just a round hole in a plain plane, with eternal depth

(Whatever that means, “eternal”)

I am a square peg

Try as I may, it’s never quite a fit

I’m either too small, I slip and fumble about within the Way, grasping nothing,

Traction-less, spinning free and free-falling, not even believing I can fill the space enough to touch the circumference at my own four corners, or,

(more often) I’m too large, over-sure, arrogant,

unable to wedge myself into It at all.

The Way’s diameter never changes. I am the one who is inconsistent.

I am the one in need of endless calibration.

Hey, if you like my blogs, check out my bookstore in the sidebar. I have freebies for the next three people who buy one of my books through here, plus, autographed copy, ya know.

 

Madman

The madman walks past stiffly, quickly, down the broad avenue of packed dirt, (we are in the middle of the middle of Africa) and he is talking to himself,

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

“Bonjour,” I say, being as friendly as I can. Twigs in his hair, eyes bloodshot, perhaps he slept in the forest, where he may have spent the insanely hot night

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

His eyes see me for a moment, a flicker of recognition crosses his face (there’s one of the whites who is crazy enough to be in the middle of the middle of Africa). But

The fool does not reply, he simply goes on his way

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

 

 

Questioning Authority

Here’s a question my brother Aaron asked via social media today.

“I’d suggest that rather than questioning authority we might do better to think about authority. Where does it come from? What is it for? Do you know anyone who wields it productively? What are the limits of obedience to authority? Why? What is the difference between authority and power? But don’t take my word for it…ask a question of your own!”

Aaron, great job starting a discussion on a very interesting topic.

I called him and we talked about it together particularly in light of my March 15 blog titled Family Values in which, as I told Aaron, “I excommunicated roughly half of the North American church.”

“Really? You did?” He said. “Under what authority?”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I said.

“No, I’m just asking a question,” he said. Ha ha, we laughed.

I explained the core concept of the blog to Aaron in a little more depth and then posed the question back to him, “where do you think I got the authority?” To which he replied, “your authority came from a revelation from God.”

Well, that means it is prophecy. As I begin now to exercise a prophetic voice more often, I was asking myself these questions, too.

I’d like to start out the discussion by saying I’m not an expert on authority, but my basic observation is that authority, in general (I’m not talking about spiritual authority) comes in one of two basic ways: via a vetting process or via a personality cult. In the above conversation with Aaron, there’s a particular vetting happening when someone else verifies “your revelation came from God.” Vetting is a HUGE part of the process of becoming an authority on something.

Aaron said, “Well, all those vying for president right now haven’t been vetted,” and I said, “No, they don’t have any authority yet. Authority goes in stages, from one stage to the next you’re vetted. For example, Kasich has the authority of the Governor of Ohio, so hes asking us as a nation to vet him to the next level.”

For another example, my authority in the field of life coaching was vetted from a third-party perspective at CCNI and they decided that the quality of my work deserves the credential (authority) at the CPCC level. This was a more stringent vetting process than simply earning a certificate from a training school. It took me seven years to get from the certificate to the credential. The next credential (Master Coach) might take another 10 years.

The flip side of vetting is the WRONG way to get authority. These guys are the political demagogues and personality-driven church leaders. Typically (if they attain any amount of authority that puts them in the public eye) they have a certain and very rare personal charisma. They can stay small and out of the public eye, leading a group of just a few hundred people, and yet even then when their downfall comes about often times the leader of even a group of only a dozen will end up in the public eye as their abuses come to light. When the authority comes from personal charisma, nobody’s holding you accountable to integrity.

Think about how Donald Trump got where he is today, asking the country to vet him in the election process. What political authority has he had before? None. His vetting process up to this point has been based on a personality cult he’s carefully constructed with a great deal of personal charisma and it has no particular basis in terms of integrity; based on all that, he’s very close now to getting a nomination (which still isn’t the authority of the Presidency). Kasich is pretty disgusted with this whole thing; he’s the governor of Ohio, he’s the candidate on the GOP side who’s held the most authority in a position similar to President. Why isn’t he the obvious next candidate for authority on the GOP side? An entertainment-driven society has deceived people into thinking that personal charisma is a reasonable way to become authoritative.

You see the same thing with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Like his message or not, it’s been the same for 30 years and that means he’s speaking with integrity. When Hillary Clinton says “Where was he in 1993?” His campaign retorts “He was literally right behind you.” Clinton doesn’t look good when she tries attacking Sanders on issues of integrity. Let’s leave politics behind. I’m not an authority on politics. Ha ha.

What is the key characteristic that typically motivates those in authority over others to vet them up to the same level? I submit that it’s integrity. Promises fulfilled. When you’re given a certain level of authority and you fulfill your commitments and live a life of quiet integrity, people see there’s authority in that and they elevate you to the next level.

In a sense, it’s not terribly different from power, in the sense that Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone that you are, you probably aren’t.” But there are differences, too.

So, where your authority comes from is not how you lead into a discussion. You state what you have to say. Jesus did this. “He spoke as one with authority.” Then, if people ask “where did you get your authority” (and they will) you can tell them. I don’t start a coaching pitch by saying, “I’ve got a CPCC with CCNI” partly because people are going to say “so what” (not because CCNI isn’t an authoritative body, but because they may not have ever heard of it). That won’t work partly because that’s a weak opening statement compared with, say, for example, asking a great coaching question that shows I’m a lady … um, wait, I mean, shows I know what I’m doing as a coach. A powerful use of authority assumes you have it.

The thing about questioning authority, then, is really asking “Does this authority have the integrity needed to maintain their authority?” and sometimes the answer is NO!

Should we question authority? Sure, we should. Aaron did it to me. He said he wasn’t, but really in his question “what authority do you have to excommunicate half the church?” is implied that we need to know where the authority comes from, we want to know if you have the integrity to carry that authority, and we want to keep checking in on that from time to time.

A really good leader doesn’t need to be questioned too often. Follow 90% and question 10% seems to be a rule of thumb that comes to my head. The whole political discussion isn’t to pick sides here, it’s really to illustrate what needs to happen in our churches (that’s the realm I have a lot more authority to speak to) which is this: once we’ve decided to put someone in a position of authority, we need to follow them. We get to expect that they are accountable, and we do not have to be their accountability partner, coach or mentor or overseer. In fact, it is best if we are not functioning in that role if they are also our pastor.

Does that mean we should never question their decisions? Or their integrity? Or their authority? Of course not. But why would we put someone in a position of authority if we didn’t vet them for a measure of integrity in the first place?

 

 

Foundational Coaching Skills Training

Interested in getting trained in Foundational Coaching Skills? I work together with CMI to provide this training every year. I don’t own the training, I just help lead it, but I can confidently say that as someone inside the industry this class is the absolute best value you can get anywhere. That’s because the training is top notch, and if you apply yourself for the entire course you’ll have a great grasp of coaching, and you’ll get it at a fraction of the price you’d get anywhere else. The deadline for this year’s FOCOS Indiana course is looming, so read more about it today if you think you might want in!

Want more info? Here you go.

Positive Action on The Via Negativa

Or: How to prepare for the inevitable surprise.

For context, here are two thoughts on the “via negativa” or the Negative Way.

The via negativa is a concept from the Orthodox tradition of doing theology by talking about what God is not. It’s like Michelangelo carving away all the block of marble that is not David. It’s a subtractive-sculptural theological idea.

Extrapolating, Nassim Nicholas Taleb notes an heuristic or rule of thumb that if you need more than one reason to do something, that probably means you shouldn’t do it — you’re trying to convince yourself. You need a single, clear reason. Not a stack of them. Consider:

“We’ve each found a friend here; we’re in love,” versus “Well, she’s cute, and her parents like me, and they have money, and we grew up in the same town and we know the same people, and my parents think she’s from a respectable family, and besides all that, oops, now she’s pregnant and I’m 90% sure I’m the dad, and…”

Which of these people exploring marriage is headed for success?

I’ve been thinking about the ideas a close friend has been sharing with me. She notes a variety of indicators highlighted by various denizens of the Internet that point toward impending doom. Perhaps in the near future. For an example, what would happen if the oceans rise due to climate change. Now these denizens (such a cool word, denizens) suggest that a ninth planet or brown star that plays do-ce-do with our sun every 3600 years or so may be coming around for the first time since the Deluge of Noah.

If some of the denizens are correct this means that the ocean levels may rise rapidly, rather than gradually; in fact, causing the ice caps to melt so fast that before the end of the year the seas could rise 700 to 800 feet worldwide. Like, on September 23, 2017 or something. What percentage of the world’s population would be displaced? 90%? 95%?

I’m not here to mock these reports. I’ve taken a cursory look at some of the videos my informant has been watching, and it looks like there’s a possibility there’s this brown star (hard to see in telescopes, you need astrophysicists who can observe how the star’s gravitational pull is impacting visible bodies around them) is indeed approaching us with a heat wave unlike anything we can remember.

If that happens it would be what our friend Taleb calls a “black swan event”. I believe in this: Black Swan Events do happen. I take it at face value that they have happened and they will happen again. This is why I don’t mock the prophets. I’m open minded to the possibility that catastrophe could strike this year.

In any case, for those who believe, it raises the question: should we all move to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, (where supposedly even those in the know re: sea levels at the US Navy is directing their retirees to go, sorry I don’t have links to all the videos and blogs that claim these sorts of things) stash some fresh water in bottles, and brace for the worst?

The thing about belief is that true belief spurs you to action, so when you’ve read and seen enough, you do have to ask yourself, what are you going to do about it? This is the case for any number of religious writings you might read, and it’s the case with doomsday prophecies, too. True believers act. Interested parties sit and observe.

Now let’s back off a bit and get back to the theory that goes beyond sea level and climate change issues. I’m not ready to move to Arkansas; I want to speak in more general terms about our attitudes toward action.

First, the problem with recognizing and even believing that Black Swan Events do and will happen, is that by definition there is no way to know how to prepare for them. But I have one suggestion I hope will help.

While it may look like the arrow on your compass is headed in the same direction, I think there’s immense value in the paradigm shift that we ought to move towards things in our lives we hope will be positive as a result of our newfound beliefs, rather than away from things that will be negative. They may seem to be one and the same. The problem with fleeing danger rather than running towards hope is that we end up looking over our shoulder. Like Lot’s Wife in Genesis, we end up a Pillar of Salt. We end up as a stalagmite casualty of focusing on the wrong thing. Now you might argue that Lot’s wife looked back not because she was afraid of what was following her, but because she desired to return to what was known. I’m not sure the story is clear on that point.

In any case, you can’t move towards the most positive thing unless you’re willing to give up what is known. In some ways that means moving towards the positive in spite of our fear of the unknown.

Fleeing danger which we suppose will come tomorrow or in September or early next year, is perhaps not a good enough single reason for doing something. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get out of the road when a  car is coming. You can see the car coming, so move. I’m also not saying you should make your bed in the roadway just because a car isn’t coming at the moment. Pitching a tent in the street because it’s 3 AM and nobody’s coming isn’t wise, because you haven’t headed towards a positive spot.

Whatever you believe about the world ending or God or the latest diet, move towards what’s healthy, it’s a much better way to think about where you’re going: say “I want to be healthy,” rather than staying away from sugar just because you’re afraid of diabetes coming to get you.

Here’s the really helpful bit: Practicing this in your life will also be the best way to prepare for a Black Swan Event, because when the Event arrives (and it will), your mentality will already be this:

“Where’s the opportunity in this unexpected chaos which is forming a new normal? Where is the one place where chaos is not?

You won’t be wishing you could just return to the old normal, because you only need the one reason to move ahead: “Where’s the opportunity?” You won’t try to make something like America “great again” implying that it was best some time ago. (The President and his followers haven’t gotten the picture. They want to run from the negative, hoping they can recapture a positive which has receded like a hairline back into bald history. Instead of seeking opportunities in renewable energy, let’s get those coal miners working, etc.)

By taking the positive approach, using the via negativa and finding opportunity where chaos is not, you’ll be trying to make things greater than they ever were. Even if if the oceans rise 800 feet.

(And if they do, our house could be oceanfront property, because our city is at 801 feet elevation! Sounds like opportunity knocking at my door — or lapping at my sidewalk. Positive action: stock some suntan lotion and a cotton candy machine, and get ready for a lot of campers.)

 

It’s the Little Things

I was talking with a random stranger the other day. He found out I was a coach and asked me what I teach, which is not what coaches do. But I am working on putting together a class on how to make a positive cultural impact, so I told him about that — what I think are the core things people need to do to operate at their peak performance, and what they need to do to bring greater empathy and creativity to the world.

I didn’t have long to lay it out there, but before he moved on, he thought for a second. Then he said, “So, it’s the little things?”

Yes. It’s the little things.

What that means, as I think about it more, is that we’re all very close to it. We only need to do the little things to go from living a normal life to an extraordinary life. Why is that? It doesn’t take a lot to get beyond the ordinary. It will take being intentional and consistent. There is some effort required. But the things themselves are little.

I’ll keep talking about them, because I intend to be consistent with this message.