musings

Build Your Central Park

It's 7 PM.  A pair of sparrows stop briefly by to twitter on about something important while joggers and canines breeze by.  Sun shines from behind as I sit on our deck.  Reflecting.  Resting, if only for a short while.

Thoughtful wanderings at dusk at the Howard County Conservancy.

Thoughtful wanderings at dusk at the Howard County Conservancy.

It is easy to say yes to so many activities that we suddenly find ourselves running too fast to think or even process the very events surrounding us.  Such has happened to me far too often in recent years; consequently, I've discovered that I must deliberately carve out time to not doing anything that I'd consider stressful.

Two weeks ago, I shared several lessons learned reading Jon Acuff's Start.  Another huge reminder in his book was this advice from his friend, Al Andrews:

Build Your Central Park

New York City has a giant green space in the midst of skyscrapers, a world of relaxation nestled in the midst of a kingdom of frenzied movement.  What if that city had no central park?  What if our lives have no built-in place of respite and recreation?

What recharges you?  How do you rest?  For me, taking time to be out in the wilderness, writing, playing music, or good conversation with a close friend is soul-restoration.  I need this time to thrive.  Without it, I merely survive.

Build yourself a Central Park.  Guard it.  Nurture it.  And perhaps you'll find the times in which you work and strive and create to be all the more focused and impactful.

We need to take breaks from our busyness to recreate, recenter, and revive.

We need to take breaks from our busyness to recreate, recenter, and revive.

Investment is Not About Money

There is an old story about a rich man who invested in three individuals, giving about $5 million to one, $2 million to another, and $1 million to the third.  He went away on a journey, expecting to find, when he was to come home again, that they had stewarded his investments and made a good return.  Upon his arrival, he discovered that the first two had doubled his investment, while the third simply buried it for safekeeping.  The first two, he praised; the third, he denounced as lazy, even evil.

This story, told by Jesus, is not about money, and it's about far more than I will write here.  Nevertheless, perhaps a question behind the story can be stated this way:

What will you do with the life you have been given?

Belle Island, Richmond.

It's easy for me to ask myself this question and feel an immense burden to do something meaningful and lasting and great, in essence paralyzing myself into inaction - afraid to mess up and consequently doing nothing at all.  I have a tendency like that third individual, to put my gifts in the bank and wait.

Bu what if the question is not a burden, but an invitation?  In the story I mention, we see great wrath come upon the lazy man for his inaction.  That cannot be taken lightly.  At the same time, what if God asks of us "What will you do with this life I've given to you?" with something of a grin and a gleam in His eye and an outstretched hand? In the midst of whatever uncertainty or self-doubt or difficulty - will you do the wonderful and difficult work of bringing light into a dark place?  Of leaving the world a better place than you found it?

Will you keep going when you fall, when life's disappointments threaten to overwhelm?  Will you wake up and take another risk?  Will you, like Jeremy Cowart has done, replace the word impossible with I'm possible?  What dividends will come through your perseverance in whatever situation comes to your mind as you read this?

I've got things in that bank vault that need to see daylight.  I need to learn to begin each day with this thought - today I have the chance and the choice to invest in hope. Today I can responsibly invest the gifts I've been given.

So:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver

Choose Meaningful Work

Wen was the last time you found yourself in the midst of a project that was deeply fulfilling and truly meaningful?

Do goats have meaningful goals?  Eating everything and climbing the tallest possible object are solid candidates.

Several months ago, during a job interview, I was asked about my college senior design project experience. Having neglected to go back and refresh my memory of that accomplishment, I fumbled my explanation of our work and my contributions.  Yet, when they asked about my Eagle Scout leadership project, which I had completed in 2005, I had no problem sharing what I had accomplished, the challenges I had faced, and a wide variety of specifics throughout that particular design process.  I'd done no refreshing of memory; I had no need for it.

The key difference? Personal buy-in.

My Eagle Scout project mattered to me. The fence we built for the local conservancy provided a habitat for several goats, much to the delight of countless preschool tours and other guests over the last ten years.  While I'm not generally excited about goats, the chance to benefit an important institution in our community, alongside good friends and my father (for whom I was determined to reach Eagle), drove me forward.

My senior design project was, in the end, about a good grade. We were designing a SCRAMjet test rig with grant money from a large aerospace firm.  Interesting work, good friends on the team, decent progress by the completion of the year, and certainly important research.  Yet, frankly, I had little personal stake in it. It was a responsibility, but not a joy - perhaps mostly because I knew I would not see a direct positive effect on my life and community as a result of our work (at least for many years!).

Whenever possible, seek meaningful work. Seek opportunities that align with your heart. Oftentimes, we must do something because it must be done, but the experiences you remember decades later will be those you chose because they truly mattered.

What meaningful project is just over your horizon?

 

Three Recent Discoveries

I've recently left Hobbiton, you might say.  So I thought, from time to time, I'd share some things I've been learning on this little journey of mine.  Come join the ride!

Highway guard rails are different now.  Perhaps they learned something and made it better.

  • Constant Feedback is Essential. In a recent episode of The Portfolio Life, Jeff Goins and Pat Flynn discussed the need to "validate an idea before you leap." Deciding to own a franchise of a restaurant no one likes and building it in a county with only 85 residents is not a well-thought-out plan.  In order to validate an idea, you have to pitch it: talk to friends, launch a beta release, pepper various strangers with questions. It's possible your idea is good, but seeking ruthless feedback and criticism can make your idea great. I didn't ask for much feedback when I designed this website. The more I learn, the more I realize I need to go talk to more people and seriously overhaul this thing.  What's good about this website?  What's garbage?  Is the word 'curiousitive' cool at all or actually completely stupid (I'm starting to think it's the latter!)?
  • Good Storytelling is Good Marketing. Don Miller and the Story Brand team basically take the essential plot of Star Wars (Hero with a problem meets a guide who sends him/her on a quest where failure brings disastrous consequences and success yields amazing results), and teach a businessperson to frame their service or product through this lens, in which the businessperson is the guide and their client is the hero. If I can tell you the story of what I do - the problem of yours that I can solve - in a compelling and understandable way, it's much easier for you to know what I have to offer and whether it truly does solve your problem.  When you need photographs, what are they for?  How do you choose a photographer?  Does this website clearly identify how I can meet those needs?
  • I Do My Best Writing In The Morning. I tried to write this post late on Saturday evening after a busy week. After a half hour of fogged frustration I gave up and watched an episode of Agent Carter. On Monday evening, I tried again, scrapping the original manuscript and going with this 'what-I've-learned' format. After choosing two topics and stalling on the third, I thought, ugh, I can't write at night! With a laugh, I realized I discovered my third topic. I am much better at writing in the morning when I am fresh and my mind is full of possibility, rather than exhausted by the events of the day. Therefore, if I am to consistently write quality content, I need to schedule time in the mornings to sit down and just do it. When are you at your highest levels of productivity and creativity?

Keep learning!  And I'd love to read your comments below.