Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 57: The Best Way to Destroy Debt - An Intro

All right! June is here. It's a new month and that means a new budget!

If you've been following this blog, you've come to realize that out of the many things I've written about, the most consistent has been money and budgeting. I firmly believe that regardless of our income, we are all stewards of the financial resources we do have and we have a responsibility to steward them well. So I set out early on in this blog to write about The Lisi Home of Budget Practices because The Wifey and I have been on a journey for over two years to get this stewardship thing down and I want to help people do the same.

Last week I wrote a small piece about the amount of debt young adults carry these days as it pertains to credit card debt. We all know that most of us just don't have credit card debt. The statistics on student loans reveal that this type of debt is also crippling. In fact, based on the stories of friends I know, student debt is a much bigger issue any other debt they carry.

So what do we do about it? Well, the following is a primer on Baby Step #2 in Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. It's called the Debt Snowball and the premise is very simple. What follow is basically taken right from him, so he deserves all the credit. I share it with no apology because we saw it work for us. We were able to pay off all debt within 15 months!!! This was definitely the most rewarding Baby Step we've experienced and I think it's because we don't have that sense of being a slave to anyone anymore.

So here's what you do:

List all your debts - credit card, car, student loans, whatever - in order of smallest to largest. The order should not be based on minimum payment or interest amount; focus solely on the total amount for each debt. Let's use an example. You have a credit card debt of $1000, a car loan of $10,000, and a student loan of $7000. The order is

  1. Credit Card - $1000 ($60)
  2. Student Loan - $7000 ($180)
  3. Car Loan - $10000 ($220)
Again, you do not care about interest rates. Trying to figure out all of that just complicates things and really gets in the way of what you're trying to accomplish, which is to have 0% interest on it all because you have no debt anymore! 

Now, in budgeting more effectively, you should hopefully have freed up a bit more money to tackle debt. Let's say you buttoned down a bit by not eating out as much and getting fewer haircuts and had an extra $200 a month you can apply toward debt. What do you do next?

Pay off smallest debt first. While still paying the minimum payments on the other debts, use the $200 to go toward the credit card debt. This means you're using $260 a month to kill that debt. You will have it paid off in just under four months and you will never have to worry about it again! This is the key. There's so much in the small wins and seeing progress quickly that motivates you to tackle the bigger challenges are ahead. Then what do you do?

Well, you'll have to wait until the next post or just go ahead and read Dave's post here.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 56: Stop Asking Less Than What You Want to Know

Yesterday I wrote about how I want to get into the practice of not answering more than what is asked. I'd actually love it if we all got into that habit as there are very few people I know who actually do it well and effectively.

I want to go back to the example I shared from that scene in West Wing. How do you normally answer the question, "Do you know what time it is?" If you're like me, you answer like CJ and the rest of humanity. "12:05." But what if we all did actually get in the habit of actually answering the question that's asked?

I posed this to The Wifey yesterday and she said what I anticipated in my post. It was something to the effect of, "You're not really going to answer that question with just 'yes' are you?" I responded by practicing what I had just written.


"Ugh...that's annoying."

"I know!" I said.

But then something dawned on me. Just as we can answer than what is asked in a question we can ask less than what we want out of our questions. Let me explain.

Out of years of dialogue with people we've all created a ton of shortcuts in how we speak. They are built off of past experiences and exchanges. It's highly possible that as a kid you took the question "Do you know what time it is?" for what it was and answered "Yes." Then either your parents or your teachers or some other authority figure said, "Don't be a smartass, what time is it?" or "Well then, what time is it?" Even if you weren't trying to be smart, adults who have learned the shorthand ask out of the assumption that you should know it too. So when they hear "yes," they respond in a way that says you know what I meant. And because of experiences like that, you learn to assume the question that they meant to ask as opposed to the one that was asked. You and I begin to participate in the vicious circle in who knows how many other instances where we read additional meaning into a question rather than dealing directly with the question.

What would happen if we practiced stopping two things then, answering more than we are asked and asking less than what we want to know? I can only see good things. For one, a lot of unstated assumptions will be thrown out the window on both sides. Another benefit is that for most of us who are talkers, we will have to learn thoughtfully an economy of words, which definitely does the world a lot of good. Last, I think we will just learn how to ask really good, accurate, and most importantly, honest, questions, even if they are simple.

As I'm thinking about closing this blog, I am even tempted to throw out an empty question like, "what do you think?" Is that really what I want to ask? No. And that's the point. It's less than what I want to know. It's a nebulous, throwaway question that's often asked when it feels like there's nothing left to ask. So I'm racking my brain trying to come up with what I want to ask.

And my 30 minutes are up!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 55: Stop Answering More Than You're Asked

Before reading my post, just check out this 1:30 clip of an episode on the West Wing. The scene is between the White House Press Secretary, CJ Cregg, played by the charming Allison Janney and the White House Counsel, Oliver Babish, played by an actor I love watching even if he's never a main role, Olliver Platt.

In this scene, Oliver is interviewing CJ after she learns of President Josiah Bartlett's health condition. His task is to uncover any possibility of lying that may have occurred while this condition remained a secret to many. The key for this post is the dialogue from 1:07 to 1:30. Check it out.

In case you didn't check out the video here's the dialogue below:
OLIVER Okay. [pause] Do you know what time it is? 
C.J. pauses and glances to her right, presumably at a clock on the wall. 
C.J. It’s five past noon. 
OLIVER I’d like you to get out of the habit of doing that. 
C.J. Doing what? 
OLIVER Answering more than was asked... Do you know what time it is? 
C.J. stares at him silently for several moments. 
C.J. [annoyed] Yes.
How often do you answer more than is asked in a question? Sure, this is intended to prepare her for a courtroom setting, but nevertheless it is such an important lesson to learn. How often do you take for granted the specific question and answer one that isn't asked? It could be something as simple as a "yes" to the question "do you know what time it is?" But it can also be a question like "what are you doing?" and instead of answering, "the dishes," you say "why are you asking? Can't you see I'm doing the dishes? You're always asking questions!"

Perhaps I need to clarify. What I see happening here in this scene is how emotion drives our answers to questions. I saw it a lot in myself today at work through a specific e-mail I received. Instead of answering the specific question asked by a client, I read into it all the discussions that had preceded it. I drafted an long e-mail to answer the question in the context of that larger discussion, one that, looking back on it was lengthy because it was defensive. To be on the safe side, I sent it to be read by another set of eyes. I thought he would send me back an edited version of my e-mail. Instead, he told me I'm not addressing the question asked, but one that isn't even asked and that I should respond to the question and not the situation. Thankfully, I had whatever wits about me to send it to him before sending it to the client.

You see, I wrote that e-mail in an emotional, defensive posture. I read behind the question to a question that wasn't even asked and answered that. In doing so, I not only addressed the question, but answered a heck of a lot more than what was asked. I brought this up with The Wifey and said, "I do this a heck of a lot, don't I?" "You do," my adorable, brutally honest love said.

Why should we take Oliver's words to heart? Why should we stop answering more than what we're asked? Because there's something beautiful to being disciplined and patient enough to only answer what is asked. The most important reasons it's beautiful is that it doesn't assume anything about the person or the situation other than the question that's being asked. Perhaps we need to start small (and annoying) with answers like "yes" to questions like "do you know what time it is" in order to get to the place my friend at work is (he's amazing at this). I can see it when it's done well and even coach others toward that direction because I know how valuable it is, but I am not a practicer of my own preaching here.

Am I the only one though? Hopefully only one word came to mind if you've learned anything in this post.

I'm just hoping that word is, "No."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 54: Learn What You Can Control

Out of all the aspects of life that you try to control, just remember that the only area you will find any success in is self-control.

Remember this today.

That's all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 53: The Power of Paper

An objection needs to be made to this notion in relationships where people say they're committed and in love that they "don't need a piece of paper," i.e. marriage, to prove it.

Do you remember buying your first car?

I remember when I bought my first car as an adult. In fact, it was the Honda Civic we just sold to make room for the Accord we got for our growing family. I had that sweet Civic for about 10 years and I clearly remember all the work it took to get that car.

I had to call the Credit Union to find out if I was even worthy of a loan. Thankfully I learned that I had so-called "excellent credit" which merely meant the interest rate on the car loan was lower than it would be for other types of credit; still, it was a loan and there was interest. However, this empowered me to get a car when I didn't even own a bike and yet somehow needed a way to get to work and drive around the state in order to raise support (if you're even the least bit curious, check out this post on what I was doing 10 years ago).

The next step was to go buy the car. I had it narrowed down between a stylish, blue 4-door Dodge Neon that had a good bit of pickup. The only problem for me was that it was a Dodge Neon. I wasn't a man who knew a lot at the time, but I didn't have too many friends clamoring, banging down doors to pick up used Dodge Neons. I took that as sign toward future resale value of the car. The challenger was a trusty, beige, 2003 2-door Honda Civic that had some sweet wave graphics on the doors, which, if I bought the car, I knew I would never ever ever try to take off. Let me be honest, they were what put the car over the top and I decided to buy it (sure, the resale value was a plus too).

Then came time for me to own the car; well I guess I didn't technically own it given that the bank held the title, but it was going to be my car. I only had to take one major step. You know what that is, right? Yup, I had to sign the paperwork. The paperwork wasn't massive, but there was a feeling that came with working through all those documents and signing my name to them. I was committing to this vehicle; I was claiming it as my responsibility; I was making promises to the bank that I would be good for the loan. In short, I was formalizing my relationship.

Do you remember that feeling? Now consider this: don't most of life's significant decisions and relationships as an adult involve signing a contract, a piece of paper? Think about it. You had to sign a commitment to the college you attended. You sign a commitment for the car, whether it be buying a car or selling it and signing the title away. You sign mountains of paper when purchasing a home.

Paper is powerful. The verbal or understood agreement is formalized and made tangible through the unchanging, static document that contains your personal signature. It exists separate from the words you said yesterday, say today, and will say tomorrow. In terms of a car purchase, it exists as an emotionless reference point for when you don't feel like paying a loan back, saying, "oh well, you committed and have to pay it somehow."

And this is the confounding, challenging beauty of the piece of paper for those people who say they don't need one. When do people say that anyway? When everything is going well in the relationship, of course! Without it, when things aren't going as well, people will say that they are glad there is no paper because it was inevitably going to end anyway.

But this is why we all need to see that the most significant decisions in life, especially a committed relationship where marriage is being considered, need the piece of paper. It is the objective reminder both in good times and bad what the commitment is really about.

In an age where much of life is getting less and less formal, especially relationships, I believe we need to remember the power of paper.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day 52: The Economics of Friendship - A Theory

I believe investing in friendships and investing money are extremely similar. I want to take some time to explain why I believe this

My theory is that both rely on compounding interest to increase the original investment over time. So, this is going to be a primer in investing money, but it will all make sense in the last paragraph (I think there has to be a disclaimer here about how I'm not a professional and do not get paid for my advice). 

Investing money is quite simple. Conventional wisdom over the last several decades has stated that if one wants to have a sizable sum of money near retirement age, one should invest in an index fund. An index fund is a fund that mirrors a major market index. The clearest example of this is the S&P 500. This is an index of the 500 largest companies in America by market capitalization. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and the like are in this index. Funds exist to mirror this index because it has been shown that the S&P 500 tends to outperform most of the mutual fund managers out there. In short, an index fund like an S&P Index Fund is as close to a sure thing as you can get these days.

The big question remaining is when do you invest your money in something like this? The answer is, "the sooner, the better." Why? Because of the beautiful existence of compounding interest. The best way to explain compounding interest is to consider a snowball rolling down a hill (this same illustration applies to debt, which I will talk about in a Monday is for Money post). The original snowball continues to get added to and get bigger as it rolls farther and farther down the hill. This is compounding interest. The original investment gains interest over time and then there is more interest applied to the original investment and the initial interest gained, but the key is how often does the interest compound. Depending on the situation, it can be monthly or annually or some other determined time. 

Compound interest applied to an initial investment early on in life allows you to not have to be concerned so much later about investing a ton of money with much less return. Here's an example.

At 25, an initial investment of $10,000 compounded annually at 8% until age 60 (35 years) gives you a return of $100,626. Now take the same parameters for someone at just 5 years older for 30 years and the return is $68,485. That's a $32,000 difference just because of time!!! In other words, it would take a much larger principle amount or many more deposits to try and catch up.

Now what does this have to do with friendship? 

In short, my theory is that compound interest applies to friendship in much the same way. I believe the friendships we invest in early on in life tend to have a longer, lasting impact on us than those we develop later in life. The reason is compound interest. The friends I made at 12 are still in my life today. We don't talk as much as we used to, but the initial investment made then has been compounded so many times, that when we do talk, there's a greater value and depth than the friendships I've developed in recent years. This is that whole idea of "we haven't talked in forever, but when we do it's like we've never stopped" that all of us are familiar with. Yet on the other side, in order to develop friendships like that now, at 32, the initial investment has to be much higher and I have to make many more deposits. It is a heck of a lot more challenging now, but it is possible. 

I'm outta time, but I think I'm on to something. What say you?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Rest

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

The sky has been shifting all day from sunny to overcast to rainy as clouds roll through as if they're running away from something. It's the perfect day for an afternoon nap. In fact, I just woke up from one. I've joked that naps should have been built into my schedule when I was in college -- for credit. All jokes aside, naps truly are the Eighth Wonder of the World.

And now that my mind has come out of a dream state, it's back to swirling about like thousands of fish in a tiny tank. I tend to think about all that needs to get done, all the work I need to accomplish, whether it be for my job or the work of helping run a home, being a friend to others, loving my family. On that last one you might be saying, "that's not work," but admit it, you know it is. It's good work, but work nonetheless.

What tends to consume my mind is what has yet to be done. In fact, I can sit here and stare at the screen for minutes -- very valuable minutes seeing as how I'm on a 30 minute time -- and be consumed by what will come next. I don't write anything! Other than that, it can be the dinner I'm going to cook tonight, the budget I'll prepare for my Free Spirit to glance, the tough phone call I have to make, and especially the week of work ahead of me at the office. Again, some of this is good and some of it can be anxiety inducing.

Do you know what I mean? Doesn't it especially hit you at the end of a long weekend like this? Great philosophers have written about this, philosophers like The Bangles, who wrote an entire song about the weekend's end called Manic Monday, where they exposit that they wish it were Sunday because that's their "fun day." And there's the other great writer, Mike Judge, who, in his classic film Office Space, encapsulated what we all feel in one poignant line, "Looks like somebody's got a case of the Mondays."

Mondays, or in this case Tuesday with the long weekend, can bring with them a sense of dread. Knowing that everybody's working for the weekend, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we love Fridays a ton and dread Mondays because the weekends give freedom to do what we want. Weekends give us the freedom to nap. And as I make the obvious term to get deep right now, I want to say that weekends give us a glimpse into the rest we long for, a rest that doesn't seem achievable in this world.

That's because we have forgotten. We've forgotten what the Psalm I shared at the top is striving to remind us. We can work. We can build our "houses" -- creating for ourselves our names, our reputation, our bank accounts, our promotions. We can guard our "gates" -- protecting all that we've built up in our time. But without the Lord, it is all empty and the fruits of our efforts are the kind of bread that we can't enjoy. Instead, you and I are called to remember that our Creator has made us, his Creation, to know that we are loved by him, given freedom to rest in this life, and enjoy a nap.

Anxious toil is about gripping tightly to your work in this world and all that you accomplish. Rest is about relinquishing control to Him because, regardless of what you do, He is the one Who makes it matter.

My nap reminded me of this today. I needed it. I hope you needed it today too.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Monday is for Money: The Reality of Debt - Credit Card Style

Do you remember getting your first credit card?

I sure as heck do. It was a big deal. I went to the bank with my Auntie just as I was getting ready to go off to college. I recall sitting at the desk of the advisor talking through what it means to have a credit card. I believe my initial limit was something like $500 or $1000. Two reasons were given for why I should have a card at this point in my life.
  1. It's for emergencies.
  2. Gots to build up that credit.
This all made sense to me at the time. Looking back, though, these two reasons for getting a credit card seem to conflict. In order to build up credit, one of the fastest ways is to use a credit card. However, it requires frequent use of your credit. This flies smack dab in the face of "It's just for emergencies" logic, which, by definition, shouldn't happen often. In these cases, credit is used as a last resort. In other words, using a credit card for emergencies is a defensive approach while using it for building credit is an offensive approach. One is going to give way to the other.

And we all know which one prevails.

Credit cards are just one example of how many Americans, especially young adults my age, are bogged down by "that which shall not be named," but will be named because otherwise this makes no sense: debt. Go ahead and Google "debt statistics for young adults" and you will see article after article about the reality of debt the average young adult carries. In a sense this reflects my sentiment above; young adults don't want to call debt what it is and what it actually means for them. Instead, there's an avoidance of the reality and a postponing of taking real responsibility. Perhaps it's a misunderstanding, so I should take some time to explain what debt is.

In the simplest terms I know, debt is the result of asking for money from a person or institution, receiving that money, and then using that money to pay another person or institution. The most basic example is asking for $5 from a friend to get some grub at McDonald's. Technically speaking, you are indebted to your friend. Now, she can forgive your debt by saying, "it's not a big deal, just take it," but unless that is what your friend says, you owe her $5 (and you best pay up!). Beyond that, it gets a bit more complicated because lending institutions, such as banks, make their money on a little something called interest. Interest tends to be a percentage on top of the money loaned. Here's another example. Say I'm willing to loan you $100 so you can buy that pair of jeans that's on sale (this may not be the best example as buying a pair of jeans on sale for $100 is crazy to me), but state that in order for you to receive the money, you must pay me back with 5% interest. So not only do you have to pay me back the $100, but you owe me an additional $5, meaning you have to figure out a way to get that extra $5 and I made an easy $5 just because I had $100 when you didn't. Bottom line: Those jeans you bought for $100 really cost you $105.

And that's how the credit card companies get you.

Here's an exercise: look around your apartment or home and consider the last big purchase you made with a credit card. Then ask yourself how long it took you to pay it off. If you were unable to pay off the debt that same month, take into account the interest you had to pay on top of the original purchase price.

I'm just scratching the surface on debt here, but it's important to get the basic idea down. My hope is that your eyes will begin to open slowly (or super quickly!) to this powerful, but true, maxim: The debtor is slave to the lender.

The Great Idea (Hint: It's getting engaged)

So yesterday I wrote about my brother-in-law's sweet way of proposing to his now-fiancée. In case you missed it, he wrote a script and directed a video about their relationship using friends wearing fake heads. He then rented out a movie theater and after the credits were over with the first, extremely boring, unnecessary movie, his amazing, exciting, film played.

I thought it'd be fun to follow up yesterday's post with the film he made to propose.

Super proud of this guy and pumped to see what the future holds for them.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Oh Love!

Engagements are a beautiful event to watch. I think we all love them because they are short moments in time that mark the significance of a relationship, looking toward future joy while reveling in the present experience of it. 

Tonight was no exception as my younger brother-in-law asked his little lady to marry him. 

And of course he did it in an uber creative way. He wrote a script about their relationship, filmed a movie, and had friends act as he and his lady using hilarious, homemade fake heads. Then he managed to have it play after the credits of Avengers at the movie theater tonight, where he got on one knee when it was over and proposed. We got to witness it all firsthand and I bet it was a treat for the few strangers waiting for an additional secret scene.

And as tonight was the first night he put a ring on it, it's also the first night he and she got to don the heads themselves. 

Congrats you two. Thanks for letting us revel with you. It only gets better. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Tension Exposed

This experiment of writing for thirty minutes everyday in a public fashion is exposing certain insecurities in a way I don't think I could have experienced any other way. I write as if someone is watching over my shoulder or knowing that I am going to talk with certain people about the blog the next day. I write wondering if the handful of you who read this wonder if it's any good. I write concerned about the topics and direction the blog is heading in. It is almost as if it is its own character in a TV show and I don't know where it will be in the upcoming seasons.

That's actually a thing by the way. I had always assumed that writers draw out massive story arcs for characters, regardless of if it's a movie, a show, a play, or a book. But I learned through my incessant pursuit of background information for Mad Men that Matthew Weiner, the creator and writer for the show, didn't know how the characters were going to turn out. Sure, he wanted the plot and direction of a show that lasted nearly 8 years in real-time and spanned just over 10 years in TV time, to fit with the general characteristics of each person, but that didn't necessarily mean that their lives where planned. That's fascinating to me to think about, but it makes sense. Rarely does something become or end in a way that we envision when we first start it.

Because life happens. Life is happening right now as I blog. And it's part of this process of to stay committed to the task at hand -- which is the only sure thing -- while incorporating the dust cloud of life's activities that's swirling all around you. It's this synthesis, commitment to the work in front of you and all of life's other activities, that eventually creates a new form, a new shape, a new...thing. It doesn't have to be earth shattering or unlike anything ever seen before; that is just rare stuff that I can't necessarily explain here. But in terms of an individual, especially in terms of what I'm trying to achieve here, it just has to be new to the one trying to do it. In this case, it has to be something new to me.

Some people call this maturing. Some people call it finding your voice. Whatever it's called, there has to be enough substance for people who do read to find it somewhat worthwhile, but there also has to be a level of grace and curiosity on the part of readers to know that it is all something in development. Back to Mad Men, while that show was amazing and the first season was good, it didn't really take off, in my opinion, until the season finale, the episode called The Carousel. I believe Weiner had even said they weren't sure the show was going to get picked up for a second season. In my honest opinion the best seasons were 3 & 4. I'm not saying the show went downhill by any means. But by season 4 the show hit it's stride and for the most part delivered extremely quality stuff.

The point is this: We had to go on that journey of discovery with them as the show went on. And I'm learning that there's a tension here in this blog as well. It's a process of discovery. I'm committed to the task to write. I see how it sometimes clashes and synthesizes with life. I'm also very aware that people read this.

Commitment. Life. Discovery. An audience. Tension.

The writing will go on. It's just a question of whether you're committed to the journey as well.

We'll see.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Master the Fundamentals

Someone from work was telling me about his night last night. He mentioned that he had tee ball and then went to a band concert. I naturally asked if he is playing a lot of tee ball these days (I don't think it's a far stretch seeing as how, next to hockey, adult kickball is one of the most popular sports in Chicago). He of course told me that it's not him who's playing tee ball, but his six year-old son. He mentioned that the league his son is in ranges from five to seven year-olds, a pretty wide range when you consider the differences between a five and seven year old.

Yet they're all in this phase of life of learning fundamentals. I remember this age as the time of learning how to hold a pencil to write out the alphabet, read books, spell, do some basic math. And, I remember the sports I played, including tee ball is the fundamental beginning to baseball. At this age, those boys are learning how to throw, catch, run, and hit. Hitting in tee ball is the most unique because it's the one component of the game that's completely different at another stage in life. In tee ball, the ball rests on a rubber tube right in front of you and all you have to do is hit the ball by swinging the bat and making contact. Kids are learning how to do all of that without the added complexity of the ball moving.

But here's what stood out to me when we kept talking about tee ball - hitting a ball on a tee is something that continues well beyond those early years. Even when I played baseball in high school, one of the primary hitting drills we did was hit hundreds of balls off the tee. And, you know as well as I do that hitting a ball off the tee the right way is actually super hard. The point behind these drills is to get better and better at the fundamentals that are key to being a good hitter, so that when the ball is coming at you 90 miles an hour, you don't think, you just react, and you react with a all the right pieces in place to make the best contact possible. Tee ball is something that sticks with you the entire time you play baseball, even if you make it to the big leagues

Here's the point of the illustration: it's not merely learning fundamentals, but mastering fundamentals that's key to how we actually become good at anything.

I believe this is true because fundamentals are the most basic building blocks off of the foundation of principles or philosophy. In other words, fundamentals are the initial actions of giving principles. And because they are closest to principles, mastering fundamentals allows the principles to be expressed with their fullest potential. This is true for baseball and I believe it's true for anything: playing an instrument, writing code, cooking, teaching, selling...whatever.

The problem is that most of us, including me, grow impatient. Fundamentals are boring and practicing them can feel like nails on a chalkboard. We want bigger, more exciting challenges, well before we've actually learned, understood, and especially mastered fundamentals. But anyone who's a master of their craft will tell you that the key to it is breaking down all the noise to the most essential components and becoming the best at those they can be. They make the fundamentals look almost non-existent because they're infused in all of the complex pieces of their craft.

This is what makes people stand out above the rest. It's not because they're smarter or better or more talented or whatever. Those that stand out do so because regardless of intellect or talent, they are of the few in this world with the patience and dedication to master the fundamentals.

What in your life can you look at and say, "this is something I want to master?" This is a call to remember that if we want to master any kind of craft, we must be patient and master the fundamentals first.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What Kind of Relationships Do You Have?

Are you a "broad and shallow" or "narrow and deep" type of person?

Broad and shallow.

This is the approach I've taken most in life when I've sought to have an impact on the lives of others. Part of this plays to my strengths and personality: I'm an extrovert, I like new relationships and starting stuff. I don't like details or staying in a place or on a topic for too long. I'm a butterfly in a crowded room and definitely experience FOMO in those situations.

I would much rather have a little bit of a relationship with a lot of people than a super deep relationship with only a small number.

Social media, for me then, is a drug because it plays into all that I've ever wanted. I never regulated my Facebook page when I had one. I would accept pretty much everybody as a "friend," probably to the point that if some fake person claiming to be me asked me to be his friend, I'd accept. I'm sure I would have accepted fake versions of me at some point.

I believe we live in a point in time where the broad and shallow is touted as the way to go. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers on Instagram or Twitter? How many peeps on Pintrest? What about Tumblr? What about blogs? And then there's LinkedIn. I've noticed recently on LinkedIn that there is a title people place near their names: L.I.O.N. Do you know what it stands for? I didn't for a while, but then learned that it means LinkedIn Open Networker. From what I gather, these are folk who almost make a job out of the connections they have on there. I thought I could be proud of the nearly 1,500 I have, but these people are easily hitting 5K and upward on there? I'm sure there are a ton of benefits and I know some very successful, smart people who are in this group.

If I'm honest, I'm drawn to being in that group. I'm simply of the tribe that thinks, "the more I'm connected, there's more of some chance that something will happen with someone." Vague, I know. But, truth be told, great things have happened for me through those kinds of connections. Perhaps the only example I need to give is the fact that I got my current job through a somewhat random connection on Facebook and, after he saw my post on there about needing a job, reached out to me (that'll be a blog post soon: "Get a job the Lisi way.").

Back to my main point though. While I default to the broad and shallow, I long to be of the narrow and deep. I often wonder if this is an unnecessary conflict that resides in me. Why don't I just accept who I am and commit to the broad and narrow approach to my relationships? In that question I keep coming back to one point that nags me into that longing I have and that's the issue of quality. I am under the impression that those who are of the narrow and deep tribe experience a greater sense of quality in their relationships that I tend to sacrifice for the broad and shallow. I picture a richness in the narrow and deep relationships, almost like the silkiness of delicious chocolate, that calls only for a small taste to provide a lasting satisfaction and joy.

I'm sure there's a balance between the two worlds. I want to believe there is. I imagine having this conversation with people, both friends who I've known for years and people I just am getting to know and I watch it play out with them telling me, "You can have both, Andrew. Stop pretending like it's just one way or the other." That's why I want to believe there's a balance - because advice givers always provide the easy road and the pat answer. But if there's a balance, I haven't figured it out yet. I know that's true because I default toward the broad and shallow and long for the narrow and deep. Maybe that's balance, but I just call it tension. Tension is stressful; balance is peaceful. I am not there.

So for all you narrow and broad folk out there, for those of you who are either very content in that world or maybe long to be the uber-connected individual - what does your side of life look like? Any words of wisdom on how I might be able to come closer to where you live? If you provide pointers, I'll connect with you on all types of social media...if that's what you want, of course.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The All-Together Ones

What do you think about people who seem to have it all together?

You know who I'm talking about. Or maybe not. To me, it's those people who know what they want to do with their life, those people who seem to know their purpose. Some of them discover it at a young age. My Wifey is one of those people. She knew at the age of 6 that she wanted to be a teacher; she also knew somewhere along the way that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. These roles were her dream. She didn't diverge from them at all. She became a teacher right after college and thankfully we're in a position where she can fulfill her other dream by staying at home with The Boy, future baby, and hopefully other fantastic Little Lisis (we'd love to have a small brood). She'd love to go back to teaching some day. All in all though, she loves her life and truly lives knowing she is fulfilling her purpose. People in this camp are also folk like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and it seems a ton of my friends who are currently in their dream jobs or are writing books or crazy stuff like that.

Then there are those people who seem to discover their purpose later in life. These days they always seem to be bloggers. Countless people -- like Jeff Goins, Jon Acuff, Matt Walsh, Pioneer Woman or Perez Hilton to name a few -- have made entire careers off of blogging, almost coming out of nowhere. Perhaps it seems so prevalent to me because I'm trying to get a blog off the ground with an inane idea and read some of these blogger or because bloggers just get to write a lot more about how they "discovered their passion" by using, well, blogging. At any rate, there seem to be those wanderers who learn later in life what their purpose is and tend to go after it with dogged desire and zeal. I'm also thinking of folk like Bill Bright.

It's this sense of purpose -- not necessarily success, fame, or fortune, but purpose -- that makes me look at them and see people who have it all together. What do you think about people like this? Be like them? Punch them in the face? To be honest, I'm often envious.

I have a general sense of purpose in my existence; I'm far from fatalistic. At the core of my identity is one who is a child of God and I have grown more and more aware of how little achievement and success means in terms of identity. In other words, who I am is not defined by what I do. Most people, including those with a strong sense of purpose, who do seem to have it all together, do not get this.

However that may be true for me, I still find in myself a longing "to have it all together" in terms of what I do. Yes, I matter in the eyes of God, but will anything I accomplish have a lasting significance? When I look at those people who do have it all together, or seem to, I can answer "yes" for them from my perspective. My YES! is resounding for My Wifey and almost as much so for all the famous folk. There's a clarity, an understanding, a vision -- all of which I feel as though I lack because as of now there is nothing really "together" for me in terms of what I do.

It is either that, or I have yet to learn to be content with what is clearly in front of me as my purpose...

And that's a whole other can of worms.

This blog is an idea. An experiment. An adventure. I am writing a post on one thought for 30 minutes everyday for a full year. If you like what I write, have an idea for me to write about, or have any feedback, please share in the comments below. Also, if you think it is at all valuable to you, share it because it just might be the same for someone else. Boom!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Monday is for Money: Create Funds

In this "Monday is for Money" I want to talk about a side to your budget that you may not be considering.

Budgets should contain two main spending categories: Monthly spending and funds. Most of what I have written about deals with the monthly spending category. Your budget should be set up in a way where you can understand how your cash flow works month-to-month, making adjustments when you have your meeting of the minds, all with the goal of having a zero-based budget. For example, if you overspend on groceries, consider adjusting your budget for the next month by changing the budget from another category where you aren't spending as much. It is good to remember that the budget you set only needs to be set for that month.

Your monthly spending will be most of your categories, but you should also consider having some items in your budget set up as funds. Funds are established when you know you will be spending on that item periodically throughout the year or in a few years. The major benefit of funds comes out of the same philosophy as budgeting in general: You get to plan financially for your future, both expected and unexpected events, with a level of control you haven't had before. Here are some categories I recommend for funds:

  • Emergency Fund: This is the primary fund you should establish right away with your budget. I have covered this in other posts, but it can be in a high-yield savings account. Get it to at least $1,000 and don't let it drop below that, unless, of course, you have an emergency.
  • Christmas Gifts: Most of us love to give around the holiday season. I'm not by any means a gift giver, but I still love getting presents for people around that that time of year. But don't you hate looking at your credit card bill in January? Knowing that, what about setting up a fund that you put some money toward every week or month until November. 
  • Car Maintenance & Replacement: Basic maintenance on a car requires an oil change and tire rotations roughly 3-4 times a year. You also know that your car isn't going to last forever, whether because you have a two-door that can't fit more kids or just for the fact that cars don't last. So why not set up some funds for both so that your covered for your maintenance and, when the time comes for a new car, you can either buy the car outright (like we just did with our most recent purchase) or put a massive down payment on something else. You might say, "what about bigger, unexpected repair expenses?" Boom! - Emergency Fund is there!
  • Vacation: This might seem like common sense; all of these might to you, but most people don't live this way. Instead of planning toward something we "live in the moment" and assume we'll just be able to pay for it later. This happens with vacations. Many plan vacations, the details of them, but with the mindset that they can pay them off later. Why not plan with your finances as well? Set aside money every month for the generic vacation and, when the time comes, you can apply it toward that trip to the islands or to New York, like we did!
Have you started any funds yet? Any from these items? Which would you add?

Going Home

'Twas a great time. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

If Anything, Love Is Clearly This

"Love can be a many splendid thing...all you need is love."

The definitions of love are as numerous as the stars. But one the is for certain: All true definitions of love include sacrifice. If your definition of love does not give room for sacrifice, it's a counterfeit love. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Sometimes in life there's a need to compromise. Not necessarily a desire, but a need. 

It might be for work, where you give in to certain demands because you know it's not a battle worth fighting. It might be for a personal relationship where you see that conceding ground on your position will resolve the conflict and allow everyone to move on, even if you feel like you're giving up more than you want. 

Again, it's less about desire and more about need. 

And the need is based on a foundation that's firm and strong, one that lasts beyond your desire to be right or to have it your way. 

And this is something I'm still just in the beginning of learning. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lasting Relationships

The people who I keep in touch with for decades have one thing in common: we talk about the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life. 

It shows that there's something so much more to our humanity than shopping and sports. When we brave to enter into the deep, beyond the shallow banter we mostly engage in, we create bonds that are stronger than iron, that last regardless of how often we interact. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

This Odd Mix of Feelings

Tomorrow we say goodbye to our son for the first time in this way. Stacy and I are flying to New York to spend a couple of days with friends. We've done an overnight trip before, but this is for four nights!

It's quite an amazing mix of emotions. On the one hand, Stacy and I are super pumped to stay with friends in New York, to see that amazing city, and to visit with old friends and family. I'm getting the chance to see my brother, an old friend from college, and it looks like we're gonna score some Broadway tickets for Something Rotten! And, if that wasn't enough, we will have a level of freedom that we haven't known in nearly 18 months along with a high level of comfort knowing his in the wonderful hands of his Grammy and Poppy.

Yet on the other hand there is sadness. I've been away for work trips; I've experienced what it's like to be away for several days, see Asher change in countless ways, and feel like I missed out on something. But this is Stacy's first time being away from him. The fact that we're doing it together makes it feel different. I think it might be because even though I go away for work trips, Stacy is still with him; our family is still in some way together. But now, with this trip, we're both gone.

Asher's going to learn new words while we're gone; he's going to walk better, climb better, jump better (especially with the trampoline they bought!). Asher will go on new adventures with his Grammy and Poppy. We will miss those experiences. Yeah, we'll get a glimpse when we FaceTime with them, but this also might make it all the harder, even if we are sitting in Central Park, enjoying a coffee and not having to worry about being home to relieve them.

This type of saying goodbye is so odd, so weird, so unique! We know it's for a short period of time, but leaving a piece of who you are behind, even for a day, is always hard. You know what I mean?

We're going on a fun vacation, but saying goodbye to home.

Monday, May 11, 2015


It is late in the Lisi home. I'm finishing up some work and we're packing for New York. I have been staring at some sort of screen for a little over two hours and I still have a bit left of that with writing this and finishing this week's Mad Men. But as I think about packing my bag, I'm left with an intriguing question I'd like to ask you:

If you could only pack one medium-sized suitcase with your stuff and then hand it over to a stranger who got to rummage through all the contents, what would that stranger learn about you? 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mondays Are for Money: Budget for Giving

"It is more blessed to give than to receive."

These words by Jesus not only sound good in theory, but ring true in personal experience. No other example needs to be provided other than comparing the joy you had when you received a gift with the joy you had when you've given a gift to someone. Often the joy is so much sweeter when you know that the gift you gave wasn't out of some mere obligation, but required thought and perhaps sacrifice to give it.

I want to apply this specifically to charitable giving. When most of us receive a paycheck, we tend to have this kind of mentality: "I need money for my living expenses, then I should save a little bit of it, and whatever I have left, I will give." This kind of thinking seems to be backed up by statistics about giving in our country. According to Charity Navigator, Americans give only about 3% of their income, "a percentage that hasn't changed in decades." This is an average, though it actually fluctuates depending on income in ways we might not expect. The National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) adds that the percentage stays below 4 percent for households with higher incomes until those incomes reach the millions. For households with incomes between $45-50K, 4% of their income was for charitable giving while households with incomes between $100-200K, the percentage drops to 2.6. Nevertheless, regardless of income, giving tends to be the last thing most households consider when budgeting.

But what if we started to flip the script? Sure, the money that we work for is hard-earned. It's hard-earned, right...? We should be able to take our hard-earned money and do whatever we want with it. Yup. I completely agree. So if Jesus' words are true, and if we've experienced them first-hand, is it possible that we could actually want to give more than receive? And if that's true, what if we set our budgets up like that?

Here's what I mean and it's been said in similar ways by people much smarter than me. Instead of the thinking "live, save, and give what's left," we flip it complete and think, "give, save, and live off the rest." What if the first thing we budget for each month is how much we will give to charity? Is it possible that the percentage would go up? And if it goes up, doesn't that mean there are more funds to go to neighborhood donation centers, disaster relief funds, orphan projects, churches.

You'd be surprised at how comfortably you could still live after you set aside both giving and savings first before you start budgeting for living. And not only are you still comfortable, chances are you probably are living with more joy than ever before too.

Editorial Note: This is one of those times where I wish I had more than 30 minutes. This post feels like it's missing a lot, but it's all the time I've got. I want to share more from my personal experience in giving, but I'm also curious to know if you think I'm crazy. Do you already do this, budget for giving first? If not, does it sound far-fetched or impossible? Let me know.

Celebrating the Most Wonderful Mom I Know

Today is the day we celebrate moms.

I am so grateful to the women who helped make me the man I am today. My mom, my Auntie, Mary Ann -- if you ladies read this today -- thank you for loving me, for caring for me, for teaching me, and most of all, for putting up with me. It would be a frightening thing to consider what my life would be like without you.

But today I want to give commit this space to the most amazing, young, graceful, beautiful mom on the face of this planet, the inimitable Mrs. Stacy Lisi, the mother of our sweet boy Asher Daniel, the future baby in her womb, and perhaps the horde of children we may have later.

I have been so blessed to watch her grow into being a mom as Asher has changed from just a baby in her womb in 2013, to just beginning to sit in 2014, to now being able to run around, talk, say no, hug, kiss, and play.

Stacy is so committed to giving nothing but the best to Asher. Here's just one example. When we were living with her parents last year, she spent hours upon hours figuring out how to feed him the freshest foods as he was just getting introduced to solids. She mastered the art of the Vitamix, introducing him veggies all kids love like broccoli, green beans, peas and fruits like kiwi and apples. The value she placed on feeding him well then has made him a toddler who scarfs down bell peppers and blueberries like they're candy.

Stacy is so engaged with Asher. She runs around the house with him. She will pretend to be a horse so he can ride on her back. She will blow bubbles for him so he can marvel at them as they float and pop. She takes him out to the parks and climbs around with him. She cracks up at what he does and says as if he's a member of the cast of SNL. She makes sure he has his freedom to explore, but provides the right level of care to keep him safe. And here's the thing: she loves it all!

Stacy is such a teacher. Stacy has one of the most beautiful singing voices I've ever heard and so Asher has the benefit of learning songs from her. She sings with him and teaches him moves to the point where now he starts to lead us in songs, like Power in the Blood. She is constantly in search of park district classes to take Asher to and one of his most favorite things to do is to sit down with her and read books.

Stacy is so gentle in discipline. There are times where Asher isn't the most perfect child. Hard to believe, I know. Stacy is patient when Asher is defiant and disciplines with grace. No matter how often or he says no or throws tantrums, she disciplines with grace, always reminding him after how much she loves him. He feels completely safe with her and I've loved watching him trust and even grow super attached to her.

We are just beginning our journey as parents. Stacy is still a new mom. But man, in the time that we've had with our boy, I have been nothing but impressed and in awe of the women God has blessed to have has my wife and Asher to have as his mom. Thank you, Stacy, for being the most wonderful mom our children could have.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Most Powerful Way to Action

Leading others -- getting them to believe, to act, to fulfill, to grow -- is challenging and extremely rewarding.

I've seen many different types of leadership styles -- some with force, some with oratory prowess, some with great futuristic vision, some with a come-alongside approach. All have may have their place, with varying degrees of benefits and drawbacks.

Yet still the most powerful way I know proves to be the hardest of all.

The most powerful way you can lead others to action is when you make them believe it was their idea all along.

It's when you Incept them.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

"BOOM!" & The Legacy I Leave

I have lived all over the country and various parts of the world. But one thing remains the same:

My biggest impact on the lives of others has to do with all of the Lisisms I leave behind. Lisisms are not philosophical sayings, but pretty much random words or phrases to mix things up, fill space, or add punctuation to something sweet.

Some of these are general, like "BOOM!" While it is something that's pretty popular in our culture, lots of folk seem to attribute my use of it as unique. I'll take that. If there is a way to trademark that junk, let me know. People love it, then over time they start adopting it and say to themselves, "Oh, Lisi!" shaking their head with a smile -- "you got me." I also use "cat" referring to a guy, as in, "that cat over there..."

Some are old school, like "swell." I use this most with strangers, such as with folk at the grocery store or Mickey D's. "How are you today?" they ask. "Swell," I say, but I usually don't have a chipper tone; it's really just matter-of-fact. "I am swell." This is usually met with confusion. "Swell, eh?" But also joy: "Swell? I haven't heard that in forever!" Even if my tone doesn't match the word, it brightens others' days usually.

Some are abbreviations. "Struggs" is what I typically use when the day isn't going great. Yes, this is short for "struggling."

Some take on a location. So, for example, if someone is acting crazy, like they aren't themselves or they're wigging out, I will say, "That cat's in Wiggsville." I stole this from a friend who, on a day where he was struggs said he was living in "Rocky Craggsville." I think I also got "struggs" from him too.

Some just don't make any sense. Back in the day I used to use words like "Zing!" kind of like "Boom" is used. I started using "scoops" at one point to represent either "okay" or "yup."

And I'm sure there are others. I've yet to figure out how to really be conversational in my writing to get across just how I really do speak. I guess that takes time. I know they will never go away and that this is the way I am most easily and best remembered. It is the legacy I leave with folk. Sure, I wish my legacy had a deeper impact, but I am growing to love this small impact I make. Words, even my Lisisms, carry with themselves more powerful meaning than we realize, you know?

And I can't wait to embarrass Asher and future children with how I talk. BOOM!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Get Perspective for Life

The Art Institute of Chicago. Taken on my first day of work at Highland

Work is a bit crazy this week. This is one of the challenging pieces about this role I have at Highland. It isn't so much my role, though, as it is the nature of our technology services and consulting industry. One day you can be looking everywhere for work to do, reading a book for research, looking through old leads to try and drum up some hidden business, and perhaps having a few more office chats than usual. Then the next day, somehow, after two conversations, you find that you have enough work to last you weeks or months! The ebb and flow, the up and down, can drive those who like all aspects of life steady and predictable insane.

And each place, whether searching vast wastelands for work or being buried alive by it, has challenges. When you're trying to find the work, you may be tempted to ask questions regarding your value to the company, if they'll keep you, if you'll meet quota, if this is the right type of work, if you'll get a paycheck. They are questions of survival and purpose. And when things are chaotic, you may be tempted to ask questions regarding how much you can handle, if you'll burn out, if it'll all get done, if it will be good work. So, in a different way, these too are questions about survival and purpose.

Perhaps I'm the only one like this, but most likely not. I've talked to all kinds of people people in all kinds of industries with all types of roles, and while the questions may not be exactly the same, the motivation behind them is. So what do we do?

When I'm tempted or succumb to a world of endless questions of survival and purpose, when I get to a point where I begin and end with questions, sprialing deeper and deeper, never arriving at a confident place of action, I get perspective.

Often I do this by reading the Bible, being reminded that of the endless truths of God's love for me in Christ, my adoption into His family, and the eternal life that's been granted by Him and confirmed by His Spirit. This the usual and most powerful way I regain a proper perspective of my life, my family, and my work.

To supplement that lately, I've been going to the Art Institute of Chicago. Our office building is right across the street (though not for long; we're moving next month) and when I started working at Highland I got an annual membership for super cheap, allowing me to go anytime I like. I usually go during the workday to work from the Member's Lounge there. What's beautiful about this is I have to walk past art installations representing ancient Asian and Middle Eastern societies, as well as Greek and Italian antiquities.

I walk past all of these pieces of art -- these paintings, these vases, these statues, these coins -- all of them crafted by someone centuries, if not millennia, before me!

I'm reminded that our time here is short.

I'm reminded that most of us will not make anything of lasting existence on earth like that. That surely includes me.

I'm reminded that even if any of us do, it is rare that the name of the artist surpasses the art.

What do you do, if anything, to get perspective or do you find yourself constantly in that spiral of questions?

All of what I just may seem morbid, but I'm reminded that only a few aspects of life truly matter. And while I want to work on my craft as a sales professional, even writing that now as I share about ancient worlds and cultures, makes it all seem silly. The questions of survival and purpose disappear into what is truly important to me as I gain perspective of my small place and short time here, looking at the few places where and people with whom I can make a biggest impact.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

One Question That Will Improve Your Business Call Preparation

I'm in sales. Sales people have sales calls. These calls are usually with other people called who the industry has labeled "leads" or "prospects" or sometimes the militaristic term "targets." They represent the possibility of a new client, bringing fresh business to the company.

I also perform account management. Account managers work with existing clients to expand business opportunities that make sense for the client. This is done through building trusting relationships over time. And it is also done through calls or meetings.

Today, as with most days, I wore both hats. I had a sales call and a call with an existing client with whom I'm helping launch the next phase of their project. Each of these calls were planned with at least 24 hours notice, so there was time to prepare. And I prepared with all the information I had based on the pre-call communication. For the sales call in particular, I prepared as if I was going to be speaking one-on-one to an individual as that often ends up being the case and all our e-mail exchanges pointed to that.

But both calls, at least in my estimation fell short. Why? Because I forgot to ask one simple question that would have affected all my preparation:

Will anyone else be joining our call?

That's it. 

When I jumped on the sales call, I was put on speakerphone and was surprised that three other people besides the person I was communicating with were joining us. Now, it was right for that person to bring the others in; they were vital to help me understand the scope of the project. The problem was, for me, that I didn't prepare for a conversation with a group of people, all of whom held different roles and brought a different perspective to what needed to get done on that call. For the call with the existing account, I didn't ask the question and ended up being on a call with roughly 10 people who were in three different locations! In hindsight, I wish I had asked this question and want to make it a practice every time I set up calls or meetings. I think it is a great practice in a sales role, but I can see it applying to any job or role where you are required to setup calls or hold meetings.

There are five reasons I think "will anyone else be joining our call?" could make us better at our work, whether it be sales or something else:
  1. It kills assumptions: I'm of the school that believes we are all more effective at our work the less we assume something to be true. The more we ask questions to clarify expectations, expand understanding, or to settle on agreement, the better we all are at what we do. Just because I'm communicating with an individual and setting up a meeting with that person, it is wrong for me to assume that it will just be us talking. And it's up to me to make sure who is involved, not the prospect or client. This question kills the assumption and gets expectations out in the open. And when I say I'm of the "school" I mean elementary school because I have a long way to go here.
  2. It is a disarming approach: It is a general question, but clear. It works better than something more direct like "Do you have anyone else joining our call?" or "Do you want anyone else to join the call?" The former can make the person defensive ("No.") and the second can make the person insecure ("Should I?"). 
  3. You can prepare for specific people: If the person says, "Yes, others will be joining the call," you can get more of the specifics on who they will be and prepare by looking them up on LinkedIn or Twitter if you don't know them. If you do, then you know what to expect out of the call more clearly, whether that brings you joy or shudders of horror!
  4. You can prepare specific questions: This is perhaps most important. If you know others are joining the call, say someone from marketing or finance or IT, you can prepare questions that specifically pertain to the people in those roles. This is a good practice to help everyone contribute to the call and it allows you to build trust quickly.
  5. You can suggest certain others join if possible: I've done this a few times and I think it is a good way to show leadership. If someone says, "No, no one else is joining the call at this point," you could recommend certain individuals to be on the call to get make the most of everyone's time. For example, if I'm interacting with someone from IT and he or she is speaking on behalf of the company, I have asked to bring a sales person in on the call so I can ask more direct questions pertaining to the sales team, questions I know the IT person cannot answer. Most of the time this has been met favorably and has resulted in more fruitful conversations. Asking "will anyone else be joining our call?" opens up the door to make that suggestion.
This isn't a promise to make you the best ever or that you will change the world; it's a simple suggestion that I believe will help anyone who reads this get just a bit better at a craft that involves calls and meeting. And those incremental steps can make a big difference over the long haul. So try it out, see what happens, and let me know if you would add or change anything!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Budget Tip - Be Patient

May is off to a hot start. Today was Star Wars Day and tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. Are any of you trying to throw parties celebrating both at the same time?

Well Monday's are for Money (the last 26 minutes of it at least as I'm blogging late tonight). If you're just now starting to read my blog, I have been blogging quite a bit about budgeting. So much so that instead of typing "blogging" I wrote "budgeting" the first time. I'll point you in the direction of my first post on it and I'm sure that'll pique your interest to check out all the others.

I want to provide one tip tonight that I think will serve you a great deal as you begin your budgeting journey or continue down a path that's already established.


I've said it before in different ways, but I'm going to say it again and as directly as possible.


If budgeting is completely new to you, consider yourself a foreigner in a strange land that you plan on living in the rest of your life. You have some of the basics down and you know it's a place you want to be, like Italy, but much of what people are saying and doing is strange and not understood. You have to acclimate yourself to your new environment and get your bearings. You have to work at it and it takes a good bit of time, but you know it's worth it because growing in understanding and comfort will open up a whole new world of possibilities that weren't available when you started. You are willing to be patient because the payoff later is so much greater than just getting by.


And whether you're just starting or have been going at it for a while, you must start with the end in mind and work back. As odd as it might sound, picture what you want your life to be like financially when you're 65 or 70 and work backward from there. The starting place is the budget with the view of a healthy retirement fund in the horizon. The steps along the way are the months you review and plan your spending, keeping that long-term goal in mind. These steps also include mini-celebrations, such as paying off debt faster, paying for your first car with cash, having a full 3-6 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and the like. Don't forget these because these are the small wins to celebrate. This is key because it's a long road and you should accept the fact now that you're a turtle on it.

If you find yourself frustrated that you didn't budget the right way your first try, it's understandable, but keep going. If it doesn't all seem to be happening fast enough, consider what adjustments can be made, but keep going. On that last point, it's amazing to see all that you accomplish when you look back over a full year; don't be too concerned about what lies ahead. Just plug away bit by bit at it. And how do you do that?


Sunday, May 03, 2015

What's Your Core Value?

In all of my jobs, we have always stated a set of core values for our organization or company. Each one had its own twist, but these values were meant to represent the heart of those places and the values were to be reinforced with every decision made. In some cases that was true, but whether or not they lived out of their stated values, every organization that exists functions out of some kind of values, whether stated or not.

You've probably had something similar in your jobs, but have you given much thought or time to your own core values as a person? Have you ever asked yourself what truly motivates you and leads you to make the decisions you make? For values are nothing more than what we cherish, hold dear, and in some instances long for; but that feeling, or understanding, or sense of knowing actually leads to action. True values always have an action-orientation. So, saying you value honesty, but regularly lie, shows you really don't value honesty; you just say you do. Have you ever considered if there is one in that list that seems to stand out or be expressed more than all the others?

I want to take the short time I have here to share what I know to be the primary core value in the set of all other values I hold. I guess I'm hoping that in doing so, it will give you pause and lead you to consider not only the values you have for perhaps you've never taken stock, but what might be the deepest held value out of all of them. This, I have to be believe, is something important all of us should be doing, especially in a world today that fights to keep us from thinking about such matters by tempting us regularly with YouTube videos of cats.

So what is my core value? It's integrity. It's a popular one to list in a set of stated values, often in some of the most corrupt organizations, sadly. The word integrity, for me, contains a sense of righteousness, but not the kind that puffs up one's self with an "I'm better than you" attitude, though, to be honest, on bad days that can come out. But what I mean is the sense of doing the right thing, even when it's unpopular or even when nobody else knows that's what I'm doing. It's doing the right thing because it's the right thing.
With that too, then, is a notion of purity and simplicity. Consider a glass of crisp, cold, clear water right next to you as you sit outside on a beautiful summer day. As you pick it up, the tiniest bug somehow finds its way right into you glass and begins to float right at the surface of the water. The integrity of your water has been compromised. Now, if you're like me, you'll just pick that tiny bug out and keep drinking, but no matter how much you try, you can't forget the bug and the thought of how good the water could have been gets at you.

Integrity is doing the right thing because it's the right thing in it's purest form. But how do I know what the right thing is? This is the key to why, for me, integrity is my core value. The rightness is defined not by me or by my friends or by society or the latest social constructs of reality, but by God Himself. My integrity is doing the right thing because it's the right thing and the right thing is rooted in the One True God. In that sense, integrity, for me, is as Os Guinness (yes, of the Guinness family) puts it in his book The Call, "living for an Audience of One."

My core value of integrity is by no means lived out everyday; in the truest way I can express, I am not perfect. But I am motivated everyday by it, both in success and failure, because I long to be like my Lord and God.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Saturdays Are For Suggestions: NYC

Keeping with the theme of my post from two weeks ago, I'm looking for suggestions. But this time it isn't for the blog; this time it's for an upcoming trip.

Stacy and I are getting our first mini-vacation, just the two of us, since Asher was born; he will actually turn 18 months while we're away. Grammy and Poppy are taking care of him and we shall be away for four sweet (and I'm sure definitely sad being away from the boy) days to New York City. We will be staying with some friends on the Upper East Side and will actually have a day in Boston as well for a one of Stacy's friends' weddings.

We don't have too many plans right now, but some are coming together. Though I spent early years of my life living in New Jersey, going to New York quite a bit, I've never done much of the touristy stuff. With only three full days in NYC, what would you suggest we actually do? What places do we see? What restaurants do we eat at? What should we avoid?

Here's just a few thoughts I have, completely random, but I'm hoping you can help us out:

  • Visit with my brother, who runs a restaurant there.
  • Visit some other friends who I haven't seen in forever for a drink or meal.
  • Empire State Building
  • Central Park
  • Chrysler Building
  • Grand Central Station
  • Take in a Broadway Show
  • Go to Ray's Original Pizza, but the real one on 11th like Santa says
  • Get an amazing cocktail (I need suggestions on bars)
  • See a jazz show (our friends are planning on taking us)
We just don't know what to do with that kind of freedom. Anyone who's been to NYC, please hook us up with your thoughts!

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Risk Worth Taking

Somewhere between comfort and risk.

Exactly one year ago today I was in the middle of the biggest risk I had ever taken.

Right around this very hour on May 1st, 2014, I arrived in Bozeman, Montana. Stace, Asher, and me were making the big move from Seattle back to Chicago. Stace and Asher had flown back the day before. The very last thing I did in Seattle before starting the drive was play basketball with my group of guys at 6:00 am. I was on the road by 7:30, trying to get back to Chicago by Sunday so I could make some final prep for my big interview that Monday for a campus recruiter position at a high-frequency trading firm in the city.

I thought the transition would be smooth, that I'd get the job and start work shortly thereafter, leaving us with no major gap of unemployment. But I ended up not getting the job. That whole ordeal is a story for another time.

Whether you know me well or not, you may not really have an idea of just how big of a transition this was for our family. I moved to Seattle from Chicago in December of 2011 after graduating with my Masters of Divinity to be a pastor at one of the locations of a megachurch there. Stace and I had just gotten engaged and we began planning our future together. She moved out in July 2012 after we got married and we started our life together in a beautiful, quaint little cottage style house, an ideal place to begin our cozy little adventure. I was doing well at the church and was asked to be a part of a residency that would eventually have me being the primary pastor at a future location. And just two days after learning that, Stace and I found out she was pregnant with Asher. Our family was growing and I continued to serve in that church in a significant capacity, but something wasn't right.

Our first home in the U-District of Seattle
I had been in paid ministry since I graduated from college in 2004. I worked with college students in Italy and at the University of Florida; while I was in seminary I helped start a church in Chicago and I did research for churches; and then there was this big church job. Yet at points along the way, I had always felt as though God was leading me in a different direction. This was hard to discern because I didn't fall flat on my face in any of what I was doing. I was "successful" if that's the word you want to use (well it's the best word I can come up with in my 30 minute limit), but that made the thoughts of something different more difficult to figure out because most of us equate calling with fruitfulness or productivity or success or whatever.

When I look back on it, there is this common thread that of course can only be seen looking back. It's almost like walking straight toward a blinding light because that's the only way to go, but when you look back you can see how that light defines everything behind you. I see that I never really settled into the ministry I was doing; in other words, I always thought the next assignment or step would be the right one, the one that lead to the perfect ministry calling. I also see that I confused paid ministry with the calling God had placed on my life. That may have been good for a season, but the calling wasn't necessarily to be paid for my service to Jesus' church. And, I also see that my restless involved the consistent nudge to work in the marketplace full time, not the church.

I got to hit up Mount Rushmore.
This all came to a head in February of last year. To make a much longer story short, I originally communicated to my supervisor at the church that I would finish there in either August or December to leave well, also giving me time to find a new job. But some well publicized events occurred in March that caused me to resign immediately. I was now a man with a wife, with an infant, with a number of bills -- all without a job.

There was huge risk in leaving paid ministry because that was 10 years of experience I was exchanging for something else. There was huge risk in resigning from a comfortable role at the church early knowing I had nothing in front of me. And there was huge risk to leave the only home we knew as a family for a place that was both old and new to us.

But we both knew then, as well as now, that it was all a risk worth taking.