Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 86: Stop Giving Your Emotions to What Isn't Real

Certain times in life, whether a season or a moment, can be overwhelming.

These are present seasons, present moments. They can be a first date, marriage, childbirth, purchasing a home, a new job. They can be times of great joy, like proposing to your longtime girlfriend or they can be times of difficult, like the loss of a job. And what can happen when we are overwhelmed is that we give our emotions to a world that isn't true. Isn't real.

Stop giving your emotions to what isn't real. Too many people lose their mind over what might be and in doing so become emotionally invested in what will never be.

I do not mean you should stop finding joy in dreaming. Nor do I mean that you should never prepare for the sadness in future hardships. What I mean is that if you lose your mind to your emotions and find that you are paralyzed to pursue that dream or deal with that hardship in a reasonable way, you have given too much of your emotion to what isn't real and it is the time to stop.

I believe our emotions are given to us to match the intensity of the moment. Most of us don't get this right, either downplaying our emotions, drowned in a sea of monotony, or depending too much on them, floating in clouds of irrationality.

Stop giving your emotions to what isn't real. When you're cast at sea or find yourself floating, seek solid ground, where your mind and feelings meet truth.

Day 85: Romancing My Babe

These opportunities are fewer these days, but so fun. We're currently sitting at Ravinia Festival as Rachel Yamagata plays the piano and sings. This is the first of her 30th birthday presents and we came because it's not only a great venue, but we get to also hear the sweet soulful voice of Amos Lee and the unique, spellbinding sounds of David Gray. 

If you haven't done anything in a while, gents, go out and plan a date. In marriage, the romance is definitely there. We just have to fight for it a little more. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Day 84: What His Laughter Teaches Me About Fatherhood

I love making my son laugh.

I remember the first time I got him to really laugh, like from the depths of your bowels, a hearty Ghost of Christmas Present from A Muppet Christmas Carol type laugh. He was close to three months old and we were playing on the floor. We had to play on the floor because he didn't really do much moving other than that. Work with what you got, you know?

He was on his back looking up at me as I was in front of him at his feet on my knees staring down at him. In typical Lisi fashion I decided to start dancing, doing a little shimmy with my shoulders. He laughed a little. Getting a child who's just learning to laugh to laugh just a little – it's a drug. It's addicting and just like a drug, you want it more frequently with greater intensity. You will do anything to make them laugh more and I wish there was some way to capture it forever. Perhaps heaven is like a child's laughter. I can imagine.

I decided to try something that just instinctually comes to many parents, and honestly most adults, who try to get this drug of laughter.

As I shimmied, I then dropped my face really quickly toward his, stopping hard just before I touched his nose with mine. My hands hit the floor hard at each side of him, my eyes just a few inches away. It happens in a matter of milliseconds. For some reason we all think that this swift, fast motion will make kids laugh.

And it did! He started laughing so hard. Success!

I did it over and over and over again until, as we all know, he got bored and then annoyed.

But it was the start of making him laugh and I love doing it to this day in the same way. Now he knows the game, running away and hiding as I look for him. I move slowly, pretending not to know where he is. Then, as I find him, I stop, look at him for a brief second, and then attack like a lion seeking laughter as his prey. He loves it. The Wifey says that I'm able to get him to laugh in a way that is so distinct to our relationship.

I've thought a lot about this ever since that day I first got him to laugh. Even though he's big for his age, he is still so small compared to me. He's a handful of pounds and inches and I'm a grown, hairy man.

And yet his first response with me when I move quickly and suddenly toward him has been laughter. From three months to 19 months and I trust the rest of his life, this will be his response.

To me this is an example of awe and wonder, that he laughs. And why? One could easily assume that his response would, not one of laughter, but one of tears out of being scared. So why laughter? Because he feels safe with me. He trusts me. He knows that my physical presence and my sudden movement is intended to bring out joy in him, not fear. What a gift this is, that our children default to trust, safety, and security with their parents!

I've thought about this a lot. How many children, when their fathers make the same physical motions, suddenly moving toward them, are frightened because they know it's not laughter their father's want, but pain? How many of children have lost the instinctual joy in being drawn to their fathers, only to have it replaced by a fear that keeps them from wanting to even be in the same room with him?

Fathers/Dads/Papas – have you ever thought about this? Do you ever consider the privilege you have in getting the opportunity to make your children laugh, to keep them in a place of feeling safe and secure with you?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Day 83: What's Your Favorite Food?

It's late.

The Wifey is sleeping on the couch and I just finished an invigorating budgeting session for July. Is there really anything better for a Friday night than crunching numbers, reviewing where you overspent the month prior, and trying to figure out how to correct it the next month? Yeah, I didn't think you could come up with anything better to do.

So what's your favorite food? Now follow me on how I got to that question. I spent a good bit of time looking at the numbers as I said. Then I decided to take a look around the vast 400 square foot arena that is our combo living and dining room, checking out The Wifey tossing and turning on the sectional couch donated to us. I took it all in grateful for the life we have. I shifted my eyes to the sweet dark wood table from World Market, the first ever brand new piece of furniture we've ever bought. On it is a smattering of items, including several glasses, and a small chalkboard with "__ weeks" written on it to indicate how many weeks The Wifey's pregnancy is. Then, right next to me, is a salad plate with 1/8 of a pistachio donut left from none other than Doughnut Vault, the most legit donuts in Chicago (if you have any other recs for best donuts I'm all ears).

Donuts are great; The Wifey loves those and all things sweet. But it got me wondering about my favorite food and then your favorite food and all the delicious food in the world!

So what is your favorite food? I know this question can be answered a ton of different ways, but I'll just stick with two: Nationality and dish

In terms of type, hands down it's Italian. It's one of the most popular in the world, is revered for both utter flavorful goodness and simplicity, and is perhaps best caricatured with the nonna in the kitchen with her secret sauce and pasta. This is how it was for me growing up when my mom and I were living in NJ with my grandma, great aunt, and her daughter (first cousin twice removed? 10th cousin blue removed? I don't know). In that house it was my great aunt who dominated the kitchen, making homemade pasta and sauce every Thursday. It was the place to gather and in classic fashion, we rocked the nuts and fruit after meals, sitting in the basement kitchen for hours talking. Well, I was running around an didn't care about the grown ups seeing as how I was three or four.

This stuck with me, the longing for this environment, but knowing that it's the food that brings us together. Let's face it, Italians love each other probably just as much for the food as the fact that we have to as family. So Italian food is it for me. Nothing matches it as my favorite.

Now for a dish. As I grew older, my palate got more refined. I enjoy penne bolognese, lasagna, bread, oil, all of it. But the dish that puts it over the top for me time and time again, one that is probably more American than Italian, is shrimp parmigiana. Think chick parmesan, or as Tom Haverford would say, "chickie chickie parm parm," but with shrimp. The best is when you get it all prepped – juicy jumbo shrimp, breaded, then all layered with sauce, cheese, shrimp, sauce, cheese, shrimp, shrimp, shrimp, cheese, cheese, cheese, sauce...oh man! – and let it sit overnight in the fridge, soaking up all that goodness, becoming more and more Italian by the minute, converting from good to BOOM!

Bake that bad boy just before you get ready to serve it and you may have people worshipping you by the end of the night. I don't advise you let them worship you, but you can't help what happens.

So what's your favorite food?

That was fun to write.

Now the donut is gone too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Day 82: What to Do with Your Emotions

We all have emotions. That's what makes us human.

What else makes us human is our ability to identify our emotions. As children we don't really have this capability; we merely express them as we feel them. Loud crying usually indicates sadness or utter disappointment; stomping on or dropping to the ground acting like an turned-over cockroach usually indicates anger. And the most beautiful sound in the world, the laugh of a child, marks joy and happiness.

It's not identified though. There isn't a sense of self-awareness developed in a child that markedly identifies the emotion. You typically, don't hear a child say, "I'm feeling angry right now." If you do hear a child say that, you're impressed and say, "wow, you're very mature." The reason being that when someone is able to identify the emotion, he or she usually also knows what do with it. Stating the emotion tends to downplay the direct expression of it. It doesn't mean it goes away; it just means the emotion is controlled by the mind.

The mature person not only identifies emotion, but expresses it rightly.

Fact of the matter is some children can do this and many adults can not.

While we have the mental ability to move toward identifying our emotions and expressing them rightly, too many people still live rooted out of their emotion. Instead of controlling our emotions, we let them control us.

One key to getting to a place of emotional maturity is by looking for patterns. I should say that I am mostly writing from a place of identifying the more challenging emotions like anger, fear, resentment, bitterness, etc. I think it applies to the positive emotions as well, but I don't think we're looking to dial down the happiness or joy meters anytime soon and dialing them up tends to occur when you deal with the flip side of those emotions, which isn't really sadness, but discontentment and lack of gratitude.

Back to it. I've noticed that in my life, when I can identify patterns of emotional reactions across multiple situations that have spanned multiple years, I'm able to admit that it wasn't the situation that caused my anger, fear, bitterness or whatever, but something residing in me.

When we can get to a place of admitting that our emotional responses to life aren't due to situations, but to how we react in those situations, that is the most important first step toward maturity.

In identifying the patterns and then admitting that it is within us, we are on our way to being able to control our emotional responses in future situations. It's simple, really, at least on paper. The patterns of the past combined with understanding of who you are allows you the ability to recognize a similar situation as it arises and begin to control your emotion before it controls you.

I wish I could say that this is "adult" behavior, but we all know that isn't necessarily true. This is "mature" behavior and the two don't always go hand in hand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Day 81: Know Your Own Business

Today is my one year anniversary at Highland.

I have learned many, many things in this role. One is what we try to accomplish as a company with our clients. At the core is the desire to be a trusted partner. We believe we achieve trust in three ways: We get to know you, the individual. We get to know your business. And we save you from yourself.

This is something I strive for with my clients, but in that process I've had a startling realization:

Most companies do not know their own business.

Before starting at Highland, I spent 10 years in the non-profit world. In that world, we took time every six months or a year to take a step back and ask fundamental questions about our existence.

  • Why are we here?
  • Who do we focus on?
  • What has been effective?
  • What hasn't been effective?
  • What do we need to focus on in the next six months?
Questions like these and others were asked consistently. Not only that, but we usually walked away with a plan as paid leadership to communicate down the line volunteer leadership and eventually to general participants.

Looking back, this was necessary because most of the non-profits I worked with had a very lean staff, but had a direct audience ranging anywhere from 500 to 15,000 people. The best way to keep volunteer organizations running well and growing is to continually cast a clear and compelling vision with a strong call to action. Without this, the non-profit doesn't gain momentum, doesn't grow, and could easily die. What this translated to was an organization, top-down, that knew its identity and what needed to be done to move forward.

While I've heard the statistic that 9 out of 10 startups fail and the one that survives only has a 10% chance of surviving beyond 5 years, there are still countless ways to make money and many companies do make it. We work with companies that are beyond the startup phase. They regularly generate revenue, have decent size staff teams, and don't have to really worry about survival. Added to this is the sad reality that many people are not working in environments that draw out their passion, their motivation may be as big as their paycheck, which is a far cry from what I've experienced.

The result is people at all levels of the company go through the daily motions and do not know their business. At the business level, much like the persona level, when the money is good, we stop asking some of the most fundamental, but necessary questions.

How do I know this? Because we ask. When we start a project with a new client, our first engagement is a consulting and planning engagement. We ask basic, yet profound questions. And when we ask, the answers aren't clear. When we probe deeper, we begin to hear "it's complicated" (how great would this field be in LinkedIn - "Business Model: It's Complicated"). The further we get into planning, it becomes clearer that most people don't really know their business.

I'm learning that those companies that are "the most admired" -- those like Apple, Salesforce, Zappos, Amazon, etc. – are those that communicate vision and direct action. They are bullish about who they are and who they are not and employees at all levels can explain this and wear it like a badge of honor.

But your business doesn't have to be enormous to do what they do. I actually believe that it may be good to do something different and check out a non-profit or some other type of organization that has a horde of volunteers to find out what they do to motivate, inspire, and lead them. I believe CEOs all the way down to the summer intern could learn a ton about what it means to know their business.

In turn, this means you can build systems, processes, training, job descriptions, teams – the whole gamut – with clarity and drive. And the litmus test is to ask the lowest person in the organization why the company exists, what it does, and how they contribute. If that person can confidently answer, I can pretty much guarantee that the company is not only going to be strong, but I bet the revenues will grow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Day 80: Do Something Different Today

All of us have some things that are so routine in our day that we don't even know it anymore.

Do something different today.

If you drive to work, take a different route.

If you take the train in, try not to be on your phone or computer the entire time, look up and out the window.

If you aren't a writer, try writing a paragraph about your day.

If you aren't a reader, pick up a book you've always thought about reading. I have plenty of suggestions other than the two I'm reading currently.

If you go to the same grocery store to shop, try a different one near you.

If you go out for lunch at the same place, try a different item on the menu or a different place all together.

If you never say hello to the bus driver, try doing it today.

If you never do anything when you accidentally make eye contact with someone you're walking by or if make the awkward "I was looking at you but I'm pretending I was looking through you or around you at something else thing" try smiling and saying hello. This one is my favorite. Smiling has inherent power.

Bottom line, if you've never considered mixing up how you go about your day, try one thing different today. Get out of the small world you've created for yourself and see what else might be out there. My suggestions don't take too much change, but I think what happens is profound.

See what happens. I guarantee you'll be surprised.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Day 79: What Are You Currently Reading?

I thought I'd take a brief survey to find out what you're currently reading. What is it?

Most people when asked this question think it has to be a book. I'm not discriminatory. If you read an article recently that you liked – share that. Was it a blog? Share that. If it's poetry, share that too. I am seriously curious about what you're reading and want to check out your stuff. I wanted to say that this is one of the downsides of not being on the FB – the fact that I can clickbait on what everybody is reading – but it honestly isn't. I still don't miss it overall, but I do miss certain things, like what you're reading so take some time to share with me in the comments section a link or a suggestion. For those of you that subscribe, it's just one additional step of clicking the link at the top of your e-mail. For those of you who don't subscribe – how about you do that by adding your e-mail in that little box to the right of the blog before sharing anything with me? :) The benefit to you is you get this goodness delivered to you daily when you roll right out of bed or for your morning commute.

Back to it: What words on a screen or a page have you read in the past week?

I'll share briefly what I've been reading.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad
I have told a number of people that I'm reading this book and they've all said, "Oh yeah, I read that when I was in college" or "I read that at 22." I hate you. Why didn't you tell me about this book then? Oh yeah, we didn't know each other.

I had heard the title before numerous times and didn't think much of it. Then I was perusing a blog where the author shared the three books that changed his life. I had read one of them, by none other than Dave Ramsey whose name you have become familiar with here, but not the other two. At the top of the list was Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I went to trusty ole Amazon and saw I could buy it for a whopping $5 and since I still had personal money left for the month, I decided to buy it.

I'm not going to give the whole thing away, but the big idea is this: "The poor and middle class work for their money while the rich make their money work for them." This book is coming off the heels of me reading The Intelligent Investor, which began teaching me the same thing, but in many many many more words. To be honest, The Intelligent Investor grounded me to take the motivational speakery-ness of Rich Dad, Poor Dad in a realistic way. Nevertheless, there are some very sound and profound concepts in this easy-to-read, compact little book that I believe will help us immensely down the line. I recommend it.

The Devil in the White City
Set around the time of the groundbreaking 1893 Chicago World's Fair, this book is a wonderfully written story about two charismatic, magnetic men who impacted the city in extremely polarizing ways. One, Daniel Burnham, was the primary architect of the World's Fair after accomplishing amazing feats in architecture already, including designing the first ever skyscraper. His motto, which can be seen all over Chicago was "Make no small plans. They don't have the magic to stir men's blood." The other, Dr. H.H. Holmes, was an enigmatic figure who had a way with women. While nothing could ever be tied to him, stories about his life in other places included the mysterious disappearance of a number of people. By the end of the Fair, America had it's first documented mass murderer.

All of this happened in Chicago over the span of roughly 2 years. The Devil in the White City tells the story not only of these two men, but this great city coming of age being rebuilt masterfully after the 1871 fire. While it might read like a fiction, in large part due to the very nature of the history itself, none of it is fiction. The author, Erik Larson, powerfully puts together the story in the most fascinating way possible. I've only read one of his other books, but it came nowhere close to stacking up to this one. If you like Chicago even in the least bit, check this one out if you haven't already.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day 78: The One Where Wifey Blogs Instead

Andrew set a goal to blog every day for a year. That's why, as I (Wifey), write this special edition blog on Andrew being a wonderful father, he is dictating the whole thing.  Still counts.

From the very beginning Andrew has been a complete natural at this whole fatherhood thing. Before the Boy was born, Andrew read to him almost every night out of what has become their favorite book together, The Jesus Storybook Bible. He prepared for the birth with lots of prayer and much anticipation, and read a book on how to coach me through labor so he could save us the cost of a doula. He was a pro and would probably coach you through labor if you asked. Just sayin'.

And then, the Boy entered the world. We immediately loved him more than we ever could have imagined. Andrew was unfazed by the crying, the sleeplessness, even the diapers. He just couldn't wait to bring the Boy into our lives and teach him as much as possible while loving him with all he had. During our third week as parents of an infant, Andrew took time off of work and made me leave the house once a day so that I could be refreshed and reconnected with the outside world and he could bond with the Boy. Who does that? I was talking to mom friends who at 6 months had never left their husbands home with their kids, and here mine was confidently encouraging me to give him that time in the very beginning.

I'm pretty sure Andrew evoked the first giggles, and that has carried through into this relationship with our son now. Andrew comes home from work and silliness bursts forth. The way Andrew throws the Boy around, makes up goofy songs, creates fun games with balls and boxes and hampers....I get to see a whole new side of our son whenever the two of them are together.  The Boy has a whole different laugh with Papa. It comes from somewhere deep and it is awesome.

Andrew has started taking the Boy out for a little Papa-son time on the weekends. They've done lots of things, but this usually involves time playing at a park. I have come to expect that when the Boy comes back from these times, he will first of all, be exhausted and filled to the brim with activity and fun, but he will also be just a little more confident on the playground than he was the day before. Andrew helps him explore his abilities, test his limits and try new things. He goes on bigger slides, by himself, when he is with Papa. He tries more things on his own because Papa is confident he can do it and sure that even if it doesn't go perfectly this time, it will be a good experience and will help him the next time.

Andrew cares. Like he really cares.  He wants to teach the Boy about things that matter. He wants to point him to Jesus. He wants to be a model for our son (even in the "life skill" category of teeth brushing). He believes that when it comes to matters of faith, principles, discipline, and redirection, we should begin explaining our thought processes to our son now- even if he doesn't fully understand it yet. In Andrew's mind (and I totally agree), the Boy understands a lot more than we know, and even if most of it goes over his head, this is a valuable opportunity for us as parents to grow accustomed to those chats and really flesh out what it is we want to say to him.  It has been a humbling experience to try to start explaining something to the Boy and then realize we have no idea what we're doing. But Andrew and I are in it together and I'm so thankful he's encouraged us to begin this process now. It can only benefit all of us in the future.

I was reluctant to give over the bedtime routine to Andrew because, well, I liked putting the Boy down. And it seemed to be working for us. But if you have read Andrew's previous post on his nightly routine with our son, you know that I have relinquished this honor to him and they have a really good thing going now. In fact, bedtime has never before been more joyful and seamless. The Boy can't wait to open up the Jesus Storybook Bible and look for all of the characters he's grown to love through his time with Papa (Isaac, Paul, Jonah, the girl doing cartwheels, "Jabop" to name a few).  Andrew sensed that our son needed a change in their nightly song, so he sped it up a ton and helps him clap along and has made it a whole different experience. The Boy loves it. The best part about all of this for me, is how Andrew has expressed to me multiple times how much he looks forward to this time and treasures those moments with our Boy.

This may seem like a small thing, (and an odd choice for a final accolade) but I think it's a really big deal. Andrew comes home when he says he will. He is never late. I mean that. The Boy and I know when Papa will walk through that door and can't wait to greet him. Andrew makes it a top priority to get home in time to hang out with the Boy and put him down to bed. He usually begs us to meet him somewhere fun outside so they can throw a ball around for a few minutes and get fresh air. He does this even if it means putting in extra time on work once the bedtime routine is over.  He's a reliable dad who makes it a priority to get quality time with his kid every day....truly who could ask for anything more?

Andrew, you are an amazing, exemplary father. You love the Boy (and the Peanut on the way) with a deep love that I would imagine will give them great confidence in the future. Dads have that unique opportunity, and I think that our kids will have that piece of their hearts totally full and secure because of the time you put in with them. It's true. Most importantly, you are teaching our son about how God sees him, loves him perfectly, and shows him unfailing grace no matter what. You are a beautiful picture of a man who has been adopted into God's family, and are leading your wife and children into His presence and love with everything you have. It is an honor to parent alongside you.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Day 77: How I Hope to Love My Children

Today is Father's Day.

This is the third Father's Day I've gotten to celebrate. Since 2012, when The Wifey was first pregnant with The Boy, I've been able to seriously think about the transition from being a son of a father I never knew to being a father of children who I hope will know me through their adult lives.

As I prayed for The Boy tonight before putting him down, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages in one of my favorite books. I shared it in a post a while back, before I had any children and was wrestling with fatherlessness; now it has a new meaning now as I get talk to, play with, and hold my son.

It represents how I hope to love not only him, but all the children God made bless The Wifey and me with:
I'd never believed I'd see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine. It still amazes me every time I think of it. I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
There's a shimmer of a child's hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They're in the petals of flowers and they're on a child's skin. Your hair is straight and dark, and your skin is very fair. I supposed you're not prettier than most children. You're just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it's your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined. I'm about to put on imperishability. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.
Just the fact that he exists, that he is in this world and is my son. That's how I hope I will always love him and I pray he knows it to be true.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Day 76: One of the Most Important Roles of a Parent

Tonight I learned another important lesson in parenting.

I have the honor and privilege of doing the bedtime routine with The Boy pretty much every night. He usually rocks dinner, we'll hook him up with a bath, get him in his jammies, and put him to bed. Between the jammies and bed is the – duh duh duh – brushing his teeth.

Putting myself in his footies I could see how this might be a scary thing. He's used to putting objects like noodles, strawberries, toy cars, or paper in his mouth; the odd bristles and back and forth cleansing nature are all foreign and frightening. We tried to get him to brush on his own and then we tried brushing his teeth for him, but that just led to him burying his face anywhere he could.

So when he  started getting upset we took the next step we knew would work – we had him brush his teeth in front of the mirror so he could see himself. Vanity runs strong through the veins of even the youngest hearts, apparently.

Eventually that stopped working. Vanity has it's limits.

Tonight I tried something different. Standing in the bathroom, holding The Boy in front of the mirror as he grasped tightly onto his little Elmo toothbrush, I decided to take out my toothbrush and brush with him.

And this was a game changer. 

Instead of getting upset when either he or I tried to brush his teeth, he was nothing but curious. As I brushed, I made a big smile changing my speed from really slow to really fast, just to keep him on his toes. He watched so intently and then I saw him try to mimic me. He even let me move the brush around brush his teeth in a way that he never did before.

He wanted to do everything I did.

And that's when it hit me – this is something I never modeled for him! We've asked The Boy to brush his teeth, we've tried to brush his teeth, and we may have even brushed our teeth in front of him for a few seconds, but I never took the time to show him how it's done and actually do it alongside him.

The Boy's at an age that I'm sure most parents wish lasted longer where their kids want to do everything they do. When I stretch, he gets down on the floor, sits on my legs, and stretches with me. When I say something, he tries to repeat it. When I dance around the house, doing odd Lisi things, he stomps and spins with me. And of course, when I want to put on my shoes for work, he's already got them on.

As parents, one of the most important roles we have with our kids is to model actions, responsibility and life to our children, especially early on in life as their taking in the world. Why? Because their world is pretty much us. And that's awesome.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day 75: Two More Ways to Address the "Idea" and "Ballpark" Estimates

Yesterday I wrote the bulk of what I believe is an important topic in sales: When someone asks for a rough estimate, an "idea" or a "ballpark" when they are trying to price a service. I am speaking from the world of software-as-a-service (SaaS), but it happens in everyday life. We ask this when we take our car to the mechanic for repair; we ask our lawyer or accountant this whenever we need paperwork drawn up. The mindset that we have for several hundred or a few thousands dollars is the same that I see when dealing with much larger numbers in businesses.

What I'm recommending is that if you are fortunate enough to be the one asked, there are ways to get behind the question and give them what they ask for.

And that's the goal: give them what they ask for, but do it on your terms.

Why? Because at the end of the day, it's their expectation vs. your expertise. Again, if trust has been established with my mechanic and he tells me a repair is most likely going to cost somewhere around $500, even if I was expecting a number like $300, I'm more than likely going to let him do the repair because he knows what he's talking about much more than I do. Mechanics, however, aren't necessarily sales people. People need to have their cars fixed; mechanics are more quick to brush it off if someone balks at a price. They will not investigate further when you ask for a ballpark estimate. They will tell you, if you say yes, they will do the work; if you say no, they will not.  Perhaps that's a lesson I can learn better from them...

Nevertheless, I think there are some questions to consider and I addressed three of them yesterday. I have two for today:

  1. Why are they asking? This is an issue of motivation. If it is in the first conversation, it is good to find out what the motivation is for asking. The best thing that can be done is to flip it back on them. Today I was talking with a colleague and she brought up the idea of asking about a "dream scenario." Ask them to paint this picture, which allows them to talk and explain what they're envisioning. You may need to help guide, but while they're doing this, you can capture both the simple and complex areas, allowing you to come up with a better idea. Additionally, you can also try to defer from there, asking if you could have at least one more conversation.
  2. Who is asking? Is it a salesperson? A CFO? A VP of IT? Regarding SaaS specifically, if you are talking with a salesperson or a CFO, chances are they are going to be expecting a quote much lower than what you will tell them. This is different than a VP of IT, who most likely will be more understanding of a ballpark. Why? Because IT people know the complexity involved in implementing a new system. They know it is so much more than just "bing, bang, boom" which is the salesperson's notion or "a specified budgetary amount" the CFO is considering among 1,000 other line items.
So when the ballpark question is asked, first make sure that trust is established. That gives you the leverage to use your expertise and handle their expectations appropriately. Then, with that trust, use the five questions to help you lead the prospect as effectively as possible to get a right size ballpark in their own mind.

Then hit a home run.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Day 74: When They Ask for an "Idea" or a "Ballpark" and What to Do

There's a request I hear quite a bit in my role as an Account Manager. It gets asked any number of ways and could be at any stage of the relationship with a prospect or client. Do you have any idea what it is? You can probably guess:

"Could you just give me an idea of what it might cost?" Or another way it is asked frequently is "Could you just give me a ballpark figure?"

Our industry is interesting because we don't offer a standard product or set of services. While the general framework of what we provide is the same from client to client, the variance in our services is a result of what our clients are actually requesting and that is always different in one way or another. This is something I really like about what we do; we tailor our work, our solution, and in some sense our offering for each client, providing them unique experience and solid system.

So we might have an idea based on past engagements with similar companies or the conversations we've had with the prospect or any documents they may send our way, but ultimately initial estimates are educated guesses.

Invariably, and usually early on in the process, we will get the "idea" or "ballpark" question. Now another aspect of my role I love is that rather than talk and tell the client what I think they should hear, I'm supposed to listen, understand, and give them what they ask for. My role is to be as helpful as possible, establish that we know what we're doing, and build trust. I know I'm doing my job when I hear from prospects and clients alike that they are being heard and that we aren't pushy.

That being said, I struggle with when the client asks for an "idea" or "ballpark" on pricing. The more I'm asked this, the more I don't want to come back with an answer, but to respond with more questions and considerations. The big reason why is as much as I'm being asked for an "idea" or "ballpark" they already have one in mind and because they don't have the same kind of experience in our industry they don't know how much goes into crafting even an idea of ballpark. It's not a fault, by any means, but is merely a reality that needs to be addressed and gently challenged. This is a way to give them what they ask for, but in a way that provides more clarity both for yourself and the prospect.

In reflecting on this more, I've come up with some additional questions to consider before giving a direct answer to someone who asks for an idea or ballpark. If you're in a similar boat as me, you may find these helpful. Even if you're not, I think these apply to many aspects of life when you're confronted with a question that, if you answered directly, often ends a conversation rather than continuing it.

  • What are they really asking for? This is key. As I suggested earlier, when someone asks for an idea or a ballpark, they most likely already have an idea or a ballpark in their heads already. When someone says ballpark, he might be thinking of a little league field where its 60 feet to the bases and 150 to hit a home run. The term needs to be defined and the picture needs to be painted, preferably by them and not you. There are ways to gently prod at what is actually meant by those terms. In one conversation I had with a prospect I simply flipped it and asked, "what are you thinking?" and she was willing to share. At that point, I was able to steer the conversation and honestly told her that her ballpark was too small. This was after some trust had been established and I don't recommend it in every situation, but you will want to consider ways to find out what is really being asked for and it's best to ask more questions toward that end.
  • How can you deliver it? If you find yourself having to provide this kind of estimate, consider how it can be delivered. For example, there may be aspects to your offering that are more set in stone than others. Establish that baseline first, perhaps in a conversation or a brief presentation. The goal is to communicate as much value that you can confidently explain and price before jumping into the lesser known pricing. The intention is to show that you can be trusted with the numbers you provide, even if there are unknowns at this point. I've found this to be effective as well.
  • When is the appropriate time? I've noticed that I get asked the cost question in the first or second conversation most of the time. Too often early on in my work I provided it right way. To be honest, sometimes it's good to do that. It is good to give a general idea when you want to test the prospect and, in a sense, disqualify them. You are asking, "do you really know what you're getting yourself into?" I know that sounds harsh, but I also think it's leading them well, even if they don't end up being a client. However, for the most part, I am now of the tribe that says the more appropriate time is much later. It is good to communicate as much as possible to defer this until there is more shared understanding. This goes back to what are they really asking for? 


This is a bit awkward, but my 30 minutes are up. I have one or two other questions to add, but it will have to be for tomorrow. Stay tuned, yo!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day 73: A Personal Milestone

I have been blogging on and off since 2003, back when Live Journal was the spot for anyone cool in the blogging world, which, if we're honest, was no one. I was definitely an early adopter of blogging, but didn't know the potential then and missed the boat on that one.

Anyway, I moved over to Blogspot, which is now Blogger, owned by Google, after I got back from living in Italy back in 2005. So nearly 10 years on this blog right here.

And in any given year I've never posted as much as I have in 2015!

The most I have had in the years before this was back in 2008 with 72 posts.

To be honest, this is extremely encouraging. As I've written about before, the commitment to write everyday no matter what, to publish something, to see that is impacting a handful of lives, and to improve with each post, has been revealing in a number of ways.

One new revelation is the confidence to pursue other goals in life that I've had a lot of hesitation doing because of fears or questions or inexperience. As I fulfill this goal of writing for 30 minutes everyday and create something, all of that "stuff" goes away. At some point along the way it's destroyed like a cocoon and freedom emerges. The journey is necessary, I believe, for all important things in life. Think about it. Big tests, big dates, big decisions, big demos, big games – all call for nerves and fears and too many of us get stuck there without taking any steps.

But not with this. And not with what else I want to do in life.

So this is a milestone, but it's only the beginning. Next is hitting day 100. Then day 365. Then day 1000?

One at a time...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 72: How to Communicate Better

Twice in the past two days I heard a revealing statistic about communication. It states that our communication breaks down into three components: Non-verbal, variations of how we say something, and what we say. The breakdown of the statistic is that 55% of our communication is non-verbal, 38% is how we say something (inflection, volume, etc.) and only 7% is what we say.

It is a classic statistic that of course has been tested and debated. Regardless of how accurate the statistic is, I think it's safe to say that the majority of our communication is not based in the words we say, but all the factors around them.

For the sake of this post, let's take the percentages at face value. Have you ever considered the implications of communication when you are robbed of your non-verbals? Take texting for example. Texting is extremely popular and I don't see it going away anytime soon, but in that form of communication we are limited to only our words – and I guess punctuation and emojis. This means that we are robbing other folk roughly 93% of all that we're trying to communicate, leaving a ton open to interpretation. And you know there have been at least 10 times where you've read way too much into a text than what the person intended. You send a text saying, "Do you want to go Johnny's Bar or Wilde? :)" They type back, "Whatever." Then you get all worked up because you think they're being short and they didn't use a happy punctuation like an exclamation point or an emoji with a smiley face and sunglasses. Meanwhile, the other person simply just doesn't care. Then you meet at the bar and they can't understand why you're pissed. I've seen it 1000 times.

How much more effective would the decision have been made if you chose to pick up the phone instead of having a text exchange? I know, I know. It's 2015 and the idea of using your cellular telephone as, well, a phone, is so 2005. We've bought into the idea that texting is easier and more convenient, but have you ever considered how much more work it takes? You have, because we've all gotten to the point where the back and forth texting is just overwhelming and we realized a 15 second phone call would actually solve it.

But one of the realities that is still blowing me away is that while I gain I gain 38% of what I'm trying to communicate back with a phone call, I'm still robbing whoever it is a whopping 55%! This is crazy when I think about how much I'm on the phone with prospects and clients or with family. I don't know if this is a major problem though I want to claim it is. I've been an advocate for a while of still using the phone as a phone; I'm definitely in the minority here. If I have to chose between texting and a phone call, I prefer the phone, though I've become a big texter over the years. Yet now I want to advocate as much as possible for face-to-face conversations with people! We have substitutes in our culture to try and get back the other 55%, like Skype and FaceTime, but it doesn't do it full justice.

I have a few takeaways that I want to share:

  1. Texting isn't bad: I'm not Teddy the Text Hater. I think it is a super helpful means of communication and I like it. I love texting my Wifey and it is definitely her preferred means of communcation.
  2. Know the limitations: I think if you're someone who is always looking to improve how you communicate with people, you should know the limitations of your medium. Words on a screen can only communicate so much. Spoken words are better, but still don't convey facial expressions, hand motions (my personal favorite as an Italian), or body language.
  3. Maximize what you can control: Given the medium, learn how you can maximize it. I have often been told that the tone of my voice communicates critique or frustration even though that's not how I'm trying to communicate. I wonder how this comes off over the phone. The point is, there are areas of communication, regardless of the medium, that we can improve and master so that even if the receiver doesn't get all the forms, they get 100% of the form I can give. Verbally, this can be tone, volume, inflection, whatever. With texts and e-mails, well, it can be emojis :)
And Go Hawks!!!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Day 71: Changing the "They Need to Hear This" Syndrome

"I so wish Josh was here. This is exactly what he needs to hear!"

How many times have you been in a situation like this? You're at an event, a seminar, a training session, a church service and the material being presented is impactful, speaking to you in a powerful way. It sticks in your mind, echoing "I wish he was here...I wish my mom was here...I wish my wife was here."

It's powerful, but not to you; it resounds enough for you to think it's good for someone else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong believer in sharing stuff that impacts me, whether it be music, podcasts, articles, sermons, or whatever. I especially love introducing my friends and family to new music. In fact, I'm currently listening to a band I just discovered today. The band is Bleachers and the JAM is Like a River Runs. I'm digging it because of the neo 80s sound that's getting real popular these days. They even say they're inspired by John Hughes movies, which is awesome. The Sia version is especially strong.

Anyway, I'm appreciative when people share new material with me, so I invite it if you have something.

But there's a major difference between sharing something because it has meaning to you and sharing something because you think another person will benefit. I should state this a different way. If you are in the middle of listening to a podcast or a teaching and your mind starts drifting into a space where you begin to think about how someone else will "get a lot out of that" you've instantly cut yourself off from receiving what's being taught. In other words, in thinking another person will benefit you keep yourself from learning, growing, and being changed by what is happening in that moment.

Again, I have no problem with someone thinking I will benefit from a podcast or sermon or training, but if that person hasn't first absorbed it and considered how it's benefited him or her, I will smell danger.

We all smell danger when someone says, "I think you should listen to _____. I think it'll be really good for you." Why? Because we know that we are being set up to be fixed!

I hate typing that. I've done it so many times with people I love so much. I convince myself that because I love the other person I share stuff that I "know" will be great for them. Then they either reject it, hate it, or don't get it at all. In this case, when we think about others before ourselves, we've moved for wanting to receive for ourselves to wanting to fix someone else.

Here's what's going on. In listening to a podcast or a sermon or a training, I embarked on a specific journey in my own life to get there. I might have been searching on iTues, going to church, or checking out a specific topic online. I was the one who voluntarily did all of those things. I said "yes" to it all out of my own volition. Now, in sharing one of those things with someone thinking it will help them, I'm effectively saying, "I went on a journey I don't want you to go on; I want to give you a shortcut because I know what's best for you." It comes from a place of control, not a place of invitation.

So the next time you find yourself saying, "I wish so-and-so could hear this!" do the following:

  1. Focus on what you're learning. Flag that thought of the other person and put it away so you can focus on what you're learning in that moment. You are in that situation for you and for no one else.
  2. Take time to reflect on what you learned. Spend time after listening to a podcast or a training on how it impacted you personally. What did it reveal about you? What actions do you need to take for your own life first? 
  3. Ask why you want someone else to listen. Revisit who you considered would benefit and ask why you want that person to listen. Is it because you think it will be the clincher in a fight you've had? Is it because you think they'll finally understand why you are so mad? Or is it because you truly care and are curious to see if it will actually help them as it has you?
  4. Invite them. Don't tell them to listen. Invite. It could be, "Hey, I spent some time listening to a podcast that really did a number on me. After reflecting on it, our relationship came to mind and I'm wondering if you'd be interested in listening too and talking about it. Would you be interested?" 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Day 70: Awkward Parent Interactions

One of the aspects of parenthood I'm still not getting used to is all the awkward interactions I have with other adults when I'm out.

It's quite fascinating, really. Today I took The Boy out for a stroll down to Ribfest, an annual street party near our neighborhood celebrating the glorious world of ribs.

As we walked he got attention from mad crazy peeps because, well, The Boy is pretty cute. Reality is, though, babies and toddlers get attention in a way that could make some celebrities jealous. Today, The Boy was especially social and talkative, which drew some interaction with other adults. We were walking toward a light and he kept saying "mama, papa, mama, papa." Cute, right? A woman looked back and just said, "you are quite a talker, aren't you? That's great!" We all were waiting for the light to turn green, The Boy kept talking, and she kept looking back at him, smiling. We parted ways.

Then The Boy and I got to the square where there's an area for kids to run around, write with chalk on the brick, listen to musicians playing, and stare at the fountain. It's quite pleasant. There were three girls in the center of the square playing with each other while their moms sat on a bench nearby. The Boy decided it would be fun to join them. This is what kids do. They don't have any regard or concern for groups or privacy; they just interrupt each other and join. They only learn to be polite and then outride avoid from crotchety adults like me. The Boy was smaller than these girl so the moms would tell the girls in Spanish to watch out for the "niƱo." That was enough for me to look over. We just smiled at each other and I waved.

Finally, The Boy ran over to all the free newspaper stands and another boy came running up after him, followed by his parents. The Boy started pulling on doors and the other boy mimicked. I kept warning The Boy to watch out for the boy while his parents did they same with their son. We were all there for about 3-5 minutes, laughing from time to time at our boys playing with each other. Then The Boy ran off and that was that.

These were all to some degree, awkward. All of these people are most likely folk that I would just pass on the street without ever talking to. But now that The Boy draws attention in a number of ways or because he interacts with other children, there's this element where I'm talking to new people.

But we're never really talking to each other. If it's just The Boy getting attention, I'm listening to another adult talk to him and saying "thanks" from time to time. If The Boy is playing with another kid, I'm usually telling him to look out while the other parents are doing the same with their children. So I'm around them, but we're never really acknowledging each other's existence. Sometimes, rarely, names are exchanged, but not our names. No no. "What's her name?...That's a pretty name...Yeah, his name is...Okay, bye."

This is great on one level because I'm an extravert and like people. As a social butterfly, interactions like this can be energizing. Ugh, I feel like I have to write that.

More honestly it's all awkward because you come to realize quickly as a parent that most of your interactions with other adults in these kinds of situations is limited to the amount of time your child is interested. There's not a lot of time for introductions and conversation; these aren't settings for that. You are focused on making sure your child doesn't get bloody somehow or break a limb. Making friends is low on the priority list. And that's okay.

So our interaction is limited through weird smiles, gestures, and words with speak to our children. It's just all awkward.

If you're a parent, you get this and I trust you're nodding your head and smiling out of the corner of your mouth; if you're not, just laugh now and be prepared for the day when it comes. You're welcome.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 69: Are You a Generalist or Specialist? Here's How You Can Know.

My role at work has been quite interesting as of late.

I was originally hired a year ago to provide a small, but meaningful service to the sales team. I was supposed to help with early stage deals and pass them off at a certain point to the more experienced individuals. Being the small company that we are, that quickly – and I mean within three weeks – morphed into taking on more responsibility, carrying deals further into the cycle than I thought I would.

I eventually landed a few clients some months later and with some organizational changes designed to provide our clients more dedicated relationships I was given existing clients as well. To use what I'm sure is an old analogy, these two relationships are very different; the first is more like dating while the second is more like marriage. Now try and picture – but don't attempt in real life! – both at the same time. They require you to be two types of people and utilize different aspects of your personality. Performing the tasks of both landing new business and providing solid service in an existing relationship can be done, but it's not advisable.

In recent months I've been required to dust off the old project management chops utilized in my role as an Executive Pastor at Mars Hill to help with several of my clients. This means coordinating between our CRM team, developers, and clients to deliver projects on time and within budget. I don't know the analogy for this one as I do with the others, but this too requires a very different side of me than those roles. Here I have to be detail-oriented and even clearer in communication with regards to expectations and deadlines. I have to strike the right balance between putting the client first and supporting my internal teams well.

Needless to say, the past two months especially have resulted in some busy weeks. But more than that, they've required me to wear many different hats. Perhaps it's like a high intensity, full body workout every day.

Here's the secret though: I really really really like it.

I'm not pretending that I do all of these things perfectly. Not by any stretch. But, I find that I perform at a much higher level when I am asked to do a lot of different tasks in some ways versus doing one task in a very focused, deep way. In other words, I thrive much more as a generalist than a specialist.

One clear reason is that as a generalist I am forced to make four considerations I never make when I only have one thing to do:

  1. I prioritize. Given that time is of the essence, I consider what is most important, knowing that it will easily fill up my day. The other side of that is I cut the fat and only allow room for the less important matters when the priorities have been complete. 
  2. I plan. If I only have one thing to do, like write a paper or something, it's much harder for me to plan. But when I have a thousands things, I work through the way in which I'm going to accomplish my priorities. 
  3. I seek efficiency. With so much going on, I have to consider how I can do a task, have a conversation, write e-mails, create documents, faster and with greater effectiveness.
  4. I empower. For everything I have to ask "what can only I do?" This is tough for me because I'm the type of person who likes to take on everything; that's why I'm a generalist. But you can only get so far with that. At some point, and hopefully that's sooner rather than later, I have to give others responsibility, let them share the load with me, and empower them to contribute. 

To be honest, I believe that if I asked someone who was more a specialist than a generalist, the four considerations above would still apply. I think that's because if whether you're a generalist or a specialist, you want to get to a place where you are regularly doing those four things. So you should ask yourself which of the two, generalist or specialist, would actually force you to prioritize, plan, seek efficiency, and empower.

Now that you asked yourself, what'd you come up with?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day 68: Nothing

Sometimes you just have nothing.

Doesn't really matter what time of day it might be. I could have started in the morning, though right now I admit I'm writing just before bed.

But either way, I had nothing today.

Write anyway, I say! Write until you get out of the block and into a space where creativity can flow freely again.

And why is that?

Because of the undergirding commitment to write. You might say, it's almost covenantal. The commitment to write everyday is built on the foundation of both the joy and the skill of writing. And though I never signed a paper, Thirty Minute Thoughts began on Easter Sunday in a modest ceremonial fashion.

All that to say, the commitment drives the writing, even if there is no writing. Something is there, it's out there to be reached, to be connected with, to be taken in, molded and shaped, crafted in joy and given as a gift. And I will use even my words now to try hard to get there – for my sake.

Something is there.

Just not today.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Day 67: How Do You Make Decisions?

On Monday I got a call from a prospect telling me that we had lost the deal.

I've gotten used to having these conversations in the past year as percentages in sales are more less like free throw shooting and more like batting averages. It's good to learn early on the kind of game you're playing.

The percentages don't tell the whole story though. My stat line can show 1 for 3, but the one hit could be a single and the other two could range anywhere from a strike out to a pop fly that drifted all the way to the center left field wall only to be snatched by a leaping Ken Griffey, Jr. in his heyday.

This loss the other day felt more like that than a strike out. We were so close and I thought that the company would be a great fit as one of Highland's clients. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be and it just means I'll be back up to bat again soon.

Thankfully, I got a lot of great feedback from the person who managed both the buying process and now the project itself. I asked what the decision really came down to for them because I of course want to learn what we can do to improve as a sales organization.

After a good bit of conversation, he said that it really boiled down to the sales team seeing our competitor's product as superior to ours (when I say "our product" I'm referring the our vendor's product that we resell). When I prodded a bit further, asking about functionality and such, he said that everyone agreed that both products could deliver what they needed. So I asked what the real difference was.

Actually, I asked, "Is this really about perception? That they believe the other product is better than ours?"

"Yeah, I guess so," was pretty much his answer.

Our competitor's product is the market leader; we are a disruptor. Their product has been around longer and has definitely lead in innovation. Their name is everywhere, including on taxis in Chicago; you'd be hard-pressed to find ours easily without talking to someone first.

But the difference I notice the most, the one that stands out head and shoulders above everything else: they appeal to the emotions more effectively than any of their competitors. I believe that while they have great technology, they understood a long time ago that people don't make purely rational decisions. Perhaps IT teams get the closest to that, but even in that rationalism, there's emotion undergirding it due to connections to certain technological philosophies and what not.

I wrote about this a while back. Former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, came out with a book a few years ago after he had to reevaluate his entire economic theory. Up until 2008, he believed that rationality and self-interest would win the day in economics, but after the crash he realized that wasn't so. He saw that we are driven so much more by our emotion -- and specifically fear -- than by our rationality.

As buyers, we are emotionally connected to our brands and products. It goes without saying that the company that does this best out of all is Apple. Even though the Apple Watch doesn't seem to make a ton of rational sense right now, those commercials they have running are genius. Before the watch was released, the commercials were all about feature functions; but now, with the watch out they show how you can experience them through the full range of emotions. And if you look at the YouTube views and compare between the feature functionality commercial vs. the new ones, you will see what appeals more.

Buyers, whether in business or in everyday life, buy the same way. There may be other considerations for a business -- other people involved in the decision making process, bigger budgets, an executive team or board, etc. -- but at the end of the day they will buy what is wanted. We want the name brand goods, the "Cadillac" of technology; we want to look as cool as can be with our business "stuff" just like we wanted with our high school "stuff." Emotions reign supreme.

Truth be told: I really don't want this to be true. That's why I love the commercials so much. I want to stand in proud mockery of all the empty promises technology makes about changing the world, appealing directly to our emotion.

But then I have to eat humble pie. My life has been totally turned upside down by technology. Yours has too. And the world has changed, for better or worse, because of it as well. The appeal to emotion when it comes to technology decisions isn't as far of a stretch as I think.

In fact, I think it's the place where we need to begin.

Day 66: It's A...???

It's a...


Watch out world.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Day 65: Resilience Will Get You Far in Life

Resilience has to be a learned trait.

What is it? As I picture it, I come back to the old saying of "someone who has thick skin." It's almost that Rocky Balboa characteristic where, in Rocky IV, he just taunts the Russian to keep hitting him. Rocky spent his whole life taking a beating, in a sense preparing for this moment, and when the time came, he invited the punches knowing that instead of getting crushed he was wearing out the Russian.

And that's the point. You learn to stand up and take the beating, knowing it'll lead to victory, because you've been knocked down and out so many times.

Resilience is recovering faster and faster because you've been there before and have learned how to handle it.

Perhaps that's the other point: you have to learn how to handle it. All of us experience rejection or loss. He gets the girl he likes and she dumps him; she gets rejected by the college she wanted; they apply for a number of jobs and can't quite make it; he can never win the big game. But many people -- dare I say most people -- go through life and they never learn how to recover faster than the last time they were rejected. Somewhere along the way many of us hear "no" and tend to think that will be the only time so when "no" is heard again, it's just as devastating as the first time. Or because they heard "no" they run away in hopes of never hearing it again.

This is why it takes a special person to do fundraising or sales; the "no" narrative tends to surpass by far the "yes." You have to be resilient. The game is much less like free throw shooting and more like shooting from half court; no matter how good you get at it over time, your percentage still isn't going to be stellar. Or maybe it's like LeBron's game these NBA Finals: he is unbelievably inefficient shooting, but incredibly powerful and effective.

Again, resilience is the ability to take the blow, to sense the stress, to miss the shot, to face the rejection, to hear the no, and recover as quickly as possible. Resilience is developed when you've learned that it happens not only to you, but to everyone, and it will happen again, so you build ways to recover faster.

So, you recover from the blow, but what are you recovering to? It might be an odd question, but it's worth closing on because if you don't know what you're recovering to you won't be able to identify if you're actually learning how to be resilient.

The answer might seem obvious to some, but resilience is recovering to a place of strength, of standing, of freedom. It's coming back to the understanding that you aren't defined by the blow or the loss. It's understanding that, unless you're dead, there's always another opportunity, another shot, another date, another chance.

And while I can't get into it more, resilience has a faint thread of grace interwoven throughout in that as much as it might be learned it's also given as a gift.

I believe knowing this and living it out will get you and me extremely far in life because getting knocked off the road only means you have another chance to get back on faster and farther ahead.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Day 64: Budget Tip - Get More Out of Your Paycheck

What's your typical reaction when you look at your paycheck? Is it, "JAM! Look at all them bills I'm takin' home!" Perhaps.

But the more likely reaction is, "JAM! Look at all them bills the IRS is takin' out!" Isn't it a crazy thing to look at your gross pay and then your net pay and be like "how the heck does the math work on that?"

After Federal Income Tax, FICA, health insurance, and 401(k) other pre-tax deductions, you can have upward of 40% of your gross pay reduced.

Did you know that you can actually do something about this? By this I don't mean that you get a raise; that would be nice, but you'd probably see that it just means more money gets taken out because the percentage doesn't change.

No, it's something simple, but takes a little bit of effort.

The most significant change you can look into making is the amount of federal income tax you pay out of every paycheck.

Bottom line, the IRS can only use the tax money that you are required to pay. If you underpay, they will make you pay when you file your tax paperwork; if you overpay, you get a refund when you file your tax paperwork. Unless you're self-employed, chances are you got a decent tax return a few months back. You ever ask why that is? Because, as I just mentioned, you overpaid your taxes throughout the year and the IRS is just giving you your money back.

Look familiar?
So, you might ask, how does that happen? When you start working at a new company, you fill out a W-4 to establish what those taxes will be. There's a worksheet that's associated with the form to help you figure out all the hullabaloo and gibberish; it's confusing for Ph.D.s I'm sure. As far as I can tell, it is all to help you figure out how many allowances you can give yourself, which determine the amount of tax that's taken out.

You probably don't think much of it and are thrilled when you get a fat return in the thousands. Again, all this means is the IRS is giving back what was rightfully yours the whole time. 

So why wait to get the money months later? Why not have at your disposal throughout the year, bumping up that paycheck and using it toward immediate needs, which may of course be, Debt Snowballing like nobody's business. Or, you can use it toward your savings, where you can gain a little bit of interest.

Don't let the IRS be your tin can buried in the backyard.

Thankfully, the IRS is also helpful here. They provide a Withholding Calculator on their website that you can work through to figure out just what to do with your W-4. I went through the exercise today with just a pay stub and my last tax return and learned what I needed to do to get roughly $2000 back in my paycheck throughout the year. That's pretty sweet, right?


  1. Use the calculator. Figure out what changes need to be made.
  2. Request a new W-4 and fill it out based on the instructions given by the IRS
  3. Get paid.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Day 63: How Our Lives Change

What's something you did quite often five years ago that you don't do now?

When you were taking part in this activity back then, did you ever imagine a time when you'd either be doing it a heck of a lot more or a lot less? Did you ever think it would change?

Five years ago I was 27, smack dab in the middle of seminary and church planting in Chicago. If you're interested, here's one of my all-time favorite posts which just happens to be around this time five years ago: Blow Up Some of Your Memorial Stones. This was my life. I spent so much of my day reading, reflecting, writing, and considering what the church was going to be like. I was so interested in church planting and the movements that were popping up everywhere. I helped with one here in Chicago called The Line that's still going really strong today down in Lincoln Park.

Five years ago I never thought that I would be married with a kid, another on the way, and doing software sales. I for sure wanted to be married and hoped that I would have a family by this point. I even entertained at that time in my life the idea of going to business school for my MBA, so I think I knew even then that full-time paid ministry wasn't gonna be my thing either.

So I guess you can say I stopped doing the single thing. And I also stopped doing the paid church thing.

I've also continued and in some ways increased the time I spend reflecting and writing. Back then, the reflecting was in my Moleskine and the writing was often there or for class. But I didn't write everyday like this. This is different. I never thought then that I would be blogging everyday; though I could have predicted that I wouldn't have much of audience in terms of number of readers, but definitely great in terms of the quality of folk who read this bad boy. I see you!

But the one thing that's changed a ton, that I do much less of now, is read. I used to read so much back then. Most of it was for class of course as seminary piles on what you've got to read, but I also read for enjoyment quite a bit. If you told me then that I'd stop being such a reader, I'd take the stack of books I was reading at the time and smack you in the face one by one. Okay...probably not that, but I wouldn't believe you. I would have told you that when I got out of seminary I'd have all the time to read what I actually wanted to read and would do it with the force of a Class 5 hurricane!

Not so. Not now.

I still read today, but it's mostly on my phone or before bed or on a plane. Some is for pleasure, some is for work. I just finished a parenting book and may read Devil in the White City again. But it's all different.

I'm sure someday, when I'm old and gray, The Wifey and I will relax in rocking chairs and read together, most likely with those books that are all BIG PRINT and have like 15 words to a page.

But it's just interesting to reflect on the activities we take for granted today and assume we will continue to do for years, not knowing how other circumstances in life change what we do. I am married now. I do have kid(s) now. My job is very different now and doesn't require me to read as much. All of those factors play into what happens during the "open hours."

So while I lightly mourn tonight, this lessening of reading, I rejoice in the fact that my open hours consist of time with The Wifey and Boy and that most of the books I read are children's books.

How about you? What's changed?

Friday, June 05, 2015

Day 62: What's Your Love Language?

Have you ever heard of the five love languages? It's a theory created by a Christian author named Gary Chapman and I pretty much think right on point.

Here's the short summary in all its cheesy goodness: We all have a love tank. It's a tank that is filled by receiving love and emptied in giving love. We receive and give love through five main ways, or languages. These languages, with a short definition are:

  1. Physical Touch: This can be a hug, an arm around the shoulder, hand holding, whatever. It's intentional and not necessarily romantic.
  2. Quality Time: This tends to be one-on-one time with someone else. It doesn't have to be direct communication with the other person. Quality time has more to do with being present with another person. It can be a conversation over coffee or working on your computers next to each other.
  3. Gifts: Pretty straight-forward here. This is the act of being thoughtful about giving to another person. Again, don't think romantic or grand gesture. It's more like giving something sentimental or something that shows you're listening.
  4. Words of Affirmation: To speak or write to someone as to affirm their character or actions.
  5. Acts of Service: Mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, volunteering, taking the kids for the day -- these are all types of acts of service.
According to Chapman, these are the five main languages by which love is poured out of us or poured into us. 

And here's the key: We all have one dominate love language.

The question is, "how do you know which is your love language?"

One of the key indicators is to ask, "what is the one way I most often try to show people I love them?" Most of us tend to give love in the way we like to receive love; it's just a natural response to how good it makes you feel. You assume others receive love that way as well. That's not necessarily the case though. More often than not, another person's love language is going to be different than yours. The key is to understand not only how you receive love, but how you might have to give love to someone whose language is different than yours. The goal is to become "fluent" in them all so that you can adapt depending on the other person's love language.

Why is this important? Well, isn't it frustrating when you feel like you are really showing someone you love them, but they come back saying they never really feel loved? Have you ever wondered why? It is most likely because you're not speaking their love language to them. The sooner you're able to learn how someone you care about truly loves to be loved, you've got a major advantage.

If you're still lost on learning your own love language, here's another way to figure it out. Ask yourself what you appreciate most, or when you feel the most loved by others. You can do it by comparing that to other love languages. For example, gifts are great. And I do feel loved when I get a gift, especially a thoughtful gift. But if The Wifey or any family or friends never gave me any gifts, even on days when it's the norm to give them, I'd be fine. I wouldn't feel less loved by them because I am not filled up by getting gifts.

That leads to the next point. It's not that your primary love language is the only way you feel loved; like I said, I do feel loved when I receive gifts. All the languages are ways to give and receive love. Rather, your primary love language is the way that your tank is filled fullest and in the fastest way possible.

This is how I know, for me, that quality time is my love language. I have many friends who don't live near me. It's so much harder to get quality time with them than it is, say, with The Wifey, who I get to spend quality time with every day, whether it be talking through our days, eating dinner together, or watching TV. The tank is super full! But with my friends and family it's a lot more difficult. But I've seen that when I get a real good phone conversation in, or a long time of back and forth texting about life or another topic, I feel the love.

Knowing how you receive love is great, because you can subtly coach those important to you on how they might be able to show they love you better. The selling point to them can be like, "I know you get frustrated that I'm not super grateful when you mow the lawn for me all the time, but listen, if you hug me in the morning before work, I'm good for a week!" What we want to be able to do is communicate to others that in understanding our love language, they have the opportunity to make me feel loved without worrying about it "not working." 

Love languages are a powerful tool in understanding yourself and others. Identifying them is a great way to grow in how we love one another. I've known that I'm a quality time guy for over a decade now and it's been immensely helpful to know that about myself. What's been even better is learning how to identify others' love languages, like The Wifey's, who is totally a words of affirmation lady.

So what about you? What's your love language? How do you know?

By the way, if you're still stuck, here's a website that might help:

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Day 61: My Admission - I Love LeBron James

I love basketball.

I love the NBA Playoffs.

And I am absolutely rooting for LeBron James.

I'm watching him bucket after bucket in the 4th quarter right now like it's not a problem. He has "quietly" put up a near-40 point game and controls the entire flow when he's on the floor. He does it night in and night out. He's done this his entire career and he's currently playing with, statistically, one of the worst surrounding cast of all NBA finals.

I can't understand why the majority of people I talk to want to see the greatest basketball player in the world and easily one of the top 3 players of all-time fail. We are watching a freak of nature athletically speaking, someone so special, and won't even know how to appreciate it until the legendary stories start to take shape years from now.

It's sad to me really. I would much rather say, "I watched that guy play and win championship after championship" than, "yeah, he was great, but nothing that special" just because he didn't win.

Sure, he's a little arrogant and whines a bit, but the legend of of Michael Jordan has been set to forget how arrogant he was, how he pushed back on the press, how he whined when he didn't get the calls. To be honest, I think Michael Jordan just acted and looked cooler in those situations than LeBron; perhaps just as LeBron has worked on his fingernail biting, he needs to work on his whine-face. But I digress.

He is nearly averaging a triple-double in these playoffs. He doesn't have Kevin Love and is playing with a hurt Kyrie Irving. And they're going up against one of the greatest single-season offensive teams of all-tie.

And I think they're going to win in 6.

Go Cavs.

And go LeBron James.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Day 60: A Small, Yet Profound, Observation on Titles

The Wifey was reading recipes to me tonight.

That does sound a bit weird, doesn't it? Anyway, she decided to read some recipes to me for meals that we are going to have this week. Get ready to have your mouth water because here they are:
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Saltimbocca with Sauteed Spinach & Garlic-Sage Sauce
  • Pan-Seared Salmon with Honeydew-Cucumber Salsa & Watercress Salad
  • Curried Jamaican Beef & Collard Greens with Spicy Red Chili & Creamy Polenta
Freaking mouth-watering, right? Now, trying reading them aloud as if you just made it yourself and you're presenting to the table. That all sounds amazing doesn't it, except for maybe the watercress salad? But other than the food itself, what stands out is how extremely long and detailed the titles of these meals are. 

I remember a time when I was a kid and I asked what was for dinner and the response was "Pot Roast," or "Roasted Chicken," or, because we're Italian, "Pasta w/ Meat Sauce." 

Simple. Basic. Boring. And still possibly delicious. But subtle.

Now let's consider another example. One of the key lessons I learned in writing big papers or even trying to write blog posts was not to make the title too long. Titles for writing have to be simple, basic, yet still be extremely delicious to the reader. Some of the book titles of my favorite books include Gilead, Atlas Shrugged, 1984, Gone with the Wind, The Intelligent Investor and so on. 

But do you know what the original title of Darwin's The Origin of Species is? In all it's controversial glory is the lengthy On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Another example comes from one of my favorite writers and men in general, Jonathan Edwards, who, in 1737 wrote a very different essay than Darwin's work, called A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton. Try to do that in one breath. This was the way of titles back in the day. I wish we can say they were like movie previews today where you felt like the title gave away the whole book and you didn't need to read it, but that isn't the case. They were just long. 

But I wonder if they were long for the same reason recipe titles are long today. I wonder if that was the marketing tactic for books to make them more compelling to read, to make your mouth water just as you were finishing the last word of...the title? And I wonder if there will ever come a point in time when recipe titles will pack a ton of punch by just being short and to the point, yet compelling. 

"What are we having tonight?"


"What? That's mind blowing!"

Ponder that.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Day 59: Why I Love Cities

There are lots of reasons to love cities, especially world class cities like Chicago. Culture abounds, museums run rampant, music scenes are other worldly, and, if you could afford it, you could spend the rest of your life eating at restaurants that will make you cry at some point during the meal. Sports teams, festivals, parks, protests -- it's all there.

I'm going to confess a very simple reason as to why I love cities.


I love cities because of the density. I love how close and compact everything is, some space withstanding. I like the fact that we can be just outside our apartment with The Boy and have neighbors on both sides to talk to without even taking 10 steps. I love seeing the little girl stare out the window at us smiling because she enjoys seeing The Boy run and scream, knowing that it isn't weird at all that she's doing it.

I love the tall buildings, the tighter streets.

I love packed trains.

I love the surprise turn around the corner where I might bump into someone who pretends to be busy and complete unfazed.

I love the diversity and wish there was more community that grew as a result of it.

I love being able to walk to pretty much any place we need to go and having the weird feeling that getting in our car to go somewhere 10 minutes away is a "hassle."

I believe God loves the density too.

That's why heaven is described as a city.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Day 58: The Best Way to Destroy Debt - Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a secret weapon that seems to be lost on millions of Americans who are stuck in mountains of debt and don't know how to get out.

The key is not to let the avalanche crush you, but flip the script and start an avalanche on your debt. This is your weapon. And this weapon is called The Debt Snowball.

I laid out the foundation in my previous post, so if you haven't read that already, go check it out. It is crucial to get out of debt because it's a financial form of slavery – the debtor is slave to the lender. I have a friend who is currently paying as much as a mortgage payment to get rid of student loans. Can you imagine what will happen when that debt is finally paid off? What would you do with that? We have all been duped into believing that debt is just a way of life and is a part of our monthly budget. I'm dedicated to killing that assumption and ensuring that your hard earned income can go toward wealth building and not a life-suck vacuum.

Today, I'm going to provide the next two key steps to gain real momentum and destroy your debt as quickly as you can, which is vital to your financial freedom.

Apply the minimum payment of paid off debts to the next debt that needs to be destroyed. For example, let's say you have already have $200 going toward an initial debt to pay off, say credit card. You had $1,000 to pay off and the minimum monthly payment was $75. Once that debt is paid off, you then apply the entire $275 toward your next debt. Say it is a car loan for $7,000 and you've only been paying the minimum payment on that, which is $250. Now, with the new flood of dough coming in from killing a debt you never have to worry about again, you've essentially doubled your payment on the car loan, cutting the time to pay it off in half! This is the power of the Debt Snowball and why you shouldn't worry too much about calculating pay offs based on interest rates. You will most likely benefit psychologically more from seeing debts destroyed than from working and reworking and reworking math calculations that are as much fun as poking yourself in the eye with needles.

Use additional income toward debts. There are times throughout the year where we come into some cash, whether it be expected or unexpected. It can be a tax return or a raise at work or something that gives you a good bump for the month, like birthday money. Decisions with this kind of cash can be challenging, especially when you've been eyeing new shoes or a trip somewhere. But if you're budgeting monthly, chances are you already have money set aside for clothes or vacation. With that, you should consider giving a good push of the Snowball by taking additional income and applying it toward destroying the debt. Sure, it's not a fun thing in the short term, but when you have no debt in the future, you have a heck of a lot more buying power.

The big idea is that debtors are slaves to lenders. The goal is to get out as fast as possible. The way is through the Debt Snowball. And the time is now!