I came across this speech by John W. Gardner today. I don’t often get stopped in my tracks by speeches from nearly 25 years ago, but when Harvard Business Review posted an article on lifelong learning, my curiosity was piqued. I was rewarded by this beautiful speech that inspired me to live with purpose, meaning and interest. The quote below is just a snippet of the full speech, which is worth the time you will spend reading it and digesting its meaning.
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”
On a recent airplane flight from LA to Hawaii I found myself without a book to read. My iPad mini was loaded with at least ten books in the “to be read” queue, but I was thinking about beaches and sunshine. I knew I needed a real, physical, old-fashioned book. Without much hope, I popped into the airport sundries shop and managed to strike gold.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, is one of those books that is likely to change my life over the course of the next year in ways I did not anticipate.
Bottom Line Premise: Once you stop trying to do it all, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
We are in a society with an over-abundance of choices. We have too many choices of how to spend our time, our money, our calories and our passion. Not only do we have too many choices, but we have too many really great choices and very few ways to escape the frenetic pace. The message in essentialism is not the minimalist, ascetic message of yesterday. It’s rather, a call back to conscious choice in how we invest ourselves in the world around us.
McKeown, after a discussion on the basic philosophy of essentialism, breaks the book down into exploring useful habits (escape, play, sleep etc. — all welcome topics when vacationing in Hawaii), eliminating non-essentials and executing a plan.
I took away several action points that we put into place almost immediately in our personal life and in our business:
- Get over the social awkwardness of saying “no” to social commitments or unwelcome business opportunities. You know the kind of thing I mean: the dinner you don’t really want to attend, or the job that is outside the sweet spot of your company’s profile.
- Add in healthy habits and schedule them. It sounds ridiculous, but my husband and I used to feel proud of our ability to be night owls, and almost ashamed of going to bed before midnight. Our daughters would poke fun at going to bed during “dork time,” as they called it. No more. Sleep really helps. Small habit change….huge payback.
- Add a buffer. Whether pricing jobs or booking a calendar, not scheduling everything so close to the edge provides huge peace of mind.
- Editing is one of the most important tasks of day-to-day life. As a writer I was already well-aware of the value of a great editor. Video productions pop with the right editing. The scenes left on the cutting-room floor are what create a truly great storyline. In life, as well, we need to edit. We need to edit our possessions, our activities, even our thoughts. One of the first suggestions McKeown makes is to go to the closet and eliminate some nonessential items, just to feel the lightness of letting go.
The author intersperses the benefits of essentialism throughout the book, but the last section highlights the increase in concentration, focus and flow you will reap from paring dow to the essentials. Well worth the read, and worth spending some time processing the true essentials in my own life. Not bad for an airport book!
Some quotes from Essentialism:
In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.
Saying no is its own leadership capability. it is not just a peripheral skill. As with any ability, we start with limited experience. We are novices at “no.” Then we learn a couple of basic techniques. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We develop more skills. We keep practicing. After a while we have a whole repertoire available at our disposal, and in time we have gained mastery of a type of social art form. We can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity. Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’
An essentialist produces more — brings forth more — by removing more instead of doing more.
In life, disciplined editing can add to your level of contribution. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. It lends the most meaningful relationships and activities more space to blossom.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my life telling stories in one form or another. What time I didn’t spend telling stories was spent reading them. I could consume good books at a rate that would have bankrupted my parents if I didn’t know where the library was! David likes the story of my 8 year old self declaring I was going to read the entire children’s library in my town of Belmont. I smile now, but I’m also proud of the fact I made it through the A’s and had made headway into the B’s before I realized I’d bitten off more than I could choose. Go ahead, ask me about Aardvarks, Ants, or the Appalachian Mountains.
These days I’m spending my days weaving different kinds of stories. We started a company recently called Visual Creatives, and it’s based on using “story” to communicate better, clarify what it is we are trying to say. It turns out story writing is sometimes called “branding” in the adult world. Who knew.
Stories have a lot of value, too. Jesus was a pro at knowing what kinds of stories would tug on heartstrings, or perhaps reveal a flawed and decaying heart. He knew how to hone his message down into a few simple words that pierced to the soul. Above all, Jesus always knew who his audience was, and who he was talking to.
That’s what we are doing for the Visual Creatives clients. We’re helping them see themselves clearly so that the stories they tell (their brand) are authentic and honest and have a purpose.
When I was a little girl reading those books in the back of the library, I didn’t realize I was setting the course of my life through high school, college, homeschooling and beyond. I didn’t realize that I was steeping myself in the dreams and forms I would need for my life. I did know, however, that I loved a good story.
I still do.
Not long ago our Jura Capresso coffee machine died. It was a calamity on the scale of a hurricane or your washing machine flooding your house.
It hit us hard!
Those of you who know us, understand. The whine of our Jura is the town-square clock of our home.
But Jura was gone.
Enter the French Press, which in our opinion is the second best coffee around. Sometimes, if we are honest and if the person making the coffee is skilled, it is the best coffee around. We pulled out our old burr grinder and prepared to wait out the two week repair hiatus.
A funny thing happened.
Coffee became an event in the house. The first person up “got” to make the coffee, and we would pause in the kitchen to time and press and pour. The smell of the coffee slowly worked its way into our sleepiness. In the afternoon the coffee being made became an excuse to stop our work and sit down for a few minutes. If we had visitors, we served them first and then chatted while we made a second pot.
Now nothing beats the push-a-button-and-drink-your-coffee convenience of the Jura Capresso. But I sure liked the party around the Press.
It is worth considering, I think, how many of our “time saving” techniques have robbed us of something precious. We may be hungering for an side-benefit of doing things the old fashioned way without even realizing it. Whole books have been written about our modern isolation and our desire for community. Two or three of the interesting ones are listed below.
Unintended consequences of innovation.
We’re back to pushing our buttons to get our brew around here. The days of the French Press are gone again, for awhile. But as I consider how to build community and touch people’s lives, the French Press comes to mind. It might be time to be more mindful.
Note: I don’t agree with everything in these books…I just find them interesting.
I’ve been drifting at the edges of the human trafficking issue for a year or two now, joining my church in the Hope for Freedom cause, reading, talking, networking. I have sat with prostitutes who were trafficked into the trade by relatives and “safe” friends. I’ve heard their stories and seen their redemption. I’ve seen homes for restoring the souls of young girls. And I’ve read. I’ve read news reports of raids, successful and not. I’ve read books that were released, both secular and Christian. I’ve done what I could, within the confines of my suburban life, to engage in the fight for those with no voice, no justice.
Somehow, however, that deepest well of emotion that lives inside me has not been tapped. Maybe it’s the words we use: human trafficking, modern day abolitionist, modern day slavery. They are cold, distanced. Maybe it’s the size of the numbers: 27 million in slavery. It’s too big a number, and it seems unreal. Maybe it’s just my own selfishness and blindness, living in my insulated life. I have cared about the issue. I have worked for it. I have prayed over it. But I haven’t really lived it.
I just finished reading God in a Brothel, An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue by Daniel Walker. Somehow this book has hit me harder than any of the others I’ve read. For one thing, the book is written in the first person. There are few dry statistics here: most of the book is first hand experience. Walker infiltrated the kinds of places we’ve only seen in movies, the dark and dangerous corners of the world. He put himself on the line to covertly photograph and record financial transactions. He looked into the eyes of the six year old girl offered to him for his own pleasure, and he lived with the grief when he couldn’t find her again to rescue her.
Somehow, I felt it. I felt it in the pit of my stomach.
This is a dangerous book. It will wreck you on many levels. And I need to warn you, it is not a pretty book. Walker doesn’t spare us. He shows us how the go-go bars in South East Asia operate. He lets us feel the fear of girls who refuse to talk about their captors. Perhaps most gut wrenching, he talks about the temptations for him, bombarded on every side by the moral perversion of the sex industry.
And oh yes, just about the time my American soul feels self-righteous about the standard of our country, Walker takes us to Las Vegas and Atlanta. Ouch. Worse, he tells us why investigations in those cities will never go anywhere.
It’s a complicated world we live in. Some of these girls are in their industry by choice, and so do not fall under the umbrella of trafficking. Some of them were deceived by friends, or kidnapped by strangers. Saving them isn’t always easy, and the right answers aren’t always the obvious ones. But the cause of justice — the cause God gave to all of us — demands that we try.
Walker actually went and did something about it.
Read this book, if you dare.
I end with a card given to Walker following the rescue of 13 year old Melissa — a girl who now wants to be a lawyer to help fight the injustice of trafficking.
I wish that you will never be tired of helping such many children like me. I’m so lucky for the opportunity that you gave. Thank you for all the help and support that you have given and showed me. I promise I will try my best to achieve all my goals in life. I’ll reach for them, I’ll try my best to succeed. I will never forget you, never.
I just finished reading Mark Batterson’s latest book, The Circle Maker. If you have followed Coffee Shop Journal at all, you know that Batterson is one of my favorite authors in the current Christian landscape. So I have been slowly savoring The Circle Maker, letting its message sink deep rather than skimming the surface of my mind.
The premise of The Circle Maker is simple: God honors the prayers we pray. Hardly ground-breaking! But Batterson frames The Circle Maker in an ancient Jewish tale that takes prayer to a new place. There was, once upon a time, a Jewish prophet named Honi. Honi lived at a time when drought was torturing Israel, and it was time for Honi to pray on his country’s behalf. So Honi literally drew a circle in the dry sand, stepped inside it, and pledged not to leave until God answered his prayer.
Honi prayed again.
It rained cats and dogs and threatened to flood the nation.
Honi prayed again until a gentle rain fell.
Using Honi’s story mixed with stories from Batterson’s National Community Church and his own life, Batterson encourages us to circle – metaphorically and often literally – the dreams we have for our own lives, the dreams God planted. Pray, think long term, let your prayers build your legacy: Batterson encourages us over and over to do the hard work of bringing ourselves and our lives into harmony with God’s plan for us.
I spent some time recently thinking about the “circles” in my life.
While Mark Batterson was walking circles around the city of Washington DC (and I say we need more people walking circles and praying in Washington DC!), I feel as if sometimes I’ve just been walking IN circles. May I be honest? Sometimes I’m not so sure that my prayers are much different than the “positive affirmations” that pop psych gurus like to peddle off on us. I pray them, regularly, but I sometimes forget that someone is LISTENING to them.
God honors our prayers.
But do our prayers honor God?
I pray — most of the time — wimpy little me-sized prayers instead of the kind that have me shaking in my boots. At church this weekend we called those kind of prayers audacious prayers. Batterson reminds us that God loves those kind of prayers, because everyone knows that only he could accomplish them. Only God could possibly have one such a thing.
I don’t want to live my life missing out on God-sized answers to prayer.
I need to be drawing audacious circles and then standing in them.
If you want to get more information about The Circle Maker and watch some cool trailers, go to TheCircleMaker.
It’s been awhile since I have done a book review, and this isn’t one either. Not really. But I recently read The Pixar Touch by David A. Price.
I picked up the book a week or two ago…but wait…that isn’t true. Sitting in my QEpiphany conference I realized I wanted to read more about Pixar. After all, we were deconstructing Toy Story 2 and learning the backstory of the process. I wanted to know more. So I grabbed my iPad, searched Amazon Kindle and downloaded what looked like the most appropriate book. I have never held the book in my hands.
A perfect illustration of the first lesson I learned from both the book and from Pixar: technology disrupts. It makes the “good old boys nervous.” Some people will tell you that the technology is ruining the integrity of what came before. What would animation be without hand drawn cels? It would be different. But equally amazing. And that gets people’s feathers ruffled.
Lesson: When you are going to venture into a whole new world, be prepared to spend some time bringing others along and smoothing down their feathers.
The second lesson quickly follows the first: yesterday’s skill set may not be enough to meet today’s challenge, but it will probably provide the foundation for the skills that will meet the challenge. Without the skilled hand animators, Pixar would never have been able to hit the right balance in their computer generated characters. It required the eye, the deep background and the artistic sense that only animators possessed.
Lesson: Don’t despise the skill sets of yesterday. Figure out what they knew. It may be crucial to you today.
Finally (because research tells me your attention has already waned)…
Lesson: Nothing — repeat — NOTHING beats a good story, well written.
It slips my mind, sometimes, that someone reading my posts may not know where they are written. With very few exceptions, most of my writing is done in Starbucks. If I didn’t write the actual post there, I at least scribbled notes to remind me later of the direction I’m going to take.
I don’t know all the reasons why Starbucks is my choice, but one of them is because it simply isn’t HOME. I can come here and focus, be myself, daydream and create. At home, well there’s laundry to be done, a new magazine in the mail, roaming dogs who terrorize me at every opportunity. The stuff of life. I connect with myself better — sometimes — when I’m not so surrounded by myself.
The other day I listened to two guys do the same at Starbucks. One was a regular, Dan, and I never caught the other’s name. Let’s call him Fred. These two guys began jabbering, and when I got up to go, literally two hours later, they were still jabbering. In the course of the hours they covered politics (conservative, but Dan has a liberal bent that inclines him to social justice), chiropractic (Fred is a chiropractor, and was convincing Dan — accurately in my humble opinion! — that chiropractic care could help him recover from his recent shoulder surgery), the military (both served, one flew planes, the other loved them). They covered their families, their work habits, their Starbucks drinks. They circled back around to why character and integrity matter in politics more than party affiliation, though each were registered Republicans. In short, they connected.
It was a life group in action. What do you call it at your church? At ours, during various moments, they have been life groups, journey groups, small groups, affinity groups. Whatever your definition, these two men joined a small group.
But let me ask you this question: when was the last time you saw two men begin with a passing nod acquaintance and end up with an intimacy and a feeling of belonging to the same tribe over the course of two hours?
That’s the genius of living life out in the community, in third places, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors and strangers. Alan Hirsch, in his new book RIght Here Right now, says that “We have to be able to speak meaningfully into a culture, but in order to do that, we have to seriously examine a given culture for clues to what God is doing among a people….what is good new for THIS people?” My friend Dan was doing that. He was listening to Fred and conversing with him where he was at, the conversation meandering. And because it took place in this third place, others were welcome to join in or not. Some did, interacting as long as time and circumstances allowed. Others didn’t, living their own lives.
Either way, small group was had here in Starbucks, and a whole bunch of us got to join in.
I’m making the choice to go for community wherever possible. After all, I’m, pretty sure that’s where Jesus hung out. I just wonder if he’d have picked MY Starbucks!
I’ve noticed a spike in traffic to my book review of Radical, by David Platt. This makes me unbelievably happy, because it means that somewhere there are folks out there who are just discovering the journey to being a radical Christian, a Christian whose life is sold out for the kingdom.
So for those of you I thought it would be interesting to look back on my year post-Radical (the book, not the concept!) and see whether or not the book actually did impact my life like I thought it would. Here were David Platt’s goals for the one year challenge:
I know it is kind of skipping ahead, but do you want to hear the one year challenge?
- Pray for the entire world.
- Read through the entire Bible in one year.
- Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.
- Spend your time in another context.
- Commit your life to multiplying community.
I looked at that list last year and quaked. I look at that list this year and quake. But not quite as much. So in the spirit of utter transparency, here’s how my year went in light of the one year challenge.
- Pray for the entire world. I’m tempted to say, “Yes, of course I did. Lord, heal the entire world.” But the kind of country by country praying that David Platt encourages fell by the wayside after about two weeks. Which, not coincidentally, is about the length of time most New Year’s resolutions last. What did remain for me, however, was a focus of praying for the countries with which I came in contact. When a piece of news hit the broadcasts, I would go to the Operation World website to read about that country’s challenges and pray for them. A friend has left to travel the world fighting human trafficking, and every country she goes to also gets researched. So bottom line on challenge number 1? I’d give myself a solid B-.
- Read the Bible through in one year. This challenge alone has changed my life. I found a daily reading plan online that separates the Bible into genre types (wisdom literature, history, prophecy, gospels etc.). Every day you read a different type of genre. By following the plan for a year I have, indeed, read the Bible in a year and am onto my next year. Now there may be a few dropped days, but most of the time I made those up. The day you read the Psalms is usually pretty light, so I used it for makeup days. Part way through through the year I began reading with my journal open and my ears more open than ever before. Transformational. Now, this reading is the first thing I do when I flop into my soft chair at Starbucks. In a way, God, is my morning coffee date! Bottom line on this one? A+.
- Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose. Sacrifice? Yes, we’ve intentionally denied ourselves some of what we would have previously spent, and have chosen to use it for kingdom purposes. But after a year, I can’t call it sacrifice anymore. It’s an amazing privilege. We have not narrowed our giving to a specific purpose, though I notice “themes” in our giving choices. There have been some other really cool decisions in light of radical generosity in our lives, too, but I’m not going to discuss them here. Bottom line? An A, but I have a huge desire for extra credit!
- Spend your time in another context. Nope. Failed. Some of my family succeeded in this one, but not me. With this one exception: I did choose to get out of my contexts in my own culture around town at times. Still, not enough. This needs to be a goal for next year. The best I can say is that Radical opened my eyes to my ethnocentricity (big word!) and to the fact that I have NOT gotten out of my home context in a very long time. Maybe that’s progress, but I still give myself an F.
- Commit your life to multiplying community. Multiplying community IS my life. It’s what I love to do. Over the course of the year David and I have noticed that one of our strengths seems to be connecting people, whether it’s across church campuses, across the community, our across the country. I expect to see more of that in the years to come as we personally transition from one phase of life to another. Bottom line? Let’s say a B+.
So how is that? There’s so much more that I would like to do, so many ways I let myself down this year. But many of those action points can be directly traced back to reading Radical. For one book (among so many that I read day in and day out!) to actually effect a change in my day to day habits is a stunning achievement. Even in the areas I’ve not done as well as I might, there is an awareness of a still, small voice reminding me that there is more to life than my day to day concerns.
Getting ready to read Radical? Go for it! Even the smallest changes you make in your Christian life will push you toward being a Radical. But there’s a warning: you will never shop the same, eat the same, read the same, watch tv the same, or even travel the same. Be ready for the adventure!
I think the Israelites would have conquered the Promised Land in half the time if they’d just skipped building stone pillars, memorials and altars all over the country. I honestly believe they were a nation of stone masons! I’m sure you’ve noticed it too: every few chapters they were building an altar to remember the lesson God had just taught them.
In Soulprint, by Mark Batterson, I’ve been reading about the concept of “lifesymbols.” Lifesymbols are symbols of the defining moments in our lives. Batterson describes an oxygen mask, one of his own lifesymbols. He keeps this oxygen mask, the one that was used when he almost lost his life in the hospital, but realized that God’s decision to save him meant God had a continuing plan for his life.
Our defining moments double as altars to God…Like David, we need holy keepsakes to remind us where we’ve been and where we’re headed….Without these physical reminders, we quickly forget the spiritual lessons we’ve learned along the way. I call those physical reminders “lifesymbols.”And they come in every every size and shape imaginable, including oxygen masks.”
I love the idea of lifesymbols, and realized that I’ve been collecting them myself without having a lovely name to call them until now. What are some of my lifesymbols?
- I keep all my journals together on my bookshelf. Looking at them — even without reading them — reminds me of who I dreamed I would be when I was in seventh grade (my earliest journal), when I was waiting for my children, and last year, when I was realizing that I’d better decide who to be pretty quickly! Looking at your life lined up on a bookshelf is both humbling and inspiring.
- Oregon postcards. One of the nicely framed pieces of art in my house is really just three post cards from Oregon. I love my family, and I have a large selection of precious friends and family who live in Oregon. Looking at that artwork reminds me to pray for them and reminds me of all the times they have spoken into my life. I have other frames filled with other places and other people, all of whom are important to us.
- A handstitched throw on my living room couch comes from Jerusalem. It, along with a stone cross from the year 300, remind me of our trip to Israel last year. While we were there we covenanted to pray for something specific, one of those requests you write on a tiny slip of paper and cram into the Western Wall. Every time I see the throw, bought in the Jewish quarter at the corner of King David Street (Ah! To think such places exist!), I’m reminded of my covenant and of God’s promises to me. I pray.
- Bibles from my grandparents — all four of them — well-used.
- Strange momentos, such as my dad’s patient id card for Dana Farber Cancer institute (God was faithful to bring us through!), the birth certificate of the man my grandmother helped to raise (Our family reaches out to take in others), World of Coke 3-D glasses in my parka pocket (friendships are a gift of God, cross generational lines, and last forever even if we only see each other on Facebook).
Thinking back to soon-to-be-King David, he kept the armor of the giant Goliath. Every time he looked at that armor, prayer and praise had to rise up in his chest. When I look at my lifesymbols scattered here or there throughout my home, I’m reminded that God has always been working in and through my life. “I need to identify the story lines that the Author of my faith is scripting for me,” says Batterson. “Lifesymbols are like cue cards that help us remember His script.”
Batterson calls this kind of memory searching “memory management and stewardship.” God has placed these memories in me for a purpose. They are encoded in my brain and define who I am…for a purpose.
“Life is lived forward, but it is relived backward. Part of discovering your soulprint is seeing the purposes of God in your past experiences. The past is not circumstantial. The past is providential.”
What about your lifesymbols? What are they? What do they say about your “story line?”