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Writing as me and no one else

It doesn’t matter how much I want to write.  The writing and getting to the writing is the hard part.

In high school and college, I wrote constantly.  I journaled, I wrote poetry, I wrote fiction, and it just flowed.  I would sit down and write, and the crafted words would just come out.  What came out of me was actually pretty good writing that made people stop, read, look at me and want to talk about what they had just read.

I majored in English in college and I wrote plenty in that program, but, looking back, I have wished I had been able to find a writing degree  instead of just an English program that was much more focused on reading for the purpose of teaching than writing for the purpose of writing.

My dad is a published author many times over in the non-fiction realm.  When I was a child, he would disappear to his “study”, which was the dining room table that he’d taken over with books and an electric typewriter in that formal dining room we never used.  My evenings after dark were spent to the gentle hum of that typewriter off in the distance and his pecking away at the keys.  He would take breaks, eat a snack over the kitchen sink in our small galley kitchen, and then he would get back to his quick-paced hunting and pecking.

My dad has never formally learned to type in the ways I was taught to type in high school.  He still hunts and pecks on a keyboard faster than anyone I know.  It’s incredible to watch.  He would sit in the study, night after night, hunting and pecking away, building a book manuscript on pieces of typing paper.  I once met his editor, and she was a serious lady who knew how to slice and dice his manuscripts to make them brilliant.

He also had a newsletter that he would manually mail out back in the day.  My first job was typing in his newsletter subscriber  addresses into our Apple computer database software.  He was also always working on articles for periodicals, and the massive Writer’s Market volume was a constant around our house.

I grew up wanting to write like he wrote.  I wanted to publish books and articles and be known for my knowledge and for my nuances.  It was a very early goal (besides running for President).

Around sixth grade, I wrote an article outlining tips to get autographs on baseball memorabilia.  I submitted that article to a national baseball cards periodical, and they bought it!  They sent me a check for $20 and published my article with a byline, and I was so proud.  My dad was proud, too.  It was an incredible start to my career as a published author.

Through college, I worked at the local newspaper doing a combination of technical and creative work, including photography, layout, proofreading and editing.  I was never satisfied with how much writing opportunity I had at the newspaper.  I would wait intently for the week the sports editor would go on vacation so I could fill his spot and write actual articles for the newspaper.  I loved having a byline with my name on it alongside words that I had crafted specifically for those readers.

I think it all changed when I went to law school.  Law school changed both my thought processes but also my life processes.  The intensity of work gave me less time to pursue creative outlets, including writing for my own sake.

Law school pushed forward the more technical, more non-fiction part of my brain.  In doing so, it shifted how my mind settled in quiet moments, and honestly, I lost some of my whimsical creativity.  Everything running through my brain shifted into a technical processing of facts and details into theories and meanings.  It wasn’t bad.  It was just different.

It’s now almost 20 years later.  Life has become a version of busy that I never anticipated —  insanely busy sometimes.  I have a wife, a gaggle of kids, a career, commitments, and a life that doesn’t stop moving at many levels.  It’s hard to fit additional things into my life that I don’t really love and that I’m not really passionate about.  Just managing the daily details of our life is enough to keep anyone busy full time, but I’m still drawn to write.

I enjoy writing, and I write as lawyer, but it’s mostly drafting documents.  I feel I have really good at technical document drafting.  But I want more.

 Over the years, I have written some informational, promotional and periodical articles when asked to do so for work or for church.  At one point, I even wrote a recurring newsletter for our church’s small groups ministry.  I have run a few blogs and found a creative outlet there, but even then, I was mostly focusing on politics and religion (or coffee).  I’ve become more of an “expert” than a “creative,” although I’m still a very creative expert.  Over time, I’ve lost sight of that dream of being a “writer,” but it’s still lingering.

And now I find myself here — a dad, a husband, a professional, a middle-aged man — and I want to write.  I’m feeling a constant urge to write *something*, *anything*.  About a year ago, a friend challenged me to start journaling, and I did.  Then I set up a new blog space (this one), and wrote a little bit.

Interestingly, last December, my writing process fell apart.  I was talking to a trusted friend who enjoys tracking me, and he had read the few blog posts I had written.  In that conversation, he encouraged me to actually write *me* — not just ivory tower, preachy thoughts.  He has read other random, passionate posts of mine over time, primarily on social media, and he told me that my writing on my blog was nothing like what he knew of the real me.  He challenged me to write with meaning and honesty and out of the real me.

I took his encouragement to heart, and then I got stuck.  He was right.  I wasn’t writing me.  I was just writing to write something and be someone who wrote.

I has taken me most of a year to settle into a place of figuring out how to sit down and do my best to just write out of the person I am instead of writing out of a person I envision people want me to be out in fake Internet land.

For the last several weeks, I’ve daily said I was going to write.  And I haven’t.  And I understand that writing is a discipline that I just must do.  But there has been more to my struggle to write.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to disappoint myself.

I have not been writing because I don’t want disapproval of my closest people.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to realize that no one cares what I write.

I have not been writing because I don’t want to write something that triggers negative reactions, whether from myself, my closest people, or any third party out of there, whether they know me or not.

I have not been writing simply out of fear — pretty much fear of rejection.

Here I am writing anyway.  And, I’ll tell you, my heart is racing.  I’m not writing out of the deep engaged passion of a writer who can’t stop (although there is some of that mixed in).  I’m writing to get over the hurdle of anxiety of not writing well enough to be proud of what I’m doing.  Honestly, I know I will do well, but only if I write out of me.

If I write as a persona of a person that I think people want me to be, this won’t work.  And if I write gripped with fear of disappointing or offending other people, this won’t work.  I just have to write and reach deep inside, dig through the surface, and get past the facade I hold up that I think is the writer people want.

Instead, I need to write as just me.  Let’s do this.

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Change starts with 3 simple action words: Be, Give, Do

Ready to make change?  All generous action starts here:  Be. Give. Do.

Be: where action begins

All change starts by “being.”  It may seem funny to think of “being” as an action.  In elementary school, I learned that there are “being” verbs and “action” verbs, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that just “being” something and recognizing and acknowledging what’s going on inside you can be an action in and of itself.  The realization of “being” serves as the catalyst for all positive forward action.

When you feel something and it wells up inside you, that “being” emotion is generally the catalyst for something else much more active.   You have to “be” something good before you “do” something good.  What you “be” matters and affects your next steps.  Your actual outward actions are fully dependent on what you “be” first before you act.  Any positive forward action you take in your life and in the lives of others starts with  “be” as the catalyst for the action.

Spark of action
Simple examples of this starting place can be as follows:
Be generous.
Be grateful.
Be thankful.
Be humble.
Be gracious.
Be open-minded.
Be heroic.
Be courageous.
Be different.
Be creative.
Be encouraging.
Be a friend.
Be the one who stands up for what you believe in.
Be the one who makes a difference.

All of these “be” examples are internal ideas that can drive you to positive forward action.  When you feel those thoughts and ideas and emotions welling up inside you, you first realize that you’re feeling them, but you must then make a choice to let your external actions match your internal drive to “be” something.  A year or so ago, I read a challenging book about how to take that spark of “be” and move things forward titled Spark: Transform Your World, One Small Risk At A Time by Jason Jaggard.

You feel the “be” inside you and you think through it, sometimes in a split second.  Then at some point, you either do something about it, or you shove it down inside and try to act like it is not real and should not matter.  If you choose against shoving it down and instead choose to take that risk and take action, you’re moving forward.

Give: the active response to a “be”

The easiest next step once you acknowledge a “be” is to “give” something.   Don’t overcomplicate giving.  Giving is easy.  It’s actually one of the smallest, simplest, most elemental steps to take when you feel a “be” pop into your mind and thought process.  To “give” is simply to release your own selfish, internalized energy and let it turn outward into a release of external, action-based energy.

Be. Give. Do. Take Action!
A few general categories of giving could be:
Giving your time.
Giving your energy.
Giving your expertise.
Giving your advice.
Giving your reputation by serving as a reference for someone else.
Giving your money, whether just spare change or something significant.
Giving your skills and abilities.
Giving encouragement when you know it’s needed.
Giving positive words when you know that negative words are easier.
Giving up your spouse for the weekend so they can help someone with a problem.
Giving your stuff, whether it’s stuff you care about or stuff you never use.
Giving your mental power to a problem.

So many people try to mentally skip over the idea of “giving” because they think it requires an outlay of cash.  But to “give” is just the idea of expending any manner of resource — even the smallest amount of thought and care — on something or someone else.  Move past the idea that to “give” requires money (or whatever other resource you are convinced you don’t have).  Giving just involves you.

Your brain will try to trick you when you hear the word “give” and will throw up a roadblock that tells you that you’re not available because you don’t have time or energy or money or whatever that resource is.  In that moment, acknowledge your selfish, internalized energy trying to hold on to whatever it can grasp.

Once you’ve gathered your forces against your selfish, internalized self, unleash a “be” into the mental mix and see what happens.  Let a “be” act as the catalyst to help initiate a “give” of any kind.  Don’t forget that a “give” is the simplest, lowest-energy building block and next step toward creating positive forward action, and all you really need is a good “be” to discover a functional, actionable “give”.

Do: the culmination of giving

The last piece of this generosity trifecta is to “do”.  You might think that “giving” and “doing” are really the same thing, but they’re just cousins and have similarities but are wildly different.  A “do” is bigger and better and more organized than “give”.  To ‘give” is to implement the basic building block of action.  To “do” is to gather your “gives” into a big pile and to start building something with them like my kids do with LEGOs.

Do is the collective of giving efforts

To “give” is to move to action out of the motivation and inspiration of a “be”.  But to “do” is to move things in the real world in a way that actually makes a real difference.  To “do” something is to take your “be”, allow it to start consistently churning out some “gives” and then organizing those “gives” into something collective and useful.   To “do” is to make a change in the world through a collective of organized “gives”, whether it’s all given just by you or is multiplied through the “give” efforts of other people as well.

You can think of this in a molecular fashion.  “Be” is the electron sparking action.  “Give” is the atom, serving as the building block of identifiable action.  “Do” is those atoms coming together to form actual substance that produces movement.

Simplify the concepts as follows:

Be is the spark, the catalyst of action.
Give is the incremental action building block.
Do is the momentum caused of incremental actions.

I lay out this framework to help you understand where I am going as I talk about what you can do in the world through what you’ve been given.  I’ll be offering up ideas of what you could “be”, and I’ll be suggesting ways you might “give”, and I’ll be encouraging you to figure out what you want to “do” to make a difference and leave the world better than you found it.  Let me work through these ideas over time and challenge you in them and make them real enough for you to apply them in your own life.

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Looking at new chapters as a change for the better

I read quite a bit and always have.  Each work of fiction has a flow and a story, and it just keeps moving, whether you’re willing to participate in that continuing story or not.  That movement of represents change, and it it usually reflected by the change of chapters as the book continues through its story.

Sometimes you find a section or moment in a book that you really like, and you can stop and settle into a moment and enjoy it for a while.  You can read a passage over several times and enjoy what’s happening with the characters in that particular moment,  but the story keeps moving regardless.  As a reader, you could stop right there and never read another word, but you would miss the rest of the story as it continues to naturally unfold.  You must be willing to accept change for the story to continue.

Chapters represent change as your story unfolds

Changes in life are like the turnings of chapters in a book

Life is similar but much more complicated.  You sometimes land in a moment you really enjoy, but if you stay too long in that moment, you lose the rest of the story and the flow of what will come out of that moment and what it ultimately means.  You can live in that moment for a while, but life changes and flows, just like the unfolding story in a book, and we must change with it.  The chapters of life keep turning whether you like it or not.

The reality is that you are a character in your own story and in the stories of others.  You must move along with the flow of the story.  You have influence and control over many of your circumstances, but there are other circumstances that you can simply watch happen as if you are reading the stories of characters in a book.   Whether it’s a career change or a move to a new location or a death of someone close to you or even simply a child going to school or college, the chapters of life keep turning, and as the pages turn, you must adjust to those new chapters and the moving story.  In the end, the chapter will always turn, and that’s not bad.  It just is.

How well do you handle the change of chapters?

How well do you handle these types of adjustments?  When a chapter of life turns to the next, does it overwhelm you?  Do you breathe a deep sign, mourn the loss of the last chapter, but then pick yourself up and move into what’s coming next?  Or do you get stuck, hanging onto the old, hoping it will return, struggling to figure out how to face tomorrow?  Do you try to re-read and re-live the simpler moments of your life, hoping they will come back, trying to turn back chapters?  Or do you move with the flow of your story, knowing that the story must continue?

If you watch over time, you will realize that the change of chapters looks differently depending on your place in life.  Depending on where you stand at any given moment, you will have a different perspective on what is happening.  Often when you’re younger, you may get a little more emotional or freaked out as your life shifts, but if you’re older and you have been through some of these transitions already, you might be able to gather yourself in a moment of maturity and realize that this is how it happens and know that it will all be fine if you just weather the storm of emotion that comes along with the change.
The chapters of every book represent change, just like in life

The changing of a chapter in life signifies growth

More and more, I find that it’s important to be grateful for the next chapter as it comes.  It’s part of being human, and if the world around us and our context doesn’t change, we don’t grow.  Growing is a key part to being human, but growing is not always easy.  Growth comes with an ebb and flow in a very natural way, like a moving story.

Don’t be afraid of the changing of chapters — be grateful and thankful that you can still grow.   You will resist change — it’s only natural — and you will eventually lose that fight.  The chapters will change.  Take a deep breath, know that you can handle anything that comes your way, and grow with the change.  Shift, adjust, learn, and step into what’s coming next.  Being human is a constant cycle of seeking out and enjoying the moments of warmth and connection and then jumping into the rush of change and struggle with courage and anticipation as it comes your way.

You can prepare for the changing of chapters in life

Prepare for the change of chapters.  In relationships, I find myself mentally and emotionally preparing for whatever moment I know will someday arrive when I will have to say goodbye to my spouse, my child, my parent, my friend, even my dog.  It’s a strange mental exercise that I think is an emotional defense mechanism to help avoid being completely overwhelmed when the moment arrives.  It’s not an exact science, and I know it won’t fully insulate me from the actual emotion that comes when things shift in a relationship, but by projecting (and in a way, practicing) that emotional and mental process in advance,  I attempt to prepare ,uself to some degree for that moment and maybe work through it in a less intense and more healthy manner.

Also, in your career prepare for changes.   I encourage you to look ahead, be intentional and think about who you are and want to be, what you’re doing with your time and your skills, how to improve and grow, and who can help you along that path.  For more on this idea, check out Jon Acuff’s book Do Over.  Just like with a personal savings account you fill up over time at your bank, Acuff explains how to establish a Career Savings Account to help you prepare for the future and the change that is inevitable as the chapters of your career turn. I encourage you to check out his book and start building your own Career Savings Account.

Be both introspective and grateful as a chapter changes

Accepting change takes perspective.  When you’re in the midst of change, you can develop perspective as the story unfolds, helping you learn more about what’s to come and  about why things happened in the past.  Your perspective must expand to include memories and lessons learned in the past while glimpsing the future all in one moment.  But when your perspective expands to include both the old chapter and the new and you begin to have more insights into the broader story, be thankful for the new.

Reflect, enjoy and share the chapters in your life

Be grateful for your story and that you get to take part in the stories of others, and be willing help someone else adjust into a new chapter that is coming their way.  Be generous in your sharing of your stories with others and in helping them understand that the turning of chapters is natural and healthy.  And, if possible, take a deep breath, reflect and enjoy the changing of chapters with someone you love, knowing that the moment of connection and warmth ith them will be that part of the cycle you can look back on right before you jump headfirst into what’s next.

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The origins of the blue shirt

It was springtime, about five years ago, and thunderstorms and tornado warning weather had taken over the city. I worked downtown, and we had lots of sporadic power outages due to the weather, sometimes for hours at a time. Life at the office would grind to a halt due to the power outages, and everyone would simply stand around and talk until the lights came back on.

On one of those days, I had just read an article about Steve Jobs and how he wore generally the same outfit every day. That article discussed the theories as to why he made that choice: that he wore the same thing every day to pursue simplicity and to free up time and mental energy so he could be more creative. During one of those stand-around, lights-out conversations with co-workers, I brought up the article. My co-workers thought that it made no sense at all to wear the same thing every day and that only a nut would do something like that. But for some reason it resonated within me.

stevejobs600

What resonates inside you?

As the people around me declared aloud how strange it would be to wear the same thing every day, I started quietly plotting in my brain how I could accomplish it. Over the years, I had realized that I really enjoyed wearing a certain blue shirt to work. On days where I wore that blue shirt, I liked how I looked, and I felt more confident and often moved into a more productive zone. I loved this idea of making things simpler and freeing up more time to do and think about things other than my wardrobe.

In that moment, I realized that I could buy multiple shirts like my favorite blue shirt and test out the idea. And the rest is history — I’ve been wearing blue shirts to work for 5 years now. It took all those naysayers about six months to realize that I was wearing the same shirt every day, and initially it was a great novelty and joke, but over time, it’s simply become my normal.

The blue shirt

People jokingly ask if I wear the exact same shirt every day. It’s not the exact same actual shirt, but I do wear the exact same brand/style and color of shirt every day. I own about 15 of them at this point. My closet looks much like that of the cartoon character Charlie Brown. Blue, blue and more blue. As the shirts age and fade or get worn, I have to swap them out with newer shirts, but it’s always the same blue of the same brand, style and cut. I’ve thought about contacting the manufacturer to cut an endorsement deal; if you know anyone in marketing at Jos. A. Bank, have them get in touch.

Why did it stick?

Why did I do this and why did it stick? Honestly, the reason is because it felt right deep inside for some reason. I couldn’t really explain why it felt right, but it just seemed like it was something I must try. I’ve recently started digging deeper and asking why it felt right. What about the simplicity, what about the freeing up of my time and my mental space resonated?

As I’ve worked through this thought process, I think a big reason this shirt choice works for me is that I don’t want to be about what I perceive to be frivolous. You may not think clothing choices are frivolous, but in my life, standing in my closet, staring at clothes and making choices of colors and styles feels like a waste of my time. I want to be about more than that. I want to do things that matter and want to spend my time doing real things and building real relationships that will have an impact, and for me, it helps to not spend too much time thinking about my clothes.

Back when I made this shirt choice, I realized that, for the most part, no one really cares what I wear day to day, and no one will remember what I wore yesterday. What’s ironic is that now that I wear the same thing every day, people seem to remember what I wore yesterday more than ever. But what they’re actually remembering is that I wear the same color shirt every day. Some of them don’t quite understand that, but for others, it makes a little sense to them and makes them wonder why.

Why do certain things connect?

This is a very small example of paying attention to why you do the things you do and why certain things connect with you at a deeper level. We’re each unique, and thoughts and ideas connect differently with each of us, but we should be paying attention to why things resonate. I changed one thing I do every day to more reflect on a daily basis how I view the world and what I find important. I did it and continue to do it because I believe there are more important things to think about than what I wear every day. That reflects something very basic about my worldview and what I want to be about in this life.

There’s a TED talk out there featuring Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” It is very popular and is one of the most widely viewed TED talks. The ideas in that video have been a revolutionary thought process for me. Sinek’s ideas have helped me look at myself and my place in the world differently.

The Start with Why video led me to hunt down more information on Simon Sinek, and then I actually read his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just watch the TED talk. Read the book Start With Why and dig into his ideas on both a personal and professional level. He is onto something, and I respect his pursuit of helping people answer the important questions of what drives us and moves us forward.

Seek out and pay attention to what’s driving you

There’s more to life than just the day-to-day of what we wear and what we eat and the like, but we spend so much time on those things. And there’s more to this life than just making it through one day to get to the next. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to your WHY – that thing deep inside that drives why you do what you do the way you do it. You can go to work every day, but without paying attention to your WHY, you’re just producing widgets and burning energy without a clear understanding of purpose.

Understanding your WHY will help you understand how you, in your own individual way, can change the world. It will help you work better, create better, connect with people better and live out your unique way. It will ultimately help you figure out how and what to do with your time, both big and small. For me, one small step was as simple as making the clothing choice to end all clothing choices. It will be different for you. But if you can figure out some of your why, how and what and refine your day-to-day (in the same way that my shirt choices have helped refine mine), and we inspire others to do the same, maybe together we can change the world, one refining choice at a time.

QUESTIONS:

  1. When you view your life as a whole and look back over the defining successes and relationships in your life, what are some of the underlying emotions, drivers, and motivators that help you feel more confident in action and more ready to move forward, and that nudge you to seek a more fulfilled life?
  2. Knowing why you do things makes a huge difference in your decision-making day-to-day. Who in your life is best situated to help you sort through your thought processes and life choices and help you figure out the WHY that drives so many other things in your life?
  3. What is one small lifestyle choice that’s been lingering in your mind that might bring you one step closer to being what you want to be and to helping you do more of what you want to be doing?
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