What if happiness is an activity, not a destination?

The times in life when I was the most happy, not just happy, but fully satisfied and content, have a common thread. I read an article issuing the challenge to find two or three moments in your life when you were blissfully happy and remember those times. Think on those times and find the common thread.  My three are:

  • The start of our honeymoon - in the car, driving through a small town and stopping at the local car wash to clean off the shoe polish, then onto the interstate to head out of state for the first time as a married couple.- the anticipation of adventure, on our own, together, and just enjoying life. (And the stress of the wedding and reception was over...I was relieved and the world melted away.)
  • Riding scooters in my neighborhood when I was 15. The thrill of the wind and the ability to go and feel dangerous, but not so dangerous as to incite fear. I wanted to go faster, but the speed we had was good enough. I felt like I might be able to take off and just do anything (even had the thought that I could just keep riding and not come back actually).
  • When my children were born, there were no thoughts of the outside world, or stresses at work, or money or whatever. The baby had arrived, we were very much in the moment. It was miraculous and beautiful and I was happy to just be present.

There are times in life when we feel really really happy and are excited to be right where we are.  I find when I am truly the most happy, it’s not really about a thing or a specific activity, it's about interacting with life in a way that allows me to be fully present in what I’m doing.

The times I'm most happy are the times when hours slip away like minutes.

Looking at my three things, I think the common thread is this spirit of newness and complete engagement. In fact, even when I think about other experiences I didn’t write down, all of my most happy times have these same elements. They all result in me getting lost in a moment while the world fades away. Most of the happy times aren’t long seasons either. They come in short bursts.

I’ve spent so much of my adult life searching for the work that will make me happy. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that my career is what will bring me my ultimate happiness. For many years, this was represented by the act of writing. Whether I can honestly consider myself a writer or not, I’ve talked about wanting to be a writer for so long, it just became an extension of who I am. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be ALL of who I am.

I have a few things I’d like to try, to find more of those happy moments.  

First, I want to be healthy, but that’s too big of a goal to add to a list and check it off. The thought of “being healthy” is a big thought.  Instead, I will look to several small things that will feed the common thread. I’m not going to make a lot of big plans, so all I’m going to do to start is to take a daily walk. Some days it might be miles, other days only blocks. During my walks, my goal will be to disconnect from the world, engage in the moment where I am, and just be. (Hopefully my wife and/or kids will join me most days.) I’m also going to eat healthy most of the time. I’ve spent a lot of money on books, videos, and kitchen gadgets over the years. I don’t need another book or fad to tell me what to do. Eating healthy should just be intuitive at this point.

Second, I want to learn something new and develop a significant skill. I've tossed around the ideas of gardening, woodworking, leatherworking, or learning to speak a new language. Right now, in this moment as I write these words, I’m thinking I might learn to code. I’ve just recently started researching what that even means. I know what coding is, but what language would I want to learn (based on what kinds of things I want to make)? I’ve started dipping my toe in to test the water. I may change my mind, but I’m sure I’ll write about whatever it is more in the coming months.

Finally, I want to continue writing for this blog. Readership is pretty much non-existent and I don’t really have a clear direction for the blog, but it’s not about that. It’s about getting lost in the process of telling a story and documenting what’s going on in general. (I started writing this post at 9:00. It’s now 10:10 and it feels like only a few minutes have passed. That’s a good indicator for me that this is something I want to keep doing!)

As for happiness, I’ve found (for me) it doesn’t have to be about the thing I’m doing at all really. I can find great happiness in writing a blog post, but I can find as much happiness in cleaning out the garage at times. Again, I’ve discovered it’s not really about what I’m doing, but how I’m doing it.

Snooze Button and Easter

Today we celebrate Easter. This celebration represents the day Jesus rose from 3-days dead in the grave and displayed in the most amazing way (with eye-witness proof) his divinity, depths of his compassion, and love for us.

- - - 

There was a morning, not too long ago, when I was having a hard time getting out of bed. I'm not a morning person anyway, so most mornings are difficult. But, that day, I was so tired I hit the snooze button on the alarm at least a half-dozen times. My brain was floating in a sludge of unrest and stupor. All I could think about was how nice it would be to crawl back under the cotton sheets, let my head sink into the pillow

I knew I needed to get up. I knew it was required of me to do so because I have responsibilities just like everyone else. But, still, I hit the snooze button just one more time.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

- Mark 10:17-31

I did finally get up out of bed and hop in the shower. As I thought about the bible study I've been doing over the last few weeks (I've been focusing on what God says about our relationship to money, wealth, and possessions), it hit me.

I've been hitting the snooze button on my response to what I'm learning.

Just like the rich man in the story above, I too have been hearing the truth about loving money, (serving one master and despising the other), and while I can't imagine myself despising Christ, I am convicted that hitting the snooze button on what God is trying to say to me through His word isn't the best decision.  I know I will eventually get up and take the action needed, but why do I even want to keep hitting the snooze button on it all?  What drives me to delay?

Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." He's not being chill about this guy who had a heart cold to the truth. He's not saying, "Oh, well, I love you so I'm going to bless you now AND later...all you have to do is do the right things and you'll get to heaven."  Nope, he's actually saying it's easier for a camel to thread the eye of a needle with its body than for a rich person to get into heaven.  I don't know about you, but that concerns me.

I'm not sure I'd classify myself as rich when I compare myself to people who I think of as rich. However, by the standards I see reflected in scripture, I think I might actually be filthy rich if we're dealing in biblical truths. By the measures there, I identify with the rich man in this story. I too have many possessions. I too might find it hard if Jesus were standing in front of me today and told me to sell what I own, give it to the poor, and follow him. Responding, "Wait, Lord, let me take care of a few things for my family first." or "Let me go tell my wife and daughters what's going on." (I don't think I'd be at all hesitant to rid myself of the possessions, it would be the people I would find impossible to leave behind.)

But He's not standing face to face with me literally.

I'm a minimalist by choice. I'm on a constant journey to reduce my possessions. I'm doing it for spiritual reasons, but I also just enjoy simplicity more than complexity in most things. I find happiness in a simple life. But the question burning a hole in my heart right now is exactly how to apply this scripture and directive from Jesus in my life.

It's not difficult to interpret, is it?  I take Christ's words at face value (as I believe He meant them to be taken). We cannot serve two masters and make no mistake, we are deceived if we think money is no master. So, like most of us who are utterly unworthy of the gift of salvation, I will probably hit the snooze button a few more times before I'm ready to wake up. I will no longer attempt to deceive God (impossible) or myself (impractically adopting a different gospel as I tell myself, "It's ok."). I am admitting my unwillingness to do as Jesus commands and am walking away sad. I imagine this in my mind as walking with my arm over the shoulder of the rich man as we attempt to console ourselves with what I'm about to write next.

I am a sinner wholeheartedly relying on the fact that when he was asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."

Triage For Creative Services Directors

I read this post by Seth Godin and it all just clicked (like it does after reading so many of his posts). As the Director of a Marketing Services team, I struggle daily with the influx of work and limited resources to get that work done. It's not a bad problem to have from the perspective of thumb twiddling (there's always work to be done), but an overflowing in-box does NOT equate to job security. It's not just about churning out the work. We should be doing the right work, and that takes someone being smart about deciding what to do first.

Before reading Seth's idea, I considered the massive backlog of work to be a "to-do" list that would never be empty. Now, I see it as a repository of opportunity. (Perspective is a wonderful thing.)

The challenge of managing such a great and massive load of opportunity is different for an in-house creative team than it is for an agency or freelancer. The agency/freelancer can look at work, turn it away, pick the good stuff, or if things are lean, he/she can suck it up and get down to business if the balance sheet needs a little positive cash flow. Still, the agency/freelancer has the ability to take a problem client to task, call out the B.S. when needed, and ultimately refuse future work if the customer is unreasonable too many times or the relationship just isn't working out.

The internal team, however, doesn't have the liberty to turn away clients or the work they bring. Like an ER legally mandated to provide service, the in-house creative team doesn't turn away internal clients...ever. This means we work extra hard to educate our clients and (as cliche' as this sounds) we help them help us. It's much more of a "team" mentality when you approach it like this. (Heck, maybe even a family mentality - it's not like I'm kicking my kid to the curb for getting something wrong. She gets as many chances as it takes.)

So, what do you do when the work piles up and there's no way to get it all done? I adore this idea of looking at requests as opportunities and treating them like a medical triage problem. 

Let's say you go to the ER one night with a cut on your finger. It might need stitches, and it might not. You don't know, because you're not a doctor. So you walk through the doors and the first person you interact with is there to assess the situation and determine the severity of your issue (compared to the other issues already in the waiting room).  Those who need the most help get helped first. Those with less serious issues have to wait for help. It's logical. If you're sitting there with a cut finger that's not bleeding, and someone comes in with their femur sticking out of their leg skin, you would probably let them go first even if the triage process didn't exist. 

Likewise, urgency and/or importance of a project for a creative team doesn't exist in a vacuum. Sometimes there are more important projects to which we must attend. Sometimes those projects come in unexpectedly. Even if there's no one in the ER waiting room when you arrive, that doesn't mean that a 4-car pile up on the interchange a mile away won't kick you into a 5-hour wait at any moment. Firedrill projects happen, but through triage, we can make sure they aren't artificial.

And, just as there are different types of illnesses and problems, there are different kinds of patients. You have some patients who always visit the ER, even for little things. But, there are some who go to a primary care doctor first (in creative services, this "primary care" is the project manager). The primary care physician will evaluate the problem, and help the patient decide if it's able to be treated with a plan, if it needs to be assessed by a specialist, or if you need to get your sick tail to the ER for more immediate care.

Let's explore this idea of creative services triage more for a creative team. What does it look like?

  • Primary Care Physicians = Well thought out and planned projects with great scope definition and time to complete. Define the needs, then create a plan to execute the work well.
  • Specialist Referral = Maybe we have a collection of tasks (for an event, or product launch) and we need someone to really dive in and make a plan for how we're going to address these needs. This is where our "go to market" team come into play. We need someone with the expertise to see the big picture and help us make the right decisions.
  • The ER = This is for everyone who needs something, but didn't plan ahead and/or the need surprised them for some reason. Initial triage will put projects in one of three categories.
    • Wheel The Patient Back Immediately = Projects that are of highest value to the organization. These will either result in sales, revenue or the reduction of churn and/or loss of existing customers. We have a specialist on-site, or on-call, who can manage the challenge! We'll get the details ironed out as we go.
    • Please Have a Seat = Projects which may be important to the individual and/or the organization, but they are less important than what's already being managed. We'll still check on things and get the scope defined well so that when it's your turn, we're ready.
    • Medi-flight This Out! (It's going to be expensive!) = Just like the more immediate needs, this one is going to bleed out if we don't act fast. Either we don't have resources available to manage the work, or we don't even have a specialist who can do the work. This could mean outsourcing to get help from a contractor. There's also a lot of on-the-fly collaboration and decisions going on throughout the process.
    • Call the Coroner = Yeah, this one may be a little morbid, but there are times the project is D.O.A. It could be because the person asking didn't realize we already had something that would work for what they need, maybe legal and/or brand review squashes it before it starts, or perhaps the project is so big, and the return so small, it just doesn't make sense to dedicate our resources to the work. We should definitely call these off before they even begin.

I'm actually looking forward to giving this a try. I'll let you know how it works out. Feel free to contact me if you're in a similar position and want to have a virtual coffee/chat about this stuff. 

Leadership, Courage Required

“When we work with people with whom we trust, I don’t need to double-check your work. I don’t need to ‘see it before it goes out.’ You don’t need my approval. When we have trust, we can let people go do their work...because we trust, we all have each other’s backs.  The problem with things like trust and cooperation is that they are not instructions. I can’t simply tell you, ‘trust me.’ ...Trust and cooperation are feelings.  [Historically], as tribal animals, we lived and worked amongst people with whom we felt safe. We felt like we belonged. And, when we felt safe amongst the people with whom we lived and worked, the natural human response is trust and cooperation. When we do not feel safe amongst the people with whom we work, however, the natural human inclination is cynicism, paranoia, mistrust, and self-interest. When we do not feel safe amongst the people with whom we work - if our leaders do not make us feel safe, we have no choice but to spend our own time and our own energy to protect ourselves from each other. When we do not fear each other, we naturally work together to face the danger and seize the opportunities.” - Simon Sinek

I watched an inspiring video and wanted to share.

Sinek goes on to discuss leadership and how we see so many books and articles talking about “the five things you need to be a leader”, or the “top 10 leadership qualities in successful leaders.”  He insightfully explains, “there’s only one characteristic all leaders MUST have, and that’s courage.” Just because you don’t have vision, or just because you don’t have charisma, that doesn’t mean you won’t be a leader.

Courage is essential to leadership. Watch the video.  It’s worth the time if you’re responsible for serving others in any capacity at all.

Getting out of Debt: The Simple Truth

Anyone who has ever been in debt and paid off debt knows this to be true. There are really only two things you need to do to get out of debt. 

  • First, spend less money than you make. (This could mean lowering your spending, or earning more money, but the balance has to be correct for this to work.)
  • Second, use the extra money to pay off your debts. (You have to actually send the money in for this to work.)

The second thing is what makes the decision deceptively easy. The concept is simple, but actually doing it can be unexpectedly difficult.

We all want the results of being debt-free, but almost as many of us are unable to make the lasting decision to do it. It’s not that we are weak or uncommitted to the plan. In fact, it may not even be something we know we’re doing.

For me, the trojan horse was “need.” I mean, a need is a need, right? You have to meet needs no matter what. So that became a favored loophole to exploit.

It wasn’t immediate, but over time, I discovered when I wanted something, all I had to do was justify it as a “need.” THEN, it was reasonable. THEN, I wasn’t saying that I didn’t want to get out of debt (or pause our progress) in order to buy this thing. All I was saying was that there’s now this unmet need and it would be irresponsible not to do something about it. Unfortunately, I did not have the right definition of “need” vs. “want.”

I don’t remember a lot of the items we purchased like that because the justifications were too strong. Rationalizing a want into a need doesn't even feel that good. It actually introduces unnecessary stress into the situation that now, you have this unmet need, and it becomes this thing you must do...whether the money is there or not. That's bad.

  • We need a new $150 Keurig machine because the old one broke and we have a bunch of Kcups. (Give the Kcups to a friend and get a $15 coffee maker!)
  • I need a new car because this one hit 100,000 miles and I don’t trust it. (That’s what mechanics are for, if it’s less than 15 or 20 years old, it should probably go to 200,000 at least, if you take care of it. Even if have to drop $2,000 on a transmission, it’s probably cheaper than the payment and insurance on a newer car in the first 6 months.)
  • The dishwasher broke down and we have to buy a new one. (Nope, modern style dishwashers didn’t even exist until 1924, and I’m pretty sure they had dishes before 1924.)
  • ...you get the point.

This is why the decision to get out of debt is deceptively easy. It’s easy to say you want to get out of debt. It’s easy to make a plan. It's even easy to talk about doing it.

What’s hard is actually doing it.

All that said, this is all you need to know.

Five Reasons Meetings Are Toxic (sometimes)

If you're a knowledge worker, you've certainly felt the frustration and soul-sucking experience we call a meeting. You've no doubt reached the 5-minute mark in that meeting where you realize you're about to sit through 55 more meaningless minutes that you can never recover. 

No, not ALL meetings are toxic. It's rare, but there are times you find yourself in a great meeting getting things done with productivity so thick in the air you can slice a chunk, put it on your plate, and enjoy the fruits. 

Unfortunately, too many meetings are set up by default and not by design. Too many meetings are scheduled because someone thinks a certain amount of time passing warrants a new meeting, rather than looking at the needs of a project and deciding a meeting is needed because we have problems to solve as a team.

Five reasons meetings are toxic:

  1. Agendaless meetings are the worst. When a meeting has no clear direction, it's not a meeting at all, it's a captive audience for whoever scheduled the meeting, or the moron who takes it over to pontificate about their contributions and what "other people" need to be doing. Having that person lead a meeting is like asking a dog to lead a discussion about who, in fact, is the "goodest boy." Guess who it always is?
  2. The wrong people attend - or the right people skip. I've heard it, and even participated in it myself, "If you can't make the meeting, send a delegate." As if actually having the meeting is more important than ensuring the right people attend. When you run a lean organization with few redundancies for those who do the same work (which is smart), sending a delegate is an ineffective approach to managing meetings. Think about it, if that person is so critical to the meeting, will a delegate who is ill-informed bring much value to the discussion, more than taking notes for the person who actually should have been there?
  3. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. Many meetings are larger than they should be. People who have no stake in whether the customer will like the soup have no business being in the kitchen. Project work, or crossroad decisions may require a meeting, project status requires an email.
  4. Meetings cost a lot of money. Let's say the average salary of those in the room is $20/hr, if you have 10 people in an hour-long meeting, it costs $200 for that hour. When you start to look at it like that, maybe a 30-minute meeting turns into a ½ price bargain! Especially if you add in a few managers and executives and the cost could easily double or triple. Regardless, was your last meeting worth the cost? What about the one you scheduled for tomorrow?
  5. Meetings take a lot of work and time for the participants and the leader. If I’m to be fully engaged in a meeting, it may take hours of preparation and follow-up that could be spent delivering something that will actually make money for the company instead (or further developing a skill that will boost capabilities even). We all have the same number of hours in the day, how we choose to spend them is very important.

Is there a good time for a meeting? Absolutely! In their book, Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals say, “It’s also unfortunate that meetings are typically scheduled like TV shows. You set aside thirty minutes or an hour because that’s how scheduling software works (you’ll never see anyone schedule a seven-minute meeting with Outlook). Too bad. If it only takes seven minutes to accomplish a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty.”

I actually love some of their suggestions as well:

  • Set a timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.
  • Invite as few people as possible.
  • Always have a clear agenda.
  • Begin with a specific problem.
  • Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room. Point to real things and suggest real change.
  • End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.

I don’t know about you, but I'll pledge right now to only have good meetings in the future. Unnecessary meetings will still happen, I just won’t be the one scheduling them.

If you’re interested in refreshing your outlook on the daily grind and finding ways to be effective and purposeful at your job, I highly recommend ReWork, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Founders of 37Signals.

Leave Markers. Don't Become One.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” — Henry David Thoreau

Do we resign ourselves to live lives of quiet desperation? Do we believe that’s all that remains of a hope that once burned deep inside our souls? What is it about the daily grind that makes men such animals writhing with discontent and sorrow? No question, we toil and find meaning in that toil from time to time, but it’s not always found.

Hope, in and among other happiness, can be found in darker times through the light of simple pursuit. Walking a road with no markers brings question about direction, purpose, and even vision. However, if you know where to look, the markers are always there.

The road is littered with the markers created by people who have given up, and the lingering doubt left in their wake is as trudging through quicksand in the road.

Plant markers as you go, you leader. Concern yourself about who will follow, and who you will follow, and forge ahead… and simply do.

Because if you choose not to do what must be done, and sit down on the side of the road, bury your face in your hands, and become “finished.” You become a marker among markers. You become member to the mass of men.

Your call.