Monday, May 21, 2012

A Followup to Intentional Living

My last post, Can "Employees" Live Life Intentionally?, has been one of my favorite blogging experiences to date. The comments have meant so much to me because, through dialog, I better understand myself, my friends and the world around me.

I'm a very passionate person. I think a lot about significance (it's one of my Strengths Finder themes), which is why this topic in general is so important to me. I'm also a high D (and I) on the DISC profile. I drive hard, form opinions, and make things happen. I don't shy away from debate because a part of me needs it to form my next opinion (or refine the one I just had 5 minutes ago). The downside of this personality is that I'm often a steam roller, plowing over peoples' emotions and opinions without even realizing it. For much of my life, I've had friends tell me something along the lines of, "Well, what you said/did was offensive... but I know your heart and what you really meant."

My heart on this topic is for you to find your purpose and live it to the best of your ability. I'm naive about many things, but I want to believe at some point in life, we are all given a choice to follow the Author's plan or write our own. I believe His plan is perfect and I hope you'll have joy, peace and fulfillment following it.

At the same time, I struggle with verses like Romans 9:20, 21 and especially, 22 or Proverbs 16:4. Is it possible your plan isn't so great after all? Or do we choose our own version which may lead to destruction which then also gets written into the larger story?

The main reason for writing this followup is because I saw a friend at church yesterday and realized I really wanted his opinion on this topic. We had worked together in ministry before and I knew he and his family spent some time overseas doing missionary work. I also knew he was in what might be considered a "normal" job now. The response he sent me via email was so incredible. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I'm so thankful for his permission to post it here:
Hey Luke!

It was great seeing you guys, too. I'm so excited for your upcoming trip. We loved our time in China back in 2006. We were there for exactly two months goofing around, learning more about the culture, meeting some amazing people, etc. You guys are going to love it!

As for thoughts on your posting... my views have definitely evolved (or devolved) over time. For what it's worth, I don't necessarily disagree or agree with the posting, but my indifference is not due to the subject or the way it's presented. I has more to do with my own experiences and how I view certain issues in life.

The older I get, the less "dogmatic" I become - which practically means that categories get skewed or evaporate, rules become suggestions, and most arguments seem to be little more than an exercise in human interaction. Don't get me wrong - I care deeply about family, social justice issues, the environment, international security, ethnic relations, etc., but many philosophical questions like whether "employees can live life intentionally" just don't arouse much consideration for where I am in life right now. For a business owner, I think it is a tremendous question to ask.

So, what does it even mean to live life intentionally? To build a business, pursue your dreams, travel the world, raise a family, create, invent, write, love, learn, etc.? One could probably list all the possible options, and I assume "to live intentionally" could mean to do anything except "give into the system" of a drab, boring, monotonous, painful 40 year career you didn't enjoy.

With such a definition of intentional living (or at least an implied definition), I could see how anyone who is working in a more "traditional job" could feel quite alienated by the posting. But I know you personally, and I know that is not what you would want people to feel. Rather, you are hoping to encourage them to pursue whatever path will help them find greater fulfillment in their lives.

Every few weeks, I have the privilege to work with some clients that are in... [redacted] ...some of their employees cannot even spell their spouse's name. Many have a history of heart disease, drug abuse, domestic violence, environmental hazards, etc., and it breaks my heart to hear employee after employee waive their company health plan because they cannot afford $15/week to have corporate medical insurance. Despite all my projected pity upon their situation, it is always such a joy to hear their stories, laugh with them, get to know who they are, what they do, what they enjoy, where they hang out, all about their loved ones, etc.

So there I am in my clean business attire, private university education, urban-international background, sitting with employees smelling of smoke and manufacturing grime, deep "in the system" with little or no-way out at their juncture in life. Are they living life intentionally? What does that even mean in their circumstances?

[ edited to remove a personal story of a Vietnam vet and the challenges he faced in his family and in life ]

I think there is so much more to life that we can ever know or understand, and I think the whole point of it is to love and respect one another during the short time we have on earth - no matter where we find ourselves. Whether in Nashville or NY or China or Hicktown, USA, whether building a high-tech company or pushing buttons on a factory press or negotiating peace in Iraq... people make career choices for various reasons, and whether it is considered "intentional living" or not is quite subjective.

My mom asked me when I was a little boy, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Apparently I answered, "I want to be a daddy." Coming from a kid who didn't grow up with a father, that was quite an interesting response - but it has definitely stayed with me. I find more fulfillment as a dad than I ever did trekking the globe or preaching or smuggling Bibles. Those were exciting activities, but playing catch with my sons is a true slice of heaven.

I think that is the same for so many others (whether than slice of heaven is found in an occupation, relationship, experience, etc.) Some things trump everything else.

For a business owner, you are right to be concerned for the well-being of your employees. I would even say it is "noble" of you to encourage entrepreneurship and freedom of movement for your team members (it is very rare compared to business that would rather squeeze the last dime out of their workers). So I think it is great that you are thinking about employees in this manner. I would just add that you may only see (and probably see) just a limited portion of what really matters in the lives of others. For them "living intentionally" may have very little to do with their career.

And that might be the point anyway - to continue to get to know other people's dreams, hopes, fears, joys, etc. That's what makes life.... well, life! So those are some thoughts... and I didn't even use the word "calling" or "purpose" or "destiny" ; )

Would love to have lunch or something before you head south! Cheers.

I've read this over and over again. I can't get enough of it. This is probably my favorite part: I would just add that you may only see (and probably see) just a limited portion of what really matters in the lives of others. For them "living intentionally" may have very little to do with their career.

That is the truth. We spend so many of our waking hours "at work," it's easy for me to make a generalization and say the time there has to be significant. That's probably short-sighted thinking. Ideally, I'd like that time to be an intentional part of your purpose because I like efficiency and spending so much time at work on something that doesn't directly impact your God-given plan saddens me. But I clearly don't get the whole picture... and it would be arrogant of me to think I do.

I hope you got something out of this unusually long post. It was probably more for me than anyone else.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Can "Employees" Live Life Intentionally?

An entrepreneur friend of mine sent me an email recently after reading some of the posts here:
You and I are in the somewhat unique situation where we are owners of a small business where we are not simply drawing a salary as an employee with a direct boss and in the situation where we are just an employee and small piece of a much bigger business. As the owners of the business, with our financial obligations being met by the business, we can make our own rules and set the direction of how we can spend our time intentionally since we have the complete freedom to do this as owners. Most people that are employees that are not financially independent don’t have our level of luxury with our time. So I think it is much harder for these people to completely live intentionally as you discuss in your blog because of the additional real constraints they have on their lives vs you and I. 
Knowing what I know about you and I as owners, the thought that might be in many readers minds is, "yah, it is easy for him to live like that because he doesn’t have a boss telling him what he needs to do to remain employed, only 2 weeks vacation and bills very close to his monthly income…."
He encouraged me to discuss this topic here and as I started thinking about it, I started getting really fired up! This is something I'm super passionate about.

Can an "employee" live life on purpose or are they just a cog in a wheel, rolling on with no control?

You may think this is nit-picking, but before I dive into it, let's start with the word "employee." We don't use it. Dave Ramsey (who never wanted to have any employees, but now employs over 300) often says an employee is someone who shows up late, leaves early, and steals while they are there. In that company culture where I spent almost 4 years, they are adamant about not having employees, but instead having team members. Team members are there because they believe in the company mission and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Can you work for someone else and still have the freedom to live your life according to a purpose and a plan? Absolutely!

Here is my email reply to my friend and fellow company owner:
I agree to some extent, but each one of our team members is living this way also. They are all contractors and they set their own hours. They can prioritize at any time and spend time with their family first. If an opportunity comes up, they jump on it. As an example, Adam, our tech support and front-end developer in Australia, is leaving this week to travel the entire continent. I think he'll be gone for about two months [edit: it will actually be more like six months]. He'll have sporadic WIFI and his level of input will certainly drop, but we're super excited for him! We're going miss him for sure, but we're bringing on someone else in a more full-time manner to make up for it. 
I think the age of large corporate offices and strict schedules is passing away. Life is more than the 8 hours we spend in our cubicals. I hope more bosses think this way, allow for flexible schedules, and encourage their team members to be team members and not just employees (Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership stuff has a lot on this subject). 
Some of my posts are directed at business owners, but I also hear from those with a regular job that are encouraged by them also. Just the other night I saw my friend [redacted] at the zoo who works for [redacted] and he told me how something is stirring in his heart about doing his own business on the side and part of that stirring is because of my blog and the tweets I send with pictures of me working outside on the deck. 
It's not for everyone, but I think for those who it is for, they need to go for it instead of living their life wondering what might have been. Jon Acuff, one of Dave's Speakers Group guys has a great book called Quitter that explains a lot of this really well. The first chapter is "Don't quit your day job". It then goes from there to explain what needs to be done to wisely follow your dreams and move beyond just a hobby to something that can support your family.
Literally right after sending that, I saw an email from Adam in my inbox with this photo:

He and his family were on a trial run over the weekend, getting prepared for their big trip.

That's what I'm talking about!

I believe you can live intentionally and on purpose if you're willing to put in the work and make it happen. If you have a plan for your life and are taking the right steps to get there, every moment has purpose. Does that mean you can pick up your family and go travel the world for a couple months? I think it should... but most employers just aren't there yet.

Pensions are already a thing of the past. I'm hoping cubical farms and big corporate offices will follow. We aren't meant to live our lives based on a time clock and a desk. You'll probably never hear a story of a father, lying on his deathbed who's last thoughts are, "I wish I had worked more."

It doesn't work for every profession, but when possible, I love the idea of working remotely, setting your own flexible hours, and still kicking butt to get stuff done.

Some may think, "Bah, work is work. That's why they call it work. Get over it, get it done, and go home." Fair enough. But what about life? Is life worth living on purpose? If the answer is yes, how much of your life is spent at work? If it's a big enough portion of your existence, why wouldn't you want it to matter? Even if you hate your current job, go read Quitter and figure out what steps you can take today to move closer to your dream.

Life is shorter than you think. Don't let it slip by without making the most of it.

I'm thinking this post will create some controversy. I'm OK with that. If you know me well, you know I'll actually enjoy it. So please, feel free to leave your comments below. Tell me why I'm wrong or what I'm missing. Help me grow. Thank you!

[Edit: the comments here have been so fantastic (thank you!). If you'd like to add yours as well, please do so. I also posted a followup post you may enjoy.]

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Making Videos Isn't as Hard as You Think

(Making a good video is hard, but we're not talking about that here)

Growing up, I remember my dad carrying around a huge, double-decker VCR, battery pack, and what looked like today's newsroom cameras just to put together some family video for the grandparents. Today, it's so much easier.

For the last few weeks, I've been playing with my iPhone camera and learning a little bit about YouTube. I'm kicking myself for not doing this earlier! I think everyone should have a YouTube channel of their own for family videos.

Here's mine: I'm using it to learn more about video and have some stuff to show the kids years from now. Oh yeah, and the grandparents will love it too.

I know what you're thinking... "Edit and upload a video? That's for 'tech' people."

Not anymore. It's easier than you think!

Today I put together a short tutorial to show you how you can use your iPhone and Windows Live Movie Maker to easily edit and create your own videos. Sorry for the audio quality (I told you, I just started learning).

Easy, right? Do you have a YouTube channel? If so, link it up in the comments!

OK... now for the entrepreneurs among us: There's a more to this than just putting together videos of my kids. Have you heard about Shaycarl? The dude has over a million subscribers and a 100 million views. He's making serious money doing this stuff. I love his Twitter profile:
Shhhhhh I'm slowly but surely building a small army of people who believe that happy families are the answer to 73% of our worlds problems.

Why can't we do the same thing with business? Why can't we use video to show people how being in business can be fun? I'm learning about YouTube and video because I think there's a great opportunity to communicate company culture, branding, and fun like never before.

A few weeks ago, we started doing company hangouts via Google+ once a week. They have been a blast! Since our team includes members from 4 countries and 6 timezones, this is the only way we can see each other on a regular basis.

We even did a public hangout yesterday with some of our customers. Circle us on Google+ if you want to get in on the next one. We'll probably be doing some Google Hangout On Air events in the future as well.

Video is a game changer. It's a tool we as entrepreneurs need to be familiar with, or we'll be left behind.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope this post gets you encouraged to give it a try. If you do, please link to your videos in the comments!

Side note: I just noticed the BeStoked blog has over 10,000 views. Wow. Thank you. :) Now go tell your friends, because they might like it too.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Choice, Purpose, and the Significance in Between

I love the Matrix. I love the epic battle between Agent Smith and Neo. I love the questions it raises about purpose, choice, destiny, free will and significance.

Agent Smith:
"It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us, that binds us, it is purpose that defines us."
I'm a big fan of living life on purpose. Not letting life slip by while wondering where it's going, but doing everything with intentionality and meaning. When your life has purpose, you can find great value and peace in anything, even doing nothing. You can easily let the little things go while working harder than you thought possible for that which really matters.

I believe the very reason we exist, why you were born and breathing right now, is wrapped up in our individual and collective destinies, the plans created by God for each of us.

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
But it's not just about purpose, is it? Predestination vs. freewill is probably one of the longest running arguments since the created tried to understand its relationship with the Creator. Our bodies are created to be healthy, but we can still choose to destroy them with the food we eat and the exercise we neglect. The choices we make define our reality on a moment by moment basis.

"Choice. The problem is choice."

I love the Matrix because the battle between choice and purpose is explored on an epic scale without a clear, obvious winner (did Neo really have choices?). The answer, what I believe to be a life of true significance, is somewhere in between. God has great plans for you, but you have to make the right choices and do the work to see those plans fulfilled.

Ephesians 2:10
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Deuteronomy 30:19
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." 
Please, don't wake up tomorrow and find out you're 80 years old and you don't know what your life was about. Don't just live life, but choose life. Choose to seek out your purpose and live it as best you can.

While you're at it... keep this in mind: Your purpose may not be what you think. You may not be the next music star, the next big company owner, or the next world-changing worker of your craft. It might be something far more obscure. It might be being a mom to your child, a husband to your wife or a friend to your neighbor. We only see glimpses of the Architect's plans, and we tend to get those confused anyway. He's got a plan that is perfect and only through relationship with Him can we begin to see its perfection. You only get one life. Make it significant.