Sometimes success means stepping into the batters box

Success. That word carries a lot of weight, especially in modern American society. We are obsessed with success. It is so much a part of the air we breathe that we don’t even stop to think about it. Movies, social media and the news are filled with stories that either celebrate the accomplishments of individuals or point a finger at their failures and subsequent demise.

If we aren’t careful, we can subtly fall prey to thinking that we are only worthwhile if everything we touch turns to gold. The problem is nobody has the secret “Midas touch”. Even if they did, that old fable reminds us that the results wouldn’t be as glorious as we envision.

We desperately need reminders of the true meaning of “success”. In my life, one of the places I have learned the most is through baseball.

I was reading an article about statistics in baseball on ESPN.com last week. I’ve added the link to it here.

The article talks about a player and manager named Cap Anson. This is a excerpt…

The legend goes that Cap Anson, asked what he’d like his tombstone to say, replied, “I guess one line will be enough: ‘Here lies a man that batted .300.’

 There are three reasons we care, for our purposes today, about Anson’s response. The first is the throat-clearing opener: “one line will be enough.” Anson had one of the game’s most extraordinary and complicated major league baseball careers. He was baseball’s first superstar, rapped 3,435 hits, won five pennants and almost 1,300 games as a manager, and played a prominent and despicable role in preserving segregation in the sport. A book could probably be written about any one of his 27 seasons. In his estimation, one line would be enough. That’s how powerful “batted .300” has been in baseball.

The article goes on to talk at length about why batting .300 is a significant accomplishment.

With all due respect to the author, I think he may have actually missed Cap’s main point.

It may offend our modern sensibilities but what if Cap wasn’t talking about the game of baseball at all? How about if he was talking about life? That certainly reframes the way I read his quote.

In the batter’s box of life, there are always opportunities to hit a home run or strike out. There are also times that you hit a nice single up the middle or you crush the ball but a fielder makes a nice play. No one succeeds in everything even when you are doing everything “right”.

No hot streak lasts forever and no slump defines what you are able to do at your next at bat. In the end, batting .300 in life is probably a very reasonable “batting percentage”.

I wouldn’t characterize my success in life in home runs, stolen bases or runs scored. I think the best way to judge my success is if I’m willing to get into the batter’s box day after day.

Am I willing to swing away even when I struck out my last time up? Can I stare down each pitch as it comes my way and give it my best shot? Can I take the occasional fastball to my arm or back?

In life, having the courage to step into the batters box is half the battle. After all, nobody bats 1.000.

Gaston and the Beast

A couple of nights ago, our family finally got around to seeing the latest rendition of the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast”.

As expected, it was a visually compelling movie. I thought they actually did justice to two of the most memorable scenes from the first film.

“Be Our Guest” used cutting edge computer animation to capture the sense of excitement and wonder displayed in the original film.

The iconic scene of Belle dancing with the Beast was also done extremely well. In the cartoon version of the movie, that scene was so inspiring that one of my friend’s little girls turned to him and whispered wistfully, “Daddy. Someday I dance with a doggie?” I imagine similar sentences were uttered again in theaters across the country.

A lot has been written about this film from a ton of angles. I guess that’s what proves it is a good work of art. There are so many themes to discuss that it could be it’s own college level class.

Our family Cinema 101 discussion started as we were exiting the theater. Turning to my daughter I said, “Don’t ever marry a guy like Gaston!” (I think that one should be fairly obvious but it needed to be said). I went on to say, “Don’t marry a Beast either”. A guy who needs you to fix him isn’t worthy of your energy.

“After all”, I said, “What’s the difference between Gaston and the Beast? Isn’t it just the fact that Belle took the time to help one and not the other?”

By this time we were in our car and a big debate ensued. My son injected “No! It was that the Beast was open to change but Gaston wasn’t!” Wisely, my wife affirmed his observation.

Perhaps because we hadn’t been in an argument in two hours, I decided to challenge my son’s assertion. “But how do we know? Belle never gave Gaston a chance.”

I might as well have lit a match to a bunch of bottle rockets by the way the ideas were flying around the car.

In the end, one of the easiest ways to see how open Gaston and the Beast were to change was when trials came.

When Gaston discovers he can’t have Belle, he manipulates in whatever way he can to get his way. He sweet talks, he lies, oh yeah and he attempts murder! The whole time he deflects criticism away from himself.

Meanwhile, when the Beast is faced with the same situation, he chooses to let Belle go. This means a cruel fate for him and all the singing furniture in his house. This selflessness is the soil where true love grows.

My hope is that my kids will experience this kind of love in their lives. They won’t be caught in dysfunctional relationships centered in selfishness. I pray they will be people who are open to change and healing and they will find other people committed to the same.

Most likely, the biggest help I can be to them in that area is to model those things in my life and marriage to my “Beauty”. I want our relationship to point to a “Tale as old as time” that is beyond ourselves.

Good Friday from a chilling perspective

I am a religious leader. I make it a top priority to carefully cultivate a love for God in my life. One of my other primary responsibilities is caring for the people I have been entrusted to guide.

It is a high calling and I do everything within my power to take it seriously. I’ve studied for hours on end. In an attempt to make my words match my actions, I’ve set up a series of rules to help me avoid the appearance of doing anything improper. Naturally, I demand that those who are following me observe the same code of ethics.

There are many threats to this way of life but perhaps the biggest is teachers who lead massive numbers of people astray. It happens all the time. Presumptive leaders tell the crowds what they WANT to hear instead of what they NEED to hear. This gives them a sizeable following. Then, they use that popularity as a way to control and manipulate.

I am always on the lookout for these imposters. I am vigilant about what others teach and compare it to what I have studied for years. If the two don’t match up, I have learned to take action quickly; our country, our independence and our way of life depend on it.

A little over three years ago, one of these false leaders rose from relative obscurity. From the very beginning I suspected that something was wrong with his teaching. He didn’t study under any religious professor but he spoke like a person with authority. He seemed to have unique power but if I didn’t know with certainty where he came from, how could I ever know the origin of his power?!

There were signs that he could be special. Huge crowds gathered because blind people started seeing with 20/20 vision and others who were never able to walk were running around. Thankfully, I knew all this was a façade. After all, occasionally he did these things on a day we weren’t supposed to do any work.

Sometimes this same man would tell people he forgave them of everything they had done wrong in life. This included all their outward behaviors as well as all the attitudes they held in their hearts. Obviously, no one can forgive these things except God.

Finally, this man had the audacity to claim he was equal with God. I knew it was the final straw. We had to take drastic measures to make sure this message didn’t spread further. The worst-case scenario seemed to be a plausible reality. The delicate balance of order and control we had worked diligently to foster with the government could come crumbling down.

Last night, my fellow religious leaders and I had the man arrested in the darkness in order to avoid a scene. When a mob brought him before our council, his fate was a foregone conclusion.

At first I was frustrated. We couldn’t get any witnesses to agree on a crime he had committed. Eventually though he slipped up like I knew he would. He claimed to be God in front of all of us! It was all we needed. We knew that we could convince the government that he was trying to start an insurrection and execute him.

It turns out, that was easier said than done. Government officials didn’t instantly see things our way. They tried using every tactic they could to release him but in a stroke of genius, we found the phrase that finally got them to cave…

“We have no king except for Caesar!”

We all know that only God is our true king but the ends justify the means, right? The man needed to be killed for his blasphemy.

A simple charge hung over him at his execution. He was a king.

Can you imagine if this man was alive? People might surrender to him. I might have to give up my right for influence and importance. His followers might value honoring him more than they value their country, their traditions or the relative peace and comfort we have created.

No. Like I said, I do everything within my power to take my job seriously.

 

Seven Haikus to Celebrate Spring

Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive.

A favorite book of mine from last year was written by one of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull. “Creativity Inc.” describes the rise of Pixar from a startup company founded on the outrageous idea that computers could be used to make animated films, into the creative force that produced blockbuster hits like “Toy Story”, “Cars”, “Monsters Inc.” and “Up”.

One of the major themes throughout the book is that creativity fuels innovation more effectively than focusing on production alone. When we give our brains the space to think creatively, it can help us develop solutions in totally separate areas.

Because I’d hate for all the lessons in that great book to go to waste (and because I had a hankering to write some haikus) here are seven haikus to celebrate the arrival of spring. 

Grow

Grass is green again

No more white stuff on the ground

My lawnmower waits

Feast

Rain turns dirt to mud

Worms slide across my driveway

It’s a bird buffet

Jacket

Temperatures climb

It’s not freezing anymore

Goodbye winter coat

Weber

Start ignition light

Flames rise beneath metal grates

Burgers. Ribs. Steak. Yum!

Aloe

 Gorgeous day outside

Wear the least clothes possible

First sunburn this year

Retreat

 Flowers start to bloom

Stretching from their winter sleep

Oh no! It’s snow. Retreat.

Tissues

Fresh Air. Breathe it in.

Pollen floats. Sniffle. Sneeze. Sneeze.

Time to take Zyrtec

All right. I’m no T.S. Elliot but it’s fun to try for a day. It also feels strangely energizing.

The next time you need to be really productive, try writing a couple of haikus, painting on a canvas, or even making up your own song (depending on your musical talent, you might want to keep the performance to the shower). Giving yourself permission to be creative in one area might have added benefits in others.

Ten Leadership Lessons

You might not consider yourself a leader but chances are at some point in your life you will be asked to lead others. No matter if the context is work, school, sports or your family, a valuable question to ask yourself is, “what does it look like to lead well?”

Thankfully, I’ve had many gifted and loving people pour into my life over the years. They have shown me what leadership looks like by their words and actions.

As I reflect on what they have taught me, here are ten important lessons I’ve learned about leadership through the influence of others.

  1. Love the People you lead

 Leadership is not primarily about tasks. It is about people.

Opening up your heart to the people you are responsible to lead can be scary. It takes time and emotional energy. It also hurts more when people move on. On the flip side, there is more joy, connectedness and contentment than if you keep your heart closed off.

  1. Keep your priorities straight

 The pursuit of success can blind us to what is truly important in life. I talk to a lot of guys in their 50’s and 60’s who wish they would have spent more time with their wife and kids instead of running after the next promotion.

I can either look at my marriage and family as a hindrance or my primary place to lead well. When I get the order right, I find myself thriving in both places. When I don’t, well…it’s not where I want to live.

  1. It’s not about you

If you are leading people to yourself and how great you are, you are leading them to the wrong place. People need to be engaged in a mission greater than themselves. That mission is not you.

 Also…don’t take yourself too seriously.

  1. More is caught than taught

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for formal training in leadership. Practical instruction is always important. However, what really sticks with people isn’t what you taught them on an intellectual level, it’s how you treated them and how you interacted with the world around you.

  1. Leaders are Learners

The phrase, “Leaders are readers” is also popular. I’ve always got a couple of books I am working through (usually very slowly!) but learning includes more than books. Listening to podcasts, radio, reading blogs and watching movies can all be excellent ways to learn. Even better…take time to listen to people. You might be surprised at what you discover.

  1. Keep the main thing, the main thing

It is extremely easy to get distracted from my primary focus. There are a lot of “good” things that I can do. I need to constantly remember the vision before me and filter my decisions through that.

  1. If you want to lead, follow

Someone wise once told me, “The best leaders have learned to be the best followers”. That’s a great way to evaluate the leadership potential of others as well as a great statement to reflect on.

Once someone lets “leader” become an identity rather than a role, it almost always creates issues.

  1. Don’t ask people to do things you aren’t willing to do

Pretty straightforward but surprisingly not that common.

That doesn’t mean that leaders should ALWAYS be doing what everyone else is doing. There are certainly times that leadership requires a different focus. Still, true leaders aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty.

  1. As goes the leader, so goes the movement

Every organization, business, church etc. will take on the personality and values of the leader.

When I was working for Wegmans, I noticed that every store had a different “vibe” even though they each carried the same products and had the same systems in place. I eventually came to realize that this personality was based more on the store manager than anything else.

If you want what you are leading to be healthy, YOU must pursue health in your own life.

  1. Stay Thankful

No one appreciates being around people who are ungrateful. We all know this instinctively. Yet because leading requires thinking about a better future thankfulness can slowly evaporate like a puddle on a hot summer day.

Taking time to write a “thank you” note, an email of gratitude or simply saying “Thank you, so much!” face to face can do a lot to keep thankfulness alive and well in your heart.

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Those are some of my favorites. There are definitely a lot more!

How about you? What do you think of that list? Is there anything you would add/subtract? I’d love to hear what you think!

What was I thinking?! The quest for acceptance.

Do you want to be accepted by the people around you? Do you have a desire to be loved and valued? Congratulations! You are a human being. Or a very intelligent dog who has learned how to read. In that case, double congratulations!

I’ve heard it said, the only people who don’t care what other people think about them are sociopaths. That may seem bold but I think there is truth in that statement. Whether we admit it or not, most of us will do a lot to fit in.

Take for example, fashion trends. You can’t tell me the first reaction of most guys in the 60’s when they saw bell-bottom jeans was, “Wow! Now there’s the kind of jeans I’ve been dreaming of wearing my entire life!” Did men in the 70’s put on those polyester suits and say, “I am so comfortable! Why didn’t someone come up with this material sooner?”

I lived through the 80’s and 90’s. There was one summer when the cool trend was wearing boxers as shorts. Does that seem a little odd to me now? Ummm, yeah! How about all the flannel I owned in the 90’s? Was I preparing to be a lumberjack?

Fashion is just one of the ways that we try to fit in and gain acceptance of others. It can take on a myriad of other forms like the music we listen to, our academic excellence, work performance, the size of our house, how well our kids behave…the list goes on and on.

So how should we respond? Do we try to reach a state of enlightenment where we don’t care about acceptance anymore? I don’t think that is a healthy way to live either.

Although the image of the lone cowboy on a western prairie is an American icon, my guess is you wouldn’t want to talk to that guy after he hasn’t had interaction with anyone else for a year. His horse has probably convinced him of some pretty crazy stuff.

It feels vulnerable to admit that I care what other people think of me. It’s true. I want to be accepted and loved for who I am. Despite how awkward that is to say, I don’t think that desire is a negative thing. It becomes an issue when that yearning takes control of my life.

Acceptance from other people is like a can of Pringles. Each chip tastes really good but it doesn’t leave you satisfied. “Just one more” you say to yourself. Before you know it, all the chips are gone but the craving hasn’t left.

True validation can only come from a place beyond ourselves. We were created to experience community with other people AND God.

That’s one of the reasons I love the message of Christianity. Our acceptance isn’t based off what we do, it’s based off what Jesus has done.

When I let that truth sink in deeply in my soul, it brings a contentment I can’t get anywhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Helping Doesn’t Help

“Wow! You are really a helper!” A counselor recently uttered those words to me. Inwardly, I thought “Why, thank you! It’s nice of you to notice.”

While the statement wasn’t spoken in a derogatory way, it also didn’t have the ring of a huge compliment. After a moment or two of reflection, I began to connect how having an awareness of the feelings of others can be an unbelievable blessing and an unwanted curse.

In my last post, I shared what I am learning about reaching out to the hurting people who are all around me. This seems odd to say, but there is actually a dark side to that type of compassion.

Helping others can be twisted and motivated by selfishness. Sounds kind of crazy right?!

Let me explain. Caring for people who are hurting can carry a sense of satisfaction for me. The look of appreciation in the eyes of someone who is truly grateful is rewarding. For the lack of a better term, it can be a “high”. It can be validating and give me a sense of respect that I desperately crave. My mixed motivations can be pretty ugly.

On top of that, there is another problem… helping is not always helpful.

When I try to help others who don’t want my assistance, I am robbing them of their individuality and freedom to choose. I could also be short circuiting growth opportunities in their life.

Some of the best moments of growth can occur when we are experiencing resistance or discomfort. Even as I type that sentence, I wish it wasn’t true! Going through difficulty in life is like hitting the gym. It’s painful but it can jumpstart your development.

When I rush to help people who aren’t ready, it’s like I’m at the gym watching someone bench press. Without even asking, I run over to their rescue. I repeatedly help them lift the weight without them even asking for a spot. That type of help is demoralizing and dehumanizing. Even if it does feel nice at the time, it doesn’t result in any change.

Another red flag for me is when I choose to serve others out of “an empty tank”. As any flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to “secure your own mask before assisting others”. I believe there are times when I can supernaturally help others even when I am emotionally, physically or spiritually drained but when this is a regular pattern of life, the results can be disastrous (believe me, I know from experience!). Simply put, I can’t give what I don’t have.

If you are a “helper” like me, you are probably tempted to believe that your assistance is essential for the world to continue to spin on its axis. The reality is I’m not the savior of the world and neither are you. My job is simply to follow the One who is.

When I am living in that reality, my helping can really help.