A Quick Thought On Your 2021 Calendar

2021 looks promising, although it did start off a little bumpy.  Since we’ll soon be getting back to life that includes more events and interactions with others, it’s important to remember that we are the ones who decide what events we allow on our calendars.

When you’re considering scheduling an event, make sure you’re not doing it out of a false sense of obligation, or because you feel you can’t say, “No” to something you really have no interest in doing. 

I would argue that our time is more valuable than money, because we can always get more money.  That’s is something we can’t do with time.  The limit on a day is 24 hours, we can’t get more.  The only choice we have is how we’ll spend the finite amount of time we’ve been given.  Therefore, we need to make sure that it is our priorities that fill our calendars in 2021, not someone elses.

Truth

The amount of information we’re confronted with every day is amazing.  So many sources, figures, and organizations are vying to influence our thinking and shape our beliefs.  Therefore, it is imperative, in the midst of all this information, that we continually scrutinize what we hear by asking ourselves, “Is this true?”.

Our brain is the greatest super computers ever designed, and each of us is blessed to be in possession of one, free and clear.  With it, we can receive input, think critically about that input, and discern whether or not it’s true.  With this brain we can question, investigate, explore, and again, discern truth.  In my opinion, since we are in possession of such a remarkable and powerful tool as our brains, it is incumbent on us to use them.

Why would we allow someone else to spoon feed us their own thoughts and ideas without engaging our brains in some critical thinking to determine whether or not what they’re saying is actually true?  Why should we be so quick to disengage our own super computer brains in favor allowing someone else to “program”, if not poison them, with untruths?  To me, that seems not only irresponsible, but potentially dangerous.  Taken to it’s extreme, as we’ve seen in the US this week, it can even be criminal.

Let’s make sure that we’re taking full advantage of the brains we’ve been blessed with.  Let’s use them to wisely discern the information we’re bombarded with, to ensure that our actions and beliefs are indeed based on truth.

Learning With Others

I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday school class at our church for about 12 years.  Actually, I’m more of a discussion facilitator than an actual teacher or instructor.  I prefer this role as facilitator, because I’ve noticed that the best learning in class occurs when the participants share their knowledge and we seek answers and explore the Bible together.  As a facilitator, I simply bring interesting information about the topic we’re studying and encourage others to ask question and share any insight they might have.

If I approach a Sunday school class as the teacher, it feels like I need to have all the answers and have a lesson plan figured out that details everything we’ll discuss during the class.  I don’t like that approach because it doesn’t leave room for questions an exploration.  If I’m seen as the teacher, the class feels more like a lecture, where I’m imparting knowledge to the rest of the class while they sit quietly and listen.  This approach would be boring to me!  While I’ve got some knowledge on the topic, I also have lots of questions that I’d like to ask.  If I’m the teacher, there’s a lid on the class that only goes as far as my knowledge and understanding.

I much prefer to leverage the collective intelligence of the class.  The people who attend regularly spend time in the Bible, so they are very familiar with it.  They’re also eager to learn more, which causes them to read it with the purpose of gaining a greater understanding of what it says. 

Having a forum where we can learn together, ask questions and share our knowledge has sparked numerous conversations (as well as opportunities to learn) that would not have occurred if I were the teacher, simply giving a one-way lecture.  Our class works much better when we all have the opportunity to share the role as teacher.

I think it’s exciting to approach life as a facilitator as well.  It’s fun to encourage others to share what they know about a topic and to hear, and learn from, experiences they’ve have had.  Most people are willing to share what they know; they often just need someone to invite them to do so.

Cast Your Gaze Beyond Today

With COIVD-related restrictions and choices an omnipresent reality of the 2020 holiday season, it’s easy to become frustrated by how abnormal everything is this year.  While it’s true that things look different this year, I want to encourage you that this is not how Christmas, or any other holiday, will look forever more.  Remember that this current state is indeed temporary.  Before we know it, we will be celebrating holidays with family and friends again.

My pastor signs all his emails with a phrase that I think is especially fitting for this year, “Believing the best is yet to come”.    I think that true.  We only have to be willing to cast our gaze beyond what’s happening today.

Collectively Giving Our Best

I’m currently reading a book about the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft.  It was developed in the 60s and was way ahead of its time, with regards to engineering and performance.  This plane could travel at altitudes of 80,000 feet with a speed greater than Mach 3 (3X the speed of sound).  Were it in service today, it would still be ahead of it’s time and considered futuristic. 

As I was reading a chapter last night about the people involved in the design stage of the SR-71, I was impressed how all these people came together and gave the best of their abilities to bring this aircraft from an idea to a reality.  The technology to build an SR-71 didn’t exist, so they had to figure it out as they went.  When you consider all the obstacles, it’s an amazing feat that the SR-71 became a reality.  

Imagine if the members of this group didn’t give the best they were capable of.  Suppose people on the team just gave minimal effort that was far below their intellectual capacity.  If that were the case, the SR-71 would have fallen far short of the requirements presented to the team.  Even more likely, this project would have been canceled and considered an impossible feat, if not an outright failure.  The difference was the people on the team collectively gave their best.

While we my not be part of a team designing supersonic reconnaissance aircraft, we are all a part of some team where we have an opportunity to give our best effort.  That team may consist of a family, a group of co-workers, a band, a sports team, or any other group of people brought together to achieve a common goal.  Regardless of the type of team we’re on, the members of the team counting on us to give our best.  In my opinion, if we’re willing to be on a team, we should also be willing to bring the best effort we’re capable of.

So why should we bother to bring our best effort?  There a several good answers to this question, but for me, there is one reason that stands above all others.  During the Christmas season, I’m again reminded that God gave His best for me in his son Jesus.  Out of gratitude, how could I offer anything less than my best back to Him?

The Best You’re Capable Of

Whenever time or effort is required of me, either voluntarily, for work, or just for fun, I think it’s important to give the best effort I’m capable of within the given conditions.  I’m not a big fan of mailing it in.

Whether it’s carving a turkey at Thanksgiving, giving a presentation, or anything in between, why would we want to give anything less than our bet effort?  The effort we give our tasks sets the tone for how we approach life.  When we decide to offer our best, we are deciding that we want to show up and engage life.  We expect more than the minimum daily requirements, from life as well as from ourselves.

Besides, when we offer our best to the world, we are encouraging others to do the same.

Helping Those Behind You

This week, my team at work was interviewing for a senior-level data analyst member.  It’s pretty easy to tell whether someone has the technical skills to do the job based on the sample of the work they bring to the interview, as well as how they describe the work experience they’ve acquired throughout their career.  We had one candidate form a different department in our organization that is brand new in the field, with very little experience, but they sure stood out.

While it was obvious that this candidate didn’t have the necessary qualifications, I was impressed by the steps they had taken, and are scheduled to take, in order to educate themselves about data analysis.  At one point during the interview, they showed us a sample of a coding exercise they had done in school, and while, by their own admission, it was very basic, it is where we all start… at the very beginning. 

This person is excited to be on the journey and eager to learn about data analysis.  Toward the end of the interview, they humbly mentioned that they would be interested in any guidance, assistance, or mentoring anyone on the team would be willing to provide.  The team mentioned that they would be eager to offer any help they could.

After the interview was over, I had a career flashback.  In this candidate, I saw myself at the start of my career.  I remember being new to the filed, proud of the first basic code I had just written, while at the same time knowing that I had so much more to learn.  Fortunately, I still feel that way.

I was reminded of the experienced people who helped me grow my knowledge and gain the experience I lacked.  People like Edwin, Chuck, Joel, and Prasenjit.  These kind folks were extremely generous with their time, listening to my questions and helping me understand new and often confusing concepts.  They were willing to take the time to invest in someone who didn’t yet have much to offer, but who was eager to learn.  I am grateful for their investment in me.

Flash back to the present.  Ever since that interview, I’ve been thinking how quickly the time went from when I was someone with no skills, but a strong willingness to learn, to someone who can actually reach back and help someone coming up behind me.  I can think of no better way to honor Edwin, Chuck, Joel, and Prasenjit’s investment in me than reaching back and offering a hand to this person behind me. 

Ready When It Happened

I’m currently reading 2 books.  (Actually, I’m reading one and listening to another.)  The first book (Highest Duty) is about Captain Chesley Sullenberger.  He’s the airline pilot that successfully made an emergency landing in the Hudson river after engine failures caused by bird strikes.  The second book (A Captain’s Duty) is about Captain Richard Phillips.  He was the captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama that was taken captive by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. 

Each book tells a story of leadership during extraordinary circumstances.  In both accounts, I’m struck how each leader had prepared themselves for their moment in history.  When their historic moments came, they had already been prepared. 

Both of these captains were responsible for the successful operation of expensive machinery, as well as for the lives of the people aboard those machines.  In each volume, the captain talks about how they trained their crew or considered scenarios that could go wrong, in preparation for were that scenario happened to them. 

Captain Sullenberger and Captain Phillips each seemed to have a sense of responsibility (a duty, as suggested in the title of each book) to be prepared to lead well, no matter what circumstance presented itself.  I think that’s also true for us as well.  While we may not be piloting commercial aircraft or large cargo container ships, we too are responsible for leading well in our families, in the places we work, and in our communities.

These captains had taken the time to prepare themselves, through learning, repetition, and thought, long before these critical events demanded their leadership.   So, when the moment arose, they were ready.

It seems there’s a lesson in their stories for us.  We should continue to sharpen our knowledge and abilities in the areas where we are considered leaders.  That way, when our leadership is called on, we’ll be ready too.

It Makes Sense To Them

Brace yourself, because I’m about to drop a news flash!  Ready?  Not everyone shares the same viewpoints as me.  Whoa, that’s huge!  Here’s an even bigger news flash… not everyone shares the same viewpoints as you either.  BOOM!!

You’re probably sarcastically thinking, “Thanks for dropping the obvious on me, Scott.  I had no idea!”  If that’s your thought, then you’d be right; we all obviously know that not everyone agrees with our viewpoints and opinions.  Yet while we know this to be true, I think we sometimes forget that a person’s viewpoint or opinion, which may seem strange, or even wrong to us, makes perfect sense to them.

There is a reason why a person thinks the way they do, or believes what they believe.  Their viewpoints are likely shaped by their own unique life experiences, which are probably not the exact same life experiences that we’ve had. 

Ok, that seems pretty obvious too.  So why do I bring it up?

There’s so much divisiveness now.  It seems when we encounter someone with a differing viewpoint, we feel we a need to defend our position.  We’re eager enter into a debate and convince the other person that their viewpoint is wrong, and if they had even a slight modicum of intelligence, they would adopt our position.  We already know where that usually leads: more discord, animosity, hurt feelings, and possibly fractured relationships.  I propose another response to differing viewpoints.

What if, the next time we’re confronted with an opposing viewpoint, instead of immediately entering into a debate, we try to genuinely find out why the person holds that viewpoint?  Not with toxic accusations or labeling, but with a genuine curiously and non-inflammatory questions.  What if we cared enough to see beyond the differences, and to see the person and their experience that lead them to the viewpoints they hold?  

My guess is, that once we’ve taken the time to understand someone, we’ll have a better comprehension of why they think the way they do.  Who knows?  We might even change our own viewpoint in the process.

It’s Not Always Someone Else

When you see a natural disaster on TV or hear about people dealing with life challenges, it’s easy to think that those kinds of things only happen to other people.  Until they happen to you.

In the past 2 years I’ve had some life events happen that, in the past, I would have seen as things that happen to other people, but not to me.  One was some health news and another is the current wildfires burning in Oregon that is directly impacting friends and family.

Its’ quite different when these things are happening to you versus happening to others.  When it happens to others we think, “That’s too bad” and then go about our business.  It’s different when it’s happening to us, because we can’t just turn it off or change the channel like we do when we’re watching a disaster on the TV.  When it’s happening to us, we’re living it, and there is no off switch.

I’m reminded of the importance of empathy toward others in the struggles they face.  While that doesn’t mean I have to take on, and be responsible for, everyone’s burdens, it does remind me that others don’t have an off switch in the troubles they face either.  With that in mind, I should offer what I can to help others in their struggles, because I know I appreciate it when others do that for me.