Bringing Clarity

The best way to increase our clarity in a topic is to commit to teaching it to others.”

I currently serve on our church board, and part of that responsibility is to read and interpret our financial statements.  While I have been pretty good at doing this, I’ve noticed that several of our other board members struggle in this area.  So in an effort to bring clarity, I began creating an instruction sheet to help them learn to read the financials.

The process of creating these instructions brought additional clarity to me in a couple of areas where I didn’t understand our financials as well as I thought.  That’s one of the great things about committing to teach:  you have to have a clear understanding of the topic before you can clearly communicate it to others.

Whether it’s creating instructions or verbally explaining a concept, teaching others is a great way to bring clarity to others, as well as ourselves.

Someone Would Gladly Trade With You

Life is good, but occasionally we get frustrated and begin to complain.  This isn’t all bad, because frustration can often be the spark that causes us to take action to improve our life.  However, we get into trouble when we focus solely on what is frustrating us and develop an attitude of complaining.

We may justify our complaining by pointing out how bad things are, but here’s a thought to consider the next time we feel like complaining:  someone in the world would gladly trade places with you.

Consider this:

You think… Someone else thinks…
My job sucks. I’ll trade with you!

I’m currently unemployed and would love to have a job right now.

My marriage stinks. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to be married and willing to work out our differences with a spouse.

I’m old. I’ll trade with you!

I’m 32 and have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I’d love to look forward to growing old.

I’m fat and out of shape. I’ll trade with you!

I live in a country where we rarely have enough to eat, let alone have the ability to choose a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.

My life is boring. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to have the freedom and resources you have to choose how I live my life.  There’s so much I want to do, experience, and learn.

As you look at your frustrations through the lens of how others view them, your situation starts to look a whole lot better.

The next time you find yourself having adopted an attitude complaining, stop and consider how many people would love to trade places with you.  This thought will likely give you a new perspective on your situation as well as refocus your attitude.

The Clairity from Writing it Down

I’ve recently got back into the habit of daily journaling and have been amazed at the positive impact this discipline has on me.

When I journal, I often write about improvements I want to make in my life and what I’m’ currently struggling with or working toward.  The exercise of giving thought to a topic and spending several minutes putting these thoughts on paper give me the following:

  • Clarity of direction
  • New ideas
  • A way to process and organize my unformed thoughts

When I don’t journal, I find I only spend a few brief minutes each day thinking about what I’m working on, pursuing, or struggling with.  This brief, unfocused thinking always leaves me void of any real plan or direction I can take to make progress in that day.  However, when I journal, especially in the morning before the day gets started, I gain a clarity about whatever issue I’ve written about, but more important, I feel energized and eager to jump in and get the day started.

If you’re considering the practice of daily journaling, here are 3 suggestions that I find helpful:

  • Pick a consistent time every day. Do mornings work best for you or evenings before bed?  Perhaps around lunch time works best.  It doesn’t matter at all what time you journal.  What does matter is that you find a time that you can commit to as much time as you need to journal, whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour.  Find what works for you.
  • Find a journal that you like the feel of. This may seem like a funny thing, but the journal you right on must “feel” right.  Does it fit well in your hand or on your lap?  Do you like pages with lines or blank pages?  Do you prefer a spiral binding, a yellow note pad, or leather bound journal?  I prefer a smaller size page (because it feels like I write more) and I also prefer a journal that lays open nicely.  It doesn’t matter what your preference is, as long as your journal feels right for you.  It should be something you want to spend time with.
  • Write about topics that interest you. I mentioned above how I like to write about what I’m working on our struggling with, but that doesn’t have to be what you write about.  Maybe you want to write about what you did that day, or keep a list of ideas, or record significant events.  Perhaps you just want to write about whatever is on your mind.  Those are all great topics! As long as you’re writing about something that is interesting to you, you’ve got the right topic.

Of these suggestions, I think that finding a consistent time to write is the most important to maintaining consistency.

If you want to increase the clarity of thinking,  make significant progress toward achieving your goals, or just be more mindful of what direction you’re leading your life, I suggest giving journaling a try.  Your writing doesn’t have to be eloquent, flowery or even grammatically correct.  It just has to be a written expression of whatever is on your mind.

Getting from Here to There

From the perspective of achieving your goals, getting from where you are to where you want to be can often feel overwhelming.  Especially if we’re unsure about the steps we need to take to get there.  The following visual exercise can be very helpful in gaining clarity on what we need to do to start moving forward.

First, make a write in where you are, and where you want to be, as shown below.

Step 1

Second, on the left side of the page, fill in what you currently have in the way of resources and things to work with and overcome.  This gives you a starting point.  On the right side of the page, note what you will have once you achieve your goal.  This will help provide motivation, clarity, and direction.

Step 2

Next, think of all the major tasks you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be.  The list doesn’t even have to be in order, or 100% complete.  Just start thinking of all the tasks that you need to do and list them in the gap on the page between where you are and where you want to be.

Step 3

At this point we know where we are, where we want to be, and a bunch of tasks that need to be done to get there.  The next step is to number the tasks in the order we need to complete them.  This is where our action plan gets created.  When you’re done with this step, you should have a plan to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Step 4

Now, we come to the most important step in the process:  TAKE ACTION!  The best plan is useless until we take action toward implementing it.

Step5

If you’ve got a goal you’d like to achieve, but need a plan on how to achieve, try this simple exercise.  It will give you clarity on what needs to be done, and motivation to see what you’re moving toward.

Just remember that the most important thing you can do, once you’ve completed the plan, is take action.  Your goals are waiting.  Start today.

Seeing Beyond

Several years ago I was a co-teacher for one of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University  classes.  I love Dave’s concepts for handling money, and his presentation style is funny, engaging, and informative.  One moment during the class on debt reduction really stood out for me.

Our group was having a discussion about the debt reduction principles Dave had just explained in the lesson.  One concept that is crucial for couples getting out of debt is that they communicate about their finances and work together.  Toward the end of this class I made a suggestion to the couples in class.  I suggested that as they were working on getting out of debt, they dream together about what life will be like when they are finally debt free.

The response to this comment was interesting.  Some of the people in class got it.  However, I specifically remember hearing a couple of defeated groans, as if they were saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  We’ll NEVER get out of debt!”  I was haunted by those groans.  It seemed that some of the couples were defeated before they even started.  Instead of being able to comprehend a new and better future, their vision was squarely locked on their present circumstance, keeping them from even believing that a debt free existence was possible.

It is easy to become frustrated or discouraged by current circumstances, especially when we don’t know how to change them or even believe that it’s possible to change them.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Whenever we find ourselves frustrated or discouraged, we have 2 choices:

  1. Continue to push ahead to change our circumstance for the better
  2. Give up

I don’t like the second option, because that equates to throwing in the towel and accepting as final the your current circumstance.  If you’re still reading this post, I doubt you like that option either.

So what can we do during those times of frustration and discouragement?  Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Envision where you want to be and what you want your life to look like in 1, 3, or 5 years. Press through the discouragement or disbelief and develop a detailed picture in your mind of what that life looks like.
  • Keep that picture firmly in your mind and review it often. Especially when the frustration and discouragement are at their height.
  • Take action every day, no matter how small, to move yourself closer to the vision you’ve created for yourself.

We will get discouraged and frustrated throughout life.  It’s guaranteed.  However, I think those feelings are caused by the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  If we’re pursuing worthy goals and seeking to grow and become better, those feelings can actually prompt us to continue (or begin) bridging that gap.

Just remember, it’s ok to be frustrated or discouraged in life, as long as we don’t park there permanently and squander our opportunities to take action, improve, and grow.  The choice is ours.  Let’s choose wisely.

Comfort and Order

“Humans are designed to seek comfort an order, and if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable.  And even if they secretly want something better”

Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

I was half way through Donald Miller’s book (pg. 100) when I read those words above.  I found them to be both haunting and eye-opening.  They’re haunting, because I’ve been in this exact scenario for many years, and eye-opening, because it finally feels like the root cause to one of my primary struggles has been revealed.

I find it extremely easy to put off making a change when I’m comfortable or complacent in my current situation.  I’ve been struggling with making a career change for many years.  I currently work in Information Technology, but my preference is to work with people, rather than with hardware, software, and systems.  I’ve wanted to make a change for several years, but I’ve made minimal progress.  Often, weeks or months go by without me having done one thing to move closer to a new career.  I know what I’d like to be doing, but I find it easy to put off taking action, primarily because my current situation isn’t all that bad.  It’s comfortable enough to keep me from taking decisive action toward bringing about the career change I desire.

I knew this, to a certain degree, about myself, and could observe this scenario in my own life.  However, reading Miller’s words, that so clearly articulate this concept, it felt like a harsh slap or glass of cold water thrown in my face.  As if my mind was screaming, “He’s describing you!”

After reading those words, I’ve been keenly aware when I’m letting comfort and complacency chart my course.  It gets me fired up, because I can’t think of a single time in my life when I was driven by comfort and complacency, that it ever led me anywhere significant.

How about you?  Are there any areas in your life where you’re actions, or lack of actions, are being driven by the desire to maintain comfort and order?  Is the desire for comfort and order taking you where you really want to go in life?  If you’re struggling in this area, join me in taking the following actions:

  1. When you feel yourself being motivated by the desire to maintain comfort, acknowledge it. Call it out right there on the spot and say, “I’m not letting comfort chart my course any longer!”
  2. Think about the next step you need to take toward a goal or path you’ve set.
  3. Take that next step. It doesn’t matter how small a step it is; take it!
  4. Repeat the process as often as necessary

I don’t think we were designed to live lives that were above all, comfortable.  I think we’re at our best when we’re growing, improving, and pursuing the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Decide today to stop letting comfort keep you from pursuing a remarkable, fulfilling life.  All you have to lose is the discomfort of being comfortably stuck.

The Intersection

On Monday evening January 12th Ohio State played the University of Oregon for the College Football National Championship in Dallas Texas.  What struck me most about the game was not the score or the collective ability of each team, but the very clear life lesson that was on display during the game.  The lesson was that great things happen at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Although I was rooting for the University of Oregon, myself being from Oregon, I was really impressed with the performance of the Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

Consider this:

  • The National Championship game was only his the 3rd college start as quarterback
  • At the beginning of the season, he was the 3rd string quarterback on his team

I was amazed by these facts while watching the game.  While on the biggest stage in college football, Jones showed the command and poise of a seasoned quarterback.  He didn’t look like a 3rd string quarterback, or someone who had only started 3 games.  He looked like he belonged there.  Was he perfect?  No.  Did he make mistakes?  For sure!  However, he was able to step in for his team when his number was called late in the season and perform extremely well.  Well enough to help win a National Championship.

It is obvious from his performance that he had been practicing and preparing for the opportunity.  His preparation intersected with his opportunity, and great things happened.

If Jones hadn’t been diligent in practice while he was still the 3rd string quarterback, he never would have done so well when he got the nod to lead the offense.  Imagine what a different outcome Jones would have had if he had said, “Once I’m the starting quarterback, then I’ll really start practicing!  However, since I’m only the 3rd string, there’s really no point in doing my best at practice.”  Jones had great performances during his 3 starts because he put in the effort to prepare himself in practice; to be ready for the opportunity, even when he didn’t see one or know that one was coming.

What about you?  Are there areas where you need to begin preparing for a future opportunity?  Is there a class you need to take, a habit or discipline you need to develop or stop?  Is there a reading, networking, exercise, or eating plan you need to get on?  If so, begin today.  Don’t’ delay and think, “I’ll start preparing when I see an opportunity.”  That kind of thinking leaves out half of the intersection equation:  There can be no greatness-causing intersection between preparation and opportunity if opportunity shows up alone.

So begin preparing today for the opportunities you seek in the future.  My guess is that, if you’re preparing, the opportunities are closer than you think.