What part is the grass?

It’s been said that the grass is always greener on the other side, but what part of the experience is the grass? What’s the part that looks better but is actually the same? Maybe it differs depending on the situation.

Some things that may be grass:

  • People
  • Routines
  • Responsibilities
  • Daily tasks
  • Freedom

But there are things that can actually be better:

  • People to learn from
  • Experiences to benefit from
  • Projects to be a part of
  • Vision to move forward with
  • Risks to take

At the end of it, though, maybe the only way to tell is to  go to the other side and see. Maybe stepping into uncertainty isn’t such a bad thing.

Why talk small?

I was at my friend’s apartment last night, and we were sitting on a couch together when I asked him a pretty pointed question about his girlfriend and where he saw things going with her. He answered, but then asked where that question came from. My answer surprised me too – “Well, I think we’ve run out of small talk, so I figured why not just jump into something meaningful?”

While it wasn’t a normal topic to delve into so matter-of-factly, the conversation was good, meaningful and not strange. We’ve had serious talks before. The only difference this time was that instead of stumbling upon it by accident, I intentionally started a valuable conversation. I’m glad I did.

Small talk is our default mode when we don’t think we have anything to say, or have something but don’t feel comfortable saying it. Intentionally flipping the switch takes courage and can be risky, but if it falls on receptive ears, the result can be priceless.

You’re being lied to

Everything is marketing. Everything is theology. There’s no way around it. Every commercial you watch, every person you talk to, every message you hear has behind it a way of looking at the world and interpreting reality.

Many of us can at least identify with this, but realizing it doesn’t make it any easier to avoid all of it. Much as we may try to unplug, we’re still exposed to messages coming from every direction – television, news outlets, movies, social media, all of it! There’s a message behind the message. There’s a philosophy of life being preached there.

When you see a commercial about a new sports car with beautiful women, the message is that if you buy this car, you will attract beautiful women. But why would you care about that? Because of the philosophy of life it’s pushing – that a sports car should make you happy, but if not, beautiful  women will.

Unfortunately, there’s always a gap between the happiness promised (or implied) and the happiness delivered (reference to awesome business book unintended). No matter how nice the item or how great the experience, enjoyment and fulfillment always reaches a limit. Pretty soon, you find yourself pushing the limit more and more, just to get that enjoyment back again.

Is there a solution? Is satisfaction possible? Why do we always want more, and when we get it, it’s not enough? This doesn’t even only apply to things. Experiences too. It’s never quite enough. It looks great when someone else has it, but once we taste it ourselves, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that it’s not quite everything we were hoping it would be.

I know what the solution isn’t. It isn’t more. For all the technology and luxury we have in America, we have nothing approaching the joy I witnessed in a lovely group of Thai children whose only possessions in the world fit at the head of a twin-sized mattress and whose experiences have been more painful than many of us would care to imagine. More is not the answer.

As much “good” as business does and has done for us all, by and large it’s succeeded by perpetuating a message that isn’t true – that you can independently secure joy for yourself.

The truth of the matter is that any joy we can lay hold of is temporary and insufficient. Eternal joy must come from an eternal source.

The status quo is a terminal disease. True enjoyment can only come from what’s truly good.

Read this book (affiliate link) to discover just why truth matters more than you might typically think. It’ll only take you half an hour.

Things I wish I knew in college…

Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with a bunch of college students. Many of them attend my alma mater, where I volunteer with a campus ministry they’re involved with. Others I met through an Epic conference in January. Still others I’ve met through other means.

Students, this post is for you. It’s a list of things I wish I had known when I was in college. Hopefully it will be helpful for you.

  • Evernote is probably the best all-around software for taking notes and remembering things. Of course, Evernote may not have been around when I was in college, but go check it out! I’ve also written a Squidoo lens about why Evernote rocks.
  • Google Calendar is so key. Especially being able to share it with others.
  • Gmail is awesome, especially with the new Priority Inbox function, but to really hack your e-mail, play the E-mail Game.
  • Blogging is underrated. Maintaining a blog can be a great way to share insights with people, build community online and practice writing. Platform-wise, I think WordPress is great for customization, but Tumblr is great if you want to just get started with the basics. If you have some real value to share and are interested in making money from your writing, though, Squidoo is awesome for that.
  • Mac is great.
  • Reading the Bible consistently is challenging but very beneficial. Sign up for YouVersion to get on a plan and stay on it.
  • Consuming media is fun but often distracts you from what is much better.
  • Figuring out what you’re naturally good at is a challenging but worthy pursuit. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things to do but one of the most important. Sadly, many don’t care to investigate this, and many of them don’t want you to either.
  • You become like the people you hang out with most. This is not meant to condemn. It’s just something you need to realize.
  • Mediocrity can get you by, but it will never get you where you want to go. I used to take pride in my mediocrity. That was unbelievably stupid.
  • Stop complaining. Hustle instead. You’ll grow and learn far, far more.
  • One of the hardest questions to ask yourself is, “What do I want?” Many don’t want to answer that question because they know they’re not doing anything to get there. Ask it. Answer it. Go get it.
  • If you do what everyone else is doing, you’ll end up with what everyone else has.
  • Choose a major that will enhance and utilize your natural strengths, not one that will “guarantee” you a job (it won’t).
  • Find ways to get both inspiration and wisdom, and keep going back for more. Proverbs says this more eloquently. I will post a resource list soon and link it here.
  • Read this and share it with everyone you know who’s in school or working at a school.

What branding isn’t.

If you’re promoting your own brand, here are some things you need to stop paying so much heed to:

  • Your brand name – people care much more about who the brand is than what it calls itself. It doesn’t matter how catchy or unique the name is. It does matter how authentic and human the people are.
  • Your online presence – same as above. If people love you, it’s not because you have an amazing website, Facebook page or Twitter account. And if they don’t, these won’t be enough to change that.
  • Your “uniqueness” – the idea of being unique in business is overrated. It can help, but only if your uniqueness is valuable. Being unique for the sake of being unique is useless. Being unique by being your best self is getting somewhere. If you’re significant enough, people will find you regardless of how unique you are.
  • Putting your name on everything – whether it’s product or service level names, e-mail signatures or anything/anyone you’re associated with, having your name present isn’t really that important. In fact, sometimes, having your name absent speaks louder.
  • The “right message” – as great as it is to have clear and compelling copy, beautiful design and interactive multimedia, your best customers prefer to work with a human being. You can hire people to create the most amazing message in the world, but none of that matters if the message that’s said doesn’t line up with the message that’s received.

Be yourself. Be awesome. That’s what will drive more business. When it comes down to it, no one really cares about how unique your company’s branding is, how nice the logo is or how descriptive your business card is.

Great leaders don’t want to lead

Something I’ve learned about leadership is that my leadership is most effective when I’m surprised to see people following me. When I expect people to follow me, I’m not being a leader; I’m being a dictator. But when I’m surprised about and maybe even a little against being followed, that’s when I’m truly being a leader.

If you want to be the leader, you’re probably not going to be a great leader. I’m getting more and more convinced that the best leaders don’t actually want to be leaders. But it’s that very heart that incites people to not just follow them but join them. And yes, there is a difference.

You pick it up. I’ll carry it.

First of all, happy 2012! Hope it’s gotten to a great start for everyone!

I spent Christmas weekend with my cousin and her family in Pennsylvania. At one point, my mom mentioned something she witnessed between my cousin’s husband and daughter.

The three-year-old daughter had left something on the floor, and her dad wanted her to pick it up. She told him that she couldn’t carry it, so his reply was, “You pick it up. I’ll carry it.”

I love that line, not just because it was good parenting, but because it’s such a great picture of what God wants to tell us sometimes. And we need to hear both parts of it.

The part I’ve always tended to hear about in church is “I’ll carry it.” So important for many of us who are high achievers and keep wanting to make things happen. We can become so results-oriented that we leave God out of the picture. And in His love, He won’t let us continue to make results our god, so He will sometimes break down those results we were so intent on.

It’s in those spaces that we realize that results don’t come from our labors and toils but from His grace and kindness. I’ve seen that happen plenty in ministry, and my mind goes to Abraham as a Biblical example. God kept him from having children with Sarah until such a time that having Isaac could be attributed only to God.

But the first part is very important for those of us who have heard the second part and begun to rest too comfortably in it. Taken the wrong way, we can come to a place where we start to believe that God will take care of everything, and we just need to relax. I was there for a while, and although it always felt uneasy, I was quite content to stay there.

The problem with this view isn’t only that we can get lazy and stupid or something. The real problem is that we can miss out on the miracles God has for us. Whenever God performed miracles in the Bible, He required a step of faith. A step into the unknown, where I’m going to fall if no one catches me. Some of the commitments are bigger than others in our minds, but there’s always a commitment on our part. I think the lesson here is that God can do great things with even our smallest step of faith.

When Jesus turned water into wine, it was in response to his mother Mary calling for him when the wine ran dry at the wedding. She didn’t know what he would do, but she knew he could do something. The Bible says Jesus could not (note, it doesn’t say “would not” but “could not”) perform miracles in Galilee because of people’s unbelief. Peter could see Jesus walking on the water, but to experience it, he had to step out of the boat.

We have to understand that when God performs miracles, He wants to involve us. We get to be part of the story. But the first step can often be an uncomfortable one. It’s a lot easier to just stay where it’s comfortable, where it feels safe. But we’re in a spiritual war. Nowhere is safe. Eventually, if you insist on staying in your comfort zone, God in His mercy may draw you out. Or even scarier if you make a habit of it, eventually relent and let you stay.

Imagine being in a bunker on a battlefield. Thinking about stepping out of that safe bunker is an uncomfortable thought. But you can’t win by staying inside. You may not lose, but you can’t win. Your team might win that day, but you didn’t. On the other hand, if your team loses, you’ll be forced out of the bunker, without the opportunity to make a difference.

What’s your biggest challenge today? Where do you need to trust God? And where do you need to act on that trust by taking a step of faith, as uncomfortable as it feels?

Will you choose to move forward, or will you wait until God pushes you? And, what if He stops pushing?