A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
I always notice abandoned shopping malls while I’m driving. You’ve seen them before—giant eyesores that announce the failed dreams of business people and investors. They’re monuments to remind us that sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we want them to.
I drove by one this morning. It was a sprawling strip mall, with boarded-up store fronts, graffiti everywhere, and an enormous, trash-filled parking lot. I try to imagine the conversations that took place on the once vacant land before it was even constructed.
“It’s a prime location. Very promising for the growth of this area. People will come from all over to shop here. It will be great for the local economy and a turning point for our community.”
The investor nods approvingly but still wonders in the back of her mind how this will pan out. No risk, no reward, though. You have to take calculated chances to grow in life, and sometimes they end up as massive failures.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of failure, not just in the sense of setting out to do something and falling short, but in terms of really giving up, whether that’s as simple as quitting your job or as tragic and complicated as giving up on living.
I heard someone once describe Proverbs as wisdom for right living. That same person described Ecclesiastes as where you turn when you did things right, and it still turned out bad. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Translated literally from the Hebrew, vanity means “mere breath.”
So what’s the point?
When your circumstances exceed your ability to cope. When you realize there are no rules to the game, and nothing is predictable. All is chaos. When you realize the Law of the Harvest doesn’t always prevail. Many reap and never sow. Many sow and never reap.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a tweetable answer for you? 140 characters to conquer the problem of pain. A nice quip to solve the world’s brokenness. I’ll leave you with a song I’ve come back to by a guy named David Ramirez,
“Deal me in
Deal me in
This is the life that I choose even if I lose
I'm slowly learning just what it means to love
I don't think I have it down I just know what it's not
It's not leaving you
So question life, question the sky
Don't be okay just letting days pass you by
Find out the truth, Find out what lies
Above the Blue”
Keep participating. Keep choosing to live. Keep searching. Lean into the pain. Truth will find you, in the highs and the lows, the successes and even in the failures. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m stillhere with you, too.
I don’t say it enough, but I’m grateful for this small community. The comments, text messages, emails, and conversations around these topics gives me life, and I hope it continues to do the same for you. In a few short months it will be three years. It’s hard to believe. Thanks for sticking around.
What are you truly convicted about? I’m not talking about what rules or obligations you feel like you should uphold to be a good person. I’m talking about at your core, what are genuinely convicted about?
I was listening to a podcast with a guy who interviews hundreds of new candidates a year for jobs. One of his main questions is what I just asked you. He said he can learn a lot very quickly about a person. Most people, he claims, don’t have a great answer.
I think we all have a script we can upload, based on our upbringing, our experiences, our religious affiliation. When you sift past the easy answers, though, what do you find? I’ve thought long and hard about this and think I have it boiled down to three things for myself, followed by my practical application.
All people are created with dignity.
There is no greater commandment than to love God and to love your neighbor. “Neighbor” is everyone: friend, foe, stranger. Why? Because all bear the image of the divine, and existence in and of itself is a miracle.
So now what for my life?
I will greet each person with love. I will look to the needs of others. I will stand with those who cannot stand for themselves. I will push back on any ideology that marginalizes a group of people. I will not violate the consent of or create suffering for another person.
We have airplanes that can carry us from continent to continent, and we have a system of ethics that now understands it to be wrong to enslave another person. If we don’t keep learning, asking why, questioning our assumptions, we will not grow or make progress.
So now what for my life?
I will utilize my abilities and resources for the betterment of our world. I will ask the questions others may shy away from. I will always ask why we do something the way we do it. I will commit to continuous improvement, and that begins first in my own heart and mind, even if it means admitting I was wrong.
God is the ground of all being.
Regardless of what you believe or how you call it, there is a force that beckons us all towards love. It draws you in and gives you life. It brings hope to suffering. It is the great Mystery from which all comes and all returns.
So now what for my life?
I will invite others into the peace that comes from submitting my life to something greater than myself. I will be ready and present for the dialogue that seeks the deeper things. I will continue to explore without bounds the mystery of God. I’ll share this journey with those I come into relationship with and those who are willing to read along.
So what are your deepest convictions? I would be curious to know in the comments or a direct message. It’s important to know. From our convictions flow our actions, and our actions will change the world around us, for better or worse.
“How could you be so off on your measurements!” My client very forcefully shouted at me. I sat there looking at a perfect fitting sportcoat. Believe me, I’ve been off before, but this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I know a good fit when I see one.
For those who don’t know, I work in the custom clothing business. I meet with busy, successful guys in their homes and offices who don’t have time to go shopping or have a hard time finding really nice, well-fitting clothes.
It’s a unique business and most people are a little confused when I tell them what I do. Nevertheless, you get the idea. I’m standing in this client’s office, he’s very upset, and I’m trying to figure out how something that fits so well could deserve such a response.
I begin to ask questions. “So I can tell you what I see, but tell me first what you feel.” He then launches into how tight it feels in the shoulders and the armholes. He begins slinging and crossing his arms in front of him, as if he has plans to do a UFC match while wearing the coat.
I assure him I will make sure we get the coat fitting exactly how he likes if he will allow me to consult our tailor and come back in one week. I then ask him to stand looking straight ahead so I can take a photo to show the tailor.
“Don’t take a picture of me! I don’t let anyone take my picture!” I smile and try to calmly explain that I’m not looking to advertise him on social media, I just need a picture for reference so we can improve his fit. He begrudgingly agrees to a photo from the neck down but not before making sure I deleted the first one.
This story is not representative of my day-to-day. Most of my clients are a joy to work with. However, when you deal with hundreds of people throughout the year, a handful sometimes give you heartache.
I could have easily explained to my client why he was wrong, and I was right. I could have unleashed a few pointed retorts to his ridiculous insults and accusations. I could have decided I was done working with him at that moment.
So why didn’t I?
I heard a phrase earlier that same week that lodged into my mind: “Perceive more, judge less.” You’ve probably heard a variation of this in the phrase, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”
As I reflected back on the experience it occurred to me that this man, with all the money any person could ever want, in the corner office in the top of the building that he owns, could not be happy.
When you work every day, set goals, dream big dreams, and create a plan to move the ball forward, it’s humbling to encounter someone who “has it all” and yet still can find it within their heart to be discontent and angry.
In fact, it’s one of the saddest things I can think of. It might be one of the best definitions of failure I’ve ever encountered. If I work hard, achieve all my goals, gain status and wealth, and can still shout over a coat, I’ve missed the point.
In goal-setting, there are three words I’ve seen used time and time again. They are, “have, do, be.” The “be” part is a critical component. The “have” and the “do” can be fun, but without the “be,” the crucial character portion, what are we really doing?
I might be making a generalization about my client. It is possible that he’s going through something terrible and has been having a really rough day all seven times I’ve been to his office over the last year or so.
Regardless, every encounter I have like this makes me determined to not only perceive more and judge less, but to remain grateful and humble no matter how much or how little “success” I find in my life.
Do you ever have dreams that leave you disturbed for the first hour you’re awake? Half the day has gone by, but you keep thinking about the feeling you had when you first woke up. In a recent dream, I was supposed to be watching my godson, Solomon, but somehow managed to lose him.
In hindsight, it’s kind of humorous. The dream didn’t make any sense. Solomon can’t walk, and I would never just put him down and leave. It felt so real, through!
I remember frantically searching and running and asking everyone I saw if they had seen him. Terror, shock, fear, sorrow...it’s amazing the emotions our brains can fabricate from imaginary scenarios.
When I woke up I still had the pit in my stomach. Relief washed over me when I was alert enough to know it was just a dream. I sat there feeling like my mind ran a race while sleeping. It took a while to fall back asleep.
Not all dreams are that dramatic, of course. I often find myself back in school, realizing I had not attended a math course all semester and the final was that day. Naturally, the final is the one thing standing between me and graduating.
My teeth often fall out, too. Just last night they started from the molars and went forward throughout the dream. Apparently that means I’m insecure according to some psychologists.
Our subconscious is an interesting concept. It’s always listening, always taking in information, receiving impressions from everything we look at, hear, smell, taste, feel. It’s the silent observer that can expand the depths of our imagination or haunt us in our sleep.
Complaining, criticizing, condemning—whether from our own lips or the lips of others, it shapes us. Negativity, pessimism, cynicism—they mold the subconscious in ways we don’t acknowledge.
Have you ever met a person whose circumstances were hard by any definition, but they just seem to have a joyful demeanor that can’t be shaken? And the opposite—someone who seems to always find something wrong in every scenario, regardless of circumstances.
We don’t give enough thought to our thoughts, like I wrote about last week on the the stories we tell ourselves. We largely paint our own reality and shape the lens through which we see. We get what we think about most.
I’m constantly fighting the negative default mode, and as cheesy as it sounds, I’ve made it a point to really control what I let in to my mind these days. It’s making a difference, too. I’m prone to the melancholy, but I can already feel a change in a short period of intentionally crafting the messages I’m feeding myself.
Maybe my teeth will stop falling out, and I won’t lose any more babies. Who knows, maybe I’ll even finally pass that math class and graduate now that I’m a decade removed from high school.
I have never met an inspiring person who had an easy life. Think about that. Who is someone you look up to? Were they given everything? Did their achievement and character come without hard work? Sacrifice? Suffering? I would venture to say if someone has the ability to pull at your heartstrings, it’s because they struggled.
I think the animating force behind any group that thrives is the idea that you are not alone. You aren’t the only one going through this. Someone has been there before. Someone is there for you now. It’s why I love our international sales meetings that happen twice a year.
In January and July, people stand on stage and tell their own personal story that led to whatever award they’re celebrating. And guess what every single speech with almost no exception has in common? Getting to that moment of clarity, peace, success...was anything but easy. It required mental fortitude.
All great stories need conflict. Any characters who have moved us deeply had to become and overcome. Epics weren’t written about the entitled, easygoing, lazy, or negative. They were written about those whose vision of what mattered in life was so crystal clear they not only knew what they should do, they knew what they absolutely had to do.
We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We have a constant track running in our heads: self-talk, the inner dialogue, the voices in our head, the messages we tell ourselves. The unintentional, unconscious voice is generally negative.
“I’m not good enough. This isn’t my fault. These circumstances are out of my control. If only I had more money. If only I had more time. If only I had more opportunity. If only I was smarter, stronger, prettier, braver...”
The power of positive thinking is not hocus-pocus magic. There is no “Secret.” It’s not some supernatural ritual to channel the universe. It’s psychology. It’s a testament to the fact that what we think about the most wins. Thoughts shape our behavior and, therefore, our outcomes.
I used to think writing out and telling yourself positive affirmations about the person you’re becoming sounded cheesy and superficial. I thought that until I started noticing the voice that had been speaking under the surface for years without me knowing it. And it wasn’t a positive voice...
I learned my default mode was negative. I also learned that negativity sticks to the brain like Velcro, but positive, grateful thoughts slide right off like Teflon unless an intentional practice of gratitude is implemented. I learned that why you do what you do must come before what you do, or the first time you encounter what isn’t enjoyable, you’ll give up.
What stories are not just running under the surface but are running, or dare I say ruining, your life? What are you leaving on the table? What version of yourself are you stealing from those you love? What dreams stay dreams because you tell yourself it’s impossible?
Tell a different story. Tell a better story. Whatever you do, decide to tell your own story. If you don’t, the world and your mind—that’s great at searching for threats in the African bush but not at growing spiritually and emotionally—will tell you one you don’t choose.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt