Life Lesson on Money

I found this in an old journal entry. An idea that impressed me a while ago and when I read it, I was glad that I written it down. I was encouraged and convicted by my own words:

In financial matters there can be a considerable delay between decisions, actions, and results. Choices made today may not be felt for weeks or months, either for good or bad. Therefore we must think ahead! It is like planting and watering. This is hard to remember when we live in a world obsessed with the instantaneous and the impulsive.

Some Unexpected, And Brutally Honest Marriage Advice from Tolkien.

I stumbled on this blog post and had to share it. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I agree with most of this article.  Our culture is awash in selfishness. It is so deep that it has been camouflaged as “love.” We have attempted to twist the virtue of love into “loving yourself,” which is actually the opposite of love. The very nature of love is to put others before ourselves.

Concerning the article, I think I would temper some of what he says regarding self denial and monogamy with “the rest of the story.”  The honest truth is that self denial is necessary because of our fallen nature. The idea that men are “not monogamous” is true because we are fallen, discontent, and unfaithful creatures. It is true in the same way that men are not peace loving by nature.  Only when we operate in grace and practice self denial we will find the truest expression of ourselves.

Tolkien’s perspective reminds me of the premise behind Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.  I would highly recommend the book and use it for premarital counseling.

The excerpt below comes from a letter that JRR Tolkien wrote his son:

“THERE IS NO ESCAPE”

“Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed ethic, according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in ‘the Church’. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52).”

Source: Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage | The Catholic Gentleman

The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

Here is a thoughtful essay on the fact that the leisure we all desire is actually fraught with significant dangers and temptations. Mark Kingwell (the author) is obviously a scholar and his writing cuts across the standard short-attention-span variety of prose that flows in the gutters of the internet (translation: this is not an easy read).

In any case the article is thought provoking and profound. He concludes with something significant. What to do with our time when we don’t have to work to put food on the table? That question brings up the greatest question all: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here anyway?  He writes:

“More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship’s microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.

The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.”

And this thought about our social media addiction is the best line I have read in while:

We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me.”

Source: The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

You Can’t Slow Things Down by Speeding Up – Or- You Need Time To Delegate

The problem with being over-busy is that you might actually get more done. But this only lasts for a brief period of time at the beginning. But invariably the rushing/exhausted pace leads to bad decisions and the inability to make judgments about what is really important. This is the lesson I am trying to work out in my own life.

Here is more fuel for the fire on this whole discussion:

“If I take some time off – on a holiday, over the weekend, or even just not checking mail in the evening after closing time – my decisions get better. I don’t just keep grinding it out, trying to get strategic by processing ever more detail. I start to notice what is really important so I can leave the rest, or delegate it to someone more qualified or more motivated to do that thing.

“When running at full tilt I don’t even have time to think of passing it off to others.  I’ve seen this over and over again in my work with people leading teams. Things are stuck not because there is no one to do them, but because the person who has them on their plate doesn’t have (or take) the time to clarify who should be doing them.”

Source: You Can’t Slow Things Down by Speeding Up – Next Action Associates

Essentialism Chapter 6 Discussion Questions

 

Finding What matters

Questions for Essentialism

Chapter 6

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

You can Essentialism Questions Ch. 6

Major principles:

It is easy to get lost in the raw details and miss the significance of the facts. We have to learn to find the “lead” in our lives the way journalists analyze a story.

Key examples/illustrations

  • Nora Ephron’s experience in journalism class in finding the lead of the story.
  • Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashing a sound airplane by getting focused on a broken warning light.
  • Thomas Friedman filtering the conversation
  • The d.school at Stanford and the development of the affordable incubator for premature babies, the “embrace nest.”
  • The importance of clarifying the question you are trying to answer when solving problems.

Questions for Reflection

  1. On p. 73-75 Nora Ephron’s account about the epiphany in high school journalism class is told. What is the difference between the “facts” of a story and the meaning or significance of a story?
  2. According to Ephron a good jounrlist is one that can not only see, sort and analyze the facts, but also give a sense of why it matters.  She says this works in life as well as journalism.  Are there areas in your life where you are swamped with data but don’t know what it all means? How can you make sense of this?
  3. In discussing the crash of flight 401, the crew focused on the light. The malfunctioning light was important, but not important enough to distract the crew from flying the plane. What are the warning issues in your life right now?
  4. Write a list of the top 5 priorities in your life (limit it to 5). How might the warning light issues in your life distract you from these?
  5. What is the 1 single problem that leads you to consistently hyper focus your attention from the big picture?  Explore the story of how this has been happening?
  6. McKeown recommends keeping a journal as a tool to see the lead in our lives and identify subtle patterns.  Complete one of the following sentences:
    1. I don’t take time to journal because _________.
    2. I do keep a journal but struggle with this because __________.
    3. I do keep a journal but I need to do better in this way ____________.
  7. If you keep a journal, go back more than 3 months and read over at least 1 month worth of entries. What are the headlines? What is the meaning of what you read?  What are the trends?
  8. McKeown tells the story of a design team attempting to create an affordable incubator (less than the $20K average cost) in order to save the lives of premature babies. The team was successful when they visited places like Nepal to see where children throughout the world are born.  Name 3 challenges that you are facing right now and think about how you can step away, and get a longer perspective for clarity.  Reflect on ways you can “get out into the field.”
  9. sometimes we face problems that are resistant to classical solutions. Think of the problems you listed in #8 and write down some of the unusual details. What are the ways in which your problems and context are unique?

Why We Love Being Burned Out- It Is Easier

Why We love burnout

I was reading some old journal entries. This is a great practice that helps put our blessings and struggles in perspective over the long haul. Too often I exaggerate the severity of the average crisis and forget the many blessings. Anyway, I came across something that I wrote last year during a time of exhaustion. At that moment I was trying to unravel why I have such a hard time resting and so often tend towards busyness and burnout. Reading this old entry was helpful for me, and perhaps it will encourage you.
“Why do we like/love the burnout trail? Being busy makes us feel important or even superior.

This level of busyness [to the point of exhaustion and burnout] though hard in the long run is emotionally easier in the short run Than:

  • Defining priorities
  • Saying no to people and risking their disappointment
  • Facing the fear of missing out
  • Disciplining myself to follow through on decisions and priorities
  • Doing the hard work of thinking ahead about calendar issues
  • Investing in people and giving them feedback”

I was struck at how often frenetic busyness is the way I avoid the really challenging and important emotional work that needs to be done.  God help me to grow!

Essentialism Chapter 7 Discussion Questions

The Value of Play

 

Questions for Essentialism Chapter 7

Download a printable pdf version here.Essentialism Questions Ch. 7

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

Major principles:

Recreation and play does not threaten a productive life, it is vital part of helping us grow and become more creative.

Key examples/illustrations

  • The story of Mr. Banks from the movie Mary Poppins. His dreary life is transformed by something as simple as flying a kite
  • Author Ken Robinson has expressed how our education system is killing creativity in children.  This transformation arrived with the Industrial Revolution.
  • Stuart Brown and the National Institute for Play. He has published scientific research about the impact of play on our brains.
  • The correlation between survival in animals (like the grizzly bear) and rates of survival.
  • Edward M Hallowell, psychiatrist, speaks about the effect of play on the executive function of the brain.
  • Throughout history many great discoveries happened during times of play.

Questions

  1. McKeown defines play as, “Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.” What are some activities in your life right now that fit this description? Use this definition to make a list of things you have done in the last 6 months for play.
  2. As children we did not need to be taught how to play.  Children play at all times, even during sickness and tragedy. What does this suggest to you about the importance of play?
  3. It is easy to view play as a waste of time.  Highly driven people and teams may even consider it something trivial or unproductive. What is your view? How do you feel about playing? What does your inner voice say to you when you stop work to engage in recreation?  What pressures or beliefs are communicated to you by your peers and culture regarding play?
  4. There are some people that are “all play and no work.” These excesses may prevent us from seeing the virtues and benefits of play.  Do you know someone in your life that is a productive and playful person? Someone who is highly effective and yet takes time for hobbies and recreation? Describe this person and their productivity as well as their play.
  5. The author uses the term imaginative play. What does this mean to you? Is there a difference between imaginative play and other kinds of play? Is one better than the other?
  6. Sir Ken Robinson says that imagination produces achievement. If imagination is a muscle, then play exercises that muscle. Do you agree with this?  Why? In your experience how has play helped you to develop your imagination?
  7. You have probably heard someone explain how they ruined a hobby by turning it into a “for profit” business.  How can you guard your important hobbies or play from the obligations that might destroy them?
  8. Stress kills creativity. Play can help to decrease stress. What stresses are you facing currently? How can you use recreation and play to decrease your stress?
  9. Which activities help you to feel light and free? Which activities help you to forget your problems?
  10. Many great discoveries and inventions happened during play. Have you ever had a breakthrough during a time of play?
  11. Many successful companies incorporate play in their corporate structure.  Examples include Google, Twitter, Apple, etc.  does your business or work encourage play? Why or why not?
  12. What activities outside of work do you must enjoy? Which activities would you like to try? Make a list
  13. How can you add these activities to your calendar next week?
  14. Which activities were your favorite as a child? Explore this.  Does this play history reveal anything about you or what you enjoy doing?
  15. How can you use this knowledge to help you learn how to play as an adult?

Is Hearing More Important Than Seeing?

“Helen Keller maintained that the gift of hearing was far more important than the gift of sight because hearing allows the gift of speech, and speech allows the nurturing of relationship. language connects us to the heart of others in a way nothing else can.”

This is a quote from “Minute of Margin,” a book by an author that has had a huge impact on my thinking.  My wife and I are currently reading the book together for the second time. It is about overload, burnout, and the peaceful life. Dr. Swenson wrote another book called “Margin” that covered the same general topic. But he turned the content into daily readings for more accessibility. Evidently most of the people that need to hear about rest and margin are too busy to read a whole book on the topic.

Swenson, Richard A. A Minute of Margin: Restoring Balance to Busy Lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NAVPRESS, 2003. Print.

Don’t Walk Like A Wounded Animal, and You Won’t Attract The Wolves

Here is some useful information about how criminals select their victims. There is obviously more to the story, but this is helpful. They have a kind of intuition about which people are vulnerable and which potential victims are unlikely to resist or defend themselves. Some recent research continues to confirm this.

“Multiple studies have been done on how criminals select their victims. As such we have an accurate picture of what criminals look at in order to establish whether someone is vulnerable to victimization. Some of the most recent research on the subject confirms very startling notions.”

Also the author writes:

“What does this mean to the average person? The way you carry yourself can help single you out or rule you out for victimization.  While there is victim selection criteria like your gender or age that you cannot change, you can stack the deck in your favor.  Walking confidently and not exhibiting behaviors of distraction, ie: fidgeting, fumbling with cell phone, are minimal effort ways to help rule yourself out.  In the simplest terms, do you walk like you have the ability to defend yourself?  Do you drag your feet and act like a wounded animal?  Most of us give these behaviors very little attention because we have been doing them the same for years.  This was brought to my attention at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.  We were shown countless videos, and spared countless more, of police officers falling victim to an attacker due to complacency and ultimately how they carried themselves.  While you cannot control the people around you or their depravity, you do not have to carry yourself like a victim.”

 

Source: From the minds of Psychopaths: How not to be a victim – Beyond the Sights

The Value of Spare Time

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Quoted in: Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters