How Gratitude Made Me a Better Runner, Leader

I am not a fast runner, never have been. For a long time, the only reason I ran is because the Army said I had to. In some cases, quite a bit… but mostly just the 2 miles required for our fitness test. Now, as a leader of soldiers I have to get my soldiers to run enough to pass their fitness test. This has proven difficult given my current ability to run is not exactly inspirational.

For most of my military career, I would consider myself (at best) a willing runner. However, I recently stumbled into a thought that has transformed my approach to running. It has made me a better runner. Beyond a willing runner, I actually look forward to getting out and running (even in the stifling Florida heat sometimes). It is the thought that one day I may not be able to run. One day my body will not allow it. My bones, muscles, joints will not allow me to run. To experience the freedom of running. There is a sense of freedom when you run. I mean think about it, running is one of the most natural things we do as humans and we do it so early in life.

You crawl. Then you walk. Then you move your feet faster.. and Boom! You’re running. You are free to move like you have never moved before.

The thought of losing this freedom was very surreal. It brought great clarity. More than that, it made me grateful for the ability I have now. More grateful than I had ever been to just run. I experienced a renewed perspective and even a sense of joy. It felt like finding something I had lost.

The Tarahumara and Running for the Joy of It

There is an indigenous people group in Mexico known for their ability to run tremendous distances. The Tarahumara. I had never heard of them prior to reading the book Born to Run.

Apparently they can run hundreds of miles over the course of days with very little rest. Sounds crazy right? I mean, I thought a marathon was pretty tough but imagine doing 10… sometimes barefoot!

Anyway, the thing that struck me about the Tarahumara people is why they do it. In the past it served a purpose; mainly evading invaders and pursuing wild animals. But now? They run for fun. Because they enjoy it. When running they are often described as having smiles on their faces. They run with a contagious joy.

Living and Leading

There is a lesson to be learned here.

We should live with a contagious joy. We should lead with a contagious joy. It has been my experience that this joy comes from being grateful.

For me it all comes back to the thought that one day, I will not be able to ________. It could be something as small as run or as large as spending time with my Wife.

This is a sobering thought. Everything in your life can be taken away in an instant. It could be something as minor as your ability to run or as major as your most valued loved one.

Perhaps you have experienced this and it is a tragic reality for you.

However, this truth crystallizes the value of today. Living and leading with a purpose. Living and leading with a sense of joy and gratitude.

I stood in front of my soldiers recently and shared this insight with them (it happened to be before a run). The day is coming where I will not stand before them as their leader.

At least this transition is predictable but the lesson remains the same and I want them to embrace it. Who knows, maybe they will run a little faster in the process.

More importantly, perhaps they will live with a contagious joy.

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Happy Anniversary: Celebrating One Year of Marriage

A year ago today I married a “Why Not?” person and I didn’t even know it. I knew Sarah pretty well and loved so much about her on that day (and today of course!)

But one thing I didn’t know is that she is a “Why Not?” person. I suppose I should have known, she hasn’t changed so much in a year. I guess just being around her and engaging life together has revealed it.

This aspect of Sarah is something that I have grown to value as much as any other quality she possesses.

You see, I am a “Why?” person.. Which means I want to understand before doing. A “Why  Not?” person is the opposite, they often DO to understand. They are your classic action oriented individuals but the reason I call her a “Why Not?” person is because the muscle it forces me to exercise.

The vision muscle. Why not us? Why not now?

One of my gifts is the ability to see the big picture quickly. The big, current, picture. This has its value of course. You want someone like me on your team. However, I have a serious limitation. That of a limited perspective. Its why ships used to have a crow’s nest, the guy up there could see beyond the horizon. Sarah sees beyond the horizon. And that is where she casts vision. Where she dreams. And now, it’s where we dream.

At first this frustrated me because I wanted her to see the big picture NOW, but lately I have grown to love it. This is the beauty of marriage. The beauty of the one-ness of marriage. Its like having a whole new brain (which as a thinker, I really enjoy).

One year is nothing other than a measurement of time but the milestone is worth celebrating because the Lord has blessed us so much. So often He exhorts His people to look back and remember all He has done and look forward to all He is going to do. Today we are going to do that!

Time to enjoy this day with my Bride!

Random Thoughts: 30 for 30

This week is surreal as I am crossing the 30 year threshold. A milestone of sorts. It is particularly surreal because my parents were 30 when I was born.

The growth I experienced between 20 and 30 is difficult to fully capture in writing, but I spent some time thinking about it and will share some key takeaways and random thoughts.

I can not say that I have 30 lessons to share about life. Life is not that complicated.  (Besides, you would probably tire after lesson #13 or so.)

 From 20 to 30

At this stage 10 years ago, I was preparing to enlist in the National Guard. 19 days after I turned 20, I enlisted as a PV2. 1 year later, I graduated Infantry OSUT.

Now, 10 years beyond my 20th birthday, I am a Captain and Company Commander. 10 years ago I would snap to attention if I saw a Captain and was hesitant to speak to them or anyone exceeding the rank. Now I know that most officers are just soldiers like the rest of us. They are more normal than I would have ever thought as a newly minted Private.

The last 10 years have been marked by my military service. Memories, relationships, growth. There is no part of my life that has not been touched by the decision I made at age 20. It was a great decision and I would make it again.

– 10 years ago, my family was whole with a pretty optimistic view of the future. Mom was clear of the cancer she started fighting a few years before. Dad was looking to retire soon. Sister was moving along as an adult. Life was good.

Now, I have lived 7 years without my Mom as the cancer returned with a vengeance and she died shortly before my 23rd birthday. This feels like an eternity ago and life before then feels even more distant. Our family was never the same of course, but we have all moved on in some ways. 7 years later, I live at peace with loss. Death, while painful, is really just a milestone in life. This perspective may be a bit callous to you reading this now, but it’s true. I love and miss my Mom, but my grief is no longer a sharp pain. It is more of a longing you experience when you haven’t seen someone in a long time… and I am okay with that.

– Personally and professionally I’ve made great strides. My military career has been successful to this point. I completed my education and started a professional career that I enjoy. The Lord’s provision is real and tangible.

– I have lost a lot. Been burglarized twice. Had some (read, a painful sum of) money recouped by the military. Made some questionable purchases and investments.

I have gained a lot. Been promoted a few times. Made some good decisions and good investments.

– With all of this though, my view of money has evolved. I was always a saver and typically an obedient giver. However, now I recognize a tension that exists. Part of me, and many of us I imagine, desires the security that our assets seem to provide us. On the other hand, I have experienced indescribable joy and freedom from being generous. On top of that, the unexpected loss of my mother profoundly impacted my view of time… and consequently my view of money. They are related of course, time and money.

I read a quote the other day that captures this relationship – “the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau

 Want to truly understand your priorities? Just ask yourself, what am I exchanging my time and my money for?

The things, people, places, ideas, etc that comprise the answer to this question is your life. This truth is absolutely inescapable.

 Changes from 20 to 30

I have changed a lot in the last 10 years.

– I see a lot more gray than I used to. I still have my areas of black and white, but understanding that I don’t even adhere to the standards I believe in has allowed me to understand people better. We are all imperfect and fallen. This has magnified God’s grace and hopefully allowed me to extend the same grace to others. The truth is, although I try to make things simple, people cannot be simplified. They are incredibly complex. Every person you meet has unique physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual attributes that cannot be refined to something you could call “simple”. In addition to these attributes, an individual’s experiences add yet another layer of complexity. All of this has increased the gray I see in the world, and consequently, the grace and understanding I am capable of extending to others (especially those I share opposing views with).

– 10 years ago, I had a pretty foolish view of relationships. It makes me laugh/cringe now. In the last 10 years I dated a handful of women. Some serious, even to the point of an engagement. Others, in hindsight, not very serious because I didn’t have the slightest clue what serious actually means until the latter part of my 20s. I hurt a lot of good women and experienced pain as well. That’s the way it is though. In order to love effectively, you have to be willing to endure pretty significant pain.

All of this helped guide me to my wife Sarah, so in the end it was worth it because she is worth all of it. Hopefully the lessons of the past make me better moving forward.

Simple recommendation regarding relationships: practice selflessness and marry someone who does the same.

– The entropy of close friendships from 20 to 30 is an inevitable part of life. This is not good or bad necessarily, it just is. I have less friends now than I did when I was 20, but I would also submit that I am doing life with my close friends now in a way that I never could at age 20. Friendships go through seasons, like most things in life, but there are a few constants… The friends that go through many seasons. I anticipate that this entropy will continue as children enter the picture but there are still a handful of guys that I would visit in an instant if they needed me. We may see each other less and less, but I’ll always have their back.

 Looking to 30 and Beyond

– The next big life step would be children I suppose, but I haven’t spent much time contemplating this reality. Obviously, my wife will have something to say about this as well. Beyond that, the Lord has a way of sorting these details out. I’m not worried about it.

– I was talking to some 18 – 20 year old guys tonight at church and realized that I am not as close to them in age as I tend to think I am. This reminds me that the next several years (or decades) of my life will be about influence. I am still young by most standards, but I believe we are all responsible for how we influence those that are following us… and someone is always following you whether you realize it or not.

– I have a few individual goals that I am still working towards, but I wonder how those will change over the next 10 years. I wonder if they should change. If they should change, then I imagine that they will (whether I surrender to this change willingly or not is another question).

Life Changing Books

– A popular saying (credited to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones) goes something like this:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

This quote has some truth to it. I’d add experiences to the list, but Charlie may have been speaking in a different context. Regardless, I have been a reader for quite some time and this continued over the last decade. I have recommended a few books over the last decade but here are the top 5 books from that time.

These books truly changed my life and were instrumental to my understanding of the various seasons I experienced in my 20s. I recommend them constantly.

 

Closing Thoughts

– For most of my life, the Bible passage that most resonated with me was Matthew 6:25 – 33. Hence the name of my other blog – butseekfirst.com. I worried a lot about small stuff. Still do sometimes, but I have more of a peace about the Lord taking care of those details. When you see it happen in your life, it makes it easier to see it happen in the future.

– This decade has been marked by a greater understanding of time. 10 years went by quickly in hindsight. Time is always like that looking back and it hardly feels like it is slowing down. I think this is probably the lesson I learned in my 20s. The value of time and how to value my time. I imagine most people learn this lesson later in life. I don’t know why I learned this lesson so early in my life, but I hope it continues to inform my living for the remainder of my life.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Thanks for reading.

-Brian

 

 

Movies Worth Seeing

I enjoy going to the movies. It is one of the ways I disconnect and recharge (golf being another). Thought provoking movies are the best, even better if they are based on a true story. Few movies tend to fall into these categories making the ones that do of particular interest to me. Making them a worthwhile use of your time.

These are movies worth seeing:

Dunkirk

Dunkirk checks all of the boxes. Thought provoking. Based on a true story (with the added bonus of being a military story).

As I watched this film I couldn’t help but ponder hope and hopelessness. The entire film is an observation on hopelessness. You feel the sense of despair of the main characters. The loss of hope of the soldiers stranded on the beach. The loss of hope of the pilot trying to fend off the German airplanes. The loss of hope of the civilians trying desperately to reach the beach and save as many soldiers as they can.

How do you handle a hopeless situation? Dunkirk confronts you with this question.

Hacksaw Ridge

Just like Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge checks all of the boxes. Thought provoking. Based on a true story.

It has sort of a folksy feel to it because Desmond Dawes (Andrew Garfield) is very idealistic and innocent (the heavy accent plays into that as well).

Also, Vince Vaughn as a serious character is a nice twist. He does a pretty good job.

I appreciated how the movie highlighted his faith as a motivating factor in his service. The theme running through the film is just his perseverance and willingness to serve in the capacity that his faith allowed him to. Just think about it, a soldier unwilling to fight choosing to go into combat.

The action and drama of the film is incredible. You will have to see what happens.

The Finest Hours

Again, checks many of the boxes. Based on a true story with a military-ish perspective. This one has a similar feel to Dunkirk in the sense that you feel the fear of the stranded sailors but also the determination of the rescue team. One of my greatest fears is being stranded out on the open ocean, so the drama in this film impacts me in that sense. The dialogue of the rescue team captures the essence of sacrifice present in Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge. I love their determination in the face of near certain death.

The Greatest Showman

I have linked to the trailer of the film, but must admit that the trailer does not capture the storyline very well at all. You will have to see for yourself. With that said, this is one of my favorite movies in recent memory. My wife and I loved it. Honestly, films like this are not exactly my style with the music and theatrical aspects. However, Hugh Jackman is one of my favorite actors (he also happens to be a very talented singer and dancer) and the message of the movie is particularly impactful as a young man and new husband. In short, the movie captures something I think men in particular struggle with: the pursuit of significance at the expense of family. This is a very enjoyable film for everyone.

Check these out if you haven’t already and let me know what you think!

 

 

What the World Won’t Tell You

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly bombarded with messages from the World around you. Media, movies, advertisements, entertainment, etc.

Our culture is noisy and the messages are relentless. Some of the classic messages address our views on money, power, and love.

Money = Security (have you seen how many ads there are for financial advice?)

Power = Control (have you seen the ferocity of our political environment?)

Love = Emotion (have you seen a single episode of the Bachelor? Strangers falling in love all over the place)


I grew up with these messages and honestly they have been around long before I showed up on the scene. However, there are some new messages being shared to my generation and the next.

Activity = Achievement

“If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” has been replaced with “If you do something but don’t share it on social media, did you actually do it?”

Our culture is teaching us to derive a lot of short term satisfaction from the approval of the masses at the expense of our presence in the present.

Political Disagreement = Disdain

I am politically Conservative. I have friends that are not. Do we hate each other? No.

If you turn on the media for a nanosecond or hop on Twitter for a minute then you would think that we should. I understand the media needs to generate interest, but the polarization as a result of generating interest is infecting our society.

Digital = Social

A couple of quick questions:

  1. How many friends do you have?
  2. How many of those people would help you in an emergency?

The answer to question #2 is probably a more accurate representation of the answer to question #1.

We ARE more connected now, but I am not sure our digital connections translate to real relationship. BUT I think the world is telling us that they do. Hence our struggles on the social media front. We surrender the “here and now” for the “there and then”. I don’t think that is a wise tradeoff.


I have spent all this time identifying the messages the world tells us but the title of this is What the World Won’t Tell You. Here are a few truths correcting the messages above –

Money = Tradeoffs

You CAN make a lot of money if you pursue it. You just have to be willing to give up other facets of your life in order to do so. What are you willing to lose in your pursuit of money? Is it time, your health, your integrity? Life is all about tradeoffs and this is never more true than when it comes to money.

Power = Temporary

Nobody stays at the top forever and the illusion of control through power fades away when you realize this. Political winds change direction often, businesses rise and fall, leaders are replaced in short order. Pursuing power is like chasing the wind.

Love = Hard Work

Emotions are great, but they can never form the basis of Love. Don’t believe me? Think back to your first relational/emotional experience growing up. Okay, now fast forward to today. Do you think that feeling could sustain a marriage, family, and career ALL at the same time? Of course not. (Sadly the often quoted divorce statistics of our nation prove this as well)

Love is only sustained through hard work and the decision to commit regardless of the presence or absence of emotion.

Activity = Habits

What you do repeatedly WILL determine who you become and where you go with your life. This fact is inescapable because we cannot escape our habits. This quote (often repeated in different formats) comes to mind –

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Political Disagreement = American

To disagree politically is to be American. Enjoy it. There are some nations where dissenting opinion can lead to death and we are over here blasting our government on social media with no consequences whatsoever. How awesome is that?

And while we are on this topic: we are not as divided as the media says we are. Don’t fall for that and don’t allow a disagreement to destroy meaningful relationships in your life.

Digital = Distraction

This is an easy one and I will end on it. The next time you are in public, I want you to take a moment to see how many people are looking down at their phones.

We are a distracted people, and our social framework is diminished because of it.

Thanks for reading.

– Brian

Becoming One: Thoughts After 100 Days of Marriage

 

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
Genesis 2:24

Marriage is the act of Becoming One.  Two distinct individuals fuse their lives together in every conceivable way to become one.

I married  Sarah on November 18th, 2017. The fusion of our lives began then and has continued over the last 100 days. It has been quite a time. New, exciting, challenging, fruitful, educational.

I have learned a lot. Living is truly the best education you can receive and the last 100 days have been a revelation. Here are a few lessons I have extracted from my short time in marriage:

1)       More Selfish Than I Know

Wow. I went into marriage thinking I was a selfless person. I love to serve and I understand the purpose and value of sacrifice… On my terms. But inject another person into my world whom I am responsible for and accountable to then just see how quickly my selfishness is revealed to me. This has been, simultaneously, the best and most difficult lesson I have learned in these first 100 days. Marriage is a mirror revealing these things to us that we would never see without it. Marriage can also be a refining fire if we let it, removing these impurities within our character. Making us better, more Christ-like.

2)      Challenging But Rewarding

Marriage can be challenging at times. See lesson #1. We are selfish. But there is silver lining with this challenge: progress. Progress is rewarding. When I see Sarah overcoming a challenge, when she helps me overcome a challenge… When we engage marriage together and grow. It is unbelievably rewarding. Sharing these ups and downs with her is much more rewarding than anything I have experienced individually.

3)      Comparison Kills Closeness

I have always known that comparison kills. It is the enemy of joy, gratitude, contentment. In marriage, comparison is the enemy of closeness. We are constantly bombarded with standards to make comparisons with. “Perfect” marriages, perfect families, perfect husbands and wives. Most of these come from the outside world, media/movies, social media etc. However, an unexpected source of comparison was revealed to me recently – My Expectations.

We all have expectations. You can probably list quite a few of them off the top of your head. However, I have discovered that we all have expectations we are not even aware of UNTIL they are not met. Friction in marriage comes when our expectations collide with reality and we do not handle it gracefully.

I imagine this will be an ongoing process, however an increase in an awareness of my expectations has helped a ton. It helps me to love and appreciate Sarah for ALL that she is, as opposed to comparing her to some unknown expectation that I have.

4)      Humble or Hurt

Marriage is such a unique environment because of two competing factors: 1) Vulnerability and 2) Flawed humans.

We open ourselves up to someone knowing there are going to be times when we fail them, hurt them, disappoint them and they are going to return the favor. I cant think of another environment where we make this decision (however I imagine parenting shares some of the same characteristics).

In these times of pain and disappointment, we are faced with a choice: do I respond in kind (hurt) or do I respond with humility (humble)? We can choose to be humble or choose to be hurt. This choice makes ALL the difference. Just imagine the havoc wrought on a marriage where each spouse continuously chooses to BE hurt and to carry this hurt forward indefinitely. The compounding effect of that must be one of the contributing factors to lackluster marriages and/or divorce.

5)      Believe the Best

Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. They deserve your trust. They deserve the belief that they are FOR you, not against you. It is easy to do this when things are good (as they have been for the vast majority of the last 100 days), but what about when they are not? What about when you fight or disagree? Are you believing the best about your spouse?

This is a choice, and sometimes it is not going to feel good but this is an extension of grace towards your spouse that we simply must make.

 

In closing, the last 100 days have revealed a lot to me. Truthfully, I feel less prepared today than I did on my wedding day. I am okay with that. We tend to overestimate ourselves, so this serving of humble pie has rested nicely on my heart. This process of Becoming One is an ongoing discovery. An adventure. It is my prayer and hope that Sarah and I will always remember that as we press forward, together. My prayer for anyone reading this is that you would have an honest view of marriage. If you are single, find someone committed to Becoming One with you. If you are married, hopefully you are still allowing the Lord to work this process out in your marriage. Without Him you have no hope of Becoming One on your own.

Thanks for reading,

Brian

A Few Thoughts on Life and Leadership

A Note on Elephant Consumption

What is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I believe this to be true-ish. You may have heard this before. This is the metaphor for accomplishing a large task. I want to make one key change to the idea.

So, what is the best way to eat an elephant? One (high quality) bite at a time.

Why the difference? Because we often lose sight of quality in our steps towards a larger goal. I think it is important to prioritize better before bigger.

In my occupation, I work with a lot of young adults who have very bright futures outside of what they are doing right now. In some cases, they choose to perform at a high level where they are. In other cases, they do not. This is a missed opportunity. A low quality bite of elephant.

In my own life, I have large goals but I know that I will never reach them if I accept mediocrity in the interim. I am a firm believer that our habits eventually catch up to us.

Focus on cultivating great habits.

Focus on quality every step of the way.

Managing Expectations

Do you know where disappointment comes from? It comes from the difference between reality and our expectations.

Unmet expectations.

I think a critical responsibility of a leader is to manage expectations.

Now, please do not think I am an advocate of setting low expectations. Quite the opposite, but here is where I have seen some people struggle.

High expectations do not equal realistic expectations.

The people you lead and the people you serve come with a set of expectations. It is your responsibility to effectively understand and manage those expectations.

How?

Here are a couple tips –

  • Consistent Communication
    • A consistent flow of information helps you maintain control of expectations.
    • Nature abhors a vacuum and people do too, so in the absence of information they are left to their own conclusions, assumptions, and biases.
  • Honesty/Transparency
    • A bad situation does not get better with time.
    • In my experience, people have appreciated my honesty and transparency in leadership.
    • Again, this helps remove any assumptions or biases from developing (and getting out of control).
  • Practice Empathy
    • Put yourself in their shoes and consider what their expectations might be. This can help you in many ways, but most importantly you can anticipate their needs and perhaps move to meet them.
    • Just ask yourself, “If I were in their shoes, what would my expectations be?”

Pessimism = Rust / Optimism = Oil

Let’s say your team is an engine, and as a leader you are a mechanic. Your job is to make sure the engine is taken care of so it can perform at the highest level.

So you coach and monitor progress. Try and hire the best people, set high expectations and enforce them.

When things are great, the engine runs fine. You can even step on the gas a little with no issues.

Then one day you notice performance declines unexpectedly. You take a look at the engine and notice some corrosion has occurred. You see some rust developing.

In teams, rust is pessimism. And pessimism will DESTROY teams from the inside out.

As the leader, you need to address pessimism when it manifests. Pessimism is a consistent negative outlook. In this sense, it differs from negative feedback.

Pessimism tends to show up with a lot of complaints and few solutions.

To combat pessimism, I recommend the following

  • Model optimism
    • Do not allow the snowball of pessimism to turn into an avalanche by continuing to pile on. You have to think differently and teach your team to think differently (especially in the midst of negative situations).
  • Address honest concerns quickly
    • Often times pessimism comes when issues/concerns are not addressed.
    • Trust and confidence are lost when a member of your team brings something to your attention repeatedly and you take no action. This is very discouraging.
  • Push for solutions/create buy in
    • When a problem is brought to your attention, push the person bringing the problem for a solution ESPECIALLY if it is a complaint
    • In some circumstances, you will have to handle the problem
    • However, in other circumstances you can create buy in by allowing your team to pursue a solution. Often times, the best solutions come from those closest to the action anyway.

Stick-To-Itiveness

If you had a choice between a person with higher intelligence or greater self control, which would you choose?

I hope you would choose greater self control. Someone with a high level of self control is more likely to have an asset sometimes called “Stick-To-Itiveness”.

Persistence. Discipline. Determination. Optimism. (Some may say a little stubborn).

This is a quality I want on my team in large quantities because these individuals are more likely to get things done.

History is filled with examples of individuals with this uncanny ability to just keep moving forward and now we read about them.

You know what we don’t see in history?

People who made a difference because they consistently quit.

 

 

Thanks for reading.

– Brian