Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Your "Get Up and Go" Has Got Up and Went

We've all been there at one time or another. You lack motivation in every area of life. Nothing that you are involved with brings the happiness you once experienced. It feels like you're spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast. All motivation to push ahead has hit the road and you're left to try to pull it all together. Sound familiar? We hate to admit it, but many of us find us in this frustrating situation more often than we want.

Escape is not always the answer. Often the problem is not our circumstances. Attitude and perspective have a huge impact on our personal motivation. The question becomes how to change our attitudes and perspectives so that motivation is the by-product.

Recognize your personal triggers. In my own life, I know that I am most susceptible to negativity when I'm sick or extremely tired. As soon as a big project is over, I have to make sure that I allow myself ample time to rest and recover before launching into the next major undertaking. With so many part-time jobs, this can often be difficult to do. Other common triggers may include financial difficulty, uncertain plans, or family challenges. Knowing the circumstances that trigger the negative feelings in life is a huge step in winning the battle.

Avoid reading between the lines. In times of negativity, it becomes very easy to infer meaning from the comments of others that simply are not there. A statement from a colleague about their responsibilities can be interpreted to mean that you are not pulling a significant load. Any suggestion can be taken as a judgment that your plan is inferior. There is a very good possibility that neither assumption was the intended message. During these times of little motivation, it is important to ask for clear messages when the meaning is uncertain. This eliminates offense and keeps hurtful things from taking root and creating a hostile environment.

Persevere! Situations will not always be this way. Good days are ahead. Instead of looking for the escape hatch, determine to buckle down and weather the current storm. No wonder the apostle Paul says that he would "press on" when describing his personal life. Effort is involved. In the book of Ephesians, Paul further instructs the Christian warrior "when having done everything to stand, STAND!" When you reach the end of your personal motivation -- when you've done all you can -- commit to stand the test longer.

Make an attitude adjustment. When you are feeling down about things, it is so easy to focus on the negative. Right now, I have determined that every negative perception I have will be met with intentionally looking for two positive aspects of the situation. It can be tough to find the positive sometimes, but as I begin to look for them, I find that my focus shifts and the negative doesn't come immediately to the foreground.

Adjust your thinking, focus on the positive, and keep your eyes on Jesus. Before you know it, the "get up and go" that has left will be replaced and you'll find new inspiration to do exactly what you were created to do!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cafe 1912

I enjoy eating in restaurants. It's something that relaxes me and allows me to escape from the routine. Rarely do I try new places because I'm not sure what the atmosphere is like and I hate checking out a new place alone. Once I know what to expect, then I'm more willing to drop in on my own and enjoy a meal.

I heard from a friend that they were wanting to check out Cafe 1912 but didn't have anyone to go with, so I jumped at the opportunity. Last night, we headed over to the restaurant located in midtown Memphis and had a great dining experience.

Cafe 1912 is a small bistro that doesn't have elaborate decor. We arrived on Monday evening just before 7pm and found the place to be rather empty. Before the hour was over, however, most tables would be full.  (Reservations are accepted and recommended, I learned.) We were seated near the back of the space, next to the open kitchen. It was thrilling to watch the staff prepare dinner and to see the beautifully crafted plates coming out of the window.

I ordered the stuffed chicken breast on a bed of potatoes with a creamy vegetable sauce. There's only one way to describe it:  AMAZING! The chicken was nicely seasoned and moist. The sauce begged to be sopped up with the accompanying bread. I was also impressed with the portion size. While it was substantial, I didn't leave feeling as though I had just over-indulged.

Cafe 1912 was a little on the pricey side for a weeknight meal, I suppose. My dinner and a glass of water was just under $20 and didn't include gratuity. While it may be more than I would normally spend for dinner, the food was worth every penny I spent! I didn't try any of the dessert selections; that just gives me an excuse to visit again. The bread pudding, profiteroles, and creme brûlée that I watched go by my table were very enticing. I really don't know which one I want to try first. Who knows....maybe I'll just go for a dessert tasting and call it dinner!

Next time you are looking for a wonderful meal that's a little off the beaten path, I highly recommend Cafe 1912. I've heard the Sunday brunch is pretty incredible as well.

What's your favorite under-rated restaurant in the Memphis area? Leave a suggestion for me to try in the comment section below. Who knows....we might just run into each other one evening.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Doctor's Office

Sitting in the doctor's offer is never a pleasant experience. When you're here, you normally are not feeling well or you are caring for a loved one. When you're under the weather, you patience is low. As I sit here now, my head is pounding from congestion, my nose is running and I'm miserable. Imagine my happiness when I sit down and there are two cute little girls (under normal circumstances) here for their physicals to start kindergarten. Their guardians are permitting the kids to rule the waiting room and they are EXTREMELY loud! To make matters worse, they are giving them sugar and taking pictures of them being "cute."

When I don't feel well, I get cranky. There's no other explanation. I don't want to deal with anyone. I want everyone to shut up and leave me alone. (If you are reading this, it might be a good time to say a prayer for the students in my night class tonight. It should be a relatively easy night, but you never can tell for sure when I'm in this condition.)

I suppose how I'm feeling is my own fault. I've been fighting this congestion in my head and chest for a week now. Since there was no sore throat or discoloration (TMI?), I thought I could treat it myself with OTC medications. After all, I don't have health insurance since I only have part-time jobs, so I try to save money when I can. It's not the way I really like to live, but it's the choice I have to make. This morning at 4am I began counting down the hours to the office's opening! My head feels like an elephant is trying to escape through my ears and nose, but needs an extra push. My eyes are itchy and my throat is irritated at the point that the nasal passage meets the throat. I would rather have a raw throat than this constant drip drip drip!

So that's why I sitting here in the waiting room, noticing the irony that the color scheme the office has chosen is puke green and wondering when everything was last disinfected. My mind does not always play fair in these times of sickness; I normally leave the office feeling worse than when I came in. If nothing else, I'll have some answers today and a prescription to make me feel better.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Give, Give, Give

While having a family dinner together last weekend, everyone was discussing their work situation. We shared with each other how things in the office continuously become more and more demanding. Finally the following statement seemed to sum up our feelings:  "The more you do, the more that is expected from you."

Once everyone had left, I found myself continuing to ponder this statement. Do employers intentionally demand more work with no increase in pay? Is this a trend in American society or is there something about the personalities in my family that draws this response? What response does the Christian have when faced with a similar situation?

I don't think all employers are evil. I don't think they want to see their employees suffer from increased stress levels or eventual burnout. Personally, I find all three of my bosses to be kind-hearted and genuinely concerned about my well-being. So then why do so many people find themselves constantly having more demands placed upon them by employers?

I think the answer is actually quite complicated. An employer is going to hand new responsibilities to an accomplished, competent employee. This sounds like an awesome thing. However, often employers assign new responsibilities based upon the outward appearance of the current situation rather than a thorough investigation of the worker's situation. An employee may appear to have everything running smoothly that is currently on their plate while the truth is that they are racing at full-steam ahead to keep all of the balls in the air. Additionally, an employee who is able to complete a task quickly is often "punished" for their effectiveness by having additional work loaded on top of what they are already juggling.

Additional responsibilities tend to trickle down from the supervisory level. More often than not, work ends up in my lap when one of my supervisors has realized that there is too much on his plate to handle himself, so it gets passed down. This is one of the benefits of working on a close-knit team where everyone is looking out for the good of the whole and makes every effort to insure that overtime that is not paid is given time away from responsibilities to make up the deficit. (By the way, I LOVED having comp time when working for Pepperdine. It made those busy seasons more bearable since I knew there would be days of paid absence coming soon that didn't cut into my accumulated vacation time.)

Generational differences can also cause overload. A previous generation feels that an employee is paid for the number of hours they are working while my generation is anticipating payment for services rendered.  If I can complete my salaried tasks in 15 hours at home, I shouldn't necessarily be consistently given more responsibilities.  Salaries are based on work outcomes; wages are based on hours of labor. Confusion between which type of earnings are being offered can be a major source of contention between employer and employee.

Is there something in my family's makeup that causes this problem to arise for so many of us? I have to say that there probably is. My siblings and I were taught to complete a job with excellence, regardless of how long it takes. We're good employees. As a result of our experience and our work ethic, we often do our tasks fairly rapidly. That's a great thing for the business in crunch time.....not so good for our well-being when it stretches out for months. Combine this with our generally inability to tell a supervisor "no" and you have a formula for disaster.

What's the Christian's response to these situations? I struggle with this one. Often I want to just slow down and do what I can working at everyone else's pace and let the chips fall where they may. Then the call to do everything as unto the Lord rings in my ears and I push myself to perform with excellence. So I walk around stressed out, not certain how I'm going to physically accomplish everything and develop frustration to the point that I don't want to go to work at all. It's a mess and a situation that I'm learning more about. Is there a perfect solution? I don't really think there is. So I'll continue to pray for strength to get through each work day and continue to labor faithfully until God sees fit to open new --and hopefully less stressful -- avenues for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Expectations

All my life I have heard that you should not place expectations on anyone lest they let you down. Recently I've been thinking about this maxim and wondering if I truly agree with the principle. By not expecting anything from people, you are guaranteed safety. What you are not guaranteed, however, is success.

I have certainly learned over the years is that there are some you SHOULD be able to depend on:  family and close friends. Sadly, those people don't always see the responsibility as you do. I understand when close friends let you down occasionally. But family? That infuriates me! I should probably leave this topic alone, but it doesn't lessen the truth that I feel this way.

While expectations may result in disappointment, without expectations nothing will ever get done either! Unless I have the expectation of obtaining a certain position or level of excellence, I won't push myself or my team to reach it. Without the expectation that I can change a situation, I will continue to be stifled in the status quo.

This brings about the question of whether or not my expectations are set too high? In almost everything I do, I like to shoot for the moon! Dream big and aim high! That way even when I fail and people and situations don't meet my expectations, I can still experience some level of success because my expectations were so high.

Today has been a day filled with disappointment and frustration. Those I thought I should be able to depend on have let me down and shown their true colors. At the same time, others have stood by my side and rose above my expectations to assist in ways that were not their responsibility. It just goes to show that expectations are constantly changing....some for the better and some for the worse. Sometimes you just begin to expect the worst in a situation and are surprised when things go better than expected.

I'm thankful that tomorrow will be a new day with new expectations. That's the hope that comes with each new sunrise.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bucket Lists

I've always been intrigued by people's bucket lists. You know, those lists of activities that a person wants to make sure they experience once before they die. In a way, I find them rather morbid and depressing. On the other hand, I think it's liberating to clearly express what is important to you and to spend your life pursuing interests away from career and family commitments.

Does a person start a bucket list when they are diagnosed with a terminal disease or when they reach the age of retirement? By that time, it seems as though there isn't enough time to do everything I would hope to do! After all, I do enjoy an adventure (or at least, what I define as an adventure). As the bucket list morphs as you age, is it fair to say that those things that cease to be included on your ultimate list were never truly on the list? Things are getting too philosophical now, so let's head back to safer territory.

There are many things on my personal bucket list, but most of them involve travel. Many of the items currently dominating my list also involve helping my parents achieve some of their remaining dreams. My mother, for instance, has always wanted to say that she has visited all 50 states. (I always tease her that driving through a state and visiting are certainly not the same thing. For her purposes, though, entering the state fits the bill for her.)  So there are some long distance road trips in the plans in the coming years for us. With a trip through the northwestern states and New England, we'll be fairly close to meeting her goal. Then I just have to convince her to hop on a plane with me to visit Hawaii and Alaska since she's adamant that she won't take a cruise!

After visiting Europe in graduate school, I definitely want to get back there. I plan to return to Germany, but I also fantasize about seeing Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Greece, and Great Britain. As soon as I cross those things off of my list, I'm sure I'll add a few more countries!

I fell in love with symphonic music while a student at Pepperdine and am becoming a greater fan of opera now that I am teaching about it. A lifelong goal has been to hear the major American orchestras in their home concert hall. When traveling with my family, concerts are not at the top of the list so I've not made much of a dent in this bucket list; so far, I've heard orchestras in Memphis (although not what I consider a major American orchestra), St. Louis, and Los Angeles. As you can see, I have many more to hear. Opera involves more world travel as I wish to see productions in major houses around the world. Thus far, I've seen performances in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (LA) and the Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich). I have plans to visit the Houston Grand Opera this fall, and hopefully the Met.

This doesn't even begin to address everything on my bucket list. I want to become fluent in American Sign Language, climb a rock wall, attend the Winter Olympics, learn to swim, and pick up a second instrument. Some may ask if I will be considered a failure if I don't accomplish everything on my bucket list. My response is that by simply pursuing as many items on my bucket list as possible, the life I live will be fulfilling and filled with tremendous memories of adventures dear to me.

So what's on your bucket list? What have you gotten to mark off and what things are in the plans now? I'd enjoy hearing from you. Who knows, some of your items may find their way onto my personal list as well. Now it's time to mark something else off of my bucket list!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Influences from the Past

Last week, Mom and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. As we were being led to our table, I noticed a gentleman who I recognized but couldn't immediately place. As we ordered and talked, I continued to notice the man and racked my brain to place him. When I finally figure out who he was, Mr. Runions had already gotten up and begun to make his way to my table. Richard Runions was the principal of West Memphis Christian School when I finally had the opportunity to transfer. Although the interaction in Cracker Barrel was very brief, it was nice to hear from a man who I have admired since first meeting him and who made such a powerful impact on my life as a teen.

I have been blessed to have many men and women speak powerfully into my life over the years. While some of them were teachers and pastors, others were simply friends of the family who saw potential in me and decided to pour deeply into my young life. I am convinced that the presence of these leaders in my life during my formative teen years is a major factor in the person that I have become.

Because I have reaped the benefits of their passion for young people, I have tried to consistently invest in the lives of young people throughout my adult life. My involvement in children and youth ministry over the years has been a major outlet. My chosen profession also has everything to do with the impact so many of my teachers and professors made on me. My hope is that I can provide a new generation of students with the confidence that they can succeed in life and that they can find new depths of spiritual maturity as they pursue Christ with humble devotion and sincere worship.

Who were major influences in your life as a young person? Have you told them the impact they have made? This might be the perfect time to make a phone call or to send an email. I'm certain it would be a bright spot in their day! The more important question, I believe, is who are you INTENTIONALLY POURING INTO today? Regardless of your position, there is a child or teen looking to you for encouragement and affirmation. Don't let another day pass without speaking life into the heart of the next generation!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Family Vacation 2012

Last week, my parents and I went on our annual summer vacation. For the past few years we have opted to visit cities we have never been to rather than continuing our tradition of visiting family. (We still plan to visit our beloved family, just not as our major vacation for the summer!) This year's trip took us to Charleston, South Carolina with a short excursion to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

All of the mapping programs recommended a southern drive to Charleston through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  Since we had taken that route a few years ago on our way to Savannah and since the northern route only added about 45 minutes to the total drive, we decided to take I-40 to I-26. I was also eager to travel this path since I am much more familiar with the roads through Tennessee.

After a morning of church, we set out on our adventure with the plan to drive as far as we could before stopping for the night. In my mind, I hoped to make it to Pigeon Forge since I wanted to show Mom and Dad a bit of the city as well and measure their interest in visiting there in the future. Little did I know that they would love the area and plan to return before this vacation was over.

When we finally arrived in Charleston, I found it a very difficult city to navigate. All of the waterways and bridges made travel confusing and difficult to quickly correct. After a few days, I began to get a better sense of the lay of the land and wasn't quite as dependent on my GPS -- always a good feeling!

Everyone always asks me what we actually DO when we go to these new cities. The top priority is always the same: REST! We allow lots of time to lounge in the hotel, reading or catching up on sleep, but we also find the leisurely pace gives us a lot more energy to get out and explore. This year we visited lots of interesting places. Some of my personal favorites were the historic downtown houses and parks, Market Street, the South Carolina Aquarium, and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

This eagle was the first thing we saw upon entering the Aquarium. I loved being able to get this close to the animal and seeing things in such detail. While the facility was smaller than I expected on the whole, I was quite impressed with the quality of the exhibits and was pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

It wouldn't be appropriate to talk about our vacation without at least mentioning the food. Charleston has some amazing eateries and we sampled what we could! Our personal favorite was located directly on the harbor and was called California Dreaming. Specializing in steaks and fresh seafood, this restaurant combined amazing food with a beautiful view. During lunch, Dad even spotted a couple of dolphins playing in the waters of the Atlantic inlet while enjoying his Oyster Po-Boy sandwich. 

Pigeon Forge was an unexpected addition to the trip and a fun adventure for everyone. We took in two shows: The Smokey Mountain Opry and The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater. I'm happy to report that I survived both shows and didn't slit my wrists while attending! I actually found both shows fairly entertaining, but I would only revisit the Opry by choice.

A trip to Pigeon Forge wouldn't be complete without visiting Dollywood. My parents wanted to check out the shows, so I planned the easiest way to see the most shows in the shortest amount of time. What I didn't think through was that the first show was all the way at the back of the park. By the time I got them both back there, I knew this was going to be a short day, but we didn't head back to the hotel for five hours! When I finally got them back, I went downstairs for a few minutes. Coming back in the room, I heard Dad napping in the bedroom and found Mom here:

video


I suppose this was when I feared that I had "broken Mom" and had to send emails to my siblings! (The rhythmic puffs that you hear are coming from the left side of Mom's mouth! I had never seen her sleep like this and was cracking up while making the video.) I have to admit I was a little relieved that they were so tired because I was exhausted too. It was after these power naps that they told me they were ready for a second round of shows that evening. Phew!

I don't think any trip through this area of the country would be complete without a visit to Smokey Mountain National Park. We spent our first morning on vacation driving through the area and taking lots of photos while looking at the beauty of God's creation. This is a trip I won't soon forget even though I'm already looking forward to beginning the planning for next year's outing.





Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Evaluations!

I am a sick man.  I admit it.  Whatever I do....whether professional, ministerial, or personal.....the activity is never over until I have had time to sit down and do a thorough evaluation of it.  Have we just talked on the phone?  I'm probably sitting at my desk wondering if my message was clear or if I sounded friendly enough.  Did you just hear me play a Sunday morning offertory?  While you have moved on to listening to the minister, I'll take a few moments and evaluate how I played and wonder what I can do to engage you more the next time so you'll talk to your neighbor less.  (By the way, that is really a pet peeve of mine!  Now that THAT'S off my chest, let's move on.)  For better or worse, evaluations are a part of my daily life.  When I keep them in check, I believe they are a valuable tool that enables me to rise to new levels of excellence.

Who doesn't want to get better at whatever they are doing?  If you're going to do something, do it well! As a result, I have spent a large portion of my day evaluating some recent endeavors.  This morning was spent reflecting, evaluating, and writing about my recent family vacation.  To tell you just how "sick" I am, I have a folder ready to be filed that has a 5 page report detailing the week's events and my personal feelings about each thing.  The next two pages are a line by line evaluation of our spending by day and by category.  I tell you, it is a "sickness!"  But it also tells me a lot about what worked and didn't work for everyone involved in the trip and will be very valuable as I begin to plan next year's vacation.

This afternoon saw the bigger evaluation taking place;  I finally put to paper my final thoughts on this year's Music Camp.  It's all been brewing there in the deep recesses of my mind for the past two weeks.  The report is very concise and has been thought about in detail.  It's not a place to praise the show's success.  It is a record of my feelings, frustrations, and thoughts about how to improve the experience (for the kids as well as me) next year.

I don't constantly return to these evaluations though.  More than anything, they provide me a method of getting everything out of my head and allowing the event to have a sense of finality.  Once I commit it to paper, I know that I don't have to hold on to the information any longer and can begin to give that brain room to other things that are demanding my attention.  (My sincerest thanks to Getting Things Done by David Allen for revealing the power of this process.  If you haven't read the book and struggle with personal management or procrastination, it is a must read!  You probably won't use everything there, but it will definitely get you thinking about how you run your life.)  Now when a question arises about the event, I have a report to refer to.  Is it all inclusive?  Not by any means!  It simply contains the information that is important to me about the event at the moment.  Will anyone else read the report?  That depends.......Reports about vacations may be read by others who went with me (especially if they will be traveling with me again in the future) so they can add their notes as well.  Most evaluations are strictly intended for my eyes and reference alone.  That allows me the security to be honest and frank without having to worry about it being appropriate for public consumption.

Most of my written evaluations are about recurring events:  annual musicals, family vacations, professional presentations, and college classes.  As I prepare to begin working on the next one, I'll normally go back and read the file, making notes of things I don't want to forget to consider in the new folder that is being created for the new event.  The evaluations don't feel like passed judgments, but rather personal reminders of lessons learned along the way.

It would seem that this would create a lot of paper to store.  At this point it hasn't, but I've only been this thorough with it for about 7 months.  All of my folders are taking up half a drawer in a small two-drawer filing cabinet. All files -- personal, professional, and ministry -- are kept together and are organized alphabetically. My plan, as David Allen suggests, is to purge the files annually in order to keep things under control and make sure that my filing system remains pertinent rather than an organized trash bin.  Thankfully that process will happen in January when things tend to slow down in all areas of life.

Just so no one thinks my life is completely organized, I'll just tell you that the creative side of me completely fights against all of this organization!  My musical scores and reading material are an absolute disaster and spread around 2 rooms on every available surface...including the floor!  Why don't I organize it as well?  Every time I try I become completely overwhelmed and can't get a clear vision of an operative final product, so I decide to avoid it.  At least in its current state, I have a general idea of which stack I need to go to for which piece of music.  (When I'm truly courageous, I'll post a picture of the nightmare that is my music library.  It's not a pretty sight to behold!)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Blog?

Over the past few weeks, I have been surprised at the number of times I have been asked what the point of blogging is. Many people seem surprised that there are actually people in the blogosphere who take the time to read random posts. Beyond that, they don't seem to understand that some people ENJOY reading the thoughts of another person......whether they are writing professionally or personally. For me, it's not necessarily about who reads the posts (although that is fun and hope that my audience continues to grow); instead I'm more encouraged by the benefits I see in my own life.

Blogging helps me to organize my thoughts. In order to clearly express something in words, one must first take the time to sit and think about the topic to be discussed. As I think about what seems random concepts to someone else, I begin to see patterns as well as cause and effect relationships emerge. As I organize my thoughts, things often lead to the next benefit.

Blogging often reveals solutions. While organizing my thoughts to share with another, I begin to see things from a fresh viewpoint. Puzzles begin to untangle themselves and the solution becomes vividly clear. I don't believe that there is something supernatural occurring when I blog; I think I finally sit still long enough and find a calming release in the writing process that leads to the "light bulb" moment.

Blogging sharpens my writing skills. As a musician, I have repeatedly heard that "practice makes perfect." Why do I fight against this same concept in other areas of life? I want to become a stronger writer? Practice writing! It's not always about the topic either. When I can effectively communicate a message just by crafting a story about the mundane parts of my life, my strength as a writer -- and by extension, as a lecturer and group facilitator -- grows exponentially.

Blogging provides a scrapbook. I enjoy looking back from time to time and remembering emotions, thoughts, successes and failures. My blog is a public diary in a way. I invite whoever wants to keep up with things in my world to follow along, but I know that my main interest is in processing my day and writing what's on my mind at the moment. It's always fun when a thought or situation sparks a memory of something I have written about and I get to return to the post and read again.

That's why I love to blog personally. There are many benefits a well-written blog has for business, civic, and religious organizations. But that will be a discussion for another day and another time. Maybe tomorrow....maybe next year. Either way, I'll be guided by my thoughts and interests and continue to blog for my personal pleasure as I continue Livin' Life.