Catalyst

Learning from Life and Leadership

An Ancient Story Applied to Modern Life

Aesop was the blind storyteller of Galatia. Why fables? Some believe it was due to the Galatian audience. They were so dull-witted they would only listen to talking animals. Someone also had to tell them “the moral of the story.” (Both of those assumptions are assertions without definite proof, but they are interesting.)
 
Aesop gets credit for over 600 fables but one stands out—the tortoise and the hare. It is a simple story with an ageless lesson: slow and steady wins the race. We all know it but few of us realize its true genius.
Put another way, Aesop’s fable is a simple formula.
 
Consistency over Time gives growth.
 
This principle gets every Olympic gold medal winner on the platform. Every Pulitzer prize winning author puts books on the shelf with it.
 
Is it true? Think about it:
 
  • If you eat a candy bar every day, you gain weight.
  • If you exercise every day, you get stronger.
  • If you read something every day, you get more educated.
We recognize its power but ignore its potential. Most of us want to change our lives. Yet, we want that growth to take place both without pain and the results must be immediate. Neither of those conditions lead to life-altering change.
 
  • If you want to grow closer to God, read your Bible daily. Consistency over time gives growth.
  • If you want to be healthier eat healthier every day and do some kind of exercise every day. Consistency over time gives growth.
  • If you want to learn a new language, practice every day. Consistency over time gives growth.
The examples go on and on. If there is anything you want to grow in your life, you have to put in the time every day to make it happen.
 
Overnight change does not happen. It is the fodder of late-night cable TV charlatans. If you want to move forward in your life, slow and steady does win the race.
 
What do you need to do to improve your life? Do it consistently over a long period of time, and you will reach it.
 

Thanks for Nothing

Tommy Allsup died on January 11, 2017. His name is unfamiliar to most. The rock-and-roll guitarist for Buddy Holly’s band should have died on February 3, 1959.
 
That was the date “the music died” (chronicled by Don McLean’s 1970 hit, American Pie). The small plane had too many would-be passengers than seats. So, a coin flip decided who went and who stayed.

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Get Uncomfortable to Stay Alive

I am writing this post from a room in a motel in Managua, Nicaragua.

It is not my own room. The shower has no hot water so shaving is difficult. Don’t even think about putting paper down the commode. (I won’t go into the mechanics or alternatives.)

Each year I come to Nicaragua as part of a Health Talents International team on a mobile medical mission trip. I come for a particular reason. My church supports a program that feeds hungry children in four locations. I come to see and then report.

The trip is difficult for many reasons besides cold water, beans and rice for every meal or a different bed. It’s January and it’s hot.

I come to help people. I fit eyeglasses on people who cannot see well. Great doctors give examinations and write prescriptions that are filled by exceptional pharmacists. Dentists extract teeth in chairs made of plywood. All of this happens out of suitcases and in less than professional environments. We help hundreds in a few days.

Then we go home to warm beds, hot water, working plumbing, and loving families.

It is difficult, so why go?

One obvious reason is altruistic—to help people who need the help. Something in all of us yearns to make a difference in the life of someone else, someone who has no way of returning the favor. I can think of no better place to do that than where I am.

A not so obvious reason is what it does to me in a different way. It refreshes me. In no possible universe can you say hard work in dirty areas is refreshing. Yet, the refreshment comes only through that discomfort. I get to experience life in a different vein, see through different eyes, and feel with a different heart. I see things inside of me that are masked by technology and suburbia. I come because in the discomfort of the place, I find peace in my soul. That only happens when you become uncomfortable.

Some people jump out of perfectly good airplane. Others fish, hunt, camp, or sail. All are perfectly acceptable was of getting just uncomfortable enough to make you think.

I like mine. I look into the eyes of worried parents with hurting children. I see children devour food that kids back home twist their faces into a displeasured distortion. I see people standing in heat rather than complaining about how hot or cold they are. I get the change to make some small difference by being God’s representative to them (a role that none of us deserve but are called to do).

I get to be uncomfortable and I get a chance to grow. What about you?

Up, Out or Old: Three Ways to Know You Are Grown Up

shutterstock_399109597When you are young, people tell you how much you are growing up. They meet you as a child, then again in adolescence, and again as a young adult. Each time, they comment on how much you change.

When you get to a certain age, people expect you to be grown-up. No one  knows what that means (and it is irrelevant what they think it means). However, some people get stuck in adolescence. They are in the mid-30’s and acting like 16 years old.

So how do you know your growing up?

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I’m Bored:  Three Blessings of Boredom

 

lightstock_231852_full_robert_taylorAre you bored?

We hate boredom. We find anything to fill the time. How many pounds accumulate due to mindless eating due to boredom pack? How many hours get wasted in front of mediocre TV shows? How much trouble have teens found just to “have something to do”?

Do you remember when you were not bored? Mothers once shooed their children outside to beat summer boredom. What happened with nothing to do?

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Holding On: Four Perspectives to Keep You Sane When Your Life Is Insane

plant in rockA few years ago, my life turned down a blind alley. It wasn’t one event, but a succession of events.

  • My elderly father fell which resulted in his moving to an assisted living center.
  • My daughter was going through intense stress and needed our help.
  • One night in December, my father had a massive stroke and was gone within an hour.
  • spent the next few months dealing with his estate (something I was ill-equipped to handle).
  • Doctors diagnosed my father-in-law with severe dementia. He moved three times until he settled in a memory care center.
  • had four surgeries. (I had never had surgery in my life.)
  • My father-in-law passed away.


When I look back at what I just wrote, it gives me shivers. Somehow, we made it through. In the aftermath, I reflected on what it took to stay sane in an insane world.

Four phrases capture a survivor‘s mind.

Make it through today. Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34b) In the darkest days, I got up every morning with a
simple goalJust get through the day. I did not know what tomorrow would hold, but I could work through the next 18 hours. When my head hit the pillow, that day was over.


Just get through the day. I did not know what tomorrow would hold, but I could work through the next 18 hours.


Others are in worse shape that I am. It is easy to fall into a “pity party.”
Someone has said many are dying of terminal uniqueness. “ At times, we feel like no one has had our kind of trouble. When you look around, many are worse off than you are. They are dying of cancer. A child they loved diedChildren go to bed hungry; families are left fatherless from a drunk driver, and so on. Before you buy the cake for the pity partylook around. In comparison to many others, you are blessed.

In ten years, this won’t matter. While there are life-altering events, many of life‘s anxieties are nothing but emotional dew on a summer earth. I have always tried to ask one simple questionWill this make any difference in 10 years? If I say “maybe” or “yes” I get to work. If the answer is no, I let it go. Many of my problems did change my life, but they leave a residue, not a scar.

Be still and know that I am God. Humans strive to control their lives. When circumstances steal it from us, we drag our fingernails across the spiritual pavement trying to hold on to any sliver we can. Inevitably, David’s counsel in Psalm 46:10 remains. We don’t control life. We only live it. We did not decide the day of our birth and neither will we decide the day of our death. Many of the good things we receive are not of our doing, but are quiet gifts mistaken for accomplishment. In the depths of difficultiesstop your life. Sit still. Listen to the still small voice of God and simply respond.

am four years past the onset of my whirlwind. Life is different, but the ripples have calmed. I have learned to think in a different track. When life gets insane, you cannot change your circumstances, but you can change your perspective.

Find Out About Area Scams

Everyone is a victim of scammers. They make contact and tell you:

  • They had money to claim from an old account.
  • The IRS was about to arrest them if they did not pay up (by going to a website and listing information).
  • Their bank was having a problem with their account. Go to xyz.com and log-in.
  • A relative has been put in jail or robbed of all their money, etc. (This is usually a phone call). All you have to do is send a wire, money order, or even just your bank account information to help dear Johnny get out of the slammer.

All of those are popular and prevalent.

The Better Business Bureau had added new tool to their website to track scams in your area.

Click on the link at the top for Scam Tracker and you get a map (which can be zoomed in and out) and find out the scams happening in your area.

scam tracker

You can get information about the amount of scams taking place, the nature of them, and how to avoid the scam artist.

It is a helpful way of dealing with a difficult problem.

Putting the Brakes on Identity Thieves (after the funeral)

My father passed away in December of 2012. Apparently, identity thieves knew about it.

I had to deal with a fraudulent tax return filed in his name, bank accounts set up in his name and credit cards applied for in his name.

While that happened at the very beginning, I read one hint that really helped. Notify credit bureaus of someone’s death to stop someone from using their name for credit.

How do you do that? Here are the steps below:

Write a letter to all three credit reporting bureaus. Below is a sample letter and the addresses of the “big-three” bureaus.

This letter is a notice that (deceased name)  passed away on (date of death). His/her credit records should reflect this fact and inquiries should communicate that to the parties which are seeking credit records. This information is effective upon receipt of this letter.

Below are the pertinent facts:

Deceased Name.

Deceased Mailing Address

Date of birth: (deceased dob)

Date of Death:(deceased dod)

Social Security Number:  (deceased SS#)

My name is (your name and mailing address). Cell Phone: (your phone number in case contact needs to be made). I am (relationship to deceased) and have power of attorney.

I have enclosed the following documentation:

Death certificate

Copy of stateDrivers License

Copy of Power of Attorney 

Send the letter to all three bureaus by certified mail requesting delivery receipt.

While this seems like an unnecessary act (especially under duress), it stops potential fraud. I know what because last week (30 months after my father’s death) I was notified by a credit card company denying the opening of a credit account in my dad’s name. It is still protecting us after all this time.

I hope this helps you prevent some headaches when you are in the throes of grief.

How to Keep Lightning from Becoming Lightning Bugs

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” (Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain)

Words are the weapons of human thinking. They express fear, despair, hope, and triumph. Yet nothing is worse than the wrong word.

Lightning

It’s not about the size of vocabulary but the quality of vocabulary. Advertising emphasizes subtle differences. Nude is not the same as naked. Hope is not the same as wish. While most people see them as the same thing but men a
nd women each see them differently.

As Twain noted, (see quote above). Too many times, communicators (whether writers or speakers) reach into their quiver and find a dart when they need an arrow. The right word hits the heart rather than falls to the ground.

How do you keep lightning from fizzling into a lightning bug?

Avoid jargon at all costs. Jargon is a verbal shorthand that is encrusted with the tarnish of overuse. No one knows what “gamification” really means. I have served on educational committees for local schools. You cannot wade through the halls without getting bit by the verbal mosquitoes of “school talk.” No one (and I suspect that means the person using it) know its true meaning. Just don’t use it.

Make the ear an eye. Our visual channel is our most immediate and most powerful. Listen to a recording of an old radio serial program. People would sit glued to the radio, staring at it like it was moving. To them, it was. The words were vivid and easily imagined. If people cannot see what you are saying, you are not saying it well. Make your words paint a picture in the mind’s eye.

Adjust the dial on the spectrum. Most words have degrees. Anger wears many masks including irritation, pique, anger, and rage. Love wraps itself in the mantle of comfort, romance, sensuality, or fondness. Make your words specific. Find the precise emotion you want the reader or listening to feel.

Stay simple. While the 19th century style was full of flourish, “long” words confuse. It was said of Kipling, that at the height of his career, each word he wrote was worth 25 cents. Some young collegians (with more time than talent) wrote Kipling. They included 25 cents and said, “send me one of your best words.” Kipling replied with a simple word, “Thanks.” The simple elegance of the easily understood trumps the intellectual peacock.

How do you develop the ability to use the right word at the right time?

Have good conversations with people who use words well. They may not be as educated but may have a better grasp of how to talk with people.

Read (or listen to) good books. Most good authors speak to the minds and hearts of their readers. Their use of words is their livelihood. Pay attention to what they say, how they say it , and how it affects you. Then, imitate.

Get someone to help you. Too many times authors of written works or speeches fall in love with their own work. They caress it like a newborn baby and protect it from the “cruel world” of the the critic and the confused. It was said of Lincoln he would have his White House maid read his speeches before delivery. He wanted to know what was unclear, misunderstood, and confusing. His best editor was the simple who would listen. Those average listeners are your best editors.

Lightning bugs flit for a short time but lightning transforms the sky. Let your words be lightning rather than lightning bugs.

Get Off Life’s Scales

balanced rocksSomeone told you a lie, a real whopper. You became an adult and attended a seminar, read a book, or got friendly advice. The lie is simple.

“You need to maintain life/work balance.”

You stepped on life’s scales and the pans never get even. You tried the golden equations of equality. Eight hours at work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours for the “important” stuff. But the math never works. There’s more work to do than time available. Family crises arise. You wake up one morning with a fever.

Todd Henry wrote an excellent book called Die Empty. In it, he describes the myth of life/work balance. He maintains people were never designed for balance but for rhythm. Life has its rhythms.

Listen to ancient wisdom describe it:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Solomon’s listing of life includes no balance but rather the back and forth of a child’s playground swing. Sometimes life is rushed followed by a season of slowness. The busy fall of harvest is always followed by the solitude of winter. Such is the rhythms of life.

So how does this relate to your life?

I’ve met many people who like to use the word “burnout.” It’s a terrible feeling. Numbness sets in. Apathy puts its arm around you as a constant companion. Life tastes like sand.

Most take an inventory which says “you are out of balance.” Some complete charts to show they are empty or full. Both, while seemingly intuitive, miss the point of living.

Instead of seeking balance, find the equilibrium of life. Where are you right now? is it busy at work? Work hard and get it done. Once complete, rest. Turn off your phone. Don’t check your email. Take your kids or grandkids to a park and just rest. Let work go.

If you have a family emergency, put all your energy into it. Devise a system (either through an assistant or co-worker) to limit your involvement until you get through the problem.

Whatever season it is, acts appropriate to the season. If it is sowing, spread seed. If it is weeding, take the whack at it. If it is watching the snow fall, admire the grace of the flakes.

Step off the scales of life/work balance. Find the season of life, do your best, and move forward to a new season.