June, 2011

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: The Truth About You

I keep hammering on this topic because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I may have gotten quite a bit more philosophical than I have in the past, but these are things I care about!

Have you ever looked at someone and marveled at their abilities? Maybe they’re gifted in leadership. Maybe they’ve got great musical talent. Maybe they have a way with words. Maybe they have unusual relational skills. In the back of our minds, we often hear a whisper, “I could never be that.”

I have both good news and bad news wrapped up in a simple statement.

Humanly speaking, you’re not a genetic phenomenon, nor are they.

Sometimes we look at successful people and think that they must have some magnificent in-born talent. Did God give them a special talent? I have no doubt! However, I suspect the difference between your natural abilities and theirs is much smaller than you think.

Two false beliefs will keep you from success:

  1. If you believe success has everything to do with natural ability, you’ll never be motivated to try.
  2. If you believe success has nothing to do with natural ability, you’ll wear yourself out.

God has given you specific interests and abilities. These are your areas of greatest potential for success.

If you have a natural talent in music, what separates you from great musicians is probably mostly knowledge and practice. These are not something you’re born with. However, if you lack all natural talent in music, your chances of becoming truly great in music is very slim.

If you will succeed in your gift, you need to find other people who have become successful in that gift and learn from them, whether it’s through a personal relationship, or through their writings or other teachings.

There’s more.

Spiritually speaking, if you are a Christian, you are a genetic phenomenon.

As a follower of Christ, you have been adopted into the family of God. That makes you a son or daughter of God.

God has given you His Holy Spirit, who is a spirit of wisdom and understanding. Part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to empower you to go beyond your natural gifts and to give you supernatural power to fulfill your call.

God has also set some principles in place for your success. Do you want to receive more wisdom? It’s quite simple. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear God, and you’ll become wiser.

God wants to glorify Himself through His people, and I believe He wants to empower people in ways that, when the world asks about our success, we can only tell them, “It’s God.” Like the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, I want no shadow of doubt that it was God and God alone who brought victory and success.

Now comes your part again!

God has given you special abilities and talents. How does He want you to grow them? How does He want to show Himself strong in you, taking you beyond your own abilities and empowering you do great feats by faith?

Most of all, how can you use your life to bring greater glory to God?

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Clear the Static

You have a gift; how do you use it? How do you manage it?

This should probably have been mentioned at the beginning of the series. It’s a theme that is briefly mentioned in my book, when Zepho must decide whether to listen to his friends. It’s the problem of static.

All of us deal with static. These are the things that keep us from truly hearing the call of God.

Some of us don’t know if we’re truly loved.

Some of us are afraid.

Some of us are overly concerned about finance.

Some of us worry about disappointing our parents, our friends, or even God.

Some of us think God is angry.

Some of us imagine what others might think of us.

Since of us think we’ve missed our chance.

Some of us don’t know if we’ve got it within us.

All that is static, and it’s going to keep you from hearing the voice of God. These are invitations either to make agreements with the enemy or to anchor yourself in your identity in Christ.

Now it’s your job.What is the static on your life that is keeping you from hearing the voice of God and walking in your gift to glorify Him?

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Constraints Are Your Friend

You have a gift; how do you manage it? That’s the question at hand.

Right now, you believe that more freedom would allow you to better exercise your gift. Right now, I kind of believe that, too.

It’s probably false.

I used to live with no financial constraints, and it turned me into an irresponsible spender. After living under financial constraint, I recognize the importance of constraints in developing financial responsibility.

I used to live with no time constraints. If I wanted to spend a weekend programming, I could do that. More recently, I have taken on more responsibility, and it’s forced me to think what to do and what not to do. I don’t push myself harder; rather, I question myself harder.

This week I have some projects at work that feel like they’re outside of my sweet spot. The truth is, if I can find a way to operate in my sweet spot within that context, I’ll be able to carry my gifts into a wealth of additional opportunities.

I am a visionary. I love ideas. I love new things. In the past, I fulfilled this by traveling, living internationally, doing some studying, and changing jobs. Today, I’m stuck. I’m stuck with my job. I’m stuck where I live. Because of these constraints, I’ve been forced to exercise my love for change within the context of work, which has made me more productive and more creative.

This applies to relationships.

Marriage is a constraint, and it forces you to deal with your weaknesses because, like it or not, you’re stuck.

The same commitment to the church will produce similar results.

Many people face the fear of constraint, and it keeps them from realizing much of their potential. It’s not your enemy. It’s your friend.

It’s no surprise that the successful technology companies have intentionally placed constraints on their designs and executions. It forces creativity.

In fact, this principle is so good that even my mom uses it. To this day, we enjoy a special variety of chicken pizza that she devised under a crazy time constraint.

What are the constraints that you’re fighting right now? How can you turn them into tools that allow you to use your gifts to bring greater glory to God?

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Your Greatest Assets

This will be short.

Let me list two of your greatest assets:

1. Your personal finances

2. Your free time

Two common mistakes are:

1. “Can” is not “should”. This is why many people are in debt or nearly broke. If you understood the potential of your personal finances, you would change your spending habits, because your personal finances are one of your greatest assets.

2. Amusement literally means “without thought”. This is different from true rest, which we need. You must pick. For example, you can choose whether to memorize the ins and outs of Farmville or to master a guitar riff. You can acquaint yourself with a novel, or you can invest that same energy in learning something meaningful about something you really care about. Both can be considered relaxing, but only one of those choices is productive.

If you would start investing your own time and own money into areas of gifting to make a difference for the kingdom of God, how would your life be different?

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Trust the Process

At the risk of repeat myself too much, this is a series to remind you that your problem is not your lack of gifting. Your problem is knowing how to manage your gifting.

When you get a vision, many times here’s what happens:

  • You get a vision.
  • You live and breathe the vision.
  • You get impatient.
  • You quit working because the vision seems unattainable.
  • The vision dies.

The trouble is, many times the vision is coming when it looks the least like it. There’s a very simple principle in business: you can trust the process. If you follow the process, it will carry you to success. If you deviate from the process, it will bring you ruin. Rather than relying merely on grandiose visions of success, allow the process to carry you there.

In fact, the basic philosophy behind my To Do Lists was to reward forward progress more than completion. Completion is obviously important. However, if you stay on track, enough correct forward progress will result in completion.

What does this mean for your gift?

It’s called the ball of yarn.

It’s called getting confused.

It means pressing on. It means finding ways to use your gifts. It means discovering new ways to sneak into your sweet spot.

You might not know how to land your dream job, but you can trust the process. (And you might never find it, but you might be able to make it.)

Continue to grow. Continue to learn. Continue to develop. Continue to seek God.

As you do that, the process will carry you to those things that bring you the greatest sense of fulfillment.

It’s the secret of navigating uncharted waters. You don’t know what the seas may hold, but you make continual decisions that allow you to move forward, eventually bringing you to your destination. When you do that, risk suddenly seems less risky.

What are you going to do with the gifts that you have been given?

It’s time for you to start the journey, so go ahead and start it, and enjoy what you have been given!

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Know What to Change

I’ve been off this past week. Do you still remember the theme of this series? Yes, that’s right! Your problem is not your lack of gifting; your problem is that you don’t know how to manage your gift.

One of the things that keeps people from using their gifts is getting stuck and not knowing what to change.

This is so simplistic that it might hurt!

The problem may be you. Many people have tried to solve a failing marriage by concluding, “I’ve tried everything. The problem must be my circumstance. If I were married to someone else….” And they speculate of the problems that could be solved by another marriage partner. However, by the fourth or fifth marriage, it becomes clear (to the rest of the world, at least!) that the problem isn’t with the circumstances. The problem is with them. Changing the circumstances won’t solve the problem; they need to change.

Many people find other jobs, other churches, other women, other diets, and other pastimes, all trying to fix something that is broken deep inside of themselves.

Sometime it’s our character, but sometime it’s merely our perspective or opinion. Maybe it’s a false view of God. Maybe it’s a fear. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of what is really at stake. In the words of Graham Cooke, “If you don’t like the place your thinking has led you, have another thought!” Many times, simply reframing the situation can bring clarity and peace to an otherwise confusing and tangled mess.

The problem may not be you. Jesus told His disciples to enter villages, and if they weren’t accepted, to shake the dust off their feet and move on. If they were rejected, they weren’t to blame; it was the people’s decision. Similarly, Jesus was unable to do many miracles in his hometown because of their unbelief. Jesus and His disciples could have spend an inordinate amount of time in those places. They could have spent hours of soul-searching, hoping to find some deep sin that needed to be uncovered. However, no amount of strain would have changed the fact that the people needed to change.

I’ve seen people struggling to discern the will of God, trying to figure out what they were missing, when the problem was their environment. They were trying to be fulfilled in a role that God never created them for. What wasted energy to agonize over something that’s not your fault!

How can anything be so simple and yet so complicated?

Here’s the challenge.

God says that He makes all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). God has placed His Spirit within us, He has given us a spirit of wisdom, and He has made us in His image. Given that, could it be that we, as His sons and daughters who are filled by His Spirit, should be empowered to do the same?

Now it’s your job.

What are the things that you are facing, and how does God want to work through you to leverage those things for the ultimate good?

That’s how you’ll know what to change.

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Perfect Players, Right Players

You all have this memorized by now, but just as a reminder, this post is part of a series called “Managing Your Gift”. My premise is that your problem is not your giftedness (or lack of it!). Your problem is learning how to manage your gift.

I should be asleep right now.

I’m not.

I just got done watching the movie Miracle, which retells the story of Herb Brooks, the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, and their challenge against the formidable Russian team. One phrase arrested my attention. Herb Brooks, the coach, is defending his choice of players for his team, and he makes a powerful statement.

“I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right ones.”

The “best players” try to perform well by themselves. The “right players” empower each other to do the things they’re genuinely good at. Herb’s great challenge was breaking down each player’s independence and getting them to function as a team. Each player had to learn to rely on the other players, and as he did, he entered a force that was much greater than he himself could ever have been.

The “perfect player” is the one with superhuman strength. The “right player” is someone to whom you can say, “Your strength is my weakness. My weakness is your strength.”

This perspective carries both hope and admonition.

The hope is that you don’t have to be perfect. You simply have to be the right person for the job. Some of the most gifted people have some of the most glaring weaknesses, but the successful people surround themselves with people who can offset their weaknesses.

The admonition is that you dare not try to be the perfect player, and you dare not try to fill your team with perfect player. Rather, you must look for the right players. To find a “right player”, you need to put him in the right spot.

Let me explain.

I have strong characteristics of a dreamer, a visionary, and a big-picture person. My mind is often rolling faster than it can full process its stimuli, and I often find myself racing the clock, causing me to forget important details. Although I manage to slow myself down at times, if I were to allow myself to run my natural course, this is who I would be. If I would describe myself as a painter, I would be one who paints with big splashes of color and broad brush strokes. I paint the outline of a face and leave out the eyes and nose.

My weakness is that I struggle with details and my short-term memory (not funny!). I have developed systems to help me deal with that, including reminders, e-mails to myself, and papers on the wall. However, I deeply respect the people who are able to take the big picture and break it down into small pieces without losing track of any of the pieces. If I would describe them as painters, they would be the one who picks up the finer brushes and draws the eyes and nose. They add the intricate designs between all my splashes and bold outlines. While I give the overall picture, they are the ones who complete the picture and make it something meaningful.

The trouble is that many times, I am drawn to people who have similar giftings and a similar personality and drive. To make matters worse, sometimes people who are opposite can really get on my nerves! While I tend to be fast-paced, they tend to be slow-paced, which I find boring! While I will answer “yes” to any opportunity, they will hesitate and think things through and even refuse great opportunities, which I think is stubborn and stupid! However, these people have an eagle-eye for detail that offsets my recklessness, and their hesitation that settles my pace. Recognizing these weaknesses and compensating for them is what it means to have the “right people” on your team.

With your giftings, what are some of your blatant weaknesses? What kind of people do you need to surround yourself with to offset your weaknesses?

What does it mean if you take Herb’s words and apply it to yourself?

“I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right ones.”

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Get Confused

This is a continuing series in managing your gift. The basic premise is that your giftedness is not your problem; you just need help to manage it. [1]

I see a lot of people who are dissatisfied with their work environment. I’ve been there. However, I’ve seen my satisfaction increasing as I’ve watched my perspective change. One of the problems, I’ve come to believe, is that we are too systematic in our lives, and I think we could benefit from some confusion between work and play.

My parents instilled in me that recreation can be both fun and educational/developmental in nature. When I was young, my brother and I were never allowed to play computer games (something for which I’m quite grateful). Because of that and because of an older brother’s coaching, we spent our childhood programming computers (first Pascal, then C/C++). We thought it was play; an adult might have told us it was work. If we weren’t programming, we were reading books. I had assumed that both programming and reading were merely a pastime, and I underestimated the impact on my life.

That’s where my work/play confusion started, but it’s gotten greater more recently. For most of my life, I’ve worked on a very strict hourly basis. More recently, I’ve transitioned from hourly pay to a salary, and I’ve been given quite a bit of autonomy. With this freedom, I’ve come to recognize that some of the things I do for fun have a significant impact on my work performance. For example, I’ve come to enjoy learning about management, business, and leadership. The more that I learn, the better I know how I fit into the organization. If this benefits me at work, tell me, please: is this interest “work” or “play”? While this interest benefits me at work, I also find it recreational.

Further, I keep learning ways at work move me more and more into my sweet spot. Some of my projects at work I either really enjoy or really value. Even though I am working for my employer, some of these projects I would do for free. For example, I enjoy writing. One of my assignments at work is taking others’ written reports and making them sound better. While I don’t live or die for this particular job, I do enjoy it, and it allows me to continue honing my verbal skills. It is of significant benefit to me personally and something I enjoy. Tell me, then: is that “work” or “play”?

In the past, I would have tried to answer that question of work/play, but I’ve been finding it’s better to leave it unanswered. I’ve come to prefer to keep the confusion between work and play, and I’m discovering that it can actually make me more productive and fulfilled at work.

If this confusion isn’t enough for you, it runs deeper still! I’ve already mentioned how I’m learning to view myself less as a worker (driven by lists and commands) and more as a manager (driven by projects, goals, and purpose). This means that my employer isn’t really my boss. I am. Yes, I buy into the vision, and I go beyond the job requirements. I do everything I can to make the right things happen. But there’s something much greater that’s driving me. I’m looking at the big picture of my life, and I’m fitting my assignments and projects into that big picture. My goal is to use my gifts and abilities to the best of my ability to bring the most glory of God. What does it matter if I stay late at work as long as I am continually developing what I desire in my life? Since personal development can happen on the clock or off, who cares which it is?

This perspective runs counter to our traditional perspective of work. I can hear employers asking me, “Won’t this mean my employees will be distracted and unproductive? Won’t they go off doing their own thing?” I’ll address this more in the next post. In short, if you want assembly-line employees, keep the traditional model of having work and play strictly separate. However, if you want a team of creative people who have autonomy, who will think outside the box, and who will be able to develop your business with you, you need this confusion. You’ll end up with a team of self-motivated and fulfilled people. [2]

I can also hear employees asking me, “Won’t this mean I’ll turn into a workaholic?” The truth is that workaholism has no confusion between work and play; it is simply work overtaking your life.

Here comes the challenge. You have to work it out for yourself.

Step back and look at work in the big picture of your life. How can you break the separation between work and play? How does your work fit into the overall picture of your life? How can you start moving closer towards your sweet spot at work?

[1] I am self-conscious writing these ideas as if they were my own. I’m shaped by others, and their voices comes though. You know who you are. Thank you.

[2] For more on this concept, read Daniel Pink’s book Drive. Various companies (especially in software but also in other fields) have gone so far as to provide employees with time every week or every month when they are expected to develop something that holds personal interest to them but is not directly related to the normal assignments at work.

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: To Do Lists

This is part 3 in a series entitled “Managing Your Gift.” The basic premise is that your problem is not your lack of gifting, but simply the fact that you don’t know how to manage your gift. Managing your gift might look different for you, but this is what it looks like for me.

Today it’s about To Do lists.

All of my life, I’ve struggled to manage my workflow. The challenge for me has always been finding ways to manage the details and decide what to work on when. So far, To Do lists have been my tool.

Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in my self-perception and self-relationship. I’ve been moving from viewing myself as a worker (driven by lists and commands) to viewing myself as a manager (driven by projects, goals, and purpose). I’m involved in the same projects, and I have the same responsibilities, but I’ve been adopting a new way of thinking.

New ways of thinking require new methods, and this is a method with which I’m experimenting. Here is a picture of my office wall:

The green paper is my personal mission statement. The orange papers are my employer’s mission statement. These define the overall purpose that I’m working toward. Everything else beneath those papers should fit into those mission statements.

The white papers that are plastered all over my wall represent the significant projects I am involved in and responsible for. This includes things such as book marketing (on the left) and a new website and promotional film (on the right). The little yellow sticky notes that you see are specific tasks or meetings that need to be done to advance the project. These sticky notes can also represent tasks that other people must complete for me to advance the project.

The problem with To Do lists is that they provide no context. You formulate all the tasks at one time, so if your requirements or priorities change, you’re forced to revamp your entire To Do list. In addition, it requires you to prioritize many small tasks; if you get stuck on one, how do you know where to move to? From my experience, To Do lists do a poor job of adapting to the constant change in workflow.

The Wall approach allows me to visualize my overall workflow and gives me a birds-eye view of my job (all of life, really). My daily workflow looks like this:

  1. Find the project that needs my attention right now (whether because of urgency or importance).
  2. Find a way to advance the project.
  3. Repeat.

This solves another problem with To Do lists, which is incentive. One problem I have with To Do lists is that they primarily reward completion. However, completion only happens once in the life cycle of a project. The Wall approach, on the other hand, rewards advancement. As long as I am strategically advancing a project, I feel satisfaction and receive motivation.

A “completion” mindset implies that your To Do list is supposed to be empty, which is a battle that you’ll never win. An “advancement” mindset assumes that your job is to move things forward, and completion is almost an accidental side benefit. My work at the office is never done; I just go home and continue the next day. This environment is very demoralizing if you have a “completion” mindset. However, if your goal is an “advancement” mindset, you get constant boosts and constant feedback throughout your day.

Further, even though I have a technical background, it is extremely helpful for me to have a tangible representation of my workflow. I could store this same information on the computer, and it wouldn’t carry the same power as having something physically hanging on my wall.

One final benefit of the Wall approach is that it gives you a clear picture of what your focus should be. If you divide your life into categories and discover that you have more papers than space, it may be an indication that you need to narrow your focus! It is also a very tangible reminder every time you put something up on the board that you are devoting a portion of your energy and focus toward that project.

It’s an experiment, and it’s not done, but so far, it seems to be an improvement. Obviously, it’s a new idea, and it only keeps its value insofar as I can maintain the system. However, I’ve found myself becoming wiser in choosing what to work on when, and I’ve found myself enjoying work more because of it.

Now, back to you.

What’s your mindset about getting things done? Have you taken the time to experiment with custom-made tools to help you manage your life?

Jun 11

Managing Your Gift: Life Sentence

This is the second part of a series “Managing Your Gift”. The basic premise of this series is not your lack of gifting, but the fact that you don’t know how to use or manage your gift.

Several weeks ago, I challenged a group of friends to reduce their life to a single sentence. Why are they here? What are their lives about? Without this focus, many times we go chasing after “good things” to do, but we have no strategy in what we do or how we do them. We sometimes fail to recognize that certain things are outside of our area of gifting or call simply because we don’t know our own blueprint.

Last week I followed my own advice. I finally drafted my sentence. It’s as close as I can get right now to articulating what God created me for and why He placed me on this earth, which is simply this:

To empower people to recognize, develop, and utilize their God-given gifts for the glory of God.

This is where I find my passion, my purpose, and my fulfillment. For each project that I’m involved in, I try to ask, “How does this fit into my ‘life sentence’?” If it doesn’t fit, I try to ask, “How can I change this project to match this vision?” If that’s still not possible, I try to reevaluate, “Am I sure I should be doing this project to begin with?” In fact, I want this such a part of my life that I’ve posted it on my wall at the office.

Please understand. I didn’t write this sentence in an hour or even a week. I’ve been working on this sentence for years, discovering more of who God made me to be. In fact, I’m probably not done writing it. But it’s there, and it’s something to work with. Now that I have it, I’ve gotten a new perspective on why I enjoy what I enjoy and why I dream my dreams. I’ve also gotten a deeper understanding of what to do and what not to do.

What might this look like for you? It might be quite simple: “To alleviate suffering in Africa.” “To care for homeless children.” It may be very uninteresting and mundane: “To serve others in practical ways so they can fulfill God’s call on their lives.” But no matter what it looks like to others, it should capture your reason for being on this earth.

I did it. Now you do it. If you had to summarize your life purpose in a sentence, what would it be?