Yesterday, Paul caught a trophy fish.

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Paul caught one! #sdfish

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OK, so it’s not technically a trophy fish. He won’t win any awards and we didn’t even keep it. It was just a little spotted bay bass.

But that one fish represents a major accomplishment. It was the first saltwater fish Paul caught completely unassisted from the shore. 

He’d gone out with me at least 10 times over the past 9 months and never caught a fish. Probably 30 hours of fishing with no success. He’s had a lot of bites, lots of struggle to learn how to cast, and lots of coming up empty.

Finding Free Play

We live in a society that bores easily. Video games, the classroom, even our profession… we want nearly instant results. 

People want to do something for the very first time and see quick success when it just doesn’t work that way. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously made the argument that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become the best in a field. Although the precision of that claim has been discredited, the general concept behind it is true: If you want to get good at something you’ll need to practice and learn and find your own way of doing things.

To get good, at anything, you have to struggle past the mechanical stage of learning where you are thinking about how to do it to get into the muscle memory stage where you can stop thinking about how to do something to the point where you can start to play.

Success and innovation comes when we get to free play.

Watch anyone who is excellent at their craft and you’ll see that it often looks like play. Why does it look like play when they are doing something incredibly hard? Because it is play!


Few people get to free play… where a small success like catching a bass or a larger success like innovating software that changes the game while creating a great place to work.

You see, to get there you have to push past a lot of failure. Not cute failure. Not the failure you can laugh off as a learning experience. Actual failure.

There’s a characteristic that some people have and other people don’t, which is– in part– why some people succeed where others don’t.

So what is the difference between people who get to the success of free play and the people who just never quite seem to get there?

Researchers use one word: Grit.

Photo credit: Sandpaper by Lukasz Fabis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

illustrations Monday Motivation

It’s about the results, not the process

  • Michelangelo didn’t do it right. Boss man didn’t like the nose
  • You didn’t do your math right. Well, you got the right answer but your teacher marked you down because you couldn’t show that you did the problem the way she wants to see.
  • We celebrate Thomas Edison for his inventions. But we just prefer to not know or care that he electrocuted animals to prove the dangers of alternating current.
  • You didn’t write your big paper right. Sure, it was good. But you got marked down because you didn’t turn the outline in on time. And your bibliography isn’t in the Chicago style, anyway. The MLA sucks, according to your teacher.

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to care way more about the process than they seem to about the results?

It’s as if “their way” is the “right way” and even if you achieve the same or better results another way…

Why is that? Well, they lose perceived power if they don’t point out that you didn’t do it the “right way.” Meaning– their way.

It’s About Results, Not the Process

Every day is filled up with too many messages telling you how to do stuff “the right way“:

  • My Facebook timeline is full of links to posts like this: “10 things successful people do that you don’t” or “The Five Secrets to Steve Jobs Creative Process.
  • In the WordPress world, where I hang out quite a bit, there’s a growing hierarchy of so-called experts shouting down innovation simply because these new innovations aren’t marched down the way the hierarchy likes it. (This not-so-subtle change threatens to destroy the community driving 30% of the world’s websites.)
  • In an essay published by the New York Times, Dan Fleschler writes about the struggle he goes through as his daughter choses to work as a counselor at a summer camp instead of taking on a high end unpaid summer internship. The essay isn’t a knock on camps, it’s a knock on this notion that to be successful you have to walk the designated life path. (ht to Jeff Keuss)

Here’s a little secret… and I hope it frees you:

There. is. no. right. path. to. the. right. answer. 

Trying to get the process just right, according to a book or some so-called expert, will merely lead you to a lot of stress and anxiety.

Sometimes, to get the results you are looking for, you’ll have to submit yourself to an established process. Say, with the IRS, or something like that.

But… for the most part… you need to figure out how to get results in a way that works for your unique gifts.

I’m ashamed to admit how much time and money I’ve wasted in my life learning “the right way” just to later learn that the way I was already doing it got better results and fit me better.

Skip that.

Get the results.

And make your own process.

Photo credit: Frank Watching Frank, Jr by James Vaughn via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Don’t Let 1% Win

We each have 1% driving us nuts in our lives. 

99% of the people in our lives are fine. They are benefited by the work we do, they are positive about us and who we are as people, or they are just neutral and have no opinion about us one way or the other.

But we each have a 1%. Negative Nancys. Horrible Harrys. The Haters.

The apostle Paul, in a moment of self-reflection, wrote about this to the church in Corinth…

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

2 Corinthians 12:7-8

A thorn. Have you ever had a splinter or a thorn stuck in you? Yeah, you have to deal with it or it’ll drive you crazy!

You can’t ignore it. You can’t do nothing and let it get infected. You have to deal with it.

For you, the issue isn’t just that these people are complaining or don’t like us or something we’ve done. If that were the case we could ignore them. It’s that they’ve gotten under our skin.

Sticks and Stones Actually Do Hurt Me

Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.

That little childhood nursery rhyme is a lie. Many a great person has been destroyed by words. I’m sad to admit that I bet at some point in my life my words have shattered someone. Words are worse than stones, the bruises they leave last a lifetime.

I don’t know about you. But if 100 people gave me feedback and 99 of them were either neutral or positive and 1 were mean-spirited… I’d go home thinking about that 1 personI’d lay in bed that night thinking about what I could have done differently.

That 1% carries with me. It hurts me. It’s debilitating.

Don’t Let Them Win

While I fully acknowledge that I cannot ignore the hater-voices in my life I can make one rational choice: They aren’t going to own me.

They have a job to do: Hate.

But I have a job to do: Deal with them. I chose to overcome their words with actions. They poke at me but I just keep swinging away. When I’m tired their anger, doubt, self-righteous do-nothingness drives me to keep going. I deal with haters using their bruises to motivate me.

Why? I don’t know about you. But the calling on my life is way more important than to let the voices of Negative Nancy and Horrible Harry slow me down.

I can’t shut them up. But I can refuse to let them win.

Just keep swinging.

Christian Living illustrations

To Be Like the Postal Carrier

138328_GrabBagNormalWorking from home reveals all the daily routines that happen around your house while you’re typically away.

  • 3 different garbage trucks come on Friday. (Garbage, recycling, yard waste. Though the later two come on a secret schedule which lives on our refrigerator.)
  • An elderly woman picks through everyone’s recycling to get cans and bottles.
  • Our neighbors gardener comes on Wednesday.
  • UPS comes in the morning and the evening.
  • FedEx comes in the afternoon.
  • has their own delivery service, that comes in the afternoon.
  • Once a week the Schwan truck comes.
  • One neighbor gets daily food delivery and another has a daily home healthcare visit.
  • Once a month a volunteer drops off the neighborhood newsletter.
  • Each Thursday afternoon a guy drives by and tosses the Penny Saver onto our driveway, which is conveniently timed with garbage day.
  • Utility workers read meters and check connections and all sorts of things.
  • At some point each week a utility worker climbs the power pole. Or checks it. Or parks in front of it to eat a snack.
  • Speaking of snacks, it’s normal for contractors or cops or other workers to park in front of our house to eat a snack. Our house must make people hungry. (Or a good place to hide from your supervisor.)

Man Versus Machine

Man Verus Machine – A Classic Tale

Rory McIlroyThe concept that pro golfer Rory McIlroy, making real time adjustments to conditions, can out compute a machine designed to hit perfect shots every time is a classic one. In 1996 Russian chess champion Garry Kasporov beat IBM’s best computer 4-2. I suppose you can track this legend of man versus machine all the way back to Trojan horse.

This is a great commercial. I know it’s a take on the PGA Tour’s These Guys are Good campaign, but it’s a nice iteration of it. Funny and competitive, a lot like two good friends on the course, talking smack and challenging one another.

1984 and 2013

The recent NSA leaks have people thinking a lot about big brother and the power of machines. Some fear the government has gone too far. Others relax are over-confident that all of these machines and surveillance tactics somehow make us safer.

But in the end man always wins over machine. Just like wooden horses didn’t take over military operations, just like computers aren’t chess champions, and just like machines aren’t running the European Tour… we don’t have anything to worry about with machines.

They are just machines. 


If you stop dreaming, you start dying

Michael Jackson and Bubbles

Jackson may be the only human ever to go two months without REM — rapid eye movement — sleep, which is vital to keep the brain and body alive. The 60 nights of propofol infusions Dr. Conrad Murray said he gave Jackson to treat his insomnia is something a sleep expert says no one had ever undergone.

Lab rats die after five weeks of getting no REM sleep, he said. It was never tried on a human until Murray gave Jackson nightly propofol infusions for two months

Source:Expert: Michael Jackson went 60 days without real sleep

When you stop dreaming

What’s this got to do with you and me? A lot of people sleepwalk through life having no real dreams. Somewhere along the line we’ve lied to ourselves and believed a lie that chasing dreams is for kids, that we’re grown-ups now, that we need to make the best with what we have, just get through this day and forget about tomorrow.


Tilt Your Perspective to See Things Differently

Tilt your perspective to see things differently. 

Pakistan to Siberia in a straight line without touching land. I had to watch that video 3 times to get how it’s possible.

Left on its normal axis you’d never see it. But tilt the globe a little and you start to see things you never saw before.

Axiom: Step away from your challenges long enough to gain a fresh perspective.

Culture illustrations Politics

This Tragedy Has Changed Us

PS General Slocum

On June 15th, 1904 the PS General Slocum was chartered by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of New York City for $350. 1,360 people showed up that Wednesday for the 17th annual Sunday School picnic. It was a calm and beautiful morning… anyone who has visited Manhattan in the summer can envision this morning. The sun warming away cool breezes, the river waves slapping the dock, and building excitement as people arrived for a fun day.

Even by today’s standards… a church event with 1,360 people is a really, really big deal. 

Christian Living illustrations

Picking Faithfulness

Each day is full of choice. Most are benign, seemingly meaningless. For some the payoff is immediate, like what to eat or wear or to do after work. For others the payoff is delayed, like plans you make, what you say to your kids, or the work you do.

I’m learning that I have to be intentional to pick faithfulness instead of ease, experience, or even wisdom.

If I’m honest… it’s the wisdom one that causes me the most trouble. All-too-often wisdom leads me to make the safest choice. It could also be that wisdom is different than Wisdom and little w wisdom often leads you to do the thing that makes the most sense instead of what is the most faithful.

Recently, I was spending time in Hebrews 11, and it kind of hit me… in most of these cases the author of Hebrews is celebrating someone’s action which their contemporaries probably thought was reckless, lacked wisdom, or was downright stupid.

  • Abel’s sacrifice didn’t seem reasonable… it seemed too far.
  • Enoch walked faithfully with God for 300 years…
  • Noah built an arc in his backyard, everyone thought he was a moron until it rained…
  • Abraham was prosperous where he was at, but as an old man God told him to move, can you imagine what his poker buddies called him?

On and on, Hebrews 11 drills home this point. Pick faithfulness. 

  • Faithfulness is wild, untamed, and unpredictable.
  • Faithfulness makes old men walk away from retirement.
  • Faithfulness redefines conventional wisdom.
  • Faithfulness asks you to exchange safety for trust.
  • Faithfulness will invite your friends to think you’re an idiot.
  • Faithfulness will ask you to do the bold– stupid in your friends eyes– while overcoming the weaknesses of your personality, position, and preparation.
  • Faithfulness calls preachers to become poets.
  • Faithfulness calls executives to become moms.
  • Faithfulness calls geniuses into factories.
  • Faithfulness calls the dyslexic to become physicists.

Defy logics last stand and embrace faithfulness. 

illustrations management

The Machine & The Magician: What you need to know about distraction

I’ve been learning a lot about the creative process lately. Like you, so much of my life is built around the concept that sometimes I need to be highly productive and other times I need to be highly creative. But, at all times, my work is best when it is both on time and creatively completed.

The Machine

Since childhood, we’ve been taught that there are times to sit down and focus all of our efforts on a task. I remember being rewarded as a 6 year old in kindergarten for my ability to sit down and do my work. My teacher had it set up so that each child, during a segment of the day for learning, could work at their own pace. I was really, really good at doing this. But if you looked at someone or whispered to your neighbor or suddenly got up and did a wiggle dance, that was inappropriate & bad.

In college, you were probably truly challenged academically for the first time– you had to learn how to study and knock hard projects out quickly. Further, you learned that there were times that if you disciplined yourself to focus that you could turn your brain into a task-master machine.

I knew that I could disappear into the corners of Moody’s library for four hours with a mug of coffee and emerge with a 10 page paper, 25 definitions memorized, a test prepared for, and 2 chapters of a book read with annotated notes for later review.

The machine is the opposite of creative. It pounds out work. It produces. And when the grades came out the one with the most powerful machine often won the highest grades.

As an adult I depend on turning on this machine. It takes me a while to get to that “machine” space, but if I put my headphones in with some improvisational jazz, turn off social media, and get into a project I can get there– knocking out a lot in a short amount of time.

The Magician

Have you been around babies & toddlers? I’ve had 3 of them crawl around my house in my lifetime. They are born magicians… incredibly creative in what they do. Turn your head for a second and BAM– they’ve done something amazing. Children can take two seemingly unrelated things and tie them together magically. In an instant they can disappear into a pretend world full of adventure, they can create stories out of thin air complete with backstory and plot twists.

You don’t have to teach a child how to be creative, it’s intuitive. If you allow them to just be themselves they are automatically creative.

To Review

The Machine is learned behavior to concentrate hard on a task, it is good.

The Magician is your natural creative self, the part of you that sees clay and stcks and smiles, it is also good.

Distraction isn’t bad

When I am in work mode I tend to think distractions are bad. Positive reinforcement from teachers and success in college taught me that. I get somewhere quiet and predictable. I work very well after the kids go to bed or at my office. Interruptions and distractions feel like the enemy. Phones, texts, Facebook, Twitter, visitors, going to the bathroom… all feel as though they will disturb the machines production.

But that’s not how it works. Your best work happens because an idea is sparked. When I get peer review of my work and overlay positive feedback with the timing of its production, the things that are most often the best– a creative solution, a breakthrough, an insight, a great paragraph— most often are in my work because the machine got turned off for a time and the magician was allowed to play. Perhaps I was in full machine mode and needed a lunch break? While walking there, my mind still churning on the work, I’ll get an idea or a solution or a insight into that work that I add. But sometimes this happens because a phone rings in another room, or a someone at a coffee shop drops something. Those breaks from Machine mode allow the Magician to play with the thing I’m working with and mix it with something else.

In fact, I’ve learned that intentionally allowing myself to become distracted can be an excellent way to generate new ideas. Taking a walk, shower, phone call, checking Facebook, listening to a sermon, catching up on the news, pulling weeds in the garden, playing with my kids, goofing off, even doing a small task like packing a box– all of these things allow me to turn the Machine off and allow my naturally creative mind, the Magician, to begin playing with ideas.

The Machine and the Magician are Playmates

I’ve learned that the Machine and the Magician are not adversaries. I will not truly be productive if I see the Machine as the winner and the Magician as the loser. (Though many people perpetuate that myth & it certainly seems productive.) My work is at its best when I foster interplay between getting things done and getting things done playfully. My work is best, not when I have hours and hours of uninterrupted Machine time, but when I have concerted time which builds in intentional distractibility so that the Magician has his voice.