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Monday Motivation

Mater artium necessitas

Mater artium necessitas

Necessity is the mother of invention

English Proverb

Made for Invention

When was the last time you hung around children? Little ones remind you of something we, as adults, often forget: We’re made for invention.

My life is made brighter each day by the creativity of our 4-year old, Jackson.

Like every pre-schooler his life is 1/3 reality and 2/3 imagination.

Here’s an example of that from our family vacation in Yosemite:

While I am stuck in reality, staring awestruck at Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the Merced River, my 4 year old son has found a stick to defend his beach from the evil ducks attacking his position.

His adventure of imagination beats my awestruck wonder on a technicality, right?

I have a tendency to snap Jackson back from his pretend world with my mundane reality: “Jackson, why are you shooting ducks?” But when I physically get down on his level to enter his world, playing with Legos or building a sand castle, something truly amazing happens: My creative brain comes alive.

We were made for McLandia [or whatever you call your land of make believe] and, like Peter Banning in Hook adult life sometimes leaves us wrestling, wondering which life is worth living, reality or make believe?

Moira Banning: [after throwing Peter’s cell phone out the window] I’m sorry about your deal.

Peter Banning: You hated the deal.

Moira Banning: I hated the deal, but I’m sorry you feel so badly about it. Your children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? Soon Jack may not even want you to come to his games. We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. After that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. It’s so fast Peter. It’s a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.

Adults make the mistake that to become successful, to be an adult, we need to give up on Neverland. But, in reality, it’s only when we are in touch with Neverland that we find success.

More Than Play

This is about more than child’s play. This is about invention. All of us are capable of invention. But, as the old proverb implies, when we live in a world without necessity, we forget what we’re capable of invention.

One of the reasons companies like Google fail again and again with things like Wave and Plus is that there is zero necessity. Google will be just fine without Plus. And all of those people who worked on it? No biggie… they’ll find other places within the organization or jobs somewhere else. Google only wanted to take on Facebook to try to capture some of their marketshare and maybe see an increase in their stock price. I’m sure people within the organization thought it was necessary. But there’s a big difference between hitting a sales goal and survival.

This is why you so rarely see success come out of a think tank or R&D department within a big company… there’s no necessity for invention. 

This is also why you see existing companies buying inventions… they know they can’t invent a new success… for them it’s better to grow by acquisition than to try (and fail) to grow by invention.

Here’s my formula for creative success: 

Creative success = Hunger + Boredom + Desperation

  • Most teams aren’t hungry. If this fails they might not meet a goal or might not get a bonus, but their family is going to eat next week.
  • Most adults aren’t bored. You can’t schedule a meeting for invention. You need space. You need time. You need to get past the first couple of naps and tired of reading to get to a place where you are in touch with McLandia.
  • Most adults aren’t desperate. Whether the need is great or like in Hook, the stakes are huge as Peter needs to get his children back… if you aren’t desperate you’ll never invent something great. Yes, you can fake desperation a bit, but it’s only when people are truly desperate that you often see the best in them.

Opportunity Abounds

This is what’s beautiful about life. Each of us has an ability for creative success.

The more you are hungry, the more you are bored, and the more you are desperate you are… that’s all an advantage over the established thing out there.

While the playing field is not equal when it comes to resources you actually have an advantage over everyone else if you simply want it bad enough.

Categories
Monday Motivation

Be Dangerous

This Twitter exchange with a former church worker turned entrepreneur reveals that there’s a bit of a leadership farce going on in our society right now.

Everyone is getting labeled a leader. I mean, everyone. The ultimate compliment a teacher can tell parents about their child? “Your child is a leader.”

You can buy books, take online courses, get an MBA, and attend conferences that pump people up to embrace their leadership potential.

And yet… most aren’t really leaders at all. They’ve just bought into the lie that they are a leader. They feel good about that title.

But they are tied to a job where they have no real power to lead. Or they are in a role which muzzles their thoughts or somehow tells them that their ideas aren’t worthy.

I ascribe by what I was taught. You know you are a leader by what happens when you are gone. Let’s say you go on vacation. Did things run the same or better? Then you’re doing your job as a leader. Or let’s say you move on to another role at another organization. Was there someone to continue on what you’ve been working on? Or did they just start over as if you’d never been there?

That’s the difference. When a leader has lead, others don’t just follow temporarily, you’ve inspired them to do something they couldn’t do had they not been lead by you.

I define a leader as this: A leader takes you where you would not or could not otherwise go yourself.

Alive Inside

If I’m honest about where I am today I don’t really care if someone looks at me professionally as a leader or not. The only place that really matters to me, leadership wise, in this stage of life, is leading my family with Kristen.

What I do care about professionally is doing stuff that makes me alive inside. Sometimes I post things and get texts in response like, “Man, think the same thing… wish I could post that but I’d get fired.

On the one hand, I get it. When you work for someone you willingly exchange some stuff for the security of a paycheck. I know that’s not ministry-friendly language, but that’s what you’re doing. It’s a willful choice. I remember teaching things that weren’t what I’d prefer to teach, but that was what I was asked to do… it’s part of being a professional.

But on the other hand, if you’re doing that for a long time you start to smell. A tiny part of you dies in your gut when you aren’t free to share who you really are, what you are really passionate about, or even lead the thing you’re paid to lead in a way that reflects your giftedness– a little bit of you dies each time you do that and takes up residence in your gut. You’ve exchanged temporary security for long-term health. This is what Marko likes to call “a values misalignment.” And just like a misalignment on your car, it might not be a big deal for a day or a week, but if you don’t deal with it eventually it’ll wreak havoc on every area of your life. In my language, if you do things long enough that aren’t your true self, you just start to stink.

It’s been 4 years since I left YS, 7 years since I left working for a local church– things I once thought were my dream jobs but came with a need to be something to someone else to fulfill a role they foresaw for me.

But today?

The muzzle is gone.

The filter is off.

And I’m more alive inside today than I’ve been in a long time.

Big Sky Bloomington

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a new blog from a high school acquaintance, Seja. While in the middle of a seemingly good career selling pharmaceuticals she started to realize that she and her husband were misaligned, they were pursuing a dream that wasn’t actually their dream for themselves.

Recently, she quit her job to pursue something she’s always desired for her family, especially her kids– owning a farm.

She writes about how her land found her in the middle of her commute, she found herself unable to avoid it. I liked the imagery. As you read her story you realize that her dream called her more than she pursued it, it’s a beautiful picture:

Again, I don’t even know why I did it. I loved it, of course, but I had passed other properties similar to this one.  I was drawn to this one so much so that just in case I didn’t drive by it again – our work territories changed all the time – I wanted to be able to preserve this sight.

These wants, these desires I experienced, I knew they came from deep inside.  I was drawn to it and it came from an authentic place – not to please anyone else or to ask someone else if they liked it too.  I knew I loved it.  And that was all.

And then we found our land.

Read the rest

As I’ve read her story I connect to the counter-cultural aspects of her journey. She’s given up the American Dream for her Family Dream… how much more powerful is that?

That’s dangerous.

For me…  the most dangerous person I can be is my true self. I’ve been made to say and do things that others can’t or won’t. It’s a blessing and a curse, but that’s who I am.

And I have a feeling that’s you, as well.

You weren’t created for domestication, you’ve got a bit of wild left in you.

You are wild. You are dangerous.

I’m here to tell you to go.

I’m here to testify that when you do that you’ll come alive in ways you never knew possible.

I’m here to tell you it isn’t easy– it’s scary as hell sometimes.

But I’m also here to remind you that you’ll never experience the thrill of free fall until you jump out of the plane.

Safety is a matter of perspective. 

Photo credit: Skydiving by Morgan Sherwood via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
Monday Motivation

An Ecosystem for Success

Why are some organizations so successful while others try really hard but never seem to get there?

Or, when something successful does come along, why doesn’t it last?

Why do successful people leave?

These are big, important conversations for every organization. Every organization.

Your local bank, taco shop, church, school, and even– maybe oddly– sole proprietorships. (Yes, you can quit working for yourself!)

Success Versus Long-term Success

Long-term success is rarely an accident. I find it’s more frequently the byproduct of an ecosystem. Happy, highly motivated, and well-rewarded people are just doing what they are doing… working hard and living life… and success just kind of happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a successful organization and asked “Why is this success happening?” and no one can tell me why it’s happening. It just is. That’s because the success they are part of is an entire ecosystem where success on a product/program/people isn’t the aim, it’s the byproduct.

The flip side is that when you see an aberration, success happening in an otherwise not-very-succesful environment, and you ask the same question people often point to something identifiable. (A person, a program, or even an outside force such as a population they are serving.) That’s because this type of success isn’t a byproduct of a healthy ecosystem, it’s the product of the moment.

Control and Power

Last week, I shared a video of a presentation I made at The Summit last Fall. I’ve given versions of that talk over and over again. What’s interesting to me is that when I deliver that talk I’ll hear “Amen” and lots of people will nod their head that what I’m saying is absolutely true.

So why don’t things change? Why is youth ministry nearly wholly focused on reaching 5% of the population of teenagers?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I wish I did.

But I know it has something to do with power— youth workers often don’t feel empowered to do what is necessary to reach and/or exceed the expectations put on them.

And I know it has something to do with control— youth workers often times aren’t equipped to create their own ecosystem, so most of what happens within their area is out of their control.

Questions

  • What are examples of healthy ecosystems that you’re aware of where success is the byproduct?
  • What’s the ecosystem like where you work?
Photo credit: Micro Ecosystem by Pierre Pocs Photography via Flickr (Creative Commons) 
Categories
management Monday Motivation

3 Keys to a Healthy Ecosystem for Growth

I spent a lot of time in Freshbooks last week. This revealed three important things to me. First, it’s clear that Marko and I have no training in accounting or bookkeeping. We try really hard and we are learning a ton. But it’s way harder than I’d like to admit. Second, while living in the daily grind of our little business makes it hard to see it… there’s no denying the exponential growth of everything we’re doing. Third, there’s a huge need for the position we’re hiring for to help us administratively so that our growth doesn’t stall. I’m actually starting to think of our next couple hires after that.

So what’s the secret to the Cartel’s growth? I think the biggest secret is that we cultivate a healthy ecosystem where growth is a natural byproduct of the health– instead of worrying about creating a home run product. Since it’s opening day in Major League Baseball… I describe what we do at the Cartel as “small ball.

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We do a lot of little things right and success is the outcome. And when we do things wrong… we fail fast and small.

3 Keys to a Healthy Ecosystem for Growth

We don’t always get these things right. But when we’re at our best, this is what we’re striving for.

Consistency


It’s easy to overdo it on consistency. Like, worrying about something being done at a specific time as opposed to being done well. But consistency is a sign that things are going well, that we’re on a good pace, and that things are sustainable. People are naturally drawn to consistency in quality of what you’re doing or consistency about timing on an event or even consistency of how long it takes to follow-up on something.

For instance, we don’t change the size of our books or the paper quality or even the thickness of our covers… ever. It’s not that we can’t do that. It’s that by being consistent people know what to expect from our books. And while we’re still perfecting our editorial process, the process of how a book becomes a book is pretty consistent. Why? Consistency leads to health.

Playfulness

Core to who we are, from the onset, is cultivate playfulness. There’s a fine line between playfulness and corniness… and we make sure we stay firmly on the playful side. This isn’t just something we do on the outside in what we do, it’s kind of who we are as an organization. I won’t extrapolate how that actually plays out on a daily basis, I’ll just leave that to the imagination. 

I find that as we’re playful it spreads to people we work with and into the stuff that we do. Last year, at The Summit I had a joke with the woman at our host hotel about wanting a really, really big gift basket because we completely sold out the hotel. Well, we we checked in to our rather modest little hotel room there it was… a candy gram with a hand written note.

It wasn’t over the top ridiculous but she was being as playful as her very serious job would allow.

Desperation


Nothing good comes out of a research & development department.

That’s something I’ve learned over the years.

  • IBM had all the money in the world and missed on the home computer.
  • Apple had all the money in the world and missed on Dropbox.
  • Google had all the money in the world and missed on Facebook.

Fat and happy never leads to innovation… only iteration.

Innovation is directly linked to desperation. One of the key things we do at the Cartel is always keep things a little desperate. We make things work because we have to make them work in order to keep going. Take that away and we get really, really safe.

Desperation is to innovation as safety is to iteration. 

Start Composting

DIY Composting Bin - http://www.instructables.com/id/compost-bin/
DIY Composting Bin – http://www.instructables.com/id/compost-bin/

So what do I do with these 3 things? Start composting.

Literally, you cannot buy health. You can’t hire health. You can only cultivate a healthy environment and patiently mix these things in over time. The bad news is that you can’t do this overnight. The good news is that once you’ve got it going it’s relatively easy to keep it going… just like a good compost in your garden.

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Monday Motivation

Clothes Don’t Make the Man

Peessshhheeeewwww.

The air brakes release on the rental car shuttle at the Phoenix airport last Thursday and a packed bus starts to make its way to the terminal.

Peessshhheeeewwww.

I roll my head back and let out a deep, silent sigh. A great day of training youth workers and talking to people about the Student Justice Conference. In just a few hours I’ll be home.

Sandals versus Gators

Business travel is generally a solo activity. People make small talk on shuttles or over a meal at an airport bar. But, largely, I find it’s an insular activity often distracted by keeping up with email, texting, looking at your travel details on Tripit, and stuff like that.

As I tip my head back and let out my end-of-day sigh I noticed something: Everyone in the front of the bus  is in a suit. These are men in business suits, with leather bags, expensive watches, and nice shoes. The guy standing directly across from me is wearing high-end shoes made from alligator hide.

I look at my own feet. I’m wearing TevasMy “business suit” includes casual shorts and an untucked polo. I don’t have a $500 leather briefcase. I have a $50 backpack that a friend gave to me a couple years ago.

Instantly, I feel inferior.

Actually, I feel stupid.

These guys are serious business people. They probably look at me as some schmuck in town to watch Spring Training.

In that moment I felt…. illegitimate.

That Suit Doesn’t Mean Success

This little pity party lasted about a block. That’s when I remembered a couple quick facts.

  • They are dressed appropriately for the work they do, but so am I.
  • Based on national averages they bought those fancy clothes on credit. That watch? Credit card. The Lexus waiting for them at the airport back home? It’s financed. I might not have anything from Brooks Brothers. But everything I have is paid for. And I think credit is for suckers.
  • Based on the same math, many of them are poorer today than yesterday. I made a profit, facts are facts.
  • The men they are repping probably wears a suit, too. The man I’m repping didn’t ever own a suit and  wore sandals to work every day. (Solid Jesus Juke, right there. Adam takes a bow.)

The Scorecard

I don’t have to feel inferior. Despite how I felt in that moment I do, indeed– and to the amazement of my parents– have a “real job.”

In fact, I think I have something a lot better than a “real job.” I have a life’s work that I’m fully invested in, that’s fulfilling and fun and provides a decent living for my family.

And yes, there are moments where I look at big houses on Zillow or look at AutoTrader, and yes… I wish I had more and bigger and fancier and whatever.

I wish I had a boat and a vacation house and… and… and…

But I don’t have anything to complain about. I made my own choices about the kind of life I want to live and the calling I want to pursue. 

If I wanted that life it was there for me 15 years ago. I didn’t get kicked out. I quit.

I was there, in the land of suits and gators and big fancy meetings with big fancy people. And you know what? It wasn’t for me.

And just like I had this moment where I felt inferior to the group of men in their fancy business suits… there’s a high likelihood that one of those dudes was looking at me and thinking, “One day I’d like to live a life where I can wear sandals, shorts, a polo, and carry a backpack to work.” Why? Because we all want what we don’t have.

Satisfaction isn’t found in stuff or position or $700 gators.

Satisfaction comes from something far more simple.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17

Photo credit: Romano Martegani Shoes by Robert Sheie via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Monday Motivation

Bidin’ My Time

Ever had one of those 3 o’clock in the morning moments of illumination? Well, this is one of those. 

I’ve probably heard 20 sermons on John 15 about the vines and the branches. Maybe more. I’ve probably taught on it myself.

There are whole books built on this, I’ve read a bunch of commentaries. It’s one of those core things people refer to.

And, since I don’t know much about grapevines, I tend to get hung up on the idea. Even though we have grapes in our backyard I’ll be the first to admit that the whole illustration Jesus was using is a little lost on me.

A lot in understanding this passage hinges on the word “abide” and that’s not really a word we use in English very often. It’s not even a word I can define off  the top of my head.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

John 15:4

Other translations translate that word differently. The Message uses “Live in me.” The NIV, “Remain in me.” But most translations use this antiquated word, “Abide.

But I woke up with this old Gershwin song on my mind. (Don’t judge me, apparently I dream about show tunes.) If you want to trip out a bit, listen to this Pink Floyd cover of the same song.

The two, the song and the Bible verse, connected for the first time.

Abide… biding my time… Jesus is talking about chilling out on the vine— when the time is right— he’ll pick you. Your job is to chill on the vine until just the right time, when you’re ripe, at just the right time, you’ll get picked.

We live in a RIGHT NOW culture. We want to change the world RIGHT NOW. We want everything to improve RIGHT NOW. We want to see change in ourselves RIGHT NOW. We want to see our enemies cry RIGHT NOW.

Our culture says RIGHT NOW.

Being totally transparent, I’m anxious about sitting on the sidelines at church. It’s totally weird to go to church on a Sunday morning with absolutely nothing to do but sit. And as much as I like my role as a high school small group co-leader… we’re talking about a role pretty tiny in comparison to what I’ve done in the past.

There’s a giant gap between my capabilities in our local ministry and the involvement I can handle with my other roles in life. This is disorienting.

I feel like I’m sitting there, just chilling, because that’s exactly what it happening. It’s weird to know that you could have a different role but your actual role is best compared to darned-near-nothing.

And Jesus says… “Chill. When the time is right I’ll come back and pick you.” (John 15:4, Adam’s 3:00 AM translation)

Until then? Just bide your time on the vine. Get nourished. Push past cultural-induced anxiety. Hang out in the sun with your grape-y friends. And chill.

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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)
Categories
Monday Motivation youth ministry

Keep Youth Ministry Weird

Youth ministry is weird. 

When planning a worship service for adults you’d never think, “We need a big group game to get people laughing.” Or, “Let’s have a sleep over right here in the church.

A little too weird for most adults. But awesome for 8th graders.

It’s pretty rare that adults will show up an hour before church just to skateboard in the parking lot or hang out with their friends. I’ve been in some fun adult small groups, but we’ve never gone to a trampoline park together. Teenagers don’t donate old couches for adults to sit in on a Sunday morning. And, as sorry as I am to say it’s true, it’s pretty tough to get 25 adults to show up to help clean up the neighborhood.

Silly games, fun nights, mission trips, service projects, t-shirts, bad pizza, over-the-top songs, all-nighters, pointless road trips, winter retreats, just-cos-movie nights, helping at VBS, camp flings… all of these are staples of youth ministry.

Youth ministry is weird because weird is what works with teenagers.

If you aren’t a little bit weird you’re a lot-a-bit creepy.

Tune Out the Tamers

To me, one of the scariest things going on in youth ministry right now is the desire to tame it. People are so worried about youth ministry being a one-eared Mickey Mouse (not fitting organizationally) that they put a saddle on their youth group and break it.

  • People start to see youth ministry as a great way to market to families instead of a great way to reach teenagers who need Jesus.
  • People worry so much about integrating with kids ministry and young adult ministry that there aren’t really any non-church kids to even worry about integrating… we’re integrating people who were going to integrate anyways. 
  • People preach the Gospel of safety and political correctness more than they preach the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If you tame it you’ll lose it. If it’s boring the only people who will come are the students whose parents make them come.

If you finish a night of youth ministry and you didn’t have at least one point of the night where you weren’t sure if it was going to work or if you were going to lose control… you need to tune out some tamers in your life.

Youth ministry, at it’s best, is weird. 

Deal with the phone calls.

Explain it in staff meeting.

Get your volunteer team to back you up.

And keep your youth ministry weird, baby. 

Photo credit: Zorbs by Ian Southwell via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
Monday Motivation

Potential

I saw this tweet this morning.

I don’t know about you, but it motivates me.

It’s crazy to think about how important decisions you make as a 17 year high school senior are. And it’s incredible how much positive and negative things said about you can motivate you.

I’ll never forget my stepmom saying something like, “You aren’t college material. Even if you go away to college, you’ll never graduate. The best you’ll ever do is community college.

Thanks for the motivation.

Proved you wrong.

Next challenge, please.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.
~ Winston Churchhill, overcame professional failure

I don’t know what the negative voice is in your head. But I do know this: Use it to prove them wrong.

Categories
Monday Motivation

The Psychology of Savings

Last night, we watched an excellent documentary on Netflix called Living on One Dollar. It’s the story of two upper middle class college students who are passionate about international development but realize that in order to truly understand their coursework they need to experience the life of those they hope to help. They went on a quest, living in rural Guatemala for a summer on  the equivalent of $1 per day.

Watching this documentary with my family made me realize three things about a lot of people in my life

  1. Many people I know live far too close to the edge. They are pursuing their calling, lots in full-time ministry, but money is a real problem in their life. (spoken or unspoken) They are one blown engine or medical bill from disaster.
  2. Many people I know are living on less than $1 per day. Actually, they are living on -$20 per day. “The average American household carries a debt of $203,163 for financial baggage such as mortgages, credit card balances and student loan debt.” (source)
  3. Like the Guatemalan families featured in the film, my friends don’t have an income or spending problem, they have a savings problem. “Bankrate.com reported in 2012 that 28 percent of American families have no savings. Another 20 percent don’t have enough saved to cover even three months’ worth of living expenses” (source)

The Psychology of Savings

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Life on the edge is dangerous. Sure, you might not fall very often. But life away from the edge is better than life on the edge.

Balancing on the edge is a weird thing. It’s ultimately about confidence and attention. If you focus too much on keeping your balance and thinking about it… you’ll fall. And if you don’t think you can keep your balance… you’ll fall.

The same is true with not having a cushion of savings. You teeter on the edge. You try to ignore it but what happens? Eventually, you stumble and things get worse.

Having money in the bank, something you can fall back on if something goes wrong or something you can depend on when the check engine light comes on… it has a psychological impact on you.

You are more confident.

You are free to take some risks.

  • Your boss asks you to do something you think is 100% stupid. And you tell him.
  • You get a flyer for a class to learn something new. And you go for it. 
  • You walk through a neighborhood you want to live in. And you know what it would take to make it happen. 

See, having some savings is more than merely practical. It’s more than a fallback plan. It’s a psychological advantage.

Our Story

2008-2009 dealt us a bummer hand. We had to sell our house in the middle of the worst housing crisis in modern history… and we pretty much got screwed. While we had multiple offers on our house, while we guaranteed the bank we’d pay the difference between what was owed and what the market would offer, the holder of our second mortgage erroneously illegally foreclosed on our house and sold it at auction. (Then sold our “debt” down the line, resulting in years of harassment and collections agencies.)

In short, our biggest investment went bust. Not only did we lose every penny we invested in the house. We also lost our credit rating.

Worse still. We lost our confidence. It sucked big time. We went from feeling like we were doing OK to right back to the edge.

That was 6 years ago. We were far too close to zero with my phone ringing off the hook, creditors chasing us, the letters, the threats, the whole 9 yards. (We were in the right and didn’t owe the banks anything… they stole our house! But when you cross that line the people over there don’t care about right or wrong. They just want the money their computer screen says you owe.)

I share that to say this: In the last 6 years we’re right back on track. In fact, our savings is stronger than ever. A couple weeks ago we did a review and were shocked to discover that we have nearly 1 years worth of income in long-term savings.

You want to talk about a psychological advantage? Confidence? We went from having 1/2 months savings to 12 months in 6 years. 

We looked at those numbers and realized something crazy: We can get way more aggressive. So, starting this month, we’ve adjusted our budget again. I jokingly call these “austerity measures.” But in reality, giving up cable or things like that aren’t that big of a deal.

Jump Start Your Savings

Before you eyeroll me I want to share with you the plan we’ve used. It’s not a gimmick or a book or a lecture series or anything like that. It’s drop-dead-simple.

  1. Pay yourself first. We get paid on the 15th and the 30th. The very first thing I do is put a set amount into savings.
  2. Pay your kids second. A few weeks ago I asked my Facebook friends what they were doing to save for their kids college. Almost no one had a plan. When Megan was born we started a 529 plan and put $25 a month in it. We’ve increased it periodically. I treat it like a bill. And while $25 a month might not sound like it’s going to help you get to $100,000 or whatever crazy number people toss around these days, it’s better than doing nothing. The little bit we’ve weaseled away each month since 2002 has resulted in us having about the first year of Megan’s college in that account. (This is about 20% of our college savings plan, I won’t bore you with the rest.)
  3. Pay your bills third. I suck at paying bills. Quite frankly I just forget. That’s why I try to pay all of my bills in the same action.
  4. Go cash only on the rest. More accurately, debit card only. When we buy something, whether it’s groceries or a car, that money comes directly out of our checking account. Don’t have it? Don’t buy it.
  5. All forms of credit suck. Debt is debt. We have a credit card for business travel. I hate it. We’ve been told we need to buy a house. Maybe one day, but I’m in no hurry. After all, last time I bought a house the bank stole all my money. I’ve read and been told that “some debt is good.” This is only said by people trying to sell you debt. Two weeks ago Chase bank reported disappointing 4th quarter 2014 results… they only made $5 billion when Wall Street expected $6 billion. All debt sucks. It’s the enemy. Treat it as such. 
  6. Convince yourself that you are poor. I’m sure there’s another word for this. But we intentionally live below our means so we can be generous and pour money into long-term savings. The typical family in Southern California spends 30%-35% of their income on housing: We spend 18%. Most people have two cars, we will eventually get two cars, but we’ve only had two cars for 10 months of the seventeen years we’ve been married… and that belonged to a missionary couple who let us borrow it.
  7. Reward yourself along the way. We love our vacations, we love our hobbies… in so many ways I feel like we live high on the hog. But all of those things are just rewards. Ultimately, we aren’t as aggressive with our frugality as we possibly could be. And I think we’re able to save for the long-term precisely because of that. We live reasonably and we reward ourselves richly in responsible ways.

Wrap-Up

I’m bringing all of this up, not to brag, but to help you see that there’s a direct tie between the pursuit of all that you could achieve, what some people might call “God’s will for your life” and your lack of financial stability.

  • I know too many with big, world changing dreams, who can’t pursue them because of a lack of confidence.
  • I know too many people who think their dreams aren’t worth pursuing because they live too close to the edge.
  • I know too many people who think living on the edge of financial disaster is somehow a burden they are called to bear as Christ-followers.

You have to address it. And it’s better to address it today than go another $20 in the hole to start tomorrow. 

Photo credit: Sunset in Rungsted Havn via Olga Capriotta via Flickr (Creative Commons) Her Third Birthday by Travis Swan via Flickr (Creative Commons)