My TED(x) Talk…

So, I checked off one of those bucket-listy things: I gave a TED Talk. Well, it was a talk at a TEDx event, a corporate TEDx event where I work. Which means that it is most likely it will never be released to the public TED.com website, or be visible outside our company firewalls. So, for most of those who read this, you won’t get to see the talk.

But, I wanted to share the script of my talk. Frankly, the script is better than my talk anyway, as I didn’t do as well with memorizing the words I’d written as I’d hoped. Nevertheless, the talk went well, and I heard feedback from a number of listeners who found the talk thought-provoking. So I offer the script here in the hope it may do the same for you. Enjoy!

The Tricky Myth of Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance. We alllllllll want it, right? Or we’re supposed to want it… It’s important to find, to create, to achieve, to maintain. We’ve seen posters, articles, interviews, How-Tos, infographics, there’s even a “Work/Life Balance for Dummies” guidebook.

WLBalanceForDummies

I searched on the phrase “Work Life Balance” and there were nearly 200 Million hits. It’s almost a Holy Grail for Human Resources and Life Coaches.

For any of you not familiar with the concept, it’s a big idea that offers to guide our sensibility about managing the relative priorities we place on our activities inside and outside of the workplace. It’s the subject of seminars, lectures, and entire training programs. For many, it does seem to be a realistic achievement and a useful description of what works for them. Others swear by it as the key to their relationships and time management.

But, I’ve always had problems with the whole concept. It just never made sense to me. The idea of taking these two categories—Work and Life—and throwing them on a scale to balance on each side just plain challenges me. First, I question whether these two buckets of my attention and focus really make sense. Is Work NOT a part of Life? Am I somehow not alive when I work? And is it fair, or even useful, to heap everything my employer isn’t paying me to do into one generic dish called, “Life”?

2dishscale

Instead of seeing the pieces of this challenge as just the Work and Life components, isn’t it true that this “Life” bucket (or “dish”) is really a whole bunch of areas of focus in our lives? Think about it. Our entertainment time, our resting time, our fitness time, our relationship time, our spiritual time, our learning time, our volunteering time… Each of these calls, pleads for our time. And if these are in our lives, we are placing some priority on them. Well, that’s more than just two dishes on the scale.

I kind of picture a balance scale with a whole set of dishes arrayed all around it. Think about that, it doesn’t sound like an easy place to balance everything, or anything. Which leads me to another discomfort I have with the Work/Life Balance concept. If “balance” is the expectation for these, do they all get the same focus to “balance” it all out?

MultiBalanceScale

Well, are they all really the same in importance? Can they be “balanced”? It makes it sound like we should be able to get it right and be done with it—find the “balance” and that solves it. But each of our worlds keep changing, our “Life”s keep changing, our priorities keep changing. Just think about it…

We’ll walk through my life and career to illustrate… I began my career, fresh out of college, and first getting into the workplace. I experienced my first big boy paycheck—pretty cool, and it gave me a good reason to make Work a pretty strong focus. But then I also had a few “outside” activities to keep “The Balance” right, going to rock or jazz shows and clubbing with friends, just a little bit of exercise and sports to stay fit—not too much for me, gotta love that 20-year-old metabolism. And then there was volunteering—at church and in community theater, which was great at helping me to feel pretty good about my “spare” time. In time, I met a great girl named Lisa, and that became a great relationship I wanted to grow with all I could offer. That led eventually led to marriage (our 26th wedding anniversary was yesterday). Later came a baby, our daughter, Grace… And soon enough we’re into all of her activities.

But then at work, I was doing well, working hard, and thinking about whether I should go after a graduate degree. But with promotions through project leader, subcontract responsible engineer, functional manager, governance program manager, and systems architect and product owner…the responsibilities kept growing. In the meantime, my parents were getting older, too, needing my help with their home and even needing my assistance with their health challenges. And of course, the changes in the workplace have pressed on my focus and attention. I was actually in my 21st month of working temporary assignments while looking for a new position when I found out I was selected to present this talk.

My goodness. At some point, the word “Balance” doesn’t seem possible, doesn’t even sound preferable. And the term “spare time” isn’t a fair label for the few spots on the calendar that aren’t scheduled with any activities…yet. It seems im-balance is almost what we’d prefer. Life doesn’t sit still, so there’s not really a chance to balance things out, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of a balance scale that could make any sense. It’s just plain stressful to keep a tally of how we’re doing with Balancing between the two sides of our existence.

Just look at what happens with all of these elements of our lives. We don’t always have the choice to compartmentalize and separate them. Sometimes I have to take the call at work about the problem my daughter is experiencing. Sometimes I have to take the call at home about the problem that jumped to life at work. Sometimes I have to take the call about my volunteering at home OR at work because there’s just plain something I have to work out with someone. These boundaries are rather naturally disrupted.

And that’s one of the other big concerns I have with the Work/Life Balance concept. It has the feeling of segmenting our existence into these two categories—even separating our identity and our behavior between the two sides of that scale. But all of this is our Life. All of this is US. All of this is worth our focus and priority at some level, and it doesn’t make sense to keep them all out of contact with each other.

This is why I’ve been up on a soapbox saying that while “Work/Life Balance” doesn’t make sense, “Work/Life Integration” does ring a bit more true. See, we’re not going do better with all of these important parts of our lives if we force them all into neat boxes (or trays on a scale)—instead, I’m interested in how to push down those barriers, let them overlap and mix and blend in better ways.

Well, that’s tricky, too.

Will I be cheating my workday if I take that call in my office? Will my family get the short end of the stick if I take a call at home?

At its center, this is very much about maturity, about our maturing. As we gain life experience, we can take on more responsibility for how we choose, how we manage our time, how we respond to our obligations and the expectations placed on us. And with that experience, those choices can become more facile, more effective. Over time, there’s the opportunity to understand these boundaries and appreciate the flexibility and the harmony that can come with flexing those boundaries…

I’d like to offer you a slightly different vision for how we look at this complexity in our lives. It’s a movement from Work/Life Balance, past Work/Life Integration, toward Peace. Now, when I say “peace,” it probably makes you think of passivity, of an absence of strife, both in our minds and bodies, and in the world around us.

But the Hebrew word for “Peace,” the word, “Shalom,” has a deeper meaning than all of that. It denotes a completeness, a soundness, and can mean both to live in a complete and sound way and to move in the direction of completeness and soundness. Now, consider this. Becoming “complete” isn’t without its strife and challenges. It’s most often through the struggles we endure and the challenges we overcome that we actually learn and grow. That doesn’t sound like an absence of strife. And peace isn’t really a static state, achieved once and done. Peace and completeness is a pursuit, one with struggle, with setbacks, with learning, with adjustments.

Well, what would this look like in our lives? What has it looked like in my life? Let me be the first to say that I am in a continual struggle to live in a more “complete” way. I keep finding out more of how I need to fit it all together a bit more. And that only makes sense, because the elements in my life, inside and away from my workplace, keep changing. But I keep learning. So, here are five recommendations I can offer from what I’ve learned.

First, don’t let the “Balance” mandate beat you up. “Balance” really isn’t a fair ongoing measure of success. Each aspect of our life changes and adjusts in what it requires or what it relinquishes. Consider just how little that is like “Balance” and don’t let that discourage. You are the one who works out the combination of what’s important in your life. I learned early in my marriage that the “Balance” approach wasn’t enough given that most of the activities in my life would gladly request more than a rational portion or even a fair share of my attention.

Next, it’s important to realize that finding that right combination in the here and now relies on your integrity. You need to be honest and considerate of how you work this. Our jobs demand honesty in all that we do and require integrity on how we spend and bill our time. And our families deserve the best we have to offer—not just the leftovers of our remaining energy after a long work day. Those other areas of passion, true passion, where we invest our interest and efforts are certainly worthy—at least in our own estimation—and deserve the best we can offer them as well. So considering how we can offer each area our honest best is the call. Working for a defense contractor while serving as a volunteer worship leader at my home church are quite enough to teach me that my integrity is on the line with all of these time allocation decisions I make regularly.

But, third, it cannot work to just plain give too much to everything. That doesn’t balance anything, even though it will try to balance everything on our own mortal shoulders. We do need to be able to discern the difference between practical stretch goals and just plain pipedreams. There are not enough hours in any day or week to include everything our interests might demand. And not everything that attracts our eyes is truly worthy of our time investment. I turn to a saying that one of the Human Factors Engineers I used to manage would quote liberally. It was the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery who said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” PerfectionQuote

We really won’t find peace or completeness in saying, “yes,” to requests in excess. I’m guilty of being too willing to say “yes” to volunteer opportunities at church and in the theater, going directly from work to a meeting or rehearsal day after day–but still ready to schedule something else if asked. It was a priceless lesson to teach my mind that a night with nothing scheduled on the calendar shouldn’t automatically be considered a “free” night—it’s often better to consider it a night booked for not going anywhere…

Fourth, this integrity question is actually helped a great deal by embracing the reality that who we are doesn’t actually change from locale to locale, or from work to home to charity to leisure. Consider the other meaning of the word, “integrity”—it also refers to being undivided or whole. We may choose to act very different, but doing so comes at a psychic cost. The changes in behavior are fibs we tell ourselves somewhere in our minds to make the change simpler. If we drop the fibs and be true to who we are in each of our environments, it facilitates our progress toward completeness and peace.

My final recommendation is to forgive. Forgive yourself when you do fall short of your own expectations on working out these boundaries and attention—which you will. And forgive others when they don’t help you work this out as you’d like—which they will. There’s no gain in dwelling on resentment, no matter who is the focus of that disappointment. You will be helping both your own and their movement toward peace and completeness.

So, if I can give you anything today, I want to leave you with the permission to think differently about this. Not to be boxed into pursuing Work/Life Balance, but encouraged to move continuously toward that right concept of peace and completeness and soundness, toward Shalom, in your work-and-everything-else life.

Now, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make the best poster. How about this: Don’t be ruled, or fooled, by the balance scale!

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Ten years ago in NYC

For any who have never read this, my experiences on 9/11/01. Praying today for more peace in me and the world…

My Ebenezer

I’ve never really written anything about my experiences in New York City on 9/11/01. I don’t have any particular reason for never writing, but this tenth anniversary does make me think that maybe some might find some of it interesting. This could be a long one.

I’d driven up to New York City the night before, Monday evening of September 10th, and stayed overnight at the Hilton hotel not too far from Rockefeller Plaza, on the Avenue of the Americas near 53rd Street. Driving in NYC was always a dicey thing for me–I’d either start driving like the rest of the aggressive maniacs around me or drive very conservatively and nervously. Regardless, I made it to the hotel just fine and parked my car in their underground garage.

I’d been sent to the city by my company as the representative to a new industry exchange group discussing internal web…

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The very first doubt…

Here’s a quick one, one that’s been on my mind for a while… One of the takeaways I love from the Eden story is what seems to me is the birth of doubt.

God created us in His image, with free will…but without His infinite wisdom of course. This was imperative for us to be able to bring Him glory since mindless individuals He created praising Him wouldn’t really add to His glory. So with our free will, we can either accept and believe what God says about us and Himself and the universe–or we can question what He says.

It’s pretty amazing that at first, all was working well, and Adam and Eve were trusting what God said and enjoying a great intimate relationship with God but then the very first doubt in history came up… Satan (whose name MEANS liar) asked a simple but well-crafted question which invited that first doubt: “You won’t surely die if you eat that fruit, will you?”

As far as I can tell, that led to the first doubt in all of history. Since then, Satan has demonstrated a refined ability to offer the questions that appeal to us, and we have demonstrated a practiced ability to doubt.

BTW, my guess is that the last doubt ever, just before the element of The Revelation is fulfilled, won’t be too very different from the first… As Michael Myers used to say as Linda Richman, “Discuss.”

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God is not dead, nor doth He sleep…

The words in this post’s title were written by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864 in the poem, “Christmas Bells.” This poem was later put to music in the hymn, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.” I’ve been thinking a bit about a few of the lines from this hymn and another since the terrible massacre two weeks back at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The incomprehensible evil of killing young children so brutally has not only shocked and saddened our nation and the world, but also fueled profound debate over exactly what has caused and contributed to this and similar acts. These discussions naturally lead to the place of God and our beliefs in these situations.

In my experience, the answers from those of us who identify ourselves as “Christian” and “religious” are not always reassuring or clear to the world around us. The world and even we will ask questions like, “How could God allow this?” or “Why would God take this child away?” And sometimes our best answer is to echo the words from Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 But that is tough consolation even for believers at times. I find more to lean on in the words of another hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the third verse: “Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee.” These words look back to the Bible’s teachings like the first chapter of John, where we read “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” It’s easy for me to believe that we live in a fallen world, where the wonderful and awesome gift of free will allows us all to choose for the better or worse. In fact, Longfellow’s poem offers in an earlier stanza,

‘And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”’

In the Christian church, we look to both the Bible and our hymn and song heritage for the beliefs and wisdom that teach and sustain us. Sadly, the Bible offers us other stories of children killed at the hands of madmen–including the Pharaoh against the enslaved Jewish people in Egypt and governor/king Herod the Great against the city of Bethlehem. Many commenting on the Sandy Hook massacre talk of angels and Heaven breaking down in tears. I have to agree that angels and others in Heaven must be crying over this event.

I really believe that there are tears in Heaven on a daily basis as they watch all kinds of terrible consequences arising from our abuse of our free will. We see in the parable Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus and from Paul’s identification of a cloud of witnesses that those in Heaven seem to be aware of and concerned for our activities down here–at least to the extent God intends them to be… But there’s nothing to make me believe that God, angels, or others in Heaven are wringing their hands and lamenting the utter failure of all on Earth.

My big reasons to believe this is what we celebrate in this Christmas season. That a great light has come into the world, and though darkness tries to hide it or we let our hold on it loosen because of the darkness we see, God’s plan will make the light Jesus offers the centerpiece the world will use to see. I do really believe that God is not dead or sleeping, but the ways of hate are strong in mocking the offer of peace we’ve been given. Though we allow the darkness we see to cloud our view, there is light for us to see in the love and sacrifice of Jesus and the peace He gives.

I pray with many for comfort, healing, and the peace of Jesus for all those affected by the Sandy Hook shootings. And I hope and pray this has been a blessed Christmas celebration for all of you.

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Whispers, Nudges, Shoulder-Taps, Head Thumps, Crashes…

I’m rather glad that God is pretty patient with me in many areas of my life… In the Bible, I think I see examples of where God “talks” to those He wants to influence in quiet and small ways as well as loud and huge ways. Think of the “still small voice” Elijah heard in 1 King 19:12 when God wanted to encourage him to get back to the tough work of telling people the truth. Or the big voice of God at Jesus‘ baptism (Matthew 3:17) telling the world what God the Father thought of Jesus His son.

Well, in case you didn’t know, God still uses a still, small voice sometimes, but pulls out the big guns when that fails… In my case, I’m good at listening to the still, small voice only every once in a while, sorry to say. But God is good at ramping up the message when needed.

One of the bold (e.g., unwise) statements I’ve made, including in front of our congregation, is that one of the last areas of my life I’ll ever turn over to God is my driving. I’ve even confessed that was a big reason why I didn’t think I’d ever post a “Jesus fish” on my car–I’d hate to think someone might judge Christians by my driving. (Which actually led to Grace making me a few “Jesus fish” out of pipe cleaners, which still hang around my rear view mirror even now…) But one aspect of my driving was a focus of God’s attention over a long timeframe.

For a long time, I’ve put myself too often in the position of driving when I’m tired. Many reasons for why and how I do that, really, but none of them as important as my health, my family’s well-being, and the lives and property of others. But, of course, I can’t slip that by God, and thankfully, He cares about all of those things more than my excuses. So I’ve been getting messages from God about the folly of these ways for a long time. There have been the whispers of my conscience telling me to stop for a break during a long drive or the second thoughts about the way I’m planning a drive. There are the nudges from others expressing concern about my driving and sleep schedules and my state of rest. And He provided out and out shoulder-taps from my wise and concerned wife and daughter at time who will question me while I’m driving about whether I’m alert as I should be… Lisa, my wife, actually likes to talk about how God sometimes “thumps” her in the head [Lisa pointed out that I really don’t listen to her, so I’ve edited this from “thunks” to “thumps” ;-)] about this or that–and things like drifting onto the side rumble strips on the highway or even riding up a bit on an angled road barrier on my left when driving were all definite thumps.

Eventually, though, God decided a crash was what was needed. And I’m very thankful that the crash didn’t involve profound death or even injury for others or me, not profound loss of property for others. It did lead to minor injury and property loss for me–and points on my license.

It was a day when I’d planned one of my crazy day-trips to Pennsylvania State University, which is about three hours drive from my home. Well, I’d departed at 5 AM to get there in time for an 8 AM breakfast among several of my company’s leaders and two college Deans. The day was then filled with meetings and a lunch with student leaders, a new building tour, a demonstration of great technology, and then a banquet to top off the visit. I hit the road at 9 PM to head home, expecting to get home around midnight. Around 10:40 PM, in an area near Harrisburg, PA where there were several successive exits to the next route and lots of curves, I entered an area where some construction work was underway and I fell asleep at the wheel just after coming around a bend. In the brief moment I was asleep, I failed to see traffic stopped ahead of me for the construction activities and crashed into the rear of a stationary large SUV. The impact awakened me, set off multiple airbags in my car, cause my seatbelt to yank back hard on my torso, caused the driver ahead of me to bump her head on her steering wheel, and did big damage (almost exclusively to my car).

When I exited my car, I spoke briefly to the other driver, who had a small cut above her eye–she quickly told me that she’s a rugby player and gets hit with worse most weekends. She was basically fine. I had a sore neck (probably from the driver’s side curtain airbag going off and bouncing my head away from the driver’s side car frame and window) and a sore side and chest (it turns out basically from how hard the seatbelt yanked back oon me–I think I didn’t even hit the steering wheel airbag). By God’s provision, an off-duty fireman trained in first aid came along very quickly. He quickly assessed the situation and was concerned I might have a neck injury so he manually immobilized my neck at the roadside until the ambulance crew could arrive and place me in a collar on a back board.

Yep, this is the result...

The ambulance took me to a local emergency room, where I was quickly assessed, x-rayed, and examined thoroughly. I was also able to call Lisa to let her know what had happened and that I was okay. They assessed me as well enough to release with instructions to visit my general practitioner very soon and to apply heat to the sore spots after 24 hours. I was released in the middle of the night at a hospital about one hour from my home. The nurses were kind enough to recognize that I needed rest and needed time before I could do anything about my situation, so they let me sleep until morning in a ready room. Bottom line of it all, the next morning I had a rental car brought to me, then visited the car to remove any contents I wanted to save as I was reasonably convinced it would be totaled, then headed home. The car was totaled, I was cited for inattentive driving, and points were added to my license. And God finally got my attention.

Now, since that time, I won’t say that everything has changed. I have become much more cautious about my driving schedules and the way I plan trips–I’m much more apt to plan an overnight stay now than I ever was, and I’m less likely to arrange an extended day trip. Not every factor in my life that’s led to my bad sleeping and rest schedule has changed, so I haven’t entirely changed my sleep schedule. But I’ve made improvements and become much more aware and circumspect about my driving safety. And I appreciate the persistence of God in getting my attention–I appreciate even the crash (even though the car I had was better than what I have now and it all was costly in several ways). After all, the whispers, nudges, head thumps, and shoulder taps hadn’t done the trick. Thanks be to God!

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Freedom

So, on July 4th and some of the other holidays where patriotism in America soars, I pay attention to the wording and rhetoric. I tend to notice that the language tends to talk about our freedom as coming from our country and from our founding fathers’ definitions of what this country would be all about. But I do find that troubling from my understanding of the Bible and even some of the principles expressed in our founding documents.

What I get from the Bible is that our freedom is not provided by the country where we live, but rather a gift from God. Freedom cannot be given by our country, only protected or limited, preserved or forfeited by a country’s actions to exert power over individuals. In fact, there are countries, other institutions, and even individuals who seek to limit our exercise of freedom. But the Bible talks clearly about our freedom as a gift from God.

Consider the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from perfection and grace. Their relationship with God was based in the freedom He extended to them–they had the run of the garden and could choose whatever they wanted to do, even to be the very first to go against God and sin. (See Genesis 1, 2, and 3 to get the gist…) That freedom to choose God and His ways, or not, is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom in our world. Or for a step further, look at Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (NIV) The most important freedom is certainly the freedom Jesus won on the cross and in rising from the dead–a freedom I abuse and treat as cheap far too regularly. John 8:32 tells us “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) We are set free when we embrace the truth that Jesus’ death on the cross has fully paid for our sins and His resurrection from the dead promises us the same restoration of true and rich life.

If you think about all of the freedoms our government offers, like religion and speech and press and assembly and the rest, they arise from a deep understanding of what the freedom God offers really means and how it can be manifested in the world. The Declaration of Independence stated that it was “self-evident” that we were “endowed by their (our) creator with certain inalienable rights…” and “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men…” The document truly recognizes the government as an institution to protect and preserve the freedom we’ve already received from God. And when it came to the writing of the Constitution, the states and framers were very quick to recognize that all of the work they’d done to set up government was too unfettered to ensure the freedom of the population. So the very first amendment proposed, immediately upon ratification of the Constitution itself, was all about protecting our freedoms.

So, on July 4th, I’m thankful for a God who gave me freedom, for a country set up to protect my freedoms, and for all of those who’ve fought and labored to preserve those protections. And I thank God for the ways His grace and providence continue to offer me freedom in spite of who I am and what I do. Excellent and Amen!

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I’ve Got My Man Cave

Wanted to let everyone know I have my man cave!

It’s an amazing space–not one but two big screens (14 foot diagonal), kicking cieling suspended sound system to fill the room along with two huge subwoofers, loads of comfy seating with my preferred seat always reserved for me, dimmers for the lighting, ability to show and hear media from any source from computer to iPod to live, and a decorating style that is just really me. I really need to start inviting more guys over to see this place.

It turns out that this past Sunday for Ascension Sunday, our Pastor John was talking about the ascension story from the beginning of Acts when the disciples of Jesus got kinda stuck looking up at the sky watching Jesus’ departure rather than heading out to share the Good News as He’d instructed them. John reiterated that call to all of us that we need to go be witnesses as Jesus said, sharing what we’ve seen and experienced to ensure the world knows about the love of God. He made a point of saying that us guys need to get out of our man caves and go make a difference.

Well, I thought about that a bit. My home has no man cave (unless you count my workshop, which might be a different kind of man cave). But I was struck with how perfectly our sanctuary works as my man cave. I do love being there and I do need to get out of there and share the good news of Gods love every week. And I do need to get more men to come enjoy my man cave.

So, you’re invited! Come over some Saturday evening or Sunday morning. As a worship leader, I do try to be a welcoming host. And we have a great tech team to keep the equipment up to expectations. The messages are valuable and relevant, and the company is pretty great. Come visit my man cave!

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