Jesus And The Barren Fig Tree, You And Me

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing went as planned?  You over sleep.  You arrive at work and realize you put on unmatching socks.  (Faded black does look like charcoal gray at times doesn’t it?)

Your boss complains about something you messed up.  You try to fix it but your computer decides it’s in opposition.  And so on.

When we have days like this, it’s normal to just want to crawl back in bed, press rewind to start over or fast forward to get it over.

I’ve had days like this for sure.  Days when I just couldn’t get anything done that I planned to.  But have you ever had a month like this?  A year?  A decade?

As 2012 approaches, are you looking back at 2011 and wondering where the days went and what you accomplished, if anything?  Perhaps maybe you accomplished a lot but just didn’t complete a few goals you set?

If so, do you know why?

If you’re anything like me, it’s because you’re like a fig tree. Perhaps you know the story of Jesus and the barren fig tree.

Matthew 21:18-19 says, “Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he hungered. And seeing a fig tree by the way side, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only; and he saith unto it, Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.”

He is, of course, Jesus. These verses document Jesus making a point to his followers about Israel, which was often compared to a fig tree.  Simply put, Jesus said that when Israel obeyed God, it would produce fruit and when it did not, it was akin to a fruitless tree, not good for much at all.

What’s keeping you barren?  What’s stopping you from producing more?  What’s preventing you from setting and accomplishing goals?

Here’s what stops me at times:

1. Distractions like social media and online news

2. Laziness

3. Apathy

4. Over sleeping

5. Procrastination

These are things that I allow to get in the way of goals and living my God-commanded why – to advance others through personal-growth education.  This list is the enemy of productivity and achieving my dreams.  These five things prevent this fruit tree, me, from serving God and serving you better.

What’s keeping you from producing more?

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Taking Responsibility To Change Your Life

“I’m responsible.”  Not you.  Not the government.  Not my boss.  Not anyone.

If you ever plan to achieve anything significant, “I’m responsible” must become words you’re comfortable with.  If you’ve a reached a point in life and you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and you’re ready to start happening to life instead of the opposite, “I’m responsible” must become your close friend.

In fact, taking responsibility and holding yourself accountable actually gives you the freedom needed to go after your goals and dreams.  Yes, the freedom to.  While that may seem counter intuitive, it’s not.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to be creatures of habit?  We like routines.  We take the same routes to the same destinations. We eat the same things.

Well, we tend to respond to things the same way as well.  We establish response patterns for particular situations.  One of those patterns is making excuses, shirking responsibility and blaming others.  I’ve done it.  We all have.  The problem is we rob ourselves from achieving more when we do this.

“I didn’t have time.”  “I was just too busy.”  “They didn’t let me.”  “It’s their fault.”

While there are times these may be true, these or similar statements have become default for when we fail to do something.  And until we rid them from our vocabulary and break this response pattern, we will achieve little.  We will never have a truly successful marriage.  Our businesses will fail if they ever even get going.  We will look back in 20 years and be in the exact same place.  True happiness will be something someone else has.

If you’ve ever hung out with or know really successful, happy people, you don’t hear excuses.  They own their failures as much as their successes.  They take full responsibility.

No one ever achieved their dream saying “I didn’t have time.”

No one ever pulled their marriage back from the brink saying “I was just too busy.”

No one ever discovered their why for living saying “They didn’t let me.”

No one ever built a successful business saying “It’s their fault.”

When we swap blame for responsibility, we change.  Our spirit changes.  When we remove the clothing of fear and indecision, we remove shackles that restrict us from living better.  This is actually behavior we all know very well.

We own cars.  And we fuel them so they can take us somewhere.  We own that decision.

We feed ourselves to stay alive.  We don’t rely on someone else.

We educate ourselves to learn.  We took matters into our own hands.

We take care of our families the best way we know how.  We don’t outsource it.

Every day, we exhibit the behavior and knowledge to change our course.  It’s a decision, a decision that we own.

When we assume responsibility for our lives, no matter the circumstances, we become free to take ourselves some place new.  Some place better.  Some place more purposeful.

Question:  Has not taking responsibility ever kept you from achieving something?

Stop Doing Your Own PR

We all know them.  The credit taker.  The self-promoter.  The person who just can’t resist saying “I knew that.”

I know this person because I am this person.  It is a weakness I’m hyper aware of and have worked on for years now.

In a way, we’re all in the business of Public Relations as it’s, unfortunately, commonly viewed by most people.  We do something spectacular, and we tell people about it.  We help someone, and we follow it up with a Facebook post about “how great it felt to help that person.”  If we thought it would be well-received, we’d send out press releases to our local newspapers or TV news stations announcing our awesomeness.

In a world of heavy competition and pressure to stand out, we so often default to being loud about our strengths, knowledge and abilities to place ourselves, albeit temporarily, on top.  We’re in a team meeting, have a flash of brilliance, keep it to ourselves for whatever reason, and then it happens. Someone else blurts out “my” idea.

In an effort to prove our worth and regain top billing, we say, “I had the same thought.”  Or, “I completely agree and actually had that idea, too.”

Logically, our doing this added nothing to the meeting.  But emotionally, for a brief second, it made us feel better about number one.

The funny thing is actions like this more often than not just make us look bad because others recognize the self-promoter.  We recognize them because we are them.

The Bible says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 14:11

God knew Einstein’s ideas long before he did.  God memorized every brush stroke Claude Monet ever took before his own mother even knew him.  God saw you give that homeless person a dollar when no one else was around.  And he loves you for it.

When we’re at our best, God sees it.  When we have brilliant ideas, God knows them.

The next time you feel the urge to self-promote, boast and brag, resist it and take it to the Lord instead.

Your Future Hinges On Your Relationships Today

Living in the Washington D.C. area, I encounter thousands of strangers every week from all over the world.

At the bus stop.  On the bus.  In and around the Pentagon.  On the sidewalk in our neighborhood.  In stores.  At church.  If I so chose, they could change my life forever.

I believe the people who say that over time we will be the same people we are today except for the people we meet and the books we read.  But taking it a step farther, it’s not just the meeting that changes us.  It’s how we manage the intersection.  It’s what we do after meeting that changes us for the better or worse.

My choosing to comment on my friend Chris LoCurto’s blog has changed me because of the content I read and the relationships I’ve built with other commenters.  It’s also deepened my relationship with Chris.  Insight and friendships are things I value.

Just recently, I was speaking with a fellow morning bus rider. He’s starting graduate school.  In the conversation I told him one of the best things students can do the first day of class is introduce themselves to the professor after class. Why?  Because most students don’t.  Those who do distinguish themselves and immediately build rapport with the leader of the class. This is, as speaker and professor Joe Martin says, one of the tricks of the grade.  Sharing personal-growth information is something I value.

My wife and I reminisced over dinner Sunday night about when we started dating.  The fact she’s my wife is a testament to how we both managed that intersection.  Going on a date, rather than just “going to dinner,” is typical of how we continue to deliberately manage our intersection – the most important one in our lives.

How we choose to manage intersections with others will shape who we are forever.  Like the books we choose to read to learn from, we can select people for the same reason – to be changed. To further our lives and enrich them.  At the same time, the people we surround ourselves with can also be our downfall.

Have you ever thought about why your spouse is your spouse?  Why do you choose to interact with some co-workers and not with others?  Have you ever thought about why that stranger later became your best friend?

More than likely the answer is because these people change you in a way you want to be changed.

Now fast forward 2, 10, 20, 5o years.  Who will be there with you?  What does life look like then?

Are the people in your life today contributing to where you want to be tomorrow?

Don’t Do What I Did And Jeopardize Your Dream

The difference between people who accomplish goals and achieve dreams is the ability to work hard on the right things. People who succeed have the right vision.  People who succeed not only plan well, but accomplish the right plan.

In the post “Why I Wrote A Personal Mission Statement And You Should, Too,” I wrote the following.

“For me, the stakes are too high to not have written mine down.  Since my purpose is about helping people, something God has told me to do, the stakes are too high to just idly go about it.”

Years after I first learned about living on purpose, drifting away from it, and later rediscovering it, I finally figured out what I believe my God-commanded purpose to be.  At that point, I wrote it down.

To advance others through personal-growth education

And then I screwed up.

There I was all hyped up on God-power and ready to follow my God-commanded purpose to an even better life fueled by helping others achieve.  It was exciting.  And I was stoked.  The world and my place in it began to make so much more sense.  I was ready to accomplish.

Ideas about activating my purpose began to flow.  One idea lead to another and then to another and so on. I remember talking about the ideas with my wife on our daily walk. Like a book, every day seemed like a new page, a new part of the story.

I could look to the future and envision what lie ahead.  If only I’d looked to the past.

One year after discovering and documenting my why, I felt lost.  I felt confused.  And I was frustrated.  I didn’t get it.

During that year, we moved to our current home in Alexandria, Va., just outside D.C.  Like I felt God wanted me to do, I started a business – the beginning of a long-term transition from doing Public Affairs for the U.S. Air Force to working for myself.  On the surface, it appeared I was ready to go.  I had completed all the necessary paperwork, picked a business name, had an original logo designed, and a web site created.

A year after discovering my purpose, I had done it.  I had created the shell of a Public Relations and marketing business that I was completely unexcited about.

“What?” you may be asking yourself.  Well, I was asking myself the same thing.

Along the way toward starting a business, I dealt with fear.  And a lot of it at times.  So, I’d talk it out with my wife, and I’d feel better.  But only for a little while.

Before too long, after months of this charade, what began as a purpose-driven idea tied directly to my personal mission statement was something completely disjointed.  Sure, I had a nice logo and a web site but that was it.  I had as much passion about it as I do being a manager at TGIF.  No offense if you work at TGIF.  I just can’t stand that restaurant.  Not only does the whole concept about living for Friday get under my skin, their food stinks!  But I digress.

This past summer, my wife and I were at home. We were discussing my business, or lack thereof.  I don’t recall our exact exchange, but she said something that changed everything.

The Bible says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” Proverbs 31:10-11

Well, I found one, and I’ve gained big time, especially this time around.

As we talked, MaryBeth pointed out to me that I kept talking about teaching, and it wasn’t first time she’d heard me talk this way.  She said it seemed like I knew what I wanted to do in my business and that I should stop dancing around it and just do it.  Teach.

This makes a whole lot of sense when you think about my personal mission statement:

To advance others through personal-growth education

The next day I went to the folder on my computer where I originally saved the statement.  It was first time the file had been opened in a year’s time.  That’s right.  After going through the whole process of discovering my God-commanded purpose, the statement that would direct my life, I wrote it down, saved it in a folder and a year went by before my eyes ever met it again. But seeing it again reinforced what MaryBeth said my business should look like and now does look like.

Fortunately for me, it was only one year.  Fortunately, I have a wife who is “more precious than jewels.”  But what if it had been 5 years?  10 years?  30 years?  What if I didn’t have a spouse or close friend to bounce ideas off of and have listen to my ramblings?

While I’m a long ways from capturing my career dream, I’m now working on the right plan and moving in the right direction – a direction, in which not just my career is heading, but all of me, and this time it’s on purpose.

Question:  Do you have a story similar to mine others may learn from?

Marriage Benefits of Goal Setting Together

We’ve all heard it.  “Marriage takes work.”  “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.”

As someone new to being married, I agree.  It does take work, but I’m of the mindset right now it doesn’t have to be the hardest thing I ever do.

Before getting married, MaryBeth and I knew our marriage has to be a priority and we have to be intentional about it.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

You can’t just get married, come home from the honeymoon and then operate on autopilot.  Simply living in the same house, having meals together, and hanging out when you have time is not being intentional and is not a plan. If this is your plan, eventually you will hit a mountain and your chances of survival are slim.

So, why do so many people do this?  We don’t do this in our careers.  We don’t do this with our best friends.  Successful parents don’t do this with their kids.  Instead, people wake up every day, go to work, and do their job.  Parents wake up and start parenting.  A”best friend” didn’t just happen.  It took effort to grow that relationship.

Marriage is no different.  And one of the best ways to strengthen your marriage is to goal set together.

When you got married, as the preacher most likely said, you became “one.” Shared goals help maintain that oneness. Here’s how to do this.

1. Goal setting should encompass these categories:  Family, Social, Financial, Intellectual, Career, Physical and Spiritual.  Each person should write down specific, measurable and realistic goals for each category.  Start with annual goals.  Save longer range goal setting for later once you get this down.

2. Dedicate 30-45 minutes to share your goals and discuss them.  Do not criticize the other person’s goals.  Goal setting can be difficult for some people because they’re most likely revealing aspects of themselves they’ve never shared before.

Be supportive. The process of revealing thoughts and aspirations to a supportive spouse is incredibly powerful.  This step can do great things for your marriage or it can damage it if you handle it poorly.

3.  Write down the goals you have in common and discuss why they are important to each of you.  At this point, you’ve revealed very important ideas and thoughts.  Discussing it leads to more revelation and further emotional connection.

4. Discuss some individual goals you’d like to achieve together.  The more the better.  Why?  Simple.  The more important things you do together, the closer you become.  Also, it keeps you both moving in the same direction and growing together rather than apart.

5. Come up with shared goals.  For instance, this year, of the many financial goals we set, MaryBeth and I set a financial goal to fund a second Roth IRA.  We also set social goals to have dinner or brunch with specific couples, a family goal to have a weekly date night and a physical goal to run a couple of half marathons.  The list goes on and on.

6.  Write down your shared goals and hang them up where you’ll both see them daily.  We listed our individual and shared goals in the same document, printed it and hung it on the refrigerator.  This way we can monitor the other’s progress with individual goals and cheer them on, as well as pat ourselves on the back as a couple for knocking out shared goals.

This step also helps keep one another accountable.  For instance, we’re weak when it comes to family goals like getting a will done.  That goal has been staring us both down all year, and we’re finally doing something about it.  If it wasn’t hanging on the refrigerator, we probably wouldn’t be addressing it and it would carry over into 2012, keeping us from doing something else.

2012 is almost here.  Now is the time to start this process so as a couple you’re ready to tackle the new year in a new way.

Question:  Do you goal set with your spouse?  What benefits would you add to the list above?