Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gold Stars & Grey Dots

For every sincere congratulations on my upcoming marriage, there's at least one criticizing remark about the rashness of marrying young or foolishness of not continuing my education.  I don't think the polar-opposite responses are limited to me, my fiance, or our plans.  The temptation to compare and judge runs rampant at this time of year, especially for graduating seniors.

We compare ourselves to those that are getting married, going to grad school, getting a job at XYZ company, teaching overseas, becoming missionaries, moving back home, taking an extra year to graduate, are in 5 weddings, didn't get invited to any weddings, are getting a job at IDL company making more money than the person at XYZ company, have 3 interviews lined up, are working at a summer camp, winning this award, volunteering with that non-profit, and the person that has no idea what May 17th will hold.  

To justify our own decisions, we line up all of these options, place our plan at the top of the mental measuring stick, and then demonize the rest to assure ourselves that we are wise, we are valued, our four years at college did mean something.

I've done it.  I've watched my friends do it to themselves, to others, and to me.  As I watch this phenomenon unfold, a children's book I read when I was 7 or 8 comes to mind. 

In Max Lucado's You Are Special, there is a village of wooden people, each expertly crafted by the Creator.  Each wooden person has a box of gold star and grey dot stickers.  When someone does something impressive, looks attractive, or says something witty, everyone rushes over and showers them in gold stars.  But if you aren't so good-looking, have a tendency to blunder, or trip over yourself, it's grey dots for you.  
It isn't until the protagonist, a grey-dot-covered fellow, talks to the Creator and learns that he isn't a mistake but was carefully crafted by the One that loves him despite earthly successes and failures, is he able to start shedding the stickers.  The more he trusts in the love of his Creator, the less stickers will stick to him.  This confuses the other wooden people.  They rush to cover him with gold stars for not having grey dots, but they fall off.  So they try to cover him with grey dots due to his lack of gold stars, but those don't stick either because his identity rests not in the comparison of relative achievement or lack of failure, but in his identity as a creation of the Creator.

The story is beautifully illustrated in this 8-minute video below:

The stickers only stick if you let them.  The stickers only stick if they matter to you.

While the moral of the story is obviously to rest in your identity as a child of God, I particularly love the point it makes about the foolishness of comparing oneself to others.  People will love you for your lack of grey dots.  They will judge you for your lack of gold stars.  Which means if your worth is wrapped up in grey dots and gold stars, you'll always be better and worse than someone else and you'll always be miserable trying to change that.

As peers all transitioning from our undergraduate experiences to something, anything, whatever it may be, I think it's time to throw away our stickers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


This is my senior year, last semester.  A multi-layer image of friendships made and lost or faded or stayed. Fun times and hard times, all dictated by the never-forgiving academic calendar and endless stream of lectures, events, chapels, dances, and the occasional game of bowling.  Everything I experience is held to the light of past experiences in the same place and time, just years later.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Power of Habit

Disclaimer: This is not a review or promotion of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg although it has made my semester reading wish list.

I believe in Habit.  I believe in having habits just for the sake of having habits.  

I like going to the gym.  Not because I really enjoy straining and sweating on grimy machines to an odd mixture of Christmas country songs and ESPN but every morning that I drag myself out of the bed, is a day when I strengthen my habit of staying healthy.

Ritual, the second-cousin of Habit, also needs a seat at our table.  In my experience, modern technology and the speed of life has stripped us of the humanizing rituals that used to mark individual existence.  Everything must be new, exciting, and efficient in order to hold onto our shrinking attention spans for a nanosecond.

I've been studying Ellul this semester (to a very undergraduate and unimpressive degree) and his accusation that modernity has turned efficiency from a means to the highest ends and good struck a cord.

Because I'm all about efficiency.

I've mastered the three minute prep routine.  I can read, grade, and sort tests while listening to a podcast.  I flashcard while I elliptical and I eat while I walk while I talk.

I want my humanity back.
Five Rituals For My Life

I will make my coffee with a french press and not a one-press machine.

I will write with a pencil that needs sharpening and a pen that needs dipping.

I will talk with those around me and not those on the other side of a screen.

I will walk whenever possible.

I will make meals from scratch, not boxes.  I will heat my food in a pan, not plastic.

What changes would you like to main to create humanizing rituals in your life?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Necessary Endings: 5 Ways to Clean Up Your Life

As I eagerly await the beginning of a new semester and school year (t-minus 1.5 hours!), I am thankful for the quiet time to metabolize the experiences of my summer with the intent of building upon those bits of life learning gained throughout this next year.

In June, I read a book called Necessary Endings.  The book lays out and expounds on some basic principles:

1) Things end.

"...endings are a part of life.  they are woven into the fabric of life itself, both when it goes well and also when it doesn't." pg. 6
2) Endings are natural and needed and should be made normalized. 

"Just time and activity alone brings more relationships and activities than you have time to service." pg. 47

3) It's easy to get stuck BUT pruning leads to thriving. 

"But sometimes people get stuck in a type of misery in which they are prone more to inaction than action." pg. 58

4) A lack of action is a decision.

"Time is working either for your or against you in terms of your needed ending.  If you are stalling or waiting, then you are tacitly agreeing to more of what you already have or worse." pg. 150

5) You attract what you are.

"The clearer and kinder you are in your communication of endings and bad news to people, the better the people you will find yourself surrounded by in life and work." pg. 209

BONUS: Metabolize experiences and create closure for what you leave behind.

"Keep what is usable to you, and eliminate what is not...The pain, the bitterness, the feelings of failure, the loss and grief, and the resentment all need to be eliminated and left behind.  But left behind consciously as opposed to just denied and forgotten." pg. 217

If my rough summary and out-of-context quotes left you wanting more, I highly suggest you find a copy of the book and read it.  It has revolutionized my perspective on senior year, my e-mail inbox, my schedule, and my closet.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Loving Better

Since May 15th at 7:00 pm, when I triumphantly handed in my last final of my Junior year, I've slept in 8 different beds with 2 more to go before I return to my bright raspberry creamsicle room.

I never expected to stay in (multiple) strangers homes, co-author and self-publish a childrens' book, go to Boston, or take up kickboxing during this past 3 months span.

Through a series of  conversations, packing up and moving out, getting caught in the rain (always), making friends at the Y, learning how to write (again), learning about what makes a family, Skyping Siberia, and waiting tables at barn weddings, I finally picked up on God's creative ways of teaching me to love better by:

Loving Myself Less

I've always had a surplus of confidence, allowing me to walk into almost any situation with the assumption that I will not only learn quickly the necessary skills to thrive, but that I would come up with a better way of doing things.  Being an intern for HOPE International, an excellently run organization with competent leadership and a vision way beyond my overly confident self, was incredibly humbling and refreshing.  I was valued for my skills but expected to stretch myself and learn from those around me.  Not hard to do, when surrounded by some of the most intelligent and faithful servants of God I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside.
Loving Change More

Even though I'm leaving the summer with more to-do lists than I came in with, I've learned that plans not only can change on a dime--they will.  It's part of life and being able to embrace the unpredictability of not having the world under my control (who knew?) has released me from the impossible burden of always arranging everything just so.

[This book helped immensely.]

Loving Others Better

It's only because I am a mere 4 days from seeing my fiance again that I can say that this summer has been a wonderfully growing experience in learning how to one day (soon!) be a godly wife and in the meantime, love and serve to the best of my ability.  Of course, a month ago, I would have just whined about time zones and distance.  Thank you to all who have showed me examples of Christ-centered marriages and shared their candid advice.   More on this to come.

Loving Life Fully

Its a crazy adventure, but it's worth living.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

When asked if working hard is very important to them, 80% of Americans said yes.  Yet when that same sample was asked if they were working hard at their jobs, the vast majority (84%) said no.

That makes no sense.  We want to work hard, but don't.  Where's the disconnect?

It turns out, that the corporate culture and management style makes a word of a difference. As they say at my internship, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  You can set quotas and crack the whip all day, but if your employees hate you, no good work will get done.

I've had the unique vantage point of working for two different companies in entirely different industries.

At one, small milestones are celebrated.  The employees are given the tools and resources they need to succeed and the company takes care to match work with skill sets so that the days are satisfying and the quality is top-notch.

The other refuses to believe that Employee Relationship Management (ERM) is just as important as the more well-known acrononym CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  They are under-staffed and refuse to break out the checkbook to ensure that there are enough employees so they can work where they are best suited. The employees leave frustrated and company loyalty is tied directly to a bi-monthly paycheck and very little else.

As I start this absurd adventure of starting my own company, these are lessons I never want to forget.

 Treating employees as well as customers. 
 Celebrating small successes.  
Providing work that fulfills.  
Viewing people holistically instead of as cogs.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Time Zones

My sister has lived at least one time zone away from me for the last five years.  Minus one, plus two, minus three.  My time, your time, Eastern Standard Time.

This summer, my fiance has been in two different time zones.  At first, I consoled myself by thinking, "It will be better once it's a ten hour difference, not 7 hours.  7 hours is too awkward--10 will be better."

Turns out, any time difference is the wrong difference.  For now, I am eagerly anticipating the day when I can call all of my loved ones without whipping out the calculator.