About three months ago my friend Morgan Snyder sent me a copy of Phil Vischer‘s Me, Myself and Bob. It arrived in my mailbox at a time where I was facing many opportunities to charge the field in ministry, business and some personal pursuits like finishing my 1/2 done novel and start a book on connectors.
Morgan has been studying and holding events around the theme of what a man goes through during his thirties decade. At forty two I have been facinated by his discoveries and how they compare to my own life. Over the last decade he has been interviewing many men in thier later years, asking them what the thirties decade was all about and what they have learned looking back.
One lesson that resonated with me is to not take on too much too early. Just like a tree, we are meant to mature in a way that both sustains and strengthen, preparing us for greater strength in the future.
In reading Vicher’s book I found myself realizing how much we can make our plans and dreams dominate above everything else in our lives, forsaking the more important things. The book chronicles his life up to the collapse of Big Idea Productions, his beloved company from which he built the powerful brand of entertainment the world knows as Veggie Tales.
So in the wake of Vischer’s memoir I am taking as Morgan says, the lowest seat at the table in many of my activities. I have the rest of my life to publish, lead and push. I am not saying I won’t do some of that now, but I am going to purposefully pay attention to the deeper things in my life first.
Disruption has always fascinated me. As a kid like many, I loved disaster movies. I think my favorite was The Towering Inferno, a horrible iconic 70’s movie about a skyscraper catching fire and of course loss of life, selfish human behavior and of course heroism. Wow, that movie really seems morbid now in the post 9-11 world. But my point is that disruption is a constant part of our lives and I think it is for the good. I think this is why Lost continues to be so popular. It is ultimately about the disruption of all those characters and the telling of their back stories.
We are constantly provided chances to either embrace or avoid disruption but like a new favorite quote I read recently, “it is better to disrupt oneself before someone else disrupts us.” (please let me know if you know who said this.)
Why am I writing about this topic on a site about connection, communication and influence? I find I have the most to offer when I am daily inviting it into my life. I rarely have significant things to share or contribute on the days I seek out comfort and stability. My posts and communication become about me and not others. I atrophy.
I am trying to make it a practice to visit a monastery near my house to get in some personal retreats a couple of times a week. They have these great forest trails throughout the nearly two thousand acres of property. On one of my first visits I noticed that many of their road and path intersections are signs saying “dangerous intersection”. As I thought about these signs I realized that yes, there were obvious physical circumstances like blind corners and such on the grounds but most of all I think these signs stated the obvious of a life of constant growth, breakthrough and trial. My wife’s brother has been part of another monastic order for nearly a decade now and he has shared many stories of transformation. Many of them were marked by initial disruption to habits, assumptions and patterns in his life.
Instead of covering this in one post I am going to explore it through at least three. My initial idea is to write about physical, cultural and personal disruption but depending on your comments, those might change. So please share any disruptive stories, advice, and wisdom. I imagine this will be a comical, deepening and interesting exploration.
Renently a friend shared an article on twitter from Fast Company that caught my attention. It covered Atari’s Founder Nolan Bushnell’s talk at Mindshare this past week. His main point was that we need to do analog things to keep our innovation alive. I have started to notice a pattern in my life in regards to my ability to be impactful as a connector, innovator and change agent. When I am drained I start to hide. By hide I mean connect less, innovate less and lose hope for a changed world. I lose my enjoyment in spending time with others. Life loses beauty and movement. It is a condition of our digital age. We are inundated with demands and opportunities but have lost what is needed to sustain.
Call it overreacting to the lizard brain, a factor of our economy, striving or digital addiction. Whatever you call it, the result is less of anything good and a lot of loss.
Below are a few ways that have helped me stay away from that list. These are ones that are working well for me and I would love to hear how you are keeping it at bay.
I started taking what I call digital shabbats after getting to know Tiffany Shlain. She explains so well in her documentary Connected how our brains are becoming rewired due to constant digital use. In her own life she noticed she was less connected to the people she cared about the most. Taking one day a week to completely unplug changed it all for her. I have found the same result after making it a weekly habit. Judith Shulevitz has explored what the sabbath does extensively in her book The Sabbath World. You can see her here talking about what the sabbath has meant for her.
At first it was very difficult to practice because I was on a high from being so connected digitally. Now I look forward to my 24 hours of no iPhone, Twitter, Facebook or any other digital communication. I spend time reading, praying and getting closer to those around me in meatspace. It has really changed my life.
Bushnell mentions this and my friend and co-director at Soma Games, Nat Iwata writes about it in an excellent blog post. We need beauty. Again I find that as I strive and struggle to get ahead, beauty seems to fall off the schedule. I use tools like Instagram to post cool things I find through pictures. You can easily correlate the frequency of posts there with my level of stress. When I am relaxed and alive I post a lot of pictures. When I am under the gun so to speak they disappear.
Guarding our Hearts
Out of all scripture I think one of the verses that to this day has been most important to me is Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
This guarding manifests in many ways, and I think each of us has to explore what it means. For me it means being careful who I spend my time around. I pick up on moods and if people are constantly putting others down or stuck in mediocrity it can quickly steal my joy. What eventually happens is I lose drive and if I really let them in they will eventually steal more.
It can also mean being careful of the content I allow myself to digest. If it is bad for my kids it is usually bad for me. You are the best judge and can tell if your heart has stopped beating though. Go on a journey to find out when that beat died.
Going back to Bushnell’s talk, I would point out that all of the recommendations he gave for keeping innovation alive could be grouped together in his first recommendation, staying uncomfortable. All of us, if we have slipped too far into busyness will find any of his recommendations terribly uncomfortable. I read a great quote this weekend (I can’t remember the source) that said it is better to disrupt ourselves before others disrupt us. I would say the same thing and add life. But that is another blog post all together.
It was two years ago this upcoming fall that a mentor challenged me with the statement “you are not acting like an entrepreneur”. It really torqued me because I was still living in an employee mindset. At the time I was a consultant and early founding member of my current company but had not yet left my job of nearly a decade. I had completely changed my career but I was still struggling with the balance of risk vs. comfort, the risk of startup life and the seemingly safe comfort as an employee.
This past week my friends and co-directors at Soma Games and Code-Monkeys were hanging out at our local bookstore. One of us noticed this crazy collection of books on the shelf (see photo). The titles were ironically placed: Automatic Millionaire, Investing for Dummies, At the Bar, Go Down Together and Debt Proof Living. Wow, could there be a funnier group of books to face a team of entrepreneurs? As a team we have seen success, challenge, and at times even faced possible annihilation. The latter two would have broken me two years ago. What has changed for me is state of mind.
I no longer pay much attention to complaints without solutions, watch the clock or live in an anxiety driven day. Yes I still dip into those categories but I quickly realize I have a choice.
I think the greatest thing that has to die continually for me is self-preservation. There is a clip I show when speaking to men that sums it up pretty well. In the true story of E Company in World War II, better known as the Band of Brothers, one of the privates admitted that instead of fighting on D-Day he gathered his parachute and hid till the battle was over. A while later as he is wallowing in his cowardly state on the front line he encounters Lt. Spears. Spears tells him he hid in the ditch not because he was scared but because he thought there was still hope.
I love that scene because it speaks so strongly to our struggle with self preservation and how easily we fall into a victim role. I see it all around me in marriages, schools, businesses and churches. We expect to be hand fed. If things get tough we abandon instead of owning our own roles in the situation. We act like slaves instead of linchpins. We hesitate instead of moving forward in confidence. On our own we all lack dependability. The only dependable thing we have in life is God.
I have chosen to act like an entrepreneur in every area of my life. In my marriage I choose to love with abandon. I own up to my constant struggle between comfort and security. In my business I am assessing my own role in both its successes and failures. I believe this is available to everyone in any situation. Even if we live in slavery we still have control of our outlook and mindset. We always have choices.