Excited for them

mapIt happened twice today. The first was my excitement over a strangers departure on a thrilling overseas adventure. The second one happened as I talked to a friend headed on a weekend trip to one of my favorite childhood vacation spots. As a spectator on both accounts, I still became excited over what they would be experiencing and the thrill of visiting someplace new.

To join in on others endeavors is to fuel their own enthusiasm. To be caught up as if we were ourselves are participants not only ushers them on in their resolve to step out and try new things but also enlivens our hearts to embark on our own undertakings.

Guanxi

china-young-manThe Chinese term for relationship “guanxi” is difficult for a Westerner to understand. The word has differences that are not only helpful for navigating friendships and society in China but also in the West.

China has fascinated me my whole life. As a way of both learning more and exploring our connectedness I plan to do a series on community and relationship in China. These will be both explorative as well as experiential. I have spent time in mainland China over the last three years. It is those shorter visits and the friendships I have gained, that originally sparked my desire to write a book on connection.

I will post on this series throughout the summer as our whole family prepares to move to China. My wife and I both with be working as foreign exchange teachers at a university for the next two years. It is an exciting time for many reasons. One that is at the top of my list is the chance to learn from a society that places relationship as one of the most important values.

Finding beauty in between

stonesI was listening to a friends life story recently. Hearing someone recount the ups and downs of their journey is rewarding. Not one is alike, and if you pay close attention, you can pick up themes that even they do not often see.

Besides these themes is the beauty we can overlook in the hardest times of our past. As a listener, I’ve learned to ask about those gaps in between “better times.” Questions like “did you discover anything about yourself during that time?”, or “who were your best friends with then?” help begin the discovery.

Simone Weil said “There are only two things that pierce the human heart.
One is beauty, the other is affliction.” Hardship or tragedies frame the beauty in our lives. In many ways, it allows contrast to exist.

If we take the time, we find endless treasure in each other’s stories. In the process, we help each other heal and understand.

What we don’t know

magnify glassThere is so much complexity to each of our lives. We have parts of ourselves we don’t share openly and even ones that we forget or have to leave out. Just like a movie is nothing like the book, we pick and choose the parts to share because it would be impossible to include every detail.

For this reason, we can’t assume to know the full picture. When learning about someone we need to keep mystery and discovery in mind. Have you ever found out something new about someone you have known for years? And there are even more to find.

Old friends and married couples fall into this pattern of feeling like there is nothing new. Often our perceived boredom or familiarity in a relationship happens because we think we know it all. The truth is we are only beginning even with someone we may have known for decades.

And thus, the challenge arises to dig deeper, ask questions, become students of each others lives. We can expect mystery and reveal new things in return for others to discover.

Love ya

Man talking on phoneMy daughter overheard a friend and I signing off on a phone conversation. “Love ya,” my friend said, and I returned with “love you too man.”

“Do men usually say that to each other?” she asked?

Her question was the beginning of a great conversation about terms of endearment.
I explained that there were a few men in my life that I would say that too. Some others I would not. Regardless it had me thinking about how much our words match our feelings for others. Children are naturally affectionate in both words and actions towards parents and others in a tighter group. As they grow, those actions begin to become filtered in many ways due to peer influence and how they perceive others see them.

What would it take for us to give our hearts in our interactions again? Would you be willing to risk being seen as foolish or odd by expressing with words how you feel for a good friend or loved one?

The man I had been speaking with is part of a greater group of men who I have walked with for many years. The group has been through illness and health together as well as loss and victory. All of us have been able to break through Western norms to express how much each of us mean to each other.
I am so grateful for it.

Her time

motherOne of my favorite memories growing up are trips my mom, and I would take to the Oregon coast together. A member of our family owned an old forties era bungalow cabin heated by a wood stove that looked out on the breaking waves in one of the most beautiful sections of beach in the world. The one ingredient that set it apart was mom’s time. I am her youngest child out of five, so having her attention and time was often rare with many siblings to manage, love and herd.

We would spend hours playing Uno or talking. It is these stolen moments with my kids that I enjoy the most as well. Sometimes it takes a period of silence for them to open up but the extra time investment is so worth the wait to hear about their teen struggles and life dreams.

One of the most important parts of our connectedness as humans is one to one time.
I think it is probably the most disrupted one as well. Busy schedules unintentionally force us to make group meetings over the individual time. We become economic instead of intentional in our parenting, leadership, and friendships. Technology acts as a surrogate but a horrible substitute. A text message exchange can never replace looking another person in the eye.

In business, these meetings are where most of the growth happens not just for the employee but also the leader. People share more, open up and ask for help and guidance.

This mother’s day I am thankful for my mother. She still naturally seeks out that time with her children. And she does not stop with us. I see her reaching out to those around her the same way. She is a great example to follow. Thanks, mom.

The delight in her voice

helloI was out weeding in my yard early this morning when I heard something across the fence and through our neighbour’s window. “You’ve been here just waiting for me!?” said a young mother in soft loving voice to her baby seeing his mother for the first time that day. It was heart warming. Right away I smiled.

How do we usually greet others?

Yes, we may give our most loved one’s kind hellos and other similar greetings but do we offer delight when with our greetings?

Often a kind reception can change the whole path of a conversation or event. So many people go about their day head down, just trying to make it through. Life is hard.

Who are you meeting with next? You will you see next in your day?

What might make them smile, laugh or lighten up a bit? Just like that mom we have the power to change someone’s day with the simplest actions.

Blogging, where do I start?

A friend recently started blogging for her NGO. She asked me for a few tips on blogging. Instead of just sharing with her what I have learned I thought I would share it here for everybody to benefit and connect better with their tribe.

-Writing about topics you are passionate about makes things a lot easier.

In his book “Crush It”, Gary Vaynerchuk recommends blogging about something 500 times. If you can do that, you can be sure that you are passionate about the subject. If that seems really hard, try tweaking the focus of your writing. For example. If you are a food blogger and love to travel, focus on travel cuisine or obscure locations and their foods. It sure worked for Anthony Boudin!

-Make it as short or as long as you want.

Some of my favorite bloggers often only post a sentence. Don’t let anyone tell you “you have to do it this way or that”. My friend Jon Dale http://www.jondale.com/how-long/ wrote an excellent post on this topic. I completely agree with him.

-Use an editorial calendar.

Woman writingWhat is that? It is any way that you plan out your posts based on a set schedule. I use a couple of different tools depending on the blog. You can use Google calendar, a WordPress plugin or a paper calendar. One helpful way to make this tool your best friend is to write down even the simplest idea (for me it sometimes is a video or web link or a topic headline.) Then I can go back and write the post later. At least I captured the idea and scheduled it for a possible post date. Before you know it you will have months worth of posts planned.
Here is more on editorial calendars:

Editorial Calendar: from sporadic to consistent blogging

-Enlist the help of others

If you are blogging for an organization, ask others to help you write posts. For one company I created a blogging team with every employee. From the fifty plus employees, we ended up with a team of about ten dedicated bloggers. Find a way to incentivise the plan. You may be surprised by the results.

Another way to gather help is to invite others to guest post. Plan this well. You always want to make sure the message stays on topic.

-Think outside the regular “post.”

A blog post can be a picture, video, cartoon. Open up the limits of what you think a blog post is. Break some rules.

-Become a regular blog reader.

Find a few blogs that you enjoy. They don’t even have to be limited to your topic either. Make it a point to pay attention to the posts that get you thinking or wanting to comment in response. Those are the ones that have just inspired a new blog post of your own. Take whatever you are thinking or wanting to comment and turn it into a post of your own. I always try to link it back to the original inspiration somehow and give credit to where the idea originated. Sometimes it does not work that way. That is ok too.
Here is a post I wrote on that topic.

Turning that comment into a blog post

-Don’t hold back

One lesson I have learned is not to edit myself. Yes, be careful not to post things that will get you or your organization in trouble. In other words, don’t be stupid. That said, there is plenty of room for more here. Being too careful also makes us boring.
If this is a topic that you love, I guarantee you will have a controversial thing to say about it. Say it.

-Gather some tools that will help you become a great writer.

I love to write. Editing, not so much. I have become a great at it with a little help. Here are some resources that will help.

1. Grammarly.com I found this tool about a month ago and it has not only made my writing better but has taught me so much. The full version has over 250 points of grammar checks. The free version checks 150 of the most common error. Check it out and be amazed.

2. Focus better with OmmWriter. This tool turns your Mac into a focused writing environment. Making it hard to jump into the browser and keeping your social apps and notifications at bay allows that time for the good writing to happen. I just free write when I have it open.

3. A journal for your notes. I try to carry one of these everywhere. I do use my phone as well, but I prefer a paper journal for the days I want to be offline. I jot random ideas. Coming back from a conference once, I wrote ten blog posts in my journal and later transcribed them to the blog. You never have to worry about batteries dying either.

Well, that has been a lot to digest. I have turned off comments since I have been blogging daily (another useful tip if you want to focus on writing and not answering comments), but I will turn them on for this post. Please ask me anything and I will try to answer them as best as I can or enlist the help of some blogger friends.

Happy blogging and connecting!

Night owls and dawn breakers

clockHere is a quick assignment:

Make a list of your closest friends, family and co-workers.

Next to their name write “night owl” or “dawn breaker”(crazy folks like me you rise way too early)

If you can’t think of which they are, ask.

Now start thinking how you can best connect with them around this discovery.

I bet it will make thing easier. You may need to adjust your own schedule, but they will be much more responsive when you respect their preferred daily routine.

Ned and Nancy

Dog with coneA nuclear Ned or Negative Nancy steps into a conversation. “Wait until the teen years” to a parent soaking up the joys of young parenting. “I failed three times” to the entrepreneur who just secured their first angel investment. Worse is the know it all who has to have the last word with the new mom, college grad, freshman, private, new-recruit. Let’s be honest. At best it is not helpful. At worst it is bullying.

Life is hard enough. If you have done this, stop. If you have received it, I am sorry. The truth is no one knows each other’s experiences. No one has been in your shoes.

If we do have something to share, make it wisdom and if that only after a pause. Ask a few questions first: Do they need it? Am I not over something (failed marriage, parental regret, bad business decision, betrayal)?

Most of all be a noticer. On the receiving side, be careful who you hears the details.

Last (but this can be the most important) be ready to forgive.

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