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Fueling Positivity

A couple of days ago, I was asked what fuels my positivity. The thing is, I don’t consider myself a consistently positive person. I’m a man of faith. And as much as a man of faith can be, I’m a realist. And I get irked by any number of things on a daily basis. So if you’re reading this as some sort of expert testimonial… stop. I am not that guy. I do know a few wildly positive people and thinkers, and between their daily lives and me at my best, I think I can answer that question fairly well. But for clarity, in my spirit and true for my life, positivity is fought for. It is not natural. Ok, onto the meat…

What Fuels Positivity?

What are you feeding on? The idea of fuel is that it nourishes a thing. Good fuel is a combustible element to an already existing flame. So before I discuss what fuel is, and how it can be used to fuel daily positivity, lets talk about what fuel is not.

Fuel is Not Flame

That is, in all honesty, the whole point. Fuel catalyzes the flame. Fuel can power the fire, but it is not the fire. And it is also not the spark. I could go on a long tangent about what sparks the flame, and the flame itself. But this would go on forever. So here’s a quick delineation of those terms.

Whatever gets you going or motivated, that is your spark. It can be a little thing, used daily to launch you into whatever you do. It can also be a mountaintop moment that set the course for your big life choices (marriage, profession, passions, philanthropy, etc.). And in my life, those big sparks have come from outside of myself. I didn’t initiate the big events, and in many cases, didn’t realize their true value until long after they occurred. However, the smaller sparks, those daily moments that get me going – I own the majority of those. I wake up trying to create that spark. And the effective sparks in my life are a wide variety of consistent thoughts, fun events, momentary hopes, and excitements over a number of things.

But the fire is a whole other thing. Simon Sinek might call this your “Why? I think of it as the things that personally inspire and motivate us. What are those big plumblines that penetrate into our guts? And again, there are a lot of right answers. Off the top of my head, here are a bunch: family, sense of duty, happiness, patriotism, and truth. But here’s a word of caution about the flames inside of us — sometimes our flames are kind of ugly: fear, hatred, self-preservation, and elitism come to mind.

Defining Your Flame

Not a Webster’s definition. You can google that.

What keeps you moving? What propels you in the direction of your most basic desires? Do you know? Have you even evaluated those basic desires? Let’s define your flame with a quick thought experiment:

When someone around you experiences something, what is your response? Because that immediate reaction to someone else’s experiences is a solid indicator of both your influences and your fire. If you complain or promote a negative, you’re likely miserable, and your fire might be ugly. If you immediately move to top their story/experience, you’re probably really self-centered and nothing lights your fire like… yourself. If you engage and express a proper response (laughter at a joke, empathy to a hardship, encouragement to a challenge, advice to a request for help, etc.), then you’re likely others-minded and you probably have a solid social circle. This isn’t a blog about friends and how to make them, but here’s a quick tip… genuinely care about other people. They love that stuff!

If you are able to take an honest look at how you respond to others, you likely got a solid indication of the composition of your internal fire. If you don’t like it, change it. If you dig it, engage it! Feed it. And take advantage of the knowledge you now possess about yourself. Fuel the best parts of your fire.

If Positivity Be the Flame…

Three key elements to fueling positivity:

  1. Fight Negativity – nothing hurts a positive like a negative. Right? Ground-breaking. And we can’t control all the negatives around us, but we can control some. Negative people… don’t need em. Negative environments… avoid them. Negative thoughts… fight them. And again, I am no expert here, but I don’t follow people online or in life that are consumed by negatives and expressing ‘anti-‘ views all the time. I’ve also all but stopped watching the news. It gets to me, and while blaming the news for being negative is very fashionable, it’s pointless. So I just don’t allow myself to feed on that stuff. And then thoughts… the best advice I’ve ever given on thought-life is this: The removal of a negative is not a positive. Just because you ‘unfriended’ a bunch of people and turned off some combination of CNN/FOX/MSNBC, doesn’t mean life becomes all roses. You need…
  2. Wide-Open, Insatiable Gratitude – buckets filled to the brim of things that make you smile, feel fulfilled, extend purpose, make you feel good vibes, get a good cry going, or remind you of all the things you love. I am intensely grateful for my wife and my parents. So I call on them for no reason. I send them messages. I say thank you for no clear reason. I tell them I love them when I can’t think of anything else to say. I tell them that I love them when I know exactly what I want to say. And I think about them when I’m doing something I love, something I don’t love, something at work or just hanging out with my sons. And what’s so great about gratitude is that you can spread it around without ever losing an ounce of it. Gratitude multiplies. For instance, my sister and I have always been close, but we have not always been great for each other. But right now, as she rocks out being a mom and a wife and a person dedicated to helping people professionally and personally, she’s become significantly more positive to and for me. She may have been on this path for years, but I just figured it out over a year ago. And once I did, she started getting more phone calls. I started asking her advice more. We updated each other more on life, and we said ‘I love you’ more. And we don’t do those things because we love each other more… I just have more gratitude for her today. And I want my life immersed in reasons to be grateful. You should too.
  3. Seek Goodness – I don’t mean that we should all be on some philosophical journey to inner-peace. I’m too busy for peace. And oftentimes, the burn of my inner fire doesn’t let me rest. I don’t want peace all the time. I want passion. And my passions are birthed from my fire. So if you’re in business, and growth lights your fire, fight for that with every inch of your being. If you’re a teacher, and seeing a child awaken to some kind of knowledge is your jam, pour your life into those chances to sit front-row for that awakening moment. And it goes on and on…. Know you! Know what lights your fire, and feed it with the same. Tirelessly hustle to accomplish the good you know, to find more good around every turn, and to breathe that goodness into others.

That’s it. Fight the Negative. Set Your Mind to Gratitude. Hustle to the Positive.

Share

Quick add-on here at the end. Share the fire. People share a negative without a thought. It’s a weird compulsion to point out awful. I’m sure we all have the compulsion. But there has to be more to positive than trying to filter out the negative. Again, the removal of a negative is not a positive. So take every ounce of positive you have and share it. Teach. Tell. Try.

And feed on the positivity of others. People are awesome… well, a lot of them are. I don’t really see the others too much anymore.

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“The ‘N’ Word” – Unwanted Parenting Moments

Parenting is a trip. It’s normally, at least in my experience, a fascinating experiment set that tests the depths of my affection and impatience, somehow simultaneously. And I have been tested this week, as a parent for sure, but also as a people-loving man.

The ‘N’ Word

My oldest is nine. He’s tender-hearted, compassionate, and deeply engaged in family and friendship. I love him, but not just because he’s mine… he’s just awesome. And recently, a friend at school told him about a movie he watched and a weird word he’d heard.

My son heard the ‘N’ word that day.

First, and important that I state it up front, the little boy that my son learned it from didn’t have a definition for the word, and seemingly didn’t understand the context it was used in. So basically, an innocent kid told another innocent kid an awful, awful thing. And their teacher and school principle did an exceptional job walking both boys through the awfulness of some words.

Second, it breaks my heart that a word that has historically dehumanized humans, extended prejudice, supported racism, and proved to be a conduit for hatred and evil now rings around in my child’s head. Yes, it was going to happen ‘one day’. And yes, it’s normal for him to hear bad words. But profanity is one thing [full disclosure – I love Jesus, but I cuss a little], as those words can have a lot of contexts: offense, insult, humor, emotion, emphasis, etc. But the ‘N’ word only has one context outside of black American culture. And the other contexts within black American culture don’t really make sense to me, which is fine. See, I’m not black, so an explanation isn’t needed. As a white guy, that word has a single context, and all of its meanings are atrocious.

So, what do I do with that?

Intentional, Clueless Parenting

I beat him. The end.

Just kidding… we talked. And any worry he had about the discipline associated with doing bad things evaporated when his dad cried. Yeah, I cried. I really hate that word. And I really love that boy. I will never be ok that anyone knows that word, but especially my sweet children.

So then came the daunting task of explaining centuries of hate and racism, marked by initial enslavement, war, defining people with dark skin as 3/5 of a person, hate groups, sanctioned violence, into today and how it has persisted with horrible words (among many other things) like the one he had just learned.

I still don’t know what to tell him. We talked, but I don’t feel like I crushed the discussion. But if you’re reading this and you think your brown-skinned child is a friend of his, trust that I tried my hardest to raise the brilliance and beauty of your son or daughter to the light, while casting racism and prejudice into the darkness it belongs to.

Excluding v. Including

The problem with defining something like an insult, is that you attach the group(s) associated with the insult to the insult… and that’s just stupid. In order to tell my kid why that word hurts my hurt and deeply offends people that we love, I have to explain the association.

If there’s a better way to explain it, I don’t know it. But man, I wish I did.

We have such a bad habit, humanity, of excluding people. We are against so many things, and our language so often reflects who we exclude. And oftentimes, we are so proud of our uniquenesses that we create strange factions of belonging. All the while, we are creating large groups of the excluded.

I bring that up because I am now faced with the reality that my son just created two awful groups: people who use the ‘N’ word, and people that could be labeled by the ‘N’ word. And I don’t want him to have either group in his head. I want my son… my family… all of us, really, to speak life into a group that hates and to speak life into a group that’s hated. But not because we can tell the difference.

What if we just spoke the language of belonging to everyone? What if the measure of our speech was quantified by the number of people that felt like they belonged to our groups, and we belonged to theirs too? Even if it’s not true!! What if Christians/Muslims spoke so lovingly to all people, that everyone just loved Christians/Muslims in spite of the differences that we know we have? What if the poor/wealthy in our nation were so welcoming that the wealthy/poor just liked being around them? What if, instead of untrue monikers like ‘colorblindness’, we all wanted to know everyone else’s cultures? What if differences were lauded? What if we loved… just loved… all the time. Love.

Reality Bites

I know, I know, I know… I sound ridiculous.

But this morning, I got a phone call I didn’t want. A mentor in my life died just last night. [To CJ’s family and friends… thank you for sharing him with me for the last decade.] And I am running out of mentors. I am running out of leaders who can speak into my life and guide me as I balance the disappointments of reality with the joys of… reality. And while that is a bit scary, to feel like I am down a rudder while the flow of life is not slowing down, I am grateful.

I’m grateful that the mentors and friends and family in my life have pointed me to a place I didn’t know I was prepared for.

My son heard the ‘N’ word this week, and I got to be the voice of love, inclusion, and faith to one of my favorite people.

Not a bad way to have a tough day.

Go love people. All the people.

– Brad

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The Myth of Balance

What if we stopped pretending that any of us was trying for balance? The more I think about it, the less it makes sense. And it’s so stress-inducing, because it is just impossible: a constant maintenance of a scale that’s not meant to bear the weight of our whole lives. There’s no flow in balance, unless you’re talking about ch’i, and even then, I don’t think ch’i is nearly as much about balance as it is about harmony.

I started a new job about a month ago. I love what I do. Basically, my job is to make other people’s businesses better through consultation, development opportunities, and top of the line design and production services. It’s a blast! Check out Olive Group if you’re interested, or just shoot me a note with any questions you have.

The Bad Advice of New Ventures

Hands down, the worst part of starting anything new is the bad advice that comes with the news. If you announce an engagement, someone tells you how to endure engagement or gives you some nightmare story about how awful theirs was. As a newlywed, you’re bombarded with phrases like “honeymoon stage”, “first year” ignorance, or pressing thoughts about having children. And once you have children, someone will always be there to tell you what they think, how many more you should have, or what the algorithm of their age gap means for your entire future.

It’s insane.

As I begin my new job, I’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement, affirmation, and positivity from so many friends, new colleagues, and family members. But there’s a buzzword that is just driving me crazy.

Work/Life Balance

I know what they mean. But it’s an absurd premise. At the very least, it’s terrible phrasing, but more than a danger to our already wayward take on English, it speaks to a cognitive dissonance we have with work, home, our own abilities, and reality.

Balance: an even distribution; a steady, maintained position; staying the course without adjustment.

Could you imagine taking the time with my wife and boss, to try to articulate a 50/50 system for how to do the jobs of marriage and business equally? It’s just not a thing. Why do we talk like this? Why do we force ourselves into untenable, living contradictions. Let’s not pretend for a minute that we don’t all have a full set of priorities that force a shift in the myth of ‘balance’: the kids are sick; the fiscal year is about to end; your anniversary; that one project is due; Mom has called twice or WAY worse, Dad just called… we all have that list. And we all know that it’s much longer than what I’ve listed.

Work/Life Harmony

If you aren’t familiar with ch’i (or qi), it’s a foundational principle of Chinese medicine and martial arts. Bruce Lee talked about it all the time. You’ve mentioned it… although, you likely meant balance. And ch’i is not balance. It’s an energy, an internal force, that permeates existence, regardless of things around it. Ch’i is the thing you want to balance, not balance itself, because you aren’t meant to balance life.

You were made for harmony. Taking the notes of work, life, love, growth, and disappointment, and using your energy (ch’i, if you prefer) to harmonize them all together. And there is no formula for that, but here are some things that I think make the process more fulfilling and consistent.

  1. Honesty – Are you ok working late? Be honest about it. Would you drop everything if your buddy calls? Know that about yourself. And then find appropriate ways to be honest with your family, colleagues, and extended connections.
  2. Communication – My wife knows I like my job. She’s also known when I didn’t like my job. She knows when I’m working longer hours, or when, like today, I’m dedicating a few hours to work and growth, then I’m with my family for the afternoon. My boss knows too.
  3. Adaptability – I have a former boss that is going to read this, and right about now, he knows I’m going to talk about him. Because I had a great job with him… a great job that I didn’t enjoy. And he knew it. He knew it because first, he’s smart and perceptive, and second, well, I told him. And that was not great for my career…. but it has been incredible for my work/life harmony. I lost my job, but I was a better husband and father, almost immediately. I had energy again. I dreamed better. And within a month, we were making huge life plans that got us where we are right now. But make no mistake, I lost my job. I didn’t run to some utopian state where severance met security. Harmony isn’t a fairy tale. We had to adapt to the results of honest communication. I was honest about work. My boss was honest about expectations. And the consequence of honest communication might not be what you want, but you have to grow through and beyond it.
  4. Resolve – If you really want harmony in your life, you have to be resolved to it. It has to be a priority. Because it is up to you. Harmony isn’t dependent on how much you love your job, how understanding your spouse is, how well-behaved your kids are, or how things break for you. Harmony in life depends on you, and your resolve to pursue it.

Beyond balance…. or circumstances, breaks, good fortune, or bad timing…. there lies a capacity within all of us to live in harmony with all the things around us. But it’s up to us. It’s up to me. And when we just can’t get there, what do we have to change?

I don’t want anything to do with balancing my daily changing life. I want harmony. I want all the things in my life to be all the things in my life. Take the good, and grow. Take the bad, and grow.

Good luck to you!

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Influence & Our Lil Boy

We have two kids. The 6 year old is just like me. I’ll post about him eventually, & it will likely revolve around passing on bad habits or something equally humbling. But this post is for Elliott, our gorgeous, precious, 16mo. old. He’s great. With 10 teeth, he has an incredible smile. He’s learning, growing, into cuddles, & adventurous. And just this week, he taught me something so valuable.

You repeat whatever you hear the most.

It seems so simple. Mommy talks about Daddy, & before long we heard “Da-da”. Daddy talks about Mommy, & “Ma-Ma” sticks. And along with those two staple terms, he’s got variations of these words: up (for being held), yes, no, baby, boo, mwah (to make a kissing sound), & countless indecipherable terms that I’m certain are brilliant. But for the most part, he’s learned what we intended for him to learn. But that changed this week, when he was in our living room, just all of the boys…

“Bubba”

For those from the north, this probably evokes a giggle & some slam on being southern. Go ahead, we don’t mind….

But what makes this even more precious is that he said it to Parker, his big brother. And I’ve been calling Parker “Bubba” since he was a baby. I don’t know why. I just have. And now it’s a family-wide thing. I say it. Grace says it. I’ve heard other family use it. Even a friend called our oldest “Bubba” at breakfast last week. And somehow, Elliott caught on. And he heard it enough for it to become more than a term her recognizes. It’s now a term he says. So it went from foreign to familiar, then normal to repeatable. It was great to hear. And now he says it all the time.

What are your influences?

Influence is tricky. Aristotle said that ‘We are what we repeatedly do’, but I think he may have missed the real impact of influence. Yes, what I do may very well define me, or at least my character. But what I read, hear, & take in trains me. Whoever I go to for counsel, accountability, gossip, or fun are my teachers. The inescapable reality is that we don’t control all of our influences. 

So what influences you? Do you have mentors in your life? Now I don’t mean blogs you read or podaasts you listen to. I mean, who are the people that directly lead you? No one? Go find someone. And in my experience, ask someone hugely important or impactful in your life. They just might say yes! And beyond mentors, what do you read, listen to, or spend your time on? I am in no way speaking against the fun things in life! To be transparent, I love all sports, country music, woodwork, pro wrestling, joking around, competing, winning, & going out with Grace, my wife. I am certainly not against enjoying this great life we’ve been given. But let’s be honest… If you are immersed in negativity, you become negative. If you are surrounded by hopelessness, your outlook becomes progressively more hopeless too. If you are neck-deep in relationships that promote something unhealthy, the impact is just damaging. It just IS!! I didn’t make up influence. I just want to repeat & lead positivity, hope, health & growth!!

Who do YOU influence?

Unfortunately, influence is not the exclusive property of leadership. You can be influenced by countless combinations of things, people, objects, & ambitions. And in return, you can influence countless people.

This is the one that convicts me the most. I influence my wife. I’m pouring something into my sons. I’m training the people that work with & for me. And as I prepare to send this out, I’m seeking to influence friends & strangers alike. It is daunting to think about how easily I influence anyone I come in contact with!

In my anger, influence. When I’m openly discouraged or disappointed, influence. When I’m unfocused or silly, reckless or off-center, I am an influence on the lives around me. And those people are… well, they’re people. Humans who love & hope & have plans. And in a moment, I can leave an imprint.

What will our influence imprint be?

If you’re like me, this is both encouraging & kind of a bummer. People are watching. Some of those people are learning. So it is up to me to try & control what they’re learning, & what they are learning from me is seen in my responses to life, challenges, happiness, disappointment, trials, failure, success, etc. & only I can control it. 

So be intentionally influential today. There’s a person that’s about to blurt out a “Bubba” that your life has taught them, so lead well!!

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Truth Wins

Funny story from this past week. A woman & her grandchild came into work & found our GM so they could log a complaint. In typical CFA fashion, my GM went with our company’s LAST method of conflict resolution. Listen, Apologize, Solve, & Thank… he heard her complaint that she had ordered a 12 nugget box & only got 8 in the box. And Matt was almost to the ‘solve’ stage when her granddaughter spoke up:

“Grandma, you said there was eleven nuggets in that box!!”

Of course, 11 is still not 12, so Matt solved the problem as he had intended to, but I had to repress my laughter. And the thought crossed my mind that, in some way, truth always wins.

That story is a terrible example of this idea. People ‘get away’ with exaggerations & manipulations of the truth all the time. And while karma is a nice idea, it’s just not biblical. I don’t believe in it, but I do believe in consequence… & of course, unrepentant sin carries a hefty & eternal fine. So stop lying people. It’s pointless. Even if it gets you an extra nugget or two… it makes you a liar.

Perhaps another story would be more poignant, but it is also deeply convicting to me.

Not too long ago, I saw a man that I hadn’t seen in years. And without volunteering too much family information, I cannot think of another person that has so negatively impacted each member of my family on such a personal level. So, to be frank, he’s not going to make our Christmas card list… likely, ever. And for good reason. And seeing him elicited some pretty raw emotions for me. Nothing visceral jumped into my heart, but I wasn’t hoping for a reunion. So I kept a distance & watched him grab a meal in a local restaurant I was at. Alone, he sat at a table, briefly organized his food & condiments, & then prayed. He prayed for 4 minutes, at least. And when he was done, went right to eating. He didn’t look up. Never noticed me. And was certainly not praying to draw attention to himself. He ate pretty quickly, got up, cleaned his table, & darted away.

And it hit me… Truth wins.

He has certainly merited some ill-will from a lot of people. It was years ago, but it was bad. And it has left wounds. But God doesn’t grant grace on merit. Mercy & grace are freely distributed to any who call on the name of Jesus. That’s the Truth… & Truth wins.

Presently, a dear friend & a mentor in my life is remembering his daughter, who passed a few years ago. And rightly, as well as righteously, he & his family mourn the loss. But mourning turns to joy, because Heaven is a portion of the Gospel, & the Gospel is the Truth. Truth wins.

Our son is precious. He is smart, charming, & a good-looking kid. I am already praying over the challenges that puberty may very well wreak on his cuteness. But today, & each day since he was given to us by God, has been awesome. And we are trying our best to navigate through our parenting follies to point Parker in ‘the way that he should go’. We may fail. He may not go where we point. But we’re pointing  him in that direction because the Bible tells us to, & the Bible is God’s Truth. Truth wins.

How does Truth impact you? I’m not asking if you merely know what ‘Truth’ I’m talking about. That’s nice, but knowing what the Gospel is means you attended a decent Sunday School class when you were younger. I’m asking about how the Truth that is the Gospel changes your mind, your thoughts, your choices, & your lifestyle.

Frankly, if you know the Truth, but you cannot point to the impact that Truth has on your life, you don’t know the Truth like you think you do. This Truth humbles your right to be offended, grants peace to your mourning, & directs the way you raise your children beyond traditions & experience.

Truth wins. Truth wins here & always.

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