Talents and Mastery

Use your gifts faithfully, and they shall be enlarged;

What are my gifts? This is not a time to be self-deprecating. I have to take a moment and figure out what gifts I have been given. Are there any areas where I am naturally talented? It isn’t an easy question. I can easily see the gifts in others. I can do many things well, but really talented? Maybe my gifts are a smattering of a bunch of different things. If so, then this is where I will concentrate and faithfully utilize my smatterings.

What if I have no gifts? What if there is no natural talent bursting from within me? No worries. I must do what I can with what I have. If I am faithful in these little things, who knows, I might be able to see where my talents reside.

Practice what you know, and you shall attain to higher knowledge.

As Augustus Octavius said, “Practice, the master of all things.” A practice executed daily becomes second nature. Practice makes us better and makes the execution of difficult tasks much easier. Can we advance to more complex tasks without practice?

Running has always been a struggle for me. I had no formal training growing up. In the Army, I became faster and could run longer, but it was still a struggle. Over the last few years, I spent more time practicing my technique. I became more conscious of bad habits. Am I a great runner today? Not at all, but I am a better runner than I was when I was younger. In no way am I faster, but I can run longer. I enjoy it more, and the toll on my body is not as severe as they were back in those Army days. Why? Practice, the master of all things. The more I run, the better runner I become.

Running is not a gift, but it is something that can be practiced. If I can practice the hard things, how much easier will it be to practice the talents I have been given?

A Bigger Burden

“If she knows you will do it, she will expect you to keep doing it.” –the words of a co-worker concerning a senior leader in our chain of command.

Another new task added to my list of duties. Sometimes, it seems like I can’t do my primary work, because the amount of “side work” I have accumulated. My teammates are afraid to volunteer for anything. They don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of extra duties.

It might spread me a little thin, but I think I can handle it. If anything, it will force me to become more efficient. I’m still the new guy on the team, so give me all the things you [the team] don’t want to do. I’ll do it, and I’ll enjoy it.

The purpose of life is finding the largest burden you can bear and bearing it. –Jordan B. Peterson

There are some people out there who amaze me at what they do on a regular basis. They work 9 to 5’s, read several hours a day, and run 60-plus miles a week, all while working on their next book, volunteering, and hosting a podcast. I look at them and wonder how in the world are they able to accomplish so much. I even wonder if it is possible for me to get to that point in my own life.

Right now? No. But I shouldn’t despair, because I can do much more than what I am doing now. I can reduce wasted time. I can carry a larger burden. I can continue building and become more efficient in my current daily tasks. The more I carry, the stronger I get. This isn’t only in terms of physical strength. It is also in regards to what I am carrying mentally.

We all have the ability to do a little more. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.” What will you choose?

Target Acquisition

You could have asked me as a kid what I wanted to do when I grow up, and I would have told you something different every day. I didn’t really care what I wanted to be. There were so many good options out there, and they were all appealing. I ended up doing none of the things I thought I once wanted to do. On the other hand, I have friends who knew what they wanted to be at an early age and are doing it today.

It wasn’t until I got older that I had the big “I want to be this” moment. That was twenty years ago, and I’m still working toward it. Will I achieve my dreams? Of course I can, but only if I keep working toward it.

To be able to visualize the end point and move in that direction is really what this life should be about. Can you imagine not being able to answer St. Peter when he asks you why you should be able to go through the gate? As far as we know, we only get one chance on this earth. Would you risk squandering it on no definite purpose in life? Would you not make every day count towards achieving your great purpose?

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of achievement. –W. Clement Stone

Let us back up a moment and get away from the grand design of your life. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, or what you have found is still a question mark. If you don’t know what the grand is, then maybe you have to go with the minute. Regardless of the scale of the goal, you need to have that definitive aim. You need to know what you are aiming at before you release the arrow. Otherwise, you might hit everything but your target.

To achieve your goals, consider DMAIC. This is a part of Six Sigma used to improve business processes. Take you goal, whether it to lose weight or build your dream cake business, and create a systematic approach to achieving it.

  • Define – What’s your goal? To lose ten pounds.
  • Measure – How will you measure it? Calories in vs. Calories out. Weight scale.
  • Analyze – Take a good look at your performance? Use a tracker, journal, or both. What’s the quality of the calories coming in? What’s the quality of the calories being burned (exercise)?
  • Improve – What corrections can be made? Review your analysis and find sustainable solutions, i.e. reduce sugar, stop eating late at night, work out earlier in the morning.
  • Control – Ensure improvements are implemented and maintained. Keep track of these too and put in some control systems (alarms, family members and friends).

Success achieving small goals will lead to greater confidence in attacking bigger goals. But your chances of hitting your goals will be slim, if you do not know what you are aiming at.

Are you still ____?

“Are you still working out?”

I loathe this question. It is one that I told myself I never wanted to be asked again. Why? Because your level of fitness is one of the things people, whether they want to admit it or not, notice first. And for someone who is borderline obsessed with strength and endurance, the last thing I dread is for an uncle I haven’t seen in a few years pointing at my midsection.

I work hard to achieve my fitness goals. I willingly share those goals with the idea that those closest to me will hold me accountable. It is my way of staying on the path. It is my way of forcing a little extra discipline in my life in case I get a little too comfortable which happens from time to time. I have faith that I can get where I want to go, but the key to getting there is discipline.

Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential. –Liane Cardes

I believe my potential is wrapped in strength and intelligence, but I don’t naturally have them. If I want to build both of these, then I need continuous effort. Discipline. It truly equals the freedom I am seeking.

There is another question I have come to hate hearing. It is a pointed barb that upon hearing strikes to the quick. Once it is there, it is embedded deep and my mind will not let it go.

“Are you still writing?”

I took a two week break from my blog. I didn’t schedule one. It just happened. I allowed other things in my life to take precedence. I veered off the path and started to become fat as a writer. Writing is similar to physical fitness. Once you stop, you begin to digress and become out of shape. The only way to keep from stopping is through continuous effort. Through discipline.

When I began my fitness journey, I had to ask myself some tough questions about whether or not it was worth it. What are the benefits of good health? Are you happy with your present condition? How much more could I do if I was fit? They may seem like they are all selfish questions and to some degree they are, but my fitness impacts my family’s well-being. It impacts my relationships with friends and co-workers. It improves my professional performance.

Last night after being asked if I was still writing, I once again had to ask myself some tough questions. Do I believe I have a message worth hearing? Could I have a positive impact on the lives of my readers? If I believe this is what I was put on this earth to do, then why am I not doing it?

The answer is yes to all of them, and I believe it is possible. This is the direction I have chosen to travel in my life. But if I want to be a strong writer and endure as one, I need to apply continuous effort. I need discipline. Faith alone can only get me so far. However when I couple that faith with discipline, I can truly maximize my potential.

I am a firm believer that physical fitness has taught me the virtues of discipline more effectively than any other method including my time in the Army. I also believe that if I can master discipline in terms of my body, I possess the necessary tools to master it mentally as well. My body is starting to bear the fruit of my labor. I have no doubt that my mind, if practiced in the same fashion, will also bear fruit.

Don’t make excuses for why you can’t get it done. Focus on all the reasons why you must make it happen. –Ralph Marston

The above quote was from the same man that said, “Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen.” I think they go well together. I have to believe in the journey I’m on. I have to believe I can get to my destination. My eyes have to stay on the prize. Excuses won’t get me where I need to go, but a resolute focus on the objective and a continuous effort will.

Purposeful Direction

Faith 12/20/2019

You have to have move with a purpose and with direction. Without direction you may find yourself going in circles or even in the wrong direction.

Where you are today isn’t the best you will ever be. Chances are, it won’t be the worst either. Then again, it could be. It all depends on your choices. Who you are today is a culmination of all your previous choices.

Ask yourself the following question: Where are you headed? Too many people in this world are not headed in any purposeful direction. They are content to just float down the stream. How much is missed because they are not making any effort to get to the shore? How much more does this world have to offer once you decide to stop passively floating through life?

It’s not where you are today that counts. It’s where you are headed. –Arthur F. Lenehan

 

Death Later, Life Now

Faith 12/13/2019

What is the one guarantee you have in this life? You are going to die? You are not guaranteed health or even old age? Only death. It comes for us all. No discrimination. Unless you are Enoch or Elijah, you are going to experience it.

Yes, you will die. But you are not dead yet. With this knowledge, how will you live the rest of your life? The seconds fly by. How will you use them? This is the one resource you cannot buy more of. Once your allocation is gone, it is gone forever.

But what about your problems? They are so numerous and cause so many limitations. We all have them, and we all have to make do with what we have. As you take in these words, consider:

  • You have your eyesight
  • You have the ability to read and/or hear
  • You have breath

There are those who lost the ability to see and to hear. All that have gone before us can no longer breathe. Yet, you have it. And if we think about it, there is so much more that we have. There is so much that we can be grateful for. What we have far outweighs all our problems.

Death is coming. But right now, we have life. It may not be perfect, but it doesn’t matter. Use what you got to make the most out of the time you have left.

Heaven and earth are impartial. They allow all things to die. –Lao Tzu

The Skeleton Keys #1: Faith Plus Works

Faith 11/22/2019

When I was younger, I thought prayer was the skeleton key that would open up all the doors. In desperate times, I would pray. If I wanted something, I would pray. In those days, I believed that being a prayer warrior was the way to make it in life. Obviously it didn’t work. I was young and selfish and had no real communication with God.

As I got older, I learned that if I wanted something I had to work for it. As time went by, I began to work more and pray less. When I first entered the work force, it was much like the prayers of my youth. It was all selfish.

These days, the nature of my prayers have changed. I offer up prayers of gratitude. I pray for the well-being of others. Rarely do I pray for myself or the things I want. I even try not to get into desperate situations where divine intercession is the only option available. Granted, desperate situations do come up. And like most humans, I pray for mercy in those times.

The nature of my work has also changed over the years. It is no longer to finance my selfish pursuits. I have a family that depends on me. I work for them. Not only for our financial stability, but even in areas such as my writing. I used to write only for myself. Now, I write for my son. And as a blogger, my writing has gone beyond my friends and family. I now write for the world and for the good of those who wish to read it.

Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you. –St. Augustine

The ultimate skeleton key to success in this life starts with praying as if everything depended on God.  You can be this person of faith! But it is not prayer alone, you have to work as if everything depended on you. You can be this person of action. As the apostle James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Imagine the possibilities when you can combine the two. Would there be any doors closed to you?

Carry On

Faith 11/15/2019

There are things that happened that were never planned. Accidents. Interruptions. Chaos. We can try to avoid them, but sooner or later we will all get caught up in the unforeseen. That’s life. Some things we can control. Others, we can’t.

And what will you do if tomorrow your life goes off the rails? Will you give up, throw in the towel, or maybe lose your faith? You can become a victim of the misaligned stars, or you can make the adjustment and move on. It is through adversity that we make real progress in life. If you become derailed, figure out the steps needed to get back on track.

I met up recently with an old friend from the Army. He retired not too long ago with twenty years in the service. When we first met, we were just kids playing in the woods during the week and doing kids’ stuff on the weekends. Back then, we had very little cares in the world. When we were reunited, I saw a combat veteran far removed from being a kid. After being involved with fourteen IEDs, the man now has a traumatic brain injury and God only knows what other internal problems.

My friend is barely in his forties. There is no changing his past; what has happened cannot be undone. He’s a family man with a wife and two kids. People depend on him, and the onus is on him to step up to the plate. He could wallow in his disabilities and go silently off into his death. He has valid excuses to do it. But, he may have another forty or so years to live. That’s still a lot of time to live. That’s still a lot of time to do something meaningful. What kind of life he will choose to live?

I know people roughly the same age as him. They have never been a part of that kind of trauma. Yet for some reason, they have already given up and resigned themselves to their fate. They have lost the grand ideals they had in their youth, and now they live as if they are old with one foot in the grave and the other not that far behind.

When I look at them, and when I think of my friend, I can only wonder what kind of futures are in store for them. Centuries ago, forty may have been considered old. Today, that’s about halfway to the average U.S. life expectancy. So much could be accomplished in forty years. It would be shameful to waste it.

Don’t let the setbacks in life completely pull you off the path. Find a way to overcome it and get back on. People are depending on the good we can accomplish in our lifetimes. Don’t let them down.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. –Steve Jobs

Moving Mountains

Faith 11/1/2019

I am thinking about this new house my wife and I recently purchased. It is a lovely 1972 ranch that has not been updated since 1972. It is almost overwhelming when I consider how much needs to be done to it.

Right now, we are working on the kitchen, ceiling, floors, garage, and the land. Each area seems to require immediate attention. This house is a mountain’s worth of projects, and we can only move it one stone at a time.

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away a small stone. –Confucius

When I take a look at my own personal journey, it isn’t much different than the house. On this quest to become the best I can be mind, body, and soul, I am discovering that it will take a lifetime. In a world full of distractions, where so many people and “stuff” are vying for my attention and time, the best I can hope to do is chip away a little bit at a time. The progress from day to day may seem minuscule. But if I persist daily, then the body of work over the decades will seem monumental. I will indeed have moved my own mountain.

We don’t luck into progress. We work on it every day. The other ways to get ahead may seem more desirable, easier, but they are fleeting and will not garner the same appreciation and gratitude as the slow way. Work on yourself daily and see the mountain of results build up over a lifetime.

Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily. –Epictetus

Make Your Own Luck

Faith 10/25/2019

Monday night my wife was shopping for rain boots. She said she has always wanted a good pair but never remembers to buy them. It was supposed to rain all day on Tuesday, and she was dreading the idea of being out all day without a good pair of boots.

Her story reminded me of a similar ordeal I went through. Where we live, we usually get a good snow once or twice a year. For several years, I would remember that I need to get a snow shovel after it had already snowed. I would brood over this as I shoveled snow with my little transfer shovel. And then last year, I said enough is enough and ordered a new shovel. Sadly, it hasn’t snowed since. But that’s okay, I am now prepared for when it does.

Sometimes we see people as being lucky. They were in the right place at the right time or just prepared when the time was right. What we usually don’t see is what came before the luck. We fail to see the planning and the work involved to make things happen. We fail to see the lack of procrastination to get things done when they were supposed to get done. When it comes to our success in our personal and business lives, it is not luck that moves us forward. It is our preparation.

I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. –Oprah Winfrey