Proud vs. Plain

(Three brief thoughts from I Peter 5:1-11, The Message)

  • Keep a cool head…proud people get bent out of shape; plain people live carefree.
  • Keep your guard up…proud people believe they’re untouchable; plain people know they’re vulnerable.
  • Keep a firm grip on the faith…proud people are tempted to go it alone; plain people believe that two is better than one.
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The Gift of Balance: Family & Parenting (Part 2)

(This is part two of three for the second topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance was appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. In part two on the subject of family and parenting we address one question.)

How have you approached spiritual formation in your family that is a balance between legalism and “letting them find their way”?

Tonya: My experience as a homeschool mom gave me an opportunity to teach them about the Lord. I taught them subjects like “who is God,” “can I really know him.” I also taught them a class on all the different religions of the world to make sure that understanding came from their parents. We tried to give them a bigger picture view. But the biggest piece for me is that you have to walk the talk. If I’m teaching them about the Lord, I need to be serving him and walking the talk.

Another thing comes from a book I read a long time ago on mother/son relationships. She talked about giving them room to make mistakes. If they aren’t allowed to make mistakes, they don’t learn how to recover from them. Without that learning, when they leave the house they’ll have no reference for recovery when they make mistakes. Giving them freedom was important.

We were totally attacked by several church people because of their hockey. We were told we should never go to games if they fell on Sundays. I said, “If I take something away from them that they love in the name of the Lord, who are they going to despise?” It was a balance of teaching them how to walk with the Lord even if we aren’t always at church. But, you know, when they go through those teenage years when they question everything, which I know now is important, they find their own faith and not their parent’s faith. That’s hard, but they have to have that to make their own choices.

Mark: I’m putting myself in your shoes, Tonya, with that do we/don’t we on Sunday activities. We also had the chance to put one of my boys in competitive ice hockey. For a couple of reasons, we pulled back. I still wonder what would it have been like to have one of my kids play. Growing up, I couldn’t do things on Sunday from the decision that my parents made. So there were a few baseball tournaments that my parents took flack on from the team, not from the church. So I can see it from the other side.

The balance that my wife and I have tried to take, particularly over the last ten years as our kids have gotten to the age where they can reason through some of this, is you cannot measure faith or any relationship with externals or with things that can be quantified by participation, giving, or other activities. It all comes down to what’s in the heart. We have pressed and pressed and pressed that it’s about the heart. Man looks on the outside; God looks at the heart. There’s no one that knows your relationship with God more than you. The externals flow out of that relationship, but they don’t define it. The other piece you alluded to, Tonya, is owning it. “Here’s our choice and our desire for you, but ultimately you’ve got to own it. You have to make this relationship priority and invest into it.”

Tonya: It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. If you want relationship, you have to invest time. The externals-reading Scripture, spending time talking with the Lord-is critically important. That’s how you get to know him, how to hear his voice. We felt it was important for them to understand relationship. It was a balancing act with ice hockey. There was no respect for Sundays or holidays. For them to play at the levels they were playing, they had to be there or be off the team. We had to talk through that, and sometimes I told them, “I’m feeling unbalanced like our God has become hockey, so how are we going to adjust this?” We had to work through that but also teach them that relationship is everywhere. “God is with you in the locker room. He’s with you when you’re on the ice. What does that look like?” 

Mark: At the risk of sounding too critical, I think the Christian community has maybe placed too much sacredness on traveling into the four walls of a church rather than being the church in your activities. No doubt there is a balance, but there can be a powerful witness and testimony from two grounded and strong and committed teenage boys on a sheet of ice. Playing a game that is honoring and consistent with how they live in other parts of their life.

Tonya: It was also the idea of our opportunity as parents seeing the mission field of the other parents in ice hockey. I remember one morning at breakfast on one of the tournament weekends where I happened to be sitting across from the coach. I don’t know how it happened, but before I know it the table is full of people and he starts asking me questions.  In no time we are having this long conversation about the Lord. He began sharing his heart about how God had been speaking to him over the last year.  The result of that conversation was he started leading the team in prayer before practices and games. He knew that there was this God, and he wanted to recognize it. It was definitely a mission opportunity.

John: Two thoughts have come to me as you both have been talking.  Mark, as you were talking about externals, one thought came to me of how legalistic thinking and practices are highly conditional versus unconditional, as you think about how people are loved and received. How do we help our family members understand unconditional relationship versus conditional relationship?  That angle seems to not be thought about very much. The thought is, “Are you going to church or are to you going to hockey?”  Conditional thinking is very do/don’t.

The other thought that is huge to me these days is the subject of grace. How does a kid understand grace?  I don’t remember really understanding it as a kid; it’s a hard concept. We maybe don’t use that word with our kids, but we can model to them giving grace either to ourselves or our family members who don’t look or act like us.  Unconditional/grace living go hand in hand-zoning in on what that means for me and how do I build that into the spiritual formation of my family by the choices we make.

Mark: Grace makes me think how easy it is for children to forgive and extend grace in comparison to parents. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pinned my ears, tucked my tail and gone to my kids and said, “I’m sorry for my behavior,” and they demonstrate to me a willingness to extend grace which is way more than my tendency to extend to them or others. I think they’ve taught me more about grace than I have taught them along the way. 

John: That illustration is an example of a teachable moment to help them understand the grace concept. They are doing it, but they don’t know to call it that. “You just exercised your grace muscle.” Help them understand what that means and as a family commit to it.

Tonya: You being willing to go back and apologize is you walking your talk. That’s an example of living out your faith-being willing to admit your faults, being open. You’re teaching them that’s how we do this walk. That’s really good.

The Gift of Balance-Family & Parenting (Part 1)

(This is part one of three for the second topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. In part one on the subject of family and parenting we address one question.)

What are the most important areas to maintaining balance in leading your family?

John: To get the ball rolling here, the three things that came to my mind when I thought over this question were discipline, communication, and values. What I mean by communication is that it’s consistent. Whatever we are communicating has to be consistent with our values. You can’t best determine your discipline and communication if you don’t know what your values are. 

Tonya: Early on, we found Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. He gave some cool ideas about writing vision statements for your family, so we did that. You know, “What’s our compass pointing north for our family?” Communication was one of those important pieces. Making sure there were times we were sitting in circles, seeing each other eye to eye-couple time, one-on-one time with the kids-with the intention of making sure the kids knew they could talk. Those were helpful to us early on.

Mark: Early on in our family building, we were convinced a healthy marriage was foundational. This meant time away with each other as well as time away alone. We joked with the kids, “We didn’t choose you kids, but we chose each other. After you’re gone, it’s still going to be us choosing each other.” So there was the spousal marriage relationship first. The other thing that we were pretty convinced on was that we wanted to be family-centric not kid-centric. We had witnessed, while out grocery shopping and mall shopping and just being out in public, kid-centric families. We wanted life to be about family as a unit together.

Tonya: Covey talks about that, creating atmosphere where we are all for each other. We are helping each other reach their dreams. I like that mentality.

Mark: Yeah, as kids get older and they are getting pulled in various directions it is important to emphasize that we are here for each other. You know, there is no playbook or rule book to follow; it’s a little trial and error as you go. Having values established up front makes it easier when it comes to making decisions and choices down the road.

Tonya: Learning to live out of your values has been on my heart lately. That is important for the kids. Letting them see you walk the talk.

John: So while y’all have been talking, my brain has been focusing on the challenge to think about this question as a family of one. Two words are coming to my mind: contentment and respect. Maintaining contentment is huge for a single person. You can choose to be discontented for a whole bunch of reasons and look for it in many wrong ways. Being content in whether your singleness is lifelong or seasonal is part of keeping balance. And I say respect because there is a level of respect that a single person has to own for themselves, much like the respect you have both talked about relating to being family focused. Finding the level of self respect that keeps you balanced rather than seeking it elsewhere is also important.

Tonya: When you live out of those places of contentment and respect, you also live out of those places where you know how to say no, places that will be healthy for you.

John: As part of your role as parents, you are training your kids in what it really means that God loves you. It’s not just that you love them; God loves them. We all have that journey to walk through. Whether we are a family of one or twenty, every person in the household should live out of the fact that God loves them first. When I live out of that, whatever I get out of the rest of the people in the house is icing on the cake. 

Tonya: That used to be one of the favorite things I said to my boys when they were little. When I’d tuck them in I’d say, “I love you as much as I possibly can, but I don’t love you the most. It’s God who loves you the most. He will always love you better than your mom and dad.” I always wanted them to understand that.

Mark: The idea of contentment resonated with me. There have been seasons in my life where I missed a previous one or am looking past a current one and I had to be reminded to be content in this one. I’m on the floor changing a nasty diaper, and I can’t wait until diapers are gone. And then I realize that what that comes with is this child has grown, and this phase is no longer here, and the child will be different. So that contentment concept plays in my life and certainly in a married context as well. I have chosen some of this, and it is what I want even if it’s not always glamorous or pleasant. I’ve always said, “Golf will always be there. My kids will not.” So I can be content in being an involved dad today rather than chasing that white ball around the course. That will always be there. The kid’s focus is where I need to be today.

Tonya: I think we’re reevaluating all the time. You get off track and come back and say you have to reevaluate. I remember one time when my oldest son was probably eleven or twelve years old and was playing ice hockey, which we did a lot of, and he said to me after practice one day, “Mom, I looked up in the stands, and you and dad are the only parents there. It makes me feel so good that you are there watching me.” It reinforced for us that the hours of sacrifice were the right thing. There were a lot of other things we could have been doing, but this mattered most. And now that I’m sitting on this side where he’s now twenty and in New Jersey and my youngest is seventeen and a senior, I’m going, “I would go back to diapers.” That time is so short.

John: You just gave us all a great illustration. The child of God is always looking for his father in the stands of life. As you said that I thought any child wants that from their parent, and as a child of God we are looking for that as well.

4 Truths about God’s Promises 

(This post came across my FB feed today from 2015. Based on Joshua 14:6-14.)

Someone should make a movie about Joshua and Caleb. I’ve always imagined they were buds, but who really knows. Not sure if their families shared manna together, but they are linked in the story of their nation.

Here, Caleb illustrates what it means to be totally with God. Not only was he faithful in his task at age 40, he also managed to stick to his guns for 45 more years.

At age 85, he reminds Joshua what happened on their first visit to the land which they now possessed. God spoke to him through Moses that his faithfulness would be rewarded.  Still as strong as at age 40, he was ready to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Through Caleb’s life, we can see these truths about how to live in the light of God’s promise:

  1. God’s promise is worth your lifelong surrender.
  2. God keeps His promises, even if it takes your lifetime.
  3. God’s promise doesn’t give you freedom to do whatever you want while you wait. Remain totally His.
  4. Your family could also live in the light of God’s promise because of your willingness to be totally His. Worth it?

The Gift of Balance: Series Introduction (Part 2)

(This is part two of the first post in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter.)

Of the topics the rest of this series will cover, which one have you had to work on the most?

Mark: For me, it’s the work, career, job. I often use the analogy of a spectrum. At the tail end of my corporate career, I needed to change where I was on the spectrum. Too much work had become a detriment to my time, family, and even emotional health. So now I’ve shifted the pendulum to asking the question, “How much work should I be doing? Am I doing enough work?” My day looks so different. I’ve enjoyed a lot of personal time with family, but I have to balance the time to develop and grow a new business. Work is the area that most easily disrupts the other areas of my life. I’ve gone from placing balances on it, to trying to control, to asking what are my boundaries and what should I be doing. This one isn’t always a challenge, but it is the one that I need to pay the most attention to because it’s so influential to other components of my life.

John: Tonya, since you’ve counseled a lot of guys, would you say this is probably the case for most men?

Tonya: Yes, especially the “how much work do I put in” leading back to values. But this is my issue too. What I’ve had to learn, and learning to do all the time, is setting all my hours according to my values. My values have to be stated first. And then ask, “Do my hours reflect my values?” That helps me. If I don’t accomplish my tasks in the hours I’ve set, then I have to be okay with stopping. That was the biggest thing for me, being okay with not accomplishing everything that was on the list for that day.

John: I remember hearing Bill Hybels saying how he addressed that issue for himself. When the clock hit five, he gave himself an automatic stop. But before he left his desk, he’d pause and pray, “God, thank you for what I got done today.” Just a simple prayer that allowed him to leave and to leave stuff not done.

Tonya: That’s good. A professor once taught me that when I put my hand on the doorknob to leave to pause and say, Everything that happened in this office today rest with you, Lord, and now I go home to my family.” Disconnect my brain from work and be with my family. Again, it comes back to values. We can give lip service to our value system, but do we live out of it. When we do, it’s a whole different dynamic because then I can be sitting with my kids and playing a game and have peace because that is a value for me, a higher value than my work.

John: My input on this question is coming from the backside of what’s been said on the work topic. The topic that goes hand in hand on this one is the idea of sabbath/rest/play. It’s not so much that I struggled with finding my identity in work. It was finding the balance between the idea that as a single person I can give more time to the job and the need to find balance between work and play. When I started running it wasn’t just because I enjoy it, which I do, but it was for that purpose to give me structure and personal accountability about the need for this balance. But even then, I had to work on not letting my play feel like work. The competitive drive or need to get better would mess with the balance. Injury is actually a good thing for me. It makes me slow down and pause to evaluate am I pushing too hard. Finding balance in play time helps correct any issues that are on the work side of it.

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

  • Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
  • Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt
  • Jesus’ message – “Store up treasures in heaven, rather than here on earth.”
  • Quote by martyred missionary Jim Elliot – “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Tonya’s

  • The Bible
  • Emotionally Healthy Leaderby Peter Scazzero
  • Leading on Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro
  • Dr. Leaf.com – 21 Day Brain Detox – podcasts, youtube channel
  • Sleep: It does a Family Good & Adrenaline and Stress, both by Dr. Archibald Hart

John’s

  • Integrity, by Dr. Henry Cloud
  • Awe, by Paul David Tripp

The Gift of Balance-Series Introduction (Part 1)

(This is the first post in a series on the subject of balance.  It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate.  By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors.  Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. Side note: for regular readers of this blog, these posts will be longer than usual. We three coaches are used to listening more than talking, so we have a lot to say.)

In getting to know Mark and Tonya over the last few weeks and months, I realized that we all have a similar concern about balance in our lives and helping others achieve it also. So it wasn’t hard to twist their arms to join me for a series on the topic. By way of introducing the series, we will share a little about ourselves, but also look at what drives us to be passionate about this subject and where we’ve found it most challenging in our lives. At the end of each post in this series, you will also find suggested readings and resources on that post’s topic. Mark is going to get us started by answering this first question:

Give us a bio and include your balance journey.

Mark: I grew up in a lower-middle-class, conservative Christian family in southern Michigan. My parents were very involved in their kid’s lives, putting their own needs aside for their kids. After marrying my high school sweetheart, we moved to Columbus where I began what became a twenty-year career in corporate America. Early on in my adult life, I was pretty confident that work and non-work balance was important to me and an important equation that I would have to solve. As our family grew (three kids now ages 17, 15, 13,), I realized balance is nuanced and fluid; it’s not a static, rigid concept. There are seasons where things are askew or you may be focused on one area more than another. What I always retained was that my relationships-wife, kids, God-were the things that I valued. As I navigated the career life, I found that career progression encroached in my home life and balance became really difficult-to the point that I walked away after twenty years to chart a new course. That was the moment I acknowledged publicly and through my actions that life was out of balance and I had to hit reset. I realized I needed a fairly drastic change in order to get back the balance that I wanted and had lost. Now I’m on this big adventure of what does post-corporate America look like. I enjoy coaching clients on this idea of balance in their lives; I’m jazzed about helping people know where they want to go in life and put together a plan to get there. It’s something I’ve learned-and I’ve learned a bunch.

Tonya: I’m also a Michigander. Go Blue! That’s where my husband and I met and married. My family experience was different; I grew up in a single-mother home. After marriage, we went into ministry, starting in campus ministry. We learned very quickly after moving into church staff world that we were going to have to protect our family life. So my story of balance comes from working under workaholics, pastors who had moral failures and were abusive to staff and family. My husband and I had to sit down and say, “What’s right here?” Those times helped us set the balance that God wanted for our marriage and family and to stand strong. Now having been married for 25 years and working as a therapist for 22 years while homeschooling our children, I never worked full time; taking care of the kids came first. So sometimes that meant I couldn’t do some of the things I felt passionate about doing. So seasons was also something I followed like, “Now is a season I’m raising my boys.” My time is beginning to shift since my youngest is about to finish high school, so I’m going to have more time to do those things that I want to do. My husband is now in the corporate world, but we still follow the choice to always talk about job opportunities he has and make decisions together. We’ve gotten push back at times, people telling us we’re crazy, but God has always blessed us. Living in California now for 16 years, we haven’t always chosen to have the income we could have had, but we feel blessed and haven’t paid any penalty for our choices.

John: As I listen to you both, I hear interesting intersections in our stories. I grew up in a pastor’s home; my dad passed away at the age of 40. As a twelve-year-old kid, I can’t say that my dad was a workaholic, but I can’t say that I think he had balance in his life. So that certainly influenced my view of balance as a pastor, as an adult, to not repeat the same history. Being single, achieving balance looks different but is still important. Balance can get out of whack for all of us in any area. I have worked through a couple of seasons where I realized, more from an emotional state, that I was out of balance. Similar to you, Mark, I chose to walk away from staff positions in order to reset. I didn’t have a “next” lined up. So Tonya, I got those same, “What are you doing?” comments. The balance for me wasn’t being concerned about what any one person thought more than what I understood the Holy Spirit was telling me. That doesn’t mean I have it all together, but when I feel like I’m out of balance I step back and let Him speak into what’s going on.

What makes you passionate about the subject of balance?

Tonya: The Oxford dictionary says that balance is an even distribution of weight enabling someone to remain upright and steady. That definition helps us see the importance of keeping things flowing along and not feeling discombobulated and confusing. My passion is founded in my leaving my therapy practice a few months ago to pursue coaching. In my therapy practice, so many pastors were referred to me who had hit the wall. They were dealing with losing their spouses or depression or addiction; so I was desperate to help them be preventative. Coaching pastors is my passion, to help them remain upright and steady. Living for that audience of one, like you said John, is our first priority. Balance helps us stay steady even when the world is unsteady.

Mark: This may sound cliche, but I think it’s in the time of difficulty where we are tested to choose the things that we value. When tragedy happens, when promotions are on the table, we are asked in those situations to reaffirm those things that are important to us. In those times, having clarity on what is important makes it easier to make the hard decision or to get through the season, and to realize the season will reset or that it can be made to shift back once it is over. These times give us the opportunity to prove what is important to us.

I’ve always taken a longer-run view of balance, driven home by working with workaholics lacking a longer view. I decided that’s not what I want. Who gets to their death bed and says, “I regret I didn’t have more conference calls. I didn’t travel more to meetings around the country”? Nobody says that. There is this pressure that organizations put on their people to go the extra mile. I always wanted to maintain this longer view, to not wake up one day and my kids are gone and I don’t know my wife and I’ve missed it. There are more important things to me than a career or an organization’s profit. In the church context, if we don’t exercise our opportunity to say “no” then it doesn’t give others the opportunity to others to step up and say “yes.” So in the church and the business context, I saw how things could be different. So I decided to take this longer view to keep me from having regrets in the end.

Tonya: To piggyback off of that, this summer I just spent three months with my father back in Michigan as he was losing his battle with cancer. It reinforced for me the principle of understanding who we are is not what we do. Unfortunately, he never came to that. He passed without that peace. He struggled to be important by what he did, with the “do.” That was hard to watch, but it determined in me even more so to know who I am. When I introduce myself to others, I say, “I am the daughter of the Most High God”-not to be super spiritual, but to know who I am.

John: Feeding off of your thoughts, two things come to my mind that I’m sure people have heard me say or observed me do. One is, “Relax. God’s in charge here. It’ll be okay.” The other is I share a similar passion to what you were talking about, Mark, in helping people say no. Modeling that is huge. Helping people see the freedom that comes from saying no creates the reaction, “Wow. I didn’t know this kind of living existed.” It’s sitting back and saying, “God is first. I’m not.” 

(Part 2 will post tomorrow, where you’ll find our suggested resources on the subject of balance.)

 

Introducing New Blog Series

Starting this Friday, I’ll be posting a 6-week series on balance called “The Gift of Balance.”  This series will be another collaboration, this time with two contributors, Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter.  Mark and Tonya are life coaches who have backgrounds in other areas-Mark, corporate America; Tonya, counseling.  We are all passionate about the subject of balance-some reasons the same, some reasons more personal.

Our approach is that we are teleconferencing each week about the following week’s blog.  Then that conversation is put into a blog that hopefully reads like you’re listening to our conversation.  You might say a transcript of a podcast.  Should be interesting and hopefully thought-provoking and helpful.

Here is an outline of the series:

  • Introduction
  • Family/Parenting balance
  • Work Balance
  • Marriage/Single-Living Balance
  • Play/Time/Sabbath Balance
  • Church/Ministry/Serving Balance

Look for the first post in your feed this Friday!

You: 2018 Edition

So I’m back. First full week in the office in a month. Besides the expected comments and questions, here are two observations that were most likely true: “You look like you’ve lost weight,” and “You are on fire.” Welcome to sabbatical residual. Ran more miles in a month than any other month in four years. And rest equals sharpness.

Around this time of the year we start reflecting. Did I accomplish what I wanted this year? Is it too late? So what about next year? What goals do I need to set?

What if you asked a different question? Rather than figuring out New Year’s resolutions, what about this different angle: What upgrade do I need? From a spiritual perspective, what God-designed updates should be installed in the 2018 edition of me?

Not everyone can take a month off and gain residual, download a personal upgrade. But with some devoted time and thought over the next seven weeks, anyone can identify and engage with God what bugs need to be addressed and improvements could be installed from you, edition 2017.

For instance, considered these ten possibilities:

  • In the 2018 edition of my marriage, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my job, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my parenting, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my walk with God, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my hobbies, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my health, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my finances, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my friendships, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my vacation time, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my future planning, I will…

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Work on the upgrade. Allow God to design and install the 2018 edition of you.

50 days to launch!

Sabbatical: The Saturday After

It was a good month. A very good month. Memorable in many ways. I was asked Thursday what was the best highlight. I gave an answer, but I could give you a different answer if you asked me today.

Rather than do highlights, here is the end of my journal entry from 10/30:

The lessons I take away from this month are:

  1. Grace is so needed in this world. I need to give more of it.
  2. People are very lonely in this world. I can offer them hope through my obedience to serve and to give my time, talents, and respect. 
  3. God has what people need in this world. They can find it through various methods-church, community, music, dance, family, books, new friendships, similar connections, and jobs where they can love people. 
  4. There is much to be in awe of in this world. But it shouldn’t replace my awe for the one responsible for all of it. 

For a bonus thought, I’ll share this note from my morning run today. In my first few miles, I wasn’t necessarily feeling it. I thought 7.5 may do it today, although I needed to do more. However, the more I ran the better my legs felt making me think double digit miles were possible after all (I was wearing Alabama socks…gotta be it). I ended up getting just over 10 done and felt good following. It reminded me of Sabbatical race #3 in Dover. 

Here’s the deal: our minds are a tool. They can beat us up or tear us down. Controlling the self talk in our head determines if we’ll finish strong or finish at all. 

Bottom line: Own Your Mind.

Photos to illustrate: 

Following mile 1 in Dover. Thought: “How will these next 12 miles go?”


Finish Line in Dover. Thought: “Thanks, God. We owned those last miles.”

Winning at the Game of Life

(This is the ninth and final post in a series on wisdom from baseball; and how about it posting just a few hours before GAME 7. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

One hundred and sixty-two regular season games. Three wins for the Division Series. Four more wins for the League championship. All for the chance to win four more games and be called the best in baseball. Only the Dodgers and the Astros have a chance to reach this final goal for the season.

Over the course of our article series, baseball has provided some excellent material for how to excel at the game of life. Of course, it is not a perfect analogy, but it is a good one.

Clear Goals Are Important

Last season, the Astros finished with a record barely over 0.500. The Dodgers lost in the League Championship to the eventual World Series winners. Both teams came into this season with something to prove, and they have. Although only one team will finish first, all the goal setting, planning, and hard work have paid off for both teams.

It’s likely that the other twenty-eight teams now watching the games on TV set a goal to win the World Series as well. Setting a goal does not guarantee it will happen. There are many factors which go into achieving a goal, some of which are outside of your control. But without a clear vision of what you are working for, how will you know when you achieve it? If the Astros had set their goal as simply “do better than last year,” it is likely they would have significantly underperformed. Winning the World Series is a big stretch goal, but it is specific and clear.

Team Effort

Each team has stand out players, but without the whole team, winning championships doesn’t happen. During this article series, we covered the importance of playing your role, doing the little things, and being the ideal team player. Suffice it to say, it takes a team to win the World Series.

It takes a team effort to win at the game of life too. Anyone who has achieved a level of success, broadly defined, has had help along the way. I don’t mean to diminish the individual effort. Instead, I want to emphasize the role that others — parents, mentors, coaches, teachers, partners, friends, spouses — play in their success. Moreover, truly successful people help others to be successful as well. MVP’s and all-stars garner a lot of attention, but I believe being praised as a great team player is a more desirable accolade.

Staying Focused

Spring training starts in March. The World Series sometimes finishes in November. That’s almost nine months of baseball, and over 200 games all told. How do teams stay focused for that long? There are multiple factors here, but I want to highlight one in particular. The players make a choice to stay focused on what they are pursuing — a championship.

Choices like this require sacrifice. I don’t mean to imply that a single minded pursuit of goals is always admirable. Rather, I’m highlighting a principle Greg McKeown writes about in Essentialism, which is this: “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.” Said differently, staying focused on your goals requires consistently choosing activities that lead to accomplishing your goals, and saying no to things that don’t. It also reinforces the importance of being clear about goals. Regrets arise from saying no to things that should have been a yes.

Not Just One Winner

The big flaw in using a sports analogy for life lessons is that in sports there is only one champion. Not so in life. A winner does not have to come at the expense of a loser. Winning, again broadly defined, is achievable for many. That said, let me be clear — I am not advocating for “participation trophies.” That diminishes the achievements and actions of those who have truly excelled. Rather, I’m advocating for a perspective that allows for many winners in the game of life, as each plays the game in the way they were created play. Some might call this an abundance mindset.

If I were to summarize this series in just a few sentences, it would be this: Be clear on where you are going and do what is yours to do to get there. Recognize the importance of being on a team and do the little things to help each other win. Realize that much of this game is mental and overcoming mistakes or failure will be critical. If you do all these things, it won’t guarantee victory, but it will increase your chances of living up to your full potential, and of winning big in life.