Family Life / Growing Up

Reshaping Priorities Amidst the Financial Crisis

It’s been almost two years since the Financial Crisis began here in America. I’ve been thinking about how this massive shift in our economy and job market has impacted my life. It’s not something you’re aware of at the time, but the Financial Crisis made an impact on my life in many different ways.

The most obvious is that I chose to enroll in graduate school to earn my MBA. I know it’s cliché, but when the economy takes a plunge, people go back to school because there is not much room for growth in the job market. Or because it’s not clear whether or not their company will be strong enough to endure the recession.  Although both of these fears rattled around in my head, the primary reason I went back to school was because I wanted to get a graduate degree before my family got any larger. I had flirted with the idea two years prior, but it was more important to focus on wedding, a new marriage, a baby…

The Crisis had impact other parts of my life as well. The story isn’t over yet, but one could guess that it’s been difficult for me and everyone else was invested in land, houses, or buildings. I don’t have enough time or humility to write any more about it, but I will say that I had to redirect my creativity and passion for building into new things.

I focused intensely on building Life Teen into a better organization through innovative websites that served as tools for our staff. Plus I tried to improve my level of professionalism, time management, and to improve the projects where I collaborated with other teams. Of course, these were not new priorities to me, but how I did it changed—I invested all of my creativity and passion because it had nowhere else to go.

Finally, I focused more on my relationships, particularly with Candyce and Norah. I know this should be an obvious choice for a husband and father, but it’s easy to be distracted by the “projects of life” and miss those golden moments with my family. A product of this refocusing on the family was Candyce and I starting a small ministry for newlywed couples. We figured that we weren’t the only couple to struggle in our first year of marriage, so we decided to do what we could to help younger couples through the challenges of early marriage. So far we’ve worked with four couples and it’s been terrific. Again, this is a different type of building and investing for me.

In the end, I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from the Financial Crisis is that success is not the guaranteed outcome of hardworking people. Plus once you have success, it’s not permanent. I guess the good news is that the inverse is also not guaranteed: that hardworking people can achieve success, and that depression is not permanent. Regardless of how you look at it, I’m not going to reduce life to a series of investments. Life is too good to be wasted obsessing over money.

Architectural Details in Verrado, Arizona

Verrado is a beautiful master planned community West of Phoenix that really captures the essence of a small community. It’s basically a little town of perfect neighborhoods all connected with leafy streets and beautifully manicured public parks. When you stroll on the sidewalks and admire the timeless beauty of the homes, it’s hard to believe this whole place is only seven years old.

It’s become a tradition for our friends and family to make the 45 minute drive across town to enjoy an afternoon in Verrado.  (To my knowledge, we are the only group people I know who makes this trip. My guess is that more people would do it if they knew about this place.) Our most recent trip a few weeks ago happened to be Founder’s Day, a annual celebration where residents flood the streets and gather at the central park for a locals-only talent show and a free concert. Last year it was the Beach Boys, this year it was the Big Bad Voo Doo Daddies–the swing band that did well in the 1990s.

So in one day we toured model homes, ate at at a wine bar, and picnicked in the park while watching a concert. It was quite a day! I snapped some photos along the way of my favorite architectural details within the neighborhoods. Click on the thumbnails below for bigger photos with captions…

Santa Barbara

I’m on a quick flight from Santa Barbara back to Phoenix. I just finished a John Grisham paperback my father gave me for as a birthday present back in November of last year. I had every intention of reading it over the Thanksgiving break, but it was not possible given my workload with school.

On my dining room table I have a ten-inch stack of black binders filled with documents, notes, and assignments. Depending on which of my three classes I’m preparing for, I’ll start my day by fishing out two binders and begin working. I’m expected to master all of the knowledge about accounting, global marketing, and economics. It’s exhausting. Within two days I’ll be finished with these three subjects and I’ll have four days off until we start a new trimester.

Yesterday my sister Katie and her husband Brian have a new little baby named Jack David back in Georgia. I know that those two names will be with me for the rest of my life. Also yesterday others in my family attended a funeral in Arizona for my unborn nephew named Kolbe Michael. How do you write about these two experiences? There is such joy and pain in the hearts of people who are so close to me. I have not reconciled the juxtaposition of these two events. I’m lost in the emotions of both.

(Out the window to my right is the coast of Southern California with a few islands scattered in the distance.)

My father is now home safe after a two-week trip with Eric Martin to Haiti to help with the earthquake recovery efforts. He was deeply moved by his experience. We’ve spoken on the phone a few time since he’s returned home, but I believe the complexity of his experience cannot be communicated over the phone. I’ll be seeing him in a couple of weeks and I’m anxious to spend time with him and hear his stories.

I can’t wait to get home and be with Candyce and Norah again. It’s only been 36 hours but I miss them so much.

Making Priorities in a Messy World

So last week we launched CatholicYouthMinistry.com after twelve consecutive months of hard work. To date, this is the most comprehensive website I’ve lead from napkin sketch to production. The website could’ve been built in half the time, but I wanted to include everyone at Life Teen in the project so they could offer input and get a first-hand experience of how the Web Team manages a multitude of priorities. If this were a web design and development blog, I could write for days about the victories within the project, but this is my personal blog and I’m trying to keep this from feeling like work.

But before I move on, let’s talk about the privilege of having a job. I think it’s only fair that if you are employed right now, you should stop and be thankful for what you have. Be positive in your workplace and do good work. There are many people who would love to have your “worries” in exchange for a paycheck. As my barber told me yesterday: “I complained that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”

I am NOT excited to restart classes in the MBA program. I’ve needed this winter break like Wall Street needed a bailout. The high expectations of both school and work totally wore me out in the last months of 2009, and I cannot say that I’ve regained my strength. But like it or not, I have an accounting class on Wednesday.

Sometimes I get confused about how to make priorities in this messy world. I mean, right now there are countless people buried alive in the rubble in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The earthquake has left people with so much suffering…I cannot even imagine. I got home from work yesterday and turned on the news to get a more up close look at what people were going through. The news reporter told the story of a man who lost is wife beneath a collapsed building. The husband pressed his hand against a the rubble and held his ear to a concrete slab hoping to hear her tapping below. The tapping came and went. The husband and the rescue workers prayed and dug. The segment ended with the sad reality that they had not found his wife.

The thought of losing Candyce or Norah shreds my heart. I cannot imagine the pain this guy is experiencing. At this very moment, I am sure he is still digging for his wife. Me? I am at here at Starbucks at the airport typing on my laptop. What’s my biggest problem right now? I don’t want to go to class. What’s your problem?

How am I supposed to reconcile my life of privilege with the misfortune of others?

I don’t know if there is a clear way to keep my own life moving forward while still caring for the rest of the planet. I do what I can, even if it’s not enough. …I pray for those in need. I donate money to worthy causes…I volunteer my time…I try to be a caring friend and neighbor.

I try not to get enthralled in the dazzle of the material world. Because it’s hard to be a genuine person if you are easily impressed by fortune and fame. I do try to be successful in what I do–career, education, investments–but I constantly remind myself that this too shall pass.

Ultimately, I try to be the best husband and father that I can be. If every man made their family their top priority, much of our society’s ills would wash away.

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Honestly, I am still unsettled about this. About how to make daily priorities in such a messy world. I need to pray more about this. And right now I need to finish this so I can get on my plane. Boston here I come.