Knowledge is Power


On a Southwest flight sometime earlier this summer, I read an insightful interview with Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s show Dirty Jobs. If you haven’t seen it, host Mike Rowe sees what it’s like in the day of a unglamorous job. (Think window washer, farmer, the guy at the waste water treatment plant.)

Here are quotes from the interview, highlighted with my favorite lines and my thoughts:

s: Your mission statement declares we’ve “demonized dirt” and made “work” a dirty word. How do we make up for it?

mr: I’m no expert, but my theory is that these changes happened very, very slowly and on a lot of different fronts. How we got to the point where the idea of getting dirty and working hard felt like a sucker’s bet, that’s part Madison Avenue, part Silicon Valley, part pop culture, part American Idol —an amalgam of reward mechanisms that celebrate the exact opposite thing of actual hard work.

My Thoughts: In a blog I wrote a couple years ago called Desiring Money vs. Making Money, I explained that more is required to becoming “rich” than to desire a lot of money. Specifically, you must WORK HARD. If you do not have the fortitude and endurance to work hard, you’re just lost in your delusion of grandeur.

s: Is it as simple as putting away our hand sanitizer and getting dirty?
mr: You can follow your bliss however you want in your life, but maybe that’s not the best way to choose a job or a career. Nobody follows their passion into waste water treatment or window washing. You do it because you’re hungry and you’ve found a job nobody else wants to do, and then you do it well, with a good attitude, with an entrepreneurial spirit. People are going to need to be willing to do work for work’s sake and find their happiness in learning to enjoy a job that they might not have dreamed about their entire lives. And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with hard work or a dirty job. I can’t tell you how many millionaires I’ve met who are covered in crap.

My Thoughts: The problem with many “dream jobs” is they are often just fantasies. I know this my sound very un-American, but it’s true. Example: last week I overheard a college student explain that all he wanted to do was play his guitar and hang out at the beach. And that the most he’d be willing to work was 15 hours each week. Every young person has a fantasy lifestyle+job like this, but all the dreaming in the world won’t make these jobs come true for millions of people just because they want them.

s: So it’s only blue collar jobs that are underappreciated?
mr: I think the big lie is accepting the notion that there are blue and white collar jobs. What I’ve learned from Dirty Jobs and talking with the people I’ve worked with, all of whom seem to line up in that blue collar category, is that this is a false distinction. What’s going on is not really between blue and white collar; it’s actually between an employee mentality and an entrepreneurial mentality. Many of the people on Dirty Jobs seem, at first blush, to fit the employee model, except they just drew a really short straw so they’re on some factory line covered in somebody else’s crap.

s: And a lot of those people on the factory line aren’t exactly smiling.
mr: Yeah, I’ll grant you that there are plenty of people out there covered in crap who are miserable if you’ll give me that there are plenty of people wearing a suit and tie who are drones. Let’s take the drudgery and the drones and push them to the side and admit that these are the people who, basically, fit the employee model. The more interesting model is the entrepreneur. The blind spot that we have right now, socially, is that we don’t look at entrepreneurs and associate them with dirt. We associate them with private jets, and that’s dangerous fiction.

My Thoughts: Amen!

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.

Confessions of a Man Who Met His New Year’s Resolutions

So tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and I can confidently say that I accomplished every one of my New Year’s resolutions. I don’t want to go into detail about each resolution, but I do want to share about the dedication and drive that it took to accomplish these goals.

Before I move forward, I feel like I need to give some context here. I was raised on a farm and I know what it means to work hard. Those formative years set a high standard for myself that has never wavered; I have always worked hard at home, school, or at work. For me, working hard and with passion brings elevated meaning to even the most ordinary tasks. Anyone who knows me will be quick to tell you that I work with purpose and fervor. This will never change.

But what set 2009 apart from each previous year of hard work was that I was more deliberate with managing the twelve months of the year and the five days in a workweek. In short, I always began with the end in mind. I was focused on short- and long-term goals through each day of the past 364 days of this year. It was my most masterfully executed calendar year since graduating college. This allowed me to accomplish each of my New Year’s resolutions plus my massive professional workload.

So was all that work worth it? I guess that’s the big question that deep down I want to find an answer for and why I’m writing about the subject. If all I wanted to do was to publish my accomplishments this year, it would be simple enough to copy and paste all of my completed to-do lists from the year. But at the moment I am heavy with exhaustion that’s entirely unpleasant. I’m burned out. It is hard to know if it was worth it.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. I doubt that everyone on my team at work appreciates what I’ve given to our organization over the past twelve months. That’s okay, because everyone was busy with their own work and they didn’t have the time to stop and appreciate my effort. As with most things in life, I will just have to be patient to see the impact of my labor. The reward won’t come with a bonus (we don’t have bonuses) or a promotion (we don’t have promotions), but with seeing our ministry grow and excel.
  2. Part of the reason I worked so hard this year was because I wanted to see if I could do it. I know that the professional athletes that I most admire succeed because of their legendary effort, and I wanted to see if I could apply the same drive to my own life. I can say without a doubt that I gave legendary effort in 2009. Unlike professional athletes—however–I have no post-season where my team enters the playoffs and primed to dominate other teams. There is no deciding game where the victors hold the championship trophy high above their heads. Nobody gets the MVP trophy in my world. This kinda sucks.
  3. Working so hard can make you self-absorbed. I started to think that the only thing that mattered on this planet is the stuff that I had to get done. It was hard to spontaneously make time to help friends when my schedule was packed so tightly. Plus when you’re consumed with ambition for twelve straight months, you don’t have much to talk about other than the stuff you’re doing. I wonder if I was a bore to listen to for a whole year.
  4. It’s hard to live in the moment. One example that comes to mind was when Candyce drove me to the airport. I had just finished my midterm at school the night before and was soon going out of town for a long weekend. I knew that as soon as I returned, I would be preparing for class assignments for another five days straight. So that 20-minute drive to the airport should’ve been spent just enjoying the company of my kind and beautiful wife. But instead I was completely consumed with the next seven days. I got on the airplane feeling lonely and unfulfilled.
  5. Let there be no confusion here: getting a master’s degree while still working full time is difficult for anyone, but especially for a married man with a family. I know that many people have done it before me, so I try not to get too intimidated by the insane amount of work I have to do each day. But I’ve learned that an overbooked lifestyle starts to make you feel like someone else is running your life. It’s ironic, isn’t it? I started this whole thing so that I could get my control over my future.

So there you have it—a blog update from an exhausted man after a long year of hard work. I would like to come up with a clever way to pull this whole thing together, but I’m out of energy. The end.

Finding Peace Through Gratitude

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Letters and Papers from Prison, 204-205:

It is in just such times that we should make an effort to remember in our prayers how much we have to be thankful for.  Above all, we should never allow ourselves to be consumed by the present moment, but should foster that calmness that comes from noble thoughts, and measure everything by them.  The fact that most people cannot do this is what makes it so difficult to bear with them.  It is weakness rather than wickedness that perverts people and drags us down, and it needs profound sympathy to put up with that.  But all the time God still reigns in heaven.