Monday, October 25, 2010

Harvest Time!

Many seeds are edible. Therefore they serve a dual purpose.  They can be eaten and they can be planted.  If we eat them they give us satisfaction for a moment, some nourishment, and a limited supply of energy.  If we plant or sow them, they will multiply and reap an abundant harvest. 

Now think about the seeds that are in your life.  What do you do with them?  Are you looking for a quick fix or long term benefit? 

Photo by Nicole Ashley Allen
The seeds in our lives are our money, time, talents, and energy.  Figuratively eating those seeds translates to things like get rich quick schemes, rapid weight loss, and other means of instant gratification.  We don’t want to wait. We want it all now.  What we fail to realize is that by indulging in the small pleasure now, we are actually taking a huge loss in the long run.

Imagine how much more we could have if we planted those seeds. Imagine how infinite the possibilities would be if we invested our money, time, energy and talents into things that would cause them to grow and flourish as opposed to dead end situations, things and people that reap no harvest.

Here is an example of eating the seed versus planting the seed that I want you to consider.  Think about which side of the spectrum you are currently operating in, and then think about where you want to be…

You spent $500 in a weekend on an outfit, some shoes, eating out at restaurants, buying drinks, paying cover charges, and parking fees.  You looked good, had a funky good time, ate well, and drank well.  The next morning you have a headache, perhaps a temporary one from a hangover, or maybe the start of a lingering one from a consequence that was a result of your actions. The fun is over.  You ate the seed.

You invested $500 in real estate by placing a bid, or going in with a partner to acquire a low cost property in your city.  Once you own the property, you rehabilitate it, and sell it for three times more than what you invested, which is still be affordable.  Now you have simultaneously improved your community, created an opportunity for a family to be home owners and made a profit that you can now invest into something else.  You planted the seed.

Eating the seed is easy because we believe that it’s safe, secure and it feels good right now.  Planting the seed is scary because it feels like a risk.  Like faith, once we plant that seed, it becomes something that we cannot see immediately.  But just because we can’t see it, does that mean that it’s not there?  Taking the planting route may be difficult at times.  Things may occur in the process that knock us down or beat us down to the ground, but remember, it is from the ground where all things grow and there is nowhere to go from there but up.

Before this year comes to an end, I challenge you to plant a seed that you might have otherwise eaten.  If you want the harvest, you must sow the seed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wardrobe Malfunction

When I was in college, I was a member of the Phi Sigma Pi Co-ed National Honor Fraternity.  Each year we would travel to a different state to attend the annual convention.  A few friends and I were in the hallway of our hotel waiting for everyone to finish getting ready for a social event that evening when I decided to break out into an impromptu free style dance routine.  I decided to do a little move that we might refer to as dropping it like it’s hot which basically entailed dropping down into a deep squat and coming back up rather quickly, then repeating that over and over again.  While I was doing this move I was singing a line from the song, Tootsie Roll.  “Dip baby dip! Dip baby dip!”  Two dips in, the crotch of my jeans ripped from knee to knee.  Yes…you read that correctly, I said knee to knee because it burst wide open at the seam in an arc that spanned from one of my knees to the other.  When it ripped, it made a popping sound that was so loud that someone came out of the hotel room and said, “What was that noise?”  They had heard the sound inside the room even though the door was closed!  Needless to say, from that point on my nick name was “Rip baby rip! Rip baby rip!”

There are three major wardrobe malfunctions that might occur that can turn a lovely day into a devastating one.  In addition to a ripped crotch I’d say that the other two most common ones would be a broken heel or a major stain.  In my little overactive imagination our wardrobe, or what we wear represents our life or our business.  We come up against setbacks which can be embarrassing or debilitating as well as a major blow to our confidence.

Our heels represent our platform or what we stand for.  It reminds me of a powerful quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” In business and in life it is imperative that we know what our foundation is and that we stand firmly and strongly upon it.  If it is weak, like the broken heel, we will be thrown off balance. We want be able to walk tall but with one broken heel, that will be hard to do. Depending on when, where and how our heel breaks, we may even get hurt.   These three things translate to the fact that we must be consistent (balance), operate with integrity (walking tall), and have an intentional plan for maintaining physical and psychological safety (because we might get hurt).

The rip in the crotch represents being exposed.  Unfortunately, when it comes to business and life, the better that we do, the more people try to find things that are wrong with us.  Now we can try to tie a coat around our waist, which represents hiding, but that won’t change the fact that our crotch is still wide open.  For that reason, the approach that I’ve found to be most effective is transparency.  “Hey ya’ll, would you believe I just ripped my crotch!”  When I train and teach, I’ve found that people appreciate and relate to honesty.  We are not all perfect and we don’t always have all of the answers and that’s okay. Therefore I recommend authenticity at all times. 
I also believe that if anyone is going to drop a big story on me, it’s going to be me.  You can’t blackmail me if I willingly share the information, and if I’m planning on engaging in something that I’m too ashamed to willingly share…then perhaps, I should consider another route.  Even if what you’ve been through carries a stigma or is looked down upon, you never know how you are being a blessing to someone else who needs to know that they are not alone.

Finally, a stain or your clothing represents a mistake.  As much as we try to avoid them, we all make them and just like certain substances that we soil our clothing with, they are often hard to simply wash away.  In such a case we must look at it as an opportunity to learn.  For example, if I know that my colleague often animatedly talks with his hands, then I know not drink red wine near him when I have on a white shirt.  If we look at that from a real life and business perspective it simply means that we try new things, and if they don’t work, we use that knowledge to inform our future choices and decisions.  Don’t waste a moment wallowing in guilt or shame.  Take that mistake and count it as a necessary test or trial that was a mandatory prerequisite to your inevitable success.

This week I challenge you to answer the following questions.  What do I stand for?  How can I effectively deal with being exposed (talked about or criticized) in a way that is meaningful for me?  How can I turn my mistakes into opportunities for learning?  
Wardrobe malfunctions are a part of life.  Plan accordingly.

You've Got Me, Who's Got You?

I'll never forget the scene from one of the old Superman movies where Lois Lane was falling through the sky when Superman swooped down, seemingly from out of nowhere, to save her. What was most memorable about that scene for me was what she said,
"You’ve got me...Who’s got you?"  
Basically, she wanted know, if he was saving her, then who was saving him?  That makes me think about many of us who have a tendency to try to save the world at the expense of ourselves.  We do this without any super powers and believe that we can come out unscathed. The truth of the matter is that we may not only be hindering the growth of those that we love, but we may also be harming ourselves in the process.

The same is the case with athletic icons. People idolize Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and the like, but those men as individuals would not be able to go up against the opposing team to win the game alone. There is a team of people behind them, whose names we may not even know, that support them on the path to victory.

Are you a self-appointed superman or a superwoman, always flying to the rescue of those in need around you? If so, who is looking out for you? Even the man of steel has a weakness...kyrptonite.  Kryptonite is the only thing that can weaken and ultimately kill the otherwise invincible man.  If this seemingly invulnerable man has something that can take him out, then why do we feel that we are exempt?  Your kryptonite may come in the form of physical or mental illness, loss or grief, or unexpected hardships that come your way. Or, quite simply, life and all of the responsibilities that you’ve take on will eventually wear you down.  With this being the case it is important that you have someone or something to rescue you too.

So, the question is...Who's got you?

The first step is simple.  Let God do His work. You may think you can save the world, but the first thing that I quickly learned as a social worker is that you can't. Of course we can make a difference and an impact in many major ways, but we must face and accept the fact that no matter how hard we may try, we cannot save the world.  If you truly want God to move in your life and the lives of others...then get out of His way.

The next step is to identify a sturdy support system.  This is a network of people that serve as a safety net that can catch you when you fall or a scaffold that can assist you in reaching higher heights.  This can vary from an army of one, to a starting lineup of five or an all-star dream team of twelve or more.  Find people that add value to your life in that they have strengths in areas where you are weak.  These are people that have the strength and wisdom to steer or pull you away from substances and situations that might destroy you.

So this week I challenge you to take a step back and observer your behaviors and habits when it comes to trying to be everyone’s everything.  The next time you are in the midst of saving someone imagine them turning to you and saying, “You’ve got me…who’s got you?”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Beyond The Advance

As soon as trouble comes, we want to be rescued right away. When we are working at something, we want the payment before the work has been completed.  Therefore, it is safe to say that most of the time we want all of the rewards, answers and solutions for our problems and our work right up front.  We settle for Mr. or Misses Right Now.  We take credit cards and loans with high interest rates.  We want to lose ten pounds in ten days.  We devour fast food while on the go. What we often fail to think about is what this obsession with expediting our life, experiences and allowances might actually cost us.  If you are going through some type of trial right now, you probably want the answer, the victory, or you just plain old want things to get better right now…but sometimes, waiting until after the storm to see the sunshine and the rainbow makes it worth the wait.

Talented authors and musicians often get hefty monetary advances for book and record deals.  This means that they get a lump sum of money up front, which will be made back once their books or records begin to sell.  It seems like a sweet deal, and quite often is, but, if the advance is not made back in sales, then the artist does not receive anything above and beyond it.  They do not get the overflow.

An advance may sound like the best things since sliced bread, but let’s look at it from another angle…

When I visited the "And Still We Rise" exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the charismatic tour guide led us through each area and taught us tons of interesting tid bits that confirmed for me how much our history informs our present state of being. 

In 1862 the current president, Abraham Lincoln, issued an executive order to free slaves.  It was called the Emancipation Proclamation. Sad to say, many slaves never experienced true freedom because their owners had another plan in mind.  Most of the slaves were held because of the debt that they owed to their master's.  The owners had the audacity to say that since they provided food, clothing and shelter for the slaves, that they had to work off that debt before they were truly allowed to be free.
Upon hearing this I made an immediate correlation between the happenings around the Emancipation Proclamation then, and the music industry now.  Artists are given weighty advances, fancy cars, clothing and jewelry upon signing a record deal.  The allure of it all prompts eager singers and rappers to sign thick contracts without reading the fine print.  Once the record drops and millions of copies are sold, the rising star is left wondering why they are seeing little to no profit from all of their hard work.

What they fail to realize is that they are in fact paying for all that they were afforded in advance.  The company deducts the advances and expenses from the profits made from the units sold.

So very similar to the situation with the slaves, we may think that we have made it big time by getting big things quickly, but what we are really faced with is a big time disappointment as we work to repay a debt that we never asked for in the first place. This might also correlate to authors who sign major book deals.  All of this goes to show that in many instances, up front advances, quick fixes and easy answers come at a much higher cost.

Now that I’ve got you thinking, I want you to relate this to your life.  I want you to think about how when we have a problem, we want the solution right away.  We may get that answer or incentive, and it may be good, but what we don’t realize is that what we could have gotten on the other end is far more valuable.  We don’t go through anything in vain. Everything that we experience is for a reason. As soon as things go wrong, we run to God and want him to fix it on the spot.  If He does not, we get upset and feel that He does not hear our cries.  We don’t trust Him, so we look for that quick fix instead.

If we just trust Him and wait to get through something, then we will come out in the end equipped with strength, patience and knowledge in addition to a desired income that will exceed our expectations. Since we’ve put in the hard work, the sweat and the tears, the payment that we receive, or the solution to our problem is so much more savory.  Sometimes we just have to wait patiently to see what is beyond the advance. Why settle for good when you can have great?

If the answer to your problem is not coming as quickly as you would like, it’s ok!  Know that an even sweeter deal is on the way.