Friday, March 30, 2012

The Power of Focus

Ever had one of those “Balaam’s Ass” moments? You know, where God speaks to you through an unlikely and unexpected source? 

I experienced one recently, shortly after I began reading The Power of Focus. The glistening irony? The book was a gift from the managers of a Real Estate Brokerage where Id been working but intended to quit. 

Yes, I said “Real Estate Brokerage.” By that, I mean ... I was a REALTOR®. Except I was about to quit. 

Perhaps I should start from the beginning. 

I enrolled in the Real Estate Licensing course through UBC, shortly after we moved back from Mexico last year. The idea was to start a new career which would put money in our bank account. A short-fall in our monthly missionary support was slowly but surely eroding our house equity. 

It was a risk, a gamble for our future, to re-invent myself as a REALTOR®. (It also required a new wardrobe.) We knew that, right from the beginning. And we were aware the current market conditions were – to quote WKRPs Les Nessman – “sucking canal water.” We knew I needed to be focused. 

And so, after nine years of blogging, I created an exit strategy and wrote two months’ worth of posts to bring to a satisfying conclusion. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even blogging. 

Background readings and research for a book I wanted to write about the Kingdom of God (a sort of follow-up to Post-Charismatic) were consigned to several thick binders and shelved in a remote storage closet. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even writing.

My guitars languished in their cases, lonely and abandoned, and the tubes in my amplifiers clouded over with the dust of neglect. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even music.

I was focused, having ruthlessly eliminated my most likely distractions. Everyone “in the business” knew times were tough. Weekly sales meetings reinforced Canadas dire economic straits. That’s why our managers gave each of us, at the beginning of 2012, a copy of The Power of Focus. 

Ironically, the book proved to be my “Balaam’s Ass” encounter, directly leading to my decision to quit the brokerage.

To be sure, there were a few outside factors involved:

  1. My (glaring) lack of sales experience.
  2. Im virtually unknown in our town, which means no connections.
  3. The kicker: we ran out of money to invest in my being in the business, and therefore,
  4. Instead of reducing our debt, Id managed to dig the hole even deeper (oops).

 But as I read the first few chapters, I was challenged with the question, “What are you naturally brilliant at?” And by “brilliant,” they simply meant:

  1. What are you naturally good at, where even with just a minimum of effort, people take notice of your talents, and 
  2. If you invest additional effort to hone your natural abilities, you can easily become proficient—even professional—in those areas.

And, in language reminiscent of Strength Finders 2.0, the authors recommend that we focus on our natural abilities, versus the common strategy of working our patookus off, trying to improve our weak areas. (Result: you suck a little less, but your real strengths remain undeveloped.) 

Id just put away the things I was most passionate about and naturally gifted at. That’s perplexing and frustrating: So far, none of my naturally brilliant abilities have done much to get us out of debt, or at least make ends meet. It felt like Id been cursed with hobbies, not marketable skills.

Except ... my REALTOR® career was even more of a sucking financial vortex than my so-called hobbies. And lets not forget all those biscuits God seemed to be tossing my way. 

So, in what is either an act of faith in God’s provision and being true to myself, or my most reckless and ill-advised decision of all time ... I quit Real Estate. 

I am focused. On developing the gifts God gave me. On using my abilities for the Kingdom. On seeking to excel in areas where Im naturally brilliant.

Wendy says the real test will come when someone asks me what I do for a living, and I look them in the eye and say, in all seriousness and self-confidence:

Im a writer.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

God's Biscuits

One of the great things about having children is that they grow up. And suddenly, you’re sitting across a coffeeshop table from your eldest daughter, enjoying a deep conversation as adults. 

After telling Jordan the tale behind my decision to end my attempted REALTOR® career-shift, I made a joke about my “naturally brilliant” abilities qualifying me to be a starving artist. Jo spotted this fridge magnet a few days later, and just had to get it for me. It now occupies a place of honor on our refrigerator door.

(Our family has a certain fondness for tongue-in-cheek, slightly-dark humor.)

I also told her about the unexpected words of encouragement  I’d been receiving the past couple of weeks. As Wendy and I took note of these seemingly random tidbits of life-giving words, Wendy had commented, “It’s almost like Gods tossing you some biscuits.”

  • After playing bass at a church recently, a well-respected musician stood to make an announcement, prefacing it with praise for the band, pointing out my bass playing in particular.
  • A friend from a worship band Id led 15 years ago emailed me out of the blue to say, “I’m not one for ‘titles,’ but you were a real worship pastor. I just wanted to say thanks.”
  • A former youth group member found me on BookFace and sent a message thanking me for my time as their youth pastor.
  • Another former youth group member, from the George Mercado era back in the 1980s, emailed to say, God’s been putting you on my heart a lot recently – do you need prayer about anything?”
  • A local couple we’ve known since the mid-1990s, whod just finished reading Post-Charismatic, mentioned in passing at St. Arbucks, “You should be writing more. That’s your gift.”
“Hmm,” Jordan mused, giving me her widest and most innocent blue-eyed stare. “People whose lives youve made an impact on. Music. Writing. What do you think Gods trying to tell you, Dad?”

Gee, I dunno ... Maybe that having coffee with a wise young woman – clearly her mother’s daughter – might point out obvious things that her old man hadn’t dared consider?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Re: Destination

Traveling is a great way to expand your horizons, mentally and geographically. Exotic destinations, far removed from your usual routine, can provide exciting and provocative opportunities to see things from a different perspective. 

And yet, there’s something special about that moment when travelers return to their home turf, basking in the sights, sounds, smells, and bustle of familiarity.

You see the anticipation in the airport waiting area, as eyes search the incoming stream of humanity for familiar faces. A childs barely-contained celebration when they spot their grandparents walking down the ramp. 

The embraces, the cheerful welcomes, the meandering and talkative trek toward the baggage claim area. Not even the tedium of grudgingly slow carousels can dampen the happy reunions.

Unaccompanied travelers, clutching briefcases and laptops, likewise await the return of their checked overnight bags. Their studious expressions speak of a sense of purpose: Destination reached, they’re eager to dive into the purpose of their trip. 

In the midst of this sea of happy reunions, tearful farewells, arrivals, departures, baggage carousels, and connecting flights, sits the solitary figure of a writer. A cup of Tim Horton’s coffee cools on the table beside him as he tries to dream up the most creative way to announce his return to blogging.

But in the end, he decides a picture is still worth a thousand words.