I Like My Echo Chamber

We’ve heard a lot lately about how we have filtered our social media feeds to hear only what we want to hear. We have created echo chambers for ourselves and that’s bad. I say not so fast. That depends on your echo. My criteria is simple – is this person a jerk? Do they substitute snark and sarcasm for intelligent thought? Do they view cruelty as just another brand of humor? If their public discourse generally belittles others, then I try to have minimal contact with them. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time cultivating my Facebook feed and social media contacts. I’m long past accepting every friend request that comes my way just because we come from the same home town or spent a few hours together on a project. I’ve unfriended many folks, both Christian and atheist, conservative and liberal. I have “unfollowed” a great many more, mostly because the social cost of unfriending them is too high (as in, “You may be family, but I still don’t have to listen to your crap.”). There are several more that deserve to get the boot and probably will the next time I’m feeling feisty and motivated. Along with many other people today, I grieve an election that didn’t go the way I would have liked. In fact, it probably went sideways for me months ago when civil discourse was replaced with anger and fear. HOWEVER, my social media feed remains largely respectful, kind, and in many ways still hopeful. Almost no one is gloating. Many people are expressing deep, raw feelings of hurt, but I mostly see people reaching out to comfort and support them. Why? Because that’s what I have created. This is the kind of echo chamber I want for myself. I like what these people have to say and surrounding myself with them makes me a better person. My echo chamber tends to support the Gospel over Christian politics, integrity over winning, discourse over hyperbole, patriotism over nationalism, and compassion over fear and anger. If I have to give those things up in order to experience “diversity,” then no thanks. So, here’s what I have to say to my echo chamber: The most frequent command in the Bible? “Fear not.” I don’t know how this will turn out, but I know how it will end. If one of my friends needs someone to do their wedding, regardless of who they want to marry, then I’m open to being asked. If you need a Christian community that will accept you for who you are and yet genuinely seeks to wrestle with and understand what it means to follow Christ, then I know such a place. If you need someone to go to the bathroom with you, walk with you, or generally help you feel less afraid, feel free to ask me. There is a shortage of racial and religious diversity in my life. This has less to do with my echo chamber and more to do with…

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Blowing off the dust

It’s been nearly a year and a half since I wrote anything here. I feel like I owe some kind of apology, but why? One of the best things I have ever done for myself is to give myself permission to do what I need to do when the time is right. I have enough guilt out there for the things I “should” do that I don’t need to create more over nothing. Life happens and sometimes I find that I don’t have the emotional energy to write things that I think are worth reading. Since my last post, I took a half-time job, left that job, got another full-time job, moved 800 miles away, sold a house, bought a house, and had similar changes for the rest of the family – a new job for my wife, new schools for the kids, and so on. I spent most of the Fall wondering what had happened. Recently, I have felt the urge to write.  Who knows? Maybe, I’ll even get some more fiction done.

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Rare and Valuable

In my never-ending quest to figure out my own future, I stumbled across the work of Cal Newport, and particularly his recent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I’ve made it known on several occasions that I hold many “follow your dreams” bloggers in low esteem, especially those that seem to have no measurable skills or life experience. This particular book caught my eye by echoing many similar sentiments. In it, Newport takes on the “follow your dreams” philosophy and turns it on its head; recommending that we stop trying to be useful by following our passion and instead seek to find our passions by being useful. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hadn’t given much conscious thought to over the years, but it rang with a note of truth. Newport got me thinking about the idea of career capital. In other words, people that we admire for following their passions tend to launch into their passions from a position of experience and strength. They use their established skills and accomplishments as a launching pad into something new. In practical terms, it means don’t go looking for people to pay you for doing what you love, but look for people willing to pay you for what you do well. Then, use that as a foundation for launching into what you love. At the time, I was still looking for the “right” job. In my mind, that meant working for another company or organization. I needed a new way to search for job openings that would fit me well. So, I took the idea of career capital and asked some friends and colleagues the following question: “What skills or gifts do you see in me that could be considered rare and valuable OR could be further developed to eventually become rare and valuable?” It was an interesting exercise, and somewhat surreal. I received lots of good feedback and some really insightful observations describing the ways in which I facilitate teams, think strategically, balance opposing views, and think outside the box. It was humbling and heartwarming to receive such things, but I had to admit to being a little frustrated. None of those answers listed any good keywords or search terms for finding a new job. I wanted things I could just plug into a formula and it would spit out a new job for me. I walked away from the exercise thinking “ These characteristics show that I would be a huge asset for any organization once I am on board, but they won’t get me through the front door.” That was a hard truth. Why didn’t I get the information I wanted? In the end, I realized I was asking the wrong question. The question I asked was more about my personality and less about my skills. Eventually, the correct question was pounded into me by circumstance rather than insight. Upon occasion, people will ask me to help them with their website. For several years, my answer was…

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Where You Been?

Back in my podcasting days, podfading was the term used when a show began posting fewer and fewer episodes and eventually quit publishing altogether. Usually, it meant that the show’s creators might have moved on to some shiny new project. Perhaps they had not reaped the fame and rewards they expected from the difficult work of putting together a show. Maybe they just became bored. I don’t know if there is a similar term for blogging (blogfading?), but I keep thinking about this space and wondering if it just looks like another blog gone by the wayside. I think I may be a victim of my own standards. I wanted my writing here to reflect a search for authenticity; to communicate my own efforts to move towards a more authentic version of myself. What I failed to anticipate was a time when honest communication would work directly against my goals and efforts. I made it no secret that I left my job and was actively looking for the next professional step in my career. That also meant that I had to be open to professional opportunities with new companies and organizations which might present themselves along the way. And… therein lies the rub. You can’t maintain an online “presence” and interview like a rock-star when your “authentic” self is posting things like “Just finished another interview with a vast, faceless organization that is just looking for another cog in their profit machine.” “Went to another meeting today where I felt like a square peg in an organization of round holes. I think I’m on the wrong planet.” “Oh crap. Where’s the money for _______ going to come from?” “Wah wah wah. Nobody likes me.” (OK – I might not have posted that one, but I had days like that.) It’s hard to get hired when you communicate your humanity by saying “I’m uncertain of what I want, of where I’m going, and I’m a little scared of what’s next.” There’s always someone in line behind you willing to say whatever it takes to get ahead of you regardless of the amount of truth involved. Feeling stuck between authenticity and being an ideal job candidate, I froze and opted for silence. Today, I still don’t know what the future holds, but I think I can share more openly about what I’m doing with my time. I’ll have more to write about the specifics soon, but the short version is that I came to realize that spending my time trying to find a place where I can be just another employee took a lot of time and energy and yielded little in return. I needed to pay closer attention to the businesses and organizations that genuinely wanted me, needed my help and were willing to pay for it. That is how I’ve been spending the last few months and that may turn out to be the road map for the future. Only time will tell. So, this space is not “blogfading.” I…

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Today I Am

Lately, I’ve been making some simple doodles to entertain myself and remind me of all the things I am and can choose to be. I was sort of inspired by those posters you see with different emotions all over them (Today I am happy, sad, angry, etc.). In the back of my mind, I think that I might eventually put them together into a little desk accessory for self-expression like this: In the meantime, I will continue to add new ones to this post and also put them on the Facebook Feed.  

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Vocational Manifesto

Last week, I turned in my resignation from my day job. It was a good decision, allowing me to exit gracefully on my own terms rather than stay in a situation that would become more and more of a poor fit over time. At this point, it feels more like an opportunity – the kick in the pants we needed to move our family forward into the next adventure. However, it does mean that I have some serious work to do in order to find that next adventure. For the foreseeable future, my kids are going to continue to need shoes, daily meals, and an education, so a day job is probably a good thing to pursue. However, I have the luxury of a little bit of breathing room to allow myself to really reflect on what I want to do in my professional life. After some serious navel-gazing and soul-searching, I boiled my passions and personal preferences down into a single sentence. I consider it something like a personal vocational manifesto: I want to create or accomplish something authentic that impacts people and leaves them feeling happier, enriched, or more positive about the world in which we live. When I start looking for new opportunities for myself and my family, I can measure those opportunities against my manifesto. I can look at each opportunity and ask myself “How well does this opportunity score on these goals?” While there is no perfect job for anyone, a personal vocational manifesto can help you clarify what is important to you and come closer to finding a job that truly fits. Here is my “scorecard” for evaluating opportunities and how they measure up against my own manifesto: Create When I was a teenager, I would say that I wanted to “make neat stuff.” Twenty-five years later, that hasn’t changed much. I want to create. I love imagining possibilities or making something new. It doesn’t matter if it is a piece of art, a work of fiction, a design, an experience, a business, an organization, or a plan. I just have to create. Accomplish If I can’t create something, then I want to accomplish something. I don’t want to be the person that merely monitors or implements other people’s decisions. I want to be in the thick of it where decisions are made and things get done. Something I want to be able to point to something and say “I did that.” Again, it can be an object, a design, an experience, or a system. I just want to be able to claim it as mine, even if it’s only to myself. Authentic Whatever I do, it has to be real. If I’m going to promote a company or organization’s ideals or products, then I have to believe in them. I can’t shill for a paycheck. Impacts I want to do something that has a direct impact on people. I don’t want to be so far removed from the beneficiaries of my work that…

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Catching Up

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Thanksgiving, illnesses at home, and change, upheaval, and uncertainty at my day job conspired to put me behind on my blog posts. I was all set to post on Friday when I emerged from seclusion to see the horrible events in Connecticut. I decided that nothing I had to share with the world needed to be said on that day in light of that tragedy. So, I’m catching up today and will have another essay up soon.

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