Are You Ready for a Change?

What would it take to…?

Whenever I started a sentence like that, my business partner at our small marketing firm would just roll his eyes and laugh. He knew that I was nurturing the seed of some new idea – something probably odd and impractical that could easily make money or flame out in spectacular glory. It was a regular enough occurrence that it ceased to be a surprise. We would just move to the conference room where he would graciously hear me out. We would walk through the pros and cons of the idea and then map out what it would take to become a reality. It was a simple but effective exercise and it started with a simple question – “What would it take to…?”

The world is full of good ideas, but I learned a long time ago that ideas are worthless without the planning and ability to make them a reality. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I pitched an idea for motion capture technology to Jim Henson’s Creature Studio way back in 1996. Needless to say, it went nowhere.) It’s not enough to be the “idea person.” You have to be willing to get your hands dirty to make your dreams a reality.

Too often, when someone announces that we should do this or that, they really mean that they would really like it if someone else would make that happen. They want to be responsible for ideas and decisions without any of the work necessary to see it through. This is natural. It’s a part of the creative process. Most people are not being lazy or manipulative. It’s just fun and easy to generate ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas. Turning good ideas into a reality requires discipline and commitment. We have to train ourselves to take ownership of our ideas as well as their outcomes. In places where I lead, if someone enthusiastically suggests that “we should…,” I try to get them to complete that thought with “and I will…”

I’m currently leading our small church / non-profit charity through some “what would it take to…” discussions. We need to decide what sort of organization we want to be, cast a vision for the future, and make specific plans for moving towards that vision. Asking those kinds of questions means starting with what we are willing to put forth. In essence, what are we willing to risk?

Everything has a cost. It may be a financial expense or the use of some other kind of resource. It is important to understand your “budget” before you even begin to move forward. Your situation may be different, but these are the kinds of things you need to assess:

Money

How much are you willing to spend, literally? Are you totally strapped for cash and unwilling / unable to put more cash on the table? If you can’t afford it, are you willing to borrow money from other people and take responsibility for returning the money? Most changes involve some kind of expense. If the money is not there, you’re done before you get started.

Time

If you don’t have the cash, do you have the extra time to spend on a new project? Sometimes, time can be an adequate substitute for cash. Other people might be able to put cash into an idea if you take on more of the actual work. Additionally, do you have enough time to survive? If your change is dependent on some kind of growth in order to succeed, what happens if the growth doesn’t occur, or happens too slowly?

People / Relationships

Are you willing to sacrifice someone for your dreams? This is not as brutal as it sounds. Imagine that your new project will require moving to a new location which will make it impossible for some people to participate. Or, imagine that you will be making some policy changes which some people will absolutely oppose. Are you prepared to lose those individuals in order to make the necessary changes?

Identity / Reputation

If your new plan will move you in a direction which will change how others see you, are you prepared for the consequences? If you decide to take a stand on a certain controversial or unpopular issue, are you prepared for changes in the ways people will perceive you?

This is all about your tolerance for risk. What are you willing to give or sacrifice in order to turn your ideas into a reality? It’s fun to generate ideas and dream big, but it’s equally important to create a concrete plan for getting from here to there. Do you really have what it takes?

What will it take to…?

If you look through all of the costs and are unable (or unwilling) to make the necessary sacrifices, then all you have is an idea, and that’s not enough.


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.


Rare and Valuable

Shut Up and Take My MoneyIn 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 almost always “no, thanks.” I had been “the technology guy” or “the website guy” before and I felt like I needed to move beyond that reputation. I really wanted to be seen as something different in the minds of others.

Last Spring, I went to visit my friend Israel for one of our regular lunches. Before we left he said “I want you to talk to someone about our website.” I whined and pouted about “being out of that game,” but I did it for my friend anyway. As it turned out, the seminary needed someone who understood their identity and recruitment needs (I happen to be an alum.), translate between the techno-speak of the hosting company and end users, and manage the project moving forward. I returned to his office and said “You know what? I think you have probably found the only person uniquely qualified to understand this project. I can totally do this.” He responded “I know you can. That’s why I sent you.”

Nearly a year later, the project has gone through several major changes but remains a professional highlight for me. It has allowed me to take all of the things I enjoyed about project management and combine them with some creative design work, some organizational development consulting, and my passion for theological education. It also opened up several opportunities for additional consulting, professional writing, and some possible jobs.

That experience opened my eyes to the fact that I already have some career capital that has tangible value to others. I just need to be willing to use the gifts I already possess in order to build a foundation for doing work that I love. That’s exactly opposite of the usual question of “What would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it?” but it makes a lot more sense.

Yes. If I won the lottery, there are many creative and passionate projects I would pursue (confession: I would also play a lot of video games). The truth is that I’m not ready for any of those pursuits right now. No one will pay me to do those things. I need to develop those skills more before marketing them for hire. If it is a new venture that I want to launch, I will need to build a financial foundation first before I set out to launch it.

In the end, finding my own path has brought me to the unavoidable question:

What will people pay me to do?

Surprisingly, that question has provided me with more opportunities than roadblocks. My wife and I have been prayerfully thankful that each month has brought in enough work to move forward another month. It’s not where we want to be, but it is progress – step by step. The last year has been challenging and a little scary at times, but it has been freeing more than anything else.

I don’t know where this path will lead, but I’m still glad to be walking it.

What does your path look like? If you need to change it, maybe you should start by asking “What will people pay me to do?”

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Metamediocrity Relaunch (sort of)

Metamediocrity LogoBack in my days as a podcaster, I started a project called Metamediocrity. It consisted of series of stories following the lives of B-List metahumans in a world where classic superheroes and villains actually existed. I viewed it as something like an audio comic book, with ongoing stories releases as episodic “issues.”

In the end, I gave up on the project for several reasons. Mostly, I felt like B-List superhero stories were being overdone at the time. Serialized audiofiction was also going great guns, with new wannabe author / podcasters cropping up daily. In the end, I just didn’t want to add to the noise with one more “Hey! Listen to my show and love me!” podcast.

Now that I’m writing a little more seriously these days, I thought it was a shame to leave those stories languishing in a lonely file somewhere. I’ll be revising them for print and releasing them here via pdf download as short stories.

You can read them here.


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 still have plenty of things to say and I think I am at a place where I can share those things appropriately and authentically.

As always, thanks for joining me on this journey.

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Play Date – Friends & Family Weekend

 

 

This weekend, I’m running a “Friends & Family” (since those are essentially the only people who know about the story anyway) special for Play Date. You can pick it up for free this Saturday and Sunday. Play Date Cover

 

Honestly, this is just a push to get some reviews. Most kindle / ebook promotional sites require you to have several reviews before they will list you book with their other offerings. If you feel so inclined, please consider rating or reviewing the book on Amazon.

I also added Play Date to Goodreads. If that’s your thing, you can add add it to your queue or review it there.

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Play Date

Play Date Cover

 

Finally finished my little novella Play Date. Here’s the description or “back cover” info:

“I would probably be considered a rotten babysitter. I can’t say I’d recommend me to your average mom in need of someone to keep their kid safe and nurtured. I don’t really do ‘safe and nurturing.’ On the other hand, nobody can say I don’t know how to show a kid a good time. I can pretty safely say that a kid entrusted to me would absolutely love me. And you know what? Every once in a while, a kid can be handy to have around.”

Max O’Donnell is a changeling, a faerie child raised by human parents. Neither fae nor human, he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. It is a challenging life, but it does have a few perks. Using the few gifts he retained from his fae origins, Max makes a living by taking advantage of those people “with more money than sense.”Not usually one to stoop to stealing cars, Max makes an exception after being nearly run over while crossing the street. In an attempt to teach the jerk a lesson, Max steals the guy’s car.

Unfortunately, he didn’t bother to check the back seat.

It’s listed as “A Changeling Thief Story” because I’d like to write more about Max and his friends. It’s up for sale for the Kindle at the low low price of $0.99. It’s also available for several free promotion days and the Kindle Lending Library, assuming I can figure out how to make those things work. You can find it here.

I also did the cover art myself, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.