A few things I’ve learned over the years

‘If I tell you what I need …’

I spent one summer in northern New Jersey during my college years, when my parents lived there. I volunteered for a week at a summer camp for disabled people, taking care of a man in his 50s with cerebral palsy. I brushed his teeth and shaved him, cut his food into bite-size pieces and helped him get around in his wheelchair. I don’t remember his name.

http://christian-overcomers.com/

During our first evening together, we had a get-to-know-you chat. “If I don’t tell you what I need you to do, my needs won’t be met,” he told me in his slurred speech. “If I tell you what I need and you don’t do it, my needs won’t be met.

“But if I tell you what I need and you do what I say, we’ll get along just fine.”

I’ve never forgotten that. We had a wonderful week together.

(Little did I realize that 35 years later, I’d be getting paid to do very similar things. That advice still applies.)

The right type

typewriter

In 11th grade I took a typing class. I was the second-fastest typist in the class, and the fastest guy. A few years ago I applied for a job that required a typing test. I reached 63 words per minute.

I’ll never be a stenographer, but that skill has served me well over the years.

First love

In fifth grade, I had a friend named Jeff. I don’t remember the context, but one day he blurted out, “I love all people.”

Light bulbs popped inside my heart. He was on to something.

It didn’t work out

One job I had lasted eight weeks, with a business-to-business marketing firm. Early on I was assigned a project for our biggest client. I wanted to know how the client planned to use the piece I would design; I figured I could do a better job with the project if I understood its purpose.

conference-room

My boss called me into the conference room and told me never to ask that question again. What the client did with the piece is none of our business. Since we billed by the hour, if the client wanted us to revise it later, use it as is or throw it away, we would bill accordingly, and that’s all that mattered.

I was done. Two weeks into the job, my creative spirit was crushed. I lasted six more weeks on insignificant projects, then was let go.

A year or two later the company, more than 30 years old, folded.

I did not celebrate when the company closed. Good people lost jobs, people I still occasionally keep in contact with. We all moved on.

That job wasn’t the right fit for me. It happens. Not their fault, not my fault. I learned some things about myself there.

Finding loyalty and affection

Growing up, we had a dog. In married life, we’ve had cats. We have two now, a brother and sister.

Cats on blue chair

Butterscotch and Punkin greet me when I wake up in the morning, and when I come home from work. They like attention. They like being petted, and Butterscotch rolls onto his back and likes me to scratch his belly, like a dog would.

Dogs and cats are loyal, affectionate and loving. Their love is simple and uncomplicated, unlike human love – in every way. Perhaps that’s why so many of us enjoy pets. They don’t judge. They respond to affection with affection (most of the time). If only we humans did that …

Quiet times

Silence is a gift.

My first car after college had only an AM radio that died when the car was less than two years old, and I never got it fixed. I kept that car 18 years, which means I drove in silence for more than 16 years. My prayer life was never better.

Also, my whole adult life I set the alarm early and have been the first one up. I value that “quiet time” before the routine and non-routine of life begins. I focus on what’s most important and start the day with a calm spirit, which (most of the time) I carry until my head hits the pillow at night. This helps me get through the ups and downs that life throws my way. (Including but not limited to crazy drivers.)

The dollar isn’t almighty

paid in full

Living debt-free also is a gift, one we can give ourselves.

We paid off our mortgage early when our sons were middle school-age, so throughout their high school and college years we lived debt free. We still do. The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

We’ve always lived within our means and pay off our credit card every month.

Before our boys were born, we both had good-paying full-time jobs. We could have taken trips to Hawaii every year and bought fancy cars and houses, but we chose not to pursue that lifestyle. We chose the “family life” instead and never looked back. To this day we have no regrets about that.

Good call

I worked in a call center for 2.5 years. (I wasn’t one of those pesky telemarketers; I received calls from customers and answered their questions. Or, I offered a survey to customers after they bought a certain brand of car.)

call center

After working as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, a call center may seem like a big letdown, and financially it was. But because we lived within our means (see the previous entry), we could afford this.

I met people there I never otherwise would have met, some who I still keep in contact with today. I learned skills I otherwise would not have learned. Because I was one of the oldest workers there, I was a de-facto leader, so I had to set a good work-ethic example. Which was not hard for me to do.

No job is beneath me. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had.

And yet … retirement is around the corner. I think I’ll be ready.

When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.