February 2010


Many men complain about their “honey do” list. They despise household chores and would rather take a nap in their La-Z-Boy than split a cord of firewood. Not me – I actually enjoy doing jobs around the house. In fact, I feel bad when I’m not doing something. I’ve always got at least three or four projects going on and have a backlog of about a hundred more in my head.

My desire to be constantly working on something was obvious last week when I had to take some time off. I came down with a bug Saturday and was incapacitated all day Sunday. It was one of those sicknesses where I literally couldn’t do anything… and it drove me crazy. The whole time I was sick, I kept thinking about how much time I was wasting… all the stuff I could be working on… how awful television is on Sundays after football season.

While complaining to Sara about how worthless I felt by not doing anything, she finally got fed up and told me how bad I was at being sick. She’s right – taking it easy and doing nothing just doesn’t compute in my efficiency-oriented mind. She said I should take more time to do nothing and relax.

What?

Here’s the catch. I take pride in the fact that I stay busy with all kinds of projects and activities. What Sara was trying to tell me is sometimes she wishes I would relax and do nothing… with her. With a four-year-old and one-year-old, there aren’t too many opportunities for us to relax. I had that opportunity last week and spent the whole time sulking about what I was unable to do. That’s when I realized that I don’t need a honey do list, I need a honey don’t list.

There are times when we can accomplish so much more by doing less. I’m going to try to focus more on what I’m accomplishing and less on what I’m doing.

I’m reading Andy Stanley’s book The Principle of the Path and came across a very interesting section last night. As part of my MBA, I’m taking a strategic communication class. We just discussed listening skills and how easy it is to check our email, glance over reports, or just daydream while someone else is speaking to us. We know we should listen to the person speaking to us, but it is so tempting to multitask. Stanley addresses this issue by investigating what it means to pay attention.

Why do we say “pay” attention? Pay implies cost. If we pay attention, then we are giving away something of value, implying loss. When we pay attention, we give up our time, energy, and the opportunity cost to pay attention to something of greater value. This sense of loss may be what prevents us from paying attention in the first place. When we pay for something, we expect to receive something else of equal or greater value. After countless discussions in which we paid attention only to realize that what we got out of the conversation was not worth the price of our attention, we might seek to get more out of that time by multitasking.

But what if something captures our attention? When this happens, we are no longer consciously deciding to focus our attention on something. Our thoughts and emotions are hi-jacked. This can be good or bad. My wife captured my attention. That was a good thing. A new convertible could also capture your attention – not necessarily a good thing.

When something captures our attention, it compromises our decision-making ability. Who hasn’t gotten the “new car bug”? One day, we have no real desire for a new car… then after a visit to the lot, our attention is captured.

So what are we to do? If the capturing of our attention is involuntary and detrimental to our decision-making skills, do we have any hope? Let’s go back to the original thought of “paying” attention. If our attention spans are finite, then we can reduce the chances them being captured by the wrong things if we pay attention to the right things.  In other words, paying attention to the right things will keep the wrong things from capturing our attention. Who knows, if we pay attention to the right things, they may even capture our attention.

These thoughts can be summed up as follows. What you pay attention to will determine your direction. Your direction determines your destination. Now you need to ask yourself these questions. Today, are the things that I am paying attention to leading me to the destination I desire? Is there something that has too much of my attention? Is there something or someone who deserves more of my attention?

You are where you are now because of what you paid attention to in the past. What you pay attention to today determines where you will be tomorrow.

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday. If you didn’t know that guys, stop reading now and go get a card. I’ve told this story before, but I’ve added several new readers over the past few months, so here it is again.

I had my first date with my wife on Valentine’s Day.  Ambitious… cheesy… you make the call.  We were both in college at the time, so it wasn’t anything fancy.  I wanted to impress her, so I bought a couple of gifts for our first Valentine’s Day together.  The first thing I picked up was The Titanic soundtrack (which she already had).  That movie was big at the time, but I wasn’t a big fan.  To this day, I have still not made it through the entire movie.  I blame this film for setting the precedence for several 3+ hour movies that have followed.  Come on, don’t the editors have kids?  The only song I remember from the CD was that Celine Dion tune that seemed to last as long as the movie.  My reasoning for buying it was if I thought it was cheesy and horrific, it must be romantic.

Everyone knows that you have to get flowers for Valentine’s Day, so I paid a visit to the local florist.  Early on, I knew Sara was “the one” so I really wanted to impress her.  Couple this with my botanical ignorance at the time, and you end up with a terrible choice.  While all of the other guys were cliché with their roses and chocolates, Sara was the fortunate recipient of… a shrub… an azalea to be exact.  Hey it was big, colorful, and different.  I thought I was a genius.  Once we realized what it was, I planted it near a stream at her apartment.  It died.

Both of my gifts were useless, but she married me anyway.  We typically don’t even do gifts for Valentine’s Day any more.  With two kids and the busyness of life, we prefer to go out for a nice dinner and have some time together without changing a diaper, mediating an argument over who gets to sit in which chair, or getting boogers out of hair.  My azalea may not have been a great gift, but it’s still a good story.  Try to make a good story for yourself this Valentine’s Day.

I’m in the middle of my fourth decade.  I guess if you were to get technical, I am middle-aged (mathematically speaking).  While I usually think of myself as young, there is mounting evidence indicating the contrary.

While watching the Pro Bowl on Sunday night, I saw that the Grammys were on.  I decided to flip over during a commercial break only to see Lady Gaga and Elton John looking like what I can best describe as flamboyant zombies in superhero costumes.  It seems like there is more work going into the costumes than there is the music.  It took about 10 seconds to get back to the Pro Bowl.

Then there is the college and career class I lead at our church.  This consists of 18 – 23 year old college students and young adults.  One week we were playing Catch Phrase – a fun game where you get a word and try to get people to guess it by describing the word.  One round, my word was “moonlighting”.

Me – This was a show that had Bruce Willis as a private detective.

Them – Blank stares

Me – Cybill Shepherd was in it too

Them – Who?

Me – It was a popular series in the 80’s

Them – Laughter

In case you haven’t done the math, last fall’s college freshman was born in 1991.  I may as well have talked about Audrey Hepburn and Red Skelton.  Again, last fall’s college freshmen were born in 1991!  I have t-shirts older than that!

And what about the language?  I teach college classes, so I am around young people quite a bit.  I’ve come to realize that they actually use a different language around me than they do around each other.  They speak in a sort of shorthand where they drop off the last couple of syllables and invent words whose meanings are completely beyond me.  This is getting really bad – not only do I not know what they are talking about, but they know that they have to use “old person” talk for me!  It’s like I’m their great-great uncle and they have to speak v e r y s l o w l y and LOUDLY so I can understand that my toupee is about to fall into my Jell-o.

Different music, born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, different language… I don’t even have to mention different fashion sense (see the part about me having 19 year-old t-shirts).  The amazing part is how much we have in common.  Our college and career class will spend four hours at our house playing games with us and my college students really seem to connect with me.

I learned something while teaching English in Belarus.  Despite the differences that we use to neatly partition different cultures; there are still the overwhelming similarities that make us human.  When we focus on our mutual interests, the differences no longer serve as obstacles.  They are simply the characteristics that make another person who they are.