My wife was called in for jury duty last week. She went in Monday for selection. After seven hours at the courthouse (30 seconds of which were spent actually talking to someone), she found out she was selected.

My wife is a PA and sees 40 to 50 patients per day – all of which had to cancel their appointments for the days she was in court. She spent all of Tuesday listening to the prosecutor and found out she would have to come in the next day. She spent Wednesday listening to part of the defense and found out she would have to come back the next day. She spent Thursday listening to the defense and closing arguments, only to find out that she was an alternate and had no say in the verdict.

While the jury went into a separate room and deliberated, she had to remain in another room in the courthouse for three hours doing nothing! Finally, the judge had mercy on her and let her go home. He just told her to be near a phone in case she was needed.

This whole thing got me thinking about our judicial system. First of all, its inefficiencies are unacceptable.  Thousands of tax dollars were wasted and the jurors lost thousands of dollars of revenue. I’m all for providing civic duty, but that is no excuse for inefficiency.

The other thing I thought about was the judicial process. It’s a little scary to think that a handful of common people with little legal knowledge have the power to decide if someone spends a portion of their life in prison. I guess the system works, but I’ve seen the people around here. If I were accused of some crime, I would be terrified to turn my fate over to someone whose judgment led them to decisions like, “You know what, this mullet rocks! I think I’ll keep it.”

Lesson time kids…

If we feel it is terrifying to let common people with little legal knowledge have the power to decide if we spend a portion of our life in prison, why do we let those same people decide what kind of house we should have, car we should drive, job we should take, or how much money we should make. Think about it. A lot of the stuff we buy and do is nothing more than a status symbol. If we allow others to dictate what we do with our lives, we are allowing people with little knowledge of our gifts and passions to imprison us in our own little self-constructed cell. The only way to free ourselves is to get beyond what others think and actually seek to do that which we were created to do.


I had my first 5k of the season last Saturday. Based on the considerable loss of stomach contents as I battled a stomach bug earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure what to expect.


I started running regularly about a year ago. Back then, my main goal was simply to finish the race and not get beat by too many girls. After a couple of races, I found that I was becoming more competitive and started taking it a little more seriously. I also found out that there are some very fast girl runners and I can’t even hope to keep up with them. I finished last year with second and third place finishes in my age group. Emboldened by my improving race times, I went into Saturday’s race with two objectives:

1. Finish in under 23 minutes

2. Win 1st place in my age group


Although my personal best time was 23:20, I thought beating 23 minutes was a reasonable objective. The feasibility of reaching the second goal was a little more difficult to predict. You never know who will show up in your age group, so you could run your personal best and not even place. Alternatively, you could have a horrible outing but still go home with a medal if the others in your age group are competitively challenged.


I had a good day. I ran a new personal best at 22:40 and won my age group. As a side note, my time of 22:40 is quite respectable but don’t be too impressed – the overall winners (typically high school cross country runners) are usually below 18 minutes. By the time I cross the finish line they are already on their way to their second race of the day.


So… I ran a personal best and I won my group. Now what?


I guess I could always shoot for a faster time, but I realize that I’m not getting any younger and eventually those times will start heading the other direction. I could set a new goal of getting an overall win, but I’m not insane. I am very much a goal-oriented person, so just running for the sake of running is not an option. So what will my new goal be?


I realized my running is falling into the same pattern as my professional career that I wrote about in my book. My race times are taking the place of my salary and my finishing position is taking the place of my job title. It’s amazing how pervasive this addiction to success can be. While there’s nothing wrong with aspirations, when I have a goal I feel like I HAVE to accomplish it and I’m not really good with losing.


This got me to thinking… while I did win my age group and run below my target time, I didn’t even come close to the overall winner. In that respect, I decisively lost the race. Out there, somewhere, will always be a faster runner, a higher paid manager, a greener lawn, a cleaner house, a smarter student, or a more humble servant. Our primary goal – the one that will bring the most satisfaction – is not be the first person to finish the race. Rather, we should continually assess our lives to make sure that we “run with endurance the race set before us.” I firmly believe that if we are running someone else’s race not even victory will bring fulfillment.

Two lyrical titles in a row… Today’s posting was going to be about how I am weary of the glorification of Michael Jackson, his television media dominance, and the memorial service, which was filled with enough hyperbole to make a geometry teacher giddy, but I realized by posting on this, I would be contributing to the very thing I was complaining about.  So, this is another last minute posting.


Instead of focusing on the details of the ceremony, I want to focus on how his death affects you.  That right, how has the death of Michael Jackson impacted your life?  Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.


We spend so much of our lives trying to be important.  Whether it is through career success, education, recognition of our volunteer efforts, or the belief that we possess an inner Hollywood actor/rock star/professional athlete/presidential candidate, many of us aspire to do great things. 


But what are great things?


In terms of recognition and fame, MJ was right up there at the top.  He had world-wide recognition, amazing talent, and celebrity eccentricity, but is your life any different now that he is gone?  Sure there were thousands of people who showed up to mourn his death but what personal impact did he have on your life?


Looking at the other end of the spectrum, there are countless mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, and friends who leave this world anonymous to everyone except those who were close to them.  They may not warrant media attention, huge memorial services, or gold-plated caskets, but their passing has a profound impact on the people in their lives.


The point I am trying to make is when we focus on our fame, success, or recognition, we shift our attention to a broad spectrum of people who are only superficially affected by us in order to pump up our own ego while ignoring those on whom we can make a lasting impression.  In order to truly do great things, we sometimes have to forgo opportunities for fame and fortune in order to focus on the people in our lives that are truly influenced by our existence.


Have you ever considered that it may be easier to succeed than to fail?  With all of the work and worry we put into our quest for success that may sound absurd, but think about it.  What the broad population considers “success” is usually nothing more than the sacrifice of our time and talent in a career for which we have no passion so we can rely on the security afforded by that career.  Or maybe we are in the right career, but for the wrong reasons.  Rather than using our career as a platform for our mission, we squander opportunities for real significance and choose instead to make selfish ambition our mission.


Face it – we are afraid of failure.  We think that if we fail, people will regard us as incompetent, lacking talent, or just plain dumb.  But consider the alternative.  If you have not experienced any significant failure recently, then I can speculate the following about you:


·         You chose to structure your life and circumstances with low risk in order to eliminate failure as an outcome

·         You lack courage

·         You lack faith

·         You are frustrated and bored with your career/life

·         You know that you should be doing more with your life, but constantly make excuses to justify inaction

·         You feel that you are full of potential (…but never seem to live up to it)

·         You allow pride for what you have to overshadow the possibility of what you could be


Why are we so afraid of what others will think of us?  Why are we so afraid of failure?  Here’s my theory:  If we are not pursuing our mission – if we are not doing what we were created to do, then there is a disconnect between who we are and who we know we are meant to be.  When this disconnect occurs, our defensive mechanism is to make other people think we are successful even though we are miserable.  We are not finding fulfillment in what we do, so we try to seek it in what others think of us.


“Wait a minute,” you think, “that’s not me.  I’m not held captive by what others think of me.” 


Oh really…  Then why do you feel prideful when you succeed in a career that offers no fulfillment?  Why are you afraid to step away from your standard of living so you can pursue you mission?  Why do you turn your back on the most important aspects of your life so that you can advance in a career you sometimes despise?


If you never fail, you are not getting anywhere close to realizing who you could be.  You are content to remain enshrouded in the safe harbor you have built up around yourself. 


Go out and fail some.  Then you can experience some true growth.

Several people have inquired about how the book sales are going, so I thought I would give you an update.

I don’t know.

There are many misconceptions out there regarding being a published author. One of the biggest is that you make a lot of money selling books. Unless your last name happens to be Rowling or Grisham, that is very unlikely. For every one of my books that sells on Amazon, I get about a dollar. When you consider the cost to hire an editor and cover artist, the first financial milestone is simply breaking even.

The second big hurdle is differentiation. With even less money available for discretionary spending, it is extremely important to offer something that sets your book apart from the millions of others. When my book was listed on Amazon, there were around 14 million other books available. Mine made it up to around the top 70,000 at one point, but has drifted down to around 1.9 millionth on the best seller list. I honestly have no idea how many copies have sold and, surprisingly, am not that concerned. My goal was not to be a best-selling author, but to impact a few lives.

When I got my first shipment books, I was frustrated to see a few grammatical errors that I thought I had corrected. I was also frustrated when I thought of wording that would have better communicated my message. Ultimately, I became very critical of my work. This frustration; however, was alleviated by emails and messages from readers that told me that the book really hit home with them and got them to carefully consider some of the struggles that they were having in their careers.

I realized that my self-critical approach was actually going against the foundation of the book itself. When I began writing the book, my desire was to put my experience on paper so that others could read it and hopefully realize that it is ok to question a career or direction in life that doesn’t feel right even if it does bring them a decent measure of “success”. When I began judging the book on a different basis, I was looking for false success. Remember from the book – success is the achievement of a desired outcome. In this case, that desired outcome has already come to pass. From here everything else, book sales included, is just gravy.

I do like gravy, though.

In case you were wondering how I did in last weekend’s race (see Confessions of the Hyper-Competitive), I am becoming increasingly adequate.  I took 2:15 off my previous 5K time, but am nowhere near catching the 50 year-olds who apparently carry rickshaws for a living.


I came in second in my age group.  If you were to tell me before the race that I would finish second in my age group and finish the race in 24:15, I would have been very happy.  But there is a problem… 


I followed this other guy who had about the same pace as me throughout the whole race.  I sized him up prior to the race – he seemed younger than me and in pretty good shape.  Plus, he had on headphones, a heart rate monitor, and those Larry Bird see-my-white-harry-thighs running shorts.  I, on the other hand, don’t even own an IPod, gauge my heart rate by how close I feel to vomiting, and wear much more modest knee-length shorts (a sure sign of a novice runner).  I thought that if I could keep up with this other guy (we’ll call him Runner-X), I would be fine.


The race started and it was pretty hilly.  I actually like this because the place where I do most of my running is hilly and I think it gives me an advantage over the flatlanders.  I pulled slightly ahead of Runner-X on the uphill sections and he passed me on the downhill sections.  On the level areas, I trailed by a few paces and drafted him.  I read that this was a good strategy, but at the speeds we were running I think this was about as necessary as putting granite countertops in an outhouse.


The last section remained relatively flat and I continued to follow him by a few paces.  At the end of the race I thought about trying to pass him, but I was afraid that would be bad etiquette.  Besides, he didn’t appear to be in my age group.


When the race ended, I was very satisfied with my time.  My satisfaction increased when the results went up and I saw that I got second in my age group and would receive a cheesy medal that makes a little league participation trophy look like the Stanley Cup.  My elation came crashing down; however, when I saw that Runner-X was in my age group and won first place with a time 3 seconds better than my own.


Moral of the story time… we can be very successful in our careers by completing key projects, getting promotions, or gaining recognition.  Despite the thrill of our success, it can be dashed in a second by Runner-X.  When it comes to running, I have learned to set a time as my goal not my position in my age group.  There is no telling who will show up on race day.  If I base my success on my position in my age group, I can become exasperated when fast runners show up or I can finish well below my potential when there is a lack of competition.  Either way, if we base our success on how we do relative to Runner-X, we will never be satisfied. 


Success is defined as achieving a desired result.  For this race, my goal was to complete it in less than 25 minutes.  I did that and should consider my efforts a success despite not passing Runner-X.  I challenge you to “run the race set before you” and measure your success based on the achieving of goals that are important to you, not by how you appear to be doing relative to others.


By the way, I went to a sporting goods store last night and bought a stretchy shirt and reasonable-length running shorts.  Look out, Usain Bolt


I admit it.  I am hyper-competitive.  I realize that to some of you who know me, this is like saying Michael Phelps can swim.  I wish I could just enjoy playing a sport, a board game, or a fantasy football season; but I have to win.  Even if what I’m doing is not a sport or there are no competitors, I still have to beat some kind of personal goal.  For example, we’ve moved around quite a bit and I’ve gotten to where I can unpack all of our household belongings and get the house set up in two days…  if I’m hiking, I have to make a certain distance in the allotted time (my wife loves that one)…  I actually get upset when my team loses at Pictionary!


My latest competitive endeavor is running.  I got into it because our church put on a 5K community benefit and I thought it would be good exercise.  The problem is that there is a big timer at the finish line quantitatively judging me to a tenth of a second and a whole bunch of other people trying to run faster than me. 


As with most of my pursuits, this one began harmlessly.  I ran once a week with the goal of finishing the race without showing everyone what I had for breakfast.  After a few weeks, I realized that finishing wouldn’t be a problem and I began to focus on my time.  Eventually, my wife asked me why I didn’t just run for the fun of it.  I looked at her with that confused look dogs give when they hear a really high pitched sound.  Not be competitive… what kind of heresy was this? 


When the race day finally arrived, I did ok.  Doing ok is the worst result for a competitive person.  It’s better to win so that we can feel good about our accomplishment or to lose decisively so that we don’t have to worry about doing well in the future.  We prefer abject failure over adequacy.  


The interesting thing about running a 5K is that even though the competition is divided into age groups, those age groups are meaningless.  From my observation, there is the under 20 age group that is made up of kids that run cross-country and still have all of the cartilage in their knees.  The 20-somthings are usually sleeping in and if they wake up early enough to make the race, they will probably place in the top three of their age group due to the lack of competition.  I am in the 30-something group.  This is kind of a transition zone from the sleepy 20 year-olds to the hardened 40-year olds.  Those in their 40’s are mostly serious.  Some will run the course in under 20 minutes and for the most part, they are competitive.  Just about anyone over 50 takes this very seriously and will finish ahead of the majority of the 20 and 30 year-olds.  Then there is the over 65 group.  These people actually run to the event from their home.  During the pre-race, they do some Jack Palance calisthenics followed by a breakfast of asphalt and nails.   Then they whip up on the youngsters, accept their trophy, and jog to the next race… which they run while holding their trophy.


I tell you all of this because, being in the less competitive 30 something group, I actually have a chance of winning a trophy in my age group.  Fueled with this knowledge, I have downloaded training plans that include pace intervals, speed intervals, hill work, and endurance runs.  What was once a healthy activity is now becoming a competitive obsession.


We do the same thing at work don’t we?  Instead of a timer or our placing, we compete for job titles or raises.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with being competitive but we have to be careful about why we are competing.  Far more important than the attainment of our goals is our decision on which goals to pursue.