[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What I Learned From Sailboat Racing

As a college student I learned how to sail small boats. But last week was my first encounter with the world of championship sailboat racing. As a part of my work with Chick-fil-A, I had the chance to spend a day on the water, watching a world class sailboat racing team race in the Quantum Key West Regatta. Sailboats carved white lines in the brilliant blue-green ocean, sails snapping in the warm breeze.

If you can get past the unfairness of this being something I did for work (not my normal trip, I can assure you), there is a lot to learn from my experience.

The crew of Delta, a 32' single mast sailboat, allowed me and my camera crew to ride on their coach boat to film and ask questions of the coaching staff as the crew warmed up, then raced two courses. These pictures aren't from a brochure. They're what I snapped from my camera phone--no color adjustments or zoom required.

Yes, yes, we really need to move on from how unfair this is. :)

After the race I had the chance to interview Linda Lindquist-Bishop, a multiple-time world champion sailboat racer and a world-class leadership consultant when she's not on the water. High performance in any environment, she said, requires pressing through adversity to the benefits found on the other side. When we avoid difficult conversations, we also avoid greatness. Rather than run from a challenge, champion sailors learn to lean into it.

Her team practices this in the planning before and debrief after each race. And they practice this principle on the water--all sailors do.

See, sailboats don't just open their sails and go where the wind pushes them. Sure, running with the wind is awesome. When facing that way, these guys would add another sail (the "spinnaker") and fly across the water. But the race isn't just one way spring. They had to complete multiple laps, often turning directing into the wind.

How does a sailboat move forward with the wind blowing the wrong way? They call it tacking. By turning the boat at a sharp angle to the wind, they leverage the physics of the boat (one part reaches deep into the water below the boat) to transform the pressure on the sail into forward motion. (That's all the physics we're going to cover.) And they zig-zag across the water to get to their destination.

But tacking isn't easy. In fact, the wind pressure is so strong the boat can tip over unless the crew "hikes" by leaning as much of their body out of the boat as they can, with only the tactician and helmsman allowed to lift their head up to see what's going on. ("The head weighs 10 lbs," I was told, "and every pound counts.")

Have the winds of life changed on you? Don't let it push you the wrong direction. Get a team around you--every pound counts--and lean into it. You may have to zig-zag, but you can get there. You can still win the race.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Getting Your Kids To Open Up--It Starts Young & Trivial

I was trying to get my son to go to sleep last night. This is NOT easy to do. He got my night owl genes so going to be when everyone else does is hard. He's just not tired yet. And being three that means he makes a lot of noise and wants a lot of attention during that window. So when he started to tell me something, my instinct was to shut him down--to reminder him (again) that he's supposed to be laying quietly in his bed.

But just in time I remembered something important: If I want my kids to tell me what's going on in their world when they're teenagers, I need to listen to what's going on in their world long before they're teenagers.

Evan just HAD to tell me something. So--this time--I did a good job asking what it was. 

"Spencer [a boy in his pre-K class at school], he, he, he [searching for the words]...he got a Power Ranger costume!"

This was said with great importance. In Evan's world, you can't get much cooler than the Power Rangers.

"Whoah!" I correctly responded.

"Yeah," Evan continued, saving the best part for last. "And it is a RED costume!"

"Power Rangers are cool," I said.

Evan nodded sagely, as if I had just spoken a deep truth of the universe.

But it wasn't a deep truth. It was trivial and, let's be honest, completely uninteresting to me. And I haven't always responded with interest and connected with his little heart. He probably won't remember this conversation or that Spencer ever had a Power Rangers costume. But I hope he will get used to telling me about what's going on in his life. I hope we establish a pattern of sharing thoughts and feelings and what's happening with his friends.

Since I want to have those discussions when's he older, when those things really matter, I need to have those discussions when he's younger and the topics don't really matter. I've seen too many parents who don't make time to listen to the trivial things their little children want to share. They inadvertently train their kids to not bother them with that silly stuff. But it's not silly to the kids. It's the stuff of their life. Then when their kids' life issues aren't trivial, the parents wonder why the kids don't want to share.

Great conversations with your teenagers starts by talking about red Power Ranger costumes--at 9:45pm at night, in Evan's case.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Urgent Vs. Important - Know the Difference And Avoid the Trap

Getting anything truly meaningful done requires doing what is truly important, not what is merely urgent. Knowing the difference between urgent and important tasks is one of the most powerful skills anyone can have.

It's a universal truth that's been discussed by sages for centuries. But this phrasing comes from Stephen Covey's book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. And this is far from the only great idea in that book. That is one of the best books I've ever read--whether you're interested in leadership, productivity, healthy living or general people skills. It is a MUST read.

In the chapter on Urgent vs. Important, Covey warns against "the tyranny of the urgent", where the aspects of our life that demand attention force us into a state of constant reaction. Phone calls and emails and people stopping by our door...we can spend all day responding to urgent requests. But while they may be urgent, they aren't all important.

Often, the most important thing you could do isn't urgent at all. Some crucial things, like personal development and long-range planning and creating a whole new system rather that fixing the error (yet again) can always be put off one more week. But those are the kinds of tasks that change the game.

If you want to be successful--in any field from parenting to IT to preaching--you must cultivate the discipline to walk past the urgent issues which are screaming for your attention and sit down in the corner with the quiet, but important projects.

What important project have you been ignoring because it can wait? When is the next time you could take the first step to deal with it?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Simple Plan for a Super Year

Every year I make a plan--a life plan where I dream about what I'd like to be true of my life by the end of this year. And I always change the plan as the year goes on, because I learn new things and thanks to life's surprises. The plan isn't final, it just gets the ball rolling in the right direction. And then I set up some habits (with reminders) and put key action items on my calendar that will move me toward my goals.

I've done something like this for years. I've even coached others through this process for years. Some years I've used very thorough, multi-layered methods--spending lots of hours defining lots of areas of my life differently. I learned a lot in the process and if you've never done that, I highly recommend it.

But this year I'm taking a simple path. Whether you're an old hand at life planning or brand new, maybe hearing what I'm doing for 2015 will help get your year started a little smarter.

I'm asking two questions about myself:

1. Who do I want to be? (What character qualities/heart conditions do I want to be true of me?)

2. What do I want to accomplish? (What special projects, financial goals, company targets, etc do I want to see happen?)

And I'm thinking about these questions in two time frames:

1. For both questions above, what is the answer when I think 5 years down the road? (I do this first, to push myself to really dream and go for what I really want, not merely what I think I can manage to accomplish in the short-term.)

2. If that's true (my five year dreams), then what can I do in the next 90 days to step closer toward my list of dreams? (This is where the habits and action steps emerge.)

I've been thinking about and praying through these questions for a few weeks, steadily adding ideas and making those ideas more specific and measurable. And so far I think 2015 could be the best year of my life yet.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish?