Guest Appearance – “Jesus Smart: The Podcast” with Brian Del Turco

In case you missed it, I was fortunate to be a return guest on Jesus Smart: The Podcast this past week. It’s my second time conversing with fellow content creator Brian Del Turco, the voice of Jesus Smart, and this time around we discussed goal-setting for the new year and how that plays a role in establishing our personal narratives.

To check out the full episode, you can check out the following links:

 

And here are the links to our prior conversation (broken into two parts) from my first appearance:

 

How Much Pressure Do You Face?

Pressure can be a cruel thing.

As a noun, pressure functions in two ways: first, as “a persistent physical force exerted upon or against another object that it is contact with” or secondly, as “the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something.”

As a verb, pressure functions like this: “any attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something.”

Basically, whether it’s being used as a person, place, thing, or action – pressure is defined in one way: to throw off the balance of whatever it is in contact with. And it does so from the outside, but the level at which it is pressing is defined by what’s on the inside. Not the other way around. In other words, whatever pressure you find yourself under, it’s often blown into the proportion that you – yourself – have made it to be. Your expectations are causing you duress – not the thing you must accomplish or succeed against. And that’s a key understanding to have when you’re talking about or dealing with pressure. That whatever you feel is pushing against you – whatever you feel is dominating your existence – well, it starts with your flag in the ground. A strong stake in the dirt can weather those onslaughts and keeps a person from thinking he needs to avoid every bit of pressure that comes his way. So beating pressure is not about avoidance, but about influence – influence over our own mind.

And hey, that’s good news because you can at least control your own thoughts day-to-day.

You don’t have much control over life anyway, right? Life is not a movie called ‘You’ and life will go on regardless if you have a good day or not. So having a desire for perfection – specifically in one’s own self – is a fool’s game. You may be able to perfect certain areas of life like, a great golf swing or making a solid chili recipe. But to place the same expectation on one’s own self – in its entirety – is never a good plan. Wholeness of one’s own being should be the goal; not perfection. A wholeness of self will handle pressure like a feather landing on your shoulder; not the brick you may be accustomed to.

Life will always pushing back in some way so it’s best to have a firm stance where you’re at. What does that look like practically? It begins in the mind. As a writer, I struggle with a need for perfection in my writing. If I’m not careful, I can spend a good hour mulling over a single paragraph. And when I’m done mulling, I find I am still not satisfied. Why? Well, imagine the mental spiral that follows: Why’d you do that; That took too long; you should have went with your gut; look at all the time you’ve wasted; you’ll never get this done… and so on. Yes – not good.

But it’s not the need for perfection in the sentence that does me in – no, it’s typically the pressure I place on myself – caused by that mental implosion. That absolute need for me to be perfect comes out because I’ve led myself to believe that if I can be perfect, then I can produce a perfect work. A root problem most people experience as they try to complete the tasks set before them, but few recognize the issue as being from internal duress.

“I have so much against me everyday….”

“I am under so much pressure….”

“If only things were easier at my job….”

I’m not downplaying any one person’s situation. This is strictly fundamental and getting back to basics – how you perceive yourself in any situation is likely how you’ll respond, react, and take action. And if you’re having a hard time about it, how do you combat it? In my case, I’ve started learning how to halt this pressure – this unneeded, unwarranted, and unsolicited pressure – and consider how I am bringing myself into my work. Basically, training myself mentally. My work doesn’t require me to be perfect – it merely requires that I follow through with clarity; clarity that I have done all I can and if I haven’t, I’ll learn what I need for next time. Today’s culture struggles with this lack of commitment to go full force and with that – a HUGE fear of failure. Every duck need be aligned; every piece set; and every avenue walked before taking that said step – or even the littlest of said steps. Our lives are on a social platform now and the world is watching us, we feel. So unless we have a sense of wholeness and mental discipline about ourselves – that one failure does not define us – we are sunk before we even cast off from shore.

And “too much pressure” will always be an easy out whenever we cop out. A sense of wholeness should be our goal; not the need for absolute perfection – the latter of which will leave us staggered under the pressure we feel and robbed of any joy in the work we produced. A cruel concept when you think about it.

Staring Down Train Tracks

That's a long way....

That’s a long way….

The view is daunting; overwhelming, to a degree. Staring down train tracks – specifically the ones in this picture – can be as intimidating as they are miraculous. The long rows of steel and iron have sat where they are for decades, giving the impression that whatever has passed through here has done so without fail and without interruption for quite a while. Longer than many people’s lives, no doubt. It’s a fascinating realization, at least to me; one I claim due to my heritage. My grandfather worked on trains, my father made a living in steel, and now my youngest brother wishes to make trains some day. There’s definitely some “steam and iron” in our bloodline. And that’s a really cool thing.

My family’s path hasn’t always been as clear as these train tracks though. In hindsight, sure – we can look back and see the patterns of chosen vocations – but human foresight is not always so resolute. Physical train tracks, however, can be planned out, laid down, and carried forward so that we may see the entire journey. And if there are trees, rocks, a small crevasse blocking the path – well, we simply remove them. Obstacles are no longer obstacles; only the track remains. The distance between Point A and Point B is bridged.

I’d love to get super-philosophical with this concept. Straight roads; man’s desire for clarity; man’s need for land domination; man’s inner struggle for authority – there’s a plethora of ones I could go into. But I’d rather not go down that route. None of those topics apply to why I took the picture. Rather, I snapped it for quite the opposite: to remind myself of how I should not be thinking.

Men, in general, have an innate yearning to be visionaries. To claim what’s been set before them and make it their own. I feel that pressure daily and at times, it can be utterly maddening. But in some sense, I enjoy the challenge. After all, it’s freeing when a plan comes together. And equally frustrating when it does not, but it’s even more frustrating when the plan is hidden from your sight. I used to think that the last option was the most difficult one to deal with – to work around; to navigate. But I have since come to understand that there is a fourth road, one that’s not as easily discernible unless you find yourself in the midst of that road: it’s when a vision is cast ahead of you, the road is open for the taking, and all that need be done is begin. But once you start, and you see the path is without deviation, you begin to wonder to yourself – is this a trap? Am I seeing the big picture so that I can be trapped by it?

Alright, so I’m getting a tiny bit philosophical here.

I say this only because I know so many who are staring down train tracks, wondering if where they are headed is some sort of a trap. They see the finish line, but for some reason, that’s the problem. Is my career going to fulfill me? I’m a single parent, what does that mean for my dating life? Some external force seems to be dictating the path. Point A to Point B appears to be set in place and the journey doesn’t look to be a “enjoyably-manageable” one. “What will I do if I get stuck halfway?! I won’t be able to go anywhere!”

Don’t be discouraged by this. External pressure should not dictate internal longing. Using my own life as an example, I didn’t want to be controlled by external forces. So I asked if He (God) could help me out with that. That seemed like a good place to start. What’s funny, in retrospect, is that when I asked God how to do this; asked Him to set a vision before me – He actually did it. He gave me a clear path – devoid of those external pressures – showing me where to go. But here’s the strange part: I buckled. For when I saw the enormity of that vision in its entirety, I got frightened. Whoa. “What if I get stuck on these tracks? Is this all you have for me?!” The clear path was there, but now it looked like a one-way ticket to a trap. And I hated feeling that way, especially since I asked for it in the first place!

So what gives in this scenario? Why did I suddenly feel this way? The answer is actually very simple: I still wanted to trust in my own devices, which in turn, made the destination appear impossible to get to. And that sort of thinking can lead to immobility; it can also lead to “trap-mindedness”. It’s an invitation for external forces to once again play a factor – the very thing you asked to be guarded against. “If I get stuck though,” you may say. “I can only go backwards, right?” Well, and this will sound cliche’, you have to trust that the obstacles will be removed – just as they had been when you first asked for help. You see, God hasn’t changed; only our perception of where we are on the tracks has changed. Getting “stuck” can merely be a matter of losing faith, disabling ourselves based on an experience we had. The key is – and by no means is it an easy one – reengaging the original vision. Reminding ourselves of who brought us there, who cast the die, and who set the path for trotting. It wasn’t a family member who told you aren’t good enough; it wasn’t an article you read about the impossible nature of dating;  and it wasn’t a bad experience that you believe should define you. None of these things bring life. And none of these things take you further down the tracks.

If that much is true, then do not lose heart wherever you are on the path. I’m forever learning this myself. Slowly, it’s becoming clearer to me how God desires us to have faith in His foresight, not our own. Getting caught up in the vision, its size and scale, invites too many factors that shouldn’t matter. So do not entertain what lies in the woods. Instead, be encouraged by the path that’s calling you forward. Whatever that may be.

 

Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions

Sometimes it’s better to spell things out. Especially when it comes to making goals. That way you actually have your aspirations in writing and can refer back as necessary. As for me, I’ve always enjoyed making lists. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked to make tangible evidence of my hopes and dreams. On paper, that is. Ironically, I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions really stick. I think it’s because I never did very well historically. Here’s a brief history lesson on why:

1990 (age 6): Take plane to North Pole to look for Santa (didn’t get past the front door; in fact, the thought of flying in a plane terrified me)
2001 (age 16): Drive parent’s lawnmower before getting an actual driver’s license (my father shunned me from riding our family lawnmower so I waited an extra 6 months before getting my driver’s license, out of spite. Eventually I rode the lawnmower and wrecked it within the first 2 rides. Not cool.)
2007 (age 22): Don’t live in Ohio because I want to live on the coast (moved to Cleveland two months after college and have lived there ever since – not that it’s a bad thing, just sayin’ it wasn’t what I had originally intended).
2009 (age 24): Learn to play guitar (I dabbled in Star Spangled Banner but never got past Hot Cross Buns. Bummer.)
2013 (age 28): Don’t get injured playing baseball, stay in my bowling league, buy a house, don’t lose money in Texas Hold’em, learn how to cook rather than just use a crock pot all the time, etc. (as you may guess, none of this came to fruition….)

So yes, most of my New Years’ resolutions have never been truly realized. But on the plus side, I’ve accomplished much from year to year: publishing two books, getting engaged, starting a writer’s group, traveling across many states via plane (which I hate), among others. In light of this, I’ve decided to keep things simple this year on the resolutions.
Here’s a top 5:
5. Don’t make too many big goals…in fact, don’t make any that require the intervention of so many others beyond your sphere of control. Pray, hope, and believe instead.
4. Make one meal that doesn’t involve a crock pot. And eat it regardless of how it tastes. Then maybe throw it out if it’s awful.
3. Remind yourself that you can drive a lawnmower now. At turtle or even bunny speed. Both are equally dangerous and you’ve done both in your day.
2. Don’t take guitar lessons…again. Seriously.
1. Just keep writing. Eventually, your next book will find its way out of you.

I think those are rather realistic for the new year. Short, sweet, and to the point without too much stress involved. That’s what any resolution should be anyway, right? What are yours this year (if you have any)? Perhaps start with something small and go from there. And even if you haven’t ever made a resolution before, this could be a fine year to start; regardless of your situation.

Here’s to 2014.