Tag Archives: work

Eyes on the Prize

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I love me a new year, but I like it better one week in.

The starting gun fires, the race commences, and some yahoos foolishly sprint to the lead for a brief moment until reality reminds them that they are in over their heads and they fade into oblivion. That is when the race really begins. Once the crowd thins and the race gets real, the true competitors search for their pace and ask themselves important questions about their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. That is what happens about one week into a brand new year, and I want to be a true competitor in this race called life.

So here we go.

I want to look deep into my soul this year. Will I avoid the unsettling quiet required to explore the frightening corners of my own heart?

I want to spend myself on others this year. Will I allow fear, pride, and privilege to keep me away from confronting the injustice in my own community?

I want to remember important stories from the past this year. Will I let the sirens pull me mindlessly forward and forget the treasures found in old experiences?

I want to push my boundaries this year so that I grow. Will I permit the deception of comfort and routine lull me into complacency, or will I have the courage required to test uncharted waters?

I know the right answers to all of these questions, but the breathless pace and the long road ahead demand that I maintain focus, avoid distraction, and keep my eyes on the prize.

It is time to settle in and do the work.

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When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled – by Howard Thurman

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On this day after the celebration of Christmas, I share this fine poem by Howard Thurman for your thoughtful consideration:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

From “The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations” by Howard Thurman. © 1985 by Friends United Press.

Work Ethic

Remember Haydn’s 104 symphonies.  Not all of them
were great.  But there were 104 of them.
– Raymond Carver¹

Americans have a reputation for being workaholics.  This makes me feel patriotic.  It is Labor Day, presumably a day off from work in honor of work, yet I am eager to get some work completed today free from meetings and the steady onslaught of email.  I may have a problem.

The term “work ethic” implies that there is some moral element to work, a right and a wrong if you will, and I’m not exactly sure who has cornered the market on figuring that out.  I’m pretty sure that it isn’t me.

A couple years back Pepperdine Law hosted a lunchtime presentation featuring Lieutenant General Flora D. Darpino, the thirty-ninth Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) of the United States Army, and the first female to hold that prestigious post.  From her impressive presentation, what stuck with me most was her dislike for the phrase “work-life balance”—an implication that (a) work and life are mutually exclusive; and (b) navigating the two involves walking a precarious tightrope.  Lt. Gen. Darpino argued that we just have “life” and that work is simply one of its many components.  I liked that a lot.

I like work.  So much that I do too much of it sometimes.  The idea of retirement, with no disrespect for those who enjoy it nor to those who long for it, never has appealed to me.  I want to keep contributing to this old world as long as possible.  To be productive.  To create.

I’ll write about the need to rest on some other day, but today, in honor of Labor Day, I celebrate work.  May those of us blessed to have it do it well.


¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).

First Day, Fresh Start

After four wonderful years as Dean of Students at Pepperdine School of Law, I am transitioning to a completely new position as Dean of Graduate Programs.  I am still at the law school, same wonderful people, but new office, new role, and new adventures.  My new job involves joining forces with the amazing team at the world-renowned Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution as we design, market, and deliver new non-JD programs while continuing to expand the reach of the Institute’s world class dispute resolution program.

Any sadness over leaving such a great job is relieved because my friend, Steve Schultz, will be a rock star successor and allow me to focus on the excitement of the new opportunity.  (I just hope that the students wait to dance until my back is turned!)  I am particularly excited by my new role because the Straus Institute drew me to Pepperdine in the first place, and the opportunity to join the day-to-day work of the Straus family is really a dream come true.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

In the dizzying swirl of activity as I attempt to absorb massive information for the new role and hand off the responsibilities of the fading role, I can test an old trick that I have recommended to many along the way.  Here’s the trick: When cynicism starts to settle in at work and you start to think snippy thoughts about everyone and everything… (Wait, I’m not alone here, right?  This has happened to me once or twice in the past quarter century.)  Anyway, when you notice that teensy bit of bitterness about your work, that why-try-because-who-really-cares-and-I-sure-don’t-anymore sort of fun mood that your colleagues find so endearing, my trick is to imagine that it is suddenly your first day on the job.

Go ahead.  Give it a shot.  Imagine it is your first day.

What do you do?

What you don’t do on your first day is think “well that will never work because so-and-so, blah, blah, blah…”  No, on your first day you have no idea what will work.  Instead, what you do is take a good look around and size up your new colleagues, resources, and surroundings and imagine the possibilities before you.  It is a somewhat scary but always exhilarating time.  Who knows what might come?

I am once again embarking on a fresh start, and just as I remembered, it is a pretty great/queasy feeling, so I think my old trick is still a good one.  If you are in a rut in your present circumstances, you don’t have to quit an old job and start a new one to get the benefit of a fresh start.  Starting to look up simply requires an active imagination.

I Have a Favorite Shirt

I have a favorite shirt.  There.  It is good to have that out in the open.  We hit it off right away, and then we started spending an inordinate amount of time together.  Now, it has blossomed into a beautiful relationship.

The relationship began in early February when I received the long-sleeved technical t-shirt for running the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach.  “I Ran This Beach!” is printed across the front, which is a little embarrassing due to the sophomoric Blake Shelton-ish double entendre.  But I love my shirt.

It is attractive, I guess, sort of a denim-y acid-washed color, but that isn’t why I like it so much.  I just really like the way it feels.  In an “I’m-embarrassed-my-wife-will-read-this” sort of way, I really like the way it feels.

Speaking of my wife, she probably hates it by now since I put it on every day when I get home from work and there is a decent chance that it doesn’t smell like a spring meadow, but that hasn’t slowed me down because changing into my favorite shirt signals an important transition from work to relaxation.  The person who had the bright idea of tying something in a knot around your neck and calling it business (busy-ness) attire was, well, pretty spot on.  Untying the knot that threatens to disconnect my brain from my heart and lungs and putting on my favorite shirt is an important part of my day.

Now that technology has successfully obliterated the work/relaxation line, I consider this daily costume change an act of defiance.  I will not be dominated by work.  I may work a lot, maybe more than I should, and maybe even at home, but it will be on my terms while wearing my favorite shirt.  And that feels good in more ways than one.

Emancipation

An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.”  Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.

The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation.  He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”

So, he suggests chunking it.  He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”

I think he is crazy.  Which is partly why I love it.  But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed.  As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”

Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live.  In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”

Can you imagine such a thing?  I can imagine.  In fact, I can almost even remember.

Recurring Fluctuation

Rhythm: (noun) [ri-thəm] 3a: movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements.¹

You say routine, and I hear same. That’s boring. You say rhythm, and I hear flow. That’s magic. Routine is my middle name (or possibly Andrew), but I want to live with rhythm.

The end of the calendar year brings a holiday break to most people, and it arrived yesterday with much rejoicing for the students in my world. I like the rhythm of the academic calendar, the dependable circuit of fresh beginnings building toward grand crescendos and coveted breaks. Nothing lasts long enough for monotony to set in, but the variety is familiar. It is rhythm, that lovely idea with the oxymoronic definition of recurring fluctuation.

Our particular culture may be rhythm-impaired.

The American notion of work is hard to identify. From one angle it looks all workaholic with a capitalism-infused insatiable desire for more and a technological revolution that never really allows us to go home or on vacation, but from another it looks a little like laziness expecting two full days off a week and only eight hours of work the other days carefully divided by breaks and lunch hours and creative approaches to what counts as being on the clock (not to mention vacations, sick days, and other assorted flavors of leave).

So which is it? Do we work like crazy fifty weeks of the year and then take two weeks to run like crazy on vacation and never really rest? Or, do we never really get around to work?

Can it be both? I answer both because I think we lack rhythm.

The planner in me says that rhythm demands excellent time management skills, and it does, but the rhythmic life demands the creative side of the brain, too. Do not settle for a bland, routinized life. Do not settle for a rudderless, pinball life either.

Seek a life with beautiful recurring fluctuation, and then—and only then—go with the flow.

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¹ Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.