It was the fall of 2008, and my dream of being a Church Planter was winding down quickly. I had been on a journey to start up my dream church in my dream town, Decatur Georgia, but the dreams weren’t working out. So, as the church wound down with little hope of winding back up, I was scrambling to keep my family afloat. At that time the church paid me $2,000 per month, and the tiny house that we had rented so we could live in the community was costing us $1,500 per month (how we got into that house situation is another story for another time).
To say things were tight would be an understatement. I was coping with the loss of a dream and had to figure out how my family would make it. That is when I ramped up my website work, and that work would later turn into Sideways8. But, doing side website projects still wasn’t cutting it at the time. So I also took a job as a long-term middle school substitute teacher at a school that was about a 45-minute drive from our home. I was a teacher, freelance website designer, pastor, father, and husband, and I was drowning. I learned a lot.
There is a poem by Anis Mojgani called “Shake the Dust.” One of the stanzas reads:
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them.
This is for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns
And for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs,
Simply to hold up their children.
For the nighttime schoolers
And for the midnight bike riders trying to fly
Shake the dust.
There is something about that moment in the poem that says, “for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs, simply to hold up their children” that brings tears to my eyes every time. That was a short time in my life, but it may have been the most challenging I have ever had.
The main thing I learned during that time is at the end of the stanza; I learned to “shake the dust.” I learned that, though my situation seemed impossible, it was only for a time. I learned that I could endure working insane hours for the sake of my family, but more than that, I learned that hardship is temporary. Hardship is temporary, it will shake off sooner or later. I learned to shake the dust from my failures, from my shattered dreams, from my tired mornings and endless nights. I learned to shake the dust from my disappointments and my delights. I learned to shake the dust from this moment, recognizing that the next will come and will bring unlimited possibility.
When things are tough, remember to shake the dust, a new day is already near.
If you want to check out the full poem, you can see if performed here. It is worth 4 minutes of your time.
There is a church with a large parking lot across the street from my kids’ school. To make drop off easier, each morning many parents will opt to park there and walk their kids to the door rather than going through the long carpool line. The parking lot is directly across the street from the sidewalk to the school, and when standing at the entrance to the parking lot looking at the school, there is a crosswalk less than 50 yards to the right. The crosswalk is complete with yellow flashing lights and the stripy (yes I’m making that a word) crossing lines that indicate a walkway. What is fascinating to me is how few people use the crosswalk (did I mention it’s less than 50 yards away)!
Instead of using the safety of the crosswalk every morning I see parents (usually dads) dart across a busy street with a ton of traffic (and buses) going back and forth, holding tightly to their child’s hand and coming closer to getting hit than I would like. Every time I am amazed. I often yell at them (as if they can hear me with my windows rolled up) and genuinely wish that would value their child’s safety and the lessons that they are teaching their children more than they do in that moment.
But, here’s the thing, I think these are good parents. They are good parents making a bad decision because it’s the easy thing to do. No parent would put their kid in danger on purpose, but because of the allure of getting across the street more easily, they do. No parent would be a bad example of their kid on purpose, but because of the ease of just running across in between cars they do.
I don’t do this; I cross at the crosswalk. However, with that said, I am self-aware enough to recognize that I do this in a hundred other ways. I may drive too fast with my kids in the car. Or I may be tempted to glance at a vibrating cell phone at moments when my attention should be fully engaged elsewhere.
A great example of this was on our recent trip to Universal Studios. We parked in the bottom lot and with all five kids and a loaded down stroller in tow proceeded to head to the park. We had to go up an escalator, and even though there was a sign that showed no strollers were allowed on the escalator, for convenience I took the empty stroller on it anyway. That little breaking of the rules didn’t go unnoticed. Weeks later, my six-year-old drew a picture of my rule breaking and wrote a comment about it in her homework. I set a bad example when I took the easy way out. Fail.
Often the easy way seems better but isn’t worth it in the end.
The book The Power of Habit talks about creating a keystone habit. This is a habit that, if created and maintained, will help all of the other pieces of your life fall into place. An example of a keystone habit is daily exercise. If someone wants to get healthy, lose weight, etc., if they make exercise their keystone habit they are more likely to eat healthy and make better lifestyle choices causing them to lose weight and become healthy.
My keystone habit is rising every day at 4am. When I’m up at 4am, all of the other things that I want to do during that day seamlessly fall into place. On days that I’m up at 4am I tend to read, write, pray, exercise, clean, get to inbox zero, have more energy, and be abundantly more productive than on days when I sleep late. Getting up early makes me proactive and allows me to plan for, and then take on my day rather than reacting to it.
I’m convinced that this one habit will affect every aspect of my life, from how well I can grow my company to how I connect with my wife. In 2017 I’m not making a New Year’s resolution. I’m simply saying that I want to focus on getting up stupid early and then dominate each day as it comes.
This is my favorite comic ever. I hope you can make your tomorrow like this one.
I started a nonprofit while I was in high school; people thought I was nuts. I started a church in downtown Decatur; people thought I was nuts. I started a digital marketing company with a friend just as the economy tanked; people thought we were nuts. I started a crazy nonprofit to build 48 websites in 48 hours (with this guy); people thought we were nuts. I have five kids with my lovely wife; I’m pretty sure we are nuts.
When people think I’m nuts, it means I’m pushing against the norm. I love this because I feel that pushing against the norm is the best way to be great. Most great thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders have pushed against the norms and have risen above their peers as a result. The best companies are the ones doing what no one else is doing too. Think about Apple coming out with the iPod and then the iPhone. These we so far beyond the norm it was embarrassing to the competition. And, as a result, Apple grew unimaginably fast.
In those moments when I’m looking, thinking, and acting like the norm I try to ask myself, “what am I missing?” In those moments, I know there is something more that I can do or another way of looking at a situation that will help me find an opportunity that others may have missed. In those moments I want to find that opportunity and have the courage to act on it.
Yesterday I took my son to his first official Georgia Tech football game. We started by tailgating with old friends and then walked over to the game. As we approached the stadium the marching band started playing our fight song. There I was, walking with some of my closest friends from school and my son, approaching the stadium, singing the Georgia Tech fight song from start to finish to start my son’s first game. It was a perfect moment.
I think we have more perfect moments like this than we realize, but the speed of our lives prevents us from noticing them. A perfect moment might be sitting across your child on their birthday with the realization they will never have another 6th birthday breakfast again. Or, a perfect moment might be a date with your spouse where you flashback to what I was like to date them years ago.
It’s being present enough to recognize these perfect moments that is hard. But, when you recognize them, they are magic.