Wednesday, August 01, 2018

“Mind and Spirit”–> Why Is Work So Miserable

Image result for the three signs of a miserable jobOkay, Lencioni has done it again. 

My favorite business author has written another winner in “The Three Signs Of A Miserable Job.” 

As normal, what can summarized in basically two pages, Lencioni weaves into a longer story, or parable, to drive the message home.

The book is worth your time, not because it teaches you anything new.  It teaches you what you already know.

The book features a mythological figure named “Brian Bailey.”  A man, who recently sold the company that he is running, and has retired to Lake Tahoe with his wife.  However, he finds little comfort in his retirement, as he feels something is missing.  Although he and his wife plan to spend the winter skiing, an end of the day accident keeps him off the slopes.  Once off the slopes, with plenty of time on his hands, he finds that he is looking, or really he is driven, to find something else.

During this down time, he finds himself pulled into being a small partner in a restaurant that is barely hanging on.  The owner makes a little money, just enough to ski when the owner wants to.  Brian comes in and offers him money to buy a small part of the diner, and he runs the weekend shifts.

Lencioni takes us through his struggles to get the place working on an even keel.  As in so much of his work, Lencioni points out that the problem is normally not with the capability of the worker, but with the situation that they find themselves in.  In this case, he discovers that in everyway, the employees are miserable.

Thus we go off on a journey to find some meaning in employment.  In terms of the common vernacular the employees are not engaged, which means that they are bored.  When the employees don’t care, we find that they don’t do a good job and the place of business suffers.

Into this situation, Brian discovers some new principles.  Principles that perhaps he has used before, but certainly nothing on a cognitive level.  He discovers a system that allows his employees to get engaged.

So, what  is this mystical formula?  What removes misery from a job?

There are three things, and although I encourage you to buy the book, I’ll list them here.  However, I actually believe that you’ll learn them better by reading the book and returning here.  So, if you want to do this, I know the book is on Amazon Prime, and can be downloaded.

I’ll wait.

Okay, done with the book? 

The thing to recognize is that humans do their best work when they are totally absorbed by the work.  That is, they feel attracted to what they are doing.  I’m sure we all know somebody that is good at something.  In almost all cases, we’ll find out that the person is truly passionate about the situation and maybe is even a little obsessive.  This does not mean that you need to be “happy” because some of the best experts in any areas may be unhappy.  (It actually turns out that our happiness seems to be set by our genetics regardless of our circumstances, within some reasonable level.)

So if “job happiness” is not a good way of thinking about things, what do we call it?

The better term is “engagement.”  That is a person that is thinking and willing to jump into their job on a regular basis because there is something that draws them in.  It also is highly correlated with companies that do well in their area.  You almost always find that the successful companies or orgs have highly engaged people.

As normal, Lencioni jumps to the opposite extreme to find the way out.  Rather than saying “what makes you engaged?” he asks “What makes a job miserable?”  By removing the bad situation, he creates a good situation.  So he seeks to answer, “What makes a miserable job?”

Then lets dive into the first of the three principles.

Principle 1:  Measurability

Actually, this hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew this was true, but I didn’t recognize the importance.  If there is one thing that is easy to overlook, it is this principle, so it is worth digging into.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is the principle that is often subscribed to Peter Drucker, the management guru.  However, Lencioni goes a lot further than this.  What he calls out is that any job without clear measurement is a job of irrelevance.

“I get measured by the bonus,” you might say.

“Really?” I would reply.

I doubt that your life has been all that much different than mine.  In reality, I have found out that in most jobs it is all about luck and the person above you.  I have seen over and over again that where these two factors rule in most environments for the bonus. 

It is important to realize that we often discount and don’t understand the issue of good and bad luck.

Luck is present in many different circumstances.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written all about luck in “Fooled by Randomness,” and I’m not going to repeat his lessons.  However, he clearly points out, and proves in my mind, that most people cannot distinguish luck from skills.  I have seen many times where a lucky person (because of the job or the customer base) gets a bunch of positive reinforcement, while and unlucky person is blamed for the unluck of the situation.  In reality, most people try and take credit for more than they deserve because of a principle called fundamental attribution error.  (And generally, they won’t give others the same breaks.) 

If your boss likes you, you’ll find that you get a lot more perks and better bonuses.  In the best case, you show a personal commitment to each other.  In the worst case, this turns into a favoritism that substitutes politics for performance.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually believe that friendship is very important, but it only comes after being measured in a clear way.

So to get away from this, you need to focus on things that you can clearly deliver.  If you can do this, you can remove the attribute of luck away from the job.  This restores your own power, and gets you more engaged.  So, you need to be able to measure something that you can influence.

In the book, he does a great job of manufacturing ways of measuring for things that don’t seem measurable.  With one person who takes orders, in the book, he asks them to measure smiles.  Simply getting them to track and seeing progress of a very simple thing such as this starts to drive change.  The point is that he calls out that you need to measure something you clearly control and is important to job success.  The more you do this, the more engaged your employee will be.

I think this principle is found in every video game.  Video games have no meaning, except that they furnish you a score for doing nothing productive.  Yet, a good video game is addictive.  If we can find a score, we can find engagement, then success.

Principle 2:  Irrelevance

This one is much more of a mindset.  If you have a job that does not leave an impression, then you have no job at all.  Everybody that works wants to build or make something.  The problem is not understanding how your product or your service changes somebody’s life. 

The search for relevance is something that needs to be found within.  Or, if you are lucky enough, a good manager should be able to help sort it through.  If you read my personal blog, you will find that I spend a lot of time talking about things that we do around my property in Los Gatos.  The nice thing about physical labor is that you can see something happening.  You can see the changes taking place.

For myself, I am changing my property for three reasons:

a. It teaches my boys life skills.  Knowing how to build something that you can live in, touch, or use is tremendously fulfilling.

b. I provide a cool environment for our renters to live in.  One of the high compliments is that one of my renters came to me to say, “I can tell how much thought and work you put into this.  It is really impressive.”  I carried these words with me strongly even now.

c. I hope to leave my property to my kids because it is unique, and will give them cheap living in a economically prosperous area.

I find much of this in my job also, but not as clear as my personal life.  After reading the book, I am going to meditate more on how to make my job even more like my home life.


Principle 3:  A Place Where People Know Your Name

While this is a line from an old TV show, it resonates because it is true.  The point is that we are needing community.  The best of all workplaces is where we care about each other more than just inside of the work environment.  There are many problems with this, because I talk about it above.  If not appropriately managed, it can turn into nepotism.

However, it is also tempting not to get too close to people because it opens us up to hurt.  Maybe they will leave.  Or perhaps it will be painful for us to confront bad behavior.  However, the benefits are more than worth it.  When people know you name and your background, it turns out better.

As a matter of fact, Gallup has been doing polls of high performance workplaces for years.  One of the key factors in high performance places is if you answer “yes” to the question, “Do you have a best friend at work.”

He builds up a triangle at the end of the book so you have a simple visual of the three items.

Image result for the three signs of a miserable job

As mentioned earlier, there is a tremendous amount of research on engagement.  In the end, a team and individuals that are engaged in a job is the hallmark of a high performance organizations and high performance teams.

The challenge has been crossing the bridge between “what we know” and “how to get there.”

As his normal process, Lencioni lays this out by virtue of a short story or parable.  It is the same device that Jesus used in the Bible.  The power is in the tale.  While you may recognize my summary as true, I don’t think that you will learn the true lesson until you read the story.

I highly encourage you to get the book..

Sunday, June 10, 2018

“Mind, Body, & Spirit”–> What We Can Inherit

imageSteven PInker is a well known Harvard Psychologist that has written a number of interesting books for the lay person.  One of these books, “The Blank Slate” influenced my views of people’s environment and inherited traits many years ago.  I was listening to a podcast with him, and he got me thinking about about this again.

In the podcast, PInker called out that he considers one of the major achievements of modern psychology is the tracking of identical twins (or monozygotic).  He said the rearing of identical twins by the same parents are “one of the most profound discoveries of modern psychology.”  (Start at 32 minutes on this podcast linked here.)

Why?

Think about these twins.  Twin is where a split of the mother and father’s genetic material that is virtually identical between two people.  Now, place this genetic material into the same household, and I think anybody could understand that the major outside influences will be similar.  I have known some twins in my life time, and while it is conceivable that the twins could be treated differently, my non-scientific, but rational response is that most parents will treat their child virtually identical.

Now ask, “how similar are these kids?”

It turns out that by most observations, the identical twins are somewhere around 50% the same.  This is an interesting factoid, because there is so much the same, but both the environment and the genetics can only contribute for roughly 50% of the variance.

Let me unpack this for you, because Pinker rightly calls out that this is a mind blowing fact.

Here is an interesting table from education.com.

 image

IQ is just one trait, but easy to understand.  Most people focus on the fact that identical twins are more related in IQs, even when raised in different households, than fraternal twins that are raised in the same household.  But this chart shows a very interesting output.  When you move identical twins into the same household, they do not converge at 100%.  Mind you, a correlation of .86 is just outstandingly high.  No doubt about it.  But when two kids are raised in the exact same environment, you would expect the correlation to be .9x.

Now IQ is the simplest thing to correlate, and when Pinker takes a look at many other factors, he arrives that when identical twins are reared together that we actually see overall a .5 correlation in their overall attributes.  He rightly brings up in the podcast that this is surprising.

There has been a classic war between the “good or bad seed” mindset and the “the mind is a blank slate” mindset.  The good or bad seed (GOBS) mindset will declare that somebody is bad because their parents are bad.  They will say that somebody is good because “they got lucky and inherited some good genes.”  I look at my own parents, and by in large, they had a tendency to believe that people maybe were a bit more genetically wired than they were environmentally wired.  (However, they acknowledged both.)  Generally, these people tend to be more right leaning in their politics.  They believe that the poor people are going to be poor due to the way that they are wired.  These are the folks that believe that spending more an more money on social programs don’t have a lot of benefit because you can’t change human nature.

The mind is a blank slate (MIABS) believe that all difference in the society (or the vast majority of the difference) is driven by the environment in which somebody was raised.  In their viewpoint, if we would invest in more training, schooling and social justice systems, we would raise the bottom up, and they would be just as successful as the top.  For them, we are wasting vast human resources because we don’t understand that environments are the thing that cause people to be split into different social strata.

So now look at identical twins raised in the same household:

1. Their genetics are virtually identical

2. Their environment is extremely similar. 

The “dividing line” of both of these major factors only contributes around 50% to the similarities. So what makes up the difference?

Pinker suggests two things:

a. Perhaps DNA gene expression is slightly different.

b. Random chance

To make a long story short, it is beyond obvious to me that “b” is the predominate answer.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written on this to great extent.  If you take a look at the research in behavior economics, you will find that we are almost blind to chance.  We always want to assume that everything is predictable and comes from somewhere.  However, the twin data would suggest that  maybe around 50% of our life is dictated by the “luck of the draw” as much as the environment or genetics that we have received. 

I got to see this first hand.  In my previous employment there was a set of identical twins.  I remember that I met one of them, and then I saw the other one on the stairs.  At the time, I did not know they were identical, and for the life of me, I could not figure out how the woman that I had met one day some how grew out her hair on another day.  Was it a wig?  Was I going crazy?  Then somebody told me that I had seen her twin.

Both of them were successful, and they spoke the same and had extremely similar habits.  They both worked in the same business.  However, one of them was a director level, and the other one wasn’t a director level.  I don’t believe that I saw any major difference between them, and they were raised in the same household. They worked at the exact same company, so they saw the same environment at work.  Yet, they did not have the same level of title or pay. This speaks to something other than genetics or environment drove the difference in titles.

To me the answer is extremely simple.  One got presented an opportunity and the other did not.  In other words, one “got lucky.”

My wife and I have a great romance.  After 30 years of marriage, we truly and deeply love each other.  However, there would have been a thousand ways that I could have missed my wife.  She could have gotten a scholarship to Oregon to run.  I could have elected to stay in drama rather than join track and cross country.  She may have never turned up at my dorm room after I indicated that I was interested in her because of something I had said.  There are thousands of students at my college that I never got to know.  However, by chance, we met.

As another example, I have turned out to do pretty well financially.  While I would love to say, “Hey, I earned this,” in reality, I also got extremely lucky.  After one turbulent session of my life, I just happened to fall into a place where I got some stock, then I was fortunately enough that I was so busy that I really didn’t think about it until it had gotten to a pretty high number.

Or in my latest example, I was forced to move, and I ended up inn the Silicon Valley.  We found a house that had not sold for roughly two years, but by sheer chance.  Then we were able to rent out a couple of dwelling on our property, which now covers roughly 60% of our mortgage, property tax, and property insurance.  I think that if I had gone off and expressly looked for a situation exactly like this, I would have not been able to find it.  It was by random chance that my wife and I accomplished it.

Or was it?

As a Christian, there is yet one more way of thinking about things, and the thing that we need to think through is it “random chance” or “divine providence.”  Once we start to understand that there is a true and powerful aspect of a control factor in our life that is not our genetics or our environment, we now need to consider if we believe in a personal God.  If we don’t, the uncontrolled is call chance.  If do, then we commit an error by saying that we got lucky.  The word of the day is divine providence.  This is the idea that God works through everything and controls our environment. 

This idea is firmly rooted in the Bible, but while we know that God works the environment, it is clearly called out that we are not fatalistic.  For example, in the book of Ruth, when Ruth finds herself in a position where she may influence the King to save her people, but she is afraid to make the request, her Uncle clearly understands that she may have well been placed there.  “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” states her Uncle.  (Ruth 4:12)

Sometimes we want to want to say “well I’m influencing God by my being good or bad.”  I think that Jesus answers this when somebody tried to find out why people got into trouble.  He sites a disaster where 18 people were killed in a building collapse.  He says, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty?…I tell you, no!”  (Luke 13:4-5)

So, as a Christian, we are to understand that there are things beyond our control, and that it is the environment that is controlled by God that influences maybe around 50% of our outcome and life.  We now understand that it is not our actions that control what happens to us, but God’s purpose for us.  However, I think we have a grave area if we stop here.

There are two important things that we will fall into if we do not understand the scriptures:

a. We are fatalistic:  we cannot influence anything

b. We ascribe our being “good or bad” to the reason God works in our environment

As I mentioned earlier, Christianity is not fatalistic.  It does not think “God is going to do anything God is going to do.  So all I need to do it watch.”  On the other hand, we are told that God takes care of those that love him, but we have many stories and direct teaching that trying to be good does not guaranty that we will be financially taken care of, and we won’t have any problems.

The key behind Christianity is that we have a personal God. 

This personal God can be influenced by prayer and asking. 

Now, let’s be clear, the Lord isn’t big on giving you what you don’t need.  However, he is very open to doing remarkable things in your life if you ask for the right things in the right way.  Then if you get what you asked for, you need to receive it and use it, in the right way.  The key is to completely understand that God is not a piggybank or an ATM.  Our personal God is likened to a parent.

Let’s say that you ask the Lord for more salary or a better living situation.  Then, by some miracle, you get these things.  If you do better, and you aren’t paying tithes on this increase, I think you will have a problem on either a spiritual level or maybe even a physical level.  I am not suggesting that you take all of your wealth and give it away.  I am simply saying that there are simply things that we are called to do as Christians that we need to show some discipline and knowledge. 

This is an old fashioned concept that it called stewardship that I am afraid that we have forgotten as a church body.  I was recently reminded of this as I was flipping through some old TED talks, and a session from Rick Warren was brought up from 2007.  When I watched it, I actually started to tear up a bit.

In this TED talk, Warren describes writing the Purpose Driven Life.  He said that it has sold millions upon millions of copies of this book, and after he wrote it, the money started flowing in.  He said that he did the following:

a. He calculated all the salary that he had pulled from the Church that he had started, and paid it all back.

b. He started to give away 90% of his profits from the book

c. He and his family lived on 10% of the profits from the book

He said that he was not shying away from the fame that came with the book.  He said that both the money and fame was something that God gave him, and the call is that he was going to try and use both for God’s glory.  He called out that he was going to be a steward of this wealth, and he would use the wealth and fame to try and glorify God.

My wife and I were privileged to go to Saddleback, the church that Warren started, while we were in SoCal.  While I have read many vicious attacks by both religious people and secular people on Warren, this is not the Rick Warren that I ever saw.  While we did not know him personally, he would sneak out during the service once in a while and give people hugs.  My daughter and son got a dose of hugs from him. 

Talk about somebody that is ready to show his warts. He was incredibly transparent about the grief in his life when his son died.  His wife and him open chat about how they struggled to not get divorce, and how he had to pay to marital counseling because they couldn’t get along.  Kay open admits that she struggled with porn at a young age. 

I am sure that some reporter will publish a future expose finding out even worse stuff.  Maybe Rick was cruel to a staff member, not thoughtful about a situation, or made a bad judgement.  However, in the big scheme of things, I do not expect to find a saint on this earth.  He and his wife are open about their failings but keen on trying to be the best stewards with what they have.  I keep love and respect the Warrens from what I have seen.

In the end, we need to learn that we should not be shy to ask for stuff, but recognize that we are called to be stewards of what we have.  We are not going to be perfect, but we need to strive and ask for help.

Our life is not environment, genetics or fatalistic.  Our lives require us to balance the whole, and do the best we can, while understanding that we are not perfect.

And if we do this, we will feel God’s pleasure.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

“Mind”–> The Chimp Pardox

imageI have read that we can’t change our IQ.  IQ is simply the gross horsepower that we have to solve issues.  However, I have read that we can discover and strengthen “metacognition,” which is the ability to think about thinking.  In other words, we can discover how we think, and use that to shape our interactions with the world. 

I have written on this many times before, and my use of the Birkman in my professional life is tied to this concept.  The Birkman is a tool to help us understand ourselves.  However, this is not unique, and many people have tried to come up with models to help us think through this. 

Recently, somebody that has me as a mentor and a coach brought me a book by a British author, Steve Peters.  Mr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and and lecturer at Sheffield University, in the UK.  In addition, he has spent a fair amount of time with athletes, helping them to think about how to prepare for their sport.  To this end, he has tried to take neurobiology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and jam them into a model that will allow the everyday man or woman to get practical model of how to manage their mind, in his book, “The Chimp Paradox.”

Although the book had little to offer me because I am greatly familiar with the concepts he explains, I did want to explain his take on things because I do believe that he can provide a good model for the the neophyte that has not already been exposed to the underlying structures of our brain.

He starts off by pointing out that from a practical standpoint, one which he acknowledges is removed from the physical underpinning of the brain is a crisp fashion, we are best to understand that our brain works in three different ways:

1. The Chimp brain:  This is the brain that is emotional and reactive.  A lot of the chimp drives behavior that is driven by primal urges and inputs.  The chimp, if it has any hunger, will simply grab any food in front of its face and chow done on it.

2. The human brain: This is the brain that thinks through things and processes things.  In the situation above, the human brain, if we are hungry, will ask questions like “are we on a diet?”  Or perhaps it will wait until there is something good to eat, or have other concerns.  It is not rules by its emotional gut instinct, but seeks to thinks things through.

3. The computer.  This is the brain that works automatically.  (As a side note, most resources would tend to call this habit.  It is the wiring that we can reset by virtue of focus and attention.)  In the case of the food, we might have trained ourselves that we only eat at certain times during the day, and we only eat certain foods.  You may have such a strong habit that when the chimp brain saves “I’m hungry,” your computer brain jumps in and says “Oh, it isn’t lunch time yet, and I always eat at lunch.”

Mapped over our real brain, he shows this picture.

imageWhile in most people the chimp brain starts everything, the computer is the fastest.  As long as you have the right programming (habits), this is the best way to manage the chimp brain.

The theory behind this model is pretty well accepted today.  Again Peters comes up with some labels and the idea of this model to help explain our wiring, and it really is in the normal orthodoxy of current clinical thought.

Probably the most controversial thing in this book, if you hand it to somebody else, is that is declares that men’s brains and women’s brains are formed different due to oestrogen (British spelling) and testosterone.  He further states that his experience with women leads him to believe that they tend to have less self confidence and men tends to be more aggressive.  I work in the Silicon Valley, and in many circles this statement might be considered quite controversial, and I do not wish to dwell on it, but some readers may be turned off by this.

With that written, he then embarks on some standard CBT tools to allow people to deal with this inner chimp.  Three things that he focuses are exercising the chimp, boxing the chimp, and feeding or distracting the chimp.  I won’t repeat his book’s thoughts here, but to say that he tells people that they should treat it as normal when you react on an emotional level, expect these outburst, accept them, and take care of them.  He uses the acronym NEAT  (Normal, Expected, Accepted, and Taken can of).

He then spends time going through how we can basically get our wiring messed up in our brain.  An easy example that he uses is a parent that always shows love after their child does something.  If you only give your child hugs and love after they’ve done something great, then they will learn that they always need to do something great to get love.  Instead, he points out that we need to program ourselves to recognize that we can only control what we can control.  So, instead of looking at the outcomes, we need to look at the process.  If you have a speech to give, if you only focus on “I have to do good,” you will actually make matters worse.  Instead, you need to focus on saying, “How can I prepare in the best possible way so I can do well..”  Logically, we can only do our best, so you should be able to think through any situation to focus more on efforts and not results that can be spoined by anything random (or non-random) event.

In another section, he lays out the AMP idea.  (Accept, Move on, and Plan.)  This is pretty much what everybody does when they hit disappointment, but when our chimp mind is going full bore, have three simple steps is not a bad idea.  The first step is to accept the event.  The biggest part of acceptance is two fold.  The first is to realize that life is unfair, and no matter no much time we dwell on it, there is no fixing this.  It is easy to tell others this, and hard to hear it ourselves.  However, repeating this allows us to believe it.

Once you have accepted that life is unfair, you need to move on.  Going bad to the old thing just restarts the cycle of feeling bad.  If you have decided to move on, you need to make a plan.  The plan should take you away from the old situation, and you must fight going back.

The simple example of this is losing a job.  I think we all have not been selected for something, or perhaps, even some of us have been fired.  if this case, everybody knows that without acceptance, a person will be stuck in a rut.  Only after we say, “Life is unfair,” do we then accept it, and make plans for the next job. 

Now, in some cases, the accepted may be the fact that we recognize that we caused our own downfall.  If this is not recognized, then we may find the pattern repeats itself.  In this case, the only option is to be self-aware or have friends that can work with you to spot your own weaknesses.

At the core of this book, we simply have a self help book with some clear and intuitive steps for us to get better.  There is nothing really shocking or surprising in the book, but the steps are decent and the mental model of the chimp is effective.  For somebody just starting out, or without background in this, I could see that this would be a very effective book.

Finally, he touches on it briefly, but he recognizes that religion might help people get through tough spots.  In a secular world, most are afraid to mention this.  While he spent no time on it, I do believe that any reader will recognize that a believe in a personal God that allow problems to happen so that it ties into a marvelous master plan, would lower a person’s stress.  This is something the literature shows.  Generally, people that have a sense of religion do have better stress behaviors and mental health.  I wish we could have heard more on this, but even this minor note reinforces the way we are wired to be as spiritual beings.  If you do get the book, by dragging this thought into your reading will make it even more powerful.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mind–> “Play The Game”

image

“There was no denying the fact that Honor Carmody liked the boys. No one ever attempted to deny it, least of all Honor herself.”

And with these words, we are kicked off into the Los Angeles roaring ‘20s in the book “Play the Game!” by Ruth Comfort Mitchell.  Unlike how we might read these words today, Mitchell starts her novel by declaring that Honor Carmody was a Tomboy.  A high school girl, whose most important thing in life was ensuring that her High School football team would have their star captain ready to go for the next big game.

At 39 years of age, sitting in the hills of Los Gatos, California, western writer Ruth Comfort Mitchell simply projected the life that she was living.  As portrayed in the above photograph, Ms. Mitchell was more of a Tomboy herself.  A larger than life figure that dominated the small cadre of people that came in contact with her.  Sitting in her tiny writing room, in her mansion in the hills of Northern California, she would write many hours of the day on her latest novel, poetry, or play.

Now largely forgotten, Mitchell is best recognized as the enemy of John Steinbeck, who also lived in the Los Gatos area, but she was on the east side of town, and he was more in the mountainous west side of town.  While both loved the outdoors and art, there could never be two people more different.  Their writings were in many ways the direct mirror opposites of each other.  Coming from the coast, Steinbeck was true the left side of the town, and Mitchell was firmly on the right, echoing the temperaments of their politics..

Coming from a family of means, Mitchell grew up in San Francisco to a successful hotel operator.  Summers for Ruth were spent in the tiny town of Los Gatos, which she was a died hard fan for all of her life.  When eventually she got married, she moved to a place on the Los Gatos hills that overlooked the San Jose Valley below.  Ruth saw America as a place where people could make their way and be successful.

In this novel, Honor was a girl driven by her own internal clock.  In many ways, as you read her story, you will be slightly reminded of “Scout” from “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  The similarities and plain spoken language makes me wonder if somewhere along the line Ms. Lee may have read Mitchell’s novel.  Mitchell was a well known author, and her novel came out in the 1920s, many years before Lee’s novel came out.

Both novels hinge around a young lady, and both novels play off the interaction of the father with the young girl.  While in Mitchell’s novel, the father is adopted, both novels have the father called out by a title that is somewhat much more frank than what we would image would be the stereotypical father and daughter relationship.  In the same way, both novels have the father calling the daughter by a short nickname.  While Lee has the father calling the daughter as “Scout,” the father in “Play The Game!” calls his daughter “Top Step” to indicate his fondness of his adopted step daughter.

However, the subject matter couldn’t be more wildly divergent.  While both novels speak of betrayal and deception, Mitchell’s novel is one of a love story and the desire to find the right mate in life.  Mitchell speaks to people of character that simply do the right thing, but says nothing about race.  Although an author and intellectual at an early age, Mitchell fundamentally calls out that marriage is not about intellect, but about spirit.

In what I consider the crux of the novel, the stepfather remarks on a potential match for his daughter, who is bright, but not brilliant.  When asked if her mate is the right choice, the novel reports the father says the following:

“…that fellows of our type, yours and mine," he was not looking at him now, he was running his long fingers lazily through the hot and shining sand, "are apt to be a little contemptuous in our minds of his sort. Being rather long on brain, we fancy, we allow ourselves a scorn of the more or less unadorned brawn. And yet,—they're the salt of the earth, Carter; they're the cities set on hills. They do the world's red-blooded vital jobs while we—think. And Honor's not clever either; you know that, Carter. All the sense and balance and character in the world, Top Step, God love her, but not a flash of brilliancy. They're capitally suited. Sane, sound, sweet; gloriously fit and healthy young animals—" this was calculated cruelty; Carter might as well face things; there would be a girl, waiting now somewhere, no doubt, who wouldn't mind his limp, but Honor must have a mate of her own vigorous breed,—Honor who had always and would always "run with the boys,"—"who will produce their own sort again."

His step daughter is smart and capable, and she makes good grades in school.  When he says that she is not clever or brilliant, he means that there is nothing that will cause her to standout in the annuals of time.  But for the father, and for the author, this is the whole point.  Mitchell, already a successful author with a play that has toured the nation, knows that she is an intellect, but she does not aspire to write a novel with too many folds.  She works hard, and she is good with the verse.  However, she understands that her novels and work may not be enshrined in the great works of literature.  However, she write a good verse, and she is true to herself. 

For Mitchell, the act of working and character in the everyday grind of life is what counts.  When the novel is done, you will find no bittersweet ending.  You will find doubt and deception, but in the end, character outweighs all of the threats.  In the end, Mitchell herself is more clever than what she would have us believe of her characters.  In the end, she believes in a simple message of right is right, and wrong is wrong.  Those of the more capable intellect are those that are more capable of justifying their wrong doing on a moral level.  In her mind, this is the most threatening of all things.  The person not only deceives others, but in the end, those of superior intellect have the ability of deceiving themselves.

Play The Game is in the public domain, most likely because Mitchell and her husband died without children.  Copies of the book can be downloaded from Amazon, Google Books or Project Gutenberg.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Mind and Spirit”–> Where Should I Give?

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Luke 16:11:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

The bible speaks so much about money.  It is mind blowing.  Yet somehow in our Christian church, we seem to be self satisfied and completely lacking discipline to address this.  I have used the scripture above to speak to this before in this blog, but this is such a powerful concept that we cannot pass it by.  Recently in this life, I got to see two individuals that felt that they were doing God’s calling.  I want to use a real life example to call out how I see the difference and why I would support one and not the other.

Now we are going to go down a rabbit hole, and if we are not careful, we can break our neck.  The funny thing about the Bible and the Gospel that we live:  we do not have certainty.  As a matter of fact, all that you can be certain of is that you might be wrong.  It is because of the uncertainty that you seek the Lord’s guidance every day.  He is the quiet voice turning uncertainty into you steps.  So, I am going to state that my examples might not be perfect, and may even be wrong.  However, I fundamentally believe the principles that I will talk about are right.

The first persons that I would like to call out is my brother and sister Terry and Melissa McGill.  They founded an organization called Sister Schools based in Seattle, Washington.  I will not call out all of the nature of Sister Schools, but if you spend any time on their website, you’ll find out that they basically are working to make sure that kids in Uganda have more opportunities in life.  In a charming picture above, which is taken from a video, you’ll see Terry trying to get the kids to get brighter face for a video they are doing.  If you know Terry, which we have for over 30 years, it wouldn’t matter if he was talking to kids in Seattle or Uganda.  He really loves kids.

The other person, which I will not mention here, is a teacher of sorts.  I know him well, and he is a deeply spiritual man that loves the Lord.  As a matter of fact, he has made some tremendous sacrifices in his life so that he can teach young men in his chosen field at minimum wage.  He has  Ph.D. and is tremendously smart.  He believes that he is able to teach certain knowledge so that Pastors can lead their flocks better.  He recently told me that “this is all that I want to do.”

So faced with both of these people, which one would I choose to support with the giving that I feel the Lord would have me do?

I am not a sacrificial giver.  I give what the scriptures has told me to give, which I believe is roughly 10% of your increase.  What does this mean?  To me tithing is taking 10% of whatever you get in your pocket, and you give 1/10th of it to the Lord. 

In other words, if you make $100 dollars, the government takes $30s, and you are left with $70, you give $7 to the Lord.  In recent years, because the Lord simply blessed us more than what I could conceive, I have given a little more than this.  However, I have simply given a little more because I feel that the Lord gave me a little extra, and he called me to give more.  It is a gift of joy and abundance, but really it still isn’t anything sacrificial.  Nor is it something that I believe the scriptures would compel me to do, other than allow me the opportunity to say thanks.   Also, on top of this, we do support our local church more with our core giving driven by my salary.

So again, of the two different people above, who should I support for my giving beyond my core church giving?

I look for a couple of signs that I think are clear.  The first off, I don’t believe that the Lord is calling many, and maybe not any, to be poor.  He calls out that the poor will always be with us, but in Old Testament, he says that if we live our life correctly, there will be not be poor in the land.

Deut:  15:4  However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,

I believe that the Lord would like us live lives of ordinary means, and be able to be self sufficient, and if tragedy does strike, family or insurance is there to help catch you.  While we are called to give alms to the poor, we are not asked to become poor. 

What is poor is a difficult thing to say.  The poor in America may look like a wealthy person in Uganda.  However, I think of being poor as not being able to take care of your family and kids.  Not giving them the opportunity to support their family by having them learn a trade or get an paying education.  I believe that the Lord calls us to have a home that we go to.  He calls us to live in a land, and grow and prosper.

I believe that every Christian in America should have enough salary to pay for medical insurance and save for retirement.  I don’t believe that the Lord wants us to be vassals to the the state.  If you need to depend on medicaid and welfare, other than for a family tragedy or because you were tested by having children with special needs, you are not living the life that God would have you lead. 

Mind you, I am not saying that being poor is a sin.  I am also saying that the Lord may test you and simply have you experience an unfortunate series of events.  There is a genuine core of people that simply poor because life gave them bad breaks, and we are not there to judge them.  On the other hand, personally know people who are more than capable of making a very good salary, but simply reject the idea that they need to use their talents for making money.  They would rather live off of their in-laws or take hand-outs or not be responsible for their future.

One of the key pivot points in my life was a dinner I had with my Dad.  I wish that I had always been as I am now, but when I was in my late teens, I was not hyper responsible.  I wanted to be an actor, and do plays for a living.  Through conflict with my Dad, he would not allow me to do this.  He felt this was irresponsible.  I was not overjoyed at his input.

So, I did a career that he wanted me to do.  I graduated with a degree in finance and accounting, and while I studied, I will not say that I was serious in all that I did.  After graduating, I did not want anything to do with this degree.  So, after losing my way for a couple of years, I went back to school to get my electrical engineering degree.  My Mom and Dad ended up helping me go to school for 9 years.  However, on my second degree, I was serious and I worked hard.

After finishing my EE degree, I really only had one good offer from IBM.  However, I remember going out to Zoopa (soup and salad) with my Mom and Dad, and I was going to explain to them that I really wanted to be closer to home, and the IBM job was going to make me move to Rochester, MN, which wouldn’t allow us to be close to my parents.  I was going to turn the job down.

My Dad said that this wasn’t a good idea.  The Lord had opened up a door for a very good paying job, and if that meant that we needed to move away, having the financial security of this job was critical for me.  He explained that the Lord doesn’t always open the door that we want to go through.  The Lord opens his door.  This was the job that I was offered, and it was a very good job.  He said that I should take it.

I am a big believer that the Lord’s word goes through our parents, so I followed my Dad’s advice, and my life took a dramatic change.  If you look at my job history, I have never run a company, and I only made it to a Vice President level for a short while, before I was humbled and settled at a lower level.  But my salary has been good.  Well beyond what I could ever expect if I had been in Seattle.  So, although I did not want to do it, my success has contributed to myself and to others.

This is true for those in that are serving the Lord.  Now there are two ways not to be poor.  Paul calls this out both in words and in action.  The first way is if you are serving the Lord, it is very fitting for you to pull a salary.  Paul calls this out in his writing, but also the Old Testament sets up a system so that the priest get paid.  The average senior Pastor in the USA is around $60K per year.  I am not saying that this is not hard work, and they could get paid more in a non-pastor role.  I am saying that it would be possible to live on $60K per year, and support a family. 

The second thing that you can do is what Terry and Melissa did for many years.  They made tents.  Now they really didn’t make tents, but Melissa worked hard at her business because it allow Terry to serve the Lord.  The idea of making tents goes back to when Paul made tents in Antioch so that he could live.  Paul understood that it took money to live.  He could have begged, but he said that he would work.  Out of that work, he paid for his pastoring.  For many years, Terry was able to serve by virtue of his wife’s work.  As time has gone on, he has been able to pull a salary from his work.  This, to me, smacks of something that is very, very correct in the lives of Terry and Melissa.  They understand how money works, and they use it as a tool.

Finally, and this is where we become very dangerous, we have to ask ourselves of the value of the work that these people are doing.  In my example above, you basically have a somebody that is trying to help Pastor’s do their work better.  I am not saying that this is bad, but I am saying that when I look over this work, I see this as a nice to have and not a core item.  However, I feel that Terry and Melissa have hit a home run in the Kingdom of God.  In their work, they are fundamentally changing the lives of young men and woman that grow up in areas with no resources at all.  If these young people can get a bit of education, they can move out of incredible poverty. 

What most people don’t understand is that helping people in poverty will be the thing that separates us from the rest of those that don’t make it into Heaven.  This is called out in the scriptures in Matt 25:34ff.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Let me make this exceptionally clear.  The Lord calls out five key activities that all those were saved acted on:

1. Feed and give drink to those that are hungry and thirsty

2.  Provide clothes for the poor

3. Take care of the stranger

4. Take care of the sick

5. Visit the prisoner

It is easy to get confused when you read the gospels because sometimes Jesus exaggerates and sometimes he does not.  For example, I know he is exaggerating when he says, “Pluck out your eye.” However, I don’t believe in this case that he is exaggerating at all.  He says that those that make it into heaven are going to show these five signs in their lives. 

When I look at this list of activities, I can say that Terry and Melissa are clear addressing 1-4 in their work in a a very direct fashion.  They are helping the poorest of the poor.  People that are my brothers and sisters.  Although I have never been to Uganda, I know that if I support Terry and Melissa, I am helping them help others.

So now that we have established this with such certainty, I am now going to take a half of step back from the ledge.  While we are called to the social gospel of feeding physical needs, we also need to realize that tithing can be a simple act of adoration.  There was a time in the gospels when somebody broke a very expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’s feet, and the Holy men said, “What a waste.  Why not give this to the poor.”

It was at this very time, when a piece of giving was looking like a big waste that Jesus calls out, “the poor you will always have with you.”  The point of this is to understand that we come first to the altar with a sense of overwhelming gratitude.  God looks first at the heart, then he looks at the actions.  A sacrifice given in the right way but with a wrong heart means nothing.  However, an offering given with a contrite heart, even if the sacrifice looks like a suboptimal use of the offering, is one that pleases the Lord. 

What the Church lacks is a conviction that working hard and paying our tithes is a high calling.  Our giving and making sure we give correctly is a very high calling.

Monday, February 20, 2017

“Mind”–> The Insanity Of Elon Musk

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I have a co-worker, and really, he is more senior in the company that I work in, but we see things in a very similar fashion, that came into a meeting the other day talking about Elon Musk, the force behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX.  Now, this co-worker is an extraordinary individual that has the unique background of having worked for Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, and Scott McNealy.  I am a fan boy of the Silicon Valley, and this guy has been around.

So we chat for a while, and he tells me that Musk is one of the more dynamic leaders that he knows of.  When you have somebody that has worked for visionaries like my co-worker has, this grabbed me.  So, we go back and forth about this for a while, and finally he says, “Look Elon is going to change the world.  I mean really change it.  What he is doing is amazing.”

He then shoves the Ashlee Vance biography of Musk into my hands, and he tells me (and a few other in the meeting) to read the book.  Normally, I devour books and other material, so I turn to him that say, “Well, I’m probably the only person here that will actually read this.”

Needless to say I spent the next 10 days getting through the book, and I understand what my co-worker was talking about.  Musk is truly a visionary that has substantially changed the world, and we will all be better for the work he has done.

Musk by all accounts is a genius.  As a young child, he simply started to read the encyclopedia, and once he had read it, he remembered it.  He has a sticky mind, and his ability to simply recall information instantly or even years in the past is an incredible feat that most people are boggled at.  However, he couples that innate ability with six other core skills:

a. Fearless:  He is fearless about risk.  He almost personally lost it all multiple times during the crash of 2009.  However, his willingness to put it all on the line allowed him to create both these great companies.

b. Talent scout: He is a great recruiter.  He fundamentally understands that the right person can make or break a company, therefore, he finds the right people.

c. Drive:  He is wired with drive so high that he never needs any down time.  His ability to constantly work and live and breath his business blows away both his fans and his distractors.

d. Empathy: He has a slightly malformed empathy center.  By all accounts, he loves his family, but what he requests from his employees is basically how he drives himself.  I don’t believe that most people are wired like Musk.  They cannot drive themselves all the time.  However, he demands this from his people.  On one occasion, a PR person had an issue because his child was being born.  Musk took him to task for neglecting his job. He is known for killing himself to get talent, but after he gets this talent, if they don’t measure up, he quickly gets rid of them even a month or a few quarters later.  He demands a level of output so high that people burnout.  The same can be said of his marriages.  In many ways, his drive for his companies displaces his ability to deliver what his companions needed. 

e. Focus: And unwillingness to allow anybody or anything to get in the way of his vision.  Since much of his vision is based around doing things cheaper, faster or better, he is brutal on anybody that doesn’t drive lower costs, tighter schedules or the best quality.

f. Vision:  He wants to leave fossil fuel behind, and make a colony on Mars.

These areas are the amazing dichotomies of Musk.  On one level, he only cares about humanity.  It is very apparent that the wealth that he has means little to nothing to him.  His wealth is a simple tool for him to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.  And much of what he wants to accomplish is taking mankind to the next overall level.  Here is a man who has indicated that we may need to provide basic income (that is a government handout) to everybody in the US.  On the other hand, he is unwilling to figure out a decent system in his companies to allow his employees to have a life outside of his all consuming passions. 

“Do you think I’m insane?” is the first line of biography of Musk by Ashlee Vance.

In a dinner with Musk, where the author was trying to get permission to work with Musk on his biography, and this question came out.  It is clear that this is the central question of the book.  Vance invites us into Elon’s life to make a judgment on this.  Vance is, in balance, is very kind to Musk.  He could have focused on his divorces or the worse parts of his personality and drive that some might say are cruel.  However, Vance never stays long on these subjects.  While he talks about the divorces, he does not stay on them long, and he presents both sides.

When we take a look at a biography, we are tempted to spend as much time on the person as we are the man that makes something.  Humans love to gossip, and being divorced three times (counting a twice divorce to the same woman), makes him a tempting target.  What is clear to me, however, is that Musk is Musk.  While his wives may of wanted him to change, and many men would be willing to change, Musk cannot change what is core to his nature.  His wives should have seen what they were getting into.

While I may not want to incorporate all of the Musk ideas into my own life, what I can tell you is that reading biographies like this does heavily influence my thinking.  What is critical in my thinking is that the bulk of Musk can be distilled into six major points as listed above.  Why we may not want to live the same life as Musk, I think that the book allows us to understand why Musk will be measured amongst the greatest Americans to have lived.

While those that are closest to him may suffer burnout, it is clear that the companies Musk has built will return a massive amount of value to the USA, and his companies could well be an important ingredient our ability to compete on a world stage.

I strongly recommend this book.  It not only gives insight into Musk, but it challenges us all to think beyond our own horizons, and inspires us to think about what we can achieve.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

“Mind”–> Stay Away From The Sponges

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I remember being in college and there was a really nice guy on the floor of the dorm that I lived in.  He would drop by and chat, and we would talk about stuff.  Somehow, he would inevitability get around to seeing something that I had that was nice, a camera, some school supplies, or a bike.  Then somehow, he would always get around to borrowing it or using whatever was of interest to him.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I remember being a little irritated by the constant borrowing or using.  I mentioned it to my Dad one time, and he said, “Son, let me tell you something, that guy is a sponge and you need to stay away from him.”

I remember at the time thinking about how my Dad was simply harsh.  I mean he didn’t even know the guy, yet here Dad was declaring the moral nature of the guy.  I was the one that was living with the guy on the same floor, and I certainly knew more than my Dad.  Although he borrowed a bit more, he certainly wasn’t this person that my Dad talked about.  My Dad was a hard man, and I simply thought that this was part of his hardness.

Interestingly enough, I found out over time, that I was completely wrong and my Dad was completely right.  In many ways, the fellow was exactly what my Dad said.  My Dad had seen this so many times over his life, he had an understanding that some people are users of other people.  Their sense of reciprocation is broken, and they will attempt to remove as much from you as they can.

In many ways this is subtle.  They are not psychopaths.  They are not bad people.  They are simply sponges.  It is the perfect name for them.

Sponges come in all shapes and sizes.  They have two payoffs that the sponges are looking for:

a. One is monetary.  They are trying to figure out how to get some money out of your pocket.  Now it may be borrowing something, or using something that isn’t their stuff for too long.  But it means that they deprive you of something.

b. The other one is emotional.  They are looking to suck you into their emotional soap opera.

The goal of a sponge is to see how much they can suck in, with the minor amount that they can push out.  Now mind you, you may squeeze a sponge and get either emotional support or money, but the point is that you need to squeeze.  If you are a nice person, you might end up squeezing, but then you feel guilty about it.

This becomes most difficult inside of a family because our life starts off as being sponges.  You come out of the womb, and you are incapable of reciprocation.  A matter of the fact, if you are hungry, you scream, and you are comforted or fed (as long as you have good parents).  This is the epitome of our spongeful lives.

The act of growing up is the act of learning that we should not be sponges.  We learn that we may ask from others, but we should also look at returning in kind.  As we grow, we understand that we are not measured by our ability to take, but by our ability to return and provide.  The act of being a parent is one where we try and train our kids in many abilities, and not being a sponge is top on the list.

This drives a clear turning point at one time in our lives.  As parents, we need to mentally break the cord.  At some time in life, as a parent, you need to say, “This is their life.  They can ask me for advice, but I cannot force them to live their lives as I see it.”  Mind you, you may have issues where you feel that you have to speak up, but you have to keep it far and few between.  As a parent, you can’t do this all at once, but it is a gradual letting go as the child moves from junior high to high school or college.

You can actually let go and still have the child live with you even after college.  The key is understanding why the child is at home.  If it is to save, I find this as a very good reason.  After all, I am not attaching my stuff to hearse and dragging it into heaven.  All my earthly goods will be gone, and I will leave it to my children.  So, I have no issue in helping my kids now rather than after I am gone.  However, as I give, one needs to recognize that giving should be letting go.  I may give my child a down payment on the house, but if they sell the house and use this money for vacation, they are telling me that I shouldn’t give any more.  It might seem like a waste, but some times the only way to see what happens is to give your child live ammo.  I would suggest that you are slow in how you test the waters here.

To explore further, in many families, as the parents get older, there are two things that can happen:

1. The child can see the parent has accumulated some wealth and may want that wealth for themselves.  Even the best of children may want the security that comes with that wealth.  The main thing to remember here is that if the child has accumulated security themselves, it takes the pressure off.  So, teaching money habits is key.  The thing which I’ll interfere the most in my child’s life is pressuring them to have the ability to make a decent wage, and pushing them to save.  To me, this is as critical as pressuring them not to smoke.  Good money habits and a savings plan makes life much less stressful.

2.  The second thing is that the parent can become the role of the child in the relationship.  In the life of the parent, the child starts off as the sponge, but toward later in life the parent ends up as the sponge.

The parent may turn into a money sponge.  The parent may want you to sign on their mortgage and co-sign a note. Secondly, they may turn into an emotional sponge.  They may have an anger problem, or a bitterness problem.  They want to pull you into their soap opera.  In this second situation, I have a very strong word of advice.  Don’t get sucked in. 

I’ve heard some say, “but my parents helped me so much.  I owe them.” 

Really?  I’m going to suggest you have it screwed up.  If our families work well, your parents were help by their parents.  In the right way of life, if your parent helped you, you must help your children.  You don’t pay your debts backward.  You pay them forward.  This is the lesson that you should have been taught, and the lesson that you need to teach your children.  I am helping you.  Now you go help your children. 

But some parents don’t play this game.  They are playing the sponge game.  You need to be careful if you parent turns into a sponge, either monetary or emotional.

Now, I am not saying to be cold hearted, and allow your parents to starve.

If they are having a bad day or if they lost their spouse, don’t say “hey get over it.”

What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be sucked into their situation.

If your parents are to the stage of life that they need help, but they never knew how to budget, you are not going to fix that problem.  If they can’t keep the house, they can’t keep the house.  If they can’t afford a new car, don’t help them buy it.  If they need to be in an assisted care facility, but they won’t move, you can’t force them to move until they recognize it themselves.  Don’t get into an argument with your parents.  Let them know how you feel and move on.

Now, some will have parents (or other relatives) that simply never could figure out how to manage money.  They never saved a dime, but they were good people.  In this case you need to ask yourself “are they an emotional sponge?”

a. If the answer is no, I hope that you have enough room or enough money to invite them to live in your house or apartment.  Good parents or grandparents have lived with their children as long as their has been history.  If they are decent people, bring them in.  The Lord will honor and bless you for it.

b. If they are an emotional sponge, you need to cut them outside of your life.  I am not saying to not talk to them.  I’m not saying that you can fiscally cut them off.  (Although you are not obligated to support their lifestyle that they want.)  You are obligated to figure if you can help them out.  It may mean that you send them some money to help with their needs for the rest of their life.  But the money needs to be budgeted, and what the Lord directs you to.  And don’t steal from your kids to pay your parents.  Your kids don’t need a Porsche, but they do need an education. 

I recently had a situation where somebody that I was close to was allowing one of their parents to suck them into their soap opera.  The parent had always had mood swings, and as they got older, this continued or even got  worse.  However,  this person was not insane, nor mentally ill. 

In this case, they were simply a grumpy old person that was going to be bitter because somebody had ripped them off.  Now the parent could have lived without the money.  So while it was a lot of money, it was not a life changing event.  However, the person that I was close to was spending a massive amount of time arguing, talking and emotionally getting wound up around the situation with their parent.  After they had done this a month, they told me about it, and asked me for what to do.

Now this person had allow the situation to get so bad that it was impacting their relationship with their spouse and their children.  On the surface, it looked okay, but the family knew there was something wrong.  This person really wanted to understand what to do, so I came down hard so they would never forget the lesson.

I said the following:

a. This is not your problem.  You are trying to tell your parent how to live their life.  This is just a crazy thought.  You’ve allow this to impact your whole family, and in reality, this person is so set in their ways, you are never going to change them. 

b. When you are dealing with a parent, they will always see you as the child.  The more you try and play the parent, the more that you will drive a wedge into your relationship.  You need to be kind and listening, but if the person tries to suck you into their soap opera and sponge you out, you need to simply say, “I’m sorry I’m not talking about this, and I’m not getting involved.  You know my opinion, and I am not going to allow you to vent to me and ruin my day.  This is your problem, so call me when you want to be civilized.  As for your problem, if is yours to solve.  You already have my opinion.”

By doing this, you save the relationship.  What really makes a parent mad is when the child tries to teach the parent.  They resent it, and it drives the relationship apart.  The key is stating your opinion, then refusing to be sucked into an emotional soap opera. 

imageWhat most people don’t realize is that this is scriptural.  In Luke 15, we have the story of the Father who son left him. Most people know this story as “The Prodigal Son.” 

The issue is that the son had a completely different viewpoint on life and could not see the value of hard work and saving for the future. 

If you think about it, the son is a perfect example of somebody that was completely wrong on their outlook of life.  The son had a really bad worldview, and was just about to do something completely stupid. 

So into this situation we have the role of the Father.  The most pressing and clear aspect of this whole story is that the father never tried to argue or nag their son.  I’ve heard the sermon of the prodigal son so many times that I’ve lost count.  In all the sermons, they use the story to illustrate God’s love and forgiveness.  They know the father in the story has the character and nature of God.  What they don’t point out is that the father is more than willing to know that he cannot force the son to do the right thing.  He has to wait until circumstances drive clarity into his son’s understanding. 

If God doesn’t force his children to do something, why do we think we are more capable of God?

This story is a blueprint for how we are to treat those that are closest to us.  In this case, the father had raised the son to the age of accountability.  Once there, the father understood that he could not force his son to do anything.

The father simply gave his son over to God, and had hope that his son would find his way home.

As children, we need to realize that we may have prodigal parents.  We need to let them go, and our job is to pray that  they return to us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mind & Spirit–> “Where Do I Live?”

If you have watched my personal blog at all, you might notice that we have moved back to the Silicon Valley.  Now in many, many ways, this has been a spiritual trip.  I really felt that this is where the Lord wanted to place us.  However, at the same time, you do not disengage your Spirit, and the following shows some of the thinking that can point to this being the right move. 

I would like to say that I thought of this before hand, but it is only looking back over time that you can see where the Lord directed you.  I would suggest that there are 3 areas that you should look for, considering that you feel the Lord is open to having you buy a house:

1. How reasonable is the mortgage interest rates?

2. Is you local area going up or going down?

3. What do you have in terms of options for money?

Cheap money is one of the biggest reason to buy a house.  The thought process is that if somebody will lend money to you very cheaply, you can take this money and buy something worth money that might appreciate in value. 

mortgage_thumb[1]

If you can see the chart above, we locked in our mortgage at basically what was the lowest rate seen in American for decades.  Now, I’m 54 years old, and I have a 30 year mortgage.  This means that I’ll be paying until the wife and I are 84, but if we see any inflation at all, this means that this should become less and less painful.

We bought the house for quite a bit of money, and in some sense, I expect that value of the house to go down.  If you take a look at the Case-Shiller index housing is almost at an all time high.

housing cost_thumb[1]

If we check Trulia, we can pull up what has happened in Los Gatos for the last 16 years for 4 bedroom housing.  You can see the same peak in Los Gatos as what was seen in the top 10 composite.  The difference is that the same percentage for crashing never happened in the local area.  For most of the US, the peak came in 2007 or so.  Doesn’t matter where you are.  However, starting in 2013, the Los Gatos, and the rest of the Bay Area, started a climb not seen in the rest of the country.

los gatos long_thumb[1]

So back in 2012, when Case-Shiller was around an index of 150 for composite 10, pricing in Los Gatos on 4 bedroom houses was $1.25M or so.  Now that the composite 10 is at 200, Los Gatos looks to be around $2M or so.  This means that our area has gone up around 66% versus the national average of 33%.  Not surprising considering that this is the Silicon Valley.  With the amount of wealth in the area, it simply means that people have plenty of money to pay for stuff.  For instance, within 10 minutes of our house is the corporate headquarter for Netflix.  This place has been doing nothing but growing.  This means that they pull in people, and these people buy houses with their growing stock price (which has 10x from 2013).

With interest rates going up, it means that people will be less able to buy a house, and thus the market pricing for housing will most likely come down.  This means that we bought a house, and we are almost guaranteed that we will “lose money” on it.

Although I really did not want to do it, when I bought, the Lord prompted me to buy something that I could rent out.  In a future blog, I need to cover the idea of “rent seeking,” which is all about the idea that you can force illegal rents, but the idea of a rent is a very important idea in terms of wealth.

Adam Smith had the idea that wealth come from three areas:

1. Wages, which money somebody gives you because they need something that you do

2. Profit, which is money that  you got because you sold something for a higher price than what you bought it for, and you might had to put effort into it

3. Economic Rent, which is money that is created when you get paid for something that you are not producing.  When you buy software, you are giving somebody profit.  When you are renting software, you are giving somebody rent.

Once you understand the idea of rent, it is a very powerful idea.  You buy something once, then you can basically just have somebody pay you money for it.  So when we decided to move to the Silicon Valley, I decided that I would look at something that I could rent out.

My Grandfather had apartments.  My father had apartments.  Now, I guess it was my time to have something that I could rent also. Now, you can have all types of different rentals at all times of your life.  When you buy that first house, you can delay gratification and buy a duplex.  Rent out one side of the duplex, and live in the other.  It is not as nice as owning your own place, but it is very fiscally wise if you buy the right place.

In our case, we had the opportunity to buy something with rentals on it.  Two rentals to be exact.  Now the person that owned the property before us had a very, very property bill because they had owned the property forever, and California has Prop 13, which limits property tax.  So, she had both places rented out for a very low price versus the current market. 

I believe as a Christian, we are to be a kind and generous person, so I did not push super hard on these renters, and I allowed them to continue to rent at their current rent.   Their coverage of all of my month mortgage, property tax, and insurance is approximately 17%.  This is a great way to start off the month.  You have basically somebody that pays 17 cents of every dollar that you have to pay out.

With one, I am simply allowing her to rent 30% under the market rate.  She is a very good renter and person, and somebody that I trust.  She is also renting the smaller unit, where even at 30% off, it is a burden that I can live with.  I asked her to pay a nominal increase on January 1st.  With the other renter, they are only 20-25% of market rent.  They really cannot afford a lot more, so we know that eventually know that they will need to move.  However, they are fantastic people, and I am willing to wait until a better moment for them and us.  So, while they will pay a bit more in January, the increase in rent will come up to around 25% of the the monthly expenses.  Again, this really is not bad, however.  For now the property has enough money so that our monthly bill will be lowered by 25%.

However, by June, we’ll rent out the bigger of the two places.  If everything goes correctly, we’ll be pulling in around 45% of our month rent.  If our other legacy renter pulls out for any reason, we’d raise that rent, and we’d have 50% of our mortgage paid for by the renters.

What is really mind blowing: if I lost my job, I probably could figure out how to have and AirBNB our of two rooms in my house, which have external doors, and this would take us to having rentals that cover 75% of my total monthly payments. If I then placed my kids into public schools, I probably could simply retire and live off of my stock market investments, not that I want to do this.  The point is that the current arrangement has some pathways to allow us to make sure that I have the freedom to not be ruled by somebody else, which should allow me to keep an open heart toward God to follow his leading.

I believe that the Bible strongly teaches us that we are not to be slaves of other men.  Therefore, having and pursuing the ability to figure out someway to be able to leave your job behind is very powerful.  It is also remarkably destressing. 

And while I think the Lord places trials and tribulations in our life to bring us closer to him, I also think that many things we do are often brought on ourselves because we simply don’t listen to him.  And picking your manner and place of living is one area where you can do a favor for yourself.

Friday, April 22, 2016

“Mind and Spirit”–> Who Was David

imageIn the Bible, David was a man of war.  He was also an artist, a song writer of the highest caliber, who was celebrated for this grasp of music and mood.  He ruminated and got depressed and he celebrated and danced, but he was such a warrior that God wouldn’t even allow him to build the temple because he had too much blood on his hands.  David was born to this life, having been a young hellion of a boy that took joy in his weapon of choice. 

I think we think poorly about how the ancient times looked at those with a sling. 

Malcom Gladwell is not always accurate, but he does have a good bit of truth in his writings, and he speaks of how the ancients did not under estimate a good sling thrower.  Many a man was cut down by a stone thrown out of a sling, as it was the equivalent to the arrow man of medieval Europe or a rifleman of today.

So David was a crack shot, a poet, a good musician, and was born to be King. 

Too bad that his family didn’t like him.

As we know, when the prophet Samuel came to the house of Jesse, because God told Samuel that a King was going to be in Jesse’s house, his Father basically kept David hidden away.   I think the Bible lays out the David story pretty well, and I have heard it preached on maybe 20 or 30 times.  But I just don’t think the sermons that I’ve heard really get to the heart of who David was or how he interacted with his family.

imageWe really need to look between the lines to figure out David’s characteristics. However, I think that if we spend a little time digging, we get a very full picture.

I believe that the Bible gives us a lot of hints that David did not necessarily really get along with his family.  Why do I say this?  Because we either find that David is being hid by his father, and the one time we see him interacting with his brother, we see a brother that basically flies off the handle and immediately starts to trash talk David.  Also, his Dad had a big family with a lot of brothers.  We never see them after his youngest years.  If David and the rest of his family was close, one of David’s brothers would have shown up somewhere in history when David takes over the Kingdom. 

Jesse’s family is a bit like Jacob’s family.  In the same way that Joseph was not liked by his brothers, I believe the Bible hint that David was not liked by his brothers.  The difference is that Jacob loved Joseph.  In contrast, in Jesse’s household, it was everybody against David.

So, Samuel shows up at Jesse’s homestead one day, and he announces “Hey, Jesse, one of your sons is going to be the future King.”  After going through all the brothers, Jesse basically hides the fact that David is even there.  Do you really think that Jesse didn’t have any conception that David could be the one?  Do you really think that Jesse just “forgot” about David because he was small?

No, when David comes in from the field, we find a good looking kid.  There are no words about David being small or not looking like a King.  Instead, the Bible says he was a handsome young guy.

What Jesse says has to be the lamest excuse in the world.  When none of his other sons are called out by Samuel as the King, he says, “Oh, I forgot one, he not here, he’s looking after the sheep.”

This is obviously just an excuse.  When Samuel shows up, Jesse basically starts thinking to himself, “I have never liked David, and I really don’t think that he is ever going to amount to anything.”  Jesse likes the rest of his boys.  He has them hanging around the tents, shooting the breeze, and making jokes.  The rest of the brothers really don’t like David, and they give him the title of errand boy.

“David, go tend the sheep,” they say.

“David, go bring us some water,” they say.

“David, go deliver some food to your brothers,” they say.

So Samuel shows up, and is going down the list and he is coming up empty.  Do really think that Jesse is not aware that he have one more son?  I bet that Jesse was pretty sure that one of his more favored sons was going to show up as the King.  They probably came up in front of Samuel, and Jesse would brag a bit on his boys.

“This one is very smart,” he would say.  “He got the local merchant to lower his price to us.”

“This one is very handsome,” he would say.  “He already has all the women swooning over him.”

So these boys keep showing up, and Samuel kept saying “next!”

Somewhere, and I don’t know if it was at the beginning or as they started to get toward the end, Jesse would have started to suspect that David could be the one.  If Jesse had any warm feeling toward David, he would have at least invited him to the tent when Samuel showed up.  Imagine if Billy Graham or Rick Warren was coming over to you house.   Wouldn’t you want all of your kids to meet him? If you loved your kids you would.

Instead, Jesse knows that David is out in the fields, and he doesn’t even tell somebody to go get him.  I suspect that this is well known by Jesse, and as he gets to the end of the line, he starts to realize that David could be the one.  Oh, he must have been crushed.  Here’s the odd boy.  The one that everybody picks on, and something could be going the wrong way.  The one that he dismissed is actually the one that God is choosing.

Jesse wants this to not be the case so much that when Samuel runs out of boys, he has to probe and asked Jesse point blank, “Wait, you showed me everybody?”  Jesse is probably tempted to lie.  Instead, he comes up with the worst excuse ever. 

“Uh, we got somebody tending sheep,”  he says.  I am sure he is broadcasting that this means that this son is far away, and its going to take time to find him.  He is trying to do anything in his power to keep David out of the picture.

Now, if we can trust the majority text, Samuel now pops out a surprisingly strong statement. 

“Listen guys, nobody sits down until he arrives,” he states.

This is where we read between the lines.  Jesse was hiding something, and he gave this weak excuse that it was too inconvenient for them to wait for David because, “He’s off in the field somewhere.”

I think Samuel was actually a little pissed by this time.  He had to dig around with Jesse to find out why he didn’t have the last son.  When Jesse confesses he has been holding out on Samuel, Samuel gets pissy back and he says, “Okay, you twit, tell you what.  We are just going to stand here until your last boy comes in.  You don’t get to sit.  You don’t get to relax.  We are standing because you held out on me.”

So, what was David like? I think we know that people don’t change a lot in life.  We know a lot about David because of the way that he acted, and things that he did.

*He was a crack shot with his sling.  He probably was constantly flinging stuff to get better. 

*He certainly wasn’t stupid.  We find out that David was so good with his sling that he felt confident enough to go after a bear and a lion.  He felt confident enough that he felt he could take down Goliath. 

*I’ll bet that he pissed off his brothers because he was religious.  “Mr. Sing A Song to God,” they would say.  He was good at music, so much that everybody that heard him knew he was really good.  If Jesse wanted to impress Samuel or offer entertainment, he would have sent for David to sing a song.  However, we find out that all of his songs were centered around God.  I don’t think he started the Psalm when he was twenty.  I think he started composing at a young age.  However, the subject was always God.  Probably drove his Dad and brothers nuts. 

The point about this blog post is don’t over romanticize the characters in the Bible.  Even the best of the best, like David, had a dysfunctional family where the Dad really didn’t love the youngest son.  Now, I am not saying that we should have dysfunctional families where the Dad doesn’t love all the kids equally, and my wife and I have said that we do love out kids equally and separately because we feel we can’t lose one of them.  And I believe this is how God wants our families to be.

However, I am just saying that life is simply not fair.  Somewhere along the line, you’ll find somebody or something that is wrong that you can’t fix.

But God can.

imageSo, be your own person.  Polish your slingshot skills, for whatever your slingshot might be.  And don’t be afraid of showing a little Love about God, even if your family or friends don’t understand you.

God will seek you out, and bless you, in this life or the next, by being true to what God has called you to do.

You will be called in from the fields.