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What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

This is one of my favorite times of the year.

Besides taking several days off between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I get to spend more time with my family.  We’ll be traveling out to Western PA to celebrate with my wife’s family.  I also like this time, because it gives me time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the year ahead.

I’m a big goal setting person.  It helps me to stay on task with stretching towards things that keep me growing and learning.

For example, my 2014 goal list included exercising 250 days, running 1500 miles, and writing a book about track and field.  Today, I will hit my 250th day of exercise.  I am just 10 miles shy of my mileage goal, so I should surpass that later this week.  And I wrote and self-published my first book, On Track: Life Lessons from the Track & Field in April.

There were a few goals I didn’t reach, and I’m okay with this.

I’ll be reviewing my list, and making new ones in the next week and a half.

I think it’s good to have goals, but it’s also good to frame them from the right mindset.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.  Proverbs 16:9

I want my goals to be in-line with bringing glory to God.  I think he wants us to stretch and grow personally, and I think he wants to draw us closer to Him.

As we approach the year ahead, this is a great time to sit down, reflect, and revision the year ahead.

Be intentional about the year ahead.  Live your life on purpose.  Set goals, and go after them!

Are you planning to set goals for 2015?  What is one of your goals for the year ahead?  How did you do on your goals for 2014?

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Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

I recently started listening to the Starve the Doubts podcast with Jared Easley.  At the beginning of each episode, he asks guest to tell the audience about their favorite concert.  Today’s Ice Breaker is inspired by Jared Easley.

Question:  What is your favorite concert that you attended?

My Answer:  My kids actually had their winter concert at the high school last night.  Isaac played his trumpet in the band, and Hannah played the violin in the orchestra.  Any concert featuring my kids is my favorite.

Besides this, I haven’t been to many concerts recently.  One of my favorite concert moments was the first band I heard at Creation ’97 in Mt. Union, PA.  Leanne and I went when Leanne was expecting our daughter.  After we set up our tent and our campsite, we walked over to the main stage area.  Big Tent Revival was on stage playing to the audience.  There was something so uplifting and powerful about this that I will remember, and this is why it is my favorite concert event.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!

If you are like me, you probably never seriously considered the possibility of becoming a professional speaker.

In addition to my role as an operations manager at a construction company in the Philadelphia area, I consider myself to be a writer. Notice, I said writer and not speaker. I joined Toastmasters in May to help me advance in my job by improving my overall presentation skills. And I secretly hoped it would help me with my writing career.

A few months ago, I received an email from my alma mater, Grove City College, that changed my perspective. My school contacted me about a speaking opportunity this coming February. I get to talk to students about leadership and delegation. What an opportunity! Because of this request, I have recently started to see myself as a speaker.

And I would like to challenge you to start thinking of yourself the same way. You are a speaker, and you have something to say!

Saying that you are a speaker and actually becoming a professional speaker are two different things. In the pursuit of learning more on this topic, I conducted some research which I’d like to share with you today.  In today’s post, I will help you identify some of the steps you will need to consider in order to become a professional speaker. And I hope you will start thinking a little differently about the possibility of making this a reality for you.

Let’s get started!

7 Steps To Becoming A Professional Speaker

  1. You need to start thinking of yourself as a speaker.  You must grasp the fact that you have something to say. This is a mindset shift you must go through in order to become a professional speaker.
  2. You must find your niche.  Business coach, speaker, and author, Jane Atkinson refers to this as “picking a lane.” She recommends choosing “a topic area to focus on, based on your expertise.” Don’t waffle around from one thing to the next. Finding your passion or area of interest is essential to building your speaking career. As a speaker in this area, you will be known as a subject matter expert, so it’s important you do your research and know your stuff.
  3. Practice and keep learning. Take advantage of every opportunity to speak. Pay attention to the feedback you receive as a result of these opportunities. And listen and learn from other speakers and the evaluations they receive. Sign up for speaker conferences. Conferences like The SCORRE Conference are great venues for improving your speaking. Volunteer for speaking opportunities at your job, at your church, and in your community. Each of these opportunities will prepare you to become a professional speaker.
  4. Set up your business. This sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to launch your speaking business more quickly, you will most likely need to invest time and money to get things off the ground. If you are okay with things moving more slowly, start by setting up a speaking blog or website. Create a landing page on Facebook or another social media platform. You may even want to consider setting up an LLC for your speaking business. Set up a checking account. Print business cards. According to Jane Atkinson, “it takes 3 years to launch a professional speaking career.” If you are serious about becoming a professional speaker, you need to get started now.
  5. Build your network. Use your social media platforms to connect with others. Change your profile description to include speaker. Attend conferences, and build relationships with attendees, organizers, and speakers. Get involved in community organizations like your local chamber of commerce. Hand out your business cards. And go to lunch with others. Social media expert and speaker, Chris Brogan, says “showing up at conferences and having decent conversations with people makes it a bit easier to start speaking at events, because then people come to realize and appreciate the kinds of things you’re about, and might want to know more about your ability to speak on stage.” It may take some work, but your network will pay big dividends in the successful launch of your professional speaking career.
  6. Market yourself and your speaking business. Many of us don’t like to talk about ourselves, but this is essential to establish ourselves as a speaker. Shoot video of yourself speaking. Post the video on your website, and send it out to potential customers. Speakers want to make big money, but speaking for free may be required for a while to show off your talents and to help you gain credentials in the speaking circuit.
  7. Just do it! Speak! You will never become a professional speaker if you don’t take the leap, open your mouth, and share with others. It’s a scary proposition for many of us, but we are all in the right place. Toastmasters can be the launching pad for sending your speaking career into orbit.

According to Forbes, speakers like Chris Widener have built their speaking fees up to $20,000 per talk. You may not make this kind of money ever or for a very long time. Or you may strike it rich as a result of your speaking. Regardless, you have something to say, and becoming a professional speaker is a great way to say it to the world.

What are you waiting for?

If you are already a professional speaker, what steps did you take to get where you are?

If you are thinking about becoming a professional speaker, what is the next step you need to take?

A Cry For Peace

December 17, 2014 — 7 Comments

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

These days it seems like we’re a far cry from true peace.  Our world is full of senseless violence.  People are fighting.  War wages in different places across the world.  Meanwhile in our homes, we run from one activity to the next leaving little opportunity to catch a breath.  Kids are bickering.  Parents are yelling.  We leave no chance for peace to permeate our lives.

Just look at the news from yesterday – Massacre in Pakistan, a family shot to death in my own community, Siege in Sydney.  And it goes on from there.  Our world seems to be a long way away from the peace described in Isaiah.

If you come from a more traditional church background, you probably will be lighting the fourth candle on the church’s advent wreath this weekend.  It will be the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Many people around the world will be talking about peace.  Isaiah talks about an everlasting peace that will come when Christ, the Prince of Peace, returns to rule.  I long for that peace.  May you and I find a glimmer of peace this season as we anticipate Christ’s return.

Do you crave peace?  How will you pursue peace in the week ahead?

In Times Of Uncertainty

December 16, 2014 — 2 Comments

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:5-8

I don’t know what you are facing these days, but we can all use this simple reminder.

Where does our hope come from? 

Our hope comes from Him!

What storm or uncertainty are you facing in your life?

Homes For The Holidays

December 15, 2014 — 6 Comments

The Christmas lights are going up on many of the houses in my neighborhood.  Our family usually picks one or two nights during the month of December to drive around and admire the creativity of homeowners in our area.  To be honest, it’s also a time when we ask each other how much these crazy homeowners must spend on the lights and the electricity for some of these elaborate displays.

In the northern hemisphere where I live, this is also the time when the temperature gets a little chilly.  I’m reminded how nice it is to have a house with electricity, heat, and running water.  I’m not sure if this is really a right, but home ownership with these amenities is an expectation here in America.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many in the rest of the world.  Countless people sleep in deplorable conditions throughout the world.  They are unprotected from rain, from thieves, and from general privacy.

What if we could do something this holiday season to change this for a family or two?

This year, my church‘s Christmas offering is going towards building two houses in Haiti.  Last weekend, they showed this video:

Christmas Offering 2014 (Haiti) from CHRIST’S CHURCH OF THE VALLEY on Vimeo.

The video inspires me as I consider helping to change the lives of families in and around the village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj in Guatemala.  For some reason, God gave me a dream to build 100 houses in Guatemala.  If you are keeping track, I’ve helped to build three houses so far.  Only 97 more to go.

I love the faith and vision of this video.  This video was shot early this spring by a couple from our church.  They have a dream to build two more houses for the families shown in this video.  And they had the faith to put it out there for our church to help out.  This summer, our church will be sending a team of fifty teenagers to Haiti to realize this vision.  It’s a trip that will change the lives of these two families, and it’s a trip that will have a major impact on the lives of fifty teenagers.

We need to have this kind of vision.

We need to have this kind of faith.

It’s not just about building houses though.  It’s about bringing glory to God.  I can see it in the faces of Keena and Mike Huss (the couple in this video).  It’s not about personal gain or fame.  It’s about pointing people to Christ.  And this is what inspires me more than anything about this video.  This is what it means to have a mission mindset.

If you want to help out with the Haiti project, click here.

If you want to help out with building more homes in Xenacoj, leave a comment or send me an email by clicking here.

What is your vision for the future?  How does it involve changing other people’s lives?

Ice Breaker – Peacemaker

December 12, 2014 — 9 Comments

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Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

This past Sunday was the second Sunday of Advent.  Many churches around the world celebrated Advent by lighting this second candle.  The second candle represents PEACE.  This provides the inspiration for today’s Ice Breaker.  Be sure to read a few more comments after my answer to today’s question.  Then leave your answer in the comment.

Question:  Where do you need to make peace in your home, at your job, or in another area of your life?

My Answer:  This has the potential to be one of the deeper ice breaker questions.  In fact, it’s probably way past the threshold of breaking the ice.  I feel like I try to be a peacemaker in my home, but I could do a better job making peace by going to bat more often for my wife as she interacts with our kids.  We have entered the stage of parenthood where our kids are teenagers, and they are smarter than we are (at least that’s what they think).  Sometimes, my kids don’t follow through when they are asked by my wife to do things.  I could do a better job of backing her.

At my job, I feel like I am often called upon to be the peacemaker between my project managers and their customers when an impasse develops related to scope of work.  I like this aspect of my job as it often seems like I get to come in and save the day for one side or the other.

I often keep my thoughts to myself when it comes to some of the controversial social issues where there is conflict.  In some cases, this happens because I am not fully informed, and in other cases, it is simply to avoid further conflict.  More than anything, my responsibility as a Christ follower is to point people to the ultimate peacemaker.  When I speak up, I want to make sure this is where I’m directing people.

Many think of Advent as being a time to get ready for Christmas.  I guess it is to some degree.  We set up our nativity, our tree, and other decorations during this time.  But Advent was not really meant to focus on Christmas.  It is a tradition created to help us think about Christ coming again.  He is often referred to as the Prince of Peace – the ultimate peacemaker.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!

On Public Speaking…

December 11, 2014 — 17 Comments

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When I was seven years old, I had some thoughts of becoming a pastor.  My Sunday school teacher used to refer to me as the little evangelist.  My Dad is a pastor.  I like to help people.  I like to encourage people.  And there is part of me that may have thought preaching was pretty cool.

When I was nine or ten years old, I was convinced I would be an actor when I grew up.  After all, I played a lead role in a church musical when I was in third grade.  Then I directed and acted in a play in the fourth grade.

In junior high and high school, I excelled at the saxophone.  My freshmen year, I earned first chair honors beating out upperclassmen who expected to have top honors.  I enjoyed being in the spotlight when I had the opportunity for solos.

My interests turned to engineering, and I put my ambitions for being in the spotlight aside.  In fact, I did my best to stay out of the “public eye” as much as possible.  Part of it was an attempt at humility, and part of it was a growing discomfort for speaking in public.

Despite this, I had different opportunities to speak in front of an audience – at church, at work, at graduate school.  My speaking opportunities weren’t flawless, but I received many compliments and words of encouragement to keep going.

My writing over the past few years has caused me to rethink the whole public speaking thing.  This is part of the reason I joined Toastmasters earlier this year.  Since joining Toastmasters, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at my job, and I’ve been asked to speak at my college in February.

I believe I have something to say – something worth sharing.  And speaking in public may be one way to share.

What if speaking was a direction I should pursue?

This is a question I have started wrestling with more recently.  I think it would be an opportunity to stretch myself.  I think it would also provide an opportunity to encourage others to stretch.

What do you think?  Would you be interested in hearing me speak?

When was the last time you spoke in public?  Tell me about it in the comments.

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Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Harriet Tubman

What happened to your childhood dreams?

When I was a kid, I was an entrepreneur and a salesperson.  I sold all kinds of things door to door in my neighborhood – greeting cards, gift wrap, newspapers, and hoagies.  I made money providing lawn and snow removal service up and down my street.  I had dreams of starting a company that did this or that.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped selling, and I stopped dreaming these dreams.  Part of it was my perceived responsibility to provide for my family.  And part of it was a fear of failure.  My first job out of college left me somewhat sour to the path of the entrepreneur.  I worked long hours and saw promises broken when one of the business partners decided to make decisions apart from the other partner that led to the destruction of the company.

Ever since, I have been content to work for a large company.  I have grown in my career and even flourished over time.  I am happy with my job, and it seems to be the right fit at least for now.

More recently, I have had the desire to create something.  Writing and speaking has become a way to fulfill this desire.  I create almost daily here on the blog through my writing, and I am in the midst of creating with my voice through speaking opportunities at my local Toastmasters International club and beyond.

It’s good to have dreams, and it’s good to find ways to be creative.  Don’t let the pressures and pulls of life take you away from dreaming.

What dreams did you have when you were a kid?  What happened to those dreams?  Are any of these dreams still alive?

The Blessing of Friends

December 9, 2014 — 10 Comments

The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.

Hubert H. Humphrey
My friend, Rob Shepherd, recently held a survey over at his blog.  In the survey, he asked readers to select their favorite Christmas movie.  My choice was easy.  My favorite Christmas movie is It’s A Wonderful Life.  If you haven’t seen the movie, what are you waiting for?  No, really.  Go see it!

The movie tells the story of George Bailey.  After a series of events, he ends up staying in his hometown of Bedford Falls despite his desire to spread his wings and travel the world.  As the head of the Baily Building and Loan, George helps countless townspeople as they seek to own their own homes.

SPOILER ALERT:

About half way through the movie, George falls on tough times when his crazy uncle loses $8,000 of cash that was supposed to be deposited in the bank.  The loss sends George into a panic as he processes the potential prison sentence he may face for misappropriating funds.  At one point, George contemplates taking his own life.

Things start to change when George’s guardian angel, Clarence, steps in to help.  Through a creative approach, he shows George what the world might look like if he had never been born.  George begins to realize how much he cherishes his life.

When he finally comes to his senses, he returns home with a new attitude.  Upon arriving home, the townspeople flood his house with financial gifts to offset the lost $8,000.

Clarence leaves George with a copy of Tom Sawyer with a note inside that reads:

Dear George-:

Remember no man is a failure who has friends.

Thanks for the wings!

Love,

Clarence

I love this movie!

Yesterday, I was reminded of this truth in my own life.  I celebrated a birthday yesterday.  I’d like to say it was my 29th birthday (but it was really my 43rd birthday).

You may recall that I am a huge numbers guy.  I love to count things.  For some reason, I started counting the number of birthday wishes I received yesterday.  When I went to bed last night, I counted over 150 different people who wished me Happy Birthday!

I don’t state this to brag.  I mention it to reflect my appreciation for friends in my life.  I am blessed beyond measure by so many wonderful friendships.  Thank you!

How have you been blessed by your friends?