How To Live A Meaningful Life

September 3, 2015 — 4 Comments

meaningful life

“Grapple with finding ways to serve God’s children.”

Quote from a recent unknown podcast

Do you want to live a meaningful life?

Do you want to do things that matter?

Do you want to make a difference in this world?

Do you really want to know the answer to these questions?

I think I may have the answer, and it’s actually pretty simple.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

SERVE.

S-E-R-V-E.

If you want to live a meaningful life, serve others.

If you want to do something that really matters, serve others.

If you want to really make a difference in this world, serve others.

Be like my friend, Camela, who decided to serve her husband by giving him one of her kidney’s last week.

Be like my co-worker, Bob, who stopped to serve me by holding open the door as I was coming into the office the other day with my hands full.

Be like my friend, Mark, who is giving up his day off this Saturday to serve a family in our area as they move from one house to another.

Be like my friend, James, who is serving the poor and broken in Guatemala by providing medical care for the poor and powerless.

Be like my friend, Dave, who is intentionally serving widows and orphans in the village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj.

Be like my friends, German and Susie, who despite having little find ways to serve by opening up their home to feed the hungry in and around Xenacoj.

Be like my brother, David, who serves the inner-city youth of Milwaukee by providing discipline, guidance, and a caring shoulder to lean on at Frank Lloyd Wright Middle School.

Be like my friend, Sean, who serves my church week in and week out by setting out our signs early in the morning and picking them up at the end of our Sunday services.

Serving others can take a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or the rest of your life.  Serving others doesn’t require special training, a certificate, a specific formula, or an invitation.  It simply requires a willingness on your part to focus on others instead of yourself.  Along with the willingness, it takes a little action.  Serving others can happen through a phone call, an email, a walk across the street, a drive across town, and a plane ride to a far away land.

If you want to change the world, serve others.

Who do you know who is serving others?  How has serving others made a difference in your life?

stretch quote thick skin

It would be a terrific innovation if you could get your mind to STRETCH a little further than the next wisecrack.

Katharine Hepburn

Words have the power to build up or destroy.  While I wish I always had thick skin when someone wrongs me with their words, it’s not always so easy.

On the other hand, I’m sure I’ve said hurtful things to others, and this makes me sad.

Let’s commit today to speak life into those around us.

What words have impacted you recently?  Tell me about it in the comments.

departure

Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.

Bertrand Russell

As an operations manager at my company, I am evaluated on employee turnover.  I receive “higher” marks when our voluntary turnover numbers remain low.

It takes time and it costs money to bring new employees on board, so it’s seen as an advantage to keep existing employees as long as possible.

This year, I’ve lost three of my team members.  In November, one of my employees retired after twenty-three years with the company.  In December, one of my project managers left after fifteen years with the company to pursue an opportunity with a consulting engineering firm.  And last week, one of my project managers left after seventeen years with the company to pursue a new challenge with a mechanical contractor.

According to company standards, this is not a good trend.

Trust me, I want to keep my employees.  I want to help them grow and succeed in their careers within the boundaries of the company.  But sometimes this is not possible – sometimes they have to pursue opportunities outside the company in order to reach their vocational aspirations.

As I was helping my team member carry his personal items to his car on Friday afternoon, it was obvious he was struggling to contain his emotions.  In fact, he wept as we walked out the door and proceeded across the parking lot.  I shook his hand, hugged him, and reminded him of the importance of taking leaps of faith.

Taking a leap to a new employer can be a scary prospect especially when you’ve been at one place for over seventeen years.  But sometimes this type of leap is necessary.  In his case, he would never know unless he took the risk of getting outside his comfort zone.

Over the next few weeks, I will be tasked with cleaning up his office and the projects which still needed attention at the time of his departure.  I’m sure I will especially miss him during these weeks.  As I tackle these challenges, I will pray that my former team members lands well at his new place of employment.

As a Christ-following leader, I believe this is part of my responsibility.  If I really mean what I say when I say “I want to help my team members succeed”, I have to support them even when they leave the company to pursue new directions.

As leaders, we want to handle times of transition well.  Here are some ways to respond when a team member decides to leave.

6 Ways To Respond When A Team Member Decides To Leave

  1. Listen.  When a team member announces his resignation, leaders must learn to listen.  Find out why he is leaving.  Find out as much as you an about his new opportunity.  As questions to help you understand his decision to leave.
  2. Celebrate.  This can be a bit of a challenge especially when an employee is leaving you with a big hole to fill, but leaders must learn to celebrate the opportunity of the departing team member.  Congratulate your team member for the upcoming opportunity.
  3. Transition.  Depending on the situation, you may or may not have time to transition their current workload.  If you have a week or two before the team member departs, use the time wisely.  Go over a list of the items on your team members to do list, and help him prioritize to focus on certain tasks during the time of transition.  If possible, find other team members who can help take on the work when the team member leaves.  Use this time of transition to conduct hand-offs.
  4. Appreciate.  Be sure to thank your departing team member for the time and efforts he has given to your team and to the company.  Consider taking him out to lunch on his last day.  Send him a thank you note.  Let him know he is appreciated.
  5. Provide opportunity for good-byes.  If possible, give the departing team member an opportunity to say good-bye to others in the company.  An employee spends a lot of time with their co-workers.  These relationships mean something, and it’s important to provide an opportunity for closure.  (Note:  In some cases, this is not possible.  If a departing team member is heading to a competitor or is leaving for performance or compliance issues, it may be necessary to escort the employee to the door without time to say good-bye.)
  6. Pray.  Pray for your departing team member.  Pray he would land successfully at his next place of employment.  Pray he would have good memories of his time with your company.  And pray that others would rise up to fill the hole left by your departing team member.  Pray you would have wisdom to lead your team through this time of transition and beyond.

How have you responded when a team member left your company?  What advice would you give someone handling this situation?  Share your response in the comments.

mastermind

If you find you are weak in persistence, surround yourself with a Mastermind Group.

Napolean Hill (Think and Grow Rich)

Nearly a year ago, I started meeting with 13 other guys on a weekly basis.  Every Friday morning at 6AM, we gather in someone’s basement for an hour-long conversation.  Sometimes the weekly discussion centers around the chapter of a book.  Sometimes we talk about a hot topic.  Sometimes we spent time dealing with a struggle that one of us is going through.  For fourteen weeks, we spent time getting to know each other (one week for each of us).  When we started meeting together, we committed to meet together for the next twenty years.  A year later, the group is still in tact.  19 more years until we reach our goal!

For me, the group has meant many things.  Mostly, it is a place to spur each other on.  The writer of Hebrews challenges readers in chapter 10:24-25:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on (STRETCH each other) toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I find tremendous encouragement through our weekly meetings.  These guys STRETCH me.

The group is a mastermind of men who are trying to become better husbands, better fathers, better workers, and better friends.  We are also trying to grow and learn in our relationship with Christ.

Dictionary.com defines mastermind as follows:

verb (used with object)
1.
to plan and direct (a usually complex project or activity), especially skillfully:

Two colonels had masterminded the revolt.
noun
2.

a person who originates or is primarily responsible for the execution of a particular idea, project, or the like:

the masterminds of company policy.

We want our group to help us intentionally grow.  We are attempting to skillfully plan and direct our growth.

Real, consistent growth does not happen by accident.  Growth (or stretching as I like to call it) happens when we practice the discipline of mastermind – the discipline of skillfully planning and directing our lives.

What do you want to accomplish in your life?  What are you doing about it?

I think we could all use a mastermind group (or two or three) in our lives to help us strategically go after our calling.

This week, I am stepping into a new mastermind group with a few other people from around the country (Georgia, Texas, and Washington).  We will be meeting bi-weekly for the next six months.  We are all working on writing, speaking, podcasting, and other endeavors, and the group is designed to help us skillfully plan and direct our next steps.  For me, this group will help me focus on the next steps in my writing and speaking journey.

I didn’t sign up for this group because I needed something else to fill my calendar.  I signed up for this mastermind group, because I want to keep stretching, and I want to help others stretch.

We need others to speak into our lives, and they need us to be there for them.  A mastermind group is a great place to intentionally fulfill both of these needs.  Maybe you won’t call it a mastermind group, but you need others in your life.  You need to be part of a community that will spur you on and stretch you.  What are you waiting for?

How would your world be different if you made the decision to practice the discipline of mastermind?  How has a mastermind group made a difference in your life?

ice breaker todays joy

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.

Henri Nouwen

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.)

Question:  What does your joy look like today?

My Answer:  I’m planning to take the morning off today to attend Hannah’s cross-country scrimmage meet.  The meet features multiple boys and girls races between ten (or so) schools in our area.  This will be Hannah’s last scrimmage meet of her high school career, and I’m excited to watch her run.  It brings me great joy to watch my kids doing things they enjoy and things in which they excel.  For Isaac, I find great joy watching him play music.  And for Hannah, I find great joy watching her run.

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!

stretch your mind

When you think of the word “stretch,” what comes to mind?

Maybe you thought of physical exercise, which requires you to stretch your muscles. You might have thought about stretching toward your financial or career goals. Perhaps you even thought of a tall tale you heard recently, thinking, “That’s a stretch.”

You can stretch in many different ways, but the most important stretch takes place within your mind. Your mind is the source of your emotions, actions, and words. Therefore, it’s vital that you take good care of your mind by feeding it great content.

So what kind of content will help stretch your mind? These are the six most important types:

  1. Books. Choose books that will help you grow and become a better person and leader. It’s important to read books from a variety of perspectives and subjects. This will keep you fresh and prevent you from getting into a mental rut. You should include great fiction books (and even a few books that aren’t necessarily great, but entertaining) because you need to be inspired by great stories. (If you’re a person of faith, the Bible is the most important book you should be reading.)
  2. Podcasts. Podcasts are free and don’t necessarily require extra time. You can listen to them while you’re driving, exercising, or doing other activities. I listen to a wide variety of podcasts, including some just for fun. Don’t limit yourself to content focused on business or productivity. Be sure to listen to podcasts that are fun and enjoyable.
  3. Movies. Movies blend storytelling, moving images, and music to transport us into other worlds. Movies can also change your perspective and give you experiences you can’t get any other way. Movies can speak to your heart and mind while sharpening your creativity and leadership.
  4. Classes. Classes are a great way to increase your knowledge and skills in a specific area. Over the last couple of years I have taken courses on writing for large websites, self-publishing, online teaching, and business. Some of these were free but others were not. (I don’t think of training as an expense. It’s an investment.) Classes are a great way to get specialized knowledge and stay relevant in your field.
  5. Magazines. I subscribe to a few magazines related to business and creativity, but the danger of periodicals is that the content quickly goes out of date. I have moved almost exclusively to reading content online (rather than print magazines), but the print magazines I still read have a lot of value.
  6. Blogs. I subscribe to a few dozen newsletters and use the online service unroll.me to “roll them up” into one daily email digest. That way, I can skim through the content without having dozens of emails clog my inbox.Books. Choose books that will help you grow and become a better person and leader. It’s important to read books from a variety of perspectives and subjects. This will keep you fresh and prevent you from getting into a mental rut. You should include great fiction books (and even a few books that aren’t necessarily great, but entertaining) because you need to be inspired by great stories. (If you’re a person of faith, the Bible is the most important book you should be reading.)

The kind of content you put into your mind will determine your thoughts and actions. Make sure you’re reading, watching, and listening to great content every day.

I love this quote from James Allen’s classic book As a Man Thinketh:

All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the   direct result of his own thoughts. . . . A man’s weakness and strength, purity and impurity, are his own, and not another man’s; they are brought about by himself, and not by another; and they can only be altered by himself, never by another. His condition is also his own, and not another man’s. His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.

Who do you want to be, and where do you want to go? The answer will determine what to put in your mind. Earl Nightingale said it best in his classic work, The Strangest Secret: “We become what we think about.”

So what are you thinking about? The answer to that question will determine how much you stretch your mind and eventually determine the quality of your life.

Do you have a plan for reading and taking in other great content? What would happen if you scheduled just fifteen minutes a day for reading?

kent sandersThis post is adapted from the book The Artist’s Suitcase: 26 Essentials for the Creative Journey, available September 1st.

Bio: Kent Sanders writes about art, creativity, and productivity at KentSanders.net. He also teaches art, film, theology, and guitar at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri.

Special thanks to Kent Sanders for guest posting here today.  Please consider ordering his new book (The Artist’s Suitcase: 26 Essentials for the Creative Journey) by clicking here.

stretch parenting quote

I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to STRETCH kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to STRETCH me just slightly outside my comfort zone.

Temple Grandin

As I think about this week’s STRETCH quote, I’m thankful for my parents.  Both my Mom and Dad have STRETCHED me to become a better person.  My Stretch nickname may have come from friends when I was going through my growth spurt late in high school, but I think the real stretching happened as a result of my parents encouragement, discipline, and accountability.

Thank you, Mom and Dad!

How did your parents STRETCH you outside your comfort zone?  What are you doing to STRETCH your own children?

conflict

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.

Ronald Reagan

I recently discovered myself stuck in the middle of a situation.  I’m generally known to be a good listener, and I think I generally give pretty good advice.  But this is not always a blessing.  Every once in a while I find myself sucked into the vortex of a place I should never be.

My intentions were good when I initially started listening to a friend, but I think I may have gone a little too far when I failed to stop him from telling me about some disagreements he was having between someone else.  I honestly don’t believe he was trying to bring me into the problem.  I think he felt the need to vent and to get some outside perspective and council.

I happen to be good friends with both individuals involved.  And like a coin, there are two sides to every story and every disagreement.  Resolving disputes like this can be a scary proposition.

The Bible lays out pretty clear instructions for those caught in a dispute with their brother.  If you take time to follow these steps you have a much better chance of finding the right outcome for your dispute.

As I was processing this experience in my life, I realized it was a topic previously addressed here on The Stretched Blog.  In a guest post titled Managing Conflict, Frank Chiapperino shared practical advice for handling conflict:

Sometimes as leaders we need to be a guiding presence and help others navigate through conflict. There are times I will have a staff member or another volunteer leader at our church call me and say, “Frank, I need help. There are some members of my team that are at each other’s throats.” For some strange reason they don’t share my joy when I say, “THAT IS GREAT!” When I manage conflict I normally start where many Christian leaders do, following Matthew chapter 18:

15″If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

  • Go to them privately and confront them on the issue
  • If a private discussion doesn’t work take a witness. That means someone who has seen the behavior you are speaking to them about.
  • If that doesn’t work attempt to involve church leadership to aid in resolution of the problem.
  • If that fails, end the relationship.

That is pretty much what Matthew lays out, and it is sound advice that works. However, I do have a few other guiding principles I follow that aid in confrontation and conflict resolution:

  • Be wise with your words. Everything you say in a confrontation will either escalate or de-escalate a conflict. Try to use words and responses that we de-escalate the tension.
  • Don’t discuss nameless people. Sometimes people will say, “Someone told me…” If they refuse to use actual names of real people, don’t acknowledge it as a leader in the church. It only leads to pointless discussion because you can’t get the real person behind whatever it is involved.
  • If you’re wrong, admit it right away. This is powerful in conflict resolution. Think about it for a minute. How often do you hear people actually admit they are wrong? Not often, it is a real sign of maturity and it will have an immediate affect on the situation.

Frank’s words of wisdom were a welcome reminder for how I should direct my friend who is trying to navigate his conflict.  For the rest of Frank’s post, click here.

What have you learned from handling conflict in your life?

 

extra mile

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.

Roger Staubach

We are in the process of college shopping with our oldest child, Hannah.  She is getting ready to start her senior year in high school, and we have spent several long weekends this summer visiting colleges.

A couple of week’s ago, we visited Grove City College which is located in Western Pennsylvania.  Hannah had an interview with the admissions department, and she met with the track and cross-country coaches.

brothersAs we were planning for this visit a few weeks prior to our trip across the state of Pennsylvania, my brother and sister-in-law reached out to us about meeting us in Grove City for the weekend.  They live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which means they were committing to ten hours (or more) of driving each way just to spend a day or two with our family.

We reserved a couple of rooms at a hotel halfway between Grove City and Pittsburgh, and we spent time together playing games, swimming in the pool, visiting Pittsburgh, and hanging out.

They arrived late Friday night, and we left around noon on Sunday to return home.  The visit was short, but it was something I won’t forget.

My brother and his family decided to drive over twenty hours, pay for tolls, hotel, and food, and miss out on a weekend of activities at their own home just to spend time with us.  Their willingness to go the extra mile meant the world to me.

Their visit reminded me that we need to cultivate the discipline of going the extra mile.

Going the extra mile means taking the extra effort.  It means going two miles with someone when they ask you to go one mile.  Going the extra mile shows people you really care.  And it can mean the difference between good and great – in your job performance, in your extra curricular activities, and in your relationships.

If you’re having trouble getting started with this discipline, here are some ideas to help you go the extra mile:

6 Ways To Go The Extra Mile

  1. Be alert and take action in your daily life.  What do you see?  What drives you crazy?  And what are you doing about it?  It drives me crazy when I see trash on the floor and when I see grumpy people in my daily life.  I have the opportunity to practice the discipline of going the extra mile when I come upon these things.  I can pick up the trash instead of waiting for someone else to take care of it.  I can take time to listen to unhappy people I encounter at work.  These simple responses are an opportunity to go the extra mile.  You have similar opportunities around you each and every day.
  2. Don’t wait for the ask.  Don’t be reactive.  Become proactive.  As you practice this discipline, it will become more and more natural.  You won’t need the prodding of others to get you started.
  3. Don’t look for accolades.  We give GEMs at our office for people who have “gone the extra mile.”  These awards are away to say thank you, and they are great.  But our motive for going the extra mile should not be about being recognized or about receiving an award.  The discipline of going the extra mile is about doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
  4. Find ways to put a special touch on it.  Be creative.  The discipline of going the extra mile may require some mental and physical energy.  Leave tips.  Find creative ways to say thank you.  Make others feel valued.  By going the extra mile, you have the opportunity to help others know they are special.
  5. Partner with others.  The discipline of going the extra mile is always better when you practice it with others.  By inviting others to join you in this discipline, you will have the opportunity to encourage each other and hold each other accountable.  I meet with a group of men every week in hopes that they will spur me on to go the extra mile.
  6. Make the sacrifice.  If you really take this discipline seriously, you will have to sacrifice your time, your energy, and your resources.  When you go the extra mile, you will discover that the sacrifice is worth it.

When was the last time you observed someone going the extra mile?

How would your world be different if you made the decision to practice the discipline of going the extra mile?  How has going the extra mile made a difference in your life?

something new

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Walt Disney

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.)

Question:  When was the last time you tried something new?

My Answer:  I’m not one to try too many new things.  I like the same old, same old.  I don’t like change.  So trying something new requires a bit of courage for me to get outside my comfort zone.  The last time I tried something new was Wednesday afternoon.  I usually travel home the same way Western Pennsylvania which is where my wife was born.  We were in Latrobe, PA for a funeral (see yesterday’s post), and I took a different way home for the first hour plus of the trip.  It was nice to see new scenery and to enjoy the rolling hills along the back country road.  Maybe trying something new from time to time isn’t such a bad thing.

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!