greatness

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

William Shakespeare

Last week, I accepted the nomination and election to become the next president of my local Toastmasters club, Aetna Articulators.

I’ve been coming to Toastmasters for nearly a year, and I’ve been moving along at a decent pace as I progress towards the first major milestones – Competent Communicator (CC) and Competent Leader (CL).

I was a little apprehensive about taking on this role considering my lack of experience in the club and in the overall organization, but no one else seemed ready or excited about stepping into the role.  During the selection process, someone even voiced their concern about my lack of Toastmasters experience.

Sometimes we have to step up.  If we wait for others to take action, we may be waiting a long time.

I don’t know exactly what the year ahead looks like as I take on the responsibilities of this position.  I want to see our club continue.  I truly believe it is having a positive impact on those who are active.  I know it has had an impact on me.  It’s time for me to step up, to lead, and to pursue greatness.

One thing is sure, I’m sure I will STRETCH as a result of this opportunity.

Have you ever had a position of responsibility thrust upon you?  Tell us about your experience in the comments.

[Note:  If you are interested in being part of Aetna Articulators, we meet the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month from Noon until 1PM at Aetna in Blue Bell, PA.  For more information, click here.  If our club doesn’t work out for you, check out the Toastmasters International site for details about other clubs.]
Photo credit: JillWillRun on Flickr CC

rail switch

Photo credit: Kool Cats Photography on Flickr CC

“It’s time for a change.”

That’s the phrase I often hear around our house, usually referring to the need for me to have a special meeting with our diaper-wearing two-year-old.

It’s also the message I was feeling a few years ago when I made a big decision in my life – the decision to switch jobs.

Have you been there?

It hasn’t been something that I’ve done very often and I’ve never taken it lightly.

For me, in fact, this was only the third time, at least in the “real world”.

(I won’t count when I left Arby’s for McDonalds or moved on from cleaning up after dogs to mowing lawns)

My example

Long before I had even thought about my first real job, my ideas of what it meant to be a hard worker were being shaped by the example of my parents.

My dad, especially, when he wasn’t making memories with me, was helping lay out in my mind what an employee should look like.

He eventually retired after working 45 years at the same company. So I always held up his example as my ideal.

To me, that exemplified commitment and loyalty, things that I wanted to show to my future employers.

Getting Started

My first job out of college was at a great organization that I loved, and I thought I would be there long-term.

However, I left after four years in order for my wife and I to move closer to family. At that point, I already found myself having to put to death the ideal that I had set-up and accept that maybe my path would be different than my dad’s.

Years into my second job, I had to make a similar decision when faced with the prospect of massive layoffs coming down the line.

Third Times a Charm?

Soon, I found myself starting over again with a new employer.

It took time to settle in and find my groove, but I was able to do that and, within several years, I was pretty comfortable there. Maybe too comfortable.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to get stretched.

I was learning a lot about leadership and company culture from books, podcasts, and friends. I began looking at my employer and my role there in a new light.

As I was growing, I began to wonder if my company would grow with me in those areas or not and I even met with company leaders to discuss my thoughts.

At the same time, I had a “chance” conversation with a good friend about where he worked, the way they did business and what they stood for.

So much of what he said resonated with what I was feeling inside, but I didn’t know what to make of it just yet.

Time for a change?

In the weeks that followed, I continued to pursue change at my job while at the same time praying about the possibility that maybe God had been moving in me to prepare me for something else.

How do we know for sure in these situations? There’s usually no big billboard or writing in the sky telling us what to do.

I believe we have to pray, listen, look around us at how God’s working, and trust our gut.

Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t an accident that I had that conversation with my friend or that I’d been learning and growing. God had been preparing me for something else and it was time for a change.

It still wasn’t easy to walk into the office of my friend and boss and tell him, but I felt it was the right move.

 

It’s been two years since I made that decision and I’m so glad I did.

I had never even heard of my current employer before that conversation with my friend, but I couldn’t imagine a place that more closely matches who I am, what I believe, and what God is molding me into.

What about you? How do you know when it’s time for a change?

Answer in the comments below…

shawn washburn head-shot-220x300This is a guest post by my friend, Shawn Washburn.  Shawn is a Christ-follower, husband, father, friend, son, and brother. He has a beautiful wife, three growing boys, and a sweet baby girl.  He spent his whole career in mechanical engineering, doing mostly product design but he’s now involved in manufacturing engineering at a great company.  His other passions are coaching, basketball, reading, learning, laughing, playing and resting.  I had the privilege of hanging out with Shawn at Grove City College where we lived on the same floor for two years.  He recently started his own blog, Washburn Writer.  Trust me, you have to go check it out, subscribe, and leave him a comment.  Don’t forget to tell him I sent you.

If you are interesting in sharing your stretch marks with The Stretched Community, let me know.  I’d love to feature you here as a guest blogger.

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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.)

Today’s question is inspired by the Michael Hyatt’s most recent podcast episode of This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt.  The episode titled How to Lead Transformational Conversations provided 10 Practical Strategies for Greater Influence.

Question:  What does your ideal Saturday morning look like?

My Answer:  I like Saturday mornings, because it provides a break from my weekday routine.  My ideal Saturday morning looks like this.  I sleep in until 7 or 7:30AM.  I go for a seven or eight my run on the Perkiomen Trail.  When I come home from my run, I sit down and enjoy a slow-paced breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, and decaf coffee (still can’t have caffeine).  After taking a shower, I work on a project around the house or in the yard.  This is what my ideal Saturday morning looks like.

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!

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I have a bulging disc in my lower back.  Most of the time it’s fine, but every once in a while it flares up.  For some reason, my back decided to flare up yesterday as I was getting up from my desk at work after sitting for a while.

Maybe I was sitting weird for too long, or maybe my back simply tightened up after my morning workout and cold shower.  Whatever the case, I will have to take a few days off from my more strenuous workouts to rest my back and to stretch it out.  Usually, I can get back into the swing of things in a few days.

I’ve been on a pretty good streak of working out this year.  Yesterday was the 84th day of the year, and I have managed to exercise 68 days so far.  This means I’ve worked out nearly 81% of the days this year.  If I keep this up, I’ll workout 295 days this year.

Sometimes our bodies are telling us to slow down.

The past week or so, I have been feeling particularly tired and worn out.  Perhaps, you’ve sensed this in my recent blog posts.

  • Stretching requires us to stop long enough to give our bodies a break.  If we go too long at an unhealthy pace, we will wear ourselves out.  We have to stop long enough to give ourselves the opportunity to experience repair and restoration.
  • Stretching helps us recover from the work we’ve done so far, and it prepares us for the work waiting in front of us.  It’s great to look back and see the fruits of our labor, and it’s great to look ahead with anticipation of working hard.  We must take time in the in-between times to recover from the past and dream about the future.
  • Stretching takes time.  We live in a go-go-go society.  We must learn to slow down and take time to take care of ourselves.
  • Stretching is worth it.  Stretching almost always produces better results in the end.  If we could simply remember the benefits of stretching, we would embrace it with open arms.

I’m not sure what you have been up to lately.  Maybe you are like me and you have kept a maddening pace this year.  And maybe you still have big hopes for what you hope to see and do during the rest of the year.  Don’t forget to slow down and stretch!

How are you stretching these days?  When was the last time your body told you to slow down?

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The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Leanne and I have been married for more than 18 years.  We were engaged for a year.  And we dated for two years prior to our engagement.  All together, we’ve known each other for almost 22 years.  You would think we would have the whole communication thing down by now.

Right?

Wrong.

The other night, we stopped by our local grocery store on the way home from our date night.  Leanne sent me into the store to get sunflower seeds and one or two other things.  It took me a little while to locate the seeds, but I succeeded once I asked a store employee to help me out.  I paid, and I came back to the car proudly carrying the selected items.  I put the bigger items in my trunk, and I brought a small back with the sunflower seeds in with me to hand to Leanne.

She took one look at my purchase and proclaimed, “These aren’t the sunflower seeds I was looking for.”

For some reason, I thought she was looking for actual seeds that you plant in the ground.  I had the impression that she needed them for her preschool classroom.  Being the diligent husband, I gladly found them in the store.  What I failed to realize was that Leanne wanted shelled sunflower seeds to use on a salad she was planning to make for guests we were scheduled to have in our home the next evening.

I walked back in the store and found the correct sunflower seeds.

Communication is essential to having a marriage that goes the distance.

Sometimes we get our signals crossed.  Here are a few tips to making sure you communicate well with others:

5 Ways To Improve Communication With Your Spouse

  1. Make sure you are listening to each other.  My hearing isn’t as great as it used to be.  This means I have to be in the same room with my wife.  It means I have to shut off the other noise.  And it means I have to focus on what my wife is saying.  Being face to face is the best way to make sure you are listening.
  2. Clarify the information exchanged.  Sometimes we don’t hear correctly or we misinterpret each other.  The best way to avoid this problem is to ask clarifying questions and to restate the information shared.  “You want me to get sunflower seeds for the salad?  Okay!”
  3. Take notes if necessary.  I forget things.  The best way to avoid forgetfulness is to write things down.  This is one of the reasons I take a grocery list into the store with me.  It helps me remember everything I need, and it demonstrates successful communication and follow-through to my wife.
  4. Apologize when you mess up.  It’s natural to get it wrong from time to time.  When this happens apologize.  Then move to step five.
  5. Correct any mistake you made.  For me, I had to run back into the grocery store.  Failure to correct our mistakes only undermines future efforts to communicate with each other.

What tips to you have for communicating well with your spouse (or with others)?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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We are nearly one-quarter of the way through the year.

Did you set goals at the beginning of the year?

Are you still on target to meet your goals?  Or have you begun to fall off the tracks?

If you are like most people, your goals are most likely in jeopardy of falling by the wayside if you don’t do something now to refocus.

I can say this, because I feel this way about my goals right now.  I started off with the best of intentions, and I’ve been able to stay on track for the most part with what I started out to accomplish this year.  However, I can feel the pressure of work and family demands.  My energy level is starting to dwindle as I cope with longer hours at work and busy evenings.

I want to stay on track, but there is also a rising tendency to just let things go.

It can become easy to let yourself get distracted at times like this.  I’m facing this even as I prepare today’s post.

There are times when it may be a good thing to let go of some of your man-made goals, but I also believe that many of the targets we set at the beginning of the year are still worth pursuing.

We must fight to stay on track!

We must regain the excitement of going after the goals we set in late December or early January.  This applies to our fitness targets, our financial targets, our family targets, and our faith targets.

Take time today to review your 2015 goals.  What needs to go?  And what is worth keeping?  Now get back on track and keep your eyes focused on the prize ahead.

OnTrack3dCover04132014If you are looking for encouragement on your journey to stay on track, check out my book, On Track: Life Lessons from the Track & Field.  The book is available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

In regards to your 2015 goals, how are you doing?  What step can you take today to get back on track?

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You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Jack London

I’m going to let you in on a little secret about my writing.

I typically write my posts the night before it actually goes live.  I often ponder the post throughout the day, and I sit down and write out the thoughts sometime between 8 and 10 PM.  When I’m happy with the post, I schedule it to go “live” at 5 AM the next day.

After a busy weekend, I did that last night after I came home from youth group shortly after 9 PM.  When I arrived home, I honestly didn’t have any thoughts about what my post for today.  Honestly, I felt very uninspired.  I sat down at the computer and pulled together a less than stellar post, and I headed up to bed.  I was weary, and I was a little disappointed I hadn’t put more thought into my post earlier in the day.

As I woke up this morning, I started thinking a little more about inspiration.  We all need inspiration in our lives, but too often we live uninspired lives.  Why?

  • Lack of inspiration happens when we are too tired.  As a result, we lack the energy to put thought into our days.
  • Lack of inspiration happens when we are too busy.  As a result, we lack the time to soak in what is going on around us.
  • Lack of inspiration happens when we aren’t intentional with how we mentally feed ourselves.  As a result, we fail to fill our minds with good things – things that inspire us in a good way.
  • Lack of inspiration happens when we hang out with people who drag us down.

How do we combat this problem?  Deep down inside, we all want to live inspired lives not just to have a blog post idea for the next day.  We want to live inspired lives to help us live lives that have meaning and matter.  Today, instead of the uninspired post I wrote last night, I want to leave you with seven ways you can live an inspired life.

7 Ways To Live An Inspired Life

  1. Journal daily.  This may take some practice, but it’s an excellent discipline for capturing thoughts on your day.  When you develop the habit of writing a daily journal, you will naturally see the sources of inspiration rising up around you.
  2. Get sleep and exercise.  You can’t expect to live an inspired life when you are running on fumes.  Make sure you get ample sleep and add regular exercise, and you will begin to see inspirational things around you more often.
  3. Intentionally fill your mind with good things.  Read God’s Word.  Listen to podcasts.  Read books.  Listen to music.  When you intentionally fill your mind with good things, you will be inspired to live your life differently.
  4. Get outside.  Staying locked up inside your office or home prevents you from getting fresh air and prevents you from seeing the rest of the world outside your “box.”  Getting outside even for short periods of time will lead to more inspiration.
  5. Learn to say “No.”  The only way you will open up time in your busy schedule for times of inspiration is by saying “No” to some of the things that are clogging your schedule.
  6. Turn off the television.  I don’t know what the statistics are, but I’m pretty sure too many Americans watch too much television.  A little television is okay, but we should learn to limit this time.  By limiting our television time, we will have more opportunity for actually living an inspired life.
  7. Hang out with people who lift you up.  I hang out with a group of guys once a week who regularly inspire and lift me up.  I hang out with a group of families twice a month who force me to get out of my comfort zone.  By hanging out with people like this, you will naturally begin to look at life more positively, and you will find yourself living an inspired life.

How have you been inspired lately?  What helps you live an inspired life? 

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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.)

Question:  Did you fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket?  Who do you think will win in all this year?  (Who do you have in the Final Four?)

My Answer:  I always fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket.  For one, I love college basketball.  And March Madness is a great time to connect with co-workers and friends.  This year, I have Kentucky winning it all, and my Final Four includes Virginia, Gonzaga, and Wisconsin.  I’d love to see Villanova go far as they are the local team still in the tournament.

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!

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There is an audio version below.

Teach Us To Number Our Days

This is a post I wrote just four weeks ago upon learning that a college classmate of mine had been placed on hospice.  I received word Tuesday afternoon that she passed away.  She was young (at least by my standards).  From what I can tell, she lived her life to the fullest, and she lived her life with the intention of glorifying God even in these last four weeks.

I am reminded through this news of the brevity of life.

When we are young, we think we will live forever.  We feel invincible.  As we approach mid-life (where I am now), we begin to realize life moves pretty quickly.  In talking to those twice my age, it doesn’t sound like life slows down at all as we get older.  It just keeps going faster and faster.

I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption, of the choice we have.  We must choose to “get busy living or get busy dying.”  We all have a birth date, and we are all headed to a death date.  I don’t fear my death date, but I do want to make the most of the time in between these two milestones.  Some people refer to this as the dash.  How will you live your dash?

This is a question we should all ponder today.

Let’s all decide today to make the most of our time here on the earth.  Let’s do what really matters.  Let’s honor God and bring glory to his name by how we live our lives.

Here’s the link to my original post – Teach Us To Number Our Days.

I would encourage you to head over to Kristie Rush’s blog to read how she processed her final days in this life.  I think you’ll be challenged and inspired.

What are you going to do TODAY to make the most of your time?  Share in the comments.

 

5 Ways To Represent Well

March 18, 2015 — 2 Comments
integrity
There is an audio version below.

I was always going to church with my mom, dad and sister. I was literally raised under the godly influence both at home and church. There was no alcohol and no smoking at our house. That was the way a Bowden was supposed to live. My dad always told me to represent the Bowden name in a respectful manner.

Bobby Bowden

Our office received a phone call yesterday from an upset woman.  She was calling to complain about the behavior of one of our employees who was driving one of our company vans.  She wrote down the phone number and van number, and she called in to voice her complaint.

 

When I received the news, I naturally called my employee to get his side of the story.  After listening to his story, I spoke with him about the importance of representing our company well.  After all, he was driving around in a mobile billboard – a van with our company’s logo plastered in huge letters across the side of his van.

We all are representing something or someone.

I represent the company I work for.  Sometimes people see this on the logo stitched on my coat.  Sometimes they see it as a result of seeing my business card.

I represent my college.  My co-workers know where I went to college, and I want to make sure I am doing my best to represent my school well.

I represent my family and my family name.  I want the Stolpe family name to stand for something good – to represent care, concern, and action.  Whenever I take action (or fail to take action) people are forming their opinion about me and my family.

And finally, I represent my faith.  My prayer every morning is this:  “Lord, help me to represent you well today.”  People will form their opinion about my faith, my God and my Savior based on my words and my actions.  Therefore, it is important for me to speak and act well.

Paul had this to say to the people of Colossi:

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.  Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

To help us out in making this a reality in our lives, here are five ways to represent well:

5 Ways To Represent Well

  1. Always be thinking of those you represent.  This may take some practice and a lot of discipline.  If you keep this at the forefront of your mind, you will be less likely to say or do something you regret, and you will be more likely to represent well.
  2. Ask a few people to keep you in check.  It helps to have people in your life who know the real you.  These are people who can call you out when you say or do something dumb.  They can keep you accountable to keeping your motives pure.  Knowing I have people in my life who will ask me how I’m doing helps me represent well.
  3. Look in the mirror.  It’s important to self regulate and self evaluate yourself.  You have to be honest with yourself.  Are your actions, words, and motives pure?  You know the truth.  By looking in the mirror, you will do a better job representing well.
  4. Ask yourself if your Grandma would approve of your words and actions.  What would your Grandma say about your words and your actions?  This may cause you to err on the side of caution, but it will help you represent yourself and others well.
  5. Apologize when necessary.  We all mess up.  The best way to represent when we mess up is to apologize – to come clean and to admit our failings.  Believe it or not, an apology goes a long way to representing well.

Our actions and words have consequences.  At the office today, I will have to deal with the phone call our office received yesterday.  I know my team member will think differently before he acts in the future, and I think I learned a thing or two through this experience as well.

Represent well!

Who and what are you representing?  How do you represent well?  Share your thoughts in the comments.