“The Circus McGurkus! The cream of the cream! The Circus McGurkus! The Circus Supreme! The Circus McGurkus! Colossal! Stupendous! Astounding! Fantastic! Terrific! Tremendous! ”Dr. Seuss (If I Ran The Circus)
As I was trying to collect my thoughts for a blog post tonight, I was interrupted multiple times by our puppy, Virgil. First he wanted to go outside. Then he insisted on being chased around the house in an effort to retrieve the tissue he stole from the pantry. And just when I sat down to begin writing, I knocked over a full glass of water that was hidden behind my laptop. This led to another frenzy of moving things off the table and finding towels to dry off the water.
(No use crying over spilled water. Right?)
This comes after a workday in which my schedule was completely derailed by a customer demand and the follow-up actions required to address the situation.
Sometimes life can seem pretty crazy – circus-like even. Life can become chaotic, unpredictable, and unnerving.
Some of us may naturally thrive in a circus-like environment – like Dr. Seuss’ McGurkus. We like the excitement and adrenaline rush that comes with high-flying, fast-paced theatrics. We like adventure. We like the daring and crazy aspect of the whole experience.
Others of us prefer the predictable, more relaxed pace of routine. Some would call it boring, but we call it comforting.
I’m probably more like the second one. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I like the routine that comes with a disciplined life.
As a step back and think about it, there something to be said for both extremes. Perhaps, it might be better to find ourselves somewhere in the middle. Finding a place in life where we can feel appropriately comfortable while experiencing the stupendous seems like a great place to live.
If I ran the circus, I’d probably have gray hair from the high-flying adventures, but I’d probably have the most amazing stories to tell.
As I have worked towards reestablishing my writing routine, I think I’m rediscovering I might have more stories to tell thanks to the circus-like life I get to live every day.
(By the way, “If I Ran The Circus” was my favorite Dr. Seuss book as a child. I remember reading it repeatedly with my Dad. Thanks, Dad!)
“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”Willie Nelson
It’s easy to focus on the negative.
The problem with focusing on the negative for too long is that it leads to despair and hopelessness. An attitude of “This is wrong” and “That is wrong” and “This stinks” seems to perpetuate itself. It’s kind of like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh who always seemed to have a dark cloud hovering over him.
I don’t know about you, but this is not how I want to live. I want to look for the positive. I want to see the sun shining through the dark clouds. I want to be looking ahead with hope instead of looking behind in misery.
We each have the choice to make. Will I dwell in my negative circumstances? Or will I look for the good?
I’ve had several conversations recently in which I was venting or someone else was venting at me. At the end of the conversation, I asked “What was something good about today?” This question or something like this has helped me find positivity despite the negative circumstances or challenging situations I find myself. I’d encourage you to ask yourself that question as well.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”Desmond Tutu
I was talking with one of my brothers tonight on the way home from work. He and his family are going through some challenging times right now – times that seem hopeless in many ways. After talking about the situation for a little while, we eventually landed on a topic that was more “fun” – woodworking. My brother is becoming a master carpenter. He has been building some amazing cutting boards, furniture, and other wooden objects. Meanwhile, I built a couple of relatively simple cornhole goals this weekend. It was good to be distracted for a few minutes. Before hanging up the phone, we again returned to the more serious matters.
I get the sense that people have told my brother that God won’t give he and his family anything they can’t handle. My brother and I have both learned the untruth of this statement. There are times when we encounter things in our lives that we simply cannot handle on our own. We need God’s intervention. We need the help of friends and family. We need the prayers and words of encouragement of others. These are the things that provide real hope when things seem hopeless.
This fall was a tough time for me as I encountered significant challenge in my wife’s mental health. There were minutes, hours, and days when I felt exhausted and hopeless. There were certainly times when I could only rely on God to bring me hope and sustenance for my weary soul. It was in some of the darkest moments when I had to lean into the hope that God could work through the challenges we were experiencing at that time for good. While my wife was in the midst of her challenges and as she has experienced healing, we have seen God working upstream in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
As I pray for my brother and his family, I pray they would know this hope and they would see God’s provision of healing, rest, and sustenance.
Hope doesn’t mean everything will be easy or worked out with a perfect bow. For me, hope means I can trust God no matter what – even when the outcome maybe different that I envision.
What gives you hope when you experience hopelessness?
“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”Albert Schweitzer
Early Sunday morning, I woke up from a dream in which a friend of mine who is about 15 years older than me needed help getting out of a swimming pool. As I helped him get up on the edge of the pool, he expressed his embarrassment for needing my help. I explained to him that he had helped so many people over the course of his life, and it was okay to get a little help for himself right now.
This is when I woke up.
The dream wandered around in my thoughts as I tried to go back to sleep. Dreams can be weird. Are they really trying to give us messages or are they just the result of the sushi I ate the night before?
I’m an engineer, not a psychologist. In other words, I’m not sure I can fully answer that question.
The Bible clearly talks about dreams that were providing messages. Think of Joseph’s dreams in the book of Genesis. God clearly seemed to be speaking to him about his future leadership and role in saving his family.
So what can I learn from my crazy dream? After all, I know my friend is currently capable of climbing out of a swimming pool all by himself.
Maybe the dream is reminding me to be aware of others in need and to lend a helping hand when the opportunities present themselves.
Maybe the dream is reminding me that I need to accept the help of others. I have recently felt overburdened by the weight of several responsibilities I carry.
Maybe the dream is just telling me to be more careful in selecting my sushi next time.
Whatever the case may be, I think it’s never too much to help others, and it’s also important to ask for help and to accept the help of others.
“You go through life experiences. Each record captures a different turning point in my life.”Keith Urban
Last week, I had the privilege of talking to my mentee for our monthly GCC Mentor Connect Mentor-Mentee Check-In. For the second year in a row, I have been teamed up with a sophomore engineering student at Grove City College. Over the course of the academic year, we will meet five or six times (generally via Teams due to distance limitations). In these meetings, we spend time learning about and from each other. I help the student set goals for our time together. When we meet each month, we make sure measurable steps are being made to ensure achievement and overall learning from our shared experience. I also have the privilege of sharing from my own academic, vocational, and life experiences.
During our meeting last week, my mentee asked me for advice on how I might live my college years differently. I’m not sure this was the exact question as we were discussing both college and post-college plans and experiences. I suggested that finding away to record regular times of reflection. I explained that I have used different methods over the years to include this blog and my own journals. I encouraged her to find a method that works for her. It could be voice memos. It could be video recordings. It could even be letters sent to herself through the mail or email.
Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of making space for reflection.
I think it’s important to pair that advice with the advice of finding a way to record your reflections. When I record my reflections, it helps to solidify the lessons I’m learning through life. It provides a place for me to return to from time to time. When I look back at these recorded reflections, I can see God’s hand moving in my life – helping me to grow, teaching me lessons, and even carrying me when I just can’t seem to move forward myself.
Today, I want to challenge you to find a method that works for you to record your reflections. Buy a journal. Start a blog. Create your own video channel. Be creative. Try it out for a few days. If it works, stay with it. If it doesn’t work, explore another option.
“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”Thomas Paine
I think I’ve avoided reflection now for a while. I’ve too often made the excuse that I’m distracted by other responsibilities in my life. It’s not a completely invalid excuse. My responsibilities at work have ramped up over the past few years as I’m responsible for leading over 100 employees and generating over $85 million dollars of revenue a year (more this year). This year I’m the President of the Blue Bell Rotary Club. This has certainly added to my time commitments. This year, I’ve navigated some rough waters as my wife has struggled through mental health challenges (she’s amazing and is doing quite a bit better right now). And I’ve had other things going on as well.
When it comes to making time for reflection recently, here’s the truth: I’ve done a terrible job taking time to reflect. I’ve allowed my own exhaustion and perhaps my own fear to prevent me from prioritizing time for the real, deep reflection necessary for the growth for which I’m called and created.
After 51 years (I celebrated number 50 on Thursday, December 8th), I learned that life isn’t always going to be easy. There will be challenges. There will be failures. There will be a revealing of shortcomings. These are the facts.
I’ve also learned (and relearned again and again) that we can learn from our tough experiences, mistakes, and flaws. We can learn if we take time to reflect, to understand what is happening in our lives, to celebrate the victories, to mourn the losses, and to find areas of our lives in which we can STRETCH and experience new life and growth.
As I blog for the third day in a row, I’m realizing that these 17 minutes are important to give me a platform, a time, and a place to reflect.
That’s what I’ve got today.
“I’d like to tidy up the entire planet. I would go anywhere if there were something that needs tidying.”Maire Kondo
Over two years ago, we moved into our new house. Before we made this move, we did a lot of purging. We sold things. We gave away things. And we threw out things. At our last house, I had a large shed that contained a rather large work shop. I had a lot of indoor tools and outdoor tools. My wife would probably tell you that I had a lot of things I would never use. Needless to say, I condensed a lot of my tools as part of our downsizing efforts.
When we arrived at our new home, I set up a crude workshop in the basement for my indoor tools, and I relegated my outdoor tools to the garage where they eventually found their way to shelves and wall hangers. Many of my indoor tools have remained in boxes and bins. It can often be a challenge to find the exact tool I am looking for when the appropriate home project comes along.
Today, I made significant progress in changing this. I picked up some peg board at our local hardware store. I hung it up on the wall of my basement workshop. And I began organizing. Hammers, screwdrivers, levels, pliers, tape measures, and the like all found their way out of their boxes and bins and onto the wall of my workshop.
There is something satisfying in taking time to take stock of things and to put them in order.
In my post yesterday, I talked about taking 17 minutes a day to work towards a goal.
As we look towards our goals, it can be helpful to do some reflection and to get organized. Do you understand where you are now? Do you understand where you want to be when it comes to achieving your goal? Do you have a plan to get you from here to there?
As you contemplate your own goals, I encourage you to take some time for reflection. Ask yourself these questions: What is going well? What isn’t going so well? What do I need to keep doing? What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to do differently? What is something new I should be doing?
Next, spend some time organizing your thoughts. You may not know all the details yet, but I’m pretty sure you could set some SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) goals with meaningful action steps that will move you closer to achieving your goal.
Finally, take one step at a time. What is the one thing you should be doing TODAY to move you forward on your path to goal achievement? When we create goals – especially at the beginning of the year, it’s easy to start with a bunch of energy and enthusiasm. We have this unrealistic sense we can do it all RIGHT NOW! While these are great intentions, we would learn from the tortoise who took it slow and steady on his path to the finish line.
Well, my 17 minutes are up. It’s time to step away. Two days in a row though, and I’ll take it!
“Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.”Bill Russell
Imagine with me for a moment what you could accomplish if you took 17 minutes a day to focus on a single goal – if you used 17 minutes of action everyday to move you closer to a target.
Earlier this week, I was listening to The Jody Maberry Show. This is a podcast in which Jody Maberry shares his own insights and the insights of his guests to help people further develop themselves – as leaders, as creatives, as communicators, and as entrepreneurs. Several years ago, it was Jody who inspired me to begin my discipline of getting a minimum of 10,000 steps each and every day (today is day 1,693 days in a row for me).
In the episode I was listening to, Jody was interviewing Matt McWilliams about his upcoming book, Turning Your Passion Into Profits. For those who may not know Matt, he and I have been connected for a long time. I guest posted on his blog several years ago, and he has guest posted here. He wrote one of the quotes in the front of my first book, On Track – Life Lessons from the Track and Field. And if you look closely at the cover of my second book, Rooftop Reflections, you might notice that I am wearing a Matt McWilliams World Changer T-Shirt as I stand on the rooftop of a house in Guatemala. Matt left his pursuit of becoming a professional golfer to become an affiliate marketing guru. He has helped many, many gifted authors, leaders, and entrepreneurs as they have launched their products into the world.
Matt shared something in his interview with Jody that really stuck with me – and perhaps inspired me to get back to writing more regularly here at Jon Stolpe Stretched. Matt shared that he wrote his soon to be released book one day at a time giving himself 17 minutes a day to write. Matt wrote over 110,000 words during these 17 minutes slots that have now been reduced to just over 80,000 words in a ~300 page book.
I don’t know about you, but I have found myself using the excuse that I am way too busy to go after some of the goals that can be found on the perimeter of my day to day work and thoughts. One of the reasons for not writing more here over the past four plus years is that I am simply too busy.
In the past, writing on this blog has gave me a chance to STRETCH my brain, to explore my passions, to articulate ideas, and to encourage others. If I’m being honest (and I generally am always trying to be honest), I could probably benefit from using 17 minutes a day to write – just like this.
I don’t know what goals you’ve been putting off because you are too busy, too distracted, or just plain lazy. Maybe today is the day you stop making excuses. Maybe today is the day you begin to carve out 17 minutes a day to do something new, something different, something that changes you, something that changes the world.
I want to encourage you to take the next step along with me.
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.Carl Sandburg
It’s feels as though I need to start again.
Logging in again this morning, I see it’s been since November (2021) when I last posted on Reflections on Hardship. Where has the time gone? What happened to my discipline of writing almost daily and then at least weekly?
Life continues to happen. I have seen God move and work through some of the hardships which prompted those reflections. Sure, life has brought new hardships and challenges, but I remain confident that God cares for me – He loves me – He provides in ways I don’t always understand and in ways I often don’t appreciate.
Since November, I turned 50 (I know this is hard to believe). I celebrated Christmas with my family. I received a promotion at work. I traveled to Bonita Springs, Florida with Leanne to spend time with my in-laws. I have continued my daily discipline of 10,000 or more steps each and every day. And I’ve done many, many other things.
A couple of weeks ago while I was reading in the book of Deuteronomy, I was struck by the story of Moses who led the Israelites through the wilderness to the very edge of the Promised Land. Moses knew he would not have the privilege of leading God’s people into the Promised Land, yet he led with strength, energy, and a long-term vision for God’s people. Leadership can be challenging. There are days in which we lose hope. There are days in which we want to give up. And there are days in which we realize God has us in a leadership role for a specific season. In my job and in my role as a leader where I work, I have had to navigate significant organizational changes along with changes within my team. Despite my tendency to despise change, I have had to see the vision for the future despite the cloudiness of the present. I’ve had to remain positive and hopeful when it would seem easier to be negative and desperate. I was encouraged by this story of Moses to keep leading well.
I’ve also been witnessing significant changes in some of my family members. My Mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s is not getting easier. Her short term memory is getting worse and worse. My Dad has shared other details of Mom’s decline. It’s not easy to witness your parents as they age. Mom will turn 74 in early May. We don’t know the number of her days. Despite having confidence in her eternal destination, it’s hard to navigate how to be a son who lives 850 miles away. The writer of Psalms 90:12 reminds us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” As I witness my parents’ aging while I also see the growth of my own kids as they reach exciting milestones in their lives, I think God is teaching me to enjoy each day, to celebrate the good days, and to trust Him during the harder days. I want to honor God with my life. For me that starts with thanksgiving to God for each day.
God’s showing me that leadership isn’t a popularity contest. As a natural people pleaser, I want people on my team to like me. This isn’t always going to happen. Leaders make tough decisions. Leaders carry the blame even if not directly making decisions that impact team members. Leaders set the tone. Leaders put in the time. Leaders carry the burdens. These burdens are related to achieving business success, to ensuring customer satisfaction, to providing accountability for team member performance, and to the health and welfare of those we serve. I had a team member comment to me the other day that I looked stressed. I explained my struggle with sleep the night before which contributed the the bags under my eyes. As a leader, I’m learning again and again that I have more to learn.
Much of my energy and attention is going to my job right now as I seek to build my team for the next stages of our business. I will be spending a lot of time recruiting, interviewing, and planning. It’s exciting to envision the future of my team and the success we will have as we grow.
I’ve been preparing to take on the President’s role for the Rotary Club of Blue Bell. I am learning that delegation and building the right board will be essential for staying balanced and for making a difference as our club seeks to serve our community and our world.
I recently accepted a request to join my church’s leadership team. I’m excited to serve in this capacity at the church I’ve called home for over twenty years. I won’t go into detail now, but this recent event has taught me a lot about my pride, about humility, and about God’s timing.
My son, Isaac, is getting ready to graduate from Grove City College. Leanne and I are overjoyed at the man our son has become. We are praying for the right job for him as he enters this next stage of his life.
Leanne and I have navigated some health challenges since I last wrote. God is good! And it’s been a blessing to see God’s faithfulness and healing hand over these last months. We are excited about some upcoming things I may share more about in the future.
The blog world is different than when I started this thing so many years ago. How are you doing? What is God teaching you? What’s on your radar? I’d love to catch up with you and hear about you. Leave a comment.
“There is no success without hardship.”Sophocles
At one time or another, we all endure some time of hardship in our lives. I’m not hear to measure or compare hardships; I’m simply making an observation that from time to time life can seem really hard. I’m kind of in one of those seasons right now. Without going into detail, I feel like I have the weight of the world hanging on my shoulders. I wish I could simply snap my fingers and everything would be fixed, but it’s just not that easy. The hardship I’m enduring will take time to resolve.
Often, hardships take time to navigate and even slog through. Patience is required as we take one difficult step at a time.
When we find ourselves in times of hardship, I’ve found it helpful to do the following:
I don’t know what hardships you may be facing in your life right now. I pray you’d find hope, peace, courage, and wisdom to persevere. If you are like me, you desire the easier, more comfortable road. Perhaps, God’s working through the junk in our lives for a better purpose, a bright future. We may not understand fully the reasons for our hardship, but we do have a God who can work through and redeem the tough times in our lives.