Spiritual Journey

How A Bad Grade Made Me A Better Man

My latest book (which launches in 2 weeks!) has the unusual title, How to Fail as a Leader. Partly, that’s tongue in cheek—I want you to succeed, of course. But partly it’s about the power of learning from our failures. Many of the greatest learning moments in my life were right after I failed. Tweet This

sad man

For example, I have a vivid memory of sitting at my desk in my college dorm room, staring at a paper with my first truly bad grade at the end of a class. I was valedictorian of my high school and I planned to repeat those grades in college. Despite my diligence to play Axis & Allies (epic war board game) at least once a week, I somehow hadn’t gotten perfect grades.

I remember leaning forward in my chair, looking closely at the paper one more time, thinking, “What do I do now?” My dream for perfect college grades was over. Permanently. And I still had three and a half years to go. I had failed already.

Then I heard God’s voice in the quiet of my heart: “Why do you like yourself?”

My answer changed my life. In the pain of that moment, I realized that I had depended on being smart to like myself. And I used grades to validate that I was smart enough to be worth liking. In that moment I realized how dangerous and unhealthy it was to depend on perfect grades in order to like myself.

For the first time in my life, I released myself from the pressure of being perfect in school. Thankfully, I didn’t stop trying to do well in my classes. I even learned how to study better (not that I stopped playing board games).

Over the years I’ve come back to this question again and again, each time uncovering another aspect of my identity that needed adjustment. Failure has often been the catalyst.

And now I’m asking you: Why do you you like yourself?

In the game of life it’s a good idea to have a few early losses, which relieves you of the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated season. ~Bill Vaughan Tweet This

photo credit: Sad Man via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakHow A Bad Grade Made Me A Better Man

What Is Life Giving To You And What Is Merely Numbing?

A huge question was asked this past weekend at a dinner party. One of my good friends is exhausted from wrestling with multiple, lingering health issues in his family. Another friend asked him how he copes with the stress and frustration. He said that some of what he did was fun in the moment, but really wasn’t life giving. He specifically said was that what he was doing was merely numbing him from the difficulty of his life.

Happy Baby smaller

This all reminded me of another good friend, who just two days before this dinner, co-taught a workshop with me. He warned those leaders of the danger of the quick fix: the easy solution that didn’t actually solve the problem, but shifted the burden of the problem to someone else—creating another problem in the process.

Back at the dinner party, another friend asked the question: “So, instead of that numbing stuff, what could you do that would be life giving to you?”

Everyone at the table went silent for a moment. It was a big question and it invited a response from all of us. And we didn’t all have easy answers.

This might sound overly simplistic, but my goal is to figure out how to do more of what is life giving and do less of the other things. What’s hard knowing what is truly life giving—and what is merely numbing.

What are those people, places, and/or activities that fill your soul with deep gladness and sweet satisfaction? Don’t settle for merely fun. And don’t give the generic answers, like family or vacation. The more specific the better. My friend, in our discussion, realized that it wasn’t just time with friends that was his most life giving. He loved introducing great friends to each other—that group dinners with friends were even better. What is life giving can be very different from person to person, when you get specific enough.

Leaders, how full are the hearts of your people? Is their day-to-day work on their list of what’s life giving to them? If not, you’re probably not going to get remarkable results. And beware of trying to give life to your people through the methods that fill you. One of the keys to great leadership is learning the unique wiring of each of your people. We lead individuals, each wildly different, none of them “normal”.

Whatever it is, how could you do more life giving things in the next month? Next week?

And maybe the biggest question of all: What “numbing” activities are keeping you from doing more of the really life giving stuff? Tweet This How could you do less of those?

I don’t expect that I can solve this in a week or a month—or even a year. But year after year, I want to be able to say that I’m doing more life giving things and less of anything else.

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Scott WozniakWhat Is Life Giving To You And What Is Merely Numbing?

What Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

Every Christmas, my family loads up our minivan to drive thirteen hours to visit extended family. This year we almost made it. Around 1:00am, I exited the interstate to refuel our gas tank. The kids were still asleep, a minor miracle for my family. And as I drove away from the pump, the car died. Steering onto the shoulder next to the gas station, I rolled to a stop. Even with the help of a friendly stranger and jumper cables we couldn’t get the car started. It took until 3:30am to get our car to the shop and us to Grandpa’s house.

gas station at night

The repair shop confirmed what we feared: bad gas had damaged our engine. (I’m tempted to make a burrito joke here, but I’m way too mature for that.) I learned the hard way that the quality of your fuel determines the story of your journey. Tweet This

And a great life requires more than adding good ideas. We also have to filter out contaminants. Good fuel mixed with bad fuel equals bad fuel. I put the correct grade of petroleum in our gas tank, but the groundwater that snuck along drowned out the benefits of the good fuel.

What contaminants do you need to protect yourself from?

As an individual, it could be a TV show or music album with seductive lies or a bad relationship or junk food or even a particular place. As a leader, it might be your highly skilled, but bad attitude employee or even that toxic customer.

Maybe the key to your growth this year is not more good ideas, but stronger protections from the “groundwater” trying to get in.

photo credit: in the desert via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhat Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

Beautiful Outlaw

Recently, my family cut down a Christmas tree, put on Christmas music, and decorated our house. And as I get ready for the biggest holiday of the American calendar, I think about the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus.

I hope you’re enjoying your own traditions of getting ready for Christmas. And whatever they are, I’d like to recommend adding something to your list. Read the book Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. I give this book 6 stars out of 5. It’s a fun read, not very long and written by a master communicator.

Beautiful Outlaw book cover

And it may be the most significant book I have ever read (outside of the Bible itself). If you’re looking for theology principles, such as salvation by faith or the mystery of the Trinity, don’t read this book. There are many fine books for that. Beautiful Outlaw is about Jesus’ character qualities and values. Using stories from the gospel books of the Bible, Eldredge draws our attention to Jesus’ playfulness, his ferocity, his utter disregard for being proper, and even his cunning. Yes, Jesus was not only cunning himself, he even told a parable encouraging all of us to be more crafty.

It turns out that Jesus wasn’t a somber, stereotypical holy man, but someone much more beautiful and more unexpected. Tweet This

I have read a lot of books about Jesus. I have even taught about Jesus a lot. More importantly, I have had a personal relationship with Jesus for decades. And with all that in mind, this book changed how I see Jesus. When I finished this book, I understood and loved Him more than I have ever before.

One way you could make this the best Christmas of your life is to get to know the person behind it all better.

AMAZON LINK TO THE BOOK: Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus

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Scott WozniakBeautiful Outlaw

What I Do on A Life Planning Retreat

I’m in the middle of my life purpose/planning retreat. If I went home now it would have been worth it. And I have one more day left. When I posted about why to get away and work on a life plan, I promised to share more on what I do when I’m on a retreat. So let’s get practical and tactical.

It all starts with why. If you don’t know your “why” then spend all your time on that. Years ago, I worked with a life coach to create a life purpose statement and some core values. I read those statements all the time. It fires me up—I really care about those ideas. And it helps me say no—if an opportunity I have isn’t aligned with them then I won’t pursue it, no matter how cool it is.

I don’t just read the statement. I ask myself:

  • How well did I live these out last year?
  • What could I do next year that would make me at least one step closer to living them out fully?

After grounding myself in my why, I look at who. Before anything else gets planned, I evaluate my relationship with God and the state of my heart. And then I think about my marriage, then my kids, then family and friends. I ask questions like:

  • What character quality does God want me to work on (there is almost always just one trait He’s calling me to work on)?
  • What kind of man have I been when I’m all alone?
  • How is my relationship with my wife? How can I love and serve her better?
  • How is my relationship with each of my kids?  How can I love and serve each better?
  • What kind of friend have I been?

Finally, I work on what. I look at the professional options I have. I ask:

  • What projects could I pursue?
  • What would success look like?
  • What do I want to do less of next year?
  • What do I want to do more of next year?

When I’m done with all of this, I have a long list of ideas—way too long. There’s no way I can do everything there. (I’ve tried that a few times, never worked.) That’s okay. Phase one is listing out options, not making final decisions. Now it’s time to whittle down the list to the handful of things—sometimes only one for each area of my life—that I will actually do next year. Questions I use to help with that:

  • If I could only get one thing done, what would it be? What’s most important?
  • How much time and effort would each project take?
  • What does God want me to focus on? (I ask Him and listen.)
  • Who can I collaborate with on these ideas?
  • What has time limits on it? (Example: choosing to delay showing up as a father could cause me to miss their childhood.)
  • What most aligns with my life purpose and values?

thinker by rodin

Let me offer one last encouragement. Don’t wait until you have all this perfect to sit down and work on your life plan. What I’m describing is a process I’ve worked on every year since 2002. It didn’t always look like this. And your retreat doesn’t have to be this intense to be worth doing.

In fact, I think finding life purpose is like sculpture carving. Bit by bit, you go from raw rock to clear image. Tweet This I started off with a raw chunk of material, no idea what I wanted to do or why. One hammer strike at a time, I’ve knocked off a piece that doesn’t belong. Bit by bit, I get more clear on what I’m making. In the early days I just knocked off big pieces, trying to get to the general shape of a man. Finding arms and legs in the rough stone was a big challenge for a long time. These days I’m able to work on making the fingers clear. But that’s only possible because I started with the basics years ago.

You don’t have to be in the same spot on the journey as I am to have a productive retreat. It won’t be perfect the first time, or even the tenth time. But each time you work at it, your life will become more clear. Each time you’ll become a better version of yourself.

photo credit: He never stops thinking via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakWhat I Do on A Life Planning Retreat
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Find Your Passion For WHY, Not WHAT

The prevailing wisdom these days is, “Follow your passion. Do only what you really love doing.”

I’ve given this advice to others more than once. Finding your passion matters.  But some people misunderstand this to mean that you shouldn’t have to do anything that isn’t your passion. I know because at one point I thought that, too.

But even those at the top of their fields, those with enough money to hire teams of assistants to handle all the things they don’t want to be bothered with—even these people spend the minority of their time on the activities they love.

Rock stars and actors don’t perform all day long. The world’s best musicians and artists say that one a solid 90 minute block of deep practice makes for a good day. Billionaires successfully complete business deals only once in a long while and the best mothers often spend as much time shopping and carpooling as storytelling and cuddling.

Yes, it helps to know what you love to do. But if you have no tolerance for the necessary tasks that lie outside your sweet spot, you’re in for some serious disappointment. If loving what you do is all that drives you, then you will only enjoy part of your life. A passion for what you do won’t sustain you in your life. While it’s helpful to find what you’re passionate about, it’s crucial to find a “why” you’re passionate about. Tweet This

Find a cause that you care deeply about. Because if you are passionate about the purpose, then even unpleasant tasks become satisfying. Parenting is the first example that comes to mind for me. I have never found it pleasant to wake to a crying baby at 4am. Walking back and forth in the wee hours of the morning with a crying child isn’t on my list of activities I love. But my passion for my kids—my “why”—was enough to sustain me through many a sleepless night.

I don’t love back and forth meeting scheduling. I don’t love budget reviews or waiting in the airport terminals. But I do love the relationships and influence that tasks like those allow me to have. In their own way, they are a part of my purpose.

Don’t just settle for finding what you want to do. Figure out why.

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Scott WozniakFind Your Passion For WHY, Not WHAT

How to Grow Your Character by Running A Race

I just signed up for the Savage Race. It’s one of those ridiculous mud runs with obstacles. Yes, I know, I’m crazy. 🙂 If anyone wants to run with me in race on April 18th, let me know. I’d love for you to join our team.
The Savage Race isn’t for everyone. My wife isn’t running because I married a wise woman. (One of us needed to have some caution.) However, while the Savage Race may or may not be your idea of a good experience, I think all Christians should consider signing up for an endurance event at least once in their life–maybe several times. If not a mud run, then a 1/2 marathon or long distance cycling event or any of the many other options.
I know, that’s a pretty bold statement–and I’m pretty cautious about making “everyone should” statements. And there are always situations where this won’t be true. For example, anyone with a physical disability probably doesn’t need extra training in endurance. They could probably teach the rest of us all about endurance. But for those with don’t deal with something like that day after day, training for and completing an endurance event might be one of the best ways to grow as a Christian.
Let me be very clear, I’m not suggesting this for the physical benefits. Sure, it will be good for your body to do long runs or rides. But the mental and emotional work required to complete a long, grueling experience is far more valuable–and longer lasting–than a better body.
Keep in mind that I’ve never enjoyed distance exercise. I always chose sprints or sports (when I bothered to exercise). I’m saying this as someone who is doing what is unnatural me–and growing tremendously because of it.
As you train for the endurance event, each exercise session gives you practice choosing to do uncomfortable things in hopes of a long-term reward. Each day your sore muscles complain, but you exercise anyway, strengthens your ability to make difficult choices in other areas of your life.
See, at the heart of Christian maturity is perseverance. If you want to be more godly, improve your ability to endure.
Hebrews 12.1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
James 1.2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Romans 5.3-4
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
There are a lot of verses like this, but I think you get the point.
Endurance training for you body can improve your emotional endurance, too. You don’t have to wait around for real life troubles to practice perseverance. You can grow that aspect of your character on purpose. You can increase your endurance so you’re ready when a hard relationship moment happens. Besides, having more physical energy makes all this easier, too!
What is your way of increasing your endurance ability this year? If you don’t have one planned yet, maybe you should come run with me! 🙂 But whatever you do, don’t just sit around and wait for endurance to come to you–go get it.

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Scott WozniakHow to Grow Your Character by Running A Race