Are You Counting Down Or Counting Up?

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“Tone is the hardest part of saying no.”    ― Jonathan Price, Put That in Writing

You gotta say NO to some things in order to say YES to other things. It’s just a slightly more clever way to express the truth of setting priorities.

Some priorities are easy. God, then family. Well, it’s easy mentally, but it’s more challenging in reality sometimes. Saying God is first – where He deserves and demands to be – is different than actually putting God first.

Matthew 6:33
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 10:38-39
“And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Matthew 22:37-40
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Exodus 20:3
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”

Putting God first isn’t politically correct, but putting family first often is. That’s always seemed odd to me. Not that I don’t love my family, but my family – nobody’s family – is nearly as powerful, as helpful, as worthy…as God. If you’re gonna come in second only to God, that seems a pretty lofty position.

Family is important, but we often make declarations we don’t back up with our actions. Like Walter White on Breaking Bad, we can often declare we’re doing it for our family, but the thing we do damages our family. Self-deception is easy. Facing reality, especially when it’s contrary to what we most want to believe, is hard.

If setting priorities were easy then there’d be no books, articles, podcasts, seminars, or courses on time management. Time management advice is ridiculously basic. Create a to-do list, prioritize things, establish deadlines or time frames to get the thing done, avoid distractions and establish a routine. Paypal me $1,000 and consider yourself trained in time management.

The hard part is establishing the priorities – figuring out what’s most important. Maybe avoiding distractions is hard, too. But nothing is as difficult as figuring out what matters most right now. God matters. Family, too. Yet, when my tire blows out – a stupid tire becomes the priority. Yes, it’s a very brief – momentary – priority, but nothing else much matters until I get that tire replaced. It doesn’t mean God takes a back seat. Or that my wife no longer matters.

If a blown tire can disrupt my overarching life priorities, then it’s easy for me to understand how hard it may be to figure out other things that take up my time. And it may be time I no longer need to devote to a thing. Maybe it’s time to say, “No.”

Flow. Zone. Element.

Terms synonymous with that place where our natural aptitude and what we most love intersect. A third point of intersection is usually in play, too – success. I don’t find any of these 3 easy to figure out. Let’s think about it.

What are you naturally good at? Finding out our natural aptitude seems like it’d be easy, but I’ve not found it easy at all. I suspect that may be a personal problem. 😉

Maybe it’s not the wisest way to view things, but for me, it’s easier to think about what I’m able to do easily. Mostly because I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean I’m good at it. It can be easy to do something poorly even if you enjoy it.

There’s a confusing situation whenever see somebody who is really good at something, but they end up saying, “No” to it. Enter Barry Sanders. R.E.M (the band). Enter whatever favorite story you have of somebody who quit doing something they were good at – maybe even great at. Something that was reasonably easy for them.

“I don’t know what I want.”

A common refrain.

“I know I don’t want this.”

A more common refrain.

It’s another way of looking at things from different directions. Like running toward something versus running away from something. Like counting down the minutes until we can stop versus counting up the day until we can start something.

This great resignation we’re seeing – where people have quit their jobs opting to find a different way of life – has perplexed experts (so there’s little wonder why I’m so puzzled by it). It seems people aren’t measuring job satisfaction or happiness by what they do on the job, but rather by how time off their job gives them to do other things. So it may be that employees aren’t quite as engaged as many employers want to believe. Most workers might be counting down the time – and days – until they can get off work to go do something else. Counting down the days until the weekend. Or until vacation. Or until 5 o’clock. Running away.

Folks are now anticipating the holiday season. People are counting down the days to being with family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Then Christmas. Then New Years. We used to mark our calendars with an X to count down the days. Now, we’re looking on our calendar app on our phone and looking forward to a date. The date when we don’t report to work. The date when our day off or the holiday begins. Running toward something.

You are what you do.

You do what you think about. At least, at first.

You keep thinking about it while you do it.

And you keep doing it. And keep doing it.

Because you want to do it.

Maybe because you want to do it ’cause you love it. Maybe because you enjoy it – whether it’s love or not.

Maybe because you’re good at and you rather like doing something you’re good at.

Is there a singular answer to all this? Not likely. We like what we like. We choose to do what we choose to do. And we’re all likely running from some things and toward other things. I don’t mean we’re hiding or running fearfully, although it’s possible we could be. Rather, I mean sometimes we have to quit something in order to begin something different – hopefully, something wiser and better!

Phil. 3:13 “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead…”

The Apostle Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus, had grown up a devout Jew taught by the greatest rabbis of the day. Well educated, ambitious, articulate, and highly esteemed, Saul gained governmental authority to persecute Christians because the ancient Jews saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. They rejected Him as the Savior and Messiah, largely because they misunderstood the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. They thought the Savior would arrive, establish an earthly, physical kingdom and all their problems would be solved. Instead, Christ came to establish a spiritual kingdom, the church, and He was not what they expected. Saul, being devout in his Jewish faith, fought hard against Christ and the Church Jesus had established.

Then something happened. Saul, on his way to Damascus, to persecute more Christians was blinded on the road. You can read it for yourself in Acts 9. Saul was converted and became a Christian when he was baptized so his sins could be forgiven (Acts 9:18). From that moment forward he put behind him his prior prejudices and beliefs against Christ and the church. As an Apostle he was now willingly subject to the scorn, ridiculous and persecution as a Christian. He didn’t run from his past because he repeatedly acknowledged it, but he had clearly abandoned it as he pressed on to spread the gospel of Christ.

Leaving behind one thing and pressing toward something else is what the Bible calls “repentance.” It’s a change of heart that results in changing behavior. Spiritually, it’s about leaving self-will behind and subjecting ourselves to God’s will instead. We can apply it to anything in our lives though. We can leave one job because we want to pursue a different one. We can end a friendship or relationship in lieu of better ones.

I’m counting up on things that matter most. I became a Christian in the summer of 1968 when I was baptized. Next year it’ll be 54 years. I married Rhonda in January 1978. Next year it’ll be 44 years. Those are the two most important milestones in my life and I’m not counting down, but up. They’re points of pride and good feelings of accomplishment.

I’m counting down on some things that also matter, but not as much as God and my marriage. I’m counting down the time when I can make some personal and professional moves. We’re being strategic and thoughtful as we architect our answer to the question, “What’s the very next step we need to take?” This much is certain, we’re going to have to let go of some things in order to grab other things. Go back and listen to the previous episode where Rhonda was thinning the herd of junk in our garage. Gotta get rid of some things so you can have something different – something better! In that case, it’s saying “good-bye” to clutter so you can embrace improved organization and cleaner spaces.

Figuring out what’s what — that seems to be the real key. Prioritizing on the fly may be the most useful skill in all this.

I’m getting clearer all the time on what I care most about. God and faith. Family. Professional pursuits that mean something. That’s pretty much it these days for me. The older I grow the more binary it becomes because it’s much clearer than ever before. I watch with curiosity as folks pursue this, that and the other…knowing that I only want to pursue THIS. I just no longer care about that, and the other. I once did, but those days are behind me.

I’m running hard and fast from any kind of boss activity. I didn’t always.

I’m running hard and fast from pleasing people who are always critical. Mostly, I always have, but I’m more intentional than ever these days.

I’m running hard and fast from people and circumstances that erode my spiritual strength and mental health. I should have learned to do this much, much sooner, but I’m sometimes a slow learner. 😉

I’m running toward people and circumstances that I know fuel my spiritual strength and mental fortitude. Again, something I should have done years ago with greater focus.

I’m running toward service and legacy. It was the genesis of this podcast – to document things that might be helpful. I’m disinterested in dying so people can say, “Well, he always had to be right.” Instead, I’m mostly concerned with folks saying, “He was helpful. He made a positive difference during a time when I needed it most.”

I’m running toward fixing my weaknesses so they’re less problematic and I’m running toward strengthening my strong points so I can leverage them more efficiently.

I have 3 verbs written on my whiteboard. They’ve been there for a very long time – may be so long they’d be hard to erase now. They represent what I want for myself and what I most want my content – 100% of it – to produce for anybody who pays attention to what I do!

Feel > Think > Do

Above those words, in really big letters I wrote the point of it all.

That’s my story today, Thursday, November 4, 2021. That’s also a wrap for episode 20 of season 2021. And I’m sticking to it. Until some new ideal outcome enters my world.

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