Practice Makes Permanent

For many of you that know me, you know that starting late 2001 I’ve been self-employed.  January of 2011, I took a job with a consulting / marketing firm in northeast Ohio as the Director of Technology Services.  Why you may ask?  Many, many reasons.

  • Money – Business had been slow the last couple years and cash flow wasn’t there.  It came down to a decision to keep doing what I was doing, but be broke, or get a steady paycheck.  I opted for that steady paycheck.
  • Opportunity – This was actually a big deciding factor.  I could stay on my own, trying to build a business with limited resources.  Or, I could join forces with this new company and have direct the technology side of the business with a team already in place (and added to over the last year).  I opted for the opportunity.
  • Camaraderie – When I was on my own, I had partners that I worked closely with, but I wasn’t with them every day.  We were all independent consultants and as such I believe we had separate goals with our business.  Some of us wanted to build something larger than ourselves, others were content with just making a wage.  This was probably the hardest reason for me to move on.  I miss working with those people as much as I do.  I still see a few, and I value that time with them, but it’s not as often as before.  I’m now at a company where I see my co-workers most every day, we all have the same goals in mind and are moving forward in the same direction.
  • Free time – This really is the main point of this post.  When I worked for myself, I felt like I never left work.  Weekends, evenings, holidays, it was all non-billable time that I wasn’t making any money.  I felt like I should always be working.  Now, I have paid vacation, paid holidays.  One of the biggest attractors for me taking this new position was so that I could now be free to relax off hours.  Well, that’s a bigger struggle than I realized.  Let me explain.

Letting go of work

Here I sit, using up the last bit of my vacation that I had left over this year.  Yes I’m able to sleep in. I’m able to spend time with my wife and children.  We are able to prepare and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas.  And all the while, I’m earning a paycheck.

So, why can’t I relax?  Why do I feel like I need to be working and that I’m not earning any money.  I see this vacation time as lost income, since that is what it was when I would take time off before.  I stress over spending money, since I feel we will have less of it now since I didn’t work this week.  I feel a bit guilty to my co-workers and my company that I’m not spending time working over the week.  In essence I’m driving myself and my wife nuts.

Practice makes permanent

Here’s where I think I went wrong.  For almost a decade I trained myself that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning.  If I wasn’t earning, I wasn’t billing.  If I wasn’t billing, I wasn’t receiving any money.  If I didn’t receive any money, I was broke.  For all that time, any time off was missed opportunity for income. 

I’ve learned over the years that the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” is actually incorrect.  How it really goes is, “Practice makes permanent.”  That’s nothing new so I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really hits home at this time of year especially when there is more time off and less work being done (and usually more bills to pay).  I practiced for 10 years to always be on the job.  Now that I don’t have to be, I’m finding that all that practice worked, it made that mentality permanent.

Retraining

Well what to do to fix my misguided programming:

  • First, realize what the problem is.  This is usually the first step to everything it seems…admit there is a problem, well there I’ve done it.
  • Next, determine the path I want to follow.  How do I want to be retrained?  What does the retrained me look like?  Well in this instance, I want to look forward to vacation and time off as a positive, as a reward for hard work.  Now I know how I want to react in the future.
  • Finally, the hard part.  Practice.  Practice at relaxing, practicing at letting work go for the holiday and enjoy the time off.  This won’t be easy.  This is exactly what the problem is now, but I must practice.  The good people at Lifehack (Lifehack in general is a very good resource) have a nice post on some steps to make new habits stick.  18 Habits to make new habits stick.  You can find tons more out there, just do a search on something like “30 days to a new habit” and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
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“Occupy Charity” at Christmas (and all year)

One of my favorite modern Christmas stories occurred a few years back.  I attend a fairly large church that can average 3-5 thousand over 4 services on a weekend in a relatively affluent community.  Well as expected, Christmas eve was crowded.  At the end of the service our pastor told us a story and made a call to action. 

The church sponsored an orphanage in the Ukraine.  If I recall the details properly, the orphanage is housed in a fairly large building and was important to the many homeless children in the community.  Over the years we as a church had helped with many of their needs and had even traveled to assist them with different things.  Well this Christmas time, they had a special need.  It seems, that during that particular year they had been going through an unusually cold winter, many days already in December already with below 0 temperatures and with the heart of winter still to come. This home provided the necessary shelter and food for many of the young children in the area that without a home like this, would likely starve or freeze during these cold months.  This home literally made the difference between life and death for many.

Well as so happened the boiler went out in this building, leaving it with no heat.  This would be disastrous for the very people that depended on this life saving home.  The operators of the home contacted their partners at our church and humbly asked for assistance to get heat restored.  The repairs that would be needed would require about $10,000, money they just did not have.  Without them, they would be forced to close their doors.  They asked if there was anything we could do to help them with even a portion of the money required to do repairs.

Jump back to northeast Ohio, on that Christmas eve, where we all had cozy, warm homes to return too, looking forward to Christmas morning.  Our pastor asked that we take up a special offering, of which 100% of the funds would be delivered to this home for the necessary repairs.  We made our offering and went back to our warm homes. 

A few weeks later during our normal weekend services, our pastor made a special announcement and wanted to let us know the outcome of this special offering.  As a church family, we had raised over $50,000 for this home, which would not only cover the needed repairs, but would allow for necessary upgrades and enhancements and operating expenses that would improve the ability of the home to provide for those in need.  What an unexpected blessing this was and how truly this changed the lives of many.

Changing Lives one day at a time

Our small offering, while not a great individually great sacrifice, combined to make the difference between life and death for many.  It allowed those children in the Ukraine another day of life and provisions that they would not have had otherwise. 

Another great story I love to tell, is how more local and affects many of my neighbors and friends.  Every year at the end of the football season, we play our rivals for the Blue Cup.  Unfortunately, for too long, our team has not brought the Blue Cup home.  The last two years during the weeks leading up the game, we also are preparing for another competition, the prize of which is the Blue Ladle.  What is this?  Well both schools booster organizations hold a food drive at the schools.  Students are encouraged to bring in a few canned or boxed goods.  This year for the second year in a row, we’ve won the Blue Ladle with over five truckloads of food going to our local food cupboard!

While we love to win the Blue Ladle, the most important part of the story comes next.  To help unload the food, we enlisted a handful of football players to help (five truckloads of food is a lot for us old men!).  After we unloaded we had the operators talk with these young men about their operation and how lives are changed because of what they just did.  If you watched these young men as they listened, you could see that they got it, they realized that football is just a game, played on the field, but it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  What they won by playing for the Blue Ladle, was not just a large blue ladle (yes their really is one), but the knowledge that they changed someone’s life.  They helped someone have some food that may have been difficult to come by.  This is what it is all about.  Changing lives, one day at a time, making an eternal difference in their own and the recipients of their charity.

That is what charity is about, it is not about taking from one (the well-off) and giving to another (the not-so-well off), it is about giving of yourself, giving a piece of your own heart and soul and sharing that with someone else that has need.  What is beautiful about that is that is not a zero-sum game.  When you take from the one to give to another, you simply move wealth around, but when you give of yourself, out of charity to those in need, you not only help those in need by providing them something they can’t provide for themselves, but you also enrich yourself.  I’m not suggesting that by giving a dollar you’ll be returned two, but giving of yourself enriches you in so many ways that once you’ve experienced the gift of giving, you’ll want to keep on giving!  Try it, you’ll see.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, what I see today, in our fast-paced, self-centered culture is a lack of true charity.  Oh we can say that by paying our taxes and asking the well to do to pay “their fair share” (whatever that means) we can provide a kind of charity, all that really does is move wealth from one to another.  We can “Occupy Whatever” and say that capitalism is the root of all evil and is the problem that plagues our society.  But what most forget is that they have all they need to provide charity to those that lack.  How so you may ask? 

Do you see someone who doesn’t have enough to eat?  Give them food.
Do you see someone without a home?  Offer them your couch.
Do you see someone freezing in the winter?  Give them a coat.
Do you see someone without a job and willing to work?  Give them work.
Do you see someone sad and depressed this holiday season?  Give them a kind word and help them smile.

Don’t miss the point of charity.  Not to enrich others at the expense of some, but to enrich all through the gift of giving.  This Christmas season, give to those in need, of yourself and watch the wealth and good will spread far faster than any other means.