What Keeps Your Love Strong in Tough Times?

For those of you who are new to Life Compass, I write on Spirituality, Faith and Ethics every Sunday.  Here’s why.

Have you ever noticed how tough situations can sometimes make or break a person or couple?

Why is it that in times of crisis, some people just barely hang-on and survive, while others grow and thrive?  Or why some couples come closer together, while others are driven apart?

My wife and I went out for dinner on Thursday night to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  I know, we were a few days early! But it worked best for our family’s schedule.  We had a great dinner out and enjoyed a show called “Grand Rapids’ Got Talent,” which is our [Read more…]

What if You Had to Give Your “State of the Union” Address?

Ready to give your State of the Union address?

Ready to give your State of the Union address?

Tonight, President Barack Obama delivers his first official State of the Union Address to the Congress and to the American people.

Traditionally, presidents give a report on how things are going in America, and what they plan to do to bring changes and make improvements.

This morning, I had a scary thought:  What if I had to go on TV before millions of people and give a report on the state of my union?  Such a report would encompass an update on my marriage, our finances, our kids, my career, etc.

If I had to do that, I know I’d be more intentional about how I lived my life.  What about you?

I have some friends who go away for a weekend each year and do something similar (without having to go on TV in front of millions of people).  They call it an annual review and planning weekend. They take time to review how their marriage and family life is going.  They identify some changes that need to be made and set some goals and action steps to help achieve them make the change.

My wife and I aren’t able to get away for a weekend right now, but over the last few weeks we have begun to take stock of where we’re at, and we set some seasonal goals – things we want to see happen over the next few months – and action steps.

We’ve already begun to implement some of the changes we wanted to make.  One was a simple change in our evening routine at home, and we’ve already noticed the difference.

What about you? Are you ready to get up in front of the nation to report on the state of your union?  What do you do to check-in with your spouse on how things are going in your marriage and life?

You might also like:
The annual life review and planning weekend
The three big questions for a frantic family
How do you define success?

Inspired Family Lives Their Dream – Integrating Life and Work

Beerhorst Family Wonder Wagon - Grand Rapids Artprize

Beerhorst Family Wonder Wagon - ArtPrize

My city, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is abuzz with all the art that is on display in the downtown area as part of the world’s largest ArtPrize, which runs from September 23 – October 10, 2009.

On Sunday, I took my family downtown to see some of the art.  We couldn’t see it all, as there are over 1,000 art entries:  sculptures, paintings, stabiles, mobiles, etc.

Some are in buildings and some are on buildings.  Some are outside in parks, promenades and sidewalks.  Some are in the river and on bridges.  Some are fixed or static.  Others move or involve audio, video or performance arts.

Of all the great pieces of art, and artists, we were especially impressed by the entry called Beerhorst Family Wonder Wagon, created by the Rick Beerhorst Family and their friends.

The Wonder Wagon isn’t just art to look at, it is art to feel, hear, and experience through several different stations they’ve set up like a gypsy encampment.  During ArtPrize, the family is at the Wonder Wagon encampment every day, creating the hands-on experience for the visitors.

The Beerhorsts are a family of eight.  They live very simply near downtown Grand Rapids on an urban homestead, where they grow much of their own food (and even raise chickens).  They have no car or tv.  Their six children, ages 5-17, don’t attend school, but gain a rich education in the context of their family environment and experience.

They all work together creating various forms of art, which they sell to sustain themselves, in their studio located in the carriage house behind their home.

What impressed me about their ArtPrize entry is that it involved the entire family.  And this, really, is how they live their lives.  Everyone is involved.  Everyone creates.  Everyone produces.  Everyone contributes.

This is the lifestyle the family has aspired to live, and they seem to do it very well.  They have successfully integrated their life and work.

The idea of “integrating life and work” means different things to different people.  But it begins with a desire, and then a plan, to design the life you want to live.

Do you have dreams of changing your life, achieving greater work-life balance, or creating more freedom and fulfillment in your life and work?  If so, what steps are you taking to create that life you want?

Or if you’re not taking any steps to create your dream life, what’s keeping you for getting started?  Please share your thoughts and comments here, or contact me directly.  I’d be glad to help.

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family – Part 4

Don't Let This Happen to You!

Don't Let This Happen to You!

Welcome back to Life Compass, where we’re talking about Patrick Lencioni’s new book, entitled: The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family:  A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life.

Over the last few days we’ve covered Question #1: “What makes your family unique?” and Question #2:  What is your family’s top priority rallying cry right now?

Today we conclude with Question #3:  How are We Going to Talk About and Use The Answers to These Questions? Perhaps another way to put it is this:  “So What?”

So now you’ve thought about what makes your family unique, and you’ve identified the major theme that becomes your rallying cry for the next season of life…now what?  How are you going to be any different tomorrow than you were yesterday?

Lencioni says that what’s needed now is some review, accountability, and some kind of visual aid.  He suggests that the leaders of the family plan a time to get together weekly to discuss the progress they’re making.  It could be as simple as a five minute meeting or as special as a date night. He explains:

It is one thing to know what makes your family unique and what needs to be rallied around right now, it is another to put them to use as a guide for living with purpose and clarity.  Another key to making it work is keeping it in front of you, and having regular discussions about it.  This requires a visual of some kind, nothing overly formal, but something that can be easily referenced and accessible.  A single page with a family’s values and strategy, and with its top priority and corresponding categories, will suffice.  Sticking it up on the refrigerator or kitchen whiteboard will go a long way to keeping the family anchored.

Well, that’s it.  Pretty simple, eh?  These three simple, yet big,questions should help all families live with more purpose, clarity and meaning.

Lencioni’s final challenge:

If we just take a little bit of time to explicitly decide what we stand for, what we want, and how we’re going to go about succeeding as a family, I truly believe we’ll be more successful as families.  The most important organization in your life deserves that, doesn’t it?

Indeed it does!

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family – Part 3

The Three Big Questions of a Frantic Family

Welcome back to Life Compass, where we’re talking about Patrick Lencioni’s new book, entitled: The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family:  A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life.

In my last post we covered Question #1: “What makes your family unique?”.  In this post I’ll cover Question #2:  What is your family’s top priority rallying cry right now?

How often have you come to the end of a week, month, season or year and you felt frustrated that you didn’t accomplish some of your most important goals?  It’s not that you weren’t busy during that period…you were just busy doing a lot of other things.

Lencioni suggests that families can eliminate this frustration by knowing what issue or goal sits at the top of their list of priorities in the current time period (he suggests a time frame of two to six months).

Without a top priority, or rallying cry, everything seems equally important and we spread our time and energy across too many worthy but impossible challenges.  At the end of the day (or the week, month or year) we are often left disappointed that the biggest things didn’t get accomplished.

How do you determine your family’s rallying cry?  Lencioni says you need to ask “what is it that we must accomplish by the end of this year (or whatever period) in order to say that it was a productive time for our family?”  Answers will vary greatly from family to family, and from period to period.

For instance, one family’s rallying cry might be to help dad through a difficult career change, while the family next door might be focused on the discipline of their twin boys.  And that same family might decide that their top priority a few months later is to spend more time together as a family, while the neighbors’ might be to cut expenses.

I think it is important to remember here that there is no good or bad answer, or right and wrong answer.  It’s just about figuring out what matters most to your family.  And once that’s done, you have to identify the four or five big things that need to happen in order for the top priority to be accomplished.

Going back to the previous example, in order to help dad through the career change, the family will need to ensure that dad gives up some of his volunteer activities at school for a few months, that the family cuts back on some expenses that are creating financial pressure, that dad enlists the help of a career counselor and that mom and dad have a weekly date to discuss options and progress.  And while this might seem like a goal for the dad alone, it is something that everyone in the family needs to find a way in which to contribute because it affects the entire family. After all, it’s the rallying cry for the family, and nothing else is more important.

“Finally,” Lencioni says, “a family has to recognize that in addition to the rallying cry and the four or five things that accompany it, there are daily responsibilities that need to happen to keep the family moving. Finances. Education.  Health.  Relationships.  Faith life.  These must be acknowledged too, because they do not go away.  However, they cannot become the sole purpose of the family, because every organization needs to know what it is doing to improve itself, not merely to survive.”

Is your family stuck in survival mode?  Give Lencioni’s suggestions here a try and let me know how it goes.  I believe your family can not only survive, but thrive.

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family – Part 2

The Three Big Questions of a Frantic FamilyIn my last post, I told you about Patrick Lencioni’s new book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family:  A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life.

In it, Lencioni shows families how to live with more purpose, clarity and meaning.  Of course, we’re all about that here at Life Compass too!  The Mrs. and I, with five kids, have definitely needed to strategically think through some things regarding our family life.

Lencioni says families need to ask three big questions in order to restore more sanity to their lives.  The first one is this:  What makes your family unique? It sounds a bit like Pillar #3 from my Ten Pillars of Lifestyle Design:  Clarify Your Life Purpose.  Here’s his point: 

Every family is different, and every family needs to understand how it differs from the one next door.  Otherwise, we become generic and feel unnecessary pressure to be like the Jones’.

He explains that there are two basic ways that families differ: their values and strategies. These can be clarified by figuring out what two or three qualities are at the family’s core and what life experiences make it different.

How do you come up with family values?  Lencioni says a good way is “for parents to ask themselves what it is that they have in common at the deepest level, and what behavioral qualities are inviolable and non-negotiable for members of the family.  If you are a couple, a great way to go about this is to think about what values attracted the two of you to one another, what common qualities you shared that you both admired.”

A second part of uniqueness has to do with your family’s strategy.  He describes this as the big choices you’ve made in how you live your life.  For instance, does one of the parents stay home to be with the kids full-time?  Do you live near relatives?  Do you live below or near your means?  Are you fiscally conservative?  Do you have lots of family friends or just a few?  Ask yourselves which of the answers to these questions, and others differentiate you meaningfully from most other families.

Once you’ve determined your values and strategy, you’ve established a context for making big decisions that should guide your life.

Lencioni explains:

When your neighbor asks if you want to go in on the purchase of a condo at the lake, you can reflect on your values and strategy and easily determine if it makes sense.  When the coach of the baseball team asks if Johnny wants to play on the traveling little league team, you can ask yourself whether or not this is compatible with your family values.  And when your best friends invite you to spend the summer traveling in an R.V., you can decide if that it something that suits your family’s identity or not.  Sure, you will still be required to make a judgment, but doing so will be relatively easy in the context of who you are.

That’s it for Question #1 of The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: “What makes your family unique?”.  In my next post I’ll cover Question #2:  What is your family’s top priority rallying cry right now?