Glancing back, charging ahead

If you know me (or read this blog), then you know that I'm not much for new year's resolutions.  My feeling is, if you want to make a positive change in your life, then just do it.  Don't wait for a particular date, a specific birthday, or a traumatic life event.  Lost your groove?  Stop whining about it and go get it back, or else accept that you now live a grooveless existence and find the peace in that.  Feeling bad about your thighs?  Go for a walk, hit the gym, or go buy some sweatpants.  Want more adventure in your life?  Ask a Bostonian for directions from Cambridge to Roxbury.  Let's not pretend that there's something magical about the middle of winter that makes us all more likely to stop, start, quit, join, lose, or gain.  There's no Fountain of Self-Improvement that only gushes at midnight, January 1.

That said, there is something about this time of year that makes me stop and take stock of my life.  Maybe it's wrapping up budget season that makes me want to think about three-year goals.  Maybe it's my late-December birthday that adds a double whammy to the turning of the year, making me listen more carefully to the clock ticking away my hours on earth.  Maybe it's just that it's too cold to go outside and the last week of the football season is really lame.  Whatever the reason, I like to take a few minutes to stop and think about the year that has passed and the year to come.

This year had some amazing moments:
  • Visiting a high school friend whom I hadn't seen for 25 years and having him show me and my family around the thousand-year-old French village where he lived while his 4-year-old schooled me in French.
  • Going for a jog around Buckingham palace, then drinking a pint of English bitter in a local pub.
  • Looking out at Paris from the top of Notre Dame.
  • Skiing the back bowls of Vail with my son and reveling in the beauty of God's creation on every run (God loves the pow)
  • Exploring Bend, OR, with my dad and brother and learning that the best beer comes from the back of a gas station convenience store.
  • Seeing my daughter prepare to speak at Denver Comic-Con about the short movie she made.
  • Listening to my wife play her newest songs for me, before anyone else gets to hear them on her new CD.
  • Publishing my book after ten years of writing, editing, and sharing it with friends and family, then actually selling 40 or 50 copies.
  • Joining my family in blessing and bringing joy to friends and strangers alike, wherever the Spirit led us.  There are moments throughout the year when I got to watch my wife do her magical blessing/gift-giving thing, but the most precious memories are when we all did it together, whether it was packing backpacks full of school supplies for kids in our community or stripping every remaining tag off of the local Giving Tree this Christmas. 
There were some challenging moments as well:
  • The trip to the emergency room after I shredded my elbow on my first mountain bike ride of the year ("Woo-hoo!!!  Ow, ow, ow...")
  • Working through mysterious and not-so-mysterious health issues and wondering why I chose this year to try out that new high deductible plan
  • Raising teenagers.  Remembering what it was like to be a teenager, and then realizing that my dad actually was right most of the time. Then sending my son outside to run laps around the house until he could get his body under control.
  • Trying to figure out how to keep a team together, motivated, and away from each other's throats while helping a company grow faster than it's every grown before.
Looking at this list, there are a few things that I notice that I want to carry into 2015, as well as a few things that I want to leave behind.

1. It's all about the stories we tell.
Life isn't about things.  It's about stories.  I will never tell a story about my car or a suit that I bought (except about how much I look like a trained bear when I wear it).  I'll never regale my friends with a scintillating tale of how big my house is.  I will tell them about walking the twisty streets of Ile de la Cite and having my first full conversation in French with a crepe vendor, or about the family in Nemours whose 4-hour garage dinner outstripped the 3-hour extravaganza that we experienced with my friend John.  My son and I will wax philosophical about Shangri-La in Vail's China Bowl, not because we want you to be impressed that we've skied Vail, but because it is so magical to lose yourself in the trees, with nothing but the quiet shushing of your skis and the joyful shouts of your companions to keep you company.  These are the moments that we remember, that we share with others, that we want to relive over and over.  

I received some great advice from a pastor years ago.  He said, "Don't spend your money on things.  Spend it on people and on experiences.  This will make you rich."  He was right.  Whenever I make a major purchase, I ask myself, "Am I buying a thing or am I buying an experience?  What stories will we tell about this?"  My season ski pass isn't just a pass for outdoor activity: it's an investment in my relationship with my son.  The long drives to the mountains, the rides up on the lift, and the runs back down are creating memories we'll cherish for years.  The conversations we have as we sit in traffic would never happen any other time, because we'd never have that much time with nothing else to do. I'm receiving an enormous dividend on that investment, with a return that's measure in decades.

2. I need to care more about people and less about what they think.
Last week, I had a sublime moment on Facebook.  I was looking at pictures posted by my family and saw one from my dad's family, labeled, "The Hammer family, in their Christmas hats."  Sure enough, there were my aunt, uncle, cousins, and significant others, all wearing floppy sun hats.  It was a sweet, silly picture, and the caption made it perfect.  Sure enough, there they were, in hats.  I don't know if my aunt was going for the laugh with her perfectly factual caption, but knowing her dry sense of humor, I suspect that she was.  Whether she meant it or not, she made me laugh.  She also made me proud.  That picture said, "We're wearing our silly, practical hats, we're together, and we're happy about it.  And we wanted to share it with you."  They didn't care if you thought their hats were silly, they liked them.

When you spend most of your energy worrying about what others think, you become one of two things: a neurotic mess or a control freak.  In response to what you think others are thinking, you spend all of your energy either worrying about what's coming next and trying to change your behavior or trying to control your environment so that you can always put on the best face. The neurotic ones make themselves miserable, but I think that the control freaks are worse, because they make everyone miserable.  In both cases, you're trying to control something that's uncontrollable, because it doesn't belong to you.  You're trying to control other people's brains.

I need to be more like the Hammer family.  To be clear, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what impression I'm making.  In fact, my boss would say that I should probably be a bit more concerned about it, since I have a tendency to say what I think -- politely, mind you -- whether it's what people want to hear or not.  I've always been a big believer in truth.  But while I'm not concerned with falsely impressing people or putting on a show to make people like me, I do spend a lot of time letting people stress me out.  I worry about what they'll do tomorrow, or how someone is going to make my life difficult, and then I try to decide what I'll do about it.  In other words, I try to control them by anticipating them, then countering their moves with my own to try to get the best outcome.  It's well-intentioned: I'm not maneuvering for my own advantage, but for what I perceive to be the best outcome for my team, organization, and company, but it's exhausting.  I spend hours holding meetings in my head, arguing with people who aren't there, and rehearsing 20 different scenarios, most of which are unpleasant in some way, just to make sure I'm ready.  When the real conversation comes along, my first response is an annoyed, "This again?  Haven't we already talked about this 10 times?" before I realize that all of those other conversations only took place in my imagination.

The problem with this is that, after a while, these people stop being people to me: they've become positions in an argument, and annoying ones at that.  I'm less concerned about how they feel and how I can show them that I value them and more concerned about removing them as obstacles.  I hate being treated that way myself, but in some cases I've fallen into a trap and taken them down with me.  

This year, I need stop seeing people as problems to be solved.  This won't magically make the problems go away, but I need to separate the person from the problem.  One can be solved, the other needs to be loved.  Chances are, if I can get back to that, then the problems will get smaller, too, or at least we'll outnumber them when we work together to solve them.

3. I need to find more ways to have fun.
Having fun has always been a primary value in my life.  We only have so many seconds on this earth, and I want to hate as few of them as possible.  Unfortunately, an honest look at last year's memories points out one glaring truth: I didn't have much fun at work last year.  I worked hard, and my team and I accomplished things that I'm proud of, but not one of my fun memories came from the place where I spend the vast majority of my waking hours.  Some people are fine with that: work is what they do to pay for the things that they'd rather be doing.  I can't live like that, for one simple reason: that math doesn't work.  If more that half of my waking hours are spent at work, then there's no way I can pack enough fun into the remaining hours in a year to make the majority of the year fun if my work life isn't.  I need to inject some fun into every day or I'm falling behind.  

So what does that mean for 2015?  Should I start hopping jobs until I find a place that's fun all the time?  That way lies insanity, my friends.  Every job has good and bad elements, and from what I've seen, the places that value fun and excitement over making money only last as long as they can find investors to pour money into their "vision."  But that doesn't mean that work has to be miserable, either.  You have to find the balance between doing what needs to be done, finding satisfaction in the challenges, and making time to just be silly on occasion.  Looking back at last year, there were some properly silly moments -- the time that I dressed in a Flashdance outfit to present the quarter's accomplishments through interpretive dance stands as a high point -- but probably not enough.  Last year, I lost my balance; this year, I'll get it back.  

What were your moments from last year?  What stories will you tell, and to whom?  When you look back at this time next year, what new stories will be waiting?

I can't wait to hear them.
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