#ThirtyThankfuls Day 22: Taking time off.

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Here, in the all-too-early morning of Tuesday, just an hour or two away from sunrise, the task list is finally at a reasonable stopping point. The “out-of-office” message turns on, the laptop closes, and the editor sleeps for a few sweet hours before toddlers jump on him to wake him up to a new day.

I am thankful to put the work email to bed for the rest of the week. Finally.

Tomorrow, you’ll hopefully be hearing from a less-stressed (and hopefully more rested) man. See you then.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 21: My wife’s patience.

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I’m supposed to be off work all week. My PTO has been locked in place for months. But of course, as things tend to go, once the time comes to close up shop, there is more necessary work than necessary time to complete it. So my tasks from last week are bleeding over into my vacation time, and my wife is…not pleased. Thankfully, she understands that I’m trying to resolve these things as quickly as possible, so she’s not too frustrated with me. Yet.

Suffice it to say, I don’t want to presume on her good graces any longer than I need to, so today’s entry will be a short one and hopefully tomorrow’s won’t be a tribute to the joys of sleeping on the couch because work time has bled too far over into vacation time.

Goodnight, friends.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 20: My home office.

Messy workspace photo, because I keep it real, yo.

When the #ForeverPlague hit, my team was told to go home and work remotely, and we haven’t stopped since. The organization I work for has embraced the “Future of Work” (as they call it), and I’ve benefitted from the blessing of working from home. I’ve talked about this before, but one related blessing I may not have specified is that I also have the benefit of my own space.

When we bought our first home, we made sure there was a bedroom that could be designated my office/study. It’s not big, but it has built in bookshelves on one wall and a door with a lock.

I will never take this situation for granted, because I’ve known far too many people who don’t have the blessing of private space for work, where good walls and a door can muffle, if not silence, the sounds of the rest of the house or apartment.

So I’m very thankful for my workspace, because without it I would be hard-pressed to be as productive or effective as I am in my various tasks.

#ThirtyThankfuls Day 7: Work.

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The insidious danger of complaining is that it often occupies a mouth that should instead be filled with praise and thanksgiving.

It’s easy to complain about work. It’s almost expected in our culture to talk about how terrible your job or boss is, how you are underpaid, how your customers are obnoxious.

To be honest, my attitude toward work isn’t always what it should be. I struggle with complaining about this or that situation or person, or how the upper management should be running things differently (based on all my great wisdom and insight, of course). I still fight the long-instilled idea that I should instead be “following my dreams.” Thankfully, the good thinking and preaching of faithful believers and pastors (including some men I know personally), as well as the wise insights of secular writers like Cal Newport, have been slowly disabusing me of that Disney-minted idea that simply “following your heart” is anything other than childish and disastrous.

I’m not working my dream job. Of course, my “dream job” would be to be given a comfortable leather arm chair, a bottomless cup of coffee, and all the time in the world to be left alone to read. I’ve looked into it, and in most cases, no one pays you to do that. (Also, if The Twilight Zone has taught us anything, it is to be careful what you wish for.)

By the grace of God, I don’t have a dream job, but I have a good job in which I can apply my skills and abilities with reasonable success. While there are still thorns and thistles on a regular basis, and there are days that are more drudgery that delight, I can apply myself, take care of my customers, and provide for my family. We have good insurance, flexibility, and top-tier benefits. I can afford housing, food, clothes, and some small luxuries for those under my care. God is kind.

The best part of my job is the commute: I walk down a hallway to my home office. After over 15 years of cars and buses and trains and traffic, the unexpected blessing of the #ForeverPlague is that my employer pays me to tap a keyboard for 9 or so hours a day while sitting in my house in sweatpants and a tee-shirt. I get a hug from my 1 1/2 year old every morning. I give my wife a kiss when I walk in to pour a second cup of coffee. God is kind.

So I am thankful for work. I’m thankful for the work that God has given me that will provide for my family and for the good of others. I’m thankful that He has given me the skill, ability, and strength to do good work and earn a living. I’m thankful he has given me a job that is pretty unique in its benefits and flexibility.

And on the busiest and most frustrating of days, I need to remember that this blessing is a gift to me from a loving Father who is teaching me how to lay my life down for others in a thousand tiny ways, so I can better reflect the Savior-King who came not to be served but to serve.

#Septemblog Day 4: The Lord’s Day.

I’m not a Sabbatarian, but I have friends who are. They seem happier.

I heard part of a sermon by Alistair Begg recently, in which he described the Lord’s Day sabbath as a time of reading Scripture, praying, reading spiritual books, having spiritual conversations, and enjoying fellowship with your family and fellow believers. He asked his congregation something along the lines of, “When I describe it like that, does that sound appealing to you, and if not, why not?” I think he was assuming most of his congregation would think it sounded boring.

But I gotta admit, after that description, when he asked if it sounded appealing, I responded aloud, “That sounds awesome.”

The last six months have been hard, gang. Good. Full of blessing. But really hard. This season has taken its toll on my health, my family, and my relationships. I’m often exhausted, out of balance, and in need of restoration and recalibration.

I’m not a Sabbatarian. I don’t hold a conviction about it that’s based on the Scriptures. But I have to admit, I’m thinking about Sabbath rest REALLY often these days, because I can recognize one very clear fact: I can’t keep functioning for long when my life has a staccato jazz rhythm of inconsistent sleep and frequent 12-16 hour work days. All the lines are blurring. I’m losing the clear boundaries of work-life and home-life. Things fall apart. The center will not hold.

I’m not a Sabbatarian. Maybe I should be.

An Ode to Skipper Dan.

I recently was reminded of this song by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Take a look.

This song was released in 2009 but I feel like it’s only taken on more meaning as I’ve moved into middle-age. There are definitely things I had hoped to accomplish before now, dreams I held onto in my 20’s and even 30’s that I haven’t really done the work to pursue because my goals changed or I just decided that my energy needed to be spent elsewhere.

But rather than reminisce and bemoan what might have been, I wanted to focus on a different aspect of the song: what Dan does and doesn’t do.

“Dusty, why don’t you just try acting?”

When I was in eighth grade, my class took an end-of-year trip to Universal Studios Florida. Back then (the early-mid 90’s), there were several themed rides that have long since been retired/replaced. The ones I remember most vividly were the Jaws boat ride and the King Kong cable-car/subway (?) ride.

When we got into the boat with our “captain” for the Jaws ride, she delivered her script with gusto, as if this were the first time she’d ever led a crew of people into the dangerous, shark-infested waters. When the great white surfaced, she yelled convincingly, “LOOK OUT, THERE HE IS!” and my little 13-year-old heart sank. At the climax of the ride, she pulled out a comically-large rocket-launcher style weapon and “fired” it at the deadly shark, who exploded in a splash of water and smoke and audio-visual flair. As we pulled safely back into harbor, our captain breathlessly congratulated us on surviving the ordeal, and everyone disembarked with smiles on their faces.

The King Kong ride could not have been a starker contrast. The “tour guide” for our New York adventure had all the gusto and excitement of a customer entering Hour 3 of waiting at the DMV. Her lines were so deadpanned that Aubrey Plaza would have seemed like Carrot Top by comparison. (How’s that for a wild mix of dated pop-culture references?) Even when the big ape seemed to be reaching out to grasp the car we were “riding” in, the tour guide could barely evoke vocal inflection. “Oh no. It looks like Kong is trying to grab us. Everyone hold on.”

Obviously, both rides held no real danger from the animatronic beasts and it was all in good fun, but when the Jaws captain really went for it, it made the suspension of belief that much easier.

Here’s my point: there is power in doing the mundane things well. However, in the song, Skipper Dan has realized that the theme-park job wasn’t the easy stepping stone to a dream career that he apparently expected it to be, and eventually he lets it grind him down so that he becomes resentful rather than trying to do something about it. He loses hope because he thinks that what matters most is what he’s doing rather than how and why he’s doing it.

Cal Newport, in his excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, talks about how the path to career fulfillment isn’t in seeking the perfect job or the dream job. It’s in seeking out a job you can do well and becoming masterful at it, so that you can parlay that career capital into an adjacent line of work that’s closer to your “dream” or that provides you with quality-of-life benefits that you couldn’t achieve otherwise.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few years, wrestling with it in my mind. In those times of career frustration and boredom, it’s often that I’ve lost sight of the power of daily excellence.

More than that, I’ve lost sight of my ultimate goal.

“Do it for her.”

There’s a famous moment in an early episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer (who, you will recall, works at a control panel in a nuclear plant) notices a poster on the office wall that says, “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever.” He strategically covers the wall (as well as certain parts of this poster) with a collage of pictures of his daughter Maggie, so that the visible letters now spell out “Do It For Her.”

I recently took the template from this moment in the show, and recreated it with pictures of my wife and daughters. Using Microsoft Paint and a little editing magic, my work computer wallpaper now says “Do It For Them.”

I’ll be honest, y’all: I’m not often super-jazzed about my job. I know that it matters, and I know the good that it accomplishes. There are just days or weeks (or even longer) where it feels like an endless field of thistles and thorns: the constant emptying of an inbox or work queue that gets refilled instantly, or non-stop email threads involving a parade of outside company reps who all inexplicably “just started recently” and don’t understand how my organization operates in regard to theirs. It adds up to a frequent feeling of pointlessness to the proceedings because I can’t see the fruit of my labor. (It’s not nearly as satisfying as mowing the yard, that’s for sure.)

I have to remember on those difficult days that I’m doing work that matters not only so that I can serve our clients, but so I can take care of my family. I have a wife and three little girls that count on me to get it done and provide.

And if that wasn’t motivation enough, there’s a greater reason that’s even easier to lose sight of: I’m working for the Lord.

It’s a reality that I can pay lip-service to but not really take to heart. When I work, I not only work in submission to and with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but I work on His behalf, representing Him (whether explicitly or implicitly) to the people I come in contact with, whether it’s the supervisor who knows if I hit or miss my daily deadlines, or the outside contractor rep who gets the sharp edge of my frustrated email exchanges. In all of these things, I work for the Lord. And in all these moments, I have the opportunity to use my work ethic and skill and compassion to honor and bless others, as a gift to them and an offering of thanksgiving to God for the privilege of being able to work (since it’s only by His grace that I have the strength to produce a harvest).

Which brings us back to Skipper Dan, and to you and me. Whether you’re a tour guide on a jungle cruise ride, or a customer service rep for an auto parts company, or a park ranger keeping fire watch, or a keyboard cowboy working from home–whatever you do to earn a paycheck, do it well. Do it with intention and excellence. Become masterful at it. Look for ways to make the experience better for your customers or clients.

Not because it will always pay off with a dream job or a big break, but because people count on you to do your best, and because the One whose opinion matters most is always watching.

A Different Kind of Low-Carb Diet.

 

bed bedroom blanket clean
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Sometimes, our words reveal more than we intend.

My work day yesterday was broken up by some family responsibilities (yay, working from home!), so when I logged in just before dinner time, I got a bit spooked by my task list. I asked my wife if I could disappear for the evening to try to catch up some things. Back in the pre-WFH days, I would usually do this once a week to stay caught up.

At the end of the evening, as my wife was getting ready to head upstairs to bed, she said, “I’m sorry you have to work so long tonight.” I responded, “Honestly, it’s about 60% have-to, and about 40% anxious-about-my-inbox.”

A few minutes after she went upstairs, the Holy Spirit brought a Bible verse to mind, and I knew I was busted.

A Worried Mind

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in this context, but I wrestle with fretfulness, specifically about the safety of my family. For me, going to sleep can be hard in a house that creaks and murmurs when the A/C kicks on. I have a semi-obsessive nightly routine of checking locks and alarms before bed, and if there’s even a bare question in my mind of whether I forgot one,  I will go back and do it all again.

One of my current favorite Psalms is Psalm 127, particularly the first verse. I have to remind myself, as my anxious mind races when my head hits the pillow, that unless the Lord is watching over me, all the locks and alarms in the world wouldn’t help. I have to trust in his protection, for “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

But it was the second verse of Psalm 127 that came to mind last night, as my wife walked upstairs:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

The imagery there resonates with me so much: I’m prone to be up too late at night, chewing over the stale loaves of anxious toil, instead of receiving the gift of sleep.

I realized I was condemned by my own words. I was gnawing on the crusts of worry-work and missing the feast.

Unfortunately, I had also just washed it down with a carafe of full-octane coffee, so the gift of sleep would be a bit…delayed.

An Unexpected Blessing

What to do, then, in my caffeinated condition at 11pm? Take the unplanned opportunity and change my “diet” for the evening. I closed the computer, with its anxious crumbs, and picked up true food.

I was able to enjoy the Scriptures for a while, supplementing my reading with part of a commentary on the section. I nibbled at a few other spiritually-encouraging books. In short, I tried to redeem the coffee buzz!

When my head FINALLY hit the pillow (and I quickly prayed through my nightly temptation to fret), I wasn’t mulling over to-do lists and missed deadlines. Instead, I was grateful for all that God had blessed me with, especially the dear ones sleeping under my roof.

I’m also thankful for the gentle reminder to go a little more “low-carb” in my work-life, so I can better enjoy the good gifts God has given me.

Freelancer Diaries: Week 4

Closing in on one month in this side-hustle experiment. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve been learning lately:

Out of Order

When I get really excited about something new, I often dive right in, full steam ahead. Freelancing was no different. For the first 3 weeks, I was reading books, watching webinars, taking notes, and sending out bids to dozens of potential clients on a couple of websites. I was ready to grab the bull by the horns and make stuff happen!

And after 3 weeks of HUSTLE™, I was left with just one client…whom I had agreed to help for free. What began as a request to correct his document’s formatting turned into almost 7 hours over the next 2 weeks spent learning the basics of e-book publishing.

The gentleman was nice enough about it; he even gave me a 5-star review on Thumbtack and $30 for my efforts.

On the other hand, I had invested about $60 paying for client “contacts” on a freelancing site called Thumbtack, with little to show for it: my one paying client, and a few folks who promised to contact me later this year. That’s it.

Three weeks into my new part-time business, I was $30 in the hole. 

My internal pendulum suddenly swung the other way.  I just sat on my couch one night, sulking, frustrated that I wasn’t immediately successful, second-guessing the whole enterprise. I considered chucking the whole thing and forgetting it ever happened, but I had told a few people about it (along with the entire INTERNET) and felt too embarrassed to give up entirely. So I just moped about it for a few days.

[Some of you more seasoned freelancers are trying hard not to scoff openly at my newbie pity-party. I appreciate your restraint.]

I spent the weekend feeling defeated, deflated, listless. My wife kept asking if I was okay. I would just shrug in reply. I could feel that heavy-blanket funk start to press down on me.

I’ve learned over the years that my little depressive bouts are often a “check engine” light of sorts. When these moods hit, I need to pause and consider what’s out of balance in my life.

I finally realized that part of the reason I was so downcast was that I wasn’t taking care of myself (sleep, hydration, exercise), I wasn’t creating anything for myself (blog posts, short stories, poetry), and I wasn’t keeping freelance work in its proper place (this is a side-project and not my life).

A specific example of how things were getting out of hand: In my eagerness (desperation?) to drum up work, I was even sending out bids between services at church, rather than interacting with my church family. I was late walking into the corporate worship time last weekend because I was busy tapping away at my phone, firing off just a few more bids so I didn’t miss out on work. My wise and patient wife had to call me out on it later that day. She rightly reminded me that I was at church to (duh) worship God, not hustle for work.

If nothing else, this incident demonstrated that I needed to build firmer boundaries so that work (the “anxious toil” the Psalmist warns about) doesn’t drift into my worship time.

This past week has taught me that I can’t keep going full-tilt like this. When these different spheres of life are out of balance, I feel miserable and become ineffective. What this means practically is that I’m going to pull back on the hustling, spending less time on trying to drum up work and more time on what is most important: my relationship with God, with my family, and with my circle of friends and fellow Christians.

Is It Worth It? Should I Work It? Put My Bid Down, Flip It, and Reverse It?

It’s amusing how much people value their own time and how little they value the time and efforts of others. I shouldn’t be shocked by this; it’s no mystery that people are naturally selfish. However, I didn’t expect to see it demonstrated so clearly in fee negotiation.

A hypothetical but not-at-all unrealistic example: I’ve seen more than a few job postings that say something to the effect of, “Developmental editing and proofreading needed for a novel. 80-100K words. Only professional editors wanted. Total project budget: $150.”

Considering that a book of that size would take even the most seasoned editor about 30-40 hours to complete, not counting post-edit follow-up with the author, we’re talking about a paltry $4-5 an hour. (Fun fact: Industry standard for freelance developmental editing is around 10 times that, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association.)

In Side Hustle, Chris Gillebeau writes that people who perform service-based side-work should make sure that they’re making about as much as they would in their day job. After all, our evening hours are just as valuable to us as our morning hours, aren’t they?

When I thought about it that way, it only made sense that expert editors should get paid like…um, experts. When a client sets such a low-ball budget for a project, it means either they haven’t done their homework to find out how much things cost, or they just don’t think your services are worth much. In both cases, that may not be a great client to have.

Considering my newbie status as a freelancer, I’ve been dialing my rates down below the industry average, but there is definitely a “floor” rate I won’t go below, because I value my time. No matter how slowly the jobs come in right now, I need to take my own time seriously. If I don’t, no one else will.

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Your Turn: Have you ever gotten so excited about a new project that it suddenly takes over you life? What do you do to maintain balance?

Let me know in the comments below!