Unexpected jobs turn an okay Lent into a great start for Easter

I didn't have what I would consider a "Good Lent." I had a plan that I thought I executed it fairly well and yet as Easter arrives I wasn't feeling like I had the complete satisfaction that I was hoping for. 

I'm not sure why I put so much pressure on having a "Good Lent." Did you have a "Good Lent?" Was this something you even thought about? How does one measure a "Good Lent?" 

Conclusion of the plan was attending as many Holy Triduum services as I could. I can't remember the last time I went to Holy Thursday mass, and it had been at least ten years since I went to the evening service for Good Friday. After serving numerous Easter vigils, I think I'm good with skipping that one for a long time. I did however do something each day. Plan accomplished!  

Since I had ruled out the vigil, I attended the prayer service on the morning of Holy Saturday. There is no mass, just prayers and songs and therefore it's really short and sweet. I was the first one there, so I cranked out a rosary (and yes I use that term purposely) and tossed in a novena that I'm praying for the month of March as part of my plan to pray one every 30 days. I settled in and waited for us to begin. About five minutes before we started, people started flowing in. Like all good Catholics, we flowed into the back. 

One thing I hope to get over in my life is being irritated by late arrivals. It's a work in progress. I can understand if you arrive late if you have kids, but what prevents two grown adults to get to church on time for a 9:00 am event? Sure enough, with a church not even close to half full, and rows and rows of empty pews in front of me, a couple decided that standing next to me was the best spot. 


What usually happens next is I am immediately agitated at being agitated. Why does this bother me? Who cares? Move out of the way. Two months ago I resolved to actually move into the middle of the pew to prevent this sort of thing from happening and it works well. But this morning I parked it right on the aisle. And Mr. & Mrs. Late Arrival disrupted me for 5 seconds. 

I was so irritated...

Then something funny happened. 

We were signing a hymn and by the time the couple had figured out which page we were on and which specific song (I inadvertently pointed to the wrong one), I mentioned that it was coming to the end. They landed on the final verse and sang the last three words. 

We shared a laugh. 

The deacon then led us in prayers again, and I noticed that the couple hadn't picked up the prayer book at the front of the chapel when they walked in. So I immediately handed them mine, which included me pointing out the correct place of where we were with the prayers. I walked to the back of the church and picked up a book for myself. On my way back I noticed the woman who had brought her mother in a few minutes before my new friends, and sat right in front of me, did not have a book either. So again I immediately handed her my copy, and returned to the back the church. By the time I sat back down, there was only a few minutes left in the service. 

I know what you might be thinking. But trust me, any aggravation was long gone. I was filled with a nice dose of happiness. I was helping people. I had a job to do, and that was getting these people prayer books! I live for small jobs like this. Everyone was very thankful for the quick reaction to help them participate. It felt great!

When we were finished, the couple to my right along with the daughter in front of me, did not know what to do with the books. I offered to take them and return them. Their smiles were greatly appreciated. Another job! I love jobs!

God has a funny sense of humor because of situations like this. Here I am coming to church desiring some quiet contemplation time and hoping to experience something deeply spiritual. I had a plan remember? I get bothered when I feel people disrupt that serious prayer time, and here God wants me to spend a few minutes with people and just help them. I realize I just handed them a book and then returned it for them. But they gave me two jobs and paid me with a laugh and a smile.

Now that Easter is here, I'm not going to measure how my Lent was. My desire to get closer to knowing Jesus is really important and that's good for right now. I didn't wash these people feet like He did with His friends on Holy Thursday, but I also didn't sit there selfishly while they looked around wondering what was going on. If they sat somewhere else, or came in on time, we would not have shared this experience, and frankly I'm not sure my Holy Saturday would have been as enjoyable. While it wasn't part of any "plan," there's a message in realizing that. 

It's good to have a plan, whether that's with your job, your family, or your spiritual and physical health. Most times those plans get thrown a curve ball and you have to have the stillness and awareness to react positively. God is there always. Sometimes He shows up late, wants to sit next to you and needs a book. Who can be agitated by that? Not having a "Good Lent" really doesn't matter when the "plan" isn't the most important thing to execute all the time. Be in the moment and appreciate the small graces that come your way. Thank you to my friends for reminding me of that!

Lent may not have been great, but Easter is off to a good start! My prayers are you experience the same great Easter.

3 Steps to Close Out 2015 Donations

In the midst of a capital campaign, the opportunity for year-end gifts and pledges is one that shouldn't be passed up. However, motivation for securing these gifts, when the overall goal still seems an achievement further away, can be lacking. 

Discussing this topic with a colleague earlier today, I propose three quick steps in these days between Christmas and New Years to rally the troops and really push for success. 

Explain the immediate goal. What are you trying to achieve in the next week? Is it an numeric benchmark of either a dollar goal or donor goal? Spell out to your team that you are $40,000 shy of reaching a $1,000,000. Maybe you are five donors away from having 100 donors to the campaign. Establish the case and these requests will feel tangible.

Provide them a sense of urgency. Why now? Because we want to kick-off 2016 telling everyone that we hit $500,000 in pledges for the month of December. Campaigns are about momentum and building upon that momentum. Establishing deadlines shows people that we are not resting on our past success.

Show them how to execute. So you've explained the goal and the need to do it immediately, now you need to show them the path to achievement. Please call these three people. Can you call this person and see where he/she is in deciding? Draw up the game plan and give them roles they can play out easily.  

Don't let this week slip away. Focus and rally your team of volunteer leaders. They agreed to help with the campaign because they believe it's important. Coach them to success and end the year celebrating! 


3 Things I'm Thankful for...

Thanksgiving week 2015 is upon us. This is the opportunity to take a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for; while at the same time race around to spend time (and money) with friends and family. 

Nonprofits also take the time to thank those that support their work, combining it with #GivingTuesday, which will be here in exactly 8 days. So while you spend time (and money) with friends and family, they hope you share some of that time (and money) with them. 

Since I'm down here in North Carolina, and keeping with the spirit of the season, this post will be a list of three things for which I am thankful for:

1. I'm thankful for a job working as a consultant. What a year it's been. What a few years it's been! I can't begin to think of anything else to be thankful for without first giving thanks for a job and the work that I love and enjoy that has also lead me to this place at this time. 

2. I'm thankful for the leadership of the Food Bank. I've been so impressed by the overall leadership of this organization from the Board to the President (whom I am particularly thankful for). The Food Bank is headed in a positive thanks to this dynamic group of leaders.

3. Finally, I'm thankful for the people who work at the Food Bank. They have welcomed me from day one. Their kindness during a difficult time for me this past summer, to just the day to day interaction is something I will take with me long after my contract here is finished. Everyone here is incredibly helpful, diligent in their work, and fun to be around. I could go on and on...

So thank you everyone at the Food Bank. The people that make this place special are having a meaningful impact on the people they serve. I'm excited to see what 2016 has in store for me and this incredible place. Time (and lots of money raised) well spent in my mind!  

Launch of Project 40

When I started this site, the idea was to write about topics concerning leadership, issues that confront the nonprofit world, and maybe a dash of my personal life. The good news is, so far I have stuck to that idea (although there is certainly room for growth in this space). 

But I have been thinking for a few weeks now with 40 approaching, what is it that I want to do after I reach this age? I'd love to track it in a way that would be easy to chronicle. My journal is a mix of lots of different things, and I would feel like I was writing a book. Could I simply add it to this site? How can I do that and remain true to the mission and the theme I want to build here? Then it came to me:

Create another blog on Tumblr! And so I did. 

Look, these two corners of the internet are nothing more than me exercising some fun hobbies. It's about me actually holding myself accountable in order to actually call them habits. Blogging is just a simple way of doing that. 

So here's the launch post of what I am calling Project 40.

I hope you enjoy it. 

A Happy Retreat

This past weekend I attended a spiritual retreat at my favorite Jesuit retreat center in Southern Maryland. A year before I went there to reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ. 

At the time I was facing some serious personal and professional challenges in my life. In fact it was hard to distinguish between the two because my perils were intertwined. I wasn't a happy person and I needed to return to God to help me figure out what His plan was and what I needed to do. Spending 40 hours in silence on 235 acres of wooded land was the perfect place to work on me.

When it was time for me to leave that Sunday, I felt like a new person. God spoke to me in so many ways, basically telling me, "I'm here with you always. Don't worry, we got this." What I hoped to accomplish I did; my faith was strengthened, my resolve was solidified and my anxiety was eased. 

Fast forward through the end of 2014 and midway through 2015. Life is better than those hot, uncertain days of summer. I have a job that I absolutely love, I'm living temporarily in a town that I find to fit my exact needs right now in terms of pace, and things to do, and the habits of praying and listening to God get stronger by the day. 

So it was with great eagerness and anticipation that I return to Loyola. Again I had a basic need that I wanted to be filled and that was, "Don't try and recreate last year." 

I placed my weekend in God's hands and let Him find me. He didn't have to work hard, and our conversations were a more straight forward, rather than fundamental. Not that I didn't need a reminder of basic principles, along with some uplifting messages, but I felt I built upon the foundation we created together in September 2014. 

I don't have everything resolved. I'm a work in progress. I need to trust God's will for me. That is the theme for me to discern over; trust. Trust was the final message God had for me this past weekend. On Sunday, just before I was set to leave, I was presented the Prayer of Thomas Merton. 

There is so much to like about the words in this prayer. I like the idea of having NO IDEA if what I'm doing is what God wants. But pleasing Him is a good thing I think. I'm not sure where the road will lead me, but hey, I thought that a year ago and look at me now....

Pretty happy.

It's that feeling that I plan to build upon over the short and long term. Advent is near, the promise of a Savior. One that walks the path with me. I look forward to retreating again next fall and seeing where I am on the path and the direction I'm headed.  

A Healthy Debate

The Democratic debate is tonight, and fortunately, I'll be at a hockey game so I will miss the entire thing. It probably won't pull in the ratings that the GOP debates have seen anyway, because the story and characters aren't as compelling. 

Some experts expect it will be a "healthy" debate. There will be no personal attacks,  or trying to cut down the front runner, although one might be tempted to demonstrate some inconsistencies in policy stands. 

My guess is, overall the debate will be boring and therefore a waste of time. To me there is nothing healthy about talking about how quickly you came to support an issue over your opponent. That's not debating. As Americans, we should be experts at debating anything. We constantly debate each other on religion, sexual issues, and who should be in the college football playoffs. There's only one place where we seem to avoid debate or the appearance of conflict; and that place is a team setting at work.

Why is that?

In his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes the five areas that disrupt a team from performing at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. It begins with a lack of trust, then builds upon itself with a fear of conflict, then to a lack of commitment, which begets avoidance of accountability till you end up with with a bunch of individuals who are more concerned about their own work then that of the team. 

We see it all the time. Right now somewhere a team is meeting and going through an agenda, and members of that team don't trust each other and are avoiding conflict by holding each other accountable. Not trust, no debate, no accountability, and nothing gets done. 

Trust is something I will delve into at another time, but tonight it's debate night. 

Here are three things in my experience that promote healthy debate in the workplace:

  1. Create and shape an environment which promotes difference of opinion.
  2. Expect differences to be supported by facts.
  3. Reinforce that conflict leads to positive solutions for the team.

I'm sure there are many more ideas that can be helpful. If you begin with these three ideas, everything else can flow from that. 

So debate away with your colleagues. Make sure you have your facts ready. Don't make it personal, either by giving or receiving critical feedback that differs. It won't be boring and it definitely won't be a waste of time. 


4 Steps that help me be more effective at work

Many years ago I once had a job where at the end of the work day I had no idea what I had accomplished.  Sure I "worked"; I sent out emails, fielded phone calls, and had various meetings with different people throughout each day.  But in general, I had a feeling where I looked back and couldn’t remember specifically what I had done from the beginning of the day to the end.

After a while that feeling began to weigh on me. I was feeling more unmotivated, depressed, and unsuccessful. Work was something I got up in the morning to go to, spent the day at a desk and then at some point I was staring at a performance review that said, “Good job, but certainly there is room for improvement.”

I was getting by but not enjoying myself.

I needed to change my approach where throughout the day I felt direction, not only for the specific work day, but for the week and beyond. I sought out some advice and here’s what I have done since then. It begins and ends with lists.

Create that day’s to do list.
I begin every morning with a simple breakdown of what I’m doing that day. This is a simple way to review what was pushed back from previous day and pare down what needs to get done that day.

Map out my day.
I schedule everything out, (even lunch!) to keep me committed to what I have to do that day. I either break it down hour by hour, or group things together over a few hours to work on depending on the meetings I have that day.

Prep for meetings scheduled that day.
Part of mapping out my day is that I make time to prep for meetings. I find this extremely important to make that time more efficient and effective.

Create action steps from each meeting.
For me the purpose of meetings is to have action steps to take from those meetings. I highlight what I need to do, review what others need to do that I have to either check on, or monitor. This will build out my list for the next day or week ahead.

These four simple steps have helped me become a more effective employee and one that is happier knowing I can cross things off my list and look back and see what I did that day.

Now my days are filled with a variety of work that have a lot of moving pieces, how I manage my time effectively will ultimately determine my success.

What time management tips do you use to help you throughout your work day? What hasn’t worked?