How to Not Be a Jerk

A regular generous act we can be part of is to provide the gift of feedback. We do it all the time, whether we know it or not. Sometimes with words, many times with just our face. Regardless of how we do it, feedback is common.

There is something refreshing about getting someone’s honest opinion on about an issue or something we have created. In certain cultures, feedback gets sugar coated or hidden so that people don’t get offended or embarrassed by their shortcomings. But this doesn’t build trust and it keeps people from getting an accurate understanding of areas they can improve on.

That is one of the reasons that we are drawn to people who don’t have a filter. Normally these are the types of people who say “I just call it as I see it”. Honesty. Refreshing honesty.

But, if you see ‘it’ like a jerk, you will call ‘it’ like a jerk.

Let me give you an example, if you watch someone give a presentation at work and you notice that they are nervous, and stumble over a few words, it is generous to provide feedback on what you have seen so that they can improve – if they are interested in doing so.

One way to give this feedback is:

“I enjoyed your presentation, thank you for taking the time to put this together. I noticed that you looked a little nervous and stumbled over some of your words, perhaps next time we can get together beforehand and practice a little bit. Would that be of interest to you?”

Generous.

Another way is like this:

“You were shaking like a leaf, and I didn’t understand half of what you said. Public speaking is not your thing. Stick to what you are good at.”

Jerk.

Both methods would be considered as “calling it as I see it”, one method just uses it as an excuse to be a jerk.

How you deliver feedback is just as important as what the feedback is. No one can hear it well if you’re a jerk.

Old Habits, New Environments

There was a time when I worked as a cleaner. It was a part time thing, a couple of early mornings a week cleaning floors.

In one section of vacuuming, I would reach the point where the vacuum cleaner needed to go over the power cord. It was a clunky and heavy vacuum cleaner, so, to save time and energy, I would lift the cord up and guide Henry (yes, the vacuum cleaner had a name) and myself underneath it. A genius move.

After a little while, we got a new ‘backpack’ vacuum cleaner, which was the best. You could wear it, go wherever you wanted and not worry about dragging a clunky and heavy Henry behind you.

When I reached that specific point where I need to go over the power cord, there was at least one time when I continued to lift the cord over my head so I could go underneath it, even though I no longer had Henry holding me back. Once I realised what I was doing I felt a bit stupid because all I need to do was step over the cord, not waste time and energy lifting it to walk underneath. I was using an old habit in a new environment. The old habit worked so well for me but now it was counterproductive and unnecessary.

Looking ahead to 2022, I can’t help but think about where else I may be doing the same thing. What are my habits that have worked well for me in the past that are now unnecessary and slowing me down? What can I stop doing?

“Put on your own mask first” is flawed

“You must put on your own mask first before assisting others.”

This makes sense in an emergency flight situation, because if you try to help someone put on their oxygen mask before you have yours on, it is likely you will pass out very quickly before you can finish helping them, leading to a dire situation for you, and them.

We have imported this pre-flight safety element into a life philosophy. It gets used when talking about our mental health. Another one is ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Basically, look after yourself before you try to look after others.

It seems to fit, but it’s wrong.

These ideas assume that your mental health is not connected to the people around you, and if you are struggling with areas of life, all you need to do is to take a break from the world or isolate yourself from everyone else, recharge, feel better and then come back into the world to care for people.

There may be times when that is necessary, but the wellbeing of an individual is deeply linked to being in contact with and even caring for other people.

If you can spend time helping someone else and you can see the difference you are making, it will energise you. It is not a case of putting on your own mask first or filling your own cup up and then giving of yourself, but as you help someone else “put their mask on”, or “fill their cup”, your mask will be put on and cup will be filled up. As you care for others you will care for yourself. (Unless you don’t have generous boundaries).

2022 Theme – Freedom

Remember that to change course or accept correction leaves you just as free as you were. The action is your own, driven by your own impulse and judgement, indeed your own intelligence.

Marcus Aurelius

I don’t think that I know what freedom really means because I have never been held captive. Not in a physical sense anyway. As a white male, living in a western country, I am possibly the most free person on the planet. I don’t want to take that for granted.

But, the greatest trick that we pull on ourselves is to think that we are trapped by something when we are not. The government, our family, our job, our friends, the weather, the global pandemic. But none of those things can hold me captive unless I want them to.

  • The government may put a mask mandate or vaccination mandate in place. They are unable to force me to do either. It is my choice to say yes or no to them. I am free.
  • Just because I have a wife and young children doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do, whenever I want to do it.
  • My employer cannot make me turn up to work every day. I can choose to do so or not.
  • My friends may not agree with choices that I make but their opinion cannot stop me from living my life.
  • Hot weather is not able to stop me from going for a long run. Cold weather is also unable to.
  • A virus cannot stop me from going out and enjoying life.

What I am not free from are the consequences of my actions.

  • Sure, I can choose to ignore government mandates, but the consequences of that choice could cost me.
  • I could ignore my family and prioritise other things, but the consequences of that choice could cost me relationally.
  • I could ignore my job and go to the beach all day, but the consequences of that choice could cost me financially (also, sand).
  • I could ignore my friends and lose them.
  • I could ignore the weather and burn or freeze.
  • I could ignore the virus and get sick.

I am not free from consequences, but I am free to choose which consequences I want.

So, in my freedom…

  • I am choosing to protect my family and community by getting vaccination and wearing a mask when necessary.
  • I am prioritising time with my family to build quality, long term relationships.
  • I am committed to my job which I find fulfilling, which will serve me, my family and the organisation I work for in the long term.
  • I heed the advice of my close friends, whom I’ve chosen wisely, which will help me make wise choices.
  • I will run whenever I want, regardless of the weather, but sometimes I will do it indoors on the treadmill, so that I can keep running for a long time to come.
  • I am choosing to restrict my movement in the short term to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can.

2022 is the year of freedom to choose the consequences that I want, which is an unbelievable gift that carries a weight of responsibility.

Christmas Treasure

I imagine that the first ever Christmas (also known as the time when Jesus was born) was hectic. The build-up and expectations of Mary and Joseph on their unborn child. Angels had communicated to them both about the baby. Literal angels. Then the travel to Bethlehem, the stress of finding a place to stay, (it’s almost as if they found the first Airbnb room, but probably would have left a scathing review) the animals, the dirt, the straw, the challenge of giving birth, learning to figure out what to do with a newborn and then the visitors.

Hectic.

But after all the initial barrage of activity subsided, after the visitors had left, praising God for what they had witnessed, there is this moment of quiet when Mary takes stock of it all.

Luke 2:19 says that Mary ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’.

Somehow, she had the ability to be present in that moment. She didn’t get caught up in the regret of how things turned out (I’m not sure this would have been in her birth plan), nor did she get overwhelmed by anxiety about the future and all the things that could happen when you are mother of the Messiah. Instead, Mary captured that moment. I imagine a still, peaceful moment. Maybe a cricket or two chirping (are there crickets in Bethlehem?), a soft breeze blowing, and the sound of a tiny baby breathing in and out as he slept. It’s enough to overflow the hearts of his parents with joy. The miracle of childbirth for sure, but more than that, it is the miracle that God would send this baby as the one who would carry out His plan to save the whole world. The presence of God, wrapped in flesh and bone, needing to be fed and changed every three hours. That sure is a lot to ponder.

So, my hope for us this Christmas, this special time of year, is that we will find a moment or two like this. Where we can treasure all these things:

  • the miracle of a baby
  • the love of a God that brought it all about so we could be in relationship with Him
  • the man that Jesus grew up to be
  • His sacrifice

…and ponder them in our hearts. May that bring you peace, joy and hope, whilst removing regret about what was and anxiety about what could be.

Merry Christmas!

2021 Reading List

Some new books and some re-reads. Some were worth the time, some were not.

NEW READS

Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey

This is a really interesting insight into the life and psyche of Matthew McConaughey. His upbringing was quite unusual.

My take aways from this book:

  • He approached his auditions with a sense of confidence. His mindset was that they needed him in their film rather than him needed a role (and coming across desperate).
  • He was also willing to say goodbye to his whole career to try and change the type of roles he was getting.
  • The story behind his most well-known line was brilliant.
  • The first chapter was a word salad.

The Power of Now – Echart Tolle

He has some solid truths sprinkled in amongst some shady fluff.

Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth

Rethinking economics and the measurement of economic growth and the yardstick for a healthy economy. This is where we should be heading but it will take a major change in the way the world approaches economic theory.

Becoming a Person of Influence – John Maxwell and Jim Dornan

From back in the 90’s. Some quality content based on the character of the person seeking to influence.

Range – David Epstein

A brilliant read about how those that generalise in their endeavours will out-do those that specialise in one sphere…unless it is a kind environment, like golf.

Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer. A kind environment vs. a wicked environment.

Hint: Most of life in not lived in a kind environment.

Disappearing Church – Mark Sayers

Trouble in the Land of Giving – William De Maria

A scathing review of charities in Australia. William seems to be angry.

Think Again – Adam Grant

The power of knowing what you don’t know

Adam frames the different thinking styles that we use when we approach problems.

Preacher – “When we are in the preacher mode we are convinced we are right” and try to persuade others to agree with us.

Prosecutor – When we are trying to prove someone else wrong

Politician – When we are trying to win the approval of an audience

Scientist – Create a hypothesis and test it for reasons that you are wrong.

Obviously he thinks the scientist is the best method to use.

Beautiful Things – Hunter Biden

Hunter’s journey through loss, grief and addiction, and a presidential election or two. This is an amazing story with a bit of politics thrown in.

Values – Mark Carney

A book of over 500 pages of which I understood very little. Mark is the former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, and has guided the global financial system through the GFC and COVID. He is now on the UN special envoy for climate action and finance. This book is about the values which will serve us as we approach the challenges that lay ahead. I feel like it is everything that he has ever thought about these topics (but probably not because he seems like a super intelligent guy). Bono liked it. The parts that I understood were interesting and the rest is a blur.

The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyun

A theological trip to the 1600’s. Once I had a handle on the language and the fact that there are no chapters, or breaks, or places where you can logically stop, it was a nice journey.

Jack Reacher – Better off DeadLee and Andrew Child

My annual wait for the Jack Reacher book was worth it and it was over very quickly. After a disappointing book last year, 2021 was a great improvement in the tale of Reacher. (Soon the become a TV series on Amazon Prime for those interested). Now to wait for October/November 2022.

RE-READS

The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

If/when I meet Ryan Holiday, I will apologise to him for underestimating this book. The first time I read it I thought it was a lightweight bit of inspiration, but I missed the point. It is a profound book which I will re-read every year from now on.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

This book was exactly how I remember it. Shock and fluff to start with but some really interesting points along the way about not being swayed by what other people think and to live your life with confidence. The last chapter is a memorable one.

Incognito – David Eagleman

This is a random book that I found somewhere but one that I have loved because it unpacks the complexity of the brain. We are not one person, but many ‘persons’ – which may sound a little shady, but if you have ever found yourself having an internal debate on a topic it is important to ask, ‘who am I debating with?’.

I don’t agree where David lands with the final premise of the book which is essentially that we don’t have much control over most of what we do, therefore we can’t be held responsible for most of our actions, but the debate he creates is worthwhile.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelias

I made my way through this slower than I did last time. There is still much that I don’t grasp but the philosophy of life and death is extraordinary.

My favourite quote:

“Remember that to change course or accept correction leaves you just as free as you were. The action is your own, driven by your own impulse and judgement, indeed your own intelligence.”

Give & Take – Adam Grant

This is a book about how generosity breeds success, in all parties involved. Still my go-to generosity guide book.

I look forward to more quality reading in 2022. Any suggestions? What are your favourites?

Life Isn’t Short

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.” Seneca, Roman Stoic Philosopher

I feel like we have been in the Christmas season for two months. There is something about the Australian culture which seems to “wind things down” for the year from mid October.

I know small businesses that work with larger firms and any conversations in the last quarter about new contracts automatically get pushed to the new year – which really means February/March.

Now, there is nothing wrong with managing your workload and recognising that things do get busier in many areas of life towards the end of the year, but the risk is we wish away our most precious and unknown quantity. Our time.

My paraphrase of the quote from Seneca above is “life isn’t short, we just waste a lot of it.” We waste it on things that are not aligned with what we say our priorities are. We waste it because we don’t spend it intentionally.

I encourage you to think about who you want to be at the start 2022. On January 1st, what will you wish you spent time on today?

What is the most important thing? Choose to focus on actions that align with your priorities.  

What can you complete that you have been putting off? Pain delayed is pain magnified.

What can you put off that you have been pushing to complete, but it isn’t a priority? Saying yes to something means saying no to something else. What can you say no to?

In the next few weeks if you are looking forward to working when things are quiet and others are on leave, embrace that and get productive.

If you are taking leave, take the heck out of that leave.

Be intentional about how you finish off the year. Finish it well. Well rested and well prepared for 2022.

The Only True “Two Types of People” Statement

“There are two types of people, those that believe there are two types of people and those that don’t.”

People are complex and cannot be sorted into two types of anything, let’s not oversimplify, except for the statement above.

Take vaccinations for example. There are those who are pro-vax and those that are anti-vax, right? Wrong.

It’s more like this:

100% Passionate Support                                                                 100% Passionate Against

Forget vaccination, let’s talk cheese. There are those people that like cheese and those people that don’t, right? Wrong.

It’s more like this:

100% Passionate Support                                                                 100% Passionate Against

And that’s just one small part of the person.

The world is a spectrum of beliefs, experiences, thoughts, and traditions. How I ended up having the same opinion as you is most likely a very different journey to how you ended up with that opinion. We think the same on that issue, we both like cheese, but we are not the same person. We don’t have an equal amount of commitment to it. We don’t have an equal amount of experience with it. We don’t have an equal amount of care for it. We are at different points on the spectrum of our love of cheese.

It is generous to see people as complex and more than a cheese lover or not.

Stop Looking for Your Purpose

It’s a cliché now. Finding your purpose is so mainstream that there are numerous books, podcasts, blogs and articles on how and why you should do it. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with young, and not so young, people about how they can find their purpose.

I haven’t really had a succinct answer for them. I can only share about how I found mine – but they are not me, so that might not be helpful.

I can give them lists of the 12 top tips to finding purpose in life, I can lead them to ask the 7 strange questions that will help them find it, or even teach them the 4 easy steps which is guaranteed* to map out their life purpose. (*Not an actual guarantee).

But none of that seems to work.

Here’s what does. Finding purpose in whatever you are doing right now. That will help you find your purpose.

Most likely, your purpose won’t come to you in your late teens/early 20’s as one grand vision which shapes the rest of your life.

More often than not, it will consist of dozens of small pieces that you have picked up at random times, doing random things, in random jobs and having random conversations.  

So, as you go along, find purpose in what you are doing right now, and you will help create your broader purpose in life.