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Weekly Thoughts

The intersection of work, life, sport and spirituality.

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running

Headlamps in the Forest

Exhausted, tired and barely moving, I called again into the blackness of the night, “how much further do we have?

Somewhere in the darkness my pacer’s voice responded, “I don’t know. Another mile or two to the next aid station?

A deep sigh escaped from my mouth, a puff of steam rose into the cold atmosphere, reflecting off my headlamp’s illumination of the forest floor.

I had run for close to 15 hours and the sun had gone down over an hour ago. My legs had already climbed over 13,000 feet over mountain passes and valleys. In addition to the fire which took over where my quads used to be, the mental and physical exhaustion was getting the best of me.

Just get to the next aid station,” became my mantra.

What felt like a year later, we arrived at a small table set up in the middle of nowhere that was set up for a feast. Hot ramen soup, potatoes, watermelon, candy and soda were set out buffet style just for us. We hadn’t seen another runner for at least an hour and I was happy to see some new faces.

What can we get you? You’re doing great!” the aid station volunteers graciously said. “Just keep going, you are almost there!

Grabbing some warm potatoes, my pacer and I were off again with one more aid station between me and the 65-mile finish line.

These moments are the moments that define us.

I find it somewhat ironic that I will go out and punish myself in an ultramarathon or endurance event, but when life gets tough, I feel like quitting or taking an easier road down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. One friend of mine told me that in life we don’t necessarily ‘choose’ to run a tough course the same way we do in a race. The difficulty often comes in the form of other people, a surprise situation, or things outside our control. Nevertheless, the difficulty inevitably comes and we must keep moving forward.

I pushed back a little on this idea that we don’t have any control over life. Just like racing, even though the pain is real, we can respond negatively and quit or we can focus on shorter goals and keep moving. The point here is that we have a choice in how we RESPOND and what we FOCUS ON.

I’m currently in a season of life where I feel like I’m just focused on the next aid station, but I’m embracing that idea. How can I grow through this segment of my life journey? How can I embrace both the beauty and the hardship around me and make some forward progress. While the night sky may be dark, headlamps in the trees create a whole new landscape that many never get to see. Fears can equally give birth to excitement and thrill. We need to decide where to spend our mental energy.

The one thing I’m sure of through all this is that I WILL make a positive impact in my community and give birth to positivity as often as possible. One aid station at a time I’ll move closer to that finish line.

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Called to be….

I’ve been wrestling with some big concepts over the last couple of months related to life. Obviously working with a new company and going through change makes you evaluate things, but I think there is something bigger at work. The 5280 Fellowship program has helped to challenge some of my thinking when it comes to calling and career. While my thoughts below are a work in progress, I have finally settled in on a few definitions that seem to make sense to me.

  1. Calling. Your calling isn’t what you do, it’s who you are. 
    If you have ever taken an EQI or Myers Briggs test, you understand that all of us are hard-wired with certain strengths and viewpoints. While some people are gifted with analytic capabilities, others are gifted with more social/emotional views and empathy. Others show signs of leadership and big-picture views. Whatever your strengths, these all add up to make you who you are. Calling is simply tapping into these strengths and using them in everyday life.
  2. Profession. You can use your calling in ANY profession. 
    Calling is not synonymous with profession, although profession can support calling. Since your calling is leveraging your strengths, you can use those strengths in ANY organization or profession. Professions many times are just a knowledge base that specify a role or function within an organizational environment.
  3. Platform. This is your position of maximum impact where your calling is leveraged in your profession or life. 
    I met with a colleague several weeks ago and he asked me if I ever considered doing something different or working in another industry. I told him that I have considered it many times in the past. I’ve been interested in sports marketing for a number of years, but while I think I’d love that industry, it would require starting over again from the bottom and building up that professional knowledge base. Given that I’ve been working in the AEC environment for 21 years now, my professional network and industry understanding allow me to operate with efficiency and provide greater value to the organizations I work for. Committing to the field I am in now allows me the ability to have a high platform to use my calling in my profession. For this reason, I am going to stay in my current field and work to be a knowledge expert as my calling comes to fruit.
  4. God’s will. God’s will has more to do with restoration and the fruits we all know as holy, than it has to do with a linear ‘perfect path’ of decisions and profession.
    About 10-or-so years ago, I had lunch with an architect friend and mentor of mine. He had been practicing architecture his whole life and owned his own firm. He was also a leader in a small little church I went to and I wanted to pick his brain about my career. I went on to tell him how unhappy I was with my current situation at work and asked him where he thought God wanted to lead me. I told him that I had two other job offers on the table and I needed discernment on where God wanted me.

    “It doesn’t matter. You can’t make a bad decision either way. They are just different options”

    I admit that I was a little frustrated with his response as I was looking for some discernment as to what he felt God’s will was for my decision. What I’ve come to realize as I’ve matured in my profession is that he was really saying, “God has given you the FREEDOM to choose.” If my calling is truly separate from my profession, I can use my calling in ANY job.

Career decisions are tough and I understand that we must continue to pray and ask for guidance as we move about our world. What can be truly freeing however is realizing that our true calling can be used in any area of life and in any career. At the same time, I believe that we should work towards professions and jobs that give us the biggest platform to impact our world. That is where our calling can be most effective.

What about you? Are you leveraging your calling? Comments and observations welcome in the comments!

Comparison and ‘Value’

Comparison.

It drives every aspect of our lives. How do we stack up in the rankings?

In work, do you get your self-worth from the number of sales you have brought in or the initiatives you’ve been able to bring to your business? Do you correlate the amount of your paycheck with your personal and professional value? Do you measure yourself by the house you own or the car you drive?

Often times, we spend our lives comparing ourselves to others in a desperate attempt to derive more self-worth or somehow feel valued.

I spent this past weekend in Leadville pacing at one of the biggest ultrarunning races on the planet, the Leadville 100 Trail Run. Profiled in countless books and media, the Leadville 100 typically boasts a 40-50% finisher rate OR a 50%-60% failure rate depending on how you look at it. Within that finisher pool, if you finish in less than 25 hours you get a big belt buckle. If you finish in less than 30 hours you get a smaller belt buckle. There are awards for top three athletes overall and the top three in each age group category. Walk around the finish of Leadville, and you hear athletes boasting about their accomplishments:

“I got a big buckle.” “I finished before the cutoff.” “I got on the podium.” “I didn’t finish because of….fill in the blank.”

I even stood next to a guy at the finish line that had a 200-mile ultrarunning race finishers t-shirt on (from another race) and it was tucked into the front of his shorts to show off his 200-mile finishers belt buckle as if to say, “Yeah, I’m proud of all you finishers, but I’m way more bad ass than you. I ran TWICE as far

I do think we should be proud of our accomplishments and set goals to pull out our best potential. The danger I find however, is when we derive our importance and self-worth from comparing ourselves to others and placing value on these goals outside the goal itself. Placing improper importance on the goal itself damages the life experience.

What if you still strive to achieve excellence, but you knew your value was not based in how much or how little you have or are able to do? What if your DNF (did not finish) in the last race didn’t matter to you anymore than taking first place in terms of how you see yourself?

One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, wrote a book called “Searching for God Knows What” where he profiles the broken human condition and points out that we are all trying to achieve success based on how we stack up against other people. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul clarifies that our inherent value has nothing to do with what we do or don’t do. (Romans 3:21-30) It has nothing to do with our accomplishments or feats in life. We are all valued as humans in the full and overflowing love that comes from God (whether you believe in Him or not).

What if we all lived our lives knowing that we already had all the intrinsic value we need by just being us? What if we no longer compared ourselves against others because we were all at peace with who we are already?

How would you live your life differently?

Identity

Micah, what do you want to be when you grow up?

My 4-year-old son looked at the tile floor deep in thought. Suddenly, he looked up with his eyes bright with anticipation. “A Jedi daddy. When I get bigger, I’m going to be a Jedi just like Luke Skywalker!”

I love the conversations I have with Micah. It is refreshing to see the world through his unjaded eyes and to get a glimpse into a soul where the whole world is ahead and dreams are alive with vivid color.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I answered that same question several times. A fireman, a doctor, a jet pilot, an architect, and a surfer were just a few of my dream professions. What child would have said ‘a director of business development and marketing’ anyway?

Outside of my lofty career goals, I strived through my youth to latch on to other activities to define who I was as a person. In junior high, most everyone is defined by some sort of activity. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the stoners, the nerds were just a few groups.  As we all looked to find our place, I locked on to what I thought the coolest people in school were…the skaters. I loved skateboarding from an early age. I was fascinated with surfing as a small kid, and living in Colorado, skateboarding was the next best thing. Skateboarders were counter-culture but still friends with all the other social groups. They did cool tricks and had cool hair. That’s what I wanted to be.

I was a skateboarder through junior high and transitioned to being a snowboarder in high school and college. I moved to California and became a surfer, and then became a triathlete. When being a triathlete wasn’t doing it for me anymore, I became a competitive cyclist, shaved my legs and started racing with 200 other shaved legged adult males. I moved to Colorado and became a runner, no… a trail runner, no…an ultra-runner…well…you get the idea.

Through all my various ‘identities’ I’ve had over the years, one place I have struggled is latching on to what it means to have an identity in Christ. What does it mean to be a ‘Christian’? It seems like such a small thing, but one area that I have struggled with is the stigma of some other Christian people and not wanting to be put in the same bucket as them. From the people holding up “You’re going to Hell” signs at football games to a few encounters with other Christians I have known over the years, I have struggled with embracing the identity.

But God is showing me something different. Hypocrisy and imperfection are results of the broken human condition. All of us have sinned, and part of my problem was putting too much stock in other people – specifically ‘Christians’- to do it right. I know full-well the extent of my own sin, and thank God for the grace He gives to cover it. Grace I should extend to others as well.

I’m beginning to realize three things:

  1. Having an identity in Christ means that I am a work in progress. I am an imperfect person pursuing a perfect God, and that’s okay.
  2. I have an opportunity to learn from my own past experiences and try and show the grace of Christ where I feel others have fallen short.
  3. Just because another person identifies with the title of ‘Christian’ and preaches hate does not mean I am like that person. It is like someone that calls themselves a runner but sits on the couch all day, eats junk food and does one 5K per year. That person can claim the title, but their actions don’t reflect the identity.

I’m starting to ‘own’ my identity and have more confidence in bearing the image of Christ, and that’s a good thing. I can be defined by what I do by being selfless, showing love, and embracing truth. I’m not perfect by the world’s standards, but thanks to grace, in God’s eyes I am. It’s pretty liberating and I’m humbled to be called a ‘Christian’. I’m an imperfect person pursuing a perfect God who loves us.

So next time someone asks me what I want to be when I grow up my answer is, “I’m a Christian, regardless of what I do professionally or recreationally, that’s all that matters most.” My prayer is that my son can say the same thing someday.

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2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here

Achieving More

I had a business lunch with a gentleman this week that has done multiple endurance races. For this post, I’ll call him “Joe.” Joe calls himself an ‘adventurer’ and is always searching for that next thing to stretch his own level of comfort. He recently started a company to take business executives out on adventures and to teach them about living life to the fullest and reaching new goals that may seem impossible.

Joe talked about very successful business leaders he knows that ‘have it all’. One guy he talked about makes $20M/year and has achieved the peak of his professional dreams. He went on to tell me, “But something is missing. Deep down inside of each of these guys, there is a hole they are trying to fill. Even though they ‘have it all’, they can’t figure out what’s missing. It’s my job to help them find that missing piece through adventures. After they have achieved it all, I help them achieve more.”

More”, I thought to myself. More.

What I found interesting in the conversation is that Joe is starting to associate fulfillment with ‘more’ accomplishments. These accomplishments are physical in nature rather than business related, but it is still in the vain of more accolades. I can’t keep from coming back to the root of his original statement, “Deep down inside of each of these guys, there is a hole they are trying to fill. Even though they ‘have it all’, they can’t figure out what’s missing.

I personally know people that achieved amazing physical feats of endurance. I know people that have completed dozens of Ironman races and ultra-races. What is interesting is that even a lot of these people are wondering what is next. There is a hole they are also trying to fill, and it’s never enough.

Stop for a second and think. What if there is truly a deep longing and desire in us that we are trying to fill? What if we are all trying to fill that desire with MORE? More work, more money, more athletic accomplishments, more charity work, more being better parents, spouses or whatever it is you pour yourself into?

What if that desire and longing was divinely placed in you to connect to God, the creator of the universe? A God who will give you purpose and acceptance no matter what job title you have or how many medals are on the wall? A God who hard wired you for relationship and a perspective that the things of this world don’t matter as much as we think they do?

In the mist of all the things I personally strive for at work and athletically, I am already complete. I love a good challenge, but I don’t need more. I personally don’t have a deep need or longing to find out what’s next in order to feel peace. Sure, I had to die to placing huge importance on the things most of the world values the most, but the freedom I have is unexplainable. God has stamped my heart with grace.

I think Joe is right in saying “Deep down inside of each of these guys, there is a hole they are trying to fill.” Where he has it wrong is in thinking more accomplishments will fill the gap. What fills the gap is feeding the spirit.

When I look at the sunrise, I have joy in my heart and amazement that I know the creator of this beauty.

When I finish a race, I praise God for crafting such an amazing matrix of nerves, blood, muscle and skin that is capable of amazing things.

When I look at the world and politics, I have a peace in knowing that no matter what happens in the world while I am here, I am still in God’s hands and I will live eternally in His presence.

When I look at my bank account, no matter the balance, I know it is enough.

I have a joy that surpasses circumstance and a peace that is indescribable.

I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I believe is true– the only path to true fulfillment is relationship with Christ. With that, you will never need anything more.

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Philippians 4:19
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

This is life

I’ve had three months to reflect since my last Ironman. This one was particularly special to me. Training was super difficult due to my full-time job, Micah at home and the need to fit eating and sleeping in the mix. We moved to Colorado, so I really did not have anyone to train with. When I wanted to go for a ride or run with a new acquaintance the conversation would stop short when I mentioned the distance of the workout. Finding running partners for 16-18 mile Sunday runs was impossible, so I spent long hours each week training alone.

When you are alone for 15-20 hours a week, you have a lot of time to think. While I love the terrain in Colorado and being close to family, I miss my friends in San Diego tremendously. I spend time flipping back and forth between thoughts about how much I love my new home, and how much I miss my old one. In some ways, the chaos of training for my Ironman took my mind off the emotion that comes with trying to rebuild your life somewhere new.

After the race, I went into a small depressive state. In some ways, I am still there. After you cross a finish line that big and experience the release of hearing your name called on the PA system, it is easy to get lost. There is no point to your workouts any more. You step on the scale to a bigger number each morning. You have an extra beer at night to escape but the reality of finding purpose is hard to come to terms with.

I have spent time asking what is next. Is another big event the answer? Is this all there is to life? Go to a job during the day, watch my son play around for a couple of hours at night put him to bed and then fall asleep watching The Voice just to repeat it all the next day? I felt so alive when I was training and now I feel so numb.

I understand what it means to fight depression. It runs in my family and unless you have battled it personally, it is tough to comprehend. Even talking to family about it is tough. “Why would you ever be depressed? You have a wonderful job, an even more amazing family, and a son that fills your heart with so much joy you want to explode.” And yet some days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. I have just recently come to terms with the fact that I have fought this disease most of my life. I can remember times in High School when I did not feel like getting out of bed and facing the day. Even thinking back further in my past, I have struggled to stay happy and connected to every moment.

Two things have been tremendous in fighting the battle. My faith gives me confidence that there is a greater purpose here. I look at each day as an opportunity to serve, and love others. I try to die to myself and let God lead. The second thing that helps me is sport. While I’m not the best athlete in the world, cycling and running provide me an outlet to fight my demons head on. The longer and more challenging the workout, the better. Make it hurt. I have never felt so alive as I do after a workout so long and hard all I can do is lay on the floor in exhaustion. The drug of crossing the finish line at Ironman is one that will keep me coming back for more. However, sometimes I wonder if this is really an outlet, or if I am simply running away from my fears and reality.

I’m writing about my battle for the first time in hopes that this will be my first step in overcoming the disease. If I am ever left without sport as an option, I need to face the reality of life and quit running from it. I need to look at my beautiful family, thank God for the air He gives me to breathe and know that is enough. As we rebuild our lives here in Colorado, I know there will be the usual ups and downs. We will meet new friends, build new memories, run new races, and see the sun rise many times. This is life.

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

The Physics of a Running Coach

As I clocked past mile five on my early morning run this past week, I was thinking about how much I actually enjoy running. While cycling is my first passion, there is nothing like the feeling after a long run to boost the mood. The runners high we so desperately seek comes like a wave of pure joy. The sore muscles are already asking for more.

I wasn’t always a runner. While I played soccer in high school, I typically gravitated to skateboarding and snowboarding as my physical outlets. I never really saw running as something that I would enjoy. It was not until college when I stepped on a track for the first time that I saw the potential. My one-mile-3-times-a-week program was the brunt of jokes from my running friends, but I didn’t really care. At that time I didn’t understand how someone could even survive running 3 or more miles at a time.

While I was skateboarding down the halls of my high school, there was one teacher there who was always pushing me to go out for the cross-country running team. Mr. Hugill was my High School physics teacher and the coach of my High School’s cross-country running team.  I looked up to him more than any teacher I have had before or since. In addition to being a very popular teacher, he was also a devout Christian man who was never ashamed of his faith. He explained the world around me in a way that made sense. He spoke of faith as an endurance race to the finish. He spoke of physics as creation. He was the first person in my life that inspired me to live up to something greater, and to be genuine in the process.

As a runner now, I think of Mr. Hugill. There are those people in our lives that we look up to and seek to emulate. I always thought of Mr. Hugill as the sort of guy Christ would be like if he physically walked the earth today. Caring for people, reaching out to those in need, strong enough to stand up for what’s right and a competitive guy that people looked up to.

As I am now in my mid-thirties, I hope that somehow I can pay it forward. I hope I can have a positive impact on others and be a quality example of what is like to be seeking out something greater through Christ. I wonder if I can present a reality of what it is like to embrace spirituality without passing out judgment and bitterness.  I wonder if somehow I can inspire someone else to live a more full life in Christ despite their own imperfections. Mr. Hugill seemed to do that pretty well.

As I finish up another run, I am yet again inspired to do greater things. I thank those role models for being the catalyst to spark the fire inside that I never knew existed. I hope that we can all take a look at our own lives and work to live an example of goodness for others to follow.

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Philippians 2:1-4
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others

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