I recently began reading (okay, "listening to" - I don't actually "read" much!) a book by Donald Miller called Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God's Story by Donald Miller. As the title alludes to, it's about understanding what role we play in the world - and how we can make an impact on the people around us. To me, this is both personal and professional. While my priority certainly needs to be with my wife and kids, my business also allows me the opportunity to hopefully make a positive impact on the people I work with and come in contact with every day. And, as I look back over my life to figure out where in the world I got the impression this was the way to think, it all comes back to one place:
From as far back as I can remember, I have looked to my dad as a great example. The love and patience I saw him show to my mom; the sacrifice and care he gave to us, his kids (me and my two brothers); the dedication he displayed in his involvement at our church; and the drive and passion I was exposed to in his work.
A successful small business owner from the late-70's to mid-90's, my dad experienced the ups and downs of the economy, but his grounded approach never waffled - not with his family and not with his business. As I'm starting to see my own life follow in similar footsteps, I've realized there were just a few simple things that I learned from my dad that can be applied to my own situation (both in life and in work).
GOD FIRST. It's actually possible this could be a blog of just ONE STEP. If this first one is truly followed, I believe everything else falls into place. But, I also know it's not that easy. I remember my dad had a painting that hung on the wall behind his desk. I wish I could find a copy of that painting - I can remember it so vividly. It showed a businessman sitting in a big office chair behind a large desk, and Jesus stood behind him, looking over him with his hand on the businessman's shoulder. To some, this may seem "over the top" to cross religion with business; but it was never a knock-you-over-the-head type of thing with my dad. It was just who he was, and he wanted people to know it. I believe it also helped him personally with decisions - it's hard to sit in your office chair, with Jesus looking over your shoulder every day and then cheat on your taxes, lie to a customer or take advantage of your employees!
KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES. It begins with step one, and from there other priorities have to be set, as well. Another thing that stands out to me from my childhood was that my dad was home for dinner just about every evening. It's possible this is not the case, but as a child, I specifically remember sitting down as a family for dinner very, very often. I know how we struggle with this very thing, but when we do sit down for dinner together as a family, it makes a difference. Family was a priority.
At work, this same concept applied. He truly cared about the people he employed - he cared for them as people, not just as employees. Many of his employees were also actual family - my grandfather, my uncle and my cousin all worked for him at one point or another. But, those who were not family might as well have been! He loved them all so much and would sacrifice anything for them. Same goes for his clients. If you would ask anyone who was ever a client of his (he owned a print shop), I believe they would have nothing but kind words to say. He genuinely cared about the people he came in contact with, because he knew his true priorities weren't connected to money and success, but it was the people he touched.
GIVE. I've mentioned a book in the past, called The Go-Giver. A fantastic book with a powerful concept at its core - GIVE MORE! Give more of yourself. Give more of your services. Give more of your money. Give, give, give! The book describes what are called "The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success":
The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people's interests first.
The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.
This book didn't exist back then, but these "laws" were displayed in my dad's everyday life - personally and professionally. He gave his time. He gave his money. He gave his life to others.
He still does. Now in retirement, and suffering from early signs of what is likely Alzheimer's Disease, his focus is still beyond himself - and still on these three things I've described. His first priority is God, then his family, then others. He loves God, and that flows into everything else he does.
As I'm almost in my 40th year on this earth - yep, later this year I'm no longer a "Young Professional"! - I think more and more about what I've learned and how I can pass that onto my kids (and anyone else who I touch). I hope my kids look back 20 or 30 years from now and can say, "All I really need to know, I learned from my dad."
(I can't ignore my mom in all of this! Every great dad/man, I believe, has a wonderful and strong woman in their life who loves, supports and cares for him. My dad is no exception, and neither am I. These lessons I learned from my dad wouldn't have been possible without the support of my mom, who was right next to my dad the whole time! Thanks, Mom.)