Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review: essentialism by Greg McKeown

Last summer, our friend Naomi recommended the book essentialism: The Disiciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown to myself and Jamie in the middle of a period where we were looking at ways to simplify and streamline our life. The book has a simple and compelling cover showing just exactly what happens to our bodies, minds, hearts, and lives when we choose to fill our life with nonessential things. The book is a quick read, and super helpful for anyone who is looking to get back to basics, and build from a solid foundation

The book is a fun read, and the way the book is set up helps to think through simplifying from the highest priority. Each chapter not only lays out an example of someone who is focused on essentials as well as someone focused on non-essentials, but also gives a path to get to what’s really important.

If each of us is honest, we spend a significant amount of our time and energy focused on things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. We give up our sleep for getting a few more emails out, or we give up on our exercise so we can surf the internet or watch tv. It’s like our thinking has gotten completely backward.

With Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) on the rise, and a strong illusion that we can “do all the things” we find ourselves wanting to include more and more habits, skills, responsibilities, and tasks in our lives. As two people who have historically tried to figure out how to say yes to just about every opportunity, Jamie and I have really benefitted from this book’s encouragement to say no to things that are less important, and to determine what is of prime importance.

The book offers some great tools and reminders to each of us with regard to keeping our life simple, and rather than trying to determine how to add activities to our already busy lives, essentialism by Greg McKeon encourages us to take stock and take away some of the flurry of busyness, to subtract things and say no to what is not essential. May we each live more simple and fulfilling lives and bring our very best selves to this world for the good of those around us, and for the good of those whose time has not yet come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin

Two years ago, Jamie and I went to see the movie Unbroken that told the story of WWII veteran Louis Zamperini and his amazing story of resilience in the face of terrible hardship. He spent more than a month floating and staying alive on a flotation raft when his plane went down and then spent over two years in POW camps in Japan. 

I recently acquired a copy of a book he wrote filled with life lessons from this former Olympic distance runner and hero. Zamperini died in 2014, but I believe Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons From An Extraordinary Life will be a strong part of carrying his legacy forward and providing us with an opportunity to learn from his incredible experiences.

What I loved most about the book was its readability. Zamperini was a war hero, an Olympian, and a child of an immigrant family. With 97 years under his belt at the time the book was published, he could have filled libraries with his accrued life wisdom. Instead, he kept it short and simple.

While the book covers the entirety of his life there were a few statements he made amid stories that really stuck with me.

In the opening of the book there’s a quote from Louis, ‘People tell me, “You’re such an optimist.” Am I an optimist? An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist says the glass is half empty. A survivalist is practical. He says, “Call it what you want, but just fill the glass.” I believe in filling the glass.’ I have to agree. Let’s keep our focus on filling the glass—and that will keep our attitude in line.

He also states, “You don’t have to go it alone.” Too often, we think that we are supposed to be figuring out this whole world all by ourselves, and rising above challenges with only our own mettle. I personally believe that we are given community so we can do amazing things together. When you are feeling alone, remember that there’s always someone out there who cares. No matter what. “Hope provides the power of the soul to endure.”

You have to learn to adapt. You can’t give up…You have to use unrelenting determination and exercise a positive attitude…We can’t all be champions, but we can give whatever is in us to give. What a reminder—give whatever is in you to give. When we hold back what is in us, we miss out on what could be our unique contribution to create a better world.

“No matter how old you are, don’t stop challenging yourself with new experiences.”

Zamperini teaches each of us that persistence, perseverance, and an unwillingness to accept defeat when things look all but hopeless, will carry us through incredibly difficult situations—for him, they carried him through surviving on a raft for 47 days among other exploits.

The last line of the book says, “I’m a thankful citizen of America who just wants to be remembered for his charitable heart.” This is his statement after enduring two years in a POW camp, after surviving 47 days on a raft after a plane crash, and after missing the Olympics to serve; he responds with gratitude for America, and a desire to be remembered for being charitable. How wonderful would our country and our world be if more of us had this kind of attitude and resolve! May we each endeavor toward this kind of response when adversity hits.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: The Way Of The SEAL by Mark Divine

Shortly after reading Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine, I picked up a copy of another book he wrote around the same time called The Way of the SEAL by the same author. The appeal of some of the tools in Unbeatable Mind made me curious about his second offering. While the books were not marketed as a series, there were some great tools and skills to be gleaned from both.

The author, Mark Divine, attributes his lessons to his SEAL training as well as martial arts training and discipline, but the wisdom he shares is not isolated to special operations or martial arts communities. The book is full of acronyms and mnemonic devices meant to help drive home lessons and tools, and with any book like this one, there’s nothing necessarily new about the offering except the way the author has put it together, and his personal stories to illustrate concepts.

And those stories, concepts, and strategies are incredibly helpful for anyone looking to live their life with greater productivity and purpose. One of the great tools in the book is a series of questions meant to assess your starting point to be able to know how much daylight there is between who you are and who you want to be.

Another great tool the book offers is examples of battle/weekly rhythms for moving forward. Over the last twelve months between personal fitness, leadership coach training and certification, taking class at Harvard, moving Nuru International’s mission forward, and striving to be a better husband and father, I have needed to develop a battle rhythm out of necessity. Mark’s book, among others, was incredibly helpful in thinking about and developing of that rhythm.

Looking for a solid book to help you map out a plan to move forward and take the next steps in your personal development, check out The Way Of The SEAL.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Review: Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine

About a year ago, I started reading a book by a former Navy SEAL, Mark Divine, called Unbeatable Mind. The appeal of the book for me was it’s focus on developing mental toughness. I had just finished my third Marine Corps Marathon, and I really wanted to improve my mental game for running. There were two or three points during the race where I felt myself wanting to let up a little bit because they were mentally challenging, and, when I feel that desire to let up, I strive to find ways that I can push through and forge ahead. I also had been seeing a lot of talk about the term resilience, and the thought of developing resilience was also appealing to me.

With that in mind, I picked up the book. The book reads like a manual filled with tools to cultivate a better life and a better mindset for oneself as well as for other people in one’s life (family, coworkers, community, etc.). I really enjoyed the book, and felt like the author did a decent job of blending personal experiences and his own story of discovering calling with tools and techniques that are easily remembered and readily applicable.

Even though I read the book in 2015, one specific tool stuck with me over the last year, and with Jamie’s pregnancy well on its way, I had Jamie begin practicing and reading about the same tool—it was found in the chapter on mental toughness. In fact, while the entire book is solid, I found that chapter to be the best.  

The tool/technique was called box breathing, and I’ve found myself practicing it as I drive and walk, and even as I start and end my day. When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, I pull box breathing off the shelf and practice it. And when Jamie saw that I was writing this review, she told me that the practices in the second chapter of the book really helped her during labor. In fact, although my wife is already an incredible warrior, I would say that her focus on breathing during labor really changed the whole experience for her.

The book was a fast read and I believe I might run through the whole thing again to see what other gems may surface for application. If you are looking for a book with practical tools to help improve mental toughness, I highly recommend Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine. There are a number of books being authored by veterans who are sharing their lessons learned with a broader audience, and I found this book to be chock-full of solid tools that are ready for application, if you are ready to step into the arena and live more purposefully.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cultivate Hope With Nuru International On #GivingTuesday

This year Nuru is working to raise $300,000 to expand its efforts to 1,500 new households in the southern highlands of Ethiopia. And today, on #GivingTuesday, a generous donor from West Virginia has stepped forward to match every donation received up to $15,000 today. Will you make a donation to help maximize this match and help Nuru serve even more families in 2017? Every bit helps!

Since the summer of 2007, I have had the incredible honor of working together with a few of my friends from my undergraduate days, namely John Hancox, Jake Harriman, Andy Cogar, and Trey Dunham to make our own unique contributions to a massive global problem. The problem is global extreme poverty. And, while the problem by itself is huge, the very fact of its existence leads to the proliferation and thriving of an array of other problems including global instability, violent extremism, child soldiers, slavery, and human trafficking just to name a few. 

Back in 2007, we had no idea what might be in store in the years ahead, but we had a plan, a ton of passion, and a number of really smart and committed leaders contributing their skills to building an organization that could make a tangible impact in the lives of others. As we launched Nuru International in September 2008, a number of our friends had thrown their lot in with us and committed time and money to helping spread the word about the issue, and Nuru's unique contribution to the problem. In a matter of months, Nuru had grown from an idea to an actual organization that was serving approximately 2,500 people in southwestern Kenya. 

And as of this year, that number has grown to more than 100,000 people. That's more than 100,000 lives changed for the better because people like me and you stepped into the arena and chose to do something rather than stand by idly as our global neighbors suffered. And we are just getting started. In 2015, our western staff left Kenya for good, and local leaders are continuing to adapt and improve their efforts to address extreme poverty in their country. They are cultivating hope in areas of the world that are all too often forgotten by most.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of traveling with Jamie to visit our second country project in Ethiopia. The area where Nuru works is high up in the mountains of southern Ethiopia, and it is about a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest city to the area. Together, Jamie and I listened to stories from farmers and their families about the transformation that had taken place for them since Nuru's arrival. They talked about increases in crop yields and being able to feed their families. They talked about improving their savings and their health, and they talked about things I didn't think about with regard to programs. They talked about how their marriages were healthier because they were not frustrated by conversations about money or frequent discussions about children being sick. Their marriages were healthier because they were developing skills to improve their livelihoods. There are so many aspects of our lives and our relationships that improve when people have the ability to make meaningful choices for their future! As we walked along and talked with these families, we also witnessed how Nuru had equipped these families to be able to cope with one of the worst droughts in Ethiopia to occur in many years.

Farming is risky business, and farmers are inherently risk takers; it’s always been that way. All over the world, our food supply relies on farmers taking risks. All over the world, parents want a better life for their children than the one they had. Amarech Sama was among the first individuals to enroll in Nuru's programs in Meteka Mele Ethiopia in 2014. Her community was deeply affected by the drought, but because of Nuru, she and her family are thriving. In fact, Amarech just gave birth to a baby boy, and has not only improved her own financial literacy, but she is participating in programs to learn to better care for her newborn in Nuru's healthcare training programs (and teaching others) ways to better care for their infants as well! Please watch and share this video to learn more about Amarech and the work of Nuru in Kenya and Ethiopia as well.

This holiday season, you can help change the lives of thousands of our global neighbors, and cultivate hope in the southern mountains of Ethiopia and beyond. Will you share this post and make a gift to support women like Amarech Sama and move Nuru's mission forward today?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

While I was passing through an airport, I saw a book with an intriguingly simple cover, and it just stood out so much I had to take a look. The book is called The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. When I saw it I had to stop for a minute and open it up. As I skimmed it quickly in the airport, I thought, “this book is very captivating to me.” I decided I might grab a copy in the near future and give it a read.

I’m intrigued by books and activities that cultivate self-mastery, productivity, and ways that we can develop ourselves and others, and this book was just so unique in its delivery, I had to check it out. To start, the book is printed with black, white, red, and grey ink. Sections of the book make it look like someone has already read it and circled, underlined, starred, or marked sections where key points are being made. For me, it made reading the book more interesting because it was like I had someone else’s (the author’s) notes to refer to as I read the book.

The main premise of the book is that we are not made to multi-task, and that we become most productive when we focus on ONE thing at a time. And, when it comes to goal setting, we find greater productivity toward those goals as we break the goals into smaller steps. For instance, if I have a goal of running a marathon in a year (which I do), what is the one thing I need to do in the next month to move toward that goal, and then, what is the one thing I need to do in the next week to achieve my monthly goal, and what is the one thing I need to do today to meet my weekly goal. It sounds really simple, and it is, but here’s the trick. While it is simple, it is not easy.

It is not easy to stay focused on the ONE thing whatever it is, while you are being distracted from every possible angle with other things, things that may or may not be important, but regardless of their importance, they are not as important as the ONE thing. The book’s mantra about ONE thing helps thin out a long list of goals, and to prioritize ONE thing at a time.

Looking for a book to help simplify and streamline your life? Check out The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and use it to decide what your ONE thing is for each area of your own personal development , business development, spiritual development or whatever area you are determined to grow in. And as you do, I pray you are able to filter out distracting voices so that you can focus on the ONE thing that will bring you toward your most fulfilled and fulfilling life!