As I recently wrote in response to Penelope’s post on what you do with your time after work, it’s important to continually challenge yourself in new ways. I recall a time in my life when it consisted of little more than the go to work, come home and plop on the couch and watch a few shows, perhaps hang out with my boyfriend, procrastinate on researching for my thesis, and fight the jealousy that he had more friends than me and thus didn’t spend every spare second in my company. It was a tough time. I was pretty miserable, even though I probably looked pretty successful. At 24, I’d purchased  my own home, had a growing career at a respected company, and was about to finish my master’s degree. You know, things could have looked a lot worse on the outside. But on the inside, it was pretty much an all-time low.

 And then we – my boyfriend and I – did something that expanded our horizons, challenged us, and gave us the opportunity to grow in totally unexpected ways. We joined a new church. We went a few times, and we didn’t like the music, so we wrote it off. Too rock show for us. But we ended up going back. And we kept going, because the community of people there made the effort to connect to us. We even actually started enjoying the music.  Then, we volunteered to help with the teenagers. And let me tell you that even though I had worked with youth throughout college, it was a totally different and interesting challenge as a professional. Because, the thing was, these kids pretty much will look up to you no matter what. So it makes you really examine your time. You don’t want to have to tell kids who think you are pretty stinking cool that your hobbies include watching TV, examining your yard each night to see if the new grass is growing, and occasionally tossing in a load of laundry. Too lame, and nothing worth looking up to, which you very much want to be.  

So it really made me re-examine my priorities and realize that there were a lot more cool things I should be doing with my time. So I started reading children’s literature again. I also gave up yard work and started this blog. Joined a photography club. Chose only to allow myself to turn on the TV if I had either the jewelry tools in my hands, my laptop on my lap, or my butt on the elliptical.  Then, a month or later, I did something even more drastic. I said “yes” when they asked me to take over the band. Now, I have to tell you that music was my life growing up. Then, I arrived a college prepared to major in music and quickly abandoned the idea because I didn’t want to compete with my friends who were musical, so I considered myself over it. A good choice not to major in music, a bad choice to abandon it. But that’s another post for another time. Seven years later, I picked up a microphone for the first time since freshman year to sing for a crowd of 12-17 year olds. Let me just say, that was a major challenge. So is leading a band, which I’d never really done before. But now Wednesday nights are among my favorite. And I find myself saying things like, “we need to pick that up a little,” or “let’s take that one from the top.” And I love it.  

Trading my butt-on-couch time for jumping up and down on a stage in front of an energetic, tuned-in crowd of teenagers one night a week may sound like a crazy leap. But it’s one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. Because every week, it stretches me, takes me out of my comfort zone, and reminds me that ultimately, if I’m going to be satisfied, I need to be doing something that’s not just challenging, but that adds value to people. Because as much cool stuff as we do, I don’t think we will ever be fully satisfied until we learn to invest time outside of ourselves and our own interests. It could be mentoring someone at work or an at-risk youth. Maybe it’s joining a volunteer organization or just getting to know a neighbor. Whatever works for you.

 

Because an amazing thing happens when you start putting yourself in a place that lets you pour into other people’s buckets. Your own gets just a little more full, and you find that you really don’t miss whatever show it was you used to watch, and you fall asleep much faster when you don’t take time to “wind down” for four hours after work, because you’ve lived a really full day.

 Challenge yourself, give more, sleep better. Repeat.

Advertisements

The Secret to Leadership

October 19, 2007

Tonight I shook this man’s hand. Let me say, hearing John Maxwell speak was truly an inspirational, life-changing experience. Every word he said felt like it was written just for me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one in the room who felt that way.

But to be in the presence of a leader of leaders is something I won’t soon forget. There are so many things he said, so much worth writing about. But it’s late, so I’ll share just this one thing. Perhaps one of the most powerful things anyone who wants to be a leader can ever hear, learn, do.

Add value to people.

Because people who add value become people with influence. And people with influence become world-class leaders.

Wherever you work, whoever you meet, whatever you do, go ahead. Add value.