shortbread

short, sweet, and to-the-point — by Keith Elder

Archive for the tag “Goals”

“Einstein’s Desk…Burns…and an Organizing Principle”

Einstein's face

My first job after college was that of “Youth Director” at Huffman United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. My supervisor was Director of Christian Education, Burns Nesbitt. Burns was a 50-something, retired Air Force chaplain with way too much life and knowledge to spend it golfing away the golden years, so, Burns took on the challenge of cultivating the educational ministries of a 1500-member congregation.

How to describe Burns?

Burns was a dreamer/planner/world-thinker/justice-seeker/teacher/trainer/ uproarious laugh-er/theologian/connoisseur of life’s simple gifts—not to mention, husband to Mary Alice (delightful, strong, and refreshingly honest), and father to Phil, Jaye, and Chris. All this said, Burns tried his best to bring it all together and live a life of integrity.

My first visit to Burns’ office was unsettling. How do I describe that 8’ x 12’ish space? Overstuffed bookshelves reaching floor-to-ceiling… institutional, gray-green metal desk…a couple of mismatched chairs—all upstaged by two-foot-high stacks of file folders, open reference books, periodicals, and do-dad keepsakes from people and places past. There were 2’ x 3’ sheets of white newsprint masking-taped around the walls with barely legible, color-coded, Magic Marker scribbles from recent meetings. There was a flip chart in the corner on a flimsey aluminum easel, and a fire hazard of a desktop strewn with loose papers, sticky notes and cheap pens. The words “tsunami” and “tetanus shot” come to mind. John Wesley, father of our Methodist OCD-ness would not have seen eye-to-eye with Burns—and not just because Burns was a foot taller. 

In time, I came to understand that Burns was perfectly comfortable in his little disaster area. The disorder was his order—and Burns could put his hand on anything he needed at a moment’s notice. He knew exactly where the red Magic Marker was, and the children’s Sunday School material, and the book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Question: Have you ever seen a photo of Einstein’s desk?…or Mark Twain’s?… or Steve Jobs? Take a look….

Desk-Einstein

Desk-Mark Twain

Desk-Steve Jobs

My point?   Different people have different ways of making sense of their world—that is, different organizing principles.  Maybe it’s do-lists, PDA’s, calendars, personal assistants, executive secretaries.  For some, it’s mentors, managers, coaches, or trainers.  Maybe it’s a favorite philosopher or theologian.

What’s important is that you find something that works for you—a simple truth or system that helps you figure out the specifics of your life…that helps you make sense of a discombobulated world, and make a little hay while your mortal sun shines.

Now, Burns was no Einstein—though he had his occasional bursts of brilliance—but Burns had found a system that worked for him….

Amazing that he could find it in that office!

Keith Elder

2-3-2015

http://keithelder.com/

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“Steve Seskin… and Feeding the Dream”

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I am not usually one to say, “I am stoked!”… but I am stoked!  In few minutes, I’ll be making the short drive from Franklin to Nashville and Douglas Corner Café to hear one of my songwriter heroes, Steve Seskin, in a 9:00 PM show.

Steve is behind such hits as “Life’s a Dance” (John Michael Montgomery) and “I Don’t Know Why They Say Grown Men Don’t Cry.” (Tim McGraw). For the most part Steve’s songs are pretty substantive and life-affirming (no mud flaps, sweet ice tea, cut off jeans, Jack Daniels). He lives in California, but travels to Nashville a few times a year to write.  He comes once a year—this weekend—to lead an intense songwriting workshop. Two very full days at the Bluebird Café, talking songwriting with participants and industry pros.

The workshop is not cheap. And a 9:00 PM show is late for me.  And Saturdays and Sundays are pretty precious time.   But we are talking about a dream here.

You see, somewhere deep down, I have this sense that I could be pretty good at this songwriting thing.  It’s a fire that won’t go out. May be a call of sorts—and I can’t help feeling like it’s my duty to work it out.

I have writing goals.

I write something everyday “to keep the pencil sharp for that day when the hit comes along.”  (Harlan Howard)

I finish at least one song a week.  (This week I’ve finished four and started several others—but then, I am stoked…J)

Besides playing weekends, I play in writers venue almost every week, and always perform at least one new song.

I listen to great songwriters, in live venues or via youtube—classics like James Taylor and Guy Clark.  Newer acts like Mumford and Son, The Lumineers, John Mayer.

I am a member of a songwriter association (NSAI) and go to local workshops on Thursday evenings or catch their pro teaching via archives or live streaming.  I read lots on the subject.

Why all the fuss?  Got to feed the dream.

What’s your dream?…  and what are you doing to feed it?  Most dreams die of starvation, you know.

Keith

1/24/2014

keithelder.com

“Jiminy Cricket, Charlie Brown, and Changing Your Stars”

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(A word: Friends, this blog is about four times as long as my usual posts. Very much the exception to the Shortbread rule.  But don’t think of it as a long blog… just think of it as a short book!  I could have chopped it up into several blogs, but I thought it would be most valuable to you as a unit.) 

All due respect, Jiminy Cricket, but wishing upon a star won’t—in the words of Larry the Cable Guy—“git ‘er done.”

If you have a piece of paper handy, draw a simple five-point star—a star representing your plan of action for 2014.  It is a star that you will look at each day of the year to assure that you are staying on task in order to get to where you say you want to be by January 1, 2015.

It’s an old question: “Can a person change his or her stars?”  In other words, can we, by changing our attitudes and actions, rewrite the way our life story will play out?… the way we will be remembered?

The answer: absolutely. 

What I offer today is a simple tool to help you change your stars.  It is an approach that can help you get a handle on that life goal or dream that has, eluded you to date.  I particularly have a heart for those who have struggled to find their highest and best. Like Charlie Brown, your kite keeps getting stuck in the tree, or Lucy keeps snatching the ball away just as you’re about to kick it.  I know those frustrations.  But the tool is not solely for those on the edges of the dance floor.  It is just as applicable for those in the middle and those near the top of the life-fulfillment ladder.  It’s for anyone who has something they sincerely want to accomplish over the coming months, in any give area of their life.

Now, let’s be clear from the get-go: if you won’t work, it won’t work.  If you are waiting on someone else to make your life happen, it won’t work. If you are a quitter, it won’t work.   This is a tool–not a magic wand.

And now, for the star.

The first point—the top point of the star—is INSPIRATION.  You’ve got to identify something you really want—or really want to be.  A clear target.  I believe that the best of our dreams and ideas come from somewhere beyond us.  Call it your destiny.  Call it the will of God for your life.  What are your primal dreams?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  What are those underlying desires, beneath the surface wants?

A meaningful vocation… a comfortable home… loving relationships…  an adequate retirement at a reasonable age.  I want to write a book… or a song….  I want to get my weight down to ___ lbs. in the name of being healthy and living longer.  I want a better relationship with my spouse.

What’s your INSPIRATION—i.e., your vision for you?  There will likely be several items–physical, spiritual, career, family, etc..  Which ones are on top of your list for this year?  Write them down! Cut out pictures from magazines that give you a visual of those dreams.  Put them on the refrigerator door or on the bathroom mirror to keep them before you and remind you that this is where you are going.  They are your INSPIRATION.

Move clockwise to the second point of this star. Tag it, EDUCATION.  You begin reading around the subject of your dreams. You take notes. You memorize quotes and devour training CD’s and videos. You immerse yourself in the topic.  You talk to people who know more about the subject than you do.  It is one thing to have a dream, it is quite another to do your homework so that you can score well when the test rolls around.  Jesus once said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Vice-versa, where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.  If you really want something, you will invest yourself in it—your time, your money, your energy.

How do I go about writing a book?  How do I play a G chord on the guitar?  What tools do I need to build a piece of furniture?  How do I mix paints and work brushes to get the desired effect?  The second point of this star-changing star is EDUCATION.

The third point of the star is MOTIVATION. You’ve gotten a spark or two, but how do you fan that spark into flame, and how will you fuel the fire over time?  Great coaches are motivators.  They have the gift of drawing out the best in their players.  Where do we find the motivation to keep after our dreams?   You might Google “motivational speakers”.  Besides books or programs you might purchase, there is an ocean of free material.   You stay motivated by surrounding yourself with like-minded, can-do, wanna-do individuals. To stay motivated, you will probably need to say a few holy good-byes to individuals or groups that drag you down and pull you in the opposite direction of where you need to go.  Sadly, there are people out there who do not want you to succeed, and, consciously or unconsciously, they will try to undermine your progress.  MOTIVATION is the third indispensable point on your star.

The fourth point of the star is PERSPIRATION. Folks, if it was easy to be great, everyone would be great. But the truth is, anything worth having will involve sacrifice and strain…blood, sweat and tears.  It’s going to mean studying when you’d rather hang out with your friends or watch TV.  It’s going to mean making yourself go to the gym even when your don’t feel like it or even when it’s nine degrees outside (like it is this morning.)  PERSPIRATION—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—means pushing yourself through to the next level, then pushing yourself to the next.   Sometimes, it means saying no to those old habits that keep you in that downward spiral of failure and shame.  Anyone knows—breaking old habits is hard work, but you can cultivate new habits and a new future with a little PERSPIRATION.

The fifth and final point on the star is DETERMINIATION.  It is easy to be good for a day…to be committed for a week.  But without unwavering resolve, dreams will evaporate over time and in the face of adversity.  If you haven’t made up your mind ahead of time that you are going to stay the course, you are likely to run from the battle.  “Where there’s a will,” as they say, “there is a way.”  What determination does is galvanize the will.  I know what I want—more, I know what I am meant to do and beand I will get there…period!  Now, it’s just a matter of working out the practical steps from A to B, and following through.

The word, “determination” has two parts: “terminate” which means “to end”, and the prefix, “de”, which means “back” or “away from”.  To say that I am determined is to say there is no end to my resolve—that there is no going back.  DETERMINATION seals the star-changing deal.

In the middle of the star, I would just write the word, REALIZATION.  This is the pay-off for working the five points.  This is moving into the new home.  It is walking across the stage and receiving that diploma. It is stepping on the scales and seeing that you have reached your target weight.  It’s yelling along with Dave Ramsey, on live talk radio, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!!!”

There will come a point where you will find yourself enjoying this process. The late, great, Zig Ziglar’s wisdom comes to mind: “You don’t pay the price of success—you pay the price of failure.  You ENJOY the price of success.”

And you will.  I’d love to hear your star stories.

Keith

1/6/2014

keithelder.com

“Something New, Something Old…”

The idea came to me one day when I was trying to attack a ridiculously varied list of unfinished projects and wanna-do’s.  Old wedding wisdom came to mind.  Remember, brides, on your big day, don’t forget to wear  “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

I tweaked the saying for the greater good.

For a better day, everyday, do “something new, something old, something borrowed, and something bold.”

For me the “something new” comes first thing in the morning.  It’s new song Ideas or book outlines or blog ideas.  For me, it’s a stream of consciousness thing.  Just let the new ideas run, unimpeded by the clutter of headline news and phone calls and interruptions.  What might be the “something new” for you?

For me, doing “something old” may be working to finish a song, or working on a book in progress.  It might be anything from washing the car to clearing the e-mail in-box, to having a long-overdue cup of coffee with a friend.  Call it “taking care of business.”

The “something borrowed” has to do with personal development.  It’s sharpening the proverbial ax.  It’s a morning devotional–i.e., borrowing from the reservoirs of God.  It’s reading a book or trade magazine, or watching a motivational video that grows your skill set.  For me it might be listening to and learning from songs by great songwriters.  In essence, we are “borrowing” from someone else’s library of life experience; learning from people who have walked the path before us.  In my experience, people are amazingly generous with their knowledge when they are convinced that we are sincere.

And “something bold”?   Here, I try to do something that takes me out of my comfort zone.  Maybe I dive into a new recording technology that has intimidated me.  Maybe I try out a new song at a writers’ venue.  Maybe I make booking calls—always a scary prospect.  What would qualify as “something bold” for you?

So there you have it.  Your key to success.  If you turn it carefully, you will lose seven pounds in six days; get invited to appear on The Tonight Show; win the Powerball Lottery; or, at least, get a little more zippedy-doo-dah out of your day.

Keith   9/19/13

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