Five Lessons I’ve Learned from Church Service

A little context before I jump in.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many unique things about it, but a notable one is that there is no paid clergy. The local congregations, which we call wards, are run entirely on a volunteer basis. The leader of the ward is called “bishop” and members of the ward are asked to serve in callings, which are assignments to serve in a specific area. These callings range from teaching Sunday School to counting attendance at worship services.

Last Sunday I was released from my calling to serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling I held for almost three and a half years. The leader who made the release invited me to share a few words with the congregation. I decided to share five lessons that I learned from serving in the church.

1) Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about

While serving, I spent a lot of time with people I had previously admired from a distance. They had good jobs, good marriages, a beautiful family, etc. I looked at these individuals and their families and assumed everything in their life was perfect.

As I spent time with these individuals, sometimes serving alongside them, sometimes serving them directly, I learned that no one is invincible. Everyone has challenges. Those challenges may not be apparent on the surface, but they are there, they are real, and quite often they are severe.

It’s been said that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. I’ve found through experience that this is spot on.

2) Assume good intentions

It’s easy to look at imperfect people and fixate on what they’re doing wrong and how they can do better. While correction has a place, so does kindness and support. In our church, service is 100% voluntary. No one gets paid to serve. Everyone is trying their best. Replacing criticism with a helping hand can go a long way. Assuming good intentions should apply to all, not just those serving.

3) Talents are magnified when serving others

Somehow, someway, when we use our talents to help others, those talents are enlarged.

4) Service is not always convenient

The first Sunday of May 2016 will always be a memorable one. I took our two older kids to church while my wife stayed home with our newborn daughter, who was three weeks old at the time. After the first hour of church (we met for three hours then but have since moved to two), one of the leaders pulled me into a room. He asked me if I would serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling that would require a substantial commitment of time and energy.

With three young children and a busy job, I thought of several reasons why the timing wasn’t right. However, I felt strongly that accepting the invitation to serve was the right thing to do and my wife was fully supportive. Sundays were no longer a day to sleep in. I had 6:30 AM meetings and didn’t get home until after lunch. Every Sunday my wife got the kids ready and took them to church on her own.

Six months later I accepted an offer to join DoorDash. It would prove to be an even more demanding job than my prior one and required a commute to San Francisco. Once again, I questioned whether we’d be able to make it all work. And life certainly didn’t get any simpler when we welcomed our fourth child earlier this year.

Over the last 3+ years there were a lot of balls to juggle and I thought church service may need to be the one I let drop. My wife, on more than one occasion, helped me see things from a long-term perspective and we were able to keep moving forward.

5) Serving others may bless your life more than those you’re serving

I won’t detail them here, but I’m in awe of how many blessings our family has had over the last 3+ years. While I hope that I’ve been able to help others, my life has likely been blessed even moreso.

In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

This has to be the most counterintuitive advice out there, but it’s true. Are you overwhelmed by all that’s going on in your life? Pause what you’re doing and go help someone. Doing so will both bless your life and put things into perspective.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve. While these lessons have come from serving in a formal capacity, I’ve learned that you don’t need to wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder. The opportunities are endless and the blessings of service come to all who are willing to extend a helping hand.

The Unanticipated Benefit of Having a Small House (Day 728)

My wife and I have mostly lived in Silicon Valley the last 11 years. I say mostly because there was a two-year stretch where we lived outside of California. The desire to change careers took us out of state for grad school. We ultimately found ourselves with a big decision: Should we move back to the Bay Area, where the high cost of living would limit our housing options, or should we find a new place to call home?

Most of my classmates chose the latter, moving to lower cost areas where they purchased large homes on large plots of land. The career opportunities, weather, and friendships we’d built over the years were enough for us to select the Bay Area. Our home would be much smaller than the one we lived in during grad school, but that was a sacrifice we had to make, or so I thought.  

We quickly noticed a few benefits of having a smaller home. Less square footage = lower utility bill. Smaller yard = less yard work. Smaller home = less space clean. (Fun fact: you can almost vacuum our entire house without having to change electrical outlets.)  

But there was one blessing we didn’t expect. Being close physically helped us grow closer in other ways. Let me explain.

Family prayer and scripture study has always been important and our goal is to do both daily. In grad school, we had a two-story home. Corralling kids was always a challenge and we often missed our goal. The seemingly small change of living on a single floor reduced a minor barrier and made it easier to gather as a family. We are now much more consistent at reaching our daily goal and it’s made a difference.

Living in close proximity has also strengthened our kids’ relationships. Our 8-year-old and 6-year-old share a room and are in constant interaction. They butt heads all the time, but there’s little space for them to be separated. While in the moment this can be painful for all involved (especially mom and dad). Our kids can’t run to their separate rooms or ignore the other. They are forced to work things out.

That constant interaction has fostered a special relationship. One recent night, after putting them to bed, we noticed it was unusually quiet in their room. One had climbed from the top bunk into the other’s bed and they were found laughing and sharing stories. A treasured moment for all.  

To be clear, I’m not arguing that small homes are somehow better than larger ones, and the day will come (I hope) when we have more space. But this experience has served as a reminder that sometimes those things in our lives that look or feel inferior turn out to be unanticipated blessings.  

Living in a smaller home has brought us closer. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit. Today is day 728.

The 5 Best Books I Reread in 2018

At the beginning of 2018, I made a goal to re-read several of my favorite books. I figured that if they were good enough the first time around, they were worth revisiting. Here are my top five.

 

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

As the subtitle states, Holiday’s book outlines how you can turn setbacks into successes. Holiday’s advice is largely inspired by stoics, with Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius being the most influential. Here are three of my favorite passages:

  • “Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted…So much power…is frittered away in this manner.”
  • “It’s supposed to be hard. Your first attempts aren’t going to work. It’s goings to take a lot out of you—but energy is an asset we can always find more of. It’s a renewable resource.”
  • “See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.”

 

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

I love this book and wish I would have read it before writing my first book. I now keep a copy on my desk for reference. Chock-full of simple yet elegant insights, Steal Like an Artist is a short, wonderful read for anyone seeking to be more creative.

What is creativity? To me, it’s the ability to imagine, to generate new ideas, to create, and to build something original. I’ve never considered myself creative, but over the last few years, I’ve been trying to build this muscle. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative type (most of us don’t), I think you’ll enjoy this book and find application for whatever you’re pursuing.

 

John Adams by David McCullough

I’m a huge fan of biographies and John Adams is one of my favorites. Adams was a polarizing figure throughout the American Revolution and held vicious grudges with several of the Founding Fathers. Despite his many flaws, Adams provided consistent leadership and played a critical role during the founding of the United States.

Biographies help me gain insights into how successful people handle crises, solve complex problems, and pursue interesting careers. Other favorite historical biographies include Truman (also by McCullough), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (by Walter Isaacson) and Alexander Hamilton (by Ron Chernow).

 

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Holiday convincingly argues that ego is the main thing holding us back from reaching our full potential. Early in our careers, ego can prevent us from developing our talents, and when we taste success, it can blind us to our own faults. Holiday shares anecdotes from the lives of historical figures who reached high levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos, as well as those who let ego conquer them. These stories drive home lessons that we all can apply.

My biggest takeaway? Don’t focus on what your neighbors, your co-workers, or your classmates are doing. Focus on what you can control. Keep your own scorecard.

 

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

I first read this book in 2015 and found it so insightful I decided to read it again. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi is known for saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” It makes for a great quote, but it’s completely false. Winners quit all the time, they’re just good at quitting at the right things. Free market systems reward the exceptional, and those who are best in the world at something get compensated 10x more than those who are merely good. Godin argues that we can all be the best in the world at something. To become exceptional, we first need to make sure we’re on the right path, then be willing to push past the point where most people give up.

Five years ago I left the finance world, largely because I didn’t feel I had the talent or desire to be exceptional in that field. I made the decision to forgo two years of income to pursue an MBA and completely switch careers. Several years in it’s clear to me I made the right choice. Knowing when to quit and when to stick isn’t easy, but this book provides a good framework to help with the decision.

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

Five years ago I was challenged to read 30 books in a year. I accepted that challenge and wrote about what I learned at the end of the year. I’ve since made it a point to read at least 30 books a year and my life has been greatly enriched by doing so.

I read a lot of great books in 2018. In no particular order, here are my 10 favorites.

10) When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Dan Pink

This is the fourth book I’ve read from Dan Pink, which goes to show how highly I think of his work. There are a lot of “how-to” books out there, but as the title suggests, this is a “when-to” book. Pink explores the science of timing and answers many questions including:

  • How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule?
  • Why do certain breaks dramatically improve student test scores?
  • Why should we avoid going to the hospital in the afternoon?
  • Why is singing in time with other people as good for you as exercise?
  • What is the ideal time to quit a job, switch careers, or get married?

Regarding the last question, Pink found that people who change jobs frequently early in career end up making more money than those who don’t. Why? As it turns out, the likelihood that you’re going to start your career in a job that you’re good at AND enjoy is relatively low. Changing jobs early in career gives you more chances to find the right match. He also shared that one of the main reasons starting your career during a recession can be so damaging is that it limits your ability to change jobs and you end up staying somewhere that’s not a good fit.

9. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite writers. While most of his books focus on stoicism, his first book details how easy it is to manipulate the media. I knew this book would expose the underbelly of media organizations but I was still shocked to learn how it all works today.

8. Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

We read Thinking in Bets for our DoorDash book club earlier this year and I initially wasn’t interested in it. It looked like a book about poker, a subject I don’t particularly care about. But I quickly learned it’s really a book about getting comfortable with uncertainty and making better decisions.

My biggest insight was realizing how often I base the quality of a decision on whether there’s a positive or negative outcome. Good outcome and I deserve a pat on the back. Bad outcome and I’m kicking myself. But in reality, decisions should be evaluated on information that’s available at the time, not on how things play out. When making decisions we often have limited information and an even more limited understanding of the risks. The more we can quantify those factors, the more we’ll end up making good choices.

Whether you read the book or not, think back to the worst decision you’ve made over the last year. If you’re like me, you immediately thought of a decision that led to a bad outcome, even if the decision itself may have been completely sound. Focusing on decision making process over outcome is the right way to do it and will yield to more good decisions in the long haul.

7. Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart by Shane Snow

Shane Snow is an amazing storyteller and weaves in clever anecdotes and thorough research to convey how we can build strong and impactful teams.

6. The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

Fantastic book on how to use defining moments to transform your life and business.

5. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict

There’s an argument that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. There’s no argument that he revolutionized the sport and dramatically increased its popularity since first winning the Masters in 1997. Tiger was lethal in his prime, winning over 30% of the tournaments he entered during a 12-year stretch. He dominated the competition. (Here are his 40 most impressive feats.)

Much of the credit for Tiger’s greatness can be attributed to his father, Earl, who pushed him relentlessly. I knew his dad was intense, but this book opened my eyes to the extreme ways Earl pushed his son. It also opened my eyes as to how hard Woods pushed himself to be the best, and how, in his quest for greatness, he ultimately destroyed his family and frayed many close relationships. The book is outstanding and the Bill Simmons Podcast interview with Chuck Klosterman covers the most riveting parts.

For me, Woods’ rise to greatness stands as a cautionary tale. He accomplished so much, but at what cost? Climbing to the top of your field, whether it’s sports, business, or anything else, requires an almost myopic focus. Before we begin our climb, it’s worth asking ourselves, today, what is the ultimate goal we’re trying to accomplish? Or as Harvard professor Clayton Christensen asks, how will you measure your life?

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

A leadership fable that teaches how teams can overcome obstacles to achieve success. I really enjoyed Lencioni’s writing style and was engaged throughout the book.

3. The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga

Earlier this year my friend tweeted, “Marc Andreessen thinks everyone should read this book right now: Adlerian psychology meets Stoic philosophy in Socratic dialogue. Compelling from front to back. Highly recommend.” So I bought it, and, and I’m glad I did. Written as dialog between a philosopher and a young man, The Courage to be Disliked was only recently published in English, but apparently sold over 3.5 million copies across Asia.

I drew a lot of insights, but my favorite lesson is connected to the book’s title. “Real freedom is the courage to be disliked. You’ll never be truly free unless you are willing to be disliked by others. The courage to be happy and the courage to be disliked go hand in hand.”

Amazon shows only 5-star and 1-star reviews, and I can see why. Some principles are simple and obvious, while others (past trauma has no impact on your ability to be happy) are much harder to swallow.  I don’t agree with everything taught, but it gave me a lot to think about. To me, that’s the sign of a great book.

I listened to the Audible version but it’s likely just as good in print. For a more thorough overview, check out this article.

2. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I loved this book. Might be the best I’ve read all year. There’s no business angle to Educated but I thought I’d share given that I literally couldn’t put it down.

1. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord

From DVDs to streaming to original content, Netflix has reinvented itself several times. These reinventions were made possible by a unique culture that differs wildly from its Silicon Valley contemporaries. Netflix’s former HR leader shares the secrets of what makes that culture so effective.

When Looks are Deceiving

Provo-based Qualtrics was in the news a few weeks back when the company announced they were being acquired by SAP for a whopping $8 billion. It’s the second largest SaaS acquisition ever and a huge win for the state of Utah. Having gone to college in Provo, I closely followed the details of the acquisition.

I couldn’t take my focus off Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. Each picture and video clip showed him wearing sunglasses. I kept thinking, Why on earth does this guy wear sunglasses indoors? Who does this guy think he is?  

Well, eventually I took the incredibly difficult step of entering “SAP CEO Sunglasses” into the Google machine. It turns out there’s a very good reason for those sunglasses. In July 2015 McDermott was walking down the stairs at his brother’s house, holding a glass of water. He slipped and fell, shattering the glass, and a shard went through his left eye. He was in surgery for over nine hours the night of the accident and had more than 10 surgeries in total. Eventually he lost the eye.

McDermott actually said that losing his eye changed his life for the better. “You fall down stairs and get knocked unconscious and the glass hits all the wrong parts. You’ve got to find a way to get up. So I don’t get rattled by the chaos. I get inspired by beating it back and finding out how gorgeous it is on the other side.”

Immediately upon reading the article, my view of McDermott was flipped upside down. I went from thinking he was probably an egomaniac to being totally impressed by how he’s coped with a serious setback.

I saw him do something I thought was odd (wearing sunglasses inside) and judged him for it. My judgment was way off. The experience was a needed reminder that when we see others act in a way that is peculiar, or somehow different from what we expect, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. First impressions are often wrong.

This Simple Tool Will Help You Immediately Neutralize Someone’s Anger

I recently had a meeting with an employee that I was dreading. I’ll spare the details, but he was frustrated about his compensation and felt like he had been wronged. He had spoken about this with his manager and HR partner on multiple occasions. Still not satisfied, he reached out to me over Slack. I walked him through the situation, the various factors at play, why we made the decision we did, and that we wouldn’t be revisiting that decision. Undeterred, he asked if we could meet in person.

Given that I had little to lose in this meeting (he was likely going to be angry at me regardless of what I said), I tried a tactic I learned while reading Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the Difference. Voss taught that you can neutralize angry people by identifying the worst things the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. These accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, so speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.

The employee was already in the conference room when I arrived. Before he could say anything I blurted out, “Listen, I know you’re pissed off about the situation and must think I’m a total jerk.” The employee responded by saying he wasn’t really that mad, he just wanted to understand why I’d made the decision. His anger was diffused, and after I walked through the rationale for our decision, the conversation came to an amicable close.

5 Habits That’ll Ensure You’ll End Every Day Feeling Successful

You know those days when you leave work feeling amazing, pumped that you were highly productive? On the flipside, I’m sure you have days that are just the opposite. Ones that leave you feeling frustrated, wondering whether you got anything done. What if there was a way to end every day knowing that it was successful?

Unfortunately, there’s no bulletproof formula to guarantee this, but there are certain practices you can follow that’ll help.

Here are five habits that, if practiced daily, can boost your success at work:

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

3 Better Things to Do Instead of Obsessing Over Finding Your Passion

You’ve spent so much energy trying to “find your passion” that you’re exhausted. And while you’ve invested countless hours to discovering your dream career path—doing all the things you’re supposed to do, like setting up informational interviews, and growing your network—you feel like you’ve made little progress.

Is it possible you’re making it more challenging than it needs to be? What if it’s more about looking inward and less about going on one million coffee meetings?

I’ve seen this firsthand in my experience as a career coach. Most people I work with can’t identify their passion, and they stress over it. They devote too much time and energy into the process.

I understand: There are few things as frustrating as not knowing what you’re meant to do want to do or what’ll truly fulfill you. But the answer isn’t going to appear if you overthink it and analyze every little thing that happens in your career. And with that, here’s what I recommend:

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

Just Lost Your Job? This Day-by-Day Timeline Will Get Help You Land a New One

You just lost your job. You may be crushed. You may be in denial. You may realize your work was toxic and be genuinely happy you never have to go back. Or, you may not fully understand how you’re feeling.

Regardless of your state of mind, it’s hard, and finding a new job can be even harder. Many people simply update their resume and apply for positions that look interesting. That’s one way to handle it, but it’s also likely to be insufficient. Plus, it’s important to give yourself time to process the loss.

I’ve been in the exact spot you’re in now. I was laid off from an investment bank at a time when finance roles were hard to come by. Through personal experience, and through my work as a career coach helping countless people find jobs, I’ve put together a comprehensive timeline of the steps to follow if you’re in this situation.

Day 1

The very first thing you should do after leaving the office…

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

7 Lessons I Learned From This 30-Day Gratitude Experiment

It all started on a Friday. I came home in kind of a funk. I’m still not sure why. Things at work were great, and everyone in my family was doing well. There was nothing tangibly wrong, but something was nagging at me.

The next day, I continued reading The Happiness Equation, a book I’d started a few months earlier. The author, Neil Pasricha, discussed how expressing gratitude consistently leads to greater happiness. Later that day I listened to several talks centered on finding greater peace and happiness, and the practice of giving thanks was referenced in each. The message hit me loud and clear—I need to be more grateful for all I have.

A few days later I kicked off what I dubbed the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Every single day, for 30 days, I would write a blog post sharing something I was grateful for. I gave myself only two rules: I couldn’t repeat topics, and I had to come up with something new each day.

Here are seven lessons I learned while completing the challenge.

1. Consistently giving thanks leads to increased happiness

Yes, the experiment worked. The simple act of writing down something I was grateful for each day made me happier. But honestly, this wasn’t all that surprising. What did surprise me was that making a commitment to give thanks on a daily basis left me constantly reflecting on the good in my life, even when I’d already written my blog post for the day.

2. Writing about gratitude made me more likely to thank others

Halfway through the experiment, I did something I probably don’t do enough. I sent an email to a colleague, outlining why I thought she was great at her job and how I appreciated her work. My email couldn’t have been more than five sentences in total. She followed up with a much longer message, explaining some challenges she was facing and how my note was the highlight of her week. Writing down what I was grateful for helped me be happier, which made me more likely to express gratitude to others.

3. Relationships are most important

When I kicked off this gratitude experiment, I didn’t have a set list of topics I’d cover. Rather, at the end of each day, I’d take a moment to reflect before writing about one thing I was grateful for. Of my 30 posts, 15 were focused on people. Some were specific individuals, while others were groups of people. Personal relationships are the most important thing in our lives.

4. Little things make a big difference

I found myself writing about seemingly trivial things, including long walksStar Warsbookscampfires and S’mores, and April baseball. While they may seem small or silly, each made a sizable impact on my well-being during the 30-day stretch.

5. There’s a silver lining in almost everything

In my circle of friends, I probably have the longest commute. It comes up a lot in conversation as people want to know how I’m handling it. While reflecting one night, I thought about the positive aspects of my long commute. Commuting by train gives me time to read, reflect, and get a head start on the day’s work. By the time I walk into the office, I’m in a better mindset and prepared to face challenges head on.

6. Expressing gratitude can help, even when you feel you have nothing to be grateful for

A few weeks into the experiment I had a pretty bad day. I didn’t want to write about anything. It took a little time to find something I was genuinely grateful for, but I did it anyway. My day didn’t instantly turn around, but I did notice a difference.

7. Even writing a quick gratitude is worth the effort

I completed the gratitude challenge a few weeks back, successfully writing a blog post each day for 30 days (you can read them here). But the benefits of this daily practice were so valuable I’ve continued doing it in a spreadsheet. I’m currently on Day 54. It takes only a minute or so each day and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

If you’re not as happy as you’d like to be, consider taking the 30-day gratitude challenge yourself. You too may find that the simple act of giving thanks can change your outlook on life. Sometimes it’s the small things that have the biggest impact.