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I fish. It’s what I do. Some have asked me what in the world draws me to stand by a pond and throw a little feathered hook in the water time and time again, often with very few results. I fish so I can de-stress. 

It’s mindless (somewhat) and I can leave all the emotion, anxiety, and uncertainties behind me for just a little while. If you fish, you understand this. I can clear my head before re-entering the real world. Fishing is my self-care

Self-Care… It’s become a popular term that’s popped up in conversations around health, mindfulness, and stress. You do self-care when you do any kind of action deliberately in order to care for your mental, physical, or emotional health. And it’s widely thought to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. 

How apropos in our current state. At perhaps no other time in recent memory has it been so important to stay healthy. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. People are stuck at home. Routines are turned upside down. Family members are spending way more time with each other than they are used to. 

I’d say self-care is a precious commodity right about now. 

I don’t know about you, but in my house, it’s easy to give our kids a schedule that includes some healthy activities. However, it’s extremely difficult for me personally to get into a routine of self-care activities. My game is so thrown off by the stress of our circumstances. And it’s sometimes a fight just to get me away from the computer screen. 

But it has to happen. As parents, we’ve got to be a good example and practice self-care right now. And here’s why: 

You can’t give what you don’t have. 

Meaning, if you want your kids to practice self-care, you need to self-care. You’ve got to fill your tank so you have it in you to help them fill their tanks. When you self-care, you’re better able to handle feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and stress. This is so important so that these emotions don’t get the best of you. 

Pay attention to yourself. Keep an eye on the radar of your emotional state. Take the time to do some things each day that help you deal with all the chaos that is going on

  • Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Let the sun shine on your face for a little while. 
  • Meditate or pray. Sing (out loud). 
  • Get plenty of sleep. 
  • Do push-ups. Or go for a run. Or practice yoga. Anything to stretch, strengthen, and move the body. 
  • Eat clean. Healthier food keeps your energy up. Drink plenty of water. 
  • But, every few days, sneak in that Oreo. Because stress
  • Read a book. Watch a documentary. Keep your mental game strong. 
  • Communicate your needs to the people that love you. Let them know when you need to be alone. And let them know when you need to be with them. Get plenty of both. 

These are just a small number of suggestions for self-care. Search online for other ideas and find out what feeds your health—body, and soul. And then do it. Regularly. 

Of course, we don’t self-care simply for our own needs. Our families are depending on us. That’s why it’s so important that we set a good example of self-care as parents.

Your moments of self-care are the teachable moments for your kids.

As parents, every little thing we do is seen. Young eyes are watching how we handle ourselves—especially in the midst of anxiety and stress. They take their emotional cues from what they see in us. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a terrible parenting style—particularly when it comes to self-care. They need to see you handling your health in a positive way

It’s okay for your kids to know you are anxious or fearful. But it’s so much more important that they see how you handle your anxiety and fear. When they see you taking care of yourself, you are modeling that for your children. 

And think about this: when this whole pandemic, self-quarantine, social-distancing era is behind us, your kids are going to use what they’ve learned from you for the rest of their lives. I hope this is the last time we ever have to go through this, but it won’t be the last time your kids will experience stressful times. It may sound funny, but your example of self-care leaves a legacy. 

Parents, take care of yourself. For your sake, and for your kids. They’re counting on you.

Image from Unsplash.com

Being the leader your team needs during COVID-19 is no easy task. Last week as I was preparing for our team to begin working remotely, I was thinking about how this might work. 

I’m an empty nester, so working from home isn’t nearly as complicated as it was when our daughter was underfoot. However, many of the FTF team members have small children and spouses who are also providing essential services during this time. People are trying to navigate multiple roles—parent, teacher, team member, spouse, adult child to an aging parent and more—but in a much more chaotic environment.

It’s not lost on me that there’s no way it can be business as usual in the weeks to come. I literally can’t expect team members to be at their desk from 8-5 when they’re trying to feed children meals and snacks (then help with cleanup), put younger kids down for naps, and help with schoolwork. Plus, breaking up the latest spat or making sure their kids are not occupying themselves with screens all day long. And laundry. Don’t forget the mountains of laundry.

They’re also spending their energy trying to nurture other relationships in their lives. And they’re helping family members/friends who have lost jobs, are ill or very susceptible to COVID-19 in this challenging landscape. Not to mention, everyone is trying to keep surfaces wiped down to prevent the spread of sickness.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, that I think is worth sharing. 

He reminded us that right now, we’re all in uncharted waters so we need to be exceedingly human. As leaders/employers, we need to demonstrate real concern for the fears and anxieties people are experiencing both professionally and personally. A lot of people, including those of us who lead companies, feel like we’ve been punched in the gut.

Next, he pointed out that now’s the time to be especially communicative with our team members. Check in on people. Share what you know even if there isn’t a lot of new information. Pass along resources that you think might be helpful to them. (First Things First created a page with resources for self-care, marital care, and parenting specifically to help people during these uncertain times.)

Lencioni also encouraged us to lead with creativity. There’s no way we can do things the way we have always done them, so try new things. You’ve probably already created regular check-in times with your team members. Instead of only talking about work, allow them to share how they’re being creative at home, give them the chance to share stories, movies, games, and resources they’ve found particularly helpful. Your team needs to know you get it. This kind of bonding will bring the team closer long after this crisis is past.

In my experience, great leaders don’t see themselves as better than the people on their team. Instead, they surround themselves with team players who are passionate about the mission and understand that successful work depends on the success of the team. Now’s not the time to only look out for self, but to recognize that we’re all in this together. Even in and especially in times of unprecedented loss, the leader sets the tone for how the team moves forward. 

Probably all of us who lead are concerned about how we’re going to pay bills and make payroll over time. No doubt, income and donations will be less and billable hours will decrease, but remembering the human factor will help. Pushing people harder won’t make things better. Our employees will remember how they were treated during this crisis.

Lencioni closed his email with these wise words: 

“What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual,’ or being absent or inconsistent in the name of ‘giving people space,’ or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”

As the CEO, I know the FTF team is looking to me to lead through this time. I honestly have no idea what the future holds. I do know for this moment in time, I can be gracious with folks as they try to figure out how they will juggle everything. Nobody’s schedule is going to look the same.

I have to recognize that some of our team members are early birds and some are night owls. Some people need total quiet to work and others can work through the noise, no problem. Giving them some flexibility to accomplish tasks is key. People are already super stressed, weary, and anxious. Adding to that will only make them more unproductive and decrease the bottom line. With these things in mind, I’m looking for ways to help bring calm as we continue to serve people through our work by making one wise decision at a time.

Image from Unsplash.com

Managing Change Successfully

"It's NOT business as usual". We talk with Julie Baumgardner about dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with the major changes to our business and family lives during COVID19. Learn more at firstthingsfirst.org .

Posted by CWLI – Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute on Friday, March 20, 2020

Work, carpool, laundry, grocery shopping, menu planning, PTA meeting, dinner with the in-laws, school festival, clean the house… the list of things that need time and attention seems endless. Women in leadership have a lot piling up.

Do you ever lie awake at night because your mind won’t shut down from thinking about all you have to do?

Have you ever felt like trying to keep everything in your life together is like trying to hold a beach ball under water, and if you let go things are going to explode?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are in the boat with many other women. Unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy place to be.

“I am seeing more and more women in my office who are experiencing stress at work and at home, relationship issues, peer pressure and a battle in their own mind about what it means to be healthy,” says psychologist Jan Sherbak.

“Unfortunately, many of them are not handling the stress well. They find themselves depressed, feeling anxious, unable to quiet their mind and in general, miserable. In order to cope or dull the pain they use substances, food, obsessive focus on their body or simply withdraw from life, all of which interferes with the quality of their life.”

When one area of life is out of balance, it impacts other areas such as physical and spiritual health.

“In spite of feeling like things are out of our control, the truth is there really is a lot women can do to feel more in control of their lives,” says counselor Jessica Jollie, owner of Yoga Landing. “Studies show that when we exercise and have quiet time, whether it’s meditation or prayer, it impacts how we feel physically and how we respond mentally to all that we encounter throughout the day.”

If your life feels like it is reeling out of control, here are three tips you might find helpful:

  • Take five minutes to just breathe. Taking slow, deep breaths can be very calming.
  • Instead of leaving your “to do” list whirling around in your mind, write it down. Some women have a pad of paper on their nightstand so they can write down something that comes to them in the middle of the night instead of fretting about forgetting it by morning.
  • Take a technology break and go for a short, brisk walk. Just getting out in the fresh air can make a huge difference in your ability to tackle a problem.

“This is a huge issue for women in leadership to tackle,” says Meg Brasel, a nurse midwife. “I see so much of this in my practice – women not thriving because they are overwhelmed. This doesn’t just impact the woman, it impacts everybody around her. Our goal is to give women tools to help them thrive at home and in the workplace.”

Image from Unsplash.com

If you happen to be a Tennessee or UTC fan, it has been painful to watch both football teams struggle to even get on the scoreboard. There’s usually a lot of armchair quarterbacking and coaching going on anyway, but now it has reached a fever pitch. People are calling for the coaches’ jobs and trash-talking team members.

Don’t think it is about just these two schools. We could all list coaches who have been fired because of a losing season. One coach commented that it’s always interesting when the fate of one’s career rests in the hands of 18- to 22-year-olds. 

After a weekend of tough losses in college football, this post appeared on Facebook:

“ … I grew up in a house where my Daddy was born and raised an Alabama boy and my Mama was born and raised a Tennessee girl. We never ever talked trash. Did we have healthy teasing? Sure! But never ugly at all! I also grew up with my Daddy being a referee and was taught to show respect to the umpire or referee and to never EVER run my mouth. What I have found is we have a stadium full of disrespectful people who boo kids, coaches and referees and could care less what anyone thinks. 

“ … I challenge anyone who has ever played a competitive sport to stop and think. Did you ever think, man I can’t wait to go out and suck today?! NO! Not once did I ever think that and I bet there isn’t another athlete OR COACH who has either! How about your boss?! How about if you messed up or if your team messed up and people started screaming for your job!? Tonight I hurt for a couple who I met and know are amazing because I know their love for these kids. So scream all you want but maybe just maybe it might be about more than points on a scoreboard. Maybe it’s about a family, a kid who did their best but still isn’t good enough but had so much pressure.” 

This post brings up a really great point – what exactly are these kids doing? Is there more to this picture than winning and the fact that college athletics is big business that brings in money for the school? Every institution of higher learning would probably say their goal is to produce successful leaders, and for their athletes to graduate. They understand that very few of their athletes will go on to play professional sports. 

It’s helpful to know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain where mental control and self-regulation takes place isn’t fully formed until around age 25. These coaches and their staff are taking kids who are still maturing and not only helping them develop as players, but as people. They spend a lot of time making sure team players have access to helpful resources for academics, character development, personal boundaries and decision-making. 

Family members of coaches or players on the field also feel the sting of the boos from supposed fans when their family member or their team isn’t having a good game. Even some coaches’ family members experience ruthless bullying. People talk about players on social media as if they were NFL professionals, when in reality they are 18- to 22-year-olds.  

So, what exactly is college football or any other collegiate sport really about? 

When Kansas State University Head Coach Bill Snyder took over the football program in 1989, he took over the “worst NCAA Division 1 football program on planet Earth.” The team is now ranked third in the Big 12 Conference. In his book, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, Snyder outlines how he transformed a losing team into a winning team with his 16 goals for success.

Here’s the list:

  1. Commitment – To common goals and to being successful.
  2. Unselfishness – There is no “I” in TEAM
  3. Unity – Come together as never before.
  4. Improve – Everyday … as a player, person and student.
  5. Be tough – Mentally and physically.
  6. Self-discipline – Do it right, don’t accept less.
  7. Great effort.
  8. Enthusiasm
  9. Eliminate mistakes – Don’t beat yourself.
  10. Never give up.
  11. Don’t accept losing – If you do so one time, it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life.
  12. No self-limitations – Expect more of yourself.
  13. Expect to win – And truly believe we will.
  14. Consistency – Your very, very best every time.
  15. Leadership – Everyone can set an example.
  16. Responsibility – You are responsible for your own performance.

Snyder’s list is clearly about far more than football – it’s about life. It’s about helping young men who are playing football to be winners in life, to understand a commitment to something they believe matters and to pursue excellence in their accomplishments. It’s also about helping these men understand what it means to persist against the odds, teaching them how to pick themselves up after making a mistake and carry on, and showing them what it looks like to give their best. This mindset can lead to a life of success off the field, on the job and in all of life’s relationships.

Parents are a child’s first teacher. From infancy onward, children learn how to navigate life’s journey from watching their parents. The parent’s job is to lead and to cast a vision for a sense of the family’s greater purpose.

“I remember a number of years ago, having a conversation with a young man. He said to me, ‘When I have kids, I’m going to be their best friend.’ I thought to myself, ‘I hope that works out for you,’” says leadership expert, Dr. Mark Mendenhall. “It has been said that where there is no vision people perish. It isn’t so much about being your child’s best friend as it is about leading them to develop and become better human beings.”

But leading is difficult when people, regardless of age, don’t have a larger sense of moving toward a purpose.

“Having a vision for your family is important,” Mendenhall says. “It is the parent’s role to decide who we are as a family. At home, kids can go to school and parents can go to work. If there is no big, hairy, audacious goal that everybody knows they are aiming for, people tend to just go through the motions. Everybody needs to be able to answer the question: What are we as a family all in on?”

Years ago, Mendenhall purchased a new SUV. He told his children to be careful getting in and out of the cars in the garage so they did not damage the SUV. One morning he was in the family van, preparing to take his daughter to school. She came bouncing out the door and he thought to himself, “She isn’t going to remember to be careful.” She opened the passenger door, dinged the SUV and got in the van.

“I was furious and lit into her,” Mendenhall says. “In a heartbeat I watched her face go from bubbly and happy to sad and sniffling. I don’t think we said a word the entire way to school. On the way home I thought, ‘What just happened?’ I was thinking the piece of metal was more important to me than the best way to discipline or coach my daughter.

“It reminded me of Martin Buber’s concept of ‘I-Thou’ and ‘I-It.’ At any moment in time, as a leader or a parent, I can engage my child from the ‘I-Thou’ perspective – recognizing them as a human being with feelings, thoughts, weaknesses, strengths and ideas. Or, I can look at my child as an ‘It’ like a toaster – a thing, an object, something I want something from.”

Mendenhall later apologized for the way he treated his daughter, which is another characteristic of a strong leader. When you make a mistake in judgment, a sincere apology is powerful. Children know you aren’t perfect, and an apology can make the parent-child relationship stronger.

Studies indicate that setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each week for a family meeting can be beneficial. This is sacred time with no technology where the family does a fun activity together or confirms the weekly schedule.

“Family meetings were of great benefit to our family,” Mendenhall says. “It was hard, especially as the kids got older, because everybody wanted more of their time. Just being together, even if it doesn’t go well every week, is huge for keeping the family connected.”

Mendenhall also believes using participative leadership is especially helpful for parents.

“When our kids were younger, we realized they were watching too much television,” Mendenhall says. “We brought them all together and said, ‘There is way too much television watching going on. We want to try and solve this problem as a family and aren’t saying no television. But, we just need to figure out how to manage this better.’

“Our daughter was drawing while we were talking. At some point, she piped up and said, ‘We could make a sign that says ‘No More TV’ and put it over the television when it’s time for the television to go off.’”

“After some discussion, everybody agreed that could work. So, she made a big poster to hang from the television. On the back of it, one of our sons (who is now an attorney) drew up a contract us all to sign.”

The ultimate goal of parenting is to launch adults into the world with a skill set that will help them both personally and professionally. It all starts with parents leading out in the home.

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