Falling Forward: What Paintball Taught Me About Facing Adversity

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I drove up north of the city to play paintball. We met at a large property with a lot of tress and natural obstacles and got started. I had only played paintball once before and honestly I wasn’t that good. I started with a lot of confidence – gained from playing so many military video games – but when it came to actually playing, I would get scared. I would feel my heartbeat in my head as I looked around; I panicked and started to wonder where the enemy would show up.

After getting out in a few games, I realized that my inexperience had led me to form a bad habit. Because my team was regularly on the losing end, it was normal for me to be faced with two or more opponents shooting at me. I would begin to feel stressed and do something which I felt was natural: fall on my back. I would try to keep firing, but as soon as I was in this position, I would be done for.

When I had done this a few times, I started to think how I could be smarter. Falling on my back made me look weak, restricted me from moving, presented a larger target, and made me more inaccurate. Earlier in the day, however, I was faced with an opponent who – after being shot at – laid on his stomach and proceeded to get me out. All at once my military-video-game-training came back to me and I knew what I had to do. 

When I would feel overwhelmed, I needed to fall forward and go prone. 

In the military, going “prone” is simply a position where you lay on your stomach and continue to fire your weapon. This is a good position tactically because it not only makes you a smaller target, you become more accurate because you get stability from the ground.

I began to practice this new method and by the last game, going prone was the new natural reaction – and best of it all it allowed me to shoot one of my friends. It left a huge welt!

Later on when I got home, I started to think about the parallels between paintball and real life.

Like paintball, I’m often in situations where I’m feeling overwhelmed. It feels like life is teaming up on me and I worry that I’m about to get out. In these times, it feels perfectly normal to do the equivalent of falling on my back. I think I’m still in the game, but in reality I’m allowing negativity and pessimism to creep in. Even though I’m not in the best position possible, it feels like I’m being realistic. 

Like in paintball, I now believe that there’s another way to approach hard times. 

Here are 4 practical ways which I have found help me fall forward in life:

1) Understand that whenever I fall on my back, I’m making a choice. 

Beating myself up after a bad choice or just being negative or being negative feels like the natural thing to do. Everyone around me is doing it. But it’s not the only choice. There’s no reason I need to face my circumstances from a position of weakness instead of strength. This isn’t in the rule book! When I feel stressed, I can choose to double-down by becoming wiser and more strategic.

2) Assume victory, not defeat. 

When I was growing up, I often prided myself on not being optimistic or pessimistic. I transcended those states because I was a realistIn reality, I was often a pessimist who just made really good arguments about why life was bad.

I now believe that both pessimism aren’t that helpful. To me, they assume the worst. Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of the Life is Good brand, said this:

“Optimism doesn’t ignore that bad things happen. It says the best way to overcome obstacles is to focus on opportunity.”

3) Hit the pause button

I’ve been listening to a history podcast about the first World War (Link). One of the interesting aspects that the narrator explored was difference between new recruits and experienced fighters. Up until that point, most countries would typically have smaller, professional armies composed of career soldiers. But because this war started so quickly, the majority of the soldiers were actually farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, etc.. When artillery was first introduced, the shelling was so disturbing that new recruits simply ran off, unable to cope with their panic. This was at a time when simply putting a finger out of your trench would have 12 enemy guns shooting at you. Running off ended many soldiers lives. 

While most of our stresses will not involve life or death and won’t be as dramatic, there’s still a lesson to be learned. Panic is dangerous. It not only leads you to make foolish decisions, it has a way of spreading to those around you. When I’m faced with a hard circumstance, I typically just need to slow down and hit the pause button.  I typically don’t need to act at that very moment and pausing can often bring good perspective. There’s no need to make a rookie mistake that can threaten to reverse my progress.

4) Experiment

In battle, soldiers will avoid facing their opponents head on. Instead, they’ll try to get better positioning – hitting the enemy from higher ground or from the sides.When I’m stressed, it’s often because I’m trying to fight a circumstance head on. What I really need to do is to find a different positionI need to try something new.

Don’t expect to get different results by doing the same things you’ve always done.

Finding a new position also gives me more opportunities. Staying where I am is often perceived as better because I’m comfortable. But opportunities don’t just fall in my lap. I have to go after them. Occasionally something good might cross my path, but in general, I will miss out on the best that life has to offer if I just wait around scared.

Training yourself to fall forward in adverse circumstances will be difficult at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel, and the more growth you’ll see.

 

 

 

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What To Ask When God Disappoints You

My first real job out of college was working in customer service at a call center. While we didn’t have to do cold calling, we did have to sit and receive back-to-back calls, often talking to stressed out or angry college students who wanted their money back from a purchase. The job itself didn’t seem good enough to celebrate or bad enough to leave. I became comfortable. I got used to the routine of going to work and chatting with my coworkers or boss. As time went on things did improve. I became a trainer, and I got to work on projects where they needed someone reliable. At the end of the day, however, I was still in a call center and I still felt overqualified, underpaid, and under-utilized. 

This went on for 6 years.

Then, in April of 2014, an opportunity came that could change everything. The manager of another group in our office told me of an opening on her team that she wanted me to fill. It would have been around a $5,000/year increase in a job in a salaried position. No more taking calls from customers. I’d finally be able to work more at my own pace and actually get paid to use my brain. I could influence change.

It seemed like a miracle.

Best of all, getting the position seemed like a sure thing…until it wasn’t. Part of the application process required that I complete a specific project, and due to a detail that I missed, I didn’t do it. Suffice to say, this ended the possibility of me changing jobs.

I was upset. This was my way out! I felt like God had set this up for me and then changed his mind at the last minute.

Recently several of my close friends have gone through similar situations. They would be faced with a great job, a relationship, or an opportunity to do something really cool. The stars seemed to align and everything looked like it would work out. The opportunities were so good and so random that it had to be orchestrated by God. But one by one they experienced disappointment. Over and over again, each person seemed to raise nearly identical questions:

  • Why did God get my hopes up? Why didn’t he just tell me it wasn’t going to work out?
  • Can I even trust myself to hear God correctly if I thought I heard him and was so far off?
  • Why is it that God always seems give me things like “patience” and “discipline”? Why can’t he give me things that I really enjoy?
  • What is God’s will for my life if it wasn’t that opportunity?
  • Why doesn’t God speak to me and at least try to comfort me or acknowledge my disappointment?

To be honest, these are really big questions that I think would take more than a short article to really get into. That being said, I do have more questions which have helped me think through and begin to process my own disappointments.

#1) How valuable are my negative experiences?

I’ve talked about this before [link], but overall, I’ve found that bad things are never wholly bad. In fact, with the right perspective, bad things can be extremely good. In my example, I didn’t get the job I wanted, but:

  • I developed a clearer vision for what I want in life
  • I saw that no matter what, my circumstances are not set in stone
  • I saw the benefits that can happen when I leave my comfort zone
  • I learned to trust God more and stick with Him through a hard time
  • I gained good interview experience
  • I learned patience
  • I was able to continue help and serve the people around me in my home department even more. 

Picture two columns. One side contains the things that I missed out on (“$5,000, less stress, etc..”). On the other side, the things that I gained (see above).

Now ask, “what is the value of the things I gained versus the things I lost?” What’s the price tag on trusting God more? How much money would I spend to understand that benefits can happen when I take a risk? How much is learning more about what you want in life worth? What about patience? And what if during that time of staying put I could say some kind word to someone or helped someone through something hard? How much is that really worth?

I might’ve missed an opportunity to make an extra $5,000 per year, but realistically, the lessons that I learned were likely worth the same or more than that.

It’s almost as if God decided that no matter what, I was going to get something good. He was going to give me cash or experience that was just as valuable as the cash. No matter what it would be a gift.  

#2) What if succeeding too quickly inhibits my ability to grow and understand life?

While I love American culture, parts of it have seemed to encourage me to expect that I would get what I want early on in life. It would give me examples like Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg, and Justin Beiber, and then tell me how bad I am for not being more like them.

This line of thinking has bothered me, though, because if I always succeed at everything I do, I’m not laying any foundation for long-term growth. Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield had this to say in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:

Early Success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.

If I’m always succeeding, I’m not learning.

A while back I read an article by a favorite author of mine. He proposed that instead of trying to peak in your 20s and 30s, you should try to peak when you’re 65. This shift in thinking has allowed me to pursue ambition and success while taking disappointment very lightly. Whenever something is not going my way, I think to myself, I’m going to peak at 65, not 30. This isn’t a big deal.

#3) What if God’s will for me isn’t as specific as I think?

I used to think that for the big things in life, God had a specific will. He probably didn’t care as much about the little things – where I parked, what I wore, where I ate – but he did care about the big ones – whom I married, what jobs I got, what opportunities came my way, etc… This started to crumble when I heard people everywhere talk about how there was ‘no such thing as a soul mate’ and that ‘God could have multiple people in this world that would be good for you to marry.’

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard helped me think through this concept by offering a comparison of his relationship with his kids:

When our children, John and Becky, were small, they were often completely in my will as they played happily in the back garden, though I had no preference that they should do the particular things they were doing there or even that they should be in the back garden instead of playing in their rooms or having a snack in the kitchen. Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us. And that leaves a lot of room for initiative on our part, which is essential: our individual initiatives are central to his will for us.

In my life, I’ve observed that God seems to work through my own initiatives. I typically tell him what I want to do and he typically says, “Go do it. I’m with you.” God never told me that I would enjoy writing. In fact, when I first started writing in college, I didn’t really enjoy it at all. I was a perfectionist. I wrote about things that I didn’t naturally know about, and that required me to do a lot of reading and research before starting. However, after learning several different things, I now immensely enjoy writing. In this scenario, God seems happy that I took initiative. While he did seem to open doors for me to learn new things, he didn’t force me into them. I never had a conversation with God on whether or not it was his will for me.

Now there are times where I have felt like God did have a specific will for me. In the summer of 2015, I was contemplating leaving Columbus, Ohio, and moving to another state with a young woman I had just started dating two months prior. In retrospect it didn’t sound like the wisest choice, but at the time I didn’t find a lot of obstacles in my way. If nothing else, I thought, it will be an adventure. I brought the issue up with one of my mentors and he encouraged me to pray about it. If God has a specific will here, he said,  he will make it known. Two weeks later she broke up with me and moved away. In hindsight, this was really the best decision and ended up making us both a lot happier.

I believe now that God is able to clearly communicate when he wants me to do something specific. Going back to Dallas Willard:

It is possible to talk about hearing God in terms of mysterious feelings, curious circumstances and special scriptural nuances of meaning to the point where God’s character is called into question. We must reply to this tendency by stating emphatically that God is not a mumbling trickster. On the contrary, we can expect (given the revelation of God in Christ) that if God wants us to know something, he will be both able and willing to communicate it to us plainly, as long as we are open and prepared by our experience to hear and obey.

The idea that a much of my life depends on my own initiatives has also seemed like an incredible time-saver. When an opportunity comes around, I don’t really have to sit on my hands and wonder if it is or is not from God. I take action (using wisdom and common sense) and trust that if God wants me to do something specifically, he will tell me clearly. 

#4) What if, in spite of my disappointment, I choose to trust Jesus?

Let’s go back to the scene in the office where I just lost the opportunity of a new job.

As soon as I realized that I was not getting the job, I knew I was at a crossroads faced with a choice: I could choose to trust more in God or more in myself. In my head, I heard God replay a line from a TV show that I had watched some years ago. It was a show about Julius Caesar and the phrase was spoken by his famous general, Marc Antony. Antony’s group being threatened with an attack and he said this line. It wasn’t a loud proclamation, but a simple yet firm call to brothers in arms. It was:

“Rally to me, men.”

In military terms, rallying is when you come together to recover or reorganize in order to continue fighting. It’s usually after you’ve been attacked or suffered a small defeat. When you feel demoralized you would rally to a general and start fighting again. 

God replayed this scene in my head as a way to speak to me. God wanted me to rally to him. I wasn’t defeated on a battlefield, but I felt a defeat in my career. But I could go to God and I could recover and reorganize. This wasn’t the end. I would fight another day. 

1 year and 3 months later, the exact same opportunity came around, and I killed it. I now work in that new position. And I later found out that I probably was given a higher salary than I would have received before, as they were even more in need to have someone on the team!

Obviously we know that life isn’t always “clean” and doesn’t always resolve well, like it did for me. Sometimes you sit in disappointment for a really long time. It starts to feel like in limbo – you’re unable to go back or forward. Weeks, months, or years go by. But what if in these situations, you could make a conscious choice to rally to God? What would that look like for you? 

What if in our lives we could look at our situations from a different perspective? What if we rallied and continued to fight? What if we realized that we have more strength than we think?

 

Why Real Wisdom Never Leads to a Boring Life

When I was in high school, I was regularly praised by teachers and other adults for making “wise” decisions. This wasn’t because I thought through my decisions well or considered options that other people didn’t think about. It was because I avoided doing all the “bad” stuff. I was considered wise because I didn’t drink, go to parties, or hang out with the “wrong crowd.” It was ironic that adults considered me wise; the only reason I didn’t do those things was because I was heavily addicted to video games. In retrospect, this was far worse off for my personal development than making many of those mistakes would have been!

Aside from avoiding fun-yet-slightly-bad things in life, I’ve always thought that being wise meant:

  • Acting really slow
  • Planning more
  • Asking advice from as many people as possible
  • Being risk averse
  • Overall being afraid to act

My views began to change when I started to hang around a guy named David. While David and I are very close now, when we met he was quite a dilemma. David was always taking risks. Even though he was in his early 20s, working, and going to college, he decided to get into real-estate investing and bought his first rental property. Virtually everyone around him doubted him and were skeptical that he could be a landlord at such a young age. (Now three  years later, David owns two rental properties and his success has directly influenced many other people to get into the same business, including myself.) 

David challenged my conventional ideas about wisdom. In contrast to what I had always thought, here’s what David suggested:

#1) Take a lot more risks than you do now.

I equated not making choices with wisdom. I thought that when you took action and actually did something, you were taking a risk, and wisdom says to avoid risk. David, however, landed on the other side of things. David said that, like anything, the more action you take, the better you get at it. Making decisions and taking risks gets easier with practice. (I would later find out that taking action makings things easier, cheaper, and more successful.)

#2) Act first and plan second.

David always cautioned me against planning too much. He knew I used planning as a way to procrastinate and avoid taking action. Taking action often pushes me out of my comfort zone and this makes me afraid. Unfortunately, most of the good stuff in life lays outside the comfort zone (link). While many things we do require at least a little planning, David advised acting first and then figuring it out as you go. (I found out later that being naive is a great help to this! [1] [2]) 

#3) Don’t ask so many people for advice.

I had always thought that the more people you ask for advice, the better off you’d be. David didn’t think so. He said that he has mentors in his life – all of whom were experts in different areas. If he needs advice on a rental property, he talks to his friend Joe who owns a lot of rental properties. If he needs spiritual advice, he goes to his parents, who are pastors. He typically only asks for advice from people who are experts in that specific area.

This made a lot of sense to me as whenever I would ask for advice, I would constantly get confused. Whenever I asked for advice, people would routinely tell me all the stuff that could go wrong – the mistakes that they had seen their friends and family make and how I was in for a lot of pain and trouble. This would always leave me discouraged. 

The more I’ve learned about successful people, however, the more I’ve noticed an important trend: they all took risks. In fact, they saw risk-taking as a component of success. They didn’t think that the goal in life was to make as many perfect choices as possible. Their goal was just to succeed a lot more than they failed. And even when they did fail, they didn’t call it failure, they called it “learning.”

Famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

“A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions – as attempts to find out something.”

And nationally known speaker and consultant Denis Waitley says:

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

I’ve learned a lot since I met David. While I still often procrastinate and over-plan, I do less of it now. I’ve also realized that a lot of reasons I didn’t want to do things boiled down to fear. I saw risk-taking as something that made me vulnerable, and that scared me. But now I press into my fear. If something makes me afraid, I use that as an indicator that I should do it!

What risks are you avoiding because you’re afraid?

What would your life look like if you put aside your fear and simply took a risk?

What Are We Missing Out On Because We’re Afraid To Be Bored?

Last week, a band I really liked was in town. Since I’ve been trying to become more independent, I decided to go to the concert by myself. After I went in, however, I realized that I had left my phone in my car. I didn’t want to miss the opening band so I decided to go in and planned on leaving if they hadn’t started yet. They hadn’t, so I decided to head back. The only problem was that there was a big sign that read, “NO RE-ENTRY.” I was stuck for the next three hours, by myself, without my phone.

While my phone does a lot of things for me, one of the things that I’ve used it for more and more is to relieve boredom. I’ve developed a habit that whenever I’m bored, I pull out my phone, even if I don’t have anything in mind to look at. If I sense that I am bored or that I will be bored in the near future, I play it safe and take my phone with me. So going to this concert without my phone started to cause a little anxiety. 

For the first 15 minutes, I was pretty bored. I found a seat and was people watching, but I really had nothing to do. After that 15 minutes, though, something started to…happen…in my brain. The longer I was bored, the more and more my mind began to work. I started writing articles in my head. I started solving problems from work. Without consciously choosing to, I started to come up with all kinds of ideas and solutions to various minor things that annoy me in life.

Boredom isn’t bad or something to avoid.

Boredom is a necessary entrance into the stadium of creativity.

I haven’t mastered this. Like I said before, I forgot my phone by accident. I also don’t think my phone is evil or anything – it serves some really helpful purposes – connecting with people, getting directions, and more. During the concert, I had to keep asking people what time it was! Nevertheless, I think my relationship does need to change. 

Here’s some thoughts on what this might mean for us practically:

  • When creating, don’t keep your phone within sight. Put it in a drawer, leave it in another room, or turn it off. Even though you’re not using it, just seeing it on your desk distracts your brain – it’s science!
  • When you’re having a hard time creating, allow yourself to get bored. Don’t escape it. It’s uncomfortable at first. Push through it!
  • Think about your relationship with your phone. Do you master it or does it master you?
  • Look for excuses not to have your phone around. If you’re at dinner with friends, don’t have your phone out.  Leave it in your pocket or your purse. Our phones can get in the way of our relationships
  • Practice being present. I could have a whole post on stillness and meditation, but this is one of the best ways to practice being in the current moment. Here’s a great article on the subject.
  • Don’t use your phone to escape uncomfortable situations. I was at a concert alone. I was uncomfortable just standing around. Instead of escaping the discomfort, I made a choice to embrace it.

This week, I challenge you to find one situation where you can avoid the temptation to pull out your phone. If you feel boredom coming on, embrace it for what it truly is – an opening to creativity and better relationships.

Why Choosing to be Naively Grateful about life is one of my Biggest Strengths

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of being thankful. Growing up in Christian circles, I was familiar with a famous Bible verse that tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. This always sounded nice, but I never really thought it was that realistic. I suppose I can be thankful for small things like red lights because they teach me patience, but what about big things – like my uncle passing away of AIDS last month? Or what about when a friend got divorced, or another friend got fired from their job?

This year I was reintroduced to Victor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks about the choices man makes when he is faced with bad circumstances. When reflecting on his time in a concentration camp, Frankl wrote:

“Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances? … There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability, suppressed … We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”

If what I had before was a puzzle, this was the missing piece. I finally realized that being thankful is a choice. I don’t have to live in reaction to my circumstances, I can choose how I view them. This helped make sense of another confusing passage in the Bible, one which basically says that God is so powerful he can perform some spiritual Jujitsu and flip bad things around, turning them into good.

I now have a new reality:

Everything that happens to me is either objectively good or is a bad thing being turned into good.

Or put another way…

Everything has the potential to be good for me.

Being thankful is a lot easier when you realize that every bad thing carries a blessing with it. It’s almost as if a tragedy is forced to take carry-on-luggage to it’s destination – luggage filled with hope and joy.

There is no thing or experience that’s so negative that some good does not come out of it. The key is to find it and embrace it and to move forward from that truth. It’s almost as if a spy is giving you a secret delivery. If you don’t see it and take it, you don’t get the benefit from it.

Here’s the best thing I’ve found to grow in this new reality:

Start a Gratitude Journal.

Challenge yourself to take a few minutes to write down 5 things you’re thankful for every day. While I saw the benefits within a week, I would commit to writing for 30 days.I recommend writing down in a paper journal. If you don’t have one, do this on your computer or phone with a note-taking app. It’s OK to repeat things from day to day. Maybe you’re really thankful for your job, or for a volunteer opportunity, or a person.Feel free to write about whatever it is more than once.

Read articles (like this one) and take in videos (like these) that help reinforce and motivate you to keep on your habit. I recommend reading one article a day for 7 days to keep it in the forefront of your mind.

I’ve done this practice almost every day for the past 70 days. Here’s an example of of a typical day:

I am thankful for:

  1. I have a lot of clothes and can buy more as I want
  2. I have food to eat and can buy food quickly and easily
  3. Books, and learning from other people in general
  4. I have a job
  5. I have a friend named Bruce who edits my articles and is the most interesting man in the world.
  6. My commute was peaceful and provided good time for reflection
  7. Being able to talk honestly and openly with friends
  8. I got to practice cooking and dinner was really good!
  9. Found a free parking spot downtown
  10. I’m so thankful for my car!
  11. I like my co-workers
  12. Being alive
  13. Partnering with God and friends to create a beautiful life

My typical day doesn’t involve a lot of hardship, but it does offer some annoyances. I’m often annoyed at my car and am really wanting a newer one, but I make a choice to be thankful for what I do have. When it was snowing, I thanked God for the beauty of the snow. When it was raining and dark, I thanked God for the life-giving water (and the free car wash!). No matter what, I can choose to be thankful and flip any bad thing into good.

I challenge you to write a gratitude journal for 30 days. This quick and simple daily practice can have a profoundly positive impact on your life, and help you to be a voice of hope and grace to the people you care about most.

Post in the comments if you decide to take this challenge!