An American plan for better work: Stop.

There are few things as American as the work ethic. Some call it the “Protestant work ethic”, connect it to religion, and claim it sacred. That’s their choice, but those people would do good to note: not all that’s worshiped is holy.

And that’s the thing. We often treat our work as if it is high, special, sacred. When work calls, we¬†do. We¬†go.¬†We¬†run.¬†And in the mean time we forget that there are other things in life that require doing, and going, and running — more than our¬†work.¬†

The proposal

The idea is simple: work gets tough, so stop.

Stop working.¬†Go somewhere where you¬†can’t¬†work. Turn your phone off, unplug, recharge. Then come back, emptied of work, ready to fill up again.

Do it for one week.¬†Do this once, then plan to do it again, in one year. Make this a ritual for life — take your family, go with like-minded friends.¬†People will help you unplug completely.

Plan for it.¬†Save your money all year so you can do this. Entrust your work to trusted colleagues while you’re gone. Watch your life unfold as you travel through time from one period of rest to the next.

Rely on it. Do things that refresh your heart and soul, like playing games with your spouse and kids. Take pictures and hang them on the walls of your house. Look forward to this time, and make it everything you need it to be.

Start working again.¬†Get back into work immediately. Dive into it like an Olympic¬†diver. And know that, no matter how tough things get, you’ve got another breather waiting for you in just a few short months.

The excuses

It’s too expensive.¬†Yeah, it is. That car was “too expensive” too, but you bought it. This isn’t expensive. This is¬†priceless.¬†

I’m too busy.¬†Exactly. Did you read the proposal? You do this because you’re busy.

I just don’t trust anyone to take over for me at work.¬†Sorry. People probably deserve to be trusted a little more, though. If you¬†never trust them with anything, ¬†you’ll never trust them.¬†With anything.¬†

I don’t have the money.¬†Somehow people think this is different from “It’s too expensive”. You have the money, you just choose to spend it on other things. Put $50 per month into an envelope. That’s enough to do something fun for a week.

I don’t like vacations.¬†That’s silly. Do anything fun (not work) without stopping for a week. That’s a vacation.

The problem

Conventional wisdom says to find yourself in your work. Find something you love to do, they say, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

The problem is that tomorrow you could be rendered unable to do your work. Then what would you be?¬†Who¬†would you be? If the time you feel really alive is only at work, that’s a problem.

Tell your wife that, and guess how she’ll put it together:¬†if you’re alive at work, then when you’re with me you must feel… dead.¬†

Ultimately, that’s not her problem. It’s yours. It’s wrong that we can’t find anything to define us other than our work — especially when we have spouses, friends, children, churches, etc. These people¬†deserve our time and effort, just as much as the¬†things¬†at our jobs do. Actually, what they deserve from us, is¬†work.¬†

The truth

The truth is that there are things in life that are worth more than a paycheck. Oh — and for those who say their work is their passion, there are things in life that are worth infinitely more than that, too.

What good is it to live a life based on things that are not ultimate? If the unthinkable happens, and somehow your passion was taken away from you, what would you be left with?

The solution

The solution is to come to an understanding that people are more than what they do, that a person works better when their soul is full, and not emptied from years of overwork. If you can understand yourself in this way, you’ll eventually come to see other people that way as well.

Rest. The ancient Hebrews had a rhythm of life that was given them in their religion, and it mandated a day of rest on Saturday. Then, they had seven festivals every year, during which they were also not allowed to work. Somehow, they prospered. It was a way of reminding them that no matter how hard they worked, they ultimately would never be able to completely control their own success. They would always ultimately have to depend on God.

That’s more than a work ethic. That’s a rest ethic.¬†

Work.¬†Work is an incredibly important thing.¬†It should be attacked with vigor and skill. But it is not, and can never be, the¬†only¬†thing. A man (or woman), the saying goes, should work to live — not live to work.

Work without rest is drudgery. It does not require skill to devote time to a task, undivided. Skill is required if one is to balance work with something else.¬†This is our calling, as workers — less conquering, more balance.

A wise manager will promote those who know how to balance many responsibilities. Imagine the kind of person who is sufficiently organized and mature that they have found a way to add a¬†rest¬†ethic to their¬†work ethic. I think¬†that’s¬†the kind of person we want to be.

The why

The conclusion is the¬†why,¬†the reason for all this. It’s deep.

We don’t stop doing important things unless we find something more important. The thing is, more important things exist all around us, regardless of whether we recognize their worth. The stopping of something as important as our work requires us to find those things that are important enough to make us stop.

All of this thinking and planning will teach us 2 things.

It’ll teach us to go, do, and¬†run for something other than our paycheck.

It’ll teach us that, even if our work is our passion, there are times when we need to let it be “just” a paycheck.

The planning and thinking we must do to learn these two things will make us better people, and, ultimately, better workers.


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Still Choosing To Believe You Can Have a Family Vacation To Remember

About a year ago, I wrote a response to this article from the blogger M.Blazoned. Her article about family vacations got picked up by HuffPost, and subsequently got a lot of mileage from friends of mine who share my stage of life.

There is a difference between a vacation and a trip.

I remember a few people responding to me by saying that I had missed the point —¬†M was only¬†pointing out that there is a difference between a true “vacation” and a mere trip.¬†Lest we get our hopes up needlessly, they said, in our¬†stage¬†of kids and minivans we ought not to expect too much from our summer excursions.

But I don’t think that was the point she actually made. Here’s what she said:

Wait. Is It Ever a Vacation with Kids?
I’m sorry to say, no. Unless you can pull off the hat trick of family trips. 1. Tropical resort. 2. All-Inclusive. 3. Kid program your kids will happily attend. It will give you moments that feel like a vacation, but, even still, you’re looking at a Vacation-Trip Hybrid at best.

Brushing aside the fact that M avoids¬†clarity with her “no-unless-but…” retort, the claim is generally staked — your family trips will never be vacations. They will never give you the refreshment and rejuvenation that a vacation will give you. ¬†If you cannot manage to take your family to a wildly expensive destination that offers fantastical arrangements for families with small children, you are doomed to¬†simply¬†cart your family around each year, spilling mustard on your clothes and getting burned by the sun while you satiate your children’s wishes to see Mickey Mouse, ride a roller coaster, go to the beach, get the¬†huge bouncy ball, or do whatever they just have to do right now.¬†

The prognosis is that you’ll be a leaky faucet, constantly, until these moochers finally leave your house, some time in the next century.

Maybe the problem is not that we’re expecting too much from vacations, but that we’re expecting the wrong things from¬†life

I want to posit that our real problem is one of unrealistic expectations of life in general, and that if we will reform our expectations to reflect reality, then we can find rejuvenation through fulfillment of purpose and experiences of closeness to the ones we love.

#1. Purpose

I don’t have the time to treat this topic fairly, but I will say that¬†life is better, fuller, clearer when lived out of a passionate pursuit of purpose. And though your children should not be at the very center of that purpose,¬†they play a clear and vital role. So, as you¬†use up your vacation days (a precious resource), and go spend time with your spouse and children, there is some sense that you are fulfilling some of the purpose for which God put you on this earth.¬†

#2. Closeness

If you have kids, you eventually get the idea in your head, clearer and clearer each day, that people¬†you love — your spouse and your children — will¬†live on after you are gone, and your time with them is ultimately limited.

Therefore, experiences of closeness are like fuel for your tank — they may not help you turn a profit at work, but they help you appreciate the people around you more, and they make you more thankful to God for graciously putting these people in your life. In other words, they bring you closer to a¬†maxim of faithfulness and gratefulness in a way that other experiences cannot.

What if we realigned our vacation planning around these goals?

I believe M’s ultimate problem with “vacations” was in her expectations of life, in general. Vacations, in that economy, are essentially a time totally free of obligation, except for the obligation to fulfill one’s own material desires. If that’s part of your definition, then it’s no wonder you can’t have a vacation while you also have a young family!

We¬†shouldn’t¬†focus on those things, because that’s not what we’re supposed to get out of life anyway. We’re disappointed, not because we don’t get what we expect, but because we expect things that we¬†can’t¬†get.

Instead, I would contend that vacations are a time when we get to take a break from the work and obligations that drain us, and draw nearer to the sense of purpose and relational closeness that gives us the energy to face the things we encounter upon our return.

With that in mind,¬†maybe we should ask the following question…

How can I plan a vacation, so that it will help me and the members of my family fulfill our purpose and grow closer as a family? Do we need the big bouncy ball in order to do this? …the roller coaster ride? …the hours in the car? Or,¬†can we do something simpler that will better prepare¬†us to come back and face our daily lives?

Think about it.


Men: what in the world do you think you’re doing?


My last post was directed to men; recent events in the news suggest that such focus is critical, especially now. It’s not that women don’t struggle with deceit and infidelity of various kinds. But as a man, I feel that I must¬†direct my comments again¬†to the same half of the general population — men, just what do you think you are doing?

It just happens that days ago, more of the unfortunate indiscretions of Josh Duggar were exposed in the fallout from the recent Ashley Madison debacle. This was no ordinary debacle, and Duggar is no ordinary casualty — he is one who has been held up as a moral, upright man and a role model for thousands of likeminded conservative Christians.

I don’t wish to speak specifically about Mr. Duggar, mainly because I have lived outside the U.S. for the majority of the time that his family has occupied the limelight. I do, however, wish to raise two issues that I think are worth mentioning: first, that the casualty in this case — as in all of our potential cases — is really not his career or image but his family, and second, that all of us men ought to be able to look at him and recognize that we could all easily follow his fate.

Don’t play with dynamite.

As we look at the situation in which Mr. Duggar finds himself today, it ought to occur to us that the victim in all of this is young family. I can scarcely imagine how it must be for a wife and children, to be hit with such revelations, and that it all be public, plastered across friends’ Facebook and Twitter feeds. As if mere infidelity weren’t hard enough to deal with in itself, his family now is faced with the reality that everyone knows about their problems.

And this is what all of us men risk, every time we take a second look at the scantly clad woman crossing the street, every time we pause on a sexy movie as we flip through the channels, and every time we click just one more link, hoping to satisfy our curiosity.

While our failure might not be as public as Duggar’s, it will be just as devastating to us. We aren’t ready for the consequences, and no wife will simply understand or dismiss our lack of discernment.

This is the way we ought to look at it.

Some shrug off the pitfalls of celebrities as silliness, but I would propose to all men that they ought to look at many of them — especially this one — with a certain degree of sobriety. After all, except for a cable television series, there is not too much that separates Duggar from all of us. His indiscretions apparently had little to do with his rise to fame, since they seem to have started long before anyone knew of his surname.

We ought to see people like him and know that there is just as much evil inside our own hearts as there is in anyone else’s. We are no better. Following Duggar’s fate would be easy; the hard thing to do is to equip oneself against such a fall.

The gospel.

The gospel says, be as honest as you can about yourself, and be loved and accepted as a result. The acceptance is what enables one not to fall. It assures us that we don’t need to be unfaithful to be accepted.

We don’t need that image, that video, that extra click. After all, the acceptance we are chasing is not real. And if we were discerning, we would see we are sacrificing our wives and children to get it.

The solution is the hardest thing in the world — honesty.

The only solution — and the reason I mentioned the concept of isolation earlier — is to seek out places where we can be honest. It might be just one place — sitting with one or two special people — or there may be a few. But life devoid of these places is a life of isolation. An isolated life is a life where one wrong move can bring disaster.

And for us, it is wise to remember that our disaster can also mean disaster for those we love most.

Life Is Better With a Hobby

To understand me, you’d have to understand quite a bit about wood.

Life around 2010 for me was mostly about my work and my family. That was all that I thought there was space for. I had just gotten us all moved to Bosnia, and it took about a year of living here to feel like I had any time for myself.¬†Many expat families have an experience similar to ours upon arriving in their new country — several months of mini-crises that seem to take up every available morsel of time, week after week, month after month, until slowly, gradually, we feel we have our bearings and we can begin to make our way through life in a way that somewhat resembles the way we lived back home.

One day my tire would go flat and I would suddenly lose hours finding a replacement. The next, I’d have to go to 10 different government offices in search of the right forms for my visa. My kids would get sick, and suddenly my life would grind to a hault. I would get lost on the way to the Konzum.

Once these crises subsided, I was able to devote myself more completely to my work. But that made me unavailable for my family. So eventually, I scaled back on work and attempted to give more of myself to them. It was hard to find balance.

Then, I discovered my hobby.¬†Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve slowly become engrossed into my hobby of woodworking. What started as a simple weekend project every once in a while has become an ongoing passion, giving me something to wrap my brain around when I’m not at the office — something that requires meaningful thought, but is completely outside of the realm of either my work or my family.¬†

“Woodworking¬†is the one thing in my life that I do, which I do not¬†have to do.”

In other words, woodworking¬†is the one thing in my life that I do, which I do not¬†have to do. I love my work, and I love my family. But when a man’s entire life is completely bound by the urgent needs of others — to the point that he has no creative outlet, no space to be himself completely, no place to tighten his muscles and swing his proverbial axe — life can very easily turn into drudgery, lived in an endless malaise of duty.¬†

I don’t have my life figured out. I haven’t arrived. But life is much more enjoyable than it was, and one of the reasons is the presence of a hobby. It gives me a chance to create and have something that is mine, and it provides a fun way to make things my family can use.

And it’s cheaper than a psychiatrist.