Why you must keep a positive outlook

In my experience, you’ve got to keep a positive outlook, or you’ll lose everything you’re working for.

Motivational speakers = snake oil salesmen, right?

We’ve all scrolled down on Facebook and seen the great speeches, the infographics, and the emotional appeals that accompany everyday social media. Most people share¬†articles without actually reading them themselves, research has shown (proven by stories I have yet to read here, here, and here).

Whether it’s Tony Robbins, some story about a dog rescuing someone, or something else, we all know we don’t really have much control over what our friends choose to share, and most of it is not really that important, anyway. However,¬†it seems like much of the viral content out there has to do with positivity and motivation.

We know¬†social media usually doesn’t have the power to actually change anyone. But at the same time, why is it that so much of the material posted has to do with simply keeping a positive perspective?

We’ve all got plenty to do; does it matter if we’re “positive” about it all?

To cut to the chase, it matters. It matters, because it does. That’s about as much as anybody knows. We know that people who have a negative outlook end up¬†doing¬†less, because they are convinced that their efforts will end up failing. But we also know that a positive outlook doesn’t guarantee success. It’ll always be a bit mysterious, but one thing is for sure: just about everyone who believes they’ll fail ends up failing. Meanwhile, some of the people who believe they’ll succeed actually make it.¬†

When you work with people, you can’t lose your grip on reality. But perhaps even more important, you can’t lose your grip on¬†possibility.

I think we are wired this way, as human beings, because of our longing for redemption. We know that the world is broken; we know that somewhere inside, we’re broken too, and our greatest desire is to see that brokenness fixed somehow. If we can get our minds around that, it seems to me that we start to look for the possibility in people, instead of focusing on the negative.

Progress, both in my world and in the business world, is often slow. I’m told that five percent annual growth, for an entrepreneur, is great success. At that rate, the size of one’s business doubles in 20 years. Perhaps that’s the best way to see a parallel between charity work and the for-profit world.

  • At every step, at every turn, we’ve got to see the God-given potential in people with whom we work. Otherwise, we would surely quit — people change incredibly slowly!¬†
  • We believe that setbacks are opportunities for growth, because if we didn’t, we’d surely close up shop and leave.
  • And we’ve got to see the value in deepening relationships; because change that doesn’t have a deep foundation won’t last.

So, there are some reasons why we tend to gravitate to all of those posts about positivity and motivation. A positive outlook is what keeps us going forward, and what keeps us looking inward and upward.

Grace and peace.

3 lessons from the Atlanta Falcons about working on teams

What can I say — I’m a fan. If you are from Atlanta, I know, you’ve heard it all by now. Why did they keep throwing the ball? Why didn’t they just take their time? I won’t get into dissecting the Super Bowl here, but I will direct your attention to a few lessons¬†that I think can be gleaned from the history of the team, which can be applied to teamwork in the workplace.

Talent is important, but camaraderie is essential to success

I’m a fan of Michael Vick. Nobody is ever beyond redemption, and I believe that Vick has¬†made a great comeback from the dark events of his past. When he came into the league, he was perhaps one of the most talented to ever play the game. He took the Falcons to¬†fantastic heights. However, when the going got tough, in 2006, he resorted to lashing out at fans, hurting his image and the team’s morale.

A team’s morale and camaraderie are essential because, while talented teams can perform under many circumstances, a lack of camaraderie robs teams of the¬†desire to perform. If a team has camaraderie¬†and¬†talent, then anything is possible — which is why we, as good coworkers, ought to hold our team’s morale and culture¬†in the highest regard, and protect it at all costs.

If your teammate doesn’t want to be there, then you shouldn’t¬†want them to be there.

After Michael Vick left the Falcons, the team went through a period of considerable turmoil. Jim Mora had been dismissed and the end of the previous season, and the new coach was Bobby Petrino. Petrino had come to Atlanta thinking he would get the team with Vick, but instead he got a media circus and a lot of distractions. A little more than halfway through the season, he left in the middle of the night for another team, leaving Atlanta in even more chaos than it had been before he came.

The exact reasons for Petrino’s exit may never be known, but the lesson here is that you should always try, before bringing someone new to your team, to discern whether they really want to be a part of your team. If they don’t really want to be there, then no amount of incentives or success will make your relationship work out in the long run. And ultimately, they need to be able to go somewhere else.

Protecting the team’s culture doesn’t mean always being nice

“Iron sharpens iron” is a phrase that is often used by the Falcons’ current head coach, Dan Quinn. Quinn explains it simply as “one man helping another man to get ready”. The phrase has its origins in Christian scripture:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

(Proverbs 27:17)

Football is a contact sport; when “one man helping another” is compared to “iron sharpening iron”, the reason is that the process of “sharpening” is not always pleasant. In order to be ready for the test,¬†a player must be able to perform in practice¬†against his teammate. Drills and exercises expose the weaknesses in our game. While the process might be unpleasant at times, it is¬†necessary¬†for the progress of the team —¬†and for the members.

The sharpening metaphor works in actual metalworking as well. In order to sharpen iron, it must be ground down. There are many methods of abrasion that the woodworker or metalworker can use to sharpen his tools, but all of them involve removing the parts of the iron that are unnecessary, in order to render the tool sharp and effective.

So too, in our teams, in the workplace, we must be able to think critically about our tasks and improve over time. If we are not open to this kind of sharpening, our team will not improve.

Obviously, we work in teams constantly here, and a lot of thinking goes into addressing how to function and care best for one another. Our morale and culture are incredibly important, but we have learned that those things are always important — no matter where one works or lives.

Teaching English: Making an impact

It is common for people like us to organize¬†things like English classes in our locations, as a way to meet people and offer a tangible service to the demographic where we serve. There are many advantages — English is a universal need in the developing world, and knowledge of English increases¬†one’s opportunities for employment. But there are also many challenges. This post will detail these advantages and disadvantages and provide some information about the things we currently do in Mostar.

Why teach English?

Meeting people. When you come to a foreign country with the goal of having an eternal impact, it is important to meet as many people as possible. Especially for young families, you may have a decent home in which to host people, but if you are not exposed in some way to large numbers of people, hosting anyone will prove difficult. Providing a service offers an easy way to give people a reason to meet you.

Tangible service. As foreigners living in a developing country, we are often asked why we moved here. If we can provide some kind of service that helps people tangibly, then building relationships is easier, even if people we meet are not in need of our service. They are more likely to see us as a benefit to the community, rather than a drain.

Legitimacy. Providing a service also helps our presence here to be seen as legitimate. If we were not able to easily explain our work to people around us, it would be hard for people to see a reason for us to be here.

Problems still arise

We are not professionals. Unfortunately, I did not study English at college (this may be the first time those words have been written!). While English is my mother tongue, and I believe I do a good job of teaching people the basics of the language, it is sometimes hard to know how to best structure lessons. I have to do a fair amount of reading, as well as listening to my students, to know which direction to take next.

Certifications. The door is open to eventually putting together an certified, legitimate English course, through which we can offer Cambridge or TOEFL certification to students. However, these things are difficult and costly to establish. This is another consideration that affects our work.

What we are doing

Large classes. Last year, we started our first series of traditional classes, and it started off well, but most of our students dropped out halfway through. We gained a lot of good will through organizing the classes, but we always questioned their effectiveness.

English in small groups. This year, we have taken to organizing classes in smaller groups of 4 or 5 students. This allows us much more time in conversation and allows us to get to know people much better, making for more committed students, and more effective class time. We see this as a way forward, while we tackle the bigger questions of official certification and legitimacy.