3 Essential Elements of Any Great Team And How to Build Them

Working on a team is challenging, even if all the members are seasoned professionals. This year our team consists of several new interns and staff that have never spent time in our location before. Here’s what we are planning to do — things any team can do — to promote clarity, build camaraderie, and develop trust as we step out into another year of work.

Trust

Trust is perhaps the most basic building block for success in any team environment. It’s like air — when we have lots of it, so many things are possible; when we don’t have it, even the simplest things are hard. Here are a couple of things I think build trust in the early going, when you haven’t yet had time to get to know each other well.

Talk about things you value.

Everyone has things that they think are important, and talking about those things will help everyone to get to know one another. At the very least, it will get everyone talking — and talking about something more significant than the weather or the Braves game.

Open your home.

Whether you are a leader or just a team member, I believe inviting colleagues over can be a great first step toward success. It can be for a meal or just a cup of coffee, but putting yourself in a position where you can host others for a couple hours really helps break the ice and get people comfortable with each other.

Camaraderie

It would be a great group activity to see who can spell the word “camaraderie”, for some kind of cash reward. Camaraderie is easier to define, though, and it is something every team needs in order to be successful. When you achieve camaraderie, a group becomes a team, coworkers become friends, and everything becomes possible. Here are a couple ideas:

Attend a social event together.

The day after our team arrives, thousands of people will descend on Mostar for the fourth annual Mostar Cliff Diving competition, in which world-class divers come to jump from Mostar’s old bridge. It’s a magical time, the streets are full, and it’s the perfect opportunity to take everyone out to share a great day together in the city.

Go on a team retreat.

After bringing everyone up to speed in their new job and new surroundings, it might be feasible to take everyone on a team retreat. Retreats are excellent opportunities to go deeper and explore just what makes a great team.

Clarity

If Trust is like concrete, clarity is like the cement in the concrete. Without clarity, it’s hard to make good decisions, people become dissatisfied, and trust erodes. But with it, trust solidifies and teams become super productive.

At first, have lots of meetings.

This may be counter intuitive, because meetings are often said to be a huge waste of time. And they are! But when you’ve got a brand new team that you’re trying to bring together, I believe you need to see each other a lot. You need to learn each other’s strengths, preferences, habits, before you can really start to click.

Maybe those meetings could be just 15-minute standup meetings where everyone just shares the status of their projects and ask questions. Or, you could think of team-building exercises that will help the team think deeply about how they work together. However you do it, in the first few weeks it is important to see each other often.

Write everything down.

This takes a lot of work for the leaders, but I think it can be helpful to write down a lot of the planned events, policies, or customs of your workplace so that new hires have the information to refer back to in the future. Here are a few examples of things you could write down and email or hand out to everyone:

  • A list of all the planned holidays, store closings, or other special events that will happen over the next six to twelve months.
  • The different ways in which your team communicates for work (phone, email, Slack, messenger, etc.), and what situations they are used for.
  • A list of things your team members need for work that might cost money, and suggestions on where to buy them (uniforms, certain shoes, technology, certain books, etc.).

Obviously, you won’t have time to write everything down, but it will make things easier when team members come to you with questions. Even if you need to make an exception, you make the exception with a better knowledge of why the policy was made in the first place.

I hope this has been helpful. What are some things you have learned while working on teams? Leave thoughts in the comments.

Podcast Episode 2: Ten things for leading a balanced life overseas

This is the second episode of THE BOSNIA PROJECT podcast. This one came out pretty well, and I hope you enjoy it — it is a rehash of an old blog post, with a few new comments added by me. You can read the old list here, or just listen to this episode via your phone or however you listen to podcasts.

The music in this podcast is mostly from former-Yugoslavia artists. If you’d like to check them out, here is a list:

 

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Podcast transcript

Hi I’m Jonathan, and this is The Bosnia Project podcast. The Bosnia Project is the chronicle of my life as a world traveler youth worker father and husband. Today is episode two, and we are going to share 10 ideas that help give us a balanced life, and they work if you live overseas or in your home country.

The Bosnia Project is the story of how I came to live and work overseas in a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s my blog, the Bosnia Project dot com, this podcast, and our Facebook community, and email updates we send out to our supporters and followers.

“The Bosnia Project” is at least two things. The first is obvious — it’s a project. This life in Bosnia is a project that takes up all my time and talents. But then the second thing is the thing that is produced – the product is me. So The Bosnia Project a process and a product, all wrapped up into one thing, and this podcast, the blog, and everything else is a way to catch all that work, write it down, record it and preserve it, so that it can be of use to someone. This is the Bosnia Project, and it will continue for a good while longer.

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The big idea in the last episode was that belonging changes everything. Belonging is often the key that opens the door to meaningful experiences and lasting memories. If you want to have any kind of influence on someone, you need to try and find some way to invite them into your life. But when you do, you have to be ready – they might influence you just as much as you influence them.

It is also helpful to see just how much we are influenced ourselves by the things two which we belong. We belong to families, and they influence us, forever. We belong to churches, schools, organisations, companies, and they influence us immeasurably.

If you want to change anything about yourself – if you want to experience meaningful progress – you should look for a group of people who are going to help you change in the way you want. If you want to lose weight, if you want to gain a new skill, if you want to become a better parent – it’s always best to find a few people who also want that thing, and go in that direction together. You’ll get encouragement, you’ll get motivation, and you’ll get that sense of belonging that will help you leave your old habits behind and take up new ones that you want.

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Today I am going to share 10 things that I do to try to lead a balanced life overseas. The thing about this is, as you listen to this list, you gain new perspective about living in the United States, or wherever you happen to live. Because really, these are things that would be beneficial to do wherever you happen to live.

And this list can also be found on my blog; a link is in the description to this podcast, and the blog has some different remarks about each thing from what I’ll be saying here.

Cut the grass
When I came to Mostar, the city where we now live, I had not had a yard or garden in my whole time living in BiH. When we moved to Mostar 3 years ago, we had accumulated three kids, a dog, and a few hobbies — we were looking for a house. No more apartments in buildings in the centres of cities — we decided that we would look for a proper house with a little yard around it.

When we moved into our house I really devoted myself to my work all the time, because my idea was that I came to Bosnia primarily to work. But I discovered that I did not like living in a house that looked uncared for. This was a dilemma — I paid money to get this big house so that we would have lots of room for my family and three kids and a dog, but I didn’t like living there, because the yard wasn’t a great thing to look at, and I was always telling myself I didn’t have time to take care of it, because I needed to work.

Eventually, I had to decide that I needed to invest the necessary time to make the house and the yard look presentable, in order to make me happier about my home. It meant taking some time off to build a playhouse in the yard. It meant spending money on a lawn mower and planting grass in the yard. But it’s worth it, because it gives me a sense of a more full life and a life outside of my work, which is a very important thing, no matter what you do.

Learn to fix things yourself
Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.

Make things with your hands for your family
This is my thing now — I developed a hobby of woodworking, making furniture and other things out of wood for my friends and family. It “cuts against the grain” as they say — because I have discovered that people are surprised by this. It is a very practical skill that I can nurture over time, and it often surprises people that someone in my line of work knows how to build things. But just like cutting the grass, it does enrich your life in many ways, and it gives you a life outside of work.

Ride a bike or walk to work
Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉

Participate in sports
I still haven’t figured this one out. But it’s a good habit. And it also is a way to lose weight.in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.

Find community activities for your children
This can be a difficult one. My son isn’t interested in sports, but many young children are, and it is something that will enrich your life and their lives if you can find something that they truly enjoy and that fits with your family’s schedule.

Go on dates with your wife
This is one that you can read about in any book on marriage — one of the secrets to a happy marriage is spending time together, and one good way to do that is to plan it out like a date. Get a sitter, make a reservation, plan on an activity, and make a night of it. Make special time to spend with the person that you love.

This is one of those things that, again, helps someone have a life outside of just their work, and is really important for achieving meaningful success anywhere you are. Just like when Jesus said, what good is it if a man gains the whole world but loses his soul, what good is success in the workplace if your marriage isn’t strong and healthy? Your marriage is like your soul, and your work at the end of the day, while it’s meaningful, needs to be just your work. It can’t compete with your family.

Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.
This is something I have yet to do well, but I’m trying. One of the places that we have in Mostar is the American Corner, which is an interesting place. The US government has these American Corners that they’ve opened in cities around the world that promote things like studying in the US, scholarships for students, work programs, education, and other things. These places usually have lots of English books and a space where you can come and quietly read or work on your computer, and then they often have events where they invite speakers from the US Embassy. This has been a great place for my son to start going and play with the LEGO robotics set that they have, check out books, and have fun.

Mostar has a lot of history as well — the old town is internationally recognised as what’s called a “UNESCO world heritage” sight, which means it’s been historically preserved from medieval times and it’s a very important part of our world’s cultural heritage. There are many great Bosnian cultural restaurants and buildings, but there are also lots of great modern attractions too, and it shows a certain level of personal investment if you know about those things and try to stay up to date on the events of the town where you live.

Keep up with local cultural events.
This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.

This has been nine things so far, and the tenth thing I will leave for you to see on my website. So thank you for listening all the way through but there is one more important habit that I think is really crucial to living a healthy and fulfilling life, whether you’re overseas or living in your home culture or wherever you happen to be. You can find it in the blog post that I’ve linked to in this podcast’s description. So go over there, take a look at the post, and at the bottom is a tenth thing that will put the finishing touch on this list.

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The big idea from podcast 1 is that belonging can change everything. And the big idea here is that when we have a place and a community outside of our work where we belong to, it can give people purpose. When it’s taken away — when you begin to make your life all about just your work, no matter how important that work is — life becomes very hard. These are some things that are not gospel, but they are some good things to keep in mind if you feel that life has become dry and difficult, and they are things that help me stay balanced while living overseas.

This has been the Bosnia Project podcast. You can follow the podcast at thebosniaproject.com, on Facebook, and via email. Thanks for listening. In a couple of weeks we’ll have another episode where we’ll talk more about the origin of the Bosnia Project and how living overseas brings experiences you’ll never forget.

How to go to America

I’M GOING TO AMERICAAAAAA!!!

I’m a bit excited. My family and I are visiting the U.S. next month. I take my family to the U.S. every other summer to visit grandparents, attend a family reunion, drive…

We end up doing a lot of driving. And, now that I have kids in school, we are basically limited to the month of July. The America Trip used to be so simple, back when we had fewer kids and none of them were in school. Now, it’s gotten so complicated that I feel like I need to hire an assistant just to organize all the tasks just for this one trip. Here are some things that go into the making of The America Trip. 

Airfare

We have three kids, which means we have to buy five tickets to fly to the U.S. Any fluctuation in the price gets multiplied by five, so it gets pretty expensive.

It’s also funny that our friends where we live assume that we are going to America for a vacation. Flying in planes for 8 hours with 3 small human beings who think it’s funny to slap you in the face is not my idea of a vacation!

Borrow a Car

A car is a necessity in the U.S., but since we don’t live there anymore, we don’t have one. So, getting one — and sometimes, two — that we can use to go back and forth is a chore. This time, though, we were able to find a company that rents to people like us for a discount. Hopefully, this will be a solution we can use again in the future.

Clothes

Certain clothing items are just not available in Eastern Europe, so we do have to use the time in the U.S. to find what we need. Whatever it is — whether it’s some special brand of socks or a good waterproof jacket — it needs to be good enough to last until the next time we visit.

Food

Yes, that’s a picture of peanut butter. I can’t explain it, but peanut butter is one of those things that Europeans will never understand about the U.S. You can actually find it here, but it’s just not very good. So every time we come (which isn’t often enough) we try to bring back a couple of huge jars of Jif.

 


This photo of Bangkok Baking Company – at the JW Marriott Hotel Bangkok is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Hamburgers

Hamburgers are another thing that America just does better than anyone. I’m talking about a good pub burger here — not Burger King (although Burger King has its place). While it’s definitely not something you can take back to Europe with you, the good hamburger is a thing that we miss about the U.S. very much.

Phone

This is a rare moment where I advocate something that seems like something you’d hear on Dave Ramsey: we buy cellphones in the U.S. every 2 years — full price, no-contract, factory unlocked — and take them back to Eastern Europe with us. There are several reasons for this, but I’ll start with a general financial principle: If you buy a phone in this way — even though these phones can cost $500 and up — it’s almost always a better deal over the life of the contract than getting the phone under a contract with your wireless provider.

After getting the new phone, we sell our old phone on eBay, which has an amazing program for selling your smartphone. In fact, if you have a model that’s not too terribly old, they will format the listing for you, recommend the settings for the sale, and then guarantee the price that you will get it, based upon the average price for that model of phone. If you end up having to sell it for less, they will give you eBay credit for the difference, which you spend on eBay to buy other things you need.

Last time I was in the states, I sold my 2-year-old iPhone 5 for more than the average price (about $120), in less time than eBay had told me it would take. Then I sold my wife’s phone for less than the average price, and as promised, they sent me eBay credit, which I used to buy phone chargers and headphones.

Family

This is one of the main reasons we go to the states — to see uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins — and this is something you definitely cannot take back with you. The time is short, but the memories last a lifetime.

 

Work

There is a lot of actual work that we do while in the U.S., and it requires our family to do quite a bit of traveling. Lots of people, churches, and organizations contribute to our work and we need to visit with as many of them as we can. Sharing with others about the past two years is one of the most important things we do.

Rest

There are a lot of things we do while in America, but rest isn’t one of them. We schedule a week of vacation, immediately after we return from the U.S., near our home in Mostar. This has become a special time for our family to regroup and be refreshed before the next school year comes.

I am beginning to get excited.

Mountains are great. If you have water. (Story of another travel adventure in Kozara, Bosnia)

Back in 2015, I was asked to go find a hotel where my organization could host a retreat for all of our staff. So I made a few calls and charted out a 2-day trip around the country (Bosnia-Herzegovina is small) where I would make a big loop and visit several hotels that had conference rooms. Suffice it to say, the trip was a complete bust. Some of the hotels completely forgot I was coming, Google Maps apparently wanted me to disappear completely, and on the second day my car broke down — 100 miles from my home.

I managed to catch Elena in a pose. In focus.

In the end, we chose a hotel that I had not visited on that trip, and decided after our retreat that it had been too expensive and we wouldn’t go back. Then, last year we went to the hotel where I am now, Hotel Monument, on a mountain in northern Bosnia. It turned out to be great — it’s a hotel on top of a mountain, with lots of woods, hiking trails, a huge WW2 monument (hence the name), and a big conference room. It was good enough that we decided to come back for the second year in a row. In a year when there’s apparently been a huge, nasty drought.

So this year they didn’t have water. At least, not all the time.

When I arrived, the woman at the front desk said, “Just so you know, we’ve been having problems with the water pressure on the [European] second [American third] floor. It hasn’t rained in several weeks.”

Right. We woke up the next day to find that the water had been turned off completely.

The hotel. It at least looks nice.

I felt sorry for them. Apparently, there is some kind of break in the water system in the village at the bottom of the mountain, and it impaired their ability to have running water 24/7. So, the water turned on from about 7:30 until about 10 in the morning, on again during lunch time, and then again for a while in the evening.

Think about it — kids who wake you up at 6:30, and nobody can take a shower. Sweaty kids in the afternoon who can’t take a shower. No instant coffee in your room in the morning.

Tyler found a tank. Naturally, he thought squatting was the best way to pose. It’s a slavic thing.

Well, maybe not having the instant coffee isn’t that bad.

But it was bad enough that there will not be a 3rd consecutive team retreat at Hotel Monument. And that’s a shame.

It’s a shame because it was a great place for kids. My 8-year-old son and his 9-year-old best friend (who has the same birthday as him) can go and play in the woods unsupervised for just about as long as they want. Tonight he rode on the back of a motorcycle. Then he watched a movie with other American kids his age. If you’re a kid (and don’t really care about the lack of water because your dad can just buy you juice from the cafe) it’s a wonderful time.

Tyler also found a gun. Kozara is pretty cool.

It’s also a shame because coming here helps our entire staff team to connect more deeply with the country where we live. In WW2, there was a small group of Partizans that fought against the Nazis, who took this mountain at one point during the middle of the war. The Nazis came back with tens of thousands of troops, and laid siege to the mountain, against a Partizan force of only 3,000. The Partizans were able to inflict heavy losses on the Nazis, but they ultimately lost the battle. The Nazis lost 25,000 men but took the mountain, and had most of the survivors rounded up and sent to Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.

This was cool. I’ve deciced Hannah looks like her grandmother.

It was also a shame because the disappointing aspects of doing business in Bosnia and Herzegovina were on display in a very obvious way, brought out because of the unexpected scarcity of a normally plentiful resource. The hotel staff kept the lights off most of the day, in an effort to save money. A kitchen inspection happened one morning, so they just delayed everyone’s breakfast until 9am. Day after day, coworkers complained about the lack of water. And on the last morning, I was asked if I could have everyone leave an hour early because the hotel “needs the rooms” (I apologized and said no). I was disappointed because the surroundings were so beautiful, and I wanted things to work out, but forces of nature seemed to be pulling us apart.

The aforementioned monument, and Tyler

We made the best of it, and as a family, we had a good time. I am glad we went, and we had some memories we won’t soon forget. With mixed emotions, I felt as if I watched while another chapter was brought to a close in our story of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why 9 to 5 might be poison for the will

Willingness — it’s an attitude, a posture, a way of thinking. A strong will embraces life in the midst of great challenges. Everyone wants to work in an environment that feeds the will, that encourages people to give their all and make sacrifices for the company. But the conventional wisdom about work might be what keeps us from having the experience we know we want.

The conventional wisdom says we work from 9 to 5.

In a lot of offices, you are expected to get the bulk of your work done 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There’s nothing wrong with that, but problems come when we allow the office schedule to influence our thinking so that we become unproductive. Case in point: we’ve all had the boss who says, “just make sure you get your 8 hours in.”

Thinking 9 to 5 can make us really unproductive.

So here’s what happens: we sit and wait for 5:00 to come. Why? Because we are being “good employees”, getting our 8 hours in. The problem is that logging time merely for the sake of fulfilling 8 hours is inefficient and expensive. Somewhere in our subconscious, we are aware that we won’t be able to finish anything we start after 4:00, and so we devolve into busy work in order to eek out that last hour so that we can go home.

But what value have we actually produced in that last hour? And… how many times have we followed that same pattern at other parts of the day — like the first 30 minutes before or after a meeting? or the last 30 minutes or so before lunch? Or the 10 minutes around the water cooler?

Just getting in your 8 hours probably costs the organization at least an hour a day of true productivity. That’s at least 12% of all the time we work.

Just getting in your 8 hours also probably creates a desire to log more hours than we should, in an effort to appear more productive. That affects us throughout the workday.

We know that people don’t really want to work in that kind of environment. People really want to put their best foot forward — to actually bill hours when they do their best work, and to be free to do their best work and be able to log the time appropriately. And nobody wants to work in an office where there are always some people just eeking out that last hour.

So how can we break the cycle? 4 things.

As workers, we’ve got to make work sacred.

Everyone knows who spends too much time cutting up at the water cooler, or who takes the most smoke breaks. We’ve got to come to the place where we decide to leave those things at home. Embrace work as work. 

As leaders, we’ve got to learn how to encourage productivity.

If you’re a leader, it’s not because you’re better. It’s so that you can bring out the best in your subordinates. Encouraging people to do things simply to fill out a timesheet usually doesn’t help the company’s bottom line. We’ve got to be more concerned with real productivity.

Organizations need to be a little more flexible — workers need to be a little more rigid.

A flexible organization is always innovating, changing with its environment — a lot like an organism. On the other hand, workers tend to want to push the envelope a little too far.

As people, we’ve got to communicate better.

Better communication usually leads to better results. Teams that practice honesty will be more nimble, and will be able to perform better. Good communication will foster openness and support — allies of creativity and productivity.

Ultimately, honesty, courage, and action are the keys to a willing attitude — at home and in the office. If we can find it in ourselves to rethink our attitude toward rest, then why can’t we also question our attitude toward the workday as well?

 

 

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.

 

 

10 Manly habits for a balanced life overseas

When Americans go to live overseas, it is usually because of their job. They go there to work, and for most of us, the arrangement is temporary. When we know that we are transient, it is easy to get into routines that are unbalanced. Family and personal health can suffer as a result. Here are a few things I have found that help me stay balanced as an expat.

Cut the grass.

Daniel Watson

OK — I realize that many people who move overseas will end up in an apartment where they don’t have a yard. So, if you are fortunate enough to find a house with a nice little yard, cut your own grass. But if you find yourself in an apartment building in the middle of the city, let this be analogous to maintaining your own home — just as you would if you lived in your home country. 

The reason for this is that many of us end up settling for a living situation that we would never accept back home. Things break and we don’t get them fixed, we neglect to hang pictures on the walls, and we fail to make our homes into the nice, warm abode we would have made otherwise. Your home needs to be your castle — a place where you can relax and be at ease after a long day of work. Don’t neglect this subtle element of life, or you will come to regret it.

Learn to fix things yourself.

jesse orrico

Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.

Make things with your hands for your family.

Clark Young

This is a personal belief of mine, so feel free to disagree or leave a comment below. I believe that spending time making and doing things with your hands builds discipline and patience, traits that are necessary for successful family life. It also helps you take pride in something you’ve produced by the sweat of your own brow — a process that can positively influence the way you do your “real work” when you are at the office.

Ride a bike or walk to work.

Chris Becker

Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉

Participate in sports.

Igor Ovsyannykov

This is a big habit that can be healthy in more ways than one. Participating in sports with a group of people, be it organized sports or just a pickup game in a park, builds friendship and camaraderie. And in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.

Find community activities for your children.

Belle Maluf

Your children would be involved in a dozen different extracurricular activities if you lived in your home country. So don’t just assume that while you’re overseas they’ll be fine spending all their time either at home or school. They need time at friends’ houses, local libraries, etc. And they also need things to do that stretch their physical and mental abilities. Find them a tennis school or organized swimming lessons. Enroll them in an art class at a church or local school. Find something — you won’t regreat the experience, and they will make new friends.

Go on dates with your wife.

Priscilla Du Preez

This is the big thing that many of us tend to neglect for some reason. If we were in our home country, we would not go years without taking our wives out for a nice coffee or dinner togetherBut for some reason, when we move overseas, that becomes acceptable. Buck the trend! Find a babysitter and go out — even if it’s just for an ice cream or a nice walk in town, and even if it’s just for an hour or two. You need to spend time together, without the kids and without the distractions of life abroad.

Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.

Clay Banks

I still haven’t done this, but I would like to. It’s important to become aware of the nice things to do in one’s town. It’s especially important when hosting guests from out of town — something that us expats tend to do a lot of. Learning about one’s surroundings also fosters a willing spirit and an increased appreciation for the city.

Keep up with local cultural events.

Aranxa Esteve

This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.

Find a regular watering hole.

Montse Monmo

Find a great place, and find some friends who will go there with you regularly. I have a group of men with whom I go to a local pub once a week. This is a great time, and I look forward to it each week. As a foreigner, you don’t have that many opportunities to simply go and spend time with people, tell stories, and cut up. Even if you don’t imbibe, most “pubs” around the world serve espresso or other drinks as well as alcohol, and don’t care if you personally choose to abstain. Take this opportunity to let your guard down and be yourself — you won’t regret it.

 

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3 ingredients for turning defeat into victory

I’ve been a Falcons fan for as long as I can remember. When the Superbowls came each year, I’d always just pick the team with the best jerseys or the player that I liked the most; I never could find the will to really truly pull for a team from another city. And then this year came. This was the year. All the other teams (well, almost all) had had their time; this was going to be our time.

Then it happened. Defeat. It still hurts to talk about, and I’m just a fan. For the players, it must hurt on another level. It’s hard to go on — to get back into the game and try again. You just want time to stand still for a while, so you can just go hide and not have to face that situation again.

Put yourself in that situation.

We’ve all probably had a similar experience. Mine was at an old job. My boss called me into his office one day.

“Yeah… it’s not really working out for you here like we thought it would,” he said.

I can still remember going home and kind of curling up on the couch next to my wife and saying, “I don’t want to go back there.” I was defeated.

How did it turn out?

Two years later, I went into the same boss’s office to tell him I was leaving. He had given me three raises and a good deal more responsibility over the past two years. Things had changed. He sat back in his chair, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. He called his wife into the room (this was a small company).

“Are you sure?” He said.

“We were thinking you’d be a candidate for long-term management.” 

“Sorry,” I said. “The decision has been made.”

How do you take a bad situation and turn it around?

Looking at that situation from my current perspective, I can see it as a growing experience. I can see the things I should have done in the beginning, and how I started to change things, and I can understand how I moved forward. But when you are in the middle of those situations, it’s usually really, really hard to see how they can ever be changed. 

So here are a few things that I can see now, now that I have been able to put some distance between myself and that experience.

This too shall pass.

I can remember sitting on that couch, feeling worthless. I didn’t want to go back to that office, see those people again, because I didn’t see how I would ever get out from under the failures of that day. But the truth was that that situation would eventually be but a distant memory — a minuscule drop of the vast sea of experiences of life.

As it was, I went back into work the next day, and I kept on trying, even though I didn’t really understand why. This understanding would’ve given me more motivation.

You can come back from anything.

I believe in redemption; I believe in reconciliation. I believe in it in all circumstances, in relationships, in work, in play. The first thing that is necessary in coming back and seeking redemption is to admit one’s failures. If you can admit to yourself, and to other relevant people, that you failed and you want to make things right, you can come back from any situation, and emerge stronger than before.

Only a few things truly matter.

There are only a few things that are of ultimate importance and you have to decide what those things are. The placement of one’s desk, a nice expense account, the office pecking order, a company car, social status in the workplace — these are things that people spend lots of money on, and lose a lot of sleep over, but ultimately, at the end of one’s life, won’t matter a whole lot. When you have that perspective on your circumstances, it brings a lot of clarity to the question of what to do next.

So what do you do next?

Remember that all circumstances will eventually come to an end.  If you lose sleep, lose sleep over the things that truly matter, and let everything else sort itself out. And make a decision that you can come back from anything. That is how you can turn defeat into success.

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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.