Monday Musings

Sunday I got to live out a little dream I’ve had since I was Matthias’s age. For months I’ve been bugging my guitar teacher about how I can play music with and for other live human beings. Whether it was at my prompting, or something else, he set up a recital for his students at a local restaurant and got twelve of us out there playing for friends, family and whoever came by.

Lisa came out and brought the boys to support me. She earned wife of the year points, rallying friends of ours to come out and see me play. Matthias took a super sweet photo us and then kept shooting while she tried to get the camera back–it’s been his little joke with us since he was seven years old!

Matthias is getting so big–he looks more like the rock star with me, but I loved having him out there. The best compliment I got was him telling me he thought I sounded good. At 14 he’s prepared to tell me when something’s not good, so I’ll take it!

I was blown away, some friend gathered up their family drove 40 minutes (that’s far away here on the Central Coast of California!) to come see me and made a day of it. It’s a humbling thing to have people turn up to support and encourage you. Especially when it feels risky like playing and singing in public! I’m grateful to the five families that shared their afternoon with us.

When I started playing my set, David ran from the other side of the patio at the restaurant to come find me. So fun–he heard my voice and one of the songs I’ve been practicing at home and knew Dad was playing music! David is super musical. His favorite thing to do is play the various keyboards we have around the house. He often comes in and “joins in” when I’m playing at home.

Beach Hut Deli in Los Osos hosted us. They had great food and provided a fantastic family environment for all of us to hang out and perform our songs. The owner, Heather was super nice and supportive of us all. I love when we can support local businesses!
My teacher, Patrick Pearson, set all this up for us. Twelve of us performed, from seven to eighty years old, from beginner to some guys who shred on the guitar. I had such a blast performing with Patrick and hanging out to support my fellow students. I’ve been taking lessons for a little over a year now, and singing and playing a couple songs for and audience was definitely the next level. It’s funny how something so small can feel so big and intimidating. And yet, as evidenced by our group, it’s never too early and never too late to start. It doesn’t matter what stage of development you’re at, the more you practice and learn the better you get. There might be a bigger lesson there for all of us.

Fear

The path to your greatest success is through your greatest fear.

An imaginary force masquerading as danger, fear can hold us back, hinder our dreams, and act as an invisible barrier to the things we want. When our boys were little, we loved to read What Was I Scared Of? By Dr. Seuss. The Seussian creature main character (what is he anyway?!) strolls in the woods one evening when he shockingly encounters a Pair of Pale Green Pants with Nobody Inside Them. Not given to fear, our hero tells us, he is understandably shaken up by this aberrant creature floating before him. Then the PGPWNIT move, “They kind of started jumping. And then my heart, I must admit, It kind of started thumping.” Still unafraid, our hero runs. Don’t judge. I don’t know about you, but if I met a pair of floating pants jumping up and down in a dark wood, I would run too! And it doesn’t end there. The pants nearly run him over while buying Grin-itch spinach in Gin-itch. Again, he encounters the pants on Roover River fishing for Doubt Trout. By now our hero is willing to admit he’s frightened—screaming and running away as fast as he can. Who can blame him? Are the PGPWNIT stalking him? Everywhere he turns the PGPWNIT show up. So, he hides. In a Brickel bush. For two days. The only reason he finally comes out of hiding—a nagging errand on his to do list. He has to “pick a peck of Snide in a dark and gloomy Snide-field.” We’ve all been there.

Picking snide, his body shaking, confronting his fears, he summons his courage,

I said, “I do not fear pants

With nobody inside them.”

I said, I said, and said, those words.

I said them. But I lied them.

And then it happens—he reaches into a snide bush and touches the pants!

I yelled for help.

I screamed, I shrieked.

I howled, I yowled. I cried,

“Oh save me from these pale green pants

With nobody inside!”

In the midst of his shrieking terror, face to face with his greatest fear, he realizes the PGPWNIT are as afraid of him as he is of them! The pants are shaking and trembling as much as he is. Realizing the fear is in his head not the PGPWNIT, he decides to embrace them and they “become friends, meeting often, never shaking or trembling, but smiling and saying ‘Hi.’”

I love What Was I Scared Of? for the way it illustrates how we make up stories about people and our circumstances and let our minds get carried away—especially when we don’t understand something. I remember my big writing project from seventh grade, the Last Chance project. We had to write a story about our class taking a space ship to another planet and what we would do to create a new civilization. I did not understand the assignment. And it was huge for our grade. I spent a lot of time and energy avoiding the paper. It was my own PGPWNIT. Eventually, I sat down, read the assignment and start writing. We didn’t become fast friends that Last Chance project and I, but I did complete it and survived the experience.

I am continually learning to recognize when something scares me—especially something I need or want to do and to face it like those PGPWNIT. In my mid 30’s I decided I wanted to get a doctoral degree in theology. Despite my transition from ministry to business in the middle of the program, I saw it through, got through my dissertation and earned the degree. At 40 I realized I needed to exercise regularly to be there for my kids and Lisa. I joined a gym with a built-in accountability system of appointments to help me show up. I’m proud to say I’ve consistently worked out 4-5 times per week for four years. This past year I embraced my life-long love of music and started guitar and bass lessons. I’m not great, but I enjoy playing. Many times over the past decade in business, when things seemed scary, dark, uncertain, instead of shying away, I faced my deep fears and found a way forward. One of the scariest things I’ve done recently is to reach out to a group of guys I know in my gym class to grab a beer together. Men typically are not as good at getting together as our wives. And, I have faced the daily realities of raising a son with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome–his surgeries, his extra care, and the scares of nearly losing him to illness.

In each and every case, I looked my metaphorical PGPWNIT in the eyes and,

I said, “I do not fear pants

With nobody inside them.”

I said, I said, and said, those words.

I said them. But I lied them.

My heart thumping, screaming and shrieking inside, I went to the gym for the first time. I applied and interviewed for my doctoral program and finished my dissertation (It felt like my Last Chance paper all over again in my 30’s). Feeling like a fraud I showed up for my first guitar lesson. Feeling like I was high school boy asking a girl on a first date I asked the guys, “Hey, you guys think you’d ever be interested to grab a beer together?” They said yes! And, engulfed in fear, I have shown up for my family and my son to face the realities of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

I don’t know what your PGPWNIT is. Maybe it’s a dream, a project at work, a hobby you want to take up, or even the fears around facing a chronic illness. You probably have your own PGPWNIT following you around your Grin-itch village where you live. Danger is real. Fear is in your head. The path to your greatest success is through your greatest fear. Turn and engage your fear. Take a step toward your dream. Start your hobby. Show up for yourself, or your loved one, facing illness.  After all, your PGPWNIT and you just might become friends, meeting often, never shaking or trembling, but simply smiling and saying hi.

The path to your greatest success is through your greatest fear. What fear do you need to face?

Heart Surgery

I was angry. Who in the world did this guy think this he was? Lisa and I were already three hours into our four hour journey to UCLA to meet with David’s heart surgeon about his upcoming surgery. Our boys, David and Matthias, were in the back seat of the car and we were well into the trip when the office called. The woman on the phone informed Lisa the surgeon cancelled our appointment as he didn’t come into the office today. Really? Who schedules a pre-operation appointment and then waits to cancel with the patient at noon on the day of the appointment? David was going in for open heart surgery to repair a cushion defect and defective valve—one of his medical conditions resulting from Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. You could say we were a little anxious. I decided then and there I was going to give this surgeon a piece of my mind when we saw him the following week at the newly made appointment time.

The following week we again loaded up the car for the four hour journey from our home down to UCLA. This time, we called the office multiple times to verify the appointment before we got on the road. A week had passed since the enraging phone call, so I had to remind myself how mad I was at this surgeon. I had never met him before, but after his shenanigans the week before, I questioned whether this guy was responsible enough to handle my son’s heart surgery. After all, if he can’t keep his schedule straight, how can he be any good as a surgeon?

We waited in the office and finally were taken back into the consult rooms. A nurse came in and took David’s height, weight and blood pressure. Then we waited. I didn’t feel angry anymore about the cancellation a week earlier, so I had to work to be ready to confront the surgeon when the time came for me to voice my irritation over his lack of consideration and potential lack of competence. It’s hard to be angry when you’re in a reasonably good mood, so I had work at it a bit. At least I was stressed by the very nature of the visit, so that gave me a little negativity to draw on.

The moment of truth arrived. The surgeon knocked and entered the room. They say you never have a second chance at a first impression. In his case, my first impression has lasted in my mind for many years. As he stepped into the room I noticed his scrubs—not uncommon for surgeons to wear around the hospital between surgeries. But my eyes were immediately drawn to his white tennis shoes—out of date, funky soles, neither utilitarian nor stylish. They are the type of shoe hipsters began wearing ironically a few years later—which did not make them hip at the time. Then my eyes were drawn to his mussed, bouffant hairstyle. Truthfully he had probably come from surgery, having removed his surgical cap his hair showing the signs of a morning spent saving another child’s life. Of course, that wasn’t the narrative in my head when I saw Dr. Cardio Surgeon. To me, his hair and his shoes were further signs this was not the guy to handle my son’s heart.

And then there was his awkward manner. As he entered, he looked like a junior high actor unsure of how to move across the stage, unsure of what to do with his hands while people watched him. Each step was functional with a touch of conscious effort to get him from the doorway to the chair where he eventually sat down. I continued to build my case against him. He had offended me and was showing clear signs of incompetence in my mind.

He introduced himself and performed a rote reviewed of David’s case. He transitioned without so much as a breath into the procedure. With technical jargon I can no longer remember, he described how he would make a cut down the front of David’s chest and divide the breastbone to reach the heart. They would connect him to a heart-lung machine to pump his blood and act as his lungs during the surgery so he could remove David’s heart. He would need to enter the heart and patch the ventricular septal defect (holes in the wall of David’s heart). Then he would put everything back together and close him up. Imagine if Mr. Spock (the original Leonard Nimoy Spock, not Zachary Quinto’s Spock) explained precisely how he was going to open up your seven year old’s chest and repair his heart and you may have some idea what it was like, though Dr. Cario Surgeon lacked Spock’s human touch.

Then he asked if we had any questions. We asked a number of clarifying questions—mostly “Are you really hooking David up to machines to breathe and circulate his blood while you remove his heart?!” in different forms. We asked him how difficult this surgery was for him. He rated it a two out of ten. To us it felt like an eleven. In the midst of this meeting, I realized it would be no use to point out Dr. Cardio Surgeon’s offense at cancelling our appointment last minute. Like Darth Vader, he was “more machine now than man.” I am confident he would have listened and heard my complaint. I am confident the human subtleties of slight would not have computed for him.

A few weeks later, it was time for Halloween and David’s surgery. We spent the anxious hours of the surgery distracting ourselves around the UCLA campus from the stressful reality of David lying in an operating room with chest opened. When he finished the surgery and came to give us his post-op report, we were so elated and relieved the surgery was successful, Lisa couldn’t help but reach out and touch his arm in gratitude. He looked down at her hand and then up at her. He didn’t move other than slowly connecting the hand on his shoulder to its owner. His face didn’t change, he barely moved a muscle, but he simultaneously looked surprised by the contact and like he understood this is a positive gesture. We spent more time with Dr. Cardio Surgeon over the next couple weeks as David recovered in the hospital. Without fail, every other time we saw him, Dr. Cardio Surgeon had at least two other doctors with him. Often they did more talking than he did. He seemed to prefer to do rounds when people were less likely to be around.

Along the way, Lisa’s sister researched Dr. Cardio Surgeon and found he is among the best pediatric cardio thoracic surgeons in the world. He is a world class expert with world class skill. I could have made a big deal and even insisted on another surgeon to operate on our beloved David. Ultimately, who would I rather have open my son’s chest and handle his heart? Someone who’s polite, has his schedule dialed in and wears nice clothes? No way. I’ll take Dr. Cardio Surgeon every time.

We have faced a lot of things since this surgery. Our boys have been sick. Our business had a drastic downturn and we almost closed it down. We’ve experienced intense, rocky relationships with vendors and business associates. Our marriage came close to imploding. And more. Very little of any of these stresses compares with the stress of this experience, knowing someone holds your child’s heart in their hands. Watching David’s surgery, his determination and resilience in recovering, puts many things in life into perspective. And there is no one I would rather have holding David’s heart than Dr. Cardio Surgeon. It goes to show, while you may only have one chance to make a first impression, first impressions are often wrong. Who else have I misjudged? The barista I thought slighted me, who was simply coping with her breakup the night before? The quiet employee I overlooked because I failed to see her consistent and great work? The friend I falsely believed didn’t want to listen to my struggles? Sometimes the person we see as our enemy turns out to be our ally and the best person for the job.

Forging A Path

Matthias has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He prefers to be who he is and like what he likes rather than worrying much about what others think. I remember one Saturday in summer when he was seven and we went out to lunch as a family. As we were heading out the door Matthias appeared from around the corner.

“I’m ready!” he said

I took in the scene in front of me. Plaid shorts, coordinated T-shirt (the work of Lisa no doubt), green froggy galoshes, yellow rain coat, and a super-hero cape.

“Is that what you want to wear to lunch?” I asked.

“Yep. I look awesome.”

I couldn’t agree more. He managed to take it up a notch later that summer when he added upside down cycling gloves and a chef’s hat while we were on family vacation. As time has gone on, Matthias always finds his own unique sense of style. His clothing is a reflection of who he is—a person who sees the world through his own unique lens, comfortable in his own skin.

He went through a phase of lining up his toys in his room and around the house. I remember coming upstairs one afternoon and found all his stuffed animals in a big line in the loft. It looked like the crop circles in fields around the world.

“Did you do that?” I asked him.

“Yep!”

“Why did you line them up? What are the stuffed animals up to?”

“They just wanted to be like this.”

Absolutely. Why wouldn’t they? Matthias’ creative take on the world often peered through his unconventional ways to play with his toys.

From the time he was little, Matthias has researched everything his interests with books, the internet, TV shows and movies—any way he could get more information. Whether it was Ben 10 as a little boy, or Pokemon, or Star Wars, to Greek and Roman myths, he gives his all to understand these things. In the past few months, he’s been researching the Arthurian legends. One Saturday afternoon I noticed he had been on the couch on his computer for a couple hours. During the week, he does this sometimes for his school work. Being the weekend I got curious with a little dash of parent concern. We have limits and rules around screen time in our house and I figured it was time to enforce the rules.

“What are you up to kiddo? Seems like you’ve been on your computer a while today.”

“What? Oh, I’m writing.”

“Writing? Like for school? Do you have homework you have to do this weekend?”

“No. I’m working on my book based on the Arthurian legends in the modern world.”

“Really? How much have you written?” At this point, it dawned on me I had seen him typing away more than usual the last couple of days.

“I’m on page 45 right now. I have some ideas and I really want to get them down while they’re fresh.” He answered, only slowing his typing slightly to engage me.

Matthias is a kid, an emerging young man, who forges his own path one step at a time.

So much of Matthias’ narrative gets bound up with his brother with special needs. At times expected to have it together because his mom and I have our hands full with David. At times dragged along as we face a medical crisis with his brother. Sometimes bearing the burden of being the perfect child, healing our wounds. Sometimes overlooked as the typical brother of a special child with special needs. At times overprotected by parents who want to keep him from harm, rather than freeing him—empowering him—to experience a free and risky life.

This month Matthias turns 14. With high school on the horizon and his boyhood behind him, I see my son bravely risking to be the person God made him to be. As I see him finding his own voice, figuring out who he is, rather than who others want him to be in the trying years of middle school, he inspires me to use my voice as an adult. I am proud as a dad and inspired to forge my own path.

Who inspires you to forge your path?

Rest

Busy. This word is on my lips everyday lately. Between work commitments and personal commitments this time of year is busy. At work we’re finishing our seasonal busyness, setting annual goals, finishing projects, and doing all the things that go with the end of the year. At home we’re preparing the house for relatives, finishing house projects, parenting, and keeping up with mail, trash and diapers. Sometimes I go from 6am to 7pm, moving from one meeting to the next. Once I get home I fall asleep sitting next to Lisa on the couch at 8, finally falling in bed exhausted. And, all with the feeling of accomplishing little. Busy at work. Busy at home.

If we’re honest, many of us tie our sense of worth to the number of tasks crossed off our lists. It’s easy to judge ourselves and those around us by the number of hours we work and willingness to arrive early and stay late. I see how I sometimes view my work as relating to my worth as a person. I tend to fill my days with bigger projects and more tasks than a person can complete in any reasonable time frame. Meanwhile, I feel guilty about the overwhelming number of commitments I’ve made clawing at my subconscious. In a vicious cycle, I feel worthless for failing to complete the insurmountable tasks I’ve determined justify my existence.

I just finished reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang. The idea that less work might somehow produce better results intrigued me. Pang gathers together in one place the world’s leading research on the critical role of rest on creativity, productivity, and a fulfilling life. Much of what he has to say runs against the way most of us operate. He shows how the most productive, accomplished, world class achievers take mid-day naps, exercise every day, sleep more hours, spent approximately four hours per day on their life’s work for which they’re known and take their evenings, weekends and regular sabbaticals seriously. Pang argues work and rest are not opposed forces, but rather two sides of the accomplishment coin.The book is filled with famous examples of people who have taken a rhythm of rest seriously. Charles Darwin woke early, took a walk and ate breakfast, worked 90 minutes, took a break to read mail and write letters, then worked another 90 minutes until noon, at which point he declared, “I’ve done a good day’s work!” In the remaining day he ate two more times, took two more walks, napped, studied for 90 minutes and spent the evening with his family. With this daily routine Darwin went down in history as one of the most productive and famous scientists who ever lived. Winston Churchill and Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas McArthur all took long mid-day naps of 1-2 hours during the height of World War II. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both rose early, took long walks and afternoon naps, writing early to produce their great literary works. He gives many examples of CEO’s in Silicon Valley, scientists around the world, and others alive today whose lives illustrate major accomplishment and lives filled with waking early, afternoon naps, long walks, intense exercise, intentional vacations and regular sabbaticals.

Research shows it’s the combination of periods of intense effort and concentration combined with long breaks that has produced the great literary masterpieces, Olympic gold medals, and scientific breakthroughs we all know. The best rest is active and includes a significant dose of strenuous exercise to keep the body and mind fit for work. Rest includes what Pang calls Deep Play—a sport, playing a musical instrument, mountain climbing, writing, art—anything different than your main work requiring effort and skill. And rest includes sleep—lots of it. Over the last few years, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s become common knowledge mastery comes after 10 years, or 10,000 hours of intentional practice. But, less known, the study producing the 10,000 hour insight also revealed mastery and world class success came after 12,500 hours of deliberate rest and 30,000 of sleep. That’s more than 8 hours a day for 10 years! Deliberate rest stimulate and sustains creativity and problem solving.

The research surrounding rest is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, I have been thinking for days now about the results of a longitudinal study performed by researcher Bernie Eiduson. Eiduson followed top scientists at the beginning of their careers at top universities and tracked the progression of their success over 10 years. Those who published the most and achieved the highest positions, awards, and success all embraced rest and recreation as deeply connected and unified with hard work. In contrast, “Rather than discover the benefits of deep play, the less accomplished members of Eiduson’s cohort assumed that they would do better work by doing more work—and their careers suffered for it.” (220)

I am challenged to rethink the pace and schedule of my life. Like many people, I feel a constant need to do and to accomplish. I’m prone to take up the honorable badge of busyness to convince myself and others how successfully my life is going. The research says I have it all wrong. It is those who know how to unplug, pursue hobbies, nap, exercise, enjoy relationships, who not only achieve the most, but experience the fullest lives.This time of year is a fantastic time to take a moment and reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go. It’s a time to think about the life you want to live. I am setting aside time in the next few days to set my goals and plan for next year. I want to rearrange my life to nap more, play my bass and guitar more, exercise, spend more intentional time with friends and family and sleep more. I invite you to join me in finding a fuller life through more rest. Succeeding at any goal requires grit and resiliency.  The more of us who exchange busy lives for lives filled with rest, the easier it will be. And, the more we can all live lives filled with the things that matter.

2000 years ago Jesus offered us the rest we need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28) Today, scientific research validates ancient wisdom about the nature of being human. May we all find the rest we need and seek.

I would love to hear about you—what do you do to rest?

Leonard Craft Co

We have long dreamed of the opportunity craft our product in a sustainable way, creating jobs in the U.S. This year, with the support of you our loyal customers, we have been able to secure a facility and a team with decades of experience in handcrafting quality product and to create new manufacturing jobs to carry forward our vision of creating handmade, meaningful product to share a message of hope. We are humbled and thrilled to have this opportunity and we know we wouldn’t be in this position without you, our community.

Early in 2017 the opportunity arose for Lisa and me to purchase Bob Siemon Designs. Founded in 1970 out of the back of Bob’s van, Bob Siemon Designs is recognized as the Christian retail industry’s leading jewelry designer and manufacturer. Since the purchase, we founded Leonard Craft Co in the 5 acre, 80,000 square foot building in Santa Ana, California where we now design and handcraft product for Bob Siemon Designs, Stephen David Leonard and Lisa Leonard Designs for worldwide distribution. We are tremendously grateful to invest in American manufacturing in our home state of California. As I’ve written about before, I believe in business as a vehicle to add value to the world rather than taking it.

Lisa and I just returned home from a fantastic visit to Leonard Craft Co. We saw the infectious joy of our team as we are now in the throes of the Christmas Season. This time of year is busy for us as we handcraft each piece, fulfill orders and respond to customer needs. It’s our favorite time of year as we experience the buzz of excitement for the Christmas Season. I am always humbled we have the privilege to participate in people’s Christmas celebrations through the creation of meaningful and personal gifts people exchange this time of year.Over the years, leading Lisa Leonard Designs, and now Stephen David Leonard, I have heard stories of necklaces and rings and cuffs representing newborn babies, lost loved ones and newfound hope and inspiration. Not long ago I met a woman at a conference I was attending who happened to be wearing one of our Lisa Leonard Designs necklaces. She told me how this necklace was a precious reminder to her of her family. Her sister gave her the necklace, hand stamped with her family’s names—hers, her husband and their three children when she lost her third child. As she shared her journey, the woman gently and unknowingly touched the necklace almost as a physical connection to her children. I have heard these stories from our customer service representatives and handcrafters while they work diligently to get an order to a customer in time for Christmas, or a wedding, a funeral, or a celebration.2017 has been an exciting year for us. Thanks to the support of customers like you, we are building Lisa Leonard Designs, Stephen David Leonard, Bob Siemon Designs and Leonard Craft Co to sustain quality, handmade, American manufacturing. Lisa and I are committed to create product to inspire you in your journey—to live brave, risk and step into the life God created you to live.

Do you have a necklace or ring that inspired you? I’d love to hear!

Expectations

Expectations play a strong role in the way I experience life. I have a bad habit of placing high expectations on a family vacation or special event—even on mundane events like going out to lunch. A couple months back I took Lisa to Nashville for a special concert and get away to celebrate her birthday. In my mind, I built up an image of blissfully breezy autumn days. (In California where I live our seasons are summer and English summer, so autumn is something of a novelty.) We would walk and hold hands and laugh while we explored Nashville. I saw us discovering the unknown little restaurant next to the perfect boutique for Lisa to shop. I envisioned the concert as a star-studded bonanza of country artists playing their biggest hits. All the while I envisioned us gazing into in one another’s eyes like like we did when we started dating. I thought she would look at me with those eyes that said she couldn’t believe she was married to a guy who would do this for her.

I failed to consider getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the first flight of the day, the two flights from San Luis Obispo to Nashville and the pure exhaustion of travel. We walked out of the airport into 95 degree heat with 90% humidity (we Californians are not used to that weather!). Fatigue and heat are two surefire ways to put me out of sorts. Within minutes of arriving, I was grumpy with Lisa and we were looking at each other with less than swooning eyes. Instead of strolling around, we had to take Uber to avoid the heat get from place to place. With my body overheated like a radiator in an old car chugging up a mountain side, fatigue dragging my body toward the earth and my expectations shattered, it wasn’t long before we were bickering and not connecting. I wish I could say it happened once, but it happened a few times, one time erupting into a full-on argument. Not the dreamy, he’s my hero, birthday trip I had in mind.

But the frustrations and arguments aren’t the whole story. My expectations were dashed, but we also discovered moments of connection and delight we could never plan. After our biggest argument, we decided to hit the restart button and ducked into a honkey tonk bar downtown to listen to a band. We discovered a mother-daughter act who couldn’t help but put a smile on your face. One morning we risked a breakfast place we’d never heard of called Mosko’s and ate mouth-watering breakfast tacos. Honestly, as I hear is supposed to happen in Nashville, every restaurant and every meal was delicious in some way. We visited music stores and I played vintage guitars I never imagined seeing in real life, let alone having the chance to play. After a couple misses, we discovered amazing boutiques for Lisa. She explored vintage shops and enjoyed taking it all in.

In the end, the concert was not what we expected either. The event took place in this old church in Nashville, the Ryman Theater, nicknamed the Mother Church of Country Music because of its historic role in hosting names like Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Earl Scruggs, who invented bluegrass on the Ryman stage. The concert celebrated 50 years of country song writers instead of the artists who sang the songs. The focus on the unseen heroes who write the songs everyone loves touched Lisa and I deeply. We felt like we got to be a part of a insider’s concert! Hearing Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus, Trisha Yearwood, Kris Kristofferson, Trace Atkins and Deana Carter celebrate those who wrote the songs for which they’re famous was beautiful.

As for Lisa and I, while we had our moments, we still managed to stroll hand in hand through little neighborhoods. We talked about real things and found ways to help us hear one another better. Each of us learned about ourselves and some of the issues of the issues and false stories driving our conflict. And, we had fun together.

So how was our trip? When I was younger I would have told you how awful it was. I would have focused on the all the negatives and failed expectations. Not so long ago, I would have glossed over the conflicts and frustrations and told you it was amazing. The lesson I’m learning today is to embrace the messy delight. It was leaning into each other after our conflicts that increased our understanding of each other and ourselves. Once we navigated the obstacles of our heat and fatigue, we discovered a rhythm to enjoy this new and delightful place. When we embraced reality, we found space to explore, experience and enjoy. It goes to show, expectations are powerful. When we can let them go and experience reality, there is joy to be found.

Where are you finding unexpected joy?

Giving Thanks

I have been learning more and more about gratitude. I am wired to see problems and think about how to fix them. It takes discipline for me to see what’s good and right. This time of year is a time to stop, look around and give thanks.

I’m thankful for the reception to the launch of the new Stephen David Leonard brand! Many of you have shared kind and encouraging words with me and having your support means a great deal to me. I’m thankful for the opportunity to bravely engage life together—taking the risks necessary to fatherhood, leadership, and relationships. I’m grateful to provide product to inspire you in your journey—to live brave, risk and step into the life God created you to live.

I’m thankful for the noon crew at Gymnazo who inspire me to show up, work hard and live healthy through their presence and their own dedication to their health. In 2013, I knew I had to make a change in my lifestyle to get up from my desk and move. I needed a habit change—ideally one with accountability. In November 2013, a friend told me to check out Gymnazo and am proud to say I have been working out there 3-5 times per week for four years now! I feel better in my 40’s than I felt in my 20’s. Most important, I’m available to Lisa, to David with his physical demands, and to Matthias as he enters his teen years. I’m thankful to the coaches who encourage, correct and instruct us day in and day out to enjoy the God given gift of movement to its full.

I’m thankful for the conflicts, challenges and obstacles I have faced this year. They continue to teach me about myself—my blind spots, where I need to grow, where I am willing to give up instead of press on. One of my favorite books is Mindset by Carol Deck. Mindset talks about the difference between a fixed mindset (seeing intelligence, personality, talents as fixed traits) and a growth mindset (believing our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work). This book taught me brains and talent are the starting point. A growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. Conflicts, challenges and obstacles provide me the crucible to learn, work hard and increase my resiliency. I’m grateful for the (difficult) lessons I’ve learned this year.

I’m thankful for my advisors, coaches, therapist, pastor, friends and mentors who have pointed me forward when I have felt lost and down this year. You have been willing to critique, challenge, and correct me when I need it. I have consumed gallons of coffee, made my ear shine bright red from hours on the phone and learned every frustrating feature of video conferencing as you have spent countless hours engaged in my life.

I am thankful for my boys, David and Matthias. Ever since he was in the NICU after his birth, I have delighted in seeing David’s eyes lock onto mine. I am thankful for his spark evident in his eyes and his smile. I’m grateful for his love of music we share—and when we rock out together! I am thankful for Matthias and his creativity and his willingness to work hard to grow and learn. He has had to find a new gear in school this year and I have watched him embrace a growth mindset, engage, and experience the joy of his labors. I’m grateful we not only share our love for Star Wars, superhero movies, Planet of the Apes and the ancient world, but he also loves to discuss and debate their deeper meanings now!

I am thankful for Lisa. The last couple of years have been the hardest and best of our relationship. Raising children—one with special needs, running a business together, marriage, all take their toll. Add to that the perfect intersection of our “stuff” as we approach two decades of marriage and you have a recipe for disaster. I am grateful we have separately and together chosen to do the hard work we need to do as individuals to become whole and healthy. (One day I will write about why “working on the marriage” is far from enough!) I am grateful we have sought help together for our marriage. Lisa is my business partner, my parenting partner, my confidant, my wife and my best friend. It could have gone otherwise. For her I am grateful.

I am grateful to the Lord for His grace, strength and power that sustains me. My faithfulness to Him lacks, but His faithfulness to me is everlasting. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:20)

What are you thankful for right now?

Crucial Conversations

Talking. It’s so simple but so hard. I love people and I love sitting down for a great conversation over a cup of coffee. Sharing a meal with friends is one of my favorite things to do. I relish opportunities to get unstructured conversations with the members of our team. At 13 Matthias has become an incredible conversation partner (who am I kidding—he’s talked like a 30 year old since he was 7!). There is no one I love talking with more than Lisa.

But, misunderstanding, differing goals, eroded trust can turn a conversation—even a relationship—on its head in the span of a sentence. If we’re honest, all of us have been on the giving and receiving end of a conversation-turned-argument from time to time.  Relating well to one another is a fundamental joy and an all too regular source of frustration to the human experience. Like you, I am probably misunderstood and misunderstand at some point every day.

With stakes this high, as a leader, friend, father and husband, I need to continually grow in my ability to express my heart and my thoughts to the people in my life. I need all the help I can get. Maybe you can relate. Recently I’ve been reading Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, to help me communicate better. It’s already helping me slow down, listen, and get on the same page to help me open up conversations—especially when things get tense or confused.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow in having real, open, and relationship building conversations at home, at work, with your kids—wherever! The book is written by a group of top notch researchers who interviewed hundreds of people—searching for the best communicators in the world to learn what makes people great at sharing their thoughts when there’s high stakes, varied opinions and strong emotions in play. Many of us believe candor will harm our relationships, but, “As it turns out, you don’t have to choose between being honest and being effective. You don’t have to choose between candor and your career. People who regularly hold crucial conversations and hold them well are able to express controversial and even risky opinions in a way that gets heard. Their bosses, peers, and direct reports listen without becoming defensive or angry.” (10).

I was helped learning the common responses to conflict are silence (say nothing, leave, comply) or violence (try to win an argument, subtly manipulate, verbal attacks) instead of creating safety. I’ve used them all under stress and they’re all bad. Crucial Conversations provides tools for stepping out of destructive patterns and building mutual respect and purpose. I found the sections on the way the state of our heart (in a business book!) and internal stories affect us especially helpful. It’s crazy how often and how deeply we are affected by issues that are literally in our head rather than happening in the real world around us. If you want to understand what I’m talking about, check out chapter 6, Master My Stories!

This book was so helpful for me, I bought a copy for our team members at Leonard Group [Lisa Leonard Designs, StephenDavidLeonard.com, Leonard Craft Co, Bob Siemon Designs] to read through together. I’m looking forward to how our team will grow in our ability to have real and open dialogue about the issues we face on a daily basis. Hopefully it will spill over into the way we relate with our loved ones outside the office too!

How about you? How would having real and open conversations help you in your world?

 

 

 

Lion Heart

“Integrity—Choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.”         – Brene Brown

Sitting in a high rise in New York, a high-level executive looked at me across the table. With  Manhattan sprawling out behind him through the window he asked,

“So, what’s your vision for your business?”

My mind raced. “What am I even doing here?” I thought. “How did we wind up sitting across the table from this man who lives in a world very different from mine?” Fear. Pressure. The desire to perform and look good rose in my chest. Then I remembered, “You know, he’s another guy like you. He chose to meet with you. And besides, let him evaluate you for who you really are, not who you think he wants you to be.”

Summoning my courage, I answered, “Ok, I’ll tell you my real vision. I think our brand can be as big as any out there. People connect with the story and love the product. Our biggest obstacle is how many people we reach. Lisa and I want to put a positive message into the world. We want to share a vision of hope with a broken world.”

His eyebrows raised slightly. Did he like what I said? Did he think I was naïve?

I pressed on, “I approach business idealistically. I believe in integrity in business. I actually believe commerce can be a force for good in the world. I experience how business relationships build friendships across ideological lines, religious convictions, cultural values and even national borders. I think business is an excellent arena to build character, practice free-flowing communication, and learn how to get along with others. Business is a fantastic context to live a life of integrity, adding value to the world rather than taking it. When I make mistakes, and make plenty, I do my best to own them. Our vision is to grow our brand as much as possible to share this message of hope and live an experiment of building a company around these ideals. People have rolled their eyes at me when I share this vision, but there it is.”

He listened with the expressionless face of a person who has sat through countless negotiations. His posture straight, hands folded on the table. When I stopped, he paused, took a breath, and then smiled,

“My father-in-law founded our company on these principles. He has been a person of character his whole career. He is a man—a businessman—of integrity. He’s the type of man who makes a handshake deal and honors it in the face of an immediate offer for twice as much with contract and payment in hand. He started with nothing and through this approach he built what you see around you.” I was shocked to hear this validation of my idealistic approach to life and business.

I’ve had plenty of people roll their eyes at me when I share my view about the positive role business can play in the world. Some have called me naïve, some have implied it. And, to be fair, we have been robbed, taken advantage of, lied to and cheated in business. I live in the real world. Living by ethical and moral values will cost you from time to time. Anyone who tells you different is lying.

He went on, “Make no mistake, my father-in-law has the heart of a lion. He knows he is responsible for those under his care. He is a man of integrity and strength who looks out for his pride—his family, his employees and his businesses. He has high integrity, high values and does business in a fair and mutually beneficial manner. He insists on the same from his employees, his vendors, and business partners. He is savvy. He knows his world and understands the world is full of hyenas and vultures looking to prey on his mistakes. But he is a brave lion. He takes calculated risks. He protects his own. And he does all he can through his business and life to make the world a better place.”

This story has stuck with me and become a model for me in business and life. Because my last name is Leonard, I have identified with the image of the lion for years (for the geeks like me out there, leon is Greek for lion). In preparation for the launch of the Stephen David Leonard site, one of my staff had an Identity Cuff made for me that reads “Lion Heart.” I’ve been wearing it for a while now as a reminder to face the things I fear. It reminds me to be true to myself no matter what I’m facing. It reminds me who I am—a man who is responsible for my family, my employees, my community. I strive to be a man of integrity in all I do. It spurs me on to have difficult conversations, to hold to my values, and to live as the me I’m created to be, rather than the me I think others want me to be.