RLL 47: Mel's Mustang

Real Life Leading #47: Mel’s Mustang

This past week my wife made a surprise trip to Pensacola, Florida, to go see a couple of friends of our who were there. Because it was a short-notice thing, our friends paid for Mel to rent a car, and the only car available at this particular rental place (after the first place had no cars available) was a beautiful, almost brand-new 2018 Ford Mustang convertible…and MAN, was I jealous! Time for a little backstory…

Twenty years ago, my first car was a 1968 Ford Mustang. I’m not a ‘car guy’, familiar with all different makes and models and engine types; but I love Mustangs, and I always have. I also haven’t driven one since I sold mine right after my older daughter was born fourteen years ago. So when Mel got the opportunity to drive one to Florida, I will fully admit I was mostly just jealous.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Thankfully, that only lasted for a few minutes, because of something that happened in my brain and something Mel said: first, God reminded me that because I love Mustangs, I should be happy that my wife also gets to experience the awesomeness of driving one. And second, almost as if on cue, my wife smiled and me and said, “Would you like to drive it to the interstate to see me off before I go?” Would I?!? So I got to drive the Mustang. And it.was.glorious!

What’s the point of all of this? The point is twofold: first, that our mindset makes a tremendous difference in our reaction to things in life; and second, that the stories we tell ourselves shape what we believe about our circumstances.

If we constantly choose to focus on the negatives, we will quickly become overwhelmingly negative people. The truth is, if you’re reading this blog on a phone or computer or other device, you live in a place that has better technology than most of earth, and you have access to that technology, as do I. We have more access to food, healthcare, and shelter than most people who have ever existed. And, unfortunately, we too often forget that and need to be reminded of it.

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

During the summer of 2001, I spent three weeks on a mission trip to Honduras, most of it in a village with no electricity or running water. The people I met there were the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life, even though they were also the poorest in terms of material goods and ease-of-life. As a result of that trip, when I came home, I was more aware of the tremendous blessings we have. For example, after three weeks of using barrel-caught rainwater and a hollow gourd for bathing, I was thankful for hot, running water and access to a variety of food. These sound like simple things, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

By the way, the friends that Mel went to Florida to see? The reason they were there is because they had twins born twelve weeks early, and those babies had been in the NICU since the summer. Mel was meeting our friends in Florida so that the parents could both ride home together in the van with their kids (they also have a toddler), while Mel drove their other car back to Birmingham. After over three months in the NICU, the babies were on their first trip home. Their parents were filled with joy, and we’re glad Mel was able to help them out. As for me, you better believe that whenever I think of what they’ve been through, I hug my daughters a little tighter. I hope you all will do the same today.

Action Step: Today, make a brief list, mental or on paper, of things that you have to be thankful for. Then encourage someone around you to do the same, and see how it lifts your spirits and your hearts.

RLL 41: Lessons from the Beginning of School

Real Life Leading Blog Post #41

Lessons from the Beginning of School

This past Thursday marked the first day of my thirteenth year as a high school teacher, and in those thirteen years, many changes have taken place, both in education and in the rest of life: kids have changed, technology has advanced, my family has changed, etc. Reflecting on these things, I was reminded of two quick thoughts that I wanted to share with you all regarding leadership both in the classroom and outside of it.


First, It is absolutely vital to set expectations early. In my classroom, the first assignment is for the students to write an essay telling me what they hope to get out of the class and telling me a little bit about themselves. We then spend the next forty-five minutes of class going over the rules and procedures (four rules, twenty procedures), detailing what I expect from them: how to enter, how to head papers, how to conduct themselves during class, what they can expect from me, how to exit the room, and everything in between.

Because we go over these expectations early, the students know from the very first day what class will look like and what will be required of them. There is no guess-work about how to do things or how to act. This provides both a structure for the class and stability for the students and for me. If at all possible, in your leadership position, let your team know as soon as possible what the goals and expectations are, so that everyone is on the same page.

Second, I find it is important to believe the best in people while also knowing they will make mistakes. The current group of freshman at my school have long had a negative reputation within the school: loud, obnoxious, disrespectful, lazy, etc. I heard this from multiple teachers, and I'm sure there is some basis for these statements (teachers don't generally lie to each other). However, after reading Bob Burg's book 'The Go-Giver,' and realizing that my job is to help and serve, I realized also that if I go into the year expecting these kids to be awful, then I will see everything they do through that lens. Instead, I also remembered my C.S. Lewis (this is a paraphrase) from 'Mere Christianity': however bad something could be, it also has the potential to be the same amount great.

So I started this year by expecting these kids to be phenomenal. And so far, they have not let me down: they are engaged, they are interested, they show up on time and participate in class, and I'm excited to be teaching a class with such huge potential. Believing the best in them is helping me see the best in them, rather than the reverse. I have found this to be true in other areas as well. Will they be perfect the entire year? Of course not. But I am excited to see just how high their ceiling is, knowing that we've started off in a positive direction. 

I hope these two tips help you out this week, and if so, I'd love to hear about it!

Action Step: Within your team, communicate your expectations, and believe the best in people!

RLL 40--Leadership Lessons from Duke

Real Life Leading 40--Leadership Lessons from Duke

I was richly blessed this summer by getting to spend three weeks on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, helping teach a group of gifted high school students in a class that focused on leadership and international diplomacy. I had a wonderful time, and I learned a lot along the way. Here are a few of the lessons that I want to share with you.

One of my favorite spots in the gardens, because it looks how I imagine the Shire to look

One of my favorite spots in the gardens, because it looks how I imagine the Shire to look

1) Strolling through a garden is good for the soul. Because of where my campus apartment was in relation to our classroom, the quickest route to class each morning was through the Sarah B. Duke Gardens (see pictures here:  . Most mornings, I wandered leisurely through different areas, surrounded by beauty, while listening to praise and worship music. It helped me begin the day by relaxing and seeing how much beauty there was at hand, and it was a great way to prepare for the more difficult task of helping keep around 100 students on task each day. I know must of us don't get to do this all the time, but I would encourage you to find at least a few moments each morning to appreciate the beauty that is around you: dew on the grass (even if the yard is a bit tall, like mine is right now), birds in the trees, the sun rising over the horizon. Beauty is all around us, if we take the time to see it.

Standing at mid-court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, a must for any Duke basketball fan to visit

Standing at mid-court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, a must for any Duke basketball fan to visit

2) In leadership, self-awareness is a must. I wrote about this in a guest blog post for Joseph Lalonde a while back (find the article here: ), and I found this to be true at Duke as well. One of the focuses of the leadership portion of the class was to help students, many of whom had never done this before, learn to become more aware of their feelings and desires and impulses, with the goal of having greater control over them. If you've read some of my blog posts in the past, you've probably seen one of my Dad's principles that I've shared before: "You can control your emotions, or you can be controlled by them." For many students, this type of thinking, aimed at helping them to have more control over their decision-making, was eye-opening, and it helped me as well. The truth is that we all have the potential to do things that are both great and terrible. What he choose, how we choose, and how we respond to stimuli are the things that will shape our outcomes; so it makes sense for us to begin by being aware of ourselves first (without also becoming self-focused).

Our instructional team at Duke

Our instructional team at Duke

3) A great team makes every task easier. I was blessed to be part of a great instructional team at Duke. I learned as much from the instructors as the students did, and I had a great time working with each member of the team. As I was leaving, it dawned on me that, even when the task is difficult (e.g. teaching 100 students for three weeks during the summer, with very little real authority over them in terms of discipline), a great team makes all the difference. Great times can happen by chance, but most of the time they happen by choice: that is, teams choose to be great by working hard to help each other. We picked up each other's slack, we didn't ever blame anyone for shortcomings, and we worked to support each other when we needed it. That was a wonderful experience and lesson to be reminded of, and it's one I hope to continue as I begin my thirteenth year as a classroom teacher this week.

I had an amazing time at Duke and a great summer, and I'm excited to begin a new school year on Thursday! I hope you, the reader, are also excited about whatever the near future holds for you, and I'd love to hear about it!

Action Step: Take 5 minutes today to appreciate some of the "everyday beauty" that is around you, and let it calm your soul.