Advice to Boomers: Think Like a Millennial

I had a conversation with my neighbor that got me thinking about the nature of work these days. My neighbor retired from his career as a radiology oncologist last year. He was just 62. As he has reminded me over the years, “I’m the doctor you don’t want to see.”

He certainly helped a lot of people extend their lives, but he also saw a lot of death. “All of those cases accumulate and finally they get to you,” he told me. Besides, he observed, if you do just one thing all your life, there finally comes a time when you say, “I don’t want to do that any more.” So he retired.

I suspect a lot of people in my Boomer generation are in this place right now. Those who can afford to retire have done so or are strongly thinking about it. Those who aren’t there financially wish they could be. I feel for those who are ready to retire but have no choice but to keep their nose to the grindstone. I have no words of wisdom for them.

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Vulnerable Post

Today I was keenly aware of the scene from Julie and Julia where Julie comes home from a bad day at work and says that even though she’s had a bad day she knows if eggs and flour and chocolate are whisked together you will get a decadent dessert.

My life has been that way as of late. Potholes have met me every other day just when I thought the path was paved ahead. This is not a sob story, but rather a time when I am trying to cling to what I know, which is that if I string words together, it might make a little more sense to me. And I like to share, my heart and my food. Instead of chocolate cake tonight it was cilantro, mint, and shredded carrots. It was ground lamb in my cast iron pan and a quick round of cous cous. It was lemon, shallots, and Mediterranean olives. And I looked like Golem eating it in the corner of our living room by myself. It was missing something though. So I took it back to the kitchen and threw in my favorite spice: cumin. Ah yes, that was it, and I longed to find the “cumin” to fill in the potholes of this New Year.

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For those of you who follow my humble little blog, you will have noticed that I’ve been absent for the last couple of months. My last blog entry was dated April 11, 2010 and I’ve not been able to get at my passion as much as I’d like. I do apologize for that. Should I give the more and more common excuse of, “Man…I’ve just been busy!” Should I just say, “Work got the better of me!” Or should I just say, “Shoot, I’ve been too dang tired to even do what it is I actually love to do!” Well, there is a little truth in all of those statements and the reality is, the busyness of life can be a daunting drudgery done in vain labor at points. I mean, what are we really that busy for?

Yes, yes, I get the common worldview that says we do this for our family. But what does our family get in return? Moreover, what does all that busyness actually add up to? I also comprehend that having a good work ethic is also good and that, especially for men by way of gender role socialization, work is a powerful tool for social capital and social status. Some of us actually love to be told “Wow, look how hard you’re working! Good for you!” So there is that whole deal as well.

There is also the worldview that says work hard now, and later you can play. Yes, that good old delayed gratification comes into play here. But again, how is the 60 hour work week taking its toll on those latter years in our life? What if hypertension and heart attacks actually hold us back from enjoying those “play years?” Work is good though, right? We all have to do it, right? Well, sort of.

Some don’t have to work all that much, others work for them, their money works for them, their parents help them out, maybe they won the lotto, maybe they’re a celebrity, or maybe they’ve just been fortunate enough to have money coming in. So no, all of us do not have to work in the same manner or form.

But, for the rest of us, work is a reality and the ensuing busyness will demand it’s levy on our life, family, and mind. Is there a way around this? I’m not sure. Here in American culture we have created a type of congratulatory ethos for those who work the most. In other words, we reward workaholics. Yes, yes, those people who put in 60-70 hours, work multiple jobs, sacrifice time and energy for the company, and put in the “extra mile for the team” are given their labor remuneration in the form of promotions, more money, television shows, titles, degrees, and even glory in death (Boy that Sam sure was a hard worker when he was alive; Sally sure did hustle, wish she was still here). Being busy is just part of the American way; we love it; in fact, we adore it. And don’t be in a professional ministry position (pastorate and or a faith based non-profit director), because once Jesus get’s put into the mix, people will work even harder and do just about anything; not to mention get paid little to nothing. One of our close friends, who recently switched jobs because her last one wanted her to put in well over 65 hours a week including weekends on the job, told us that what her last company wanted was basically her life in exchange for a paycheck. Hmmm.

So where do I fit into all of this? Am I somehow above all this and now about to offer up a simple and ergonomic solution to our busyness woes? No. I’m right there in the mix. I work at 6 different schools, teach 7-8 classes a semester, mentor, hustle my books, write articles, and try to get paid to pay rent just like most of us do. No, I’m no better. I fit into the “I’m trying to pay my bills and live my life” worldview on the busyness scale. I don’t have much to offer up other than to say occasionally, every now and then, once in a while, when the moon is right, and when the air is just blowing…I take some time off and go out with my wife; no kids, no connections to the outside world, just us one on one. And you know what we did? Nothing.

Is that the answer? I don’t really know. But the reality is that we live in a society that is obsessed with work and as Dr.’s Roberth Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier say in their book We Are Driven: The Compulsive Behaviors America Applauds, are we really having fun? I don’t think so…I hope to somehow break this cycle and get back to doing what I love…writing.

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Mako's FAQ 1: Practical Advice? How Do I Get Started?

Mako frequently gets email from young artists seeking advice. For the next few weeks, he will attempt to offer some insights and feedback on some of the most frequently asked questions. Today's question? "Do you have any practical advice for young artists? How do I get started with my career?"

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Yesterday, BBC News Magazine ran an article about a nine-year-old boy who wrote in to a BBC children's program 35 years ago, telling them that he had a "strange" belief that he would someday know how to save people's lives. This boy did, indeed, go on to become a doctor whose groundbreaking research has saved lives. (Read the full article here...)

This article got me thinking about my own childhood dreams, and I wondered - how many of you knew at the age of nine what you wanted to be? And how many of you have become that?

I started playing piano at a very young age (see picture). My parents swear that when I was less than a year old, I could plunk out a recognizable melody of  "The First Noel"by ear (my dad used to sing it every time we drove past the post office at the corner of Fisher Ct. and Main St. in Clawson, MI, where I lived for the first seven years of my life, at Christmastime. There was a big "NOEL" sign hanging in front.) By the time I was twelve, I was writing a lot of songs and already performing a lot.Today, playing piano and singing is a huge part of my life as a worship leader and performing artist (see other picture).

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Master of None

 It's commonly acknowledged in business that sometimes the best engineers make the worse managers of the engineering department, just as sometimes the best artists should never be in charge of the other artists. In fact, in any technical field those that have demonstrated mastery in their profession fail at managing their peers. Instead, just like in baseball, sometimes the best general managers are those that were not naturally gifted players. These were the invididuals who played their hardest, studied the game, and learned how to overcome physical deficiencies to still successfully play the game they loved.** They became utility players - reliable in every circumstance but not a star in any position. In business, we say that they are "a jack of all trades, but master of none."

The reasons these jacks may make the best managers is because they realize that they can't control the outcomes of project or endeavors through their own skills and efforts. Those who are naturally gifted in any particular field often expect that they can determine the course of events through their own willpower and talents. Those who have had to work and strive for their place on the team realize that this is not possible for them. (Additionally all that time spent studying and learning what success looks like doesn't hurt them eitheer.) Therefore the jack of all trades realizes that just as they may not be a master in their field, they are also not the master of the work that others produce. Therefore they are gifted at orchestrating the work of others to achieve the success that they know exists. Its a lesson for all of us who are tasked with managing others. Managing them doesn't mean controlling them. It means recognizing that control is limiting, but that as each master excersies their particular skill set, we can work towards acheiving the goals we've set.

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