What fills your passion bucket?

Passion, noun: strong and barely controllable emotion. (Oxford English Dictionary)

What do you think of when you hear the word passion? You probably think of romance, love, a passion for someone who makes your heartbeat escalate. I love this definition of passion, a strong and barely controllable emotion.

Passion isn't just for lovers though. Passion is for the driven, the convinced, those of us intoxicated with what could be. Each of us has a passion bucket of sorts, a holding place inside our souls where we store and ferment this insatiable desire to experience what drives us the most. Not just anything can fill your passion bucket, only those interests and experiences that make you come alive.

What fills my passion bucket

There are times in my life where I find myself reserved, even deflated by whatever's come my way. One of the best ways to revive my spirit is to remember what fills my passion bucket. Of course, my faith, my wife, my daughter, my son, and my work are important, but my passion bucket is about what personally inspires me. It's not all serious stuff; in fact, some of what fills my passion bucket isn't terribly world-changing at all, but it fuels my spirit.

Here are just a few of the interests that fill my passion bucket:

  • I love helping people.
  • I love listening and singing to great music, especially classic rock.
  • I love encouraging people.
  • I love creating something of significance.
  • I love playing music with other great musicians.
  • I love a good party.
  • I love sports.
  • I love listening to a great clean comedian, like Brian Regan or Jim Gaffigan.
  • I love a good board game or card game, especially Poker Night.

I feel more alive and engage when my passion bucket is sloshing over the side. My heart is happier. My thoughts are more inspired. My energy is at its highest. I am more empowered when I experience what inspires me.

What fills your passion bucket?

What inspires you? What are those experiences where you go, "I live for times like these!" Is it outdoor concerts? Is it great food from other parts of the world? Is it a hike through the mountains? What are those experiences where you would pay someone to experience them and the cost is almost no issue?

Think of 5-7 experiences that make you come alive the most and experience at least one of them this week. The more alive you feel, the more you can make an extraordinary effect on the world around you.

What Brené Brown taught me about what matters more

I recently read a quote from Brené Brown that stopped me in my tracks. It's from her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,

"What we know matters but who we are matters more."​

We live in a world drunk and confused on two dynamic battlegrounds: our knowledge and our identities. Between selfie sticks, bloated GPAs, and scratching and clawing to prove our indispensable worth to bosses, friends, and even strangers, we lose a life of energy fighting to maintain what's already secure.

Your success is not who you are. Your failure is not who you are.

Your kids, your house, your car, your job, your sphere of influence, your intellect, your church, your causes, your friends, and your family, love 'em or hate 'em, are not you.

What you feel may be a reflection of who you are, but even our emotions are coy and deceiving.

What you think may be a reflection of who you are, but our minds are easily deceived and wickedly biased.

The way you keep and carry yourself may be a reflection of who you are, but mirrors and scales are two of life's biggest liars.

You are you because you are loved.

You are you because you have a chance to brighten someone's day.

You are you because you are here on purpose for a purpose.

You are you because even the best of you is still a work in progress... and that's a really good thing.

In the words of Dr. Seuss,

"Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”

Who you are matters far more than anything you will ever or could ever do. It's exhausting to try leveraging what you know and what you can do in lieu of who you already are in God's eyes.

May you find rest and joy in who you already are and who you're called to be today.

Doing work you love still involves work

“It just doesn’t feel like work!”

How many times have you heard someone say those words about their dream job? It’s true! When you’re in the role or responsibility that fits your unique personality and skill set, work doesn’t feel like work.

This is a huge blessing, but it’s also a big deception. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” This is the bedrock of Behance’s 99U Conference: innovation driven by perspiration. (Forbes)

One of the biggest challenges I hear from new entrepreneurs or anyone starting a movement is that it takes a lot of work. “I didn’t expect it to take this much work!” Yep, I understand. The biggest misconception of chasing your dreams is thinking everything will come easily because you’re finally in your sweet spot. Doing work you love still involves work.

I love writing. I dreamed of pursuing writing full-time three or four years ago. In October 2013 I got the opportunity to launch my dream as a full-time writer. Writing comes easily to me, but I also have to work a lot to take what’s natural and try to make it exceptional. It’s more than simply stitching words together; it’s closing the thin but extremely difficult margin between good and great that countless writers fail to achieve.

It takes work. Lots and lots and lots of work. Chasing your dreams requires more work than you ever expect. It also brings more reward than you’ve ever received. Doing work you love still involves work.

If you’re just beginning on this journey, you may scoff at the idea that you’ll notice how much work is needed. And then, one day you wake up and you realize you’re working 12, 14, maybe even 16-hour days. In fact, the average entrepreneur often puts in between 60-70 hours of work every week. (Inc.com) I thought this was supposed to be easy!

The key is pairing exceptional work ethic with God-given natural abilities. That’s where the Picassos and Beethovens and Elon Musks and other world-changers find their origins. Chasing your dreams will probably take longer than you want but not as long as you expect. If you dedicate yourself in the confidence that God’s created you to do a unique work, you will succeed.

What’s been your experience with doing work you love? Does it still feel like work? What are the successes or struggles you’ve experienced along the way?

Social media and the thief of comparison

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It’s easy to compare yourself to others, especially with social media today. What we often forget is that Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook don’t tell the whole story; they’re only the highlight reels of people’s everyday life.

Social media is the new fairy tale. I’ve found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media posts and starting to think, “This is how my life should be.” Most of social media isn’t real though. You don’t see people posting pictures of their screaming kids or posing with their 1989 Chevy Blazer with the hashtag #blessed. Social media is just one of the many arenas of comparison.

The question that drives comparison is simply, “Am I enough?” Smart enough. Good-looking enough. Successful enough. Happy enough. A good enough parent. Am I simply enough?

It’s because the thief of comparison steals the joy of where God has placed us right here, right now.

Benefits of comparison

Here are all the benefits of comparison:

That’s not a typo; there are zero benefits of comparing yourself to another person.

What comparison will do is create a bitter spirit, “God, why haven’t You blessed me like that person?” Comparison creates an entitlement attitude, “I’m a way better person than so-and-so. I deserve a better life.” Comparison also fosters a lack of gratitude and perspective, “If I only had what that person appears to have instead of this regular, vanilla life I’m living.”

When we stop comparing ourselves to others is when we can start embracing the lives we have. The world doesn’t need the next Steve Jobs or the next Justin Timberlake or the next Michael Jordan.

What the world really needs is the first you.

Today is about saying “I’m more than enough because of how God made me.” Today is about taking charge of your God-given talents and using your opportunities to leave your fingerprints on the world. Today is about being yourself because the world needs the first you, the one God made you, not anyone else, to be.

Closing chapters in your life

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck revisiting the same chapter in your life?

I love reading. Sometimes I’ll skip ahead a chapter or two to see if I can get an idea where the story is going. The problem is I have to keep my place where I was reading. So, I stick my fingers in between the pages to keep track and fold the pages over as I glance ahead. As much as I want to read ahead, the pages folded over my fingers are hard to read and parts of the story don’t make sense.

I need to finish one chapter before I can begin the next one.

Life is a lot like reading. We try to glance ahead and fast-forward some of the boring parts or the uncomfortable scenes. We want to get to the “good” parts, the parts that are exciting and full of fun.

Closing certain chapters in our life will make our story richer and more meaningful.

This is why a newly married man should’t spend his Saturdays playing video games. He needs to close that chapter of bachelorhood.

This is why a set of new parents don’t have the luxury of staying up till midnight. They have a built-in alarm clock called a baby ready to go off at any hour.

This is why some friendships and relationships need to be ended forever. The more you allow negative and toxic relationships to continue in your life, the longer that chapter of your life continues to stay open and infected.

This is why you can’t keep reliving the glory days of high school or that one job or boss that was so great. As memorable and fantastic as they were, it’s okay to remember them, but it’s not okay to dwell on them. Living in the past distracts from the future. Even great chapters can distract away from the rest of the story.

Chapters in your life will come and change. Some of them are closed on their own. Some are up to us to finish and finish well.

May you have the courage to close out unfinished chapters of your life. May you look to the future while celebrating and learning from the past. May your story go on as you begin new chapters today.

The inability to do nothing

I love history, especially learning about the Civil War and WWII.

One of my favorite stories comes from the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. It was the second day of the battle and the Union army stretched across the two hills, Big and Little Round Top, with their soldiers stretching all the way back to Gettysburg. On their far left flank was the 20th Maine under the direction of Col. Joshua Chamberlain. He and his men were placed at the end of the line by Colonel Vincent with these words,

Whatever you do, you can’t let them come through here.

Joshua Chamberlain Brady-Handy Collection - writetojoncook Jon CookIt was literally do or die for Chamberlain and his 385 men. If the Confederates flanked the 20th Maine, they would have the high ground and quick access to Big Round Top. Fighting began that day at the middle of the Union Army, but the rocky sides of Big Round Top were too steep for the Confederates.

The 15th and 47th Alabama Infantry regiment, numbering over 4,000 under the direction of General Hood, repositioned to the far end of the Union line, directly in front of the 386 men from the 20th Maine. The 15th and 47th Alabama charged up the hill towards the 20th Maine who began firing from behind a thigh-high makeshift rock wall. Chamberlain and his men repelled the first charge… and a second… and a third… and a fourth.

In the fourth charge the Confederates almost made it to the rock wall, only to be repelled again by the 20th Maine. Chamberlain and his men were reduced from 386 down to 80 with one, maybe two shots of ammunition left per man. They had already spread out their line to double its length at a 45-degree angle to counter the Confederates repositioning further down the hill.

The 15th and 47th Alabama were now reinforced by the 4th Alabama, 4th Texas, and 5th Texas regiments, regrouped again for a fifth charge.The 20th Maine looked to their right, to the 83rd Pennsylvania: no help. No reinforcements, virtually no ammunition, no chance. The Confederates slowly started making their way up the hill.

Col. Chamberlain stepped to the top of the rock wall, crossed his arms, and looked down at the charging Confederates. Listen to what he said about that moment,

We can’t retreat. We can’t stay here. When I am faced with the choice of doing nothing or doing something, I will always choose to act. Fix bayonets!

Chamberlain Little Round Top - writetojoncook Jon CookChamberlain later said it was his inability to do nothing that moved him to action. He ordered a right wheel and bayonet charge. The extended line of the 20th Maine and 83rd Pennsylvania fixed bayonets to their empty guns and charged down the hill. Chamberlain and his eighty men captured over 400 Confederate soldiers, many while holding empty guns.

Many historians believe that because of Chamberlain’s inability to do nothing, it saved the Union Army and the United States. His charge preserved the Union. His inability to do nothing moved him to do something extraordinary.

Inaction is still action. You have a choice for your future; choosing to do nothing is a conscious choice for mediocrity or worse. When it comes to your dreams, where is your inability to do nothing? Are you unable to be indifferent towards creating a better future? Are you unable to stand by while evil and negativity invade our world? What’s your inability to do nothing when it comes to leading your team?

May you have a great inability to do nothing. May you be moved to act when uncertainty and even surrender would be easier. May you have the courage to do something extraordinary when faced with overwhelming uncertainty.

Doubters, dreamers, and mending broken hearts

“Doubters are just dreamers with broken hearts.” – Atticus

Why do we dream? Why do we doubt? In the tension between dreaming of what could be and doubting those same possibilities lies a valley of broken hearts. For every Little Engine that Could saying, “I think I can, I think I can,” is a former-dreamer-turned-cynic saying, “Probably not.”

Why do dreamers become doubters in the first place? It’s because of failure.

Doubters, dreamers, and mending broken hearts - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Doubters allow failure to define their future instead of repositioning their past. Doubters allow disappointment to constrict their hope for tomorrow. “It didn’t work now; why will it ever work in the future?” Doubters see broken engagements, job firings, failed startups, abandoned causes, even abandoned faith, and think that failure is the ultimate end-all of dreamers.

That sounds depressing, right? Is there hope for doubters? What if doubters could be dreamers again?

I’ve seen a lot of failure in my thirty years of living. I’ve “failed” plenty of times, more than I care to remember.

I’ve also seen dreams come to life. I see people every week who defy the odds and embrace new opportunity. We dream because we believe the best is yet to come. We start new ventures, take new first steps, even begin new stories because we believe in a Heavenly Father who gives good, even great gifts to His kids.

Turning doubts into dreams again

One of the biggest reasons why people doubt is because we’ve been told to lower expectations. “Life is full of disappointments,” “You’ll never have enough,” “That’s just how life is sometimes,” “Quit setting the bar so high.” These are the voices of people who have learned to settle, to expect less out of life.

Life is richer, deeper, and more powerful when we dream. If your own life is distorted towards doubting your own dreams, you’re not alone. You’re also not a lost cause.

Turning your doubts into dreams again is about seeing God-given possibilities as exactly that: gifts from God. Take your opportunities. Start that class. Make that call. Go on that first date. Send that email. Schedule that meeting. Draft that book. Rally for that cause. Start your new business.

Your dreams are powerful. Let your possibilities stretch beyond what you think is possible because that’s where dreams call home. May you turn your “probably not’s” into “what could be” and may you dream again.

Time is the new money

Money used to make the world go ’round, but now we realize it’s only time that matters.

What’s more valuable, your time or your money? I love this quote from Jim Rohn,

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”

If you live in the U.S., you live in the most lucrative society in the history of the world. Money is everywhere and anyone can earn at least a small fortune with enough sweat equity and opportunity.

Time is the new money - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Money is not the greatest currency; time is. This is why many Millennials are valuing their time over their income. I love this concept, “This group of individuals is emerging as self-starters: entrepreneurial thinkers with creative potential and the capacity to work even harder than Baby Boomers, but on their own terms.”(Levo) It’s not about making a living anymore nearly as much as using your time to make a difference.

I’ve never heard of a death-bed confessional where someone wished they had more money. However, I have heard of multiple instances where people wished they had more time. My grandpa passed away a few years ago. I would go to great lengths to get more time with my grandpa. It’s because time is finite while money is relative.

Valuing time more than money

Your time has a greater price tag on it than your bank account. It would be tempting to be a miser with your time as much as you might already be with your money. A generous life can be a blessing to so many, including yourself.

Here are some areas that may be in desperate need of your time and attention:

  • One-third of couples spend less than 30 minutes of quality time together a day. (Huffington Post) Watching a TV show doesn’t count. Shut off the dumb TV and take a walk, enjoy a talk on the deck, do anything that actually interacts with the love of your life. Your spouse doesn’t need another purchase; they need your attention.
  • Your kids don’t need more money; they need more of your time. The average live-at-home dad in the U.S. spends seven minutes a day in conversation with one child. (The National) Don’t let your wallet do your parenting.
  • Volunteering for a charity or nonprofit can increase your level of happiness, sense of self-worth, lower your stress, and help you live longer. (Harvard Health) Most importantly, it’s how we best express the love of God: by giving of ourselves without expecting anything in return. It’s tempting to just write a check. Don’t take the easy way out; sign up to give your time to personally help someone.
  • Less than half of U.S. adults meet the minimum CDC daily physical activity guidelines. (CDC) Being physically active, even walking for twenty minutes a day, can help prevent type 2 diabetes and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, and some cancers.

How are you valuing your time more than money?

What James Harrison can teach entrepreneurs about participation

Should kids receive participation awards?

That's one of the big questions in the wide world of sports this week. James Harrison, veteran linebacker of the Pittsburgh Steelers, recently learned that his two sons were given participation awards after an athletic event. Harrison took away the "awards" and returned them to the organization.

Here's part of the caption Harrison shared on his Instagram post about the "awards,"

"I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut [you] up and keep you happy."

Now, obviously kids and adults have different needs. Some kids need more "wins" than others, but it's amazing how much entitlement is fostered through ridiculous practices like giving participation "awards". The practices we adopt as children become the principles we embody as adults.

Fact of life: you will lose at one point or another. And no one should give you a participation "award" for losing.

Fact of life: kids who receive participation "awards" can grow into adults who expect eight weeks of vacation when accepting their first job out of college.

I applaud Harrison for not allowing his sons to expect awards simply for showing up. What I love about entrepreneurs is that we can't afford to expect participation "awards" simply for launching a business. Success comes more easily for some than others. It's when we don't succeed that we learn the most. Getting a prize for losing only weakens the learning opportunity.

Participation awards and entrepreneurs

If you're looking to launch your dreams, there will be opportunities for compromise. People will offer you participation "awards" that will pull you away from your dreams. The most common participation "award" for entrepreneur is a job offer. It's safe and a reliable paycheck and peace of mind, especially if you have a family to support.

Some entrepreneurs need to consider those offers because the dream isn't working out the way you planned. For many of us though, these are just temptations to settle for a lesser future.

I've received six job "offers" in the past eighteen months, some with extremely good salaries and benefits. I politely declined, but I do one thing with each of those offers. I file them in an email folder. When I'm discouraged or hit a rocky patch on the road of entrepreneurship, I open that folder and review each of those offers. It'd be natural to think that would be even more temptation to accept one of those offers, but for me, it's a reminder why I declined every single one of them.

May your dreams involve opportunities to compromise. It's in those opportunities where your resolve and faith in God's calling on your life is reinforced. It's where you're reminded that you can't expect participation "awards," only real victories from hard work, dedication, and refusal to compromise.

Thank you, James Harrison. You've reminded me again why I work so hard and can't afford to settle.

Who says you can’t?!

“Jon, writing isn’t your strong suit.”

My English professor’s words rang in my ears. I was three weeks into her class with three grades on the weekly two-page papers: C+, D, and F. Three papers, each of them with regressively worse grades. It was the first “F” I’d ever received.

Who says you can't - writetojoncook Jon Cook

I didn’t care. I hated English. It was my least favorite subject throughout middle school and high school. When she said those words, “Jon, writing isn’t your strong suit,” my immediate reaction was indifference. Who cares? Who are you to tell me what I’m good or not good at? My end reaction was defiance: I’ll show you.

I was so upset that I worked twice as hard to improve my writing in her class. She didn’t really like any of my writing that entire semester and I finished with a C+ in her class. My whole goal was to prove her wrong. My intentions were wrong, but I improved.

I took a literature class a few semester later, and that’s where I fell in love with writing. It’s because my literature professor told me, “Jon, you have an amazing imagination. Now, let’s put it on paper.” It took someone who saw what could be, instead of what currently is, to call out potential for the future.

We live in a world of write-off’s:

  • “They’re currently failing. They probably won’t survive the program.”
  • “She’s struggling to make ends meet. She’ll never be good with finances.”
  • “He’s not learning as fast as we want him to learn. He’ll never be a somebody.”
  • “They’re taking a break from attending. We’ll never see them again.”

None of these voices are God’s. They don’t know everything, and they certainly don’t know the future. These are the same types of voices who said, “Jon, writing isn’t your strong suit.” God had other plans.

I’m now writing three to four hours a day as a full-time writer. It’s not because I’m still trying to prove that one professor wrong. In the rare times that memory does cross my mind, I just have to laugh because God has a sense of humor and there’s no way I’d be where I am without God’s help.

You may be hearing these voices echo pessimism and predictions of your failure. Take it in context. Listen for God’s voice speaking through or in spite of those voices. They could be right, which is why you shouldn’t just write them off. It’s likely they’re wrong for one reason: they don’t know the future.

Ignore the nay-sayers, whack-a-dreamers, and Debbie Downers. They don’t know the future. Listen for those who can see what could be instead of just what is today. Wise mentors can call out greatness in your future for you to pursue in the present.

Most importantly, your goal should never be to prove your critics wrong; it should be to prove your Creator right.

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