I never wanted to be a vegetarian. After all, I wore my love for meat as a badge of honor—like most Southern boys do. But, desperation causes one to do uncommon things. For several years, I had wanted more clarity of direction, more reach for my voice, and more open doors for my passions. I read. I prayed. I cried. Yes, there were some successes. But, my breakthrough always felt just out of reach. I was getting desperate. It’s cliche but “desperate times do call for desperate measures”. Challenged by a message I heard at a retreat, I went back to God once more. But, this time with a passionate plea—reminiscent of the biblical account of Jacob. I prayed, “God, I will not eat meat again until I receive my breakthrough.” And, so with both desperation and resolution my journey began.
It was the last day of a marriage retreat in Montego Bay, Jamaica at which my wife Dalia and I were one of several presenters. The final presenter, Pastor Jamal Bernard, issued an impassioned challenge to all of us, “How desperate are you?”
Though this question was a challenge to examine our marriages more deeply. It also evoked a strong, visceral response within me about my passion portfolio—my purpose for being in this world. Tired of feeling as if my options were limited, I internalized this challenge as a personal call to action.
For years, I felt dissatisfied with the trajectory of pursuing what I was built to do. But, now I felt I was at a psychological and emotional impasse. The time for change was now. But, only if God would show me the way. During my trip back home from Jamaica, I began to sense my response. A way for me to lean in to God and focus on hearing his voice. I felt called to a what is called a “fast”—a biblical tradition of consecrating oneself by sacrificing elements of one’s regular diet. For me, the message felt clear. Give up what you like most—meat. All of it. Yes, even fish/seafood. So, on August 19, 2013 it began with a simple prayer to God, “Please show me my breakthrough“.
It is hard to believe that it has been twelve months. But, here I am. Just as a knew it was time to begin the fast, I knew it was time to end it. My simple prayer was answered—though not in the way that I had expected. Over these twelve months as a vegetarian, I learned twelve seminal lessons about my vision, my voice, and my value.
I believe, in fact, that these twelve lessons are, in many ways, critical for anyone wanting their life to reach that next level of influence. Is that you?
Over the next two blog posts, I will be sharing these twelve lessons with you—six lessons at a time. The first six lessons for breakthrough influence focus on my personal development while the final six lessons hone in on my practices to embrace.
Breaking Through: The First Six Lessons for Greater Influence
Lesson #1: Live Uncomfortable
I felt stuck. Though I had done quite a few things right, I was struggling to see how the next step was going to take me to the next level. Ever been there? The opportunities that you thought would come your way did not materialize. The referral that seemed like a sure lock fell through. The resources needed to finance your idea feel distant. But, because things were comfortable enough, I continued down the same path.
Breakthrough never happens in one’s comfort zone. Rather, it is a process that begins with a conviction that it’s time for a change. Living uncomfortably means that I must continually do things that push my boundaries. Continually challenge myself to engage in uncomfortable relationships, experiment with uncomfortable ideas, and strive for uncomfortable goals.
In a world where things are changing at an unparalleled pace, success comes to those willing to keep stretching their comfort zone.
Lesson #2: Abandon Illusions of Control
As a high-achiever, I feel comfortable (see lesson #1) when I can control as much as possible. The constant effort to wield control produces anxiety and is most often a waste of time and energy.
Over this past year, I have developed a more profound sense of the importance of controlling the inputs. In other words, put in as much effort as I reasonably can in pursuing my passions. Plan and execute with a spirit of excellence. But, I’ve also gained a greater awareness of the need to release the outputs. I’ve got to learn to be content with whatever happens after I’ve done my best. Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. Just be hopeful and prayerful that my investments will produce a harvest.
Also, I’m realizing that most of my sense of control is just an illusion anyway.
Lesson #3: Accept Imperfection
Though I don’t like admitting it, I’m a perfectionist. I hold myself (and others) to a very high standard. I push myself to be the best that I can possibly be. I feel comfortable (see lesson #1) when I produce something that impresses me. But, I’m not easily impressed. In other words, sometimes I even have difficulty measuring up to my standard of success. Consequently, I often struggle to produce content in a timely enough manner to support my business model. And, of course, I find it difficult to accept help from others whose work falls short of my expectations.
Over this breakthrough year, I’ve learned the importance of releasing “good enough” content and allowing it to evolve into perfection. As long as the products and services I offer convey professionalism and are helpful to my audience, I’m on the right track. I just have to get out of my own way.
Lesson #4: Raise Your Average
Jim Rohn famously said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. This is a more contemporary version of something my grandmother used to say to me as a kid, “I can tell your future by seeing who you are spending your time with now.” Both quotes speak to the importance of partnering with others with aspirations similar to your own.
While I hope to always look for ways to be accessible to the masses, during my breakthrough year I have come to realize that I have to deliberately invest more time with people who have achieved far more than I have. It is easy to spend most of your energy trying to give back to others who need your services or advice. But, if you don’t spend time with people ahead of where you are in your business and ministry endeavors then your “average” is dropping.
It sounds a little odd to say it this way. But, I have to spend more time with people who are where I want to be or are ahead of me in getting there. I have to raise my average. In response, I am currently working on an initiative to regularly engage in this type of “iron sharpening” process. In doing so, I will be better equipped to offer value to a broader population.
Lesson #5: Clarify Your Voice
Voice is the unique way in which each of us impacts the world around us. It is an amalgam of one’s biology, experience, and aspiration that makes his message to the world different than anyone else’s.
In an effort to make my message more appealing to a broader swath of people was I beginning to sound like others and less like myself? When you spend as much time as I do trying to improve yourself and your products it is easy to try to adopt what other successful people seem to be doing.
During this breakthrough year, I’ve been reminded me that I have to continue to hone my own voice. I know that my voice is strongest when I’m encouraging people to live in such a way that their faith, home, community, and vocational relationships synergistically reflect their unique purpose.
In an effort to clarify my voice, I updated my website banner to read “Leading You Home: Lessons for Leadership, Learning for Life”. Whenever my focus starts to wane, this is a gentle reminder why I am here.
Lesson #6: Keep the Sabbath
Rest. I don’t do that well. It is part of my overachiever personality. But, I’ve been convicted that my current pattern of working my full-time job and my passion portfolio is unhealthy and disobedient to God’s desire for me.
Though I haven’t yet figured out how to do it well, I have committed myself to consistently keeping the Sabbath. A dear friend of mine recommended that I read Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives (affiliate link). I think it will help me. Check it out.
While there are many ways to do this, I’ve decided that I will take off from my passion portfolio on Sundays. So, after our regular church attendance, I will spend time with family and otherwise relax. But, I won’t be working. Pray for me on that one.
Frankly, this is a little scary for me. I don’t know how I’m going to get everything done. But, this is a faith move. I know cognitively that Sabbath is an offering to God and a healthy initiative. But, practically, it will be a major challenge for me. I hope that you help me be accountable to it.
So, there you have the first six lessons. Next week, I will share with you the final six lessons that I experienced during my vegetarian breakthrough. In addition to these lessons, I gleaned some complementary spiritual insights that I will also share with you. Of course, I’ll also share the one answer that ties all of these lessons together.
On August 19th, 2014 my vegetarian experience ends with a proud sense that for twelve months I rose to the vegetarian challenge. If this Southern boy can do this, my confidence has grown in my ability to handle other difficult challenges that God allows in my path.
These 12 lessons have changed the trajectory of my life. Here at the end I am still awaiting the full manifestation of this breakthrough. But, I declare it accomplished because I now understand that my last lesson is also God’s answer to my simple prayer 12 months ago.
Last but certainly not least. I would also be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to my dear wife who after hearing my simple prayer decided that she would walk this vegetarian journey with me. She has been an amazing support in every way that matters. Love you darling.
You’ve heard my breakthrough prayer. But, what is yours? How can I pray for you?
I would love to hear your thoughts.