Holiday Stress – Do You Have a Program?

The holidays are here! Consequently, many of us are spending more time among our extended family, which is often a mixed blessing. It’s always nice to see the relations but, depending on how well everyone gets along, any prolonged visit can be quite stressful. Add to that the general holiday stress many experience, the feeling like we should be a family that all get along, and of course the era of Trump, and it’s a recipe for nerves to fray. None of us are immune to that.

A friend of mine (who is in recovery from addiction) was talking with me about her recent holiday family experiences, including some trying times. When I asked her how she kept her composure she replied, “I try to remember that they don’t have a program” and “I keep focused on working mine.” Hmm… Good answer!

Her comments got me thinking about the importance of having a program (or method) for becoming emotionally well. One doesn’t usually become healthy and well by random or disconnected actions, even potentially beneficial ones. On the other hand, a well-designed system of action almost always works if one sticks with it. “It works if you work it” is a true an often-heard recovery program slogan.

My program is that of Christian discipleship or “following Jesus,” which is so much more than just going to church. It’s a program for living all of life, designed and led by God in his three persons, and it too “works if you work it.” If you follow Jesus, he will make you well.

Take care,


Beach Attitude

The week before last, Sharon and I headed to St. Pete Beach for a few days of rest and relaxation. I wanted to go there to “decompress” a little bit and the beach is certainly good for that. We headed to the gulf side of the state which brings back childhood memories for me. In fact we stayed at the same hotel at which my family used to vacation when I was a boy.

The trip went well. We accomplished our basic agenda – enjoy the beach, see a few sights, sleep a lot, eat well and just hang out together – and we had a good time. The beach is a special place, a place where I find it easy to appreciate the beauty of nature and to slow down. So it was good, as expected.

One thing I did find surprising was my comfort level with the crowd. The hotel was full, and it seems the beach is always crowded. We had a ground level beachfront suite with a small patio. Just beyond our patio was a common grassy area with chairs and tables, and the beach bar was 30 yards off to the left.   So there were people, coming and going past our place all day long.

I really like sitting on the patio, and I wasn’t too sure about having an audience, but it was fine. The younger kids played in the grassy area. They were fun to watch.  Everyone who passed by smiled and nodded or said hello. I wasn’t the only one on the porch in pajamas.  No one was worried about how they were dressed (or undressed). No one, including me, seemed too concerned about privacy, and everyone was friendly.

Same thing down at the beach. Masses of people – of all shapes, sizes and colors – enjoying the sun and the water while in close proximity to each other.  Clothing options varied from extreme sun protection to almost nothing.   Everyone was getting along, even when the football or Frisbee went astray or a little sand got kicked up into the wind.

One afternoon I stopped at the bar for a pina colada (just one) and found the patrons also to be a happy bunch. That’s not too surprising I guess, but overall I was struck by my sense of relaxation and enjoyment despite the relatively crowded resort. Why was that?

My theory is that, at the beach, everyone had the same agenda – just relax. I didn’t hear anyone talking about Trump, Comey, North Korea, or Russia. Nobody was rehashing office politics. The only guy selling anything was the bartender. We were pretty much a collection of strangers, so perhaps no one felt a need to impress anyone else. No one has any “status.”  It seemed understood that, here at the beach anyway, you’re just another human being and “what happens at the beach stays at the beach.”   It was very nice.

How can I keep this beach attitude going now that I’m back in “real life?”


PS – The trip inspired me to change the colors on this blog.  Green was peaceful, but I think these “beachy” colors are more cheerful.  I hope you enjoy them.

PPS – Recommendations if you go:
Alden Suites Beachfront Resort
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
Sunken Gardens
Salvador Dali Museum

Why is Loud “Background Music” Everywhere?

music, noun – vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion

noise, noun –
a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.

Seriously, what ever happened to quiet and calming spaces? I find myself being assaulted by blaring music in almost every public place. Restaurants, retail stores, parking lots, even at the gas pump, or in church before the service. At sporting events, I take earplugs – not for the actual sounds of the game, voice of the announcer or cheers of the fans – but rather for the loud music played during any small breaks in the action. Why is this happening? Who thinks this is a good idea? What is their rationale?

My belief is that most “background music” is simply noise; noise that isn’t healthy. This high volume surround sound prevents conversation and relaxation, keeping us all shouting and agitated. You shouldn’t be hoarse after dining out with friends. Being continually amped up simply isn’t good for us. It’s another form of stress.

It occurred to me that this is all very recent in human history. Sound recording only began in the late 1800’s and widespread amplification is a child of the 60’s or 70’s. Before that, one either played acoustic music oneself, or one attended a live performance specifically in order to enjoy the music. Other than that, there was no music. It was a special treat, for people’s enjoyment. Can we get back to that?

This seems to me to be typical of human progress. Our breakthrough technologies begin as blessings yet somehow morph into curses (or at least mixed blessings). And we know that with “progress” there is no going back.

For myself, I’m playing defense. As mentioned, I take earplugs to sporting events. If I walk into a store with very loud music, I walk right out again. In restaurants with music volume sufficient to inhibit conversation, I’ll typically ask my server if it can be turned down a bit. I’ll bet I do this at least seven or eight times a year. Perhaps surprisingly, I have never had any say no, and often the volume goes down considerably. (Maybe they don’t like it either.)

What do you think?


Finding the Magic

magicLast week, at the invitation of my boss, I attended the Orlando Magic game with her, our work colleagues and various family members including my daughter. It was only the second pro basketball game I’ve seen and going was a last minute decision on my part. To my surprise, I had a great time! I don’t know too much about basketball, but the game was interesting and a helpful friend explained the action I didn’t understand. The suite provided an ideal environment for enjoying food and fellowship along with the game. (I highly recommend the dessert cart.) All in all it was a pleasant evening.

great seats!

great seats!

Honestly I hadn’t wanted to go, because I knew I wouldn’t like it. You see four years ago, in my new job role, I’d been the host for a group of internal “clients” in the same suite for a Magic game and I didn’t enjoy it. Subsequently, I’ve had many other chances to go, but declined because, I don’t like it; The game is confusing; It’s too loud; Too much hassle; I don’t find it relaxing, or another reason drawn from my prior experience. All of which were true of my first experience, but none of which were true of last week’s experience. What gives?

The context was completely different between the two events. At my inaugural game, I was highly stressed having just moved to Orlando and assumed my new position. All was not well in my business unit (which was why I had arrived), and I was hosting clients and executives, most of whom I did not know, trying to make a connection and deliver a message of improved performance to come. In that context, the game was a chore to get through. I did make some connections, but I don’t know if the event was “a success.”

In any event I didn’t like it. But now I can see that it wasn’t about the actual game. My experience was heavily influenced by my role as host, my stress level and my mental attitude. Everybody else probably had a nice time. Now I know why – they coming just to relax and enjoy a basketball game along with food and fellowship with friends and colleagues. That’s exactly what I did last week.

This has got me wondering, how much of what I like and don’t like in life isn’t about the actual “events on the ground” as it were but the action in my head? I’m thinking probably a lot. How can I better control my thoughts so that, whatever the events, I’m having a more enjoyable time? It’s all about my mental attitude, and the ultimate foundation for a good attitude is resting in Jesus, still a work in progress for me.

It’s also left me thinking that the underlying commonality of those experiences that I have enjoyed/do enjoy is being with friends and family. Be it fishing, hiking in the everglades, travel, or most other activities – being with people at the core. Even my job is enjoyable principally because of the others with whom I work. Contentment and happiness aren’t found in events or material things; they come through relationships with others. Of course I knew that, but it helps to be reminded. Going forward, I’m planning to spend more time enjoying the magic of people.

Enjoying the game with my daughter, Allison

Enjoying the game with my daughter, Allison

Less Striving, More Abiding. It’s Okay Not to be the Best

strive – verb
– to exert oneself vigorously; try hard
– to make strenuous efforts toward any goal:

I’m a striver, or a capital-A “Achiever” as Tony Ferretti and I describe this personality trait in our book The Love Fight. Always have been. Probably always will be. It seems I’ve got to be doing things, making progress, achieving goals, striving for “success.”

Striving is the American way. In business we try to go from good to great, make continuous quality improvement, and hit zero defects. In our personal lives we want nicer houses, bigger bank accounts, leaner bodies and more recognition. The omnipresent media exhort us to “be the best.” No one wants to be less than the best.

It gets old after a while doesn’t it? Perhaps it takes years or decades of striving before you’re ready to relax a little. It has for me. Truth is, you don’t have to be the best. You don’t even have to be better. Forget better, you don’t even have to be “good.”  Life isn’t a competition. You can’t “win” it by striving.

Back in medical school, when my friends and I were stressed about our grades, someone would toss out this reassuring riddle:
Question – “What to they call the guy who graduates last in his class from the worst medical school in America?”
Answer – “Doctor!
Forget the grade, just keep going. And we did. There’s a lot to be said for patient persistence, for showing up, for just keeping going.

Of course accomplishments are good things; using them as a measure of our lives or our value as people is where we go wrong. And many of us do. I have, and I probably won’t be able to stop completely, but the gospel message of God’s grace is sinking in. Only one thing really matters, being reconciled to God.  All true success in life will flow from that.

We get that message every week at my church.  I used to think maybe it was a little too repetitious, but now I get it.  I need the repetition.  The pastor has that figured out.  His current sermon series is titled “Abide” and it’s got me thinking.

abide – verb
– to remain; continue; stay
– to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.

Abiding.  Seems like as good of an idea today as it did back in school.  The preacher is talking about abiding in Jesus, but I could do with a lot more abiding in everything else too. Fortunately the one leads to the other. So, less striving, more abiding is my plan. And if you know me, you know that will take the Holy Spirit’s intervention.  May it be so.


For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Matthew 16:25-26


PS: I can’t think about abiding without thinking of the Dude:

Maybe I should watch this movie again.

Finding Rest in the Work

Want to stay on top of the food chain? Better get your rest.

Want to stay on top of the food chain? Better get your rest.

I’ve been invited to speak for a few minutes on the topic of rest at an internal leadership meeting later this week. This is a little more challenging than it may seem, because at Florida Hospital, rest is integral to our whole-person philosophy of health and wellness, and the weekly Sabbath day of rest and worship is a key feature of Seventh Day Adventism. So pretty much everyone there will be well versed in the necessity and importance of resting from our labor. But of course, knowing isn’t doing.

How many business leaders actually get the rest they need? It’s pretty common for leaders at all levels to work long hours (or “around the clock” via technology) and use very few vacation days. I think it’s a combination of our personalities; often we’re overachievers, and the importance of our job roles. Job wise, leaders have business-critical responsibilities – that’s what it means to be a leader.

The healthcare leaders to whom I’ll be speaking, whether over a department, campus or other business unit, are all responsible for achieving certain clinical and financial goals. These outcomes matter to patients and to the organization. Although we all need to sleep, as leaders, our business responsibilities are 24/7. None of us will be able to negotiate a 25% reduction in our goals because we plan to take a week’s vacation this month. Rest or no rest, we own our results.

Together, an overachiever-type personality and a weighty, outcomes-based job responsibility can lead to a pretty stressful life. We may feel constant pressure to produce, becoming micromanagers or control freaks trying to guarantee results. We may find ourselves unable to truly relax, stressing out about work even when we’re off. Consequently we work longer and harder and ignore our need for rest. We simply don’t have the luxury.

And we won’t get the luxury either – unless we change our attitude. A mental shift has to come first. In order to rest from our work, we need to be able to rest in our work. We need a little less intensity, less pressure and a lighter feeling to our responsibility. I don’t mean less actual responsibility or a reduced job role, but rather a different feeling in the role. Here’s how we can get it.

First, we need to remember that healthcare is a “team sport.” Lets’ invest in our peer team and the teams we manage to build their capabilities and trust them with our responsibilities. We, as individuals, don’t have to have all the answers as long as the team can produce them. And we don’t have to do all the work ourselves either. We can ask for help from peers and delegate appropriately to subordinates. The better our teams, the more we can rest in the work.

Even more importantly, let’s remember that we are quite small and that God is big. We can trust in God’s provision. Despite our illusions of importance, we’re not in control of much of anything, but God controls everything. And God provides, and he provides generously. Let’s seek God’s will in our work, and rest in his provision. Our labor is important, but it’s not all-important. The more confidence we have in God, the less worry we’ll have about making everything happen ourselves, allowing us to find rest in the work.

I confess to be a work in progress here, and this post and the talk are as much for me as anyone. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that by trusting God and trusting the team, we can find rest in even the weightiest of responsibilities.   (And perhaps we can use all of our vacation days too.)


Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.
   Psalm 127:1-2

Where to Turn and Where Not to Turn in Times of Stress

file000863438520To be alive is to experience stress, sometimes more and sometimes less. In the workday world it seems to be “more” for many people and industries these days, not the least in healthcare, and I think about that a lot. Recently, several social media posts on dealing with stress caught my eye. Their common advice was to turn inward – that is, we should each dig down to find our inner reserves of strength, or inner “warrior,” or inner “divinity.” Essentially they argued that all our answers are inside of us, we just need to realize it, to connect with ourselves.

It sounds nice, who wouldn’t like to have all their answers at hand? But we Christians know that it’s not true. Scripture makes it clear that we are inadequate to the task of managing life by ourselves. (Any honest and thoughtful person who has reached middle age should be able to vouch for the truth of this from his or her own experience.) Not that we are not blessed with many capabilities and competencies, but rather that ordinary life will regularly bring us to the limits of those God-given skills and talents, and, therefore, we need help from outside of ourselves.

Sure, we can “turn in” to a certain extent. We do often have an inner strength that we have not fully tapped and can turn to in challenging situations. Realizing that and “manning up” may be part of a helpful response. But too much focus on finding solutions on the inside may prevent us from turning outward, causing us to isolate ourselves, feeling alone and struggling alone with our problems.   That’s a bad idea.

We need to be ready to turn outward and share our struggles. The old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved” is true in my experience. Merely disclosing my issues to a trusted friend helps my stress level immediately, and then I often get helpful insight or advice. By design, God’s design, people need people. Stay connected with others. Help them and let them help you

By God’s design we also need him. He is the creator and sustainer of all things; our minute-to-minute existence depends on him. And creation is complicated. Who can understand it? Not us! But we know that God loves us and hears our prayers, and that in all things he is working for the good of those who love him. So in our struggles let’s be sure to turn upward to ask for his help and submit to his will.

Be thoughtful as you read the self-help posts (including this one) on LinkedIn or Facebook. Like the ancient Bereans, test all that you read or hear against the teaching of God and a mature Christian worldview. You probably have inner reserves of strength, perhaps it might even be okay to speak metaphorically of your “inner warrior,” but you absolutely do not have an “inner divinity” or “divine self” at your control. You are not God; you are not part of God, God is not part of you, and looking for your “inner divinity” is to turn your back on the one, true God. Don’t do that.


I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5