From Draggin’ to Dragon: Burnout

Burnout is a very real scenario for leaders and if you don’t manage and deal with it, it can make your life toxic. When you find yourself really draggin’, you need to ask yourself why so you can get back to being that fire breathing dragon you are.

You know the feeling of being unmotivated, unproductive, on edge, dried up, desolate, etc. etc. We’ve all been there. There is a difference between the “I’ve been up all night,” to the “My soul has seized up”. That’s burnout. It’s claimed many from their mission and team. Recognizing it early is important so it doesn’t get out of control. On a spectrum from complacent to fried, I tend to ride the edge of the burnout wave myself. I push hard in my labor and it often gets me into mental/emotional trouble. I’ve come to know my limits well and when I need to throttle back.

  1. Break the streak: When your engine starts to seize up you need to take a break. Be honest with yourself. Get outside the situation and give yourself some air. Pray and take some time to get clarity. Open up to someone you are close with about it. Take a little time off if needed. Remember what it was like to be at your best and see what’s holding you back now. A. Do you need rest? B. Can what is broken be fixed? C. Do you need a new direction?
  2. Lay out a plan: Be intentional on your next steps. Use your break and clarity to set baby steps in either A, B, or C. Set your big goal and test out each step on paper to see what it looks like. Seek another voice for advice, like your spouse, a peer in your industry, mentor, or coach. Which direction gets you moving? Ask yourself “why?” and “how?” along each step.
  3. Get back to action: You have what it takes and it takes effort. Get started. Follow your baby steps and build momentum. Keep moving and digging at it. If you stall, give yourself a push or ask someone you can count on to keep you accountable. Assess along the way but keep your goal in sight, pivot if needed. Burnout will tell you a million reasons why you can’t. Build your discipline by acting even when you don’t want to. Yes, you can. Inaction will cause you more heartache and keep you down.

A great book I can recommend as a follow up is “Off Balanced” by Matthew Kelly. I’ve been through it 4-5 times and helped me gain perspective in a larger context.

I know, it’s not as easy as 1. 2. 3., there is no magic trick. It’s gritty. But you need to deal with it, so let’s go!

The Discipline Series: Interview with a Corrections Officer

“Without structure, you invite anarchy”

I sat down with Tom Ahearn, an active member of St. Greg’s parish, for a cup of coffee and conversation about discipline in his life. There are a few things you need to know about Tom. Tom is a solid guy. Physically and spiritually. Shaking his hand can be compared to grabbing a bear paw. As a retired corrections officer, he still has the means to flip you upside down. Instead, he uses his heart to make a difference in people’s lives.

All too often we banter back and forth around the cafe with double or triple helpings of sarcasm. You can hear his lighthearted laugh from a mile away.

A: Thanks for joining me today Tom. Tell me about your career working in corrections.

T: I worked at the jail for 20 years. It was a tough role and there was a lot of peer pressure that leaned on my conscience. How did I get to that point? My father was a Buffalo firefighter and we grew up on the East Side. My neighbor, Mr. Simpson was a police officer and was a huge influence on me. I looked up to these guys. They served people everyday and saved lives. I first signed up as a young man to take the civil service exam but the blizzard of 77 canceled it that year. In the meantime I had to buy my time and worked as a manager at a shoe shop.

I took the test for correction’s officer in 1982, I didn’t study and earned a whopping 70%. That’s low but the demand for the position ended up scooping me in. I started in the academy and then completed four weeks of on the job training. Spent the majority of my career at Attica jail with some tough guys. The pay was low but the benefits were very good. It really helped me take care of my family.

Sometimes I see my life as a contradiction. There are times when I think about the things I’ve done at work where I have slipped. As I’m sure you can imagine, prison life is not easy. I’ve been hard on people. Sometimes I would say, “the ends would justify the means and the means justifies the end,” just to get through. It’s difficult to be in a toxic work environment that challenges your faith. I would go to my priest and ask, “how can I do some of these things and be a good person?”

I was injured a number of times, broken nose, knuckles, two total knee replacements. I always went back to work after because I needed to take care of the family. My family is what keeps me focused. Eventually the injury’s finally caught up with me and was officially retired by HR.

A: What keeps you on track?

T: 1. My wife.

I had a great career. I learned a lot about politicians by being the vice president of our union. There are honest ones, fair ones, and liars. I could have gotten into politics and was tempted to. I was invited to run for office a number of times but my wife always said “over my dead body”, and she meant it. So that was that but I found later that it was her disciplining me. I listen to her and trust her judgement. Janet has always encouraged me to keep going through law enforcement but when it came to politics she saw something else. The saying is true, behind every good man is a great woman. She keeps me grounded. She actually brought me back into the Church when I was younger. I found that I was straying but when I met Janet, she kept me on the straight and narrow.

From there I kept getting involved with the Church in various roles from parish counsel to helping with the Eucharistic Ministers. Janet was always behind the scenes but was stronger and smarter than I. If discipline is a backbone, Janet is my backbone. It’s important to get each others back when we are running short. To keep each other disciplined. That’s marriage.

“If discipline is a backbone, Janet is my backbone.”

2. My father.

My father’s discipline in prayer was instrumental in showing me how to be diligent. Being Irish Catholic was unbelievable. We knew how to have a good time but you wouldn’t mess with the faith. He would have us go to church every Sunday and build prayer into our routine as we grew up. This stayed with me as I grew up. Before he passed, he had a Catholic prayer book by his side in the hospital room while waiting for his surgery. I’ll never forget that he carried this faith to the end.

A: What would you want to share with people about discipline?

T: You can look at discipline through a variety of ways. Life, family, church, and prayer. Without structure, you invite anarchy. Prayer is a great way to build that structure. I love the liturgy of hours, a discipline where you pray at certain hours with those around the world. I grab a cup of coffee in the morning and sit down for my prayer time.

If I can give one piece of advice, live your life with Jesus at the head of it. The rest will fall in place.

The Discipline Series: Interview with a Hospitality Executive

I had a phone interview with Paul one evening back in March in the midst of my Exodus journey. Paul has been a part of our family for twenty years, recently celebrating his twentieth anniversary to my cousin Jenny. Some would call him a Legend.

I wanted to talk to Paul about discipline because he is a man who carries a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders; A man of God, a husband, a father, a younger grandfather, a high-level leader at a renowned hotel in Pittsburg, a missionary, an athlete. When you talk to Paul, he’s a very down to Earth kind of guy. Fun, engaging, and humble. I wanted to know, how does he do it? How does he keep it all together? Find out with me through our conversation below.

A: Where are you most disciplined in your life?

P: It’s all about preparation. Setting up a good day starts the night before. Getting a good night sleep, not eating bad stuff. When I’m tired I eat bad stuff and it takes me off of the right road. I try and get up early enough to spend time with my wife, that really sets the day off well. However, there are times I just run out the door and I miss that. It just slows me down when I don’t have that priority right. My family is everything.

Starting in January I’m going through the bible chronologically. It offers great commentary and starts great conversations with my wife. For example I started talking about Moses recently, like, “who was Moses to throw those stone tablets?”

You have to find what works for you but setting up the morning is really helpful. There’s a guy I know who is up at 3am to make time to pray. On the commute time into work, I will listen to MercyMe or something like that, that will get me into a prayerful mood. When I get to work, it’s go time. No chance to pray. I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could. Work can be so distracting that I can’t focus on a conversation with the Lord. When I am on the train coming home, I find that is a good time to decompress from the day.

A: Where are you least disciplined in your life?

P: Weakness, spiritual weakness. When I let the world take over, bury me in stuff. Worldly stuff that distracts from what my priorities are and takes my eyes off the prize. We all have that stuff right? Name it.

Sometimes you need to slow down and take time with the family and the Lord. I know I have to carve out time in the morning and have spiritual grounding. I don’t read the bible as much as I should but wow I feel the difference when I am making the time. When I know tasks are piled up at work I am lured into running out the door with out making my time.

I don’t go through the day as Mr. Wonderful but I can be discipline at work with language and getting stuff done. When I have a good solid start to the day, then I can go through the day with more strength.

A: As a family man, where does discipline fall for you?

P: My goal is to raise a Godly family. You can’t fake it and that is the driving force for me to stay sharp and be the best guy I can be. Discipline with work starts with my wife. She gives me a lot of latitude and we see eye to eye. We’re on the same wave length. When I say “I have to do this for work” she understands and makes the room for it. So that understanding makes me want to come back to her and help her more. It makes me want to be a better man and take more responsibility at home.

This effort and respect into the relationship has made it easier to stay disciplined and focused on the home front. I don’t look at it as a chore or task, I want to be there. This is engrained in me.

A: Where have you grown the most in the last 20 years?

P: I’m sure if you would have asked me 20 years ago when I was dating Jen, my answers would be totally different. Definitely as a husband. Being disciplined in who I surround myself with. I want to be better for her. I want to stay disciplined for Jen and live with integrity.

A: How do you think others can achieve growth now?

P: Prayer. Other guys, the right guys. Accountability with good men going through the same time. Sometimes machoism gets in the way. It helps to hear from those who have been there and done that. You have to pick a solid group or even one bud that you can talk seriously with and be honest with.

But it’s tough to be vulnerable and have an accountability partner. It takes time and it’s relational. When you find that group, hold on to them. Invest in that time and don’t lose touch. We didn’t call it accountability but we knew each other so well that we would know something is up if we’re out of sorts. It’s not just about required questions but it’s all about knowing that person well.

A: What else is important?

P: We need encouragement as men. We need that and it makes discipline possible. Jen builds me up and gets me back in the game. We’re not meant to do this alone. Like Iron Sharpens Iron. I want to be that warrior, the more you learn about your purpose the more you want to be a better warrior. That faith grounding is your identity.

The Discipline Series: Exodus – The After Effects

It’s been three months since we completed Exodus 90, the length it took to go through it. My intention was to write more through the experience. However I hit a wall hard. I had to dig deep about half way through to stay on task and some things dropped. The Exodus disciplines, grinding through work, challenges raising a toddler, and finishing writing a book drained me out. I made it to the finish line but the intensity fried me out. In someways it reminded me of a long term Tough Mudder, you keep going and it hurts but when you get to the end you realize how worth while it was.

Day 90 was glorious. Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit and the breakfast of a million calories. We celebrated making the rigorous journey by sharing our last Brotherhood gathering together over food and drink. There was a sense of relief. I never did get use to the cold showers through the long Buffalo winter.

Looking ahead from that point, we all knew that we didn’t want to go back to the way things were before we started. While somethings would come back into daily rhythm we each had pieces we didn’t want back. I was slow to get back into electronics. I never would have guessed how much I used them as a crutch that killed my time and relationships. I completed writing a book and read more during the extra time. Not to mention connecting more creatively with Ani and Izzy. Working out, fasting, and watching my diet every day has greatly improved my physique.

Never had a better Lent too. I have never sacrificed like that before and the spiritual growth that came from it was excellent. Being in sync with the fasting Church made things easier. You felt the purpose behind it. Part of hitting the wall came from the transition from Lent to Easter then Ordinary Time. It became more difficult to explain and maintain focus after everyone else finished walking their Lenten fast. During Lent there was an excitement and general understanding from others. After? “You’re still doing that? Isn’t Lent over?” From Easter, 40 more days, “keep going”.

The Brotherhood consisted of some real warriors. A group of guys who fought through Exodus daily; praying with and for each other, sharing struggles, open to accountability, and our weekly Sunday gatherings consisting of exercise and conversation were a big highlight.

I would say the greatest piece I can walk away with from this experience, is the great appreciation of the Book of Exodus and how much of the Mass is reflected upon it. The daily reflections in our journey tying it all together helped me to see the greater picture between the Old Testament and the New; everything from Manna and the Eucharist, the priesthood, and how we build our churches. I highly recommend going through the Book of Exodus, even the tedious last leg of the book, and see it for yourself.

In the end, life has gone on but I can say that I have changed through the experience. Learning to say no to the things that seek our attention away from God and yes to Him Who is calling, is a powerful tool in your spiritual journey. With building a daily discipline of doing just that, you indeed become a strengthened instrument for the Lord.

The Discipline Series: 1/3 through Exodus

We are over a 1/3 of the way through Exodus 90 and it has been a difficult journey through the desert for the guys. We’ve been shedding the distractions and toxins in our life and that doesn’t come without a cost. I noticed early that taking sugar out of my life was much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Wasn’t expecting that all. I see sweets and all of a sudden I’m jonesin’ for it. While prepared for temptations, that was least expected. I’ve resisted.

I also noticed that by getting rid of distractions like TV and apps on the phone I’ve had to reconnect with the world around me. From my journal on day four,

“What comes to mind today is the word, “presence”. I’m sitting at our middle school youth night and found myself wanting to look at my phone, no reason. Had I pulled the phone out I would have just been filling space. I realized I have been caught up in that. When a lull happens the auto reaction is to fill the space by staring at the phone. News, texts, social media notifications, etc. I would just mentally disappear. Check out. I’m detoxing now and opening my eyes to the moments I would automatically skip.”

I have since been stopping to smell the roses even in those little moments and lulls.

Also unexpected, anger and frustration has become sharper in my days. No longer resorting to distractions to dull away or forget issues, I am forced to take a head on approach to resolving problems that arise. Big and small. And it seems new. Almost like I forgot how to resolve conflict. Nevertheless, I am now solving problems as opposed to distracting myself.

I asked a couple of the other guys to share a few thoughts about the first 30. Bob writes on day eight in his journal,

“Temptation has started to set in, but not in the way I’d expect. It is such a pain to know how the enemy works and yet still fall for the same tricks. Yesterday was tough for me, I won’t lie. While I enjoyed the first weekly meeting with the Brotherhood, I was met with a lot of pain and torment (and no, I’m not talking about the P90X workout). It has come and gone since then, but a real sadness came over me, that thankfully was healed by going to Mass and Life Teen. I still have mixed feelings about the temptations in my mind. I feel helpless and powerless, but I suppose this is where God comes in. I fully recognize that in order for me to be changed, I have to allow God to do it, even if it means breaking me in ways I’ve never been broken before.

Bob continues,

As this day ends, I am reminded that even with the pain/frustration/loneliness/temptation I am beginning to be met with on this journey, there have been many victories so far that I ought to remind myself of and celebrate. It is by God’s mercy and grace that we have made it this far and will continue to progress.

Greg also contributes from day 18,

I struggle to be the lord of myself. I must come to terms with my human limitations and submit myself to the will of God or I stand to lose everything. The further from God I stay, the further from my true destiny I will be. Either a man governs his possessions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.

When I achieve something or something goes my way, how often do I puff out my chest and disregard the involvement that God had. I must submit to God and raise those around me up.

As you see, each guy is on his journey and is battling through. As we enter into the second third of our journey, we are building good habits, defeating old ones, and most importantly letting God heal and rebuild us into better men. St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

The Discipline Series: Interview with a Youth Minister

I sat down with Jeremy Dolph on February 12 to discuss how he applies discipline in his life. As a new husband and leader as the Director of Youth Ministry at Sts. Peter & Paul in Hamburg, NY, Jeremy provides a perspective that is both relatable and fresh. When I first put the call out to interview people with something to say about the topic, he said, “If you’re looking to interview someone who’s considering Exodus 90, but who is also a huge chicken and scared of it… let me know!”

I thought that was a curious place to start. So here is the first interview on my blog with Jeremy Dolph.

A: Where do you see discipline fall short in your life?

J: I get excited for something then lose momentum. It happens in a downward spiral and it is easy to get discouraged. I start on an initiative and when I hit the first road block, stop. It’s difficult to overcome that first hill. I did a six week workout program awhile back where I had put money on the table. Either complete the program and get my money back or fail and lose it. That forced me to stay focused. My trainer also held me accountable during that six weeks and it kept me in the game. Felt good but after I finished the challenge and that accountability was up, I stopped.

A: Why do you think you stopped?

J: I don’t know. Following the quote from Pope Benedict XVI you sent me, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness,” I guess I like being comfortable. I feel like in a way, I’m ok being expendable. Like the 301st soldier in the Spartan army. ‘You 300 go ahead, I’ll stay here.’

A: Do you think this is the result of fear, laziness , or lack of will?

J: Definitely lack of will. I need something that I need to achieve but if I screw up, I get off track. It’s like if I screw up the day after Ash Wednesday, there goes the other 39 days of Lent. I think I avoid this whole process because of complacency. It’s easier to not start than to get down on myself about starting and failing. We can blame the devil or the way of the world but my will should be stronger than that.

A: How are you applying discipline to achieve your goals?

J: I don’t think the short boot camps are for me. I want little achievements to add up over the years. Making the daily sacrifices pay off. I can look back now and say that I am better now than I was before. Events in life have been the catalyst of small changes. I can see that looking back.

Getting married has made me a better man for example. It has changed my mindset from doing things because ‘I have to’, where now ‘I want to’. Household chores for example, dishes. I want to do them for my wife. Before, I’d just say “Hey, I’ll get back to it,” and have her do them. Now, I don’t want to let them sit for her. I got this.

I want to make more out of the day so I have been more intentional in my commute. Instead of learning the Spanish parts of ‘Despacito’, I’ve been digging into more podcasts and audiobooks. I’m learning to say ‘no’ to things I don’t want and ‘yes’ to things I do. Saying ‘yes’ to spending time to my wife requires me to say ‘no’ to staying later at work. I know this is small but before going to bed I put my watch, my wallet, and keys on the bed stand so I can be ready to go in the morning. It’s given me real practical results and I’m hoping these add up over the years.

Long term, I want to be a Saint. I’d love to walk that path that takes me to Heaven. Maybe this is a matter of pride but I’d love to have a church named after me. St. Jeremy’s parish maybe? Should I be thinking that? I’m just kidding of course but whatever that path is, I want to walk it. I need to be disciplined to do what God has called me to do. I’m reminded of the quote by William Law, “If you look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be one.”

A: You signed up for the Tough Mudder, how are you preparing for this?

J: Like I did for the “Couch to 5k” and pacing through training. If I can run for two minutes, I can do three tomorrow and move up from there. I have to start early though, like now, to be ready by summer. The plan was to start this week but I got sick so I’m planning on starting next week. I have a group of guys I had as prayer accountability partners that I’m reconnecting with. They’re going to push me through. I love accountability but hate being held accountable.

There are many ways to find and execute discipline in your life. Jeremy has shown the everyday pursuit and application of discipline in the little things. The big and brash boot camps can often psych ourselves out by compare-and-contrasting ourselves with an image of bravado. It can be intimidating and for many of us unattainable or unrealistic. I’m hoping with this series to uncover the disciplines we apply in our life to build our interior strength. So let’s apply that to virtue and grow stronger together.

As a husband and a leader, Jeremy has been building and growing intentionally all along. Don’t sell yourself short and take a realistic assessment of where you’re at.

What intimidates you?

Where are you victorious?

The Discipline Series: Exodus

I’ve been working over the past several years on my self-discipline. I heard a talk years ago at one of the Franciscan U. conferences about building discipline in your life. Being painfully unstructured in my early 20’s, I heard that as a call to arms. It was already a hunger but I didn’t know how to put it into words or action. The speaker, ex-military, spoke of starting your day off right by making your bed well. Every single day. Even days you just don’t feel like doing it and build off of that.

So I did.

Started off strong but as days turned into weeks I noticed I started losing the will to keep at it. I recognized that desire to quit. It was something I was familiar with. I’d get excited about something, get started, then move on to something else. Not everything was like that however. There were enough things in my life that I was keeping up on. Just enough to make me feel consistent but I was fooling myself.

I began to realize I was losing time and burning opportunity to be the best I could be. I realized I wasn’t living as what Matthew Kelly would call “the-best-version-of-yourself”. The most capable version of myself that God had designed. If God truly built me for more than I was being, then how would I get there?

That answer has been lying in the hard fought battle of prayer and self-discipline; prayer providing the compass and discipline as the engine. Jocko Willink, ex-SEAL and entrepreneur, defines discipline in his “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual” as such,

Discipline: The root of all good qualities. The driver of daily execution. The core principle that over comes laziness and lethargy and excuses. Discipline defeats the infinite excuses that say: Not today, not now, I need a rest, I will do it tomorrow.

While I am far ahead of where I was, I feel like I am just getting started. Starting February 15th I will be starting an intense 90 day regimen focusing on asceticism and physical discipline with a program called Exodus90. I will be shedding the niceties and distractions of life like warm showers, sugar, and social media (except for work). In addition to what will be cut, it will include rigorous physical and spiritual exercise. Lastly, a small group of us will keep each other accountable. All of this is designed to wrench out vices and build virtue in men.

I’m building a small band of guys looking to enhance the same thing in their life. Calling it “The Brotherhood”, we’ll keep each other accountable with a group chat and weekly meet up. This will be the most challenging Lent yet but as one of the Brothers have said, “Let’s make this the best Lent ever!”. Definitely not your “I’m giving up chocolate,” kind of fast.

I feel as if the Holy Spirit has been leading me further down this road, so appropriately, the 90 days end with Pentecost. I’m hoping this will be the start of a series on the topic of discipline. I will try something new with the blog by interviewing other men in what it means to been disciplined in their life. I will also be cataloging the 90 days periodically through our young adult Instagram account for St. Greg’s, @stgregsyouth (that’s the work element) with the intention that our test group will serve as an example for future endeavors. Stay tuned for more.

Check out Exodus90.com for more information.

New Year Resolution: Building spiritual discipline

The following is re-posted from an article I wrote for St. Greg’s College Ministry through Oasis Magazine.

The New Year brings us an opportunity to recharge and refresh but I feel like I’m spotty on my resolutions. Some years I crank them out, others, I consider them a waste of time. A few years ago I committed to hitting the gym and staying physically fit. Knowing that I didn’t want to be one of the many who get a gym membership and stop going in February, I made a long term plan to build the discipline to stay at it.

 When I started at the gym in January of that year the place was packed. Getting time to do a circuit was obnoxious. Someone would be on the bench for way too long or the cycles would all be taken up. Workouts would take a lot longer than I’d hope for. But I kept at it and sure enough, March came around and the place was empty. I knew at that time that I wasn’t one of the casualties of lost discipline to see it through. Victory. I stayed at it and found the benefits of making goals and actually doing it. Over time I found myself getting stronger.

 Time hurts though, life happens. There have been times I’ve been more motivated and less motivated. I’ve risen to the occasion to get in the best shape of my life for the Tough Mudder and got sleepy in my post-wedding delight. However, I’ve maintained the discipline and at times have had to check myself to get going. In many ways, prayer is the same.

I’ve found a connection between the discipline it takes for my physical fitness and my prayer fitness. It requires drive. It requires decision. It requires action. In the same way that we grow physically, we grow spiritually. The exercises are different but the discipline is the same. Goals, reps, and endurance. So as the New Year comes in, think about setting yourself a resolution to grow in prayer. There are many workout plans to get there but you have to decide to start… and then start… and keep going beyond March.