FIXING THE LEAN

A few years ago, I was in a strategy meeting for a project I was working on, and the question was asked - which of these two buildings are we building?  I barely remember what the project was about, but I remember the question. It stuck in my mind because it made me think about the way we put together the lives we build.  

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The other day I was reminded of this as I was thinking about how grateful I am that, despite our best efforts to mess things up, God so often holds us up even when we are ready to collapse under the weight of our own brokenness.

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The difference is pretty clear. On the left - the leaning tower of Pisa. It is a beautiful work of art, sure enough, but it's famous for one reason alone - it’s leaning. Or more precisely, it’s falling over. If it wasn't, it would just be some unknown, pretty tower. Sure, through technology, we're slowing down the inevitable, but because of it's poor foundation, it's falling over after just a few hundred years.

On the right, the Pyramid of Giza. For most of modern history, this was the tallest man-made structure on earth.  It has lasted THOUSANDS of years, and has withstood earthquakes. We don't know know exactly who built it, or how, but yet it stands firm. It's foundation is solid - even as it rests in the sand of the desert. 

The Pyramids aren't nearly as sexy as the tower. They are boring. Italian architecture is far more appealing, and "artistic" than the granite monument — which were built mostly as tombs. The tower was built as a work of art.  It is made of marble and took over 177 years to construct. Yes, the tower took 177 years. 

There were several reasons the tower took so long, including even a few wars, but one of them is because from the time they started construction, it began to sink. It was a painstaking labor, yet all that work is in jeopardy because it's foundation is too shallow, and too soft. Today, over 800 tons of lead counterweights are used to stabilize the tower, and the best estimate is that it “should” be stable for about 200 years. 

The Pyramid, in comparison, was built in 20 years. It's foundation goes deep into the desert floor.  It's base is wide, and it's purpose clear - to stand the test of time. To stand against whatever might come against it. It has stood for some 3,000 years, and will likely be there long after any of us are around.

The pyramid was build to last.  Forever.

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Sometimes I think our lives are a lot like a leaning tower. We focus on building something that looks good on the outside, yet our foundation is too shallow. I guess the question is - what are you really trying to build? 

There's a passage of scripture, where Jesus is talking to His followers about people who know what they're supposed to be doing, but don't do. He tells them, "why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?" 

He goes on to describe two different types of people. Both have heard what Jesus has said, but it's their response that matters. It's what they do with it in their life that is really the point here. In Jesus' words:

"As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”     

(Luke 6:47-49)

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So, again, what kind of foundation are you building on? Are you building something that will last?  Is my foundation deep and wide, or is it shallow and soft? As a result, will my life be a blessing to my family for generations to come? What about to those around me? To my church? To the kingdom of God?

For a long time, I had been building a life a lot like that tower. On the outside, at least, things looked good. I had a great facade, and I worked hard to keep it propped up. At the same time, my foundation was shallow, and built on too many things of this world - like pride, fear, selfishness, and shame. I spent a lot of time trying to “prop” up this life, and the results were devastating. I literally spent years of my life trying to “fix the lean,” but I never focused on the foundation.

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If the builders of the Tower of Pisa had paid a few meters attention to the foundation during construction, they could have saved 1,000 years of propping the tower up. Amazingly, the same thing is true for us. A little more attention paid to where we plant the foundation of our lives could save a lot of repair work later - a lot of fixing the lean.  

I speak from personal experience here, and if I can help anyone avoid the pain of trying to rebuild a life on the edge of falling over, then let me encourage you to think about the life you’re building. 

It's easy to deceive ourselves, because just a little lean is barely noticeable at the foundation. The tower of Pisa leans roughly 4 degrees. You wouldn't even know at ground level - but by the time it reaches the top, it's off center by 5 meters.

But let's get real for a minute. Every time we find ourselves absorbed in how many likes or retweets or social media followers we have, we're leaning just a little more. When we base our decisions on what our neighbors or co-workers or people we don't even really know, or like, might think about us, we're leaning.

Every time we trade in our values or our integrity for the thing that makes us "look good" now, we're leaning. When we shade the truth, or leave things out, we're leaning. When we fail to model the type of people we want our children to become, we're leaning. When we lash out in anger, instead of grace, we're leaning. Eventually, we end up leaning so far, we fall over.

As a general rule, when things fall over, they often break.  And when things break, someone often gets hurt. I don’t want my life to be the reason someone gets hurt. Not me, not my kids, not my wife, not anyone.

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I used to be pretty focused on constantly trying to fix the lean, to prop up the facade.  Now, I’m much more interested in building life on a deep and wide foundation.  At times, it may not look as exciting, but there are too many people counting on me to build a life that lasts. 

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know what you’re doing to build a life on a foundation that lasts.


This was first posted back in 2010, but I think it's just as relevant today.  I've updated it, and adjusted the focus, but the idea is the same.  It's also been shared in a few other places, but sometimes a reminder is just as helpful as hearing something for the first time!  

WHAT'S NEXT? [WPPI FOLLOW-UP]

If you were at WPPI this week, you're probably pretty tired right now.  You're probably just finding your way back in to the real world.  I know this is true, because I still see the tweets about the experience.  I know this is true because I'm right there.

After wandering the trade-show, attending incredible platform sessions, and partying far too long into the morning, coming home can be both a relief - and even a let down in some ways. 

As you process and de-compress, here are a few things I try to keep in mind.  Hopefully they'll be helpful to you too!

 

1. STAY FOCUSED

"Sensory Overload," is probably the term that most describes the experience photographers share at WPPI.  Whether it's your first time or not, there are more things to take in, than any human can possibly absorb.  It's likely that you left exhausted and feeling a little like your head might explode.  That's normal. 

The key is, now that you're home, you have to stay focused.  As you flip through the hundreds of flyers, and brochures, and promos, and notes you took - remember the point of it all: to be better.  Hopefully, you went to WPPI with a goal.  You went with something in mind that you needed to be better at.  You went with something your business needed.  You went with something in mind that would help you grow.  

Whatever that one thing was - focus in on that.  Maybe it was a goal of being better at lighting.  Maybe it was to get help in better marketing your business in your area.  Maybe you wanted to expand your business.  Whatever it was, don't let the overload of information you brought home, keep you from focusing on the things that will actually help you move forward. 

In fact, I recommend you throw everything else away.  Seriously.  It seems worthwhile to hold on to all the pretty booklets, and catalogues, etc.  It's not.  I promise.  I literally came home with ONE thing.  I came home with one brochure about one type of product.  It was the only thing I really needed for our business, and I didn't even bring anything else home with me. 

If you're going to do anything right - you have to stay focused.

 

2. STAY INTENTIONAL

Now that we've established that we're going to focus on just a few things that we really need to work on, it's important to set yourself up for success by being intentional about the decisions you make.  If your goal was to develop new lighting skills, practice!  If your goal was to create new marketing pieces, hire a designer.  

Once you've narrowed your focus, it's important to start putting things into place to help you move forward - AND to stay accountable.  Just saying you have a goal isn't enough - goals don't happen by accident. 

Make wise decisions about the information you collected, and develop a plan that helps you move forward.  Do things ON PURPOSE.  Get a Goal, Get a Plan, Get Busy.

 

3. STAY CONNECTED

Finally, you probably met a few people at WPPI.  These are your peers, and they can be one of your greatest assets in this industry.  Most of us work alone, or with a very small group of people around us.  Most of us are photographers AND the business owner/boss.  Some people are fortunate to do this with a team - but the vast majority are in it alone.  Alone can be a lonely place, so take advantage of the relationships you formed. 

Keep in touch with the people you rubbed shoulders with, and reach out to the people that inspired you.  The shared experiences we all have can make us stronger - but only when we stick together.  

Since it's impossible to really connect with all 14,000 people at WPPI, I encourage you to reach out to a few of the people you most resonated with.  I especially encourage you to reach out to people from your own area - because relationships only work when there is proximity.  Sure, the virtual world is great - but nothing beats face to face time with people you can build a connection with.

You probably have a stack of business cards from people you met.  Take 10 minutes and shoot everyone of them a nice note by email.  You'll be surprised what that connection can mean.  Even better - take 20 minutes and write a few handwritten notes.  You'll make someone's day.

 

What would you add to the list?

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