Most weeknights I have the best intentions.

Get home on time and give the kids some undivided attention.
Eat a healthy and relaxed dinner.
Give the kids a bath with no arguing and no water on the floor.
Read stories and put the kids to bed.
Spend quality time with my wife.
Get into bed early and read a book.

But that rarely happens.

Weeknights are usually a struggle.
I get home late. We haven’t discussed dinner.
Kids won’t cooperate. Kids won’t listen. They act out when they don’t get their way.
That’s what they do at this age.

Quality time with my wife is a few minutes going over the next day’s schedule while we do dishes. I’m lucky if I get to crack open a book before falling asleep.

The clock moves faster between 6:00 and 10:00 on weeknights than it does any other time of the day.

Sometimes all I can do is take joy out of a few minutes working on a puzzle with my oldest son. Or helping my youngest put a block in the shape sorter. Some days, it’s enough.

The Words We Choose

The man in front of me was paying for his food when the two employees behind the counter looked at each other.

Three orders in front of them looked identical. One belonged to the man in front of the line and two were mine. Normally the first order belongs to the person at the front of the line, but the staff had to make an addition to one of the orders.

The result of this quick-service restaurant being more quick and less service meant that they now had to open the orders to ensure they were sending the right one home with the right person. I’ll give the staff some credit. I was sure they were just going to guess.

Sure enough the man paying for his food had received my order. They opened the second order and found his food.

“That one’s mine,” said the customer. “The fatso order. Extra meat and cheese. No vegetables.”

The customer laughed at himself. The staff smiled in return.

I took a quick look at the person in front of me. I hadn’t really noticed him before because I was paying more attention to the staff. He was a little overweight with some fat on his stomach. He wore baggy clothes, and that may have helped conceal his weight.

As I paid for my order and left the restaurant, I started thinking more about this customer and what he said.

Was he embarrassed about his order and using humor as a defense mechanism?

Was he angry at himself because he had issues with food and called himself fat to punish himself?

Did he want to lose weight but not know how?

The writer in me dissected his motivation the way I would a character, but I kept coming back to the word ‘fatso’.

He could have used the words ‘heavy’ or ‘obese’ or even ‘fat’. Those are kinder words that one might use to indicate they are dealing with a weight issue.

‘Fatso’ is a word one might use to intentionally hurt another person or oneself.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even if he felt guilty about his order he was never going to lose weight. Not as long as he used the word ‘fatso’ to describe his food.

The word he chose revealed the image he had of himself as someone who orders food that makes him fat.

Word choice came up again a few days later when I was reading the book Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life by Patty Azzarello.

In the book she writes about the importance of ‘ruthless prioritization’. Our priorities are driven by the most critical projects that support our organizational mission. The job of a leader is to choose not only which projects the team should spend their energy and focus, but also which ones won’t cause the company to collapse if they don’t get completed.

Although her explanation helped me understand how to implement the practice, her use of the phrase ‘ruthless prioritization’ gave me a clear picture of what I needed to do.

The more I thought about it and my earlier experience with the customer in line, the more I realized the importance of choosing the right words in our daily lives.

At work I was trying to find a way to order my project priorities. But ‘ruthless’ prioritization created a whole different mindset when it came to determining priorities.

Adding the word ‘ruthless’ helped paint a clear picture in my mind about what needed to get done to succeed at the most important tasks.

It made me think more about the importance of words that we use how the shape our thinking.

Do I want to clean up the papers on my desk or get organized by attacking the mess?

Do I work on improving my leadership skills or do I focus on becoming a strong leader who invests energy in his team’s success?

Do I want to be a caring and loving father or a passionate and engaged father?

Do I believe in myself or do I have have unwavering belief in my ability to accomplish my goals?

If one’s goal is be a healthy person, does he get the fatso order or the clean order?

I’m learning that the right words can drive us toward our goals and to becoming better people. But only if we are aware of their power and choose the right ones.

Choosing Your Passion

Nearly every seat in the room was full.

I expected a sparse crowd for this breakout session, but apparently grants management credentialing is a hot topic.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

People who manage grants for a living are like referees. They only get noticed if something goes wrong.

Grant managers do the tedious work of ensuring that organizations stay compliant with numerous and constantly changing rules and regulations. Meanwhile program staff get the benefits of using the funds to make an impact in the community.

This credential offers grants manager some positive recognition for their work.

If I had learned anything at the conference it was that the job was going to get even harder. Changes to Federal regulations and rules meant more requirements on grant managers to track and report expenditures and progress.

This session about self-improvement and career advancement seemed like a nice break from the ongoing discussion about policy changes.

Two women gave the presentation. One was an executive in the industry association hosting the conference. The other woman had managed grants for many years and earned the credential herself several years earlier,

The association leader started the session with an overview of the steps and experience required to earn the credential. After ten minutes, she turned the presentation over to her co-presenter.

That’s when the energy in the room shifted.

She stepped out from behind the podium and encouraged the audience to get excited. She asked for energy. She asked for positivity. The crowd responded with applause.

Then she started talking about her personal career journey. This was someone who cared not only for her work, but also for the organizations she represented. And there were multiple organizations. When someone cares that much, other organizations notice.

For the first time at the conference, I felt like I was seeing someone who believed in her personal mission and the impact she had on her community. As I listened to her speak I wondered how someone could be so passionate about grants management.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe her secret wasn’t that her work gave her passion. Maybe she decided to be passionate about her work.