Sunday, July 10, 2011

When The World Says No Way - Your Barriers Are Really Opportunities

Today was the first Sunday for our church, 33Church, to be meeting in its new location at Oregon Trail Middle School in Olathe. It is an exciting time for our church as we reach out to people who want to be part of an authentic community where each person cares deeply for one another. With a new location, we have started a new series called When The World Says No Way.

Consider these facts...Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job because he lacked imagination. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Oprah Winfrey was nearly fired from a reporting job. There are plenty of people around you that are willing to say there's no way you can succeed. But, when the world says no way, there's an incredible opportunity.

Today's study looked at Joshua 6 and how to overcome our barriers. I will be sharing some bits and pieces from today's message that Ryan Nelson shared and also share how this message impacted me as I have dealt with my own challenges in overcoming barriers erected by others or by myself.

As Ryan mentioned early in his message, barriers are not obstacles that will prevent you from achieving your dreams. Barriers are opportunities to allow God to do something amazing for Him. God has a plan for you so that He can get glory IF you are willing to do what He has in store for you.

Joshua 6:2 says: "Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men." God is telling Joshua that the battle is done even though Jericho, at this point, had not fallen yet.

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11 where God says: "For I know the plans I have for you, " declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This verse has had a significant impact on me many times in my life, especially when I have faced obstacles or struggles wondering what is my purpose in life. There are times when I have allowed others to impact me in a negative manner based on things they have accused me of or talked bad about me. I admit that I am a very sensitive person and that is my nature. Those who know where to hit me to cause heartache know this is the case and too often I have allowed people to virtually punch me in the gut to inflict emotional damage. However, with time, this has got better because of God's promises to me that NO ONE can ruin the plans the LORD has for my life if I only trust in Him. All you have to do is read some of my older posts on this blog to see what are the type of things I have battled against with many people in the KC area who have done these things to try and ruin my life. Some of them still try to do the same things today. Unfortunately, in many of the cases, I let their false assumptions about who I am to dominate my thinking which in turn has affected how I view myself. Then, there have been others time when I have beat myself up because I thought the worse things that others surely must be thinking about me and most of these assumptions are not even true or based in reality. We can so easily cause immeasurable grief in our lives if we focus on what society tells us in how we are to behave or what we should do with our lives. All we have to do is look at most advertising that exists in this world to see their main message is that WE NEED what they sell. If we don't get what they sell to meet what we think WE NEED, then we are made to feel inferior or looking from the outside in.

There is a difference between a life you live for others (to gain their approval) and a life you live in faith. You must listen to what God's calling you to do and NOT what your eyes or the world is telling you. For Joshua, the plan God laid before him didn't make much sense with his eyes or mind. The same thing could be said about Noah. The LORD told him to build a massive ark to prepare for a mighty flood that would come in the future. Most of those around Noah probably thought he was nuts to be building a huge ark when there was no water to be found anywhere nearby. If you look back at Scripture, God used people in mighty ways if they only trusted him. Most of these people where not the religious-minded people who looked down on everyday folk who did not follow the laws of what they thought should be done. Those people thought they had it all figured out in life. Do what pleases others and life is good. Or so they thought.

Everyone needs to realize that whatever you have in your life that may disqualify you from being something incredible for God is the very thing God may use for you to honor him. God loves to bring incredible success stories out of horrible experiences we have faced in the past.

What you have done and what has been done to you in the past are not barriers but opportunities for what God can do for you in the future. He used people with ugly pasts throughout Scripture. He can use you and He can use me in the next week. Much like what is shared in Joshua 6:20-21: "When the trumpets sounded (after the people walked around Jericho seven times as the Lord commanded), the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall (around Jericho) collapsed so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD."

The truth is that those who may look down on you in life and think they are almighty because they are part of a "club" or group that is looked upon as being influential are not any better than the people sitting in the local jail or the federal prison. In fact, none of us are better than anyone else! We all need God's grace. This is one big reason why Jesus was sent. That way, every one of us could trust in something other than ourselves or this world.

There are plenty of people that are willing to discourage you and there are circumstances you will face in life that will threaten to knock you down and raise doubts in your mind. BUT, these barriers do not have to keep you from living out the life God has planned for you. These are opportunities for you to show the world that God's plans are greater than the plans of all of the doubters!!

Sharing a few more personal things in my life...recently this weekend, I took some time away from being engaged on social networks that have played a very large part in my life in the past 3 years. I joined Twitter way back in August 2008 after I heard about how this network allowed one to engage and meet new people no matter where they live. At that time, I was trying to meet new people in the Kansas City area after being in the area for a little over a year at that point. I had heard about a Social Media Club that was just getting started and I figured I better get on Twitter so I can start meeting some of those people who were part of this club and were organizing Tweetups (informal face-to-face meetings with people you interact with on Twitter). You see, I have not always had very close friends in my life and this is something that I wanted to try and change by meeting new people in the area. It went well for several months after I joined this club and attended the monthly breakfast meetings, etc. I was even voted onto the first board to be the Education Chair and I felt like I had finally reached that point where I felt significant and that I was influencing people in a good way. But all hell broke loose about a year ago when I decided to voice my opinions on my own blog about a new Social Media Club that was starting up in the area. I knew or thought I knew the real reasons why this new club was being started and I was trying to explain my point of view of why this was a bad idea. But, it seems I overstepped my boundaries of how I should "act" since I was part of a board that was looked upon as being influential to its members. I spoke out thinking I was doing some good in trying to show why this other new club was a bad idea. See, there was a plan that was to be shared with everyone soon about how the board would address this new club and I jumped out ahead of the others sharing my own point of view. To be honest, I thought our board needed to step up and address this situation quickly and not rest on our laurels. Our members were wanting answers on what this new club was all about and why our board was not responding. So, I did not follow the plan set out by others.

In the end, there was enough pressure by others on the board since they were highly pressured by the national leaders (who never really took time to get the real story) that it would be best if I resigned from my chair position. It was my decision to step down when everyone on the board, except one blessed soul, voted for me to remove myself. I did so and to be honest I have struggled with how this whole thing went down for a long time. It has made me bitter towards many who were on that board who shared their thoughts about me and how the plan they had moving forward should not include me. It has been hard to move on from that chapter in my life, but with God's grace and others who have looked past my mistakes and failures to accept me for who I am (warts and all), I am moving on from that painful experience with time. It still bugs me at times and I have shared my thoughts/opinions about this club to this day, but I also realize that when I thought I was part of the plan for this club, it was not in God's plan for my life. To be honest, if I would have stayed on with this club or this incident would never have happened, it makes me wonder if I would have an "esteemed attitude" about how great it is that I am on the board and I am influencing all of these people because of my position. We can too easily get wrapped up in ourselves and think highly of where we are in life. This is a danger sign though if we continue to think this way and in response, treat others as they are lower than us on the totem pole.

A year later removed from the position I once had, I now realize after some new opportunities are coming into my life, that God has a different plan in mind for my life. In retrospect, the pain and bitterness I felt after what happened to me have been turned into opportunities where the LORD knows my true heart lies in serving others. You see, I thought I was "serving others" when I wrote my point of view about this other new club, but I was not. In the weeks ahead, you will start to hear more about the new opportunity God has in store for me. I am helping to lead a small group to do much greater things that will make a major impact on the lives we will serve and I am grateful that God has this new plan for me. What I need to do is put my faith in Him and know that whatever he places on my heart for my calling is where he wants me to make an impact. And the best thing about this plan the LORD has for my life is that the impact will be for eternity!

In closing, I challenge you to be one who is not confined by barriers, but instead take on the plan the LORD shows to you as opportunities to show this world that when they say it can't be done or that you can't lead it, we can show that God will not be stopped by anything!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Approval Addiction is For Real

The Search for Significance, Approval Addiction, Getting Unstuck, and Prisoners of Our Thoughts. What do all of these titles mean? They are books I have on hand at home that I have read over and over, especially in those vulnerable times when I felt like I needed to read something that spoke to the condition I was in. I encountered a few instances today where people I know expressed their dismay and frustration with always feeling like they have to please people. I know exactly what those feelings are like as I have dealt with them for many years now. Being addicted to approval from others is REAL and it can wreak havoc on your emotions and thoughts if you are the type of person that is vulnerable to it.

As it shares in "The Search for Significance" book: "We spend much of our time building relationships, striving to please people and win their respect. And yet, after all of our efforts, it takes only one unappreciative word from someone to ruin our sense of self-worth." Have you ever had that happen to you? It can be done so easily via social media within 140 characters or even through email that reads differently to you than how others may perceive it. One of the benefits of social media is to connect and build relationships with others. But all it takes is one harsh word, rumor, or gossip to come your way and that relationship can be destroyed in an instant. We have the power to do good via social media tools, but the greater danger is the crushing blow of criticism or rejection that can be done through these same tools.

Another quote from "The Search for Significance" book says: 'The world we live in is filled with people who demand that we please them in exchange for their approval and acceptance. Such demands can lead us to a false belief that I must be approved by certain others to feel good about myself. We are snared by this lie so often and believing it causes us to bow to peer pressure in an effort to gain approval. We may join clubs and organizations, hoping to find a place of acceptance for ourselves. We often identify ourselves with social groups, believing that being with others like ourselves will assure our acceptance and their approval." Those last few sentences about some joining clubs or social groups to gain the approval of others is one where I see being done often within social media. There is some thinking that if you are not part of an "in group" then you are not worth talking to. I will tell you this right now. I despise "in groups" with a passion. One big reason is from my experience of being the target of many jocks in high school who felt like it was their right to tease and make life a living hell for their victims. To this day, I don't think I can think about some of those people without some hatred in my heart. But, I am doing what I can to forgive people like that from my past since it is only hurting me. It is a process to forgive others who treat you like you are scum of the earth.

Let me ask you this..."Have you ever experienced rejection at the hands of others?" Nothing hurts like being rejected. Especially from those we may be trying to gain approval. Our dependence on others for value brings bondage, while abiding in the truths of Christ's love and acceptance brings freedom and joy. Galatians 1:10 is where Paul shares the following: "For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."

Joyce Meyer is one person who grew up in an abusive household and had major problems dealing with rejection and feeling like she needed to win the approval from others in order to feel good about herself. But, through God's grace in her life, today she is an author of more than 60 inspirational books and she has radio and television programs broadcast around the world! It is amazing how the Lord turned her life around once she decided to invite Him to remake her life. In her book, "Approval Addiction," she says: "If we try to build our lives on what people say and think of us, we are building on sinking sand." How is your foundation? Are they rooted in rejection or fear? Most often, those of us that are approval addicts, need to start with new roots. Roots that are based on knowing we have unconditional acceptance by God. And like Disciple shares in their "1, 2, Conductor" song, God is our only audience that truly matters.

I hope by sharing some of my experiences and of others who know how it is to be an approval addict that you will know you are not alone. I encourage you to use tools like Twitter or Facebook to share your struggles or thoughts with others. If others comment on how you are using these tools to do this, make sure they know there is an unfollow button. You do what you need to do in order to work through what you are dealing with.

Final question to ponder upon: "How much of your life have you wasted trying to gain approval of others?" STOP letting it ruin your life and be who you are no matter what others think.

The Lord bless you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Are You Playing for the Crowd? DON'T!

Today, we are consumed by information that comes at us fast and furious with no breaks. For those who have smartphones, constantly checking to see the latest tweet or who has sent you a reply or DM can be a never-ending cycle. One big reason why I do not own a smartphone is because I know very well I would run the real danger of always checking it to see what was the latest chatter from those I follow on Twitter or Facebook. It is bad enough for me to not take a peek during the day when I should be focused on other more important things. There are going to be some who read this post who will say just turn it off, Mark. Let it be known that is easier said than done for some people. What may work for you may not work as well for others. Most of the time, each of us have to find that equal balance through trial and error. And sometimes, it is a constant battle to keep that balance. For those who struggle with OCD or AHDD, using social media tools like Twitter can be very distracting as those who struggle with one of these disorders tends to always be looking for the next hit, whether that is a tweet, Facebook post, etc.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? It is for several reasons. One, since I revived this blog, I decided I wanted to be upfront with you on the challenges I face as I deal with it day by day on how to find that balance using social media and staying off it. Face it, it is the truth that so many of us are so ingrained with our smartphones, laptops, etc. that what we do in conversing with others via tweets, posts, etc., is common nature. It has become a part of our identity. And to be honest, that can be a not so good place to be. When we start "playing to the crowd," and paying attention to what "followers" have to say about who we are or what we should do online, we lose. Sure, construction criticism can be helpful in some cases, but in my viewpoint, if you really do want to help someone online, take it offline and talk to them privately. I have seen enough cases where people are publicly shamed online and those who shovel out this type of garbage think they have the right to do it. Most of the time, those who do this to others have their own problems they are dealing with and instead of working on them, they decide to lash out to others so they can feel empowered. I have a message for those type of people who in the past may have made me feel "small" or decided smearing my name made them feel pretty proud of themselves. The message is ENOUGH! I read a post today by Julien Smith that I won't link to from here since it does have the F word used throughout his post, but besides the profanity, he was dead on! Basically, he decided he has had enough of others trying to tell him how to live his life and for him falling prey to the whims of others and their approval. He spoke out publicly about it and decided enough is enough.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, "Mark, just let this go and drop it." I will let you in on a little secret. I struggle with OCD and it makes it very tough to just drop things that happen to you and move on. I will be honest in saying that one year later, after the stupid crap that happened to me in 2010, I am much further on the road to healing than I used to be. There are still some people who find it "fun" to throw grenades my way to try and get me wound up, but with time, I have learned how to deal with such morons. To be honest, they can't touch me or my soul. Just like a song I love to listen to by Disciple called "1, 2 Conductor" it speaks about those who feel like they have to play for the crowd like a puppet. For those who follow Christ, the only audience we need to worry about is Jesus himself. He accepts us no matter where we are. As it says in Matthew 16:26, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" Many people play to the crowd around them through clubs they are a part of, celebrities they try to rub shoulders with, or by doing what they can to get on a pedestal to be recognized for worldly rewards. Sure, it may feel great for awhile to be adorned and praised by people around us, especially if you are part of the "in crowd."

Let me be honest right here...I have been part of some groups in the past where I felt included and then thrown to the side when crap hit the fan. I learned the hard way who was along the side of me no matter what happened and who was there when things were good and rosy and dropped me like a castaway when things got bad. Was I hurt and rejected when such things happened or when some just completely stopped talking to me? You bet I was! And honestly, I let that rejection affect me for quite a long time. I felt like I did not contribute any value because of some who felt I was not worth it. I have a message for those: You may throw your stones at me all you want, but they do not and will not affect me anymore. I am a child of Christ and it is through Him who I get my strength. As Disciple shares so lovingly in the 1, 2 Conductor song, "I don't give a rat's end what they say as long as my God is happy!"

Twitter has been a real struggle for me. To be quite honest, I see more cons to the experiences I have had through it than pros. Some of the pros of it are connecting to people who really do care and ask how you are doing. People like Amy Kiel, Ryan Conrad, Ben Smith, Jeremy Brooks, Paul Berry, Lance Strickland, @queentuffy, Tony Faustino, Jenn Bailey, Ryan Nelson, Nate Heavilin, Sara Nelson and many others. I still talk with and connect with a few from the Social Media Club of Kansas City, but I also have moved on from that chapter in my life with time. Truthfully, I have found more community and more openness via 33 Church than any other clubs or groups I have been a part of in the past. I would rather serve along those who truly value you as a person and take time to reach out and ask you how you are then being part of a "cool" group where everyone strives to be one of the top known experts or leaders. I have always been one to go against the flow or the status quo and that suits me just fine. In God's kingdom, there is no one person who stands above the rest. Each person is a valued member who makes a significant contribution via God working through them.

The main point I want to get across is that you need to do everything you can to not be sucked into the flow of what the world wants you to do or how you should perform. That can be done so easily via social media as anyone can say what is on their mind with no boundaries and to anyone they wish to direct it to. Cyberbullying is real and it is only increasing in intensity as kids growing up with technology in today's world are the target of many who don't have the guts to confront someone but hides behind a computer to send out nasty notes. It is not only a problem for kids, but also for some adults who become unlucky targets and if you are one who struggles with OCD or AHDD, just forgetting what others say about or towards you can be devastating.

How can you break away from the cries of the world towards you who want you to join them in the churning rapids of tweets, posts, check-ins, etc.? Take breaks and do them often. This is one area I am slowly improving on as I take more frequent breaks in checking Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. It is a ongoing process. If being on a social media channel like Twitter has become a major part of what you do on a daily basis, it will take time to break away from it and focus on those who truly matter in your life or those things that make the most impact. I love the outdoors and whenever I can, I try to head for a nearby park to get out and hike a trail. Be alone with my own thoughts. I think one of the big reasons why I favor going on vacation to off beaten places where one can stay in a cabin and hike trails is because I savor the peace and quiet with such times. Away from cellphone signals, away from computers, and away from the busyness of the world trying to pull me back in to the noise.

I want to start focusing on more things where I know I can make an eternal impact. The fact is that all of the awards, praise, recognition, popularity, etc. will only get you so far. Every one of those things will be gone in an instant someday when we pass on. BUT, if you impacted someone for eternity, that will be a far greater reward that you will be blessed with. There is enough people out there who share the latest articles or news updates about social media this, social media that, and social media where.

That is what I want to start moving away from and moving towards sharing stories that make an eternal impact. Heck, if you need prayers for something, DM me or shoot me an e-mail. I feel I can be a much more useful tool in God's hands if I share the Good News about him and what he has done in my life and others.

In the next few days, I will write about a very personal situation that came into my life 5 years ago where I saw a true miracle when the surrounding crowd who did not believe tried to convince my family that it was time to listen to them. But, we did not. It was by God's grace an amazing miracle was to come.

I leave you with this video. Make a difference in your world.

Just Keep Going, You Got Nothing to Lose:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Do We Keep Up In Today's World??

This is a blog post I have been meaning to write for awhile now. You see...I often tweet my thoughts or opinions on various topics quite often and I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter as a result. You can only fit in so many words in a 140 character tweet and you can send out multiple tweets to get your point across, but in reality, writing out your thoughts and feelings is so much easier within a blog. I noticed that my last post on this blog was at the end of February when I was processing what was going on in my life at that time and how I wanted to manage how I used Twitter.

It has dawned on me after I read this excellent post by Monica Wright that what she shares and the questions she asks at the beginning of the post really resonated with me. I posted them below again for you to think upon...

What do my social actions say about my productivity?
How are my actions perceived?
Am I wasting my time posting and engaging in useless conversations?
Are my connections and conversations producing value, not just to me, but to my work as well?

Monica goes into more depth about how these questions made her realize how participating in social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, etc. can often feed her urge to feel important or to be seen by others. It brings on a conflict of overexposure vs. obscurity.

Monica linked to another article written by Dana Lookadoo called "Getting Control of your Social Media Life." In that article, Dana goes into detail about how so many people struggle with figuring out how to find the time to do social media and there are some who just can't stay away from it. We are bombarded on all fronts by information that just keeps coming and never lets up. Whether it is via TV, online, radio, advertisements, word of mouth, etc., we are fed information at an incredible rate.

Much like Dana shares, there are many who admit that social media feeds a real need they have in their life and one of the biggest needs we each have is to feel accepted or looked upon as someone who provides value to another. Some people admit social media help feeds their ego. Others share that receiving a DM or tweet from others can feel like a drug. It excites them. A shot of dopamine is given with a jolt! And they keep craving more of the same. Some of us feel like we need to get as many followers or friends as possible so we feel important, even if it is only online. The quest for the latest news or "what's happening with those I follow?" can suck us into hours and hours of constant updates that never end until we make the choice to turn it off.

Don't get me wrong. I know the value of Twitter also and have met many people in the KC area and beyond through this wonderful channel and some of them I count as good friends now. For that, I am grateful. However, it has dawned on me more than once to think about why I use Twitter or engage with others via this channel. I really do think it is, for me, the need to feel connected with others in a virtual sense. Nothing can replace real, face to face conversations with people, but when that is not always possible, Twitter does give that connection with those you wish to follow and keep up to date on what is going on in their world.

Each of us is like an air traffic controller in our own personal mission-control tower as incoming info comes at us constantly. With all of the methods that we can be interrupted with, it can feel strange if more than a few minutes passes without an interruption. Immediately we think..What did I miss? Am I out of the loop? Very often, we compulsively check our messages, tweets, emails, etc. even when there is no need to. We have been accustomed to an age of constant distraction. For those who have always struggled with feeling accepted, it is even a tougher habit to break to feel like we always need to check to see if someone sent us a message, tweet, or email. To be honest, I tend to fall into that camp of feeling I need to check all the time to see what is going on.

Like I shared earlier in this post, we do not want to feel obscure or invisible to others. Without realizing it, we are losing our capacity to savor the moments when we have no interruptions. Never before has it been so easy to stay in touch with so many people electronically, but rarely has it seemed so difficult to maintain genuine human closeness. That is why I love to get out in the woods to hike or experience nature and be far away from distractions the world throws my way once I get back into the flow. Each of us needs time to disconnect and think about how the constant flow of information or the peer pressure we feel to be visible to others can make a major impact on us in a not so good way. Without meaning to, we are training ourselves to constantly be on the alert for interruptions. Unless we are careful, we now live piecemeal lives in a piecemeal world. Continuous partial attention is the result.

In the days ahead, I will be sharing more of my thoughts on this topic and how I am trying to scale back more to focus on those things that matter in the long run vs. always checking to see what is the latest tweet or reply sent via email, Twitter, etc. Some of you may be able to identify with what I shared in this post and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I will be sharing the ups and downs as I experience them in my goal of becoming more disconnected from always feeling the need to be "always on" via Twitter, Facebook, etc. and how I am focusing more on the close relationships in my life. More than ever, we need to grab hold of the distractions that can so easily creep into our lives and make sure we are focused on the right things or people that matter in the long run. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Twitter Has Been An Impact On Me In Last 2.5 Years

As I write this post, I am nearing 50,000 tweets sent out from my @markvanbaale account over the course of 2.5 years. I joined Twitter way back in August 27, 2008 and since then, Twitter has been a major part of my life in how I interact and connect with people online. I joined Twitter right around the time I went to my first tweetup (off-line meeting with those you interact with online) when I had been living in the Kansas City area for little over a year and I wanted to attempt to reach out and get to know more people in the area. At that time also, I had reached out to Ed Roberts and Zena Weist (founders) to find out more about a Social Media Club of Kansas City group they were starting. Ed and Zena told me that this group was just getting ready to start up and I joined the group right in its infancy stage when there was maybe 10-15 people going to the first breakfast meetings.

It was exciting times back then to connect and meet all of these new people via Twitter and the Social Media Club. Social media was really starting to present itself then as a viable channel to show your true self to others via the updates you chose to post online and get to know others virtually. Before the rise of social media and tools like Twitter, the best we had for connecting with people we had never met before was maybe by going to an event and talking to others. Or by a friend introducing us to others. Social media has opened up a vast world of possible connections to so many people all over the world. We are no longer limited by geographic distance or by knowing someone already. Twitter makes it incredibly easy to reach out and send a reply to someone you don't even know to connect with them. Over time, if you connect with many people and start to build relationships, this can spill over to becoming friends off-line also. I have connected to so many wonderful people that I first met via Twitter and it resulted in good friendships in real life.

In the first year I was engaged on Twitter from August 2008 to September 2009, I was involved in Social Media Club of KC and frequently attended the monthly breakfast meeting and got to know many wonderful people. There are still people who are part of this club that I associate with today. Those who decided to respect me and my differing opinions on things are the ones who I still stay in contact with. 2009 was an interesting year as I was really starting to dip my toes into what social media was all about and how effective it could be establishing relationships and sharing information with people.

When I moved on from my job in September 2009, it was not lost on me that the network I had established in the last year via Twitter would be helpful to me as I started to search for my next job. Tips for those just starting out on Twitter would be to slowly build relationships with those you engage with online and take time to ask others about their life, what they do, their passions, etc. People want to just feel valued and appreciated for who they are and when you take time to get to know others online and then have this spill over to in-person meetings, if possible, then you have extended yourself as a valuable contributer to someone's life.

I connected with my followers and let many know I was searching for my next full-time position and I had awesome support from so many as they helped give encouragement through this time. It was a year ago in March 2010 when I did have a brief stint with a local company that I will not get into, but for those who know the story, it did not work out. Truthfully, it was just not a good fit at all and after a few other issues crept in from exchanges I had with others via Twitter that escalated into nastiness, it was best to move on. To this day, I am glad I made the decision to move on to where I would be a much better fit with a company that respected me.

It has not been lost on me that 2010 was a very tough year for me in more ways than one and I will not get into details of what all transpired as most who know me know the incidents. I will just say that I was tested mentally and emotionally through various issues and as I look back on what transpired, I can only give praise to God for pulling me through each test and making me a better, stronger person as a result. I have always been the type of person where I do tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve and when you interact with people on Twitter or have people send you replies you are not ready for, it can be a challenge to deal with them in a calm and respectful manner. I will admit that I messed up many times in how I responded to some people on Twitter and that is the danger of the immediacy of this tool. If you let loose your thoughts about someone or something and don't take time to think about what or how you should say something, it can bite you. And bite you hard! I went through this lesson numerous times in 2010.

Social media is truly amazing in how it gives you the ability to share whatever is on your mind immediately and with a large audience. However, with this capability, there is the dark side that we all have to be aware of all the time. And that is that we can spread rumors or accusations far and wide if we let exchanges with others or opinions we have about issues rear their ugly head. Take it from me...always take time to think about what you wish to post before hitting that Submit button. If you are frustrated or upset about what someone said to or about you, step back and evaluate the situation. Try to look at it from the other person's point of view. Did you say or do something that may have contributed to them being mad or in how they react to you? Did you joke around a little too much and it was taken in a different light by them? We do not know the whole story about someone else and why they may share specific things online and to make an assumption or joke about these cases, we are only setting up ourselves for a possible confrontation. Believe me, I speak on these issues from experience and many of them are times I am not proud of being involved in. Many times our past experiences with others plays a major role in how we view them and when situations arise that can cause conflict, we tend to only concentrate on "what is on our screen" from past interactions and overlook anything good or positive about the other person. This can cause major problems between people and only lead to more strife and continued battles. There are still a few who dislike me from past experiences with me and that is something I cannot change. Eventually it is my hope that with time, we can see more eye to eye, but I also know there are some who will never want to make amends with me and I am fine with that. My identity is not shaped or influenced by what others think about me if they want to continue to look down on me. My identity is safe in Christ. It is through him who gives me my focus and path in life.

The start of 2011 brought a new opportunity for me as I was offered a job with a local company as an Online Marketing Specialist. It is pretty cool to me that I am also involved back in the Agricultural market as part of this job and it was a LinkedIn contact who works at this company who really helped me get my feet into the door. She cannot be thanked enough. :) Once again, it shows that leveraging your network when you are job searching can make a huge difference. Cultivating relationships with others and taking time to interact and learn about others can go a long way to helping you often in life when you need people to help.

In light of a new beginning for me in my career to start off 2011, I have spent much time in the last few weeks evaluating how I wish to continue to use Twitter. Some recent clashes with a select few has contributed some to how I view interactions with others and my openness that I have alway exhibited via my @markvanbaale account. Anytime you have an open account where you share your thoughts means you will get some naysayers or trolls who want to try and poke you to get a reaction. The type of people who do this feed off negativity and/or strife and they love to get a rise out of others in some sick and twisted way. God have mercy on their poor souls for this type of behavior. But, I have dealt with enough of this type of ridiculousness over the last year and realized I need to change how I use my time on Twitter. Here is where the following changes will happen...

My @markvanbaale Twitter account will still be an open account where anyone can read or follow me as they wish. I will be using this account to share links to articles I find interesting that I feel others would find value in also. I will also be using this account when I participate in Twitter chats like #agchat, etc. I will also continue to share any job openings I hear about in the KC area via this account and links to job leads and networking events that I share often on the KC Job Seekers blog. In addition, I will use my @markvanbale account in interacting with farmers, ranchers, other Ag professionals when I have questions tied to my job. That way, they can see my tweets when they are tagged with #Ag, #agchat, or #farm.

As for interactions with others and daily chatting, I will be doing all of that via my @mvanbaale account. This account is locked down (protected status) and will stay this way. I wish to interact with people who wish to have civil conversations with me and who I wish to connect with. If I feel we have had positive interactions in the past or if we did not, but made amends over time, then I will most likely accept your follower request to the @mvanbaale account. Those who have been nothing but trouble for me or who continue to spew false rumors or lies will not be accepted into following me and what I share via this account. I want to have as many positive, fulfilling conversations/interactions with others as I can and still do this via Twitter. But those who are nothing but negative can stay away for their own good and mine too. Those who I follow on Twitter are people who I want to learn from and share my life's moments over time so we can each strengthen our relationship. That is the essence of the beauty of Twitter in being able to do this.

With this all being said, I look forward to these new changes and what they will bring. For those who currently follow my @markvanbaale account and you wish to interact with me outside of when I share links/articles, make sure to follow @mvanbaale. Here is to more connections and positive outcomes for 2011! Thanks! :)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Final Post for 2010 - Reflection of God's Blessings

As I write this final post of 2010, it is roughly a hour until the 1st day of 2011 comes rolling in. Earlier this week, I wrote out a few thoughts on paper and then put them on my blog on some of the tough things I encountered in 2010. But after thinking more about them and a few people challenging me if I really want to go back to reflect on those bad times, I decided I don't want them to define me because they don't. So, I deleted them from my blog. Instead, I want to write this post to reflect on the great things that became part of my life or that happened to me that I count as blessings in 2010.

First off, I have been given great opportunities to serve others in volunteer capacities this year that has been a true blessing. I was asked by one of the founders of New Landings, a non-profit organization that exists to help the middle class unemployed find jobs to help lead their social media team and bring awareness to their members on how to use tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter/Facebook for the job search process. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of New Landings lead team and planning for what the next year will bring to this organization.

I started the Job Seekers View blog as a resource to help provide job seekers with information on weekly networking events, job search workshops, career fairs, etc. in the Kansas City area. Recently, a Job Leads page was added to highlight jobs in the KC area from recruiters, companies, etc. For 2011, the plan is to have more guest posts, video interviews with local job seekers who will share what they are looking for, and interviews with those who currently have a job sharing the path they took to get to where they are today.

Also, in 2010, I got connected with Ryan Nelson, pastor at 33 Church. My family and I has been looking for a church after we left one where the lead pastor left. The most important attribute for a church for us was one where we feel welcomed and appreciated for who we are. Ryan has a heart for the Olathe community and a deep passion for loving others in community at 33 Church. I encourage you to check out 33 Church if you are looking for a place where you can be yourself and be part of a caring community.

I got connected with someone that I have got to know as a friend named Brian. Brian is celebrating 2 months sober now and it is only by God's grace that he is at that point. It is a true honor to see Brian starting to understand that God has a grand plan for him as He moves in Brian's life. It is also a privilege to walk alongside Brian to see as God works in his life. I hope to do more of this in 2011 (walk alongside people as they encounter God and his plan for them).

In addition, I worked with a few other gracious friends to start a new group in the KC area called Kansas City Social Media Group. Houlihan's in Olathe has offered their space each month for this group to meet for breakfast. A close knit group of loyal attendees comes each month where a business is featured and a panel or attendees offer advice/tips for the business. So many businesses have benefited from coming to this breakfast and getting suggestions to improve their business.

There have been so many friends who I got to know in 2010 and it is each of them who gave me support and encouragement to make it through the tough times. Thank you to each one of you! You know who you are. :)

And finally, but not least, I am so very thankful for my family. My wife and two kids mean the world to me. They have seen the heartache, hurts, and struggles I went through in 2010, but they were right there by my side to help me get back up when I felt like I could not anymore. There is nothing like the smile of your kids when your days are long. I am so blessed to have them in my life.

2010 will have many tough times that God will use for good in His time, but more importantly, wonderful memories I will cherish were made in this year.

Here is to 2011 and living for so much more!

Monday, December 13, 2010

When God Grabs A Hold of You

I was stopped in my tracks a few times this week and both times made me think about where I am in my life and what am I making as my top priority. The first time was when a good friend I know had his life changed instantly when he found out his sister and her kids were involved in a tragic accident in Gardner about a week ago. Just like that, our lives can be upended in a flash. One minute, life is good and we are moving along through our life with not a care in the world and the next minute, it can change suddenly. With the rise of social media, I have been able to keep up on the progress and news of what my good friend has shared via Facebook/Twitter what is going on with his sister and her two kids as they deal with the daily reminders of what has happened to them. Unfortunately, two lives were lost in that horrible accident and one of them was a young 13 year old child whose mom and her two sibilings are having to deal with her loss and their own fight in life as they deal with the consequences of what happened in a flash.

The second story was one that someone I have got to know via Twitter sent me. It was also one of those stories that grips your heart and makes you take a serious look at how you are living your life and what you should be focusing on. In a short summary, a father had a dream that he may die soon and he recorded his last thoughts/wishes for his family to do when he did depart from this world. No one knew about this video until the father did pass away suddenly in a tragic plane crash. That video was something the father's kids and his wife could hold onto as a reminder of who he was. He had a deep love for his kids and wife and showed it everyday. He made them his top priority no matter what came into his life.

So, how did these two stories impact me? They made me stop and think about where I am in my life and how I want to be remembered. All too often, I can easily get swept up into other people's troubles or they attempt to sweep me into their drama or I focus on something that really has no lasting value in participating in it. All the drama of this past year between Social Media Clubs in Kansas City and Johnson County and who is for who and who should represent who is utter rubbish!!! I say this even though I wrote a blog post against the formation of SMCJoCo. Now, several months later, I realize that speaking out against a club started in the area was really not what I should have been focusing on. How I look at it today is I am not responsible for what people do and who they associate with and if others find value in another Social Media Club, then all the power to them.

I do have to admit though that the fallout from my blog post and the awful accusations, name-calling, blog posts about me, etc. was absolutely not needed. Some people will know who I am talking about who took it upon themselves to put in a public forum their thoughts about me. I am as much at fault for that from things I have written about others in the past, but that is something I am moving away from. Like I said earlier, I want my life to be known for how I have helped others in a positive way or how I was the father every kid wants or the husband every wife would love to have.

I am writing this post from Lawrence where I met with a few people earlier for lunch. People who truly care about me as a person and a friend. They don't hide behind false fronts or behind tweets. I have met my fair share of "posers" this year from dealings with them either from their thoughts on what I have shared on Twitter or my blog posts or when I was not a part of their "club" anymore. Those who don't talk to you once you move away from participating in their exclusive "club" are not worth your time. Focus on those who truly want to know you outside of your online identity. Too often, we can get ourselves wrapped up into an online identity and feel like we can treat others like dirt and that is fine. It can be because we are seen as "leaders in social media" or that others bow down to whatever we say online. Too often and it is getting worse, our online identities can be placed on a pedestal based on who we are online or who we associate with. And even though this next statement may get me in some hot water, I am afraid I am starting to see some in Social Media Clubs take on an aura of "look at me, I am important!" and that is NOT what it should be about. I am not saying everyone who is part of a SMC is like this, but too often I have experienced it and it has really turned me off from wanting to continue or be a part of such a club. The only exception for a SMC that has not turned me off has been SMCLK (Social Media Club Lawrence). Every time I travel to Lawrence to meet with someone from that organization or someone who is not part of it, I am welcomed warmly. What is the difference between this group of people and others? I think it is that many here in Lawrence, outside of a select few who have not learned this lesson, want to get to know you as a person outside of your online identity. They may know about things you have done or said as part of your online identity that you knew were wrong and admitted it as so, but they don't hold that stuff against you. They know we are all human and make mistakes. They really do care about you as a person and want to be associated with you. Why can't this be true in other places? Why can't some give up their grudges and junk from things that happened in the past and treat you like you matter? Come on people, life is way too short to hold a grudge against someone. I speak from experience as I was on no speaking terms with my sister for a year since I said something about what she posted on Facebook as being a little too vulgar and she took it wrong. A whole year of my sister not wanting to speak with or acknowledge me. It hurt and it sucked!

As the two stories I mentioned in the beginning of this post showed, our lives can suddenly change in a flash and all of that crap and grudges we hold against another can haunt us forever. Don't let that happen to you! What is my whole point of this post? It is to say that I am going to focus on what is most important in my life more in the new year. My family has suffered enough at times from when I have spent a lot of time online engaging in Twitter, etc. More often than not, I have spent way too much time trying to win "approval" from people I may have angered or upset with something I may have shared online and that time is going away. It is not worth it. My focus will only be on those who really want to get to know me as a person minus what I share on Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you are someone who wants to throw barbs at me behind your Twitter handle, don't even bother to waste your time. I will only associate myself, if I can help it, with those who are positive or who I have met and know they do care about me.

I can see my Twitter list of who I follow to go down quite a bit with this move, but my thoughts on Twitter are quite different from how many may use it. I don't always follow back those who follow me. If I have a good conversation with someone on Twitter and/or someone follows me and I know them from a conversation offline, I usually follow them back. I use Twitter to communicate and learn from those who I want to be associated with.

This post is one of those times where you get something on your mind and you just want to write your thoughts out, so some of this stuff may not make much sense to some, but it was something I wanted to share. Plus, I wanted to give kudos to many who I have got to know via Twitter, Facebook, etc. who I really enjoy learning from and hearing about their lives as they share them. As for the ego-centric and those who want to only focus on negative and/or only talk to you when you are part of their "club," they can go take a hike. :)

I challenge you to think about how your year has went and to think about if maybe you need to change where your focus is and who you associate with. Make sure to only spend time with those who care about you and want to know you outside of your online identity. We are more than our Twitter handle, Facebook status updates, or blog posts. Make your life one that leaves behind a lasting legacy that can be shared with others and make a positive impact on them and so on.