What I Learned in an Audition for a Commercial

When most people think of improv, the TV show Who’s Line is it Anyway usually comes to mind. I’d seen the show a few times and never envisioned myself taking an improv class. But several years ago I took several classes and had a blast. It also gave me the chance to hang around some people who didn’t embrace Christ.

3D concept

One year my teacher got me an audition as a pastor in the re-make of Nightmare on Elm Street (which ended up being a very bad movie). I didn’t get the part, but after that I auditioned a few times for regional commercials. The roles I played in those auditions ranged from a looking like a medical doctor to pretending I was a 50 year old former professional football player…who danced (I am not lying).

I once even got a callback for a commercial.

That day the casting agency office was crammed with auditioners. I sat in the waiting room facing the entrance door so I was able to see every actor who came in. And I learned an important lesson.

Here’s what I noticed. Every person who walked through the door quickly scanned the faces of every other actor in the room (as did I). What were we doing?

Comparing.

We were subconsciously comparing ourselves with the others who were competing for the same spots.

Although I’m no mindreader, I imagine these questions surfaced.

  • Are these men more handsome than me?
  • Am I prettier than the rest of the women?
  • I wonder how much experience he (or she) has compared to me?
  • Am I dressed as well as the rest?
  • etc, etc.

My short stay in the waiting room of a casting agency reminded me that we naturally tend to compare ourselves with others in most areas of life.

When that happens, two things can occur.

We become proud of our accomplishments, looks, and experience because we think we are better than others.

Or, we berate ourselves for not measuring up to the rest of the crowd.

I went away from this audition with a fresh reminder and desire to follow God’s reminder to Samuel when he was looking for Israel’s new king.

1Sam. 16.7 (MESSAGE) …GOD judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart.

How have you combated the problem of comparing?

By the way, I didn’t get the commercial role. I guess my mind was distracted by comparing too much.

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What Mac & Cheese Taught me about the Needs of Others

A very successful businessman inadvertently taught me a lesson about paying attention to other people’s needs … with macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese in an individual casserole dish with bread crumbs

Several years ago I ate breakfast at my favorite diner with one of our church’s key leaders. He owned a flourishing business and gave quite generously to our church. As I enjoyed the blue plate special of eggs, pancakes, and Canadian bacon, I asked him how business was faring. He described one recent experience with a potential client that brought a smile to my face and a fresh reminder that I must pay closer attention to other people’s stories and needs.

He had scheduled a lunch with a local company CEO and remarked that she ordered only salad and mac & cheese. I thought that a bit odd as did he until he said, “She explained that her favorite food was mac & cheese.”

He then described a second luncheon with this same CEO at this office that he had scheduled for the next Monday. The menu that day? Mac & cheese from six different restaurants.

From a business perspective he ordered this novel lunch menu hoping to make a good impression on a client that might garner him more business. But I thought to myself, What a creative and thoughtful way to touch a person’s life.

His kind gesture may not have brought him new business, but I’m convinced that this CEO will never forget his thoughtfulness. My friend simply paid attention to someone else’s unique interests.

As I drove back to the office after that breakfast and mulled over this mac & cheese luncheon, God impressed these thoughts on me.

  • Do I pay close enough attention to the leaders, friends, and spiritual seekers in my life to discover their unique interests?
  • Do I consider those interests as invitations from God upon which I could capitalize to become a better tool in God’s hands to minister to them?

I don’t think I will ever see mac & cheese in the same way again.

How have you met other people’s practical needs after discovering something unique about him or her?

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Does the Bible have Refrigerator Rights in Your Life?

When I visit my parents in Georgia, within five minutes of my arrival I almost always open the refrigerator to see what’s in it. I’ve done this for years. And they don’t mind me doing so. However, I don’t have that freedom to do that in most everyone else’s home. If someone invited me over and I opened their refrigerator, they’d think I was either crazy or that I lacked key social skills. I liken refrigerator rights to how open we are to allowing God’s Word to shape our conduct and character. How do we know that God’s Word has refrigerator rights in our hearts? Consider five questions that might answer that question.

Man opening the refrigerator and looking inside

Before I suggest these questions, we can learn a key insight about ‘refrigerator rights’ from Jesus’ half-brother James who wrote the book named after him. In James 1.21 we find this insightful phrase, humbly accept the word planted in you.

The idea of accept denotes a welcoming reception you feel in a friend’s home, much like how my parents receive me when I visit them. Their welcoming atmosphere gives me the freedom to open up their refrigerator. Likewise, when we truly give God’s Word refrigerator rights to our souls, we welcome His Word to instruct, convict, and direct our lives.

Ask yourself these questions to discover the degree God’s Word has refrigerator rights to your heart.

  1. I read, meditate on, or study God’s Word several times each week.
  2. I approach the Bible as a living and God-breathed book, unlike how I approach reading a novel or a textbook.
    • For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4.12)
  3. I seek to connect the then and there (what the Bible says) to the here and now (how I need to directly apply it to my life). I don’t read simply for interest, but for life transformation.
  4. I read the Bible reflectively, slowly, and meditatively. In this post I write about a unique and fresh approach to Bible reading.
  5. I refuse to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that apply to me. I open up every part of my life and heart to God’s Spirit applying Biblical Truth to me.

The next time you open up your own refrigerator, ask yourself this question.

Does God’s Word have refrigerator rights in my heart? 

What has helped you keep your heart open to God’s Word?

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What Would you Do for $10,000,000? How Leaders Build Integrity

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?

1-million-dollars-300x225

James Patterson and Peter Kim published the book, The Day America Told the Truth in 1991. In their research they posed this question to 2,000 Americans in an anonymous survey. These are the results.

  • Would abandon their entire family (25%)
  • Would abandon their church (25%)
  • Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
  • Would give up their citizenships (16%)
  • Would leave their spouses (16%)
  • Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
  • Would kill a stranger (7%)
  • Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

These stats and others reveal that integrity is taking a beating today. Yet, leaders who truly want to honor God and effectively lead must lead with integrity.

One of the most interesting narratives in the Bible, the story about Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, illustrate how leaders build integrity. These young Hebrew men were conscripted into service for Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar after receiving three years of training.

As you read this qualities, rank yourself on each one.

Integrous leaders…

1. …willingly make tough choices.

Daniel refused to eat the king’s food offered to young conscripts (Daniel 1.8) because the Jewish law prohibited eating food offered in idol worship. He risked expulsion from the training academy and possibly death by making such a choice. He made the tough choice anyway.

2. …treat their critics and adversaries with respect. 

After the king’s wise men, of which Daniel was one, were unable to both tell the king a dream he had and interpret it, he issued an edict to have all the wise men executed. However, just before the execution Daniel approached the executioner with ‘tact,’ a Hebrew word used to describe taste (Daniel 2.14). The way Daniel approached the executioner literally left a good taste in the executioner’s mouth, a euphemism we use today to describe a good experience with another. This encounter opened up the door for Daniel to appeal to the king and interpret his dream which in turn prompted Nebuchadnezzar to rescend his decision.

Interesting brain insight: a part of our brain called the insult registers taste and emotional experiences with others like disgust and bitterness. Daniel’s interaction with the executioner kept the executioner’s brain from responding with these strong negative emotions, a wise example for we leaders when dealing with those who oppose us. Try to leave a good taste in the mouths of your critics.

3. … build their moral compass around Jesus.

When Daniel appeared before the king, he told him that no mere human could interpret his dream, but that the God of heaven could solve his conundrum. Daniel’s commitment to God served as his true north, his moral compass. Whenever Daniel faced a decision he always defaulted to what pleased God. This post describes how to build true north values into your life and leadership.

4. … remain consistent even in the small things of  life and leadership.

In Daniel’s later years he was faced with what appeared to be a small compromise. The then current king, King Darius, was tricked by leaders jealous of Daniel into issuing a 30-day edict requiring everyone to pray to the the king. Because they could find no character flaws in Daniel (Daniel 6.4), they resorted to trickery.

For decades Daniel had prayed to God three times a day and everyone knew it. Daniel, now in his 80’s, could have easily made this small compromise (pray to God in secret and fake prayers to the king) to avoid stress and difficulty in his old age. However, he refused to and was thrown into the lion’s den where God later rescued him. Great leaders refuse to cut corners, compromise, or hedge in even the small matters of life and leadership. 

5. …realize the people will either become bitter or better when they live with integrity.

Throughout the story, people responded to his integrity in one of two ways. They either were threatened by it and hated Daniel because of his integrity or they lauded it. When leaders take a stand for integrity, not everyone will respect your stance, cheer you on, and affirm you. Some will do the opposite. Great leaders lead well regardless of how people respond to their integrity.

6. …model integrity for their kids and grandkids.

Although Daniel and his three friends don’t model this quality, it’s worth stating. Our kids and grandkids will more likely do what we do (and did) that what we say (or said).

Centuries ago the ancient Chinese were so fearful of their enemies on the north that they built the Great Wall of China, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was so high they knew no one could climb over it & so thick that nothing could break it down. Then they settled back to enjoy their security.

 But during the first 100 years of the wall’s existence, China was invaded 3 times. Not once did the enemy break down the wall or climb over its top. Each time they bribed a gatekeeper and marched right through the gates. According to the historians, the Chinese were so busy relying upon the walls of stone that they forgot to teach integrity to their children (source unknown).

Great leaders diligently seek to live, model, and build integrity into their lives. With integrity they spiritually thrive. Without it, their souls wither.

What other characteristics would describe an integrous leader?

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5 Ways to Improve Decision Making

A leader must make lots of decisions. The better decisions we make, the better our leadership, the better our churches and ministries, and the better those around us perform. So what can we do to improve decision making? Consider these five ways.

How to choose, how to choose elevator

5 Ways to Improve Decision making

1. Avoid decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the phenomenon that occurs when the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. When important decision face you, make them when you are the most refreshed, usually in the morning (although night owls may make better decisions at night). Learn more about decision fatigue here.

2. Get enough sleep.

The U.S. CDC stated in 2013 that 35% of adults aged 25-65 reported that they unintentionally fell asleep during the previous month. And the same percentage reported that they get less than 7 hours of sleep each night, although sleep experts recommend that we get 7-9 hours each night. When we don’t get adequate sleep, here’s what happens. (For a more detailed look at leaders and their sleep, read this post).

  • Our attention, alertness, and mental response speed decrease.
  • Creativity gets dampened.
  • Our brain’s CEO (the pre-frontal cortex) that is responsible for executive functions like planning, emotional control, decision making, and abstract think gets compromised.

If sometimes you just can’t get enough sleep, a short 10-20 minute nap can boost your alertness and the quality of your decisions.

3. Practice metacognition.

Metacognition is a fancy word for ‘thinking about your thinking.’ Often we get caught up in a thinking auto-pilot mode. And since our brain has five time more negative circuits than positive ones, thinking usually turns negative. It’s called the negativity bias. So, practice pausing during the day to ask yourself, “What am I thinking about right now?” This discipline can help you avoid wasted mental energy on unprofitable thoughts. The Apostle Paul counsels us to do this in Philippians 4.8.

4. Recognize how emotions affect our decisions.

For years we assumed that great decisions were based on logic alone. That is, a good leader, after mentally processing the merits of a decision, would arrive at the best one primarily through a logical thought process. However, scientists are now learning that emotion plays a much larger part in decision making than previous thought. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found impaired decision making in people who had brain injuries to their emotional centers. So, factoring in how you feel about a decision might help you make a better one.

5. Recognize how long-term stress diminishes good decision making.

God created our bodies with an ability to respond to danger. It’s called the stress response, largely influenced by the stress hormone, cortisol. However, long term stress actually shrinks brain cells in our memory centers. And it strengthens brains cells in our fight-flight centers which in turn dampens our brain’s CEO that guides the decision making process. So, if you’ve been stressed a long time, it might behoove you to delay any significant decisions until your stress diminishes.

What has helped you make better decisions?

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