Tag Archives: Personal Life

2021: A Personal Update and a Look Ahead

If you follow the blog closely you have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet in recent months other than episodes of the podcast coming out. I can pull out the reasons/excuses if you like:

  • Work has been intense (partly due to the madness of navigating a pandemic) and frankly, balancing ever-present kids and work has been mentally tiring. On the plus side, I’m getting quality time with family that I might never get again, so it’s a worthy trade off long term. :-)
  • We’ve had deaths of close friends and connections, and that accumulation over the last 12 months has pulled at my soul.
  • I finally rehabbed my knee tendon issue (was off of running from January to October). But I got overexcited with returning to running (my favorite stress buster), putting too much stress on my foot and prolonging my recovery.

I took a bit of time off around the holidays (even had a new year’s eve dance/glow dance party with the kids) to take a much needed pause.

dance party

Taking off a bit of time has been helpful to rejuvenate and refresh my thinking and ensure that the coming year includes the things that you’ve come to expect from this blog: fresh perspectives, practical advice, and maybe even a bit of entertainment in the form of audience questions.

I’d love to hear from you–what do you want to see more of here?

  • Practical advice?
  • More questions answered?
  • Inspiration and encouragement?
  • How-to’s?

I’ve been running this blog for over 10 years now and while I have some ideas on things to cover this year, I’d love to hit the things you care about, the things that inspire you, and the things that make you a better person and HR pro. If you like the reader questions, I’ll publish more of them! If you prefer more inspirational pieces to encourage you, we can do that, too. I’d just love to know, really.

A few things on my radar for 2021

Super secret project: I’m on the verge of finalizing a new tool that helps you to see how your work style fits into HR, whether you are leading a team, looking for a job, or just trying to find out what role is best for you within the HR spectrum. SO excited about this one. It’s going to be incredible. Hoping to announce/release it within the month!

HR Summer School: I am already in early talks to bring back a version of the immensely popular HR Summer School for 2021 with a new set of voices and perspectives on things that matter to each of you.

Learning Reimagined: If you focus on learning and/or talent development, you should check out Learning Reimagined. It’s going to be incredible and unlike any virtual event you’ve seen so far (and better than many in-person events, too). I’m partnering on this one but so excited to see if come to life.

Speaking/Events: As of now, there are one or two events that are scheduled in physical locations, but they may still be pushed back as did everything in 2020, depending on vaccines and other developments. Much more likely that I’ll continue the trend of virtual events, both speaking and organizing, alongside the team at HR Tech Roundtable as I have in 2020.

Podcast/Livestream: I’m continuing with the podcast and the new weekly video livestream show on LinkedIn and YouTube (check out HR Tech Talks if you haven’t already seen it), but I’m always up for ideas for content if you have anything you would like to see me cover on the shows!

Local/volunteering: I’m incredibly thankful for an opportunity to support my local HR chapter as a mentor this year in our Mentor University program. I was a participant on the receiving end over 10 years ago in the first program, and I always said I’d pay it forward if someone gave me the opportunity. I’ve been paired with a wonderful HR pro that shifted from a career in technology, and I can’t wait to learn from her as well as help her with her professional growth.

Bottom line: it’s going to be an insightful and invigorating 2021, and I’d love to have you play a part in that. Tell me what you’re looking for, and we’ll make it happen.

End of Year Rituals, Personal and Professional

This week I’m taking off work to be with family. Christmas is a special time of giving and we love the spirit that is wrapped around this holiday. As I think about the next two weeks heading into the new year, I think about how much my priorities and my rituals have changed for this time of year (and how they haven’t, in some ways).

I’d love for this to be an encouragement for you to think about how you spend your time during this part of the year as well as how you plan for the year ahead.

Before Kids

A ritual, by definition, is a series of actions or type of behavior regularly followed by someone. However, rituals can change over time.

For instance, before my kids were born, I actually worked every day over the holiday weeks except for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I loved the time when nobody was in the office so I could catch up on tasks before the new year. To be honest, I loved working when there were no emails coming in, because that meant I could focus on what needed to get done, not on what someone else needed me to get done!

I also used the time to do strategic planning, looking at what big things my team and I would try to accomplish in the coming year. I learned that practice from the best manager I ever had. She would create a theme for the year for our HR team and find a way to weave it into the big projects we were planning to work on, such as “service” or “fun.” They usually aligned with our core values which made it even more valuable for us to be sharing that from an HR perspective.

She taught me so much at a critical time in my career. I learned from her that little mistakes are, in the long run, little mistakes. She loved to say, “We can only do what we can do.” With a small team and a rapidly growing employee base, it was comforting to know that while we were working as hard as we could on a day to day basis, we were also human as well and she didn’t have unrealistic expectations of us. She also emphasized family first, which is uncommon in many high-growth organizations.

After Two Kids

Back to the rituals, my approach has changed over the years. Once our first two were born, I started taking off an extra day or two around Christmas and New Year’s to be home with the family a bit more. I shifted my planning back into late November and early December for the most part. And if I did any work during the holidays it was cleaning out the inbox, organizing the office/desk, and clearing off my electronic calendar from all those things I need to do, will never do, or still need to think about.

The rest of my time at this point was spent with family. Both my wife’s family and mine live within 30 minutes of us, so the holidays involve a lot of driving but in short, concentrated bursts all around where we live. Add to that the fact that our families have about 7 birthdays between November and December and there’s not much time left for other things. :-)

After Four Kids

In the last two years or so, I’ve worked mornings but taken off the rest of the day after lunch to be with the family. However, this year I’m taking off pretty much the entire time both the week of Christmas and the week of New Year’s. I get up a few of those mornings and work for about an hour before the sun comes up and the kids wake up, but otherwise I put everything away for a few days as best I can. Now that the older kids are in school, I appreciate those times with them even more when they are out of school. On top of that, I travel a good bit for work during busy seasons, and I treasure these times I’m at home where I can build deeper relationships with each of my kids.

On a nerdy level, one of the most fun conversations I have with the older kids are about what jobs are, how you get them, and what it’s like to “be your own boss.” They ask such intuitive and interesting questions and it’s so fun to see them growing into sharp young women already.

Add to that the fact that our little ones seem to be growing by leaps and bounds and I quickly realize that life is fleeting, and I won’t have an unlimited number of holidays to spend with them while they are small.

Also, on an even more personal note, my faith is a big part of who I am, and my wife and I have had to work harder and harder over the years to intentionally insert these beliefs in for the kids over the holidays but also into the turn of the new year. The holidays are about giving, about joy, and about kindness and goodwill towards all those around us. We see giving as a key part not just of our faith but of who we are as a family. The older kids are now big enough to experience this with us and we had them personally shop for kids on the angel tree this year to have an opportunity to bless someone else.

Paradoxically, the stress of the holidays makes this sentiment hard to come by sometimes, but we have some family rituals designed to bring us back to that center on a regular basis. In terms of the new year, I’m an optimist by nature, but we’ve also been promised that good things are in store for those who keep the faith, and that’s a belief we are trying to pass down to the next generation.

The Next Phase

I imagine that this will become the standard approach while we have young children for the next 10 or so years, but after that it’s hard to say what might change with the ritual. I don’t ever see myself working full time again during the holidays, so maybe we will plan something else around this time of the year, like a race or a trip. I had hoped to run a race this New Year’s Eve but unfortunately strained something and am trying to recover for a bigger running goal that will happen in March.

Another idea might be a family (or partial family) mission trip. One of the best experiences I had back when the kids were very small was taking a mission trip to Guatemala during the week after Christmas. Spending that week in another country and loving on those people as they celebrated the New Year was quite humbling, and when the oldest girls are a few years older, I plan on taking them to participate in an even deeper experience of giving and service.

What’s Yours?

What is your ritual around family and/or work during the holidays? Do you take time off? Work extra? Take a trip? Has it changed over the years?

Something Personal for Veteran’s Day

Note from Ben: my wonderful wife, Melanie, recently wrote this as a personal tribute and “thank you” to those veterans closest to our family. She’s taken to doing more writing of late to share personal stories with our kids both now and in the future, and I am always touched by the words she crafts to explain emotions, feelings, and more. Sharing here with her blessing. 

veterans dayFor 20 years, I selfishly thought as Veteran’s Day as just another day. Another day to miss school and/or work.

I remember the day I received the call. I was in Scottsboro cheering Ben on as his brothers and he competed in a triathlon. My phone rang and it was my mother telling me that my dad had received word that he would be sent to Iraq for a year, possibly longer. I broke down, went and hid in the restroom, and thought of nothing more than my father’s safety.

The time that led up to his deployment was hard. We tried to fit in a lot of family time, but we also kept dreading the day we would have to send him off.

Eventually, we all gathered at the airport, hugging him tightly. Then he boarded his plane and was gone.

We coped as best we could. We stopped watching the news, avoided newspapers, and continued to pray for his safety.

We received letters, emails, phone calls, and pictures. Technology has come so far. We didn’t have him home, but we heard from him often.

Thankfully he remained safe during the full term of his deployment, but things at home didn’t go as hoped. His mother was suffering from cancer, and we knew her days on earth were numbered. He received personal leave to come home, but when he arrived, she no longer was responding to us. She soon passed away.

Also during this time, my sister had to have an emergency c-section due to preeclampsia. My niece was born not breathing, but was revived. She was taken to a NICU at another hospital while my sister recovered in the ICU where she delivered. Things were very scary. We kept these details from him until we knew they were both going to be okay.

My point is that not only are our military men and women put in harm’s way, they miss so much family time when they are away. Instead of thinking of today as just another normal day, make it a point to thank a Veteran.

To those veterans both stateside and abroad, we thank you for your service from the bottom of our hearts. 

My Anniversary

I attended the WorkHuman conference a few weeks ago in Arizona and connected with many friends and colleagues that I hadn’t seen in a while, and each of them asked how my work was going. This week marks my one year anniversary of running Lighthouse Research & Advisory, and it has been such a joy. Here is the link to my announcement last year, in case you’re a new reader.

I’m able to do the work that I love, whether it be writing, speaking/teaching, or research. I also have the flexibility to support clients in a way that other, larger analyst firms just can’t, and I keep hearing over and over how unique that is.

For those of you that are curious, my day to day is spent creating or uncovering research on a variety of topics. In the last month alone I’ve explored informal learning practices, global payroll and compliance for growth companies, and the impact of employee engagement on business performance. I then use that research to host webinars, write white papers, or create other research assets for my clients. At the end of the day, I’m creating things for you, the practitioners, that offer value and help you to get your work done more effectively. It’s just that the vendor community pays to have those resources developed for you.

Obviously I also run the We’re Only Human podcast, which kind of straddles both the work I do here at upstartHR as well as my work at Lighthouse. It has surprised me in the ten months that I’ve been running the podcast, but I get so much interaction and feedback from that medium and am constantly surprised by the positive reception. I’d be curious to know what you think about it and/or what you’d like to see me cover on the show.

At the same time, part of my research always has been (and will continue to be) in large part due to connectivity to the practitioner community. Each of you has a unique, valuable story to tell about your own business and HR practice. I am always interested in hearing those stories and learning from them. I’ve found that pretty much all practitioners think their stories are not that interesting or important, yet in every case I can find something unique or noteworthy about the situation in just a few short moments! Bottom line: your story IS important and interesting, and don’t ever think otherwise.

If you’d like to help, I occasionally send out research requests to gather information for new studies. Having responses from people like you is incredibly important to me. Additionally, don’t ever hesitate to ask questions about what I can cover here or to suggest topics that might be beneficial. I’m always open to ideas, and the truth is if you are thinking about it, there’s a good chance that a hundred others are that need the information as well!

So, with eight years of upstartHR and one year of Lighthouse Research behind me, I’m still going strong and feeling just as creative as the day I first started (if not more so). I can’t wait to bring you more insights, ideas, and information in the coming months. And you? Yeah, keep up the good work. :-) Thanks as always for being a part of this great community!

Berklee Rose is here!

A few weeks ago you probably caught my letter to my unborn child. This last week has been a wild ride as we added Berklee to the family, surprising about 95% of the people we know because she was NOT a boy. Melanie and the baby are doing great, and the other kids are overjoyed at having the baby at home.

Enjoy the picture below, and expect more HR content next week. For now I need to go get a little (or a lot of) sleep…


A letter to my soon-to-be-born child

Going way personal today. Take it or leave it, but I always write what moves me. Thanks!

Dear Peanut,

We are so very excited to meet you. I’ve been going back and forth between nervousness and excitement over the past few weeks, because I know that you’re going to make your appearance within the next few weeks.

Your sisters and brother are looking forward to meeting you, noticing every single baby that we have passed in the last few weeks with increasing interest. If history is any indicator, they are going to watch over you, support you, and help you as you grow. Just don’t let them pin the blame on you. I know from experience. :-)

One day you’ll read this with a smile. I don’t usually share my personal life with the rest of the world. It’s just not the way I do things, and I would be willing to bet that you are going to share some of those introverted tendencies. What’s funny is that I can jump on stage and talk about anything, but when it comes to small talk and meeting new people I am much less adept. I’ll try to teach you both as best I can so that you are able to overcome any challenge or take advantage of any opportunity.

You are incredibly special to us and (as far as we know) will complete the vision we have had for our family since we met almost fifteen years ago. Did you realize that your mom and I met in high school and instantly fell in love? Yes, we had no clue what “love” meant at the time, but it has grown with us steadily over the years, allowing us to grow our family along with it through a variety of means.

There are many things that I plan to teach you, whether you’re a boy or a girl.

  • I’ll teach you to make funny faces, even if the time isn’t the most appropriate. Laughter is medicine, and I happen to be an expert in it.
  • We’ll do handstands and cartwheels. I’ll show you how to walk on your hands and we’ll laugh together when we fall over.
  • I’ll show you how to cook. We’ll have adventures in the kitchen making things that sound crazy but just might be delicious.
  • We’ll explore the outdoors. I’ll teach you about all kinds of fun things like the sun and how it works. I’ll gladly answer all kinds of off-the-wall questions like why the sky is blue or why frogs don’t have tails. We’ll learn together.
  • I’ll teach you to fish, and how to sit quietly together even when there’s not a fish around for miles.
  • I’ll show you what it means to live by faith, not by sight. I’ll instruct and guide you so that you grow up to love others, not judge them. This is one of the most important things that I need the time to help you understand.

I’ll show you these and a thousand other things, because it’s my job. But it’s also my pleasure. My treat. My sheer joy. Your mom always laughs that I get along with kids so much because we’re on the same wavelength. Maybe it’s true, but I have yet to be crippled or hampered by that fact!

You’ll learn in time that I’m not perfect, but you’ll also see that love can overcome so many imperfections.

Little one, please know that you are loved, treasured, and desired. I can’t wait to meet you and we all look forward to this new adventure.



How I Fell in Love with Guatemala

This is a report detailing my some of my experiences visiting Guatemala as part of a mission team from 12/28/13 to 1/4/14. This has nothing to do with HR, management, etc. But hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway. If not, you know where the “delete” button is. :-)

I’ll start off by saying that it’s very difficult to put into words what this experience was like and how much it meant to me. It will be a long time before I realize all the impacts of my trip to Guatemala. For now I’ve just laid out a timeline of events, because that’s much easier to write at this point in time.

In the beginning

Back in November I was attending my small group at church and a friend mentioned that the mission team to Guatemala was short by a few people. I looked at my wife and we quickly decided that I would go. I have wanted to for a few years, but one excuse or another would pop up and keep me from committing. On the flip side, I have worked with our team at church to put on the annual holiday auction for the past few years. That annual event funds the feeding center and some of the other ministries within Guatemala, so I definitely had a significant interest in checking out what all the efforts had led to over the years.

Hanging out with my new friend Elsa

Hanging out with my new friend Elsa

I spent the next few weeks puzzling through my brain. Why was I going? What did I have to offer? To be completely honest, the thought of building a home was daunting. My skills are limited to “lift that” and “move this.” I’m not savvy with my hands when it comes to projects like that. I knew I wanted to spend time with the kids and just play and love on them, but what else could I offer? Why was I supposed to be there?

By the time I left, I still didn’t have an answer that satisfied me…

Fast forward to the end of December, and I was stepping onto a plane to head into Guatemala. I had spoken with a few previous visitors to get an idea of what to expect, but it was still a wide open canvas just waiting to be painted.

The plane ride was a quick hop from Huntsville to Atlanta, then a three hour flight from Atlanta to Guatemala.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and spent the evening resting and unpacking at the mission house located in San Pedro las Huertas.

Sunday-staying busy

On Sunday we got up, got ready, and went to a church service. The entire service was in Spanish, but they were very excited to have us there visiting, so they asked a few people to come up and speak to the group. Our music director also got up and sang two songs, which they enjoyed immensely. I speak some Spanish, but I couldn’t keep up with everything being said. However, when the pastor bent his head to pray, I heard, “Gracias” at least a dozen times in his prayer.

That made me stop and think. These people have so little, and yet they are incredibly thankful for the things they do have. It’s a powerful reminder that with all the things we have and take for granted on a daily basis…

I heard a great quote recently that this reminded me of: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today? Take a moment to think on that. It’s pretty powerful. I do know that I’m going to be more thankful for everything, even something as simple as being able to drink water from a faucet without risking an illness!

Talking with Jonathan

“Working” with my new amigo, Jonathan

After church we ate and went to the building site to prepare the area for the home we planned to build throughout the week. We dug holes, set posts, and filled them with concrete to dry overnight. As it got dark, the family we were building the house for brought us food and drinks as a “thank you” for our efforts. It was amazing to me that this family was so giving (food for 7-8 guys is a lot), even when they had so little to give.

That night, I walked with a few of the team down to visit Elsa, the sponsored child of one of my good friends from home. Elsa’s eyes were enormous as she opened the small box and marveled at the toys, lip gloss, and other trinkets inside. It was an honor to be able to make that visit on behalf of my friends, and I know she and her family appreciated the gift very much.

Monday-let’s build a house

Monday we started early on the house. We started putting up the walls and roof. When you think “house,” this probably isn’t what comes to mind. This was basically a tin shed with a wood frame. However, by local standards, it was a fairly nice house. After we ate lunch and worked on the roof, I took a few minutes to wander out to the nearby area where the children were playing.

I absolutely love children, and I wanted to spend some time playing with them while I was there. I started swinging them around and letting them jump from the back of the truck into my arms, and it was my favorite few minutes of the entire day. Within minutes, the kids were saying, “Mono! Mono! Mono!” I couldn’t help but laugh, because that’s Spanish for “monkey.” Soon it was time to head back to the mission house, so I had to tell the children that I would be back the next day.

Tuesday-fun with concrete and monkeys

Playing with kids in the squatter's area

Showing the kids how to jump rope like a pro

On Tuesday we had to mix concrete to pour floors for the home. That involved shoveling sand and gravel and then mixing that with cement and water. All in all, it was a tough job, but certainly something that someone with my level of hands-on skills (i.e. zero!) could do without much fuss. After we got the floors poured, some of the guys began building the doors that we would put on after the floors set, so I wandered outside again to see the kids.

As soon as my head popped outside, they started shouting, “Mono!” and ran to me. I was swinging them and laughing, and then one little girl started saying, “Mono loco!” If you know how I act around kids, that’s a pretty fair translation: crazy monkey.

Again, I spent as much time out there playing with kids, learning names, and taking pictures before we headed back for the night.

Wednesday-concrete and sponsored kids

Taking a moment to speak with teammate Casandra and her buddy Carla

Taking a moment to speak with teammate Casandra and her buddy Carla

On Wednesday, we couldn’t return to the house as the floors were setting, so we went to the feeding center. Over the past few years mission teams have built a feeding center on the side of a mountain at San Cristobal el Bajo. This feeding center provides one meal, a vitamin, and a bible verse each day to over fifty children. For many of those kids, that is the only meal they will receive all day. The feeding center kitchen had a dirt floor, and to improve the conditions and make it more sanitary, the team mixed and poured a concrete floor in the cooking area. My only regret was that the feeding center was closed for the new year/holiday, so we didn’t get to see the children who normally visited the facility.

Thursday-house dedication and lots of hugs

home finish

Dedicating the new home for the family

On Thursday we returned to the home to put on the doors and dedicate the home. After that special occasion was celebrated, we all had a chance to go out and help with Vacation Bible School for the children living in the squatter’s area. As we helped the children make their crafts, one of the boys brought his and gave it to me as a gift. It was incredibly thoughtful and I will treasure it! It was our last time to see the kids before we would leave on Saturday, so we gave extra hugs and said our tearful farewells.

That afternoon, we made several home visits to sponsored children. It was especially exciting for me, because I got to meet with Cesar, our sponsored child. He is currently in his “career” level classes in school, and despite the language barrier I was absolutely thrilled to get a photo taken with him. As I was leaving, his mother handed me a few old photos of Cesar. The translator asked if I needed to return them, but she just smiled and told me to keep the photos. That small token of appreciation was so special!

Cesar and his family

Cesar and his family

Later, we stopped by another home to visit other sponsored children. I was able to deliver yet another gift on behalf of our friends, and it was such a neat experience to see Francisco Javier get excited about the small toys and other goodies in his box.

Friday-the “rest” day and youth night

Friday was our “off” day, after spending several days mixing concrete, pouring floors, doing construction, and going nonstop. We got to visit some interesting places around town, but for me the entire day was overshadowed by the upcoming departure. That night we hosted a youth group meeting for the local church and did some fun/funny skits and songs for them.

Saturday-regretfully heading home

Playing with kids

Spending time with the children at the squatter’s area

On Saturday morning we packed up and hit the road to head to the airport in Antigua. There were many hugs and kind words spoken, and I will not forget thinking about how we were heading back home and the others were heading back to the village to rest up for another day of ministering to the local children. Amazing.

This experience is difficult to describe in a few words, so I tried to give an account of the trip with some solid detail. However, I still can’t convey the lifechanging impact of the visit. I am anxious to return, and I hope to one day bring my family with me to visit the amazing people in Guatemala. Hope you enjoyed the story!