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Creativity is fragile.

As much as people want to throw as many ideas out there as possible during brainstorming sessions and see which ones “stick” or meet under the banner of “Share everything! There are no bad ideas!” Unfortunately, there are. In meetings ideas get axed, plans get crumpled up, and hard work gets thrown away.

While this is a natural and necessary part of the process, as a creative, it’s never fun.

I’m not sure if there are any other creatives out there like me, but when I work on something it becomes more than just a project. It becomes a part of you. Sure you can try and distance yourself as much as possible from the client or work but regardless of what you are doing it takes a little part of you. You pour a little part of you, your soul, your heart into it, and you want it to survive. You want to nurture your little idea into a full-grown campaign, project, or design but it’s an intimidating process.

As someone who wants to lead a creative team one day, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to best handle the ideation and creation processes. Having been on the positive and negative end of both processes, I’ve noticed a three essential traits leaders of creative teams should possess in order to get the most out of their people.

Protect Your Team from Outsiders – This includes anyone outside of your immediate creative team. I’ll say it again: creativity is fragile. When you start having more hands in the process more voices tend to make themselves heard. It can be intimidating to present the idea or project you’ve been working on in front of people who don’t understand why you’ve done what you’ve done. As a creative lead, in those moments, you have to go to bat for your team. You have to be their biggest advocate in those situations. Even if you don’t agree 100% with what they did or how they did, they must know you are standing in their corner, otherwise they will walk in and out defeated.

Protect Individuals from Themselves – A creative individual is always their own worst critic. Ask a Hollywood video editor if they liked the award-winning film they worked on and they’ll be quick to point out everything they should have done differently. Sure, they’ll accept the accolades and praise, but there’s something within creatives that is never quite satisfied no matter how hard they try. Whatever they do is never “good enough.” As a creative lead, you have to protect individuals from themselves otherwise they will sap their creative imagination. There is a time for critiquing but there is also a time for stepping back and being satisfied with the effort you put forth. The leader’s job is to make sure that satisfaction outweighs the critical.

Don’t Protect the Team from the Team – The team knows. The team understands. The team “gets it.” Or at least they should. Therefore, the team should be the safest place to risk creativity. That doesn’t it’s an incubator for any and every idea. It actually means it is a safe place to fail. The team should not hold back in their critiques, suggestions, “what ifs,” and feedback. This is the only way the best ideas actually make it into execution. You have to be ruthless, not for the sake of being ruthless, but for the sake of producing the best idea as a team. As a creative lead, you have to encourage your team to not settle for the lesser idea without first poking, prodding, dismantling, blowing up, rebuilding and examining the alternatives. If you don’t, half-baked and partially-formulated ideas will continually be presented without going through a thorough vetting process to make sure they are the best they can be before the outside world tries to rip them apart.

I know there is so much more to learn as a creative lead, but as I sit in meetings, hear ideas presented, and present ideas of my own I am consistently reminded of how much we have to protect creativity. Because creativity is this unpredictable, elusive creature that has to be carefully nurtured from the beginning in the right environment so that it can defend itself against the outside world and withstand the critical thoughts of its creator.

Without the right team, the right dynamic, and the right boundaries, creativity will die on the cutting room floor with a mess of other ideas of what could have been.

You have to protect creativity… along with your creatives.

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Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of thinking about love. Maybe it’s the predisposition I have because of being born on Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s the amount of wedding’s I’ve been to this summer, or maybe it’s the relational roller coaster life had me on over the past few months—who knows.

But I remember sitting at the rehearsal dinner for one of my best friends and his dad got up to give the final words of advice and toast. After thoroughly embarrassing his son he switched gears and really spoke some wise words that you could tell had been learned over his many years of marriage. I don’t remember everything he said but there was one phrase that I held onto that I will never forget:

Love is a choice.

I had heard that statement before somewhere I’m sure. I probably believed it intellectually and understood it conceptually, but I don’t think it ever really landed in my heart the way it did that night. It could’ve been I was more primed to it because of the situations I had walked through in the previous months. It could have been he explained it in a very simple yet powerful way. I don’t think I can really put my finger on why it hit me the way it did, but it did—and it hit me hard.

Because I’m wired as a hopeless romantic it is really easy for me to get attached emotionally and get caught up in all of the overtly romantic gestures—holding hands while walking through a park a dusk, slipping notes where she will be surprised to find it, spontaneous date night decisions, etc. Not that any of these are a bad thing. All of those things are beautiful and are extremely important for any and every stage of a relationship, from dating to marriage, but if that is what your love is based on then it’s built on a lot of trivial and superficial actions.

While that sounds harsh, that’s the reality of life: it’s not always going to be spontaneous date nights and surprise flowers at work. When life happens those “feel good” emotions are the first things to evaporate, and if that’s what your relationship is built on, then your love is going to dry up really quickly and your relationship is going to suffer because of it.

That’s why choosing love is so vitally important. Choosing love goes beyond the butterflies you get when you receive an “I’m-Praying-for-You-this-Morning” text. Choosing to love says…

Regardless of what the budget allows, I’m choosing to pursue you with all I have.
Regardless of what you hold back from me, I’m choosing to fight for you.
Regardless of how far deep in depression you get, I’m choosing to build you up.
Regardless of how alienated you feel with your family, I’m choosing to make this a safe space.
Regardless of how much hurt you cause me, I’m choosing to reconcile and forgive.
Regardless of how much suffering we endure, I’m choosing to keep persevering.
Regardless of how little I can do to fix everything, I’m choosing to care in spite of my shortcomings.
Regardless of how many times I screw up, I’m choosing to humility in my weakness.
Regardless of how many bad days outweigh the good, I’m choosing joy.
Regardless of what parts of you you show me, I’m choosing to believe the best.
Regardless of what life might throw at us, I’m choosing to stand with you the whole time.
Regardless of circumstances we face, I’m choosing you.

That is what choosing love looks like. It’s more than just choosing the emotional high you get when someone else returns the feelings you have—which is great, don’t get me wrong. But love demands a choice. And in the moments where you are getting bashed up one side and down the other with temptation, frustration, negativity, or just plain “I just don’t like this person right now,” you have to make a conscious decision to choose love.

Because, in those moments, it’s not easy, but in those moments, is where you see real love.

I want to choose love.

…and I want someone to choose to love me.

I’ve been reading through Hebrews lately and there was one idea out of all of the chapters that jumped out at me this time around: faith.

While that’s not to hard to see why since there’s a whole chapter and more devoted to the topic, I got a glimpse of a new perspective and understanding this time around.

Hebrews 11 opens with the lines:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-3, MSG)

The metaphor of vision, seeing, and experiencing really grabbed me this time. I started to think about things we see and don’t see and how that affects our belief—whether in God or in every day circumstances. I turned over and over again in my mind the idea that faith is not just verbalizing belief, it’s more than that but it was hard to really put into words what was stirring.

Until this simple phrase hit me: faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Think about that for a second. Because belief is a conscious, but passive, understanding of something. You can believe in something that is not yet. I can believe that the earth is going to rotate and the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow to start my day. I can believe that I will one day be promoted to a higher position in my company. I can believe that I will marry a beautiful woman and love her all my days on this earth. But the reality is, none of these things are able to be seen at this time. I can believe they are true, but that’s not faith.

Faith is belief put in action.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Let me be clear: faith is not blind belief. Just because you act does not mean what you believe will come true—especially when it comes to Bible. The “I Can Think It; It Will Happen” mindset has no place in Christianity. Your faith is influenced by your belief. Therefore, what you are being fed (beliefs) will influence your actions (faith).

This is why it is critically important to line up your beliefs with what Scripture teaches, and it is why the author of Hebrews goes on to give examples of what faith looks like in Chapter 11. If you look at all the “By faith…” examples in the chapter, they are followed by action. It is not, “Abraham believed in God and tried to get clarity on what exactly God was trying to say.” It was, “By faith, Abraham did this, that and the other.” Faith caused action not further introspection.

Faith always leads to action otherwise it’s just a belief.

Belief is not bad. In fact, belief is the primary starting point of faith, but the purpose of belief is to lead you to action.

The scary part of faith is that we end up acting on things that haven’t come to pass yet. We don’t know how they will turn out. We don’t know what will happen. The fear of the “not yet” can paralyze our faith. Fortunately, we have a God who “already is.” He knows how everything is going to play out, turn out, and happen in every situation. So our belief in something that is not yet can be confirmed by a God who knows it already is. No longer do we have to fear what could be because we have a God who has already seen it. He stretches our beliefs causing us to act—from passive to action. Because faith proves belief.

So, instead of just believing the sun will come up tomorrow, faith sets an alarm that will wake me up so I can go to the gym and work out so I can see the sun come up. Faith works hard every day at my job to learn everything I can, be the best at what I am doing, and invest in those who work around me to make everyone better because I know that is what it takes to get better. Faith calls girls and asks them out on dates, filters what I allow in my mind, and risks relationships by putting myself out there because people are worth it.

Because faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

We are an over-connected generation. Everything we do is posted somewhere for someone else to see. We have to let everyone know where we ate, what we did, who we went with, and what we saw. Not any of this is inherently bad, but we end up getting addicted to tiny dopamine bursts every time our picture, status, or idea is “liked” on any of our connected platforms.

Because of this, it has created a culture that is keenly aware of what is going on in other people’s life and how we measure up. The old adage of “keeping up with the Jones’s” is no longer fueled by the white picket fence, fancy new car, or the TV of our neighbors next door. It is now fueled by the images that appear on our Instagram feeds, status updates that line our Facebook timeline, tweets that we swipe past constantly on Twitter, and pins that perfectly capture our dreams on a Pinterest board.

We have subconsciously began to compare our lives to the curated lives of those we call “friends.” Which has given rise to us always feeling like have to be part the “next big thing.” We look at all the fun things people do, the latest gadgets people buy, and the newest fashion lines and we don’t want to miss out on any of it.

So we begin to fill our plates with more and more. We sign up for more classes at school, take on more projects at work, max out another credit card, and add a new significant other into the mix. We keep adding until we feel like we have satisfied this hole in our soul.

Until life happens.

Maybe it’s a divorce. Maybe it’s a lost job. Maybe it’s death in the family. Maybe it’s a marriage. Maybe it’s a move. Maybe it’s a baby. Whatever it is, “it” happens. Something that we didn’t account for happens. The random unknown.

It’s during those moments we feel begin to feel the weight of everything we carry—our family, our job, our relationships, our faith, our future—all at once. It all seems overwhelming, because it is. We’ve built our lives like a house of cards and created a balancing act that only needs one unexpected circumstance to blow and cause it all to fall around us. We’ve meticulously crafted our life to turn out the way we envisioned that we forget to leave room for the unexpected.

In the wake of those moments, many of us have a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with ourselves, pull out the pen and paper, and begin to prioritize our lives. We rank what is most important in our lives based on what we think we should devote our time and energy to.

But that rarely solves any of our problems. In fact, it just makes us more keenly aware of how much we have going on that we continually juggle. Assigning an arbitrary ranking based on importance does nothing but focus us more and more that there is a problem we have.

There is too much vying for our attention; we must cut something. We must say “no.”

Unfortunately, “no” is not fun. It holds us accountable. It makes us disciplined. It makes us feel left out. It makes us want so badly.

But, if we want to break out of this toxic pace we have succumb to that sacrifices our emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical health on the altar of social comparison and micromanaged control, then we have to free up room on our plates for the things we cannot see coming. Because if we are constantly getting knocked down by the random unknown then we aren’t thriving; we’re surviving.

And you can only rebuild your house of cards so many times before you realize that surviving was not the way we were meant to live.

Unfortunately, it takes the random unknown to make me aware of that; I just hope I’m not salvaging the wrong “priorities” next time.

I recently downloaded Sleeping At Last‘s Yearbook album off Noisetrade. While I had vaguely heard of his music before this was the first album I downloaded and listened through, and, I have to say, I am a fan.

As with any album, I really put a value on the lyrics rather than just the music. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a catchy melody but as a writer I place a high value on artistically crafted words that communicate emotion and touch the heart. As I was listening to Yearbook, I was struck by many of the words that were being sung. But there was one song in particular that stuck in my head, 101010. The chorus seemed to be on repeat in my head and I found myself humming the words even when I wasn’t listening the song:

’cause grey is not a compromise –
It is the bridge between two sides.
The shores on which our stubborn land
And restless seas collide.
Grey is not just middle ground,
It is a truce that waits to be signed.
I would even argue that, from where we stand,
It most represents the color of God’s eyes.

These words really grabbed ahold of me. I did a little looking and stumbled upon a blog post written by Sleeping At Last about the origin of this song and what some of the meaning behind it. While the story is a beautiful one full of sobering truth and emotion, the beauty of art is that you can find yourself amidst the words in a way the writer could not have foreseen.

I was pondering the words and was drawn to the idea that much of what we believe is focused on a “this or that” a kind of rigid dualistic thinking. There is what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong. There is clear line in the sand that is drawn and, if people can’t see this clear line and don’t side with my perspective, they are obviously wrong. As the song subtly implies, the extremes are clearly defined: black and white.

I understand why we think this way: it’s easy. It’s easy for our brains to comprehend when there are only two choices. It makes things simpler to understand and easier to grasp. The “this or that” mentality makes sense. Sure, there are moments where it’s easy to draw the line, prove your point, or choose a side, but unfortunately life isn’t always that clearly cut or that simple. It’s more complex than that. The extremes of black and white are just that, extremes.

If you’ve ever studied Statistics, you are familiar with the idea of a bell curve. Of all the possible data points the outliers make up the extremes while the majority (+/- 96%) usually fall within two standard deviations of the middle. Your understanding of the outcome may exist in the outliers but your data may prove another conclusion. In those instances, does it make sense to still hold tightly onto your conclusions just because there was some evidence supporting your understanding? Or do the findings support the fact that you might need to take into consideration new data and information that may move what you believe more towards the middle?

Now, move this out of the realm of hypothetical, statistical theory and into real life for a minute.

What if your view on [fill in the blank with your favorite controversial issue] is leaning towards the outliers? Chances are you can identify those on the other end as well and you probably end up engaging in fights with them via your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed more often than not. But, what if we looked at our beliefs through the bell curve analogy and recognized that most of the disagreements are actually taking place on the outliers of these issues? That means the majority of people actually exists somewhere between the extremes—black and white—somewhere in the grey. Would that change the way we interact with people?

Better yet, should that change the way we interact with people?

I love the final two lines of 101010 because I think it is a beautiful picture of how we should look at God when he sees us. He sees all of us as we are: the good and the bad. He sees the incredible things we’ve done that overjoy His heart, and He sees the horrible things we’ve done to break his heart. He doesn’t blanket condemnation because of your choice right now, nor does He blindly offer grace because of what you haven’t done. He loves us wherever we are at on the continuum—black, white, or whatever shade of grey—and wants all of us to be drawn to Him.

What if we did the same? What if we stopped trying to sort people into camps, deconstructing the opposition’s argument, and focusing on the outliers? Because the reality is we are probably not going to change the way the extreme opposition thinks by lobbing logical, theological, or political grenades. What if, instead, we began to look at the world through the eyes of those caught in the middle of these minority wars and those who have to deal with the fallout? If we did, would that change the way we engaged with others? Would it change the way we love others? Would it change the way we see the world? Because, if you think about it, God doesn’t even see the way the world the way we do.

We like things to make sense and be simple—often at the expense of others. However, God does not need that simplicity because He already understands it all. And because His ways are more complex than our ways, I have to wonder if our black and whites are just shades of grey to Him.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but it’s always inevitable.

You graduate from high school and the majority of the people sitting around you will never speak to you again as you pursue the next step in accomplishing your dreams. You spend four years (or more) at college building relationships quickly only to see many of them move on once you’re handed a diploma. The ones you hang onto are the ones you consistently make a conscious effort to keep up with, otherwise friends just seem to fade away as the years go on. Then you start connecting with a new group of people: those entering the working world for the first time and beginning their careers—the young professionals. You start building friendships based on common experiences, similarities of lifestyles, and dreams of the future. But this stage also sees people moving on from it albeit at different points in time. People move across time or the country for new job opportunities, end up going back to school, or get married. And, before you know it, you’re looking starting the process again. It seems like a cycle that just keeps repeating itself over and over again throughout any stage of life—having babies, parenting children, getting promotions, raising grandchildren, reaching retirement, etc.

Make the investment. Enjoy the time you have. Move on.

Make the investment. Enjoy the time you have. Move on.

For someone who is introverted yet highly relational, this is an exhausting process for me. This is one reason I believe making new friends is such a difficult task for me. I have a hard time letting go of people because I’ve given so much of my time, my energy, and myself to the people I care about that it makes it difficult to move on. Although I don’t always show it well, I care deeply about the friendships I’ve made and the relationships I’ve built. Letting them go means letting part of myself go too.

You might have read that I’ve had a lot of really close friends get married recently, and I think this is where most of this “fear of moving on” is started. These guys I’ve been friends with anywhere from 3-15 years are walking into a season of life that I can no longer be part of because life changes when you’re a newlywed. You focus more time on growing your marriage and crafting a life the two of you will live together—and rightly so! Gone are the bachelor days where you can go to dinner spontaneously after work, make plans for weekend get aways just for the guys, or commiserate and console each other about the latest relationship problems. Who wants to spend time with a bunch of single people who are dealing with different issues and hurdles than a young married couple? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but when you move onto a different season of life it’s hard to stay connected to those who aren’t there yet.

So when someone moves on to a new season of life there are a mix of joy and pain. I’m ecstatic for the new adventures that lay ahead but I’m sad to see what we had change. I know change is the only thing you can bet on in life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I think there’s something in all of us that wants things to stay the same and never change, and I think there is a fear attached to moving on that wants us to stay there. We don’t want to lose what we had because it’s familiar. We don’t want to lose the way things were because we were comfortable. We don’t want to lose the people because we shared memories.

We’re afraid of the future because we’re afraid it will change the past. We’re afraid of letting people go because we’re afraid they won’t come back around. We’re afraid of moving because we’re afraid it will diminish what we experienced. I don’t know about you, but that’s what goes through my mind.

Maybe I’m just afraid that I won’t find what they’ve found.

Maybe I’m just afraid that I can’t follow where they’re going right now.

Maybe I’m just afraid of being left behind.

Maybe I’m just afraid of moving on without them.

Or maybe it’s just all of that wrapped up together into one complex emotional knot in my stomach that I just have to learn to deal with in my own way. Because the reality is change isn’t going to stop. We all have to learn how to deal with it in our own way because, whether we like it or not, the cycle will continue to repeat over and over again.

That doesn’t mean I’m throwing all my relationships to the wind because everyone is bound to move on. I’m just hoping the next time the cycle begins I’ll be more prepared and willing to accept the moving on.

I had the honor and privilege of being a groomsman in three weddings of my best friends over the past six weeks. For an introvert like me, it has taken a lot of emotional fortitude to run the wedding marathon over the past couple months, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The opportunity to stand beside three of the closest friends I’ve had across so many seasons of my life is an honor I will always cherish deeply.

But as someone who is naturally bent to analyze situations and people, I found myself more than once looking at each wedding asking the question, “What am I taking away from this?” For most people, this is the last thing on their mind. They’re there to celebrate, party, dance, and have fun (more on that in a minute), which is absolutely the point of a wedding. But, for some reason still unbeknownst to me, God wired me in a way that always takes a step back to look at the big picture and ask “What can I learn from this?” And as I reflected over these past couple months I learned so much from each couple from planning bachelor parties to rehearsal directions to photographer shot lists to proper wedding attire. But the more I thought about each event the more very specific things came to mind that left lasting impressions about their beautiful days.

1. Celebrate, Enjoy, and Dance (Alex and Lindsay Allison)

A wedding is supposed to be a joyful celebration of two people choosing to love each other for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the perfect day the Bride has dreamed of for years and years and years might not always turn out the way she dreamt it would. There are so many variables that take months of planning, and even when the day arrives there are things you can’t predict or control. Whether it be the weather, family feuds, or unexpected hiccups in the ceremony, there are a lot of things that have to happen for it all the be deemed a “success.” But, the reality is, once the formality of the ceremony is done, the “I Do”‘s are said, and the processional has ended, you better bet there will be celebrating going on. All the months of work have paid off and now it’s time to let loose and have fun… and maybe even dance.

Alex and Lindsay personified celebrate, enjoy, and dance, and it’s beautiful because it just fits their personalities so perfectly. You wouldn’t expect anything less from two individuals who have never met a stranger in their entire life. Their night was less about them and more about the party. That meant phenomenal food, a fantastic outdoor atmosphere, and a crowded dance floor. Even if you’re not one for dancing, there’s something about dragging people on to a dance floor to make a fool of themselves that just puts a smile on everyone’s face. And to see the Bride and Groom laughing and smiling as they were surrounded by people enjoying the evening was a picturesque moment of inviting others into a moment to share.

Thank you, Alex and Lindsay, for inviting me to celebrate, enjoy… and dance.

2. Jesus-Filled, not God-Centered (Kyle and Lindsay Wilson)

I have to begin with a disclaimer: all of the weddings I attended were very intentionally focused on Jesus. Each one had very specific yet unique elements that pointed to both the Bride and Groom’s faith and how important it is in their marriage moving forward. However, I knew Kyle and Lindsay the best (as a couple) and have personally seen how each put Jesus first in everything. Of course, when you do that on your own, it naturally spills out into your relationship. But one thing I saw differently in Kyle and Lindsay was that God was not the center of their relationship. Jesus filled their relationship. The difference is focus. When something is the center everything else revolves around it; when it’s filled everything can’t help but touch it. The reality is our relationship with Jesus is not supposed to be the center in which everything in our life spins around on an axis. It is supposed to be the substance that touches each and every area of our life so that no matter who you interact with some little bit of Jesus rubs off on them.

Kyle and Lindsay are a perfect example of how keeping a Jesus-filled relationship blossoms into a Jesus-filled marriage that touches everyone they come in contact with no matter the situation. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting them, you would see this. The way they both care about each other, the people they surround themselves with, and the way they love others so well is such a beautiful picture of what it looks like to have Jesus touch every area of your life.

Thank you, Kyle and Lindsay, for displaying a Jesus-filled relationship so well to me.

3. Honor Those Who Helped You Get There (Ryan and Morgan O’Dell)

A wedding is a culmination of sorts. You spend years of your life trying to figure out how to do relationships. From those awkward middle school crushes to the confusing college relationships, there are people who have walked alongside you during the good times and the bad. They have sat on the couch and ate tubs of ice cream, and they have congratulated you on working up the courage to ask her out. Others have listened for hours on the phone talk about the same subjects over and over again; while others have given tough love and advice that is sometime too hard to hear. Regardless, there are people who have walked alongside who have seen us grow, mature, make mistakes, get hurt, get back up, and move on. Without them, we end up staggering around wounded, hurt, and dejected. But when we cross the threshold and look towards the future with the person who compliments us, it is a shame not to look back and appreciate the people who invested in and loved us to that point.

Ryan and Morgan honored their friends and family so well. Both chose their siblings Maid of Honor and Best Man. The people who have known them the longest stood in a place of honor the whole day. They also chose friends that had been influential in their lives from across seasons. Some were friends from high school and others friends from college. Some had known them for over a decade, others less than four years. But, regardless of the amount of time, the honor they showed to their wedding party spoke louder than words because they chose people who made an impact on their life to stand with them in one of the most important moments in theirs.

Thank you, Ryan and Morgan, for honoring me and allowing me the privilege to stand with you.

I know there are a hundred more things I learned from each wedding, but these three things stuck out because they seemed to encapsulate each couple’s relationship and give a trajectory for their marriage to come. They were the three things I was inspired by and challenged to live up to as I continue my journey towards marriage.

So that one day, my wedding would somehow be as big of a celebration as Alex and Lindsay’s, my marriage as Jesus-filled as Kyle and Lindsay’s, and my platform used to honor those that helped get me there as much as Ryan and Morgan.

If I can follow the lead set by my friends who have gone before me and I do half as well as them, I think I’ll be doing alright.