About a year ago my wife and I moved into a “retirement community for active, residents 55 and older.” One of my thirthysomething friends came to help us get settled and made an interesting observation: “This is a nice place but call it what it is. You live in an old peoples’ home.” Soon we learned that the average age is 84, several residents are over 100, and people close to 55 are nowhere to be seen. We had considered our move carefully, wanted to downsize while we could do it ourselves, undoubtedly made the right decision, and have no desire to leave. But the move stimulated our thinking about adjusting to life events and experiences that come at every age and often aren’t what we expected. Here’s part of what we’re learning.
- Accept what comes to your life, even when you feel like a square peg in a round hole because you don’t fit. Acceptance does not always mean endless frustration or passive submission. We all know people with unanticipated health or career changes who may resist, but who rise to the occasion, accept reality, and mobilize themselves to adapt, thrive, and move on as best they can. God is not surprised at our circumstances. He creates at least some of them, and uses them for good.
- Develop an attitude of thankfulness. My wife and I are blessed. For example, many of our neighbors have disabilities that we don’t have. We can go places because we have a car. Others do not.
- Strongly resist complaining, self-pity, cynicism or bitterness. A lot of this starts in high school and college age years (or later), develops over time, and creates bitter old people that nobody likes.
- Don’t withdraw. Some residents here have different beliefs, values, and attitudes than we do. Many have a backwards-looking perspective. But everyone responds when we show friendliness and genuine interest. So let your light shine where you are. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted.
- Keep fresh. I read broadly. I hang out with younger people, especially students, who are optimistic and like thinking about the future. Respect others, even of they differ from you.
Do you remember Winnie the Pooh? “What time of life is this?” Pooh could have asked. It doesn’t have to be your favorite time. But even tough times can have positive aspects, especially for Christians. What would you add to the above suggestions?
In a previous blog I mentioned TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie who has been described as a visionary, exceptional businessman, philanthropist and outstanding entrepreneur. When it first appeared, his book Start Something That Matters impacted me with its message of inspiring others to turn their passions and dreams into reality. Following his talk at a leadership conference several years ago I saw him sitting on the floor outside the meeting room and I mustered the courage to flop down beside him for a brief conversation.
Blake retells his fascinating story in the January-February (2016) issue of Harvard Business Review. He writes about building a very profitable company but then losing the passion and excitement for what he had been doing. He became disillusioned. His days had become monotonous. “What had once been my reason for being now felt like a job,” he wrote. He felt lost because his company—and maybe his life—had become centered on the process of making things work rather than on it’s purpose. “The excitement and camaraderie of our start-up was beginning to be replaced by a hierarchical culture.” The focus was on what the company was doing and how, with fading interest in why it existed.
So Blake Myscokie took time off from work. He reflected a lot on his life, his gifts, his passions. He looked at his mission in life and began to refine it, “reimagine it,” thinking back to what he did best. He met regularly with a coach, with friends and with leaders that he admired. About that time Blake and his wife had their first child, with the life-realignment that parenthood brings.
This whole story invigorates and encourages me. At various times my career, relationships and productivity have slid to a slow-down. The passion and excitement has faded into a succession of pressures. Quitting has seemed like a good option and sometimes (with support from close friends) that’s what I’ve done. More often I’ve bounced back like Blake, probably like many of you who resonate with these words. My life purpose, my calling or mission, has not changed much. But it’s been refined and the way I live has been updated and rearranged. This is hard work. Blake says nothing about God but I believe the Holy Spirit gives us new direction, strength and ongoing transformation.
How do you get moving again when passion fades and life slows to a crawl? Please comment.
I rarely pay attention to American presidential campaigns because they continue non-stop and the candidates so often act like immature kindergarteners, with sweeping statements, nastiness, part-truths and mutual character assassinations. Sometimes entire groups of voters—like the elderly, Hispanics, or millennials–are described in simplistic and inaccurate ways. That includes evangelical voters. I rarely identify as an evangelical any more. My theology remains firmly evangelical: It has not changed. But it’s embarrassing to be grouped with people who share my beliefs about God but whose words, actions, and political views are so different from mine.
Last week a CNN reporter published his study of the evangelical sub-culture and identified seven groups, at least in the United States. If you identify as an evangelical in theology, do you fit among the following?
- The Old Guard. These people–James Dobson and John Hagee are examples–believe the US is and should remain a Christian nation. Many are highly involved with right wing conservative politics.
- Institutional Evangelicals like Rick Warren head megachurches, charities seminaries and evangelical organizations.
- Entrepreneurial Evangelicals (Jerry Fallwell Jr. or Kenneth Copeland) often have big ministries, television outreaches, and schools all built on good business models.
- “Arm’s Length” Evangelicals such as John Piper and Timothy Keller “talk more about Jesus than about politics.” They avoid political activism and focus more on “feeding the believers” and on charity.
- Millennial Evangelicals (Eric Teetsel, Jordan Sekulow and Jonnie Moore) grew up under the old guard and tend to be politically conservative, but they are less opposed to same-sex marriage or environmental regulations, and they are friends with people who don’t accept their views.
- Liberal Evangelicals are best represented by Jimmy Carter or Jim Wallis.
- Cultural Evangelicals say they are born again and accept evangelical theology but they rarely go to church. They are like nonreligious Jews who still identify as Jewish.
A recent report from the National Association of Evangelicals defines evangelicals as those who strongly believe that:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what we believe.
- It is very important for us personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
What is your reaction? How much does it matter? Please comment.
Every year, usually in February, I teach a course at Richmond Graduate University in Atlanta. Currently titled “Models of Relating Christianity and Counseling,” the course has two textbooks including Practicing Greatness published by Reggie McNeil back in 2006. The author is not a counselor and the book never mentions what we once called “the integration of psychology and theology.” Instead, McNeil writes that aspiring to greatness is an admirable goal, consistent with humility, and worthy for leaders in every “sector of society,” presumably including mental health professions. With a clear Christian emphasis, McNeil discusses the disciplines of self-awareness, self-management, self-development, mission, decision-making, belonging, and aloneness. My class is built on the assumption that who you are and who you become as a spiritual leader is more important than what you do to combine faith and practice.
A more contemporary book (which is not a textbook for the course I’m teaching) is The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, a “two-sport all-American athlete and former professional football player.” When a career-ending injury left Howes out of work and sleeping on his sister’s couch he knew that gridiron greatness was impossible. Eventually he rose above his disappointment and became an Olympic gold-mentalist and very successful businessman who received White House recognition as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30. This success was a result of hard work, determination, the development of specific habits, and a concentrated effort to learn from “masters of greatness,” including many whom Howes got to know personally.
For Christmas I gave copies of The School of Greatness to several friends who are facing career decisions. The author does not write from a Christian perspective but he gives a number of practical guidelines, some of which are well accepted but easily forgotten. Illustrated with captivating stories and personal discoveries, the chapters focus on issues such as creating a vision, turning adversity into advantage, cultivating a champion’s mindset, managing your body, practicing positive habits, and living a life of service.
This is a self-help book, “a real-world guide to living bigger, loving deeper, and leaving a legacy.” Self-help books are not all bad. This one is thought provoking, written by a successful young guy who has good insights for readers of any age: maybe including your clients, your parishioners, or even you. Please leave a comment.
Last week’s newsletter brought this thoughtful response from Sheryl Bullock who is a life coach: I am not particularly good at crossing cultural and age barriers to develop relationships with others. I would love to hear your stories about the people you mentioned…. What questions did you ask them initially? How did they respond? At what point did you know you had made a good connection with them? …There is a huge need for this information. People love stories and I think you still have many to tell!
Here are some observations that I’ve had to this point:
- Ask God to lead. Sometimes when I will go into a church service, fitness club or restaurant I ask God to open a conversation that might be of value. The previous post mentioned friendships arising from casual conversations with a grocery checker, a waiter, and a stranger at a conference book table. These contacts seemed to arise spontaneously. Did they? Be available and you will be connected.
- Cultivate the attitudes that characterize all good cross-cultural conversations: Be friendly, sensitive, willing to learn, respectful, authentic, not paternalistic (looking down on others), flexible. It’s amazing how people respond positively to attitudes like these.
- Resist your biases. (We all have them). If you disapprove of people who differ from you, this will be picked up quickly. That stifles connectivity.
- Express genuine interest in others. Ask open-ended questions. Then listen. Recently my wife and I moved into a condo community where we didn’t know anybody. Doors have opened with statements like “Hi, my name is Gary and we’re new here. Tell us about you.” Ask others about themselves and they usually respond. This works with visitors to your church, for example, with people you meet in the fitness club, or even with busboys who pick up your restaurant dishes.
- Respect boundaries by avoiding personal questions or asking about confidential information.
- Expect that some people won’t respond to your overtures. This may reflect shyness, discomfort with your friendliness, or cultural differences. What works where I live will need to be adapted elsewhere.
Previously I mentioned a good friend who is French. He jokes that his countrymen are like baguette bread: hard on the outside but very soft once you get past the crust. This takes time, patience, and sensitivity but the benefits are great. How have you connected across age and cultural gaps? Please comment.
In 1976 a book appeared that has sold more than any of the others I‘ve written. How to Be a People Helper was an introduction to counseling written mostly for church people, including pastors, when professional mental health services were less popular and accepted than they are today. The book still sells even though it’s way outdated. The publisher was not interested when I suggested an updated 40th anniversary edition but in many ways my focus has shifted from people helping to people building. This is a focus on walking with those who are going through transitions, decision-making and other life events that are less in need of counseling and better served by friends, encouragers, mentors and trained coaches.
There are few books or courses on people building but, for what it’s worth, here is some of what I’ve learned:
- If you want to make an impact as a people builder, open your eyes and ask God to show who you might influence. I have connected with many people in my neighborhood, community, church, and classes. One example is a brilliant graduate student who arrived as an undocumented immigrant and checked out our groceries in a supermarket when he was a teenager. Another is a biracial waiter with dreadlocks and a passion to succeed as a pop musician. He was our server in a local coffee shop. There’s also a native Parisian, pastor in Paris, author and specialist in multicultural marriages. We met informally at a conference. Today these are among my closest friends. We build one another.
- Show a genuine interest in the people you meet. Ask about their backgrounds. Listen to their stories. Expect to be surprised at what develops.
- Recognize that each of us has a personality and a place where we have been planted. For me, striking up conversations with strangers is easy. I live in an apartment building, still teach, and regularly go to a fitness club. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted. Focus on the people who surround you. Let God work through your circumstances and personality.
- Expect to make a difference. Legacies or resumés don’t interest me but I know what I want to leave after I’m gone: people whose lives and careers I’ve helped to build. Whatever our ages, we still have time to: Be a People Builder!
Please comment about your experiences as a people-builder or about people who spent time building you.
If you follow American football you may be aware of a new book and motion picture each titled Concussion. They tell the true story of a Nigerian physician named Bennet Omalu who came to the United States, earned several additional degrees and became a renowned specialist in forensic neuropathology. One day Dr. Omalu “picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he never intended…. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old…[football player], one of the greatest ever to play the game.” Prior to his death the football player had developed serious mental deterioration. Omalu discovered that this was caused by a brain disease resulting from “relentless blows to the head that could affect everyone playing the game.” The Concussion book and movie give a fascinating account about how others responded to this discovery and how the National Football League (NFL), “a multibillion-dollar colossus” tried to silence the doctor and discredit his work.
Why should you or I care? Here are two observations:
- Be cautious about discrediting research that we dislike. The NFL is a huge corporation that tried to silence Omalu and produce research to disprove his results. This research was suspect from the start because it was NFL funded. But this is not limited to a football league. American politicians do something similar when they discredit research that appears to undermine their political agendas. Don’t theologians do something similar? What about academicians, advertisers, or public speakers who select or create research to support their positions and condemn or ignore the rest? If you do research, do it well. If you site research, be fair and try to site competent sources.
- Be alert to the ways in which ideas, intellectual property and discoveries can be hijacked by others intent of gaining acclaim and money. Omalu’s discovery was claimed by others who took his ideas and built profitable organizations without acknowledging his contributions. When your dreams and accomplishments have been taken form you and used by others, it is difficult to trust again. Omalu struggled with this and withdrew, never expecting that the true story would be told. The book describes him as a man of courage. He also appears to be a man of integrity. That involves doing what is right regardless of whether anybody is watching.
Are these comments biased? Have I been unfair? Hopefully not! Even so, there’s value in pondering the stories of others and insuring that we’re not guilty of similar unethical actions. Please comment.
We all know this. The week around New Year’s Day is about reflecting on events of the year that is passing and thinking about the year that’s ahead. New years’ resolutions, goal setting, plans and expectations all come to our attention. They concern individuals, families and careers. Often they are a focus of companies, ministries, and organizations. These reflections and resolutions are not bad. They motivate us to action but there is research evidence that they rarely work very well to bring permanent change. Many involve trying to eliminate long-engrained habits that have lodged in the synapses and neural pathways of of our brains.
In case you are wondering, I rarely make resolutions. But I do spend time reflecting, setting goals for the year ahead, and initiating behavior changes that hopefully will stick. All of this is taken seriously but I plan the future lightly, aware that unforeseen circumstances can disrupt our best developed plans and recognizing that God alone knows what’s ahead.
During this past year, I’ve thought increasingly about the attitudes that influence so much of what we do. Most of us know people who seem super bitter, cynical, critical or engulfed in similar sour mindsets. These ways of thinking rarely accomplish anything. They can pull us into discouragement, perpetual anger, and sometimes hopelessness or despair. And they alienate everyone who hears the complaining.
When I was in graduate school a few of us spent a day with Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist to survived a Nazi prison camp. He watched fellow prisoners die because they had no hope. In contrast, those who survived had found meaning, despite their circumstances. (The quotation on the left comes from Frankl). Whatever comes in the new year will be met with some kind of attitude. Perhaps a positive perspective should be part of our new year’s plans and resolutions. That’s especially true for those of us who live with awareness of God’s ultimate control, care, and reason for hope
What do you think? Please comment.