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.
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.
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.
Are you in the midst of a holiday death spiral? This is a new concept for me, coming from a post last week by author Donald Miller. Perhaps Miller coined this term (and named it HDS). He defines this as a “deadly infestation of lies that hits us in the holidays where we start thinking calories don’t count and budgets don’t matter. The spiral usually has us thinking we can do anything we want during the holidays because we will correct it in the new year.” In January we castigate ourselves for this unwise thinking and face often-painful steps to undo the damage.
Spirals arise when some behavior or way of thinking gets bigger and bigger until it is out of control and potentially destructive. A little lie is covered with deceptions that keep getting larger until everything becomes public with devastating consequences. Addicts of all kinds start small and then keep adding more (more alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling) until stopping becomes extremely difficult. A little deviation from a diet or from a plan of action enlarges into deviations that are bigger until everything spins faster and leads to collapse. All of this is aided with mental rationalizations or excuses intended to justify our actions. Other people often encourage our spirals or become enablers who protect us from the consequences of our own out-of-control thinking. Even conspiracy theories or fantasies get bigger and bigger, fed by half-truths and selective perceptions. Of course these different examples don’t always lead to death but the consequences can be damaging nevertheless.
The first step in avoiding spirals is to recognize their power and to resist the temptations that lead to their growth. Goal-setting and determination to change can help protect or get us back on track. But the more we are into the spiral, the less we can stop ourselves. In part this is because our brains change as we spiral so stopping is tougher. A crucial help in avoiding or stopping spirals is the presence of other people like accountability partners who are available and who respect us enough to be tough when we waver. Prayer is a huge part of this, especially when we are supported by others.
So go back to HDS. What are you or your clients doing to experience a holiday season that will not be regretted later? What have I missed in this post? Please comment.
Several months ago a friend introduced me to a blog titled Farnam Street Brain Food: www.Farnamstreetblog.com. This is a weekly posting on diverse topics, many on leadership, education, psychology, books, and unusual Internet commentary all compiled and written by Shane Parrish who lives in Canada (Ottawa Ontario). In his most recent post he mentioned that Farnam Street takes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a month to sustain. It is widely read and free of cost, supported by readers who make donations in response to periodic low-key requests for donations. Probably there are many subscribers like me who don’t have the time (or take the time) to read everything but it is worth checking out. There is no Christian emphasis and you won’t agree with everything, but it’s a good way to sample the huge world of blog posts, many of which deal with topics or sources that most of us would not see otherwise. Here are examples:
The November 27, 2015 post listed mini-articles titled “Your Brain is Programmed to Reach False Conclusions,” “The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Art,” and “Ten Qualities of Creative Leaders.” The latter was taken from a well-known advertising executive named David Ogilvy. Sometimes described as “The Father of Advertising,” he never wrote a book although last year his friends and family published The Unpublished David Ogilvy, a collection of Ogilvy comments and lists compiled long after his death in 1999. People who knew him confirmed that Ogilvy personally lived out the succinct list of qualifications that he sought in the creative leaders he hired:
- High standards of personal ethics.
- Big people, without pettiness.
- Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
- Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
- A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
- Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
- A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
- The courage to make tough decisions.
- Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
- A sense of humor.
Be honest with yourself. Which of these do you have? Which do you want? How could you develop these? Please comment on the list or on the Farnam Street blog.
Jean-Christophe Bieselaar is one of my closest friends (shown here with his son Paul). Born, raised and currently living in Paris, Jean-Christophe is consulting pastor of one Parisian church, Parish Associate at The American Church in Paris, and a chaplain at five hospitals. We kept in contact during the night of the recent terrorist attacks and I was impressed (but not surprised) at how he responded as the events unfolded. The following principles are well known but sometimes forgotten when crises arise in our own environments.
- Try to remain calm. Jean-Christophe wrote that there was no chaos in the hospitals. The professional staff was “calm, focused and organized”. Calmness in caregivers tends to spread, especially to people who are afraid and agitated.
- Resist the urge to rush to the location of the crises. Have you heard about counselors, medical people, or church groups who rush to the places of tragedy, including trips overseas in times of national disasters? These people go with good intentions, but they don’t know what is needed and get in the way of local responders who understand the situation better.
- Be alert to the place where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe went to two churches where he normally serves. One is a young adult congregation. “They were all speechless and shocked. They had never faced anything like that. I encouraged them to turn their eyes from TV and their mobile devices. We read some Psalms particularly Ps 121 and I asked them to focus on John 14.1. Then we spent a long time praying. And the peace of God came upon us all like a healing water”. After this, my friend went to the E.R. at a hospital where he is known and works.
- Notice the recommendation to turn off media broadcasts. Watching endless media reruns or commentary can arouse, rather than reduce anxiety. In addition, media consumption can lead to fear-inspiring addiction. This stuff is fascinating to watch.
- Do what you do best in the setting where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe worked in the places and with the people where he is known. Few of us can do much in Paris right now, but what about the nervous people in our churches or workplaces? Do you have neighbors with friends or relatives in Paris? Could they benefit from your support, encouragement and prayers?
- Keep focused on the peace and hope that comes from God and on empowerment from the Holy Spirit.
What would you add? Please comment.
Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.
- Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
- “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
- Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
- When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.
The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? Please comment.
Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist, best known for her writings. I have profited from many of her books, especially The Middle of Everywhere that chronicles her work with immigrants adjusting to life in America, and Writing to Change the World with its practical implications for established and aspiring writers who want to impact others. With this background, I eagerly read Piper’s recent article in Psychotherapy Networker (July/August, 2015.)
Piper describes a September trip to the Oregon coast with her husband. As a one-time Oregon resident and husband of a native Oregonian, I relished Piper’s descriptions but I was especially interested in her perspectives as she approaches the end of her career. Now almost 70, she has no plans for the future. Instead she tries to be “present for my life every day.” Quoting two poets she writes, “I’ve been where I’m going…. I’ve got a tiny future and a great big past.” Piper concludes that being her age is “a place to rest in the September sun before the cold and darkness come.”
In these times when everybody seems to be rushing, there is value and great peace in resting by an ocean at sunset. But doesn’t it sound empty and hopeless, sitting around waiting for the cold and darkness to come, with no thought to the years ahead? How different from 90 year-old Jimmy Carter’s press conference last month announcing his brain cancer. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “I am completely at ease…. I’m ready for anything and looking forward to new adventure. It is in the hands of God whom I worship.”
These are age related stories, for what Pipher calls “the September afternoons of life,” but there are principles here that apply broadly—to ourselves and to the people we work with regardless of age. Ask yourself what you might have said had you been on the beach with Dr. Piper. Here’s my answer: “I applaud your desire to pause and take stock when you face choice points in life. You’re right, things may get more difficult, but think about new adventures that might be over that horizon. Set goals and make some plans that might fulfill you and impact others. Trust God to lead as you set sail into the next stage of life. Don’t ignore your future. It could be better than your past.”
Please comment. Tell us what you might have said on that beach.
It happens to all of us. We set goals, carefully plan a day, or set aside concentrated time to work. Then interruptions get in the way. Marshall Goldsmith calls these triggers in his new book that I mentioned last week (Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.) A “trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.” Often triggers come from the environment, from unexpected events and crises, or from the behaviors, comments and habits of other people. Triggers also come from within, taking the form of thoughts, anticipations, self-talk, rationalizations, or emotions such as fear. Triggers like these can be unwanted distractions that take us off course. But triggers also can be encouraging or positive, like a child who appears at the door with a big smile, taking us off course temporarily–unless the kid gets annoying. It’s then that “triggers stop behavioral change in the tracks.”
Goldsmith notes that many people are superior planners but inferior doers. Careful preparation and goal setting provide structure to help us follow through with our plans and changes in our behavior. But even well developed goal setting and planning is not enough to bring permanent change. This is because triggers interrupt our planning and focus. They succeed because we have no pre-planned structure to deal with them.
How, then, do we build a structure to reduce the distracting power of triggers? One solution is to realize that triggers are especially powerful when we are tired or depleted from other activities. That’s when we need extra motivation or self-control to resist. A more powerful solution is the habit of asking ourselves a series of questions at least daily or more often than that. Each question starts with the words “Did I do my best to….” (or maybe, “Am I doing my best to…”)
- Set clear goals?
- Make progress toward my goals?
- Find meaning?
- Be happy?
- Build positive relationships?
- To be fully engaged?
These questions keep us aware of what is “what’s going around us,” including the presence and power of triggers. It is then that we can deal with the triggers as they arise, responding “wisely and appropriately” before they distract us. Does this provide structure to deal with triggers?
I’m not so sure but I will know better after I try Goldsmith’s coaching-evidence approach. What do you think of all this? How do you deal with triggers? Please comment.