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?
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.
Recently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.
That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:
- People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
- Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
- Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
- Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
- Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
- As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
- Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.
This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.
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.
This week I joined probably thousands of others in filling out a questionnaire as part of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Global Coaching Survey 2015. The survey is being distributed in 9 languages and you are invited to complete one of the questionnaires by going to www.CoachingSurvey2015.com.
One question asks respondents to identify the niches or specialties where we like to do most of our coaching. Have you noticed how you have fallen into some specialties, perhaps because of how others perceive you or how you identify yourself? For me, that’s helping others go through transitions, finding new life or career directions, adjusting to unanticipated change or making progress in reaching their God-given potential. I’ve been going through some of this personally right now so I appreciate the challenge of shaping the future and not being swept up by the expectations or perspectives of others. How, then, can we help ourselves and our clients shape their futures? Here are some suggestions. I know most of you will think of others.
- Look to evidence of God’s leading, through Scripture, prayer and other sources.
- Ask close friends or other respected counselors who know you, listen openly, challenge you, and help you think things through.
- Take time for reflection. For you that might involve solitude and journaling.
- Look at the options and be realistic, but also be optimistic.
- Look for the positives in your situation. They’re always there.
- Don’t dwell on negative influences or circumstances. These can pull you down.
- Make a habit of gratitude for what you have, including possibities.
- Be encouraging with yourself, your clients and others. This lifts everybody up.
- Rigidly resist bitterness and complaining. Remember that bitter old men and old women start out by being bitter younger people.
- Same with resisting cynicism. This can be humorous and self-righteous flaunting for a while but it never forms the basis of a healthy future.
- Honestly accept what you had that might be gone – your health, for example, hoped for opportunities or a trusted relationship.
- Take an honest look at what you have and what you can do. Build on this.
- Keep connected with encouragers who lift your spirits. For me that’s often younger, forward-looking people, including students.
- Always be gracious.
- Never stop learning. Be proactive in this.
- Now please take a couple of minutes to comment and tell us what you would add.
“Forward leaders rise to lead people to a better future. They are able to lead people further than they would have gone on their own.” With these words a pastor and denominational leader named Ronnie Floyd begins his recent book, Forward: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future leaders. The title caught my interest but to me the content was not especially engaging, fresh, innovative or practical. Probably written as a basic text designed for Christian readers, the book’s “marks of forward leadership” are worth pondering. Future-directed leaders:
- Base their lives and leadership on biblical principles and Spirit guidance. These keep us focused and less inclined to drift from our values and mission. Clearly Scripture is a foundation for forward looking Christian leaders but does this mean that non-believers are all at a disadvantage?
- Are cross-generational. Good leaders know that a prime focus on one’s own generation can be limiting—preventing us from impacting and learning from those who are older and younger.
- Think about the future, without getting blogged in tradition or inertia. Future leaders challenge people to go further than they would go otherwise. This sounds like good coaching. We might add that forward thinking leaders are aware of trends and contemporary changes that help us think futuristically.
- Are culturally sensitive. Surely this is more than respecting people who differ from us or going on occasional mission trips cocooned in groups of naïve Americans. Cultural leadership means taking time and effort to interact and build friendships with people of different cultures and subcultures, understanding their mores and views of leadership, recognizing that leadership needs to be culturally adapted. Notice Paul’s approaches in Acts 17.
- Are teachable. The most effective speakers get to know their audiences. This applies as well to effective leaders, including counselors, pastors and business people who want to relate to their followers or clients. We know that cultures, people and leadership are changing constantly. As a result, long-term leaders need to alter their leadership styles significantly. Surely teachability also includes at least some familiarity with key leadership books, seminars or articles.
- Are compassionate. They care. The people we lead will respond best when we show sensitivity and compassion as well as competence and confidence.
- Are driven by something more. This is some bigger goal or compelling mission that drives leaders forward. I wonder if everybody really has or needs this?
What do you think makes a forward-oriented leader? Please comment.
Professional counseling does not occupy any of my time thee days but that’s where I have most training, where I am licensed by the state, and the subject of much of my writing and teaching. Not surprising, then, Psychotherapy Networker (PT) magazine goes to the top of my reading pile whenever it arrives. The articles on therapy have surprising relevance both for mental health professionals and for non-counselors like many who read this newsletter. The March/April issue addresses an issue that we all could consider profitably: We are older as a discipline, profession or individual. But is there any evidence that we are better? Stated differently, “Do our old ways fit the new times?” The PT answer seems to be “not much.”
- First we need to remember that established methods that have worked for years are not necessarily bad just because they are old.
- At times we all succumb to fads that claim to be revolutionary breakthroughs. (Mindfulness and evidence-based practices are among the most recent.) Therapists aren’t the only ones “succumbing to the allure of novel procedures and fancy theories, particularly those that promise quick and dramatic cures” and changes. In time most fads fade and we rush to something new.
- Despite all our approaches, methods, theories, and training seminars, this conclusion emerges as “one of the most robust research findings in the psychological literature: all therapies…produce the same level of results, regardless of the particular insights they promulgate.”
- “We need to embrace what our research tells us: a professional relationship organized around empathy, genuineness, respect, openness, congruence, collaboration, and goal consensus helps people change.”
- Cultural awareness counts a lot. Mary Piper writes that the main area where “we’re failing right is taking into account the impact of the larger culture on all of us…. The kind of verbal, cognitive, come-and-sit-down-in-an-office [or talk on the telephone or Internet] approach is deeply unsuited to the poor and underserved populations that we’re ignoring.” Overall our work “remains largely a white, upper-middle-class phenomenon.” Often we fail to recognize and understand the growing elderly population or the young emerging generations where we’re not connecting.
- No one of us can connect with everybody but we must not forget that we work and lead in community.
This picture is not limited to mental health professionals. For all of us the question remains. We are getting older but are we getting better? Please comment.