Newsletter 646 – Adjusting to Changing Circumstances

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.” SoMisfit 2on 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 perspectiQuotation 1ve. 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?

Newsletter 645 – Reimagining Your Mission

Blake M 1In 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.

Newsletter 643 – The Art of Building Greatness

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.

Lewis Howes 1A 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.

Newsletter 639 – New Year’s Attitudes

Quotation 7We 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.

Quotation 3When 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.

Newsletter 638 – Avoiding Holiday Death Spirals

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 aspiral 1nd 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.

Newsletter 634 – Wisdom from a 40-Year-Old Seminarian

Josh_Harris_4

The current issue of Leadership Journal (Fall, 2015) includes a short article by Josh Harris. Well-known as an author and megachurch pastor, Harris recently left his thriving ministry and went to seminary for the first time at age 40.

“I think Jesus still calls people, even pastors, to drop their nets and follow him,” Harris wrote. But why did he move his family across the continent to attend a trans denominational seminary focused on more than “merely churning out pastors.” His answers will not apply to every leader but they’re worth considering. The following words in italics are quotations from the Harris article.

  • It’s hard to evaluate and change while you’re leading. It’s hard to step back and ask questions when you’re supposed to be the guy with the answers. Can we be fresh and relevant when we’ve spent years in the same company, teaching role, retirement community, or church? We need to get outside of our bubbles, at least on occasion, to get our thinking and perspectives stretched.
  • I needed significant retooling and recalibration. Time to stop talking and to listen. Time to relearn how to abide with Jesus. Time to unlearn professional busyness…. a place to discover who you are apart from what you do. Pulling away is not available to everybody, but we can get some recharging from what we read and from the people we spend time with. My closest friends are younger than me, multicultural,  and some in professions different from mine.
  • Everything I’d learned about leadership and pastoral ministry had been in one context. While I’m grateful for many aspects of that, there are things that need to be evaluated and changed. Recently I (Gary) have realized that one way of thinking has shaped my views about leadership and building people. I devour what I can about setting goals, career planning, business leadership or getting through transitions. This can be valuable but most is very secular, focused on what we do ourselves, and ignoring how God leads when we let him show the way. The Bible affirms planning for the future. But this also can be addictive and completely deaf to divine guidance. In seminary I hope Josh Harris finds time to escape the academic busywork, getting opportunities to be still and to let God show the way.

I’ve learned a lot from students and from others who remind me to listen to Jesus. You too? Please comment.

Newsletter 633 – Practical Tactics for Working Simply

Work SimplyWork Simply is a great book title. It is short, understandable, easily remembered, and hinting at a solution to the busyness that rules so many of our lives. Author Carson Tate is sensitive to the needs and frustrations of her readers, self-revealing, and consistently practical. She summarizes the essence of her book: as “an array of tools and strategies related to every aspect of your life.”

The author avoids the hype and unproven generalizations of many self-help books. In addition to writing well, Tate serves as a consultant, coach, and executive trainer for various Fortune 500 companies. She is familiar with published research, including basic brain physiology, relating to driven, productivity-focused lifestyles. She points to Internet tools and shares other aids for helping overwhelmed people control their busy lives.

Often we “try popular productivity solutions and tools only to find ourselves falling further behind and more frustrated than ever. We end up spending more time managing our calendars and to-do lists than doing actual work.” This failure of time management and other programs is because their authors assume that all brains are the same and that one approach fits all. In contrast, Tate proposes an assessment device that helps people discover their individual productivity styles as Prioritizers, Planners, Arrangers or Visualizers. Some research shows that work and lifestyle management is most effective when we adapt the programs to the style that fits us best. I took the test and scored about equally in each of the categories so this didn’t help. But the book was useful in other ways.

For example, Tate describes how to tame your inbox, control your to-do list, and lead better meetings. Also:

  • Carefully determine and clear away whatever clouds your vision or holds you back. These hurdles include fuzziness about what you want to accomplish, distractions that sidetrack you, or uncontrolled beliefs about what you should be doing. Shoulds lead us to overcommit–then the quality and impact of work suffers.
  • At any time, decide what to work at by considering three issues: how much time do I need and have at present for an item in the to-do list, what resources are available, and what is my current energy level? Avoid the magnetic pull of email unless or until responding is a top priority.

Tate’s book can be overwhelming in spots but it’s worth checking out. How do you tame your busyness? Please comment.