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 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 629 – The Positive Side of What We Do

Last week’s newsletter (#628) left me unsettled even though I wrote it. Looking back, it seems that the tone was too negative, presenting only one side of the book-publishing story. That newsletter was stimulated by comments in a business magazine that correctly pointed out the small and disappointing payoffs for the time and energy invested by most authors. This extends beyond books and includes the writing of blogs, newsletters, magazine articles and contributions to professional journals. We noted the difficulties of producing writing that is clear, unique and interesting. The newsletter alluded to the challenge of getting one’s written work published, marketed and then purchased.

LISTSBut last week’s newsletter pushed me to re-evaluate my reasons for writing books at all, looking for the positives as well as what’s negative. From there I moved to doing something similar for my coaching and teaching. These were helpful exercises, building on a belief that periodically we all need to look critically at our work and calling. The negatives are easy to remember but a written list of the positives can be good to review whenever we are tired, discouraged, or tempted to quit.

Here’s a personal example. I continue writing because this:

  • Provides the most effective way for me to impact others and to fulfill my life mission,
  • Is an area of competence for me, a God-given ability, seemingly one of my spiritual gifts,
  • Is one of the best ways for me to keep learning and be able to make decisions,
  • Lets me be innovative and creative,
  • Is something that I feel compelled to do, like some of you who are artists, teachers, or mentors and know in your hearts what you need to be doing.

In contrast to these reasons for writing, my thinking about teaching and coaching is producing different lists. If your work involves counseling, ministry, running a business or leading an organization, your lists would be different. But each list can help you decide whether to stay the course, change direction or refine what you are doing.

There is much in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. But reflective re-evaluations can increase our effectiveness and sense of fulfillment as we rethink our motives, abilities, competencies and circumstances. The same applies to our clients. Without ignoring the negatives, what is good about what you do in your life or career? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 620 – Shaping Our Own Futures

icf survey 2This 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

One question asks respondents to identify the niches or specialties where we likicf survey 6e 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.

Newsletter 607 – When Life and Goal-setting are Disrupted

Last December I took an on-line seminar that promised to make this my best year ever. The main message was about setting goals for the year along with deadlines and plans for achieving success. There was not much new in the presentations but the information was solid and similar to what coaches, teachers, and counselors urge for others and Detours1try to implement in themselves. Perhaps not surprising, the seminar seemed to assume that each of us is in control of our own lives and careers. Overlooked was the fact that goal-setting can fly out the window when we encounter the crises, unexpected health issues, career disruptions, or other unpredictable detours and roadblocks that are the reality of our lives.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (April 7, 2015) reported research studies showing how physical health and mental well-being are both impacted by the ways we frame life crises and shattered dreams. In one study adults were asked to tell their life stories. Each was evaluated in terms of several themes that emerged and were described with somewhat confusing academic titles. The first of these we might prefer to call sense of control in which subjects felt able to influence and respond to life events. The next, connection means how much people are in contact and association with others. Third, positive perspectives refer to the degree to which we can take negative experiences and find positive sides to our new realities. People with these characteristics had lower levels of depression, higher levels of life satisfaction, and greater psychological and social well-being when compared with those who focused on self-pity, bitterness, and whatever was negative.

This reframing is central to what have been called personal narratives: the stories we tell ourselves and try to live out, especially when our life-plans and goal-setting are barricaded. In addition to the sense of control, connection, and positive perspectives, other research found that personal narratives help most when we:

  • Openly acknowledge what has happened.
  • Accept the new realities,
  • Reframe the ways in which we view life circumstances and events (sometime bad things can have positive outcomes,)
  • Resist dwelling on the negative,
  • Determine to change whatever is changeable, and
  • Believe and live out our new life stories.

Have you or your associates had experiences where this applies? Where does God fit into this analysis? Please comment.

Newsletter 599 – Making an Impact By the Life You Live

Be the Message 2If you want to know what another person really believes and values then look at his or her actions. There is nothing profound about that statement. It’s a variation of the old cliché that actions speak louder than words. I wondered if I’d get a similar message from Kerry and Chris Shook’s recent book Be the Message: Taking Your Life Beyond Words to a Life of Action. But the reviews nudged me to read this book, written by a pastoral couple who are tired of sermons and a Christianity that is mostly about talking.

This book is a personal reflection written from a Christian perspective but with practical ideas that extend far beyond churchgoers. Consider three examples:

  • Holy Disturbance sounds more theological than it is. This is something that “bothers you enough to make you consider moving out of your comfort zone to become part of the solution.” It’s an area so disturbing and persistent that we are compelled to act. We find this by looking at our life experiences, the people or events around us, and the injustices or areas of ignorance we see and want to change. Often a holy disturbance emerges when we take time to reflect and listen for God’s nudges or for the observations of friends. Sometimes we know what we need to be doing but resist because of fear or lethargy.
  • The Valley of the Overwhelmed. This involves trying to do more than we can handle, sometimes because we see no alternative. Many people have big dreams to change the world. Nothing wrong with that. But “you can’t change the world by stepping over the people closest to you.” What small steps can you take, starting in your own home or neighborhood? Sometimes those small steps make the most lasting difference.
  • Being the Message. That is the theme of the book. Sometimes doors of opportunity open that impact huge numbers of people. More often we impact the world through the lives we live, “being real and authentic, uniquely reflecting the message of Jesus to people who cross our paths every day.” We impact the world by who we are, how we respond in times of crises, react to the needs around us, or follow our areas of holy disturbance.

Is this too simple? Maybe. But there are times when we need to go back to the basics. Please share your experiences or comments.

Newsletter 595 – Where Did Jesus Go?

nativity set1I don’t know when or why I started collecting nativity sets. Apart from books, I’m not a collector of anything, but over the years I’ve acquired nativity sets from all over the world. Many reflect the ethnic and cultural diversities of the countries from which they have come. Some reflect the craftsmanship of the skilled or amateur creators of the pieces in my collection.

At first I would unpack my nativity sets every year and include them as a part of our Christmas decorations. But then the collection got a little too big and getting them all out took too much time. So every December I started pulling out a few at random, displaying these, and keeping the rest packed away. This year the nativity sets are all packed away. The Christmas decorations are in storage along with our furniture until we move into a new residence in a few weeks.

On this early Christmas morning when these words are being written, I’ve been thinking how often Jesus gets pushed out of our celebrations. We acknowledge that this is a time of year to commemorate his birth and give thanks. But like those nativity sets, he gets packed away behind the clutter and hyperactivity. We want to have Jesus at some place in our families, lives and careers but for various reasons he is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes people like me drive for success, obsess over meeting the expectations, ethics and often picky rules of our professions, but too often forget that we are followers of Jesus. Where do Jesus go?

My wife and I rarely send out Christmas letters but this year we did. What we mailed to a few friends applies equally to you who read these newsletters. Here is a part of what we wrote:

Most who read this note identify as followers of Jesus Christ. To you, we send our warmest best wishes for a Christ-honoring Christmas as we celebrate the Savior’s birth. To our friends who believe differently we wish you the peace that comes from Christ and are glad that you, too, can celebrate this joyful holiday that began as a Christian celebration. To all of you we send our greetings and good wishes for a happy new year. We are glad we can keep in touch like this.



Newsletter 589 – Find Your Mission

The first coach I ever had stressed the importance of having a mission statement for my life. He suggested that most mission states are too long, with language too flowery to be remembered, and without much value apart from framing and hanging on the wall. My coach believed that a mission statement should be clear and focused, with nothing longer than nine or ten words. He encouraged me to take my time and said that I’d know when I had it right. That’s what happened.

Fast Company 11-14 CoverAfter the previous two newsletters I was especially interested when Fast Company Magazine (November 2014) came out with a ten-page cover story titled “Find Your Mission: How to Succeed in Business and in Life.”

Almost in passing the FC article reminded us that working to find a mission is a luxury that most people don’t have. “Choosing a career build around meaning is not a choice available to billions of people who are desperately struggling just to make enough money to find shelter and food…. That is often the only mission that matters.” That is a sober reminder that we who have choices must take that freedom seriously and try to build our lives around our passions and around the unique gifts and opportunities that God has given.

Apparently business schools have focused on an approach that starts with outside, environmental issues like the market for one’s products, the competition, and the culture where we work. This outside-in emphasis largely shapes the business. But many schools and their younger students are recognizing that inside issues are even more important: issues like core beliefs, purpose and especially mission. When inner values are elevated and the mission is clear, employee commitment and engagement are higher; turnover is lower. This is an inside-out emphasis. Companies often are more successful when policies and promotions are measured constantly against adherence to the mission and clear values of the company and its employees. Of course we need both outside and inside approaches as we build companies, ministries and lives but the inner focus may be more significance.

In ten words or less, using concise language, what is the purpose of your work, church, business or life direction? This question is a tough one but worth considering. Do you agree? Please comment. Share your 10 word (or less) mission statement.

Newsletter 588 – Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Reflections

Rick Warren High-Key Shoot 9-13-07, By Scott TokarI was impressed with Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church when it was published in 1995. In contrast his Purpose Driven Life book bored me when it appeared later so I put it aside although it seemed like everyone I knew was reading it. Last week’s newsletter indicated that I finally had read and learned from the revised version, titled What on Earth am I Here For? What follows are random highlights that could be helpful for ourselves and our work with students, coaching clients or others.

  • Page 173 presents a key idea that challenges some of our long-held views of success: “Many Christians misinterpret Jesus’ promise of the ‘abundant life’ to mean good health, a comfortable lifestyle, constant happiness, full realization of their dreams,” plus, perhaps, professional acclaim, impressive resumes, influence, business success and affluence. Some believers assume that these often come through faith and prayer. That “self-absorbed perspective treats God as a genie who exists to serve us in the selfish pursuit of personal fulfillment [and success.] But life is not about you,” Warren writes. We exist for God’s purposes.
  • Those purposes include serving others as best we can and focusing on relationships. Warren writes that “relationships must have priority above everything else…. How you treated other people, not your wealth or accomplishments, is the most enduring impact you can leave on earth.” I, Gary, believe that my legacy will not be about the talks I’ve given or the publications that have been written. My legacy will be the lives I’ve touched—especially those who are impacting others.
  • Busyness is a great enemy of relationships. Thoreau wrote that people have lives of quiet desperation but today we more often live with aimless distraction, ”like gyroscopes, spinning around at a frantic pace, never going anywhere” (page 36). Sound familiar?
  • Two powerful traps especially prevent us from being fulfilled, content, or able to know our life purpose. First is the envy trap that comes from making comparisons that leave us feeling cheated, angry, jealous, discontented and doubting that God knows what’s best for us. Second trap is the people-pleasing addiction. Whatever the reasons, when we constantly try to please others, they set our agendas and we miss God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.

 There’s a lot here. Please comment—even if you don’t feel you have anything useful to share.

Newsletter 573 – On Purpose: Benefits of a Transcendent Mission

Last weekend I read a review and then read On Purpose, a new book by Victor Strecher, professor and director for innovation and socialON-PURPOSE-cover-1 entrepreneurship at University of Michigan School of Public Health. The book’s endorsers promised something more creative and innovative than Strecher delivered. Illustrated to look like a comic book, this short volume describes the death of the author’s 19 year-old daughter, gives a few details of his grief journey, and then shows the importance of having a purpose for living. On Purpose is a minimally-interesting story about a fictional college class that hears a lot of quotes from famous people and scientific research summaries about the major health benefits of having a “transcendent mission” life purpose.

In the footnotes, the book documents the cited research and supports evidence for the crucial importance of having a life purpose that goes beyond ourselves. This is a purpose characterized by empathy, compassion, openness, personal growth, supporting the needs of others, and creating or contributing to something larger than ourselves. It is far different from self-enhancing goals that strive for power, status, wealth, possessions, physical attractiveness, popularity, admiration, and prestige.

As we lose self-transcendent purpose we stagnate as a society, says Strecher. We numb ourselves in front of the TV set, eat too much, smoke, abuse prescription drugs. We ignore our environment. We listen to bad pop lyrics. We also die younger, are more likely to have strokes or heart attacks, and are 2.4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people who have a strong, transcendent purpose.

Dr. Strecher probably is a better researcher than story teller but his easy-to-read book may spread a message that most of us already know: Having a viable, active and other-centered purpose is more than a dream of life coaches or of companies with wordy mission statements that are framed, hung on the wall and ignored. You may like Strecher’s own mission statement: to encourage over one billion people to find their purpose and to teach all my students as if they were my own daughter.”

What’s your mission statement? How do these conclusions relate to your work? Please comment.