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 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 623 – Four Elements for Personal Change

Marshall Goldsmith has been described as the world’s leading executive coach. That sounds like the blurb on a book cover but for Goldsmith there’s evidence to back the claim. He has coached numerous leaders in major corporations worldwide; has been acclaimed as a top executive coach by Inc., Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and similar publications; and has written a number of best-selling books on the management of ourselves and others. I read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There when it first appeared and recently have been reading his latest book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.

Goldsmith describes four elements for change, especially personal change. He presents these elements to both his individual and corporate clients, asking core questions that need to be addressed. Pondering these questions for myself has been a useful exercise. You might think about these especially if you or your clients are going through transitions or personal changes. Look at your life, career, or organization, then ask:

  • What do I (or we) want to create? These are new goals and actions–both—that can lead to a better future. These can be fun to contemplate. (For me, creating includes completing a book that’s been in my computer half-finished for almost two years)
  • What do I (or we) want to preserve? These are things that serve us well and are worth keeping, sometimes with a little updating. (My list includes mentoring and walking with a few emerging leaders and high-potential, forward-looking people. Few things inspire or invigorate me as much or more)
  • What do I (or we) need to eliminate? Periodically things need to be let go, even if they are still productive and fulfilling. Eliminating is especially needed if we are planning to create or add anything new. Goldsmith wrote that unless he eliminated some of the busywork, he would never create something new. (I want to cut the time-consuming habit of reading other peoples’ blogs without putting time limits on myself)
  • What do I (or we) need to accept? That’s what can’t be changed or what do we know won’t change. (One personal example is my reluctance to accept unalterable changes in my long-established travel, speaking and teaching activities.)

Answering these questions can keep us from stagnation and can move us in better directions in the future. Do you agree? Please 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 www.CoachingSurvey2015.com.

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 613 – New Perspectives on Burnout

burnout 2Can anything fresh be said about burnout? That was my reaction when I saw the May/June, 2015 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine. The PT editor calls burnout “that mélange of weariness, depression and apathy, seasoned with a tincture of cynicism [that] has become as persuasive as the common cold.” Originally the term described physical and psychological breakdown that came to counselors and other care-givers who had become overly burdened with the crises and stresses of their clients. Now the term can apply to anyone, including pastors, business people, homemakers, students, performers,  and overworked, overwhelmed people in any field or profession. Sometimes these individuals cling to the “exalted, if never quite admitted” belief in themselves as admirable individuals who never give up, consistently perform superbly, or believe that they have a duty to help everyone who appears with a need.

The proposed remedies tend to be similar, focused on self-care and work-life balance. This means more times for rest, reduced workloads, better time management, and various relaxation and meditation practices. An entire industry of books, videos, and seminars has arisen to help burned-out people do more of some things (like sleep, exercise or time management) and less of others. According to the lead PT article, however, “workplace initiatives on individual self-care and work-life balance are not only doomed to fail, but may make us worse.” Even among believers in such activities “the empirical evidence shows they make no difference” largely because burn out is a reaction to uncontrollable circumstances. Treating the symptoms fails to address burnout’s causes.

What matters most is not how demanding a job is, or the level of responsibility. What matters more is how much personal control and competence one has in performing the work. Research supports the conclusion that when we are fulfilled in our work, committed and able to do it better, we are less likely to burn out.

These observations are not intended to squelch traditional self-care measures. One PT writer argues that self-care does help, especially “targeted micro self-care” that involves mini-practices like short prayers, frequent deep-breathing, and brief exercises.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus never burned out despite the demands of his work and calling? Of course he rested and hung out with friends. But he also had clear purpose, direction, and boundaries that let him stay focused and in control. Do you agree? How have you prevented or handled burnout? Please comment.

Newsletter 604 – When There’s Nothing to Say

MAN WALKING 1Obviously this image of somebody walking away is not a photo of me, but did anyone wonder if I’d walked away from this newsletter for the past few days? There was no crisis or decision to quit writing. I simply got swamped with other things and decided to let this go for a couple of weeks.

At the beginning I named this a newsletter, determined to give weekly updates on issues that were recent, fresh, and relevant to anyone who might read what I would write. Usually the material for these posts comes from the diversity of things that I read or from the interesting people with whom I interact. But sometimes other things get in the way of this goal, usually the result of one or two obstacles. Probably you encounter these as well.

First obstacle is too much material. This is the information overload problem of being inundated with magazines, newsletters, books, blogs, audio or printed newspapers and floods of media material that we want to read. Wall Street Journal (March 11) reported that three in four surveyed people felt overwhelmed much of the time because of too much information. These people feel they will never catch up despite using various methods for learning “faster and smarter,” including an underwater device that permits listening and swimming at the same time.

Second obstacle is not having anything to say or lacking the time to find something fresh. That was me last week. Why write a newsletter when I did not have any news to share? (What do columnists or pastors do when they have deadlines but nothing worthwhile to communicate?) Often this dearth comes because we stop reading or connecting with people. Take in nothing and there is nothing to give out. Without external input we dry up.

Of course we’re speechless at times because we encounter a disaster or seemingly impossible problem. More often we struggle with unrealistic expectations. It is difficult to apply the principle that no one person can know, learn, read, or develop expertise in every area that seems interesting. Harder is accepting the fact that God never calls one person to do everything or help everybody. We need to set realistic priorities, discern God’s calling and responsibilities for our lives, and sometimes walk away from things that we can leave for a time. Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 602 – Decluttering Your Life

clutter 8Over a year ago my wife and I started the process of downsizing, selling our house, and moving to a condominium. We knew this would be stressful but it’s almost over. One of the most difficult tasks was decluttering the house and getting rid of our accumulated stuff. (Does anyone agree with my daughter who says that books do not count as stuff? Sounds good to me!)

With this background I had a special interest in the theme of Leadership Journal (Winter, 2015): “Declutter: Straightening the mess of ministry.” The articles extend beyond ministry and apply to our cluttered lives, schedules and careers. Here are some highlights including a few observations of my own:

  • David Kinnaman cites research about our hyperlinked lives, distracting addictions to cell phones, and compulsions to keep up with everything that comes to our devices.
  • An article on the collapse of Mars Hill Church points to the values and behaviors of people who are driven to make an impact, change the world, grow bigger, become known, or develop impressive resumés. It is easy to forget God in all of this and buckle under the anxiety and overcrowded to-do lists.
  • Drawing on his new book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, Bill Hybels writes about making tough choices to strategically neglect things we aren’t called to do. Hybels states, “if you try to do everything and sustain unsafe levels of speed [or activity] long enough, something terrible is going to happen.” Hybels sits down regularly “with a calendar and a submitted spirit” to determine what he can and cannot or should not do. It’s the old idea of having “don’t-do” lists as well as “to-do” lists.
  • God does not call us to do everything. Decluttering your life of valued activities can be even harder than getting rid of stuff.
  • Of course there are things in life that you can’t dump. But be aware of your calling, passions, gifts and abilities. Try to focus on these. If you don’t know what these are, ask the people who know you best.
  • Schedule time to rest and rejuvenate with whatever brings you replenishment. Don’t pretend that your work or ministry is so important that you can’t pause periodically. Keep pushing and sometimes your body forces you to slow down or declutter.

 

I see myself in much of this. Do you relate? How do you declutter? Please comment.