Enjoy the Swim

GROWTH

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
(Henry Van Dyke)

EXCELLENCE

A friend of mine posted a quote a couple of weeks ago that I can’t seem to get out of my mind:

 “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves, that you forget, truly forget….how much you have always loved to swim.”
(Tyler Knott Gregson)

Once we have discovered how we are going to pursue God’s purpose for our lives, it’s easy to be so involved in the busy-ness and working hard to make our dream come true.

It’s sort of like planning a wedding.  There is so much to do, so much expected – both from yourself and others.  You get caught up in getting things done in minute detail.  And often what is supposed to be a fun process for a wonderful and intimate event winds up  being about treading the water and keeping your head above the waves.   For a moment you may lose sight of the fact that you chose to do this and that the future does not depend on the furiousness of the preparation.  Hopefully you slow down, readjust priorities, and get a fresh perspective.  And start to enjoy the swim again.

When we’re pursuing our purpose the flood gates open.  Everything is new and exciting and the opportunities seem limitless.   We love it.  Then as the hard work seems to get harder, or we choose to move in a particular direction and run into a roadblock, or have a major breakthrough that leads to brick wall… then we don’t love it so much anymore.  There are days when we push and push and push but have nothing to show for the effort.

So what do we do in all our human wisdom?  Tread the water. Press in harder.  Work our fingers to the bone.  Criticize ourselves for not living up to our expectations.  Start to blame someone/something else for bogging us down.  Get angry at God for not giving us what He promised.  And soon all we’re doing is protecting and defending ourselves.   We forget how much we “love to swim.”

Sure there are plenty of Bible verses that talk about fighting the good fight (swimming the good swim?) and being strong and pressing forward.  But there are also plenty that tell us to be still, and find our strength in quietness, and have peace and rest in God.

The trick is to know, when you are in over your head, whether to press in and fight or to pull back for a while.   Want to know my easy 3-step method for determining this?  I don’t have one.  I wish I did.   However, what I am in the process of learning is that when I become fixated on “the thing” that needs to get done and I think that accomplishing it is my only hope of realizing  my purpose… then I am off track.   I wish that I could recognize it before I’m actually drifting… but I probably never will.  And that’s okay.  Achieving perfection or arriving in splendor at my purpose is not what it’s all about.  It’s about making my way through the waves and the strong currents and enjoying the challenges of the swim before I reach the shore.  Come on in with me, the water’s fine!

PURPOSE

from luisagarciajr.com

from luisagarciajr.com

Competition or Just a Kick in the Pants

GROWTH

“The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.”
(Robert Cushing)

EXCELLENCE

  • When Person A was the only game in town they encouraged Person B to pursue their heart’s desire, knowing full well it was similar to their own.  When Person B’s version of the business started doing well, Person A cut off all contact.  That was even though A’s business was not diminished but was even promoted by B.  Person A felt distinctly threatened.
  • There is a writer who limits herself to writing small articles now and then.  The reason?  Too much competition.  She says when she walks into a library and sees how many books have been published it discourages her that she’ll probably never stand out.
  • K. doesn’t understand why their career never took off while watching enviously as other in the same field flourish.  K. has much more talent than others I know in their line of work, but I’ve never seen them try to move forward.  They keep waiting for people to come to them, and keeps growing in resentment as others hard work pays off.

I found myself similar circumstances recently.  One of my friends was talking about preparing a book for publication – something I’ve been talking about for a couple of years.  She asked for some direction and advice. As she talked excitedly about it I realized that I had been kind of slow – okay, okay, lazy – in my efforts in that area. I thought I had so far to go, but realized that I really was almost there.  As I spoke to her I was surprised at how much I actually did know about it and how close I was to being ready to take the next step. It would have been easy for me to feel threatened by her coming close into my territory.  I could have been discouraged that she was moving at a faster pace and could easily surpass me.  I could become resentful  that she is probably nearer our mutual goal than I am.  I could see her as competition that threatens my existence.

Instead I decided that I to take this as reinforcement and inspiration – a kick in the pants, if you will.  I invited her to the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association meetings and Writer’s Renewal.  I gave her ideas of what to do next and suggestions for her to research.  I want to encourage her as much as  possible to pursue her purpose and to equip her for it.  I also want to see it as healthy competition – not to be better than her, but to keep myself in top form as I pursue my purpose.  To make sure that I am doing and giving my best towards my own goals, but with the realization that I am not the only game in town but am willing to help others succeed – even to a higher level then me.  I want her to be successful.  I want me to be successful.  It can be mutual.  In fact it must be mutual.

PURPOSE

if you are true

A Story About Investment

GROWTH

… A man going off on an extended trip… called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left.   Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.

– Matthew 25:14-30 (The Message version)

What are your giftings, talents, abilities, aptitudes, flair, bents, capacities, skills, propensities, tendencies, inclinations, proclivities, likings, penchants, taste, preferences, partialities, loves, passions, fancies, dreams, desires, ideas, thoughts, concepts, positions, viewpoints… ?

I am going to lowball an estimate that you are able to identify about dozen of these for yourself.

Next question:  How is the return on God’s investment going on these?  Yep, God put these characteristics in you with the expectation that you are going to do something with them – ALL of them, from the largest and most important to the smallest and least significant.

I can hear a few questions out there –

“Wait a minute.  One of my partialities from that list is that I love a good cup of coffee.  How can I invest that for God?”  My friend, Denise, threw a coffee tasting party.  She invited a variety of friends and we spent the evening getting to know each other and increasing our knowledge and interest in coffee, and got great ideas for hosting a party.

photo from sermonguts@blogspot.com

photo from sermonguts@blogspot.com

“I type 92 words per minute…”  That could be a key to an employment opportunity that will open up more doors for you.

“Shopping at Nordstrom?”  I know someone who made a connection that resulted in a speaking engagement because she complimented a woman in the dressing room there.

Look at everything as an opportunity.  Take nothing for granted.  Look beyond yourself and find a way to touch a life.  Get creative. Be daring.  When you’re in the midst of your day and God brings this blog entry to your remembrance, take his challenge and do something right then and there.

Luke 16:11 indicates that it is only when you figure out how to work the small things that you’ll be given the big things to work on.

Zechariah 4:10 tells us not to despise small beginnings.

Luke 12:48  “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”

Start from where you are, with that seemingly insignificant thing, and figure out how to use it to touch others in even the smallest of ways.  Then watch as God takes you into the greater things you are looking to happen.

BE WISE – INVEST!

EXCELLENCE

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.  (Colin Powell)

PURPOSE

There are many wonderful things that will never be done if you do not do them.
(Charles D. Gill)

My “Aha” Moment from “Legally Blonde”

GROWTH

Elle Woods

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

In the movie comedy Legally Blonde, the character of Elle Woods was originally on the road to a career in fashion merchandising.  There was nothing wrong with her dream.  It’s what she wanted, it’s what she was good at, and she had the complete support of her fawning sorority sisters, jetsetter family, and old-money fiancé.  But when her fiancé, an aspiring lawyer heading to Harvard Law School, breaks up with her, Elle wants to win him back.  Much to everyone’s surprise, she is able to pass the Law School Admissions Test and is accepted at Harvard.  It is here her worldview is shaken.  She does not fit in with the culture and is considered a joke by people at every turn.  People think she is dumb, especially her ex-fiancé.

Rather than retreat, Elle takes the opinion on as a challenge and raises the bar (no pun intended) for herself.  Applying herself in her new culture, she discovers she actually understands and enjoys the law.  Applying her social skills from her old culture, she builds a support base of quirky friends around her. She begins a new journey. Eventually it is a combination of old and new skills and abilities that bring her success and a new life.  But not, of course, without the mandatory make-it-or-break-it moment along the way.  At one point Elle decides that it is more than she can handle.  She decides to give up, crying “No more trying to be something that I’m just… I’m just not.”   Her friend’s response:

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Those are brilliant words.  That was a personal “aha” moment for me.

We tend to think that our past, our present, and our future are at war with each other, and that the only way into the next one is to make a violent break with the previous one.  While there is certainly old luggage that we don’t want to carry with us that often takes ruthlessness to let go of, to totally thrash all we have ever known is usually a mistake.

When you are in the process of discovering your purpose in life, you take into account the passions you have, the talents God has given you, and the dreams you hold.  Those passions and talents and dreams didn’t just drop into your heart yesterday.  They have been building and interweaving your whole life.  Your experiences, both good and bad, have influenced them and helped direct their growth.  As you move towards your purpose, things begin to adjust.  One of your passions cools down.  You discover a different outlet for your talent.  You discover a hidden talent. The journey to your dream slows wa-a-a-y down or perhaps picks up what feels like too much speed.  This can be disconcerting, it can be hard.  It can cause you to question yourself.  It may feel like you’re trying to be something you are not.  But,

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Proverbs 25:2 tells us that God takes pleasure in concealing things and we have the privilege of discovering them.  And the verse that follows talks about the endless depth and width of our heart.

We need to recognize that there is so much more to and for us, and we need to go after it and find it.

  • Rather than look at your past as an enemy, why not use it as a resource?  Start looking through all the dirt and find the gold.
  • Rather than being in such a rush to leave the present to get into the future, why not make the most if it?  Start looking at everything you have going for you now and see what other possible applications there might be.
  • Rather than stubbornly holding onto what you insist your future must be, loosen your grip and expand your horizons.

You can be more than anybody thinks, expects, or wants you to be.  You can surprise everyone, including – just like Elle Woods did – yourself.

EXCELLENCE

“Excellence means when a man or woman asks of himself more than others do.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

PURPOSE

“There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission – a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”  (Sir Winston Churchill)

What I Learned from My Mistake (It’s Not What You Think)

GROWTH

I made a mistake this week that has stayed with me, but not for the reason you may think.

I was singing with a quartet at a public venue.  One of the songs we do is an a capella rendition of Oh Come Emmanuel which is quite beautiful and haunting.  In the middle I have a couple of solo soprano notes, the last of which is the note everyone else keys off of for the next part of the tune. I sang that second note wrong.  In the split second (which was to me an eternity of self-flagellation) my three colleagues took a beat and then recovered as only seasoned veterans are able. Very few in the audience realized what had happened.  I felt like crying – first for missing a note I had never missed before, and second for the complete grace that was shown me by my friends.  When our set was done I apologized to them and each was completely kind and forgiving.  Yes, I had made a mistake.  And we recovered together. That did two things for me.  One, it made me want to keep singing with them.  If they had degraded me, I would have had a hard time continuing with the group.  Two, when I started to keep hold of the humiliation I felt, I had to ask myself, “What would I say to someone else who made a mistake?”  I would also be kind and forgiving and encouraging – so I had to do that for myself. Since I was already thinking of the application for this in pursuing my life’s purpose,  a Sunday morning sermon on Making Mistakes  made my ears perk up.  The pastor used a variation on a certain phrase several times – about how when you create an atmosphere that fears making mistakes, you kill creativity and risk taking. I recalled several times when I was on the job and made mistakes that were somewhat more serious than a missed musical note and impacted more than just a few people.eraser

The times I was berated and the mistake was held over my head, I was terrified to try again.   When the mistake was acknowledged, discussed, and released, I would willingly try again, and sometimes even come up with a better way to approach it. To me there is an emphasis in my musical experience, the sermon, and my work experience.  That emphasis is on relationship.  When those in a relationship have a culture of forgiveness and acceptance and camaraderie, the mistake – even though it may be great – becomes easier to overcome and creates a connection, a bond if you will, as you work together to overcome it and prevent it from happening again.   And when you live and work in that kind of environment, it will rub off in how you treat yourself when you make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes – so expect them along the way as you pursue your purpose.  But do something for me:  If someone else makes one, be kind and gracious  and intentional in helping the person recover.  Change the atmosphere for someone.  When you do make one, ask yourself, “How would I respond to someone else who did this?”  Be kind and gracious and intentional in helping yourself recover.  Change the atmosphere you have created for yourself.

EXCELLENCE

“Don’t be afraid to take God-led risks, eliminating regrets. There is enough life in you to do all you desire… everything is gain, including the hard times.” (Jevon Bolden)

PURPOSE

make it happen

Can You Fake Courage?

GROWTH

An easy way to develop yourself is to read how other people develop themselves.  My friend over at the blog Neeserisms, always has thoughtful insights about her life’s journey.  A current entry is all about how to Encourage Yourself.  Click on the link to enjoy her wisdom.

EXCELLENCE

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Anais Nin

A client (let’s call him Sam*) and I had a really good discussion about courage.  If there is one thing I could bestow upon people who are pursuing their purpose, it would be COURAGE.  Merriam Webster defines it as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”   It goes beyond faith, it goes beyond belief, it goes beyond hope.  I completely agree with C.S. Lewis’ assessment:

 “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

There have been times when I have met the meaning of the word full on, refusing to back down and advancing forward in glory.  Other times I do not.  Other times I isolate myself or run away.  Sam felt the same way.  We agreed that we could both probably withstand most of the onslaughts if we gave it half a shot.  But we don’t.  Sometimes we feel too weary, but mostly we just become fearful.

Then Sam brought up something very interesting – those times when it looks like we are being courageous, when we convince ourselves and others we are being courageous – but it’s absolutely not true.   Sometimes what appears to be moving out into something new and adventurous, is really just a way of avoiding something we need to deal with.

I thought I knew a little bit about this.  A couple of years ago, people told me I was courageous when I left my job.  I wasn’t.  It was just the last of the options available. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving – it was necessary for my mental and physical health – but it wasn’t courage.

But Sam had a different twist to it.  Sam gave up on his business after years of hard work. It was a big dream for him – something he’d been building towards for years.  Things were going really well and they were about to expand to the next level, but within just days of making their planned expansion, one of his partners dropped out.  Sam was devastated.  He had other partners who still wanted to go forward, but Sam’s pride and ego were demolished.  He could shake neither the humiliation nor the fear of losing control again.  When he made a comeback, everybody thought it was so brave of him to start again, so courageous to try it a different way.   But he says now that wasn’t true.  He was actually running from that humiliation and fear – trying to distance himself from it, protecting himself from being hurt again and trying to prove to others he could do it without help.  He told me now he wishes he had had true courage – the resourcefulness to have picked up the broken pieces and forged ahead through the pride and ego, to blaze through the humiliation and fear.  He wishes he would have stayed the course and taken his business to where he really thought it could go.  But he had given up and used doing something different and easier as an excuse.  The result was that he lost a sense of himself along the way, forgotten what his passion was, lost a sense of his purpose, lost a big chunk of his dream.

Sam’s story challenged me.  I wonder how many people have convinced themselves they are being courageous by doing something different but it’s really just an excuse to give up.  I think it can be a super fine line that moves around with the circumstances.

I’d like to hear from you about what you think (or what you’ve experienced).  How do you make the hard call?  When can you tell that you’ve crossed it?

*Story used with permission.  Name has been changed.

PURPOSE

Stirring the Embers

 GROWTH

I have never come across a person who, on some level, did not sense that they have a purpose in life.  Whether as a roaring fire or as embers in ashes, everyone has a passion that burns inside them.

When someone tells me they do not have a purpose, I talk with them for a moment and it soon becomes evident that they do have a purpose, but they feel they are disqualified to pursue it.

The thing that I find helps the most is to get people to start talking about their purpose.  It is often pushed down and the act of simply stating it begins a release.  As I ask the simplest of questions about their passion (What is it?  How does it make you feel?  Where have you felt that before?), I can almost see it start to churn within them.  As they once again begin to feel a yearning, it’s easier to the deeper, more intensive questions about their sense of disqualification and move them into a resolution of them.

It’s fairly easy to encourage others along the way.  It’s a little harder when you need to stir yourself up.  That’s why I am big on urging two things:  networking (see March 9, 2012 entry) and journaling.   With networking you’ll find others also both thrive and struggle along the way and (hopefully) become more understanding of yourself.  When you journal, you’ll be able to look back and remember that there were times of great confidence and movement forward, and that hard times can be overcome.   And you’ll be reminded that you can burn bright.

EXCELLENCE

(picture from makesyouthink.com)

PURPOSE

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.
(Henry David Thoreau)

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