A Happy Ending

I started writing a novel when I was in the eleventh grade. It was about a teenage girl named Angie (The name came from the Rolling Stones ballad.) who falls for a twenty-something man with a drug addiction. She has a difficult home life and eagerly accepts his invitation to run away with him. She believes that with enough love she can cure him of his addiction. She soon learns that love is not enough, and that she cannot change him. She begins to seek a way out of her predicament.

That’s where I stopped writing. My interests went in other directions (probably a boy), and the notebook was stored away. Years later, while cleaning out the closet in my old bedroom I found the notebook among some others. I read a few pages and contemplated what I should do with it. I don’t know why, but I was afraid someone else would find it and read it. I don’t remember thinking it was terrible. It was more about keeping something so personal to myself, or not wanting to be judged. I decided to trash it.

I think about that story every so often. I regret throwing it away because it would be fun to read it again. In many ways it was my story. I never dated a drug addict, but I did run away with a guy, the year before I created Angie. The character shared my gloom and my idealism. Thinking back on it now, I realized that Angie learned something that I must have known but had not yet internalized. We cannot love another into being better, and that we can only change ourselves.

Its easy to see this in retrospect, after many years of relationships and self-examination. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I had to do a lot of work on myself to find acceptance and healing. I tried to find it through others for too many years. I am grateful for teachers, mentors, coaches and friends who have helped me along the way. Simply stated, I learned that acceptance and healing could only come from within me. I had to let go of guilt, anger and self-doubt and embrace the person that God created me to be.

I also had to forgive. I had to forgive my abusers and those whom I thought complicit in the abuse. I also had to forgive myself for being a victim and for all the failed attempts at trying to find what I needed in the wrong places. Victims of abuse always blame themselves, for being vulnerable and not fighting back, and for not telling. We must be able to forgive ourselves before we can truly forgive others and complete the healing process.

One of the reasons I am grateful to be a professional coach is the opportunity to help others accept and love themselves. Very few of my clients are victims of childhood abuse, but they have other issues — parents who were too harsh and too neglectful, unhealthy relationships, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome …. Through coaching, I can help them to discover the amazing person that they are within, the wisdom and passions that are too often buried underneath negative self-talk and lack of confidence.

Unfortunately, there are very few people in this world who live a charmed life. We all have family-of-origin issues. We all struggle at some time with upsetting relationships or self-doubt. The good news is that we do not have to stay in the gloom. We can make the personal choice to be different, to be happy.

What kind of life do you want for yourself? What barriers are keeping you from having that kind of life? What are you willing to invest to find healing and wholeness? The first step in having the life you want is to name that which holds you back and decide what you want to do with it. You have the power to overcome victimization, negative self-image and doubt. You can choose to be happy.

Contact me for a free consultation to find out if coaching is right for you.

To Be Let Go

Congregations and denominations talk a lot about mission. It is a broad term that can mean different things to different people. We also like to create mission statements that define our unique calling.

At its root, mission means to let go or to send. The Church has a mission. In the Great Commission (commission meaning to give authority to represent), Jesus directed his followers to go into all the world. Since its beginning, the Church has been a “sent” people.

What the Church has paid less attention to is the notion of being “let go.” What does it mean for a congregation to be let go? From what are they being let go, and for what?

In a recent interview with Faith & Leadership, Sister Maryanne Stevens talked about the turnaround at St. Mary’s College in Nebraska where she serves as President. She spoke about the importance of knowing your mission:

My philosophy of leadership is to focus on what’s core to your mission and make sure people are well-versed in that so they can choose whether to give their all or else, basically, to go away.

What a bold statement! Know your mission, get on board with it, or leave. It seems to be working for St. Mary’s and Sister Maryanne.

Unfortunately, most congregations are unable to be this bold. They create broadly focused mission statements with which everyone can agree. They explore mission possibilities, then choose those that make the most people happy or satisfy the squeaky wheels. Very few congregations define their core mission, proclaim it, and invite people to get on board or leave.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order states that the “Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life” (F-1.03). Sometimes taking the risk to be faithful means letting go of programs, policies, and people who hold a congregation hostage and prevent it from being who God calls it to be.

I recently worked with a congregation with a desire to do something different to reach out to their community and grow their congregation. As I listened to church members’ many hopes and frustrations, I realized that they would never discern their core mission because they were afraid to take risks. They were fearful of offending members or losing what they have.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. For a people who should be emboldened by faith, fear cripples many.

What would it mean for your congregation to risk losing its life to be faithful to Christ’s commission? Are our buildings, budget, and programs more important than our proclamation? Are we so worried about losing who we have that we cannot reach those who need to experience the love, mercy, and acceptance of God? Can we let go of whatever is preventing us from being sent?

A New Year, A New You?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. They are fine for people who believe in them, particularly if they have the perseverance to stay with them throughout the year. I prefer on-going self-awareness and evaluation that leads to improvement and habit-change throughout the year.

Still, approaching a new year does cause us to reflect on the past year, and think about things we would like to be different in the coming year. I offer here a few questions that may help you with this kind of self-reflection:

  • What happened in my life this past year that gave me the most energy or joy? How can I create more of these kinds of happenings in the coming year?
  • What in the past year has drained me of energy? How can I have less of these kinds of experiences in the next year?
  • What did I accomplish this past year that gave my life more meaning?
  • What do I want to do next year that will give my life more meaning?
  • What did I do this year to help someone else have a better life?
  • What would I like to do next year to make the world a better place?
  • Of what do I need to let go next year to create something new or be more focused on what I really want?
  • What can I do (or not do) each day/week/month to be more self-aware and more engaged in the kind of life I want for myself?
  • What wrongs do I need to forgive, or bridges do I need to build, to have better relationships in the coming year?
  • If I could accomplish only one thing next year, what would it be?

If coaching is one of the things you would like to consider doing for yourself, contact me for a free, no-obligation, no-pressure consultation.

Stressed Out?

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

Many of us can relate to these words from the Twenty One Pilots song Stressed Out. We don’t like stress. We try to avoid it, and when we feel it we try to get rid of it. We blame stress for keeping us from doing things that challenge us. We use it as an excuse when we don’t want to take on another project or activity. Stress has become a buzzword in our conversations:

  • I’m so stressed!
  • The stress is killing me!
  • Don’t stress me out!

Actually, stress is a natural part of who we are. It is simply a physiological change in our bodies when we experience fear, discomfort, or challenge. Stress can be bad for us, but it can also be good.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal talks about the benefits of stress. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion.” She adds,

The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

This seems contradictory to everything we have been taught about stress, and is therefore difficult to believe. However, the research supports her claim.

My own experience tells me that she is right.

I remember being afraid to speak in front of groups, and even more fearful of dealing with conflict situations. However, my career depended upon me doing these things on a regular basis. When I learned to think differently about the stress I experienced before any of these activities, I found that it gave me more energy and focus. The stress didn’t go away. Even after years of doing these things, I still feel stress. But instead of be avoiding it or trying to get rid of it, I try to embrace it.

How do you make this shift? According to McGonigal, its quite simple. You change your mindset about stress. “Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of stress-related problems and helps people thrive under high levels of stress.”

Dictionary.com list these synonyms for stress: significance, meaning, emphasis, consequence; weight, value, worth. When we feel stress, it is a sign that what is causing the stress has meaning for us, or else we would not be stressed about it. Studies also show that people who experience stress have a more meaningful life and a stronger sense of purpose.

If you avoid stress, you will never accomplish anything of significance.

Try shifting your thinking about stress with these five ideas:

  1. When you feel stress about something, ask yourself, “What is the significance of this for me?  or What is the value that it holds?
  2. Take a values assessment. You can find one here, or create your own. Knowing your core values will help you rethink why you experience stress.
  3. Put this message on your laptop or bathroom mirror, “A little stress can be a good thing.”
  4. When you have to do something that makes you stressed, embrace the stress as a positive energy to help you succeed.
  5. Find a coach to help you shift your thinking about the stressors in your life. A good coach will guide you through a process of changing your mindset about your fears, self-doubt, and barriers to success. Contact me for a free consultation to learn more.

We all get stress out. It is how we view that stress that can either help us or harm us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a Trust-Based Culture

One essential aspect to moving an organization forward is the establishment of trust. This may seem obvious, but too often change agents neglect to take the time to establish a foundation of trust before they try to make significant changes. This is true both for leaders within organizations and outside consultants and coaches contracted to assist with reorganization or transformation.

In a recent article at Inc.com, Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, discusses research that shows the significance of trust in the success of an organization. The article is directed to the business world, but also applies to faith communities and nonprofits. She suggests eight ways to build trust in an organization. Here I paraphrase Levin and add my thoughts on how faith communities can benefit from her recommendations. 

Recognize Excellence. Public and immediate recognition of a job well-done increases productivity and encourages others. Congregations and nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers. Often a small group of people do a majority of the work. How does your leadership publicly celebrate volunteer and staff contributions? Is it possible to have a time during worship to recognize what people have accomplished throughout the week? Note that a generalize “thank you” to everyone, or celebrating the mediocre may do more harm than good. It sets a tone that is not beneficial to the mission of the organization. 

Induce “Challenge Stress.” If people are not challenged, they will not step up. Attainable challenges are good for all organizations, including faith communities and nonprofits. I have worked with too many congregations that try to cater to the whims of the membership while expecting little to nothing from them. When I coach churches, I encourage them to challenge themselves with SMART goals that will move them into the future God has for them. Healthy congregations have healthy leaders that can create “challenge stress” – enough to stress to combat complacency, but not enough to overwhelm or discourage their flock. 

Empower employees [and volunteers] to choose their work patterns and habits. As Levin points out, staff would give up a raise for more autonomy and control of their work environment. Of course, we have certain boundaries and guidelines for what people do in the name of the church or organization, but we can be permission-giving within those limitations. Leaders who micromanage the mission dishearten and constrain their staff and volunteers. 

Give [people] a voice in their job design. Many congregations and nonprofits “assign” staff and volunteers to projects or committees that need warm bodies. Instead, encourage people to follow their passions to work on the areas of mission of which they are most excited to be a part. Spiritual gifts assessments are good tools for helping members discern their passions and areas of strength. 

Communicate often. Let me repeat this one. Communicate often. Every group that I have worked with has listed communication as a weakness in the organization. If Levin suggests that large corporations need daily communication with direct reports, what does this say to faith communities and nonprofits? If you want to engage people in your mission, keep it before them daily and be specific about expectations and opportunities. If you have a staff, practice direct and daily reporting, and encourage volunteers to report back regularly. Not only will this improve organizational functioning, sharing stories of mission activity will also encourage more people to get involved and financially support the organization.

Intentionally build relationships. This one should be a no-brainer for faith communities, which are in the business of relationship-building. All the major religions espouse having healthy, loving relationships with the divine and other people. For example, Christians are called to be friend to the friendless. Muslims are required to give alms to the poor. Judaism teaches that all humanity are one. Many congregations create small group ministries to encourage fellowship and mutual ministry. However, there are situations where the pastor feels isolated. The relationship between a pastor and member is unique, very different from member-to-member friendships. Pastors would do well to find friendships outside of their church, perhaps with other pastors or nonprofit leaders. Intentionality is the key.

Facilitate whole-person growth. I have known pastors and nonprofit leaders who never take their continuing education time. This is a big mistake. Continuing education and sabbaticals are opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually. When you give so much of yourself to serving others, it is easy to get burned out or complacent. Faith and nonprofit leaders are no different than anyone else. We need rest, renewal and intellectual stimulation. In my workbook for Presbyterian ruling elders, I advocate that volunteer leaders also take sabbaticals from leadership and intentionally attend to their spiritual growth. Whole-person growth is not just for leadership. Faith communities can contribute to a well-rounded, intentional personal development of all members. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 paraphrased)

How do our organizations provide whole-person growth to our members and staffs? 

Show vulnerability. As Levin indicates, the research shows that leader vulnerability increases trust and cooperation. Some faith leaders are afraid to be vulnerable with their members. They believe that they need to be an example of true faith and strength. Healthy leaders are able to show appropriate vulnerability and ask for help when they need it. Followers need to know that their leaders are human, that they are not only trustworthy, but trusting as well. This is also true for subordinate staff members. Team leaders who ask their team members for help and acknowledge that team members have knowledge and skills that they do not, establish a higher level of trust, respect and cooperation.

As Levin states, the bottom line is that trust-based culture is able to attract and retain high-quality workers and achieve greater results. A trust-based culture begins with leadership. Two questions for faith and nonprofit leaders to consider:

  1. How would you rate the level of trust in your organization?
  2. What steps do you want to take to strengthen the culture of trust?

 

Bouncy Church

Today’s congregations, no matter what denomination, size or theological bent, are experiencing change at a rapid pace. Many are bleeding members and money, while others are struggling with vision and relevance. They compete for people who still feel a call or need to be a part of a religious community. Thousands close their doors each year.

One characteristic that enables a congregation to thrive in this environment is the ability to bounce. Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and manage change in healthy ways. A resilient congregation has the capacity to adapt to changes or transform itself into a new way of being.

In their book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt discuss this ability to either adapt or transform. They suggest that adaptation means that a system can get through thresholds to get back to a desired place. Systems can also transform themselves into something completely different.

To be a bouncy church a congregation needs to be willing to go through the groan zone, the place of discomfort, chaos and confusion that leads to clarity and convergence. Trying to avoid this zone leads to floundering and apathy. Trying to go around it may lead to temporary gains, but not long-term success.

Resilient congregations make a conscious decision to adapt to the changing world around them, and some also choose to transform themselves to better minister to the surrounding communities and follow what they discern to be God’s will for them. Congregations that cannot bounce choose to either ignore what is happening around them, or make half-hearted adaptations for which they have no real commitment.

How do you know if your church can bounce?

Resilience requires diversity, modularity, communicational intelligence, openness to change, trust, innovation, imagination, accountability and humility. It also requires healthy leaders who are self-differentiated and visionary.

Transformation requires all of these plus financial, human and social capital, readiness and commitment to change, and realistic options for the future.

Your congregation may be resilient if …

  • You are poised to cross the threshold, including engaging the groan zone.
  • The majority are committed to change, and you are willing to lose the resisters.
  • You welcome diverse ideas, opinions and cultural perspectives.
  • You can let go of traditions and habits that are no longer relevant or useful.
  • There are strong and healthy relationships between leadership and membership.
  • You can handle the truth.
  • You sincerely want to go where God is leading.

A Coach’s Confession

“The only thing keeping you from getting what you want is yourself. The only thing keeping you from the joy you deserve is the disempowering story you keep telling yourself. But what if you decided right now to offer yourself a new core of belief? What if everything in your life, including the most painful and traumatic events, was happening for you, not to you? What if everything was designed for you to actually have a greater life and have more to give and more to enjoy?” – Tony Robbins

As a coach, I want to embrace comments like these. When I work with clients, I encourage them to reach for the life they want. This is not just something I do because it’s what coaches are supposed to do. I do it because I believe that it’s possible to have the life we want … to an extent.

My hesitancy comes from real life experience. I know that there are limitations in life, and that we cannot always control everything that happens. For example, people with cancer have very little control over the disease. They have choices about treatment options and how they choose to live with the disease, but they can’t wish it away.

Ask anyone with cancer what they want, and they will most likely tell you that they want to be cancer-free. Ask any parent of a child with cancer what they want, and they will tell you they want their child to be well. Unfortunately, we do not always get what we want.

My step-son has cancer. I want him to be completely healed. I want him to live to see his children grow up. When I read articles and books like the one from which this quote is taken (Tony Robbins), I find myself feeling cynical and sometimes angry because they seem to discount real life problems like my step-sons’. Nothing against Tony Robbins or others who encourage us to choose happiness. I agree with them in theory.

I have to remind myself that the article is not about things that happen to us. It is about our emotions and thought processes. My initial reaction to these statements come from the emotional part of my brain because this is a very emotional issue for me. It hurts that I cannot make it all better for my step-son or those who love him most. I cannot wish my son well.

However, I can choose how to deal with what I am feeling about his situation. I can choose to remain hopeful about his prognosis. I can choose to support cancer research. I can make a conscious decision to be joyfully present in the moments I have with him and his family.

Within any given situation, we have the power to choose how to respond. Although I do not agree with Robbins that any life events can happen “for” us, I do believe that we can make choices about how we want to be emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically in any given situation. We can choose to look for the positives and live into these. We can choose to make a situation work “for” us as much as possible. We can choose to live lives of gratitude, hope and grace.

What if you chose to have a greater life and have more to give and more to enjoy?