When Change is Inevitable: Stepping into the Unknown for Survival Sake

In my own recent transition, I experienced a tremendous weight of confusion accompanied by paralyzing feelings of stuckness. I knew the place and position I was in needed to change for my own emotional well-being and growth. I was not thriving or utilizing my gifts to the fullest in my current role. When I was able to break out of my limited landscape and gain a bird’s eye view through the help of outsiders, I could see clearly I was developmentally in a growth lock-down! I began to see how restless and stuck I had felt for years. Was I really wiling to admit this? If I stayed where I was, I most certainly would feel the ongoing discontent and likely would stunt any potential growth. If I took a courageous step of faith to explore the unknown, the possibilities were unlimited, risky and uncertain. Change seemed inevitable. Scary. And hard. Yet I was the only one who had the power to shape the trajectory of my future. 

It has been said, that a person, similar to a company or an organization, needs to shift focus periodically in order to achieve healthy growth for the long haul. When organizations reach a certain size, they must rethink their strategy for overall effectiveness. When the strategy changes a different skillset in a leader may be required in order to guide the company where it needs to go. This is basic organizational growth knowledge. Yet when it comes to the change that individuals must make, the way forward feels shaky. The recognition of change and the aftermath to come that will most likely affect a greater community outside of ourselves often causes great caution and avoidance. 

Change and growth is a natural part of all of creation. I find it fascinating to consider that all living things have an innate measure of adaptation. Without this ability to adapt no species would survive! Yet we are hard-wired to fight it as we find great comfort in the familiar. Here we feel a sense of protection. Moving from the known to the unknown is what our animal instinct fears most. 

Moving from the known to the unknown is what our animal instinct fears most. 

While I’m drawn into nature and perplexed by the mystery of natural instinct of all living things, no one has ever described me as animal lover. (I say I have my favorites - but too many scar stories to love them all!) Oblige my tangent to offer as an example. During graduate school, I applied to work at the catering department at a zoo. During our first day of orientation a group of about 30 of us all sat around a circle to discuss next steps. I was aware all of us mostly in late 20’s and 30’s were just needing a paycheck. The majority of the work would be service-oriented in the gift shops, restaurants or small vending carts. In reality we all just needed money but the common denominator was really the love of animals - all except maybe me! I quickly learned many had hopes that this would be their big chance to get their foot in the door of animal care. As an ice-breaker we started with going around and answering: “What is your favorite animal at the zoo?” The answers and the speed of which they responded fascinated me. Animals I had never even heard of were mentioned. These were clearly people who loved animals more than me. When it came to my turn, I blurted out, “My favorite animals are people!” Everyone laughed. I was in a league all my own. And yes it was humorous, but truly I couldn’t think of a single animal I was excited to work with more than the humans I would interact with in large catering events! I still got the job - but was probably watched a little more closely as "the animal hater” in the group.

So why am I talking about animals as we discuss change? I find it fascinating to consider the entire animal kingdom’s response to change being more functional as a means to thriving. And quite honestly my love for all God’s creatures grows even just a little greater when I go down this road!

All animals we see have natural habitat needs. “If an animal’s enclosure is too sunny or too wet or too empty, if its perch is too high or too exposed, if the ground is too sandy, if there are too few branches to make a nest, if there is not enough mud to wallow in – then the animal will not be at peace.” In this lack of peace adaptation and the need to make a change is the hardwiring that allows for survival amongst animals. Peace and safety are the ultimate goals and are sought after with primal instinct. Peace is sought after even if it requires extreme risk and change.

As seen in animals that are forced out of their familiar habitat into a new one in the wild, escaping or migrating animals usually hide in the very first place they find that gives them a sense of security. These are considered our basic mammalian needs. Different for humans than for animals, we are given the unique opportunity to self-actualize and consider, to think about and live out our purpose here on earth. We are given a choice to decide our future.

In this lack of peace adaptation is the hardwiring that allows for survival amongst animals.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The comparison of an adaptable animal to that of a human provides insight during periods of vocational shift.  As humans our particular “habit needs” are not simply finding a home and food. Although that may be a part of our safety. Our basic needs include physiological “habit needs” at the core. But they also include emotional care as demonstrated in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The most basic, at the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs of hunger and thirst, sickness, and fatigue.  We see firsthand when we are sick or in physical pain, our bodies require every ounce of attention to that particular part of our body and nearly nothing else matters in life at that point. When these needs are met we’re able to move into caring next about our safety.  

To expand the analogy further, Take a look at the example of animals in a zoo versus animals in the wild taken from the book, The Life of Pi .“One might argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second…In the literature can be found legions of examples of animals that could escape but did not, or did and returned.” We are reminded from this example that safety is what all species seek as a very basic need before moving up the metaphorical pyramid of life. 

However, safety for humans compared to that of animals must include safety on the more emotional level than that of a primal physical safety. (Although our physical safety is likewise a mandatory minimum.) We were created for intimacy to connect with people on a heart and soul level. Relational connection is our greatest emotional need as humans. This basic knowledge once again leads us to the hierarchy of needs: Yet when unmet we are faced with feelings of isolation and of worthlessness. Might a connection void be a greater risk for us to live with than that of physical safety? People can and do endure great suffering if they know they are not alone. 

In the book, Safe People, Dr’s Cloud and Townsend discuss our needs for emotionally safe people. They state that the second greatest theme of relationship after connection is separateness. “Separateness is the ability to maintain spiritual and emotional property lines, called boundaries between you and others. Separate people take responsibility for what is theirs – and they don’t take ownership for what is not theirs”. The opposite of separateness is enmeshment where a person can be swallowed up in the needs of the other or the organization. For those in enmeshed relationships, teams or organizations, individuality provokes a feeling of threat and differences are discouraged.  One must ask, “Are my no and my yes respected here with this person, this team or this organization? Am I shamed or made to feel guilty for the decisions I make, especially if they are different or threatening to the overall structure? Or am I empowered to think differently or act with a conviction of integrity even though it may cause unrest?”

Self-differentiation is defined as “a setting apart of oneself as distinct from others (such as one's family or classmates).” The medical definition includes: “differentiation of a structure or tissue due to factors existent in itself and essentially independent of other parts of the developing organism.” It’s in this space of self-differentiation that cause strain, and at times even unhealthy sabotage of growth in relationships. 

Self-differentiation as seen between a parent and a teenager, we know as a potential shakey developmental period. The natural developmental cycle of a human would imply that every person will grow and change and need to think on his/her own in order to develop into a healthy adult. Yet the internal struggle persists for the one in authority, whether a parent, a mentor or a supervisor. The message comes mixed, “we want you to grow, but we would rather have you to change in the direction back to the way you were before you differentiated (self-actualized) and became different! We were comfortable with you the way you were before. Ultimately, we were comfortable with who we were.”This same tension seen between parent and child may look similar to a relationship between a worker and an organization when the need for developmental growth space is required. The underlying message: You changing means I also have to change and I am uncomfortable with the presenting need to change in me.

 You changing means I also have to change and I am uncomfortable with the presenting need to change in me.

Vocational restlessness includes an awareness of potential “habitat change” and the repercussions for all involved. The discontent comes in many forms as we become aware of our own unique needs, for example: being valued in our daily contributions; given space to create and make decisions on our own; individualization in our work or close collaboration with others. Although these “habitat needs” may be slight, the difference in peace will be great! Like animals, our habitat, or our working environment requires a basic makeup unique to our needs in order for us to thrive. 

In this growth cycle, exists the tension of both passion and excitement of possibilities joined together with doubts and feelings of personal insecurities. Does my past disqualify me? Is it true that I am just trying to go my own way, or is this really for my good? Do I really have what it takes to make this step? Here we all require faith to step into the unknown. We are unsure if we have the courage it takes to break out of a habitat that does not allow for us to thrive. It is here that confusion and a sense of stuckness persists if nothing shifts. 

 Yet if we step out, the peace we are seeking may be actualized. If we stay, most likely it won’t. Our inner voice of restlessness sounds the cry of our interior calling that we must pay attention to. Parker Palmer says it well, “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original self-hood given me at birth by God”. Self-awareness alone is not enough. Many can not hear the voice of reason from within. A safe and supportive community of care supplements where the voices of insecurity compete.

What keeps us from taking the step required to find our deep peace, our unique habitat where we can thrive? The simple answer is that we, like animals, don’t want to leave a safe and familiar environment to move into one of unknown unless we are at risk. It is often the self-limiting insecurities which disempower us from making these changes. It is a risk to step into the unknown. But the risk has the potential to open a whole new environment not just to survive, but to thrive.

And while I’m still fascinated by humans more than animals, I find it remarkable to compare the great correlations all of creation shares in common.

Questions: What keeps you from taking the next step required to find a place where you can thrive? What change is on my horizon that I am struggling to make? What help do I need to process these changes? What can I envision the future on the other side of these changes to look like?

Resources: Merriam Webster online, Life of Pi, Parker Palmer, Safe People, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need

What do I do in the waiting?

waiting

What do I do in the Waiting

The questions of complex transitions

As we were wrapping up an initial consultation, a potential client recently asked me, “So, what do I do now while I wait?” We had spent the previous 45 minutes talking about the difficult transition they were in & the lack of fit for the husband while the wife was thriving. I gathered a sense of expansive understanding to the openness of both time and untapped energy that permeated his question. I was invited to an internal pause. While I could answer with a quick appeasement something like, “Wait with intentionality!” I felt a deep sense that his question came from a different place than a child fighting off boredom while waiting for a guest to arrive. This question was likely a daily, hourly, nagging, question in his mind. And not just a question related to time but something so much more compelling. I imagined underlying the simple question of “What should I do in the waiting?” resonated a sound like a base drum - a deeper, harder to answer question about core identity and purpose.

I sensed that without purposeful response, this unwelcome intrusion of a question would not easily go away. I couldn’t help but empathize with intense sadness. I felt this conversation ignite in me a painful visceral, not-all-that-distant memory and response. I felt the question in my gut. I resonated with the desperate longing to be useful. To be noticed for one’s unique skillset. The natural inborn desire to be invited to a table to share a unique point of view. To be asked to show up with a voice that is welcomed. To contribute the expression of creation that only my unique fingerprints could create.

I couldn’t help but feel that this question daily nagged my transition companion. And yet like any coach might do, I turned his question into an opportunity to dig deeper. “What do you think you should do in the waiting? And secondly…what does your wife think you should do?

It wasn’t meant to be a cop-out. Coaches are often asked questions back; often the ones the client doesn’t want to answer. And yet on the flip side many coaches go into a coaching or care profession waiting for the moment to be asked his/her opinion. If we’re honest we’d rather be consultants and give quick answers and we’d rather share ideas and solutions! Yet here I sat together with my fellow sojourner, in the complexity of his painful transition without a lot of answers and certainty of what to do next. Yet I could respond with a presence of familiarity and a knowing it won’t last forever to validate and feel alongside him the deep pain in the not knowing and in the waiting in between. 

And now here as I write, I suppose I wear the hat of a consultant, not as much a coach. I share my ideas a little more openly at first with just my computer…not sure where they’ll land or who will read them or relate. My story not that unlike his - consisted of that redundant and not-always-answered question “God, what do you want me to do in the waiting?” For almost 2 full years (if not longer), it was for me a daily gnawing at my core identity question especially when the calendar was empty and the phone didn’t ring. I felt alone - people don’t really like to talk about that in-between place of isolation and the reality of what it actually looks like to be waiting. And yet, in hindsight, I recognize I often did hear a response. I heard an invitation to new disciplines. Over the course of many months and years, despite long days of silence, these are a few of the disciplines I was invited to discover in my time of long waiting:

7 playlists I created in 2017-2019 coinciding with each of the 6 transition themes. Find them on iTunes & Spotify “The Way Between - Limitations”

7 playlists I created in 2017-2019 coinciding with each of the 6 transition themes. Find them on iTunes & Spotify “The Way Between - Limitations”

 1.    Praise – Praise turns my heart on. I hear the mandate of scripture: “In all things give thanks”. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Noticing the beauty in life, the good that I’ve been given, takes intentionality and discipline. And yet here my heart, like David’s in Psalms does not want to rejoice. I hear the voices of literary mentors say, “Thanks is what multiples joy and makes any life large”. I admit, it does not come natural for me. So I turn to those who’ve penned lyrics of pain and married them with the life-giving instruments of worship acknowledging a place of surrender. I listened, and listened some more to the hymns and to the modern day poets give their doubts and unmet longings to God in praise. Time after time as if this was my prescription - this posture of worship changed me. It calmed me like unlike anything else. It brought me to a place of holding open all that I could not control. It’s not all about me or my unmet longings. God is in the business of transforming my heart by giving me this grand pause. Can I see it as a gift and give it back to him in worship? He held me in it and he performed healing in places of my heart that really needed some deep surgery.

“Thanks is what multiples joy and makes any life large”-Ann Voskamp

2.    Play – I learned to embrace, like my children, the present. My propensity being a forward-facing and actively moving thought life, the future is where my mind and body naturally want to go. The present can often feel stifling & uncomfortable to me. Yet I recall my word for that year - excitable! Not a word anyone has ever used to describe me!! Yet when I think about a person who is excitable, I conjure up positive thoughts of people that I love being around! In hindsight, I recognize I was being invited into a practice of mindfulness. A call to notice and to enjoy the every moment. A call to attend to my inner child and just enjoy what or who was in front of me. This invitation was for me was a summoning to play! Turn life into a joyful game. Play encouraged me to stop to embrace the joy of just being and not focus on doing anything or becoming anything. Whether through an Uno game with my 5 year-old or a more adult game of strategy, drawing, wrestling, or just responding to enter a pool with a cannonball instead of a careful wade. I was (and am) continually implored to enjoy my life in the moment even with all its pain and uncertainty.

3.    Explore – be curious and remain open. As I began to write I just brain-dumped my thoughts on paper day after day. I wasn’t strict about it. And I didn’t intend for it to go anywhere. And yet as I kept writing I felt like my words gained some momentum. Maybe not worth sharing with others. But maybe. I surrounded myself with my spiritual and literary mentors; those who spoke eloquently and articulately with words on paper and poets of music like I mentioned before.

When I got stuck I would read. I read what inspired me to think differently, grander thoughts. I read people who played with words in a way I had not been comfortable doing. I explored new ways of adding color to thoughts that I felt only others knew how to do. In this I stumbled and I stuttered and it was clunky. But I persisted and I gained new life every time I did. I explored new creation through exercise and movement and I explored new ways of thinking. I took what I already knew and I expanded on that pushed boundaries of my imagination in a way that I had felt stifled in in the past. What was provoked in me was the designer side of me that had been dormant. In that creative, playful, exploratory space came the creation of what is now my primary work - The Art of Transition.

The period of waiting in transition has been such a long long season for me. I often felt like I did as a child in the endless snowy climate of Minnesota – will summer ever come? And like a bear moving out of hibernation, I’m ecstatic to see that spring is here for me and summer on the horizon! And for those in the waiting of in between: Though the winter is long, I believe your season will come.

—to be continued

 “If all I know of harvest is that it’s worth my patience. Then if you’re not done working, God I’m not done waiting”

 “Seasons” by Hillsong Worship

Listen:

Like the frost on a rose 

Winter comes for us all

Oh how nature acquaints us 

With the nature of patience

Like a seed in the snow

I’ve been buried to grow

For your promise is loyal

From seed to sequoia

I know | Though the winter is long even richer | The harvest it brings | Though my waiting prolongs even greater | Your promise for me like a seed | I believe that my season will come

————————

Lord I think of Your love

Like the low winter sun

As I gaze I am blinded 

In the light of Your brightness

Like a fire to the snow

I’m renewed in Your warmth

Melt the ice of this wild soul

Till the barren is beautiful

I know | Though the winter is long even richer | The harvest it brings | Though my waiting prolongs even greater | Your promise for me like a seed | I believe that my season will come

———

I can see the promise | I can see the future | You’re the God of seasons | I’m just in the winter | If all I know of harvest | Is that it’s worth my patience | Then if You’re not done working | God I’m not done waiting | You can see my promise | Even in the winter | Cause you’re the God of greatness | Even in a manger | All I know of seasons | Is that you take your time | You could have saved us in a second | Instead you sent a child

The barren is beautiful

The barren is beautiful

Though the winter is long even richer

The harvest it brings

Though my waiting prolongs even greater

Your promise for me like a seed

I believe that my season will come

And when I finally see my tree

Still I believe there’s a season to come

Like a seed You were sown

For the sake of us all

From Bethlehem’s soil

Grew Calvary’s sequoia

The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition - Clarity exercise Part 2

See The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Questions to ask - Part 1

When it comes to a vocational or career change, the possibilities appear unlimited. Our minds may take on a fight, flight or likely a freeze effect. The frontal lobe in our brain, acts like an overheated engine. It can’t take the myriad of options, so it begins to shut down…anxiety sets in. If we are able to employ a trusted friend or set of tools to gain perspective the ugly monster of overwhelm becomes a much more manageable companion.

We left off in the previous post (the overwhelm of decision-making part 1) with “together let’s approach the blocks that feel like an elephant and make them an eye - seeing them as an opportunity to explore, discover and create something new & life-giving! We can’t tackle the whole elephant right now, What feels most pressing? Although the options may still take on 100 different variations, the primary decision can be broken down into just a handful of categories or even just one. How does one get from overwhelm to decision? What decision appears most pressing?

Now before we go any further, there exists an assumption that a well-thought through discernment process of gaining information about one’s options, talking to trusted individuals and mentors and a concerted amount of prayer, has gone into the process up to this point. Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

Transition takes place over the course of many small decisions, month after month. Getting to this point in making a major life decision primarily consists of listening to one’s heart and attending to the desires and longings of the soul that have existed for many months if not years. This point in time is often just a finalizing piece to a greater series of decisions. This is not to minimize the importance and the complexity. But rather to validate that your gut, your spouse, your friends, and God have all been speaking to you up to this point.

Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

In this post exists an exercise, a tool called the decision-making grid, to utilize in times of complicated or overwhelming decision-making. It’s quite simple and chances are you’re already familiar with it. A few years ago when faced with a series of decisions that seemed fit with equal pros and cons, I asked my friend and coach for some perspective. When she suggested using a decision-making grid I couldn’t conceptualize how it was different than making a list of pros and cons - my typical style! She briefly walked me through it over the phone. The simplicity almost seemed elementary. Yet it worked! Maybe like myself, you never thought to utilize it in major life decision. Here’s how it works.

The simplifying of options and narrowing down of questions, brings greater clarity than remaining in a place of swimming in the ocean of unlimited possibilities. In my opinion the process of discerning a major career move, organization or vocational path includes focusing first on personal fit (often referred to as calling). When we approach personal fit through the lense of these limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities.

Here we are talking primarily about decisions around personal fit and calling:

The 7 categories to consider personal fit/calling: (from the previous post The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. Potentially staying in an environment, limits the opportunity for growth.

2.     Keep the work; reallocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to better match their passion. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact.

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there is another set of possibilities. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used.

4.     Turn an avocation into a new career - many look towards their voluntary service opportunities as what they would ultimately like to do for life-giving work. For example, during a transition season in my life I went to a local hospital and asked if I could volunteer doing play therapy in the children’s ward. Amazing to me now, is the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing!

5.     Take on a parallel career For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, peer-mentoring, or influence.

6.     Get more training - maybe the way forward for you requires a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. This option affords one more discernment time as he/she researches a specific field.

7.     Keep on doing the same thing - After a season of discernment and searching, you may have learned that what you have now is really a great fit and at this point nothing needs to change but something internally. Possibly it required an internal shift of gratitude or perspective to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults. Answering, these are the ones I’m willing to live with!

I often recommend a sabbatical for a time of rest before major life decision-making. (See: “Overcoming the Top 3 Objections for taking a Sabbatical”) The need to clear one’s mind and gain perspective is invaluable in clarity gaining regardless of what decision may need to be made.

Where does one start in sorting through these 7 options and creating any semblance of a plan? Might I suggest as my mentor did, to utilize a decision-making grid?

When a decision-making grid is utilized, it allows one to see the options on paper and begin to compare them one against another not one to one million! Which is how it can often feel in your head. This process can help begin to make concrete the seemingly unlimited possibilities that can tend to have a swirling and overwhelming life of their own. 

Here’s how a decision-making grid works:

1.  Form the main question. Start by forming a question that you will use to evaluate all of the possibilities. Ask a question like: Which of these 7 options currently resonates most with me? If you are unable to get past this point, employ a friend or coach to help you form the question.    

2. Make a table to represent your top 4-5 choices for your futures (a 5x5 table for example). An equal number of horizontal and vertical boxes will be used. It isn’t necessary to compare all 7 options as not all of them may be possibilities. Limiting the options is the goal at this point, not expanding.

3. Assign a number and short identifier such as an abbreviated description of your top choices in the top row and far left column. The list will be the same on both the left row and top column. So for example if you’re utilizing the list from above, you would consider #’s 1-7. If they are all options than they all go on the horizontal and vertical lines.

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

4. Put X’s on the numbers that coincide such as 3 vs 3 as you won’t be comparing the same number against itself.

5. Go through each row. When you compare number 1 to number 2, ask the question that you have chosen:   “Which option more accurately aligns with my current longings? Or – Which option do I believe best allows for utilization of my personality & strengths?  Or “Given our current family needs, which possibility is the best future fit?”

Note: You’ve already done the hard work…Don’t over-analyze. Go with your gut at this point. 

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 6.51.32 PM.png

6. Write the number chosen between the two options in the box. You will be comparing the same things twice, for example 2 vs. 4 and 4 vs. 2 it’s okay to change your mind or have a split. Often this double comparison produces double confirmation. But do not be alarmed if it does not!

7.  After you’ve gone through the whole table, count up how many of each number you have: 1 - __, 2 - __, 3-__, 4-__, 5-__, 6-__

8. You should have a number with a higher total than the others.

9. At the end of this exercise, consider how the option with the top number of points sounds to you?

10. If all ends in a tie, consult a friend or sleep on it. Try on the different options wherever you land. If you’re truly at a place of being able to live into your decision, imaging your life in that change will provide you with new ideas for the future.

11. When all is done, run this decision by the same people that have helped you get to this point. Something like: Given what you know about where I’m at, does this sound like a good option for my future?  Is there something else that I’m not considering? Surprisingly to many who are in transition is that those closest to the decision-maker already had a pretty good idea and are NOT surprised with a big decision. Call it intuition or a good friend. I would also call it the gift of being outside a cluttered decision-making mind.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

On a smaller scale our family recently used this method to decide on the name of our new dog. Not a perfect solution to over 30 ideas, but the process for four very different individuals created both a memorable exercise in decision-making and greater unity in the process. What became apparent was that there were many names not even worth considering. Similarly for you, many options not worth considering at this point for your future.

Utilizing a decision-making grid helps to shed light and gain clarity during complex decision-making times. The myriad of possibilities can now be broken down into only a handful or even just one. Concrete comparisons and intentional set-aside space allow for the ability to see the most important tree through the forrest of possibilities.

Don’t be surprised if this big decision catalyzes many decisions thereafter. Making a bold moves chart is a suggested next step. New blog post on “Now That You’ve Done a Decision-Making Grid, Bold Moves are Next” coming soon!

Questions to consider:

What do you learn from your created decision-making grid?

What is clearer after having done this exercise? Who do you need to share it with?


Overcoming the Top 3 Objections for Not Taking a Sabbatical

The signs on the dashboard say: rusty & worn out!

The signs on the dashboard say: rusty & worn out!

While many of us recognize the warning signs of burnout include lack of motivation, lack of focus, irritability and lack of desire. Much of this can be traced directly to prolonged workplace stress and fit. We operate our bodies and our minds as though they are machines and unlike machines that need fixing, we expect them to keep performing without regular maintenance. Although suggested regular maintenance best includes daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms, it is here after years of lacking that a prolonged period of time off is absolutely essential.

The concept of the sabbatical is based on the Biblical text in Leviticus 25 related to agriculture. The Jews in the land of Israel were mandated to take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years. According to farmers the land benefits from this rest as much as the people. A "sabbatical" has come to mean an extended absence in the career of an individual to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling for research. Sabbatical is most often thought of today for academicians and clergy. But we know the benefit extends to every worker regardless of discipline.

Many large corporations are getting on board with this long-standing biblical concept - 22% of Fortune 100’s “Best companies to work for” now offer paid sabbaticals, (Fortune Magazine 2018). Companies the likes of Intel, Google, Adobe, Microsoft, and Paypal all endorse and support sabbaticals through giving both the space, time and financial support for their employees to take extended time off. Intel’s policy fifty years ago! in 1969 included: "We see sabbaticals as accomplishing two things - allowing people time for revitalization and giving the employees who remain, an opportunity for new challenges and growth," says corporate affairs manager Tracy Koon. Employees return to their jobs, in their own words, with renewed enthusiasm and heightened creativity. We find that not only are employees more relaxed and better able to handle work stresses when they return, they also come back with new ideas and fresh winds blowing between their ears.” 

"We see sabbaticals as accomplishing two things - allowing people time for revitalization and giving the employees who remain an opportunity for new challenges and growth,"

Take a current example of a business model of sabbatical. The 9th best restaurant in the world in 2018, Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain, close their doors every year for four whole months!

Their annual cycle of work includes 8 months on and 4 months off. Instead of focusing on filling their tables every day all year, they live their value of creativity through providing the space to create in those off months in order to offer a service of highest quality in the subsequent 8 months. Their creative is precedent to their standard. Because of that they remain booked months in advance! How can they afford to do it? They use the period of time in what would be their slow season to create. Instead of responding to the demands and pace of a Michelin star restaurant day in and day out, they stop to reflect on what is working and what is not. The owner says, “We close for four months every year. We understand that if we want to do something truly important, we have to stop, reflect and discover new ideas…How many plates in this restaurant aren’t born from that creative process?” These months allow for full days of experimentation and research. In a sense they are able to go back to their love of playing with food and remember why they love what they do!* 

With the Bible mandating it, and major corporations and successful culinary venues endorsing a long time of rest for better productivity and creativity, why is taking a sabbatical still considered such a luxury for an average worker and often not taken even where permitted? Why is it so hard to carve out the time and protect it in order for a period of rest, rejuvenation and creativity to be implemented?

 We understand that if we want to do something truly important, we have to stop, reflect and discover new ideas…How many plates in this restaurant aren’t born from the creative process?”

Here are the top 3 objections I commonly here for why people don’t take a sabbatical:

1.    The top justification for the argument as to why not to take a sabbatical is not having sufficient time. What would I do with all the responsibilities that I currently carry? I’m a dad, a coach, a supervisor, cross-cultural worker, a teacher, etc…Who else would take any of these responsibilities from me? Today busyness is an epidemic worth fighting against. Nearly everyone seems to be pulled in a hundred different directions. Keeping balls juggling in the air is often more responsive than planned. How does one even get time to think about self-care let alone about taking a long period of time off? The truth is, the ball may drop a little or a lot! When people come to us, they are unfortunately often past prevention. However an intentional well-thought through plan for rest makes absolutely possible for almost anyone intent on seeing it through past an otherwise simply good idea. Planning a year or more in advance to be able to set aside the space and time is not uncommon.

Many cross-cultural workers think of a sabbatical as going to one’s home country for an extended period of time. For me, although I was in between roles, I wasn’t able to take an extended leave. We had to think creatively about how to give me the time. My kids still had school and my husband still had work. As well, we recognized a home-stay would be more restful than traveling the whole time. So we made adjustments and did the best we could. We had to make it work within our limitations. We discussed which responsibilities I could release. Practically speaking, I didn’t do as many school-runs. My husband didn’t take as many out-of-town trips. We didn’t overschedule or sign our children up for more than one extra-curricular activity each. From September to December I created my sabbatical to exist during what would be my normal working hours. Every day from when I woke up until school was out, the time was mine. My responsibilities as mom, wife, and expat did not go away. I also engaged at times in community rhythms and church. Not every role was able to be put on hold. But the ones that needed greatest re-adjustment and a period of re-evaluation, related most significantly to my vocation were. This gave me the ability to release control and gain clarity on what needed to shift.

Now to some that might not seem like enough time, but to me, my sabbatical was my work. I was grateful for four months of limited demands and ample creative space for 4, 6 or even 8 hours a day at times. In addition, I also created two extended times away – one long weekend and one full week. We carved those into our greater schedule, although it was only planned a few months out. One of the weekends away was purely for fun with visiting friends and the other was an intentional strategic-planning getaway with my coach.  Neither broke the bank (more on funding a sabbatical later).

2.    For some the excuse may be financial. People often say their employer does not offer a paid sabbatical. They clearly can’t afford to not work unpaid. That makes a lot of sense. Today you read of countless people traveling for months on end. How can they afford it? Many have saved up, lived simply for months and years prior. Many also report selling their belongings to live a more simpler life and take the needed space they so desired. Sacrifices are required to live the value of rest. No one that I have ever heard of regretted creating the space, time and money for a sabbatical. If there is a will, there is a way. It may include living on less but the payoff will come back many-fold. I believe there is potential for almost any average worker to take time off if proper planning happens, once again.

3.    The third top explanation for why people don’t take a sabbatical, is that he/she would lose their “position” and title they have worked so hard for. This is also a valid and viable reason for not taking a sabbatical. The many years of service may be a sacrifice. The building of one’s business or ministry may all suffer if not attended to. Yet with the example of many top corporations, it’s not unusual for bosses or supervisors to understand that the need exists. As well, in the role of sabbatical coach we see people finding temporary replacements for many different types of roles.

Let me give the example of one friend Susan who felt like she was on the verge of burnout and didn’t know how she could possibly take a sabbatical. She had been working cross-culturally for over 7 years. She was single and often felt overworked. She lacked vision in her current work and desperately needed a break. She presented the idea to her company who did not have any policy as such in place. Their response astonished her. “What do other organizations do?” they asked. “What does a sabbatical policy look like?” They asked Susan to do her research and come back with a proposal plan. So she did. She contacted me for resources and much to her surprise not only did the organization grant her the needed space, but they created a sabbatical policy based off of her hard work for others to benefit from, as well! What a blessing that she stopped to attend to her needs. Not just for her but for many others in the future of the organization to come.

Making the time, having the money, and not losing one’s position are all valid and viable reasons as to why people don’t think they can take a sabbatical. Understandably, many objections must be overcome in order to create this beneficial space. Yet, if you keep listening to the voice of your body, your heart and your mind and it keeps nudging you towards one, really listen! Think creatively, ask for the time off, create a plan, employ a sabbatical coach, overcome the objections you need to care for yourself and others. It may be the single best gift you can give yourself, your family and those you care about.  

Considerations: If you’re thinking of taking a sabbatical, what are your primary objections? Who can help you overcome those objections? If you know others who have taken a sabbatical, what benefits did they gain from their time off?

For further reading: Top 20 reasons to take a sabbatical

*Note: This does not imply that their workers are getting four months off. However, the organizational value portrayed is one of rhythm - rest and creation.

 

Sources:

http://www.thesabbaticalcoach.com/html/hrmagazine.html

“The final table” - Netflix

The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Questions to Ask - Part 1

Within the last week I’ve had at least four conversations with individuals who are experiencing the inner restlessness of pending transition. These feelings of restlessness are often accompanied by anxiety, stress and disturbed sleep. The awareness has surfaced that they are on the verge of burnout, are living in a place of deep disconnect with their values, or are not being utilized in their current role. These persistent places of discontent and lack of clarity in direction create a feeling of uncertainty & often stuckness not to mention intense stress on our whole ability to function. Is this where you are at?

The difference between a simple wrestling and minor tweaking and a major life transition is the persistent won’t-go-away acknowledgment that something major needs to change. Whether an organizational shift, a role change, a geographical move - this shift feels disorienting like an aftershock of an earthquake. And it is. Prior to these thoughts are often a series of events that have led to the present. Conflict, discouragement, feeling unused, crisis - these moments or series of changes may have felt like the earthquake but it is the frequent aftershocks that are the call to action.

I often hear from those I work with:

“The writing is on the wall.”

“It’s just painful to admit we’ve been so discontent for so long.”

“The hard part is acknowledging all that we’ve invested in and have to let go of.”

“Goodbyes are once again in our future.”

“We just don’t know what to do next.”

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Some talk about transition as beginning the moment you begin asking the deeper questions related to restlessness. I struggle with that sentiment as some, myself included are uniquely wired towards an analytical and futuristic processing style; thinking frequently about possibilities without implying that a major shift or transition needs to happen. At the same time, I feel strongly that we must listen well to our gut instincts, our bodies that carry continual stress, and our minds that race seeking calm. We know internally that things can’t stay as they have been. However, we don’t always know what a next step would look like or what exactly needs to change. Let’s first consider the 6 major areas that most commonly require decision-making intentionality.

For cross-cultural workers decision-making is complex where each decision effects every other. The choice of a role shift, for example, may alter the geographical fit, may determine the organizational fit, may change one’s entire landscape of friendship and social circles. And not just for the adult making the decision but for the entire family. For the sake of understanding how to better navigate the complexity here we break down the decision-making options into 6 major areas.

The 6 areas of decision-making:

(For the sake of this article, the word “fit” replaces the word calling, as there are many interpretations of the word “calling”.)

Personal Fit (significance)- Where does my deep gladness meet the world’s great need(s)? Is what I’m doing the ultimate contribution role that I am on this earth to engage in? If not, is it on the same track? Is my vocational work life-giving?

Team Fit (operation)- Am I able to live out my ultimate contribution “personal fit” on this particular team? If not, why not?“ “Am I supported in my unique gift mix?”

Organizational Fit (support)- Is this the organization that my values most align with? Where I can be supported? Where I can contribute my voice? Are there other organizations that are doing similar work?

Location Fit (effectiveness) - Is the location I’m working in supporting or inhibiting my call? Is this the place where my calling can best be lived out?

Other considerations:

Collective Marital Fit - Some may believe that when they exchanged vows, God called them together as a couple to engage in the same organization and team fit. Others have discovered their uniqueness may be best lived out as individuals in two very different settings of work. Especially as cross-cultural workers it is important to ask the previous 4 questions, “Is my spouse living into his/her vocational calling? Are they doing life-giving work?

Family Fit - Similar to the above. There is disagreement around children being “called” to the same ministry and what their particular role is. Nonetheless I stand firm in believing that the health and well-being of the kids is top priority. How are my children thriving with my personal fit, team fit, organizational fit, location fit? Do their current needs require a prioritization above my fit or calling?

One piece of the elephant at a time

One piece of the elephant at a time

For many, the transition out of - a role, a vocation, an organization, a specific location - can be very clear. For others these layers all mesh together. And for most, where to go next carries the most frightening set of unlimited options. It is recommended to break down the great big elephant of a problem into small pieces - whether which door is closed or which doors are opening.

Consider, for example, the location you are working, as a tusk or a foot or an eye of the elephant. (Too many decisions already?) Okay, it’s an eye! The type of work you are doing as another part. Focusing on each of the pieces one at a time can begin to bring clarity in a much more manageable way as opposed to feeling overwhelming.

In cross-cultural work, it’s hard to unpack the complexities of the overlapping variables. One has likely given up comforts, home, and culture to do the current work engaged in. If shifting to a new culture versus returning to a previously familiar culture the emphasis of adjustment will be quite different. For example, people don’t often consider a re-entry moving budget when returning, despite assuming you would need one when landing in a new and foreign country. They also might not consider the adjustment phase that is needed for re-entry. Much has been written on the topic of re-entry. For discussion here, is the recognition of the complexity of conflicting values particular to transition and how to break it down.

The idea that the door is closing yet a new one has not yet opened paralyzes many from taking a step of faith into the transition space of the unknown. It’s this transition space where I love to work with people. I say, “together let’s approach the blocks that feel like an elephant and make them an eye - seeing them as an opportunity to explore, discover and create something new & life-giving! We can’t tackle the whole elephant right now, What feels most pressing?” For most, it is vocational fit.

The simplifying of options and narrowing down of questions, brings greater clarity than remaining in a place of swimming in the ocean of unlimited possibilities. In my opinion the process of discerning a major career move, organization or vocational path includes focusing first on personal fit (often referred to as calling). When we approach personal fit through the lense of limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities; the eye of the elephant once again.

7 categories to clarify confusion relating to personal fit (calling)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. What you were initially hired on for 15 years ago is no longer needed. Potentially staying in an environment, under certain leadership or in a specific role may limit your own personal development.

Question: Can I keep doing what I love but change where I do it?

2.     Keep the work; re-allocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to closer match their passion and gifting. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact as well as sustainability. Those who we see who are burned out often re-allocate their responsibilities and realize it takes several people to do the same title they carried for years.

Question: What needs to specifically change about the work I do in order for it to be sustainable?

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there are another set of possibilities for your skillset. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used in leadership or development. Consider changing the role to adjust to your developmental phase.

Question: Is there potential for advancement or a lateral shift within this organization? If not, where might I best execute my gifts, strengths, and talents?

4.     Turn an avocation into a new career - many look towards their voluntary service opportunities as what they would ultimately like to do for life-giving work. For example, during a transition season in my life I went to a local hospital and asked if I could volunteer doing play therapy in the children’s ward. I was in a funk, but knew I had always wanted to try working with creative therapy methods. They were happy to have me for the year I could give. Amazing to me now, is that although that was over 25 years ago, the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing has been a part of my DNA! That voluntary service also gave back to me through caring for others - it took me out of my own worries and allowed me to leverage gratitude in an otherwise difficult season.

Question: What would I love to do even without getting paid?

5.     Take on a parallel career The reason you may be experiencing a shift is primarily financial. For some taking on a parallel career or supplemental income may be the necessary transition step towards balance. People don’t take on a parallel career only for financial reasons. It may also be for convergence into the final years of service. You can now choose more specifically to work in a very narrow field. For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. Leverage the years of knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, mentoring, or influence.

Question: What do I already do that I could leverage better in a different setting?

6.     Get more training - As you think about your future the most obvious way forward may require a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. Take someone who has always been passionate about physical health and healing. They may have lived it in their own life, but now need a degree in nutrition or being a yoga instructor to integrate their passion with a professional practice. This option of gaining more training affords one more discernment time, as well as he/she researches a specific field and his/her fit.

Question: What have you felt lacking knowledge in your current work or wanted to gain greater understanding of to gain professional integrity?

7.     Keep on doing the same thing - After a season of discernment and searching, you may have learned that what you have now is really a great fit and at this point nothing needs to change but something internally. Possibly a season of rest resets all the gauges to better see the joy of personal fit. Possibly an internal shift of gratitude or perspective occurs to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults.

Question: Can you answer yes? For now this is where I best fit and what I am willing to work with for the next five years!

Your decision-making and discernment will likely take you down confusing, questioning roads. As you think about it in small chunks give yourself grace to also think about it in smaller periods of time. This decision is not forever. Continue to explore and try it on and commit for a certain period of time. Give yourself or your spouse the needed permission to try, fail, succeed, change their mind, but soon to put down the need to continue processing. Make one step of a decision and begin moving forward right where you are at.

To be continued…

See The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Clarity exercise - Part 2

Here are a few questions to prompt deeper thinking:

What is the most compelling reason you believe a change needs to happen? What have you already tried?What has been the response from the significant people in your life (God, spouse, boss, supervisor, etc.)? Given their reaction, what do you feel you need to do next? What’s coming up for you as we talk about this?

Fostering Emotional Health through Transition Coaching

Originally published on Jan 15, 2019 Shepherd Heart Consulting https://www.shepherdheartconsulting.com/2019/01/15/transition-coaching/

– by Sara Simons

According to architectural terminology, transition space is considered an in-between, connecting space between two confined spaces. An essential element of any structure.  One of the most important functions of transition space being sustainability of the building design. Whether a long hallway or a magnificent entrance, these spaces play important functional roles inviting others to linger and anticipate before entering into a new, often grander space. Temples and places of worship have historically been designed with this architectural transition space concept in mind. One who enters a holy space, having gone before through a transition space to get there, has been given the gift of preparation. There is an invitation to  intentionally prepare one’s head and heart for the encounter with a Holy one.  

It is safe to say, transition space is an invitation to a grand pause with an expanded capacity to enter into the next space with greater awareness and expectation. Not unlike architectural transition space, a season of major-life transition invites one to slow down, pause, and anticipate the next season. We know transition as the slow, internal, physiological response to change.  And change, the moment or moments in time typically sudden and unwelcome that lead us into a period of transition. Change may be the external factor that launches a transition. But transition is the often uncomfortable “in-between” season, not moment, meaning potentially long pause, that requires a recalibration. Even when change is expected, or positive, the reality that one is entering into a new normal requires attention in response and can still feel jolting with much to grieve. God uses transitions to shape life direction and further the discovery of one's unique contribution in the expansion of His Kingdom.

Well-known author William Bridges, in his book The Way of Transition states that "Transition is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then take hold of the way they subsequently become. In between the letting go and the taking hold there is a chaotic but potentially creative ‘neutral zone.’" How then do we enter this neutral and often barren-feeling transition space? What an incredible gift of a space to meet another passerby in - in the midst of confusion, pain and grief! 

 My desire when working with people as a transition coach is multi-fold. 1. I hope to be a creative catalyst unblocking the God-given creativity in each person I’m with. Aiding them in places of stuckness, by providing tools and experiences that give hope and help lead them to their ultimate contribution. Thus in turn being able to exit confusion with lightness, centeredness and focus 2. My desire is also to equip people with the resources and tools for their current and future transitions. Simultaneously validating that the intensity of transition is not only normal, but an intentional design of the Creator pointing us back to Him in our pursuit of direction. Trusting that everyone seeking guidance and clarity is ultimately seeking intimacy with the one who masterfully designed them. And like a transition space in architectural terms, I feel called as a transition coach to be alongside others as they anticipate the potential greatness of what is to come!

Contact sara@thewaybetween.org for more information on transition coaching

Relational Saturation: When Our Love for People Turns to Burnout - Part 1

Authors: Jeff & Sara Simons April 2015

It’s amazing how many leaders we sit with from whom we hear this sentiment: “I still love God, and I still feel “called”… but man, I just really can’t stand people right now. I just want to get away from them!” It may sound extreme but it’s a very real aspect of full-time relational ministry.

Even as an extrovert in the ministry world, I’ve been there too! Too many times. I’ve felt the same sentiment for example when support-raising to “get to the field”. As we would hit the road for yet another support-raising roadtrip. Pulling up to an appointment I would feel myself just wanting to be somewhere alone; away from ministry, family, and the energy output. I even remember pulling up to a close friend’s house one time and asking my wife what this friend’s kid’s names were again… it’s like the relational saturation was even flooding my ability to remember normal details—a helpful saturation “threshold sign” I’ve come to identify in time…

 Consider your relational “web” for a moment:

·       How many people are on your ministry newsletter list? 

·       How many are in your local gathering of followers and seekers in your context (whatever form that takes)?

·       How many “friends” are you connected to on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other frequently used social media sights?

·       How many individuals, churches or groups are currently supporting your ministry in tangible ways that you keep up communication with?

 Despite how structured, organic, tangible or fluid our ministry work and lives are, the bottom line of the “business” we deal and interface in is the currency of relational equity.

Where We Don’t Lean in Enough…

Often-referenced leadership author and teacher Bobby Clinton made some pretty significant discoveries around the area of relational connection, saturation and management in a lesser-know study that he called the core Social Bases of leadership endurance for long-term service.

In the process of researching the leadership timelines and patterns of hundreds of leaders, some significant patterns pertaining to leadership endurance began to emerge. Interestingly, there was not a marked difference between leaders who finished well and left a growing legacy, and those that “finished” but collapsed over the line, and those who burned out or fell away from ministry prematurely. At least not a marked difference in the usual support systems we think of: financial-support and prayer-support

However, some very interesting patterns emerged in other significant areas; one of which Clinton defined as Emotional Support. This could include regular, life-giving relational connections for you that support the various needs for your social and relational needs—e.g. intercession teams, Spiritual direction, accountability groups, Counseling, time for free-flowing fun with friends, hobby-based groups, local gathering of believers, and frequency of life-giving connection with family and friends local and “back home”.

Intentionally engaging these areas regularly in a leader’s life proved to truly be a key aspect of empowerment that influenced a marked a difference between the few leaders who finished well, and those who left the journey of calling pre-maturely.

This remains a key attrition area to help leaders intentionally lean into, develop, and manage for relational health in our support structures. Often this is malnourished in place of our impassioned tunnel-vision attention to our growing “donor-base back home” and our growing “ministry community in context”. Often there is overlap between these and the areas of Emotional support described above, but how the time is focused and intentionally spentmakes the main difference. 

Our hope is that new perspectives for connecting more authentically and sustainably with family, team, community, supporters, those you’re ministering to, and with God, will help move you toward better resiliency on the field.

See Relational Saturation - Part 2 for a construct to discuss healthy balance and sustainability

·       Q: What implications could this have for doing furloughs and support-raising trips more effectively, sustainably, and fostering authentic connection?

·       Q: What implications can this have on how we communicate to particular audiences in our newsletters and ministry reports?

·       Q: What implications does this have for mixed ministry teams: families, singles, lifestage differences, age differences, cultural or sub-cultural differences? 

·       Q: What implications does this have for questions of “team” and “community” structure and how much they should overlap?

·       Q: What implications does this have regarding the ways we are connecting, or pressuring ourselves to connect, and also projecting or pressuring our kids to connect in the context? 

·       Q: How do we expose our MKs to a variety of environments and help them process authentic and appropriate interaction in each? 

·       Q: What implications does this have for the way you do ministry and where and how you connect?

·       Q: What similar and different implications does this have for doing ministry to moderns and postmoderns?