Holding Calling Captive: Top 4 Creativity Killers that Limit our Potential

The incredible architectural masterpiece of antoni Gaudi, la Sagrada Familia

The incredible architectural masterpiece of antoni Gaudi, la Sagrada Familia

Top 4 Creativity Assassins

We were created in the image of an incredible Creator - just look around. He gave every individual a distinct fingerprint of creativity. “We are God’s workmanship, his masterpiece work of art, (his Sistene Chapel or La Sagrada Familia), created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us” (Eph 2:10). And yet somewhere, somehow we have limited the creative work potential existing inside all of us and written it off as something for the professional artists. What if instead, we saw every person, ourselves included, as making up a greater part of a creative whole! And with whatever role we have, we consider the possibilities of tapping into this creativity? What if we considered how a person in finance, in leadership, in construction might think outside the box and utilize his/her imagination for purposeful and life-giving work for the greater good? 

Creativity is so much more than art or artists. I frequently hear people say, I’m not the artist type! The potential to be inspired with awe and wonder is ingrained in every single human person’s unique design - that’s where creativity lives. I believe we are all born creative people. But not only that, our brains and particularly our prefrontal cortex, unlike those of other animals, gives us the capacity to tap into a wellspring of unlimited imagination and use our unique creativity for the good of others. It’s unlimited! Imagine that!!!

It is every individual’s responsibility to discover what exclusive design we were particularly created for. Just like every tool in your kitchen or garage has a unique purpose and designed for a specific task. We were each created to fulfill a distinct job on this earth.  What I create is different than what you create because my life experience and my skillset are uniquely me! And yet we do several things that are unhelpful to cultivate this creativity within us and in others.

Top 4 Creativity Killers 

1. Busyness

We live in a noisy world, even when no one is speaking. The clutter of our lives, whether material or conceptual, keep us from the joy, spontaneity and creativity found in artistic expression space. When we remove the excess in our lives we find free space enlivening and inspiring new ways of being. The clutter on the other hand, consumes both the literal space and mind space where artistic expression once lived.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor and early childhood advocate writes in, Taking Back Childhood. She says “kids benefit emotionally and cognitively from having long uninterrupted blocks of time to explore art materials such as paints, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, markers, clay, etc.” She writes how open-ended materials and time can can bring a child’s personal narrative to life! It's been proven that participating in art creation soothes the soul, provides inspiration, promoting mental and emotional well-being. In addition, adults, similar to children, need free, uninterrupted blocks of time to explore their artistic voices. It’s through pushing the boundaries of materials in long uninterrupted time, that our personal narratives can come to life! We limit our creative potential by leading overly-full lives. Boredom is creativity’s greatest fertilizer. It is the process that matters most in art, not the end product.

Boredom is creativity’s greatest fertilizer

2. Comparison

If boredom fertilizes the growth of creation, comparison is the weed killer. Comparison rears it’s ugly head in the form of self-limiting beliefs or other-limiting beliefs, limiting possibility and inspiration. “I’m not as good as____” or “You’re not the musician that she is.” These thoughts, regardless of how or if they’re verbalized, may keep you from experimenting with what the expression of how God-given creativity looks within you.

These limiting beliefs, similarly may keep you from encouraging development in others. For years, I compared myself to my husband. I would say, I’m not as creative as Jeff. And the truth is, I’m NOT Jeff! He’s different than I am. He has a completely different skillset than I do. But from the end product I see, through the eyes of jealousy a creative block inside me that can not sponsor his expressions. The way he upcycles and designs a table out of garbage is something I could never do. And although he IS naturally really good at a lot of things, he doesn’t create the same as me. For many years, I allowed the thought that “I’m not as creative as…” from allowing me to experiment with and discover my often ugly, messy, tasteless, sometimes beautiful, but irregardless, unique to me – meal, travel plan, or blog article. Comparison kills creativity. 

What I create is unique because my life experience and skillset are uniquely me

When our unique skill set, natural abilities, learned traits, and personality all line up and we use them in the unique way they were formed for, we know it. And so do others. This place of pleasurable work I believe brings delight to God, ourselves and others. Whether baking, dancing, welding, or doing complex computer technology. We can feel a life-giving, purpose-filled element of God’s design at work in and through us. It is also up to us to foster that, not stifle it in others. That is how it’s meant to be! And yet we must welcome that creative potential within us and discover where our unique fingerprint meets the world’s deepest need. We must harness the creative potential the season of transition offers us.   

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3. Being the “Art” police

Likewise, we limit ourselves and other’s creativity in the language we use, or the judgment of others work. Take my recent interaction with my daughter, as an example. She’s 6 and unafraid to mix all media all the time! My acquired organizational skills go a bit mad when she gets in her zone! A few days ago I found her painting rocks. But she didn’t restrain herself there. She began using the paint to color sand, then mixed the multiple colors of sand (turned back to brown) with the painted shells, and finally added a bag full of chalk! A couple hours later, hands and clothes covered in paint and sand – wahlah! She had created her masterpiece! Where she saw a beautiful creative expression, I couldn’t help but see a mess to clean up. But did she see a beautiful creation? I didn’t ask her…I think in hindsight she was just really enjoying the process.

Simultaneously amazed and perplexed at the unlimited boundaries of her mind, I managed to contain my inner art police! I don’t intend to limit her or other people’s self expression. My censor lies in part in my own inhibited creative-self. My logical, well-developed left-brain trying to tell my artistic brain there is no logic in that.

Despite my desires to empower people through the arts, I must pay careful attention that my own blocks do not cause unnecessary limitations. Our limitations of both language and self-imposed boundaries of what art should look like keep us from exploring new ways to mixing media and pushing into new levels of untapped creativity – in both ourselves and others. 

4. Take the same comfortable approach.

We limit our own creativity when we fail to step into the new. . Creativity emerges when we get off the path of least resistance and try something new! (Think: Mac-n-cheese quesadillas, thin-mint brownies, batter-fried oreos! Creative food creations!) Our brains naturally default to what we've done in the past. The past is known, familiar and comfortable.

Getting off the familiar path and taking a new direction gives us a whole new set of possibilities. It is often scary, yes. Typically a new path is scary primarily because we are afraid to fail. We’re also afraid of the unknown and the possibility of the future being worse than the present. Ruth Haley Barton summarizes it powerfully in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership saying, “When the fear of staying the same is greater than the fear of the unknown, we are ripe for change!” We must be motivated to consider that the future holds hope of discovering new possibilities. 

While thinking about things the way they've been thought about and doing things the way they’ve been done is comfortable, these ways can be broken. What brings people, and global workers in particular, to transition is a way of life that is not working. The realization that one or more aspects of life needs to change brings painful awareness – for the children who need a better education, for a sustainable financial structure, for aging parents, for the ability to not always be in a burn-out state! Doing things the way they’ve always been done; when these are no longer working, we have the opportunity to see this as a season of possibilities! For many of us, we must get to the point of desperation for change. To be desperate for something different you have to be willing to step out AND BE WRONG! We know that the most beautiful testimonies are lives risen above pain where beauty has been made from ashes. This is the redemptive and transformative work that we get to be about - being made in the mirror image of our Creator. 

Sky is the limit

Sky is the limit

Give yourself space to explore possibilities. Allow yourself to acknowledge what you are good at. Spend time intentionally noticing what others are good at. Be aware where Jealousy creeps in. And get the necessary support to take whatever necessary first step is in front of you. The work of creativity is up to all of us. We get the privilege of joining in the pleasure of creating new with our great Creator.

Question: How can we be facilitators of artistic expression in both ourselves and others?  

Practical Application. What if instead we…try to fit into my day and particularly within my work one of the following words: wonder, imagine, invent, design, create, express, I’m curious, what if? Kids are comfortable with this language!

Or

Start a conversation with a child beginning with one of these words - imagine if…you could go anywhere right now, where would you go? What if…you could eat whatever you wanted for dinner – no limits! The potential responses are UNLIMITED and delightfully fun! What if you actually did it?!

Or

as a coach, I might say to someone in major life transition - Imagine you had five other lives to lead, what might they look like? What would you do in each of them? This approach gives permission to dream and takes people out of their logical responses that can often fail in times of transition. Begin to imagine that which has yet to be created. 

The 5 Ideal Phases of a Sabbatical: A Framework for Conceptualizing a Plan

The 5 “Ideal” Phases of a Sabbatical 

Dr Steve Hoke defines sabbatical as a space and time away from ministry to reflect, study, and experience holistic refreshment to enable ongoing fruit.

45.5 percent of pastors from North America have experienced depression or burn out, while The Alban Institute estimates up to 50 percent of professional ministers are exhausted from their work. Long unstructured hours come with the job, weekends are taken in preparing for and administering the church service, and high expectations are placed on the pastor as troubleshooter, conflict manager, counselor, or friend. For cross-cultural ministers, the problem of stress and burnout is magnified : Expended emotionally by their transition, the need to continually fundraise, and the cultural differences faced on the field to name a few. One study showed 15 percent of first-term workers return home within two years.  Like those who serve as church ministers, their work is often all consuming, but combined with cultural dynamics that can drain and frustrate, burnout is extremely common*

Combined with cultural dynamics that can drain and frustrate [cross cultural workers] burnout is extremely common.

Taking intentional, God-mandated regular breaks are an essential part of a self-care plan, especially for cross-cultural workers.

Sabbaticals are a daily part of the conversation in our home these days. My husband, Jeff is on his second month of a six month sabbatical - his first. When I started this blog post 2 months ago he was in the planning and on-ramping phase. Many conversations two months ago started with, “When I’m on sabbatical…” There were scheduling ideals flowing in dreamland space of “the other-side”. And yet alongside the feelings of exhaustion built up due to years without an extended break, came the curious questions of how is this ever gonna work? “We know this stuff!” He would say, “sometimes it’s just hard to practice what you preach!” Primarily putting all of the responsibilities of life down.

As he planned his sabbatical I secretly wrote. But it wasn’t his sabbatical alone that motivated me to capture this process. It is rather the frequent contact in this line of work with people who say “I think I’m burned out” now what do I do? This is what inspires a few penned thoughts.

A hug, a high five and a huge “Congratulations you’re taking a sabbatical!” is my internal response when I hear someone has made this major life decision. It’s no small feat in getting to this decision point. Whether forced or chosen, this counter-cultural step requires great work. In the pragmatic, performance-oriented world we live in, where our identities and values are often deeply intertwined with performance and production, stepping into a sabbatical can feel quite jarring, lonely and even pointless!  The task of releasing our performance orientation is challenged here as “production” comes to a halt. Here we are provoked with often painful but incredibly rich soil to discover our true identities; growth in discovery who we are apart from our work. This is the challenging task of believers embracing “being versus doing”.

What do you do with your time? I hear the question frequently. It’s a good question really…a foreign concept to many, what does one do if they don’t work? And if this is your first sabbatical you’re likely asking similar questions: What do I do with my time? Do I schedule or not schedule? And how long do I do nothing?! “Your work is your sabbatical,” I say. “It is your full time job to rest well and offer yourself up for spiritual and personal transformation.” Laying out a plan tailored to each individual’s reasons for why they are taking a sabbatical, helps best facilitate internal growth, and desired outcomes especially in the midst of the process that can often feel uncertain and floundering.

Arguably, every sabbatical should include elements of rest, rejuvenation, play, direction and realignment. Below is a suggested 5-phase plan, organized under the categories of: Release, Rest, Reflect, Re-align, Re-engage. These phases are not necessarily linear, with one phase ending and the other beginning. Rather they flow fluidly between them.

Below is a suggested “best practice” for organizing one’s time usually consisting of a minimum of 3 months to one year.  As well included are a few considerations for engagement, warnings in the moment and questions to ask yourself or to engage with a coach around. Use this as a reference tool, coming back to it as you walk into your or another person’s sabbatical.

The 5 Phases include Release, Rest & Recovery, Reflection, Re-alignment and Re-engage

(I write the following to someone who has just said, I think I/we need a sabbatical…)

1.   Release

Like the rush of a finals week or the need to cross off a long to-do list before going on vacation, the preparation period needed to enter into a sabbatical can feel quite intense. When a car prepares to leave a highway, it often picks up speed for a short while prior to slowing down. The “off-ramping” can feel like dropping down from 5th-gear to neutral in one movement, unless adequate, thoughtful preparation exists. 

The “release phase” is also considered the off-ramping from work and on-ramping into sabbatical phase. Give yourself lots of grace as you are in this season of “in between” the past and the future. During this first phase of preparation before your sabbatical starts, begin to disengage from any work, ministry and leadership responsibilities you can let go off. Establish a plan for your sabbatical desirably with someone who has also gone through one before or who knows the process. This sabbatical plan is an initial framework for direction and reflects priority needs.

Considerations: 

*In this phase you may get push-back from yourself and others (co-workers, supervisors, spouses, your budget, etc.) You may question whether you made the right decision. This “luxurious sabbatical” idea is not something everyone is afforded. But then not everyone has the intense type of non-stop work that you have, either. If you’ve been feeling the need for it for some time, likely you’re long overdue. Ask permission organizationally and trust God with work out the nay-sayers. It can definitley feel like slow work getting too the next phase of rest, but remain tenacious. I am certain that this gift will be worth it.  

Note: *This is an intense time! There is often a long to-do list. You will eventually get there.  

Questions to Ask:

What are the top 2-3 benefits I would like to see come from my sabbatical? What is your sabbatical plan?

2.   Rest and Recovery – “Rest” is the second phase of the sabbatical but the first phase once the clock of time starts. “Rest” for our discussion does not imply ceasing from all activity. (Although it could.) Many fall or land into sabbatical exhausted. At or near burnout, the need for adrenal recovery is typically high and ceasing from activity is essential before going any further. Stopping ministry activities and, where possible, and eliminating other areas of stress, are necessary! For some, like those working in poverty contexts, or pastoral positions, the need to leave a geographical area may be required for adequate rest and boundaries from daily demands. 

Considerations:

*During this phase, be sensitive to feelings of isolation or lack of significance. Resting is hard for many of us.

*Pay attention to feelings of guilt that you should be doing more. You need this to function!  

*You should be out of regularly scheduled ministry activity but not out of fellowship.

*Find one or two people who get this unique season; even better spend time with someone who has done a sabbatical before. 

*Give yourself space to rest and do things that are life-giving. 

Questions to Ask:

What still needs to be done or taken off your plate in order to rest well? What restores you emotionally and feeds you spiritually?  

3.   Reflect– Phase 2 includes reflection. This will likely be the majority of your time on sabbatical and doesn’t need a lot of explanation. During this phase, you will hopefully be experiencing some of the fruit of your prior focus on rest – more energy! You should be asking the question, “Lord, is there anything You want to say to me?” “How would you like to transform me?” Consider how God has spoken to you in the past and posture yourself to hear His voice. 

 Considerations:

*You will likely be feeling restlessness and desire to be doing more. Be cautious in adding to your plate at this point.

*Remain in a posture of rest and self-care.

*If you are reading, be open to asking God what content He would have for you rather than the idea of checking off a book list. Consider listening to podcasts or audible books instead of reading for variety and ease.

*Implement regular life-giving rhythms of creativity & spiritual nourishment

 Questions to Ask:

“Lord, is there anything You want to say to me?” How do I best utilize my time today?

**2-day Life-Plan Discernment Time BEST FITS HERE

4.   Re-align or Re-assign 

Following a sabbatical a leader should have enough freedom to change directions or let go of responsibilities if a new vision emerges during their sabbatical. There should be space to dream, to explore personal, vocational and family longings and consider new opportunities without future performance expectations. This is the purpose of a 2-day life-plan.

If you are in a season of discerning whether or not to continue into the same roles that you previously had, this is the best phase for a discernment evaluation or life plan. Taking part in a comprehensive evaluation does not necessarily imply a change of roles, but rather the goal is a clarification of calling. During this phase of the sabbatical, it’s important to review and reaffirm your calling by examining what areas of your life have been most fruitful and rewarding. (Calling simply defined is living into who God uniquely created you to be with the opportunity for the most long-term and sustainable impact.) The goal is to experience maximum contribution in this next season of life, which may or may not mean a major shift or re-location. 

Considerations

*Just a reminder - you are still on sabbatical. Keep practicing the disciplines that you have leaned into.

*Try not to take on other’s expectations or responsibilities just yet.

Questions to ask:

Do you feel like you need a re-envisioning time? What if anything appears to need changing in the near future?

5. Re-Entry/Re-Engagement

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If you’ve been intentional about rest and renewal you can expect the joy of being refreshed physically, reaffirming His vision for you, and having gaining renewed perspective! Like returning to work after a vacation or a wonderful retreat away, reality can feel jarring! One of the hardest re-entry facets is maintaining the rhythms you worked so hard to implement. Like all the other phases, this phase requires grace - yet on a different level. You are returning to your normal, yet you are also in a new normal. Give yourself the time and space to find your groove. It took considerate and intentional time to off-load. On-ramping will be a unique phase of what to say yes to again.

This may be the hardest phase of a sabbatical.  In this phase you will begin to transition back into ministry. Expect emotional stresses, pace issues, spiritual warfare, and struggles in working out desired changes in life and ministry.

How you’ve changed in personal development and transformational growth may not be known to others. Where there is an idealized desire to have freedom to change directions and let go of prior responsibilities or conflict that may have led to the need for a sabbatical, removal from these, or immediate freedom from these realities may not be possible. The roll-out of changes may take many months. And you may experience opposition.

One final note of consideration is that 3 months, 6 months or a year can shift changes within the church or organization you temporarily took a sabbatical from. The reality of organizational change during the period of rest should not deter you from taking a sabbatical. But be aware that many changes and shifts were likely to have occurred: New staff, new leadership, new programs, changed vision. As you enter back in you may choose to reflect on how these changes are impacting you with a sabbatical coach or spiritual director.

God modeled stopping from work after 6 days of creation and enjoying rest. This day of rest, or season of rest was commanded and blessed. The gifts that are gained are innumberabe. As you enter into a season of sabbatical know that it will be worth it. In this final phase you and others will be able to note significant internal and external changes. As you reflect back, acknowledge with gratitude this gift that sabbatical was. And the many other gifts which you have gained: An ability for clarity & re-focus, renewed passion, and the reminder that even in your absence God took care of all of the details.

This is our current life. We're right there in the mix of the questions, the tiredness and the expectation - alongside of you!

Questions to ask:

What do I need to do now to sabbath well? How can I maintain the rhythms and disciplines gained from sabbatical, in my day-to-day life?  

What of this is helpful to you? What one step do you need to take today?

Do you know someone who could benefit from this material. Feel free to pass it along?


Portions of this text are modified from Navigators Sabbatical Policy

*Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership The Transformational Effects of Sabbatical in Leadership Development by Christopher K. Turner, Douglas L. Fike

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

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. 

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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?


The Powerful Art of Reconciliation - Part 2

Originally posted Feb 5, 2019

Read The Powerful Art of Reconciliation - Part 1

Forgiving ourselves

Often times the hardest area of forgiveness is to look in the mirror with love and grace, and say I forgive myself. Forgiving ourselves of actions (or inaction) requires acknowledgment to see that our choices have caused pain in ourselves and possibly someone else. It requires an admission and confession of pain. When we are able to gain perspective and acceptance, we can experience both freedom and responsibility simultaneously. Forgiving ourselves requires the difficult task of self-love.

The invitation of a cross on the Camino de Santiago

The invitation of a cross on the Camino de Santiago

Similar to others hurting us, we have the choice to use these learnings to reshape our future. If we can recognize that an event or events is not the totality of who we are, this liberating place of acceptance, holds power for ourselves and ALL of our relationships.

“What discipline is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism? I would like to propose the discipline of confession and forgiveness. Just as the future leaders must be mystics deeply steeped in contemplative prayer, so also must they be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister.” (Nouwen 64)

This transformational work of the cross becomes that much more evident in times of transition. The encounters of the dark parts of our selves require attention – we either face them or stuff them away and become more calloused and bitter.

We all at some point in life will face that chaos. Many artists depict the pain and struggle of their soul in their creative work: Paintings are dark with shades of black and red, scenes of skeletons and war. Poetry is filled with words of hatred. Lyrics to songs blare with rage. The artist’s within each of us, are given a chance in seasons of transition to express ourselves, make amends and choose beauty instead from this pain. As we tap into those difficult and often dark places, a knowledge of a restorative God desiring to use our woundedness and pain for His glory persists. It’s here we have decisions to make.

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life…Change initself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting goliving in the confusing dark space for a while.

Drawing by #EMYOArtwork

Drawing by #EMYOArtwork

God’s restoring plan is the patient work of spiritual transformation. It requires on our part a repeated yes to the Lord’s nudging us to go knock on the doors of ugliness inside each of us. The lasting transformation comes only through the active engagement with confession and forgiveness. The invitation for everyone is to release with the new that which is old, bitter, not working, worn out. The desire is for the cross to provide the freedom only it can. The wounds and the pain released rather than staying clung to us. The transformative peace can only be found here.  The great invitation remains: The opportunity transition provides for us to be self-reflective reconcilers, confessing and forgiving deep areas of incredible hurt and pain. To move into the new with great freedom.

In our challenges with others, can I actively thank God for the people that bring dissonance in my life? “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll your tongue over the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you” Fredrick Buechner

For deeper reflection: 

Where do you feel deep emotional hurt? Where do you carry anger or bitterness in your heart towards yourself, your spouse, your parents, your organization, or your community with whom you’ve ministered? What is your invitation today as it relates to confession and forgiveness? What are the dark sides of your leadership that lie beneath the surface and need attending to in this period of in-between? 

Drawing by #artofhoping

Drawing by #artofhoping

Visual Prayer Exercise:

Draw a cross with as much or as little detail as you’d like. Consider someone with whom you are currently struggling. (i.e. Yourself, God, another person). As you draw, let the color express heaviness, negativity, ways you are hurt or have been wronged. As you think of words list them in relation to each party on either side of the arms of the cross. These might include thoughts or feelings, ways you’ve been hurt or wronged, things you dislike about the person, ways that you have done wrong. Let negative and angry thoughts be welcome but not take over.