I read an author who had simplified his life significantly. Unlike others, he gave specifics in terms of his financial situation. He claimed that most people could live on approximately $10,000./year per family member. He and his spouse with one child downsized from over $100,000./ year to $30,000. And he claimed life had never been better.
Our family had two parents, a grandmother and a middle-school aged daughter. I could not see us living on $40,000, so, for some reason, I added another $10,000. To sweeten the deal. I asked my family if we could “try” to do this for one year so if I decided to leave the corporate world, I would know if we could survive financially.
We did just that, and honestly I was amazed at how little our lives were affected by this “belt tightening”.
Sometimes weighing the cost of money in our lives makes way for a hairpin turn.
We invited a speaker to talk to us about change. He asked us to get out a piece of paper and then, in two minutes, write a letter to a child in our life (who we would never see again) about what matters most in life. This is what I wrote: “Love—just love. Love the stale bedroom air as you wake in the morning; love the food you eat; love the body you have been given; love the people before you this day; love the car you drive; love your school; love the weather this day; love your bed and love the life you have been given.”
When I looked around the room, I saw tears. People had dropped into their hearts and had written what was of deepest meaning for them. In just two minutes, the discussion about change shifted to an internal and eternal reminder about what matters most in life.
What might happen if we lived our lives from this place?
We invited the superintendent of the public schools to come to Partnership Village. There was a mixture of people in the room—residents who lived in the transitional housing complex, volunteers, staff and a child who waited in our new computer room to demonstrate an educational program. Everyone politely exchanged information.
The topic of transportation was calmly explored. Then the mother of two daughters in our tutoring program spoke and the conversation shifted. She began: “ My children have been through too much already. I began to pray that somehow they could stay at their current school—even though we must move again in six weeks. We cannot find affordable housing around here. Then I heard you were coming to talk with us today and I believe God answered my prayer.” She burst into tears. The room fell silent and compassion filled the space. We sat together holding the realities of poverty. The superintendent’s voice cracked as he said: “ Let me see what might be done.”
After we proudly showed off our new computer room, we told the mom who spoke with such clarity and meaning that she was the most powerful person in the room that day. She said: “I just spoke from my heart.” When we speak from our hearts our communication comes from and lands in the center of what matters most in life. Always.
I spent two days talking about servant leadership with self-proclaimed type-A entrepreneurs. They were intrigued with the idea of servant leadership but were skeptical that this type of leadership could “work in the real world.” When we talked about the stress in their lives, the truth about their misery began to unfold. Bravely, one person talked about her unhealthy attachment to her phone. She confessed to taking a call in church for fear of “missing the big one” which would “solve everything.” They all nodded.
They were describing an addiction—which is a repeated (even obsessive) behavior to get more and more of what does not work. At one point, when I invited the group to slow down and drop into the intelligence of their hearts, I saw two people wipe away tears.
We live in a culture (and with technology) that encourages us to move through life at a frenetic, stressful speed to “get to the next best thing.” Our hurried pace numbs us to the natural experience and fullness of our current lives. When we let go of “wishing on the future” and sink into the beauty of the moment, the mantle of stress lifts off our backs and we experience the lightness of the moment we have been given.
The hairpin turn moves us away from carrying on our backs “what might be” (future) or “what might have been” (past) to “isn’t this interesting!” (the present).
We watched a documentary on Frontline about children and the internet. The cameras zoomed in on a mom and her four teenagers. Distressed, she listed all the potential dangers of the internet for her children. She set up one computer in the kitchen for all to use with the screen visible for everyone to see. The result: her children spent more time at their friends home in order to have some privacy when using the internet. This mom demanded passwords. She saw some pictures from a trip her son had taken and, as PTA president, she sent these to other parents. Her son, devastated, barely communicated with her for his entire senior year in high school. She became depressed, but was absolutely convinced of her parental rights. Her control cost her dearly.
Being a parent, or a manager, or a responsible volunteer invariably takes us into the territory of trust and communication. How might the mom in the documentary stay connected with her children while also communicating her legitimate concerns? What specifically can she do or say to remain in relationship—no matter how far apart on an issue?
A willingness to pause, to listen, to creatively engage with one another before an action (like sending those pictures to others before talking to her son) keeps us connected. When we compel compliance the only result is resistance—from our children, partners or co-workers. The hairpin turn seeks connection over control.
I was asked to represent the “community” in a “think tank” session at our local university. The topic was scholarly activity and community engagement. All but three of us in the group were young, smart faculty members who wanted to understand this “new” movement to “reward” community scholarship.
Within the first hour I understood that many of those attending wanted specifics about “what counted” toward tenure and promotion. Did a new course design count, or did the work have to be more practical like a design for a training session based on the most current research? Many wanted to know if “the only thing that counted” was rigorous research that got published in a scholarly journal.
Even though I deeply understood the search for the answers (I was once a young tenure-track faculty member), I did wonder what would happen if we all abandoned the need to have everything “count” in some measurable way toward our own advancement? Would this change the work we are doing? What if children who benefit from a new partnership between the social work department and the YWCA could speak to this group about how their lives had changed as a result of this collaboration? What if we “counted” the value of this work more from the intelligence of our hearts, than from the money in our pockets? On the hairpin turn journey, we lead with these “counting” questions.