A woman called yesterday and asked if I would be willing to talk to her brother. She said he was a busy executive and liked his work but felt like it had “overtaken” his life. Apparently he travels several times a month and is beginning to think that he does not spend enough time with his spouse and two small children. He said to his sister (who works at a church): “Don’t tell me I should change my work—not in this economy. I just need some coaching on how to handle the stress.” I told her I would speak to him and that perhaps the principles and practices of servant leadership could provide some alternative ways of being in his current job.
Many times, in our minds, we think that in order to lead more complete and fulfilling lives, we have to make a radical change—quit our jobs; move to another location; or divorce our spouse. These are external.
Real change happens within our hearts, which in turn, renews our minds. Often we avoid the internal change because we mistakenly believe that change will only happen if we alter the outside conditions.
True change is just the opposite—when we move the inside of us, then the outside sifts as well.
When in transition we hold onto the hope that the future will bring something different from the past or the present. Emily Dickinson said: “Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul.”
When I left one career for another, I felt like I was “in flight” from one branch to another—not sure if the next one would hold. I stayed on the first branch a very long time until my soul assured me that the next branch would most likely be steady.
Hope nudged me from one to the other and brought unexpected joy and surprises. What perches in your soul?
Leaders set moods. You witness this in any meeting. When the appointed leader displays a “bad mood” then this tends to infect others. Soon the meeting seems to be spiraling downward.
We can take responsibility for our moods and shift to another way of being in the moment. This begins with examining what we are saying to ourselves and then having some strategies to make a change. This is a hairpin turn.
Here are some ways to make a mood change: Change your physical posture—there is a connection between our body and our moods; Consider who you hang out with—if possible—as moods are contagious; Play some music. And remember that we cannot avoid our moods.
The turn occurs when we observe what is going on, make a choice to change and move to this new place available within us.
I had a young faculty member in my office telling me about a big initiative she’s leading on campus. As she talked, I felt a dread come over my body. I have not been in academe in years but the issues seemed to be the same. I considered adding to her misery by telling her that “some things never change.” But then I caught myself and knew that would not be supportive of her efforts. So I took a deep breath and listened deeply to what she was saying. She was very wise and she knew what to do next.
As I let go of my old issues (and cynicism) an idea popped into my head. I told her my “new thought” and she said, with a smile, “Oh my gosh—I have thought about that but was afraid to move on it.”
Being in the moment requires deep listening and an awareness when you are moving into your own troubled past. When I let go of my own drama and became present to this young leader, an intelligence emerged between us.
We can choose to stay swirling in our own theatre or we can become present to the creative potential available right now. We do have a choice.
I almost talked myself out of taking a painting class. I heard myself saying: “I can do this later when I have more time” and “The materials are expensive” and “I simply do not have the time.” While my head came up with reasons to say “no” my heart said “do this!” I knew playing around with colors, designs, and textures were life giving to me.
When I attended the first class, all the participants knew each other and spent the first 45 minutes “catching up.” Again I started to talk myself into leaving. Then the instructor started and I learned a trick with Q-tips and a fritch scrubber and saw the beauty of Payne’s gray. My heart smiled.
We live in a horizontal plane where we rush forward, make plans for each hour and hope nobody gets in our way. Thankfully, also we can live on a vertical axis whereby we become present to our heart’s longing, let go of plans, and welcome every moment as an amazing new birth.
Hairpin turns encourage an intersection of both horizontal and vertical—and at that crossroads, life is full of beauty.
I purchased some Kava Stress Relief tea to send to a relative who is going through a “rough patch.” On the side of the box there were instructions entitled “Get the most out of every cup.” While making tea seems obvious, perhaps when troubled we need to be reminded to pause and allow the stress “to melt away” by being still and kind to ourselves.
In the workshop on “Change”, I suggested that one way to deal with the stress of change is to invite the fear to tea. When going through a challenging time in life, we will actually feel better if we confront the fear. And one way to do this, with some lightness and ease, is to boil some water, get still and present to the reality of the situation, and have a direct conversation with fear…over tea.
I learned about a choice someone made that I thought had a negative impact on our work together. I was upset, and I stewed about her decision for hours. My self-talk went round and round: “Why would she do such an insensitive thing? Why didn’t she talk with me before she did this?” Later in the morning, while preparing for an upcoming workshop, I read a story about a man who is exceedingly patient.
When asked about his capacity he said: “When someone upsets me I tell myself: ‘This is an opportunity to extend patience to the other.’ That sentence turned me in another direction.
Later in the day, I talked with my colleague after repeating that sentence to myself several times. While the conversation was challenging on many levels, I remained present and patient and left understanding her choice. Also we agreed that in the future we would discuss situations like this with one another before the decision was finalized. This one sentence influenced the direction of my conversation and I suspect will continue to impact the quality of my conversations.
I was enthusiastically telling someone about an event that several of us are planning for the weekend. It involves a performance, a panel discussion, a reception with local food and wine and some background music. Everyone has put a lot of energy into this event. After my description and invitation for her to come her response was: “It is supposed to snow this Saturday.” I mumbled: “Oh, I had not heard.” We parted and I started to think of what I would do to cancel—the possibilities soared through my brain. My enthusiasm for the event turned to worry with those seven words. As I walked toward my office I decided to pretend she had offered another seven-word response like: “Wow! That sounds like a great event!”
Sometimes, in our attempt to be helpful, we make dire predictions. Naturally, as the recipient, we can ignore, take heed or pretend. Perhaps we can pause before we communicate a warning and consider the helpfulness of the words.
At a meeting today, a minister said he was taking three days of Sabbath this week “to prepare for the busy season ahead.” It reminded me of that juxtaposed phrase: “don’t just do something, stand there!”
What if we considered not doing something an essential act of preparation for the activities of this holiday season?
I read in the book Unplug the Christmas Machine that the number one thing that children really want for Christmas is a relaxed and loving time with family. What better way to prepare for that kind of time together than to take some Sabbath time and reflect on scaling down the activities to have more time and peace of mind to really enjoy each other?
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.