On the weekend, I was catching up with a bunch of friends who gather occasionally to keep relationships up-to-date. The question around the table was “So what’s new and exciting?” That usually elicits baby news, job changes, latest relationship, and emotional or situational struggles. I was completely engaged in what they were all saying…and then it was my turn.
I had nothing.
After stammering over what I could add, I pretty much just confessed to the mundane nature of my life. Vanilla was the only flavor that came to mind.
On the drive home, clarity prevailed and the largeness of the past year’s events filled my mind’s eye like watching an action film on the big screen. More “new and exciting” than I imagined could happen in a year – a grandson’s birth, a cancer diagnosis, my father’s illness and death were just some of the scenes of the last several months.
Then, right there, in the dark car, I was filled with gratitude that a merciful God filled all of that with His presence. Sometimes I forget to say out loud how incredibly good God is to be in our lives…and to never leave us alone in the hard.
Today’s “new and exciting” is that I am cancer-free right now, that darling baby is the star of his own music video, and acute grief in losing our dad is shifting to savoring memories of all our years together.
There’s more though…
Later in the weekend, I read this enlightening piece written by Benjamin P. Hardy. He interviewed composer and pianist John Burke about how he pushes himself to create.
Burke listed out four strategies that he regularly uses to “elevate” his work.
1. Always Work on Something You’ve Never Done Before
2. Map It All Out From the Beginning
3. Apply More Layers of External Pressure Immediately
4. Put “Creation Time” On Your Daily Schedule
Read Hardy’s piece for the particulars of Burke’s creative habits.
Burke’s approach to work, in general, and creating music, in specific resonated with me for two big reasons. The first, is that I had seen his system for creating in the habits of our composer/guitarist son, Nathan Mills (Beyond the Guitar). The second reason is that I see what the “new and exciting” had done to my own creative habits.
I had settled into a sameness, a smallness, that had become a prolonged recovery time for me. Healing was imperative, but there comes a time when we gather ourselves up and get back into life. The Hebrew King David’s example came sharply to mind – after praying and fasting for his terribly ill son – 2 Samuel 12:18-20 – at the news the child died, David rose up, washed and dressed, worshiped God, and ate.
The “new and exciting” for this Monday is to take John Burke’s strategies to heart. When a person gets her life back after a cancer diagnosis, and recovery is behind her, the best medicine is to get on with life…with a renewed passion and intentionality.
Thank you, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Hardy.
My husband has described this “elevating our work” with the phrase “Shifting to the next gear”. That’s what I want for this next chapter of my work life. I’ve been driving the service roads, and now it’s time to get back out on the highway. To adjust my life to a greater difficulty and higher speed.
Elevating our work requires adjusting our thinking in that direction as well. [See links below.]
In his LinkedIn article, Barry Sanders talks about one of the characteristics of what makes a “best place to work”. This characteristic is “common purpose”. He writes:
Common purpose is essential to driving organization-wide adaptability, which is key to succeeding in today’s fast-paced business world. A shared set of values and goals across the organization allows leaders and individual contributors to achieve widespread alignment, manage uncertainty, and guide decisions in times of turmoil and change.
Without establishing common purpose, companies risk a lack of motivation, lower levels of commitment, less loyalty, and decreased alignment amongst their employees—not to mention negative Glassdoor reviews.
He also quotes from his CEO General Stanley McChrystal’s bestseller Team of Teamswhich gives this summary of the importance of common purpose:
“Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose…Individual SEALs have to monitor the entirety of their operation just as soccer players have to keep track of the entire field, not just their own patch of grass. They must be collectively responsible for the team’s success and understand everything that responsibility entails.”
When you can see the entire field, not just your patch of grass, your organization becomes more effective—and a better place to work. – Barry Sanders
I sure hope senior leaders get this message. Just communicating the purpose is not enough. That “patch of grass” must be given to that soccer player. He must own it and own his part of the entire field. Leaders who genuinely believe in and nurture common purpose cultivate a “best place to work” for their personnel.
2) Safeguarding Your Marriage – Infidelity or unfaithfulness in our marriage relationships is not just about sexual betrayal. Infidelity can happen when we allow our hearts to become more bonded to someone or something else more than to our own spouses. Dave Willis defines infidelity as “broken trust or broken loyalty”. He has posted a tremendously helpful article entitled The 9 Forms of Infidelity in Marriage (Hint: 8 of Them Don’t Involve Sex). Willis is a pastor,counselor and founder of Stronger Marriages. Single or married, you will benefit from his article because too often we “fall” into infidelity by letting ourselves be deceived in thinking it’s nothing. Safeguard your relationships!
3) Being Different – Matt Damico has written an excellent piece for Christ-followers. It is The World Needs You to Be Different. If you are reading this and you aren’t keen on the teachings of Jesus, you may already think that Christians are a quirky lot of people. What Damico says in this article is to call us to the rhythms, the routines, the practices of the church that work a peculiarity in us that’s a good thing.
Piano scales make a pianist. Hours behind the wheel make a driver. Weightlifting reps make muscles, and lots of miles make a runner. Routine and repetition aid us in so many ways, yet a lot of us seem allergic to similar habits in our weekly church worship gatherings.
But just as these individual habits do something to us, so it is with our congregational habits: they’re making us into something. God willing, they’re making us the right kind of peculiar.
We’ll bear fruit in this life when our roots are firmly planted in the coming new earth. As C.S. Lewis said, history shows that “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” One of the main ways this happens is through the rhythms and repetitions worked into our weekly gatherings.
So, as your church gathers for worship this weekend, appreciate anew what’s happening, how the strange rituals — the “rhythms of grace,” as Mike Cosper calls them — are making you more faithful and more fruitful. – Matt Damico
4) Hard Seasons – I’m not going to wax on here about hard seasons – we all know what ours are. I just always want to keep Syrian refugees on my radar so here’s a photo piece that dramatically displays their reality…in a way that has stayed in my mind all week.
Then I also wanted to share a piece by Aaron Brown. I know his family. He grew up in Chad where his father was a physician. His reflects on a very difficult time and its oddly positive impact on his life…renewing his hope after the very difficult year of 2016.
5) Small Beginnings – In the Bible, the prophet Zechariah encouraged the people, “Do not despise small beginnings.” They had the huge task of rebuilding the Temple, and Scripture tells us, this great work began in the mundane but extraordinary act of Zerubbabel picking up the plumb line. Any beginning may seem small and inadequate for the grand vision that stretches in front of us. However, we never know when the small explodes into wonder.
Chip and Joanna Gaines (HGTV stars of Fixer Upper) have an incredible story of small beginnings which grew into a huge, phenomenally successful business. They started out flipping houses as a young couple and often had just the cash in their pockets. Now they have their own TV show, a real estate business, home goods store, and “The Silos” – a refurbished commercial venue in Waco, Texas.
Another example of small beginnings is pastor and author Tim Keller. Just this past week, Keller announced he was stepping down from the senior pastor position of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He pastored there for almost 30 years and it now is a multi-site 5000-member church. [This is a planned succession and he will be teaching in a seminary.] A friend of mine here in Richmond “knew him when”. Years ago, before his NYC church role he was her pastor, in a small church near here – West Hopewell Presbyterian Church. Small beginnings…
Whether you are examining a small beginning as a Christian or from a different worldview, there is excellent counsel to be had…both in Scripture and in articles (such as those linked below).
Just yesterday I was trying to encourage a young man about what he viewed as a small beginning in his career. Not sure I made sense at all. Then today, my husband emailed me this great article – about the exact same subject.
the power of choice (“you stop playing the victim to external circumstances and take responsibility for your life – the private victory“) and
the power of context (“In everything you do, there should be collaborative and synergistic elements. Of course, there is work which is your work. However, that work should be embedded within a group of others and toward something much bigger. – the public victory”)
Hardy’s full article is excellent (even includes components of the assist we get from brain plasticity which I wrote about earlier).
Recently, I was in an odd conversation with a friend from work. The more we talked, the more we sounded like a Dr. Seuss book. It went something like this:
“I don’t know how to be us with them. To be with them is to just be them. We must lose us; us no more will be. There’s no us in them; it’s so strange to me. How can they be them, with no us, you see? To give up us is too hard for me. So I can’t see a way to get to we.”
[Seriously, the conversation went like that…but better.]
Battling the us-them assignation is an ongoing workplace discipline. Even in the happiest, coolest companies, there is still an intentionality to keep work life positive for every employee. That inclusiveness is a hallmark for high morale and low walls (read: no silos).
In a work culture where silos still exist, an us/them mentality can grow as each team or department draws in on itself and ignores or suspects the actions/values of others. It’s not a healthy situation for any of us…whether it’s the executive team insulated from others or the [fill in the blank] team hunkered down in its own mode of trying to survive. The first can be as unaware as the subject of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes“, the second, well, is just miserable, and growing more so by the pay period.
So much has been written on this problem in the workplace – about that culture where us/them thinking and operations color productivity and morale. I have included several links below describing various recommendations and protocols to restore health to such organizations.
I’ve always been that person who says, “Why can’t we just all get along?” In reality, we don’t have that situation always, but we can grease the tracks in that direction. Here are my own workplace rules regarding moving us and them to we:
Make a practice of assuming the best of your bosses and colleagues. “Refuse to think ill of others” is my goal…and my accuracy in hitting that goal comes with practice and determination…and grace.
Lean in to those with whom you struggle the most – the “thems” in your worklife. Especially the most powerful ones. Study them. Learn their language. Know them as well as you can. NOT for self-serving reasons, but for the benefit of the work itself. Any motive that only serves your personal situation will only make matters worse… ‘Nuff said.
Refuse to get caught up in us/them complaining. Don’t make a big deal about it, but do your best to turn the conversation toward a positive end, change the subject altogether, or bow out if all else fails. Those negative conversations just bring you and your colleagues down and don’t accomplish anything. A short-lived “misery loves company” satisfaction isn’t worth the fall-out of such conversations.
Bring down the silos, one brick at a time, if necessary. Maybe you aren’t experiencing any us/them anguish, but you know it exists. What can you do, individually and as a work team, to move to “we”? We have lots of work models out there for this. In fact, silos in the workplace are “so 80’s” (whatever that means…I hear it a lot, so I’m using it here). Use some of that meeting time, or talks over coffee, to be creative in how you can work better across teams…how you can learn more from each other…how you can defuse territoriality? If the “them” is management, you initiate dialog on setting work culture values that maximizes product excellence and employee engagement.
Put processes in place – through your culture – to keep silos down. I would love to hear what your situation is and how you are making positive steps to grow/keep a healthy culture. Please comment below.
Sure…there are times we need to process a difficult situation at work with a trusted friend. Yes, us/them scenarios are painful…and wrong, honestly…especially in the workplace where we are meant to have shared goals, working toward the same outcomes. Maybe, the us/them relationships in a company are too distracting and we can’t see any solution (back to the Dr. Seuss-like conversation above). In that case, it’s possible we look outside our company for another situation. However, you take with you a piece of the us/them dilemma. You take you along to the next job. Better to develop muscle memory on how to “be we”, whenever possible, right where we are.
[Sidebar: I’ve written a lot about work culture – too many to mention – but you can search work culture under Blog – Deb Mills and learn as I have about what is possible if we stay engaged in our workplace.]