What Do We Do When Paradise Is Lost? What If It’s Not Our Paradise?

They’re gone. They’re actually gone.

I walk over to the staircase and pull off what was left of the bike locks, who hours before held bikes securely to the structure in front of our apartment.

I just bought that bike too. No wonder Katie thought something was off this morning.

I walk back into the house and toss the clipped cables onto the floor, not really sure what to think or feel. I’m not too torn up about the bike itself, it was cheap, but it is sad that it is no longer mine. It is someone else’s, taken by force.

Honestly I have greater sadness over Katie’s loss than my own. She has had that bike for a long time, and she just said that she wanted to ride it more. That’s not to be, I guess.

I don’t understand the mentality that leads people to take from others, I think as I take a minute to sit down and process. It is so invasive, and wrong.

I sit on the couch, looking out the blinds at the breeze flowing through the trees, and now blowing a little bit more freely through the space where our bikes used to live.

I don’t ever want to be that sort of person. I don’t want to take from others what is not mine to claim. I don’t want to take joy, business, or money from others in ways that are dishonest or detrimental to them.

The knot in my chest grows as I drive to the library, hot air coming through my windows and bringing little relief. I call Aron, he doesn’t answer. I get a new library book, which an hour ago I was extremely happy about. But I can’t enjoy it now. I’m preoccupied with the lack of safety I feel.

Katie texts me back. At least she identifies with me and understands. I notice every bike as I drive to the coffee shop. They’re just two wheels and metal. I’ll be fine. But I don’t feel fine.

This is actually more about respect than anything else. 

To have someone enter into your life without your knowledge, come into your personal space while you sleep, and take the things that make up your world, that’s unnerving. And it’s not the first time it’s happened to me.

I remember the last few days I spent in my college town. I was nervous about leaving, and felt the pressure to succeed. I was having trouble sleeping my last night in town, the day before my graduation, and was disturbed by the sound of someone opening the door to my bedroom, then quickly closing it. I woke up the next morning to take inventory of what they took.

I feel all of that mess all over again.

The music blares and the women next to me carry their conversations over the top of it, speaking at a caffeinated pace and pausing only momentarily to suck down more of their iced lattes.

Life will move on. This wound of invasion will heal. But how do I deal with it when it happens again? Because it will.

I process. I remain present with my emotions and give them the space they need to have in order to wrestle with them and come to terms with the events that caused them. I don’t shove them into the depths of my being, because ignoring them won’t make them go away.

What about evil in the world? Well, it’s there. And it’s bigger than my ability to eradicate it all. It breaks our hearts. Well, at least when it’s on a large enough scale or it happens to us personally.

What about the people in the apartment across from you who had this happen to them 2 weeks ago? How’d you feel then?

To be honest, I was sorry for them, but I moved on relatively quickly. And, if I continue in this honesty, I lack true compassion when the world is cruel to others, but expect sympathy and comfort from the people around me when I am personally afflicted. Seems a little off to me.

Well, I can’t buy my neighbors a new bike, I’m a grad student.

But I can be present with them and their processing.

So how do you deal with evil? And I think deal is the right word, because we can’t fix or avoid it. But I’d say remain present with your emotions and with the people around you when they are wronged or wounded. That’s all I have right now, and I’m not sure that there is much more to it.

Maybe I’ll invite the neighbors over for dinner. We’ll have a beer in honor of our stolen comrades.

Advertisements

Why is it so Easy to Get Caught in the Web?

First website. Second website. First website. Second website.

I sit in the room, bathed in fluorescent light and stale classroom air. A distant hum is audible, but my mind is glued with my eyes to my computer screen. The mousepad clicks firmly and the keys tap loudly underneath my fingers.

The professor’s voice comes back into focused audio, but I cannot hold it there for long, and the hum begins again. I click from site to site, checking the same two more frequently than the others, wearing out my mental capacity and the rate at which my computer can keep up with my increasing need.

I should be listening, I think to myself. This content is great and I need to stay engaged so I can write my final paper well. There are only nine people in the class Chris, they know you’re not listening! Chris!

But I can’t stop.

First website. Second website.

I had woken up early this morning. I crawled out of my plush bed with only minor reluctance that dissipated entirely after my first cup of coffee, and shuffled my feet to our living room. I sat down in front of my laptop, forgoing my usual time spent in silence and prayer so that I could get straight to work.

I needed to write. I had to “Do the work,” as a friend had encouraged me to do. I find it therapeutic, and smile in class as I remember the morning act of creation as I wrote out my thoughts. I finished the work and had just enough time to publish it before running out the door to school.

First website. Second website. First website. Second website. Obligatory email check. First website. Second website…

I can’t stop. My brain is going now. How could I have written this better? What are people’s thoughts and reactions? Are my thoughts worth their time? I think through every other word I could have used here, every other sentence structure there.

The girl next to me shifts her weight and clears her throat. She’s on to you Chris, and clearly disapproves of your inattentiveness. But the drug has taken hold, and my fingers itch and my foot taps as I continue to flip flop back and forth online, hoping that these little graphs will continue in their upward trajectory.

How did I get this sucked in so quickly? How is it possible that I am virtually incapacitated in the middle of an interactive group discussion? Why can’t I stop checking these sites?!

I lower my head in shame and embarrassment. These websites are the ones where I can track how many people look at my posts, like my content, approve of my life. And they are controlling me.

Is this why writers write? Is this where you’re going to derive your artistic approval, a bunch of people you barely know who click a button with a thumbs up sign on it? Really Chris?

SLAM!

Someone drops a book and a thought comes into clarity as quickly as my attention returns to me:

Leaders are not addicted to their followers.

I close my laptop.

3 Ways to Prepare to Fail Well (For Husbands and Leaders)

I am a new husband. Just know that…
     I walked into the front gate of our apartment complex to a gut-felt “Thank you!!!” and a huge sigh of relief from my wife. She had locked herself out of the apartment while I still had an hour and a half left in a mandatory intensive lecture at school, so she sat outside reading a Fearless Flyer from Trader Joe’s that she had found in our mailbox (she is now very informed about their wine selection). She was so glad to be able to go inside (mostly because she had chugged a full bottle of water promptly before locking herself out), and though it changed my plans for the evening, I was happy to be there to help.
     I wanted to continue to be helpful, so I started a conversation about what we could do in the future if this happened again, because this wasn’t the first time it had happened. Though my heart behind the conversation was good, my timing and delivery were horrific. I had been in class all day and was thinking very logically and strategically, so what came out of my mouth was, “What if you had been cooking when you locked yourself out and a fire started? How do we prevent this from happening again?” Needless to say, she didn’t like that.
     Once again, in all honesty, my desire was to help and be on her side and take steps forward, and in no way did I want to shame her or make her feel bad. But that’s exactly what I did. I had a good heart and good content, but my strategy and delivery were terrible, and in my failure I saw how the preparation and adaptability I needed in the situation related to leadership. As leaders there are a few things we need to know how to do if we are going to effectively help the people we are called to lead:
1. Know your context well
     I knew my wife was locked out of the house and I knew she was probably bored out of her mind. But I didn’t take the time to dive deeper. I didn’t think, let’s say, about how much time she had had to beat herself up (like I would have done to myself) or come up with a solution to the problem (also like I would have done). I didn’t take the time to think about how she probably just wanted relief and then to move on, being able to enjoy that I was home and so was she (at least inside of it). It takes this extra step of processing, trying to get what those you lead are experiencing, in order to achieve your desired outcome. You have to take the time and energy to understand them and the current situation in order effectively lead them. Otherwise what you meant for good could quickly achieve just the opposite.
2. Think before you speak
     This may seem like a no brainer, but this requires a level of strategic thinking that goes beyond “winging it.” After thinking through the context and situation my wife was in, I then could have planned how I was going to communicate my support and desire to be helpful. I could have processed what my heart was behind asking if there had been a fire, and instead maybe asked a question like, “I know you’ve probably thought through this, but what do you think is the best way to remedy this situation in the future? Because I don’t want you to have to be locked out of the house again, that stinks.” Both of these first two steps require empathy, something the leader doesn’t always do well if there is something to be fixed, but is essential if one is to lead others well.
3. Reevaluate your strategy when necessary
     My strategy in helping my wife was absolutely awful, and no matter how many times I say that I meant well, it was still awful and hurt her feelings. Leaders can’t get away with being right and being a jerk; truth does not make feelings irrelevant. The point here isn’t just to be a nice leader, it is to be a leader. Period. Because you will lose every person following you if you never admit fault or change your tactics when necessary. It’s ok to change a plan, to adjust a trajectory, or to scrap a project entirely, but if the leader always charges ahead with plans that aren’t working, then the people following them won’t trust them and will move on to someone they can.
     This all might seem obvious or simple, but I needed to relearn this when I got home that day. When I had let my mouth run wild without much thought, I promptly inserted my foot in my mouth, took a few minutes to think, and then apologized to my wife and tried a different tactic, one that let her share her experience and supported her in the midst of her frustration. And, unsurprisingly, she reacted with much more favor and trust than before. With personal pride on the line, it is so difficult to shut up and admit fault, but both husbands and leaders must learn how to do this. The way for leaders to prepare for this is to do their homework, knowing their context and planning their communication wisely, and then being evaluative and appropriately reactionary, willing to change the plan when the plan isn’t working. If you do this, your leadership will be trusted and credible and your followers will stick with you because of it.
     And the real moral of the story: Be nice to your wife.

4 Stages Of Challenging Growth That Great Leaders Smile At

McFarland, USA is a movie that chronicles the formation of a cross country running team by a struggling coach in a new town. The boys on the team have a shot at greatness after the coach realizes they were built for running instead of football, and the cross country team is formed. They are fast to begin with but still need to train, especially on hills, and the coach takes them out to run accordingly. The coach, after they’ve run up their hills, tells them to run them again. The guys grumble and say it’s hard, to which the coach responds, “It’s hard? What is hard is watching someone pass you on a hill… What is hard is losing.” He tells them they’re going to train so well on hills that, “When we see a hill we’re gonna smile.” Leaders know the value of hills because they’ve been up them before, and smile at the opportunity to run them again. Knowing these four stages of leadership development in crisis will help inform your own growth, as well as the growth you facilitate in others.

Stage One: Crisis
Every leader goes through crisis. You must, for that is where leadership is needed most. But this is the type of crisis that the leader experiences personally, things like poor decision making in critical moments, or seasons of doubt and even depression, or financial strain, or simply stress and worry. This is the bottom of the hill, where you start climbing and realize how absurdly large the hill is and how completely unprepared you are. It is an uphill fight to put one foot in front of the other and to keep your eyes on the goal. Compelling visions of the future and the benefits of this crisis are seen in infrequent glimpses because your head is down on your plodding feet. The most important thing in is this stage is to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how small your steps are.

Stage Two: Rest and Uncertainty
Congratulations! You’ve reached the top of the hill! But that does not mean everything is all sorted out and tied up nicely with a bow. You’ve actually just endured the crisis, and you’re spent and disoriented from exhaustion. But this is the place to take a breather, and try to sort out what life looks like after this crisis. In life this looks like your anxiety disappearing, but still having no idea what to do about the things you were stressing out about. Or your depression is over, but you feel like you’re at a standstill, you aren’t moving forward and are stagnant. At this plateau, it is important to recognize that you’re at an in between stage, and to take the time to catch your breath and prepare to move forward. Don’t sit down and believe you’ve arrived, because you’ll be stuck on this hill for the rest of your life and won’t get very far, depending on this one experience to inform your life and decisions in ways that an incomplete lesson can’t provide.

Stage Three: Clarity
It’s time to get moving again, and the worst is behind you (for the most part) because you’re hitting the downhill portion of the process. Though you’ve been through difficult crisis and spent some time in exhausted waiting, you can’t stay there, and you’re growth depends on you moving forward. This stage is extremely refreshing, because you start to gain insights into why the crisis happened, what internally was going in you before the crisis, and how you can grow. The rush of the cool breeze informs you that your life has momentum again, you’re moving forward and can see the bottom of the hill! This stage doesn’t come without some struggle (because we all know how downhills wreak havoc on our quads). Some difficult things must be addressed, and the personal shortcomings that led to the crisis must be dealt with, striking a balance between understanding, learning from, and moving past our failures. It’s not all a breeze, but it is definitely better than sitting weepily on top of the hill, and a brighter future is coming as resolution awaits you at the bottom of the hill. When you get there, you’re crisis is over.

Stage Four: Do It Again
Here’s the thing: you’ve just gone through hell and you never want to look back. You’ve grown a ton, you’re extremely proud of yourself for making it, and you’re actually a little grateful for the crisis, because you know you’re a better person for it. But to get the most out of the experience, and to learn the lessons you just figured out in the deepest soul-level way of learning, you have to do it again. But this time you won’t be alone, and this time it won’t be your crisis. To go from having learned a lesson to experiencing true transformation, you have to walk alongside someone else who is going up the same (or a similar) hill that you did. Your muscles are trained for it, and in reality you’re not doing all the heavy lifting, the other person is because it is their crisis. But rather than putting the entire experience behind you once you hit the bottom of your own hill, remain attentive to others around you who might be trudging up that same hill, and then help them. Coach them, listen to them, encourage and challenge them. Remember how awful it was for you? They’re about ready to give up just like you were, but you can keep them from quitting. Not only will you spur them on, you’ll be able to reflect on all that you’ve learned, articulate what you went through, and coach someone else through the process. You’ll know these lessons more deeply than before, and will likely never forget them because you have someone else who understands the struggle and victory of the hill.

A leader is someone who doesn’t avoid crisis, who doesn’t take the shortcut, and who doesn’t try to “move on” from the lessons they’ve learned. After they’ve conquered a hill in their life, a leader turns around and looks for an opportunity to climb the hill again with a smile on their face, because they’ve been up it before and know it can be bested. When the leader runs it again, they’ll run it knowing they’ve conquered this before, and they know that the person they’re taking up the mountain can do it too, giving them hope for the other side.

Living in a World of Peaceful “Is” and Hopeful “Can Be”

The season right after earning my bachelors degree was one of the most difficult I have ever had. I was trying to be a mature and responsible adult and felt like I was absolutely failing. I made a rushed decision on purchasing a car, I started my Masters degree work without much direction, and I couldn’t get a job. I had moved back to my hometown of San Diego, but it took some time to find community, people in my life stage who I could live life with and connect to. My wife (who was not yet my wife) lived four and a half hours north, and while that is not the longest distance imaginable, it was far enough to make me miss her. A lot. All of this compounded to make life difficult, but what made it almost unbearable was the expectations I had of myself. I dug a hole I couldn’t get myself out of.

Back in Santa Barbara, I had just graduated from college and was about to move to the city I was raised in. I should had all the hope in the world for my future. I was the first one in my family to graduate, we were all so proud and happy, but I couldn’t even fully enjoy that season because I was so preoccupied with the one ahead of me. I was about to say goodbye to my girlfriend, I had no job prospects, and I had no way of “making something of myself.” I looked around and saw my engineering friends getting jobs, and my teaching friends going for their credentials, but I was continuing in an educational program that didn’t have a clear profession at the end of it (Missional Leadership) and I couldn’t get Starbucks or Best Buy (or any of the 60+ places I applied to) to call me back. I could clearly see what wasn’t going well in my life and where I thought I should have been post-college, but I had no way of getting where I thought I was supposed to be. My only thought was, My ship is sinking before it even sets sail.

This isn’t an incredibly instantaneous and unexpected success story. I found odd jobs to work for my first year back and still had no idea what direction I was headed in professionally. I was barely keeping my head above water back in San Diego, and in reality I was getting a lot more water in my lungs than I wanted to. But I did realize something at the end of that season, something that I was reminded of when I was chatting with my friend Aron the other day. One of the best things for me at that time was the identification of the expectations I had of myself, the ones of myself that I projected onto others, and then, finally, appropriate expectations. Here’s what I found:

  • I expected myself to be able to conquer the world after college, or at least get a job that sustained me through my graduate work.
  • I expected myself to make “enough” money and to be a fully functioning member of society.
  • I expected myself to have clear career goals and to be working or interning someplace in the field of my choice.
  • I expected myself to be able to afford a decent car and an engagement ring without much strain on my budget.
  • I expected to be impressive in the same ways I thought everyone else was impressive.
  • I expected that others expected the same.

And I suspected that I was looked down on by society because I couldn’t do any of these things, and I definitely looked down on myself for it. But I realized that I was living in a world dictated by “isn’t” and “should be”, and that was keeping me stuck in a pit of expectations.

It is so common to live our lives with an eye towards where we aren’t and the things we don’t have. Social media can definitely mess with my brain in this way, and I end up looking at the lives of others with jealousy, painting a picture of what life should look like: comfortable, easy, and enviable. We end up comparing elaborate and fantastical lives that we’ve dubbed “successful” with our current realities and sink deeper into frustration, sorrow, and pity over our complete “failure” that we call life. But this is the furthest thing from the truth! And the very people we get frustrated with for having it all together will debunk this myth one by one, just ask them! Their reality looks just as messy as yours and mine, and in realizing this I unlocked the key to wading through a life of letdown into hope: Instead of living in a world of “isn’t” and “should be”, I can live in a world of peaceful “is” and hopeful “can be.”

In relation to leadership, I think it is so important for a leader (or anyone for that matter) to be living in reality, for the sake of knowing both the difficult things but also the good things, things just as they are. Without knowing the current reality, how could leaders change things for the better? If a leader lives in the “isn’t” and “should be”, then they’ll never be satisfied with their work, they’ll relate in harmful and overbearing taskmaster ways to their followers, they’ll forever miss the good that exists in their world, and they’ll always be driven by jealousy and insecurity. Rather than living life according to overwhelming and entirely unrealistic expectations, leaders must live in the realm of “is” and “can be.”

This is a posture of life that recognizes and accepts the reality of where one is right now, and then dreams of where they can go with full belief in their ability to get there. Rather than anxiety about what “isn’t” and frustration over not being where you “should be”, leadership should come from a place of reconciliation with what is and hopeful zeal for what can be. That is where leadership is most effective and driven by dynamic energy, and how a leader becomes someone whom others want to follow.

In reality, this is how life should be lived in general, not just in places of leadership. I don’t want to spend my life digging myself into a deeper pit of fantastical comparison, angry at my current reality and anxious about my unrealistic expectations for the future. I want to spend my time knowing that what is has the potential to go great places, but the fact that it is what it is right now is ok. It just is. When reality becomes acceptable and the future becomes hopeful, I can enjoy the good and beautiful now, and can pursue the future I want to live with expectant hope.

Start Something!

Not too long ago, I sat down to create a website for myself. Having no experience in the realm of web design, I went for the commonly used platform WordPress. There was a very steep learning curve for me, but I knew once I started I would pour myself into the project for hours on end. I had no one to coach me through the process, but knew that this would be a helpful starting point in my personal and professional development. This was one of those projects I could not wait to get moving on.

Not too long ago I sat down to have a difficult conversation with someone whom I love very much. They are an integral part of my life, work, and growth, and I care for them and their development. I had been putting off having this conversation because I knew that it would be a difficult one, and had spent a month going about every other way I could think of to resolve the issue and move towards growth together. This was one of those conversations I could not wait to get over with.

In life there are always going to be opportunities to start something new. Whether in our personal, professional, or social worlds, we always have within us enough potential energy to create something new, begin a new project, start a new process of growth. It is the new endeavors that we choose to begin that can fuel us unlike any task given to us by higher-ups or bosses, and it is these same endeavors that can keep us sitting on our hands, afraid of grabbing the reins and taking ownership of our future.

I realized recently that I was not creating new opportunities and projects for myself of the kind that would bring me energy and increase my momentum through life. You see, it was easy to just be handed tasks. Papers to write, projects to complete, tasks to accomplish. None of these things started out as burdens, not at all! They were all aligned with my passions, and when I had just started this new job, this new degree program, this new project, I had all the excitement and enthusiasm in the world!

But Monday turned into Tuesday. Week one into week two. January in February. You see, it became so much easier to go with the flow than to pick up the oars and choose my next direction. It was easier to dream than to act. And it was in this place of drifting through life and work that I started to wonder how I got there in the first place, when in reality this was a chosen (and exciting) school/profession/project when I first started out.

So I started something. I started growing. I started developing. And this wasn’t a sudden epiphany of realized growth, an incredible production of immediate fruit. No, this was a stubborn decision to lead my life in the direction that I wanted it to go in, and to use the momentum I carried from my first act of starting into my next project and the next one and the next (similar to that moment when Bruce Willis slingshots his spaceship around the moon in Armageddon). All I needed was the activation energy to get me started, and that activation energy is an indispensable part of leadership.

Whether it is a kick in the pants to start your Monday morning admin, or the deep-down courage it takes to launch that multi-million dollar campaign that rides entirely on your shoulders into victory or failure, leaders are people who have stubbornly decided to do the hardest and scariest and most risky things every single day. Before they go to bed at night they commit to doing everything necessary the next day to move forward in life and leadership for their good and the good of those around them. Without this essential element in a leader, how could you ever expect them to take their followers anywhere in life? If they aren’t courageous enough to start new things in their personal life, how could you expect a leader to effect change in the world around them?

A leader is someone who takes people from where they are to where they want to be. Simple as that. In order to do that, a leader must be someone who is willing to start every task in front of them no matter how daunting, in every area of their life, every day. A great leader is someone who has been doing this for years.

So I took the time and created a website (and not without moments of great frustration). I had the necessary conversation (and not without moments of nervousness but also great fruitfulness). And I started a blog called Everyday Leadership.

What have you started lately? How have you chosen to start owning your future and leading in your world?