When your calling scares you

I’ve been mulling about calling again these last few weeks. I haven’t really actively researched calling in several years but it’s resurfacing in my own life. I want to talk about how a calling scares us sometimes. There’s a quote that’s lingering in my mind these days. It’s from Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis and it’s near the end of the book when evil Uncle Miraz has been defeated.

“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I – I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I am only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

This quote has always stood out to me powerfully. I remember watching the movies as a kid and thinking that was such an odd thing for Aslan to say.

Now it doesn’t feel so odd. While this probably qualifies as “vaguebooking” because I’m not going to go into details (sorry!), this quote really hits home for me right now. I feel a much stronger tug to a calling in my life that has mostly lain dormant so far. I recognized it in my early twenties and yet have never really acknowledged it until now because . . . well, frankly, it’s scary. It’s not a calling I want. I look at it and I see a lot of pain and problems. I dread the idea of it. Even acknowledging its existence has felt like too big, too hard of a step to take so I’ve ignored it as long as possible. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am not “sufficient” for it.

And yet it’s there. I can’t shake it. Certain events keep making it clear to me. Have you ever had one of those moments in your life, where someone else names the thing you won’t name yourself and it feels like the entire universe shifts into place? And then you go home and think you’re being entirely way too dramatic? That happened to me recently and it’s been so interesting to see myself run away from it. I thought I was all about follow my callings but this one I don’t want. This one is too scary for me.

And yet the beauty of a calling is really, that I don’t have to be sufficient for it. Callings require more from us than we can ever give out of our own strength. God prepares us. He does the work in us and through us. It’s not up to me.

I think when your calling scares you, it’s probably a good sign you’re on the right track.

Defining Work and Success for Yourself

Back in July, I participated in a TED style in-studio event called Inspired Success. I spoke on defining work and success for ourselves. Each of the speakers received their video file this week. I wanted to share mine and also give you a bit of background on the experience.

Getting involved as a speaker for this event was pretty random. I went to a networking lunch in June. A woman there suggested I contact Sunday about speaking for her Inspired Success event, after hearing about my work. So I called and Sunday bravely took a chance on someone she had never met!

Then as we got closer and closer to the July event, I had a lot of second thoughts about participating. The “Inspired Success” theme wasn’t resonating with me so my speech was feeling really inauthentic. I almost canceled two days beforehand! It was the “breakdown before the breakthrough” as Sunday coined it. Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and wrote what I really thought and this is what came out:

Success is an elusive concept and shouldn’t be our focus.

While I felt pretty awkward suggesting that “success” shouldn’t be our primary focus at an event called Inspired Success, the audience was wonderfully supportive. In my speech, I suggested “success” is sort of a vague idea – it’s really arbitrary, not guaranteed to be replicable and can feel really empty when we “achieve” it. Instead of success being the end goal, I suggested that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are often the things we’re really looking for. In order to see “success” in these areas, we need to redefine work. Defining work properly means we learn to see value in more than just our paid employment. We need to see success in more than just dollars and fans. In fact, we need to re-engaged with our Creator and understand his calling in our lives.

Delivering the speech felt amazing – the women at this event were truly an inspiring group and the positive energy in the room was incredible. They’re doing fantastic work in our community. I felt so lucky to get to connect with many other Seattle entrepreneurs. I’m working Carin and her WISE Women group. I love Rachel‘s vision for her Leadership Launch program. Debbie and Anna have both blessed me with their wisdom and insight.

I’m so glad that I participated after all. I learned a lot about myself in the speech-writing process and was really encouraged by the stories from all the other speakers. It was another one of those moments where I felt like my calling was affirmed and the overriding emotion at the end of the day was simply gratitude.

Inspired Success is now an on-going community and Sunday is hosting her second in-studio event tomorrow in fact. If you’re a Seattle area woman leader, check out the community on Facebook here and get involved!

Work with your hands

work with your hands poster

“Everybody isn’t a lawyer or doctor. Teach kids it’s ok to work with your hands and build cool things.” I ran across this poster on LinkedIn last week (you can see it here) and a friend commented that it’s a great time to be in the trades.

Later she wrote me how frustrating it is that people seem to think “. . . being a tradesmen is a secondary dream or something to fall back on if you don’t make it as a doctor . . . It seems the general LI public is really ignorant as to the education and commitment that it takes to be successful in a trade and that it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s like if you don’t work at a keyboard or on a phone, that you’re less of a professional.

  • The fact is HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other tradesPEOPLE do go to college and are required like many professions to obtain annual CEU’s and certifications.
  • The fact also is that plumbers can expect to earn $80-100k annually.
  • The fact also is that we have a terrible lack of tradespeople available and they are now in a position to call the shots in regards to benefits, schedules and perks.

I don’t think that sounds like something that is a ‘fall back’ . . . I’m seriously disturbed by the attitude of people who clearly consider working with their hands lower in some way . . . and we’re going to find ourselves in a dire situation because we haven’t fostered the trades.”

Her comments reminded me immediately of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I’ve quoted him before on the blog (here and here and here). He’s a PhD who became a motorcycle mechanic. He documents how we have degraded work over time by separating thinking and doing. This is a false separation, as my friend knows. In real work, you can’t separate mental and manual function. Mechanics, plumbers and general contractors constantly confront situations that require diagnosis and good judgment. It’s super insulting that we imagine these people are somehow less intelligent than a banker.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. Shop Class as Soulcraft p. 164

Work with Your Hands

Nothing beats experience. When you work with your hands, you see what works and what doesn’t. There’s something tangible in front of you and you get immediate feedback on your progress. You see what you have accomplished. This is highly rewarding to most of us. Who has experienced the feeling that you’ve accomplished more cleaning out your garage then you did all week at work?

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. We see the whole picture. It’s easy to grasp how our efforts contributed. We can see real differences!
  2. We complete a whole project instead of just filling a desk for a certain amount of hours.

I’m sure you could think of more. If you want meaningful work, it’s important to consider how important tradespeople are to our society. They might not get the respect they deserve, but if you run their jobs through Daniel Pink’s Drive test, they win every time. Autonomy? Check. Mastery? Check. Purpose? Check.

Let’s work on erasing the hierarchy of jobs and instead celebrate the diversity of careers. The next generation needs to know all their options.

How to figure out what you really value

core value exercise
image credit: d11consulting.com

The other day I was leafing through some of my old workshop materials in preparation for my October seminar and I found a “Values” exercise. You might have done one of these before, where you look through a list of words like “Peace, Success, Wisdom, Integrity, Wealth, Time, Fame, Justice” etc etc. and you’re supposed to whittle them down to your top five values (here’s an example or this one). These top five values should then help give you direction in your big decisions. You’re supposed to remember them well enough to live your life intentionally aligned with them.

I look at it now and I think this exercise is flawed. It’s all well and good to think about what we value . . . but I think most of the time, we’ll end up choosing the words we simply like best (hey, these all sound good!). Of course most of these things we want to value. Maybe there’s no harm in that. Maybe it works as a list of values you aspire to.

To get a more accurate assessment of our top five values I think we need to be a little more realistic. My guess would be that if you briefly outlined where you spent your time every day for a week, you would see your top five values quite clearly. If not, maybe your spouse, roommate, sibling or parent could help you out.

I’m guessing this second list based on how we spend our time won’t be quite as noble-sounding as the first list but it will probably be a better starting place for understanding who we are.

For example, if you spend every evening watching shows and are always excited about finding a new series to watch, you value entertainment and relaxation. Which is great. I definitely value those things. I just think they wouldn’t necessarily show up if you asked me to pick my top five values out of a list. I don’t see myself as someone who sits in front of the TV every evening but the reality is that I do spend an hour most nights watching something.

Now, if you spend 80 hours a week at a job you hate, you might be thinking your time doesn’t really show what you value. Maybe not, but maybe it does. Maybe you simply value security or approval from your superiors more than you realize. Change is hard. Risk is well . . . very risky! Maybe you value loyalty so highly, it makes it hard for you to leave no matter how toxic the situation. If it’s paying you more than you could make in a job you would enjoy, maybe you’re staying because you value money or status more than you think.

So here’s an idea for a twist on this exercise: Do the first one where you pick them out of a list. Then spend a few days observing your daily schedule. Make the second list based on what your use of time says you value. Then compare them. Even better, compare them with someone who knows you well and can give you perspective.

  • Do they align?
  • Where are the discrepancies?
  • Are there steps you can take to move your second list into agreement with your first?
  • Is that even necessary?

Let me know what you discover! I’ll test it out myself over the next few days and let you know in the comments what I come up with.

Decision-Making and the Will of God

Decision Making and the Will of God Today, I’m doing one of my favourite kinds of posts: a book review. It’s helping me ease back into the practice of blogging – I’m feeling rusty. Plus, I really want you to know about this book because I loved it! It’s called Decision-Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson. I don’t know how it hadn’t crossed my path yet as it’s somewhat of a classic (I read the 25th Anniversary edition). Thankfully, it was recommended to me recently and now I get to recommend it to you!

Decision-making can be extremely stressful. Who hasn’t felt the pressure of making a good decision? Especially about BIG items like what to do with your life or who to marry. If those are questions you’re struggling with, this book is an excellent aide in helping you understand a biblical model for making decisions.

In Part 1 & 2, Friesen critiques what he calls the traditional view of decision-making. He defines it like this:

  • Premise: For each of our decisions, God has a perfect plan or will. 
  • Purpose: The goal of the believer is to discover God’s individual will and make decisions in accordance with it. 
  • Process: The believer interprets inner impressions and outward signs, which the Holy Spirit uses to communicate God’s individual will.
  • Proof: The confirmation that one has correctly discerned the individual will of God comes from an inner sense of peace and outward (successful) results of the decision. 

I really appreciated how well he articulated these points – most of us haven’t articulated our thoughts around decision-making this clearly and once they are stated this way, you immediately start to see the flaws in them. Friesen thoroughly annihilates this position with verse-by-verse commentary. This was very helpful for me as I have always had issues with this view of decision-making but wasn’t necessarily able to put a finger on what bothered me, much less provide evidence for why there was a problem.

Part 3 explains the alternative model to the “traditional” view that Friesen proposes. He calls it “The way of wisdom” and exhaustively backs up the principles (see below) with scriptural examples.

  1. Where God commands, we must obey. 
  2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose. 
  3. Where there is no comman, God gives us wisdom to choose. 
  4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good. 

After that, it just keeps getting better. In Part 4, Friesen does us all a huge favor and provides chapters discussing what it looks like to make wise decisions in major areas of our lives like marriage, ministry, missions and giving. He takes the model from the abstract to the concrete with very practical examples.

I especially appreciated the chapters on “Wisdom When Christians Differ” and “Weaker Brothers, Pharisees, and Servants.” He stresses the importance of taking the time to “cultivate your own convictions” in areas of freedom that are often up for debate.

Even the appendices have lots to offer: He reviews other books on decision-making and God’s will, provides some practical tools for memorizing Scripture and explains how to hold “Bible Marathons” where you read large chunks of the Bible in one sitting.

At 526 pages, it’s a thick book so it might feel too intimidating to open. Trust me, it’s very easy to read and even if you don’t have time to read it all, going through all of the concise, logical, bullet-point summaries will still give you plenty to consider.

Have you read Decision-Making and the Will of God? What did you think?

Did I meet my 2013 Goals?

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this post all month so I guess it’s time to write it. In January I recorded some 2013 goals:

So here are some of the things I hope to see happen this year (in no particular order of importance):

  • I will learn to sew (got a beautiful machine for Christmas for the in-laws!!)
  • I will blog 2-3x per week about whatever I want
  • I will throw a birthday party for Canon for the first time
  • I will run some workshops on Finding Your Calling
  • I will write some articles for magazines (this is something I always think about and never actually do)
  • I will organize my house (I am actually super stoked about this because I read a fabulous book at my mom’s and have already started with some of the smaller spaces in our house and tomorrow, John and I are going to do a kitchen overhaul!)

This year, I get to figure out if I can bring in some income while staying at home with Canon and I get to continue to figure out what role I play in John’s photography business. I’m excited to see where these adventures lead us. And who knows, maybe at some point another book will start percolating.

In June, I checked in on my goals and now that we’ve come to mid-December, I return to this list to see how it all panned out.

2013 Goals Reached:

  • I did blog 2-3x a week (a few weeks it was only once) and I was able to broaden my subjects and feel free to write about whatever I wanted. I really enjoyed that!
  • I definitely threw a birthday party for Canon’s first birthday. It was manageable and it was fun. Two important requirements in my book. Canon got to meet my mom’s parents for the first time which was a wonderful surprise.
  • I did mostly organize the house and garage. Has it come unorganized? Yes, in places. But I am happy to note that some of the structures we set in place are still holding up. Our house and garage really just need to be cleaned and tidied rather than re-organized at this point. Although I never did conquer the office . . . ahem . . . John’s domain . . . ahem.
  • I did figure out a way to bring in some extra income by getting my Birkman certification and opening up a “business” side of My Calling IQ. While so far this income stream is minor to non-existent, I am glad it’s there and I hope to see it grow next year.

2013 Goals Reached That Were Not On the List:

  • Learning to Cook! We have maintained our cooking schedule of one week on, one week off all year long and we eat delicious food (probably 90% Paleo when at home). I also feel like we’ve learned a better kitchen rhythm cleaning-wise.
  • Finally starting to floss every day. Ha ha! I feel very proud of myself for actually starting a new habit. I have flossed every day except one since mid-September. This is a big accomplishment people. I never flossed before this.

2013 Goals Partially Reached:

  • John and I started experimenting with switching off “working” days at Crozier Photography but then things got busy with weddings. My most consistent role is simply doing the month-end bank reconciliation and printing out our Profit and Loss statements for review. We will likely revisit this question in the New Year and see how we feel about further division of labor.
  • Sewing. So the sewing machine did finally get pulled out but only for one project. I sewed an absolutely hideous but functional sleepsack for Canon since he outgrew his other one. I do feel like I learned a lot because I sewed a zipper and it actually worked. I would like to sew more things like new throw-pillow covers etc but that really hasn’t been a top-priority item.
  • I do feel like I have materials for another book percolating. I have a few major questions floating around in my head (re:church, parenting etc) that make me wonder if 2014 will bring another large writing project. I consider this prospect with excitement as well as dread.

2013 Goals Not Reached:

  • Well, I didn’t teach any workshops this year. The class I was scheduled to teach in the fall fell through because only one person enrolled. This was a disappointment but I am hoping that the class scheduled for February will get the five people required to keep it open. If you’re interested, it’s not to early to sign up!
  • I also did not write or publish any articles in magazines. I don’t think this is my thing. I printed out a bunch of submission instructions for various magazines but couldn’t really wrap my brain around what to offer. I’ve never been good at essays or short stories. I feel very constricted somehow and usually end up having to write some very long and then cut it to pieces to make it “fit.” So I won’t add this goal to my list for next year.

So there you have it. Overall, I’m so thankful for this year because it has been a much more restful year than 2012 (having a baby, publishing a book etc). I felt a lot less pressure about everything, spent most of my time on the floor with Canon, got used to having a very messy house, did a lot of cooking, read thousands of kid books (or rather read the same kid books a thousand times), read at least 45 grown-up books, and maintained this blog as a regular writing discipline.

I may blog one more time before Christmas but will mostly like be taking a break until January when you’ll hear about the 2014 goals I come up with.

What about you? What goals did you have in 2013? Did you reach them or redirect them?

What’s Wrong with Work Today: Time

You might faintly remember that I was doing a series on “What’s wrong with work?” awhile ago – well, I went back to check just how long ago it was and wouldn’t you know it, it’s been a WHOLE YEAR. I wrote about Money, Mastery and Meaning. In February I came back to the series talking about Management Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Is it irony that this last post is about time? We don’t have enough of it.

TimeIn my research into the nature of work, one of the aspects I found most interesting was the fact that we have changed from a task-oriented to time-oriented view of work. In the pre-industrial era, people worked on completing tasks: building a chair, tilling the field, sewing the dress, cleaning the stables. They probably worked the same amount of hours or even more than we do today but that wasn’t what their compensation was tied to.

Today, how many hours we put in can feel more important than what we actually accomplish during that time, which adds a new dimension of pressure to work.

Consider the billable hour. I worked at a graphic design agency where every 15 minute increment was technically supposed to be documented and billed toward the right projects. Design doesn’t work that way. Brainstorming and idea creation involve time to think. Some people mull through problems for a long time until they have everything thought out in their heads and then execute quickly. Others start doing right away and re-think as they go along. Thinking isn’t easily measured and don’t look “productive” from an outside perspective. 

Having to account for every minute of your day to show its productivity is enormously draining. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive he suggests that part of the reason lawyers are so miserable as a group is because of how minutely they’re required to track their time with each client, “For nonroutine tasks, including law, the link between how much time somebody spends and what that somebody produces is irregular and unpredictable.” While we’re obsessed with being more efficient and faster at everything we do, some work is seriously jeopardized when we try to hurry it along.

Sometimes, working fewer hours actually makes us more productive because we value our free time so much. In Joanne’s Cuilla’s book The Working Life she writes,

We actually have some record of what such a change [working less hours] might mean to a community: in 1930, in the teeth of the Depression, the cereal entrepreneur W.K. Kellogg put his workers on a six-hour day at full pay. Productivity increased dramatically, helping pay for the experiment. Meanwhile, the company town’s parks, community centers, churches, and YMCAs all flourished. Researchers who interviewed the townspeople found that their interests had grown and changed: they now asked themselves, “What shall I do?” not just, “What shall I buy?” (p. 115).

There are quite a few modern examples as well (Results-Only-Work-Environments are the most extreme version) and yet Americans still work longer hours and take far less vacation than most Europeans. And it’s not putting us that much farther ahead. Despite working fewer hours, the French are just as productive as the Americans.

There are all kinds of obstacles if you start trying to fix the time vs. productivity imbalance. Culturally, we’ve tied being busiest to being best. Touting the numbers of hours worked per week is a kind of status symbol (Maybe because so much of our work has lost meaning and time is the only “measurement” we can find to give us a sense of meaning?). Many people are doing the work of two or more people and no matter how long they work, can’t get through what’s expected of them. Some of us, if given the freedom to chart our own course, find it hard to self-motivate or learn how to work outside a 9-to-5 structure.

Have you struggled with living in a time-oriented vs. task-oriented culture? Have you struggled with the billable hour or with setting your own hours? Tell me about your experience.

Calling & A Meat Marination Stick

You’ll probably laugh about how much I thought about this story over the weekend! I read this NY Times piece on Thursday about a Christian lady who credits her invention of a meat marination stick to God. You should read it. And also watch the video of Mary describing her product. Go ahead, take a break, I’ll be here with my thoughts when you get back.

meat marination stick
Image Source: Cuisine Noir

Now if you’re like me, your first instinct when you hear someone say “God told me” is to tense up and wait for the crazy. And in fact, I likely read the entire article with a skeptical face. Sometime later in the evening, I realized I should know better by now. I’m always ranting and raving about how diverse our callings can be and about how we need to quit making secular/spiritual divides. I thought I’d already learned to appreciate how often God uses the material and the physical things of this world to shape, grow and bless us.

And I started thinking, What if God really gave her recipes? What if he really did give her a vision for this meat stick? Why not? I thought about heaven and considered the possibility that God uses material tools to create his feasts there even though I always picture it all appearing like magic. But what if God loves the process of cooking? What if he gave this lady a little gift from heaven to bless her family and church? Why not?

Maybe all that thinking is too crazy for you, but it totally reminded me again again that we tend to carry around assumptions and expectations about what makes a calling, or what work God is really trying to do, or how he wants people to serve each other. And these assumptions and expectations can blind us from seeing the work God is already doing in ours and other people’s lives. We can be so busy looking for what we think should be there, that we miss what really is. It’s another part of the reason, I really prefer to say that we recover our callings rather than discover them. Our callings are already present in our lives. Whether we can see them or not is the real question.

Have you had an experience like this?

Being present in our bodies

Happy Friday everyone! I had a few threads of thoughts converge for me this week from a blog post, a book I’m reading, and our discussion at life group on Jacob wrestling with God. I thought I’d just give you the gist:

1. Genesis 32:22-31 – Our discussion questions for this week asked why we thought God decided to physically wrestle with Jacob rather than to just talk to him. I had never thought about this but it brought back everything I’ve read about how much more we learn by doing rather than just by hearing/reading. Our beliefs are shaped by our practices – actions influence thoughts as much as or perhaps even more than thoughts influence actions.

It made me see that Jacob’s physical experience of struggling for control for an entire night and finally having to surrender probably had significantly more impact on his life than God just coming and saying “You need to trust me and let go of your own need to strategise about everything.” Fascinating, eh? It’s a lesson he learned in his body. And I’m betting he never forgot it either.

Experiences last in our memories so much longer than lectures. But we have to be present in the moment to learn them too. Jacob couldn’t exactly ignore another man physically fighting him, but I think for us, we often can ignore our own experiences that are trying to teach us something.

2. One Small Change: One LESS Thing – This blog post was so encouraging for me because I sometimes feel like this is my life right now and I felt encouraged to embrace it being this way! I’m not that busy but somehow I get busy every week. And I’ve realized over and over how many last minute things I say yes to because I am available. Sometimes, it does start feeling hectic but often I’m so glad “that worked out” and that I went ahead and answered that phone call, babysat or had a playdate or went to lunch etc. It’s another thing that helps me be present with people instead of living in my head.

3. The Lost Art of Lingering – I’m reading this book on Kindle (it’s a link to Amazon) and it is a great book on mutual mentoring (basically the idea that both people will learn from each other). The last chapter I read was on the simple practice of actually meeting together. The author also talks about how important it is to shut off distractions and be 100% in the present when you meet for mutual mentoring. He mentioned in passing how we can fill calendars up so quickly that we don’t leave room for these relationships that are really pivotal for our growth.

What I liked best about that blog post is that it’s about removing stuff from your life rather than adding something to the “to-do” list (note that Jacob was entirely alone when God shows up. He had sent his whole family and possessions across the river without him). How much do we try to cram all kinds of meaningful activities into your life because we don’t really want to do the waiting, listening and noticing part? How do we clear room to breathe and hear and follow our calling, not the hundred callings that everyone else expects. In the end, it boils down to paying attention – using our physical senses to raise our awareness and live a little more intentionally.

Why does it sound so easy and yet remain so hard?

How do we discern our callings?

I’m excited to be guest-speaking next week at a friend’s church on the topic of how we discern our giftedness and callings. So I’ve been digging through my research and it’s turning up so many gems that it’s hard to even know how to start! Today I wanted to link you up to some of my past posts on these topics in case you’re interested in a little refresher course:

The process of recovering a sense of calling in our lives involves raising self-awareness (Who did God design me to be?) and listening (Hello God, where are you leading me?).

We can’t just start with finding something to do – we have to start with who we are because God designed us uniquely and has unique purposes for each of us. In Listening to God in Times of Choice, Gordon Smith quotes Ernest Larkin on discernment, “Basically the difficulty in all discernment is personal inauthencity. If you are not in touch with yourself, if you don’t know what is going on, you cannot hear the ‘other’ even when the other is God.”

Smith writes, “If we do not accept who we are, and more, actually like who we are, we will probably not be able to meet God freely and respond to that encounter. We will always be attempting to be someone other than who we are; we will be living a lie.”

Often, understanding who God created us to be means first accepting who he did not create us to be. It means letting go of our own expectations and parental or family expectations and maybe even community expectations. It means evaluating all our previous assumptions about our lives and work. It means double-checking how we define calling, spiritual gifts, success and failure.

The outcome of this kind of work should be a new sense of freedom, responsibility, humility and gratitude.

Tell me about times in your life where you’ve struggled with discernment. What was the process like for you?