Calling in The Voice

The VoiceJohn and I have been enjoying watching “The Voice” together this season. We had never watched it before but for some reason the set-up for this reality show is more engaging than other singing shows. It’s a little less cutthroat-feeling and it’s fun to see the coaches argue with each other. It’s also interesting hearing people talk about their dreams.

In the course of the show, the contestants give mini-interviews and many of them speak about getting confirmation of their “callings” when they’re picked for the next rounds. Initially the choices are up to the coaches and then it becomes an audience voting system as the show progresses.

This gives me pause. I wonder how all the pieces really go together. Talent. Calling. Recognition, “making my dreams come true” “showing America who I am” etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great way for these people to get onto the career paths they’re looking for and affirmation of our talents is something all of us look for . . . but what happens when the validation stops? When America stops voting for you?

If voting validates your calling, what happens when the next vote sends you home?

There’s a tricky balance to handling the input we get about what we’re doing with our lives. Sometimes, its essential to hear the message from those around us because we’re deluding ourselves. Other times, we have to ignore outside opinion to continue forging ahead. We have to be careful who we lean on because I think it’s possible to have callings that no one else validates for us. Or maybe not in such a definitive way. If we wait for cues from others to move forward, we risk missing out on our callings. Knowing who you are and trusting yourself is crucial. At the same time, we can really be blind and needed wise advisers who can speak truth to us.

I see I’m back to the balance theme. Wow, I feel like that happens to me all the time (see my Nuance post?)

The contestants left on The Voice are all extremely talented people. They definitely have vocal gifts. There aren’t delusions about talent at least. But I wonder if there is still blindness about what following the music dream is supposed to look like. Should they all get record deals and start down the path of touring and concerts? Maybe but maybe not. Are they all called to serve with their voices? Probably . . . but the way those callings play out may look very different than winning The Voice – in fact for most of them it will have to look different – there is only one winner after all. Their career as artists may not follow the “path of success” they think they need to be on in order to fulfill their callings. I hope they realize that when America likes someone else a little more in the next round of voting.

So what’s our takeaway since most of us don’t have superstar singing skills we’re currently displaying on a TV show? Well, I think it’s just good to think about where we’re looking for validation. What are the things you think should happen for you to feel affirmed/confirmed in your calling? Who are the people you think should do that for you? Are they the right people? Is the affirmation or confirmation from others truly necessary? Is it possible that you’re already pre-approved by the very Person who gave you your gifts in the first place and wants you to steward them for his glory?

What’s Wrong with Work Today: Management Part 3

Ok – here are some final thoughts to wrap up the Management discussion in this series (see Part 1 and Part 2 here).

On Monday, I talked about the separation of thinking and doing. In the comments, Anna wrote:

“On another note, when you talk about crafts or trades or whatever, I immediately think of plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, those kinds of trades. These are all kind of “blue collar” jobs, nothing that I’ve ever been encouraged to aspire to. But maybe that is also a loss in our way of thinking about work – we don’t value people who work with their hands. We seem to have this cultural preference toward staying clean and working with our minds.”

She highlights one of the big problems with our management culture today:

We have been taught to look down on blue collar “labor” and venerate using our minds – as if thinking and doing can be separated. We have made assumptions about intelligence and trades that are false. Anyone who works as a plumber, carpenter, dryer vent cleaner or dry wall installer can tell you about the difficult thinking required to diagnose, assess, prepare, install, correct and fix tangible things. Thinking and doing cannot be separated as much as we have tried. Even in the corporate world, where we’re supposedly all doing “thinking” jobs, much of the time you’re not supposed to think for yourself. Call any customer service center with a concern and if it’s not in the script, you’ll likely be told to either talk to a manager or that the representative can’t help you because of policies handed down by management.

This creates a hierarchy that pre-disposes managers to think poorly of their employees. (Again, for the record, I have had some excellent managers and believe it’s possible to be a good manager.) But let’s face it, it’s easy to think less of people when we’re in charge. Power tends to corrupt us. Trying to prove, maintain or enforce authority can involve belittling others, withholding necessary information or not providing resources, especially if we’re insecure or hungry for more control.

Much of our management theories of the past were based on the premise that people, “fundamentally disliked work and would avoid it if they could. These faceless minions feared taking responsibility, craved security, and badly needed direction” (Daniel Pink, Drive, p. 76). But is that really our fundamental nature? Pink thinks not, “Have you ever seen a six-month-old or a one-year-old who’s not curious and self-directed?” He argues that if we are passive workers later in life,

“Perhaps management isn’t responding to our supposedly natural state of passive inertia. Perhaps management is one of the forces that’s switching our default setting and producing that state” (89).

As much as we would like to think we’ve moved on from these premises by trying to “empower” employees, I think too often these assumptions are still part of the management mindset. While we often say we hire people for their skills, we then don’t act like they really have them or won’t use them properly. We micro-manage processes and procedures. We don’t give employees credit for being able to figure out how to do things on their own. We think everything is up to us and everyone should follow our plan exactly (I know I have these tendencies without ever having been a manager of people – how many of us try to manage our spouses?). Joanne Cuilla writes in The Working Life:

The other insight about work that management theorists keep discovering is that if you give people information and a say in how to improve their work, they can produce impressive results. The fact that managers are constantly amazed by this tells us something about the respect they have had for employees (p. 141).

When corporations start trying to reconnect thinking and doing by allowing front-lines people to make decisions usually reserved for managers, business suddenly booms, customer satisfaction goes up, loyalty increases and employee retention levels are more easily maintainted. Consider Zappos’ legendary customer service and what it does for their company.

Overall, I think a strict management culture makes it difficult for people to work effectively. It’s hard for managers to shake ingrained assumptions about those they manage, and it’s hard for employees to develop the internal motivation and self-direction when no one makes room for growth in these areas. The unfortunate reality is that people in power often abuse their power and end up hurting those who report to them. You don’t have to go far to hear a bad manager story which I think is really sad.

Thoughts? Stories? Counterpoints? What have I missed in this discussion? Please share!


Other’s Callings do not negate Your Calling

I’ve hit this topic of comparison and competition a few times already (maybe you can tell I struggle with this!) but this week, I had a brilliant reminder of how important it is to simply do and be what you feel called to do and be, without worrying about the work others are doing around you.

Instead of listening to NPR this week (it’s been too depressing with all this debt crisis news), I switched to the Classical FM station for my drive to and from work. I’d like to pretend I know quite a bit about classical music, considering I played classical piano for 9 years and have a Dad who turned on classical music for dinner every night, but as I listened this week, I was amazed at how many composers’ names I didn’t recognize. I guess you can’t just play the “big names” all day long.

So it is in daily life. Are you letting the “big names” do everything because you think there isn’t room for your contribution? Maybe you’re in a circle of friends and one person fills the role of encourager. She’s the one who checks in with people regularly, affirms them, inspires them etc. If she wasn’t around, you’re pretty sure that’s the role you would fill. Do you leave all the encouraging to that person just because they’re doing it more or “better” than you? In most cases, I bet you can never have too much encouragement. If you feel called to contribute in the same way, you should. If you already see others contributing the way you want to, then join them, learn from them and support them! Share the load.

Different composers write music for the same instruments, using the same keys and the same structure, timing and formatting. That doesn’t make their work redundant, so why do we worry so much that other people are “already doing” what we feel called to do? You might never be a big name with most of your repertoire on regular rotation at the classical station, but you may have one piece that the DJs need to fill in the gaps. The world would be a lesser place without it.

So think about it this weekend. Do you struggle with feeling like someone else’s calling has negated your own? Where do you mistakenly believe you are redundant? What areas of your life do you ignore because you feel like other people are already filling that role or doing that job?


The “But it’s already been done” excuse

“It’s already been done”

“Everyone is already doing what I would want to” or worse “Everyone else is already doing it better”

“I’m not original” or “I have no original ideas”

“What do I have to add? There are already a million ________”

“How can I really do anything different?”

“What if someone steals my idea” or “I didn’t think of it first”

Ever had one of these thoughts? I’ve thought them all many times. There are millions of books, millions of plays, songs, films, programs, workshops and products. It’s easy to think there isn’t room for one more. Look at the hats in the picture, it sure doesn’t look like there is any spot left to hang another one.

Many of us dream of creating original work of some kind. The excuses above let us off the hook. We decide it’s not worth trying because “there is nothing new under the sun.”

But if you take a closer look at these hats, you’ll see that even though they look very similar on first glance, there are actually many styles and small differentiators. Give ten people a chance to choose and they probably wouldn’t all choose the same hat.

Creating isn’t a competition. It’s a conversation. Nobody creates anything completely original. We are all influenced by the culture and traditions we live in. There’s always room for a new voice, a different view. Producing something is better than nothing, even if the something you create will never be performed on Broadway, displayed at the Smithsonian, or nominated for best ________ of the year. It’s about the intrinsic value of what you can give, adding your piece to the conversation; it’s not about where you rank in your category and how well your piece weighs up against another.

Stop comparing yourself – it won’t help you get started. In the words of a wise and revered hockey player, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In what areas of your life, do you need to decide to take the shot?

Believing in Your Uniqueness!

If you’re like me, you get a little cynical sometimes about statements like, “Always remember you’re unique” and you add the “just like everyone else!” with heavy sarcasm.

But, no matter how much sarcasm you pour on, the truth is you are unique.

As teenagers, we didn’t necessarily want to be  unique because it meant we didn’t fit in with the people around us. Our uniqueness felt more like a liability than an asset.

Maybe by now, though, we’d like to be unique, but we think we don’t have anything new to offer. A deadly habit of comparing ourselves to others becomes ingrained and we begin to think it’s all been done before.

Either of these two mindsets can keep us from acknowledging and pursuing our callings.

While I think we overcome our overwhelming need to fit in as we grow up, the second mindset that we don’t have anything to offer is much harder to overcome. In The Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle writes,“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way.”

And T.S. Eliot referred to this problem in his poem “East Coker V”
“And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

It’s encouraging for me, as writer, to know that even these remarkable literary greats battled comparison. As both of them show, the point is that there is no competition. When we start focusing on comparison, we stop believing we’re unique. The point is that we need to try. If we don’t try, we waste the opportunity to make something from what we’ve been given.

Believing in uniqueness helps you accept that you have something to offer the world; it helps you to embrace your calling. So it’s time to put away your cynical sneer and think about some ideas or interests you’ve abandoned because of “it’s all been done before” reasoning.

If it wasn’t a competition and you couldn’t compare yourself to anyone, what interests, activities or ideas would you pursue?