Where do you turn when the day runs off the tracks, the meeting you’ve prepared so hard for goes badly, or you’re in the middle of that part of your job you dislike the most? What do you do when you’re fatigued, worn thin, burned out with your work, with your life? How do you get back that energy you used to have, the joy that filled your work, the motivation to fight through any obstacle?
There’s really only one place to turn, one thing you need – to know, believe and wrap your whole being around your purpose. Your purpose answers the question – why am I here? It’s the reason you do your job, the reminder of the impact you have, the difference you and your work make, and the outcomes you strive so hard for. It’s the reason behind what you do and why you do it.
If you keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind, it provides the energy, joy and motivation to keep at your work, to fight through the challenges and boredom. Once you lose your sense of purpose or worse, you work and live outside the scope of your purpose, your energy, joy and motivation will soon slip away.
So what exactly is purpose? It’s the goals you have, but it’s more than numbers or accomplishments. It’s the direction you want to go, but it’s beyond your destination. Purpose goes deeper, wider and higher. Purpose is the ultimate end you are seeking for your work, for you self, and for those you wish to impact. It’s who God’s called you to be and the good work He’s prepared for you to do.
So how do you discover your purpose? You discover it when you clearly understand your highest values, acknowledge your gifts, abilities and life experiences, and know the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world. The confluence of knowing yourself and the world you live in is where you discover your purpose.
So over the next few posts we’ll take a deeper look at the steps you can take to discover your purpose. My goal is to help you find new inspiration to do your work or, if necessary, find the kind of work that better aligns with your purpose.
Personal experience has taught that life isn’t one straight, smooth and effortless journey. There are patches of rocky road, exhausting up hill climbs, stretches of fog and darkness. Though life’s path can often be level, smooth, well marked, and brightly lit, those hard stretches can seem to go on forever.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this state of travel. The overwhelming evidence is that we live in a fallen and bent world and we are broken and finite people. The mixture of both create those difficult stretches we all experience in our lives.
Rough patches can mean many things, sometimes we just need to get through them. But other times there’s more to a difficult stretch of road than simply getting through it. Sometimes long stretches of rough travel is a signal that radical change is coming or needed.
And this radical change is a redirection of our life, a turn down a different path to a new destination we never planned on or expected. When this happens to us what we thought was so certain, what we worked so hard for, tenaciously planned and prepared for, prayed and dreamed about is suddenly gone, often in a flash. We feel totally blind sided by these unasked for and unwanted changes.
Yet, often, maybe nearly always, its these changes in our travel plans that lead to the better roads, brighter paths, and a more joyful journey. Why? Because most likely our former path had become the wrong one for us. Somewhere, unannounced to us was a much better road, one planned from the beginning of creation. We just didn’t know it or see it. The hard road can push us to a new and better path only if we can work through the emotions of such radical and intrusive change.
Which is why these directional changes are the hardest of all.
Yet these changes , as unbearable as they can be in the moment, can also provide us hope that we’ll not only come through this rough patch but we’ll be on our way to a better destination, a new life. The real question is how we confront and deal with our new reality. Are we willing to walk away from our old plans and dreams and start to construct new plans to a new destination?
These moments do not come often, so I’ve found the benefit of the wisdom, perspective and insight of a traveling companion, someone whose traveled before us. First, it’s simply helpful to have a friend walk with us while on the rough roads. Secondly, a companion, because they tend to be more objective, can help us evaluate whether a rough patch is the signal to change directions and head to a new destination or something to get through.
Finally, I’ve found making sure there’s space for prayer, reflection and meditation are essential in working intellectually and emotionally through these segments of our journey. It’s in these quiet moments that breakthroughs in perspective and clarity on direction so often come.
So, if you’re in one of those places on your journey where traveling is difficult, seek wisdom from others as well as through prayer and reflection. Determine if it’s just a rough patch to get through or a indication of a radical change in direction. If it’s simply getting through, keep walking. If it’s a change in direction, seek out a new destination and create a new travel plan that will bring you to a better place. But either way, standing still is not an option, going back rarely the answer, instead look, lean, and move forward -it’s the only way through it and onto your new destination.
“It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” is one of those maxims that can be difficult to swallow, especially for those of us who value performance over politics. But reality is there’s a kernel of truth in this maxim, especially when thinking about it in terms of relationships instead of politics.
You see relationships do matter, and more often than not they’re the tipping point in any given situation or decision. Healthy relationships, whether personal or professional, will always carry the day – even in those moments when everything falls apart.
And relationships are not only good at saving the day, they’re also essential in building teams that can accomplish extraordinary things. Very rarely has history changing ideas, projects or efforts been accomplished solo. Almost always, great moments have been created by teams of people working in the context of personal, loving and caring relationships.
So what does it take to create healthy relationships? There’s two simple ingredients:
And to be known!
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Relationships require knowing others, who they are, what’s important to them, their history, their stories, and how we can assist them and their goals. Relationships require us think of others first, so see the world through their eyes, and in the end, simply and deeply, “to know” the other person(s).
Healthy and meaningful relationships also require us “to be known”. Allowing others to see into our lives, to know our thoughts, hopes and dreams. To be known in this way is foundational to building the kind of relationships necessary for teams that change the world. Without transparency, there’s no possibility of trust. Without trust there’s no true relationship. Where there’s no true relationship, there’s no team or community. And where there’s no team or community, the possibility of world changing actions diminishes to almost zero.
So I’m recommending a new maxim. Instead of saying “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”, we should say “it’s not what you know but who you deeply know and are known by that will make all the difference.”
When I was in high school I remember coming home after our high school football team lost a critical conference game. I played defensive end and had a rough night holding contain, and slowing down our opponents receivers. When I walked into our house both my mom and dad knew I was upset, disappointed and defeated. In an effort to help me move forward they asked me this question –
“Did you do give your best tonight?”
And of course I answered “yes I did” because I wanted to win as badly as any player on the field.
Then my parents said that’s stuck with me ever since,
“Then if you did your best there’s nothing more you could have done to change the outcome of the game. The only thing you can do now is learn from this and improve for the next game.”
My parents wanted me to know that I couldn’t control what others do, the conditions I perform in, and most other factors that impact my performance, but I can control myself. I can always do my best.
But, as I also learned on that Friday night so many years ago, sometimes doing your best isn’t enough. Effort, though important doesn’t equal winning, doing your best doesn’t guarantee success. It just guarantee’s, no matter the results, I don’t have to hang my head.
I also realized that evening that, by definition, we can never do better than our best. There’s no space above doing all we could in a given situation. What we can do, as my parents told me, is to learn so that our top-level can be redefined, our best ceiling can rise. In most cases, unfortunately, the conditions required to create this kind of transformative learning happens after we lose or perform badly.
So, we can and should always do our best in any given situation. But when our best isn’t enough, we need to take the opportunity to learn so that the next time we perform, our best will meet the challenge.
There are four factors that influence how much you’ll love your job – the organization you work for (including your direct boss), the lifestyle it provides (pay, hours, travel, location, etc.), the actual work you do, and finally the people you work with. If your job is only good in zero or one of these factors, find a new one now. If two of these are present, it’s an ok job but don’t let it be long-term. If your job has three of four, it’s a great job. Four out of four, now that’s your dream job. This week I experienced a big dose of all of these factors, reminding me again why I have a dream job.
First, I met with many of our board members to talk about how we can best organize our resources to accomplish our vision. Each meeting was a powerful reminder of the impact of SpringHill’s mission and the quality people I’m blessed to serve on behalf of.
Next I spent a big part of my week in Indianapolis with all our SpringHill leaders at our annual Leadership Conference. The conference provided me an opportunity to do two things that I love to do – teach and learn. I was able to speak with our team about being a multiplying leader and I learned from our own team and SpringHill friends about building healthy team culture, living out the Gospel and preparing ourselves for leadership.
But most importantly this week gave me the opportunity to spend time with a group of people I truly love – SpringHill staff. We worshipped, played (Duck Pin Bowling was a blast), ate, prayed, worked, learned, laughed, encouraged, challenged, and grew together as a team. This group of people, and the incredible work they do, is why I’m blessed beyond what I deserve to have the job I do.
I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor. I can barely put it down.
I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way. I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD. I do background research on the people, the places and the times. Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.
I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so. In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories. They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious. But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world. I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.
In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style? Was it effective? What can I apply in my context? If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership. But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing. And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.
I had an English professor who would tell me “if you can’t express your thoughts in writing it’s because you don’t know your subject well enough”. Taking this maxim to another level – you can’t teach about a subject unless you’ve mastered it.
This wherein lies one of the reasons I always teach at conferences or other venues anytime the opportunity arises, as I did this week at the Christian Camp and Conference Association National Conference. Because when I teach I benefit at least as much as those I’m teaching and usually much more.
But this wasn’t always the case. Earlier in my career I avoided teaching, or did it begrudgingly, because I believed it took focus off from my “real” work and worse, it wouldn’t benefit my team or organization. But over the last number of years I’ve discovered how wrong this perspective was.
What I now know is teaching:
- Is the purest form of multiplying leadership (Leadership25) because it spreads what you know and have learned to and through others.
- Forces me to think through the what, why and how of the material I’m teaching.
- Provides an opportunity to assess how well I and/or our team is doing with the subject area. In other words when I teach I want to be able to say that we’re doing (or at least attempting to do) what I’m teaching.
- Can and should be used to help sharpen my own skills and those of our team.
- Reflects well on SpringHill.
So next time the opportunity to teach at a conference or other venue comes your way, remember you and your team will benefit at least as much as those who sit in on your workshop, and most likely, you’ll benefit much more.
But the temptation for leaders (those people already leading parades) is to jump in front of and lead every parade that comes by. This is especially tempting when a parade looks like it needs help. The reason leaders do this is because they are people who have the habit of seeing an opportunity to be a difference maker and then jumping in and taking charge of the parade. Often this is just the right thing to do as a leader – because there are many parades desperate for experienced leadership.
But a leader can be too quick to jump in front of another parade. When they do so they often fail to realize they’re taking an opportunity away from a future leader in waiting. Young and inexperienced leaders can rarely compete with veteran parade leaders for these opportunities. But without opportunities it’s difficult to become an experienced parade leader. And the truth is the world needs more veteran parade leaders.
So the next time a parade comes by, make sure your first move isn’t to slide to the front and start leading the band, but instead to look around and find potential leaders who need experience as a parade leader. Then encourage them to jump in front while you walk with them along the parade route encouraging, coaching, supporting, and cheering this new leader on as he or she guides the parade. This will do two important things – first provide you margin and flexibility just in case another parade comes along that really needs you and, second, help ready another parade leader for a world desperate for leadership.
Generally, the principles and values I learned as a Boy Scout have helped me in my life. But sometimes, unfortunately, I’ve confused the habits I’ve formed as a result of a lifetime of practice with the actual principles and values I’m committed to, as I did in getting ready for the AT.
In particular, the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”, is burned so deeply into my psyche that I now, out of habit, over pack for every trip. For example, when I go to Canada fishing I always pack two (and sometimes three) of everything piece of essential gear just in case I, or someone else on the trip, loses or breaks something. This has worked for me because I don’t have to carry any of this gear on my back.
But that’s not the case with the AT. All the food and gear I brought with me I had to carry. That meant those extra meals, shirts, pants, socks and underwear, the extra flashlight and bottle of stove fuel (and if I would have had room – extra shoes, hat, and a solar charger) were dead weight I carried every one of those 70 miles. I estimated it all added up to an extra ten pounds (or about 25% of my total pack weight).
Now ten pounds may not sound like a lot when one wants to “be prepared”, but in reality it was like carrying a gallon of milk, in addition to the rest of my gear, for 70 miles up and down mountains.
You see, with so many people on the trail, with towns, stores, hostels and roads dotted all along the path, the best way to be prepared is to know where you can get something if and when you need it. It’s why some people hike the AT with only 25 pounds of gear (a little more than half of what I was carrying). So the hard truth was, if I was truly prepared like a good Boy Scout, I would have known this about the AT and would have packed much lighter.
So what’s the lesson in all this? Do not confuse a motto, value or principle with its application. Memorizing a motto (Be Prepared) is easy. Learning a single way to apply it (over packing) is a mindless habit. But leadership requires the wisdom to know when a context is different, because different contexts requires different applications of those timeless mottos and values.
So how do I know this? Because, for seven days, I felt it deeply in my hips, shoulders, knees and back.
- “What was I thinking carry all this food?”
- “What was I thinking having three changes of clothing when I’ve only worn one?”
- “What was I thinking not having trekking poles?” as my toe nails started to fall off because of toe jam.
- “What was I thinking not have my pack fitted and adjusted properly before I left?” as my shoulder ached.
- “What was I thinking not taking a closer look at my son’s well thought out itinerary and his packing list?” when I couldn’t remember where we stayed or planned to stay.
- “What was I thinking not being in better shape before the trip?” when I was so winded climbing up those mountains.
Now the beauty of backpacking is the thinking time as you walk (I was too winded to talk much). It was during these daily hikes that I’d find myself asking the “what was I thinking?” questions. And each time I asked these questions I also reflected how these AT experiences could speak into my life and leadership back home. The reality is I had some “ah ha” moments that have led me to make some significant changes when I got off the trail.
So join me over the next few posts as I share some of these lessons (and the stories behind them) with the hopes you’ll also find some useful nuggets for your leadership journey.