Evaluation: asking questions and doing something with the answers

Why "Rut-Living" is Such a Powerful Force

I live in a rut. My view from here is a dirt floor and two dirt walls extending as far as the eye can see. My initial evaluation of my situation makes me tired. I can definitely climb out of this rut and do things differently. Yet that would require asking hard questions, making difficult decisions, and investing time and resources into something less predictable than this rut.

Don’t get me wrong or hear this as a complaint about the rut or some kind of creepy cry for help. I am truly blessed. But in my sixth decade of life on this planet, I still have dreams.

Some of you know that my choice of the word “dreams” has significance. I almost always prefer “vision” over “dreams.” My self-imposed working definition of “vision” is a dream with a clear or emerging path to achieve the dream.

I know dreamers. Wonderful people. Hearing them talk warmly about their dreams is a pleasant experience for all of us within earshot. With some of these folks, you can tell that their dreams will always exist in the land of unicorns and cotton-candy rainbows simply because they will never do anything to achieve them. This does not make them any less wonderful. Although, if the dreamer is someone in your life who is supposed to be leading or making something significant happen, watching dreams die a slow death is truly frustrating.

When you live in a rut, you can have dreams. And unless life has really beat you down, rut-living can be an awesome inspiration for many, many dreams.

For a good part of the almost four years I have been in my sixties, I have made a point of telling people that I am getting old. I do that to some extent because I want to acknowledge the gray and absent hair, the hearing loss, and the embarrassing slide to rut-living contentment I sometimes feel. But my dreams plague me. And, upon further thought, they frustrate me because few of them connect to vision anymore. There are no clear paths ahead for some of these great ideas or zany inspirations.

I often counsel younger individuals to evaluate — to ask questions and then to be honest about the answers that come. Without evaluation, rut-living becomes pretty appealing. Ultimately, it becomes an excuse to stop planning and, in essence, stop engaging in making the world a better place.

So, if you’ve been my next door neighbor in Rut World, won’t you join me in some good old-fashioned evaluation? If you read the news, you know that there is a deep need for people with vision. Let’s be part of that movement.

Why is negativity so seductive?

In random tweets rolling across my phone this morning came this quote “Distance yourself from negativity and great things will happen.” Those words immediately captured me and my impulse was copy and share that idea repeatedly. After all, it’s a great, wise thought.

Overcoming Negativity

photo credit: Gabriel Pangilinan, unsplash.com

And, it’s true.

Yet, as I thought over it, I started to question why it resounded so strongly with me. Was I in quest of great things? Or did I just covet the distance from negative people, negative talk, and negative reaction?

Granted, there’s nothing bad about wanting either. But I think I would seek the distance above the greatness. Negativity makes me tired. It makes me tired when I roll in it. It makes me tired when you do. I totally understand that negativity is sometimes necessary as part of our decision-making process.

The irony of this line of reasoning is that much of the negativity I see in others is a direct byproduct of my own negative ways. When we hear a criticism — particularly if it rings true with our own experience — we jump on the bandwagon. Negativity begets negativity.

So, when I go back to look at the quote, I feel pulled to like it on the greatness side.

If you and I do great things, negativity doesn’t disappear. But it loses its power.

Be powerful today. Help someone else. Give a compliment. Step to the side and give others the time they need. Be joyful in the work you’ve been given to do. Rejoice in recreation. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Do it on your own and with others.

Experience greatness.

New Voices

dealing with change

This is a personal post. Turn back now if you don’t want to go there. However, I’m talking with many people — at all stages of life — who share my experience. Perhaps this will strike a chord. You see, I once had a plan for my life. Or should I say, my life has been a notebook full of plans. At each turn in my existence, I had a clear idea of what I would be and where I would go and when I would reach certain milestones. Now I’m hearing new voices.

new voices

(photo credit: Kalen Emsley/unsplash.com)

My latest life plan, the one that is now stuffed in a back pocket of that notebook, was to finish out my career in place and continue to serve in those comfortable spots I had already found. By that I mean, I would just do what I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, slowing slightly, and then quietly exiting. But then I heard new voices in vocation.

Those new voices have planted a challenge to do exciting things with a renewed purpose, as well as the elements needed to make those things happen. The new voices I’m hearing about my vocation are strong, encouraging, and clear.

My life plan is missing, though.

There is a chilling quietness from the voices that speak to the rest of my life. I’m not lost. I’m not without direction. I just haven’t begun to listen for or hear the new voices — the voices about personal things and spiritual things. Because of the emerging plans at work, personal and spiritual life has been disrupted. Not shattered, but disrupted.

How about you? Do you long for new voices? Do you feel you’ve become mired in what has been and do you long for what will be? Are you drifting just a bit?

From some good mentors, I believe I am beginning to hear the whispers of what will be strong new voices. Let me share what they’re saying — just in case you’re straining to hear as I am.

  1. Spend most of your energy listening.
    Although I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to be quiet over the past six decades, I’m confident that I have rarely taken that advice to heart. Be quiet. Experience the peace that comes when you watch the river calmly flow past.
  2. Dwell on good things . . . about people, about your position in life, about your future.
    There’s more than enough of these to keep you occupied and thankful.
  3. Fill your time with meaningful and valuable activities.
    Whenever possible, be with family and friends — listening and sharing. (For my fellow introverts, spend a little time scheduling your alone-times. There’s time enough for everything. We often use the excuse of our introversion to avoid what we may need the most.) Read good books. Watch worthwhile media. Sing along with uplifting songs. Take walks. Pray . . . a lot.
  4. Don’t despair over what you don’t know.
    Anxiety is simply the fear of what hasn’t happened yet. Let go. Find the next best step for you to take and joy in knowing it’s there.
  5. Be hesitant to give advice.
    (I hope you smile a bit as you think about the irony here.) Instead, ask questions. Not as cross-examination, but as a curious friend. What will you do next? How are feeling? Why do you think that (whatever “that” is) happened?
  6. Wait.
    Let time, let God, do what time and God do.

I am confident that a new life plan is emerging — both for me and for you. And I’m blessed that your life plan will make mine better.

Rushing By

rip tides of the soul

There is a moment almost every day when I pause. Calm is about me. My mind is clear. And then, suddenly, but not without warning, I am pushed into the busy current of life and I see so much rushing by. Most often my urge to join that stream of action propels me forward in my life’s plan. But sometimes, whether from panic or a realization of how little energy reserve is available, I’m simply pulled out and away, another victim of a rip tide.

I know full well what I should do. Not unlike the strategies of a swimmer facing the strong fingers of an ocean’s rip tide, I should keep my head, check my bearings, and move in parallel with the path of intention I was suddenly snatched from. At some point, I will leave the influence of those things rushing by and be able to focus on where I should be and what I should be doing.

Too often these emotional and practical rip tides of the soul tear us away from what we know and what nurtures us in such a violent way that we lose hope of ever finding our way back. When those times come, when we feel ourselves pulled into the boiling sea of worry, anxiety, and busyness, we should take a momentary detour to realign ourselves with the shoreline where we can stand and navigate freely.

And, when our personal will and resolve are spent, we should take the hands of those who reach out to pull us to safety . . . if, for no other reason, to deepen our opportunity to be the one reaching out tomorrow.

Imagine

with a faint apology to John Lennon

When times get tough, we often turn to the words of a poet or a balladeer to give us hope, to soothe our angst, and sometimes, to crank us up. Many paint only a picture of an ideal. . . in essence, a dream. John Lennon gave us that in “Imagine.” Imagining away religion, patriotism, hunger and competition seemed to smooth away all of the ugliness of the world. After all, “with nothing to kill or die for” we certainly would live better lives, wouldn’t we? Imagine such a world as that.

image: Jean-Frederic Fortier/unsplash.com

If I’ve just trashed your favorite song of all time, please stay with me for a minute.

In the later verses of the song, John Lennon writes of bringing the world together and sharing the wealth of the world. While we can dream of a time when that would happen, the writer makes it unlikely by entrusting that exercise to humankind without a higher power.

A dream of that magnitude requires a vision and definite action. While dreams can burn softly like candles, only true vision fueled by process can ignite the fires that bring change and progress. Our prolific Beatle has a point here. Too often, action and progress, framed only in mortal idealism, give way to greed, lust, and attempts at domination. Imagine if there was none of that.

But that same action and progress, when formed in the image of One who is greater, brings about what Lennon is really seeking . . . Heaven on earth.

Imagine walking side by side with that One. Imagine sharing and building together. Imagine loving each other as God loves each of us. At the very least, it gives us something to “die for.”