“The power of a caring relationship.” Those words jumped off the screen, as I read a message from someone from my past, a lovely woman who greatly inspired me when I was a child. Sometimes, things we know so well sound like fresh revelation when we hear them stated so simply, so succinctly, and, especially, when we’re least expecting. As I read those words, they resounded in my soul: “The power of a caring relationship.” “The power of a caring relationship.” “The power of a caring relationship.” It then occurred to me that caring relationships are the best ones to have, not just because one person cares about another but because that care contains a very special power, but a power that is, unfortunately, so easily overlooked.
We don’t always realize and appreciate what the power of caring can do. It can encourage and inspire. It can produce change and can transform a life. Think about people you know or have heard of who have achieved great things because an elementary or middle school teacher encouraged them to believe in themselves and to reach for the stars, and they did. What about an all-star athlete who considered giving up on sports but didn’t because a high school coach not only showed interest in their athletic abilities but showed genuine interest in their academic and personal life. Then, there are parents and the power of their care in the lives of their children. My husband and I often talk with each other and also with friends about the balance between doing things that truly help our children versus things that hinder them from becoming able, mature, and responsible adults. How much help is too much? How little is too little? When is “help” not really help at all? All children are not the same, and parents have to answer these questions for themselves based on what they know about their children, but regardless of the differences, one thing remains the same: children need the eyes, ears, minds, and hearts of their parents. So parents, care for your children as much as you can and give them as much help as you believe they need to help them move forward in life. This world can be very hard, very bitter, very cold, brutal, and cruel, but there’s no limit to what children can accomplish with the power of their parents’ care that found, ground, and fuel their lives.
What’s great about the power of caring is that it’s universal. Caring relationships are needed in every arena: home, work, in business, education, in politics, in government, entertainment, and sports. No segment of society is exempt. In a climate where some of the most disturbing and heinous acts happen in office settings and places of business, some still say there’s no place for love, care, and compassion in the workplace and to leave those emotions and soft skills at home. We commonly measure success by money, fame, and prestige, but what’s often behind success are loving and caring relationships that fuel that success. And even though people become successful without always having that fuel of love and care, all too often we feel the adverse effects somewhere in the marketplace of what we perceive as the lack of love and care in the lives of successful people because even though they’re successful, we all know of successful people who are believed to not be all that nice.
Here’s an example: embattled pharmaceuticals executive, Martin Shkreli, who was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding investors. Before being convicted of securities fraud, Shkreli, described as the “most hated man in America,” became known for his 5500% price hike on Daraprim, a life-saving drug used to treat HIV. During sentencing, Shkreli’s lawyers described him as, “kind, caring, and generous.” Yet, public opinion couldn’t quite reconcile a price increase from $13.50 to $750 on this life-saving drug with kindness, care, and generosity, and led many to characterize Shkreli’s actions as inhumane. As we consider Shkreli, the product of a “lonely and abusuve childhood,” who later “alienated people close to him,” we can’t help but correlate what appears to, perhaps, be a lack of loving and caring relationships in his life with what played out publicly over the past few years.
The power of caring relationships! I could go on with stories and examples that bring this exponential power more and more into the light. Instead, let’s go on and on together and commit to using our collective and transformative power of care to encourage and inspire others to believe in themselves, to make any necessary changes in who and what they are, and to pursue and achieve their greatness. Sometimes, all it takes is a decision and a seed: our decision to sow a seed of care into the life of someone we know. Since seed produces after its own kind, we can expect the seeds of care that we sow into the lives of others to produce a harvest and more seeds of care that they can then sow into the lives of those they know. Then, there will be even more harvest and seeds of care to sow, all because of the exponential power inherent within a caring relationship.
With every new year comes a lot of talk about setting, pursuing, and accomplishing goals. With that talk usually comes a lot of questions: Have you set your goals for the year? Have you written them down? Are you working on your goals, even if just a little bit, each and every day? What time frames and deadlines have you given yourself for reaching your goals? I wholeheartedly believe that having goals is great and, yes, in order to be progressive and successful, having them is essential, but I have a confession. Sometimes, when I hear people talking about the importance of having goals and asking these kinds of questions, I can’t help but cringe. Having goals is obviously important, but it’s equally as important that they be attached and anchored to meaningful outcomes that we genuinely desire and envision for ourselves rather than be shaped and driven by the sake of just having them because we know they’re good and important to have.
Not long ago, towards the end of last year, someone asked me a few questions about my goals. I couldn’t figure out why at first, but the questions really nagged me. Then, I figured it out. After thinking about the questions and why they got under my skin, I realized that my answer to all the questions was essentially the same: “I have no idea!” In the moment, I really couldn’t pinpoint and articulate specific answers about my goals. What the questions helped me realize is that, on average, my days are pretty full, and in the course of my daily routines and making sure I’m handling all of what’s regularly on my plate, sometimes my time and attention are so occupied with things I have to do right then that I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think about any goals other than my goals of accomplishing whatever is on my agenda that day. My goals of making sure my kids get out of the house for school on time that day; making sure I have my morning cup of coffee with my husband before we go our separate ways that day; making sure that dinner later on that day will be healthy enough, will taste good enough, and will be ready early enough so that we’re not eating at 9:00 at night; making sure I make all the phone calls I need to make that day, send all the emails and text messages I need to send that day, and attend—and not just attend, but attend on time—whatever meetings I need to attend that day; and also making sure that I spend a little time that day, even if just a few moments, tapping into how thankful I am for life, health, strength, and everything else that I could so easily take for granted. Then, the cycle repeats itself, and tomorrow, “that day” starts all over again.
So, in terms of goals, sometimes, during certain seasons of my life, these are the only goals I can think about on a daily basis, but these are generally not the kinds of goals people are talking about when they tell you that you need to have them and ask you whether you’re working on them everyday. I’ve found that when people ask about your life pursuits, they often want to know just that: what are you working on and trying to do with your life? What milestones are you trying to accomplish? What grand and master plan are you working on for your life? What are you ultimately trying to achieve? People often want to hear our specific life goals, visions, and dreams that we can start feeling guilty and insecure if we don’t quite know, at some given moment, what those life goals, visions, and dreams are. And why may we not know? Because for some of us, it takes time—time to think about what we really want in and out of life. It takes time to think about what we want to achieve, accomplish, and contribute to our community, society, and the world. For some of us, before we set and make genuine, meaningful goals and plans, we have to give ourselves time to actually think about what we really want. We shouldn’t have goals just for the sake of having them. We should have them because they are directly tied to outcomes that we would like to achieve and see—a true vision. And in order to know what you would really like to see—for yourself, your family, your community, society, and world around you—it may take time and maybe a lot of time to meaningfully think about, think through, and adopt a clear vision of what that looks like and, therefore, what you really want. After all, what’s the point of setting and having goals if they’re not a means or a method tied to helping you get to what and where you want to be?
When I was in law school, I had a professor, who did something that none of my other professors did. For final exams, all of the other professors instructed the proctors to distribute at the beginning of the exam period the essay questions along with the blue books where we would write our essays in response to the questions. So, students received the questions and answer booklets at the same time. This other professor, on the other hand, did things differently. He added one hour to the length of his final exam periods and instructed the proctors to distribute only the exam questions for the first hour, and during this hour, we were supposed to simply read the questions and think—think about the questions and how we plan to answer them. That’s it! During that first hour, we couldn’t start writing any answers to the questions, but we were to use that hour to carefully think through the questions and how we wanted to construct our answers. Again, that’s it! Then, after the hour passed, we received the blue books so that we could write out and articulate our well-thought-out and thought-thru answers in response to the essay questions. Did this professor have to withhold the blue books for the first hour to force students to think before they wrote? No, but he knew that some students have a tendency to start answering questions without taking adequate time to think first and then write. I believe the same holds true for goal-setting.
Let’s not set goals just for the sake of being able to say we have them, and let’s not set randomly-rushed goals of no true significance that do not genuinely reflect who we are and who and what we truly want to be. Take time to think. Maybe even that is a goal worth setting: the goal of carving out time to think about what further goals you want for yourself. Here’s the reality: whatever goals you set regardless of why you’ve set them, if you’re an ambitious person, you’re going to go after the goals you’ve set for yourself. But here’s the point, don’t rush! Take time to really think about what you truly want and who you truly want to be. Then, let time and thought shape your goals so that they are genuinely and meaningfully attached and anchored to helping you achieve the vision that you truly want to achieve.
Marriage, Conflict, and God
If you are married and are experiencing conflict in your marriage, have you ever considered that God may have a purpose in it? While God may not have caused whatever differences or disagreements that have been dividing and hindering you and your spouse, there’s no question that He wants to use whatever differences and disagreements that have been dividing and hindering the two of you, and He wants to use them for a purpose. And if you are one who happens to believes that God’s purposes, even if you don’t fully understand how, always and ultimately, in some way and somehow lead to something good, then it only follows that He wants to bring about something good from whatever conflicts you and your spouse experience.
Marriage can be wrought with conflict, friction, and tension—so much conflict, friction, and tension greater than what a marriage can bear. That’s often why marriages fall apart and couples divorce. But does it always have to be that way? Do unbearable differences and disagreements that splinter husbands and wives have to end in death—the death of the marriage? Or is there, perhaps, another way of looking at and handling these splinters? As painful, as frustrating, and as stifling as marital discord can be, the road to resolve, healing, recovery, and peace may start with a change in perspective—changing how you see whatever disharmony your marriage may be experiencing. Maybe, just maybe, instead looking at conflict through your own lens—the lens you’ve become accustomed to, adopt a new lens—the lens that God uses, so that you begin to see conflict from His point of view. God wants to use it, and He wants to use it for a purpose—a good purpose. So, it only makes sense to, at least, try to see it the way He sees it so that you can see and hopefully receive the benefits of the purposes He wants to bring about.
Let’s look at two common disagreements that divide and hinder couples:
1—The good, ole, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” disagreement that, for many couples, routinely ends with no dinner at all because by the time they finish arguing about who decided last time and whose turn it is now to decide, neither one is no longer hungry. Now, that couple may see this as one more instance, added to many, where they just can’t agree on something as simple as what to eat for dinner. And in many respects, that may be true: they just can’t seem to agree, yet again, on something as simple as what to eat. But if it’s really that simple, why can’t they agree? Maybe the fact that they cannot agree on something so seemingly simple to the point where their disagreement escalates to where they’re not eating dinner at all and may even stop speaking to each other for a while is an indicator that something else that’s not so simple is really going on. Maybe what’s really going on has very little or nothing to do with what to eat but more to do with control and domination. In spite of the question, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” maybe the wife feels like she never gets to have what she really enjoys and that, somehow, they always end up eating what the husband wants.
2—The other ole, “Where are we going to spend the holidays?” While some couples establish patterns and traditions that both spouses are happy with, other couples end up in a feud year after year. One spouse (or possibly both) wants to spend every holiday with their side of the family and no holiday with the other’s side. Then, what ends up happening? You know what happens: they each go separately to their own side of the family; they both go together to one (or each) side of the family, but one spouse (or each) goes disgruntled; or neither spouse goes anywhere, and they stay home angry (not to mention, hungry) and not talking to each other. Again, this may have less to do with where to spend the holidays, but more to do with selfishness and self-centeredness. Maybe the husband feels like his wife is overly-attached to and only wants to spend time with her family and doesn’t value and leaves no room for his family at all.
So, what do these scenarios have to do with God and how He may be using them? What’s the new perspective that I’m encouraging you to adopt to see these scenarios from His point of view? Here’s what I’m asking you to do. When conflict occurs, as uncomfortable, as upset, and as angry as you may become, I want you to start paying close attention to what the conflict brings to the surface and exposes out in the open that may, otherwise, have not been revealed if the conflict never occurred. Not only am I asking you to pay attention to what the conflict exposes; I am asking you to pay close attention, specifically, to what the conflict brings to the surface and exposes to you about you! Never mind what the conflict may expose or reveal about your husband or your wife. Make yourself the center of your attention and focus on what God is trying to tell you about you—perhaps, that you’re overly-controlling and dominating like the husband in our “What to eat for dinner”; or maybe that you are selfish and self-centered like the wife on our “Where to spend the holidays.” Extreme control, dominance, selfishness, self-centeredness, and so many other issues that conflict brings to the surface tear marriages apart everyday, and too often, married couples never really get to the bottom of what the true, underlying issues really are. So, because God is always working to, ultimately, bring about good, it’s very likely, when your marital conflicts occur, that God is trying to help you save your marriage by bringing to the surface and showing you things about you—things you may not, otherwise, realize--that may be tearing your marriage apart. So, instead of seeing conflict for all the negative that it often brings about, I encourage and even challenge you to see conflict as something God uses to show you things, particularly things about you, that may be detrimental to your marriage (and to your relationships, in general) so that you can be aware of and work on whatever He shows you. As you enter the New Year, I encourage you and I even challenge you to take on a new perspective, a new lens, a new way of looking at conflict. I challenge you to start paying close attention to what God is showing you about you when conflict occurs and to start working on whatever He shows you because whatever it is, it might just save your marriage, and whenever a marriage can truly be saved, healed, and restored in peace, that’s a real good thing.
Don't Walk Away!
Recently, I saw one more social media post—one more added to many—encouraging readers to walk away from certain types of people and to end certain types of relationships. You know how they go: “If someone is robbing you of your joy and happiness, they must be removed”; “Walk away from people who disrupt your peace of mind, self-worth, and self-respect”; “Maturity is learning how to walk away from high-maintenance relationships that drain you”; “Strength is being able to let go of relationships that create mental, emotional, and spiritual strains on your life.” Whenever I see these types of posts, the same questions always come to mind: What if you can’t walk away? What if you shouldn’t walk away? What if you decide to not walk away because you realize there’s more to gain by staying and standing your ground? Cutting people off and walking away from relationships shouldn’t be our automatic go-to when a relationship starts going or has gone south. In fact, true strength and maturity are often cultivated and exhibited by not walking away, in spite of how challenged and threatened our joy, happiness, peace, self-worth, and self-respect may be; in spite of how high the maintenance may be and how drained we may feel in maintaining a relationship; and in spite of how much of a mental, emotional, and spiritual strain we may experience as a result.
Am I saying we should accept disregard and disrespect from others just because they’re in relationship with us? Of course, not! Am I suggesting it’s okay for people in our lives to de-value who we are and disrupt or internal peace, joy, and happiness? Certainly, not! And am I advocating for mentally, emotionally, and spiritually expending ourselves endlessly and infinitely on relationships with no regard for healthy boundaries that exhaust us beyond our natural capacities and limitations? Absolutely, not! But what I am saying is that we, especially those of us in the practice of teaching, training, and coaching others in the area of relationships, have to do more qualifying and clarifying on how to effectively handle challenging, difficult, high-maintenance, and, even, toxic and unhealthy relationships. It’s an irresponsible dis-service for anyone who occupies a place or position of giving counsel and advice about relational matters to encourage people, without drilling down to the deeper recesses of their relationships, to just cut others off and walk away from relationships, even when there are justifications for doing so. Straining and draining relationships come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, so we can’t paint them all with broad-strokes. Husbands and wives; parents and children; siblings; friends; neighbors; colleagues; business partners; employers and employees. Difficult relationships exist in many forms, come in all flavors, and can show up anywhere. So, making it a habit of cutting off difficult people and abandoning relationships that get under our skin and unnerve us is a sure way to end up in, yet, another difficult relationship with another difficult person that, again, gets under our skin and unnerves us.
I once worked with a woman who made my life miserable by undermining practically every fiber of dignity within me to a point, where everyday, I envisioned quitting and walking away. But my reality was that I couldn’t. I needed my job, so I couldn’t just cut her and the job off and just walk away. What I did do, though, was learn how to confront this woman and her misery—the misery I was allowing her to transfer into my life—stand my ground, not be miserable, and maintain my dignity. Consider the wife who’s demeaned and degraded by her husband; the child who’s demeaned and degraded by their parents (or vice versa); the brother or sister who’s demeaned and degraded by their siblings; or a friend who’s demeaned and degraded by a friend. Relationships can be complicated, and sometimes answers and solutions are not so cut-and-dry. Possibly, in each of these scenarios, the one demeaned and degraded, for whatever their reasons, can’t or shouldn’t or won’t walk away. Maybe they’ve weighed the potential costs and potential benefits on each side and have decided that they’re not going anywhere because the benefit of staying outweighs its cost as well as the costs and benefits of ending the relationship. Maybe they’ve decided to confront the issues, stand their ground, and expect positive outcomes. I firmly believe in knowing when an end in a relationship is necessary because sometimes, it is. But there’s something called “long-suffering”—a virtue—and maybe the wife, husband, child, parent, sibling, friend has decided to be just that because they love the person or the people they’re in relationship with and have decided they’re going to give it their all and will expect and won’t accept anything less than the best.
Now, let me be clear: if a relationship places you or me in any kind of harm’s way, warranting any type of protective or law enforcement involvement or intervention, then, unquestionably, that’s the route we should take. And what I am not saying is that we should automatically stay in a relationship, regardless of its condition and effects, as long as it does not require protective or law enforcement involvement or intervention. My focus here is on those people and those relationships that we find to be challenging, difficult, high-maintenance, and even toxic and unhealthy. The reality is that as challenging, as difficult, as high-maintenance, and even as toxic and unhealthy as a person and a relationship may be, true growth and maturity, true strength and fortitude are developed by learning how to build ourselves up. They’re developed by building up our mental, emotional, and spiritual thresholds and muscles so that we can actually maintain our joy and happiness, our peace and sense of worth and respect, our values and our dignity regardless of how challenging and how difficult and how high-maintenance, toxic, unhealthy, straining, and draining a person and a relationship may be. Contrary to what we often hear, sometimes it requires more courage and more stamina for us to remain than it does for us to walk away. Maybe we need to set some much-needed boundaries, parameters, terms, and conditions to manage the relationship. And maybe it’s time to, once and for all, toughen up, confront the difficulties, and learn how to maintain our peace of mind in spite of difficult people and difficult relationships, because as much as we may not want to accept it, difficult people and relationships are everywhere. So, it’s best that we work on ourselves and build up our relational immune systems so that we are better equipped to handle people and relationships that challenge and threaten our peace, self-worth, self-respect, and dignity to the point where they are no real challenge or threat to us at all. Let’s not be so quick to walk away!
Several years ago, I was speaking with a woman, who was explaining to me how she handled a call from a Human Resources recruiter who wanted to schedule a final interview for a position that she strongly believed she would get. This woman had recently experienced the death of a parent and was telling me how stricken with grief she was during the final stages of her dad's life, her visit with him while on his death-bed, and now that he was gone. She explained, nonetheless, that when the recruiter called, she was still out of town and was in the midst of helping her mom plan her dad's funeral, but instead of telling the recruiter what was going on, she proceeded to schedule the interview for the following week, believing she would have returned home by then. When I asked her whether she had shared with the recruiter that her dad had recently passed away, she said she hadn't, so, naturally, my next question was why not. Her answer: she didn't want to hinder her chances of getting the position by having HR think that her personal issues would interfere with how she handled her professional affairs. Now, I admit that even though, at the moment of her telling me this, I just responded by saying, "Oh, okay," but in all honesty, I was thinking, "Whaaatt?!?! Your father had just passed away!!!"
Why do we feel that we cannot allow information about our personal lives to enter into our professional environments? Maybe because there's an unpleasant history surrounding the notion that when you enter the workplace, you should leave your personal life and it's cares, problems, and concerns behind and never the two shall meet. If we're sitting in a meeting with colleagues but, especially, if with a manager ("the boss") and our cellphone buzzes with a text or a call from our spouse or our children, we tend to ignore it (until the meeting is over, of course). If our boss wants to schedule a meeting late in the day, and we know that it may interfere with leaving in enough time to attend our child's after-school concert, we'll say, "Okay" but cringe inside, hoping that the meeting won't run too long so that we can, at least, catch some of the concert before it ends. We're often not comfortable letting people we work with, especially those we report to, know that work is, somehow, going to interfere with personal priorities or that personal priorities may have to sometimes interrupt work because in professional environments, these realities could give an impression that we're not being responsible. We don't want others to think that we're preoccupied with or distracted by personal matters, as though we're not committed to our work, or that we don't respect the workplace, those we work with, and those we're accountable to. So, we're not always forthcoming with, and sometimes we even hide, our personal affairs while we're at work or within a professional arena, but why? I believe the reason is fear--the fear that someone will think something about us that's not really true and that they'll draw conclusions about us that will work against us and will, ultimately, cause us to lose something.
In 2008, I left my last corporate employer and spent the next several months trying to decide my next steps. After several months, I started interviewing, thinking that maybe I would return to a corporate position, and by January of 2009, my interview trail started really heating up. One company, in particular, asked that I return for, yet, another interview, which I was told should be my final round before an offer was extended. I was extremely excited that I was so close to wrapping this process up, and what was even more exciting for me was that the position was less than a thirty-minute drive from home, something I had longed for. So, after the recruiter finished giving me feedback on my prior round of interviews, she began talking about when they wanted me to come back in. So, finally, she asked: "How about next Tuesday, the 20th, at 10am?" and in all honesty, before I could even think of a reply, I immediately responded: "Oh, no, I'm sorry. Tuesday is Inauguration Day, and I've already planned to watch the inauguration with my family." Under normal circumstances, I would not have been that direct, but these circumstances were no where near normal: President-Elect Barack Obama was being inaugurated, and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch that with my family. Of course, we ended up scheduling for a different day, but I was extremely happy that I exercised my boundaries to protect what was important to me, and even though I didn't lose anything as a result, I would have been perfectly okay, even if a little disappointed, if I had lost something, but I would have deeply regretted not protecting my priorities if I hadn't exercised boundaries.
I've witnessed many people, and I know you have, too, who have failed personally and professionally because they erected such thick walls between their personal and professional lives to keep the two separate, trying to prevent them from intersecting with and impacting each other in any way whatsoever. I have learned, though, that that's not always possible, it's not always practical, nor is it always wise. We fail because we try so hard to successfully keep all the balls in the air and to keep all the moving-parts moving but all in their separate worlds. Perhaps, if we let one world--the work world--know what's going on in the other world--the personal world--we could focus on managing one big, integrated world that includes both work and family, both personal and professional, instead of stressing ourselves out trying to keep everything separate but still in the air and still moving, especially when we're dealing with personal crisis, but it shouldn't require a crisis for employees to freely be transparent about personal and family priorities. If there weren't such an unfavorable historical perspective regarding the intertwining of personal and professional and family and work, many employees would be more inclined to openly integrate the two and less inclined to unrealistically separate them. Yes, ideally, our personal worlds and our workplace worlds should not collide, but the reality is that they co-exist and may very likely result in a collision because of the pace and pull of the times we're living in. There are times when we may have to sacrifice personal priorities for work and may also have to sacrifice work priorities for family, but my word to employers is that a collision doesn't have to be viewed as a detriment but, rather, as a reality that the employee just needs to manage. If employers were more accepting of this, employees wouldn't feel the need to hide it, and many professional-personal failures or derailments could be avoided. What complicates matters is that many employers--Human Resource Departments-- understand and are supportive of this reality, but employees don't always experience the same understanding and support from their managers, and in, fact, they often get the exact opposite--outright opposition from those they report to. Regardless, however, of whether an employer explicitly creates and announces a culture that understands that work-life and home-life are intricately intertwined, my word to employees is that you are responsible for setting and protecting your own boundaries, and as you do, you'll make those around you aware that you have them and what and where they are.
So, be proactive and take ownership of integrating your worlds. The next time a colleague or even your manager wants to schedule a meeting that might interfere with your leaving early enough to be present for your son or daughter, try saying something like, "Is there any way we can push the meeting up? My son has a basketball game after school, and I'd like to leave in enough time to catch it." Or the next time you're in a meeting and your spouse texts or calls you, instead of just ignoring it, try something like, "Please excuse me for one moment. My wife is calling; let me just let her know I'll call her back." You could either pick up and let her know, or you could shoot her a quick text that you're in a meeting and will call her as soon as you're done. Either way, the more you begin to intersect and integrate your worlds, the more others will expect you to do so. And instead of trying to avoid a collision, allow your worlds to collide into one big intersected, integrated, intertwined world with lots of balls to keep in the air and lots of parts to keep moving.
Mixing business and pleasure, personal and professional, money and friendship. Some say it's just not a good idea. But why? Why should we keep these things separate? I'm not so sure that we absolutely have to because doing business with and for people we know and have genuine relationships with can be a beautiful thing. Yet, when we do, things don't always turn out so beautifully, and there are numerous reasons why, but I'd like to look at this from one particular angle, an angle that I often call, "Can you help me out." I've spent a lot of time over the years observing, examining, and studying conflict, primarily because conflict exists in so many, if not all, areas of our lives. Its effects can be so rampant but, at the same time, so camouflaged, so subtle, and so easily ignored or dismissed. For the most part, many of us just don't like conflict, so we escape and avoid it at all costs, even if it means ignoring a "pink elephant" in the middle of a room screaming for attention.
So, what in the world is the conflict I'm talking about that has to do with mixing business and pleasure, personal and professional, and money and friendship that I like to call the "Can you help me out" syndrome? It's that conflict that occurs when we decide to start a business or start selling some product or service and regardless of the fact that we haven't seen or spoken to certain people in over ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus years or maybe we see them regularly but never engage them in much or any conversation, but now, suddenly, we decide to reach out to spark or re-spark a relationship because we now want them to help us out by buying whatever product or service we're selling. Look, if we're in business, or even if we haven't officially launched a business, but maybe we've written a book, recorded a CD, or some of us may have started selling jewelry, or health and wellness products, or maybe we've decided to start providing personal or professional care services of some sort, it goes without saying that we're going to want people to know what we're doing so that, hopefully, they'll keep us in mind in the event they or someone they know ever needs what we're providing. But if we haven't taken time to genuinely build, maintain, and value relationships with the people we're now reaching out to for support, they may, likely, get a bit turned off if we're now in touch only because we want something from them.
Back in the mid-'90s, my husband and I became involved with a business that, for purposes of simplicity, we'll describe as direct-sales. Of course, as with any business, but especially in this kind of business, in order to be successful, we had to get the word out to as many people as we could that we were now involved in this highly-popular business arrangement. We attended a lot of seminars, where we were trained on many aspects of how to do the business and how to do it well, and it all started with learning how to identify and initiate sales conversations with potential customers. As part of the training, we were instructed to make a list of everyone we knew--everyone! And to then call each one of those "everyones" and, essentially, ask them, "Hey, can you help me out?" Well, being true trainees, zealous and ambitious to succeed, we did our best to think of and reach out to every single person we knew so that we could initiate that much-needed conversation that started with, "Hey, can you help me out?" But what didn't matter? What didn't matter was how long it had been since we had last seen or spoken to a person. So what that we hadn't seen them since kindergarten. They still qualified! So what that we may not have had a direct way to get in touch with a person. If we had a telephone number of someone else who had that person's number, we'd just simply call the person whose number we had and ask for it (but, of course, not without first telling that person what we were into and seeing if they, too, might be interested). What didn't matter was that once we were on the phone with a person in that initial conversation, we really had nothing else to talk about nor were we interested in talking about anything else besides telling them about the business and then asking them, "Hey, can you help me out" even if we didn't ask in those words verbatim. The bottom line is that all we genuinely cared about was getting them to buy what we were selling. Never mind genuine relationship!
So, what are our takeaways? Here are a few:
1. If we genuinely care about people, we will naturally show interest in them even when doing so is not attached to benefiting us, our products, our services, or our businesses in some tangible or monetary way;
2. If we genuinely value relationships, we'll authentically build and maintain them as part of our natural DNA, which is something we can intentionally decide to be and do;
3. Exploitation can sound harsh, and there is a very fine line between sincerely letting people know what we're doing because we genuinely believe it may be of benefit to them versus exploiting people for our own selfish gain. So, even if that's not our intention, let's be mindful of the sheer appearance of what can be perceived as our being interested in others only for how we may benefit because regardless of whether we intend it or not, people may still feel as though they're being exploited, and nobody likes to feel that way;
4. Our genuine interest in and care for others doesn't mean we have to talk to them every day and send them birthday and Christmas gifts. If that's what we sincerely want to do, that's fine, but it doesn't have to mean that. It may just mean inquiring about how they and their families are doing every now and then or, at bare minimum, simply smiling and extending the common courtesy of saying "Hello" whenever we see them; and finally,
5. Let's keep in mind that support can be expressed in different ways, so people may want to support us in ways other than by buying what we're selling. The reality is that they may not need or be interested in the products or services we provide, but they would still like to show their support by showing up at events, sharing what we're doing with others in their network, by sharing with us words of encouragement, or even by praying for our success. So, support is not only about monetary or tangible gain.
As we know, a common response to conflict is to ignore or avoid dealing with it because conflict can cause awkwardness and a lot of discomfort. And the conflict that many often experience is that tension between wanting to be supportive of those of us they know who are in some form of business or those of us who sell some type of product or service, but, yet, they don't want to feel like their only value in our eyes is as a prospective customer or client nor do they want to feel compelled to buy what we're selling. So, the common solution that many resort to is that they start avoiding us because this tension can create a whole lot of awkwardness. If, however, we, as people in business or as people who sell products and services, focus on genuinely building, maintaining, and valuing the gifts and treasures of people and relationships, we'll lessen the tension and awkwardness that others feel because they'll know that we see and value them for who they really are and not merely for how they can be of benefit to us.
We're at the end of July, in the middle of summer, and finally experiencing pleasant temperatures after a heatwave that lasted nearly a week. Depending on where you live, summertime brings warmer temperatures, but it also brings a change of pace. Kids are out of school; families take vacations; we fire up the grills; we go to the beach and enjoy other outdoor activities; and as for work, some of us work modified schedules--summer hours--in order to make the most of the season. But there's something I've noticed: those of us who make our own schedules--maybe we own our own businesses or are independent contractors--sometimes don't know how to change our pace, even when everything around us is telling us we ought to.
While being an entrepreneur comes with its share of challenges, it also comes with many joys and freedoms. Many of us who write our own pay checks, so to speak, have chosen this route because we want a certain degree of control that we don't, otherwise, believe we'd get, like creative control, intellectual control, financial control, and control over time. But what happens, especially when it comes to controlling our time, is that we sometimes find ourselves working more rigorous schedules than we would if we were working as employees for someone else. I completely understand the dynamic in that our income is more directly tied to how much work we do and how many engagements we get, and regardless of the time of year and regardless of how beautiful the weather, our bills don't stop. So, it's easy and, at times, may even be necessary, to fall into a space of "All work, no play," but the reality is that "all work and no play" is no fun, and not only is it no fun, it imprisons us to our work, it smothers our freedom and keeps us in bondage, and on top of that it's simply not healthy and can cause a lot of stress. Yet, these may be the very reasons why we chose a more independent path: we were seeking what we believed would give us more "play" and not "all work"; what would give us more freedom; and what would provide a healthier lifestyle. There's no question that as entrepreneurs, as independents, and even as employees, we're going to have to work hard, but as entrepreneurs and independents, because we, typically, don't have set vacation times or a set number of days that we can use for time off, we have to be all the more conscious about determining our on-seasons, our off-seasons, and when to take a break, and once we decide to take a break, how to smoothly transition into that break or into vacation-mode.
I learned this one day a little under ten years ago. My family and I were about to go on a summer vacation. My husband had decided to work from home for just a few hours to wrap things up with work. Our kids were both pumped and restless and just ready to be gone by now. I, on the other hand, on top of making sure we were all packed up and ready to go, on top of trying to keep our kids occupied so that they would not disturb Daddy while he was trying to work, decided to squeeze in a last-minute meeting with a client just before we were scheduled to leave. In theory, this seemed like a good idea. I'd get to take care of things for the client before I left, which meant they wouldn't have to wait until I returned, and I'd also get paid my fee at the end of our meeting, which meant I'd make some money right before I left. But what became the problem? Before the meeting could take place, I had to revise and print a few documents that the client needed to sign, but once I finished the revisions, I now had one problem after another after another with my printer. The documents weren't printing correctly; the clock was ticking; my kids were growing more and more restless; my husband and I were becoming more and more distracted by them; and he and I were becoming more and more annoyed with each other because we each felt like the other was not helping the other one out by keeping the kids occupied. And the more this scenario continued, the more stressed out I became with those documents, with my kids, and with my husband and the more concerned I became that I'd be late or unprepared for the meeting or would maybe have to cancel altogether. And we still had a flight to catch! And I still had to make sure we were fully packed up and ready to go because, remember, I decided to schedule a "last-minute" meeting, so the time I spent preparing for the meeting distracted my time away from finishing up preparing for vacation, and all of this because I was so deeply entrenched in work-mode. But by this point, I no longer felt like going on any vacation. I was stressed, annoyed, and aggravated, and should have never scheduled that meeting in the first place, and after all of that, you wouldn't believe what happened. The client ended up canceling because they had an emergency.
I've learned that no matter how much and how hard I work and may need to work to complete certain tasks, accomplish certain goals, and achieve certain objectives, I also have to know when to pump the brakes and slow down, and even stop. Even at times when I physically and mentally want to keep my hand to the plow and keep on working, I've realized that there's a time and season for everything, including a time to be on and a time to be off; a season to be on and a season to be off. Yes, I could force myself to keep working even when my head is really not into it, and sometimes I may need to force myself to keep working when my head is really not into it. But at the same time, there are times when I need to put up the "Closed for Business" sign in my mind, because everything around me says I need to, or, at the very least, I may need to hang the "Out to Lunch" sign up. Perhaps, you've found yourself in similar positions and are not quite sure how to set healthy boundaries around and within your schedule so that you're not constantly "on" and working all of the time. I'll share with you what I do, and maybe this will help. Just as a year is broken up into seasons, I realize that my calendar year has seasons of its own. So, I've accepted the reality that there are certain times throughout the year when I need to turn down my work schedule and times when I need to turn it completely off. So, for example, January is turned down for me--I'm coming off of the Holidays, I'm reflecting on the year ahead, and I'm also setting things up for the months to come. Then, February thru mid- to late-June, my schedule is turned up. But, then, July and August, I turn down and, at times, I turn completely off. In September, after Labor Day, I rev up until the first week of December. And, then, I'm completely off during the last three weeks of the year. This has worked for me, and maybe something like this will work for you, but the key is to have something as opposed to nothing to bring structure and parameters to our schedules to help keep us from constantly working all the time. This way, we know ahead of time when we're on, when we're off; when to turn up, when to turn down; when to work, when to play; and how to truly have the freedom and control over our time that we so desire.
"Put it in writing!" A very simple phrase, consisting of only four words, but a phrase that carries a lot of weight. For some business owners or even freelancers, who don't really see what they do as a full-fledged business, but, yet, perform services for a fee, just the thought of putting things in writing and and asking a client to sign on the "dotted" line can trigger a lot of angst and a variety of thoughts:
- Just one more thing to do;
- I just want to get the deal done;
- We don't need to sign anything;
- Everybody's clear on what everybody's supposed to do. These may all be true, but it cannot hurt to put something down on paper to simply document what's expected by the parties involved, and the reason: things happen! Not only do things happen, things also change, and not only do things change, people sometimes forget and also misunderstand what's expected after conversations end. Not that having something in writing means that people won't, can't, and don't still misunderstand, but wrapping written words around a handshake can, at least, give the parties involved a concrete frame of reference or context--a basis of something to talk about--should a misunderstanding arise.
Many of us in business don't like the idea of asking a client to sign a contract because we believe it may be too formal or intimidating for someone we want to do business with, especially if it's someone we know or share some familiarity with. Or, if you're anything like I am, you may just not feel like putting in the time, thought, and energy to write up the terms and conditions that will govern the deal you want to make. You just want to get it done! But the reality is that issues surface, and as much as we believe that nothing will go wrong, things do go wrong. Face it: if we knew ahead of time exactly what may go awry and how a very clear, simple, and straightforward agreement can go off course, we would put things in writing more often. But that's just it: we don't know! So, that's precisely why capturing expectations in a contract makes sense and can save us a lot of headache, heartache, time, energy, and not to mention, money later on. Please understand that putting things in writing doesn't mean that you need a 10-page document, typed in a 10-point font. But have something, even if it's written on the back of an envelope or even on a sticky note. You may think I'm kidding and just saying this in jest, but I am very, very serious. We can always confirm in a simple email to the client later on whatever we jotted down, but the point is that we need something. We should be clear about what products or services we're proposing to provide, but beyond that, we can't be afraid to tell prospective clients our basic terms and conditions for how we would like to do business. It's not unusual to be concerned about whether we'll lose an opportunity because a client doesn't like our parameters. But I tell you from firsthand experience that it's a lot more freeing to be honest up front about how we want to conduct business, even if it means not getting the business, than to get the business and have to deliver based on terms and conditions that we're very unhappy about, especially if it's because we didn't communicate them upfront. This is a sure set-up for feeling undervalued, taken advantage of, and disgruntled later on.
Several years ago, a gentleman, whom I met through my husband, asked me to draft a document that he could use for a business that he owned, and I agreed. After talking with this gentleman to get clear about what he needed, I told him how much it would cost and how long it would take for me to complete a draft for his review, and he agreed. But here's what's funny: the client wanted me to draft a service agreement that he could use with his clients for many of the same reasons I'm suggesting to you to put things in writing with your own clients, but what did I not do? Because he seemed like a very nice, mild-mannered, soft-spoken man, who, by his own admission, was not very business savvy but had a service he liked performing for others but often felt taken for granted and had experienced too many occasions, where his clients did not pay him what they owed or would change the services, which would result in him having to do more work than what was originally agreed upon, I did not put anything in writing with him that would govern the way we would do business (and I'm a lawyer!). I confirmed our initial conversation with an email, asking him for additional information, but as for outlining certain particulars of our arrangement . . . nope; I didn't do it. I didn't do it because I genuinely believed that it wasn't necessary. So, what happened? I drafted the document and sent him a draft to review within the time frame I promised, and once he gave the okay, I finalized the draft, provided him with a standard service agreement that he could use with his clients, and I then sent him an invoice. And then, what happened? This very nice, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, non-business-savvy man told me that he would pay the invoice in three installments over the next couple of months and that he would pay the first installment within the next few weeks. Excuse me?!?! Since when does the client dictate to the service provider the terms for payment?!?! But what was the problem? I never stated upfront, not to mention put anything in writing, that I expected full payment upon completing and delivering the final document. So, I simply said, "Okay" and considered this the cost of an education as well as a reminder of something I knew all too well: state my conditions, especially with respect to payment, up front--not just how much the client will pay but exactly by when (and, even, how) the payment is to be made. Since then, I have never experienced that again. (Well, maybe once, but nothing quite like that.)
So, question: will asking a client to sign a contract completely eliminate mishaps and misunderstandings that often occur in business? No! Will taking notes on what we and our clients discuss upfront and later confirming those discussions with emails mean that all of our business dealings will always go smoothly without any hiccups along the way? No! And are there times when you're doing business with someone you know or are familiar with, and you believe you can safely relax some of your standard practices? Of course! But, in general, apart from occasional exceptions, what does taking notes and putting things in writing, whether in a contract, on the back of an envelope, on a sticky note, or in follow-up communications do? It gives you and me the peace of mind, at the outset, that we stated what we require, addressed particular issues, and set certain boundaries, which should reduce, even if it doesn't eliminate, the amount of unpleasant surprises that we might, otherwise, experience later on. There's something about not saying anything nor being clear about what we want in the early stages of our talks with our clients that makes it difficult to bring it up later because it's like changing the rules of a game after the game has begun. And in all fairness, sometimes we don't know what issues to anticipate arising later on, so we don't know to speak to those issues early on. The reality is that we learn as we go, but as we go, each lesson we learn informs us how to handle things next time. So, the lesson here is what? Next time, don't do what I did. Better, yet, do what I didn't do: set your terms and conditions up front, as simple or as basic as they may be, but also put them in writing!
Keep Expenses Low and Sleep Tight!
Are you one of the many budding entrepreneurs out there who has decided to try your hand at starting, building, and running your own business? Have you decided to turn a personal love that, until recently, you've performed as a hobby into a viable stream of income? Or maybe you have a talent, skill, or craft that, on a part-time basis, you've shared with others for a fee but have now decided to make what has been your side gig your main gig. If so, will you please allow me to share one critical piece of advise with you? Whether you're a freelancer doing business in your own name or you've chosen to set up a formal business structure like a corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Company), there are a lot of things to know that can help you succeed. But over the years, the one simple piece of advise that I've stressed more than any other to many entrepreneurs, especially as they're just starting out has been this: keep expenses low!!! Let me say that again: keep expenses low!!!
As a business owner, there are different ways to finance your business: some take out loans; some take on investors; some bootstrap (they use their own personal funds and reinvest any money the business makes back into the business). While either approach has its own set of pluses and minuses, no matter which approach you take, I stand by my simple piece of advise: keep expenses low!!! People start businesses all the time, and, unfortunately, people go out of business at what has been cited as a faster and higher rate than they go in. I acknowledge that several factors can contribute to why entrepreneurial endeavors fail and that businesses not laden with financial burdens fail as well. My focus here, however, has more to do with what drives your business over, perhaps, what should not so that your business can sustain. Last year, Small Business Trends published an article, "Startup Statistics--The Numbers You Need to Know," and it named four leading causes for small business failures: incompetence; lack of management experience; lack of product or service line experience; and a catch-all category of neglect, fraud, and disaster. Well, I have a fifth category: STRESS!!! Aside from the fact that high expenses can dwarf revenue and leave no room for profit, just the stress of having to generate a certain amount of revenue higher than what may be healthy for the business owner in order to just stay afloat--forget about making a profit--can cause a business to fail. As entrepreneurs, just like investors, we have to know our tolerance for risk, so in that vein, we also have to know what level of expenses we can tolerate as well.
In the early 2000s, I started my first official business, and just as I was starting, an older gentleman, who had been my boss until that time, asked me if I was familiar with the "Sleep-tight Factor." I was not. He proceeded to tell me that when he had previously been in business for himself, he made sure that whatever could potentially cause him to not sleep tight at night, that's what he made his priority. So, since not being able to pay his bills was something that would gravely interfere with being able to sleep well once his head hit his pillow at night, he took on a lot of work--work that he wanted to do and work that he didn't want to do--so that he could pay his bills every month. Now, this was advice that I've held onto over the years, but I will tell you that early on, even with that advice, I had plenty of nights, where I did not sleep tight. Early in my tenure as an entrepreneur, I took on a lot of expenses, and because I did, not only was I stressed about keeping up with those expenses, but the stress was compounded because I often found myself feeling "forced" to take on work that I really didn't want to do but felt I had to in order to pay the bills. So, the stress of the expenses was coupled with the stress of doing things I really didn't want to do, which inevitably took time away from being able to focus on getting and doing the work that I really wanted to do, all because my expenses were so high. Higher-than-healthy expenses--expenses that were higher than what was healthy for me or, in other words, my tolerance--negatively impacted my freedom to be as selective as I had hoped in terms of what type of work I accepted and what type of work I did not accept. Carrying expenses early on that were greater than what I could reasonably sustain by doing, primarily, the work that I really wanted to do, imprisoned me to doing work I didn't really want to do. So, my "Sleep-tight Factor" was not just shot; it was doubly-shot and turned upside down.
Am I saying that in business, you shouldn't have any expenses or that your expenses should be so low that you don't have to bring in any amount of business to be able to pay them? Maybe! Maybe I am saying that, depending upon your expense-tolerance--what's healthy for you to sustain and have peace and be able to sleep well at night. But, realistically speaking, some expenses are very necessary. There are necessary costs and natural risks associated with owning and running a business and to think otherwise can be very naive. But what I am saying is this: be mindful of your expenses because the greater your expenses, the greater their hold may be on you to have to meet them, which may cause you a whole lot of stress and a lot of sleepless nights. Starting and successfully maintaining a business, in and of itself, can be extremely challenging apart from expenses, but there are some challenges we can definitely control, especially those involving expenses. Instead of renting business space, maybe you can run your business from your home; maybe you can use a virtual office; maybe you can reserve a meeting or conference room only on an as-needed basis; and maybe you can meet clients at a cafe or a coffee house or for a walk in the park. Instead of hiring a steady, full-time, in-person administrative or executive assistant, for a whole lot less, maybe you can hire a virtual assistant; maybe you can pay for shared administrative or executive services; or maybe you can personally perform some, or maybe all, of these functions yourself. Point being, there are always ways to control expenses, and, if, by chance, your "Sleep-tight Factor" may be affected negatively by them, then knowing how to keep them low without compromising on the quality of doing business will cut down on stress, give you a greater peace, and will help you sleep better at night when your head hits your pillow. So, again, my humble advice: keep expenses low and sleep tight!!!
So, I was teaching a class on conflict, and a young lady asked, "How long should you wait to get back into a relationship with someone after you've forgiven them and made up?" So many responses ran through my mind and some in the form of questions as well: who says you should get back into a relationship? Can't you genuinely forgive, but not want to return to the way things were? Just because you've forgiven the person, do you actually trust them? But I decided to give the response that I find myself giving to so many questions no matter how varied the questions may be, and that is: "It depends." All too often, the response to many questions is that the answer depends on the specific circumstances involved with the situation or scenario at hand.
Whenever there has been a breach or failing in a relationship, it's very natural for a separation, of some sort, to occur. If two people are in a relationship--it doesn't matter what kind of relationship it is--and one of them violates the other, it's not unusual if the one who feels violated chooses to back away from their "Violater" and put some space between them. When someone experiences hurt in a relationship, they often see the other person as the source of that hurt, so it's not uncommon to want to get away from what or whom is causing us pain. So, distance is natural. But as natural and as normal as this distance may be, we must compel ourselves to forgive those who offend us, regardless of how natural and how normal not wanting to forgive may be. But once we forgive, then what? Should we jump right back to where we were before the wound occurred? Or should we wait it out to see if the other person is truly sorry for the hurt they may have caused and, if necessary, has really changed, something we may only know in time?
A gentleman--let's just call him "Albert"--once shared with me that he and his brother's relationship was somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. Albert's brother had a long history of borrowing money from him, but as long as was the history of borrowing, the history of not repaying Albert back seemed longer. Finally, Albert became fed up, confronted his brother, told him he would not lend him anymore money, and, as a result, Albert and his brother stopped speaking for a considerable amount of time. Eventually, Albert's brother apologized to Albert, told him that he didn't want Albert to feel as though he was taking him for granted, shared with Albert how much he appreciated him, and told him that he would try to repay, at least, some of the money that he owed. By the time of my conversation with Albert, he explained that his brother had not repaid any of the money, but had, in fact, asked to borrow money once again. Albert shared how torn he was. He had forgiven his brother for his infidelity in not repaying money he had borrowed and was happy that he and his brother had "made a mends." At the same time, however, Albert did not want their relationship to return to where and what it had been before the breakdown occurred. Albert would repeatedly say, "If I've really forgiven him, how can I not help him out? He's my brother." But, then, Albert would also say, "I know I've forgiven him, but I don't want to jump back in with both feet, start lending him money again, and he not pay me back."
So, what are some of our takeaways from what we know about Albert's dilemma? For starters, one is that just because we genuinely forgive someone, we may still not fully trust them, or we may not trust them at all. Yet, many of us question whether we have truly forgiven if we have reservations about re-entering the same space of relationship that we shared with the person who violated us before the violation occurred. What's so important to know is that forgiveness and trust are not equivalent and are, therefore, two different things. So, while forgiveness is a gift that we grant to our offenders, our offenders may have to rebuild and regain trust in our eyes before we're comfortable diving back into where our relationships were beforehand. Under no circumstances does it mean that because we want to take re-entry into a relationship slower rather than faster and not rush back in too soon that we haven't truly forgiven. It's in these times that we must closely listen to and follow our hearts; that's why the answer to so many questions is, "It depends." After a "break-up, make-up" situation, one person in the relationship may want to keep things moving full speed ahead, while the other person may want to move forward but with their foot on the brakes, tapping every so often. No two hearts are the same, and circumstances differ from one situation to the next, so let's not allow guilt to force us into jumping back in feet first when our hearts may be telling us to take it slow and ease back in. So, in terms of the question posed earlier: "How long should you wait to get back into a relationship with someone after you've forgiven them and made up?" My answer then remains my answer now: it depends!
Like you, Katrina loves seeing people in healthy relationships (with themselves and others) that they genuinely enjoy and not just simply tolerate. This blog is dedicated to achieving that vision.
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