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.
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.
Stop pretending! We have to stop pretending! Pretending that everything's okay when it's not; pretending that we're happy and satisfied when we're not; pretending that we know what we want when we don't; and pretending that we have all the answers--or any answers--when we have none. Don't get me wrong: some people are outright deceivers, and it's their goal to mislead others into believing they are someone or something they are not. But the pretending I'm talking about is not, necessarily, something we do intentionally, as though we set out to deceive the world around us. This has more to do with what we don't do, or yet, what we often don't say, because we're concerned about what other people might think. That's because we're so conditioned to thinking that if we become utterly-honest, somehow, we're not wearing our best face or putting our best foot forward. Heaven help us if, by chance, someone found out that we're really not okay, that we're really not happy, we're really not satisfied, that we really don't know what we want, and that we don't really have all, or any, solid answers to life's tough questions, including our own. Seriously, though, what do we genuinely have to lose for just being honest? Whatever might, supposedly, be lost, is it truly genuine and of real value?
Within one week, I had two very-telling conversations. The first was with a woman, who's very unfilled at work. Several years ago, after a long history in her very-established career, she was let go due to massive downsizing. After not being able to find employment that matched where she was before the downsizing, she finally took a less-than-ideal position because she didn't want to be unemployed any longer. During our conversation, she shared how she had finally acknowledged that she had been depressed. She said that prior to her own bout with depression, whenever she heard someone say they were depressed, she always thought, "Come on, just get over it!" But, she now knew that depression is very real and that she's glad she could finally admit that she was not okay. My second conversation was with a woman, who's also been looking for her "Next." She's been searching for work and has interviewed for several positions, trying to find the "right" fit in a position she would really want. Only thing is that, recently, she realized that, at this stage in her life, also after a long history in a very established career, she doesn't quite know what she really wants to do, so finding her "Next" has been quite difficult. Even though she's unsure, the breakthrough has been in being able to admit that, right now, she doesn't have concrete answers to questions she's repeatedly asked like, "What kind of position do you want?"; "What are you looking for?"; and "Exactly, what do you want to do?"
Somehow, we believe as though admitting what we believe to be less-than-favorable about ourselves is, somehow, admitting failure and will, in some way, keep us stuck and imprisoned in the circumstances we admit. But the exact opposite is true. After spending so much time, energy, and money pursing a certain career and type of work that, at some point, I thought I wanted, the day finally came when I had to admit that, in spite of huge investments and many sacrifices, I simply no longer wanted it. My appetite had changed, so not only did I no longer want it, I had to also admit that I didn't want to spend any more time or do one more thing to try to convince myself that I did or that I should and that if I didn't, something was wrong with me. But admitting this didn't keep me stuck on a treadmill I no longer wanted to be on. If anything, being honest enough to admit what I no longer wanted freed me from the bondage of staying on a path that I no longer wanted to travel but felt chained to because of my failure to admit otherwise--pretense.
Just because sometimes things are not okay, or because sometimes we are not okay, or because we no longer want the things we once wanted, or we do things we really don't want to do, or because we don't always have answers . . . none of these equate to pretending. We pretend when we don't admit that these things exist, especially when our failure to admit them is out of our fear of what others might think of us. How freeing it is to remove our own masks, with the least bit of guilt and the least bit of shame, and be able to say, "Things are not okay; I'm not doing well; I used to be so sure of what I wanted, but now I have no clue; and on top of all that, I have no idea where to even begin to turn my situation around." You may have to muster up the courage to make such a bold confession, but after you do, even if nothing changes right away, at least, you'll be free from the shackles of pretense and the fear of not having the validation, stamp of approval, and acceptance of others. So, again, let's stop pretending!
It's that time of year again--January--and let me guess: you've set some goals for yourself? You have; I have; many people have. The beginning of the year always seems like a great time to set our sights on new visions, new levels, and new endeavors for ourselves or a great time to revisit some old ones that we've not, yet, achieved. So, let me ask you this question: with practically one full month under your belt, how's it going so far? Are you on track? Have you fallen behind? Or are you farther along than you expected to be? And if, by chance, you're not where you had hoped you'd be after one month in, how do you feel about that? Are you beating yourself up, or are you going easy on yourself?
As I check my own progress on a few goals I've set, I will tell you: I've trailed off a bit. I started the year strong, and during the first week of the year, I was determined; I was consistent; and I was on fire. As the weeks have gone on, however, I don't know that my fervor has dimmed, but my schedule has kicked up, making it more and more challenging to carve out the necessary time and attention to invest in moving myself closer to what I want and to where I want to be. Maybe you can relate to what I'm experiencing, and if you can, maybe you do what I tend to sometimes do. I can be really hard on myself for what seems like shrinking back off of my grind to consistently press toward my goals. I'll even go as far as to question whether I'm really disciplined enough to turn my thoughts and desires into actions and my actions into practical realities of the visions I see. And then, with nearly one whole month gone, I've, at times, chastised myself even more harshly because of just that: nearly one whole month has gone, and what have I accomplished?!?!
At times, I can really beat myself up: one, for allowing days to pass, where I haven't aggressively stuck to my plan; and two, for allowing so many days to pass, where I haven't stuck to my plan. But let me now share the other side of the conversation. Out of twelve months, one month has passed, and only one month has passed. When January ends, I'll have eleven more months, 334 more days, to get back in my saddle and get at it again. Maybe I won't make a daily investment towards turning my thoughts into actions and my actions into realities, but that doesn't mean I've dropped the discipline ball. It may simply mean that I just didn't get to it on that day. I'm not down for the count just because I didn't, and I'm no slacker with no discipline even if my reason for not getting to it is because I simply didn't feel like it or want to that day. The choice "to" or "not to" is my choice to make, and as long as I'm okay with the results of my choices, then whatever way I pace myself is fine.
The point I want you to take away is not so much about setting goals and whether it is or is not okay to pursue them. We should set goals. We've each been placed on this earth with a purpose, an assignment, to fulfill, and the responsibility of goal-setting helps us identify, pursue, and fulfill whatever those purposes are. The point I do want you to take away is this: even if not every day, each day you take a step towards achieving your goals, however many or however few, is a day that counts and puts you one step closer to getting there. So, don't be so hard on yourself if your rhythm is not as rapid and as steady as you hoped it would be when the year began. Take it one day at a time. Instead of measuring how much progress you're making against how much of the year has passed, track your progress one day at a time: "Have I done one thing today to move me closer to what I want and to where I want to be?" If the answer is "Yes," then great, you're a little bit closer than you were the day before. If the answer is "No," don't focus on where you are within the 365 days of the year--how much year has passed, how much year is left. Set your sights on tomorrow; plan to get at it then; and then put your best foot forward. Remember, we're taking this year and the goals we've set, day-by-day, one day at a time!
Confrontation is a loaded word, but confrontation need not be more than a conversation. Maybe a serious conversation or not serious at all, but we shouldn't make it out to be more than it needs to be or more than it really is. Granted, a conversation, where we express our discontent with someone, especially someone close to us, about something they may have said or did that we just didn't like can be very awkward and uncomfortable. But if we truly value the relationship, it's a conversation worth having.
Too often, we don't honestly and truthfully confront issues. Instead, we escape or attack, but neither is healthy. When we escape, it's often because we're afraid, and when we attack, that's often out of fear as well. Because of the risks associated with being honest and truthful about what we think and how we feel, we escape by avoiding, dismissing, or denying that something is just not right because we have no idea how the other person will respond. After all, many relationships suffer and die because someone couldn't handle the truth. Then, by the very same token, we sometimes attack for the very same reason: fear. It's just camouflaged as pride--a pretentious confidence and strength, which is not healthy either, even though we may feel like we have the upper hand. The reality is that we can't control how others respond, but we can control ourselves. So, the question becomes: will we allow our fear of others to dictate whether we’re honest and truthful, or will we exhibit true courage, in spite of those fears, and do what people do when they’re genuine to themselves, to others, and about their relationships, which is exercise honesty and speak truthfully?
Many years ago, I became disappointed with a friend because I felt like she had become silent and absent during some significant milestones in my life, the type that we had traditionally shared. While I knew there had to be a good reason for her to become MIA, I was still very disappointed that she was and had, therefore, not shared in the joys of that phase of my life. Her absence and silence bothered me quite a bit and for quite some time, but I was also bothered because I didn't know why: "Was she upset with me for some reason I had no clue about? Had I done something to offend her and instead of just telling me, she was now using silence as both an escape and an attack? Did she know how disappointed I was as a result of her 'going dark' and not sharing in milestones that were our custom to share?" All these unanswered questions swarmed around in my head and riddled my heart, wreaking havoc on my insides, until one day, it hit me: "Why don't you just tell her? Why not tell her how you feel? Why not just be honest?!?!" It was as though a huge light bulb turned on because I had never, ever thought of that. "Just be honest" kept ringing in my ears, but as much as it rang, something else started ringing, "How will she respond? What will she say? Who are you to question her? What if she cuts you off and ends the relationship?" As these two opposing messages battled within me, I reduced them to this: fear and bondage versus truth and freedom, and the ultimate questions became: "Who/What was in control of who I am? Was fear? Was my friend? Was the relationship? Or was I?" Needless to say, in spite of my fear, the only answer I would allow was that I was in control.
Well, I confronted my friend, made myself vulnerable, and shared my hurt and disappointment. The response, however, was not at all what I had hoped for and left a lot to be desired. But--and this is a huge, "BUT"--I felt absolutely wonderful!!! I felt free; I felt liberated; I felt in control, all because I didn't allow fear to have the final say. Of course, I was not happy with my friend's response, which added to the disappointment I was already feeling, but the bigger issue was about the growth and maturity that I had to experience in order for me to "own myself." The only reason I would not have confronted her was fear, and once I realized that, there was no way I could let fear run the show and rule the day. But, at this point, the even bigger issue is not about me; it's about you. In this moment, It's all about who might fear be keeping you from confronting? Who do you need to be honest with in spite of the risks involved? What truth have you not been speaking because you're afraid? And, ultimately, who is in control of you? Fear? The other person? The relationship? Or you? Even though confrontations may, undoubtedly, be uncomfortable, remember: the truth you speak will set you free!!!
Since when do I have to listen to you if you're rude, disrespectful, and out of order? It doesn't matter how valid your point is. If you're rude and disrespectful, then all bets are off, unless, of course, your tone and temperament change in the right direction.
I'm always amazed at how rude and belligerent people can act in the midst of a conflict, but still expect and even demand that other people, particularly those with whom they have tension, listen to them. I may, understandably, be upset, angry, outraged, and justifiably indignant because of some unfair or unjust practice or incident. But I can easily compromise my credibility in the eyes of those from whom I'm seeking justice or redress if they perceive me as being hostile. Should I not have enough self-control--or maybe I'm "in control" and am consciously and intentionally choosing to be rude and crude--or, at least, have some decorum and self-governance to express my anger and righteous indignation against injustice and inequity without verbally attacking and dishonoring the person or people I disagree with or oppose?
People are less likely to hear us and give credence to our concerns if they feel disrespected and even physically threatened or unsafe by our approach. And if they don't hear us because our approach is threateningly disruptive, then we're, in essence, undermining our own cause. A couple of months ago, social media was flooded with a news story about Hillary Clinton and how she responded to a Black Lives Matter activist, Ashley Williams, who interrupted her at a private event in South Carolina. Yes, Ms. Williams paid $500 to attend the event and, therefore, had every right to be there, and, yes, Ms. Williams' concerns were valid. But, instead of stating her concerns, and maybe even re-stating them for clarity and strength, and then allowing Clinton to respond, as she was obviously trying to do, Ms. Williams continued to interrupt to the point of disruption and was removed. Many harshly criticized Clinton for how she responded to Ms. Williams and stressed that Williams had a right to be there just like everybody else and applauded her for boldly challenging Clinton on comments she made 20 years ago. But Ms. Williams was out of order! The more Clinton tried to respond, the more disruptive Ms. Williams became.
So, the point here is not to applaud Clinton and condemn Ms. Williams, and this is really not even about Hillary Clinton or Ashley Williams. They just happen to help make the point, which is:
What goes up must come down! What's inside must come out! Is there someone trapped inside your body, kicking and screaming to come out? Some lovely, talented, dynamic person, who longs to be introduced to the world around you and be greeted with warm and welcome applauds? When I typed the first sentence of this post, I had a slightly different plan. My every intention was to string this post together with my last two and talk about how and why our internal conflicts, if not addressed, eventually reveal themselves in our external environments--home, work, church, and in the varied social settings we find ourselves. Then, a sudden shift occurred. Rather than focus on that inner conflict that will inevitably make its way outside, it just felt right to, instead, focus on that person, sometimes inside of you and sometimes inside of me, who's yearning to break out. That person inside of us that we all sometimes hide because we're afraid of what our worlds will think if they knew that's who we really are.
If you think about it, this, too, is a conflict--a difference or disagreement within you that keeps you from peacefully moving forward with who you are and who you want to be. Not that the person we see and know when we see you is fake and not, necessarily, who you really are, but that person may not be all there is to you. But the problem is that by not being all of who you are on the outside might mean that you're keeping the best parts of who you are on lockdown and hidden away in darkness on the inside. The "total you" may be wasting away and plummeting deeper and deeper into an abyss of non-existence. Meanwhile, the people and the world around you are severely deprived and starved of the beauty and wonder and contribution that the "hidden you" is supposed to be depositing into the lives that the "full you"; the "free you"; the "best you" is supposed to fulfill. And that is nothing less than a tragedy.
Listen, we all have our fears and insecurities about what people will think if we expose more or all of who we are. But guess what? Based on what you have exposed and who people believe and think you are, they still may have it all wrong in terms of who they believe you to be, and they may not even like that part of you that you have already revealed. So, the best thing you can do for yourself is to find that person that may be buried deep inside of you--that lovely, talented, dynamic person that you may have forgotten about and who's been battling to break free--and introduce them to the world and allow for your own grand entrance. The time is right, and the time is now for you to definitively and unashamedly put your stake in the ground, and boldly declare, as in the words of renowned singer/songwriter, Kelly Price that "This is who I am"!
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.