Have you ever thought about getting a new vehicle (truck, car, boat or motorcycle) and all of a sudden you start seeing that dream vehicle everywhere you go? There are way more of them on the road or in the water than you previously noticed? Somehow, your focus determines your reality.
The other day, I heard Mark Batterson talk about something that made this “focus determines reality” concept come alive for me. He was speaking about the reticular activating system (RAS), a short, pencil-sized piece of the brain located just above where the spinal cord is attached to the brain. It acts as the gatekeeper of information between most of our sensory systems and the conscious mind. It is the attention center in the brain. It is the key to “turning on your brain” The RAS filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through. In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. I did some research and learned you can deliberately program the reticular activating system by choosing the exact messages you send from your conscious mind. For example, you can set goals, or say affirmations, or visualize your goals. It’s very fascinating to me.
In so many ways, our focus becomes our reality. If I focus on the blessings in my life, I will generally see more good things happening around me. If I focus on a negative happening in my life, I will usually see lots of other negativity in my environment. We’ve all experienced this. Our focus becomes our reality.
We’ve all met them. People who see the bad in everything. A couple weeks ago, I posted on social media a few celebrative pictures of our care team at Cape Christian saying “thank you” by delivering 120 dozen donuts to many of our frontline medical workers. Our team went to our local hospital emergency department, the medical personnel who are caring for the COVID-19 patients and about a dozen other doctor offices across our city, expressing appreciation to them for their dedicated service. In the middle of all the positive comments, an individual posted a critique about one of the pictures, questioning if the volunteers were too close to each other and possibly not properly following the social distancing rules. There was no mention of the blessings to hundreds and hundreds of medical workers. Only criticism from a negative person that didn’t even look closely at the picture. I knew the setting where the picture was taken and looked carefully to see that there was significant distance between the volunteers by the way they were staggered from back to front. But focus becomes reality. This same individual found something negative in another positive post of mine about 18 months ago. Focus becomes reality.
And then we have all met the person who sees something positive in everything. They see the dark clouds of a thunderstorm and they immediately look for the rainbow. They are like my dad who would often say on his later birthdays in his upper 80’s, “I’m not complaining about getting old, it’s a lot better than the alternative.” Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re correct.” Focus determines reality.
This is not a new concept. Rewind back two thousand years ago and read Apostle Paul’s story and writings. He was positive in the middle of all kinds of difficulties. One particular time, while he was in jail for sharing his faith in public, Paul wrote about how to reduce anxiety and find peace in the middle of a crisis. He wrote, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” Philippians 4:8-9 (The Passion Translation). Focus determines reality.
What are you focusing on during this challenging time of a new normal? In this time of crisis, the first thing I’ve been trying to focus on is solving the new challenges that exist with all the changes. Secondly, I’m doing my best to leverage the new opportunities that this crisis brings. That’s it. Those two things. My goal isn’t to just try to survive this season. My goal is to be aware of the opportunities that will make be better on the other side. I never want to waste a crisis. There is always something to learn and there are always ways I can grow when there is pressure in my life. Pressure reveals what is on the inside. Do I like what is being revealed or is it an opportunity for growth and change? What I focus on will become my reality. And the same for you.
Blessings and Peace to You and Your Loved Ones,
QUESTION: What are some ways you have found helpful to stay positive during difficult times? We would love to learn from you. Share them in the comment section below.
Change is inevitable. Just when you think you’re getting comfortable transition occurs. If you treat tomorrow as if it was yesterday, then you will miss out on the value of transitions. We tend to think that people go through seasons of transition and seasons of staying the same. However, everyone, including you, is constantly changing!
Our emotions, bodies, minds, relationships and environments are continually transitioning. That couldn’t be more evident than right now during this COVID-19 pandemic. The reality that everyone and everything is in transition is obvious. Protocols and procedures for medical personnel and other first responders are in transition. Businesses are in transition. Churches are in transition. Restaurants only serve curbside. School is online. Nothing is static. Everybody and everything is in transition. And, you were created to be dynamic. Once we accept this, we’ll be able to make the most of the change happening right now—today!
This season of our lives, our community, our country and our world is unique and unsettling. But the truth is, while we notice it more and it has all transitioned quickly and significantly in a short period of a few weeks, everything has always been in transition. You are not what you were yesterday. Tomorrow will be different than today. I’m thinking differently now than I did a few months ago. I’m responding to people different than I did a few weeks ago. I value my face-to-face connections to my family differently than I did a month ago. I now see the importance of certain routines and practices that I previously took for granted. Because, I’m in transition.
Think about it. My mind is in transition. My body is in transition (I have more wisdom highlights in my hair than I had a year ago). My emotions are in transition. My relationships are in transition. My marriage is in transition. My children and grandchildren are in transition. Literally, everything around me is in transition. However, when I become conscious of the reality that everyone around me is also in transition, it helps immensely. We are in this transition time together.
There’s something about life where it refuses to keep you in a stagnant place. Life is often a rollercoaster of ups and downs, a ride of love, laughter and tears. Whether you’re preparing for a new baby, about to make a career leap, taking care of your parents, or emerging from the ashes of a relational wreck, life is always prodding and pulling on us to grow. Either you will get complacent or life will force you to make a maneuvering change. Many of us have been rudely required to a transition we didn’t invite or welcome.
But let me suggest this, while there’s a learning curve to preparing for the sometimes sudden transitions in life, expecting change will come is half of the battle. All good comfort zones must come to an end. Life will never let you get too comfortable and just when you think you have everything all figured out, you will be confronted with something that challenges your coveted, familiar comforts. The worst thing we can do is get complacent and comfortable, because that usually means life is coming to shake things up. This time around, we have been in a shake-up that most of our world never saw coming.
This is what helps me most during transition. We have a God whom we can turn to that understands our reluctance toward change. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” James 1:17. God’s character never changes. He is always good, faithful, caring and the ultimate example of love. His power never changes. His promises never change. His purpose never changes. And, He will always provide the anchors of strength, safety, stamina and serenity for us when we lean into Him.
Transition and change? Don’t fight back, but instead give in. Don’t keep reaching and stretching back for the past. Instead, move along with the changes and transitions. You’ll be a much healthier person. Learn to channel all the emotional energy over the anxiety of change into productive energy that propels you onto the next level. There is no growth in comfort. There is no growth without change. Embracing transition is never easy but always good for us.
P.S. – One of my mentors, Sam Chand, wrote a great blog on mastering eight types of transition several months ago. Here’s the link: Mastering Transition
This is new territory for all of us. Unexpected, unplanned, uncertain, unpredictable—all are words that describe my feelings about this new reality created by COVID-19. Especially for those of us who are in public service, medical care, business or ministry leadership… we tend to step up, gear up, adapt and adjust so we can carry out our responsibilities in this unprecedented experience happening in our world right now.
Our priorities have been shifted around. Protocols and procedures have changed. Delivery of our products and services have transitioned. But let me suggest one priority that should not get pushed to the bottom of the ever-changing list of responsibilities. If we are going to help others deal with the uncertainty and change happening, we need to practice good self-care. If we don’t care well for ourselves, then we compromise our ability and capability to care for others—in the workplace, in our community and at home.
Here are a few practical suggestions that can help with the necessity of self-care during this unusually stressful time:
- Don’t underestimate the power of a connection with God. Regardless of your faith story or personal spiritual journey, you are more than a physical, emotional being. Every human is designed to link up with our Creator. This is literally your “lifeline.” How else could one explain the desperate pleas, the bargaining, the crying out to a Supernatural power that goes on in every human being in moments of deep need or crisis? That is a part of our design—a connection with God. You can nurture that connection during this season with prayer, Scripture reading, inspirational blogs and online worship (https://capechristian.com).
- Get outside daily. I walk two miles every morning while the sun is preparing to come up. Birds are singing. Spring has not cancelled its bloom. Sunshine, clouds, a fresh breeze and some greenery are good for the soul. Walking or working out daily is good for the body and spirit. All of the “happy chemicals” of Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin are released into every part of our being.
- Practice Gratitude. List the top three things that you are grateful each day. Gratefulness is one of the keys to overcoming anxiety. It reminds us to focus on our blessings and not our burdens. Gratitude energizes hope.
- Stay connected to family and friends. Phone calls, texts, email, Facetime, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Duo or whatever works for you. Use this time to check on neighbors who are especially vulnerable. Relationships are extremely valuable in the middle of crisis or forced isolation.
- Monitor your rest. Plenty of sleep will keep your immune system strong. Practice healthy bedtime routines. Limit your blue light (screen) exposure late in the evening. I set my iPhone to automatically move toward a warmer light in the evening. My goal is at least 7-8 hours hours of solid sleep.
- Limit the information intake. It just isn’t healthy to listen to non-stop reports of infections and deaths from COVID-19. Get your daily update and then move on to something uplifting. None of us need a constant feed of fear.
- Be intentional about hydration. When we are distracted by all the news and out of our routines, we sometimes forget the simplest things. Staying hydrated is good for the body and helps flush out the toxins. Drink lots of water. Be extremely careful about the temptation to increase your intake of stimulant or relaxant beverages due to the changes in schedule or extra stress.
- Do something fun. Play a game. Work a puzzle. Watch a comedy. Create a craft project. Cook something special. Go fishing. Go kayaking. Listen to your favorite music. Go through old photos. Or in my case, I create photos because that is my go-to hobby and stress-reducer. Week before last, I called a photographer friend and we each drove separately out to Blind Pass (practicing social distancing) as we captured the Milky Way from 2-5am. Earlier this week, I spent a couple hours at sunrise sitting in my car 15 feet from a Burrowing Owl’s nest, getting some shots of the newly hatched fuzzy babies checking out their new surroundings. Last night, I traveled to a nearly vacant marina to photograph the rising Super Moon.
It’s not possible to continue caring for or leading others if we are not taking care of ourselves. Be intentional about taking care of your own body, soul and spirit. Self-care is not selfish, it’s healthy. It must be at the top of the priority list during times like this.
QUESTION: What are your most helpful practices of self-care? Sharing your experience below in the comment section will move someone else toward self-care. Thank you! ~ Dennis
This is a slightly edited version of a weekly “Chaplain’s Chat” that I did recently for the employees of Cape Coral Police Department where I serve as Lead Chaplain — Dennis
You don’t have to be a police officer or a communications call-taker to know that when stress goes up it also puts pressure on many of our relationships. Turbulent times stress our relationships. Couples tend to fight more, neighbors can be touchy, teens and parents battle when quarantined in the same home for days on end, and even grocery store brawls erupt over the last bundle of toilet paper. Loads of cortisol and adrenalin get dumped into our systems through constant negative news, fear of the future, potential loss of job or the demands of extra work brought on by the current pandemic. Even the word pandemic brings stress because it feels like it’s a combination of pandemonium and epidemic (it’s actually a combo of “pan” as in broad-based and epidemic).
However, these circumstances present us with extraordinary opportunities to deepen our most important connections, both professionally and personally. Let me encourage you to be intentional about strengthening your relationships during this time. And do know what one of the most powerful tools are for doing this? Asking great questions.
As simple as it may sound, asking great questions is one of the very best ways to strengthen your relationships. Think about it. We’ve all met that person who rarely stops talking about themselves. If you have no one in mind, I’m sorry to break the news to you but you might be “that person.” And you aren’t very self-aware. All joking aside, you aren’t usually drawn toward spending more time with the person who doesn’t ever let you get a word in edgewise. Or if every short story you tell leads them to tell a long story that is bigger and better than what you told; you soon start to avoid that relationship.
But if a person shows an interest in your life by asking you questions, you like hanging around them. That’s true at work. It’s true at home. It’s true with friends. We all like the opportunity to talk about ourselves, at least in moderation, right?
Jesus was the master of asking questions. Some of his greatest thought-provoking questions were, “Who do you say that I am?”; “Do you believe?”; “Do you want to get well?”; “Why are you so afraid?”; “Why do you doubt?”; “Do you love me?” and many, many more. He gives us a lot of help in the kind of questions to ask.
While not at all exhaustive, let me share three types of questions to use with intentionality in strengthening your relationships:
- Open-Ended Questions – They invite conversation, not a yes-or-no answer. An example would be, “Are you concerned about the Governor’s new Stay-at-Home order?” That’s a yes or no question. An open-ended question would be “How are you being impacted by the new Stay-at-Home order from the Governor?”
- Fresh and Surprising Questions – They make the other person stop and think before responding. Rather than the cliché question of “What keeps you up at night?” we could ask the more interesting question, “What gets you up in the morning?”
- Help Me Understand Questions – This preface can lead to great conversation. Asking, “Why did you speak to me that way?” can come across as condemning or accusing. A “Help me to understand…” approach can communicate a desire to learn how the other person thinks and what was going on in their mind that led to a particular comment or action. Humility with a desire to genuinely learn the other person’s perspective will bring great dividends to your relationships.
There’s much more to be said about asking powerful and effective questions, but this is a start. It takes effort to develop strong questions. But good questions always lead to closer connections to those we work with and do life with. Rewarding communication leads to reduced stress. Healthy conversations lead to growth in our relational bonds. Stronger relationships outfit all of us with greater resilience to withstand the challenges we are confronted with these days.
May God’s grace be more than enough each and every day for this journey ahead ~ Dennis
P.S. – I’d love to hear (in the Comment section below) how you are using questions to strengthen your relationships.
This is an exceptional time in history. The COVID-19 virus has entire countries paralyzed, borders shut, flights cancelled, businesses closed, people confined to their homes. I spoke with a friend from Germany this morning and he told me 650 people died in their neighboring country, Italy, just yesterday. I don’t know how many usually die in Italy each day. But just hearing a statement like that along with all the other 24-7 “breaking news” bulletins about the Coronavirus outbreak, spreads the most contagious virus of all—fear. Fear brings worry. And worry is like a plague to our body. It attacks our mind, then our heart, and over time, it can consume our overall health. Continuous worry leads to a state of anxiety, where you rarely have periods of the day when you aren’t worried. A lot of people in our world, our community, our families—are worried right now.
One of my long-time mentors, Dr. John C. Maxwell, said it so well. “The Pessimist complains about the wind. The Optimist expects it to change. The Leader adjusts the sails.” You may not see yourself as a leader. Your title may not be boss, supervisor, owner, president, pastor, doctor, sergeant, chief or CEO. But anyone who influences anyone else is a leader. Teachers are leaders. Parents are leaders. Cops are leaders. Store clerks are leaders. Older siblings are leaders to the younger ones in the family. Leadership is influence. How are you doing at leading right now?
The wind is blowing. It may not be in the direction we would like it to be. Truthfully, it’s rather stormy in our world right now. We can complain. We can do nothing except hope maybe something will change soon. Or, we can adjust the sails. What does adjusting the sails look like for you in your situation? Here are four things that can help.
FLEXIBILITY – those who are willing to break out of their routines and habits will see the best results at a time like this. The old saying is, “those who are flexible won’t get bent out of shape.” The sails on a boat are not fixed and rigid for a reason. They are meant to be adjusted to maximize the performance of the sailboat. Whether it’s dealing with the kids who are home from school for an indefinite period of time, a job that is now uncertain, closed beaches, a shortage of toilet paper, travel bans or who knows what, flexibility will definitely help.
FUN – Don’t forget to have fun during this season. There’s a time to be serious but laughter, exercise, and pleasurable activities release the “happiness” chemicals (Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin & Oxytocin) into our brains and bodies. For sure, stress will release plenty of cortisol and adrenaline into your body. This become a vicious cycle: your hormones cause anxiety, the anxiety causes more hormones to be released, and so on. Fun will counteract and offset the stress.
FORGIVENESS – Remember that being anxious, afraid, worried and stressed can create extra frustrations with others. Be patient. Be kind. Forgive frequently. Scripture reminds us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if an any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness also releases the happiness chemicals into your body.
FAITH – We are more than just physical and emotional beings. We are designed with a spiritual component of that is designed to link up with the Creator of the Universe. Trusting in God is key in reducing fear and worry. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) Apostle Paul wrote. He also added, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7). As in any relationship, the closer we are to God, the more we are assured we can trust him. This pandemic didn’t catch God by surprise. What does He want you and me to learn from it? I think if we will ask and then listen, He will give us some answers.
So, how will you adjust your sails today? Next week? Who in your sphere of influence needs to see or hear your calm example in the middle of the storm they (and we) are in? What is one way you could be more flexible? Who needs to have some fun right now? Is there anyone you need to forgive? Are there any areas you need more faith and trust in God? What will you do first to build more faith and trust in God? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below. Blessings! ~Dennis
When my sons were young, I would always ask them to hold my ladder if I was changing a battery in one of the smoke detectors or a light bulb on one of our two cathedral ceilings. Now days, if my adult sons in their 40’s are visiting and something needs to be reached up high, I hold the ladder and they climb up to switch out the battery or the bulb. And that all seems pretty normal.
In leadership, I’ve noticed it’s not so ordinary. Instead, I see business leaders, pastors, non-profit leaders in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond still climbing the ladder and expecting all the younger people around to hold their ladder. I don’t get it. Just look at history. Two of my favorite characters of Torah-fame, are Moses and Joshua.
For many decades during their long journey, Moses had invested in Joshua. Moses entrusted him to build an army (Exodus 17:8–13); he spoke the word of God to Joshua (Exodus 17:14–16); Moses leaned on Joshua as a servant (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28); and Joshua was always nearby whenever Moses spoke with God face-to-face (Exodus 33:7–11). So when it came time for the Israelites to enter Canaan, Joshua was the obvious and prepared choice as the new leader for God’s mission.
Dr. John C. Maxwell wrote in a Leadershift devotional, “In a world that tells you to ‘get ahead’, it’s tempting to believe that advancing yourself is the best way to become a leader. Climbing the corporate ladder is just the price you pay—and people will understand if you have to step on a few fingers as you make your way to the top. Except the question leaders should ask isn’t “How far can I go?”, but ‘How far can I help others go?’ Or—even better—’How far can I take the mission, and then how can I help others take the mission beyond my best work?’“
These days, when I pause to reflect on my last 40 years in leadership, I sincerely believe that the best leadership decision I have ever made was to start developing a succession plan in my late 40’s and to implement it in my mid-50’s. While “climbing the ladder” may help you prove yourself in order to gain influence, I would counter that you take your leadership to a whole new level when you hold other people’s ladders as they begin their climb. In the organization I founded, others are taking Cape Christian far beyond my best work.
What about you? Are you holding the ladder for others? Are you actively working to invest in the leaders who will come after you? Nothing is more tragic for a leader than to get to the top of the ladder and realize you’re there… all alone. Invest in others.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
Who held your ladder for you as you climbed it to where you are now? How did their help encourage and better prepare you for what lay ahead?
Who in your life stands out as someone specific to invest in helping to climb their ladder? How will doing so help your overall mission?
I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!
A couple months ago, a former youth group member from two decades ago moved back to Florida from Colorado and showed up at church with her family. She now has children that are ready for the youth group. What a surprise! I have a 30-year history with her family. I did her parents wedding, baptized and buried her grandmother, baptized her father and stepmom, two of her uncles and more. After tight hugs and introductions to her children and husband, my wife and I entered into a “catching up on life” conversation with them.
During the subsequent conversation, the husband of this former teen now turned to a mature adult mom, asked questions about my current role in the church and the succession plan that I had implemented a decade ago. Then he summarized the whole conversation with a short statement I had never heard or even thought of before. He said, “So, you stepped up by stepping back.” My wife and I talked about that statement on our way to and during lunch. I wrote it down on my “Potential Blog” list. It was profound. I’ve pondered that line repeatedly the past two months. No one had previously used that language. It was a new thought to me.
As I’ve mulled over the statement, I realized most everyone else has talked about me “stepping down” over the last 10 years since I executed the succession plan I formulated about 15 years ago at Cape Christian. No one ever mentioned “stepping up.” I had heard and used the phrase “stepping back.” But not “stepping up.” Now for two months I’ve been contemplating. Why did that statement, “So, you stepped up by stepping back” grip me the way it did?
Here are two reflections from the past two months:
1). Stepping Up is More Noble Than Stepping Down. In our culture, leaders often “step down” because they are overwhelmed, have health issues, family challenges, or just want a change of scenery. Or worse, they “step down” because they made poor moral choices. None of the above describes the reason I implemented a succession plan and moved to a different seat on the bus. It was all focused toward the long-term health of the organization I birthed. It wasn’t to make my life easier. In fact, it would have been much easier to stay in the lead role beyond age 55. It would have meant more financial security. It would have been a whole lot simpler in so many ways. (see my recent blog “Two Words That Made Me Angry”). Bottom line, I really do love stepping up more than I love stepping down. That phrase will always stick with me.
2). Stepping Up has been My Leadership Goal. Ever since hearing John Maxwell and Jim Collins describe Level Five Leadership (see above graphs with descriptions), that became my preferred future. A very long time ago, I stepped up from Level 1 to Level 2, Level 2 to Level 3, etc. Maybe my Type 3 (Achiever) scoring on the Enneagram personality assessment has kept me climbing toward the top of the pyramid. But that’s not really it. Actually, seeking to be more like Jesus has been my biggest motivation. Jesus stepped back to step up. Jesus taught and modeled the upside down leadership lifestyle. Jesus calls me to descend into greatness. (Read Matthew 20:20-28 or Philippians 2:3-11). I want to be more like Jesus.
So for you. I have a few questions. Where are you in your leadership development journey? Which Level are you on? What will it take for you to get to the next level? What are you learning from other leaders who are further along on the journey? What could you teach me or others about leadership? I’d love to hear more in the comment section below. Thank you!
This blog was originally posted as “Which is Most Important?” at Successful Successions on September 6, 2019. It seems appropriate for this blog as well. ~ Dennis
Recently I read something that got my attention: “Team leadership requires an understanding that impact is more important than ego. In American Christianity, especially in the megachurch, the ego needs of the senior pastor are off the charts, including me. Pastors have to let God lower their need for attention. The minute that impact becomes more important than ego, amazing things begin to happen” (Ray Johnston of Bayside Church in CA). I had to ask myself, which is more important to me? Impact or ego? What would your answer be for you? Impact or ego? What would others say about me or you? Impact or ego?
I’m hopeful that most would say that my life reflects a higher value on impact than ego. In my mid-60’s, it is easier to measure than when you are in your mid-30’s. For me, there is more of a track record. More to measure. Patterns can be noticed. In other words, I’ve left a trail behind me. What will people see when you have a long history behind you? Impact or ego?
I have lost track of the number of times that leaders in business, church and non-profits have said something like this to me, “What you’ve done with your succession plan is so unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it.” And, I guess it is. I didn’t do it to be unique or different. I didn’t do it because I wanted someone to think I was extraordinary or special. I did it because it just seemed the right thing to do if I wanted to leave the maximum impact through my leadership in the organization that I started.
I remember well the story that John Ortberg tells about playing Monopoly with his grandmother. After working super hard to finally beat her and win the game, she said to young John, “It all goes back in the box. All the cash. All the properties. All the accumulations of success. It all goes back in the box” (here’s a 3 min. video version). That’s the approach of someone who understands impact over ego. It all goes back in the box.
What are you doing in your leadership to maximize your impact? Let me just suggest. The greater you hope your impact to be, the more you will have to fight against your ego. Those two are almost mutually exclusive. You can have great impact and a great ego. But I would contend, your impact will soar upward in almost direct proportion to your ego going downward. Humility is the doorway to maximum impact. Think about. Better yet, work on increasing your impact by decreasing your ego.
Have a great weekend!
QUESTION: As you reflect on your life, what are your biggest challenges in leaving an impact? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.
Up until a few weeks ago, two words have ignited angry emotions inside of me. This has been going on for the last ten years. It all peaked at a recent funeral for a long-time pastor/friend of mine. At least three times that day, long-time acquaintances asked a variation of those two words, “How’s retirement?” Earlier that week, a local business leader asked the same question at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. It’s been a regular question for years. But, four times in one week? I was internally seething with anger by the week’s end! As I was reflecting, I became aware of all the red flashing lights and the dangerously peaked gauges on my emotional dashboard. Getting ready for church on Sunday morning, I made a decision.
That next week, I scheduled an appointment with a psychologist friend who leads a counseling and consulting team connected to our church. I needed to explore why those two words kept on detonating an emotional bomb inside of me? Two words that were most likely intended by the questioner to show an interest in my life, were causing me deep distress. Why this internal over-reaction to another person’s innocent interest in my well-being? For a few decades, I’ve known that I should always question a disproportionate reaction to an event, activity or words. That’s true when observing the reaction of others and it’s also true of myself.
Unpacking this volatile internal emotional response to a simple inquiry of “How’s retirement?” has led me to five observations about myself and my inner values:
- I dislike assumptions. While I did carefully plan and orchestrate a leadership succession plan, I’ve never retired. I’m still working full time. People assumed that changing my role from Senior Pastor to Founding Pastor and calling a young successor to be the Lead Pastor at Cape Christian ten years ago meant I had retired. Few asked me for clarity on my current role. They assumed. A mentor told me years ago to just divide the word assume into three parts: Ass-U-Me. That’s what happens when you or I assume. It makes both of us look like donkeys.
- I dislike gossip. I’ve spent the last decade responding to the hated two-word question with, “Where did you hear that I retired?” In most cases, the response was “someone told me you did.” No one asked me. No one checked out the facts. They just passed on an untruth. That was a part of my anger.
- I dislike mediocrity. I have always been drawn to visionary out-of-the-box leadership. Long-sighted leadership that plans for a preferred future is one of my strengths. Not thinking ahead and defaulting to “whatever happens” is less than what God has designed us for. Middle-of-the-road average leadership always disappoints me. In my way of thinking, developing a succession plan for the organization that you birthed should just be a normal part of growing toward level five leadership.
- I devalue retirement. I have come to realize my thoughts are counter-cultural. Most every working American looks forward to the day they can sit and do nothing. Not me. Fishing, boating or golfing doesn’t appeal to me. Even my hobby of photography doesn’t look good as a full-time option. I guess I’ve watched too many retirees move to Florida and get super depressed. In fact, as a police chaplain, I know the inside story. Every year, dozens of retirees in our city commit suicide. No purpose. No meaning. No hope. Nothing to get out of bed for in the morning. In contrast, I love what I do. I love seeing the transformation of lives. I love helping the team take new territory. When someone thinks I’ve retired, that isn’t a positive step for me. I’ve watched as people obsess about their retirement date—count it down on their smartphones; talk about it every single day to every person they meet; and they let up on the accelerator, put it in neutral and slowly coast to a stop. Now, I plan to slow down and decrease the amount of time I spend in the office a few years from now. But for someone to think that I retired at age 55 when I implemented the succession plan by moving out of the driver’s seat and taking another seat on the bus, goes completely against my values—because I don’t value retirement as my ultimate goal.
- I discovered that few understand the cost. As I reflected with my counselor, I realized that a significant part of my internal anger at the “How’s retirement?” question had to do with something I hadn’t verbalized publically. I was angry that people potentially thought that I was so well-positioned with my financial resources that I could just choose not to work anymore and be set for the rest of my life. That bothered me more than I was aware. Quite the opposite. By giving up the highest-paid position in the organization, I’ve significantly sacrificed financial security. And there have been plenty of other less measurable costs to my ego by giving up control and taking a much less visible role in the organization I founded. But I’m still convinced it was the right decision. I have absolutely no regrets. And the organization has prospered greatly because of the implementation of a succession plan.
So, I’m doing better these days. People continue to ask about “my retirement.” But now, I don’t feel the rage rising up in the way that it use to. In fact, I smile (I put on a fake smile before) and ask them where they heard that I retired? I joke that “you can’t believe everything you hear.” And I share that I’ve never retired and the truth is I’m still working full-time and I’m loving my role at this season of life. I explain to them that I intentionally developed a succession plan for the well-being of the church that I started and it’s one of the very best leadership decisions that I’ve ever made. And I encourage them to go to my Successful Successions blog and read more about it if they want to know the Why behind the What. And some have.
Here’s my reminders for the holidays: Life is too short to be angry. Pay attention to your inner self. Self-awareness is a treasured leadership skill. Seek the counsel of professionals. Have fun. Humility is necessary for emotional health. Let the Prince of Peace give you His peace. Merry Christmas!
What areas of your emotional health do you need to be in tune with these days? What is your next step in getting healthier? I’d love to hear more!
Last year, when I was preparing to hit my “sign up for Medicare” birthday, my wife and I spent several months meeting with our financial planner for a very thorough financial review. Those meetings included an analysis of our retirement accounts, our current financial situation, our goals for the future, and testing all kinds of scenarios and variables to be able to project what the next 20-30 years might look like. This year, we met with our long-time friend, an estate attorney, to thoroughly review and update our will, medical decision-making documents and much more. The last two weeks, we met with our funeral-director friend to make all of our end-of-life plans and to get everything prepaid to make things much easier for our children when it’s our time to change our addresses from our earthly home to our heavenly home. On top of it, this morning, I attended a long-time pastor friend’s memorial service. He was two years younger than me.
All of the above has me thinking about inheritance and legacy. Are they the same? Are they different? Which one is more important? And then, just this week, I got a very timely short video from Sam Chand on this topic. Chand says, “We tend to equate inheritance with legacy. The truth is that the two are very different. Inheritance is WHAT you will leave behind; legacy is WHO you will leave behind. It’s important to plan for both.”
Have I planned for both inheritance and legacy? Which one will I leave behind? Over the last 18 months, I’ve been planning primarily for inheritance. We’ve made sure all of our “stuff” will be appropriately handled and disbursed. Our children will have no difficult decisions to make when we leave this world. We have made the decisions so they won’t have to be burdened with them. The WHAT is taken care of.
For the last several decades, we’ve been planning for legacy. We birthed and raised three children to adulthood who now have spouses and children of their own. We founded a church which has changed the eternal destinations of thousands and redirected and transformed multiple generations for hundreds of families. We designed, developed and executed a successful succession plan that has strategically placed top-shelf leaders in a place that will take this transformissional movement to increasing levels of impact and fruitfulness. The WHO is handled.
It’s a great feeling to be at a juncture of life where I can look forward to the years ahead without any unfinished business. Both the what and the who is planned for. Both inheritance and legacy are solid. For certain, I wish for a few more decades to enjoy my fruit growing on the trees of others. But if something happened suddenly to me tomorrow, it’s all good!
Now, how about you? Are you planning or already prepared for both inheritance and legacy? It’s never really too early to plan and prepare. In fact, legacy is best started when you are at the front end of life. The sooner the better. Who are you investing in? Who or what kind of people do you want to leave behind? In your family? In your work world? Through your faith influence?
Don’t forget this. Inheritance will go away. The house, the cars, the business, the retirement accounts, will all depreciate, deplete or decay. Legacy will last. The impact of the people you have left behind will have an ever-increasing ripple effect. Generations to come will be strengthened and fortified because you have invested yourself in the people God has entrusted to your influence. Are you being intentional about both the what and the who? If not, then why not start today?
QUESTION: What additional thoughts has this conversation sparked in you? I’d love to hear what is on your mind right now.