I turn 29 today. Not to be dramatic, but I look back on the past year and feel like I died and came back to life multiple times. In many ways, this year was one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. It also required more courage than I ever thought possible.…Continue Reading
When it comes to making thoughtful decisions and pursuing our goals well, good advice is something we crave. We also want to be the kinds of people who offer that good advice to others— it can be such a rewarding way to contribute.
I recently joined the advisory board of an organization and took part in an all-day meeting. Various staff members presented on projects and ideas for the board’s reflection and critique, which made me feel a deep level of ownership over my role as an advisor. In addition to that experience, I’ve informally advised numerous people and organizations– many of us have.
I’ve also relentlessly sought advice from people whose insights, skills, and experiences I value. We’re taught at a young age that adults know better, and for a while this mindset follows us. Sometimes I wonder if we’re still looking for the “adults” in the room, forgetting that we ourselves crossed that threshold years ago.
But here’s the challenge with advice, as with anything: its quality runs the gamut of the fullness of humanity. Advice is fueled by inspiration and wisdom at best, and tainted by biases and pridefulness at worst. It can be the product of thoughtful research and reflection, or of sloppy thinking and inattention. When spot-on, advice is something we want to live and die by. When it misses the mark, it can be incredibly distracting and even destructive.…Continue Reading
Year 1 of my MBA program is in full swing and I feel like a bit of a phony. I’m surrounded by classmates who worked really hard to get here. Conversations often dance around the battle scars of merger-induced all-nighters or volatile client crises that eventually devolved into a night of drinking enough to obliterate the miserable associated memories (not recommended). Meanwhile on my proverbial farm, I used the years between college and graduate school to refine my values, develop consistent practices of compassion and hospitality, and dream of the impact I wanted to make. I did some work too.
But what I’ve noticed about the work-to-death culture here on campus is that in some professional settings it’s the norm, not the exception. The nonstop 15-hour days here are new to me but not to everyone else. In fact, some would probably be shocked that I kept my weekends sacred with rhythms that involved the things I’ve come to love: community, harvest, creativity, reflection. True rest is something I’ve written about since the inception of this blog, and now I’m only more convinced that it matters.
When the world around us doesn’t seem to slow down, rest is a courageous act. But it’s not rest alone that brings meaning to these long days or the pages and pages and pages of schoolwork. In order to sustain ourselves holistically through the challenging nature of work, we need to find ways to live deeply. My definition of living deeply is a combination of self-awareness, spiritual conviction, faithful dedication, and communal connection. It brings meaning where meaning is absent. It breathes life into words on a page that only describe “effective leadership” or “change management”. It gives our currencies– talent, money, and resources– a cause worthy of growth.
So how do we live deeply? I’ve been working on the following:
Stay close to art, stories, and the non-quantitative capacities of humanity
As a society, we’re becoming increasingly obsessed with data. But Einstein is still a genius: not everything that counts can be counted. And expressions that dare to explore the uncountable tend to be creative, tender, vulnerable, and beautiful. I love reading poetry, attending performances, perusing galleries and sinking my teeth into a late-summer tomato. I choose to create as well: expressing my ideas through writing, trying a new recipe, taking photographs, or even composing mini reflections on Instagram. These things help me re-center my own convictions that we are all part of a story that matters.
Explore your community and seek to understand it.
I’ll be honest: we weren’t super excited to move from Los Angeles to New Haven, Connecticut. Despite LA’s flaws, we’d grown comfortable with our proximity to diverse communities, close friends, and delicious produce (those darn tomatoes!). But now that we’re here, I want to actually be here. I want to understand the community– from the Italian-American generations that call pizza “abeets” (still figuring that one out) to the various immigrant populations that came to Connecticut instead of New York.
When we know more about the land on which we live, we walk with an awareness and appreciation for the stories that have transpired here. We become a part of it. We’re no longer here just for ourselves. We’re here as a part of the story that is still unfolding.
Choose vulnerability even before anyone else does.
Vulnerability is no piece of cake. Being vulnerable first is even tougher. This past week, I encountered someone who seemed a little too absorbed in self-promotion. I was tempted to avoid him, but saw value in the perspectives he brought and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn from him. Rigid and put off at first by his attitude, I decided to let down my guard and be vulnerable. So I affirmed him and said that I needed his expertise in something I was working on. He melted immediately, and now I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing him again.
I wonder what would have happened had I not gone first, if I had let my own shame and insecurity keep me from pressing into a chance at friendship. Vulnerability is a risk and doesn’t always open doors, but it pushes us to live openheartedly and invites others to do the same.
Return to your convictions and pursue the truth.
If you are so fortunate as to be able to make decisions based on your values, it’s important to remind yourself of those values often, even while allowing people and experiences to help you refine them. This is a crucial case of both-and. We can be both openminded and anchored by conviction, seek other perspectives and pursue the truth.
At the end of the day, we all need beliefs and convictions that can stand the test of difficult seasons. In my particular case, the fact is that many of my classmates will go into careers where job satisfaction levels are below 50%. Given these stats, it’s not uncommon for high achievers to find themselves at mid-career deeply dissatisfied with their choices and lost in a sea of demands, expectations and “great” opportunities. That’s when their answer to “why?” needs to come to their rescue.
It’s true that most of us have to put our heads down and complete tasks we dislike at some point or another; but consistently making choices that are ultimately bad for our wellbeing is a symptom of fear or a lack of conviction. Conviction isn’t necessarily static; it can move and breathe with us, but it must exist and we must cling to it.
Let’s live deeply.
While the lifestyle I’ve chosen isn’t exactly popular, I’ve come to realize that it still somehow inspires. Even if living deeply means stepping away from the crowd, forward in vulnerability, and out in creativity, we become another point of reference for what life can look like.
Here’s my posture, at least: you can always come over here, take a breath, and remember that this moment actually means something.
Sometimes I wonder whether there’s anything I fear more than failing in plain view of others. And I’m not talking about your average “this is my first time” failure; I’m talking about “I worked really hard and I did not succeed” failure.
Maybe it was because I grew up dancing, tumbling, and playing the piano. The performance arts do wonders for your presentation skills and self-awareness, and they also make failure– especially in front of an audience– the worst possible outcome. You can practice the same pirouette a hundred times a day, only to miss a step in the spotlight. You can trill Baroque melodies to the astonishment of your piano teacher, only to slip on the keys at your own recital. In utterly results-oriented activities, failure feels fatal.
There are a few ways we performance-oriented people can respond to our conditioning. First, we can be private: don’t let others into the story until success is absolutely on the horizon. Second, we can disengage: don’t let others perceive how much we care and how hard we’re working.
Third, we can choose vulnerability: allow others to speak into our process, share in our burdens, and lament over our losses.
Over the past several years, I’ve started to more openly explore Option 3. Because as much as I’d like to be the principle dancer twirling through each life stage with ease and elegance, opportunities constantly abounding and never a misstep, I know too much about the world to believe it’s actually possible. So if I’m to portray such perfection, I know I’m choosing solitude. And I don’t want to be alone anymore.
Just tell people everything. That’s easy for the openhearted, extroverted, perhaps slightly narcissistic personality to say. Because there’s actually a tradeoff when it comes to vulnerability.
When we choose vulnerability, we let others see our true level of performance. It’s all too easy to give off an air of excellence when in fact, we are struggling or falling behind.
When we choose vulnerability, we allow others to see our true level of investment. Some people say success comes with a certain degree of obsession– the kind that can feel overwhelming to a bystander. Not everyone wants to go there with you. Not everyone approves of how much you care.
When we choose vulnerability, we invite others to enter into a story and stay for as long as they want. There’s the inevitable “how are you doing with that?” or “any updates?” or “are you still trying to…?” Questions can feel condemning, condescending, evaluative, or loaded. But the door we opened doesn’t close. At least, not on our account.
What makes vulnerability worth it
Vulnerability is worth it when we’re done being alone.
When we’ve decided the facade of perfection (which no one probably buys anyway) isn’t worth our anxious, quiet suffering.
When we’ve decided it’s better to receive empathetic insight and wisdom than empty praise and admiration.
When we’ve realized we need other people in order to accomplish anything of significant meaning in the world, and we shouldn’t wait until we’re perfect to ask for their help.
Vulnerability is worth it when we start perceiving life as a series of opportunities to try new things, rather than a string of stunts to pull before a crowd of critics.
I’m still learning this. In the meantime, here are a few practices I’m adopting:
1) Name the motivation, the action, and the emotion.
When we choose vulnerability, we need to tell the whole story: why we’re doing something, what exactly we’re doing, and how we feel about it. If it affects others, let’s be honest about that, too. Not sharing the whole story keeps us protected– and still alone.
2) Lead with mutuality and live in the tension of others’ successes.
All too many people try “vulnerability” by divulging every last detail of their lives, while showing no interest in the lives of their listeners. This doesn’t lead to deeper empathy or more meaningful friendships. So even when we’re working through a challenge, let’s remember that those walking with us have stories, too. And– whether eventful or not– let’s hear those stories.
3) Commit to the unformed narrative.
There’s always a temptation to reframe our failures as insignificant in light of graver realities, or part of a bigger story, or otherwise not as important as they feel. It’s a bit like retouching a photograph of ourselves: we clean up the scars, bumps, and discoloration to reveal an enhanced version of what was originally captured.
Some people in our lives only need the retouched version. Others– the ones with whom we’re choosing vulnerability– deserve the untouched version: emotions, frustrations, self-doubt and all.
The failure becomes the gift
Vulnerability allows us to move through defeat. It helps us to see that– even though we failed, embarrassed ourselves, or made poor judgments– we’re not alone, and the story is not over.
I’ve experienced much more courage when I rise up with people around me excited to see what’s next.
In what ways have you experienced vulnerability as a strength?
We’ve just returned from an 18-day trip around the world. Aaron discovered an unusual route that would take us east from Los Angeles to Rome, Rome to Taipei, Taipei to Shanghai, and Shanghai to LA. All nonstop.
So on December 12th, we packed our bags and left for the longest international trip we’ve taken since 2015. And it was not without stress and apprehension that we sat down in our tight middle-aisle seats on the Norwegian flight to Rome. The past several months have been exhilarating, exhausting, and somewhat isolating. Projects carry into the new year. Results await us on the other side.
I myself have been caught up with a particular project that has been all-consuming. Its intellectual demands leave my writing pen dry, and its emotional weightiness leaves my spirits low. As the deadline looms close (very close), I expect to feel some amount of relief, despite the commencement of a period of waiting for results. That’s the lesson I have yet to truly learn: efforts and outcomes are not the same, and we can celebrate the former regardless of the latter.
The more we travel, the more clearly we see
This was my fourth time to Rome, a city that caused me to fall in love with travel nearly 15 years ago. The infamous chaos of Rome, try as it might, fails to fully overwhelm its grandeur. Everywhere you turn, you stumble on something stately and beautiful. The more closely you look, the more details come to light. A painting of the Madonna on a wall. A tucked-away cafe. A basket of flowers.
As we wandered through the backstreets of Rome’s heart– Trastevere– I couldn’t help but wonder: What is the future of the Eternal City? Living in Rome appears to be less an opportunity proposition than a lifestyle choice. People love Rome for the voracious carpe diem of Rome. There is always room for another plate of pasta, and a main course after that. There is espresso and cigarettes for breakfast, and tiramisu in a jar. There are more ancient ruins than we’ll ever find without bulldozing the entire city. But what’s next? Will tomorrow be just a fuller, busier, more chaotic version of today?
Shanghai, in some ways, is the opposite of Rome. It’s a fast-moving city for fast-moving people, with impossibly high rent to show you just how fast. Within the walls of its best bars and restaurants, you’ll find a generation of obscenely wealthy young people (what do they actually do?) whipping out Tom Ford lipsticks and flashing their gold iPhone Xs. Outside those walls are ordinary locals trying to make a living, zipping through Shanghai’s backstreets and boulevards on little motorbikes.
The region around Shanghai is stunning: there are water towns that date back a thousand years and more; gardens built for political officers back when scholars ruled China’s culture; a lake with a hundred myths that shroud it in mystery and a thousand paintings that celebrate it. These days, remnants of Old China are yielding to the new, becoming a playground for locals with means. Streets are cleaned up, canals patrolled for trash at dawn, and several Four Seasons await even the most squeamish travelers.
As much as travel inspires, it also breaks my heart. As the human race breathes in and out, fumes fill the skies (in Rome and Shanghai in particular, but also everywhere else). The hustle for bigger, brighter, and better is seductive, its fulfillment always elusive. If we all follow our instinct to be first, and if not first, then next, where will that lead us?
2017 in retrospect
Before Fall 2017, our year was already full. We spent a few days in Mexico City again, and I traveled to Cambodia with some of my best friends. Several months later, Aaron and I took our first flight to Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, where we encountered unbelievable local cuisine and streets bursting with celebration. I then took off to visit Guatemala with Noonday Collection, where we met our artisan partners and learned their craft (which I have no future in).
Our community group continued to grow this year, and it has been an honor to share joys and sorrows with others. We continue to ask questions of the heart, questions that matter to God: How can we live faithfully? How do we become better sisters, wives, friends? What is the right next step for our families? How can we make a difference in our local and global community?
In addition to learning in community, there were a few books that powerfully changed my perspective:
- The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan: a work of fiction that made me cry, a woman’s story of resilience in China
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: a must-read and powerful narrative of the African-American experience
- Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee: a close look at how to truly make a difference for the poor
- Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr: a writer’s experience of Rome, absolutely beautiful and hysterical
- Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle: heart-wrenching stories from Greg Boyle’s experience in gang intervention
Dreams for 2018
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, as I believe commitment to be more about grit than about timing. That said, there are several goals I’m holding for the year as I look ahead.
1) Removing pressure where it need not be applied. One of my tendencies is to be overly results-oriented, even in areas that don’t really matter. I feel immense pressure for all of my tasks to reflect excellence; and while this is helpful in some areas, it’s unhealthy and stress-inducing in others.
2) Deeper honesty and vulnerability with friends, and in general. Tied to #1, I hope to continue to grow in being open about the challenges I’m facing, even if I’m still facing them. So many of us like to tell the success story: we once struggled with X, but now we’ve succeeded because of Y. This can be incredibly isolating; so even if it means sharing complicated, unfiltered thoughts, I desire to more openly articulate my journey.
3) Cheering for others whenever I can. In a digital world of likes, views and shares, it can become less of a habit for us to verbally encourage each other. I already have the tendency to think well of others but forget to tell them on a regular basis; I hope to be able to do so more consistently in 2018.
4) Continued growth spiritually, professionally and intellectually. There are so many unknowns for us in 2018. But regardless of the circumstances, I want to continue to grow. This means setting up (and bolstering) practices in meditation, service and prayer; seeking opportunities to always do my best at work; and reading and learning constantly outside of what’s required of me.
What about you? What are your plans, dreams and reflections for 2018?
Purpose and perseverance are two weighty words. And we need both.
But we often overlook their value until we’ve lost them. Without purpose, I am predisposed to overachievement. To gratify myself somehow with the hustle to prove my worth. Without something greater to work toward, I find myself spinning outwardly in.
Without perseverance, I find myself frustrated and powerless. Because perseverance is dogged determination– the commitment that accompanies purpose– that keeps us in the game when giving up is much more attractive. It’s the lane guards that help us to continue barreling forward, however clumsily and imperfectly. When we say, “Someone else can do this better,” it’s the voice that says, “No one can do this exact thing other than you.”…Continue Reading
When it comes to self-care practices, I’m not an expert. Self-care isn’t even a term I love; for some reason, it turns up in the files of my brain along with the same search terms for “me-time.” A part of me still bristles when anyone says, “I can’t. I need a little me-time.”
But here’s the thing. None of us can work, plan, and give all the things, all the time. Furthermore, whether we often resist self-care out of selfishness or pride: a desire to have it all, do it all, and prove it all. Can you relate?
And when we fail to tend to our bodies, our minds, and our souls, we do not have capacity for the kind of greatness we aspire to. Lack of discipline leads me toward impatience, exhaustion, and even closed-mindedness, when every new challenge becomes just another problem on my list to fix….Continue Reading
Some believe that life should be easy. In fact, so many proponents of minimalism appear to advocate for simple living so that life can be easy. Or at least, easier.
And those writers do have a point: our constant consumption complicates our lives. Our acquisitions have to be cleaned and stored. Our assets have to be managed. And our income has to continue to keep up with the lifestyle we seek to project. Many of us live in the shadow of self-inflicted debt and under a pile of self-induced clutter. And we should stop that.
This well-placed anger toward clutter (and the habits that induce it) is often channeled into an aesthetic minimalism with simple-looking tabletops and blank pages, complete with latte art from hip coffee shops and hand-lettered prints, all encouraging others to pursue “what matters most.” I know, because I’ve been guilty of this presentation of simplicity, too.
Is creativity only for vocational “creatives”? I used to think so.
I used to love the word creative, while also regarding it as a lifestyle for people far different from me. Be creative? I hardly have time to work out and sleep enough, much less finish that long to-do list.
But what if creativity is not limited to crafting, painting, composing, photographing, or other traditional art forms? What if it’s so much bigger– and so much more necessary to living lives of purpose and meaning than we ever thought?
Creativity is precious (and sometimes fleeting)
I do believe there are people who are naturally better at generating new content quickly; they’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what we understand to be conventional, expanding definitions as they go. But I also believe we all have creative abilities, and those abilities need to be protected. Exhaustion and overwhelm can quickly squash creativity, leaving us to spring for whatever is fast and easy.
The solution? Practice creativity in your everyday life. I work with a handful of vocational creatives who inspire me regularly to think outside the confines that I’m familiar with. They take verbal risks. They re-conceptualize old structures. They make everything beautiful and more compelling.
It’s already happening. The holiday season with its celebrations, expectations, and impositions looms overhead as we progress into the second half of October. And if you’re like me in this season, you’re feeling tired. Perhaps you’re also stressed and swamped, and the leaves haven’t even changed color yet.
Despite our best efforts, the holiday season is almost inevitably packed. On top of our own expectations (mine are baking with friends, hosting guests, sending gifts, writing letters, and attending gatherings), we have everyone else’s, as well. On top of that, corporations and marketers are at our doorsteps asking us to choose them for gift-giving.
So what can we do?
There’s one thing that’s certain: the only people we can change is ourselves. We can’t force others out of their packed schedules or their family hustle. We can only do what we know is best for us– gifting ourselves a season of quietness, quality conversations, generosity, hope, and rebirth. I don’t know about you, but I could really use some of what the holidays are really about. Perhaps our communities will eventually feel the same.
Avoiding overwhelm, breaking the cycle
Our society is in a relentless pattern when it comes to this time of year. We gorge ourselves, inundate each other with gifts nobody needs, exchange invitations, spend too much money, dash from one event to another, gorge ourselves again, and then launch the New Year with ultimatums that we will never do any of that again.
But what if this time could be different? What if we actually stopped the rush? What if we stayed away from the long Black Friday lines? What if we stuck with our budget and continued our self-care practices? What if we ate well and heartily, but without gluttony?
It could happen, but we’ll have to be intentional. No one is going to help us achieve the goal of feeling rested after the holidays. No one is going to ensure that our conversations with loved ones are restorative, or that our time away from work and school leads to rejuvenation.
We have to make it happen.
Counting today, there are only 11 Mondays left until Christmas. In other words, most of our schedules will only get busier from here.
So why talk about slowing down now? How is that helpful?
The truth is, most of us will pack our schedules to the brink this year. We always do– and we probably won’t choose any differently. We will say yes to too many people, purchase too many gifts, and eat too many cookies. There’s a connection between celebration and indulgence in our culture, after all.
But what if this season could mean so much more than overstuffed, overspent, and overwhelmed? What if we could actually take control over these final weeks of the year, as though our lives actually ARE the direct consequences of our choices?
The cliche of “just say no”
We’ve all heard this: “Just say no more often.” But why is it so hard? If I were to answer the question for myself, I would start with perfectionism and performance. I don’t like people to think I have limits. I want to appear strong, capable, lively and likable, often at the expense of what I know is true, right, and good. Always at the expense of what really matters.
So if we’re to discover when and how to say no, we have to look out for signs. These signs are subtle at first, but quickly become a pattern that, if unchecked, can easily become a new reality.
But before they become that new reality, we can put an end to them. However much of our lives are in our control, we are responsible for that portion.
1) You’re constantly experiencing physical ailments.
You’re always sick. You’re always sore, You always have some kind of infection (no matter how small). You can’t fight off a cold. You get regular headaches. You can’t keep food down. The list goes on and on.
These pesky little problems are easily chocked up to stress and dismissed. But they’re actually precious signs that our bodies are not well. We often forget that we are supposed to be able to fight off disease, think clearly throughout the day, and feel generally alert and active. Exhaustion and overwhelm can cause things to go wrong physically, and when our bodies cry out, we need to listen.
2) You’re not your best self… ever.
We all have moments when we slip up and have to apologize; and if we’re honest, this often happens around the people we love most. We speak unkind words, tell lies, lose our temper, choose self-gratification over service, and generally forget the commitments we’ve made.
But when you are more often your worst self than your best self– and it feels as though being your best self requires too much exertion– it’s probably a sign that it’s time to slow down. Rather than giving a mediocre 60% to many things, try giving 90% to the most important things. Your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you.
3) You’re always waiting for a storm to blow over.
Normalcy feels like a foreign concept. Every week is volatile. Something dramatic is always happening. You’re always barely making it through.
While there are busy seasons that can last for months (or even years), life should have rhythm, constancy, and a healthy amount of predictability. If you find yourself running from one storm to the next, it’s likely time to remove some commitments from that calendar.
4) You’ve lost all your creative ability.
A sign you’ve got too much on your plate? You’re unable to innovate or engage new ideas. Creativity is a delicate gift that flutters away when its environs are too cluttered. When I have too much going on, I lose interest in creative pursuits, including writing, cooking, music, photography, or generating new strategies at work.
We all are creative in our own way– and even if creativity doesn’t feel like a part of your daily life, it likely plays a role in your ability to stay flexible and solve problems. We need creativity to move forward. Without it, we get stuck– despite the possibility that we are “accomplishing” a lot.
5) You’re motivated by shame and fear, not love and grace.
I’m borrowing this last one from my amazing boss. She’s juxtaposed these two major motivators in contrast: one crushes our spirit and sense of worth; the other invigorates our spirit and sense of worth. When we are driven by shame and fear, we’ll make decisions that only strengthen those influences. We can’t quench shame and fear by hustling– in fact, by hustling, we perpetuate them.
Feeling overwhelmed, and choosing not to make a change, can often point us toward this downward spiral. The only way to choose love and grace over shame and fear is to let go of those things we use as shields against our insecurities. It may take time for us to accept our limits. But acceptance will help us walk in love and grace.
Bottom line: You will get exactly what you tolerate.
We put ourselves through most of the misery we experience. Regardless how difficult it is for us to admit, most of us choose our lot freely. And the good news is that we can decide what we are willing to put up with.
It’s possible to sojourn through life, shattered, and ashamedly picking up the broken pieces of ourselves. But we don’t have to live like that.
When you realize it’s time to slow down, and you allow yourself to reach for the kind of normalcy for which you were intended– a life-giving contribution to the world– you’ll find that an overpacked schedule and overflowing plate is optional.
What are other signs that tell you that you’re doing too much?
Developing a calming evening routine is one of the best at-home accomplishments I can name for this year. That’s how much I believe in it.
If I can help it– and usually I can– I now try to be asleep before 10PM. Call me a granny, but this schedule has worked wonders on my energy levels, my peace of mind, and my general feelings of rest.
Falling asleep early is not just a matter of planning out a long, exhausting day to precede it. Granted, the past several months have been quite the hustle season, especially on weekdays. But choosing to sleep in order to reap its benefits requires discipline; and there’s nothing better than strong rituals to keep that discipline alive.
Why your evenings matter
Sleep is associated with productivity– but it has to be good sleep. National averages don’t reflect well on Americans’ sleep habits, and it most likely is costing us in our work, our relationships, and our overall health.
More importantly, evenings matter because they’re an opportunity most of us can’t afford to miss. If we use our evenings well, we can reflect, learn, prepare, and improve during this time. The added bonus is that deep sleep allows our minds to develop in ways it can’t while we’re awake.
So evenings are our chance at making our days count– really count. Here are the elements of a calmin evening routine that have been game-changers for me.
“I can’t stop worrying about this.”
“I’m worried that it’s not enough.”
“I did everything I could, but I’m still worried.”
These words are familiar to us because we’ve probably said them at one point or another. Worry is a default mental state that occurs whenever we want to have 100% control over an outcome– but we can’t.
At church this past weekend, our pastor made a point about how we misunderstand the purpose of our faith, or of spirituality in general. The stories we read and tell about God are often used to put us to rest; they provide the relief we seek in the midst of lives fraught with stress, conflict, and disappointment.
However, the truth is that these stories were written thousands of years ago for a very different purpose. They were written to wake us up– not to help us fall asleep at night. They were written to dramatically change the way we lived, first in relation to God, to ourselves and to our loved ones, and then eventually in connection with the wider world.
It is all too common for us to annex half-truths for the lone purpose of soothing our weary souls. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need in the moment. But if we allow ourselves to stop there– in that space where we feel comforted and reassured– then we’ve only embraced a small fraction of the transformation that can take place.
The power (and powerlessness) of minimalism
Whether you consider minimalism to be a philosophy, a truth or a guiding principle, its effects rely entirely on what you decide to pursue.
According to Joshua Becker, a key thought leader of today’s minimalism movement, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it (source).
So if the thing we most value is to enjoy life, achieve our personal and professional goals, and go on the most epic vacations, that’s what minimalism will help us to do.
But if the thing we most value involves having an impact outside of our own lives, then minimalism will allow us to do that.
We have to decide whether we will use minimalism simply to make our own lives better, or if we we’ll allow it to make us better– and in turn, the world around us better, too.
This weekend, we gathered with multiple friends who felt stuck. Something’s gotta change, they said. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
Without divulging their particular issues, I’ll tell you what I realized as we had these difficult conversations with them. This isn’t a world where solutions come easily. Most people don’t receive all things good, perfect, and customized to their taste, handed to them on Day 1.
My most recent struggles
As someone who’s aware (and has a heart for) global poverty alleviation, I realize that most of my troubles are small compared to the world’s poor. But my troubles are real, and I’ve faced challenges that have made me question the validity of my calling, the depth of my friendships, and the worthiness of my contributions.
I’ve wrestled with whether I would be able to find work that was deeply satisfying, a workplace that was healthy, and a work schedule that allowed me to commit to other things that mattered.
I’ve struggled to find friends to support my multiple endeavors, to be in that scared space with me.
I’ve wondered whether my ache for more– more time, more space, more adventure– was simply a lack of faithfulness to my present reality and present calling.
And in all of these circumstances, I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation, determined to make a drastic change or to completely quit. When I’m challenged, I often seek to distract myself with other obsessions– things that will help me feel victorious again.