Moving day

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This blog, An Integrated Life, will soon be moving to The Wisdom Letters.

I’ve been running both blogs simultaneously for some time as something of a marketing experiment, and for whatever reason, far more people have responded to The Wisdom Letters title than this one.

I appreciate my readers here, and so, if you have gotten something worthwhile from An Integrated Life, I invited you to begin following The Wisdom Letters for more essays on life, work, and faith.

Be well, Travel Wisely,

Tom

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The Integrated Life, part 2 of 4

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Last week I began to write a bit about the integrated life. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am, but I have come the conclusion that having an integrated life – a place where our truest selves and out truest giftings (and we all have gifts, don’t you DARE think otherwise.), get to play out in every life role we have. Too often we have our work selves and our family selves and our creative selves, and…. You get the idea.

Living this way is common. We’ve been told that we “can’t” do that at work or “can’t” bring that part of ourselves to our families, and so we compartmentalize who we are in different roles.

The problem with this is two-fold.

First, stuffing essential parts of who we are, takes work. It robs us of energy, and energy we could be using to do and be our best selves is instead spent trying to fit in, We find ourselves too tired to be all we want to be. But if we can live in a place where we feel safe to be who we are, we find that we don’t burn out. We thrive. We may even find ourselves putting more time and energy into the things we love, yet are energized by it, not drained.

Second, living in a life where we are so focused on what we “can’t” be in this role or that puts us in a place where we always feel something is wrong with who and what we are. But that’s not the case at all. It may be that we aren’t the best fit, but it’s better to accept that and look for the opportunities to do what we were made to do, than to live in a culture and place where there is no room for who we actually are. When we begin to shift our life to be focused less on roles and more on who we are, there’s a healthy level of self-acceptance that goes on.

Third, living in places where we can’t safely be who we are, doesn’t work. One of two things happen. Either we are crushed by all the world and people around us who are full of what we “can’t” or what we “should” be. Or that stuff we are suppressing explodes and generally, that’s pretty messy for ourselves and those who’s lives we touch. Or, we leave. (with all the loss that leaving entails.).

I’ve seen it happen to people dear to me. And I’ve lived it. And I’ve heard enough stories – as a friend, in business, in my coaching work, and as a pastor, to see that pattern repeat itself again and again. None of the outcomes are good. All of them, even if we survive the compartmentalizing, drain us.

Why then do we keep doing it? Here are some thoughts, gleaned from my own life and from a lot of life stories I have heard over years and years.

The reason, I believe, is fear.

We are afraid that there are parts of us that make us unworthy, “not good enough”. That we’re not practical. Stupid. Idealistic. Dumb. Too __________ (Fill in your own word. You know you can.). So we hide those parts of us. We are afraid of the reproaches, that they might be right.

We are afraid that we are being selfish. So many of us who stuff essential parts of ourselves in this role or that, are pleasers. We are helpers. We care for the people around us. And there is a false thinking is that everyone else has to come first or somehow we are selfish. It does not matter if the people around us are selfish, or takers, we cling to this belief because we have had it beaten into us somehow that we are less important than….. EVERYONE else. I often counter that with the verse in the bible where Jesus tells us that the whole of the scripture is summed up in two sentences – that we love God with all our heart and all our souls and all our minds; and that we are to love others as ourselves. Not MORE than ourselves. AS ourselves. We are important too. But somehow we cling to the idea that we are selfish if we want what to be fully who we are.

We are afraid of the change. Compartmentalized living is a killing thing for most of us. But it is a slow death. That death comes slowly, and in that slow process, it becomes normal. Normal is comfortable. It may be painful, but it feels safe. Change….. well we know about change. Once you unleash it, you are never quite sure where it might lead. And that is a scary thing. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.

But, and this is how I will end today…. my experience, both in my own life, and in the lives of people who had the courage to step into the change and move slowly (that word is important, so I will say again: Slowly.) begin the path to a more integrated life, have never been sorry. Oh, it was messy and fearful for a while. I can’t lie about that. But a year or two out, no one I know who has made the transition would want to go back.

There is a process involved.  It is very intentional, and there are proven paths to get there. You probably need a partner, or some help on the journey. I’ll talk some about partners and process in the next article.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

Part one of this series is here. 

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The Integrated Life, part one of four.

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I think I first noticed it about fifteen years ago.  I was in my home office, on the phone. My daughter, who was maybe all of six years old, walked in the door and stopped dead in her tracks until my call was done. As soon as I was done, she came the rest of the way in and climbed on my lap.

“I was very good, wasn’t I, Daddy?” she said. “You had your work voice on and I waited.”

“My work voice?” I asked.

She went on to explain that I had a work voice, and a voice when I was doing church things and a voice for friends and a voice when I was talking arty things. “They’re all different.” She said.

I hadn’t realized how different they were, and that episode moved me to look at my larger life. Like most of us, I have a lot of roles. My work alone has several aspects to it – technical consulting, marketing strategy, writing, coaching, teaching. It’s the same in the other parts of my life, be it family or creative or spiritual.

We have a tendency to live these parts of our lives as separate things, moving one to the other with each of them being almost separate lives. That’s the way humans are wired, to categorize things. You can see that even with small kids as they separate toys by color, or type, or how they never let the mashed potatoes touch the peas. And we carry that tendency into our grownup lives.

So we live differently, or at best with a bit of overlap in our faith and life and work.

It works well enough, but what if, I wondered, what if we did a better job integrating all the aspects of our lives?

I know it works in marketing.  In my work in marketing I preach the principle of Integrated Marketing. It is one of the basics of marketing. Real Marketing 101 stuff. The idea is that everything you do as a marketer works together, each thing builds one on the other. This intentional working together requires a bit more thought and purposefulness, but the effect of doing it well is that when you do, each thing you do builds on the other things. They magnify the other things you do, making everything more effective.

Teaching a company to think in terms of truly integrating marketing always (let me repeat this), ALWAYS pays big dividends, often without much extra effort or cost, other than changing their thinking and purposefulness.

What if, I wondered, we could do the same in our lives?

Well, we can.

It’s been slow going for me, but I have seen it work in my own life. And I have slowly seen it work in the lives of others.

Let me share with you what I have seen…

  • When we better integrate all our roles in life, we reduce the stress of moving from role to role. Life and work become easier, more joyful, less of a struggle. We simply don’t understand how much work and energy goes into building a life of silos.
  • When we better integrate our lives, there tends to be better balanced. This is because we really aren’t balancing anything. We are simply living a life of principles that don’t require balancing.
  • When we better integrate our lives, we become more effective in everything we do. Because everything builds on everything else, in every aspect of what we do, not just in one role or the other.

For me, the big reasons had to do with building a less stressful life, and being more effective in the things I do. Often, those two things seem to be diametrically opposed. But they aren’t. Not really. We’ve just built artificial walls in our lives.

I have spent much of my work over the past years in the broadcast systems integration business, helping clients build broadcast and network television facilities.  The challenge in that business is helping chose and engineer a dizzying array of equipment and software into a comprehensive whole that works together as one. When we do it well, it’s a wonderful thing.

Each project is a totally custom project that melds the corporate culture, the technical needs and the images clients carry in their heads of what they want to be and how they want to do their work.

The same is true of developing an integrated life, where our truest selves shows itself in the things we do and the life we lead.  It’s where we look for the commonalities of all our roles in life, and build on them, slowly cutting out the things that are less true, that we have come to do because it was part of the role. It’s where we change our lives to let our roles, all of them, better match who we are.

When we do it, our goals, principles, values and behavior fall into line, across all of our roles in life.

Why don’t we live more integrated lives? Why do we live lives where there is some bleed over into the other, but where we keep so much of ourselves hidden away, not living this part of ourselves in a work role and that part of ourselves in a private role, and some other part of ourselves in a faith role?

I will leave you with that question until the next article. But let me assure you, because I have seen it in my own life, and in the lives of many of my clients, when we integrate our lives better, everything works better. We are happier, less stressed, more effective.

Be well. Travel Wisely

Tom

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During October….

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The John Maxwell Team, an international group of coaches, consultants, speakers and trainers that I am a part of, has gone all in for Breast Cancer. In addition to donations from the larger John Maxwell Team, here at Quarry House we will be donating 10% of income from Maxwell programs booked or completed during the month of October towards the cure for cancer.

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Avoiding the Stall

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I have been stalled the past few weeks.

Oh, I have managed to get my commitments done. I have met with clients and done the work. I have paid the bills and each Sunday, I have had a shiny new sermon ready to go. The house is, well maybe not Better Homes and Gardens clean and straight, but it’s far from the place where I need a bulldozer to clean. So the basics are in place. But the other side of my life, the creative, the stuff that fuels me, has languished.

I know the reasons. I am making changes to my work. I have recently added to my ministry responsibilities. My 17-year-old son’s moving to Vermont has disrupted my quiet time, my down time. It’s not that he’s around all the time, but he’s constantly in and out of my life and work. Because I process slowly, the constant interruptions always set me back to where I was as I was thinking and feeling my way, and so I rarely get to the inspired place that lets me do my best work. It’s crazy frustrating and I have felt very out of sorts the past few weeks.

I don’t begrudge him the time. Not in the least. I love his energy. He’s contagiously positive most of the time. And quality time is one of his love languages. Add to that the fact that he’s made a big move choosing to move from Virginia, where he has lived the first seventeen years of his life and so right now, it’s particularly important that I be here for him, and there are tons of reasons for me not to mind.

Still, I have a hermit side to me. I process feelings and ideas slowly. Unlike the way I think, which often resembles a madcap ping-pong ball in the middle of a tornado, I struggle to deal with feelings. I could go into all the psych stuff that three plus years of counseling taught be about the whys, but they are unimportant to anyone except me and two or three people who are very close to me. The point is, I can either bottle those feelings up, or I can sit with them for longish stretches, and let them seep out via writing (mostly poetry) or art or photography, all of which allow me to say things that I sometimes have trouble getting out in other ways.

I was brought up in a generation, and in a household (read: My father) who diminished feelings. I was taught that when things get tough, you just bull your way through them. Maybe taught is too weak a word. Let’s say it was beaten into me. EVERYTHING was more important than feelings. It was a constant battle between my dad and I. Back then, I didn’t realize where the struggle came from. I just knew we were always at loggerheads, that he and I were always like two bulls facing off, ready to charge into each other.

Getting away from home, and going to college, was a revelation to me. People actually cared about feelings “out there.” I began to let them out again, tentatively at first, then wildly, exuberantly. Maybe I put too much emphasis on them, but it was glorious in its way.

Years later, though, “real life” kicked in (Don’t you just hate that phrase?). Jobs. Marriage. Kids. Church. Responsibilities. The normal crisises of normal life. I was good, very good in fact, at juggling, adding thing after thing to my circus act of living. But eventually, even the best juggler hits their limit. Something had to go. And what else other than taking the time to process feelings? And giving them outlets? In the struggle to hold things together, my childhood training kicked in and I began to do to myself what my father had never been able to completely do to me – I slowly stopped creating.

Yeah, yeah, Big fat hairy deal, I told myself. It’s not that important. All these other things are more important.

Boy, did I ever have that wrong.

What happened was a long, slow erosion. By the end, I was in a serious depression place. And it got worse before it got better. There were a couple of years where I barely functioned on any level. I became so not myself that I eventually put myself into counseling and began the long, slow, painful journey back.

One of the things I learned (and there a lot of others) is that I needed that time to ruminate, to sit with things, to talk them out, either with some very patient person, or within myself. And I needed those creative outlets to get things out. And despite my father’s voice in the back of my head, putting the feelings side of me in a closet was a deadly idea. I could not afford to do that again.

And so I began, years ago, to schedule thinking time and writing time into my life, just as firmly as I schedule time with my clients. And it’s worked out well. I am way, way healthier and happier now that I was a decade ago. And my work, be it poetry, fiction or art, is far better (that whole practice thing).

Yes, I am a slow learner, but I got this one.

So here I am, in the midst of another major set of changes in my life. My wonderful, active son in the house. Changes in my work. A new ministry. A beautiful new relationship. So much to do, to sort out. Practically and emotionally.

I am not allowing myself to fall in the same trap I did before. I don’t let life just happen anymore.  I refuse to surrender to “that’s just the way it is.” Instead, I have become proactive in carving out time for my heart to catch up with my brain. For instance, while I used to spend entire days (when I wasn’t traveling to see clients) at my desk writing, I now often slip out to the local diner/coffee shop and sit for a few hours of uninterrupted time to think and write (I am there now as I write this in fact.). I moved some furniture around so I have a place upstairs next to my bedroom to retreat to now and then when I need to get way from the TV or You Tube.  My son, bless his heart, understands my need for this time, and he’s worked with me as we both adjust and reset our lives.

He does this because we talked about it. And will continue to talk about it. We have a vested interest in each other’s sanity after all.

The point of all this, which began as a journal entry, is this: We deny who we are at our own risk. We can tell ourselves that we’re being thoughtful and caring when we sacrifice who we are at our deepest level for other people, but we pay a price for putting aside our basic and true needs. The cost, eventually, will be terrible. And not just to ourselves, but to the very people we are sacrificing for.

It’s not an either or thing. There’s plenty of ways to carve out the life we want, the things we NEED, without harming the others in our life.

When we get on an airplane and the attendants take us through the safety instructions, one of the things they tell us is that when the air mask falls, put your own on first, THEN help the others. Because without air, you will not be help to anyone. The same is true with our hearts.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

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A Step Forward

Some time ago I mentioned that I was joining the John C. Maxwell teach of certified life coaches, trainers and speakers. John C. Maxwell, of course, is the world’s foremost expert on leadership and personal growth, with over 70 books written on the subject, many of them best sellers.

It is an intensive curriculum, and one that continues. However, I am now official and they have added my site to their John Maxwell Group site. This is not a new job as much as it is a moving what I do to a higher level. You can learn more by clicking on the image below.

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Mindfulness Sucks, but….

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I just got back from the doctors. The news was good.

About six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. Everyone was surprised. I don’t have the normal lifestyle of a diabetic. Yes, I am almost 60, but I’ve maintained my weight pretty well, live a fairly active life. and all in all, I’ve had a pretty healthy life. And now I had this thing that, if I didn’t take care of it, has pretty dire consequences. There was already worry about my kidneys (bad numbers there) and eyes and a host of other things. Uncontrolled Diabetes, for those of you who don’t have it, seems to affect all sorts of other things. But it’s a sneaky disease. There are few symptoms of Diabetes per se, so it’s easy to ignore. But you do so at your own peril.

Most of my family has had a good old age. So good in fact, that I probably have a warped sense of what old age is. My vision of it is not that different than how I am now. Greyer hair but pretty vital, pretty alert, involved in life and the world, always growing right up to the end. And this diagnosis threatened that vision.

So I did the stuff I was supposed to do. Cut out sugar, most of my carbs, ramped up my activity, cut back on the caffeine.

It sucks.

What sucked worse was admitting, as I had to do when I thought about it is that for most of my adult life I have eaten the perfect “let’s get Diabetes” diet. I didn’t just eat a cookie, I ate the box. I didn’t have a few chips. I ate the bag. Portion control was non-existent. I just never thought about it. I mean, why bother? I ate what I wanted. My blood pressure was fine. My weight was fine. I felt good. All was well.

Until of course, it wasn’t.

SO I had to become mindful of what I ate.

I have a built-in resistance to being mindful. I’ve run much of my life on auto pilot. Good genes, a decent agile brain and good luck let me get away with it. But the last decade has forced me to slowly become more aware, more mindful. I took up meditation as part of my therapy as depression set and had screwed up my thinking. But I fought it kicking and screaming. I wanted nothing to do with that that Eastern voodoo stuff! Not me! I was a self sufficient old style American Christian type.

But I did it anyway. And it has transformed my life.

And that whole therapy thing? I was raised to think that therapy was for weaklings. If I was struggling I just had to man up and deal with it. Only, there are times in our life that overcome us. Or there are ways of thinking embedded in our heads that sabotage us from being who and what we want to be. We all need people – pastors, honest friends, counselors, coaches, to help us become our best. Doing it alone, and running our life on autopilot may get us SOMEWHERE, but it doesn’t get us to our best place. To get to our best place takes work and mindfulness, an awareness of what is going on inside us, and why, and the discipline to act, not react.

Discipline. I hate it.

That may surprise people who know me professionally. I have always been disciplined, very disciplined, in my work. Whether it is my broadcast work, my role as a manager, my coaching/consulting work, my pastoral work – I manage myself, my people, my time, really well. I an efficient and generally get a lot more done than most people in way less time. But it is not a natural thing for me. I have to work at it. That dang discipline stuff again.

What I WANT is tons of time to just think, navel gaze, let things sink in, bat ideas around. That too is part of why I am good at the things I do. But the natural tendency is that when we allow those static things in our lives free reign, instead of being disciplined and balanced with them, then they seem to take over. “Things fall apart.” says the poet William Butler Yeats. And they do, without work. Without admitting that they fall apart and being mindful. And mindfulness is a discipline, a special kind of discipline that involves awareness, honesty and discipline.

All things my nature resists. I like to go with the flow. I like to ignore problems (a throwback to a family dynamic that was full of world class professionals in ignoring problems.). I like being undisciplined, dang it.

A lot of people are like me. All that problem facing, self honesty, discipline stuff is hard work. But sooner or later not doing it catches up with us. Like my Diabetes. Like waking up at 50 or worse, at 75 and realizing you are not who you wanted to be. Like….. oh yes, it’s a long list. A really long list.

This, the Diabetes, I could not ignore. So I have been a good boy. No sugary desserts (even though desserts were such a part of my life that we had a dessert table to hold them all.), There’s a whole Doritos factory that has probably closed down since I stopped eating them. Hardly any bread (They miss me at the bakery, I am sure.), On and on. It’s not habit yet. I still actively miss all the stuff I’ve cut out of my diet, but mostly, I realize, what I miss is not having to think about it.

Still, it has paid off. My glucose numbers have dropped by more than half, without insulin. The other numbers indicate that my kidneys and eyes are hunky dory with the changes and there was no permanent damage to anything. If I am a good boy for the next twenty years or so (Bleah), barring something unexpected, I have a good shot at that version of old age I envision for myself.

See that’s the thing I have learned, not just here, but in virtually every aspect of my life. I may hate the idea of mindfulness. I may always have resistance to it. But every time I have made myself apply it, and I mean EVERY time, the dividends have been huge. I have improved my health, my work, my faith, my relationships, my art, my…. yeah, pretty much everything. I have learned what we all know intrinsically, that if we are more aware, more mindful, more purposeful, then we have the chance to become our best.

The big surprise, for me, was that becoming more mindful was work, but only for the first month or so. In every case where I have applied it, if I was diligent for a month or so, that mindfulness became a habit, like brushing my teeth in the morning. I no longer had to think hard about it. It just happened.

But it begins with some self honesty. That I was in a bad place and needed therapy, that I had diabetes, that my faith needed an overhaul, that my art had withered. That my relationships were not what I wanted them to be. None of these were pleasant to admit. None of them. That in fact, is where I think the real resistance is, admitting that things about me didn’t match my self image, and that I had to do something if I wanted to become the best me. Diabetes was just the latest jolt.

Each time I get a jolt, it seems to be easier. This whole Diabetes thing sucks. But it has been easier making the changes and becoming mindful this go around than when I first began making life changes a a decade ago. Maybe, at nearly 60 (I turn sixty later this week), I am finally growing up. It’s probably a good thing that I’ve helped my chances at a quality old age with this latest round of changes. This way I can actually enjoy being an adult for a few years.

What I have I learned in all this? Mindfulness is good. It’s work but only for a time. The dividends are beyond our imagining. And, perhaps most important, it’s never too late to become better, to become the person we want to be. Good lessons, all.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

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