A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing John Scherer speak. He is an ordained Lutheran minister who now writes about and works in the field of leadership development with a focus on “unleashing the human spirit at work.” He has a fascinating bio and the talk Scherer gave shared some simple but profound advice about turning your work into a spiritual development job.
Now don’t go all squirrelly on me. If that “spiritual” part made you pause, I invite you to replace “spiritual development” with “personal development.” It will work just as well and you may find that making that one replacement allows you access to some information or a perspective that could actually prove really helpful. I could say a lot more about the value of code switching in order to remain open, but I think that’s a topic all of its own and deserves a separate post. Suffice it to say that I recommend experimenting with it as a way to broaden, rather shrinking, your horizons.
The point of Reverend Scherer’s talk was that no matter what line of work we are in and no matter how rotten that job feels, those circumstances can be framed in such a way that they can serve as prompts for personal growth. Yeah, I know, sometimes that doesn’t really sound like a fun thing to do. But I have to say that in my own experience of terrible jobs, or at least jobs that were terrible for ME, taking on Scherer’s perspective would have been extremely helpful.
When faced with terrible jobs for me I chose, rather than figuring out how to grow in that moment to meet the circumstances I was facing, to leave. And let me be clear: leaving a job is a totally legitimate decision. There are plenty of circumstances and situations in which leaving a job is perhaps the best and only healthy decision; however, there is always something that can be learned, even in retrospect, from situations that push us to the brink. I have had to return to the scenes of my professional desertion after years to reflect on what I could have done differently, what I might have learned and to ask myself if I got that lesson yet somewhere else (side note: they usually keep coming until we get them). What’s the advantage of growing first, before you leave? Pretty simple really, the next thing you choose or find will be based on that learning. You will find a new situation, a new set of circumstances, a new setting rather than choosing the same thing with different window dressing.
This is all well and good you might think, but how in the heck am I supposed to do that when it’s really so freaking awful to be there (in that job, in that marriage, in that volunteer position, in that house, in that church, in that whatever you’re in that is really doing a number on you)? Reverend Scherer proposes five questions to help you turn that challenging situation into an opportunity to grow.
The questions, and I’m not giving away state secrets by writing them out here (Scherer generously provides them on his website so you don’t even have to buy the book that they are the foundation of in order to try on this perspective) are: 1) What confronts me? 2) What am I bringing? 3) What runs me? 4) What calls me? 5) What will unleash me?
As a coach I see parallels between my own process with myself and my clients and Scherer’s five concise questions. These questions ask us to be clear and honest about the situation that we are facing. What is actually happening and what about it is poking me in the side so? They ask us to be self-reflective and accountable about the baggage we are brining to the table: our beliefs, our preferences, our histories and old stories, our auto-pilot thinking that could use some revisiting. Finally Reverend Scherer’s questions ask us to find a moment or two of stillness and and tune into the talents and passions that we have and are perhaps not applying to our work, to imagine how we could be more fully engaged, more fully expressed, more ourselves in the current situation.
In case this applies to you, I want to say something about the idea of all of this being a lesson. When we say there is a lesson in a problem, it is not the same as saying that there is an omniscient being programming every moment to give you the right experience. This is a brick wall I hit any time people talk about finding the lesson in a crappy situation, and I admit my reaction may be because well-meaning folks have tried to help me find the lesson at precisely the wrong moment in a few personal tragedies, but I digress.
What I’ve come to see is that you don’t need to believe in omniscient forces conspiring in favor of your growth (although you are perfectly welcome to do so I think it’s worth imagining how your life would be different if you could believe that for a minute) in order to believe that tough times can provide an opportunity to grow up a little. I think we can all see how this could be true, regardless of our understanding of how the non-visible world works.
What is the problem? What am I brining to it that is complicating it? What assumptions are making it harder? What could I bring that would feel good, make use of my talents, make me more engaged and whole? What would need to change for me to feel more free?
Yep, that’s good stuff.
Simple questions, but the answers don’t always come so easily. When it’s time to grow the cloud of “I don’t know” gets in the way of clear vision. We can find it really difficult to see the difference between what is actually happening and the part of our understanding that is based on something that happened years ago. We may find it difficult to believe that we have something more, new, or different to bring to the table. We may be completely unable to imagine what would have to change to unleash who we really are in this world, or may find that idea too terrifying to consider for more than a nanosecond.
Sometimes seeing our stories and navigating the waters of change requires a guide. I have clear vision and a well-honed paddle. I would be honored to take the stern and help you find a peaceful path through the wilderness.