Uncertainty about what is ahead makes it hard to focus upon where the road is at today. Looking back at where the journey has been and remembering the safety found in memories of how things were comfortable, manageable, and predictable; there is a desire to go back to a place built in the castle of the mind. Living in the memory of the past and feeling the uncertainty of the present leaves fear of where the road is going and what will be there when I arrive. A destination is too much to fathom, to fearful to embrace; a place that having no certainty and no familiar faces. Looking forward to undefined potential reality which can be experienced the call of the destination is understood. Feeling anxiety in the present experience controlled by idealism about the past holds potential captive bringing ambivalence feeding the hesitation to move forward and embrace the destination: where the road is going.
In Gary Collins book The Search for the Soul, quotes Mother Teresa who was asked: what is the greatest problem that people in the world face? Her reply was “loneliness.” At the same time the culture of today has been described a time of emptiness and spiritual hunger. In the loneliness and spiritual emptiness that is explicit within our modern culture another term has been used to characterize the outlook of people in modern America; pessimism. Is the cynicism of our age, widespread dissatisfaction with a culture that has embraced rationalism, obsession with technology, only to see increased evidence of war, violence, poverty–environmental pollution–the decline of spiritual influence–things are not getting better with all our technology, an indicator of the absence of distinctives beliefs that can empower hope that transcends, mere, things and provide significance to existence?
The existentialism of the modern world that has put so much emphasis on me and I resulted in a generation of people who are together every day, but we have become solitary islands in the masses of humanity and technology. I recently posted on Facebook, “The hardest thing about being an island is the solitary existence of being alone against the elements. The islands stand alone, solitary and are hardened by circumstances, weather, and time. When the sun goes away and the storms bring the pounding surf and the ravaging winds, the island must stand alone because that is what islands do until they are washed away” (2010). It is a painful and isolated position that many people in the world have arrived at, but have no destination in mind. With all the text-messaging, posting on social networks, and twittering; while people are connected to so many people, they may still be disconnected from healthy, meaningful relationships with others that will bring an efficacious way of living.
One of the great problems that characterize existence today is that life is replete with narcissism and self focused interests. If a person wants to deal with the problem of loneliness and find spiritual answers, then having a meaningful relationship with another person is something that requires integrity, honesty, and willingness to get off the island. Maybe, what is needed is realizing that what is best for others may not be what is best for me and being okay with that. This is the place where an attitude of servant-hood begins. The greatest of all spiritual gifts is the expression of love that is given in a way that sacrifices what benefits me and gives what someone else needs. (1 Corinthians 13.) The great paradox of today is that we have evolved with a great amount of intelligence and technology at our finger tips, but the basic communication skills of people are deficient when it comes to relating to others in ways that foster healthy outcomes.
Has the individualism of the 70’s that spawned humanism, the “Me” generation, the “Now” generation been more than can be absorbed and processed? Alvin Toffler wrote about the stress that too much change to quick has upon culture, “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in people by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time”. It is implicit within the behavior cues that are demonstrated by the absence of effort to connect that there is the subtle deception that says, “everything is all right and that we have become an advanced people”, when the evidence suggests that we are broken and need intervention to address the spiritual emptiness and loneliness of people today. It has been said that, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions” (Leonardo da Vinci). What can we learn from marriage and divorce statistics? One half of all first marriages failing in the first five years and that sixty percent of all second marriage fail? It is evident that the side effects of an evolving culture has rippling effects that can be seen in the lack of ability to function in relationships which is the thumbprint of the spiritual void in American culture.
One of the great challenges is to understand and not just to diagnose the problem. To possess the ability make a meaningful contribution to life by being a change agent is the challenge. We have the ability to understand, but will we? An imposing truth about what will be the answer to loneliness and the spiritual void may be characterized by a statement of truth, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn” (Alvin Toffler). In the Garden of Eden, the first relationship problems were solved by a spiritual solution to the needs of humanity. What is it that can be learned from that? The people have changed, but the solution remains that when we do not have a right relationship to God, all other relationships disintegrate.
One of the great difficulties that leaders experience is the inability to change when it is necessary to stay vital and continue to experience success. One leadership principle that John Maxwell teaches in The Twenty One Laws of Leadership is that an organization cannot grow higher than the level of leadership at the top. He calls this the leadership lid. Does it seem like your organization is stuck; like someone has put a lid on the top and things have plateaued? It may be that the organization has grown as high as it can go because of the level of leadership it has. One of the reasons that organizations do not grow is because the leader has not been growing and as a result, both the leader and the organization are stuck in a complacent rut of ineffectiveness: everything is out of focus. Staying focused is difficult when you aim is off. One way to stay on track is by keeping a narrow focus. “…pressing towards the mark…” narrowing the focus to define what will be done. It is easy to look around and find someone to blame when things are not going well, but maybe the place to look is in the mirror and realize that when an organization is having difficulty that the answer may be that it is a leadership problem. One of the reasons we fall of track, so often, is that distractions, circumstances, and life change the center of our everyday world. The result is that organizations and leadership gets out of focus.
If there is one thing that will help leaders to continue to be successful, what would that be? People may have many different opinions, but the one defining truth is that leaders must continue to learn, grow, and develop their selves to maintain vitality. Learning to adapt to change is a requisite for leading in today’s leader. Talent Management Perspectives reports that, “Against the backdrop of an ever-changing global business environment and unstable economic conditions, it’s no longer sufficient for leaders to embrace the status-quo …”The organization has to lead change, rapid change. The environment is changing — someone’s inventing something before you expect it or something is collapsing in front of your eyes …’”It’s becoming much more important to deal with change and creativity and innovation and speed and nimbleness,” she said. “Those are part of producing the results; you have to pay attention to those factors”’ (http://talentmgt.com/talent.php?pt=a&aid=1310). It may be that leaders have a lot of information at their disposal, but knowing how to use the information and where to apply change in style, strategy, and innovation will define how leadership will be applied in the context of change.
Personal growth and development are indications of a leaders potential for success. The moment you stop growing, you stop leading. All leaders are learners because there is no growth without change and there is no change without being flexible. When a leader stops growing, he/she becomes inflexible. Effectiveness can be measured in terms of predispositions and attitudes toward having never done it that way before. If the attitude is maintained that, “I want to lead the way I used to lead, the way I’ve always led” is maintained, then yesterdays methods will only yield results in yesterday’s constructs. The attitudes and skills that brought you to this point in your leadership are not going to take you to the future. New problems require new solutions. New situations require new attitudes. New difficulties and new opportunities require new skills and new attitudes. What brought you this far and made you a success – that’s why success creates inability to manage new ideas and challenges, because the rules are forever changing.
The root behind resistance to change is fear. There are times when fear paralyzes forward movement: I don’t want to change because I’m afraid of loss–I’ve done it this way and I feel comfortable with it. Therefore what am I going to lose if I do ministry in a new way? The root is the fear of change. Whenever you find yourself resisting a new way of doing something, or defending the status quo or striving simply to repeat the past because it worked last, it may be that there is a danger of terminal failure. What’s the key to overcoming this trap in leadership? The antithesis is to never stop developing. Never stop developing your skills, your character, your perspective, your vision, your heart, and what you bring to your leadership.
Skill brings success. You may be dedicated to what you are doing, but if development of the necessary skills is not occurring, the tools you have may not fit a new situation. A farming analogy might be: you can’t use a corn harvester on a wheat field, a cotton picker in an apple orchard. The tools that are used have to match the context, culture, organization, people that you are working within. Consequently, if learning stops then the axiom, that people tend to rise to their level of incompetence and then they get stuck there, kicks in and drives what will happen.
There is a preoccupation that people in America have with achieving happiness. Observing the economic downturn and the impact upon people’s lives every day drives home the message that many people today have the right to be unhappy. Everyone wants to know the sense of well-being known as happiness — feeling content, satisfied, and even joyful. Sometimes people feel they need to make a major life change to feel happy, but other times they might derive happiness from just appreciating everything they have and the people close to them. It may be that the path to happiness is to be found in being able to negotiate change in whatever happens to us in life. In the study of life-span development in psychology, there is a paradigm of truth that is taught that says that in each stage of life, we must be building the skills, abilities, and information base to effectively negotiate the changes in life. One of the factors of unhappiness in life is having unrealistic or false expectations of the future. In other words, if something that we believe and experience today is believed to be true for all of time and every season of life, we may be disappointed in the future.
Last week, I watched a special on television special that reported that, “on December 23, 2008, the General Motors assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, shut its doors. It was the last plant in the Dayton, Ohio, area to do so … [a] new reality for Moraine—one defined by hardship, resilience, and the end of an era” (http://www.good.is/post/picture-show-the-last-days-of-general-motors-in-moraine-ohio/). This story is the stark reminder of how fragile the American economy is and the impact that the shift from being an industrial economy to a service is having upon the American worker. Gary Smalley (1998) writes that this generation of Americans is the first to not to have the expectation that there life will be better than their parents (The soul search: a spiritual journey to authentic intimacy with God). One of the ways that what is happening in our world may be described is by the emptiness that many are experiencing … troubled by moments of emptiness … that raises the question: Is this it—is this all there is? The answer may be described by getting perspective. Can experiences with such a radical change be peaceful, and even welcome, if viewed with a different mind-set?
It is very true that the way we view life can leave us thinking that life is unfair as suffering the consequences of changes engulfs the experience of life. You can start connecting life to a meaningful existence when you think in a new way about the meaning of life. One of the developmental deficits that is experienced by people is the deception that life will always be as it is today. George Kelley stated that the constructs of life are continually being renegotiated. It is disappointing and detrimental to what life can be to always look through the same binoculars. Tunnel vision in the hopes of life is a subtle form of self-deception. The problem that is faced in self deception is that it becomes a self-defeating behavior that has to be maintained: “Life is the art of being well deceived; and in order that the deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted” (William Hazlitt). Breaking free from self-deception is not an easy or painless task, it requires an awareness that how life is understood must be thought of in new terms to bring new meaning to existence.
The problem is that when we deceive ourselves, it is to maintain a sense of control that results from the anxiety of loss of control and feeling of helpless—hopeless, coupled with vulnerability. The results of the deception; the empty feeling left behind and the bad decisions that always births disappointment. Getting out of the trap is the secret and stop interpreting life in terms of disappointment and feeling like a victim. It has been well said that we all have problems: The question is what are you going to do about it? After a reasonable amount of time of experiencing and feeling the pain of the moment, we have to, sorta “suck it up” and figure out what is going to bring meaning to this thing that we call life?
Erickson, who was famous for the Life Stages Theory teaches, that there is a crisis of identity in every stage of life. When there are developmental occurrences, such as tragedy, stressful events, or death, it triggers a new search for identity, meaning, and purpose for existence. If the skills have not been developed in previous stages of life to make the transition, then skills must be built in the here and now to enable continuity and understanding of how to transition and continue to grow. When that does not happen, then life goes on, but there is not the ability to build a bridge to personal spiritual growth and maturity. So what are you going to do? You can wallow in the mud of life or develop yourself to move on.
Accepting and understanding the transitions in life is critical to a dynamic life that continues to grow and develop. Adjustment to new times, seasons, things, and people is necessary if we do not want to be stuck in the mud. Is it change that is the issue or that it forces one to think different, act different, and feel different? Let change be your friend not your foe …. Happiness is a moving target, but meaning is the arrow.