I’ve been having increasing challenges keeping my cool and reacting in my traditional, normal rationale (if sometimes dispassionate) way to regular and surprise life – noticeably and almost measurably for the past two weeks.
It got so bad that I had to ask for a perspective check this week on how sensitive I was being, as I’d taken a colleague’s question as an attack – that I wasn’t doing my job, or at least that I wasn’t doing it well enough. And this was from a colleague whom I know to be my (second) biggest fan.
And then last night I had a dream that was dark and kept spinning out even after I woke up.
I was at a night-time church service. I was sitting with the worship leaders I’d worked with, served with, led worship with for over 9 years. It’s a liturgical service, with the same basic pattern every week.
The pastor leans over to me and asks me to go up to the lectern ahead of my part and do one of the scripture readings. I agree. No worries. I can’t remember the last time an in-service change or “mistake” actually felt like a problem.
I get to the lectern and pick up a hand-held, corded microphone, lean down and extend my finger to mark the beginning of the scripture reading so I can track what I’m doing…
And I can’t read the words. The entire Bible is in wingdings.
I look back at what the bulletin says is the scripture, to make sure I’ve got it right and to hope that the bulletin has the scripture printed (sometimes it does), and the scripture there is also in wingdings. The rest of the bulletin is in regular English, but the verses are in wingdings.
I squint, thinking it’s my eyes. I search my brain for what I remember of the passage, even if I have to paraphrase, and nothing comes to mind. I pray that a hymn verse or some anthem excerpt comes to mind so that I might at least sing a portion of the message.
I have nothing original, nothing scripted to provide support or direction or even a starting point.
And no one helps. No one offers to help. The entire worship team sits silent and waiting behind me. And the congregations sits silent and waiting in front of me.
And in that moment it feels like even God has left me to flounder.
I grew up in the high German Lutheran liturgical church of the ELCA and rose to worship leadership quickly after college; I even dabbled in theology classes with the thought of becoming an Associate in Ministry (AIM).
I have served various liturgical churches as a professional singer and worship leader for over 20 years: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist. Only the Catholics have never hired me ;-).
I’ve coached ordained ministers and career church musicians through the nuances of different liturgical services when they’ve filled in for another liturgical denomination.
I’ve trained churches through liturgical worship revisions and re-launches.
Knowing, following, understanding, working within the pattern of worship is kind of my thing. It’s what I would have specialized in as an AIM – worship practice and leadership.
Even beyond that, I think of the times when my choir director calls me as I’m literally driving to a Sunday morning service to tell me that the guest soloist isn’t going to be there and now I’m going to be singing a solo – in a style that doesn’t suit me terribly well – that I’ve never sung or practiced even as a lark – and doing so in about 30 minutes with maybe one run-through. Even that doesn’t phase me.
I’ve completely rewritten children’s sermons on the way to church because something happened on that drive that was even more powerful than what I had planned.
You might say vamping for God is something I do quite well.
So upon my first wake-up at 5:30 am, I turned on my peppermint diffuser, heated up my flax seed pillow, tucked back in with my pillow weighting down my eyes, and went back to sleep – with the objective of turning off those awful thoughts so I could wake up with a clear(er) mind.
And it worked – three hours later I woke to snuggle with Shadow and try hard not to be mad at myself for oversleeping my planned early morning hike before the rain.
For me to be so completely stifled, silenced even, is so far out of character, out of reality that as I woke the first time, the film in my mind kept going.
It’s been a really long time – probably a decade or so – since a dream kept going. It’s happened before, yes.
And it was the second wake-up – beginning with such disappointment in myself for not meeting a self-imposed commitment – that started my epiphany.
So here’s where I wound up – in case you’re ready to jump to another blog or head back to Facebook for a baby goat video – the change in interaction, in daily communication with certain people, the loss of feedback in visual/physical methods, these are affecting my personal ability to know that what I’m doing is
- helping others
And that last one is the real kicker. Between my 99S (DISC) and responsible, relator, and connectedness strengths (3 of my top 5 CliftonStrengths), that helping others and that what I’m doing is valued by others (useful to) are what’s critical to my ability to keep calm, prioritize and re-prioritize efficiently, to know and have confidence in what I’m doing and that I’m doing it well.
These are the foundational elements of my measure of my own self-worth, self-value. I *need* to know that what I do matters. It never needs to be helpful to me. It’s always about how helpful it is to others. That 99S is a doozy!
You see, the messages I do get are at cross purposes
- you have to do this by x date – and “you” is specifically named me by name or by job title
- you have to give yourself grace if you can’t get it all done
- you still have to meet all of the deadlines, without fail
- and you have to take care of yourself
- you have to delegate some of this stuff to others
- your leverage options are full and you don’t get any more (at least right now)
So the short is that I’m expected – expressly so by others and by extension myself – to do everything and more. And I simply can’t. Yes, there is a point where all things are NOT possible. There are literally not enough minutes in a day even when I work a “normal” 10-hour day.
Add to that the fact that my co-leaders have equally over-full plates. That’s where the not asking comes into play. Why on earth would it be logical for me to add to their plate? To burden them with my job when it’s my responsibility to figure out how to get it all done. They are at least equally as burdened as I am.
And therein lies the opportunity (because by biggest fan hates the word “problem”):
For decades, I’ve been the person who does and usually can say yes and get it done, even when I don’t have to be that person. It’s a natural part of my responsible strength.
I need to become the person who says “not now” and sometimes “no.”
I need to become the person who says “let me figure out how to make that happen” rather than simply assuming the assignment/request myself.
It feels mean. It feels like I’m letting others – and by extension myself – down. It feels like I’m not doing my job – or worse, dumping my job on someone else’s plate. That last is a HUGE piece of the mindset, much bigger than most believe.
And yet it is normal, it is human, and it is necessary. It’s called leverage, and for the person who’s spent decades being the leverage, it’s impossibly hard on a basic level.
How I Connected the The Dream and the Epiphany
So you’re wondering how I got from a wingding Bible to quarantine self-doubt, yeah? It’s a six (or seven) degrees of separation thing, I think:
In a context where I know and feel complete confidence because of my long-term knowledge, experience, and expertise
Asked and agreed to jump in the way I have a million times before – no worries
Failing completely at that last minute request – and especially in a way another expertise (linguistics) would normally have supported me
Recognizing that I’m in a new job not quite 5 full months AND a new role – from leverage to leadership; the job has woefully inadequate training and a high degree of inconsistency across the corporation in how it’s perceived and used
Not having the knowledge and experience long enough to feel confident on a foundational level – as a leader in “normal” times
Feeling not recognized and valued as a leader by others in leadership – specifically being treated as not important in the big discussions and decisions, only in a data entry role
Being deprived of the feedback, conversations necessary for me to know where I and the work I’m doing stand – knowing that I’m succeeding, somehow, in a role where there are very few standards or benchmarks
Is it any wonder I’m suffering from self-doubt in my abilities, in my achievement of success and standards, in my leadership attempts. Heck, I don’t even really know where I’m actually failing because I’m not getting enough of that communication either.
Is it at least 50% my fault? Yes. I have a responsibility to ask for the communication, the feedback, the evaluation, and the help that I need, especially since I’m well conditioned to project a ridiculously high degree of capability.
It’s at least another 20% my fault for, by default, not answering the question “what can I do for you today” with an answer other than “I have what I need from you.” And I give kudos to both my leadership and my staff for asking this. It’s my fault for not thinking about the answer more carefully, or even anticipating it and having things to leverage appropriately.
Oh who am I kidding? It’s 100% my fault for not speaking up and telling the people I’ve trusted to lead me and coach me that I need them to see these things and coach me on them. Push me to acknowledge that I’m doing it again. Stand with me to make better choices. I have to teach them my weaknesses, my challenges, if I’m ever to expect them to help me.
And therein lies the conflict: teaching them this and laying an expectation on them to help me fix my problem is that “burden” that chains the toxic habit to me.
Probably the most important “general” lesson – mantra – that I can take from the quarantine experience is goes something like this:
Bad habits are learned in good times while good habits are learned in bad times.
It’s not quite the right expression of the saying; it is as close as I can get as I’m wrapping up this post. And I’ve written it on my bathroom mirror because there is no day that goes by without me seeing myself in that mirror.
NOTE: these are thoughts in progress, a journey.
Books this reflection has prompted me to reach for include
- Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute
- Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
- The One Thing by Jay Papasan and Garry Keller – in particular the the 7 Circles exercise