Monday, August 24, 2015

Enable is Not a Four Letter Word

The word enable has come to have very negative connotations in part because of its association with the recovery community.  There the word enable is all about keeping the addict from facing the true consequences of their addiction. It has spread outside the world of Alcoholics Anonymous and into other worlds, such as our discussions of social welfare programs and the concern that too much help leads to dependence and that we must be particularly leery of giving too much help to those who are poor or struggling.  There is an assumption that when it comes to money we should all be able to make it on our own with a few exceptions for the "truly" ill and disabled or elderly. Yet even here the assumption is that people would rather not work than work, that the poor and struggling are some how more lazy then the rest of us, more inclined to take advantage, less interested in doing for themselves.

Yet the meaning of the word enable is about making possible. It is about making it possible for something else to happen.  So when we enable another person, it is also about making it possible for them to do something they could not otherwise do.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  It can be an opening to possibility, it can be about providing a necessary thing for the person to be empowered to move forward, to move toward greater self-sufficiency. The challenge of course is when is our enabling helpful and when is it harmful.  There are no clear rules and each context and person is different.  Yet in this economy I think we have to start erring more on enabling and less on withholding our help and support.

Let us use for example, the life of J.K. Rowling.  J.K. Rowling is now a successful and wealthy author. She wrote the brilliant Harry Potter series which has touched adults and children alike.  Each book was made into a very successful movie - it was groundbreaking. Yet when she started writing she was on public assistance.  She wrote much of the first book in cafes.  Now in this country most public assistance would not allow a similar situation to occur here.  Yet without the generosity of the economic safety net of Great Britain, the Harry Potter books might not exist and let's face it Great Britain has by now collected far more in taxes from J.K. Rowling than they ever paid out in benefits to her.

What if we saw our public assistance or even our private assistance as ways to truly enable others? What if instead of asking what is the bare minimum, we saw our efforts as truly lifting people to a new place?  What if we took away shame and stigma and replaced it with an attitude of that all of us at one time or another is going to need something from others that we cannot do for ourselves? For some that help maybe in terms of money, others it may be learning a new skill, or a listening ear, or help moving.

Our emphasis on being independent and self-sufficient has gotten to the point where asking for or accepting any kind of assistance is something to be ashamed of, something not to be repeated.  Yet we are not self-created, self-sustaining beings. We need each other and we impact each other all the time.  Our individual choices are not independent - they have impact on others for good and ill.  All of us will find ourselves in need of help at different times of our lives whether when we are young and need caring adults or when we become ill or injured or get older.  We need each other to find and do work in the world.  Any job search book will tell you that networking with others is the single number one thing we can do to find a job. It is not just about finding job listings and sending out resumes even though that is what most people think of when they think of job hunting. I was just asked how many resumes I have sent out for my job search and yet I was not asked how many connections have I made, how have I reached out to my network - yet coaches, job advice boards will tell you it is not about the number of jobs I apply to but about the connections I make with others.  Making those connections is about asking others to enable you to find the connection to a job.  The most effective job search tool is all about asking others to enable someone to find a new job.

I think the key question to ask is "will this action on my part enable this person to greater self-sufficiency or am I doing something they could do for themselves?"  Of course we have to know whether or not the person can do it on their own. Saying to the person who has no money and no job - I won't help you because you "should" do this for yourself when they have nothing is asking for the impossible.  Telling someone who is in constant pain but may look 'normal' to you that they should be working 8 hours a day only adds to the depression and struggle of their everyday life.  This is not always about what we think someone should be able to do but rather we need to truly see the person and the situation as they truly are in the present moment and then ask will my help hurt or harm.  We may get it wrong.  I guess I would rather help and get it wrong, then not help and get it wrong. I prefer to presume the best in others and hang in there with them.  I know how good it feels both to receive needed help and to give it.  When we make enabling a bad thing then we take away the joy in giving and being needed.
Let's stop making the word enable a bad word and let's instead take the words of the song "Lean on Me"to heart remembering that we ALL need someone to lean on.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Life is Not Like School - Revisited

As more and more of my Facebook feed is filled with news of the return to school I thought it would
My Masters degree graduation! I did it!
be a good time to revisit this post from 2014 on "Life is Not Like School."  The end of August and beginning of September bring the preparation and start of school.  Relief for many parents who have been busy juggling work and children without the structure of the school year and others who will miss having the extended periods of time with their children.  Children and teens approach the start of school with a mix of feelings - excitement, dread, anxiety.  I personally loved the start of school.  It meant new uniforms, new school supplies and the opportunity to begin again with a blank slate. After all I was very good at school, I have excelled at it.  I love books and learning, engaging in the discussion of ideas.  College and Graduate school were wonderful times of learning, stretching, growing.  My two favorite childhood games were school and house.  I am grateful that my life has allowed me to do both.

I also wanted to share this post in light of this post by Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery.  Like Glennon, we are parents who are more concerned that our daughter be thoughtful, brave, and kind than able to pass a standardized test or jump through hoops so schools look good.  It is a big reason that we homeschool. Our daughter is a critical thinker, she is aware of the world around her and brings a critical analytical lens to issues such as race, gender, and sexuality.  So as our children return to school let us remember that there are more important things than test scores, grades and getting into the "right" school.  

I also post this for those also looking for their next professional opportunity.  Many of us remain stuck in a school mind set when it comes to life and school.  This article posted on LinkedIn gives insight of what happens when we fail to prepare our children for LIFE in our worry about how they are doing in school.  Education is important - even more important are the ways we prepare our children for life and the type of people they become.  Are we raising ethical, loving, brave, thoughtful people or just ones who know how to get ahead at any price? Are we adults living life, a life open to learning and exploring, or still stuck in the mindset of being a student, who completes all the assignments and does what is expected?

So at the start of a new year, let's make sure that we teach our children about life and not just about school!

Life Is Not Like School

Now maybe for some of you out there this does not come as a major revelation, yet for me this hit home.  I was on a Confidence Coaching call with David Kaiser from Dark Matter Consulting and David said "Work is not like school. Your boss does not give you assignments and then you turn them and get approval."  Yet I realized when he said that how much I unconsciously expect life to work like school.

You see I am good at school. I played school as a child (it comes honest, my mother and grandmother were teachers), I have a degree from Georgetown, a Masters Degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara (ok it was Berkeley when I graduated) and enough credits for an M.Div. thanks to my years at Wesley Theological Seminary and my year at Starr King.  See I got very very good at school, not to the point of being top of my class or earning top honors but I know how to do school. I know exactly how much work I needed to do to get the grade I wanted.  I had teachers who pushed me and inspired me to do my best. Probably if I had had some good mentoring and support, I probably would have done great getting a PhD and spending my life teaching.

What I realized on that call is that I keep expecting, again not consciously, for life to respond to me like school. That life will give me assignments, with clear directions as to completion, my job is to create the product that has been assigned.  Now granted graduate school did give me the opportunity to explore some of my own ideas, to create my own final project for my MTS (which was terrifying by the way). For the most part however, I was given the assignments, did the work and rewarded for my efforts.

Yet work does not work that way, certainly life doesn't work that way. Life doesn't give you assignments, it gives you experiences and opportunities.  Life is about what you will do with those experiences and opportunities. There is no guaranteed outcome.  You can do the very best job at an opportunity and you can still  fail or be fired or someone won't like it. You can be the most qualified, amazing person for a job and may not get it or you may get fired from it.  It is a myth that we base things on merit.  Only school, and even then not always, rewards merit.

What it all means? Well that it is really up to each of us.  For some people being fired from a job is the best thing that has ever happened to them.  They are overjoyed (oh sure it may sting) or if not overjoyed they are relieved.  Others it is truly the end of the world and they can't recover. They may take their life.  They may sink into a depression that it will take them months or years to emerge from.  Some are born into situations of incredible adversity and they are able to overcome it and for others, far too many others, they can't. Yet somehow we expect them to.  It is about the story we tell ourselves and too often the story we have been told to tell ourselves.  Far too often others tell us what an event or experience is supposed to mean, and far too often we listen and believe it.  So if you are told often enough - you will never amount to anything, your circumstances are too far gone then chances are you will believe it even if your soul is screaming "No No No No!"

Also key is that in life we are not in control. You see school taught me that I was in control. That as long as I did the work assigned and got the right answers I would be rewarded. I was taught it didn't matter if I didn't like my teacher, it didn't matter what other students did or did not do, I was master here and whatever I did or did not do was all that mattered. Yet in life other people do matter. In fact those people who overcome all the odds, behind them you will find teachers, mentors, parents who supported them, believed them, coached them. They help silence the voices that say it won't ever be different. I was blessed by amazing educational opportunities and yes, while I created some of that myself, so much of it came because of my family, where I was born, what I was given, what I was not in control of in the least.

In addition, somewhere along the way, maybe because I went to all Catholic schools growing up, my initial ideas about vocation were very much like school. God has a plan for each of us, each of us has a gift to give the world. Our job is to figure out what God has planned for us - the assignment - then we are to live that out as best we can and then at the end God will let us know how well we did.  Now obviously if you read this blog, you know that my ideas, thoughts and reflections about vocation have grown beyond this. Yet this still resides within.  One thing we often forget in developmental theory is that whether we are talking about stages of moral development, faith development, emotional development etc. we all still have the stages within us. Just because I am not just at the magical thinking stage of faith development doesn't mean that part of me doesn't still practice it - particularly at times of stress.  So sometimes when it feels really hard, I think I didn't get the assignment right, or that I am not doing the assignment the way I am supposed to (goodness knows there have been enough people letting me know that they don't think I have it right or that I am doing it the right way in the least) - then I need to stop.  I need to be reminded that life is not school, there is no assignment and I am not necessarily doing it wrong. It is just hard right now - so as one of my favorite memes right now says "Yell Plot Twist and Move On."

So life is not like school.  It is not about assignments and checking off requirement lists.  God doesn't hand out assignments along with hair and eye color.  Life is more like home school.  You have to dive in and figure it out. You have to follow your interests and figure out they ways you learn best.  As a homeschool parent who was schooled, my first task was to let go of what it means to "learn" to be "educated" and what school "has" to look like.  Our home school does not look anything like school as I experienced it.  Our homeschool is experimental, involves cooking, videos, books, and lots and lots of talking.  Oh and the thing that is the most different?  We do it as a family.  While Donna takes the lead, I get to come along on the field trips. If I post the article about the lunar eclipse at 3 am (why are astronomical events always at 3 am?) then I am the one getting up to see if we can see it.  School does not happen between 8 and 3, M through F with summers off. Homeschool happens whenever and wherever - like life does!

The key to vocation and to life is making a study of yourself, of who you are.  It is understanding who you are at your core, not the person you are supposed to be, not your parent's dream of who you are or would be, not the person society says you should want to be.  Life and vocation are about fully and authentically becoming the person you came into this world to be.  The person you have to be because your soul will not let you be anything less!  When will you graduate? Only when your life is done!

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Never Imagined

I never thought I would find myself here, in this situation.  It wasn't supposed to happen to me.  Not me.  This happens to others - lazy unworthy others who are to blame for their own predicament.  Yet here is where I find myself.  Is this my fault?  I keep wondering, how did I get here?  Where did I make the wrong turn? 

Then the questions turn again:  What if it isn't only a result of my choices?  What if my choices met bad luck, and other people's choices?  What if stuff just happens? 

Finally: Really does it matter how I got here? Does it matter if it is my fault or not or somewhere in between?  Did I "attract" this? (what does that even mean?) Is this someone's will for me?  If so, who and who would be so cruel? (God, and if so what kind of God can be called love and yet act with such cruelty)  And again does it matter?

Really all that matters is that here I am.  There is no choice but to move forward (or maybe not but what would not moving forward even be?).   The only option is to keep going, keep making choices, do the best I can.  Then maybe one day I can tell this story, in its fullness. Maybe it will help someone show more compassion or someone know they are not alone. For now I can only speak in vague questions, vague references.  Later it will be time to tell the story but right now I can't sort it all out.  This chapter is not yet ended and until I know what happens I can't sort out all its meanings and nuances.

In the meantime, I pray, I write, I keep reaching out. I keep seeking, looking for options, making choices looking for a way through.  For there is no over, no out, there is only through.  I am not sure what I will find on the other side, I have some ideas but I don't know.  I know I am more compassionate. I know that this opened my eyes, my mind and my heart.  I know things now that I did not know before.  I have an empathy for people who struggle in ways I did not before.
Most of the time I have hope, I know I will make it through. I know I am not alone.  Yet there are other times I am not as sure and all I can do is pray and ride it through reminding myself it will get better, this will pass, nothing stays the same. I remind myself of the blessings, that this isn't all that is true for me even it feels overwhelming and all encompassing.  The only thing I know for sure is that this will change for change is inevitable, everything changes.  May it change for the better, sooner rather than later.
No, I never imagined myself here and the question is what will I do now that I am. I can't move forward if I keep looking back wondering how I got here.  I have no ability to go back and change the past, there is only moving forward and even with that there is no guarantee, no assurance of success.  My choices are to give up or to keep moving forward and for now I choose to move forward.

Where have you found yourself that you never imagined; that you were not supposed to be? 
What gets you through?  Will you choose to keep moving forward or is there a time to surrender, 
a time to just let go? How will you know?