Overcome Complexity with Optimism

My job is increasingly complex. I’m leading a team of 8 people and we have a bunch of different plates spinning all the time. There are regular and frequent shifts in priority, and this means we sometimes have less capacity than we would like to get everything done that we want to do.

On Friday, a project was approved which means we can move towards a goal that I’ve had for almost two and a half years. But some other situations mean that we’ll have to sacrifice some other goals. Not completely–we’ll still be doing the work we have been–but we’ll need to go a bit slower so we can balance everything.

While thinking through how I can make this all work practically (what do we do less of? how do we deliver what we need to deliver, and what’s the highest priority work?), I found comfort in the awesomeness of my team. They’re so great that I know we can make this work.

Complexity is stressful, but as I focused on the optimistic thoughts of, “We can do this!” I found that I was a lot less stressed. And very quickly, what had at first seemed to be a complex challenge soon seemed more simple and achievable.

Per my last blog post, I also gave it all to God and asked what part of this complexity is truly mine to manage and what can I lay down. I don’t have a really clear answer on that, but I think recognizing my team’s strength, helping them to also see how great they are, and building their confidence in us working together to do what we need to do… that’s my priority.

Great Power. Greater Responsibility.

Part 1 — Spider-Man

My favorite thing about Spider-Man is that he never gives up. Spider-Man gets knocked down and outright fails more than any other superhero I read, but he continually gets back up and does his best.

Over the last year or so, his go-to line of inspiration has been changing, and it’s really resonating with me. You all probably know the story: when he was a boy, his uncle Ben told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

But these days, Spider-Man is regularly taking on challenges that far exceed his power. In the first 2019 comic of the new Spider-Man, Miles’s mom is reading a newspaper article about the concentration camps at our southern border in the USA. Sure, Spider-Man has a lot of power, but what can he do about that?

As the challenges continue to exceed Spider-Man’s power, his inspiration hasn’t weakened. Instead, he acknowledges that his responsibility is greater than his power.

Part 2 — A Sense of Responsibility Rooted in Emotional Trauma

I have been seeing a counselor for a few months to work through something completely (or mostly) unrelated to responsibility. But in our last session, we broached the subject and it touched a nerve, which told me that I needed to work through some things.

That comic with Miles’s mom was stuck in my head during that session, and I was sat there thinking, “I’m not Spider-Man. I don’t have any power. What can I possibly do? Why do I feel responsible for all of this?!”

And the “all of this” in that sentence is a lot. When I was a kid, I tried to defend other kids being bullied (and as a result, I got beat up a lot). I helped people out of jams. I have gotten people jobs, gotten people money, gotten people food. I want people to feel healthy, secure, taken care of… and I feel a sense of responsibility for all of this. Like I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m failing. What’s more, if it doesn’t work out (if the person doesn’t get the job, or if they’re struggling in some way, or if people aren’t getting healthcare, or kids are in concentration camps, or our representatives are failing to present solutions to gun violence…), then it’s because I’m not doing enough. For every bad thing where I can perceive something that I might be able to do to help, I feel like a failure if I don’t do everything.

Being around people reminds me constantly of things I could be doing to help them or the world at large. And it reminds me that I’m constantly failing.

Part 3 — I Do Not Own My Responsibilities, God Does

That’s what we were actually talking about in counseling: spending time around people. The phrase, “Being around people causes me pain” is true for me. It drains me. I have to recover from being around other people.

And part of the reason for this is the weight of responsibility I feel. I don’t just feel responsible for the moment—it’s not just about making them like me, or making sure I don’t say the wrong things, or making sure they’re having a good time. Those three things seem to weigh on a lot of people, but they’re not that big a deal to me.

In both work and my personal life, I’m typically focused on somewhere 2-5 years from now. The responsibility I’m often feeling is, “This person is really struggling with personal finances. How can I help them without being overbearing in a way that will get them into a better position 5-10 years from now?” Or, “This person is struggling with anxiety. I need to make sure I’m thinking through that from their perspective. What can I say and do to help them on their journey to better mental health? What should I avoid saying and doing?”

When I write it out, it reads as so minor to me, but it’s something that causes me some pain regardless. And I think feeling responsible for the next several years of someone’s life for everyone I come into contact with is the issue. Jesus, how arrogant is that? It’s one of those things that, until you say or write it out, you don’t quite realize what’s going on inside.

At any rate, I prayed about it the following Sunday and God effectively said, “You’re not responsible for these things. I am. And when I ask you to engage with that responsibility, I will give you sufficient power. I don’t ask you to engage with any responsibility without giving you what you need.”

I don’t even “take on” the responsibility. It’s not mine. I’m just doing some work with Him.

I’m ashamed that I said, “I have no power.” I do. I have a lot of power insofar as I’m white and male and privileged, I’m middle-class-wealthy, I own property, and I’m Christian (in an area where that helps get you “in” sometimes). But more importantly, God is with me, and He will not give me anything to do that I can’t handle.

Part 4 — Using The Power I Have

Another thing this forced me to confront is that, yes, an out-sized sense of responsibility causes emotional pain, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all felt like Spider-Man? Can I really say that, just because I’m not a superhero who can literally go to Texas and tear down the buildings and fences and provide food and water and medicine to people, then I should do nothing?

God gives me the power I need to engage with the responsibilities to which He invites me. What I’ve been failing to do is pray about those things for which I feel responsible so that He can advise me on what I should be doing. What actions can I take that will be effective without causing self-harm? I think that’s what He wants for me, but I haven’t been seeking Him on it.

It’s not bad to want to help people. But letting that desire lead us into a place of emotional and mental pain isn’t what God wants for us. When our positive desires lead us into a negative state, that’s a twisting of God’s plan, and we have to be wary of it.

I don’t know yet if this realization coupled with praying more frequently will reduce the pain I experience just by being around people. It’s particularly tricky when it comes to work events because that’s where I feel it most acutely (since my job is literally developing strategy for the next several years and putting things into place to make sure we achieve our goals), and I have a work week in London coming up very soon.

But I’ll do the best I can. That’s my responsibility.

Being Agile Means Being Responsible

Harry Truman in 1959 at the recreation of the Oval Office at the Truman Library by his old desk which has the famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign.For agile teams to be really successful, like amazingly successful, I think all of the team members need to always be willing to take responsibility. It’s this concept of “the buck stops here.” It’s the mentality that, when you observe something that needs done, or needs corrected, you make sure it happens. You flag the problem, bring it to somebody’s attention and make sure it’s addressed, or take care of it yourself.

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Some personal thoughts on financial management

Yesterday on Meta-Manage I posted about how to manage your finances in 5 minutes or less per day. I’m always perplexed when someone tells me they don’t budget or look at their financial accounts regularly, but I know one of the reasons people don’t is because it can be daunting and seem like a lot of work. Hopefully that article will be helpful.

When I was young, probably around 9 years old, my parents had to declare bankruptcy. And they separated when I was 11 (for the second time) and divorced when I was 12. I never experienced homelessness, but there was a lot of fear that we were going to lose the house and near everything else. A lot of my financial decisions, from keeping credit cards paid off to waiting to have kids, have come out of lessons learned back then and a desire to stay out of the trouble my parents got into.

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Retreat won’t help

We love God, and every Sunday we become immersed in God and realize once again how great it would be to be immersed in the Holy Spirit 24/7. We regret having forgotten about him the countless times throughout the week. We’re filled with guilt, and we beat ourselves up to be better, and then we thank God for his love and mercy and grace. We swear to remember. We leave church will good intentions.

And then it fades.

We go through this week after week, year after year, and realize that we need to do something. So we decide to get away, re-align our lives, seek God, and go on a retreat. Some retreat to monasteries, some to small groups or small social bubbles, and others to the International House of Prayer or the Zadok House of Prayer. We want to learn to be better, but we need some time to do it.

The world won’t change for our retreating. All our running away and focusing on God while we’re distant from the world won’t really change us. It’s easy to focus on God 24/7 when you’ve got nothing else around. When you’re at church on Sunday morning, it all seems so simple. We won’t learn how to be in the world by living without it.

Kierkegaard claimed the church needs to be of the individual, because as an institution it had become corrupted. He said that we use the corporate church to escape responsibility and to spread around the burden. Kierkegaard suggested that we need to take responsibility as individuals and abandon this corrupted corporation. Much as I respect Kierkegaard, he was wrong.

This abandonment of the bridegroom won’t protect or help her. It won’t help us as individuals either. We can’t save the world by running from it.

We can’t avoid this life–we were born into it, as a fish is into water. We can’t retreat.

Christian, Right or Wrong

Addressed to Christians:

There has been a disconcerting outpouring of negativity in response to the election of Barack Obama, and while I expected a certain amount of it, the vehemence of the tone was a surprise. I can understand being dismayed at his economic policies (though I personally agree with them to a greater degree than I did with McCain’s), or feeling he is inexperienced, but that doesn’t excuse the behaviour I have witnessed in the last 24 hours.

Barack Obama, regardless of whether you voted for him or not, regardless of whether you like him or not, is our brother in Christ. He claims to be Christian, and the only one who could possibly know otherwise would be God. Yet I have seen brothers and sisters calling for his death, decrying his existence, and mourning the next four years as if the world was coming to an end.

It shames and appalls me, that Christians would call for the death of a fellow Christian simply because they disagree with his political stance. The justification offered, however, is that they simply don’t believe he is Christian.

One might ask, “How have they reached this conclusion?” Obama himself claims to be Christian, we can’t see into his heart and know the truth one way or the other, and so we must take him at his word. But that line of argument is, to be honest, completely beside the point.

He is a fellow human, the president-elect of the United States, and we have been called to love others as Christ loves us. I am by no means a pacifist, and if we must defend ourselves, I support military or physically violent actions to do so, but Barack Obama isn’t attacking anyone, not physically anyways. He isn’t threatening to kill the citizens of the United States of America. He hasn’t set himself against the Church. So what is the justification for threatening and belittling him?

Insufficient. It doesn’t matter what the excuse is, the behaviour is simply wrong. Barack Obama is my brother in Christ, and I will treat him with the same love and respect I do all of my brothers and sisters. I don’t necessarily like everyone in my family, but they’re still my family, and our president is no different. I didn’t particulalry like President George W. Bush, and I made my fair share of jokes at his expense, but I also prayed for his health and wisdom. I recognized that he was a decent person trying to do the best he could, and that his motivation was to help this country. Regardless that the best he could was pretty poor, he wasn’t malicious. He is my brother.

Barack Obama is part of our Christian family. It’s time for some members of the Church to wake up and remember what it’s like to serve Jesus, who loves even the least of us.