Not a day goes by when you don’t read or see something on the news that is terrible or hateful. The opioid crisis, school shootings, the civil war in Syria, human trafficking and dysfunctional government are just a few things. The media controls the message for the day or week but some of these problems seem perpetual. The issues do not go away just because it didn’t make it to today’s headlines.
It’s easy to become numb to the daily bad news. You can turn off the TV, you can choose to be better informed or you can choose to “do something”. Adding your own voice to the millions of other loud voices adds little value. You can choose to be a complainer or “microphone” or you can choose action.
What makes you angry or cry? What are the topics that cause you to pause? This is the beginning of knowing what you are passionate about. Knowing this is our insight into making a difference. Pick one and choose to make a difference.
Solutions don’t have to be national in nature. Acting locally allows you to experience innovation and action first-hand. For example, what is being done in your local high school to keep it safe?
The choices for action are many. You become more informed. You seek an existing organization that is already focused on your passion and contribute your time, skill and money. You can even start you own grass-roots movement. Choose to do something.
“Whether You Think You Can or Can’t, You’re Right” – Henry Ford
We limit ourselves from living to our potential when we place arbitrary boundaries on what we can or can’t do. We say things like “we are not good enough to get promoted” or “I’m too old to learn to play the piano” (or acquire another skill) or “I won’t be a good _____”. We limit ourselves by living within the constraints of a perceived role description rather than taking the initiative to add a new responsibility or project.
Change is disruptive, uncomfortable and even stressful. Pushing personal boundaries is that way too. We offset limits with vision and dreaming. Vision should be bold.
It is our current beliefs about ourselves, others and situations that slow the transition. We must uncover these beliefs and challenge them. Ask if your beliefs are moving you toward your purpose and vision or if they are restraining you. Sometimes we need feedback to see the limiting belief.
My own “significant experience” in this area is recalling the feedback I received from one of my managers. I was told that I should spend more time “managing up” (engaging the next level above me). It was uncomfortable at first but then I got good at it and finally it changed my job performance. I carry this memory into my retirement career as a volunteer.
Where do you limit yourself? Why? Dream, think big, live a bold life…then take a small step every day.
Time management is an important skill but I’ve come to believe that attention management is the bigger opportunity (and challenge). We are blasted with attention options and choices all day long. We sometimes try multi-tasking but this is not effective in a human relationship. We need to be available attentively. How do we do this?
- Choose the relationships that are important and invest in them. Make time for the important people of our lives. Call rather than text, schedule a time for coffee, lunch or a beer or just drop by. Simply show up; this is how we demonstrate to them that they are important (rather than just thinking they are).
- Put away or turn off the distractions. Find a quiet place to be together. Turn off the TV or put away the cell phone. Find a babysitter for the kids.
- Suspend your own problems, just for a short while. Focus on the other person and look them in the eye. Choose empathy and love.
- Practice active listening. Focus on hearing the meaning of their words rather than the words themselves. Nod, paraphrase and ask questions to insure they know we heard their words and meaning.
Choose to intentionally single-task. Use your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your mind to think and your heart to feel. With all senses tuned-in we become focused at a new, deeper level. Be mindful of attention shifts and bring yourself back to your intended focus. Being available attentively requires practice.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is temporarily stepping into their situation and attempting to think, feel and experience what another is feeling. It is related to but not the same as sympathy which is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Empathy can be learned. It starts with becoming mindful but is built on a curiosity to consider an alternate viewpoint. You listen and become available without needing to solve a problem. You suspend judgement. Comfort is offered. It can be a spiritual experience. Empathy is an essential life skill and habit.
As a parent, you may wonder “what is the crying baby feeling?” or “why is my teen moody?” It’s important as a volunteer and as a manager. It is an important skill in any role and a wonderful way to build closer relationships. Empathy is easier if you have a similar experience. I know what it’s like to lose a parent but not a child. I know what it’s like to be a dad but not a mom. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to better understand.
Empathy is one of those life skills that can change the world. Imagine stepping into the shoes of a migrant worker, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone from the other political party. Our judging mind tends to exclude others who are not like us. What if we shifted our mindset to one of understanding?
This blog was inspired by my recent reading of the book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric.
When writing on the topic of mentoring I am usually focused on its importance in helping other people. This blog focuses on what it can do for each of us…not to be selfish but to embrace that service is a two-way street. It is one of those foundational, but higher-level, life skills that we can use every day in any relationship.
To be a good mentor, you must learn essential life skills:
- Active listening and asking powerful open-ended questions.
- Empathy, putting yourself in another’s situation.
- Encouragement, leading to persistence and resilience.
- Affirmations, helping another see something good in themselves.
- Visioning, seeing and planning a bold future.
- Goal setting and action planning, getting something important done every day.
Mentors see life as a process of development. It starts with an orientation toward serving and supporting someone else. It emerges from an emotion of care or love. If you are a mentor then you have a “heart to serve”. I’m sure you want to be good at it. Try going deeper and thinking of it as an accumulation of skills, each of which is important in its own way. Once you learn them you can apply them in everyday situations toward those you care about.
Mentoring is about inspiration, care and support of another but it transforms us too at many levels…heart, mind, body and soul. It is a skill worth mastering to improve our own capacity for purpose and knowing ourselves deeply. Consider taking on a formal mentoring role because “we grow as we serve”.
Why should you spend time discerning (uncovering, understanding, practicing) your Purpose? Why write a Purpose statement? I can think of several reasons:
- Purpose develops a deeper sense of worth. We know who we are deeply including values, strengths, beliefs and needs. This results in confidence because it’s less about “image”. We use this knowledge to pursue more aligned jobs and life roles.
- Purpose makes it easier to choose how we use our time, make decisions and allow people to enter our lives. We learn what is essential in life to thrive, be fulfilled and feel good about ourselves.
- Purpose deepens our connectedness to our Creator, creation and friends and family. Our relationships change.
- Purpose provides a buffer against “losses”. If we lose a job we know that “our job is not our life”. If we lose a life role, e.g. friend, we know that our many other life roles are being pursued.
Understanding the WHY of our lives is essential and worthwhile. Generally, why are you alive? Specifically, why did we pick this friend, this job, this place to live or this activity? Ultimately, choices are an expression of yourself and a reflection of heart, mind, body and soul needs.
More personally, this effort must be called a transformation. My pursuit of a purpose statement took over a year until the final words emerged. The “mining for gold” of my life is still in progress but continual discovery of new gold nuggets continues to thrill me.
Volunteers become better people (my belief) but I want to explore this more deeply for those who already have a job. Should we make time for another commitment when we are already overly busy with family and work? This is written in the context of individually choosing to serve others rather than a company-led initiative.
Volunteerism leads to:
- New skills and experiences. Seek to create a resume-building volunteer experience as it can be a signal of character. It is opportunity to gain new soft and hard skills, practice existing skills in new ways, and learn more about complex issues like poverty or the environment. You can also develop character qualities such as empathy and compassion.
- New relationships. Increase your professional and social networks by meeting new people including staff, clients and other volunteers. There is a strong relationship between volunteering and the development of social and human capital.
- Balance. It is easy to get trapped into the daily demands of a job. Volunteering is a strategic choice to find a (new) balance across heart, mind, body and soul. It can be a source of satisfaction, fulfillment and meaning or simply a relaxing diversion.
- Perspective change. You can increase job satisfaction, attitude and morale because you return to your job and company with new ideas and attitudes.
Do you want to help your community or the world? Do you want to build your own skills and establish new relationships? Consider sharing your time and talents with others.