On Being Content

People are so different from one another. There are dozens of personality tests we take to analyze ourselves to figure out what kind of category we can put ourselves into. Whether it be the Myers-Briggs or Strength Finders or any number of other tests. These are nice and definitely interesting to read about to better understand ourselves and especially how we interact with others. I’m just tired of how these types of tests are used. And it doesn’t even have to be tests like these. We have our own perceptions of ourselves in light of how we view others and how we interact with them. Some would consider themselves extroverts, others introverts. We all try and grasp our own personalities and categorize ourselves so that we can understand why we interact with people the way we do. And some more than others.

In understanding how we think and why we do what we do, we begin to think that we are just that kind of a person. That it is integral to the part of who I am, and it doesn’t change. When we interact with others these things are manifested. For instance, because one is an introvert, they don’t feel like going out with a group of people they’ve never met before and go into the city for a party. That’s just not who they are.

In leadership roles these aspects become very important. How people interact with one another really is important for an organization, team, or group to move forward in unity. Self-awareness is a key to maturity and also healthy social interaction. It is incredibly helpful to work with a group of people who have a high self-awareness of their strengths, limitations, and personalities. However, we often stop there. And that is what I really have an issue with. We are content with who we are, convince ourselves that we don’t need to change, or even that it is possible to change, and we prevent ourselves from growing and maturing as individuals.

One might say that he is a big picture thinker. “I don’t like getting caught up in the little details,” he might say. Another might say, “I don’t get technology. I try to avoid it at all costs. I only want to communicate face to face.” Another might say, “I just don’t get along with people like that. I try to stay away from them.” Another might say, “I’m just not wired to think that way, I leave that for others to do.”

It’s one thing for people to say that in everyday life (which I still don’t think is appropriate), but it’s another to say things like that or to think that way if one is in a leadership role. The quickest way to limit the effectiveness of a group is to be content with where we are personally, not really willing to grow in any significant ways. Leaders must be willing to never be content with where they are personally. We must always be learners, willing to be challenged personally. We must not grow content with who we are. We must have a drive that seeks to be better people and better leaders. That requires thinking that we need to move past our own personalities and ways of thinking and learn from others. We can work out of our strengths and into areas in which we struggle.

When we think, “I am big picture thinker, I don’t like getting caught up in the details,” we need to think about how we can grow to appreciate the details more. If I am a leader and I find myself saying, “I have a problem with that person, I try to avoid them,” we need to think about how to grow in such a way that we can overcome that problem with that person, and not try to avoid them. If we find ourselves saying that “I’m not just wired that way,” we need to be willing to adjust some of the wiring.

It takes a lot of work, and honestly, it takes a lot of humility and maturity to be able to even desire to not be content with oneself.

Be content with what you have, but not with who you are.

I was just talking to a good friend yesterday and he was telling me about how he is trying to be more intentional about simply looking people in the eye and friendly greeting them. For him, this is not a natural thing to do at all (and it isn’t for me either), but he thinks it would help him as a person as well as affect others in a positive way. This is a simple example of how we can always be looking for ways to move outside ourselves. And yes, it is for our own growth and betterment, but ultimately it is for the betterment for everyone we come in contact with or lead. See, his sharing this with me helped push me in thinking about how I greet and interact with strangers and was an encouragement to take steps in changing that aspect of my life.

We have to be willing to learn from one another, to grow with one another. If we do this, we will find our lives and relationships to be more fulfilling and enriching than if we simply stay content with who we are, how we think, and how we interact with others.

It’s getting real

Sarah is now 33 weeks pregnant. Micah will be here soon. And it’s starting to feel real.

The other night Sarah had Braxton Hicks contractions. Those are contractions in which it seems the body is just preparing for the real thing. It’s a common thing for many pregnant women. But for Sarah, this was the first time she thought about the reality of his coming into the world very soon.

“What IF he came now! We totally aren’t ready for him to come yet!”

Thankfully this past weekend Sarah had a baby shower in Indy with much of our family and friends. We received a lot of great things for Micah, including the stroller/carseat combo and money for a pack ‘n play, which we are going to use for Micah’s crib. Needless to say, the next day Sarah and I went out and bought the pack ‘n play, and I put the carseat in the car.

My dad setting up my changing table

One of the first pictures that comes to mind from my family photo album is my dad setting up my changing table. On Monday night, I found myself setting up the pack ‘n play. I thought it might have been fun taking a similar picture. But our apartment looked like a Babies R Us that had experienced some kind of earthquake, tornado, or some other kind of natural disaster. Not to mention I couldn’t figure out how to assemble the changing table that attached to the pack ‘n play, and was close to shouting obscenities in frustration.

“If I can’t even put together a dang pack ‘n play, how am I supposed to be a dad!”

It was a good idea NOT to take any pictures.

For Sarah things started feeling real when she started having her Braxton Hicks contractions. For me, it was as I was going to buy a pack ‘n play and when I put the car seat in the car. But yes. This is real. It’s not that I don’t feel ready to have a son or to be a dad. It’s just that I know that my life is going to change dramatically. I won’t be able to take random trips with friends to Michigan (like I did this past weekend), and I will be officially entered into the exclusive clique on campus of young parents with babies who all eat dinner together outside of the apartments nearly every week. I will have a family, and life will never really be the same.

I am expecting it to be better, and more exciting. Also, a lot more tiring.

I do have a bet going with Sarah that Micah will come early. For every day that Micah comes early, Sarah will owe me $5. For every day that he comes late, I will owe her $5. (If he comes on the due date, supposedly a 3% chance, Sarah will give me $100.) She hopes to pay me a lot of money. We’ll see.

Traveling at the Speed of Life

Life has been speeding by at what seems to be a million miles per hour. Life is happening so quickly. It’s all been incredibly great recently, too. It’s kind of amazing how great things have been recently, really. Sarah has a new job that she really seems to be enjoying. The other day she told me, “I love my job. How many people can say that? I just love my job.”

I am so happy for her. It really is great to see her so happy. That mixed with Micah squirming around inside of her keeps a constant smile on her face. It has been fun following the progression of the baby over the course of her pregnancy. IPad apps make following the progression pretty incredible and fun. Every Tuesday night Sarah says, “Oooh, we need to look at the baby!” And we discover what has happened over the past week and what Micah is up to inside the womb.

It’s been fun to imagine what Micah will be like. Will he look more like me or Sarah? Will he have my nose? Will he have Sarah’s eyes? How much hair will he be born with? What will his personality be like? We’re at 25 weeks as of today. He is getting bigger and bigger, and Sarah has said that he’s quite the acrobat in her stomach. She always giggles when he starts rolling around, doing who knows what in there.

This past weekend was Memorial day weekend and our friends Dennis and Mandi came up to celebrate their and Sarah and my 2nd year anniversary of marriage. We spent it in the 30th floor of the Hyatt Regency in the Southside of downtown Chicago. Among other things we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was a fun time. We looked around at a lot of the exhibits. Perhaps the coolest one for Sarah and me to see was the exhibit on pregnancy and fetal development. They had about 20 (perhaps more) babies that must have died in the womb on display in clear tubes. The babies floated in a clear liquid, almost looking like something from a science fiction movie. It was somewhat disturbing, but also extremely fascinating. They showed the progression of the baby’s development through putting these babies in chronological order by age. It was definitely amazing to look and see the baby that was basically at Micah’s stage of development.  Makes it that much more real. You can really begin to imagine what he must look like. Of course, I was once again amazed by the whole process of the creation, development, and birth of a human being. What a miracle.

It was a good weekend in Chicago. The weather was great. We walked about 20 miles in total throughout the city of Chicago over the course of the weekend. Sarah and I were struggling to keep up with our friends who are very enthusiastic about walking everywhere all the time. I can’t really think of the last time that I’ve walked that much. That’s definitely true for Sarah. We managed to survive, however.

The other week I went back home to Indy to see the Pacers-Heat playoff game. It was pretty exciting. The Pacers won that night, although they ended up losing the series. It made for a very fun night. Every time Lebron touched the ball the stadium booed with vigor. It’s amazing how we can all hate someone so incredibly talented. He is easy to dislike though. Wade even more so.

But as I was down there I visited some friends from high school, as I normally do when I visit Indianapolis. Usually we end up hanging out into the early hours of the morning. Sometimes I’ve headed home as the sun was beginning to rise. But we’re really not the same age anymore. A friend and I couldn’t even finish a set of tennis before he was too tired to finish. It was only a few years ago that we consistently played football in 95-100 degree weather, loving every minute of it. Instead of hanging out for hours on end, we ended up calling it at night before midnight and went our separate ways to head to bed. Another friend couldn’t even stay up until 9:30 before wanting to call it a night. What ever happened to late night movies or long discussions about life or playing video games until your eyes burned?

Some people think that having a kid this early is crazy. I’m too young. I haven’t been married long enough to enjoy it. I think most of those days are already over. Everyone goes to bed before 10 and doesn’t even have the energy to have a late night walk as used to be the norm for the past 10 years or so. Life is changing. So I guess I think it’s a perfect time to have a child. Everyone else has gotten old, yet seemingly hasn’t realized it. I might as well take advantage of the time and start putting my energy into raising a child.

Things change so quickly. It’s quite incredible.

Life Lessons (or quick thoughts at the end of a good semester)

It’s the end of the semester and instead of writing a blog post I probably should be studying or reading right now. But there are a few things that I feel that I should write down for my own benefit, and perhaps yours. I am finishing my third year of seminary. My experience here has been demanding, yet fruitful. Over the past six semesters I have learned a lot. I have been involved in the student leadership on campus. I have been a Resident Assistant. I have lead a student group. I have been an intern for our Student Affairs department. Even though this is a busy time of the semester, this is typically the time when I begin to assess my growth throughout the past semester and year. I look back on how I’ve grown as a person. This year has been perhaps more significant than any other year. I could write nearly a book on some of the lessons learned in this semester alone, but let me  briefly mention a few that I think have been the most significant:

1) Model the change you want to see 

This may seem simple, but it is not. Generally speaking we are quick to criticize and complain. More often than not we are not willing to go the next step and think of practical, realistic solutions. So if you have an issue with how things are communicated between people, change how you personally communicate. Take the steps in your own personal life that you want others to be instituting. This is huge. Once you begin modeling it for people, then they expect that from you in the future. They may also begin reciprocating the changes back to you.

(For those who may be weary of me condoning what is understood as the “miracle motif,” believe me that is not what I am condoning at all. I do not believe that we need to just change the way we think and then all will be swell and all of the world’s problems will be solved.)

2) Be willing to think critically, but positively, about every community you’re a part of

Life moves so fast. It’s ridiculous. But we need to learn the skills to be able to pause and think critically about the communities that we are a part of. We need to be able to healthily critique the way we think, talk, and live. Most of the time this means we need to be around others who do not think exactly like we do. That means we need diversity. We NEED others to show us our flaws. We NEED others to show us our faulty thinking. We need others to show us how we can better critique the communities that we are a part of. There is a danger of always being negative, but if we begin modeling the changes in our own lives, then we can think about how we are bringing growth to the community rather than constantly attacking it.

3) Step into the awkwardness

This is a hard one to actually follow through with, but I think everyone could benefit from this immensely. Most of us are really good at picking up on awkward moments or situations. We even go as far as to say “AWKWARD...” to try and relieve awkward situations. However, we rarely try to truly relieve the tension that has been built. To do so requires maturity and honesty. To step into awkward situations takes intentionality. When we recognize we are participating in an awkward situation we should own up to it. This is something that I feel should be modeled, and I feel that I have only begun to model in my own life. I have seen tremendous dividends from the times that I have modeled this in my own life. It removes the present tension and, more often than not, future tension. It brings relief not only to you, but to the person or people you are communicating with. I could give plenty of examples, but maybe I’ll expand on this idea in a future post. It’s probably a bit too abstract to understand now though…

4) We are most safe when we are most vulnerable 

This goes along with the previous idea. Generally speaking I believe humans want to feel secure. That security is often found in relationships with others. Many times in our relationships we want people to like us, so we don’t often reveal many negatives about ourselves or what is going on in our lives. Our culture only bolsters this through a society which constantly says “How’s it going?” “How are you?” “What’s going on?” but never expects a negative answer. We most often just say, “Fine.” or “Good.”  If we’re feeling especially honest we may say “busy.” Sometimes we even give the wrong standard answer to the question. For example,

“How are you doing?”
“Nothing much…”

We need to learn that everyone is not perfectly okay. We all experience struggles and burdens and pressures and stresses. It’s okay to admit it. It takes time. It takes effort. It exposes flaws, but that is where true relationships flourish. People grow closer when they are transparent with each other because when we do, we relate with and learn from each other much more holistically. That requires being vulnerable at first. We must realize that we actually harm ourselves by not being honest with each other. We seclude ourselves. When we are honest and vulnerable with each other we learn what it looks like to actually love one another. And that is where true safety is found.