Are You Managing Your World or Is Your World Managing You?

managing world

With so many of us confined to limited movement during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been touching base (OK touching is a bad word) with colleagues, clients and close friends. The gist of the discussions have to do with “what do we do now?”

An old title from my archives came to mind. I thought I’d dust it off and share. I hope this thought will be helpful to you as you figure out your “new normal.”

Here it is from  the vault.


We all suffer the daily grind. Some days are better than others. For anyone in management or leadership, you need to take a pause to make some critical assessments. I like to call it recalibration. This is a key leadership quality.

Let’s face it, the demands on your time and your life can get overwhelming. In today’s tumultuous market, we really never know from day to day what next may come.

A Story

In my consulting days, I was project manager of a very large engagement with over 600 consultants working for me. It was a coast to coast assignment with teams scattered across 7 job sites. I had nine different work streams running concurrently, with cross-over dependencies between teams.

The hours were long and the travel compounded the pressure. The client was a large national banking institution and the mission was to help the bank respond to a critical regulatory mandate. To say the least, the stakes were great. It could have been easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the situation. I confess, at times I did feel consumed.

Fortunately, my many years of prior training, both military and civilian, had prepared me for just such a mission. I was a long time practitioner of the principle I am about to share

If you let these pressures mount without routinely asking yourselves some essential questions, you run the risk of spinning off into some other orbit that you never intended.

I suggest that one of the most essential questions to ask yourself is :

Are you managing your world or is your world managing you?

The Frog

There is an old story of the frog in the pot. The story says that if you drop a frog in boiling water he immediately jumps out. But if you set him in cool water and slowly add the heat, he’ll boil to death. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be like the frog.

boiling-frog

You have to gauge the temperature on a regular basis. Are you getting comfortable with the heat rising?

You have to pay attention to the circumstances around you. There needs to be the routine recalibration of your own role in the middle of the work demands going on around you.

React or Respond?

Here’s another point. If a doctor prescribes medication and I have a reaction to it, that is NOT GOOD. Yet if I respond to it, I am going to get over the condition. Just like with the medicine, being reactive to the things in our world really will not help the situation. Of course there are things that may happen that are totally unexpected. We have to deal with that.

At the core of this idea is the challenge between being proactive or reactive. The point here is that we should not let everything that happens become a topic of reaction. Truly we should be able to do some things to be proactive with what may come. Proactive people are better positioned to respond to the situation and manage their world. However, being reactive allows the events of the day to manage YOU.

So where do you stand? Are you more inclined to be in control of the things happening around you or have you started just reacting?

People Can Mess Things Up

people mess things up

You may think you have developed the best plan in the world to attack the next chapter of your life (ok, maybe just the next few hours). Then, what do you know, the very first person who walks into the office seems to blow the whole plan out of the water. What do you do?

Don’t react! Force yourself to pause and process the matter according to your plan. This is how you manage things rather than let things manage you.

Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why we so often feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.

Even if you are successful at maintaining the focus on your plan, it likely will take lots of energy and effort. But people who have been able to adopt a discipline for doing this find it becomes easier to do. If your outward aura is true to this inner control, the people around you will start to get the picture. Their demands will become less intrusive, plus they will learn they cannot get “the reaction” out you they used to be able to do.

LIFE IS A SELF-HELP JOURNEY

Managers getting it right

Maybe self-help books are not as popular as they once were. The truth is, this journey we call life is full of self-help moments. Rather than waiting on others to pitch in or hoping that circumstances may change, you need to take control of your own destiny.

Personal and professional growth only happens when you choose to make it happen.

At each and every step of the way, keep asking yourself if you are managing your world or does your world manage you? Take the time to recalibrate. Get back on plan.

Question: When was the last time you were able to stand back and realize your world was managing you? How did you regain control?

Three Stages of Life: Wage, Page and Sage

We make plans and have dreams, but then life happens. The day to day takes over, having a mysterious way of clouding those great visions we have for ourselves. Here’s a little bit of life coaching for you.

Compared to many of you who read my articles, I sit with a few extra trips around the sun. From that bonus advantage, I want to share some basic observations. For the really big things in life, I see three distinct phases or cycles. I call them WAGE, PAGE, and SAGE. Let’s explore each one.

Wage

In our early years, much of what we do is about the wage; finding a job to earn a paycheck so we can survive. Having a steady paycheck or not has its way of defining us. At least that is true very early in adulthood.

Those who are blessed with high paying jobs right out of school become the upper crust so to speak. Others who struggle with mediocre jobs do OK but live with a burning desire for more.

Then there are those who by chance or by choice do little to find meaningful work and become downtrodden; perhaps even welfare recipients.

A distinct class system develops. I don’t say any of this to start a socio-political debate but merely state the obvious. These conditions are something seen in most parts of the world. The wage we find defines us in many ways whether we like it or not.

In addition, much of our focus in this phase of life is about the wage. How much do I get? How far can it go? What are my essential expenses versus things I’d like to have? Choices about money have their own compounding effect. Smart choices make the money work to grow and prosper. It is said, “Don’t work for your money, make your money work for you.” Too few of us make the opportunity to live that kind of life.

Page

After we settle into the Wage portion of life, we begin the next phase. We start writing chapters in our own book of life, turning pages day by day. Relationships, marriage, childbirth (wedded or not), deaths of friends and family, relocation, social affairs, community involvement, and on and on.

Occasionally you’ll hear people talk about defining moments; those events in life that cause a radical change in perspective or circumstance. These too are stories we write.

Each page tells a story about who and what we are becoming. In a perfect world, the story being written follows some grand plan we devised. Sadly, in most cases, even that is not true.

Rather, the collection of pages seems almost by chance; pure opportunity or failure as things come along. The busy-ness of life writes the story rather than us writing it with an intention or specific direction.

Turning the page can be a celebration of a need for new direction. Prior choices may have written chapters you want to walk away from. So turning the page is a new lease on life. Finding a new way. That, of course, is good when it becomes necessary to do so.

Sage

Lastly is the Sage phase. Most world cultures have the notion of honoring the elderly. Age brings wisdom, right?

On one hand, it should. Life experiences, like those above, allow the building of a wealth of experience that can be a valuable teaching. Elders who have properly processed all of those life experiences should have good insight to share.

If the knowledge is shared with generosity and grace, then “sage” wisdom is the outcome.

However, far too many old people are just pissed off. Their choices and the pages in their books don’t tell very good stories. At least not the story they wanted to have happened. These folks miss the mark for becoming the sage advisor they could be.

Rather than being sought out, they are avoided. Younger people don’t even want to be subject to the hostility that is present.

The Really Interesting Pivot

If you think about it, you have choices at each of these stages. For your wage, you can choose to go or stay in a situation that is less than fulfilling.

For page, you get to choose how short or long most chapters of life may be. Sure some events may be beyond your control, like the onset of some disease that causes permanent health issues, but for the most part, you decide how long a chapter might be and when you should turn the page.

With becoming sage, again you get to choose. Will you let your life experiences be inspiring messages to the next generation or will you become some difficult personality? You choose.

Ultimately, this journey we call life is a series of choices. Choose wisely, my friend!

Question: Which stage do you see for yourself right now? Leave a comment.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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The Margins in Life

Life Margin - Changing Lives

Do you think about margins in life like a business thinks about profit margins?

For business, the different between its total/gross revenue (income) and its expenses is its margin. Without margin, you can never grow. Clearly a negative margin means you are going backwards, headed to bankruptcy or liquidation.

Life Margin - Changing Lives
Life Margin – Changing Lives

Life follows a similar paradigm. While few of us think about margins in life, the dynamic is still present.

Life margins give us a better sense of balance between work, life and faith. Rather than seeking the elusive notion of life balance as its own end game, you can seek margins and a sense balance becomes a pleasant reward.

In his excellent book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life pre-scheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.

When we run at full speed all the time, we burn out. Our tanks get empty. We suffer mental and emotional breakdowns. I’m not trying to over-dramatize this issue, but talking about these extremes gets us to a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I am overwhelmed at the number of young people who, when asked “how are you doing?”, respond “I am so tired!” Is that you? I ask tired over what?

Yes, maybe you have filled your time with countless obligations to do things, running here and there. Young, growing families feel the tug of this tiredness for having chased little kids all day long. I get that (been there, done it).

Creating margin starts with better management of obligations. The first key is to say “NO” on a regular basis. Just stop taking on all the commitments that others may place on you.

Here’s why this is important

Being a man of faith, I submit to the idea that we are all here for a bigger purpose; a divine appointment. We need to be good stewards of the things God has given us. This includes not just money, but time, relationships, knowledge, and wisdom and so much more.

We all have the mandatory commitments; job, family, and perhaps church. On top of those demands, if our days are consumed with less than meaningful trivia, we are not being good stewards. Saying no to certain people and events gives us margin to use for the greater good, which, ironically, often involves other people and events.

Therefore, having margin means we still have something to give to the greater good; our family, our friends, or our communities.

When we give in this way (again, it’s not all about money) we receive the blessing of knowing others have been helped. Getting outside of ourselves and sharing life with others brings the sense of balance. It rewards you with a new found energy for life.

I was fortunate to live this path in 2008. During the U.S. financial crisis and recession, I had to close a company I had worked for 5 years to build. It was brutal both emotionally and financially. At the bottom of the trough, I chose to create a non-profit for job seekers, called Jobs Ministry Southwest (JMS). We were a non-denominational, faith based ministry. While I could have been overcome with grief about losing my company, I chose to adjust my margins. I made an intentional decision to get out of myself and do something for others.

JMS opened in September of that year. Then, over the next several years, we served over 2,500 professionals who were in transition. They had suffered life altering job loss. JMS helped them through those changes.

Creating more margin involves making some tough choices. When those choices are made for the right reasons, not selfish ones, you will be blessed by the outcome.

Money Matters: How Much is Enough?

From my many years as a community banker, I learned something very interesting about money. Every person has a different view on the age-old question “how much is enough”.

This issue causes a constant state of turmoil for so many people. Finding the right answer for yourself can resolve a large number of conflicts.

As I visited with customer after customer as they came in to handle their banking needs, they would share their financial circumstances and concerns. Let me tell you two stories to demonstrate the extremes.

Courtesy 123rf.com/ tsuneo
Courtesy 123rf.com/ tsuneo

Read moreMoney Matters: How Much is Enough?