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Provision Anxiety

I've been writing about different kinds of anxiety this week and how it can hinder your work and creativity.  There is another anxiety that will hinder your ability to create and that is anxiety about money.  How often I have had a good idea only to dismiss it a few minutes later because of provision anxiety -- where would I get the money to do that?  that won't make me any money, will it?  how will I feed my family?  It's just an idea but I tend to immediately start thinking about cash and, when I do, the idea generally flies away as quickly as a bird that had come to nest only to find a "beware of the cat" sign. 

This week I have been reflecting on the cloud that followed Israel in their wilderness wanderings.  This cloud led them by day and by night became a pillar of fire.  I had always thought this cloud was for guidance only.  When it moved, Israel moved and when it stayed, so did Israel.  That is part of what the cloud did.  Yet I never thought that the cloud was also there for protection.  There were millions of people and animals traveling in the scorching heat of the Middle Eastern desert, so the cloud had to protect them from all the elements.

What's more, God sent them manna to eat and water to drink in the desert.  God never had them learn how to exist in the desert by learning desert-survival tactics.  They never made peace with their surroundings. He was able to provide for and protect them in the harshest of conditions and He did it for 40 years. 

Now if God could do that for Israel, what can He do for you and me?  He certainly can't and won't do any less!  So why worry about provision?  God is capable of giving you whatever you need and He knows what you need before you ask.

I did not say that provision wasn't important, for often when I tell people to focus on the idea and not the money, they think I am ignoring their money needs.  I am not.  It's just that I know that provision anxiety can stop anyone in his or her tracks, even a seasoned and creative faith warrior.  You don't have to know who will publish your work or fund your business before you make plans to start and finish either.  You just have to allow the creativity to flow, free from the effects of anxiety.

What could you dream today if provision anxiety didn't butt in?  What plans could you make?  What could you create or begin to create?  I urge you to reflect more on God's ability to provide even in a desert and then apply what you learn to your own situation.  Oops, gotta go.  That idea bird that flew away earlier just came back and this time I want to welcome her along with the creative ideas that she brings. Have a good time creating!

Feel free to respond to these entries on the site where they are posted. 


Perfectionistic Anxiety

Quiz question:  How many ways are there
to receive change for one US dollar bill?

1)  47       2) 293        3) 63        4) 176        5) 117          (answer later)

I have been writing about anxiety and its role in blocking creativity the last few days.  Have you made any progress on identifying where anxiety is hindering you?  Part of my anxiety in creating is that I am a perfectionist.  I want what I do to be good. No, I take that back.  I want what I do to be great.  No, that's not quite right either.  I want what I do to be perfect!  Yes, that's it.  I just don't want the right way; I want the perfect way, the best way in the universe, no the galaxy, no in God's creation.  I think you get the point.

I will wait to start something until I have a reasonable assurance that what I do will be perfect, or I will wait to start until I have a deadline to meet ("It wasn't my fault that it isn't perfect; I didn't have enough time), or I won't ever start at all because I am not sure what the perfect creation would be or how to produce it.

Just this week I have put off writing and doing simple things because I was afraid (no, not shaking in my shoes fear, but just fearful enough) what I would do or write would not be the best.  I put something off until tomorrow just in case there was something I wasn't seeing that would prevent me from doing the perfect thing, whether it be an email, a phone call or the foreword to someone's book. 

Often there is not just one road to a certain destination, there are a few.  Now usually one route is the fastest route and that is one I should always take, correct?  But what if there is a traffic jam on that "quickest" route?  Then the next fastest route becomes the best route to take.  But what if there are toll charges on that second fastest route and I don't have any money for the tolls?  Then I can take the third route because it is still faster then the traffic-snarled first option and cheaper than the second option.  But it's autumn and I want to see the pretty leaves changing colors on the way to my destination and that means I will take the fourth route, which is suddenly better than my other three options.

My point is that perfect is relative.  Sometimes you produce what you can with the time you have and that has to be good enough.  At times, you worked with what you knew at the time and, although less than perfect, you give yourself permission to do "good" work under the conditions.

The answer to the question at the top of the post is number two.  There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar bill.  What's the best way?  It depends on what you need and the available change that someone has to give you in return for your dollar.  I may need four quarters for parking, but someone may only have two quarters and five dimes.  Since there's no one else around to give me change, I don't agonize.  I say, "Give me the two you have.  It's good enough for now."

So is anxiety over the best way to do something got you stuck?  Then you have to talk yourself out of your dilemma by saying, "John, this isn't worth the time you are wasting on it.  Get started and adjust along the way.  You've done this before.  you can do it again."  Or "John, you know you are a perfectionist, so stop sweating the best way in the universe and get started on the best way you know of today."

Don't allow perfectionism to rob you and the world of the joys that your creativity can produce.  Face your fears, your inordinate desire for the perfect whatever, and get started today.  You'll be glad you did and your confidence will grow over time. By the way, anyone got change for a dollar?


More on Anxiety

I am sitting here doing some reading and research for a class project I have due by the end of September.  It is related to my dissertation or D Min project as it is called.  My project will be something that will address what I am calling a theology of productivity and creativity, which will be a program that churches can institute to teach members how to recognize and release their God-given ideas and purpose.

If anyone, including a Christian, is going to creatively produce, he or she must deal with the issue of anxiety, a topic which we began to address yesterday.  I am learning to deal with anxiety that keeps me from expressing my creativity and I see it all the time in many people.  Church people have a new repertoire of excuses that others can't use, excuses like, "I'm praying about it," "God hasn't released me to do that," "It's not God's timing," or "I don't want to get ahead of the Lord."  Some times these expressions may be based in fact, but others times they are a mask for anxiety and fear. 

Yesterday, I quoted from Eric Maisel's book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression.  Let's continue with the excerpt that I began in that last post:

When a creator does this frequently enough and lets his [or her] anxiety about creating stop him [or her] from creating, he [or she] begins to feel like a weak, indecisive person.  It is a very short step to even darker feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.  The end result of not knowing that he must brave his anxiety is that he ends up completely down on himself. Anxiety bests him and, to make matters worse, he then has to deal with the negative labels he pins on himself.  This classic vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to a battered self-image and a battered self-image makes it harder to brave anxiety, defeats many creators. 

Anxiety can debilitate any creator, even the most strong-willed and self-directing.  A fiercely independent-minded sculptor may mention with a laugh that some friends visited his studio and hated his new work. On the surface, it looks like he's shrugged their comments off.  Three weeks later, he complains of serious blockage.  Doubts about his talent now make him anxious, his anxiety causes him not to sculpt, but the "why" of this is completely unknown to him.  Anxiety has chalked up another victim.

Has anxiety claimed you as a victim?  I don't restrict the effects of anxiety to just the creative arts like writing or painting.  It can hinder your ability to start a business, take a missions trip, teach a class, or go back to school.  You can be so uptight about doing something wrong or doing it poorly that you don't do anything at all and "wait" upon the Lord. 

Anxiety and fear are closely related, if not synonymous, in the creative process.  So dealing with anxiety is like dealing with fear: you must face it to overcome it.  You must admit that you are anxious and identify the reasons why: fear of failure, fear of criticism, ignorance of how to start, not knowing how to finish.  You must not hide behind the Lord and disguise your anxiety as something other than what it is.

I currently have a proposal from my publisher to write a book on top of all the other writing and school work that I am already doing.  My anxiety tells me not to do it; my thinking is that I have done it before and can do it again, with God's help.  So what will I decide?  The ideal would be that someone would step forward and give me a study/writing grant to cover my needs while I create and write.  Whether or not that happens, I have already decided to work on the book while pursuing my studies and continuing my consulting and speaking work.  If I had not been studying anxiety, I'm not sure I would or could have made that decision. 

How does the issue of anxiety apply to your creativity right now?  What has you stuck in a non-productive or non-creative rut?  I urge you to discover what it is and then get going on what you have talked about doing for a short or long time.  Don't let anxiety rob you and the world any longer of the best you that you can be.  If I can help, let me know.


Anxiety

I have been doing a lot of study and reflection on anxiety and the role it plays in procrastination, something I wrote about a few weeks ago.  I was recently reading a book my sister-in-law recommended entitled The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression.  The author Eric Maisel had this to say about anxiety:

When we perceive a threat, we get queasy, light headed, confused, agitated, fatigued, nervous.  We call these various reactions to a perceived threat by one name: anxiety.  Existence threatens us in a thousand ways and therefore, anxiety is our constant companion. . . . Writing a short story, say, is really only a small threat to our self-esteem since if we do a poor job, we can revise our story or write a better one.  But nature has decided that even these tiny threats must be taken seriously. As soon as we say, "I want to write a short story," waves of anxiety arise to keep us out of harm's way.

The net result is that we do not write the story and do not make any meaning.  Since we are not making meaning, depression strikes. The relationship between anxiety and depression, therefore, is direct and significant.  If existence merely troubled us but didn't rouse so much anxiety in us, if we could hold our painting or composing as hard but not threatening, we would have a far better chance of making meaning and avoiding depression.  If we heard ourselves say, "I don't want to paint because I don't find painting meaningful," we could reply instantly, "The heck with you, insidious thought! I'm off to the studio!" But because the thought is threatening and because Nature hates threats, we are bathed in anxiety and stopped in our tracks. . . .

If you don't write your nonfiction book, which you have every reason to write and which you have been talking about writing for years, it is unlikely that you will call your blockage a phobia and point to anxiety as the culprit. . . . Many of my clients I see complain of procrastination.  Instead of starting off a Sunday turning right into their creative efforts, first they write in their journal, then they read the newspaper, then they have a third cup of coffee, then they head out to the laundromat.  It turns out that they will do almost anything to ward off the anxiety they might feel if they said to themselves, "Time to create!" 

While at work, they tell themselves that they will get to their novel or their symphony as soon as they get home, or after dinner at the latest.  When they get home, they look at the ads that came in that day's mail, make dinner, do the dishes, and watch television until bedtime.  Anxiety steals away their evening.

Sound familiar?  Since I identified anxiety as one of my main creative culprits, I have found it easier to write my school papers, do my research for my dissertation and complete other creative tasks.  I am able to control my self-talk and say, "This is easy for me.  I can do this in no time at all.  It doesn't have to be perfect, but it will be the best I can produce!" 

What about you?  What role is anxiety playing in your lack of productivity and creativity?  What are you prepared to do about it?  More on anxiety later.  You have enough to think about based on what I wrote above. 


I Told You BA Had Problems

I had written in the past about my dislike for British Airways due to their arrogance and poor service. I was taken to task by some because of service problems with American airlines, something I have also acknowledged. Often when you are American and you criticize another country, the issue isn't whether or not you are correct. The issue becomes that you are an American and automatically perceived as arrogant, or that you are portraying America as the standard of excellence. I am an American and I know I am influenced by American culture and thinking. Yet I never try to hold my country as the standard. BA's service is bad because it is bad, not because it is British. Come to think of it, US Airways' service is also bad because it is bad, even though they are an American company.

Well, now a commission in the UK has recommended that BA sell off their ownership in UK airports since their monopoly has contributed to their abysmal service. You can read the article here. Aha! I knew I knew what I knew. BA still ranks in my mind as one of the worst airlines to fly and I am delighted to see someone put forth ideas for how they can improve. BA is too good of a company and too important to the world of travel for this situation to persist and I applaud the UK commission for having the courage to say so.

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Latest from Zimbabwe

I have not written much about Zimbabwe lately. I refrained from writing after the abortive reelection where the opposition was tortured and tormented to such an extent that the opposition leader withdrew rather than see more of his followers suffer. I did not write when the reelection was held and Mr. Mugabe was declared the "winner." I did not write after all the zeros were removed from the currency so that prices and currency could once again be manageable, even though the root causes of inflation rates that the world has never seen were not dealt with. I did not write when Mr. Mbeki from South Africa insured the world that things were alright and that a power sharing settlement was imminent between the rival parties. I did not write when Mr. Tsvangirai was detained by the government at the Harare airport last week so he would miss his flight and the SADC meeting in South Africa.

So why didn't I write?

I didn't write because it seemed like the easy thing to do -- sit in the safety of America and pass judgment on events taking place 8,000 miles away. I didn't write because I have many friends in Zimbabwe and I did not want to criticize their country or their leadership. I didn't write because I suspected how things were going to turn out, but I didn't want to be negative or pessimistic. I didn't write because the problems are so huge that my paltry, measly posts seemed to dishonor the nobility of a great people who are suffering daily.

Today I decided to write. Why today?

I write today because the ridiculous "power-sharing" talks that were being held and brokered by Mr. Mbeki have broken down by all appearances. This is no surprise to this writer. I have gone on record as saying that the oppressor will never willingly give up power. Mr. Mugabe and his cohorts were never going to wake up one morning and say, "Gee, we've made a mess of things. Let's give someone else a turn!" The talks broke down because the essence of democracy is not for parties to learn how to govern and rule together, but to learn how to oppose one another within the rule of law for the betterment of the people.

I went on record as saying that power-sharing was not the answer in Kenya and it isn't the answer in Zimbabwe. Yes, the violence in Kenya abated when the power-sharing agreement was signed, but is Kenya any better off today? Are they being governed more effectively with a cabinet twice the size of what it was a year ago? Does anyone seriously believe that a power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe will stop the economic free fall while the basic economic principles causing the devastation are ignored?

I went on record as saying that Mr. Mbeki was making a mess of his chance to broker an agreement by being an African first and a leader second. I went on record as saying that Mr. Mugabe would never share power with anyone as long as he is alive.

Do I feel smarter today or vindicated by what I wrote? Absolutely not! How can I be happy when a people, my friends and family, are suffering such hardship? How can I be happy when injustice and perversion of both power and the electoral process has played out for all the world to see, while the perpetrators thumb their proverbial noses at the world, including their African counterparts? So why do I write?

I write because I don't know what else to do. I write because I am angry and I feel like I must, I should, I am obliged to do something, to raise one small, insignificant voice in support of the Zimbabwean people against tyranny. I write because I can, because many of my Zimbabwean friends cannot. I write and pray, the former because I am looking for like-minded people who can tell me that I'm not crazy and who perhaps can do something more than I am doing if they sense the correctness of what I am saying. I pray and appeal to a Higher Power who can overrule the lesser powers that have entrenched themselves in the seat of power.

I also write today because I'm sad, sad to see a great people and country be wrung out and hung out to dry like a wet towel. I write because I don't know what else to do. What is your perspective on the matter? If you have one, write and let me know. In the meantime, please don't define my silence as that of a disinterested party. I watch and pray every day, but I am not hopeful that any relief is in sight and I fear that even worse days are ahead for that once great and prosperous nation. I hope I am wrong.

Feel free to write your comments on the site where this entry is posted.

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Last Show?

I recorded what could have been my last radio show last Wednesday with my friend Bill Rhoades as my guest. Bill was easy to interview as he shared the impact the purpose message had on him after his traumatic accident in 1995. You can listen to The Purpose Craze on the Voice America archives at your convenience. I consider Bill an expert on purpose; he knows my stuff better than I do and regularly applies those principles to people's lives.

The station has offered me a Saturday time slot at a reduced cost, but unless I raise the money, I won't proceed to renew. I have put it in the Lord's hands, especially after I got my July listener and download numbers today. They showed significant increase over June. I know the show is popular and helpful, but if God wants me to terminate it for now, i am happy to do that. Contact me if you want to be a sponsor or donate.

I have one more day of classes and, after spending 12 of the last 13 days in class from 8 to 4:30, I am ready for a break of sorts. There won't be much of a work break, however, as I head down to West Palm Beach to conduct a Pacific Institute training session with my friend Bill Hobbs and his team at Urban Youth Impact. I get home next Thursday and don't have any travels planned until October. This certainly has been a different kind of year.

While I said I was done with my classes, I am not done with the work generated for and by them. I have several major papers to complete plus the research for my overall program project. My goal is to finish by May, 2010. We'll see if that's realistic. The school already gave us our course syllabus for next February, 2009, and it requires a lot of reading and writing again. This program isn't a cakewalk but I am enjoying it. Some of our discussions about the Old Testament in the New were just too exciting. At one point in class, I wanted to get up and run around, but I contained myself. At other times, I had to fight off slumber.

What are you doing to grow in the knowledge of God? I am not inferring that you must go to a formal school program to do that, but you must do something -- read, listen to, watch or attend a seminar or program. And there is nothing wrong with a vibrant devotional life that includes prayer and Scripture reading. Whatever you choose or have time to do, I urge you to be faithful to it. If I can help, let me know.


Class Lessons

I am back in class this week for my Old Testament in the New class, but I am still reflecting on what I learned in my Leadership Communication class last week.  While there were many communication lessons I am still processing, there were two general principles that really stood out to me.

1.  I cannot learn from someone I am judging.  We read some books with which we all "disagreed."  When we disagreed, we began looking for fault in or limitations to what the author had written.  We therefore could not learn from the author because we had judged him, building a blind spot to anything meaningful that he had written. I saw that this was just what the Pharisees had done to Jesus.  As soon as they judged Him, they found fault with everything He said. 

2.  I must suspend what I know when I am learning.  When I think I know something, it may hinder me from learning anything new.  I  can assume I already know what there is to know about that item -- whether a concept, Bible verse, or theory.  I need to even apply this to people, for I can "write off" people because I think I "know" who they are and what they can do.

I am so delighted that God gave me the opportunity to invest time and effort into the study of His Word.  I am reading books I would otherwise not read, learning principles I would never have been exposed to, and growing in my understanding of our great God, which I hope will all translate into making me a more effective leader and disciple of our Lord.  Stay tuned for more reports from class, but for now, I have to get back to work. 


School Days

Last Monday, I started my second round of classes at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  This week I am in a Leadership Communication class with Dr. Calvin Troup, who teaches at Duquesne University, my alma mater.  Dr. Troup is the head of the rhetoric department at Duquesne and we have been studying Augustine and a host of other authors in class, which runs from 8 AM to 4:30 through Saturday.  Next week I am in Dr. Dennis Prutow's Old Testament in the New class for another week.

There are eight classes to take for this D Min program and after next week, I will have four completed.  Well, I won't quite be finished with these latest classes, for we have assignments that are due no later than January 31, 2009!  Then we have two more classes next February and two next June.

As you can imagine, these classes have consumed a lot of time for reading, writing and class lectures.  I try to stay focused and take it all one day at a time, although I did have to get up this morning at 4:30 AM to take a call from England.  I do what you can when I can, and can't expect any more from myself than that.

I have submitted a rough proposal for my doctoral project, which will focus on a Theology of Creativity and Productivity for the Local Church.  In other words, I want to inspire churches to challenge their members to reach out to all of society in purpose and then provide a curriculum and program that a church can use to do just that.  I still have to refine the concept, but the school has approved the concept. 

So what are you doing with your days lately?  Are you happy with what you are doing?  What more can you do?  Remember, you have all the time in the world -- twenty-four hours every day.  What sets you apart from everyone else is what you do with those hours.  I hope you use them well.