The Good Doctor

As you may know, my wife recently suffered from a torn retina in her right eye. This happens as the gel in her eyeball condensed every so slightly with age. As it (her eyeball) gets just a wee bit smaller, it can take part or all of a retina with it, thus creating blindness that can be fixed with laser or other surgery. That is what happened to her; it was not the result of some accident or blow to the head. Fortunately, my wife's was fixable with laser and she is patiently waiting to recover sight in her eye.

When we took her to the hospital, she was examined by four doctors, who all said that there was bleeding in the back of the eye, preventing them from getting a good view of the retina.  We took her to a specialist the next day, one of the best in the world we are told, and he did his own examination.  He confidently said that the retina was torn but that he did not want to do surgery.  He asked her to come back in two days, at which time he saw well enough to do laser repairs.  He sent her home with a scheduled appointment to come back in two weeks.

Why am I telling you this?  I am relating this because I was impressed with our doctor and want to be one just like him.  Do I want to be an eye doctor?  No, but I do want to be a purpose doctor. What's more, I want to be one that is so proficient and effective that, when others can't see purpose, I can and then help them see it too.  I want others to have confidence in me when they visit for a consultation, and then I want to act confidently and quickly to diagnose the root problem and prescribe the way forward.

I have met with about 3,000 people in the last nine years to discuss purpose.  I have written and read extensively on the subject.  Some experts believe that if anyone invests 10,000 hours in any subject or field, that person has put in the time to become an expert of sorts.  I want to be a purpose expert for God's glory and help people quickly and confidently embrace purpose. 

There are many good things that emerged from my wife's injury, not the least of which has been our son coming home for a season to help care for mom.  It has slowed us down as we approach the holidays and made us thankful for the blessings of life, like sight and family.  At the same time, my encounter with our good doctor has stimulated me to pay the price to be a good doctor in my own field of expertise.  What is your field?  Are you wiling to pay the price to be great, to be the best?  Success is never an accident and I thank God my doctor paid the price, for my family was the recipient of his hard work.  Who will be the recipient of yours?

Seth Godin

There is one man who has influenced my desire to use the Internet and technology for the sake of the gospel and that man is Seth Godin.  Seth does not write religious or spiritual books, but he writes challenging books about marketing and communication.  I named my church's blog after a concept I read in one of his books.  I regularly read Seth's blog and his post the other day on non-profits (and I include churches in that category) is a must read for anyone who wants to understand some of the dynamics where change is concerned in our nonprofit world. Thanks, Seth, once again for challenging me to think and change.

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.


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. 

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.

Help Them Listen

I went back for the second day of my church conference I mentioned in my last post and the presenter did an excellent job talking about preaching, using Hebrews as an example of a model sermon.  I had never seen Hebrews in that light, but it made sense.  He also pointed out that Hebrews is based on Psalm 110 and that each chapter includes an Old Testament verse upon which the writer expounds, just like a sermon.

In the midst of his points, the speaker made an appeal that addressed the boredom issue I mentioned yesterday.  He said that our goal should be to help people listen, to give them oral assistance!  Hallelujah!  He used the example of the mother with three children sitting in the pew who is distracted and harried.  What help can we give that woman, he asked, so that she can take the message home and meditate or apply it.

I liked that thought, so I want to find ways to provide oral assistance when people listen to me speak.  How can I be a better communicator?  What can I do that won't take away from the message but will actually assist and serve the message?  How can I help them listen?  That's a worthy goal, don't you think?

I have sat through way too many meetings when the people finished way before the speaker, but the speaker was determined to finish his message come hell, heaven or high water.  I don't want to force feed the people.  I don't want to say, "You're going to listen if it kills you. . . and it may very well do so!"  My goal is to be like Jesus in Mark 12:37:  "And the large crowd listened to him with delight."

Maybe we should start a delightful speakers club or association, all members committed to effective communication, both in and outside the Church.  One thing that would be required for that to happen is for speakers to get feedback on their messages, even if it's feedback on a pulpit sermon.  Now that would revolutionize speaking and sermonizing overnight!  Yet most pastors and leaders don't have the heart or courage to get that kind of evaluation on a regular basis, especially when they believe they are preaching the word of the Lord.  But if we are going to be effective, we need that kind of feedback.  So what say you, are you ready to join my delightful speakers club?  You can be the third member if you write soon, for I am the second member and have already joined.  Who was the first member?  Why, it was Jesus, of course!  This whole club is His idea.

Why I Procrastinate

I am in Minneapolis on my way to Seattle. This is the first time I have been on a plane in six weeks, a record for me this century!  With the nature of my work, however, if I am at home that means there is no income. Yet these six weeks at home were indeed the hand of God, for we have been able to get our new house in order and set up our offices.  In addition, I have so much school work to do for my August classes that there is no way I could have done it all without this time at home.  When I get back home next Tuesday, I don't go out again until July 14.  Even though money is tight, I know this time at home is in God's plans, so I am trusting Him.

I have been reflecting recently on why I have a tendency to procrastinate.  I have taught time management and have a reputation to get things done efficiently, but I have come face-to-face recently with discovering why I keep putting off certain things I must do.

The main reason is that I am a perfectionist.  There are some things I don't start because I don't believe I have enough time to do them perfectly.  Plus, I am afraid -- that's right, I am fearful -- of doing the wrong thing or doing the thing wrong, so I choose to do nothing at all, at least for the time being.  I even put this post off for a few weeks because I wasn't sure I had enough time or insight to write a good post -- no, time to write the best post possible.

I find this tendency intriguing, for when I finally decide to start, I usually finish in much less time than I expected.  What's more, I usually produce something that others say is good stuff.  So after I finish and it goes well, I ask, "Why did it take me so long to do that?"  Armed with that awareness, I still tend to repeat the process again and again.

What's the answer?  I have found that I must set deadlines for myself, telling myself I will have this or that done by June 20 (I can even obsess over whether or not June 20 is the correct deadline!).  I am also doing a bit more scheduling; I decide that even though I can't read the entire book or write the whole report, I will spend the next hour reading or writing. I haven't always done that well, choosing not to start until I can get it all done at one time.

Furthermore, I talk to myself saying, "John, the fate of the free world does not depend on this report.  It isn't for the eyes of the president.  Just do your best, but do it."  Then I make a list of what I would like or need to do today, but afterwards prioritize that list.  I am writing this blog because I put it on today's to-do list while I was on the plane, using the few minutes I have between flights to take care of this small project.

I'm not done reflecting on this question yet, for I'm discovering many interesting things about myself and how I work in the process.  The reflections must be working, however. How can I be sure?  Because I finally wrote this entry!  I'll keep you posted on what else I discover.  If you have any insights on this topic, feel free to enter them on the site where this entry is posted. 

Permission Marketing 3

I have just a few more comments about permission marketing, which we have talked about on two previous occasions. The essence of permission marketing is building a relationship with people who want to hear what you have to say as opposed to interrupting people with all kinds of messages they don't want and aren't looking for using marketing gimmicks and techniques. I recently went into a sports venue and there was a company's name on the turnstile spokes as I went through the ticket gate! That is a perfect example of non-permission marketing. The company thought they had my captive attention to send a message. They did; the message was, "This is dumb and I will choose to ignore this invasion of my private, mental space." I don't remember the name of the company that put their ads in that imaginative but silly place.

In my last post, I mentioned that permission marketing requires listening, which interruptive marketing requires speaking. The latter requires that the company or church initiate and dominate the conversation with the public. Permission marketing requires that the organization listen to the public, something we as humans aren't always equipped to do. Listening takes time and takes the conversation the way the speaker wants it to go. That is why so many pastors are such poor listeners. They are so used to speaking at and to problems that they don't really know how to listen. I have seen this to be the same the world over.

In the late '80s, Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, swept the world. I have quoted the fifth habit many times: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. I have learned that when I have said to someone, "I know just how you feel. This is my experience in that area," I am actually denigrating their experience and trying to do them one better by telling them my story. For the last decade, I have worked to ask better questions, listen more intently, give feedback more accurately and not try to speak too soon. I still have a long way to go.

Here are two of my favorite quotes where listening is concerned:

“Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, are essential to the growth of the servant leader. . . . The most successful servant-leaders are those who have become skilled empathetic listeners” – Robert Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. . . . The essence of empathetic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually” – Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I have used The Monday Memo as an example of permission marketing. I send it only to those who give me permission and anyone can easily remove themselves from the mailing list. You may be thinking, "But you, Dr. Stanko, writer about what you want to write about every week. Aren't you dominating the conversation?" The answer is that I am, to an extent, but I would not have 12,000 subscribers if I didn't write about things that were helpful to the reader. If I wasn't a good listener as I travel, teach and consult, I would not write an effective Monday Memo. The Memo isn't about me; it's always about the reader -- readers who has given me permission to send my material to them.

So how good of a listener are you? If you don't think it's important, remember what Jesus said: "Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him" (Luke 8:18). If your listening skills are okay, then how are you applying this to your work, whether in or out of church? Are you listening to people's needs and working to meet those needs, while still adding to the bottom line whether that's money or changed lives and communities? That, IMHO, is the essence of permission marketing.

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