For most of my life I have tried to avoid awkwardness with all my might to avoid. And to be honest, I still don’t necessarily “like” it per se. I often wish there was another way. But, I’m discovering that sometimes the best catalyst for growth in relationships, in myself, & in creativity is awkward moments…sometimes even whole seasons of them.
The friendships in my life that are the richest, have the deepest connections are oftentimes the ones that have had the greatest number of awkward conversations & awkward seasons. They’re rich because they are deeply honest. And they’re deeply honest because we’ve fought through awkward seasons & attacked the elephants in the room through conversation.
There’s something about fighting through awkwardness that leaves me just a bit more confident, slightly more sure of who I was created to be. It’s as if I’ve passed a test & now I can certify myself in some new skill chipping away just a bit more at self doubt that likes to creep its way in.
Awkwardness is often the result of tension & discomfort – both of which, I believe, are core components of some of our greatest creative labor. It causes us to wrestle, to question, to redefine, to live the work our art requires before we can produce something to share with the world.
Chances are, I may never “like” awkwardness, but I’m trying to welcome it nonetheless. She may be a less than polite house guest – oftentimes arriving unannounced she seems to have an agenda of her own, but she earns her keep by doing her part in instigating growth.
Where have you seen awkwardness as a catalyst for growth in your life?
“What are you afraid of right now?”
I’ve been working on a project for the last few months with three dear friends & that was the question our fearless leader in the group threw out at us the other day.
My answer? Friendships. I’m afraid that this project will eventually kill my friendships with those three individuals. But that hasn’t made me walk away yet. Because even though that is a deeply rooted fear of mine, I still believe some of the most powerful ideas come to life in community. I believe that vision born out of community is perhaps one of the most beautiful creative gifts on the planet. The synergy of relationship, heart, skill, & vision is undeniably powerful. Rooted in bold humility I believe it has the power to be truly life changing in ways we can’t even imagine.
I’ve been trying for the last several months to reconcile that fear & that deeply rooted belief of mine. And honestly, I’ve made next to zero progress. But after voicing that fear with those friends today, I’ve realized that perhaps it’s not about reconciling the fear but about pushing on in spite of it.
The truth is that with the right perspective, fear doesn’t stop me, it simply keeps me in check.
Do you let your fears stop you? Or do you view them as guardrails to guide you on the journey?
I have a good friend who has talked about influence for as long as I’ve known him. He values it. He doesn’t take it lightly. He is patient in pursuit of it. He believes it is given not taken. And he is passionate about it’s role in each of our lives as we live out the calling God has given us.
But, despite his passion & conviction, even after two years of conversations about influence with my friend I hadn’t resonated with the idea. It was one of those “that’s a nice thought, I’m really glad you’re passionate about” kind of things.
Influence is currently reigning as a buzz word. We use it as a marketing pitch, condemn it for making us prideful, blame it for burnout, strategize to grow our own, and put it in our book titles. But it’s also one of those concepts that I think for many remains an abstract idea we can’t quite wrap our heads around. Something about my friend’s passion for the idea of influence kept me believing it was more than just a nice idea.
I was pretty excited to tell my friend the other day that the concept of influence had finally resonated with me.
I got a call a week or so ago from a friend that ended a few days later with what, in hindsight, I realized was me leveraging the influence I have been given to help someone else live out their God given calling.
When that realization hit me I was both excited & scared to death. Influence is heavy. It comes with great responsibility to steward well. Because it’s a gift…and not one for my benefit but for that of others. It is given only that it may be given away.
Has influence become more than just a nice idea for you? How are you giving it away?
I remember the conversation clear as day. I was working in my office at church when my pastor & our might as well have been staff volunteer walked in. “We have an idea!” they said with more than their usual excitement.
One sentence into sharing this idea my pastor stopped.
“Before I tell you what we’re thinking, I want to say this: I don’t need you tell me we can’t do it or why it’s not possible. I need you to figure out what we need to do to make it happen.”
Pretty sure my defenses went up & an argument followed. Looking back; however, I see the constructive criticism he was trying to give me: Filter before you give feedback. Stop being an idea squasher & instead figure out how to make ideas a reality.
It wasn’t that he didn’t think I was creative or resourceful enough to make his vision come to life. Quite the opposite. But he needed me to believe in the vision enough to do the work to make it come to life. He needed me to be a solution finder not just a problem identifier. He was trying to help me see that I’d get a lot further in life if I learned how to say “yes, but…” rather than “no,” all of the time.
Apparently that lesson was an important one because it still sticks with me. That voice still plays in my head every time I’m asked to give feedback. And can I tell you, it makes a difference? “No” often raises defenses, “yes” on the other hand often raises respect. And saying yes is choosing to fight the problem as a team rather than fighting against the team about the problem. And I’d rather fight side by side with people than against them.
It’s taken me two & a half years & a lot of growth but I emailed that pastor, who I’m still honored to call a friend, the other night & thanked him. Thanked him for a lesson that 23 year old me may not have received or wanted but one that 26 year old me is deeply grateful for.
How do you respond when someone shares an idea with you?
“Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head.”
– Mitch Albiom “Tuesdays with Morrie”
I think that is the essence of mentoring. Believing in someone as they learn to believe in themselves. Drenching them in Christian love even though they are rough around the edges, sometimes as destructive as a bull in a China shop. And through it all leaving an impact that, as cheesy as it may sound, truly does last a lifetime.
I’ve been blessed to have a few such teachers…or mentors…in my life. The kind I find my way back to in my head…and sometimes on a phone call. And every time I do I’m reminded that with the gift of being mentored…being taught, comes the responsibility to mentor…to teach.
Who are you teaching today?
“Artists are often found at the margins of society, but they are, like the shepherds, often the first to notice the miracles taking place right in front of us.” (27)
“The arts can tap into multiple irreconcilable realities at the same time, rooted deeply within the cultural soil. Artists often expose the tension between these competing points of view, but they also provide the potential to resolve various perspectives at the same time. But just like China, good art may raise more questions than provide simplistic answers.” (34)
The intersection of art & leadership. I’ve been thinking about this for some time and when I read the two passages above in Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Cultureit came to me. Artists may not often be leaders in the traditional sense. They may not be the CEOs, CFOs, Directors, Senior Pastors, and so on. But they are leaders in a different way. They are leaders in thought. They may not be the ones making the decisions but they are the ones the decision makers go to for advice in the decision making process. Their art & insight gives them influence which in turn places on them a responsibility. A responsibility to lead.
When we look back 10…20..30 years from now, I think we will see that the true influencers…the true leaders…have been artists. Leaders because they can expose tension yet also provide potential resolution. Leaders because they ask questions rather than provide simplistic answers…good questions that propel a community…a people…a society…forward. Leaders because they expose the need for change & then inspire it. Influencers because they’re artists. Because they see the miracles many miss. Miracles that are the signs of God’s moving here on earth. And the great thing about artists is that oftentimes, like the shepherds, they’re so excited that they can’t keep the news to themselves.
Do you think there is a place where art & leadership intersect?
*This is the eleventh post in a series of twenty. For more on the background, check out this post.