Have You Evaluated Your Experience?

Standard

On Black Friday, when millions were hunting and wrestling for the best “deals,” I was traipsing through a local forest.  It had been awhile since I’d been out to this forest, and I was so struck by the stillness that I sat and just listened to the wind in the trees for about 30 minutes.  IMG_8432

I always enjoy Thanksgiving weekend, even though I’ve only been able to go “home” once in the last 15 years.  For many years, I wasn’t able to travel home for the holiday, and even now it is difficult, so I simply spend the weekend alone.

If you’re an extrovert, that must sound like torture!  But for me, an introvert, it is heaven.  Whether I intend it or not, I find myself spending quite a bit of time in reflection, and I always come out with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

Do you believe there is a purpose for your life?

The entire time I was growing up, my mother quoted Jeremiah 29:11 over me:  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (ESV).IMG_8436

It was particularly poignant because I had almost died as a newborn infant and was given slim odds to reach my second birthday.  Obviously, I beat the odds; even more, I’ve had an extraordinary life without the limitations my condition should have imposed.  Clearly, God had a purpose for my life if He healed me so completely.

As I’ve stepped into the field of professional development training and coaching, I’ve come to believe more and more strongly that each individual has a unique purpose.  It doesn’t require a miracle story to recognize your purpose.  It simply takes a stillness that leads to an awareness of the direction your life has taken.

Do you see the path set before you?

God is not trying to hide your purpose from you!  He has provided many signs for you, but you must be looking for them to find them.

I talk a lot about finding your SHAPE, a concept taken from Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.  The E in SHAPE is your experiences.   If you take time to look at not only your work and educational experiences but also family and spiritual experiences, you will begin to find a common thread.

Jeff Goins, in his book The Art of Work, says, “If you pay attention to your life and the lessons it can teach you, you won’t feel so lost.  Your story will seem less like a series of disjointed events and more like a beautifully complex narrative unfolding before you” (p. 21-22).

For me that narrative has to do with establishing and losing relationships.  This thread runs through all areas of my life: the high points almost always relate to feeling connected to family, friends, classmates, and colleagues; the low points almost always relate to feeling rejected and abandoned by family, friends, classmates, and colleagues.  This really goes a long way to explain my personal mission to help people build stronger relationships through more effective communication skills.

 

Have you been paying attention to your life?  People say experience is the best teacher, but John Maxwell disagrees; he says evaluated experience is.  What have you learned from your experiences?

Resources

Video variation on my blog post, including a peek at my experience narrative!

Online resources to discover your SHAPE

One of the things I love the most about John Maxwell’s 7-Day Experiment in Intentional Living is how focused it is on creating stronger relationships with the people around you.  Join the intentional living movement!  Click here to start your 7-day experiment with John Maxwell!

 

Find Your Strengths, Find Your Purpose

Standard

My pastor has a little bit of an unusual background; his undergraduate degree is in music.  I heard him once say that he was only a mediocre flutist but that he was able to outperform many of his classmates.  The secret?  He had to work hard just to keep up, but those with more natural talent chose to coast along.  In the end, he graduated a better performer, and we are very blessed each time we hear him play.

IMG_8404Experts in human potential say that you should develop your strengths, not your weaknesses.  This seems counterintuitive to most; we think we should try to do better what we don’t do well.  However, the truth is you will only really shine in areas of strength, but you will never reach your full potential until you invest the time and energy to grow in your areas of raw talent.  Just like my pastor’s classmates, if you choose not to grow in those areas, you will never truly excel.

John Maxwell says that we “should get out of [our] comfort zone but stay in [our] strength zone,” but this assumes we know what our strengths are.

Years ago, when I first read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, I started tracking my SHAPE.  This proved to be an excellent tool for me to refer to when making life choices.  However, it has not always been easy to explain my process to other people, especially those less prone  to introspection or self-reflection.  It is difficult to teach something that seems as natural as breathing to you.

I have just recently taken the Gallup StrengthsFinders assessment, and I think it will provide a useful tool for the less reflective.

What StrengthsFinder Is

If you aren’t familiar with StrengthsFinders, let me give just a brief overview.

  1. It measures your talents, not your strengths.  The premise is that you start with raw talent and develop it into a strength.  The assessment purports to reveal where you have the potential to develop a strength.
  2. It identifies your 5 most prominent talents from a list of 34.  These talents describe “what’s right with people” as opposed to what they might not do well.
  3. This assessment actively discourages introspection!  You are given only 20 seconds to answer each question because the designers believe a snap reaction is more accurate.

While the results of my assessment haven’t been tremendously surprising to me, it has provided some interesting insights.  What it has done is given me a framework to help me in ways perhaps not intended by the designers.

How I Am Using the Insights

The assessment is intended to provide teams with insights so that they can be built around complimentary strengths, but at the moment I am a “solo-preneur” (a business of just one), without a work team.  I have to fill every role, whether I am talented at it or not.

As an example, I know I need to get out and network in order to build my business.  One of the 34 talents is called “woo” – winning others over – which is what makes for great networkers.  I am certain my father has this talent since he really has never met a stranger.

IMG_0672However, I did not get that talent!  That descriptor is truly the opposite of my natural inclination; I am an introvert who would much rather sit in a corner with a book than mingle with the crowds.

In order to enable me to become a more outgoing and proactive networker, I have dug into the descriptions of my existing talents looking for elements that could draw me out of my shell and compel me to approach people.  I have only found one potential strength that had anything remotely outgoing; the “developer” talent is “drawn toward people” for the purpose of helping them develop their talents.

I am now applying this talent insight to my networking approach; instead of looking at a room full of strangers, I choose to look at it as a room full of potential.  Since this is a new approach, it is hard to tell you how well it’s working, but my first couple events using the approach have been more positive experiences than before.

The day will soon come when I recruit a partner for my business, and I now know what talents and strengths that partner must have in order to balance my weaknesses.  Until that day comes, I will continue to leverage new facets of my talents to keep growing!

 

Where are your greatest strengths?  Which talents are you using, and which ones are you growing?

 

Resources

If you would like to learn more about personal growth, join me for a 3-session mastermind group in December (2015) on the first three Laws of Growth.  You can find details at A Taste of Growth.

Join the intentional living movement!  Click here to start your 7-day experiment with John Maxwell!

 

Works Referenced

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: The Law of Priorities, by John Maxwell

The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren

StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath

Why’s and Wherefore’s

Standard

I was talking to my roommate earlier today, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really had to “press through” to achieve a goal, like I am right now.  I’ve always worked hard and focused, but for the most part, success has come fairly readily.  I suspect this may be because I’ve chosen “safe” goals or goals within my “strength zone.”

IMG_7389However, today I’m pursing what Jim Collins calls a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – and it is proving MUCH more challenging than anything I’ve ever taken on before.  One thing that keeps me going whenever I quit (and I’ve quit several times) is remembering my “why.”

Purpose

I have just finished a re-read of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, and I’ve been struck by how relevant it is to people at all stages of their journey.  Some of the reflection questions are best suited for people early in their journey, but the content challenged me in ways I didn’t quite anticipate.

I’ve written before about exploring your SHAPE, a concept described in The Purpose Driven Life, and I think understanding my SHAPE has helped me reach success so far.  It has helped me understand, in a personal sense, what God’s plan and design for me is.

In his new book Intentional Living, John Maxwell includes a chapter titled “Search Until You Find Your Why” – talking about understanding your purpose.  He says,

Every person was created to do his or her part to better mankind.  That includes you!

Every person has talents that will help him or her better mankind.  That includes you!

Every person is given an opportunity to better mankind.  That includes you!

Every person has a purpose for which he or she was created.  That includes you!

Every person must look within to discover his or her purpose.  That includes you!

While I believe this to be absolutely true, in the challenges I’m facing today, I’m finding that simply engaging my SHAPE is not quite enough.  I have to go deeper.

Why

A piece of the puzzle that has become more important to me in recent days is understanding my “why.”
The truth is that I could aim my SHAPE at any number of issues, projects, plans, and causes.  While your “why” does overlap with your “Heart” (the H in SHAPE), I am finding that how I’ve defined Heart doesn’t engage my own personal motivations.

IMG_8396I have always externalized my passions – what needs in the world tug at my heart?  This is definitely a place to start, but as I mentioned, it hasn’t provided the staying power I need when achieving a goal that is proving more difficult, and there really are many, many noble causes that tug at me.

In the same chapter, John Maxwell gives three clues to finding your why:

  • What do you cry about?  “What causes so much discomfort that you are motivated to take action and do something to bring healing to that situation?”
  • What do you sing about?  “What makes you jump for joy or spontaneously break into song?”
  • What do you dream about?  “What if you could do something significant, something that would impact others and outlast you?”

These are the questions I’m engaging with today, questions that take me inside, that challenge me to go deeper than I have before.  These are questions that can be very uncomfortable and cause me to be very discontented with where I am and what I am investing my efforts into.

What is your “why”?  What are you doing today to pursue your purpose?

.

Resources:

Would you like to know what makes me cry or sing, or what I dream about?  Find My Answers to John Maxwell’s Three “Why” Questions here.

Join the intentional living movement!  Click here to start your 7-day experiment with John Maxwell!

Discovering Your SHAPE – links and resources for exploring the five elements of your SHAPE

A post I wrote about Finding Your Purpose

Authors quoted:

  • Rick Warren – The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?
  • John Maxwell – Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters
  • Jim Collins – Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

The Journey of Success – Know Yourself

Standard

Everyone wants to be successful, but what is that separates the truly successful from the rest?  John Maxwell says that success is a journey, not a destination.  Over the next few months, I want to explore what that journey might entail.

IMG_7368

Huntley Meadows; Photo by Tasha M. Troy

I’ve identified four stages in the journey of success:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Define Success
  3. Develop the Vision
  4. Pursue the Goal with Determination

 

Today I’ll start by describing the first stage, and in future posts I’ll describe the other stages.

Stage 1: Know Yourself

What does it mean to know yourself?  I mean, you spend 24/7 with yourself; if you don’t know yourself by now, when will you?

Actually, I have found that a lot of people are not particularly reflective and don’t take the time to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their passions and motivations.  A tool I found in Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life has been very helpful to me in organizing my view of myself.  He talks about being “Shaped for Service,” SHAPE being an acronym:

  • S – spiritual gifts: the innate gifts God has placed within each of us for the purpose of touching the lives of others
  • H – heart / passions: the key motivations that drive us
  • A – abilities: the skills we have acquired
  • P – personality: the way we interact with the world
  • E – experiences: the things we have gone through, both good and bad

Years ago I started a journal to track my SHAPE, and I revisit it whenever I am facing major life decisions or go through major life events.  It has been very helpful in making intentional choices that line up with how I believe God designed me.  For example, my decision to start writing this blog was in line with my SHAPE:

  • Photo by Tasha M. Troy

    Photo by Tasha M. Troy

    Spiritual gifts:  teaching, giving, encouraging – My goal in writing this blog is to encourage people to communicate more effectively and to teach them the strategies they need.

  • Heart: to be a bridge – The title of this blog reflects my passion to bring individuals and groups together that might not otherwise connect.
  • Abilities:  communicate in writing, build stronger relationships – I have been intentionally building my skills in the area of relationship development and connecting with others, and I am happy to share my learning experiences to help others.
  • Personality:  INFJ according to Myers-Briggs – Part of the description of my personality type is that we express ourselves more easily through writing.
  • Experience:  over 10 years teaching professional communication skills – I have spent more than half of my career developing and teaching the communication skills I write about in this blog, working with hundreds of adults to help them become more effective communicators.

More recently, I have begun discovering new tools for exploring the different elements of my SHAPE.  You will find some of them here:  Discovering Your SHAPE.

In my opinion, a major key to living an intentional life is understanding yourself.  You can not intentionally pursue a life of purpose if you won’t take the time to understand your strengths and weaknesses, your passions and motivations.  I challenge you to take some time today to explore your own SHAPE – I can promise you will find it a helpful exercise.

 

Resources:

If you are interested in working though and applying your SHAPE with me, I can offer you a free exploratory coaching session.  I have a few activities that are intended to help you identify different elements of your SHAPE.  Contact me at tasham.troy@gmail.com to schedule a free 30-minute session.

Discovering Your SHAPE

A Life of Purpose – A TED Talk by Pastor Rick Warren

 

Embracing “Otherness”: Appreciating Individual Differences

Standard

When we own our story, we become able to hear and empathize with other people’s stories.  That empathy allows us to embrace our differences and become stronger as a community.

The challenge of diversity facing the church and other organizations today is the challenge I encounter on a smaller scale in my classroom on a daily basis, that is, creating a community from a collection of diverse individuals who start out as strangers on the first day of class.  My students are a very diverse mix of individuals in terms of: IMG_7071

  • socioeconomic background
  • profession and career
  • religion, beliefs, and values
  • passions and interests
  • cognitive strengths and weaknesses
  • learning styles and personalities

Many times the only thing they have in common is a desire to improve their English communication skills, but even then precisely which skills each student wants to work on varies.

As an educator, I have come to embrace a view of humanity through the lens of “individual differences.”  In other words, I see each individual student as a unique makeup of strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, cognitive profile, and personality type.  I further believe that our unique makeup is part of God’s intentional design.  Pastor Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life that “God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes.  He has a reason for everything he creates.”  That includes everything under the umbrella of “individual difference.”

This brings us back to the question of creating community with all this diversity.  It has been said that Sunday morning is the most highly segregated time of the week, and I have observed that most people tend to avoid diversity assuming that under such circumstances, cohesion and community will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible.  However, I have found that it is possible; my students often state that the diversity of the class is a major asset, one of the key benefits of being in this educational program. Therefore, I would like to share a few strategies I have found effective in creating a sense of community within my classroom:

  • present shared goals and shared mission regularly
  • identify and activate individual strengths
  • identify and (gently) manage disruptive personality quirks
  • provide opportunity for individual expression
  • use a combination of small group and large group activities

These strategies can be applied in a variety of contexts, anytime a diverse group of people are coming together for a common purpose.

I believe diversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  I am sure you will find, as I have, that we have much more in common than not, that your life will be enriched, and that the Kingdom of God will be furthered as you embrace diversity in your own life.

For His Purpose

Standard

IMG_6933Have you ever had the sense that you were doing what you were created to do? I don’t mean having a sense of accomplishment but something much deeper and foundational. The first time I felt like that was after I had graduated from college and had finally gotten a job in my field of TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). I was working at a small university in my hometown in an intensive English program, helping international students prepare to enroll in university courses. One day walking across the campus, I just got an overwhelming sense of rightness, of being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing with my life.

If we want to see God’s purposes for our communities and nation come to pass, we need to first discover and embrace His purposes for our lives as individuals.

I truly believe that God has a purpose for each individual. In Psalm 139:16, David says, “Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.” (CEV) There are many other verses that make reference to God being intentional about the lives of His people.  We are wired to pursue a purpose.  In his article “The Power of Purpose,” Dr. Steve Taylor says:

“The need for purpose is one the defining characteristics of human beings. Human beings crave purpose, and suffer serious psychological difficulties when we don’t have it. Purpose is a fundamental component of a fulfilling life.”

I was very fortunate to be raised in a family that encouraged me to pursue what I felt was my calling, what I now view as my purpose for life. In his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell describes three types of people (paraphrased):

  • those who don’t know their purposeIMG_6952
  • those who know their purpose but are not pursuing it
  • those who know their purpose and are living it

One of the things that make me the saddest when I encounter people is when they haven’t developed an understanding of their purpose or aren’t pursuing their purpose. Dr. Steve Taylor describes purpose-driven people:

“When you’re ‘in purpose’ – that is, engaged with and working towards your purpose – life becomes easier, less complicated and stressful. You become more mono-focused, like an arrow flying towards its target, and your mind feels somehow taut and strong, with less space for negativity to seep in.”

There have been short seasons when I lived without this sense of purpose and its benefits, and it grieves me when I meet people who have lived this way for years, perhaps for their entire lives.

If you don’t feel like you have found your purpose, there is good news! I believe that God has designed each person to be perfectly suited to succeed in fulfilling the purpose for which he or she was created. If you believe that God is purposeful, the next step is to see that God has given us clues to understand His purpose for us as individuals. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren says, “Each of us was uniquely designed, or ‘shaped,’ to do certain things.” He goes on to describe a simple way of exploring that S.H.A.P.E., and I see these five areas as clues to our individual purpose:

  • Spiritual gifts – how does God use you to minister to others? (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
  • Heart – what issues stir your passion? (Psalm 37:4)
  • Abilities – what are you naturally talented in? (Exodus 31:3-5)
  • Personality – how do you interact with the world around you? (Jeremiah 1:5)
  • Experience – where has your journey through life taken you so far? (Romans 8:28)

Several years ago, I began documenting and tracking my own S.H.A.P.E., and I refer to it any time I am facing a major life decision. I find it helps me to have clarity in making good choices that will line up with where God has brought me and where He is likely taking me – including my decision to start writing this blog.

If you feel that you haven’t yet found your purpose, or if you are at a crossroads and uncertain of your path forward, I highly encourage you to explore your own S.H.A.P.E. If God designed you for a specific purpose, the world needs you to live out that purpose. You owe it to yourself and the people within your sphere of influence to discover and embrace God’s purpose for your life!

 

Links and Resources

Steve Taylor, Ph.D – The Power of Purpose

Resources for discovering your SHAPE

  • a list of online resources I compiled to help some of my young friends understand their SHAPE

66 Bible verses about our purpose

 

Finding your Purpose

Video

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California became a household name when he wrote The Purpose Driven Life.  In this low-key TED Talk, he describes a concept he calls the “stewardship of influence” and ties that to finding your God-given purpose in life.  He finishes with a question and a challenge.