Today is Labour Day. I get asked a lot how I manage to do three different jobs and keep all of my commitments. The short answer is planning. But there is a longer answer.
I never work harder supporting someone who is working less hard than I am toward their stated goal. Obviously there are many people who are limited by what they can do, for a range of reasons. But the will to change is at least as important as what we actually do to aid the change. If I want that change more than the other I need to ask myself, “Who is really driving this change?” Chances are strong if the answer to that question is me then it is time to revisit the strategy. I also feel that resentment creeps in on my end if I am doing all the work, and offering all the passion, to make a change for the other. Surely this effort has to at least be “team” and if the other is dependent on me for everything, including the plan itself, chances are very strong that if the plan does not work I will be the one to be blamed. Helpers need to constantly ask themselves “whose need is being met here?” If a helper has a need to be needed then the chasing down of the helpless and the remedy imposed does no good to the one in distress. Instead it becomes all about the helper and how much s/he is thanked, affirmed, given credit, for the change. In my helping work as a minister and an outreach worker I am always careful to know that the other has determined the plan and my role is support, not savior! Credit for the change, if it occurs, goes to the Holy Spirit and the other, my role is background and that helps me stay clear of burnout more than anything else.
I do work long hours but I also make sure to take time to have fun. I can’t work long hours, day after day, without respites of joy, fun and silliness. Knowing what makes you laugh, what you find fun, is essential to good mental health. I find too many people listen to the familiar voices and rest their weary souls by conventional means. I have heard from countless people who told me they went to a spa, or took up golf, or went to a hot country, and after laying on a beach or having a massage or watching a ball game everything went right back to the beginning when they returned to work. We all have to do some discernment about our bodies and souls and know what helps us to rest. It will be different for everyone. For me it is long walks, time with my wife and daughter, and watching comedy.
I like to plan. Plans cannot always pan out. The best laid plans… But it is better to have a plan and then have to improvise than to have no plan at all and just react as events crowd out your day. I start every day with a list to things I need to do today and another list of things I want to get started and another list of things, far in the distance, I want to make some progress on. I get laughed at for this but it helps. Oddly when people do call or drop in unexpectedly having these lists helps because as soon as the unexpected has left I can easily get right back to where I left off. The list is a checklist, and checking it off, one item at a time, is enormously satisfying and eases any resentment about others interrupting my time.
I know what is important to the institution I serve, what is important to me and what I believe is important to the cause of righteousness. Let me explain. Too many people conflate these three things into one and thus every planned action because VERY IMPORTANT, ESSENTIAL, LIFE AND DEATH… But having the self-awareness to know what your employer values as necessary, what you value as necessary and what you believe is the overall demand of justice is crucial. As I do my work I know which items I need to do for the church, for my clients in Dartmouth, etc…and I know the specific things that are important to me but likely no one else and the matters likely no one is calling for but deep down I know God wants me to be aware of. On a busy day I can lay my own agenda aside and focus on the other two demands. I know myself well enough to discern: what is peculiarly my “stuff” and what is the church’s need and what that still small voice is calling for. That distinction makes all the difference when I am forced to make decisions on where to invest me time.
We are all different. There is not one answer to this question. I am not arrogant enough to be a Dr. Phil and prescribe this method for anyone or everyone. But it does work for me. And since I am asked this question so often I share it in this forum.